Start at chapter 1.

There was a long line of students to get into the Cracker Shack by the time seven o’clock rolled around. Brian looked excellent. There was no other word for it. He wasn’t super macho or anything, though he probably could have bench-pressed something impressively heavy like a cow or dragon. He dressed nice too.

My own appearance was probably safely observed from behind a blindfold.

“I am hungry,” Brian announced, and then he gave me a wink that was both suggestive and ironic at the same time, like he was meta flirting. Meta flirting? Did I just write that? I don’t even know what that means.

“I haven’t eaten all day,” I said and winked back.

I heard someone bust out laughing behind me. I thought it was Monster, but when I glanced around, I didn’t see him. Would he have followed me here? I remembered then that it had bee Monster who’d given Brian my number. Why would he have done that if he wanted to get together with me? I was being…was it paranoid? Or arrogant?…to think that Monster wanted anything from me other than to be friends?

“So,” Brian said. “I hear you had to drop out of school last year.”

“Yes,” I said. “Health reasons. I’m better now.”

“Good,” he said. I hoped he wouldn’t ask me what sort of a health problem would cause me to miss nearly an entire year’s worth of classes. He didn’t and I was grateful.

The line slowly shrunk and at last we made it inside. It was kind of cute, very tacky. There were three bartenders pouring shots in exchange for ticket stubs. I supposed if you got a shot and then left you wouldn’t be let back in.

We made are way to the bar and collected ours. The liquor ripped through me. I didn’t like the taste but it made me feel all glowy inside. I much preferred the glass of red wine I got afterward. We joined a group of Brian’s friends, a handful of hockey player-types, who, save for two of them that were obviously a couple, were paired off with a dazzling array of ‘nubile young flesh’—I mean young ladies. Being introduced I learned their names and discovered that half of them were studying for their master’s or were in the honours program, or were planning to go into law school. Mentally I think they outclassed the guys the same way a Russian tank outclasses a clown on a unicycle. Except that these clowns had cute butts and big shoulders. Were we all so shallow? Yes, I thought. Indeed, we were.

But this was just fun, right? I was having fun. They were having fun. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing shallow at all about having fun.

The music was turned up. We ordered food and it arrived and I ate. I tried to hold up my end of the conversation, but the shot and then the multiple glasses of wine plus my less-than-adequate sleep from last night was catching up with me. I yawned a few too many times.

“Are you tired?” Brian asked. “Do you want to go?”

“I’m fine,” I said. “Tell me about…“ My voice trailed off—I couldn’t remember what we’d been talking about.

“Let’s call it a night,” he said. “I know it’s still early but it’s so packed and hot in here. They gave away way too many tickets.”

So we made our excuses and left. And then I was alone with Brian and more than a little drunk. What now, I thought dizzily.

He said, “Are you all right? Are you going to be sick? If you are, that’s okay. How much had you eaten today before that shot?”

“I’m fine,” I said. “Really. Let’s walk?”

So we began to stroll. It was a warm fall night, a rarity, but much appreciated. I saw the café where Monster and I had gone that first day. I felt a tiny pang ring through my heart. “Oh, let’s go in,” I said.

“You want some coffee? You could come back to my place. I have this Puertorican coffee that is unreal.”

“After,” I said. “And I don’t drink coffee.”

We went in and I ordered my regular hot chocolate. Brian got another beer.

“So,” he said. “What’s your story? They say that the RCMP interrogated you for hours the night before you left school last year.”

“It wasn’t an interrogation,” I said. I blew on my hot chocolate, not looking at him, thinking how much to tell him. He waited, not really pressuring me to answer, but not giving up hope for an answer either.

“I’d met a guy who’d kidnapped a little boy and was threatening to hurt him. They wanted to know what I knew.”

“That isn’t all of it,” he said.

“No,” I agreed. I sipped my hot chocolate for a while.

Brian looked toward the counter and I tried to snatch a handful of the creamers to take home for my stash. Except…I must have been more drunk than I realized, because my hand knocked his beer and it spilled all over him.

“Oh shit,” I wailed, feeling mortified. “I am so sorry.” I stood up to grab some napkins.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “No, really, sit down and drink your hot chocolate. I’ll grab some paper towels from the washroom.”

He disappeared and I sank into my chair. All of a sudden I felt an urge to cry. I had made the biggest possible fucking mess of the night. Being so tired I had said hardly a word to him. Making him leave early. Then dumping his beer on him…I put my head on my arms for a moment and breathed.

Straightening, I opened a creamer and dumped it into my hot chocolate, stirred and sipped. Definitely better than shots or wine. Maybe I just wasn’t made for this kind of thing. Maybe I was only made for reading and hanging out in the online world, where stakes were lower and if you screwed up really bad you could just change your profile to be someone else.

Brian came back, looking damp. “I’m really sorry,” I said. “Can I buy you another beer?”

He looked at my hot chocolate. “Actually,” he said. “That looks good.”

I must have looked really surprised. “What?” he said. He gave me a toothy smile. “I can live on the edge. I’ve probably had more hot chocolate than you when I was growing up.”

“Oh yeah?” I tried a laugh. It was a little bit too forced.

When a steaming mug was in front of him he said, “You were telling me about the guy who’d taken the little kid hostage. Was the kid okay?”

“I…the man, he shot himself in the head. I saw it on the cop’s iPhone. He’d faced timed the guy. They thought I might have been able to talk to him. I don’t know…It was dumb and then it was really horrible and I kind of lost my mind for a while.”

His hand was suddenly on mine, turning it, enfolding it. And then there were tears running down my cheeks, even though I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t anything except kind of tired and drunk. He got up and put his arms around me. Did crying give men the right to do that? Did I care about that? Wasn’t this the point of the evening? To be squeezed hard by a hot guy?

So I kissed him. Both our mouths tasted of the hot chocolate, and then they didn’t. Then his mouth tasted like beer and toothpaste and the French fries he’d eaten and kind of like the coating on smarties and kind of like a star that was just about to go super nova.

I don’t remember if we finished our hot chocolate before we left the café. I kind of don’t think we did. We went to his place and sat on his perfectly made bed. I wondered if he’d made it because he had planned all along to bring me to sit on it and kiss him.

And then we weren’t kissing. He was taking off my socks. Why was he taking off my socks? Then he was kissing the tops of my feet and I was thinking, gross, those have been in my smelly shoes. And he was sucking on the inside of my ankle and it felt like the jets in a hot tub were bubbling inside my body.

Then he was slipping me out of the rest of my clothes until I was naked as a jaybird, in my birthday suit, wearing the Emperor’s new clothes.

He spent way too long on my legs. Then on my hips. Then he totally went the wrong way to my neck and ears.

“Just fuck me already,” I said and giggled. I felt like I was inside a cloud, a nice puffy white cloud, except when he touched me then it was a storm cloud and his touches were like zaps of lightning.

I think he did a really good job, in the end. In several endings, ahem. So yeah, B+, maybe A-. I had to leave room for improvement, right? We fell asleep like lions who had gorged on a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet of zebra and wildebeest.

Edmonton-based writer of scifi, fantasy, horror, and other weird fictions. No publication credits. Read at your own risk.

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