CW & TW for sexual assault
Jarod J. Brinkley III has a 6th grade spelling bee trophy on a shelf above the desk in his private room at the Quads on campus at Wesleyan, his first choice of private schools where, because his father and his father’s father are alumni of the college, he enjoys a few minor perks as a legacy student, like a gold-plated lapel pin and early access to the dining hall on Sundays and several long-term members of the administration addressing him as Bud or Buddy or Old Chap or making time in their busy schedules when he needs a favor, like that time he missed the drop/add deadline and wanted out of Trigonometry to avoid a failing grade on his transcript. Of course no one at Wesleyan knows it’s an old spelling bee trophy. Jarod J. Brinkley III pried the brass name plate off the base years ago.
The origin story of the trophy changes depending on who’s asking and what Jarod J. Brinkley III wishes he had accomplished at the moment. Truth, being difficult to come by these days, may likely no longer be an expectation, and while it has perhaps become a luxury or an alternative option or a commodity sold to the highest bidder, still, it may behoove us to note that the 6th grade spelling bee trophy in question is not even truly a spelling bee trophy, nor was it bestowed upon him by Andrew Jackson Memorial Middle School at which Jarod J. Brinkley III was, in factual actuality, a 6th grade student.
Jarod J. Brinkley III did not participate in the 6th grade spelling bee. On the day of the classroom competition, which was a Thursday and therefore the worst school lunch day of the week, Jarod J. Brinkley III was involved in an incident in the cafeteria. He was unfairly, he would tell you if he were to talk about it which he will not, he was unfairly detained. The exact events of the situation are not agreed upon, but what is not up for debate is that Samantha Robinson did end up with cold tuna casserole in her hair. As you can imagine, there were no lasting effects of said tuna casserole in Miss Robinson’s hair, one helpful detail during a conference call with the principal, the district foundation director, and Mr. Brinkley; the other being the increased amount of the Brinkley’s tax-deductible monthly electronic transfer to the foundation. Nevertheless, Jarod J. Brinkley III having already been, unfairly, detained for questioning by the cafeteria supervisor and subsequently by the assistant principal, and being unable to travel back in time, no matter who his parents were, missed his opportunity to participate in the classroom bee, thereby allowing Tommy Baker to become the classroom champion and advance to the next level of competition, where he was easily trounced as Jarod J. Brinkley III would tell you if he were to talk about it which he will not.
So, what of the trophy above his desk? Jarod J. Brinkley III was so downhearted about missing the classroom bee and so insistent that he would have been not only the classroom champion but also the building, district, and regional champion and would have advanced to the state competition where he would have likely come out on top, that his parents stopped by to see Patricia Jorgensen who worked part-time at Ellington’s Custom Awards & Trophies over on Riverside Drive and who served on the social committee of the local PTA with Mrs. Brinkley. Patricia Jorgensen was, of course, happy to help make things right by putting a rush on their special order.
By the next Monday, after almost spelling S-P-A-G-E-T-T-I and M-E-E-T-B-A-L-L-S correctly at the dinner table but prior to the next round of the actual spelling bee, Jarod J. Brinkley III had in hand an eighteen-inch trophy, featuring an astute, metallic young man and a brass name plate that read: Jarod J. Brinkley III / Honorary 6th Grade Spelling Bee Champion. He did realize it wasn’t the same as having won the real spelling bee, but that wasn’t the point.
During high school, Jarod J. Brinkley III ran on the cross country team with a boy whose name was not Tommy Baker but it might as well have been. This boy, this freshman when Jarod J. Brinkley III was a sophomore, this could-have-been-Tommy-Baker boy somehow managed to finish ahead of Jarod J. Brinkley III, edging him out of placing position at every meet during the first half of the season. Coach Oligmueller, Coach O as the kids called him, sensed a rivalry between the boys and tried to capitalize on it by pairing them up or pitting them against one another whenever possible. That boy’s stride was, admittedly, long and smooth just the way a stride should be and he kept his shoulders loose and his hands open and his arms pulling hard. And Jarod J. Brinkley III, always slightly behind this boy, would watch and have to remind himself to unclench his fists, would remind himself to stride out as they came up on the turn where Coach O sat in his golf cart with a bull horn and, even though Jarod J. Brinkley III was stretching his legs as far as they would go and pulling hard with his arms, hands recently relaxed, Coach O’s voice would come through that bull horn saying, Stride, stride, stride! Stride out, JJ!, a nickname Jarod J. Brinkley III detested.
