POE AT THE GATES
[Author’s Note: This story takes place about 3/4 into UNDER THE ROSE, specifically, after the first scene in chapter 18, Benefits (pg 301 if you wish to refresh your memory). The Diggers have just exposed Elysion; Amy and George have just left Poe standing at the gates of Prescott College.]
“Drop dead, Jamie,” she said and disappeared into the night with her lover. I wrapped my hands around the frigid iron bars of the Prescott College Gate, squeezed until the bones of my knuckles bit into my bruised flesh. But Amy was gone. With George.
His hand had splayed against the small of her back as they’d walked. Each finger claiming as much space as it could, proclaiming far more intimate knowledge. The only time I’d tried to touch her, she’d shoved me away, so hard I’d left the city we shared. The entire state.
Had some hapless undergrad approached at that moment, I would have stolen their prox card and run after her. I’d have ripped her out of George’s arms then and there and made her finish our conversation.
Fortunately for all of us, no one showed up. And finally, I pushed away from the gate and walked on.
Following procedure, I should be tracking down the other Elysion members and devising a plan to deal with the fallout of our discovery by the other Diggers. But the only person whose location was known to me was George, and there was no way I was about to interrupt him. I wondered if they were already naked. Probably, knowing George.
It figured that a girl like Amy would have no problem being furious at me and simultaneously ready to jump Prescott’s bones. If she needed help, I was the person she’d turn to. If she needed to get her rocks off, though…
I had never hated her more. Which is why I walked by those fucking gates two more times, just in case there was someone coming through that might let me in. But no one was out and about. Who would be, in this horrific weather?
They were definitely having sex by now. I whirled and headed resolutely toward the Law School. My apartment was too far to walk in this freezing rain without my coat, and the tomb was enemy territThere was no place else on campus where I was welcome.
My hand hurt. It had been hurting for two days, ever since I’d plowed it through that asshole Micah Price’s jaw. What had I been thinking? I was not the kind of person who did things like that. There were far easier, far more efficient, and far more damaging ways to hurt someone than with your fists. But a few hours with Amy Haskel and I was punching people, chasing people, seriously considering heading back to Prescott College and scaling the wall…
And then what? Breaking into George’s room and dragging her out of his bed by her hair? God, what was wrong with me? I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. Thank God none of my friends had been around these last two days to see the way I’d been acting. Malcolm would be on the floor laughing, no doubt.
He had this crazy idea that I—that Amy…
Here’s the thing: Malcolm is generally intelligent, but he has a severely warped view of romantic relationships. Figures he would, given his past. A guy who’s been forced for most of his life to convince himself that he’s not attracted or interested in the people he falls in love with is bound to develop some twisted ideas. I, for one, liked people I liked. I loved people I respected, who respected me, who I could have decent, lively, interesting conversations with.
Well, I’d had interesting conversations with Amy over the last few days. I’d give him that.
But it didn’t make a difference. I didn’t like Amy Haskel. She was a bitch. A flighty, ungrateful, disrespectful, paranoid, clueless…
Except she wasn’t really flighty. She was actually pretty dedicated to Rose & Grave. And she was determined to help that idiot Jenny, no matter what that cult-member moron had done to us. And her paranoia—well, I had to admit that, in the end, she’d been right not to trust me. So she wasn’t actually clueless, either.
Disrespectful, though. I had her on that one. And bitch, certainly. And given what she and George were probably doing right now, there were a few more choice adjectives I could add.
I really needed to get a hold of my imagination. It kept vomiting up images of Amy in George’s bedroom, in George’s arms. Images of George in Amy’s…
I blew through the doors of the Law Library, trailing autumn rain in my wake, and headed up the steps. I’d left my book bag in the secret sub-tomb, along with my coat and umbrella. There were enough course readings in the stacks to keep me occupied for a few hours, until I could be sure of sneaking back into the tomb undetected. There was no way I was willing to face the club of D177 tonight.
It wasn’t until I arrived at my reserved study carrel that I remembered who’d used it last: Amy, during her urgent all-nighter. Two days in a row, Amy had an emergency and she’d come to me. She’d eaten my Doritos, she’d organized the paperwork I usually kept piled up on the surface of the desk, and when I sat down, I discovered she’d switched out my old, squeaky chair with one of the nice new ones from the reading room.
Like she had any right to mess with my stuff.
I was surprised that she was even awake enough for sex with George. She’d looked exhausted all day long. On the Metro North train this morning, she’d curled up on the grody plastic seats underneath her winter jacket and tried to sleep. I’d never seen anyone look more uncomfortable. Her ankles had been sticking out from under her coat, dangling over the side, her brown hair with those faded, ridiculous red highlights spilling over her face. I’d almost given her my coat to use as a pillow. I’d almost given her my shoulder.
