Following the events of the party and the nearly campus-wide poisoning, things significantly changed at the household. Just as Jeanine promised both herself and others, she made a conscious attempt to keep up a healthy work-life balance to prevent further hits to her immune system. That included spending more time outside, visiting student establishments and events, as well as participating in them, and spending more time with her friends.
The rest of them were pretty happy because of the change. Jeanne, constantly busy in the lab, was glad to have her bestie available for chatting and hanging out, while Phoenix was just glad his girlfriend was back to her normal self.
While he still felt terribly guilty over his drunken infidelity, he ultimately decided that he couldn’t jeopardize everything by admitting the truth. Nikki was right – they were so very wasted that night and it wasn’t like there was any emotional significance to their one time hookup.
No, he wasn’t going to tell. Especially not when things were going so well for them now. They were finally spending time together and in the bedroom? Well, things were very, very good in the bedroom.
Aside from their newfound happiness, the other change in Phoenix’s life was his approach to college life.
He took the doctor’s advice to heart: no more alcohol and partying for him. Getting poisoned with low-quality booze and thinking he was roofied was enough of a wakeup call for him to change his lifestyle. To the extent of his knowledge, Nikki did the same, although he couldn’t really say – even though they were friends before, after what happened between them, things were awkward and they only really saw each other occasionally, between classes.
And the biggest change of all? This semester, he took his classes seriously. Now, the time he used to spend partying was filled with studying, studying, and more studying.
And it was paying off. He rather enjoyed seeing As and Bs on his homework and test results, as opposed to their previous counterparts.
“You know, I’m really proud of you,” Millie told him one evening as they were studying together. Or rather, he studied and she is relaxed with an old hobby of drawing. “You’ve done a total 180 with your academic performance in less than a semester. Good job.”
“Thanks, Mils. I felt terrible after I saw my grades last finals week. I mean, Mom and Dad are paying for this school and I was pretty much throwing it all down the drain. And when you think about people who can’t even afford school…”
“I know what you mean. Well, once again, I’m proud.”
Of course, she suspected there was more to his abrupt change in behavior and lifestyle. The brother she grew up with had a tendency to do as he liked no matter the consequences, as his previous high school experience indicated.
Also, she had noticed that sometimes, when Jeanine wasn’t looking, he looked at the girl with such a guilty expression… but things were really good between the two of them, weren’t they?
As her brother walked inside to grab some food, she called after him.
“Say, you and Jeanine have both been doing really well this semester. But when was the last time you two have had a proper date?”
“What do you mean?” he looked at her baffled. “We’re dating all the time.”
“No, no! I mean, a nice evening just for the two of you. No interruptions from schoolwork, none of us getting in your way…”
“Oh, sis! You don’t interrupt us!” he laughed, waving away her concerns.
“Oh, please. If Quiang showed up here, I’m not even joking, either I’d kick you all out or we’d go to the nearest motel and get busy,” she admitted. She really missed her husband and son, and the nightly phone calls just weren’t enough.
“Alright, TMI! But yeah, I get what you mean. But we’re good. Although, a date night does sound like a cool idea. I’ll ask her when we can have one.”
Jeanine and Jeanne had plans for visiting an upcoming student art show, but at the very last moment, Jeanne had to cancel.
“Sorry, I know I agreed to go in advance, but I have an experiment at the lab that’s going to be completely wrecked if I don’t get there in the next half hour. Rain check?”
Jeanine chuckled. Jeanne was even more of a workaholic than her and Phoenix was going to be in class all day. She didn’t really feel like going alone, though. “It’s cool. I recall Eddie wanted to see the exhibit, too. Maybe he’d like a buddy?”
“Go for it,” Jeanne smiled, glad that her friend wasn’t going to miss out on her plan all due to bad timing on her part. “Maybe next time, I’ll plan ahead better.”
When she called Eddie, he turned out to be more than happy to see the art show with her.
Meeting outside The Grotto, where many student art shows were held, they found common ground in the fact that none of their respective friends could come out with them. Again. This wasn’t the first time they end up as event buddies.
The first time was the skateboard show, where the more extreme-minded students showcased their insane board skills. The second time, they ended up at a poetry reading, after which the two decided that maybe, just maybe, these student poets needed to sharpen up their skills just a little more.
Inside, the exhibit was fairly empty, and it didn’t take a genius to understand why.
“You know, I kind of expected more from my fellow students’ art work,” Jeanine admitted with disappointment. The few murals looked pretty uninspired and uninspiring.
