The Beast, Pt. 69 (Chapter 17o)

We leave Googe to his machinations and go to rejoin Erb and Monk. They’re still being their usual charming selves, and Papa Chub and I slide seamlessly back into the conversation. From time to time, my eyes wander over to where Googe is sitting and laughing with the triplets, and I feel a twinge of jealousy needle at my innards, but I ignore it. He’s happy, and it’s not as if he’s taken anything from me, and I want to be the kind of person that can celebrate my friends’ happiness, not mourn because it isn’t my own. At other times (what feels like an eternity ago, but was really no more than a few years,) I would have been a drunken mess about things, inserting myself into the conversation and teasing Googe and trying to seize the reins of things. I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be yet, but I’d undoubtedly improved.

The redhead snaps her fingers and leans forward, a smirk on her face. “So. Why are you guys really here?”

“Just vacationing. Spending time with the boys, you know? Crew love, et cetera.”

“Sure, sure. That’s why you’re here as a whole, but why are you each here? Why didn’t you guys go camping somewhere, or to EUC or ASC or something? Why the Meadows?”

We glance at each other, the girls chuckling at our seeming hive mind as we do so. “Belated bachelor party,” Monk offers.

“I needed a vacation, and here I am,” Papa Chub says with an authoritarian air.

Erb shrugs. “I just kind of got dragged along. I mean, I’m happy to be here, don’t get me wrong. But when it’s my turn to choose a vacation, I’m picking camping like you said.”

I nod my heads over towards Googe. “He likes the Meadows. I think the romanticism of the place appeals to him. Roll the dice, win big, meet someone awesome.”

“And what about you?”

I open my mouth, shut it, frown, stop frowning, shrug. “I just wanted to escape reality for a little bit.”

“How honest!”

“That’s me. Mister Honesty.”

For a while, I just listen. More people come and leave, including a rather large group evenly mixed between men and women. There seem to be a few different models between them, but their clothing is virtually identical, making them look for all the world like a particularly lazy palette swap. But one of them is different. She’s dressed in beige where everyone else is dressed in pastels, but somehow this makes her stand out. I study her, the hem of her dress that ends just a bit above her knees, fair and muscled calves, thin arms, light hair. She’s standing at the bar, and her back is to me for the longest time, and I find it kind of strange that she hasn’t gotten a drink or turned around to talk to anyone yet. The people around her have been served, have come and gone.

Googe comes back with the triplets, introduces them, something about precious gemstones that I promptly forget. My attention is entirely focused on the woman at the bar, on waiting for her to turn around. The girls at our table are all getting along reasonably well, and there’s talk of going somewhere else and doing something more interesting, but I don’t weigh in. Instead, I start to notice something strange.

In the dim warm light of the lounge, the woman’s dress has gotten lighter and lighter, brightening from a beige to a cream to a warm white to a true white, even though the ambient quality of the light in the room hasn’t changed. There is tension in her shoulders now, visibly so, and her hair seems to be shifting ever so slightly from time to time. As if she’s about to turn around, but isn’t yet. As if she could at any moment. As if she certainly will, and soon.

And what will we become of me then?

I drum my fingers on the table. The conversation is going nowhere, talking about clubs and bars and restaurants and dismissing them just as quickly. Googe offers, “You know, we could always go back to our place. We have a villa at the Libretto.”

Eyes go wide at that. There are coos of appreciation and grunts of assent. I say to no one in particular, “That’s a great idea. Let’s go now.”

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