Not again! I looked at my hand: 3 Jacks. The two Jacks of Diamonds made it seem something alien. Surely 3 Jacks should do it even with the skewed odds that came from playing with two decks. I tried to work out what the changed odds for each hand should be. Normally this would be a doddle, but several drinks more than I was used to had shot my mental calculator to hell and I gave it up as futile.
The other girls that had stayed in this hand showed out.
Yup! Me again! I squirmed a bit in my chair and thanked God for front fastening bras -- boys get practise at opening rear clasps through clothing -- with a wriggle of my shoulders I drew the straps down my arms and eventually pulled it out from under my dress. Even though I was probably as covered as most of the rest of them and more than some, I realised I was down to only two items of clothing.
What had Granny said?
"Donít mix booze and cards!"
I could almost hear her say it in that ironic way that the English have when handing down obvious platitudes. Now was a fine time to be telling me that, Gran! Why couldnít she have spoken up when I was downing my fourth, or was it my fifth, beer? What else did she say?
"Nothing teaches like experience."
I remember her saying that as she took me to the cleaners the first time I played her at poker.
The whole family are poker nuts, well card games of all sorts actually, but poker more than most. My mum reckoned it was my Granís dissolute upper class upbringing. I forgot to mention my Granís family is "old", like, when the Pilgrim Fathers were setting out for the New World; the family had been around for almost a thousand years! Most of the time you wouldnít know, my Granís great fun; but occasionally when sheís mad with someone then those 1500 years or so suddenly pop up and the person on the receiving end is very unhappy. She doesnít shout or scream or anything like that, sometimes my mum can do it too; perhaps itís an age thing.
I shook my head and looked around again, as far as I could tell only Jane my roomie was worse off than me. She was down to just her panties. I resolved to concentrate. How the hell did I get into this mess anyhow?
It had all started last Saturday ...
I woke up with a start.
The room seemed strange; of course it seemed strange, Iíd only just got here. Well yesterday afternoon anyway. I wondered what my roommate would be like. Jane. I hadnít known a Jane before. She seemed nice from the little note that sheíd left me.
I hope you didnít have too much trouble finding the room. I wonít be back until Sunday evening. If you need anything Iíve told Shauna and Kim opposite that youíre new and theyíve promised to help if they can. Just ask them.
I realised that Iíd been woken by a gentle knock on the door.
I grabbed my robe and padded to the door. I opened it a bit and peered out. There didnít seem to be anyone there so I stuck my head out and checked properly. It was still quite early for a Saturday and there wasnít anyone to be seen. I suppose I could have dreamt it but I was sure I had heard something.
Then I noticed the envelope on the floor. My name was clearly printed on it. This was strange, as I didnít yet know anyone here, probably something from the college.
It was halfway across the threshold; whoever had delivered it had shoved it under the door. The knock that Iíd heard must have been their hand hitting the door as they did it.
I picked it up; it seemed heavier than it should be. Staring at it wouldnít tell me what was inside, so I opened it. Inside was a heavily embossed, gold-edged card, obviously some sort of invitation, like many that Iíd seen standing on my Grannyís mantelpiece.
My curiosity was piqued.
I pulled out the card; the printing was so ornate that it was difficult to make out the wording.
"You are invited to attend this semesterís eliminations for the CNM"
Underneath this enigmatic line was the address of some Frat House; surprisingly there was no ĎRSVPí.
Now I was awake I might as well have a shower and dress. I hadnít seen much of the campus last night and by the time I had moved my stuff and got it all sorted out it had got quite dark.
I grabbed my towels and my shower bag and headed out.
At this time of the morning on a weekend I had my pick of bathrooms so I picked one that looked the cleanest -- why are girls en masse the untidiest humans on earth? I wondered.
Being one-quarter English part of me hankered after a long and glorious soak in a bath, but the rest of me luxuriated in the unexpected pleasure of a half-hour shower without the constant banging on the door of irate floor mates.
Refreshed, dressed and feeling happier than I had in a long while I went for a walk.
It was great.
As the day wore on more people appeared and the familiar accents of my childhood made me feel comfortable and welcome, even though I knew no one.
