Chapter 14

Victoria entered the dark dorm room at nine. She had taken an early train—didn't want to have to face her mother over breakfast. Madison sat up, awoken by Victoria's noise, and rubbed her eyes.

Victoria dropped her bag on her bed and unwound the long scarf from around her neck. She tossed it on a chair back and sat down in silence.

"You're early," Madison said in a slightly scratchy voice. She fell back on her pillow.

"Yeah."

"How are things at home?"

"Same as usual," Vicky paused, and blinked slowly, "I saw Luke on the train."

"Luke," Madison smiled, "He's nice. Did you know his dad's like a senator?"

"Yeah."

"Brad and I hung out the other day. He told me."

"Hm."

"Is he back yet?" Madison folded her arms.

"Why?"

"I should give him a ring, see how it's going."

"I thought you weren't interested in him."

"I never said that."

"Yes you did."

Madison sat up again and ran her fingers through her blonde hair, "I didn't know what I was talking about. You know me—I can be an emotional rollercoaster. He's a nice guy and he really likes me. Plus—and I know this is shallow and all—but he's very cute."

Victoria's finger began to bleed. She looked down—how did she not notice digging her nail into her skin? She hurried to her desk in search of a band aid.

"You're pretty, too, Madison," Victoria said.

"Thank you!" Madison exclaimed in a high-pitched, modest tone. As if it were a surprise to her.

"But I don't know," Victoria continued, "I don't think he's good enough—I mean you said yourself he wasn't special."

"What's wrong, Vicky?" Madison asked suspiciously, "Before you were trying to convince me he was like this Prince Charming. Is something wrong? Did something happen between you?"

Victoria bit her lip and opened her mouth to speak.

"Did you two get into a fight?" Madison interrupted.

Victoria sighed, "No, we didn't. You're right—I shouldn't interfere in your business."

"Hey, Vicky? Want to do me a favor?"

"What favor?"

"Call Brad. Invite him and Luke to hang out with us today!"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Call him yourself. I'm not getting involved."

"Come on, Vicky, please!" Madison continued begging.

Victoria turned on the light and Madison shielded her face with her elbow. They stared at each other.

"Your eyes look very green today, Maddy," Victoria said, "I'm just waiting for them to start glowing dollar signs. I have to go."

"People like you—it's people like you who ruin it for the rest of us." That was what she said—what she said that night in the street, after their fake date at McDonald's—that made him realize he had to have her.

And the rest was a combination of things. Her anger, the smell of her hair, the pure exotica of it all—she was, after all, so different from everything he'd ever had. He wanted to try something new. He'd never imagined it would feel so different.

Vicky was a comical figure. Pouty, depressed, cynical. That made the moments she smiled especially alive—she was the only person he had ever known that was so genuinely alive. He couldn't really describe it any other way. She was an unreal passage into reality—this strange, shivering, miserable paradox. Like a fortress made of glass.

If anything, she fascinated him. Of course, they made no sense. He wouldn't ever want to date her or marry her or have a life with her. She wasn't made for that, after all, he told himself. Madison was made for that. Vicky was made for loneliness—and for being a beautiful thing (whose beauty only a select few could really see) that needed to be destroyed.

Too much beauty, after all, depreciated beauty. Never was beauty more profound than when it was torn apart. The same with happiness—happiness just wouldn't be happiness if one didn't have to see it melt away.

But he was haunted by her shaking shoulders and her wild eyes. Only by the time he neared his dorm room did he remember that Vicky wasn't really lonely. She still had Brad. He didn't know why it frustrated him so much. It wasn't as if Luke wanted her for himself—at least in the "official" sense. But he did, after all, want her all to himself. He wanted her always there—always available—a phone call away.

As he neared the door, he heard voices inside. His heart jolted—he found it a little embarrassing—when he realized she was there. He listened at the door.

"You look almost disappointed," Brad said.

"Only in myself, if at all," she replied. Her voice was deeper than usual. "Fine. I have a way we can fix it."

"Oh yeah? Fix it? Just like that?"

"I foil his plans with Madison. He pays up. You give me seventy percent."

Luke stepped back. Brad had told her about the bet. That bastard had told her. He went back to the door.

"How does in your dreams sound?" Brad was saying.

