Stephen checked his watch as he set his book bag by his chair and sat down. He still had a half hour before he had to be in his next class, so he was going to relax in the Commons and check out what was going on with the locals. He spotted several of his friends right away, but he didn’t bother acknowledging them or drawing attention to himself. He was just there to watch and see if anything interesting was going to happen. One of his work friends, Vivien, walked in the Commons door and began to cut across the lower level, apparently aiming for the mailboxes. The guy of one of the eye-baby couples looked away from his girlfriend and waved to her. A strange look crossed her face, but she waved back.
“You look nice today,” he said, causing his girlfriend to turn around and look for herself.
Vivien fingered her long brown braid with an awkward smile. “Thanks,” she said. “But please, don’t compliment me ever again.”
Stephen, the guy, and his girlfriend were all shocked by the request, but Vivien hurried past their table. Almost overwhelmed by curiosity, Stephen flagged her down. Vivien smiled when she saw him and came to his table.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi. What was up with that?”
She looked over her shoulder at the eye-baby couple and flinched. “I just don’t want him complimenting me.”
“Because every compliment he gives me is an insult.”
Stephen frowned, confused more now than ever. “He didn’t mean to insult you.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
Vivien smiled cryptically and said again, “I know.” She pulled her phone out of her pocket, checked the time, and then let it slip back in. “If you don’t mind hearing the story, I could explain it to you. I think I have enough time before class.”
Stephen checked his watch. “I have enough time for a story. It sounds interesting.”
“I don’t know about interesting, but it’s definitely dramatic.” She sat down and set her book bag beside her. “It’s kind of a girl story.”
He shrugged. “I’m up to it.”
“Okay, well, it started last year when my brother first came to college. My brother and him,” she jerked her thumb back at the eye-baby guy, “worked on the same machine at the Print Shop, and my brother invited him to join us for dinner. He was the strong and silent type, but whenever he did speak, he was hilarious and way cool, plus he’s way cute.” She glanced over her shoulder and added bitterly, “I started crushing on him around midterms. We got him to come to the Christmas fine arts with us. We went to the play first and then had dinner. I sat next to him during the play, and he stayed with me when I saved our group’s table at dinner. We got along really well, and he fit in perfectly with my group.
“Things changed at the Valentine’s fine arts. He went with our group again, and he gave all the girls in our group a bundle of three roses. They were the first flowers a man besides my father had given me, and I flat out love roses. One was even red. We sat together again and I made him laugh, and he walked me back to my dorm. It was a cloud nine night. He was such a good guy, and the roses totally swept me off my feet! I thought – I hoped – that he would be different than every other guy I’d ever met.
“I was worried that I was getting too excited, and I kept asking my group if I was being obvious, but they always said I was acting perfectly normal. I don’t know if they were lying or if they honestly couldn’t tell either, but I scared him. He admitted to my brother that he was avoiding me for a few weeks. I pretty much hated myself for that, and I completely backed off. I thought maybe if I stopped paying so much attention to him, he’d come back, and he did for a while.
“That’s where she came in.” Vivien looked down, but Stephen could see the anger in her eyes. Vivien tossed her hair back and met Stephen’s patient gaze. “She was dating one of his friends the first semester, but her parents didn’t approve of her boyfriend so she broke up with him. I give her full credit for that. Her mistake was telling her ex a month into the semester that she still had strong feelings for him.
“She started pursuing him,” she glanced back at the eye-baby guy, “pretty much the day she got back. She got him a Valentine’s Day card, she would wait outside her dorm so she could walk with him to work, and one time while I was trying to interview him for my Journalism class she tried to get her ex to help get him away from me so she could have him.” She laughed a little at the memory. “That infuriated my brother to no end!” Her laughter died and a frown pulled at her lips. “It was soon after that she told her ex that she hadn’t cared for him since Christmas. She completely shattered his heart and she didn’t care. That, to me, is unforgiveable.”
Vivien sighed and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear before continuing. “I think it was late March that she started wearing his jacket constantly. My brother asked him about it, since, you know, a girl wearing a guy’s jacket usually means she’s with that guy, and he said that she had been cold, so he did the gentlemanly thing and let her wear and she hadn’t given it back.
“Two weeks later, he broke his promise to join us for dinner. He promised me three different times that he would join us, and each time he didn’t show. My brother managed to corner him at the cereal bar one night and ask him about it. He was breaking his promise because of her. She had told him point blank that she wanted to start a relationship with him, and he was perfectly fine with it.
