At least he wasn't at an Irish wake. The only thing worse than mingling sober in a crowd of drunks was mingling sober with a corpse in the room. Ordinarily, that type of thought would put things in perspective for Sean. At a college keg party, it only made things worse. A corpse would give him someone to talk to.
Around him, people he recognized from campus made complete asses out of themselves, but none of them acknowledged him. Even the man sitting on the other end of the chessboard said nothing. Of course, if that particular man hadn't invited him to the party, he would be alone in his room, not studying for his finals. For chess alone, that man got him out on a hundred percent more occasions than he would have gone out otherwise.
Unfortunately, such occasions became numbered since a few days earlier, when that man had acquired a girlfriend. While Sean never encountered the woman personally, he did have to live with her effect on him. Eugene--as that man preferred to be called--finally relaxed. Sean had to thank her.
Sean also had to destroy her. There was no real reason she should put an end to his extracurricular human contact, except that the idea of introducing himself to other people after being around them so long didn't go over too well with his stomach.
"What the hell have I been doing for the past two years?" he asked.
"Staring at the board," Eugene told him. "Move."
"Don't worry, it'll happen."
"In a minute," Sean assured him. The board blurred slightly, focusing his eyes instead on a couple nearby. They were both smoking. "But first," he said to all three of them, "I must have a cigarette. Which one of you has the pack?"
The woman replied, "I really like all of this smoke. It looks like an aura."
The crouching man beside her possessed one of the few names he knew, so Sean specified, "Do you have the cigarettes, Nemanja?"
"After we're done here," Nemanja asked her in a thick Serbian accent, "can we have some sex?"
"Of course," she replied. "But let's hang out for a little while. Doesn't this place have a good vibe?"
Sean insisted, "Help me out here."
"I think the pot and the shrooms really loosen the tension around here," she added.
He begged, "Please."
Nemanja asked, "Will you give me oral sex, later?"
"I know one of you has them," Sean said, then added, "and no, I won't give you oral sex."
"Move," Eugene told him.
Sean turned to face his chess opponent again. "Do you have the cigarettes?"
"I don't smoke."
"Still?" Sean stood. "I need to find something to put in my lungs."
"But it's your move."
"I'll be back."
"But you'll forget!"
"Probably," Sean agreed before wandering off. He rounded the corner and bumped into his ex-girlfriend. Suddenly, the idea of introducing himself to people after being around them so long didn't seem quite so discomforting.
"Sean!" she giggled, "Oh my god! What a surprise! How are you?"
"Never been better."
"I'm so glad to hear that," she replied. "A little birdie told me you even quit drinking."
"I told him to keep it a secret, but Eugene's been keeping an eye on you for me."
"I wasn't aware you knew Eugene."
"Everybody knows Eugene."
"Of course. And how are you?"
"Do you know Erik?"
Erik, who Sean had been watching the whole time, finally released his hold on her waist to shake Sean's hand.
"We've met," Sean told her. He knew Erik because Erik sold drugs. Apparently Erik only sold drugs for the thrill. Apparently, Erik liked to have sex with drunk, stoned, and often rebounding women, also for the thrill.
"I haven't seen you all semester," she said. "What have you been up to?"
He could have gone a little while longer without seeing her again. In fact, he referred to the past semester as "detox." He thought he was in love for almost a year and a half, but it turned out he was just codependent. And when it was explained to him that her friends were not really his, he also became an alcoholic. It wasn't long after that he was nearly kicked out of school. So when she dumped him, it had merely been a formality.
He watched each of her fingers intertwine with Erik's and told her how he spent detox, "Class. And you?"
She shrugged, "I've been around."
Sean's hands sought refuge in the pockets of his trusty cardigan sweater. "I can see that." For a moment, he considered popping by her room later and filling her in on Erik's legendary exploits. He could never blame her for her what happened between them, and she didn't deserve Erik. But telling the truth would only make Sean look like the asshole. Almost as much as standing by and doing nothing.
"I need to go," he said. A long night of sitting around and imagining how he could have handled the situation better awaited him.
"It was great to see you again," she said, "why don't you stop by my room sometime and we can catch up."
"Yeah," he replied and walked away to resume his search for a loose cigarette with fresh urgency.
He quickly sniffed around and zeroed in on a cute tomboy. He'd never seen her before, which didn't really mean much. He'd never seen a lot of people before. The only things he knew about her were that she looked really good in jeans, and that she had a cigarette. If she had one, she might have more like it. She also might have mace.
He carefully pointed and asked her, "What would I have to do to get one of those?"
"I have a boyfriend," she replied.
"I guess that rules out cunnilingus."
"What is your fucking problem?" she asked him and stormed away before he could tell her. Then he completely forgot about the cigarette. Now he just wanted to get a better look at her.* * *
Sean didn't get a better look until a week later, after his philosophy final, when he burst into Eugene's room for their last game of chess before the summer. He didn't recognize her at first, because she was naked and sweating and moaning in ecstasy on top of an equally naked and sweating and ecstatic Eugene.
Since he'd been a young boy, Sean had carefully rehearsed a number of reactions to a number of potential surprises--including a death in the family--so he could be trusted with the awesome responsibility of delivering a humorous remark at the most appropriate moment. This one, however, caught him off guard.
