Chapter 5 - Perfect Strangers
“Maybe we’re perfect strangers / Maybe it’s not forever / Maybe intellect will change us / Maybe we’ll stay together / Maybe we’ll walk away / Maybe we’ll realize / We’re only human / Maybe we don’t need no reason” – Perfect Strangers, Jonas Blue
Ringo turns over the card. “Two!” He looks throughout the circle. “Two for… Teddy!”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Diana says.
“That’s what happens when you’re my date!” Teddy says happily and takes two sips of his drink.
“I’m sorry,” Diana says to me and takes two sips from her drink. I look down at my drink.
“That includes you too, Arya,” Ringo says.
“Stupid chain of dating,” I say and take two sips of my drink and see that it is done.
“Got to get the most amount of people as possible,” Ringo says, shrugging his shoulders.
“Well, I need a refill.” I say, “I’ll be right back.”
“I can do it for you, Arya,” Lincoln says.
“No, it’s fine,” I say.
“Just be careful up there,” Lincoln says, “Those jock guys can be jerks when they are sober.”
“She’s fine, Lincoln,” Diana says, “It’s your turn anyway.”
I make my way up the stairs and through many drunk teenagers to find the kitchen, which is also crowded with drunk teenagers. I navigate through them all and grab one of the drinks that I know Diana brought with her from the fridge. There was no way I was grabbing an open drink in this house. I make my way back to the stairs, passing by the jocks still playing beer pong.
“Hey gorgeous,” I hear and turn to the voice. A handsome, tall guy with light brown hair looks at me. “Haven’t seen you before.”
“I’m new to East Side,” I say.
“Pleasure to meet you,” he says, “My name is Malcolm.”
“Arya,” I say.
“You hang out with George and his friends, don’t you?” Malcolm asks.
“Yeah, Diana’s locker is right next to mine,” I say.
“You came!” Lisa shouts out as she sees James walk through the door. She won’t say that she’s been hoping for him to step through that door since the beginning of the party. That she never strayed too far from it to make sure she was the first to intercept him. She walks over to him and hugs him.
“Can’t stay long,” I say.
“Oh, don’t be like that James,” Lisa says, “Do you want something to drink?”
“I’m good thanks,” I say.
“James!” Richard calls from the beer pong table. I walk over to him and Samson on the one side of the beer pong table. “You need to help me out. Samson can’t get anything in.”
“Hey!” Samson says, “I’m a soccer player, not a basketball player.”
“We can’t let the football guys beat us,” Richard says to me. I pick up the ping pong ball from Richard’s hand and easily sink it into one of the cups on the other side of the table. All the guys on the other side of the table just stare at me.
“Drink up, Thomas,” I say, “That is how you play this game, right?”
“You can’t just switch out partners, Richard,” Thomas says.
“Just drink, Thomas,” Richard says, “Unless you’re scared of losing to the soccer team?”
Thomas takes the ping pong ball out of the cup and starts drinking.
I easily sink three more shots but then miss one, giving me a moment to look around. “Where’s Malcolm?” I ask Samson next to me.
“Over there.” Samson points towards the kitchen, “Hitting on some girl.”
I look over to see Malcolm in deep conversation with a girl I have never seen before. She’s beautiful. Not surprising that he’s consumed by her.
“Your go, James,” Richard says handing me the ping pong ball, “Sink this and end it.”
I do just as Richard asks and end the game. “Nice game, guys,” I say and the football guys just glare at me.
“You were so great, James!” Lisa says coming up to me. Richard gives me a big smile from behind Lisa and walks away along with Samson. Bastards. Leaving me with Lisa. This girl could get any guy she wants, why does she keep coming after me?
“Pizza, definitely pizza,” I say.
“Good choice.” Malcolm says, “Okay what’s your favourite place?”
“Like in the world?” I ask, Malcolm nods. “Probably Rome. I visited in Grade 9 and loved it.”
“Oh, fancy world explorer here,” Malcolm says and I playfully slap him on the arm, “Only kidding. I love New York, but I haven’t travelled anywhere outside North America, so I don’t have much to compare it to.”
“I’ve never been to New York, so I can’t even comment,” I say.
“The States are too pedestrian for you?” Malcolm asks, “Europe is the only place worthy of your time?” I playfully slap him again. “Careful, I’d like to use this arm tomorrow.” He rubs where I hit him as if it hurt him.
