The dim yellow lights hung low from the ceiling, some swinging over pool tables covered in scratched green velvet. The walls are lined with long, wooden tables, surrounded by drinkers—seated and chill, or up and chatty. Drink towers were filled with fizzy mixes of gin, Kool-Aid and Sprite. There were pitchers of rum, mint and lemon. Cups of glass or plastic sprouted up on every table while some ended up rolling on the cracked cement floor where empty bottles lay. The playlist for the night was an alternation of dance music and indie rock, and the occasional “ice!” or “another bottle over here!” chimes over the shuffling of cards.
“Tom, you up, bro?” A fully dressed Ken shook him by the shoulders.
“Mmhm.” Tom rolled to his side, and consequently, into underneath the bed.
“TOM,” Ken pulled him by the collar revealing his head. “Drink or Drench?”
“I’ve had enough to drink, thanks.” He managed to mumble.
“I said, Drink or Drench?”
Tom forced a couple of blinks before he looked up to see that over his head was a cup of coffee. “Drink,” a groan. “Now get me out of here.”
Ken tries to pull him out by the collar, choking Tom momentarily before he motions for Ken to stop. Tom squirmed out, stood up and took the coffee from him. “Breakfast is?” He takes a sip; grimaces.
“Dried fish and tomatoes,” Ken says. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Coffee hipster,” Ken accused.
“There’s a difference when it’s brown.” Tom took a mug from the cupboard and poured a fresh cup. The sugared “contaminated” coffee, he poured back into the pot. “I’d rather take it straight.”
“You took a lot of things straight last night.” More accusations.
“And you took something straight home.” Backfire.
“I don’t even remember how that happened.”
“It always happens.”
Tom knew the protocol to these things. In the four years he’s been Ken’s most faithful roommate, he’s been dragged to every place where the night is alive with the scene of fresh, innocent trouble, just like this one. It was the last night of the summer—the last night of their last summer—before everyone who has not yet flunked will graduate from college and will be released unto the unforgiving hands of the real world. Tom didn’t really care, neither about the partying or the part about college. He just went there to make sure Ken didn’t bet his Xbox Kinect at poker.
And, as is per usual, the designated nanny Tom brought a book with him, kept in a Ziplock in his backpack in case the crowd decides to throw the nerd into the pool. He didn’t want any of his other books to suffer the same fate of a Tom Clancy novel he never managed to finish.
“My friends,” the host began, raising a beer while standing on top of his table. “Remember always that the real world is filled with shit. Tonight is a dream; don’t let it be contaminated.”
An enthusiastic friend climbed atop the table, his arm over the host’s shoulder, “So let’s contaminate the world! After this year, we’ll be out there!”
“The night is ours! It’s our time now!”
“There will be no rules tonight!”
“And if there were—“
“WE’D BREAK THEM!” The crowd chimed in, everyone raising a drink together.
He knew all the people, knew all their names and all their past hook-ups and throw-ups at all the parties they’ve mutually attended. Tom always knew about a lot of things he never really cared about. And tonight, like most others, he took a bottle to his corner, where at the same table, Ken and the others were playing a round of I’ve Never. A tower of Rum Cola was in the middle with a stack of plastic cups next to it, as well as a bucket of ice with a small pair of tongs. All over the table was an assortment of shot glasses, some with Bacardi, Tequila, Antonov, and then there were colorful mixed ones, perhaps for the girls or the ones who know they’ve had too much. But then, Tom learned that in these situations, there have been three wrong assumptions of life: (1) that girls are weaker drinkers, (2) that there’s ever such a thing as too much when in a party, and (3) that colored shots can’t be as hard.
The rules were simple: sip rum cola if you’ve done it, and no one has, the speaker has to take a shot. If everyone’s done it, everyone takes a shot.
“I DECLARE . . . I’VE NEVER!” Said the guy who’s always declared I’ve never. His audience howled and cheered. He raised his glass and the dozen or so seated members of the table suddenly got surrounded by a dozen and a half others standing around.
They knew to just leave Tom be, and so they did. The only time he lifted his nose from that book was when he had to fill his glass again. If not for that, he would to check on Ken, or just to observe other tables. He was watching this particular table where a classic game of truth or dare was being played. The person giving out dares was a hyperactive little thing, a girl shouting out “Take off your shirt and dance to the bartender!” but laugh with such bright and seemingly childlike eyes. She was wearing a loose, cream sheer blouse, collared and long-sleeved, but revealing the black lace brassiere she wore underneath, and the silhouette of her black bandage skirt. She had a pair of beige flats that she left on the floor when she stood up on her chair to give her next command. She seemed more like a child on a sugar rush than a drunken whore. He’s never seen her before, or at least he thinks he hasn’t. He continued to wrack through his mind for possible memories.
