21st Century Fun Times

Mom and Dad are away. They’re on their way back today. I already know I’ll skimp on the details when I tell them about last night.

I went out with Sam and Rachel to Parker’s Pub. It’s nearly habitual now. Every other week we meet at the same bar because we have not found a better one.

Rachel talked about working with adolescent mental patients and her sexual history. Sam discussed committing to the liquor store full-time, his masturbation habits, and “gwippies,” which is what he called his toes whenever he tried to stir a reaction from Abby. I discussed living in the woods and previous boy scout camp experiences, some wonderful, others rather gruesome. I admit, I also talked about my non-existent sex life.

We drank too much to call it safe, but we were in a good mood. Our waitress didn’t seem to give a shit about us or anything as she plopped a to-go box on our table and walked away without a word, and we found this attitude charming. We planned to go over to Ty’s and Slade’s house after the pub. We stopped by the liquor store at Wampum Corner. Sam greeted me enthusiastically when I met them there—we all took separate cars—and a man in a Silverado parked by the front door commented on the welcome. He seemed intrusively nice, as most men with gray hair do to me. I can’t remember what he said, I was busy wondering why he opened his mouth. He could very well have had a few drinks in him as well.

Sam bought a tall boy. Rachel, Jameson, I think. I bought a white wine I had not tried before. We talked about IDs and working at a liquor store with the cashier, another man in his 40s. The others did most of the talking. I half-listened, half-daydreamed.

I remember smiling when we pulled up to the house. Ty met us at the door, confused why Sam and I were there. He greeted us before returning to his room to play League of Legends. Sam closed the bathroom door. Rachel complained loudly. I tried to get in after him, but Rachel insisted she go before me. I folded and stood in the dark hallway before I went to talk to Ty. He told me about League, and I told him about my new job offer as a backcountry caretaker. He sounded excited for me. Sam lay on Ty’s bed. Rachel came out of the bathroom. I went in.

I sat down and listened to the conversation across the hall. It bounced and receded, grew to a trickle and exploded with pale-faced laughter. I flushed, washed my hands, dried them on my pants, stood in the corner of Ty’s room by the door. Rhett the dog was there. I gave him a hearty pet and scratched under his chin. Everyone acknowledged he was there. He turned and left.

Rachel flicked a lighter and drew smoke from Ty’s large piece. The large green glass bong caught my eye, and I asked them about it. Ty told me the name of the store he got it from and where it was in town. He talked about the stickers on the side. Charmander, Mudkip, and another small one not Pokémon related that a friend gave to him. It meant enough for him to mention it, and he talked about it longer than the rest. I asked if I could hit it. He looked at me, then said I could and packed me a bowl. I think he was worried I’d smoke him dry, but one bowl was enough. I walked through the room and brushed some laundry off a chair and sat down.

Rob tells me Ty lives in squalor. I couldn’t agree more.

An empty happy meal box, empty cans, bottles, keys, cards, and the young man’s other necessities covered a plastic folding table on my right. Sam and Rachel half sat, half lay on the unmade bed to my left, and we all faced the gargantuan flat screen. The captivating setup looked at home in a law firm turned DJ booth. Two mounted speakers symmetrically flanked an eight-foot executive cherry slab desk. The drawers had been removed to fit the glowing computer tower, and a thick layer of dirty laundry covered everything.

Ty asked me if I liked the big screen on the wall. He was playing League on it. I made some vague sound of approval, and he started talking about League. Rachel chatted with Sam. A fruit fly irregularly dotted my vision. I didn’t really listen.

Eventually, I grew thirsty and stood to find water. In the hall, I passed Ty’s and Slade’s father. He was unkempt with gray hair, a prickled face, and a gray t-shirt with a logo. I nodded as I walked past. He grunted something that sounded like “hey” before disappearing behind a door. I walked past the kitchen into the living room. All the lights were off. I didn’t know the house very well.

Rachel appeared behind me and Abby, behind her, no doubt pushed away by the boys’ conversation. I located the light switch, and Abby showed us two wrapped containers of Poland Springs water bottles. I grabbed one and stood drinking it in the kitchen. Abby went back to her and Slade’s room. Rachel remained. She must have been talking. I don’t remember what she said. We could hear Sam and Ty laugh, and she shifted in place. Her voice lowered to a mumble, and she went back to the others. I followed a minute later, content to see how the night played out.

Slade came home minutes later. I met him at the door to Ty’s bedroom and the hallway. He told me his lower back hurt. I didn’t know what to say, but I made sounds like I was sorry to hear. I told him about my job in the woods. He said it sounded cool. “No more desk job!” he exclaimed with tired enthusiasm. I tried to seem enthusiastic as well. He paused, probably to think, and I asked if he needed a hug. “No,” he said, “but I’ll take one anyways.”

He told me I seemed pretty baked, and I agreed. He left for his room and closed the door. I walked back through Ty’s room and sat in my chair. I talked with Rachel this time. Then Ty. Then Rachel again. Sam chimed in, but he may have repeated what he said at the restaurant. I didn’t listen too closely.