“I couldn’t hurt you,” I say.
Malcolm stares at me for a moment. “Would you like to go outside?” Malcolm asks, “For some fresh air?”
I feel my face change. I know what he’s doing. I know what he’s asking, and he doesn’t want to go outside for fresh air. “It’s a bit cold out,” I say, trying to avoid outright rejecting him.
“It’s not that bad,” Malcolm says.
“I should go back to my friends downstairs,” I say and begin to turn away, but then Malcolm grabs my wrist and turns me back around to face him.
“You’re not just going to leave me, are you?” Malcolm says, his voice not changing.
“It was nice to meet you, Malcolm,” I say, trying to keep him calm. Making guys like him angry never ends well. “But my friends will be wondering where I am.”
“There’s an excuse,” Malcolm says, “If it’s too cold out for you we can go into one of the bedrooms upstairs for privacy if you prefer.”
“I’m not interested,” I say sternly. “Now please let go of me.”
“Oh please,” Malcolm says, “Don’t be a tease. You’ve been talking to me for twenty minutes now. You obviously like me too.”
While Lisa goes on and on talking about something, I’m not even sure what she’s saying anymore, I look towards Malcolm and the girl he is talking to. Initially, they were all smiles and laughs, but now I see he has gripped her wrist and their faces are very close. They are no longer laughing and smiling anymore. What are you doing Malcolm? I think to myself. This isn’t like him. He hits on plenty of girls, but he’s never been aggressive with them. I want to step in, I want to tell him to back off, but it’s Malcolm, it can’t be what I think.
“Are you even listening to me?” Lisa says.
“Of course, I am,” I say.
“I will slap you for real if you don’t let go of me,” I say.
“I thought you couldn’t hurt me?” Malcolm says.
“Is there a problem here?” A voice from behind me says. Malcolm drops his grip and I turn to see Lincoln.
“Why don’t you mind your own business, nerd,” Malcolm says.
“Well, when you are bothering my friend, it is my business,” Lincoln says.
“I wasn’t bothering her,” Malcolm says, “You’re just being a cockblock.”
“Let’s just go, Lincoln,” I say, trying to push him away from Malcolm.
“No,” Lincoln says, brushing me aside. “I’m tired of these jocks thinking they can do whatever they want.”
“Are you still upset about me and your cousin, Lincoln?” Malcolm says.
“You cheated on her,” Lincoln says.
“We were never serious,” Malcolm says.
“Did she know that?” Lincoln says, “You just think you’re entitled to everything. Arya is not interested in you so back off for once in your life.”
“Why?” Malcolm says, “So you can hook up with her?”
“No!” Lincoln yells, “I don’t want to fight you but don’t make me ask you to back off again.”
“Or what, Lincoln?” Malcolm says.
I look over again at Malcolm and the girl and see Lincoln has come up to them. Lincoln and Malcolm are exchanging heated words and I know this can’t be good. Lincoln is the calmest guy in school, I have to do something, whether Malcolm is my friend or not.
“Excuse me for a second,” I say to Lisa without even looking at her. I walk around the beer pong table towards the three of them.
“He’s not worth it, Lincoln,” I hear the girl say.
I clap a hand on Malcolm’s shoulder. “Is there a problem here?” I ask.
“Your friend here thinks he can just harass girls until they submit,” Lincoln says, still looking at Malcolm.
“I wasn’t harassing her, you just showed up out of nowhere and butted yourself into something that has nothing to do with you,” Malcolm argues.
Both of them are just glaring at each other and they continue to argue, so I look at the girl and she looks at me. The next words between us are all mouthed so Lincoln and Malcolm don’t hear.
“Are you okay?” I mouth. She nods. “Did he hurt you?” I mouth again. She shakes her head. “Was he going to?” Her lips part, but no answer comes from her, as if she doesn’t know. As if she isn’t sure what Malcolm would have done. Or maybe she’s afraid to tell me because I’m his friend. Either way, I have to take her side over Malcolm, it doesn’t matter that Malcolm is my friend.
“Let’s go, Malcolm,” I say and grab his shoulder to turn him with me.
“What?” Malcolm says. “You really think I was harassing her?”
