"The Missing Piece" from RAMBLINGS, MUSINGS AND OTHER THINGS on Eat Sleep Write

*This originally posted here, but I will post it below as well.

November 6, 2013
by Adam Scull

The Missing Piece

            Angelica Masters woke up slowly.  The sun was directly overhead, spilling its yellow glow over her face and arms.  She stretched, feeling soreness envelope every part of her body.  She sat up and propped her elbows on her knees.  She blinked quickly, trying to remember why she was lying in the grass.  From the edges of her memory came a hazy picture of a party scene. 
It was a large, but crowded room.  The smell of alcohol permeated the air and several people were milling about, talking or dancing together.  A guy with dark blonde hair and a lanky build brushed past her and toppled over a nearby coffee table while gales of laughter erupted nearby.  The picture faded and she tried to find a reason why she might attend such an event.   It wasn’t her kind of scene.
            Angelica was a recluse.  She had been accused of it many times and she wouldn’t deny it.  The things her roommates did had never held any appeal for her.  She was perfectly happy if she sat at home, reading a great novel rather than attend the weekend parties Kylie and Karen, the two girls who lived with her, were known for visiting.  She didn’t want to make waves like them.  She wasn’t prepared to venture into the dating scene like everyone else.  She actually preferred her own company to that of the male persuasion.  They all seemed so caught up in the weekend scene and were so full of themselves that it was probably better if she avoided them altogether. 
            She remembered how her roommates had begged her to go to the party the night before.  No matter what ploy they used, no matter what they did to try to persuade her that it might be worth going to, she had refused.  She had also advised them that if they had any common sense, they wouldn’t go on such a suicide mission.  There was too much to risk.
            “You must be jealous,” Kylie retorted.  “You think we might get lucky and you won’t.”
            Measuring up to her roommates’ experience was the last thing Angelica wanted.  They constantly teased her about her virginity.  To her, keeping it was more sacred than trying to give it away to a complete stranger.  Last night, she had let Karen and Kylie leave without giving them a reply.  And yet it made no sense that she had memories, although vague, of a party she had attended.  It was also worth questioning why she happened to be lying on the lawn of the nearest fraternity house.  It was morning, nine o’clock by her watch.  Sunday.  Thank God it was a weekend or she would have missed a class.   
            She jerked her head up to see a tall boy in black jeans and a blue shirt.  Narrowing her eyes, she asked, “What do you want?”
            He frowned as if surprised by her stinging reply.  “I just wondered if you were all right.  That was some party last night.”
            “I suppose so.”
            He kneeled to her level.  “You don’t remember?”
            She looked down to see that she was wearing a bright pink shirt and white capris with brown sandals.  The outfit was certainly not from her wardrobe, which usually consisted of jeans and plain t-shirts.  She looked up at him again.  She could tell him about the memory, but she preferred to find out the truth first.  “I don’t.  What was I doing there?  Why did I go?”  She became aware that she was speaking fast.
            “Calm down.  You’re just confused.  You drank a little last night.  That’s all.”
            “I never drink.  Alcohol, that is.”
            “I see.”  He suddenly looked uncertain and she wondered what he was thinking.
            “What happened to me?”
            “I don’t know.  One of my friends, Brendan, talked to you a little.  You hung out.  I saw you go upstairs with him.  That’s all.  And now you’re here.”  He frowned again, rubbing his chin absently.
            She shuddered, her eyes wide on his face.  “I went to a room alone with him?”
            He sighed.  “I don’t know.  You could assume that, but I guess you’d have to ask him.  Are you all right?” he asked, touching her shoulder gently.
            “No.  I don’t remember any of this.  I might have-“ she stopped, her hand raised to her mouth.
            “Don’t worry so much.  Brendan’s a good guy.  He would never hurt anyone, especially a girl.”
            “How do you know?”
            “I just know him.”
            It was enough for now, but that wasn’t all she had to worry about.  There were diseases and unwanted pregnancy.  She clenched her fists.  Certainly if she had gone that far with someone, she would have remembered.  “I, I have to go home.  I shouldn’t be here.”  She sure felt as if she’d been mauled, but that could have been the effects of drinking as well.
