Chapter II

This was it. It was official; nothing I could ever do in my short life on this planet would exceed my desperation right now. As I knelt in the grass outside my apartment, frantically searching among the blades of grass for a pen - a fucking pen - I was sure of only one thing: I was at my lowest point.

Until this morning, during breakfast, when Kristie had asked me how my love life was, I had completely forgotten about the pen. Immediately, my stomach had dropped. The pen. I had left it on the sidewalk three days ago. A lot could happen to a pen in that time. Eyes growing wide, I had fled from my seat, knocking the stool over as I ran outside onto the balcony. I caught the railing with my arms and hung over it, scouring the sidewalk beneath me.

No way. This couldn't have happened. There was no way that someone had actually picked the pen up. There was no way it was gone. Someone had just kicked it off of the sidewalk, I had tried to convince myself. It was just laying in the grass where I couldn't see it from the second floor. No big deal. There was nothing to worry about.

But that hadn't helped the sick feeling that grew in my stomach. Yeah, it might still be there, but there was still the possibility that it was in the hands of some complete stranger and the same possibility that he or she would discover the phone number inside it. And if that person actually texted me…. I had no idea what I would say. I had no idea how to explain myself without sounding like a desperate psychopath. I had no idea how to even have a normal conversation with a stranger. The entirety of my predicament was enough to riddle me with anxiety.

"No… No, no, no. Fuck no. This isn't happening," I had groaned and rushed back into the apartment. I had to check outside. I would see that pen was still there, then I'd realize that I had freaked out for nothing, laugh at myself, and throw it in the trash. It was the only way to calm my mind.

"What's the matter, Cass?" Emma had said through a mouthful of cereal. "Is everything okay?"

I stopped in my tracks and had pointed a finger at my two roommates. "I… just…. A thing," I stuttered, shaking my finger once after each pause, and then sprinted out of the door and down the stairs from the second floor.

The pen was nowhere. Not on the sidewalk, not in the grass, not in the bushes. With each second my heart had beat faster and faster. This couldn't be happening. No. It wasn't happening. I fell to my knees and had started to run my hands through the grass. The pen had to be hidden here somewhere - it was my last hope.

And that's where I stayed, kneeling in the grass as a stream of students poured past me as they headed to their nine o'clock classes, until right now when my last shred of dignity finally slipped through my fingers.

Yep. I was officially at my lowest.

"What are you doing? You've gone mental," Kristie shouted down at me from the balcony.

"What'd you lose?" Emma said.

"A pen," I shouted back. "It's blue. Have you seen it?"

Kristie laughed. "A pen? All this over a pen?"

"No, you don't understand. I need this pen."

"You can borrow one of mine if you really need one so badly. Just come on back inside. It's cold and you look like you should be locked up in a mental institute. Save yourself the embarrassment."

Too late.

"No, I can't come back inside. I have to find this pen or my life will be over."

"Cassie." Emma appeared at my side and yanked me onto my feet. "You're coming inside."

I groaned but didn't resist as she guided me inside.

"So what's so special about this pen you lost?" Kristie said as soon as Emma sat me down at the bar.

I shrugged. "Nothing."

"Come on, Cassie. Don't give me that. There's no way I can believe that you freaked out over nothing."

I stood up slowly, waving them off. "I'll tell you later, I gotta go to class."

Emma's hand clamped around my arm, preventing me from running off.

"It's nine-oh-five. You've got forty-five minutes before class. Spill." A patronizing smile spread across Kristie's face.

"Besides, I'm not letting you go until you tell us," Emma said, her hand still around my arm.

"Okay, fine." I pretended to look sheepish. "It was my lucky pen. I lost it. That's it. Can I go now?"

My two roommates stared at me, Kristie with her eyebrows raised and Emma with her mouth hung open.

"That's the worst excuse I've ever heard, even coming from you," Emma said. She leaned in closer to me. "But now that I know that there's something you're covering up, I'm even more intrigued. Tell us."

But telling anyone - even my roommates - was the last thing I wanted to do. These girls had seen me through everything in the year I had known them. They had dragged my blacked-out ass home when I drank too much that one time during my Freshmen year and had held my hair back when I had tried to puke it all up. They had talked me through panic attacks before finals and ate an entire bucket of ice cream with me as I sobbed over the breakup. They had been with me through thin and thick, but even so, this was the one thing I didn't want them to know. I was honestly too embarrassed.

"Come on," Kristie said, "You were acting like a complete psycho just a few minutes ago. Staying quiet about this is only gonna make your case worse."

I sighed and slouched on the stool. I didn't see any way I could get away without telling my roommates everything. Kristie was right - at this point, I could only help my case rather than hurt it - so I dove straight into the explanation: "I put my number in a pen and left it on the sidewalk so some cute boy could pick it up and then take me out on a date and sweep me off of my feet so I could finally get over Sam but now the pen is gone and I don't know what to do because what if someone actually texts me?" The words flew out of me all in one breath.

"Jesus, Cassie. If you really want to find a guy that badly, I can just set you up with one of Jake's friends. The whole number in a pen thing sounds awfully desperate, even for you." Emma paused. "No offense or anything."

"None taken," I said.

"What I don't get is why you're freaking out so much about the pen being gone. Isn't that what you wanted by throwing it out there in the first place? Isn't this exactly what you wanted to happen?" Kristie said.

"Yeah, but only in theory. Now that it actually happened, someone might actually text me and, I don't know, it's all becoming too real. I'm freaking out. Like, if I actually get a text? I wouldn't know what to say. I can't talk with some stranger. And-"

"Cassie!" Kristie cut off my word vomit. "Someone probably just threw the pen in the trash. That's it. But if someone does text you, you come to us and we'll figure out what to say for you."