My previous college was two thousand miles west of here and the west coast accents and the distance from home had conspired to make me feel unbearably lonely and unwelcome. Coupled to my natural reticence this had made my short time there a horrendous experience. So, much to my parents delight, I had transferred here, to the college that both my mum and dad had attended. In fact theyíd met here; it was almost as good as being back at home.
I had a great day. A couple of cute guys spoke to me as I drank my coffee. They told me where the best places to eat were; even invited me to a party next Friday. I wondered if this was the same one that the invitation was for. For some reason I didnít mention it to them.
I started to tire so I declined to join them that night. Back at my room I rang my mum and assured her that I was OK. After that sleep beckoned.
I woke the next day feeling like Iíd slept the clock round. I checked and was surprised to see that it was only ten oíclock. I hadnít slept that well in weeks; coming here looked like being the best thing Iíd done in a long time.
My tummy growled; brunch was required. A quick shower, what my Gran called Ďa lick and a promiseí and I was on my way to the cafť, just off campus, that the guys had identified as being the best for Sunday brunch.
"Hey! Susan! Wait up!"
I looked round curiously, expecting to see some other girl being called to, and wondering if I could use it as an excuse to introduce myself.
"I thought it was you. I thought youíd gone to some west coast college."
A little way behind me I recognised two girls from the cheerleading squad at high school.
"Chrissie. Sylvie. Hey itís so good to see a familiar face or two." I said.
"So, whatíre you doiní here?" It was Chrissie speaking.
"I just couldnít take being so far away, I know it sounds wimpy, but it was making me ill. So I transferred here. My parents came here too and put in a good word for me. And so here I am; I got here Friday night, but my roomieís away for the weekend so Iím just wandering about trying to get my bearings. Itís just so great to see you guys!"
"Are you gonna try out for the squad?"
"Dunno. What do you think, Chrissie?"
"The official try-outs were last week, but the squadís a bit light, so you might get in. Youíre still lookiní good girl -- go for it. The first gameís the week after next so thereíll be time to get you up to speed with most of the cheers by then."
"Thanks. I didnít feel like trying out where I was; the place was littered with all these Ďvalley girlí types it made me feel so ugly!"
"You! Ugly! Get outta here!" Sylvie screamed in disbelief.
I blushed. "You donít know how good just talking to someone from home is making me feel."
Chrissie was looking at me thoughtfully.
"It was that bad huh?"
I nodded, suddenly unable to speak through the lump in my throat. Seeing how I close I was to tears she hugged me impulsively. It wasnít like weíd been best friends or anything but weíd got on well enough. After she felt me relax a bit she let me go.
"Come on letís get somethiní to eat! My stomachís thinkiní my throatís been cut."
So off we trooped to the cafť.
"If youíve only just got here howídíya know about this place?" asked Sylvie.
"I met these cute guys in the canteen yesterday. They said I must be new as no one in their right minds would drink the coffee on campus and then they told me about this place. So I thought Iíd give it a try for brunch."
"Whoís your roomie?"
I dug out the letter from my pocket and showed it them. "A girl called Jane, I forgot to ask her last name and she doesnít use it in her letter. She sayís Shauna and Kim are our neighbours opposite."
"Oh great! We know Jane; sheís cool; sheís on the squad too."
The invitation had dropped on the table too. Iíd forgotten that I had it in my pocket. Sylvie pounced on it with a shriek.
"Oh my god! Whereíd you get this?"
"Someone shoved it under the door yesterday morning; woke me up actually."
"These are like, sooo rare howíd you get one? Come on whoíd íya sleep with?" Chrissie said this with an exaggerated smirk; my lack of sexual experience in high school was legendary.
"It says ĎSusan plus guestí please take me, oh go on please take me!"
"Iíll let you know Sylvie. Iím not even sure that Iím going yet!"
The two of them looked at me aghast.
"Youíve gotta go ..."
"Of course you have ..."
"This is the party of the semester ..."
"How can you think of not going?"
The two of them fell over each other in their eagerness to persuade me to go.