“That’s what happens when artists need to preapprove all of their exhibits with the university. I tell you, these officials are the stuffiest bunch,” Eddie chuckled, also disappointed by the lack of quality.
Suddenly, he recalled something that might pique her interest. “Wait, follow me. Maybe we’re still lucky!”
“Where are we going?” she followed, curious.
“To the rooftop!” he explained. “Just because the university wants all the artwork to be preapproved, doesn’t mean that it’s the only kind that gets made.”
Coming up to the top of the building, they found what they were looking for.
“Watcher! It’s beautiful!” Jeanine exclaimed, absolutely charmed. And it was. The low walls of the area were covered in graffiti, and every single piece looked better than what they saw downstairs. “Why is it up here and not inside the exhibit?”
Eddie shrugged. “Like I said, the university officials aren’t fans of such expressive pieces.”
“That’s just stupid!” she exclaimed. “So much for encouraging talent. So, what happens when it rains?”
“Well, the artists cover their creations in waterproof sealant, but even then, if it rains continuously and too hard, stuff gets washed away,” he explained.
“But then, all this wonderful work goes, literally, down the drain,” she gasped. “It’s so unfair…”
“Such is the way of life, I suppose,” he agreed. “But when that happens, the artists just create something new, sometimes worse, sometimes better, but always something. These walls are almost never bare.”
“It’s really so charming,” she agreed. “The art is constantly reborn, despite forces trying to destroy it.”
“And that’s why I love this place so much,” Eddie smiled. “Well, that and the view.”
“It really is beautiful up here,” she agreed, observing everything.
The golden trees, the setting sun, the people walking past that one could observe… it all contributed to giving this place a fairytale-like quality.
As she took in the beauty around them, from the corner of her eye, Jeanine caught Eddie looking at her, instead. Suddenly, she became very aware of the fact that they were up here all alone, in an atmosphere that could only be described as romantic. Trying to diffuse the situation, she tried to change the subject.
“So, how are your guitar lessons? Any more people wanting to learn the instrument?”
“Oh, yes, plenty,” he replied, distracted. “Although, I think most of them just try to learn because they think it’ll make them seem cool, not because they actually want to learn the instrument. But, hey, I get paid, so I can’t complain. ”
“It’s life…” she bit her lip. No, she wasn’t imagining it. Their interactions did turn awkward in less than a minute.
“Yeah… life. It can be unfair, though. It’s all about chances. Chance events, chance meetings…” he mumbled. “And sometimes, they come too late.”
Catching her eye, he admitted. “You know, I wish I’d met you before you and Phoenix got together.”
“Eddie…” she frowned.
“I’m sorry.” Before she could foresee what he was about to do next, he kissed her and even though her mind knew it was wrong, she found herself responding. For a heady minute, they remained lip-locked, before she pushed him away.
“No! Ok, stop! We can’t.”
“I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t have,” he quickly apologized, looking away.
“No, you shouldn’t have. I have to go, bye. And maybe, we shouldn’t see each other anymore.”
Watching her run downstairs, he slumped against the wall, angry. He just had to kiss her and ruin everything, didn’t he?
Meanwhile, the moment she found herself downstairs, Jeanine felt the tears coming. She thought they were friends! And he just had to go and do this?
And he knew Phoenix, too, he knew she has a serious boyfriend!
And now her emotions were in total disarray! What was she going to do when she got home and they asked how her day went?
She broke into a run to make herself forget the fact that the real reason she felt angry weren’t Eddie’s behavior and admission, but that it took all of her willpower to break up the kiss and walk away from him.
When she arrived back at the house, the others were in the middle of dinner.
“Hey, how was the art exhibit?” Phoenix asked cheerfully, seeing her. “I’m sorry I couldn’t go with you. Next time?”
“Yeah, next time. It was pretty alright, nothing special, though,” she quickly lied, hoping she wasn’t still blushing.
“Are you alright?” he asked with concern.
“Just a bit tired. I wanted to get home before it got too dark, so I ran.”
“Well, we can have dinner together. I haven’t had mine yet,” he offered.
As they are ate Millie’s waffles together, he asked if she’d like to see a movie with him later this week. There’s a new romance playing at the cinema and her favorite actress was in it.
“That sounds, great,” she agreed. “Maybe we can bowl a bit before, too?”
“It’s a plan.”
“Well, that went differently from what I imagined,” Jeanine admitted after their movie. They went bowling before, grabbing a quick dinner at a nearby cafe in time to catch the film. From the advertisement and trailer, the two of them assumed it to be a light-hearted chick flick, but the movie delivered in a much more serious way than either one expected.