"I'm sorry I didn't knock," he shouted, "I'm sorry I never knocked and I feel really bad and I'm sorry!"
"Sean!" Eugene hissed.
"Sorry," Sean whispered and left the room. In the hallway, he finally noticed Eugene's roommate, Mateo, sitting on the floor, highlighting notes from a biology textbook.
He sat beside him and remembered to blink. "Oh, damn," Sean said.
"I'm still getting used to it myself," Mateo said. "And I have a final tomorrow."
When Rocky strolled around the corner, Mateo waved and said, "Hello, Lord Byron."
"Shut-up, Mateo," Rocky snapped. "Where's Eugene?"
"Occupied," Sean said to him.
Rocky jumped. "Jesus, man, I didn't see you there."
"I have that effect on people."
"You're the guy who coached Eugene and me on the Plato's Republic, right?" he asked.
Sean replied, "You remembered."
"Of course I remembered, man," he said. "I owe you my life. I tried to read it, but he never got to the point. And what was the big deal with that cave? Shut up about that freaking cave! I can't believe you read it. Not that I'm not grateful, but ... damn." He concluded with, "I mean ... damn."
"I had a lot of spare time this semester."
Rocky wouldn't take that for an answer. "No, man, you're on top of this philosophical shit. And I thought Eugene was on top of that philosophy shit, but Mortenoir doesn't even like him. But you're like ... damn."
Sean watched him.
"I just don't understand where you get it from."
"I flunked the final last semester," Sean replied.
"Oh." Rocky looked away for a second. "So that means you're retaking this class?"
"Oh. And doesn't that mean you flunked the final we just took?"
"How'd you pull that off? You only had to show up."
"You ditched the final?"
"Showed up drunk."
"Oh," Rocky looked away for a second. "Hey, I showed up drunk."
"Did you have a will to live?"
"Well ... yeah?"
"There you go."
Mateo put the cap on his highlighter. "You're a very interesting person, Sean."
"Well, I have a will to live now."
"Oh." Rocky frowned.
Mateo grinned like a cat. "Mysterious and brooding, I like that in a man."
"It's too bad you have a penis," Sean said.
Rocky sat between them. "Can we change the subject, please?"
"Help yourself," Sean told him.
"Why are you guys sitting in the hall?"
"Lisa," Mateo said.
"Oh." Rocky looked away for a second. "Oh!"
Sean cautiously looked back at the door to Eugene's room. "I'm in still shock."
Rocky laughed. "You, too? A month ago he was too scared to speak to her and now they fuck like rabbits. I can't figure out what happened."
"I can give you a detailed description."
Mateo clarified, "He walked in on them, Rocky."
"Oh," Rocky said, "damn."
Eugene's door opened and he announced sheepishly, "You can come in, now."
Sean lifted his duffel bag. "Sorry."
The four shuffled into the room, and Sean finally recognized Eugene's sex partner, curled into a small bundle of flannel and denim on Eugene's bed. Her right hand tightly clutched a nylon bra, and her left hand loosely dangled an unlit cigarette. But it was the scowl that did it.
"Sean," Eugene said, "This is Lisa."
"You're the guy with the fucking problem," she said.
Sean faced her with mock surprise. "Oh, look," he replied, "It's the literalist from the other night. How's that temperamental thing working for out for you?" He'd been practicing that line for a week.
"Guys?" Eugene asked.
"Honey," she told him, "this is the guy I was telling you about. The one that wanted to eat me out for a cigarette."
"You make it sound dirty," Sean said. "I was merely ruling out cunnilingus as potential barter. It was improbable, but it was still an option." He turned to her boyfriend. "If I had known you were involved, I never would have considered oral sex. Honest."
Eugene held up his hands and sat on Mateo's bed. "Leave me out of this."
Rocky joined Eugene. "Me, too."
Mateo got comfortable. "This is great!"
After glaring the rest of them into silence, Lisa turned her attention back to Sean. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
"Some guy at a party?"
"What would make you say something like that to somebody you don't know?"
"I thought it was funny."
"What's so funny about that?"
"It was unexpected and well-timed. That's what funny is."
"What the hell do you mean, 'that's what funny is'?"
"I know funny. I'm writing my doctorate on funny."
She flipped open a brass Zippo and ignited it. "What is your fucking problem?"
Sean folded his arms. "I'm being funny."
"This is probably a bad time to point this out," Eugene said while cowering, "but you can't smoke in this room, Lisa. Sorry."
Lisa lit the cigarette anyway, leaving a trail of gray silk commemorating her dramatic exit.
Rocky pointed at the slamming door. "I have never seen her do that before."
"Do what," Eugene asked, "slam the door? She does that all the time."
"Run away," Rocky said.
Mateo clapped his hands together. "I know! Isn't it great?"
Sean cracked a smile and shrugged.
Eugene pulled his face from his hands. "Sean," he asked, "what the hell did you say to my girlfriend?"* * *
Three months later, Sean threw his duffel bag to the floor. "So," he said to Lisa, "what exactly are you doing in my room without my prior knowledge?"
"The R.A. let me in."
"Just my luck," he said, "I get the one you're fucking."
"You requested Eugene's floor."
"I wanted to move someplace less hostile. Turns out I was wrong."
"What is your fucking problem?"
"This isn't the first time you've asked me that question," he told her.