I gave her a small smile. "Yeah. You're right. Thanks."

My phone buzzed and my hand compulsively shot down to my lap where I had balanced my phone on my left leg as I took notes during lecture. With shaking fingers, I checked the screen. "Only until Midnight! 70-80% off Winter Wonder Sale," the notification read. I let out a sigh and sank a little further into my seat. It was just an advertisement email. Another false alarm, like the ten other times my phone had rang during this class alone.

I tried to turn my attention back to the lecturer and copied down the most recent notes. My letters looked crooked and not at all like my normal print-like style. I felt just like I had drunk eight cups of coffee in one sitting - all jittery and shit.

"Hohmann Transfer Orbits," I wrote in my notebook and underlined the phrase, just as the professor had done on the board. "WTF is this…" I added into the left margin of my notebook and drew an arrow between the two phrases. I was a robot, blindly copying down notes. Even though I tried to concentrate, nothing that my professor said seemed to stick. My mind simply kept wandering back to the pen and wondering if anyone would actually text me.

My phone buzzed again and I jumped a little in my seat, banging my knee on the underside of my desk. I was a mess. My hand shot to my phone and, sure enough, it was just another false alarm. "Cly's Wine Night tonight. Both of you are coming. Not optional. And Jake's friends are coming too so you won't have to third and fourth wheel us the entire time," the text message from Emma to our "Rooooomies" group chat read. I cracked a smile. This was definitely part of her plan to set me up with one of her boyfriend's friends and to get me out of this slump of ultimate desperation. I mean, the pen - seriously? Just thinking about it made me want to roll my eyes at myself.

"I'm down," I typed and sent it to the group chat. Emma was offering me help and I sure needed it. After the text sent, I turned my phone off. Today was the day I was going to take back control of my life and I certainly couldn't do that when I freaked out every time my phone rang.

"Cassie, why haven't you been answering your phone?" Emma asked as soon as I closed the door to our apartment behind me.

"Oh, sorry." I kicked my shoes off, tossed my backpack onto the couch, and hung my coat up in the closet next to the door. "I turned my phone off during class. Did I miss anything important?"

I didn't have to wait for a response. As I walked past the kitchen, I knew my answer. Shot glasses and plastic Solo cups laid out on the table along with two half-full handles of rum. Emma and Kristie both stood around the bar in full makeup and matching lace-up tops. And with them stood Jake and about six other guys. Jake's friends, I assumed.

"Hey guys," I said as cheerfully as I could.

"It's ten o'clock," Emma said, "where have you been all day? We started pregaming an hour ago. You still coming?"

"Yeah, of course."

"Then come here and take a shot with us!"

Kristie poured one for me and I took it from her. I shuddered on its way down at the way it burnt the back of my throat.

"Go get dressed, we're leaving in ten minutes," Emma said.

As I walked into my bedroom, I turned my phone back on and tossed it onto my bed as I rummaged through my closet. My phone emitted a constant stream of notification alerts that I had received throughout the day, but I paid no attention to it. I was crunched for time, I'd have to check my phone later. I pulled out the first going-out worthy outfit that I came across and threw on the ripped jeans and crop top combination. I ran a brush through my hair and one swipe of mascara later, I was ready to go. I checked my reflection one last time in the mirror before grabbing my phone and left the room.

"Looking hot," Kristie called as I stepped back into the kitchen and one of the guys jokingly whistled.

I rolled my eyes at them. "Thanks."

Emma grabbed my arm and dragged me over to one end of the bar where five full shot glasses were lined up in a row. She handed me a cup of what smelled like Orange Fanta for a chaser.

"These are for you," she said. "I want them gone by the time we get out of here."

My eyes grew wide. "I can't…"

"Do you really want to show up to the bar sober?"

"I guess not," I admitted. Although I didn't go out much, I had been to the bars enough to know how gross they could get. No matter which place I had gone to, they were all filled with the same hot, sweaty crowds and sticky floors. Of course, the drunker you were, the less you cared about any of that. I doubted that I could deal with that sober.

"Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots!" the guys began to chant while banging their fists on the countertop. Before long, Kristie and Emma joined in.

"Bottoms up, girlie!" Emma sang.

And that's exactly what I did. After a swig of Orange Fanta, I ripped down one shot and then another. I couldn't stand the burn of the alcohol, so I took a long drink of the chaser to cut it. Three more left, I coached myself. I could do this. One after the other, I finished off the remaining glasses. I coughed a few times and swallowed hard, trying to keep the alcohol down. As I finished off the rest of the Fanta, I felt a hand thump against my chest.

"Fucking badass," one of Jake's friends said. "You've got more balls than any of us here. I respect that." He extended a hand out to me and I shook it. "I'm Connor."


"It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Come on guys, let's get going!" Jake shouted and we all filed out of the apartment.

As we walked over to Cly's, the shots hit me and I began to feel indestructible. It was going to be a good night.

"Let's cut through here," I shouted and pointed at a frat's yard.

"Cassie, get back here! We can't cut through there," Kristie said and tried to grab me but I started running.

"Come on, we gotta go fast. Or they'll catch us." Without checking to see if anyone was behind me, I ran through the side of the house and out into the alley behind it. It was only then that I remembered that I still needed to check my texts from earlier today. I stopped in the middle of the alley and unlocked my phone. I had two unread messages in my inbox: one from Emma and the other from an unknown number. I opened the text from the unknown number.

"So I found this pen and your number was on it… do you need it back or something?" I managed to read after a few tries. The words seemed to swim before my eyes.

"Ooh… who you texting?" Emma chirped.

"A friend from class. I think."

"Tell her to come out to the bars with us."

I giggled, "Okay," and typed, "Clysssssssss."