"OK! OK! Iíll go! If I donít find a cute guy to take, Iíll let you know Sylvie."
After that we finished our brunch and chatted for a while, catching up on old friends that I hadnít seen since last year. And then, pleading tiredness, I walked back to my room for a rest. By the time I got back to my room I was feeling quite sleepy. Even though I had slept well last night, Iíd had almost a year of sleepless nights at my old college to catch up on. So I fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit my pillow.
"Oh sorry! I didnít mean to wake you; I forgot that youíd be here by now. You must be Susan; Iím Jane."
I woke with a start to hear this apologetic speech from a sort of whirlwind of arms and legs, with a shock of red hair on top. She smiled cheekily at me from a sea of freckles; her green eyes twinkled with welcome.
Normally Iím grouchy if Iím woken like that, but she seemed genuinely sorry sheíd woken me, so I bit back my normal grumpiness and smiled at her.
"Itís OK. Iím not normally asleep at this time of day, but I havenít been sleeping well for months and itís all just caught up on me."
She seemed contrite. "Jeez, Iím such a klutz, banging my way in here like this. Trouble is Iíve been on my own since mid-way through last semester. Iíve gotten used to being on my own. Did I leave you enough closet space?"
"Yeah. Plenty thanks. Oh thanks for the note that was nice of you."
"Oh thatís OK. Iím sorry I wasnít here to meet you. But my Aunt came by and dragged me off. I couldnít say no." She paused. "Not that I wouldíve, sheís my momís youngest sister, and sheís a blast!"
"Well youíre here now. I met some friends from high school, Chrissie and Sylvie, they say they know you from cheerleading."
"Christine and Sylvia? Oh yeah, I know them; we hang out after practice, go for coffee that kinda thing, did you know them at school then?"
"Well we werenít best friends or anything but we got on, yíknow?"
"Oh thatís cool." She looked at me, like she wanted to say something but didnít know how to start.
"You want to know why Iím transferring half-way through my course?"
She looked sheepish, "Well it is kinda odd? Most folks usually find out early on that theyíre having trouble ..." She trailed off. "Not that I wanna snoop or anything, just say if youíd rather not talk about it, Iíd understand."
I was beginning to like her already, so I drew a deep breath and started in.
"Itís quite simple really. Look, when you get to know me better, youíll find that Iím not very experienced around guys. So last year at school I fell for this guy, Todd. We got on well he was a bit of a nerd, but he blossomed when he was with me. We decided to try and see if we could go to college together. So we ended up on the west coast, at first it was great. I thought Ďthis really is ití and then I found out that he didnít. It was awful; I asked him over one evening; I thought this is it; this is when I tell him that I want him to be the one, you know, my first. And when he comes over he tells me that he wants to break up. He was nice about, but he thinks we are too young to be so committed and can we still be friends."
"Iím so sorry."
"Yeah well. So there I was 2000 miles from home and my boyfriend dumps me. It was OK at first, but everyone I knew out there I knew through Todd. I couldnít cope with the pity so I stopped going out and then I got depressed and homesick. It seems really wimpy when I explain it now. Eventually my Mum and Dad got worried and suggested that I transfer to a college closer to home where at least everything would be more familiar. So here I am -- and you know what? I havenít felt this good in, like, months. Anyway I havenít been sleeping well lately, but I think thatís going to change; I slept for almost 10 hours solid last night!"
"Iím glad! Do you want to rest? Is there anything you need to know?"
"Well I was woken up yesterday when this invite was delivered."
I showed here the invitation. Her reaction was, if anything, more extreme than Sylvieís.
"OH MY GOD! HOW COME YOU GET ONE OF THESE?"
"I donít know; like I said it was shoved under my door first thing yesterday morning. I was thinking it was a mistake and I should give it a miss."
"No way! Even if itís a mistake you can still get in -- itís a VIP invite. Hey you can take me!"
"Well I kind of promised Sylvie ..."
"She went last semester. And Iím your roomie; Iíd be eternally in your debt!"
I thought about. If it was some kind of mistake, then the worst that could happen would be they wouldnít let us in -- and the way everyone was behaving it sounded like a party that I shouldnít miss.