            “Okay.  Can I walk you there?”
            She studied his face.  He seemed genuinely concerned about her.  “If you like,” she answered.  He helped her to stand and they walked away from the fraternity in silence for awhile.  She didn’t know him and yet he had approached her to see if she was all right.  Could he be trusted?  “I never got your name…”
            He glanced at her, grinning.  “My name’s Justin.”
            He has dimples, she mused.  “I’m Angelica.”
            “That’s a nice name.”
            “Thanks.  I really go by Angie, at least to people I know pretty well.”  Idiot.  She needed to hold onto her tongue more.  She felt like she was babbling nervously when she would normally clam up with complete strangers.  She cleared her throat.  “Anyway, do you know how I could get ahold of your friend Brendan?  I really need to find out about last night.”
            He shrugged.  “He sort of took off this morning.  Didn’t say anything.  He wasn’t in his room and his car was missing.  I assume he’s running errands or something.”
            “You’re not close?”
            “We’re good friends, but he’s very independent.  We all are.  We pretty much live together only.  We don’t keep tabs on each other.”
            “If he was leaving town, he would have said it or left a note.  That much we do.”
            “So I probably won’t get any answers out of your buddies then.”
            “They all saw you last night, Angie.  I just don’t know how much they remember.”  He sighed.  “Look, I’ll do some checking around, see what I can find out about where Brendan went and also see if the guys remember what happened with you two.”
            “That would be helpful.  Thanks.”
            “No problem.  Hey, I’m just as worried as you about how you ended up outside when I saw you at the party last night.  That’s pretty strange.”
            “I know.”
            When he dropped her back at the dorms, she thanked him and went inside.  As she trudged down the long hallway to the door at the end of the hall, she couldn’t help thinking that her presence at a wild party would only affect her reputation; her actions there could even affect her college career.  She didn’t feel all that different, but a change could have certainly occurred while she was under the influence of alcohol.  The uncertainty frightened her most of all.
All through her Biology class the next day, Angelica could not get her mind off of the party on Saturday night.  What had actually happened?  Who was the guy she’d been with?  Had she made a terrible mistake by taking one risk in her life?
            She was not prone to taking such risks, at least not the kind with serious implications.  Her most adventurous whims stemmed from a need to experience nature on a personal level.  This usually included taking walks on campus at night.  In her hometown, she often drove to the park to walk on the trails there.  Her legs had grown accustomed to the rough, uneven paths through the forest and she often set large goals for herself, such as trekking for long distances through the foliage for most of the day.  Her adventurous spirit as far as nature was concerned didn’t cause her anxiety.  The land was safe and she was confident in her own abilities to make the long treks.
            Even though she also knew the risks that her drive to see nature took her to, it worried her that the lengths her adventurous side had gone to were extreme, at least in terms of that party.  That was the only conclusion she could come to about her reasons for being there.  Surely she had to have gone to show Karen and Kylie that she was just as capable of having fun, but also to prove that parties were a lot more than the typical college experience.  She had always tried to keep up with her studies and never take too many chances socially.  She saw what bad choices did to people.  They wound up confused about their actions and torn between right and wrong.  She didn’t want her one faulty decision to have needless repercussions. 
            She would not tell her roommates.  If they hadn’t noticed her at the party, it was better that they didn’t know about it.  Angelica was certain they would either consider her an equally wild girl or laugh at her dilemma when they’d probably never worry about being with a complete stranger.  That was a natural occurrence.  But, not for her.
“Okay, that’s all for today.  Read chapter six.  Prepare for a quiz next time.”
Dazed, Angelica picked up her books and stuffed them into her backpack.  Slinging it over her shoulder, she left the room and headed for Granger Hall, the dorm complex in which she lived.  She shook her head.  It wasn’t at all like to her miss a lecture.  She needed to snap out of it and get her life back on track.  When she reached the room, she opened the door, dropped her bag on the floor and slumped onto her bed.  Why couldn’t life hand you a pocket full of opportunity when you needed it?  Why was it so complicated? 