"Sounds like a charm," she said, trying to sound as lightly as she could, "See, to me, there are two ways to go. I can help him fail, or do everything in my power for him to succeed, earning some green in the process. Unfortunately for you, if I choose the latter, you'll be half a grand short. This is a sure way for you to get something. It's this, or a hundred percent chance that you lose. Honestly, I'm giving up thirty percent of my earnings. I'm doing it for principle. I'm being nice."

"You're doing it for principle? You really think anybody still buys that?"

"Excuse me?"

"Oh, come on, Vicky. You come in here this morning—bitching about Madison's new interest in him. Suddenly want to break up with me. And now fishing for excuses to break him up with Madison. Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted you've offered. As a matter of fact, that was part of the reason I told you about the whole thing anyway. But as far as your cut goes—I think you should just settle for my silence about this whole thing to Luke."

"Hm, too late," Luke walked through the door. "Hey, Veevs, Brad—I hope I'm not interrupting anything."

She looked horrified. Her eyes were wide and her lips clenched together. Brad laughed.

"Brad, you douche bag, I never thought you were a cheater on top of everything else," Luke continued with a smile.

"If you'd heard everything," Brad said, "my ex-girlfriend here is the calculating one."

"Oh yes, your ex-girlfriend is definitely a cheater in more ways than one." He gave her his malicious, scoundrel look.

She tried to speak but couldn't. Rigidly, tragically, yet somehow gracefully, she walked out of the room.

Luke looked down. She had left her scarf behind. Brad, too, was staring at it.

"It's fine," Brad said, "if she wants it, she'll come back."

"She'll never come back," Luke said.

"Well, don't sound so upset. At least you got the girl. There's nothing in the world either Victoria or I can do now to cock-block you now."

When Luke gave no response, Brad put his hands in his pockets and walked out of the room.

When he was alone, Luke smiled faintly, "Yeah. I got the girl." He picked her scarf up and brought it to his face. It smelled like her hair. When I visit Madison, he told himself, I'll give her the scarf. He wanted to visit Madison right away.

He found Victoria standing on the stairway outside. She was facing the green quad. When he approached her, she looked at him with sadness but not surprise. He handed her the scarf and she took it without speaking. Their eyes connected for a moment. He began to turn back.

"What were you thinking?" she said, "That after I found out, I'd still help you?"

"No, I am planning to continue going out with Madison while seeing you on the side."

She widened her eyes and opened her mouth.

"Then you're fucking insane," she said.

"No I'm not. You wouldn't want me to tell Madison about your involvement in all of this, would you? That I paid you to help me with getting her in the sack?"

"That wasn't what happened."

"Sure it was. We all have our versions, of course, but I'm pretty sure that when a rich dashing boyfriend tells her a fantasy tale romance about how her love reformed his 'lustful desires', the wicked friend will stand as a great villain. She is your only friend, isn't she? And your roommate. Man, that will be awkward. I feel for you Vee-vee, I do."

"Let me get this straight—you're blackmailing into not just betraying a friend but also—" she groped for words.

"It's not really blackmail if you want it."

"Why are you doing this? How are you doing this? Nobody could be that horrible!"

"Two people are. We're not all that different, you and I. We're a rare breed. Few are as completely selfish and horrible as we are."

"Selfish?"

We both have a profound hatred for mankind. We both hold others in contempt. We both step on those around us to achieve whatever it is we want. Except you make up pretty ideals to cover it up. Like the pursuit of truth—some shit like that. But I can admit it. I hate seeing other people happy. Most people in the world don't deserve to be. Over time it becomes a need. When I see someone comfortable in their skin I must ruin their life. The confidence of others is my pet peeve, Victoria. And now imagine seeing you. Indifferent to the world, completely immune to me. You did it all to yourself, you know, the moment you defended yourself. Do you understand how frustrating you are? I needed to destroy you. But you're tough. Madison, Brad, they're both sheep. You and I are wolves. And the thing is that when a woman makes me feel like a failure, I need to have her. So I had you. You came surprisingly easy. And you were refreshingly-" he paused and inhaled deeply, "wonderful. You make me happy. You're the only one I've ever known that made me happy. So, I'll have you. I'll keep you. But I won't let you be happy. Letting you be happy would be a sign of weakness—and I can't show weakness, especially not to you. "

"I guess I have no choice," she whispered.

He smiled and put his arms around her.

She tore out of his grasp. "Go ahead," she said calmly, her voice a little strained, "tell Madison whatever you want. And never speak to me again."