The Meaning of Life… or at least names

Okay, this post doesn’t discuss the meaning of life, unless you mean the Monty Python movie, which I will discuss now to say that I thought it was alright. I saw it in like fourth grade after I watched and loved Holy Grail and I didn’t think MOL was as good but I would likely appreciate it more now.

Actually, I do have a guess about the meaning of life: dogs. That’s it. Just dogs. Dogs are totally the meaning of life.

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Anyway, I wanted to discuss name meanings. My book What Love Means came out in April, and April is also the name of a character, the little sister of one of the protagonists. Apparently I like month names because the last name of another character is March.

I wondered what April meant; did it have a cool name meaning? If you’re named April, does your name just mean the fourth month of the year? No, it’s a little better than that. April is latin (isn’t everything?) and means open.

Then I wondered what my other characters names meant? Brendan is the other little sibling in the book and his name means brave.

Calvin goes by Cal. He got the short end of the stick. His name means bald, but I promise he has hair.

Max means greatest. I think Max would be very pleased with his name meaning and Cal’s while Cal would not be amused.

What Love Means is available on Amazon. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

whatluvmeansred

Max                                                                                                           

Bodies filled the decrepit, rusting building while the chilly night air had many openings to invade the space inside the run-down walls of the old warehouse. Maybe that was why several empty barrels held fires or maybe that was for ambiance. It didn’t seem like this forgotten place would have any electricity, yet someone somehow got music playing.

People cheered and danced while the booze flowed liberally. Then glow sticks appeared. This was going to turn into a rave. I fucking hated raves. I missed the days when it was just me and the guys breaking into some ramshackle place that no one even used or cared about but went through the trouble of locking anyway.

And now snobs infiltrated the party, their stares boring into me – the scowling guy who filled out his leather jacket – with disdain and grudging interest. Rich kids were all the same, with critical eyes and upturned noses, both envious and judging of those below them. Good to fool around with sometimes but that was all they were good for.

I grabbed a drink so I’d be able to get through this night. Okay, I was probably going to have a couple drinks anyway but this one I threw back too fast to make the EDM and snobs bearable.

Finding someone to spend the evening with would normally make a night like this perfect. However, an unexpected surge of déjà vu stopped my perusal of the assembled bodies. This night felt like all the others but not in a good way. Nothing out of the ordinary would happen, just drinking, dancing, and partying. Even the preppy kids looking for a spot of rough in their polished, perfect lives happened regularly enough to not warrant surprise.

I’d just turned 18 but suddenly felt old. This life was new and thrilling a few years ago, so how could I be tired of it already? It seemed bland: the same thing I did last week and would do again next week. I wasn’t out of high school yet but, as I didn’t plan on attending college, more of the same was my likely future. That shouldn’t be a bad thing… except being a teenage delinquent had become the norm. I had enough older friends with loose morals that even getting alcohol for my underage self wasn’t a thrill or challenge.

I was no longer part of this event but outside of it even though I was in the middle of revelers. I stood separate from them as noise and laughter and neon lights flittered around me without touching me. I was at a distance, a million miles away and right there at the same time, looking at it all with detached disinterest and wondering how I got here.

It’s like all the atmosphere had to travel a great length until it reached my senses. When the distance snapped, it was a rush. All of it hit me at once, colliding into me like a freight train and nearly making me stagger: the pounding music, the movement of limbs, him.

Why had I been down? All it took was an intriguing guy to snap me out of it. Amazing what a pretty face and a nice body could do. I didn’t mind listening to shitty music and being surrounded by a sweaty crowd since he was here too. Nothing was wrong with my life; I just needed some action.

Rebellious teens looking for a good time poured into places like this as soon as word got out about a party. Gotta love technology. It made him stand out more because instead of tight clothes and club gear, he looked like he came here straight from the library or country club. He wore pressed brown pants, somehow still perfect despite this atmosphere, and a stupid preppy shirt with a little animal logo on it. Lots of people dug bad boys but not me. I played the bad boy, so I enjoyed the innocent ones.

He looked like the kind of guy I had absolutely nothing in common with, but I only needed him to be attracted to me too. We didn’t need to talk. I felt a surge of adrenaline spread through my body, not from a motorcycle ride this time, from interest while I prepared to make my move. I imagined running my hands through that perfect, gelled hair. His blond locks changed color with all the neon lights in here now, becoming purple, blue, pink for an instant. The lights played over his sharp, classical features while my hands itched with the need to touch.