Disgusted, she grabbed a hair clip and pulled the pile of her tousled auburn locks into a bun and clipped it in place.  She felt less of a bum.  But, why was she trying?  Had she done that much to improve her appearance the night of the party?  She couldn’t remember that either, but she must have tried to look different or she wouldn’t have woken up in Kylie’s outfit, which had been returned discreetly and unscathed.  Why would she try so hard to be unlike herself?
An insistent knock on the door brought a sigh out of her.  When she opened it, she saw Justin standing there in an awkward sort of way, both feet turned to the side in an anxious manner.  “Oh, hi.”
“Is there a problem?”
“No.  Not at all.  I was just around and I wondered if you might want to come and meet some of the guys, maybe ask them about the party.  It might shed some light on the subject.”
She shifted uncertainly.  “Uh, I’ll feel kind of strange.  I thought you were going to ask.”
“I was.  But, I figured you needed answers right away.  Besides, I think they’ll give you more information.  What happened with you and Brendan shouldn’t really be any of my business although I do want to help.”
He had a good point.  Addressing the issue from his standpoint would be awkward indeed.  He had nothing to do with it at all, but his willingness to help touched her.  She released a pent-up breath.  “All right.  I’ll go.”
A half hour later, she found herself in a mad house.  At the fraternity, dozens of guys walked back and forth, snacking on potato chips or they hung in groups, joking around with their buddies.  A couple of them were throwing darts while another drank a beer wholly as if Saturday night’s libations weren’t enough.  She looked over at Justin with a raised eyebrow. 
“Don’t worry.  It won’t be that bad.”
She nodded.  She had a hard time believing it when every guy in the house other than Justin seemed to ignore her presence.  Before she was ready, he had led one over to them.
“Angelica, this is Barry.  Angie was at the party on Saturday.  She has a few questions for you.”
“That’s cool.”
Grimacing, she began, “Uh, Barry, do you remember seeing anything on Saturday?  With Brendan and I?”
He stroked his shadowed chin for a moment.  “You guys went upstairs.  I figured you were gonna get down.  You know, the wild thing.  It got pretty wild, didn’t it?”
Angelica felt frozen to that spot in the carpet.  It was as if all eyes were drawn to her, expecting some kind of response.  It was like she was an abstract painting in a gallery which no one could tear their eyes from.  They would just stand there, their heads tilted, content to spend a lifetime trying to figure out its meaning.  She was sure she turned a shade of red then, perhaps even scarlet.  “Uh, I don’t know.”  She looked to Justin for help.
He cleared his throat.  “Come on, man.  Leave her alone.  Did Brendan say anything before he left Sunday?”
“No, man.  He’s so secretive sometimes.  It’s been awhile for him, I’m sure.  He wouldn’t let a thing on to anyone.  But, you saw them as clear as I did.  They were all over each other.  And she was dancing as sexy as hell.”
What if she had slept with Brendan?  She didn’t even know the guy.  Barry’s description was not helping her.  She felt as if she’d lose her breakfast at any minute.  She didn’t even dance.  To think she had been all over some guy she didn’t even know, it was so unreal.  “I-I’m sorry.  I can’t-“ 
Then, she turned away and left the house.  On the lawn, she tried to breathe slowly to prevent the knot from rising in her throat.
“Hey, are you all right?”  Justin was at her side in what seemed like seconds. 
She shook her head.
“Can you breathe okay?”  At her response, he touched her shoulder.  “Just focus on breathing.  Don’t think about anything else.”  After her breathing had slowed down, he sighed.  “You panicked, that’s all.”
“Really.  You’re a genius.”
He frowned. 
She shrugged.  “What if I did do that with him?  Everything he said…none of that is like me.  It doesn’t make sense.”
“Maybe you liked Brendan.”
“I wouldn’t act like that.”
“How do you know how you would act in that situation?”
“I don’t.  But, I’m usually smarter than that.  I wouldn’t just do that with anyone, someone I don’t know.”
“That makes sense.  But, maybe it wasn’t as bad as you think.”
“What are you saying?”
            “I don’t see the problem.  Maybe it wasn’t that bad at all.”