"You're the one who offered to eat me out."
"I've explained this already, I was ruling eating you out ... " he had to pause for a moment, " ... out. I thought it would be amusing if I came up with a creative way to let you know I wasn't hitting on you. I was only asking for a cigarette."
"You said the word 'cunnilingus,'" she reminded him. "You should never say the word 'cunnilingus' if you're not hitting on someone."
"I always thought you should avoid it when you are hitting on someone."
"Then why did you say it?"
"I was flashing my wit with a crass, inappropriate, crude, and stupid joke. That's what I've been trying to tell you."
"You haven't even apologized for it."
"I haven't seen you all summer."
"Well," she said, "here I am."
He sat on his bed. "You've ruined the mood."
She pulled on her hair, "Do you even know why I'm here?"
"I couldn't begin to tell you."
"He has been waiting for you to get back all summer, and you, acting like maverick you think you are, haven't seen been to see him since once you've been back."
"So," she sighed, "my boyfriend is the sweetest, most wonderful man I ever met, and I need you to help me share him with the rest of the world."
"That has to be the most beautiful thing I've heard in my entire life," he said.
"I swear to God I'm going to punch you right now."
"But you won't."
She gritted her teeth. "You probably don't even care, but he's starting to poke his head out of his shell because of you."
Sean stared at his bare mattress. "How did I do that?"
"I don't fucking know, but it works. And now we got to come up with a way for us not to kill each other."
"There's no way I can negotiate with you."
"Why the hell not?"
"Because you're always going to assume I'm hitting on you."
She began to pace. "But you were hitting on me."
"I asked you for a cigarette."
"You asked what you could do for a cigarette. That sounds like a line."
"Did you even consider that I may have meant loose change?" he asked her while standing. "You were staring at my ass." Her fingers curled into a fist.
"Only because I'm humble. My eyes are always facing the floor. Your ass just happened to get in the way."
"Why didn't you just point your eyes somewhere else?"
He suddenly fought to keep himself from laughing. "Because you do have a nice ass."
She tensed her fist and began to pull it back.
"Oh shit," he said, "you're going to hurt me." Not taking his eyes off of her, he slowly sat down again and speculated which would take the most damage: his eyes, his nose, or his teeth.
She held the pose for a moment. "You've got to learn to start talking less."
"I brought a peace offering," she said, finally relaxing and digging through her pocket. "Do you know what this is?"
Sean frowned at a wooden block half the size of a pack of cigarettes. "You already told me, it's a peace offering."
"You don't have to be such an asshole."
"You're right, I don't."
She closed her eyes unfolded it into a simple, wooden pipe. "Now do you know what this is?"
"A bad idea," he replied.
"This is the Dude. You haven't really lived in Gallup, New Mexico if you haven't smoked out of it."
"I see you name them out there."
"Sean," she pleaded while fishing for a lighter, "the only way you and I are going to get along is stoned."
He took the accessories in his hands. "Prophetic," he agreed. "And wise." Briefly considering the consequences, but not caring, he added, "It's been nice knowing you." Sean took his first hit of marijuana with Lisa then coughed it right up.
Lisa laughed and took the Dude back.
"Ouch," he croaked.
"You get used to it."
"So I hear," he said. "You do this often?" Despite the lightheadedness, he managed to stay cool. That made it even more inconvenient when his ex-girlfriend burst through the door he hadn't bothered to lock.
"Shit," he said.
"Sean," she said loudly, "it took me all day to find out where you lived, so you are not leaving this room until I talk to you." She sniffed the air and spotted Lisa. "Did I come at a bad time?"
"Funny you should mention that," he told her.
"That's weed you're smoking, isn't it? I cannot believe you! Here I was, so happy you quit drinking! I didn't know you just traded it for this." She massaged her eyes. "You got serious problems!"
He looked at Lisa for a second. "I get that a lot."
"Forget it," his ex-girlfriend said. "I'll come back later."
"Now's as good a time as any."
"Fine. Then explain to me why the hell you didn't tell me about him."
"Tell you about whom?"
Lisa sighed, "Oh, fuck."
Sean's ex-girlfriend ignored her. "Everyone says you know Erik, and every shitty thing he does to girls like me, and you could have stopped me. Why didn't you?"
"Is there any way I could have?"
She almost replied, but didn't. Then she finally asked, "When did you stop loving me?"
A tear slowly outlined her grimace. "You don't have to be this way." She slammed the door.
Sean listened to her stomp down the hall.
"I probably shouldn't have seen that," Lisa told him and left.
He squeezed his eyes shut. At least he was able to maintain his composure.* * *
The problem with Christmas Theater Productions at Sean's college was that most drama professors hated them and left them to student directors. The problem with student directors at Sean's college was that they tended to be very creative in their productions. This was because they also tended to be idealistic rebels with drinking problems, drug problems or both. This also meant they threw the wildest cast parties, and once again, Sean made it through one without vomiting.
Most of his peers weren't so lucky, and this reminded him he had the munchies. He quickly motivated himself to search the refrigerator for a cure. He tallied his findings, "Beer, beer, more beer, cheap beer, pretentious Irish beer, vodka, whiskey, a sock, margarita mix and a bottle of seltzer water with bread crumbs floating around in it. And a beer. Damn."
