A love hunted by his demons and held together by her hope…
“I’m sorry, Carrington.” Tears fell out of his eyes and dropped onto my face to mix with my own. “I love you so much, but I have to fix this.”~
Joshua Elijah Griffin, IV
I stood on these same fraternity house steps fifteen years ago and pledged my allegiance to the Florida State Seminole Nation. I was four years old. All these years later, I craved the innocence of that four-year-old, because walking into my fraternity house after the way I screwed up was not an easy task.
I dragged my overstuffed bag up the steps, praying I wouldn’t see anyone.
With each step toward the door, the weight of my family, my name, and my father’s influence pressed on me. I half expected my father’s six-foot-two frame to be standing behind me, pushing me into the life he expected for me.
“This is your legacy, my boy,” he would say. I would nod and tune him out. I’d heard this speech a million times before.
His influence stained the floorboards; his shadow loomed. He probably haunted the place.
“Joshua Elijah Griffin the fourth.”
Oh, shit. Dad?
I stopped in my tracks and looked up to see Jackson Mitchell, my oldest friend, standing in the doorframe. A wave of relief washed over me. We’ve been friends since the fourth grade.
“Hey buddy,” he said and chuckled as he approached and hugged my torso.
His bear hug cut off the circulation in my arms, and I dropped my bag at my feet. As the leader and quarterback of the FSU football team, he personified the all-American football player. He stood six-foot-four and was listed at two hundred and twenty pounds. I looked like a twelve-year-old kid standing next to him.
Jackson and I met on the first day of fourth grade at Brentmore Academy, a private school in Orlando, Florida. I attended Brentmore since preschool, so I was given the task of showing our newest recruit around campus. I insulted him for being a former public school kid, he insulted me for my lame insult, and from that moment on we stuck up for each other. Everyone was surprised we became such good friends; we had nothing in common.
I shied away from my family’s expectations, but Jackson thrived on his. His father played professional football for twelve years; they moved to Orlando when he retired. As we got older, Jackson’s journey put him on the path to the NFL, like his father, but I had jumped off the path of my father’s destiny a long time ago.
“Welcome to FSU,” he said. “And PKP.”
Phi Kappa Pi house, the proverbial and literal center of Greek life at FSU, sat in the middle of the block of fraternity row. Phi Kappa Pi, or PKP as we called it, recruited the wealthiest and most prestigious, but not necessarily the smartest, male students on campus.
As the oldest fraternity in the nation, we wore history and heritage like a badge of honor and relied on that badge to get ahead or get away with stuff, depending on how you looked at it.
I stood next to Jackson looking up and down the street. The exterior of our house, like most on the street, looked like an old Victorian mansion with an ornate front door: white columns, painted shutters, and manicured lawn—rich, opulent, and impressive. Pleasant place to raise a family, if you ignored the horny college frat boys running around with too much money and too much time on their hands.
If people witnessed what went on behind the shutters, they would be disgusted—our parents would be ashamed. But they created most of the current Phi Kappa Pi rituals and excused the debauchery by calling it tradition—my father and grandfather included.
I found the whole thing silly, brotherhood and unity, but I had no choice. I was a legacy. PKP chose me.
My family arrived in Florida around the time the United States acquired it from Spain. The Griffins stepped off the boat and bought everything they got their hands on. Their wealth afforded them a certain level of royalty-like status. As Joshua Elijah Griffin IV, my name carried with it a level of expectation. I started to rebel early against those expectations, but it never worked. My name, time and time again, saved me and put me back on track.
“Come on in. I’ll show you around,” Jackson said.
I followed Jackson through the front door, and nostalgia hit my brain while nausea clinched my insides.
Why am I always following him?
“This place even smells the same,” I said.
The brown leather couches, overstuffed chairs, and dark wood tables gave the place a staged hunting lodge GQ cover feel.
Jackson began his speech.
“We hold meetings in the theater every Sunday night. It’s mandatory,” Jackson said. I stared at him. “What?”
“J, man, I know. I’ve been PKP even before I was born.”
“Sorry, man. Habit, I guess.” Jackson sat down running his hand over his cropped brown hair—a nervous habit since we were kids. “You sure you’re up for this?”
My eyes narrowed and I gnawed on my thumbnail. I knew what he meant but waited for him to say it out loud.
“You got out of rehab like a week ago,” he said. “You sure you’re ready to be back on a college campus? Not worried about temptations?”
“What temptations?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I mean this is a frat house. We drink, and we party hard. Maybe pledges from FU do it different.”
