Read Envy Online

Authors: Sandra Brown

Tags: #Women editors, #Islands, #revenge, #Fiction, #Romantic suspense novels, #Editors, #Psychological, #Georgia, #Authors and Publishers, #Suspense, #Novelists

Envy (7 page)

BOOK: Envy
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Brady had a heart of gold. Personal

hygiene, however, wasn't one of his strong suits.

"Not Brady."

"Castro? Jesus, please tell me it's not Castro's," Todd groaned. "That fucker's diseased!" The second man under consideration wasn't Cuban. His real name was Ernie Campello.

He'd been dubbed Castro because of his talent for growing curly black hair, not only on his head and the lower half of his face, but all over his body. "God only knows what's crawling around in that pelt of his."

Roark laughed at that, then said, "Lisa somebody called."

The casual statement instantly doused Todd's anger. "Lisa Knowles?"

"Sounds right."

"When?"

"Five minutes ago."

"Did she leave a message?"

"Do I look like a secretary?"

"You look like an asshole with teeth. What'd she say?"

"She said you had a pencil-dick. Or did she say needle-dick? Gee, Todd, I can't remember. Sorry. But I did write down her number. It's on your desk."

###"I'll call her later." ##########103

"Who is she? Is she hot?"

"Yeah, but she's seeing some Delt. She's in my North American history class and she needs notes."

"Too bad."

Todd shot his grinning roommate a dirty look, then tossed the offensive cup into their trash can. He'd been showering in the communal bathroom down the hall when Roark sneaked in and put his toothbrush in tobacco-laced sputum.

"Don't be pissed," Roark said as Todd rummaged in a bureau drawer for a pair of boxers. "It was a damn good joke and worth the expense of a new toothbrush. It was worth twice the expense."

"Are you going to tell me whose it was?"

"Don't know. Found it on a windowsill on the third floor."

"Jesus. It could be anybody's."

"That was the general idea."

"I'll get you back," Todd threatened as he pulled on a T-shirt. "I mean it.

You've just screwed yourself but good, buddy."

Roark merely laughed.

"Didn't you have anything better to do? You've been lying on your ass all day."

"Gotta finish this over the weekend." Roark held up a paperback copy of _The _Great _Gatsby.

Todd snorted scornfully. "The most pussy-whipped character in the history of American fiction. Want to go get something to eat?"

"Sure." Roark rolled off the sofa and shoved his feet into a pair of sneakers. As they went through the door, he and Todd ritualistically kissed their fingers and slapped them against the Playmate of the Month on their calendar. "Later, sweetheart."

It was their place. They were regulars. The moment they cleared the door of T.R4's, T.R. himself drew them a pitcher of beer and delivered it to their booth.

"Thanks, T.R."

"Thanks, T.R."

There were no menus, but it wasn't even necessary for them to order. Knowing what they liked, T.R.

waddled back behind the counter and started building their pie. It and their beer would go on their joint account,

#which they would pay when they got around to it. ####105

T.R. had been providing his customers with this kind of personalized service for thirty-something years.

The story was that he'd enrolled in the university as a freshman, but ended his first term by skipping finals. He used his second-semester tuition money to make a down payment on this building, which was then on the verge of being condemned. T.R.

hadn't bothered to make renovations and it stood today as it had when he assumed occupancy. Engineering and architectural instructors continued to use the building as a case study for load-bearing beams.

The light fixtures were layered with generations of greasy dust. The linoleum floor was slick in some spots, gritty in others. No one dared look beneath the tables for fear of what he would find, and only in emergency situations did

beer-bloated bladders seek relief in the restroom.

It wasn't much of a place, but it was an institution. Every guy on campus knew T.R4's because it provided two basic needs of the male collegiate--cold beer and hot pizza.

By midterm, T.R. could call every customer by name, and even if the name escaped him, he knew how he liked his pizza. Todd's and Roark's never varied--thick crust, pepperoni, extra mozzarella, with a little crushed red pepper sprinkled on top.

Roark ruminatively chewed his first

wonderfully cheesy bite. "You really think so?"