When he closed the door and noticed his fellow kitchen occupant, it took him a moment to recognize her as the Ghost of Christmas Future. This because a sweater obscured the deep cleavage she showed off in the creative Student Christmas Theater Production. "Is it true you don't drink?" she asked. "Because everyone thinks you're just doing it to get attention."
"Yeah, but I don't believe them. They're just being shallow. I'm too thick to be shallow."
Sean considered this for a moment, concluding, "I believe you."
"Your name is Sean, right?"
"You've done your research."
"When you go to a lot of parties, people gossip. I like to find out what the real story is."
"I see. And you are?"
"Sorry," she said, "I'm Shannon. Did you see me in the play?"
"Of course," he replied, "you were the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. In a white leotard."
"The director said he wanted to try something new. I hope it worked."
He recalled her performance in the non-speaking role. "You were born for the part. You have enormous breasts."
"I know," she said. "Most guys really like them. What do you think?"
He frowned, then asked her, "Does this conversation seem a little weird to you?"
Lisa chose that moment to storm in to the kitchen. "Sean," she growled. "You and me got to have a little chat. On the back porch. Now." Then she stormed out.
Sean strolled to the doorway. "Talk to you later," he said to Shannon. "I have to go outside and get slapped around."
Once on the back porch, he asked Lisa, "Now what did I do?"
"Nothing," she replied, igniting the Dude, "this time. I just had to get you away from her."
"I never figured you for the jealous type," he said, taking his turn with the Dude.
"There's something wrong with her, Sean."
"A rescue. How Amnesty International." He handed the pipe back to her.
After she exhaled her hit, she croaked, "I've been seeing too much of her lately."
"You don't have to worry about that tonight, she's wearing a really big sweater."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Forget it." He put the Dude to his lips.
She glared off into space.
He coughed. "And how much of Shannon is too much Shannon?"
"She's taken an interest in my boyfriend."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Has he taken an interest back?" He handed her the Dude.
"Of course not."
"So, what's the problem?"
She lit the pipe thoughtfully. "She's all over him."
"Does he even notice?" He snatched it back and took a hit.
"What do you think?"
"I think your boyfriend's so cute when he's being unobservant."
She smiled, "He is."
"He's only got eyes for you. I wouldn't worry."
"I didn't come out here for a pep talk." She took back her pipe.
"You're being pretty hostile for someone with nothing to worry about," he said.
"I'm not being hostile, I know my boyfriend's loyal. She's psycho."
"Which probably explains why she didn't get upset when I pointed out that she has enormous breasts."
She handed him the Dude and exhaled, "You said that?"
"Well, she does."
"I don't want to hear you saying another word," she said.
After a minute she added, "I should have left you with her. She seems to be taking an interested in you."
"Shit, If I had let nature take its course, I could have got rid of the both of you. Dammit."
"I don't think you're listening to me."
"I never do."
"Granted," he shrugged, "but your little Machiavellian scheme has too many careless flaws ... "
"No, it doesn't."
" ... like: I'm not nearly as charming as your boyfriend."
"For the love of God, would you just shut-up?"
"Every time I do you say something."
"You don't have to answer."
He sighed. "You're right, I should be hanging out with Shannon."
"That's what I've been saying."
"She's not what I would call normal, but at least she's really sweet. She was nice to me when everybody apparently thinks I'm an asshole."
"Now you're being an asshole," she told him while he took his hit.
"Stop it. You're hurting my feelings."
"Everybody thinks you're being dramatic about not drinking, that's all."
He asked, "Do they get that from the way I don't drink, so when they ask about it, I tell them I don't want to talk about it? Is that what makes me a martyr? Do they want me to walk around with a glass of apple juice and be 'Undercover Alcoholic'?"
She took back the Dude. "Now you're being a martyr."
"What could I possibly say that wouldn't piss you off?"
She blew smoke in his face. "You could shut the fuck up like I keep telling you to."
Carefully taking the pipe back in silence, Sean maneuvered it to his lips, adding, "Technically that's not actually saying anything."
"I'm serious," Lisa replied.* * *
A few days before his senior year in college began, Sean ran several scenarios through his head and all of them ended badly. Therefore, he chose to act on sheer impulse. Setting the chessman down, he considered the option of nuking the board. Unfortunately, the pieces would roll off the roof of Eugene and Lisa's new experiment in cohabitation, and be lost forever. Also, it would be uncivilized.
He and Eugene both studied the board and traded hits from the Dude while another survivor of the party appeared.
"Which one of you stole my pipe?" Lisa asked.
Eugene pointed at Sean, who had to give it back.
The Dude's rightful owner and curled up next to Eugene. "Honey," she asked, "who was that fat man?"
"You mean the one who thought he was Elvis?" Eugene said, "He was with Sean."
"I just ran into him."
"Who was he?" she asked.
"Some guy at a party."
She narrowed her eyes, "Don't you dare get philosophical on me."
"I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing."
Eugene lifted an arm for silence. "Guys ... "
"Sorry, honey," Lisa said sweetly and kissed him on the cheek. "The fat man left, so the party will break up any minute. Time to go to bed?"
"Time to finish the game," Eugene replied.
She snuggled close to him.
"That was the best housewarming party ever!" Rocky declared, pulling himself through the window.
