This is how it began.

We stood in the kitchen, hair and pajamas mussed from sex and sleep.

His roommates completed the early morning talk circle: Max, the darkly brooding future artist, and Rod, “the God”, his exceptional physique highlighted in no shirt and a pair of flimsy cut-off sweat pants, clinging to his sculpted hips. They were my classmates, my peers. He, being the grad student, was basically our superior in the hierarchy of college life. He ardently pursued me for the program so I thought I was safe in his care.

A conversation lull made him open his lips in invitation. “Want some breakfast baby?” Till that moment, I hadn’t realized how hungry I was. My stomach answered with a growl as I said, “Yes, yes I would.”

His lazy morning smile still in place, my benefactor, my coach, the taker of my virginity replied, “Make it yourself, bitch.”

I had, by this point in my life, enough of bullies. Just enough self respect moved my hips in deadly leisure down the hall to his room, him right on my heels, much like he was when he wanted me on his forensics team. “I was just kidding, baby, don’t be mad, come on, wait-,” he cajoled all the way.

He grabbed for my arms, trying to still my already constrained motion as I grabbed for my tennis shoes, the only thing I could get to, and shoved my feet into them sans socks. In nothing else but boxers and a t-shirt, I marched through his attempts to hold me back, out the door and down the mile-long road to the highway.

Halfway there, good sense returned, and the reality of chucking it down the interstate with no underwear on impelled my brain to scrabble for an alternate plan. Going back was not an option. Otherwise hopelessly direction-challenged, I somehow remembered the route to the nearest friend about two miles away.

He did not pursue. He must have thought I’d walk off the steam and come back. I did not.

I reached my friend, sweating and mad as a disturbed killer bee nest. I woke her up, judging by her own sleepy appearance. “What the- Amelia?”

“Becca,” I huffed, “can I just stay here, please?” She looked hard at me, more like clearing the cobwebs out of her head than any kind of judgment.

She stepped back and swept her arm out. “Come in.” She gave me time to clear my own head space while she got us both a cup of coffee before she started her inevitable investigation.

“So,” the cup poised at her lips, “what’s, uh, going on?” My apartment was fifteen miles away. She knew I was dating her closest neighbor and colleague; it wasn’t a hard mental leap.

I stared at my empty cup. I’d only ever been in one quasi relationship. At fourteen, I’d dated Richard, an eighteen year old drop out with a crazy mother. Somewhere along the way, though, I convinced myself it wasn’t real. With that lack of experience and consequent denial, I’d never developed the tools to forge and sustain a real grown up relationship.

More denial seemed to fit. “I don’t know… I just, if he shows up don’t tell him I’m here, okay?” I gave her my best pleading eyes. “And,” I looked back down at my cup, “could you give me a ride home?”

She gave a burdened sigh. “Look,” she seemed poised to lecture but changed direction at the last moment, “I have to get ready to go into campus, so I can give you a ride then.” She took in my clothing. “Do you need to borrow something to wear?”

I looked down at my obvious bralessness. “Uh, no…”

This is where the narrative takes the bend I’ve long wanted to go back and straighten out. The following is what I wish happened.

“Uh, no… if you could just go to his house and get my backpack?” Becca successfully holds back an eye roll, but the long suffering sigh comes out unhindered. “My apartment keys are in there.” I wave my hand over my torso, “For, uh, clothes?”

“Yeah, yeah… alright.” Becca disappears for a bit to get ready for the day while I assess my rushed relationship with the graduate speech coach, deciding that, although I’d made the mistake of getting involved with him, I would now do the right thing and end the barely begun thing between us.

It would be the  best decision of my entire college career.

Becca reenters the room, putting in dangling hippy earrings. “So, just stop by, get your bag and dash out?” she raises her eyebrows at me.

“Yeah,” I figure, keep it brief. I’m already asking a lot.

She grabs her well worn leather satchel and her to go cup of coffee. “I’ll be right back.” She pulls the door as she walks through but stops just before it snaps shut and sticks her head back in, “I’ll get the rest of your stuff too – no use prolonging the inevitable.”

Although I only know her as an older, married graduate student, she’s proving to be a very good friend. “Thanks, Becca.” I say it pretty softly, but she nods and shuts the door.

True to her word, she’s only gone maybe ten minutes. She opens the door and drops my back pack just inside the door. Without preamble, she says, “Sorry. He followed me. Wouldn’t take no for an answer.” As Becca skirts the entry, he comes in the front door.

“Come back. It was just a little joke,” is all he says.

Self conscious in front of him, I hug myself to conceal my breasts. I figure, pull the bandage clean. “It was a mistake to get involved with my coach.” His lips part, but I hurry on, “I’m quitting the team, it’d be inappropriate to stay.”

He shifts toward me, arms already reaching. “You don’t have to do that,” he soothes, so I cut him off.

“Yes. I do. I mean a clean break.”

His jaw ticks. “You’ll lose your scholarship.”

I shrug. “So, I’ll take on a second job.” At his dubious smirk, I add, “I’ll make it work.”

Plain as an Amish suit coat, I see the thin sheen of anger spread under his entire skin. “You know, when I met you, I thought you were special because you were sweet.” His lips screw up in a scowl. “But you’re just an average bitch.”

At this, I nod. “Whatever you have to tell yourself, dude.” I move past him to reach for my pack, every inch of my sinew itching for him to try something. I’ll be ready. But he hangs there in mid air, like a slow mo replay in a boxing match.

“You think you’ll have a shot here? I will make your life mis-,”

I cut him off, “Try it. I will go to the trustees and tell them you seduced me.” This shuts him up nicely. Graduate assistants aren’t supposed to fraternize with the undergrads. He’s a bully, sure, and a callow one but he isn’t stupid.

He stands there, clenching and unclenching his fists. I just blink. “Well,” he huffs, “get in the car. I’ll give you a ride home.”

Still as lake water in early morning, I say, “No. Becca’s driving me in.”

The air in the room swells, like a building storm, until he pierces it with a loud “Fine!” He throws the door open and leaves it swinging on squeaky hinges as he spits gravel peeling out of the parking lot.

I jump when Becca says, “Well, that went well.”

Only

That’s not how it happens.

I don’t quit the team and I don’t get a second job. And the worst thing, I don’t break up with him. The forensics team never gets off the ground, so I’m at the college for no discernible reason. I recognize this feeling; been here before. Completely cut off from all safety nets.

And I would soon need one.