Rachel talked to Sam and me about sex. She smiled as she divulged dirty jokes and secrets and watched her boyfriend for his little reactions. Ty listened and commented on some stories, but he mostly played the game. Ty would roll for an attack or defense—I don’t know how to play League—and sometimes he pushed the enemy back. A lot of times, Ty’s character died, and he would change his character and respawn. It happened in swells. Rachel commented. Sam escalated. Ty augmented or argued or said nothing. And I sat. Ty said he was surprised how high I was. I told him it had been a while. I stood up to use the bathroom.

I sat down again across the hall and listened to the conversation morph. Abby joined the group in Ty’s room again. She was complaining about something Slade said or did. Noise rose from the peanut gallery. She argued her case but got upset at her audience’s response and went back to Slade’s room. “Whatever,” I heard her say as she closed the door. I flushed. I washed my hands. I wiped them on my pants. I went back to my chair, and I finished my water.

Rhett came back and everyone said his name. He stood in the doorway a moment as if checking on us before he turned and left. Needing more water, I followed the dog into the kitchen. I patted his back, relieved to be away from the flashing lights and chatter. I wanted to go out to the back porch. I wanted fresh air and the sound of the wind. I cracked the door. Rhett stuck his nose out. He wanted to go outside.

Rachel walked into the kitchen. Abby followed. “Is it okay if I let Rhett out?” I asked Rachel. She was here more often than me. I didn’t know the rules.

“Sure,” she said.

I opened the door and stepped out onto the porch. Rhett trotted down the stairs and into the yard, out of sight.  It was a clear night. I looked up at the suburban stars, the usual suspects. Rachel and Abby talked about Todd, a mutual acquaintance. They talked at length about him. I watched the stars and the tips of the branches sway with the wind. “A man of few words,” they said. They left back to Ty’s room. I felt conspicuous and walked back in. The dog followed a moment later. I closed the door. I grabbed a water. I walked back down the hall.

Abby didn’t expect to see me behind her. She was listening to Rachel and Ty. “I didn’t know these guys were coming, too,” Ty said. Abby turned around suddenly when she saw me there, two feet behind her in darkness. I had turned off the kitchen light, not wanting to raise someone else’s electric bill. She jumped. I apologized. She accepted, passively, and went back to her and Slade’s room. Abby closed the door, and I returned to my chair.

Sam got up to leave. I hugged him goodbye and wished him goodnight. “Are you coming too?” he asked me.

“Fifteen more minutes,” I said. Leaving then felt ominous.

“All right, get home safe.”

“Connor, are you okay to drive?” Rachel asked me.

“Yeah, I will be in fifteen minutes.”

Abby came back in again. She, Rachel, and I got to talking. I don’t remember their stories well. When silence came, I spoke and surprised myself with what came out. I told Rachel, Ty and Abby about a day at boy scout camp I had not talked to anyone about before. It was late in the season, and a group of first-year campers had been bickering all week long. I was so exhausted by the whining and complaining, the pointless drama between them, the accusations, the who said what and whose turn it was to do the dishes. One of them ran up to me on the trail. “Mr. Staff Member,” the little camper said, “these two are arguing again.” Before I thought better, the first words in my head came out of my mouth. I remember feeling like I was listening to someone else speak with my jaw.

“I can’t solve all of your problems.”

Ten minutes later, a fight had broken out among the boys. I saw from up the hill the two of them rolling over one another in the dirt. They clawed and grabbed each other’s shirts in a heap of traumatic, dramatic, eleven-year-old violence. One punched the other in the face and gave him a nosebleed. Maria had rushed over to break it up. I never knew if anyone else found out what I told the boy. I knew it was not my problem to fix, but I still felt I let the little camper down because I did not try.

After I stopped talking, Abby began her own story right away. I struggled to listen much less internalize the words she said, the points she made, if any. I made eye-contact with her as best I could, but I think she knew none of it was getting through. On instinct, I frowned when she expected me to frown. I nodded when appropriate. She sought pity. I gave her something resembling attention. Looking back, I wonder if she did the same when I told my story.

Ty casually asked when I planned to head home. “Another fifteen minutes,” I said. Leaving then still felt wrong. Those last fifteen minutes blurred passed. It was all the same as what I wrote above, but condensed and made bite-sized. Ty and Rachel talked back and forth. Abby left the room and came back. I drank the rest of my second water. Finally I heard Ty say, “That’s it. You’re not having sex with me tonight.” He stared at Rachel. I don’t know if he was joking. I stood up to leave.

I hugged Ty goodbye. I hugged Rachel goodbye. Abby stood to the side, and I beckoned her to join.

“Text me when you get home,” said Rachel. I told her I would. We made a pinky-promise then, only we didn’t touch pinkies. I was already out the door and in the hallway, so I held up my pinky and she held up hers. An air-pinky-promise.

I grabbed one more water from the kitchen and took a sip before I walked out the door and fastened my jacket from the cold.

Connor Lukes lives in Massachusetts and enjoys comic-style fiction, non-formulaic stories, and historical deep-dives. His work has appeared in the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.