I look at the girl again, and while I don’t want to believe that Malcolm was harassing her, I can’t deny what I feel in my gut. Malcolm was harassing this girl, and Lincoln stepped in to save her, something that I should have done. Malcolm doesn’t think he was harassing her, but it doesn’t matter what he thinks, it’s what she feels that matters. And she doesn’t feel safe with Malcolm. “I think you need to cool off, so let’s go, Malcolm,” I say. Malcolm glares at me and I glare straight back at him. Please Malcolm, please just let us get out of here.
Reluctantly, he comes, but not before turning to Lincoln and saying, “This isn’t over.”
“Are you okay?” I ask Lincoln as he just stares after Malcolm and his friend walking away.
Lincoln turns to me, becoming his calm, normal self again. “I’m fine, Arya. Malcolm is a jerk and always has been. I should be the one asking if you are okay.”
“Thanks to you, I’m fine,” I say.
“Would have come up earlier, but Diana insisted that you were fine,” Lincoln says, “but I knew something was up. A new pretty girl like you with a bunch of drunk jocks is just a recipe for disaster.”
“You think I’m pretty?” I ask.
Lincoln laughs. “While I consider you as just a friend, I’m not blind.”
I laugh at him and then look to see Malcolm in deep conversation with the guy that came over to help me and I see that a third guy has joined them. “Who was the guy that came over?” I ask.
“Malcolm’s friend? That’s James,” Lincoln says, “I’m surprised to see him here. He never comes to parties.”
“Why not?” I ask.
“He works a lot,” Lincoln says, “He works for his uncle’s construction company and when he’s not working, he’s either studying, playing soccer or with his family.”
“He seems like a decent guy,” I say. I do not want to say to Lincoln that he’s also very attractive.
“He is,” Lincoln says, “Unfortunately he is best friends with Malcolm, but we can’t all be perfect. But he doesn’t date.” I turn to Lincoln who has read my mind and he just laughs. “You are definitely not the only girl who is interested in him.”
Of course not. “Well, I don’t want to get involved in that group anyway,” I say, which is true. Why would I want to involve myself with someone who is friends with someone like Malcolm? What’s the rest of his friend group even like?
“You just let that nerd step in and now he’s taking her away,” Malcolm says to me angrily. I look over my shoulder and see Lincoln and the girl walking down the stairs together. A tweak of jealousy stirs inside me when I see him put a hand to her back.
“You were harassing her,” I say bluntly, turning back to Samson and Malcolm.
“I was not…” Malcolm begins.
“You were, okay,” I say, “She did not feel comfortable with you.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Malcolm says.
“You grabbed her wrist, Malcolm,” I say and he looks at me angrily. “Don’t give me that look, I saw you. I pulled you out of there before you did something you would regret.”
“I could have taken him,” Malcolm says.
“Do you really think beating up on the calm, gentle genius that is Lincoln Abraham would look good on you?” I say.
“He’s not as calm and gentle as he comes across,” Malcolm says.
“Because you clearly pissed him off by harassing his friend!” I say.
“I wasn’t harassing her!” Malcolm yells at me, “She was being a tease, talking and flirting with me, and then suddenly she’s making up some excuse to go back to her friends.”
“So, you let her go, Malcolm,” Samson says, “You don’t make her stay with you.”
“I’m done with you guys,” Malcolm says and then walks away from Samson and me.
“He just needs to cool off,” Samson says, “He’ll be fine soon enough. What is it, James?”
“Has he done this before?” I ask Samson, “I’ve never seen him harass a girl and I hesitated to go over there initially because I just couldn’t believe what Malcolm was doing.”
“Malcolm is a good guy,” Samson says, “I think he’s just always used to getting what he wants and then reacted that way when he wasn’t. Of course, it’s still not okay, but he’s not a total lost cause,” Samson looks at me, “There’s something else bothering you though.”
“Do you know who that girl was?” I ask.
“I’m guessing that’s the new girl Richard told us about the other day,” Samson says.
“She’s beautiful,” I say and then realize I’ve said my thoughts out loud.
“Oh, she is, is she?” Samson asks smiling, “Does this mean the hardworking, ‘I don’t have time to date’ James has feelings for someone?”
“Just because I think she’s pretty, doesn’t mean I want to date her,” I say.
“Sure,” Samson says. “Keep telling yourself that.” I glare at Samson and he just winks at me.