By the end of September, while Not Tommy Baker still offered words of encouragement and high-fives, Jarod J. Brinkley III was sick and tired. Sick and tired of that boy’s voice, his stride, his loose hands, his easy manner, and the way people were drawn to him. People like that girl. Pamela, Jarod J. Brinkley III thought her name might be though maybe it was not. She ran too and they finished their workouts around the same time and he’d seen her hanging around with Not Tommy Baker after practice a few times. The weather was turning cooler and Jarod J. Brinkley III thought if he could accidentally bump into her, when they were both fresh from the showers, he might slip his arm around her as they walked to the parking lot together, and he thought, he would smile nice and wide at Not Tommy Baker, maybe even offer him a high five. If he were to talk about the incident which he will not, that’s what he’d say he wanted to do: simply put his arm around that girl and make sure everyone saw it, especially Not Tommy Baker.
After practice, on a day when he felt certain he would have caught up in the last two hundred if it weren’t for that stupid soft spot in the trail, Jarod J. Brinkley III hurried his exit from the locker room and stepped around the corner where he could wait. Then at the right moment he would happen to be accidentally walking the same direction as that girl whose name might not even be Pamela when she came by and he could fall into step and maybe say something funny or charming or cool. But when she came around the corner, she was already walking with Not Tommy Baker.
Something inside Jarod J. Brinkley III went hot and cold at the same time. He kicked at the ground throwing up a dust cloud and then kicked through the dust until his shoe thudded against Not Tommy Baker’s shin bone. And then, and this is what really did it, Not Tommy Baker withheld what would have been a satisfying cry of pain. Instead of vocalizing his pain, proving that Jarod J. Brinkley III had gotten the best of him, he simply leaned forward to grab his leg and crinkled his forehead in what Jarod J. Brinkley III interpreted as disapproval.
A double shot of hot-cold flashed through his veins and he did not hold back. His hands whipped toward Not Tommy Baker and he shoved with all his might. If the other boy had not been leaning forward, clenching his shin, he may have fallen backward, may have even fallen to the ground. As it was, however, he did not. He merely stumbled to the side and into the girl whose name might not even be Pamela who caught him with her hands around his arm, an infuriating arm that stayed loose and pulled hard. And she steadied him with her chest pressed against his back, a back that Jarod J. Brinkley III knew all too well. And before he finished steaming over the misplacement of that girl’s small-but-perfectly-formed breasts, Coach O’s voice blared through the bull horn. JJ! My Office! Now! he barked, obviously having witnessed the incident as he pulled his golf cart alongside the school building under the awning where he parked in case of rain, and obviously mad as hell. To make matters worse, that girl’s friends, who had been following close behind, gathered around Not Tommy Baker to pout their glossy lips and cast critical glances over their sun-kissed shoulders and ask if it hurt or if he would be all right.
When his father arrived twenty minutes later, Jarod J. Brinkley III left Coach O’s office and waited in the gym. He never knew what was said behind that door, but he didn’t really care. He was back on the team and Not Tommy Baker was out for the next meet with a bruised shin, which meant that he, Jarod J. Brinkley III, had a chance. And that weekend he did actually place and bring home his first big time medal, well, okay, junior varsity medal, significantly smaller than a varsity medal but a medal all the same, and junior varsity being a fact neither he nor his parents would mention when they proudly told the story over dinner with the Carltons on Saturday night and again during brunch with his grandmother on Sunday. Jarod J. Brinkley III kept that medal tucked inside his wallet with his father’s credit card and a condom he’d swiped from an upperclassman in the locker room, its worn wrapper crumpled at the corners.