"OK then, but you have to protect me from Sylvie if she gets mad."
Jane gave me a hug and danced me round the room.
"Oh thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"
So, there we were. Jane and I in our finest party frocks all set for a night of partying like you wouldnít believe. But first we had to get by the doorman. The doorman turned out to be a really cute guy; his badge said his name was Alan. Jane was fairly jumping with excitement and itís infectious, we were both eager to get in and start enjoying the party.
"Can I see your invitations please?"
"Oh sure. Here it is."
Alanís eyes widened slightly at the sight of the gold edged invitation. He checked the name on his list and found it on the second page. He looked speculatively at Jane. I jumped in with a breathless explanation.
"Sheís with me, sheís my roomie, Iíve only just transferred in and I only know a few people. I wasnít going to come, but she convinced me to."
"Thatís OK, I just wondered if she wanted to join the eliminations too?"
Jane jumped in. "Oh yes please, where do I sign?"
Alan gave her a sheet of paper, which she glanced at and then signed. Jane turned and said, "Youíve got to join in too; youíre much prettier than me."
I have this bad habit; I donít like to ask dumb questions. Iím so bothered by this that I pretend to know what people are talking about even when I donít have a clue. This has got me into more trouble than anything else. Tonight wasnít any exception.
"Yeah, sure; if you think itís a good idea."
Jane grabbed another of the sheets from the table next to which Alan was standing and gave it to me. I looked for the place to sign.
"You should, at least, read it you know."
"Not unless youíre the speed-reading champion of the world you didnít."
I started to bristle at this.
"Look just read it. You really shouldnít sign things that you havenít read."
"You sound just like my mum."
"Not everything your parents tell you is wrong though."
This was probably excellent advice, but with Jane champing at the bit and me feeling better than I had in a year, I wasnít about to waste time reading a boring insurance document or whatever it was, when I could be partying, however cute the guy giving me the advice. So I made a show of reading the paper, but deliberately not seeing any of the words and then signed it with a flourish.
"Are you sure about this? You donít have to join in if you donít..."
"Look I signed it, didnít I? Can we get in now?"
Alan looked mulish but then sighed and waved us in with the customary admonishment to have a good time.
The party was great, I drank more beer than I should have; spoke to lots of cute guys; even kissed a few in a dark corner or two. Danced with even more cute guys and didnít notice that Jane had left me. After a while though I wondered where sheíd got to as I fancied a bit of girl-talk. I mean, whatís the point of going partying with a girlfriend if you canít compare notes right? I swung through some of the rooms aimlessly and then I†† heard familiar laughter, so I follow the noise until I reach the main room. Thereís a big banner above the arch leading into the room it reads ĎEliminationsí. I still donít know whatís being eliminated by now Iíve had far too much to drink and Iím giggling to myself over all the other meanings of the word ĎEliminationí. Jane saw me and called.† "Susie! There you are, theyíre ready to start! Come on."
As I was entering the room the same guy from the front door stopped me and asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this.
"Once we start, you have to stay until the finish."
"Weíre playing double-deck strip poker with some low cards removed."
"No problem, Iíve played poker and strip-poker loads of times." Which was true, but never after drinking so much and not with strangely altered decks. Anyhow seeing that I wasnít about to change my mind he let me into the room. Jane grabbed me and introduced me to the others that were sitting around. It dawned on me that only girls seemed to be playing, but I crushed the doubts that were starting with the knowledge that I was a demon poker player. Alan stood in the centre of the circle and welcomed us to this semesterís eliminations. To speed things up we wouldnít have any betting just deal the hands, change up to four cards and then lowest hand loses an item of clothing. First one to lose all their clothes wins.
ĎWins? Wins what,í I wondered; it was too late to ask now anyway.
Iíd actually been doing better in the last two hands and now Jane was worse off than me. She didnít seem too bothered that she was only wearing her thong panties. I realised that Iíd been staring at her breasts; this was the most Iíd seen of her in the time that weíd been roommates. I shouldíve been concentrating on my cards. I removed my panties and now for all that I was probably one of the most covered it was now a toss up between Jane and me who was going to be naked first. Just as I was contemplating this sobering thought, Alan stepped into the centre of the room.
