The video makes me sick. Literally. I watch it once and then again before running to the bathroom to puke up my fruit and yogurt breakfast. I shouldn’t watch it again but I can’t help it. I return to the computer with a sore throat and the taste of acid in my mouth. The freeze framed image on the still video is of Nate sprawled out on a bed with Greta and another girl I don’t know on top of him.
His jeans are down around his thighs and his shirt is off. There’s a white substance painted on his chest and I think it must be whipped cream by the bottle in the unknown blonde girl’s hand. Nate’s head is positioned away from me. I can’t see his eyes. I want to see them. I want to know what he’s thinking at that point. Does he even remember I exist?
The tears come now. Or maybe they’ve been flowing the whole time and I’m just now feeling them. The salt and the acid mix in bitter harmony inside my mouth. I guess that’s what heartbreak tastes like.
I press play one more time and watch the whole three minute video. It’s dark and the video is shaky. I don’t know who’s holding the camera. By the sounds of the harsh breathing and the barking laugh, I know it’s a male. Not Nick though. He comes in later.
For now it’s just Greta. She climbs onto Nate’s prone body, straddling him. She’s holding his hand as he reaches up to cup her breast over her shirt and then she seems to help him remove her shirt.
“Fuck yeah.” It’s the camera man urging her on. Greta’s actions spur the other girl and she takes off her shirt and then her bra. She sprays her tits with whipped cream and leans over to offer one decorated tip to Nate. His face is turned away but she when rises, the whipped cream is smeared. Bile threatens again. I press my thumb against my inner wrist, a technique I learned in treatment, to make it subside. It works about a quarter of the time and I still feel sickness sitting at the base of my throat.
I force myself to watch the rest.
“Come over and give me a taste,” the cameraman orders. Greta flicks him off but the other girl obeys. The camera dips to the floor and I hear the moans and pants of what sounds like a hundred people. I dash the tears away because they’re blurring my vision.
“You’re fucking up,” Greta hisses. There’s no action on the screen. Instead there’s a blurry blot like the guy has pressed his camera phone to the back of the girl he’s snacking on.
“Fuck you,” he drawls but then rights the camera.
When Greta and Nate come into view, she’s got her skirt rucked to her waist and she’s hovering over Nate’s face, a leg on either side of him. “Don’t get my face in it,” she orders.
“Whatever bitch,” the camera guy mutters but positions the camera so it’s just Greta from the neck down.
“Marie, come over and get some,” Greta says.
Marie, the other girl, goes over and takes up Greta’s old position, straddling Nate around his crotch. His boxers were still on but that means nothing. Greta rearranges herself so that she’s facing Marie and she pulls Marie’s shoulders until the two girls are almost touching each other. Nate is motionless this entire time except his hands creep up to stroke Marie’s legs and knees lightly once or twice before falling away.
Nothing that is going on in this video fits the Nathan I know. Nothing.
“I want to see fucking tongue ladies,” the camera guy says gleefully. “Pinch those titties.”
“Shut up and film, asshole,” Greta snaps. And he does. The camera is readjusted to cut off the heads of the girls and then there’s a full minute of gyrations and moaning and wet sounds of sucking.
My head pounds and the skin around my face is stretched so tight it hurts to keep my eyes open. I press my lips together tightly to keep the whimpers in but oh my god the pain in my chest is like a knife wound. It hurts worse than all the times I’ve had to stab myself with a needle to administer my daily cocktail of drugs. It hurts worse than the post surgery after they split my brain open to remove the tumor.
It hurts so bad that I wish the tumor had taken me because at least then I wouldn’t have to see this. Oh Nate, why?
At the end, Nick bursts through the door. He shouts something and the camera is knocked to the floor and the video cuts off. But it’s too late at that point for Nick to save me because it’s already been captured.
It’s Daddy. He’s here with me this week. I slam the laptop lid down and wipe away the tears as best I can. I’m tempted to tell him, to climb into his lap and bawl my eyes out but I’m afraid if I do, he’ll take the first plane back to Chicago and beat Nate bloody. And while I want to see Nate suffer, I know that telling Daddy about this will ruin everything. It won’t be the Jacksons and Randolphs together as a unit. There’ll be a rift and I don’t know if anything would be able to heal it.
I’m not going to be the one that destroys everything good in life. I’ll leave that to Nate.
“Yeah, Daddy?” I answer.
“You okay? I thought I heard you getting sick in the bathroom.” The bedroom door is shut and he won’t come in because mom had a long talk with him about the importance of me having privacy now that I am older.