            “You wouldn’t understand.  You’re used to that kind of life, sleeping with utter strangers and all.  Taking risks.”
            He lifted a brow.  “Angelica, I only mean that I don’t understand why you’re upset.  Brendan can be trusted.  And he’s not the type you’re talking about.  He hasn’t been with many women.”
            “How can you know that?”
            “He’s my friend.”
            “And you’re ridiculously loyal!”  As she turned away, he grabbed her arm so that she faced him.  He was very close now, too close for comfort.  She shivered in an odd response.
            “I’m not taking sides,” he said softly.  “I just know him.  That’s the only reason I can give you to keep you from freaking out.  I can assure you he’s a good guy.  That’s all.  I can’t prove it.  I just know.”
            “It’s hard to know someone that well.  People are surprising sometimes…”
            “I know.  But, I’ve known him awhile.  He can be trusted.”
            “If so, then why isn’t he here?  How did I end up outside?  Why can’t I remember it…or him?”  She swallowed hard, fighting the power of uncertainty.
            He gently cupped her face.  “I don’t know.  But, I promise we’ll figure it out…together.  Okay?”
            She nodded, suddenly drawn to his conviction and tender care.  For a brief moment, it didn’t matter who she had possibly been with that night.  The young man before her seemed to be all that was important.  She felt both intrigued and comforted by his presence.  Then, it seemed her body was leaning toward him of its own volition.  His gaze fell to her mouth and she began to tremble before he set his lips to hers.
            His kiss was a wonder not often spoke of, an exploration of certainty and passion.  As she melted into his arms, she wondered why no one had described it to her before, the insistent thud of her heart or the warmth in her stomach, the way her fingers itched to touch or pull him closer.  How could lips provide such comfort yet also a passage into a world she had not known before but yearned for now?  How could a man be so careful as he was in his kiss, eager yet cautious as he explored her with lips and tongue?  She had not heard of such a thing.  Was it possible that this man, who seemed to consider her feelings in every way, could be trusted?
            When he pulled away, Justin appeared as spellbound as she felt.  A short breath escaped him.  “I, I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have done that.  You’re already spoken for.”
            But, was she?  She wasn’t entirely sure that what was said about Saturday night was true.  Perhaps he had been mistaken and it had really been the opposite.  Maybe Justin’s friend was only helping her, not showing an interest in her or doing anything more.  Either way, nothing was certain.  And she had to know the truth before she could even decipher Justin’s kiss.

            Despite her need to unravel the events at the party, she couldn’t stop thinking about what Justin had done that afternoon.  She had never thought of herself as attractive.  The fact that Justin had kissed her seemed unimaginable.  She supposed she should be more concerned about what had happened the night of the frat party, but she couldn’t help thinking that the kiss had meant something.  Justin might have felt something for her and might still.  She couldn’t tell; she didn’t know many men besides her father and even knowing him left her wondering if she knew how they ticked at all.
            The image of Justin’s face and the sensation of his kiss never left her, neither that night nor the next day after she had returned home from her Latin class.  A knock on the door woke her from the daydream.  Her roommates wouldn’t be back from class yet.  Shrugging, Angelica slid off of her bed and, stepping over the piles of Karen’s clothing in the freshman space, answered the door.  On the other side was a tall, muscled guy with sand-colored hair and blue-gray eyes.  He looked like a surfer straight out of an extreme sports network.  “Yes?”
            “Is Angelica around?”
            Frowning, she tried to hide his view of her tattered lounging clothes.  “That’s me.  Can I help you with something?”
            “Justin sent me.  He said you both were looking for me.  I’ve been out of town to see my parents.  I left early Sunday morning.”  He studied her expression for a moment.  “You don’t believe me.”
            She tried to appear nonchalant.  “That’s kind of sudden to take off just before classes.  It’s Wednesday.”
            “I know.  But, I didn’t plan it or anything.”
            “Oh?  Family emergency?”
            “You could say that.”