Jarod J. Brinkley III is not a fan of chick flicks. Still, on Throwback Thursday he had, at the request of his date and without complaint, endured Titanic, which by the way has a running time of three hours and fourteen minutes. Three hours and fourteen minutes for god’s sake. And that’s after Jarod J. Brinkley III sat through a meal where he’d convincingly said things like, No, really, I’d love to hear more about your sister, and where he’d generously insisted on paying for dinner with his father’s credit card and, though she had offered to buy, again for tickets and popcorn at the theatre, him saying, Please, let me, I want to treat you right.
Later, when Jarod J. Brinkley III took her home, he didn’t remember the name on the card, only his own hand reaching out toward one cashier and then another. The same hand traveled up her ribs until it cupped the underside of her breast and Jarod J. Brinkley III moved his thumb like a wiper blade, feeling the lace of her bra through her shirt. She moved his hand down and stepped inside, saying, Thanks, and It was fun, and Good night, before the door clicked shut between them.
His dick, having been hard far too long, rubbed against the zipper in his jeans as he drove across campus and it took forever to find a goddamn parking space. Jarod J. Brinkley III cussed, not for the first time, about how fucking ridiculous it was that he was not allowed to pay extra to secure a reserved spot in the nearest lot until next year when he would officially be an upperclassman. Back at the Quad, jerking off in the shower, he gritted his teeth thinking of the way that girl wrapped her fingers around his and pulled down. A smooth move. The downward sweep of her hand and backward step so perfectly choreographed he bet she fucking practiced it. Behind that door, she still had popcorn on her breath.
The next weekend, though, it wasn’t popcorn on her breath, it was whiskey. At a frat party three Quads over, Jarod J. Brinkley III stood across the room from her, the heavy bass pounding through his stiff dick. He watched her hips swaying to the music and her hair brushing against her breasts when her head, heavy with drink, fell forward. She tripped and took two big stumbling steps to catch herself. It reminded him vaguely of the past. He knew if he put his hands on this girl’s shoulders and pushed, unlike Not Tommy Baker, she would fall backward.
Finally, Jarod J. Brinkley III weaved his way through the throng, slid up beside this girl, slipped his arm around her shoulder, and leaned in close to her ear. Raising his voice to be heard over the stereo and the loud crowd, he said, Hey there, crazy running into you here! Like a gentleman, he got her a drink and then another and then offered to make sure she got home all right. Jarod J. Brinkley III guided this girl through the tightly packed room, pushing past people dancing and singing and shouting to one another over the blaring stereo. He led her outside, where the night sounds seemed distant in the sudden and relative quiet and where they could be alone. He propped her up, her slurred speech muffled against his shirt, and helped her walk three Quads over and into his private room where his trophy sat on a shelf above his desk.
Jarod J. Brinkley III placed his hands on her shoulders and, slowly, turned her toward him, backing her up against the bed. Gently, he pushed until she tipped and then toppled to the bed, bouncing beneath him. Clenching her fists, she strained against his chest. Blood beat against his eardrums in time with a bull-horn voice in the back of his mind: Stride, stride, stride! Stride out! as he spread his knees between her thighs wide, wide, wide. Whiskey breath hot in his hand, he said, Shhhh. Shhhh, he said. His veins sung with ecstatic freezing heat. His head flooded with the full satisfaction of metallic gleam.
If he were to talk about it which he will not, he might tell you he did not notice the voices outside, did not register the knocking at his door. Later, Jarod J. Brinkley III did not refuse his right to remain silent. He simply sat, waiting to make a call.
Jen Ippensen was a Mari Sandoz Emerging Writer in 2018, and her work has been published in or is forthcoming in Midwestern Gothic and The Flat Water Rises: An Anthology of Short Fiction by Emerging Nebraska Writers. She has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.