"Ladies itís getting late; it looks like Susan and Jane are both down to only one item of clothing each. If everyone is amenable shall we leave it to a simple cut of the cards to decide who shall be the winner of this elimination?"
The rest of the girls and Jane signalled their assent. Alan looked at me questioningly, I started to shrug, but finally the thought crossed what was left of my addled mind that I ought to find out what I was risking. With a shake of my head I called him over. I dragged him over to a quiet corner of the room and in a low voice I asked what I should have asked in the very first place.
"What exactly is this an elimination for?"
"I told you to read the paper you signed; it explained what it was all about."
"I know, but Iím asking now; look I wonít chicken out I just need to know what Iím risking."
"Youíre competing to be the College Nude Mascot for this semester."
"Itís a tradition of the college. One girl each semester is chosen to be the Mascot at college games. At some point it was decided that if she were nude at the matches this would be more of an incentive. This was all right until someone complained and then some bright spark in the law faculty suggested that if the mascot were classified as livestock then clothing or the lack of it wouldnít be a problem. Anyway this legal argument got batted about until the Judge got tired of it and ruled that he would accept the livestock argument as long as the girl wore no clothes at all times as long as she was the College Mascot. He thought that the girl would chicken out and that would be the end of it, but she was made of sterner stuff and followed the ruling so for the whole semester she wore no clothes and the College Nude Mascot was born."
"You mean if I lose this draw, I will end up naked for the rest of the term?"
"No if you win this elimination, you will end up naked for the rest of the term. Itís considered an honour to be chosen. Of course there are other traditions to be adhered to as well, but thatís the main one. You only have a 50% chance so it may never happen."
I contemplated the choices. On the one hand I was pretty certain that with my luck I was going to lose -- sorry -- win this elimination and apparently that would be the last I would see of my clothes for the next ten weeks or so, or I could run away and be the object of derision and scorn for the rest of my college life. Iíd just spent a year of hell in my last college and I wasnít about to risk that again so I nodded to Alan and signalled my agreement to the rest of the girls.
"Right Iíve explained to Susie how we do the draw."
I smiled gratefully at Alan for covering me.
"So if Jane and Susie will stand in the middle of the room we will get this show on the road."
Alan shuffled the deck and offered the cards to me. I made my cut and turned up a 10 of Hearts. Surely my luck was turning, I felt a slight pang that it meant that Jane would be naked for the rest of the semester but at least Iíd be on hand to help her with it. I watched as Jane made her cut; I prepared to commiserate with her and to help her to remove her last item of clothing. She turned her part of the pack over and revealed a Queen of Diamonds. Before I could register the meaning of the card she had dropped the cards, stepped forward, raised my dress and lifted it over my head.
I was naked.
The people in the room cheered as Alan made the announcement.
"Susie is to be the College Nude Mascot for the Fall Term."
He held out his hand to me and automatically I took it. With a bright smile I waved to the cheering girls and watched enviously as everyone scrambled to put on the clothing that they had lost. All too soon I was the only one less than fully dressed. I shied away from the concept of nudity it was just too much.
"If youíll come with me, weíll get you ready for your Ďdutiesí."
My duties? What the hell had I gotten myself into now?
Suddenly the full import of my situation crashed across my still slightly drunken awareness -- I was naked and they were going to keep me this way for the rest of the term! They couldnít really do that, could they?
Alan must have been watching me very closely, because before I could faint or cry or do anything that would reveal how stupidly I had got myself into this situation he whispered in my ear, "Come on before you say or do anything you regret later. We have to Ďprepareí you for the rest of the night anyway. I know itís a shock, but we will help you as much as we can."
Numbly I let him lead me away. As I was led through the house I was cheered and congratulated by everyone I met. At first I cringed from all the attention, but quite quickly I realised that everyone was being very complimentary about me, itís hard to stay embarrassed when all you are hearing is adulation. Soon I was being led upstairs, the new Nude Mascot and her retinue, who were going to prepare me for my tenure as the next Mascot.