“Yup,” I say as cheerfully as possible. I get up and grab a few tissues. My face is blotchy and my eyes are red. Mom would know I was crying for sure. Daddy? I’ll tell him that I watched a video about kittens being rescued.
“You been crying baby?” he asks with concern when I open the door.
“Just watching a kitten video.” I wipe my eyes. “I can’t stand to see those animals hurt.”
“Oh honey, I know.” He pulls me into his arms and I rest my head against his broad chest. There’s no place safer in the world than your Daddy’s embrace, I think. I allow him to hold me for a long time until the warmth of his love seeps into my bones and chases away a little of the chill. But the images from the video play out in my mind on an endless loop. I need to occupy my mind with something else.
“I’m going down to the commons to watch television,” I say pulling away.
He tucks a finger under my chin and lifts my head to search my face for clues. “All right then. You go down and when you’re ready to talk about what had you crying your eyes out in your room I’ll be right here.”
He doesn’t believe it’s kittens. My lip quivers and the whole story is on the verge of spilling out but I manage to give him a weak smile. “Okay.”
He kisses me on the top of my head. “You and your momma. You’re the most important things in my life. You remember that baby.”
I nod because if I open my mouth I’ll start bawling and I’m just not ready to cry again.
Down in the commons room I find two young kids watching cartoons in French. It’s mindless entertainment and just what I need. I’m so engrossed in trying to translate the idioms that I don’t even notice that Colin is sitting next to me until he lets out a laugh at the mouse grabbing the cheese from a trap before the cat can catch him.
“How long have you been here?” I ask.
“Long enough to wonder what your asshole boyfriend did.” He pops a nut into his mouth and then shakes the bowl toward me in offering.
I turn him down. I may never eat again. “Why do you ask that?”
“You have the look.”
I remember then his earlier story of how his girlfriend cheated on him when he was sick the first time around. Hotness prickles at the backs of my eyes but I clench my jaw hard to keep the tears in. Last thing I want to do is cry in front of him.
“I guess you’d know,” I retort.
Instead of being offended Colin just shakes his head in amusement. “I don’t understand how you’re so soft Charlotte. You gotta build up your defenses or you’ll just be a rug by the time he’s done with you. Flattened out and matted down.”
“He’s not like that.” The protest comes automatically.
“Right. Because good guys always cause their girls to look like they’ve been to a funeral. You’re at a crossroads here. You can either forgive him which will teach him he can treat you like shit time and again or you can get revenge.”
“Those are my only two options?”
“The only good ones. So what’s it going to be?”
And then he places his hand palm up between us.
His smooth palm, pink and white, almost babyish, sits between us like the apple in the Garden of Eden. And part of me is tempted. Colin is clever and sneaky and vengeful. He probably has a whole book on how to mete out retribution. But what would be the point?
“No.” I shake my head. “Hurting him doesn’t make me feel better. And I don’t want to contemplate exactly how I’m supposed to exact revenge. Sleep with you?”
“If that’s how you want to play it.” He gives me a fake leer.
“What happens? We videotape it and send it to him?” I shudder. “No thanks and no offense, that’s not my thing.”
“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” he responds lightly. But despite his smug words, his eyes show a hint of relief. I don’t think that was his thing either.
I push my hands through my short hair in utter frustration. “I don’t get it. I can’t believe he’d do this to me. You know, he never dated North Prep girls before.”
“How come?” He’s genuinely curious.
“His brother says you don’t shit where you eat.”
He purses his lips together and nods slowly. “Makes sense. His brother live by that rule too?”
This makes me laugh. “No, Nick sleeps with everyone. That way no one’s feelings are hurt.”
“Damn that’s smooth.”
We share a grin as I briefly forget what is sitting on my computer but my memory loss isn’t long lasting. The scene nags at me. The whole setup doesn’t feel right. Nate having sex at a party. Nate sleeping with a girl from North Prep. Nate videotaping this. Nate cheating on me. None of it makes sense.
“And with Greta. He doesn’t even like her.”
“Hate to tell you this but if he cheated on you by having sex with a girl he a) doesn’t have to like her and b) that’s not dating.”
“But his girlfriends have all been either older, like college, or other schools. Like Jefferson West or something.” I try to understand.
“CC, he’s not dating. It’s not his girlfriend. It’s a hookup. A shag. A fuck.” He emphasizes the last graphic word as if I don’t know what the meaning is.
“I know.” I whimper and I can’t stop crying which embarrasses me to no end. I shove my palms hard against my eyes as if the pressure can stop the river of tears but they keep coming.
“Oh fuck. I’m sorry. It’s none of my business.” He dabs his sleeve on my face. “Shit, please just stop crying.”
