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FIVE

What the hell are you doing here? She looked nice. She was dressed in dark clothes. They complimented her, became a part of her. Like the sky over Cezanne’s Mt. St. Victoire III. Margaret seemed to waver, as if she wasn’t sure if she should flee or turn away, or what. John, for his part, couldn’t stop staring at her. It took him a moment to regain control of his eyes. Heck, to even know which way they were pointing. Turn away turn away! Christ man! Get a grip! So this was what the cold war had been like. Now he remembered. Back then, they had seen a lot of each other, and every time, it had been more or less the same. Really awkward. And now they were going to spend the entire evening together. Quick, do something inconspicuous… Looked at his watch. Brilliant! He looked up again at her to see if she was looking at him. She wasn’t. Then she was. Then he was squinting and she was hesitating, and he was looking at the TV. And his watch. Because in all honesty, he couldn’t remember what it had said the first time.

He had forgotten the girls were there. He glanced at them. They were sitting quietly and John didn’t really know what to say or do. She had always been a loner. Kind’ve. Steered her own unpredictable course. So when she sat down on the sofa beside one of the girls who’d been premeditating jumping his bones for thirty plus minutes, he wasn’t really that surprised.

She was hard to put into a box. She wasn’t a party girl. Yet she was. She wasn’t quite spontaneous enough to fit easily into that category, he’d long ago noted. Which wasn’t to say she wasn’t fun. She was. She just had a different kind of fun. John considered taking a drink from his beer. She looked at the drunk girls on either side of him. Looked at the people talking a little ways away. Didn’t say anything. John swore internally.

“So how’ve you been?”

She nodded her head. “Good. You? Since this afternoon.” He nodded. Didn’t laugh. She’d see right through it. Just a tactic. Like George Clooney’s various facial ticks. Just going through the motions.

“Good good.” She nodded. “Uh girls, this is Margaret.” The girls looked her over pleasantly. She was attractive but too understated in dress or manner to look like much of a threat. Poor naïve girls. She’ll eat you up and spit you out. John got her a beer. They started talking about stuff. The other girls stuck around for a while but eventually got restless. John didn’t look pleased; he knew he didn’t. He could stop them, go with them. Anything he wanted. She’d understand. Why would she give a shit? They were AT WAR. He caught her knowing expression though. And he knew he wasn’t going anywhere. He let the girls go. She could’ve at least brought a friend with her. A boyfriend, a somebody. Why come to a party alone? Wasn’t fair. They talked some more and drank. After a time, it started to get pleasant. She’d usurped his plans and yet they were still chatting like secret pals. This had happened before. They took down some defenses and communicated. Not so much through their words, which were truly pointless, but through their expressions. Body language. They spent three hundred sixty-five days a year avoiding eye contact. Now they were looking straight at each other. The effect was chilling.

He eventually got up and went to see what the others were talking about while she headed over to the stoners to see what they were up to. One of the two girls was talking to them and she seemed to melt in. Thank goodness, John thought. He eavesdropped on their conversation for a while but he’d been out of the loop for a time now and so was a tiny bit of an outsider. He lingered for a while though, regardless, just to have some source of stimulation. The other of the girls he’d been sitting next to was watching TV. She was by herself. John rubbed his jaw and looked back at the group he was eavesdropping on.

Somebody tapped him on the arm. I wonder who. He spun around. Margaret was Margaret again. It was eerie. “Those guys say they’re gonna go smoke. Wanna come?” John hesitated. He’d smoked before. It wasn’t a big deal. Everybody knew that. Pharmacists knew it. Senators knew it. He was just worried what would happen if he did it after drinking. Bad potential side effects.

He finally agreed. They walked over to the stoners’ half open door. John glanced back and answered Aaron’s silent question by putting two fingers to his lips and puffing out his cheeks.

He heard in the background, “Where’re they going?”

“To smoke.”

“Johnny smokes?” The door slammed. There was a bong. A nice, pretty bong. Purple and yellow. He wondered how much it had cost. They could be quite expensive. John had once perused them out’ve curiosity in the city. For tobacco… yes… of course… Miles was stuffing a green towel in the crack beneath the door. He then hopped up onto a chair and draped a damp towel over the smoke detector. From the size of it, John speculated it was an infrared type. Probably not a good idea to ever use a fog machine in here… A cigarette lighter lit up.

The sound of somebody exhaling. The smell of weed, drifting over him, entwined in curling white fog. Miles took a hit. Exhaled. And then the bong was in John’s hand. He held it with two fingers. It balanced nicely. Clicking the red cigarette lighter, he lowered its lit top to the bong, finger over the little hole on the side. He put the mouthpiece between his lips and inhaled. The little yellow flame dipped into the bowl, like an act of firebending, its tip massaging the mashed, green leaves. He drew it into his lungs and exhaled. WOOSH. Smoke blew out of his mouth like a horizontal volcano, spreading outward from its central axis. He handed the bong to Margaret. She took it. Obviously knew what to do with it. It bobbed a little in her hands momentarily. And then was still.

It took a while before he thought he might feel something. But he gave it time. No need to rush it. He relaxed and let the gathering feeling bloom inside him. The bong returned. He took another hit. This time a bit deeper. He exhaled and immediately passed it off to his right. This time he did feel something. And how. He tilted his head back and stared at the light sitting on top of the microwave. The filament was so intense. The bong came back.

He didn’t understand how he got back to his dorm until he tumbled to the floor and a hand opened the toilet seat for him. He opened his eyes to see but the world was moving. He ordered his prefrontal cortex to tell him something useful. But all he got back was static. He didn’t have to throw up. Yes he did. He did. Into the tub. Oh god. So bad. He must’ve done it for five, ten minutes. Finally, he stopped. His stomach depleted of fluids or solids. He leaned over the sill. He rubbed his lips with the sleeve of his shirt. Where was his jacket? Christ. He turned over. And a hand was on his shoulder, helping him stay upright.

He was propped up against the tub and suddenly something was jammed into his mouth. It was hard. It was… a toothbrush. He laughed, involuntarily but was told to be still. He retrieved a semblance of intelligence and brushed his teeth. Someone turned on the water in the tub and he scooped up a handful, throwing it into his mouth. He knew he’d dropped most of it because it soaked his left shirt sleeve. The toothbrush was taken away. Somebody sat down next to him. He fell asleep.

He awoke. Glanced at his watch. It had been two hours. Holy shit. He looked to his right. And there was Margaret. Sipping on a beer. Looking at him. There was no hostility in her eyes. She had stayed with him. He looked around. Still a little woozy, but not bad. He could hear some internal monolog. A good sign. He held up his hand and then saw his sleeve. Oh god. He winced and looked at her.

“It’s okay,” she said. He hated when she said that. It meant one thing, he was being melodramatic.

“Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.” He looked at his sleeve again and turned his head away. It smelled. He rose to his feet and took it off. He tossed it onto the floor and went into his room. Went to his dresser. Fumbled for a shirt. Mmm, mango orange. He put it on awkwardly until she helped him. He looked at her, in the anachronistically full glow of the ceiling light. She was squinting at him. He kissed her. No anxiety when you’re drunk. She kissed him back. He kissed harder. She kissed harder. He sank to the floor and drew her to him. She followed. She smelled of rum. Her weight settled on top of him. Melted onto him. This was a terrible idea.

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