Malcolm would have had a field day with that one. Meanwhile, Amy would have simply wrinkled up that nose of hers and given me some kind of smartass rejection.
And then Malcolm would ask which part I minded more: the smartass or the rejection. And I would have no idea.
Shit. Shit. I pushed away from my desk and headed to the bathroom. I looked like a drowned rat, wandering through campus in the rain with no coat. I grabbed a few paper towels and tried to blot at the wet spots on my shoulders, to dry some of the excess water out of my hair. I did not like Amy Haskel. And I didn’t give a shit that she was fucking George.
And I would keep telling myself that until it became the truth.
I returned to my desk and studied. I studied for half an hour. That should give them plenty of time to… finish whatever it was they were doing. George might be God’s gift to women, but I doubted he was pulling any kind of marathon session tonight. Down in the student lounge, I called.
“Hello?” said George.
“It’s Jamie. Put Amy on the phone.”
“She’s not here.”
“Dude, she’s not here. She chewed my head off about Elysion and left. Look, I have to go. I’m talking to Josh.”
I heard a male voice in the background. It was either the truth, or George was kinkier than I’d thought. “Are they pissed?”
“What do you think?”
“Do you need me to come over?”
“I think that would be a bad idea.” George paused. “I really have to go.”
Fine. I called Nikolos, but there was no answer, and Ben and Kevin were together, in deep conference with Odile. Odile Dumas, of all people! They didn’t want me involved, either. I wasn’t a knight, like them. I didn’t matter. I was on this campus, ready to jump whenever they wanted me, forced to sit on the sidelines according to their whim. Nikolos had used me to set up Elysion. Amy had used me to chase after Jenny, to get access to the Law Library. And when they were done with me, they shut me out. I’d been so desperate for even a taste of what I’d had my senior year, I’d taken the scraps and relished them. And pathetic as it was, I’d still take them.
I stared down at the phone for several long moments. Then I picked it up. Amy’s number rang and rang, then went to voice mail. I opened my mouth to speak, to apologize, to grovel…
And then I hung up.
No. It ended here. It ended tonight. I was done letting Amy Haskel have that much control over me. I was a patriarch of Rose & Grave, and this disorganized, faulty club’s problems were not mine. They could sink or swim on their own for a little while. Getting involved had done nothing but mess with my head. The more I jockeyed for their impossible esteem, the more confused I got about my own feelings. I wanted Amy to show me the proper respect as a Digger patriarch, that was all. I certainly didn’t need her friendship. I definitely didn’t want anything else from her, either.
The rain looked like it had stopped so I left the Law Library and trudged back toward the tomb. The path wound right past the door to Prescott College. I wondered where Amy was now. Back in her room? Had she gone to bed? Was she pow-wowing with the other knights, trying to plan their next move?
So she hadn’t slept with George tonight. Huh. That was an…unexpected discovery. I guessed she was mad enough to overcome whatever irresistible draw that kid seemed to have on the opposite sex. Perhaps she was, in fact, furious with both of us equally. I remembered the words Amy had shouted at me through the bars:
You’re destroying the society in your bid to cling to it.
I took a deep breath and stopped walking. Was she right? Had Amy Haskel been a better Digger than me? Had the loyalty and dedication and fidelity of the bugaboo trumped my own? Amy had been a last-minute replacement. I hadn’t wanted her, but the club had very little choice. And yet, and yet, she’d not once, but twice took charge during some of the more difficult controversies that Rose & Grave had ever faced. I’d hated her for it. I’d hated more that I couldn’t dismiss her fight. She was loyal. She was clever. She was constant. As much as I was—in this case, more than I. They were qualities that, in any other person, in any other incarnation, would shine out like a beacon, would call to me like a siren.
Malcolm wondered why I was so obsessed with Amy Haskel? Because of that. She was nothing like me; she was everything like me. How was that even possible?
I looked into Prescott through the bars. This was where she lived. She could walk through the gates any second and see me standing here. She would think I was waiting for her. I should go before anyone sees. Before anyone sees me and figures it out.
Maybe I’d told Amy the truth yesterday. I’d punched Micah because his insult to Amy was an insult to a Knight of Rose & Grave, not that pile of messy, infuriating, bitchy entitlement that I disdained in her. Maybe all these bizarre feelings were just more confusion about leaving Rose & Grave, about leaving Eli. Maybe Amy was nothing more than nostalgia. Maybe.
But I was too smart to believe that.
Fortunately, I was a good enough liar to sell it to her. And I’d keep working on Malcolm. And once I was positive that no one else would ever suspect the truth, I’d convince myself.
An underclassman passed me at the gates and swiped her prox card at the sensor. She looked at me –wet, bedraggled, haunted –as she pulled open the gates.
“Are you coming inside?” she asked, her face crossed with concern.
I walked on.