“I didn’t like her before, but after that she became unbearable. She was wearing his jacket all the time – I mean eighty-three degree weather with a sun index of eight and I am not exaggerating! I checked that day. She was walking around campus like she owned the whole place. Several times she stopped at my chapel seat to ‘talk’ to me, but it felt like she was only gloating.”
“You don’t know that she wasn’t,” Stephen said. “She could’ve just wanted to talk.”
Vivien smiled, almost dangerously. “You don’t know how women think, especially as far as our men are concerned. She was gloating.”
“Okay, I’ll take your word for it, but you do sound like you’re bitter.”
“Bitter? Maybe. I’m mainly mad. Possibly even furious. Look at her.”
Stephen looked at the eye-baby girl. She was short, round, with bobbed purple-red hair, and a pinched face.
“Now look at me.”
He looked at her. Vivien was tall, definitely not thin, but not overly fat either. She had long, dark brown hair and large eyes that he could never figure out if they were green, brown, or some strange color in between.
“I want your honest opinion.”
He was instantly dreading the question.
“Which one of us is prettier?”
He sighed and answered honestly. “You are. But aren’t girls always going on about how it’s more than looks?”
She smiled. “Yes, but I’m trying to make a point here. Look, girls naturally think that the other girl is prettier, and I do not have a very high opinion of myself at all, but even I know that I am prettier than she is!”
“Then maybe he likes her for her personality.”
“He has poor taste if he does.”
Vivien held up seven fingers. “I kept a running list of reasons why he shouldn’t date her and I reached seven without even trying. Granted, I can’t remember all of them right now, but I have them written down in one of my notebooks. I can remember two of the reasons right off the bat. One reason is she still flirts with other guys. I was walking out of chapel with some of my friends and we ended up right behind her. She was wearing his jacket, but she was literally hanging on another guy’s jacket.”
“Maybe she was holding on so she could keep up with him?”
“Nope! There was an easy ten foot swath around them and she was having no problem keeping up with him. She was hanging on him because she wanted to.
“Reason number two, ever since he started dating her, he’s broken promises, and been significantly late to things.”
“No! Like he and my brother were supposed to work on some project together, and he was a half hour late because she wouldn’t let him go.” She snapped her fingers. “And I just remembered a third reason, all his friends have ditched him.”
“I seriously doubt that.”
“Okay, she had three friends, he had seven. She pulled her friends over to their group, and I watched as one by one his friends slipped away over a period of weeks and reformed at a different table. Now he’s constantly hanging with her best girlfriend and their ‘guy’ friend while his cool guy friends sit at a different table and laugh at him.”
Stephen looked at her skeptically.
“You think I’m making this up, but I’m not.” She leaned back in her chair with a smirk and checked her phone. “Five minutes left.”
He checked his watch. “I have fifteen.”
“I like being early to class. It’s the ten minute quiz cram.” She winked.
“Okay, so why don’t you want him complimenting you?”
“Because he chose her over me, and by doing that he’s saying that she’s better than me in every way. I am the second ugliest, second dumbest, second meanest person in the entire school, but she’s beaten me in all three categories! He says I look nice, but I don’t look as nice as her. He says ‘Nice hair,’ but it’s not as good as hers. Every time he compliments me, it’s like he’s saying I’m second to the only person I think I’m better than, and thank you, but I don’t need or want those kind of compliments.” Vivien stood and shouldered her bag. “Get it now?”
“Yeah, but are you sure you’re not being a little spiteful?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know, and I honestly don’t care.” She looked over at the eye-baby couple. The guy saw her and wiggled his fingers in a strange kind of “good-bye” wave. Stephen was surprised when Vivien returned the wave. The guy’s girlfriend looked over her shoulder to smile at them, and even Stephen had to admit that the smile was rather smug. “He’s a great guy,” Vivien said quietly, “but he’s stupid to think she deserves him.” She looked back at Stephen and smiled. “I’ve been dying to talk to somebody about that. Thanks for listening.”
He shrugged easily. “I wasn’t doing anything.”
“Even so.” She checked her phone again. “Gotta go to class. Quiz on the Presidents. See ya at work tomorrow!” She waved and strode quickly out of the Commons toward the AC.
He watched her go and looked back at the eye-baby couple. The guy was leaning back in his chair listening as his girlfriend said something. The guy seemed both totally involved and totally disinterested. Stephen glanced back at where Vivien had walked off and shrugged. It wasn’t his problem. If that guy wanted to go out with the wrong girl, it was his problem. Stephen picked up his bag and walked out, not to think of it again.