            Moments grew into gads of space and time.  She shifted uneasily.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t get your name.”  She dared not think this was the guy Justin had spoken of.  Something just didn’t fit with his story.  Not to mention he was a complete stranger and she didn’t consort with strange men.  Usually.
            “Oh.  Brendan Hammond.”  He shook her hand in an awkward manner.
            “You’re Brendan.”
            She cocked her head and sighed.  “You didn’t recognize me from before?”
            “You’ll have to forgive me.  I’d had several drinks that night.  And you looked different then.  More makeup and all.  You didn’t tell me your name either.”
            “I see.”
            “You still don’t believe me.”  He pulled out his wallet from the back pocket of his jeans and showed her his license.
            Sure enough, the right name was printed on the card along with a good picture.  “The fake i.d. business is getting hard to pin down these days.”
            His face lost its vibrancy.  He suddenly appeared haggard, like a man who’d been in the coal mining business for far too long.  Brendan cleared his throat.  “I should be going.”
            “Wait!”  She grasped his arm.  “I’m sorry.  That was a bad joke.  I really need to brush up on my people skills.”
            He attempted a small smile.  “It wasn’t that bad.”  He sighed.  “I’m no good with small talk-“
            “Me neither.”
            “Do you want to take a walk?”
            “Sure.”  Despite the fact that she was exiting the house in her oldest jeans and the most tattered t-shirt in her closet, they needed to talk.  She locked up and followed Brendan down the dormitory hallway.  When they were a good distance from the building and headed toward the quad, Angelica spoke to cover for the silence.  “I’m glad you’re really Brendan.  I began to think you didn’t exist.  You see, I’ve been going kind of crazy about this whole thing.”
            “I heard.”
            “Well, just that you didn’t know what happened that night.”
            “That’s right.  I suppose you think I’m weak and I can’t hold my alcohol.  Well, I guess I can’t.  I don’t drink usually.  And I’m certainly not the partying kind.”
            “What were you doing there then?”
            She had never really asked herself that question, though she had wondered about her own insanity afterwards.  “I don’t know.  Perhaps it was to prove a point.  The fact is that I ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
            “It wasn’t so wrong.”
            “What was right about it, Brendan?  I woke up on the lawn with the worst headache of my life and then, there were people telling me I’d slept with a complete stranger.  That’s not like me at all.”
            He sighed.  “We didn’t do anything wrong.  I can assure you of that.”
            Frustration rose to the surface.  “You said you didn’t remember everything.”
He frowned.  “I remember that.”
She sighed, uncertain she could trust him.  “Can you assure me that it was completely platonic?”
            “Well, yes.  We didn’t do anything.  I think we danced for awhile-“
            “You think?  I don’t even dance.”
            “Well, you did then.  And we went upstairs to my room.”
            “You seemed tired.  So was I.  We fell asleep, Angelica.  Is there a crime in that?”
            “I suppose not.”  She thought hard.  “Is that it?  That can’t be all.”
            “We were drunk.  I might have accidentally touched you while I was asleep, but I did nothing else.  When I woke up, we were dressed and everything.”
            “And you just left?”
            “My cell phone rang.  My mom was panicking.  She thought my stepfather was having a heart attack.  I had to leave.”
            Concern touched her.  “Is he all right?”
            “Yes.  I mean, he did have one, but they say it was mild.  I stayed as long as I could.”
            Angelica sighed.  “Okay.  So how did I end up outside?”
            “Downstairs was completely trashed.  I couldn’t leave you in the room.  Everyone would assume the worst, that I, Brendan, keeper of all promises and rare but loyal boyfriend that I am, walked out on a woman.  How very civil of me.  So I did the least conspicuous thing.”
            “You tried to erase me.”
            “No, I didn’t think they would put the two together.  At least if you were outside, you wouldn’t have to deal with the guys.  They can be, well, guys sometimes.  It’s juvenile.  Anyway, I didn’t expect that Justin would find you.  But, of course, our reliable and constant designated driver would see you on the lawn.  It was stupid of me.  I’m sorry.”
