It looked like every other frat house you ride by in a college town in the middle of the night, with red plastic cups scattered across the front yard like leaves and the front porch swelling with party-ers laughing at jokes they didn’t quite hear and drinking from cups just filled from the keg in the living room–a room which party-ers enter and exit like cars to a discount gas station.
Those members of the fraternity who live in the house and who have stayed sober enough to pass a breathalyzer test are checking that the toilets are still working, and that no would-be snackers raid the house’s store of food; and if a neighbor upset about the noise manages to scrum through melee on the front porch, it is the job of the sober member of the fraternity to get a cup of beer into the complainants hands and to introduce him to one of the sorority members from the house across the street.
In the second-story windows facing the backyard, stereo speakers radiate music that rustles the leaves of the backyard oak tree and makes pointless communication in the backyard beyond hand signals pointless, but it is to the backyard that most of the party-ers migrate to sit on picnic tables and play yard games and gather around each other as that time of the night is reached when no one notices the men who no longer go inside to use the bathroom, but just stand facing into one of the bushes that line the fence that surrounds the property.
The party had reached that stage when Wendy stepped through a third-floor door and onto a small porch that overlooked the alley running by the house. She was not carrying the red plastic cup that everyone else was holding onto like a passport in an airport terminal.
There is only room on the porch for two folding chairs and Wendy slides one over to the porch railing and sits down. She seems satisfied to be a floor above the party and to be on that side of the house that points away from the music. But if she is enjoying her solititude, that enjoyment is short-lived, for a young man soon comes through the door, and reaches out to the railing to steady himself before sitting down without bothering to slide his chair across the small porch to Wendy; instead, he is seating behind her.
“It’s me . . . Max,” the young man says, and breaks into a wide smile that anyone should have to get permission before attempting, but he seems to be delighted to be himself at that moment. “I found you.”
“I wasn’t hiding,” Wendy says. “I was getting away from the crowd for a minute.”
“Excellent idea,” Max said, and raised his plastic cup in the air, but then realized that there were no other red cups to tap his against in a toast, so he lowered it back down. “Tammy told me she saw you heading up the stairs to this floor, and this porch was the first place I looked.”
Wendy turned in her chair to where Max was seated. “Why are you sitting behind me?” she asked
“No reason,” Max said, and turned his smile up another drunken two notches. “Actually, there may be two reasons. The first is that arranging chairs on a third floor porch is risky for anyone who’s had as many beers as me. In fact, being up here at all may be pushing the bounds of a cost-benefit ratio.” A business major, Max likes to put his ideas in business-school terms whenever he can.
“What’s the second reason? Wendy asked, turning back toward the alley.
“You said that there were two reasons you were sitting behind me. What’s the second one?”
“I love to look at your hair.”
“You’re drunk,” Wendy said.
“I believe that’s the primary goal of going to a frat party. But that may be a peripheral issue in this case because I love your hair when I’m sober too though I don’t know how I’d describe it . . . your hair I mean.”
“Please don’t try,” Wendy says.
“I’m afraid that I am a man with a mission, regarding the description of your hair right now. I think the only thing that could stop me would be a lack of metaphors.”
“Please,” Wendy said, closing her eyes as if offering up a prayer, “no metaphors.”
“Very well then, an anecdote should work: Three summers ago my family drove through North Dakota on the way to Yellowstone Park and in North Dakota we were surrounded by wheat fields that were amazingly golden and thick and waving like crazy in the wind. That’s what your hair reminds me of.”
“Thank you,” Wendy said as she turned back to Max. “I’m sorry I came up here without telling you. I guess I just got tired of the party.”
“That’s okay. Everybody is pretty drunk.”
“It wasn’t just that. It was that when it got quiet enough to hear what someone was saying, they were all saying the same things. They were talking about what they were going to do this summer or how badly they had done on their finals, or how they couldn’t wait to get a different roommate next year.”
“Actually I think I may have mentioned all three of those in every conversation that I was in.”
“Which is fine. And I know I sound awful right now like I have these high standards that no one is meeting, and it isn’t that at all becauseI know I talk about the same things, but tonight it just went on and on and on, and I felt like shouting that everyone should just be quiet.”
“Right,” Max said, after a long drink of beer. And after a moment in which he may have been mourning the emptiness of his cup, he lowered the decimal of his smile enough to feign a serious expression and said, “I feel that way myself sometimes. Like I would give a hundred dollars for a few minutes of silence so I could sort out my thoughts.”
“You actually think that?”
“Absolutely. Like right now, I’m wondering if anyone has ever told you before the way I just did that your hair reminds them of wheat?”
“No. No one has. You’re the first.”
“Good. Can I tell you something else?”