“I know, right? He’s on his way to his actual wedding and he meets the woman he is destined to fall for? Talk about poor timing!” Phoenix exclaimed.
“Well, I suppose it’s better than if he’d met her after he said ‘I do’, isn’t it?” Jeanine mused.
“You’re right, it’s just… he’s supposed to get married by the end of the day, there are all those people coming to the wedding, he and his fiancée are so excited for the big day, and then it all just goes kaplunk because fate decided otherwise? I just don’t understand, why he couldn’t have met her before he was engaged. It would’ve been easier for both him and his love, as well as less unfair for the fiancée. Poor girl just happened to fall for the wrong guy.”
“Yeah, but then that wouldn’t make for a very interesting movie, would it?” Jeanine chuckled. “Some people got downright emotional. That lady behind us was weeping when they reunited at the bridge.”
“Maybe she could relate to a character? I wonder to which one?” Phoenix smiled, recalling the woman behind them.
This was easy. The two of them hanging out, talking, discussing things. This past semester did drive quite a nail into their normal routine and come to think of it, they haven’t done things like that since high school. Millie was right to suggest he take Jeanine out on a date.
Despite truly enjoying the film, the entire time inside, Jeanine couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t a coincidence that she was seeing it now. She did come in expecting a comedy, but the plot of the film hit just a little too close to home. The weeping lady behind them wasn’t the only one who found herself relating to a character.
“You want to go home? Or maybe we should stop by the diner to grab a proper dinner?” Phoenix’s question brought her out of her reverie.
“That sounds good. Perhaps we can take something to go and eat in?”
That night, she woke up from a crazy dream. In it, she was the one driving a car towards a bridge, in a hurry to meet someone waiting for her there. Only, when she got there, it wasn’t Phoenix waiting for her, but another person.
“What am I going to do now?” she thought, biting her nails. “I love Phoenix, don’t I?”
Of course, loving someone and being in love with them wasn’t the same thing. But Phoenix is so caring and he’s been her friend since childhood. It felt so right when they got together before coming to the university…
Phoenix was also having strange thoughts after the film. The main character’s cheating on his fiancée was understandable, but his guilt felt all too familiar.
“How in the world did I mistake Nikki for Jeanine that night? I get it that I was drunk, but seriously? They don’t even look alike!”
Maybe something in his subconscious wanted him to cheat? He remembered how Rashida’s clinginess was one of the reasons he found Morgan so attractive, to begin with. Even if he and Rashida didn’t go on break, he probably would’ve pursued the later, if he was to be honest with himself. Jeanine wa nothing like either one of them, but she was someone he could picture himself in a long-term relationship with and things were fairly serious between them. And despite loving her, he knew he still had concerns about marriage and big commitment. And there was Nikki, carefree, a party animal, and not too eager on serious dating herself.
He was pretty sure he wouldn’t have done anything with Nikki if he hadn’t been drunk. He wasn’t even interested in the girl that way. But maybe a part of him wanted whatever she represented?
After all, plenty of people get drunk without hooking up with anyone…
An encounter the next day made him realize that he had to tell the truth. He was just finishing up his essay for one of his classes and polishing up an article for Uncle Gerald’s paper. The coffee shop was busy, but not overly so.
In walked in the last person he ever wanted to see: Ashley. Lucky him, he hasn’t spotted her except for a rare peripheral glance this whole semester and that’s more than fine with him. Sure, she turned out not to be a date rapist after all, but she was still a royal bitch and every encounter with her ended poorly.
Unfortunately, she spotted him almost immediately after coming in, breaking into the hugest grin ever and laughing at something, like she was just told a joke.
Closing his laptop, he decided to just deal with whatever next bullshit was about to happen.
“Well, if it isn’t Mr. I’m So High and Mighty!” Ashley called him out. “Except, I guess, you’re really not, are you?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, annoyed. “What do you want from me?”
“Nothing, truly nothing. I just enjoy knowing I was right about something, that’s all,” she gloated.
A cold feeling came over him. When they confronted Ashley at the medical center…
“Think about it, genius. Two people, still in their party clothes, show up completely wasted and ask whether you’ve put a date rape drug into their drink. You’re too sick to process it, besides, of course you haven’t, why would they ask that? And then, when you feel better, you realize that the only reason they would need to ask that is if the two of them slept together and can’t remember it!” she laughed. “Oh, it’s too perfect, really!”
