The Beast, Pt. 34 (Chapter 14e)

I lay back down on the lounge chair, close my eyes, and try to think about nothing. It works pretty well for a little bit. The rum definitely helps. But before very long, I hear the pitter-patter of adult-sized feet and a familiar voice asking me, “Dude, who was the chick in the bikini? She was hot.”

I open my eyes, the artificial sun so bright overhead that even with my sunglasses on I’ve got to shade my eyes just to make out the details on the silhouettes before me. It’s Googe, Erb, and Papa Chub, of course, back from the pool and standing over me like judgmental gods.

Or maybe I’m projecting. Erb and Papa Chub are both wearing decidedly neutral expressions and Googe, if anything, is grinning, looks excited, his mind open to the possibilities that the strange and mysterious woman might represent. It’s going to be a shame bringing him crashing back down to Earth. “I don’t know. Some woman. I didn’t get her name.”

Papa Chub chuckles. Erb rolls his eyes. Googe frowns, the expression exaggerated to the point of comedy, like a sad crying clown from the great masters of ages long gone. “You’re kidding,” he says.

“Nope.”

“You were talking to her for like twenty minutes,” Papa Chub adds, punctuating the statement with another chuckle.

“Wow, was it that long? It didn’t feel that long.”

“What were you talking about?”

I shrug, in as much as someone half-lying down and half-propped up on their elbows can shrug. “I don’t know. Nothing really. Evidently she’s the woman I kissed last night after I rolled the hard six, although I could have sworn that was a different person. She mentioned she gave her name and number to one of you guys, asked why we didn’t throw the party we were bragging about throwing, insulted my sexuality and my masculinity. Standard stuff.”

“So where’d she vanish to?”

“No idea. She made some kind of crack and I made one right back about not paying any attention to her, and she got pissed off and left.”

Googe groans. “A hot chick comes up to you, starts talking to you, and you go and insult her until she leaves? What the fuck is wrong with you?”

My mouth twists up in irritation. “Hey, she came up to me and started giving me shit first. All I did was pitch a little back, and she evidently couldn’t take it. Besides, why the hell would I want to spend my time with someone that can’t take my sense of humor?”

Behind his dark sunglasses, Googe’s eyebrows and bronzed skin go up. He looks genuinely shocked, and a quick glance at Erb and Papa Chub find them with similar albeit more subtle expressions on their faces. “Dude,” Googe finally says after a few moments of silence. “Come on. You’re not here to find your soulmate. You’re here to get drunk and flirt with and hopefully bang beautiful women. That’s the goal, man. The dream. The mission. Don’t lose sight of the mission.”

Papa Chub murmurs his assent. Erb, while not quite ready to condone wanton debauchery, is at least expressing some surprise at my words and actions.

“Alright, alright. The mission. But hey, don’t you lose sight of the big picture either, yeah? That’s just one woman out of thousands. Tens of thousands. More, even. There will be other hot chicks. People walk in and out of each other’s lives all the time, and that doesn’t even count. I didn’t even get her name. Maybe she was the greatest woman we ever could have met, but probably she wasn’t. Probably she was just someone who thought that it’d be fun to see what the dumb, nouveau riche were going to do with their money. Probably she was just looking for a good time. The Meadows is full of people looking for a good time. She won’t be the first and she won’t be the last, and neither will we. So try not to give me too much shit for driving away a random stranger with bad attitude, yeah?”

The three wisemen glance at each other, looks of concern and shame and confusion playing across their faces. They mumble and murmur apologies, rebuttals, all the things friends say to each other when they don’t quite know what to say. I accept it as a concession, even if it isn’t really. Anything to move us forward. We’re here. We might as well move forward.

“Come on,” I say. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m just about done with the pool. The goddamn sun’s cooking my brain.”

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