The top 40 hits pulsed in the car speaker. I clenched my thumbnail between my teeth and gnawed to the beat. Rain flicked against the windows. Cars passed us with high beams that cut the night and tires that sliced at puddles. I pulled out my phone. No new texts.
Rodney stopped for a red light. “Why so nervous?”
"What? Nervous? I’m not nervous. What are you talking about?” I faked.
“You’ve been checking your phone every five seconds.” He pulled a toothpick from the cup holder between us and offered it to me. “Better this than your nails.”
My nails were jagged from the habit. “No thanks, and Adri hasn’t texted me at all today.”
He popped the pick in his mouth and hit the gas a second before the green.
“Have you texted her?” The pick dangled from his lips.
“Yeah, texted her good morning. Asked her what she was up to today. Asked how her day has been. Hasn’t replied to any of them.”
“There’s your problem.”
He took his eyes off the road to give me a smug grin. “Tyler, ever think you’re being a little too overbearing?”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on, Ty guy! Why would Adrianna ever feel the need to come to you when you’re constantly throwing yourself at her? Maybe she needs some space to see the trees from the forest, or some shit like that.” We hugged a tight corner.
“You mean to say, see the forest from the trees?”
“Whatever that expression is where something is too close so you can’t appreciate it. You’re sticking too close to her. You leave nothing to desire.”
“Basically you’re telling me I should ignore her. Seems like a genius plan there, Rod. You know that girl I really like, have had a crush on since grade six? Maybe I should just stop paying attention to her, eh? That’ll really make her fall for me.”
A silence settled between us and impaled itself on the toothpicks. I bit my finger and checked my phone again. No new texts. Rod turned onto a street lined with houses and lampposts. He slowed the car to a cruise and scoped out the homes like a crook scanning for a hit.
“Yeah, I remember you crushing on her back then. I remember it made you terrible at manhunt. Always found you hanging out with her group. You’d get caught and wouldn’t help us out and we just stopped catching you eventually. Is she coming tonight?”
“Don’t know for sure. She said earlier this week she would, hasn’t confirmed today though.”
He spotted a house with the porch light like the beacon of a lighthouse. “Maybe it’d be for the best. This is the house right?”
I leaned with the car as we swerved into the driveway, my phone almost fell out of my hand. “That’s Syd and Frank having a smoke right on the porch, and what do you mean for the best?”
“I mean if she didn’t show up tonight, you might be able to relax a little, hang with the guys, you know?” He pulled the parking brake and yanked the keys from the ignition by their Mickey Mouse key-chain.
“Between school, your new job, and your attempts to get Adrianna’s attention, we barely get to see you anymore. We miss you, bud.”
“You see me at school every day, though. I can’t help it that Dobson’s takes up my evenings, I gotta save for college somehow. After all, we don’t all have parents that can buy us cars.”
Rodney chomped on his toothpick and splinters peeled away from it. He spat out the wood slivers and wiped his mouth.
“Guess you’re right,” he said. “Let’s hurry up and get in there. I’m sick of this radio friendly shit.” He punched off the music. We walked past sentinels Frank and Syd, and into the house, armed with beer and liquor.
Every room was coloured by flickering strobe lights and the air was thick with the stench of sweat and smoke. A heavy, hypnotic beat throbbed in the walls like the chambers of a mechanical heart. We waded through a sea of grinding bodies to the kitchen, which was spared from the impractical illumination. A scrawny guy wearing a t-shirt that clung to his rib cage leaned on the fridge. He was chatting up a group of girls who seemed more interested in mixing drinks than conversation.
“Hey Stewart, clear the runway,” Rodney shouted.
Stewart turned away from the girls and lit up when he saw us.
“So glad you fellas could make it,” he slurred into our ears. “Quite the pack of good-looking gals there, eh? I think they really like me. You think so too?”
“Depends,” I said. “You wouldn’t happen to know their names would you?”
“Well, there was… uh… there was Mary, I think.”
Rodney pushed past him and opened the fridge which teemed with glass bottles. “Sounds like you’ve got just as good of a chance with them as Tyler does with Adrianna.”
“Say, how are you and Adri doing anyways? She finally started to crack after all this time?”
“Nah, same old same old, as things have always been.”
“So what’s the matter? Why don’t you just tell her already?”
“It’s not that simple.”
Rodney walked between us with a couple of dark shots and handed one to me. “If you’re done talking about your girlfriend, why don’t we get this party started?”
“She’s not my girlfriend.”
“Got one for me?” Stewart asked, pointing to the drinks.
“Oh, how rude of me.” Rodney snagged another glass and filled it with water and passed it to Stewart.
“Bottoms up, boys!”
We downed the drinks. Mine burned on the way down, Rodney seemed unfazed, and Stewart was confused.
“What kind of drink was that? I didn’t feel a thing.”
“That was straight Vodka. Stu buddy, think maybe you’ve had too much?”
“Really? But it went down so smooth.”
“Means it’s probably time for you to stop.”