She looked at him like she has just won the lottery. “So much for you being such a wonderful boyfriend, huh? She still doesn’t know, does she? Since you two are still together.”
“You’re going to tell her, aren’t you?” Phoenix asked, defeated. He and Nikki pretty much gave themselves away.
“Why would I do that?” Ashley chuckled. “I could’ve told her as soon as I realized what happened. But your darling and I are hardly friends, and she did leave the team in a lurch when she quit. So, whatever. Your soap opera of a relationship is your problem, not mine. Enjoy each other’s company.”
With that, she flounced of, humming something and Phoenix flew out of that coffee shop like he was on fire.
Ashley was right to gloat! He behaved like a moron. He did cheat and pretend that nothing happened. And Jeanine really deserved to know the truth. Otherwise, the guilt would eat him right up, the way it’s been doing for the whole past semester.
If she forgave him, maybe they’ll be able to move on. If not? Well, he’ll just have to deal with that, then.
Around the same time, Jeanne came home from her lab practice to what she thought was an empty house, only to hear quiet sobs coming from upstairs. Approaching her best friend’s room, she found Jeanine crumpled on the floor, crying.
“Hey, what’s going on? Did something happen?” she asked, taking in the scene.
Jeanine shook her head. “Nothing.”
“Right, right, because people regularly cry over nothing,” Jeanne noded. Noticing that the light is on in their bathroom, she quickly walked in, to find the offending object in full view.
“You’re taking a pregnancy test? Is there a reason for it?” she called back into the room.
“…..maybe? I’ve been feeling nauseated and really uncomfortable for the past couple of weeks,” her friend admitted. With a small voice, she asked her “Can you maybe take a look at the result and tell me? I’m scared to look myself.”
“I see.” Taking a look at the little stick, Jeanne announced, “One line. Negative. You’re not pregnant.”
Hearing this, Jeanine visibly relaxed, the tension leavings her body. “Ok. Ok.”
“Of cause, sometimes stress makes people exhibit the same symptoms you’ve described,” Jeanne explained. “Do you want to talk about it?”
In reply, Jeanine broke down into tears.
“Hey, now, hey. There’s no need to get so upset,” Jeanne joined her on the floor. “I’m here. Whatever it is, we can figure out.”
“But you’re his cousin!” Jeanine just started crying harder.
“Did Phoenix do something dumb?” Jeanne frowned.
“That’s just the thing! He didn’t! He’s been great…” she wiped away a tear before explaining, “I just don’t think I can keep on dating him anymore.”
“Ah…” Jeanne smiled knowingly. “Does this have anything to do with Eddie?”
“How did you know?” Jeanine stared at her, shocked.
“Honey, we practically grew up together. Remember when they use to call us The Jeannies?”
“Yeah… those were the good days,” Jeanine smiled through the tears. “Everything was so much easier.”
“It was. But it still doesn’t have to be so complicated. I knew something happened between the two of you when you were such good friends for a period of time and then stopped seeing each other entirely. First, I thought he did something bad towards you, so I asked Trev to snoop around a bit, but he didn’t find out anything of the sort about him. He did say that whenever he mentioned you, Eddie got kind of weird and quiet, though. And then, I noticed that one time, at the café, when we came in as he was leaving. You both turned red and looked away from one another…”
Jeanine looked down embarrassed. “Yeah, that must’ve been a dead giveaway.”
“Do you have feelings for him?”
Jeanine quietly nodded. “I’m afraid so. I tried to stop thinking about him, but it’s not working too well.”
“Then why are you still with Phoenix? You know, the next time you’re in this position, you might end up with a positive test.”
Jeanine sighed, shrugging. “I don’t want to hurt him and mess everything up. And I do care about him.”
This is exactly what Jeanne was afraid of when her bestie and cousin got together. She had a suspicion that their feelings won’t last. Of course, she was expecting Phoenix to move on first, breaking Jeanine’s heart in the process. Of course, it went quite the other way. Still…
“So, you’re just going to stay with him, even though it’s messing you up? Don’t you think you both deserve better?”
Jeanine didn’t know how to respond to this, but she didn’t have to – at that moment, the door opened and Phoenix himself came in.
“Phoenix? What are you doing here?” Jeanne gasped in surprise, but he chuckled sadly.
“Well, it is my room. I’ve been home for a few minutes now.” He paused, biting his lip and after a sad glance at Jeanine, asked. “Jeanne, can you give the two of us a moment? We really need to talk.”