Mateo slipped out after him. "How the hell did that happen?"
"Sean's the one who gave the fat man the guitar," Rocky told him.
Sean said, "We should all pay attention to the fat man. He could teach us a thing or two. The fat man was breaking it down."
"You didn't have to egg him on," Lisa told him.
Rocky asked, "So where'd you get the guitar, man?"
"Found it lying around," Sean replied.
"I don't own a guitar," Eugene said.
Sean shrugged and put a cigarette to his lips.
"What is it with you?" she asked him, then pointed at his cigarette. "And what would I have to do to get one of those?"
"Fellatio," he replied and dug through his trusty cardigan sweater for his not-so-trusty disposable lighter.
"You'll have to take a rain check," she said, packing a fresh hit into the Dude.
As she put the pipe to her lips, it occurred to him they were perfect. And she'd apparently gone through her entire life not realizing how easily her figure encouraged dirty thoughts. It didn't matter, because her clothing knew, and went through extra trouble to bunch and wrinkle and stretch just to show it off. On top of that, it was doubtful she'd ever opened a bottle of conditioner, but her hair happened to grow naturally into that ruffled look people pay a great deal of money for. "I don't like the way this is going," he told his brain.
"Don't like the way what is going?" Lisa asked.
Sean tended to forgot other people could hear him when he spoke. "I have a shoebox full of your rain checks," he said. "I'd better remember to cash them all in before we graduate. That is, if your boyfriend wouldn't mind."
"Leave me out of this," Eugene mumbled, "I need to concentrate. I'm really close to figuring out whose move it is."
"Yours," Sean told him and handed Lisa a cigarette, taking the Dude from her in exchange.
"I used to pimp myself out for cigarettes," Eugene muttered as he thoughtfully touched all of his pieces. "You took my queen, didn't you?"
"Fourteen moves ago."
"Damn," Eugene replied.
"Where'd you guys go?" Shannon asked loudly, pulling herself out through the window.
Sean memorized the positions of the pieces and took his hit. "The roof," he replied.
"Of course you're on the roof!" She slipped past her boyfriend, Rocky, so she could gently slap Sean on the shoulder. "That's not what I meant."
"But that's what you asked."
She clutched the sleeve of his trusty cardigan sweater. "Please don't confuse me. Sean, I'm baked. Like a brownie. Once, the cast of Waiting for Godot baked an ounce of hydroponic weed into a dozen brownies, and we had two brownies--they were huge brownies, and we went to the state fair."
"You've got to be kidding," Lisa sighed.
Mateo laughed. "The State Fair? What the hell were you thinking?"
Sean shrugged, "Probably: 'Why not?'"
Shannon passionately held his hands and looked in his eyes. "That's exactly it! 'Why not?' Why not go on the roller coaster? And we took the brownies with us and ate them and we tried to pace ourselves, you know?"
"Oh," Sean told her, "I know."
"But we ate them all while we were in line and by the time we got onto the roller coaster we were tripping and we saw hallucinations and stuff! And the whole time we were just going, 'Wow!' And we did again, and we were still all 'Wow!' So where'd you get the guitar anyway?"
"Magic," he replied.
"Yeah," she giggled, then turned and grabbed Eugene's shoulder. "Do you have any brownies?"
"No," Lisa growled.
"I'll go check!" Shannon told them and slipped back inside.
Sean said, "That's probably the last person who should be smoking pot."
The other men snickered, and even Lisa joined in for a second.
The first to speak was Mateo. Peering off the roof and into the driveway below, he said, "I wonder what would happen if she fell off this."
Sean replied, "She'd float away."
"I wonder what would happen if I fell off this."
Rocky looked cautiously over the edge, then backed away.
Mateo smiled wickedly, "And what about Lord Byron?"
"Shut-up, Mateo!" Rocky snapped.
Sean assured them, "He'd leave a crater, but otherwise he'd be fine."
"What would happen if my bitch fell off?" Lisa asked as she ruffled Eugene's hair.
Eugene's arms responded appropriately, but his eyes were glued to the chessboard. "I'd probably just lie there and say, 'Figures.'"
"And me?" she asked.
"You'd find somebody's ass to kick," Sean replied.
"Probably yours," she said.
Again Shannon burst out of the window, "There's no brownies in this house, Eugene."
"Sorry you didn't listen to me," Lisa said.
"That's okay, I just feel like dancing. That party was just like the sixties."
Sean said. "The sixties were just a bunch of people getting stoned with a sitar, anyway."
She grabbed his hands again. "I know! But we didn't have a sitar! We had the fat man. He was better than a sitar."
"That's what I've been trying to tell them."
"I know," she giggled, and added, "you know what would be really groovy now?"
"Sex." She floated over to her boyfriend and traced his collarbone with her pinkie. Then she looped his gold chain around it and pulled his face closer to her lips. "What do you say, Rocky?"
"What do I say about what?" Rocky asked. "I wasn't paying attention."
Her hand lingered on his chest for a moment before she gently pulled him to the window. Sean watched the exchange with mild amusement.
"What about you, Sean?" Mateo asked and sat down.
"Me?" Sean replied.
"What would you do if you fell off the roof?"
Lisa said, "I don't think anybody would notice if you fell off the roof, Sean."