I wasn’t superstitious, but the fingers of my left hand played with the threaded turquoise bracelet around my right wrist without any conscious thought on my part. It was like a good luck charm as I drifted in behind him and pressed my body close to his. He stiffened yet didn’t pull away immediately. He seemed like the type that mostly stayed indoors with a skinny frame and pale skin in the light of day. I wondered if I’d feel his ribs through his shirt as I moved to the music and brushed my hands along his torso, but his unassuming figure hid lithe muscles.

I ran my hands up and down his arms while his biceps flexed under the attention like he couldn’t help it. His skin felt warm and electric. Though the drink I had might have dulled my senses some, any fog in my mind melted away by touching him. My body buzzed and responded to him, senses awakening, all demanding to get as much of him as possible. I wanted to feast on his smell and taste and touch.

My hands moved down his thin but toned body, tightening minutely on his waist, and then he was out of my grasp. My stomach dropped but that’s stupid… there were other guys, gay ones or those who got brave enough to experiment after consuming too much liquor. He probably had a girlfriend and was almost definitely some snobby rich kid. I’d find someone else. I could do better. Except something about him felt magnetic; I’d be drawn in his direction the whole night even if he walked away.

Only he didn’t go far. He turned and looked at me. Maybe I imagined the spark of fire in his eyes or maybe he felt the electricity between us too. His body moved close to mine again as both our hands explored this time. He smelled clean, with a hint of something sharper and appealing. Bright blue eyes peeked at me from beneath his lashes as he sent me a smile that was more shy and uncertain than coy, but his nerves didn’t stop him. He held me tight and rocked his hips into mine in time with the music. God, I wanted to devour him.

Was I in a mood earlier? I didn’t remember. There’s only dancing, drinks, and him. And life was anything but predictable because he made the first move. I couldn’t say whether we spent minutes or hours on the dancefloor when his lips captured mine and a quick tongue slid into my mouth, greedy and demanding, while his hands groped and squeezed at my ass.

I only had one complaint after that: the night passed too quickly.

***

Weak orange light struggled to illuminate the darkness when I climbed up the grimy fire escape to my window. I listened to the quiet inside before slowly sliding it up and slipping in. Sneaking out wasn’t quite the thrill it used to be when I was 14 and had never done a bad thing in my life but it was a habit I wasn’t able to give up by strolling in through the front door.

I didn’t need to worry about disapproving authority figures. As a nurse who often worked night shifts, nothing but the alarm clock woke mom when she was out. My 11-year-old sister April was a different story. She’ll spring up without a problem for Saturday morning cartoons or the chance to judge her brother.

The lamp on my desk was on. I sighed as I switched it off, glaring down at the college brochures that had been illuminated a moment ago. April kept sneaking them into my room. My senior year of high school just started. Maybe other kids were getting ready to apply for college, but it wasn’t like I needed a degree to work on cars anyway. I worked part time at an auto shop and my boss loved me like a son and didn’t have an actual son I needed to worry about taking over the family business.

It’s not like I’d even get in anyway. Keeping my grades up got my mom and teachers off my back, but it’s not like I ever ‘applied myself,’ and I treated attendance as optional instead of compulsory. My family wasn’t exactly flush with cash either. And applying for scholarships? That would feel too much like trying. That came with unpleasant things like wanting more or getting my hopes up. I’d already learned my lesson about that.

It was too early for teen angst. I moved toward my bed while conjuring up more pleasant thoughts. Memories played in my mind, now hazy thanks to the liquor. I saw gelled, perfect blond hair, straight teeth and a winning smile, and a preppy shirt with a popped collar. I messed that hair up and got my hands under his shirt. It was a good night. Mr. Fancy would probably spend the day stewing in gay panic while I slept in.

I pulled back the covers of my bed to find a mess of dark hair and pink pajamas curled into a ball. April always had a radar for when I snuck out. She could have a great career as a prison warden or something. Though hiding in an inmate’s bed would probably be frowned upon.

I tried to gingerly get into bed without waking April, laying on my side on the very edge of the bed. April was my favorite person in the world but also the most annoying. I remembered that when I heard a sleepy sigh and tired but still remarkably judgmental little voice. “Almost time for school.” She shuffled around to reassert her claim on my mattress.

“I’m taking a personal day.” I wiggled and got as comfortable as possible to indicate that I didn’t plan on getting up anytime soon. She’d get up shortly anyway because April had perfect attendance. She was the kind of student I used to be: eager, determined, hardworking. A total nerd.

She tugged at my arm. “I mean it, April,” I grunted before shoving my head firmly into the pillow. She was the scholar while I was the slacker. Life worked better in these clearly defined roles and meant I didn’t have to try as hard. The three R’s of education were Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic. Overrated. I saved my energy for the three B’s: Bikes, Booze, and Boys.