“Alright,” Jeanne got up, unconvinced. “I’m right here, in case you two need me. Just next door.”
As he sat down next to her, Jeanine wondered how much of the conversation he managed to hear.
“How long have you felt way?” Phoenix finally asked.
“You did hear everything, then?” she sighed. “Oh, Phoenix, I’m so, so sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
“Hey, none of us ever do. That’s life,” he shrugged. “Look, there’s something I need to admit and you won’t be happy when you hear it. Most likely, you’ll be angry.”
He took a deep breath, letting the words out. “That night, at The Foundry, when I was so wasted, I hooked up with Nikki. She was really drunk too, so she isn’t too blame here. I wasn’t thinking straight and I didn’t mean to, but it happened. I’m sorry.”
“Oh…and you’ve been keeping it from me this whole semester?” Jeanine asked, both shocked and understanding. He did act really strange after that night, come to think of it. A different person would have been suspicious in her shoes, but she didn’t think about it at all.
“Yes. Once again, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do it. I wouldn’t have done it if I’d been sober,” he affirmed.
“I know. Well, you did stop drinking after that and you’re doing great in your classes now, so that’s nice. Something good came of it,” she ventured. “I’m not angry at you.”
And this was how she knew it was over between them.
After all, she should have been angry at his infidelity, furious even. Instead, she just felt relief.
He knew it too. And it probably should have hurt more, but at the moment, not holding on to that secret was a relief in itself.
“So this is it for us, isn’t it?” he asked.
Jeanine nodded, adding, “We should probably thank Jeanne for not saying ‘I told you so’ right now.”
“I guess we should. And Jeanine? Can we maybe try to stay friends?” Because I really do care about you,” he asked, caressing her face.
“Oh, Phoenix, you’ve been my friend for so much longer than you’ve been my boyfriend! If you think this is going to make me forget all about our friendship, you are sorely mistaken. And I do love you too, so very much. But probably not the way a girlfriend should,” she added sadly
“Hey, everything ok in there?” they heard Jeanne call from outside the room.
“We’re good!” Jeanine responded. “We’re not fighting. All is well.”
“But you just broke up,” she peaked in, concerned.
“Yes. But all things considered, it’s probably for the best,” Phoenix admitted.
“Well…” his cousin looked genuinely surprised, but impressed at their mature behavior. “That’s good. You two want to come downstairs now? I’ll make you some coffee and French toast. I think we could all use something nice and sweet.”
That evening, Jeanne joined him on the couch, as he was reviewing for his next test.
“You know, I should be pissed at you about the cheating, but I’m just impressed at how understanding you’ve been with everything,” she admitted. “Are you really ok with all of this?”
“I think so,” he admitted. He wasn’t happy that their relationship ended, but he was glad that they could be honest with one another. And ultimately, he really didn’t want to be with Jeanine if she had feelings for another and only forced herself to be with him – he wanted her to really be happy.
After the last few months, he wasn’t too sure he could be the person to make that happen.
“You’ll meet your special person, Phoenix. I promise you, it’ll happen,” Jeanne smiled.
Neither of them mentioned the fact that Jeanine left the house immediately after finishing her toast and hasn’t returned yet, although Phoenix had a strange realization: the knowledge that she was most likely with Eddie bothered him less than it should have.
Jeanine wasn’t sure what she hoped to accomplish when she set out of the house. She just knew that she needed some air, and when it started raining, a reasonable person should have headed home. Instead, she kept on walking further into the campus.
Her heart skipped a beat when she saw Eddie out on the quad, already drenched, looking lost as he tried to rescue some notebook from the water.
“Eddie!” she called out to him. “Wait!”
Running towards him, before he can ignore her like she had previously asked him to, she yelled, “Are you insane? Out here, so under-dressed in this downpour?”
“So are you,” he responded, pointing to her light shirt and jeans. “I thought we were supposed to ignore each other?”
“We broke up. Just now,” she admitted. “I care about Phoenix very deeply, but I’m not in love with him.”
“Because of you. Because I’m in love with you,” she started crying again. “Although, it’s probably too late. I understand if you’ve moved on.”
“You are? You’re really in love with me?” a smile broke out on his face. “You know, I should probably say I’m sorry you broke up. But that would be a lie.”
Pulling her into another heady kiss, he steals her breath away. Breaking apart, he wipes her tears away.
“If you think I move on this quickly, you are in for a surprise. There’s no way I’m letting you slip away again.”
“For real?” she smiled.
“Oh yes! Will you be my girlfriend?”