He lit a new cigarette. "I think you're right," he said, offering the Dude to Mateo, who declined.
Eugene took it after moving a piece, seemingly at random.
Sean viewed the carnage and noticed he was in checkmate. "Son of a bitch."
Eugene gave a cocky shrug to Sean, and a sloppy kiss to Lisa.
"Hail to the king," she purred. "Shall we retire to the royal bedchambers?"
"With great pleasure, Milady," he told her. To the other two, he said, "Goodnight, gentlemen. You know where to find the exit."
Sean swept the chessmen into his duffel bag. "Looks like it's time for us to fall off the roof, Mateo."
"Possibly," he said. "Have you changed your mind about that heterosexual thing?"
Sean thought about it for a minute. "No," he replied.
"Then it looks like we're both going home alone tonight," Mateo shrugged before he crawled through the window
Sean slowly finished his cigarette and tossed it to the driveway. "At least you have an excuse," he mumbled. After entering through the window of the tiny kitchen, he strolled through a vast desert of carpet. Near Lisa's couch, the first thing he saw was Rocky chewing on Shannon's neck. He moved quietly past them, yet couldn't help but notice the way his hips pushed into hers, and the way her left heel rubbed the inside of his right knee.
He almost made it when Shannon opened her eyes, and between moans, said, "Goodnight, Sean."
Rocky mumbled something.
"Yeah," Sean replied, and turned a corner to the front door, which he opened with his head. He had no problem surviving nights like that. The challenge was making it look easy.* * *
A few months later, Sean peered past the host station at May's Cafe. His usual booth in the smoking section was occupied, as were the rest of the seats in the restaurant. In the absence of a hostess, he leaned on the cash register and studied the pandemonium before him. The house staff strode back and forth, balancing trays and water pitchers with military grace and efficiency. One bolted by with a burning glare in his eyes, as if he were serving God, while another waiter didn't move his shoulders once during the whole time he placed drinks on a table and took four orders.
At the closest booth to him, a Zippo lighter had not stopped making noise since the customer had taken it from his seat mate. Sean couldn't hear a word, but their voices were solemn. Her voice was also peppered with reassurance, while his consistently halted the sound of the Zippo. Sean whispered, "I could use some of that tension."
The hostess appeared in front of him. "We're full."
"I'll sit with the person in booth seventeen," he said.
She pointed to the spot in question. "How do you know that's booth seventeen? Did you used to work here?"
"No," he replied, "Somebody I know did. Eugene."
"Wow," she said, "everybody knows Eugene!"
"I've heard. And if you get me a cup of coffee," he told her, "I won't bother you ever again."
She winked. "Sure thing!"
He strolled to the booth and pulled a notebook from his duffel bag without taking his eyes from the other occupant. "Hola," he said to her.
She finally looked at him. "This is a surprise," Lisa said.
Their mutual, silent glare was broken by the hostess. She placed the cup and saucer on the table and asked Lisa, "Do you know Eugene?"
"She's fucking him," Sean replied.
"But not right now," Sean added.
"Wow," the hostess repeated as she wandered away.
"What the hell was about?" Lisa asked.
"I don't know," he replied, "something about your boyfriend knowing everybody."
"He does. So what are you doing in my booth?"
"I needed a place to sit and the smoking section's full."
"It's Christmas, Sean. We're the only students in town. You don't have to act like you hate me right now. I won't tell."
"There's obviously been a misunderstanding," he informed her. "I really do hate you. Would you like my dehydrated, low-fat, milk substitutes?"
"Whatever," she said, taking the cream packets from his coffee saucer. "You know you chose to sit in this booth with me, don't you?"
"It's because you're here," he replied. "Which reminds me: what the hell are you doing here? It's Christmas."
"Some of us have to work."
"Those same people, I noticed, hold a grudge against those of us with trust funds."
"Don't tell me you couldn't afford to see your family."
"The divorce settlement and subsequent trust fund says I have to spend the holidays with my father in Jersey City."
"Right," she said. "So what are you doing here?"
"So I told him I had a paper due. It's hard to be academic when you have to make so many public appearances."
"You make it sound like such a chore. I remember when you didn't have any friends."
"I don't have any friends now."
"You got to be kidding me."
"I'm serious. Certain people I'm more comfortable with, but I wouldn't call them friends."
"You are the most depressing person I know," she said, lighting a cigarette.
"Lisa," he said, "you probably shouldn't do that in the non-smoking section."
"What are they going to do? Throw us out?"
"That's exactly what they're supposed to do, Lisa. I believe that is the very purpose of the non-smoking section."
They glared at each other.
She tossed the cigarette into his coffee.
He continued to glare calmly.
"I don't understand why people don't see through you, Sean," she said. "You act like you're this wounded bohemian loner. But you really just want people to take care of you and love you. I've never seen anybody more scared of being by himself."
"I've honed being by myself to a beautiful art form. You should try it sometime. Especially when I'm around."
"What the fuck is your problem?"
"I thought we'd finished discussing that months ago." Actually he never did tell her what his fucking problem was. It had to do entirely with her. She could smell fear, and if he let his guard down for one moment, she'd storm past his painstakingly constructed facade and see how badly decorated the rest of him was. He couldn't get within swinging distance of someone like that. He took his eyes from her to inspect the damage to his coffee. After removing the soggy cigarette and taking a sip, he asked, "And where is our mutual friend?"
