A work of fiction
by Craig Carey
One. Two. Three. Pause to catch breath and reach for a chaser. Bottle in hand, poised over the glass, vodka on the counter from a reckless pour. Four. Five. Six. Still stone cold sober, not enough time between to feel them hit. Pause again. Chased. Not me drinking, yet. Still him. A half hour ago he looked at me, light catching his pupils the way it does when he smiles, and said “let’s do shots.” Seven. Eight. Nine. Jack Daniels sticks in his throat. Two types of alcohol, three bottles, hoping his father wouldn’t notice. Chased one final time. Still sober. My turn. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Stop. Stop, I don’t want to do more. Don’t know how much I’ve had. Neither of us feel it yet.
Our friends are high. Six of us at Carlin Lake, the cabin a friend’s family owns. On a lake in the Northwoods. Secluded. They’ve got an island, too—not big but still an island. Actual log cabin, heated by wood-burning furnace. We came up after Christmas. Four days to relax before going back to school. Just us again. He and I were on our way to drunk, everyone else’s eyes glazed already. Snacks disappearing fast. Synthed music winds its way out of computer speakers. Counter smells of cheap vodka and Jack. We smell like a mix of both.
He feels it harder and faster than I do. Already buzzed in a few minutes, full blown drunk at 15, staggering at 20. Me not far behind. But he had nine. I only had six. I wasn’t going to puke. Snuck another one a few minutes after staggering to make it an even 10. Sober to stagger in 30 minutes. Mask of self-assurance disappears; confidence replaces common sense.
“I’m so much more confident drunk. But when I’m drunk, I want to tell someone I’m drunk, really hate that about myself,” he says with a smile and a sway masked as a dance-move across the front of the fireplace. Our friends, the audience, cuddled under blankets. Computer in front of me. Tunes at my disposal. He sway-dances more and more and my eyes can’t stay on the screen for more than a few seconds. He smiles bigger when he’s drunk. He moves freely, like something’s been lifted, and he can be who he is underneath.
“I need some water.” A statement. My eyes lock on his brown and green beauties. “Come with me?” A question. Answer always “yes.”
* * *
“I’ve got no one to take to prom.” Junior year, I’d never heard of Carlin Lake, I’d never taken a shot, “not really I mean, you know?” He was a sophomore. Football player, far from a star, but in our school, it didn’t matter. The football team sucked anyway. I got his number from rugby practice so we could watch “The Matrix” with some friends. We made mac and cheese and made way too much and couldn’t finish half of what was there. No one to take to prom.
“If I didn’t have a girlfriend, I would totally go with you.” I had no idea if he was serious.
“Can’t tell if you’re serious.” How I wished he was.
Still a new friendship. Not sure how to take it. Wanted it to be real. But her. He was with her. Stay friends. Remember the moment. Take it with. Hold onto it. From that moment on I had a hope and a feeling, but he dated her for three years. Until last summer.
* * *
I followed him to the kitchen. His hands on the sink. Bent over, drinking straight from the spout. His shirt forgotten on the floor. Stands. Smiles. Hand around my neck. Pulls me close. Grabs a glass with his free hand and fills it with water. Heads touch. Bodies not far behind. Back to the stage in front of the fire to dance in front of our friends. Heads still together, closer than we’ve ever been.
All six hit me at once. I fall into the couch in front of the computer. Music still my charge. He’s still my distraction. Center of attention when he’s drunk. Confidence comes out of nowhere. Outwardly flying high. Who knows on the inside, though.
“Feel so good but I’m so drunk,” didn’t take his eyes from mine. Smile like I’ve never smiled before. Sparkling eyes in us both. Never been this close to him before.
“I think I’m not far behind,” with a laugh I stand and sway before his arm is around my waist and we dance and stagger our way around the room, heads together. We stop behind the couch. Friends oblivious to all. I pull out my phone to open a Snapchat. My arm round his neck. His round my waist. Holding me tight. Tighter than before.
“You’ve got so much hair,” he says as he brushes it away and bites my ear. Sensual. He knew what he was doing.
* * *
Summer. His girlfriend a memory. I’ve been home a few months. He and I inseparable. Smoking mostly. Coffee and food when we have money. Movies and chauffeuring his siblings when we don’t. Mid-June. Late showing of an animated feature. Colors and colors. Higher than ever before the both of us. Sitting back in the chairs. Legs crossed. When he laughs, he convulses. Full body. At a few points in the movie he laughs hard and nearly falls over. Catches himself on my leg. Hand stays. And stays. Long enough for him to know it’s there. Settled back in his chair. Not laughing. Hand still on my leg. He knows it’s there. Move my hand towards his. Overlapped just a little. Stays. Next joke comes and he convulses again and settles back, hands in his lap. But he knew it was there.
* * *
Music still floats out of computer speakers. Fire still burns in the fireplace and the furnace. Friends still up near the roof. He and I grounded together, intoxicated. He’s texting some college friends. I’m looking for more music. Mind still on him. Sitting on the couch because standing is too much work. Balance is gone. His leg drooped over mine. Arm around my neck. Heads together.