There was another disappointed sigh before she crawled over me and got out of bed. I sprawled out in the newfound space.

“You’ll be at my school later?” she asked. I didn’t respond since she walked home from school. I didn’t pick her up. Not because I was unwilling but because her little tween friends gawked over me and embarrassed her.

“You promised you’d be there today,” she tried. I doubted that but was too tired to argue. “I have a spelling bee.”

Oh hell no. I opened one eye to glare at her with as much distaste as possible. She stared back calmly. I didn’t have enough energy to fight her on this. I sighed. April took that as the surrender it was and hugged me before leaving. I was probably dreaming and just didn’t know it. April didn’t compete in spelling bees. Those were the most embarrassing relics of my past.

Any slumber involving spelling bees would be a nightmare, so I tried to persuade my subconscious to create a better dream instead. Drifting between awake and asleep, it was easy to remember the guy from earlier. I dreamed of blond hair and tugging on the collar of a preppy shirt.

***

Cal

Pain was weakness leaving the body. That was some ‘fitspiration’ mantra I vaguely recalled from gym class. The Winthrop-Scotts didn’t do pain. Or weakness. Or going to the gym for that matter. We were perfect effortlessly and without trying. Well, it took quite a bit of effort, but it couldn’t look like that. It looked effortless – and image was everything – so the behind the scenes goings on didn’t count.

I was about as far from perfect as I could be right now: tired, hungover, and wearing sweatpants. In public. I didn’t even want to know what I looked like or how big the bags under my eyes were. I stood in the hallway of this school and handed my ID to the teacher at the registration desk when all I really wanted was to lay down. Not even at home in my bed. Right here would do. People could step over me.

“Calvin Theodore Winthrop-Scott,” intoned the bored woman reading from her registration sheet. Her voice was sleepy even though her eyes expressed judgement. I might have deserved the disapproving look as I smelled like smoke and a distillery but that didn’t mean she had the right to deliver it. She wore cheap Lens Crafters glasses and had a travel mug instead of a Starbucks cup.

She didn’t comment though, so maybe I judged her too harshly. She was probably a credit to this public-school system. I wasn’t at my best. Still… “The third,” I added. I couldn’t help it. Calvin Theodore Winthrop-Scott III. Just saying my full name was a production, so it might as well be said right.

“What a mouthful,” she drawled.

“It’s Cal.” I smiled, belatedly going for charm.

“It doesn’t matter.” So much for that charm. “You’re in room 103.”

I would usually stroll in here without a hair out of place, ready to conquer the SAT whether for the first or fifth time. I was on time two of five now. Our family did everything we did right, so I’d been expecting a great score on every test and would obviously just use the slightly more perfect score.

I was going to bomb instead. Bomb? No, that wasn’t very scholarly. There had to be an SAT word for what I was going to do. Flounder. Well, at least that had more letters… and was also a type of fish. Fail, fizzle, flop. No, now I was just thinking of ‘f’ words. Trout. No, that was just a different fish. The dancing and drinking had broken my brain. I walked slowly to the assigned classroom, wondering how my life had gotten derailed. It all came back to Katie March.

Senior year was supposed to be like a victory lap after conquering high school. The college acceptance letters would roll in as I completed an internship at my father’s company. Hard work secured the position, not nepotism. Hell, I hadn’t been the only candidate my father considered. Nicholas Stewart was the closest person I had to a nemesis. Ostensibly, we were friends. In actuality, we dueled over GPAs, extracurricular accolades, and water polo accomplishments. Nicholas became the water polo captain, but I got the internship. There’d been nothing I wanted more than the internship, with the exception of a rock polisher in third grade. I finally won the right to put that on my transcripts and yet it had been tainted. The same day I got the internship was also the day Katie broke up with me.

Success felt bittersweet without the perfect girl by my side. Maybe I got too caught up preparing for my future. Maybe I should have spent more time planning dates instead of admittance essays. This rosy school year had barely started before my relationship of over a year ended. That wasn’t in the plan, but I could rally. This would make me stronger. That’s what I kept telling the part of myself that wanted to curl into a ball and cry while watching sad movies and eating ice cream. Was that girly? Why should girls get all the quality post-breakup moping to themselves?

I was never more thankful to belong to a family whom others might call neurotic and overbearing. My parents instilled preparation and discipline in me from an early age. It wasn’t so silly that I was going to take five total SAT exams now that I was going to tremendously fail one.