"On his way back here."
"At which hour does he arrive?"
"In the morning?"
She nodded. "He wants to be here for New Year's."
"The clock's ticking."
She put a cigarette to her lips, noticed it, then put it away. "I think you should come to our apartment tonight and wait for him to get back. He'd love to see you."
"Sure you can tolerate me that long?"
"We'll smoke a lot."
"That'll help. I'll be there."
"You obviously care for him more than you hate me."
"That's not true. I'm going because you got the weed."
She grinned. "You'd anything for each other, that's what friends are. Admit it."
"I wouldn't give him a hand job, so I guess that you're just a little more important to him than I."
The grin disappeared and she rolled her eyes instead. "Try not to be such a martyr tonight."
"I'm not being a martyr. I'm just stating a fact."
"Shut the fuck up, Sean," she said, sliding out of the booth. "And don't say another word to me until my boyfriend gets back. You understand?"
Sean glared at her again then watched her leave. He opened his textbook, but didn't read it.* * *
The next day, Sean stared through dried-up eyeballs at the coffee machine before him, which happened to be sluggish.
To his left, a pair of feet shuffled into the tiny kitchen. "What are you doing here this early in the morning?" the feet asked.
Sean's head swiveled slowly to see what was connected to the feet. "Welcome back, Eugene," he said to them. "I hope you don't mind, I slept on your couch."
"You were on my couch?"
"I wanted to be the first to say Merry Christmas."
"Lisa beat you to it."
"You must be a heavy sleeper."
Sean digested this comment. "I guess I am," he concluded.
Eugene stood in the same spot for a moment while Sean turned back to the coffee machine which still happened to be sluggish.
Eugene finally spoke, "Is something going on between you and Lisa?"
The typical innocent reaction to such a non-sequitor is to laugh, which is why Sean chose to do so. "What?" he asked as his smile dissolved into a carefully calculated look of shock. "What the hell kind of question is that?"
"A legitimate one."
"Not from you, it isn't."
"What did you guys do last night?"
"As far as I know, we smoked a lot of pot and watched a lot of commercials." Sean remembered one more detail. "Oh, and I fantasized about eating a half gallon of vanilla ice cream with your girlfriend."
"I must not have been paying attention to the sex." Sean leaned on the counter near the sluggish coffee machine. "What the hell are you thinking, Eugene? Lisa hates me."
"What were you guys doing alone in my house at night?"
"I told you, we smoked a lot of weed and said nothing to each other. Do you interrogate every guy who is alone with Lisa or just the ones she dislikes?"
Eugene rubbed his eyes. "Great," he said. "I'm being that guy."
"That guy who thinks his woman's a slut."
"Oh, that guy." Sean opened a cabinet and peered inside. "I know you're really not that guy. Would you care to explain why you're acting like him, though? Because that guy's kind of a prick."
"I know," Eugene sighed. "This is crazy. I once knew a woman who hit on me by insulting me. You'll understand if I'm a little paranoid."
"Dude," Sean said, peeking into another cabinet, "that doesn't happen as often as you'd think in real life. However, if this is was one of those films you apparently watch too many of, this would be the part when we start shouting at each other, and I'd demand that you choose between her and me and I'd storm out the door and go to the park and reflect on my behavior while a ballad plays by a band which will be forever known as 'That Group that Did that One Song in that One Movie.' I don't know if I could live with myself if I did that."
"I see what you mean. So how do you feel about her?"
Sean hadn't expected that. "What?"
"You want the truth?"
"I'm expecting a bombshell."
"Okay. She's pushy, rude, unrefined, and really bright. Fair enough. But she insists on pointing out all my faults. And never the ones I can live with. And she hasn't said a nice thing to me since the first time I spoke to her."
"You offered her oral sex."
"I did not! It was an icebreaker."
"You call that an icebreaker?"
"I don't get out much."
"You could get arrested for saying that."
"Could we get away from that defunct subject, please? I'm trying to say mean things about your girlfriend."
"Do you think she's attractive?"
Sean massaged his eyes. "Why are you asking me these questions? She's in the bedroom."
"How much longer do you think she's going to do that?"
"This is why I'm not raising my voice. I suggest you do the same."
"You make it sound easy."
"I'm thinking that if you found her attractive, you'd push her away because you and I are really good friends, and that's exactly the kind of thing I'd expect you to do."
He laughed again. "Did you take a psych class last semester?"
"Sean ... "
"I know you. You guys are so alike. I don't understand why you hate each other so much."
"Has it occurred to you that we hate each other because we're so much alike?"
"That doesn't make any sense."
"To you it doesn't."
Eugene breathed deeply, and said, "You still haven't answered my question."
"I don't plan to."
"Do you find Lisa attractive?"
Sean smiled for a moment. "Between you and me, I remember when I first saw her, I couldn't help but notice she had the most amazing ass."
"Then she had to open her mouth."
Eugene chuckled. "She said the same thing about you."
"Your girlfriend said I had an amazing ass?"
She chose that moment to slip into the kitchen and wrap her arms around Eugene.
Sean said, "Shit."
She asked him, "You're still here?"
He pointed at Eugene. "I wanted to greet the man. Apparently you beat me to it."