“You’ve got so much fucking hair,” with a laugh. Smile back. Stayed like that for a few minutes. He’s up again. Sway-dancing his way around the room. Shirt still somewhere in the kitchen. “Come on, dance with me,” a plea. Stop in front of the fireplace. Clinging to each other. Trying not to fall over. My arm round his waist again. His round my neck. Free hand drifts down. Rests on my hip. Awfully close. Close enough for friends to notice. It happened. He lets go. “I need more water.” Runs to the kitchen.
Music stopped. Finding more.
“He just tried to grab your dick,” a friend. His best friend.
“I know,” because I did.
“What was that,” shock, no doubt.
He returns. Glass in hand. Checkered pajama pants only.
“I am super drunk,” because he was, “that friend of yours,” to me, “he’s super cute,” with a wink.
Laugh just once. And smile.
“He’s straight though,” because he was.
Slight frown. Disappointment.
“That’s too bad. You two would make a cute couple,” maybe we would, “I’m not gay, but he’s super cute,” repeated for emphasis maybe, “but then again, I’m not completely straight either, but I’m not bi,” unprompted, “I’d say I’m somewhere between straight and bi. Because I can look at a guy and think ‘wow, he’s a very attractive man,’ but that doesn’t mean I’d suck his dick,” making sure we understood, “then again, who knows after 10 shots,” our eyes were locked. Internally happy. Overjoyed. Suspicions confirmed. Not a surprise. Already knew deep down. But now confirmed. But 10 shots. Far from sober. Far from sober. Dark lining on a silver cloud.
* * *
Two in the morning. Passing through Ten Sleep, Wyoming. Towards Mount Rushmore. Veins pumped with Red Bull and gas station coffee. Nearly twenty hours of driving. Yellowstone a few hours before. Old Faithful, a walk, and keep driving. He’s not asleep. Told me he’d stay awake till Milwaukee. He’s talking about his girlfriend. Feet up on the dash. Headlights illuminate the road. Narrow canyon, enclosed.
“She doesn’t trust me,” she controls him, “but then she goes and hangs out with Max, alone, all the time?” He doesn’t know what to think. Angry but in love.
“She’s controlling you,” because she was, “she doesn’t deserve you,” because she didn’t.
Hours pass. Darkness stays. Canyon stays. Wyoming doesn’t change. Conversation shifts to everything else. Friends. College. Future. Eyes drifting between the road and him. Gray sweatshirt. Fresh haircut. Slim fitting blue jeans. Pineapple socks. Green eyes shine even in the dark.
Sunrise over the South Dakota plains. Grassland. Takes longer to find Mount Rushmore than we hoped. Only stay ten minutes. Onto the Badlands and onto Milwaukee.
He flew out to Seattle to meet me over Memorial Day. Visiting a friend after a month on the road. I joked about him flying out and driving home with me. He didn’t joke. I picked him up from the airport on a gray Seattle morning. Three days later we passed through Ten Sleep, Wyoming at two in the morning. He flew out to Seattle to meet me.
* * *
“I think I’m going to puke,” ten shots in under five minutes.
“Get to the sink,” don’t want him to puke.
“Go after him,” friends with their snacks don’t want to move.
I go. Hand on his back as he heaves. One. Two. Three. Four times. Run some water. Wash it out. Disposal. He’s shaking.
“Why did I do this,” smile gone, “why the fuck did I do 10 shots,” mood gone, “I’m so stupid,” confidence obliterated.
“It’s alright,” doesn’t help anything. Rubbing his back. Back to the fireplace. Back to the couches. No longer together. He’s moaning. Pukes again. In the toilet. Mood gone. Music gone.
“I’ll talk to him,” his best friend.
I pee upstairs. Need to get away. It’s all gone.
“I’m so dumb,” self-deprecation his defense. Hard to listen to. It’s all gone.
Fleeting. Beautiful. Glimpse of my deepest desires. Years of wishing. Gone in an instant. Top step. Can’t be around them. Verge of tears. All of it gone.
10 shots. It took 10 shots. Far from sober. So far from sober. Love is not alcoholic. But alcohol is true. Deep down truth? Buried too far. Might take years. Might never take. He’s slouching in a chair. Eyes closed. Hold back more puke. Dry heaving only now. Sipping water. Truth flushed with the 10 shots. Gone.
Two hours passed since first shot. Top step now. Wondering if truth was gone forever. A few tears. Because I feared truth was gone forever. Slouching in a chair.
“I’m sorry guys,” thought he ruined our night, “I’m so dumb,” what he sees in the mirror. Not what I see, though.
“Don’t say that,” his best friend, “I hate it when you say that,” recurring sentiment.
Conflicted now. Ten shots in means truth. Ten shots is truth. Ten shots in means self-deprecation. Ten shots is harmful. Top step. Some tears. More than before. Happiness is fading. Fleeting. Ten shots cannot last. Drunkenness wears off eventually. Sleep and it is gone. Blink and it is half over. Sway-dance across a fireplace and it’s over. Hold him close and take the memory. Feel his smile and remember it. Know his touch. Take it away from that log cabin on Carlin Lake. But also, leave it there. It exists there, 10 shots in. And nowhere else.
Part of the Red Issue