By Larry Chen
It is late September. Covid cases in Westwood are still relatively low, below 10 new reports a day. In Newport Beach, Jackson Rodgers sat in his room, twiddling his thumbs while looking at a blank spot on his wall, half-listening to the droning voice of his professor on Zoom. He imagined a “Saturdays are for the Boys” flag hanging on the wall, and his thoughts drifted from Math 31A to kegstands with Logan and River. He didn’t need to pay attention to lecture; he would cheat on the midterms anyway. Jackson began to regret letting his parents convince him to stay home for the quarter. He missed Fat Sal’s and Diddy Riese, but the biggest ache in his heart was for the quarterly flexing of his bulge in the undie run. Wiping a tear from his face, he went downstairs to tell his parents that he wouldn’t eat another meal until they let him move back to Westwood. 2 weeks later, he was in the backseat of his dad’s Bentley, trundling down the potholes of Levering.
Jackson heard his phone buzz. Rays of the noon sun tickled his face as he groggily picked up his phone. The lockscreen read November 15th. Jackson broke out in a fit of coughs, spraying phlegm into the air. He had had the cough for a few days, but put it down to just being a cold. Besides, he hadn’t seen that many people anyway. Walking into the living room, Jackson tried to remember what had happened at the kickback from last night. Solo cups and ping pong balls littered the ground, allowing Jackson to recall how he had lost 2 games of beer pong in a row and in a drunken rage flipped the table over, spilling everything on the floor. He sighed, shaking his head at the subpar performance that had ruined his opportunity to get with Erica. He made up his mind to throw another party, with more people, in order to redeem himself. 3 days later, there were 24 new recorded cases of Covid.
Jackson leaned over the balcony, taking a deep drag from his Juul. It was now mid-January: he had thrown multiple parties since that first kickback, each one bigger than the last, but Erica had not shown up to any of them. He had hit her up on Instagram before each rager asking if she wanted to come, but had only received “maybe” and “I’ll think about it” as replies, always followed by a no-show. Tonight, Erica had finally made an appearance, but he had failed to win a single game of beer pong, causing him to roundhouse kick his opponent into the wall, putting a hole where the light switch used to be. He had been forced by Logan and River to get some fresh air on the balcony. Erica had left after his losses, and Jackson was beginning to think that she was a lost cause. He scrolled through his phone contacts and his eyes settled on Olivia, a hookup from last year that went to USC. He sent a text: “Hey. What’s good? B)” On January 15th, there were 42 new COVID cases in Westwood.
2021 has rolled around, along with more Covid spikes. The week was marked by a record of 87 new daily cases. Jackson was throwing his biggest party yet, his apartment packed with guests from USC, including Olivia. Feeling robbed of the undie run by COVID, Jackson stood tall on the dining table in his tighty whities. In an attempt to crowdsurf, Jackson jumped off the table, but the crowd let him down and he slammed his head into the ground. As his eyes refocused, the room seemed to be illuminated in a new light. He noticed that many people were coughing, flushed in the face. He suddenly thought back to all the parties he’d thrown, his mind racing with the faces of everyone he’d met. A feeling of realization and understanding washed over him. His weed stash! That must be why they’re all coughing! They must’ve stolen the bud that he left in his pillow. Grabbing a White Claw from the hand of a bystander, he rushed into his bedroom to stop the steal, or join in if it was too late.