“Yeah, FU’s PKPs snort pixie dust and sit in a smokehouse in the backyard singing old Negro spirituals.”
His smirk made me feel better. Getting shit from Jackson felt like the old days.
In a bitter failed attempted at getting out of my family’s—and when I say family, I mean my father’s—shadow, I applied and was accepted into University of Florida. It might not sound like a big deal, but it was a huge detour from the status quo. My great-great-grandmother graduated with the first graduating class at Florida State University in 1901. Since then, at least one Griffin graduated from FSU every decade, sometimes two or three. My great-grandfather went to FSU, my grandfather, too. My father, my mother, and both of my sisters—they all went to FSU.
When I told my family my plans to attend the University of Florida, hundreds of Griffins rolled over in their graves.
When it came to Florida State versus University of Florida, we weren’t talking ordinary college rivalry stuff. FSU students refer to the University of Florida as FU, instead of U of F, as in ‘fuck you if you go to the University of Florida’.
The north versus the south, U.S. versus England, North Korea versus South Korea, insignificant compared to the Florida State versus University of Florida rivalry. If a Chinese person married a Japanese person, the Japanese family would disown their child. If an FSU student married a U of F student, the families would disown them both.
I collapsed into the nearest leather chair. “Hey, but, we’re all brothers. No matter where I pledged, right?”
I stared at him, waiting for his answer.
“We are brothers,” Jackson said and nodded. He stood up. I followed and relaxed, knowing he meant more than our fraternity connection. I missed my oldest friend.
We headed up the curved stairs; the house was empty this time of day. I would meet the others soon enough.
“This is you. I’m next door.”
I peered into the room and surveyed my surroundings. The room looked like a nondescript hotel room with a queen-size bed and two nightstands in the same oak as downstairs. A small sitting area with a couch and two chairs was situated in the corner near the window. The rich garnet comforter, with its gold accents, reminded me of my childhood bedroom, including the family portrait sitting on the nightstand. I walked straight for it and put it in a drawer.
“Natalie sent this stuff up last week with detailed instructions, including a sketch for reference.” Natalie Palmer was the latest twenty-something blonde-haired, blue-eyed idiot vying for her turn as the next Mrs. Griffin. I dropped down on the bed.
“What are the guys saying?” I asked as I rubbed a hand across my forehead.
“The guys are happy you finally came to your senses.” Jackson leaned against the wall and crossed his arms.
“You’re a terrible liar, Jackson.”
“It will take some time, but the guys will come around. It’s not like you’re the first brother who did something stupid.”
“Yes, but I did something stupid as an FU student.”
“As if being an FU student wasn’t stupid enough,” Jackson said and laughed.
“Thanks man,” I said.
“What are you thanking me for?”
“For vouching for me.”
“Well, don’t make me look like a dick,” he warned, heading out of the room and closing the door behind him.
I leaned back and squeezed my eyes shut. I should be grateful, having a place to go at all, anything to avoid going home.
Even after getting kicked out of U of F for substance abuse and spending the last three months in rehab, my brothers of PKP had to take me. My dad offered to remodel the game room, so fair trade.
I met with the Dean of Students this morning and listened to his speech on responsibility and second chances. I saw it in his eyes. The lecture, a futile attempt to assert his power, but he knew it, and I knew it, too. None of us had a choice in the matter.
FSU had to take me; no matter how much I messed up—another privilege of being a Griffin. No matter how misguided and off the path I went, I always managed to get back on track. Even though sometimes I was dragged back kicking and screaming.
When I left rehab, the head counselor sat me in his office and talked to me about taking advantage of my second chance. He had it wrong. This was my last chance.
You figure I’d be more focused on getting it right this time.
Carrington Olivia Butler
As we turned into campus, I stared out the window, tuning out my mother and brother in the front seat musing about nothing and everything. It had been this way since we left Dallas yesterday. Actually, it has been this way my whole life. My mother and I were never as close as she is to my brother, and this drive cross-country marked her final obligation as my mother. She was finally getting rid of me.
“The campus is really lovely,” Mom commented as she followed the signs to my dorm.
“Much bigger than SMU,” David, my brother, said. He turned around in the seat and stared at me.
“Nothing. I’m just surprised you decided to go so far away from home.”
He turned back around.
I knew it sounded ridiculous and childish, but I swore my mother grew more and more giddy the closer we got to Tallahassee.