"Think what?"

"That Gatsby was a puss."

Todd wiped his mouth with a paper napkin from the table dispenser, took a gulp of beer. "The guy's rich. Lives like a frigging prince or something. He has everything a man could want."

"Except the woman he loves."

"Who's a selfish, self-centered airhead, borderline if not full-fledged neurotic, who continually craps on him."

"But Daisy represents to Gatsby what his money couldn't buy. The unattainable."

"Respectability?" Todd lifted another slice of pizza from the bent metal platter and took a bite. "With his money, why should he give a shit whether or not he's accepted? He paid the ultimate price for an ideal." Shaking his

#head, he added, "Not worth it." ########107

"Hmm." More or less agreeing, Roark drank from his frosted mug. They discussed the merits of Gatsby, then of Fitzgerald's work in general, which brought them around to their own literary aspirations.

Roark asked, "How're you coming on your manuscript?"

A novel of seventy thousand words, minimum, was their senior project, their capstone prior to receiving a bachelor of arts degree. The one obstacle standing between them and graduation was the scourge of every creative writing student, Professor Hadley.

Todd frowned. "Hadley's up my ass about characterization."

"Specifically?"

"They're cardboard cutouts, he says. No originality, spontaneity, depth, blah, blab, blah."

"He says that about everybody's characters."

"Yours included?"

"I haven't had my critique yet,"

Roark replied. "Next Tuesday, bright and early, eight o'clock. I'll be lucky to escape with my life."

The two young men had met in a required composition class their first semester as freshmen.

The instructor was a grad student, who they later decided didn't know his dick from a dangling participle. The first week of class, he assigned a five-page essay based on

John Donne's _Devotions.

Taking himself far too seriously, the instructor had assumed a professorial stance and tone.

"You may not be entirely familiar with the text, but surely you'll recognize the phrasèfor whom the bells toll.`"

"Excuse me, sir." Todd raised his hand and innocently corrected him. "Is that the same as `for whom the bell tolls`?"

Recognizing a kindred spirit, Roark

introduced himself to Todd after class. Their friendship was established that afternoon. A week later, they negotiated a swap with the roommates the university had randomly assigned them. "Suits me," Roark grumbled when they proposed the idea to him. He gave Todd a word of warning. "He pecks on that goddamn typewriter twenty-four hours a day."

###They received the two highest grades in ##109

the class on that first writing assignment. "The jerk wouldn't dare award an A," Roark sourly observed. Scrawled on the cover of his blue book was a large B plus.

"At least you got the plus sign after yours,"

Todd remarked of his B.

"You would have if you hadn't been a smart-ass that first day. That really pissed him off."

"Fuck him. When I write the Great American Novel, he'll still be grading freshmen writing assignments."

"Ain't gonna happen," Roark deadpanned.

Then he flashed a wide white smile. "Because _I'm going to write the Great American Novel."

Love of books and the desire to write them was the foundation on which their friendship was built. It was a few years before cracks were discovered in that foundation.

And by the time those fissures were discovered, massive damage had already been done and it was too late to prevent the structure's total collapse.

They were well-rounded students, maintaining good grades in the required subjects, but excelling in the language arts. Their second semester, they pledged the same fraternity. They were avid sports enthusiasts and good athletes. They played on their fraternity football and basketball teams, sometimes competing with each other as avidly as with rival teams.

They were active and well-known on campus.

Todd was elected to the Student Congress.

Roark organized a campus-wide food

drive to benefit a homeless shelter. Both wrote occasional editorials, articles, and human interest stories for the student newspaper.

After one of his stories was published, Roark was approached by the dean of the journalism school.

He was highly complimentary of Roark's work and asked him to consider switching the focus of his endeavors from creative writing to journalism.

Roark declined. Fiction was his first love.

Roark never told Todd about that conversation, but he celebrated when Todd won first place in a national collegiate fiction-writing competition.

Roark's submission hadn't even earned an honorable mention. He tried to conceal his jealousy.