“I’m sorry,” I blubber. “I’m trying.”
He stands up abruptly. “Come on.”
“Where are we going?” I ask. His swift change of subject jerks me out of my self pitying episode.
“I’m watching this stupid video.” He marches out of the room and I trail behind.
“What number?” he demands as we exit the common room.
I tell him our suite number.
“Nice, I’m a floor above you.”
We take the elevator up in silence and are down the hall in no time.
“I heard the elevator,” Dad explains as he opens the door.
“Hey Mr. Charlotte’s Dad.” Colin offers his hand and Dad shakes it, his eyebrows raised.
“Don’t worry. I’m a eunuch. The radiation kills my equipment. We’re going to watch a movie,” Colin lies.
Dad frowns, his gaze drifting south briefly and then jerks his eyes back up to Colin’s. Clearing his throat, Dad gruffly directs us to my room and wanders off.
“Is that really true?” I whisper as we scurry into my room.
“Nah, I made that up so he wouldn’t stand there with the door open. I’m guessing you don’t want him to see this.”
No I did not want my dad to see the video. Colin sits down at my desk, acting as if he owns the place. Flipping open the cover, he watches the video as I lay on the bed with a pillow over my head. He watches it a couple of times without sound and twice more with sound. The pillow does nothing to mute the voices or the moans.
“Shit, this guy is totally passed out. You kill Greta’s cat or something?” He says.
I bolt upright, the pillow still clutched in my hands. “What do you mean?”
“This, what’s his name, Nate? He’s not even moving.” Colin gestures with disgust toward the screen.
“He moved his hand all over her breast,” I protest.
“No, she held his had against her tits.” He says these words slowly as if I’m too dumb to comprehend and maybe he’s right. I lean forward as he explains, “He isn’t moving even once. And if a guy’s got two hot chicks grinding their pussy all over him and he ain’t moving, guy is dead or passed out.”
“Why would they do this?” I argue. I want to believe him but I’m afraid.
“Revenge. What’d you do?”
“I didn’t do anything,” I cry. “I’ve been here. And before I was sick. I didn’t go to parties or anything.”
“So it’s him. Did he do something to one of them?”
“I don’t even know the guy or the girl. Just Greta and…” I stop. “He mentioned to me that he’d had a run-in with her but I wasn’t there at the time so I don’t really know what went down.”
“Meh. This isn’t even good porn.” Colin kicks out his legs and folds his hands behind his head. He’s officially over the video.
“Thank god.” I guess I can be done too. Although I’m still feeling hollow inside. I don’t know if it’s relief or the remnants of fear. I son’t I’ll be whole again until I talk to Nate.
“What? We can’t be friends without having watched porn together.”
“You watch porn with all your friends?” I give him a skeptical look.
“Not the guys cuz that would be weird.”
“I’m not watching porn with you.”
“You are such a killjoy Miss C.”
I do not want to talk about porn with Colin but I recognize his act. He’s trying to make light of something to feel better which is actually kind of nice, porn references notwithstanding. “What do you think I should do?”
“About this?” He jerks his head toward the computer. I nod. “Call your boy. Tell him you love him and get back at Greta.”
“Why are you being nice to me?”
“Eh, why not? Being an asshole to you takes effort. You’re too nice. It’d be like kicking a kitten.”
“There was a compliment in there somewhere.”
Colin rises and stretches and then ambles over to give me a kiss on the top of my forehead. “It is. Wish I had a girl like you Miss C. I’ll see you tomorrow. Let me know how it goes.”
I ring Nathan almost before Colin has left. He doesn’t answer.
I hang up and dial again. It would be early evening there. It rings several times.
I get on the computer but he’s not available on Skype.
I text him.
Love you babe. Miss you.
I text Nick next.
Hey miss you. Hope to be home soon. What’s happening.
He responds immediately. Miss you too. You shouldn’t have left. We’re a mess without you.
I haven’t heard from Nate. He okay?
There’s a long pause.
I decide to confess. Got the video.
Shit. He did not cheat on you. He was totally out of his head. They drugged him.
Colin was right. Greta?
Yeah and this guy from Northwestern that Juliette Waite brought. She set us up so we’d fight them then bc the asswipe got his pants kicked, he decided to get back at Nate. N would never do this to you.
No, I know. I figured it out. I don’t mention that I needed help. But I texted him and called him.
He’s sick. He’ll call you promise.
Okay. Tell him I love him. Give him a kiss for me.
Yeah, not doing that. But love you too. Take care of yourself. Hurry back.
And with that, a little of my hollow parts filled out.