She pulled up the hem of her long-sleeved T-shirt and scratched her upper thigh. "You must be a heavy sleeper."
Because the T-shirt was the only article of clothing she wore, Sean made sure he was looking her in the eyes. "I've heard that one before," he said.
She opened one of the cabinets he hadn't even considered and removed three coffee mugs.
Sean subtly averted his gaze.
"Nice of you to make enough for all of us."
Sean poured the coffee. "This was supposed to be for him and me."
Eugene rolled his eyes and yawned his way out of the tiny kitchen.
"Learn to share," she said. They stared each other down for a minute until she reached around him and grabbed two of the mugs.
"How much did we smoke last night?" he asked.
"Enough," she replied and shuffled after her boyfriend.
Sean narrowed his eyes. "Now I really hate you," he whispered after her.* * *
It wasn't until he left a few hours later to stroll home that his mind felt comfortable enough to tell him what happened.
The previous night, he often had to remind himself who he was, where he was, and what the hell he was doing there. After some intensive concentration, he determined his identity to be "Sean," a senior in college. His location was the apartment his best friend shared with his evil girlfriend. His mission was waiting for Eugene.
When he had initially arrived acting mute, he was just doing it to demonstrate that no act of sarcasm was too immature for him. She did, after all, tell him not to say a word. But as the night went on he remained quiet because it was just damned funny. This was probably because the Dude had passed through his hands many times.
Enough times so that the world became detached into a documentary. Behind him the couch pushed softly into his back. Underneath him a carpet shoved his ass upward. To his left lay a vast desert of carpet leading to a tiny kitchen. To his right, Lisa's dangling feet cut through the air and sent shock waves crashing against his cheek. In front of him a television strobed to a different channel every five seconds or less, always snagging a commercial, but never catching a plot.
The glowing people on the television spoke, but words had no meaning to him. Lisa's feet said something, then jumped to the floor and strode between him and the speaking television. The feet continued to the vast desert of carpet beyond the couch and began an epic journey. Sean rolled his head to witness this historical event and check out the ass attached to it.
When she noticed him witnessing the historic event, but most of all, when she noticed him checking out the ass attached to it--which happened to be hers--he returned his attention to the television. As before, there were random, flashing images, but this time it was different. This time there was some semblance of coherency. The sensations from the little glass box before him coalesced into a plot. The plot of a commercial, but a plot nonetheless.
Since the commercial contained humorous content, he laughed. There was much laughing. There was never much laughing when Lisa's dangling feet were present. That was long ago, in the distant past before the Era of Clatter in the Tiny Kitchen, or even the Era of the Unchanging Commercials.
He missed those distant times--known to historians as the Era of Tension. They gave him a reason to be quiet.
He focused all of his energy on getting to his feet so he could make the epic journey across the vast desert of carpet to the tiny kitchen. Once in the tiny kitchen he opened the freezer and hauled out a half gallon of vanilla ice cream. As he pried open the lid, Lisa handed him a spoon identical to hers. He dug in and savored the soft vanilla taste in his mouth for a moment before swallowing. The creamy glacier crept down his throat, dissolving only when he noticed he was really sitting on the floor in front of the speaking television.
He could never actually focus the energy necessary to get to his feet and make the epic journey across the vast desert of carpet to the tiny kitchen. But the phantom ice cream would remain with him as a vivid memory. He relived it many times before Lisa's feet returned from the tiny kitchen. He wanted desperately to tell her of the phantom ice cream. She of all people would appreciate being that stoned. But he chose to retain his vow of silence.
This time, instead of her feet, her whole body occupied the space to his right as she took a long, fresh hit from the Dude. She offered it to him.
He took it, and in his throat the hit was harsh and barbed--hell compared to the moist coolness of the phantom ice cream. Yet he took it again when she offered after her next hit. Then he took it again and again until she signaled it was cashed. She held it in front of him so he could fold it up and place it on the end table behind him which formed the border between the couch and the vast desert of carpet.
He did this, but her fingers unexpectedly remained wrapped around the Dude. These same fingers traced the contours of his hands, followed by feeling the length of his arms through his trusty cardigan sweater. Finally they brushed his neck, tickled his ears, then rested on his jaw. Naturally, he kissed her.
As she pushed him to the floor and crawled on top of him, he couldn't help but notice that everything was going exactly as it should. Like the accurate amount of force from her lips, or the well-tuned raspy breathing in his ear as his mouth discovered the correct balance of softness and firmness in her neck and shoulders. Or the way his hands smoothly slid her long-sleeved T-shirt over her stomach, breasts, face and arms while she pulled off his shirt without any sort of awkwardness.
Things went perfectly for quite a while until Lisa inhaled sharply. She shuddered and squeezed him with every part of her body equipped for squeezing. Then she collapsed and rolled onto the carpet beside him, breathing in deep gasps.
They both laid there for a few minutes in just the right amount of humidity. He didn't say a word. Suddenly, she sat up, pulled her shirt back on, and tiptoed back to her bedroom. Once alone, he climbed onto the couch and stared at a commercial.
He finally chose to break his sacred vow of silence. "Oh, fuck," he'd said.
When his mind finished with the disclosure, Sean stopped walking long enough to frown. "I really, really hope that didn't actually happen." He took a few steps and added, "Oh, fuck."