They caroused and partied with their fraternity brothers. They drank enough beer to float a fleet. Occasionally they shared a joint, but they

#didn't make a habit of it and never ####111

tried hard drugs. They nursed one another's hangovers, loaned each other money during temporary financial crises, and when Roark contracted strep throat and his temperature shot up to one hundred and three, it was Todd who rushed him to the campus infirmary.

When Todd was notified of his father's sudden death, Roark drove him home across two state lines, and then stayed on through the funeral to lend the emotional support his friend needed.

Disagreements arose now and then. Once, when Roark borrowed Todd's car, he backed into a fireplug and dented the rear fender. Todd asked several times when he planned to have it repaired.

He asked so frequently that it became a touchy subject.

"Will you get off my goddamn back about that?"

Roark snapped.

"Will you fix my goddamn car?"

That heated exchange was the extent of the disagreement. Roark took the car to be repaired the following day, and Todd never mentioned it again.

And then there was the case of the missing Pat Conroy.

Roark drove to a bookstore in Nashville and stood in line for over two hours to meet the author and obtain a signed copy of _The _Great _Santini. He admired Conroy more than any other contemporary novelist and nearly embarrassed himself when Conroy wished him good luck with his own writing pursuits. The autographed book was his most prized possession.

Todd asked to borrow it. He claimed that when he finished reading it, he replaced it in Roark's bookshelf. It never turned up, not even when Roark practically tore their room apart searching for it.

What happened to the book remained a mystery.

They eventually stopped arguing about it, but Roark never loaned Todd a book again, and Todd never asked to borrow one.

They were good-looking, each in his own way, so there was never a shortage of girls. When they weren't talking about books, chances were very good that the subject was women. If one of them got lucky and a young lady stayed over, the other bunked down in a neighboring room.

One morning after a young lady had taken the

"walk of shame" down the hallway of the

#fraternity house on her way out, #######113

Todd looked over at Roark and said

morosely, "She wasn't all that hot, was she?"

Roark shook his head. "Last night you were looking at her through beer goggles."

"Yeah," Todd sighed. Then with a sly smile he added, "But it all feels good in the dark, doesn't it?"

They talked about women tirelessly and shamelessly, unabashedly adhering to the double standard.

Only Roark came close to having a serious relationship, and only once.

He met her during his food drive. She had volunteered to help. She had a beautiful smile and a slender, athletic body. She was a smart and conscientious student and could converse intelligently on any number of subjects.

But she also had a good sense of humor and laughed at his jokes. She was an excellent listener who focused on the topic when it turned to something serious. She taught him how to play

"Chopsticks" on the piano, and he persuaded her to read __The Grapes of _Wrath.

She was a passionate kisser, but that's as far as she would go. She clung to a strict moral code, founded on her religion, and she didn't intend to break it. She hadn't in high school with her longtime sweetheart, and she wasn't going to until she knew she was with the man she would marry and grow old with.

Roark admired her for it, but it was damned frustrating.

Then she called him one night and said she had just finished reading the Steinbeck classic, and if he wasn't busy, she would like to see him. He picked her up, they went for a drive, then parked.

She had loved the classic novel and thanked him for sharing it with her. Her kisses that night were more passionate than ever. She raised her sweater and pressed his hand against her bare breast. And if caressing her and feeling her response wasn't the most physically gratifying sexual experience Roark had ever had, it was certainly the most meaningful. She was sacrificing something of herself to him, and he was sensitive enough to realize it.

He wondered if he was falling in love.

A week later, she dumped him. He was

tearfully informed that she was resuming the relationship with her high school sweetheart. He was

#dumbfounded and not a little angry. "Do I ##115

at least get to ask why?"

"You're going to be somebody great, Roark.

Famous. I know it. But I'm just a simple girl from small-town Tennessee. I'll teach elementary school for a couple of years, maybe, then become a mother and the president of the PTA."

"There's nothing wrong with that."

"Oh, I'm not apologizing for it. It's the life I choose, the life I want. But it's not the life for you."

BOOK: Envy
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