            “The grass thing was a little careless, I’ll admit.  But, you didn’t do anything else to me.  We didn’t…”
            “No, and I wouldn’t-“
            A thought struck her then.  “Oh, I get it.  Choose the least attractive woman in the room, do a pity dance with her, get her drunk and ditch her.  So, that’s how the game works.”
            “Are you crazy?  You’re gorgeous.  And I wasn’t playing you.  I don’t even know you.  Don’t you understand?  I date women first, a long time, before I even consider sex.  I mean, I think about it, but I don’t know anything about you.  I couldn’t sleep with someone I just met.  It doesn’t mean I’m not attracted to you.”
            She laughed.  “Are you for real?  There are actually guys like that?”
            “Wow.  I thought all the gentlemen had left the country.”
            “No, we’re just harder to find.”  He sighed.  “So, you seem kind of introverted, very intellectual, and a little old-fashioned.  I should really hook you up with Justin.  He’s a sucker for that kind.”
            “Oh, really?”
            “Yeah, he’s one himself.”
            “Justin, an introvert?  I didn’t detect that at all.”
            “Sure, and immensely sarcastic like yourself.  You’d be perfect for each other.”
            “Uh, thanks, but I shouldn’t.  I have classes right now.”
            Brendan shook his head.  “Figures.  You introverts are all the same, never willing to take a risk, even if it’s really important.”
            “What’s so important?”
            “Love.  It changes everything.”
            “I take it you’ve been in love before.”
            “Not really.  But, I dream about it.  Don’t you?”
            She couldn’t deny she’d thought about it or that she’d considered that she and Justin could be together someday.  “Maybe.  I think I’ll handle Justin on my own.  As long as I have your consent?”
            “Sure, I have no hold on you.”
            “Thanks, Brendan.”
            He winked.  “No problem.”

            Angelica was hiding behind a tree when Justin came out of the Science building two days later.  She fell into step beside him.  “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”
            He started for a second, catching his breath.  “I didn’t see you.”
            “I get that a lot.  So?”
            He blinked.  “Oh, yeah.  A perfect day for hiking.”
            “You’re into the outdoors?”
            “Yes.  Aren’t you?”
            “Of course.  Listen, someone told me it was a good time to take a risk.  What do you say I tag along?”
            “On what?”
            “Your hiking trip.”
            “I’m sort of a loner.”
            “Yeah, me too.  But, I decided I was getting tired of being alone.  Aren’t you?”
            He nodded.  “Is this the first time you’ve ever asked a guy out?”
            She nodded.  “How did I do?”
            “Not bad really.  It was subtle, but pushy.”
            She felt deflated suddenly.  “I came on too strong then.”
            “No!  Not really.  I mean, it worked for me.”
            She grinned at him, then looked down at her feet.  “So…”
            “So, what happened with Brendan?”
            “Oh, that.  There really was nothing there to begin with.  It didn’t work out.  We were just too…”
            “I had a feeling he wasn’t the one for you.”
            “Yeah, actually I had someone else in mind.  I’ve only known him for a little while.  But, somehow, without my knowing it before, we have so much in common.  And sometimes we even finish each other’s sentences.”
            “Who is this guy then?  You just met him?”
            “No, he actually saved me a few days ago.  Found me passed out on some strange lawn, not knowing where I was or what I’d done.  It was amazing…well, the part where I met him.  He kind of changed my life.  It’s strange, but somehow he’s a part of me now and I can’t do anything to prevent it.  It was an interesting experience.  I’ll have to tell you about it sometime.”
            Justin smiled and held her hand, but kept her from walking with another hand at her waist.  “I suppose it all started with a kiss then?”
            “No, but that helped.  Plus a little compassion, comfort and-“
            “Love?  Well, that could happen.  If it does, I won’t try to stop it.”
            “You won’t?”
            “No.  Why would I try to stop love?  That’s silly.”
            “It’s been known to happen…out of fear.”
            “But, Justin, I’m not afraid anymore.”
            “Yeah, me neither.”  Gently, he lowered his lips to hers for a slow kiss. 
            Angelica giggled as he pulled her close.  She hadn’t felt this happy in a long time.  Life was certainly changing.  If love was part of that change, then she would welcome it.  There was nothing left to lose.