Stewart’s brother’s worn-down house was located in a secluded area near the mountains. Pine trees surrounded the area, giving it an air of seclusion. Several people stood in scattered groups talking, obligatory red solo cups in hand.
Terry greeted Russell and Sal, and stared up at Russell’s face. “Is that... eyeliner?”
Russell tucked a lock of hair behind his ear, eyes on the ground. “Yeah. It doesn’t look stupid, does it?”
“No, it looks awesome. And that belt. You finally look like a proper goth.”
Those were Sal’s exact words when Russell showed up at his door. Eyeliner around the bottom of his eyes, and a pyramid-studded belt. Along with the other accessories he had started wearing regularly. His parents would be appalled.
Stewart and a tall, college-aged boy approached the group. “Hi Russell, hi Sal. This is my brother, Adam,” Stewart said.
“Yo homies, I’m Adam.” It was easy to tell Adam and Stewart were brothers, but at the same time, they seemed so different. Adam’s baggy jeans and sports jersey clashed with Stewart’s usual polo shirt and pressed trousers.
“I’m Sal.” Sal reached out to shake Adam’s hand, but Adam held out his fist instead. Sal went along with the fist bump while wondering what the rest of Stewart’s family was like.
“You bros want a beer? We got plenty.” Adam led them up a few rickety steps into the house.
The inside was shabby, musty-smelling, and in need of painting. All of the furniture was either scratched up or stained. Sal wasn’t surprised. He expected worse from college frat bros. He reprimanded himself for thinking of them as college frat bros. Adam seemed friendly enough, even if he was offering beer to high-schoolers.
Terry and Russell accepted Adam’s offer of drinks. Sal declined.
“Aren’t you going to drink?” Terry asked.
“Hello no,” Sal said. “It’s illegal.”
Russell took a long sip of the can of beer in his hand. “Since when do you care about following rules?”
“Since when did you stop caring about following rules?” Sal asked with folded arms.
“I’m only having one. Lighten up.” He took another sip. “God, this stuff is amazing.”
Terry frowned down at the can in their hand. “I’ve had better.”
“I’m not drinking any,” Sal said.
“And that’s fine.” Russell wrapped his arm around Sal’s shoulder. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t wanna do.”
Sal forced himself to smile. “So, a college party. What the hell do we even do?”
“Beer pong!” a voice shouted from the family room. Everyone in the vicinity cheered.
“Oh my God, I’ve always wanted to play beer pong!” Russell tilted his head back, gulping down the rest of his can. He crumpled it and shoved it into Stewart’s hand before running off towards the family room. There, a folding table was set up with multiple cups of what Sal assumed to be beer.
“I thought you were only having one,” Sal said as they both approached the table.
“That was before I knew about beer pong.” He turned to Sal, eyes sparkling with excitement. “I’ll only play one round.”
“You have to drive.”
“And by that time, I’ll be sober.” Russell nudged him. “Play a round with me.”
“I want no part of this.” Sal threw his hands up, and walked away, keeping an eye out for a place to sit that wasn’t occupied. Terry and Stewart had made their way towards the beer pong table, so hanging out with those two was out. What am I going to do here for three hours? College parties were proving to be boring. He found solace in the hallway, and fell to the stained carpet, back against the wall. He pulled his phone out from his pocket, and caught up on various social media sites.
Nearly a half hour had passed. Surely that first round of beer pong had ended? Sal peeked his head out of the hallway entrance, squinting into the family room. A round of it was certainly going on, though he couldn’t tell if Russell was participating or not. I’ll give him another half hour.
A half hour later, Sal braved the swarm of drunks, and headed back to the beer pong table. But Russell was nowhere to be seen. Nor was Terry. Stewart, however, was concentrating on landing a ping pong ball into a cup of beer.
“Stewart, where’s Russell?” Sal asked.
The ping pong ball hit the table, and landed several inches away from the intended target. “Darn it!” Stewart grabbed the ball, and turned to Sal. “What was that?”
“Russell. Where is he?”
“Off with Terry. I don’t know where they went.” Stewart handed the ball to Adam, who threw it down on the table. It bounced and landed into one of the cups. Several people cheered and applauded.
“This is dumb,” Sal said to himself as Adam scooped the ball out of the cup of beer, and downed it. The smell of the stuff made Sal physically and mentally sick. And the fact Russell supposedly ran off with Terry made him feel worse. What if they were… Sal shook the thought away, and left the family room to search the rest of the house. The strong smell of alcohol disappeared as the smell of weed wafted through the halls.