I made it to the classroom and fell into the nearest desk. God, why had I thought alcohol and a night out with the guys would solve my problems? And on a Thursday. A school night. I tried to act composed, but the breakup caused temporary insanity. I hoped it was temporary. I ate organic food and didn’t overindulge in carbs, yet I let my body be poisoned by several dark colored liquids without even asking about them. My head pounded. I felt like I was going to die.

Having too much to drink wasn’t the Winthrop-Scott way. Of course, nothing about getting dumped was the Winthrop-Scott way either. My insides wanted to explode or claw their way out of my body, but I would get through this. Hopefully. There was a plan. I was on my way to an Ivy League education and future success. Stanford, though my parents preferred Princeton.

I sat upright for a few seconds while observing the other neurotics like me who were up for taking the exam at an ungodly hour before heading to their regularly scheduled classes. Some of the other students were chugging coffee and doing last minute reviews with flash cards. They all had their calculators and pencils out. I considering grabbing the necessary items from my pockets for a brief second. I slumped down with my head on the desk.

The cool surface was a welcome relief to my pounding head. The aspirin I took earlier hadn’t kicked in yet. What had I been thinking? It seemed like a good idea when my friends said I should get my mind off Katie. In West Windsor, New Jersey, everything was manicured lawns, ice mochas, valet parking: the finer things. We escaped to the city, saw crumbling buildings and bums drinking from brown paper bags. We ended up at some decrepit place on the word of a friend of a friend. We trespassed. Was it a rave? I faintly recalled neon lights and techno beats.

I mostly remembered booze, warm skin, and the way my body buzzed from liquor and the heat of another body. I intended to get over my ex by finding someone else to spend the night with. At least something went according to plan… well, there was one unexpected hitch. Someone? I hadn’t planned on finding someone. I fully expected to meet a girl, one who could stand my pale body and nerdy conversation topics like obscure words and chess strategies. The guy had been a curveball. There hadn’t been much talking. How did breaking up with my girlfriend lead to party crashing and sucking face with some guy? I blamed alcohol.

There had been something about him. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I thought we were around the same age, but he’d skipped the awkward teen phase. I’d never seen someone so confident and comfortable in their skin. He had that classic bad boy look with a broody expression, tight dark jeans, and a leather jacket. He shed the latter sometime during the night to reveal strong arm muscles and a trim waist. He moved so fluidly, at home in his body. He looked like fun, like sin. I couldn’t help but stare at the motion of his hips.

Somehow, I’d attracted his attention. We probably looked good together: my blonde hair and his darker brunette locks, his firmer body with my lighter one. A contrast in opposites that still somehow fit together. I hadn’t cared about aesthetics as much as getting my hands on him. We shared shots of dark liquid from a bottle before drinking from each other’s mouths. What the fuck was I thinking?

I stopped wallowing in confused horror at my life choices when the proctor came in and started the exam. I did my best to comprehend the words on the test and fill in the appropriate little bubbles, though it seemed like a Herculean task. Even doing the bare minimum, it was challenging to focus without being hounded by thoughts of what hadn’t happened last night. Couldn’t have happened. There was just no way that could have been me. I didn’t hit it off with a dark haired, mysterious walking bad boy cliché. We didn’t spend the whole night dancing and making out on a couch.

No, it hadn’t been a couch. We had been at some dusty, unused warehouse in Trenton. He’d pressed me down on some wooden pallet thing. His body covering mine had almost been enough to distract me from the stiff, uncomfortable surface below me and the vague mildew smell. Almost, which is why we moved.

I should have stayed home and slept. Only I wouldn’t be able to explain why I’d missed this exam to my parents. Between my complaining body and haunting memories of last night, I eventually stopped reading the questions. I filled in bubbles at random. Completing the test was all I wanted to accomplish and seemed more achievable than forgetting about the insanity of last night.

Last night… we’d vacated the pallet and found some dark corner that the freaking trash can fires and neon lights didn’t disturb. My back had been pressed to the wall, an interesting change of pace as I’d only dated girls that expected me to be the pursuer. I wasn’t thinking about girls then, just how good it felt to trade insistent kisses and explore his body with my hands.

His rugged, chiseled features weren’t the only draw. He seemed familiar, like we were kindred spirits if I believed in that hippie nonsense. I was drawn to him.

I tried to literally shake the thoughts out of my head. I winced when my hungover brain protested. I would stop for coffee before heading to school and down some more aspirin. I would forget about this. It was one night of fun, but I had more important things to focus on. Like weathering my parent’s disappointment about this poor SAT score and getting my girlfriend back or maybe finding a different one.

I was a Winthrop-Scott. I was a winner. Anything else was unacceptable.

 

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