After the booze, the quality of the music improved dramatically. The beat resonated in my bones rather than smashing against my ear drums. More people wanted to talk to me. One guy with a square jaw told me all about his naked mole rat who had a terrible case of narcolepsy. Dancing became a really good idea. The music took hold of me and worked me like a marionette. I looked all kinds of stupid, but I didn’t care. Rodney disappeared a couple times throughout the night, but he always returned with his cup full, as if he wasn’t drinking.
After I danced for an eternity, the room spun in such a way that made it impossible to stand. I took a seat on a battered couch at the edge of the dance floor. Rodney sat beside me and kept an eye on the dancers.
We were watching the bodies pulse and throb in the neon black when Rodney nudged me in the ribs.
“Look who’s here.”
I followed his eye to find Stewart standing in the corner talking up one of the girls from before. Stewart was fixed on the girl while she was more interested in exploring the room.
“You mean Stewart?” I said. “He’s always been here, it’s his house.”
“Not Stewart, bonehead.” He waved towards a rubber plant that had beer cans adorning its branches and a party hat placed on its top. “Over there.”
“Dude, that’s a plant, plants aren’t people.”
“Aw Christ, look, Adrianna is here.”
The room stopped spinning. A light from above pierced the fog of the party and shone on her. Her long brunette hair with a slight curl bounced with her every move and her perfect face, marked by only a single mole, dazzled through the gloom. She was a goddess wrapped in a dark blue dress.
I slid over to her as if I was pulled by a magnet. Her back was turned to me as glided to her. She was talking to a group of her friends.
She turned with a jump. “Oh, hi Tyler.”
“You look great tonight. I mean, not just tonight, like, you look great all the time, but you look especially great right now. Here. At this party.”
Her female friends giggled, while her male friends scowled.
“Um… Thanks, Tyler, that’s very flattering.”
“No problem. Is your phone busted?”
“No,” she said as she took a small step away from me. “My phone is fine.”
“Oh… Been busy getting ready for the party?” I said, with more than a shred of hope in my voice.
“Tyler, I’ve been meaning to tell you something.”
Every neuron in my brain seemed to fire off simultaneously. This was it, this was the moment I’d waited six years for, all wrapped up in a precious bundle of seven words.
“I’m not interested in you. You’re a nice guy, but I’m not interested. I’d appreciate it if you backed off.”
Giggles turned to snickers, scowls became smirks, and just as before when I was pulled like a magnet, I was repulsed like one. I flew across the room and slammed back into the couch. The music stopped, the bodies halted. I slipped into a void, beyond feeling, beyond caring, but not beyond grieving.
I don’t know how long I was out for, but when I woke up, my heart was still skewered on a blade of disappointment. Rodney was no longer next to me. Instead, his Mickey Mouse keychain rested on the cushion and stared up at me with eyes filled with abandonment.
“Dumbass,” I muttered.
I plucked Mickey from the couch and scanned the crowd. Rodney dancing with a girl. A girl with slightly curled, brunette hair. His hands explored every inch of her red dress’s fabric and her arms were wrapped around his neck. He found her hips and pulled her close. They kissed. Not just a quick peck, but a full on kiss.
I was outside in the damp night with Rodney’s keys. His car was right where we left it. Its red finish was slick from the rain. Behind the wheel without a seat-belt, I jammed Mickey into the ignition and the car roared to life. Rodney appeared in the light of the door in the next moment, knowing damn well what his baby sounds like when fired up. He watched as I pulled out of the driveway and took off down the road at a speed well over forty.
The roads were twisted and alien to me. I had no destination in mind, all I wanted was to get away as fast as possible. I took turns and swerves that almost pitched me onto the curb. I rolled over several trashcans that cracked beneath the tires and puked their contents onto the windshield. I was turning on the wipers to dispose of an errant banana peel when I missed the glaring red light and blew into an intersection. Time seemed to stop in the intersection. The image of the red light flicked over in my brain along with a glimpse of the headlights speeding towards me.
The window of the car exploded. Shards of glass sliced into my face and shoulder and the car flipped over with the turbulence of a carnival ride. The crunching, tearing noises stopped as the car came to a halt and I crumpled into a heap on the ceiling. Mickey dangled above me as darkness ebbed over my vision and concern flashed in his cartoon eyes. Outside, hurried feet scuffled through broken glass, and someone shouted, but seemed like they were miles away. A thick, coppery taste filled my mouth and my mind settled back on the couch at the party, watching Rodney dance with the girl. Her red dress and bouncing curls raced across my thought and I remembered Adri standing with her friends with the spotlight on her in a dark blue dress.
Steve is a second-year student of Algonquin College’s Professional Writing program. He spends most of his days dwelling in the depths of a restaurant’s kitchen. When not slaving over a hot stove, Steve can be found hunched over a keyboard, pounding out a review of Germany’s latest post-ambient, country sludge metal band. His incoherent ramblings are graciously hosted on Metalblast(dot)net.