Russell wasn’t in either of the two bathrooms, or any of the three bedrooms. He did find the source of the weed-smell in one of the bedrooms though. A group of college-aged boys and girls passed around blunts, smoke filling the room.
“Have any of you seen a tall, buff guy with long hair?” Sal asked, poking his head through the doorway. “Past his shoulders. Blue eyes.”
A guy standing close to the door nodded towards him. “I have.”
“On T.V.” The guy raised the blunt in his hand. “Wanna drag?”
Sal put his hand over his forehead. “Forget it.” He left the room, the strong scent of weed following him out.
He stopped by the kitchen to get a drink of what he hoped to be punch of the non-alcoholic variety. Terry and Russell weren’t there. Sal’s worry grew, and he moved his search outside.
The only thing outside was the chilly, night air. Sal slumped against the wooden railing of the back porch, and took a sip of his punch.
“Sally!” Someone’s arms enveloped Sal, causing the cup to fall from his hand and spill onto the wooden planks. He tore himself out of Russell’s grip and kicked the cup aside.
“Where have you been?” Sal asked. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
Instead of answering, Russell took him in his arms, and gave him a slobbery kiss.
Sal broke away from him, wiping the spittle off his mouth. “I’m ready to go home.”
“I’m home whenever I’m with you.” Russell smiled a smile that would normally make Sal swoon.
But instead of swooning, Sal grabbed Russell’s hand, and pulled him inside.
“I lost my first round of beer pong, but it’s okay because I won the second,” Russell said, stumbling behind Sal. “And then Adam gave me something called an AMF. Do you know anything about those?”
“No, I do not.” Sal tugged his arm a little harder.
“They’re really good,” Russell said. “So good, I drank a second.”
“Riveting.” Sal spotted Terry near the front door. Terry stumbled towards him, a portion of their drink in hand spilling out onto the floor. No wonder the carpet was so stained.
“There you are,” Terry said, grabbing for Sal’s shoulder but slapping at his chest instead. “We’ve been looking-” They lost balance and fell, Sal catching them.
He held Terry steady. “I’m driving us home.”
“What!” Russell released his hand from Sal’s. “You can’t drive.”
“I can drive better than you right now.”
“What?” Terry wiped their mouth on the sleeve of their hoodie. “Can’t leave!”
“Yes, leave,” Sal said firmly. “You can stay here, but Russell and I are leaving.”
“Russell can’t drive. He’s drunk.”
Russell dropped to his knees and howled with laughter at those words, Terry laughing along with him. For what reason, Sal did not know, or care.
Sal grabbed Russell’s hand, pulling him to his feet. “Come on.”
“Bye everybody!” Russell shouted, stumbling behind Sal.
“Why do you keep yanking me around?” Russell asked as Sal continued dragging him to the car. He wrenched his arm out of his grip. “I’m not a dog on a leash.”
“You might as well be one,” Sal said. “Can I have your car keys?”
Russell reached into his pocket and pulled out his keys. Sal reached over to take them, but Russell dangled them above his head, jingling them. “Who’s the dog now?”
Sal held out his palm. “Give me the keys.”
Russell grinned. “No.”
Sal reached up to grab them, but Russell held them higher. “This isn’t a game. Hand them over.”
“You’re so short. It’s cute.”
“I’m not short. You’re just tall.” Sal jumped up to grab the keys. Russell raised his arm as high as he could, but lost balance and fell to the ground, dropping the keys along the way.
It was dark outside, the only light illuminating from the front porch light several feet away, so Sal had to blindly grope through the dirt for the keys while Russell laid on the ground, giggling. Eventually he found them, and unlocked the door.
Sal helped Russell into the front seat, then got in on the driver’s side. Of course Russell hadn’t put on his seat belt, so he leaned over to do it for him, his hand brushing over Russell’s wet hair. Wet hair? Sal squinted. It was hard to see in the dark, but Russell’s hair looked as if he had been swimming. “Why is your hair all wet?”
Russell ignored the question. Instead, he wrapped his arms around him and pressed his nose into his hair, sniffing loudly. Sal groaned in annoyance. Maybe he was happier not knowing.
After struggling to remove himself from Russell’s death-grip, and buckling the seat belt for him, Sal buckled his own seat belt and started the car.
As he pulled out to the main road, he had a new problem.
He had no idea how to get home.