I wasn’t a problem child. Quite the opposite, actually, I never got into any trouble at all. I was the youngest in my family, by almost ten years, and I had ruined my parents’ plans to travel the world once my brother left home. They liked to blame me, but maybe the fact that my mom’s diaphragm never made it into her luggage on a weekend trip to Jamaica eighteen years ago was to blame.
I applied to several schools, both in Texas and Louisiana. But, as I discovered that more and more of my high school classmates were going to those schools, I set my sights on someplace farther away from home. I wanted to go someplace where no one knew me, so I applied and was accepted into Florida State.
“I think this will be good for you. Give you a chance to meet new friends,” Mom said.
She never liked my high school friends. I had friends; I wasn’t a freak or anything. My close-knit group of six friends had been together since junior high, and consisted of three girls and three guys.
I grew up in an upper-middle-class white suburb outside of Dallas and had the uncanny ability to remain invisible in a sea of people who looked nothing like me. I never quite fit in. I blamed it on my skin tone, ignoring my other strange quirks, like my aversion to silliness.
I considered my high school experience normal, in the strictest sense of the word: normal activities, normal parties, and normal boyfriends. My girls and I even infiltrated the cool kids’ club occasionally. My junior year I had caught the attention of Matt Brennan. His popularity extended to me due to our relationship, and I held popular girl status by association until graduation.
I got along with everyone, but I never fit in with anyone.
Most of the African-American kids in my school stuck together, but I was an outcast because my boyfriend was white. I was different.
“I guess we are here.” Mom parked in front of Broward Hall, my home for the next year. It appeared bigger than the photos. The red brick gave the place a European feel and was surrounded by a lush green campus; I smiled for the first time since leaving Texas as I watched the other students unpacking cars and scanning the campus with wide-eyed optimism. We were all thinking the same thing—welcome to our new world.
For the first time in my life I felt a kinship with other kids. We arrived on campus with similar emotions; excited, but scared shitless. I grabbed a box and headed into the dorm. My mom and brother followed a few steps behind.
With my dorm assignment in hand, I headed up the elevator to the fourth floor. I approached my room and voices spilled through the open door.
“Did you see the cute tall guy with the curly brown hair?” A girl making her bed spoke to another girl sitting on the floor folding clothes.
“Hello,” I said as I stepped into the room.
“Oh, hey, you must be Carrington.” The blonde girl dropped her sheet and turned, while the other girl struggled to stand up.
“I’m Melinda, and this is Jessica.” She held out her hand, but the box I was carrying prevented me from taking it. She giggled, grabbed the box, and handed it to Jessica. She put her arms around my shoulder and hugged me. The awkward maneuver made me giggle as I found myself eye level with her enormous chest. She stepped back, gathered her blonde hair into a ponytail, and went back to her bed.
Jessica stood there with my box in her hand, but it seemed weird to take it back.
“We put you over here. I hope that’s okay,” Jessica said. She spoke to me but stared at Melinda as if seeking her support.
“Yeah, wherever is fine,” I said.
Jessica set the box on my bed.
“Carr, where do you want me to put this,” David asked as he walked in carrying my trunk.
“At the end of the bed,” I said. He bent over to sit it down. His shirt rode up and as he stood up to adjust it, he found my roommates staring and salivating over him. The minuscule amount of flesh he exposed rendered my new roommates catatonic.
“Hi girls,” he said and winked.
“Hi, I’m Melinda.” She stepped up to him and extended her hand. My brother took it. Jessica stared.
“David, these are my roommates.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“Where do you go to school?” Melinda asked. She licked her lips and tossed her hair, and I watched my brother squirm.
“I graduated college some years ago, but thanks for the compliment,” David said as he turned to me. “I’ll go get the rest of your stuff.”
“Oh my God, he is gorgeous,” Melinda gushed as he walked out the door. “How old is he?”
“What does he do?”
“Oh, wow, thirty’s not too old for me, right?”
Jessica laughed at Melinda’s joke, but I turned to my side of the room and started to unpack, hoping they would get the hint and stop talking about my brother. I knew he was gorgeous; everyone knew he was gorgeous. He lived a charmed life and never experienced a moment of self-doubt or insecurity. I would hate him if he wasn’t such a great guy.
I continued to unpack as I watched Melinda pull out a pair of six-inch stilettos. I admired her long toned legs as she tried them on. Jessica pulled her long wavy brown hair into a ponytail and winked at me as she stretched. Her perfect perky breasts seemed to increase two sizes with her graceful, sexy moves. I looked down at my average size breasts and my average length legs and panicked. How was I supposed to compete with them?
I felt like background decorations all over again.