“I’ve never,” started one of the girls. “Had my face near pubic hair.”
“NO SHIT BRO!” “AH FUCK.” “I’M INNOCENT!” Live, full volume commentary went on. Secrets were being exposed, and on rare occasions, friendships could have been broken. At some point, someone would say, “I’ve never slept with <insert promiscuous person here>” and a number of surprised people will all sip together.
The girl saw Tom staring right at her, but wasn’t offended in the slightest. She gave him a smile and a nod as she raised her bottle of vodka cruiser to him, the neck of the bottle held in the same way as a glass of wine. He took it as a sort of toast.
“I’ve never,” it was Ken’s turn. “Had sex with a guy.”
Tom raised his glass to her and sipped.
Everyone at the table turned to Tom.
It was a rare occasion that Tom would participate in any drinking game, but if he did, he’d raise his drink to them first, and sip with them.
Once Tom understood what just happened, he said dryly, “Yeah. Ken was horrible. Had to fake it.” And as everyone laughed at his response, he stood up from the table and moved to another where they were pouring out the drama of their lives into glasses of orange gin. The girl he was watching had finally fallen victim to the spinning bottle. “DARE!” She exclaimed, raising her hand like a student. It was revenge from the table—everyone took the dare queen and pulled her towards a guy, to which she resisted. As she struggled, Tom had the urge to help her, but only did as much as get off of his seat, when she finally yelled out, “STOP!” And she suggested something else, and the judges of the table approvingly nodded.
She walked all too shyly towards Tom, something that seemed befitting her but was supposed to be out of character based on her earlier behavior. She reached out to his face on that high 6’3” frame of his, and she even had to tip toe for it, before Tom bowed lower to her.
And she kissed him.
Just short, and perhaps too boring for the rest of the table, as they demanded “MORE!” while she walked towards a small, empty table in the corner and sat on her own. She looked back only once, lips pursed. She didn’t move or say anything, so Tom stopped himself from going to her. Instead, he sat with this other guy alone with some cards who asked him if he’d like to play a few rounds of bullshit.
“There’s kind of just two of us, bro.”
“Hasn’t it been done before?”
“It has, it has.”
And one by one, they stacked the cards in pairs or more, faced down, naming them. “Bullshit,” they’d accuse each other. And if it was bullshit, then the liar had to take the pile, and it just went on and on to the point where Tom just wanted it to end and neither of them bothered to catch each other’s lies.
“Bullshit!” The girl had walked up to them and caught Tom lying about having four Queens, when all four queens have previously been laid down.
Tom didn’t really know what to say. The guy rounded up the cards and shuffled. “Take a seat, miss. You can pick the game.”
“Hmm,” her fingers lightly tapped on her lips as she decided. “You boys know Game of Thrones?” She lit up.
“Well yeah,” Tom answered. “But that’s not a card game.”
“Tyrion had a drinking game.” She suggested.
“Alrighty kids,” the card guy said, annoyed by the nonsense. He knew that game anyway, just as he knew almost any possible drinking or card game there was to know. “We take turns trying to find out each other’s mysteries of life. Drink if you got it right, drink if you were caught.”
“But that’s boring!” She complained.
“You suggested it,” Tom was getting rather confused.
“But I also suggest that three drinks in a row is a strike, and a strike entails the removal of one article of clothing.” Her lips were in a mocking pout.
“It’s settled then!” Cards guy looked at Tom. “Tall kid, you first.”
“Alright.” He looked at her, “don’t I get to know your name first?”
“Game now, name later.” She demanded.
“Right. This is the first time we’ve been in a party together.”
Tom took a sip. “Your mother,” he hesitated. “No, uhm. You are an underage drinking.”
“Drink.” She smiled. He took more like a gulp than a sip. “Last one.”
“Alright,” he rubbed his hands together. “You’ve read American Gods.”
“Drink. Undershirt, give it here.” She laughed as she opened her palm to him. As he unbuttoned his shirt and shimmied off the sleeves, she said, “I read Stardust, Sandman and Coraline.”
“Girl choices.” He said, handing the undershirt to her and putting back the red shirt on. He left it unbuttoned, revealing a tattoo of Aperture Science logo where his heart was supposed to go.
“Nerd choices.” She pointed at it, and noticed that the back of his left arm and shoulder was covered in alchemic symbols, all permanent.
“I was seventeen.”
“I’m seventeen now.”
“Give me back my shirt, then—“ But instead, she very quickly took it and ran to the fire exit.
She was fast on her feet, playing a staircase game of King of the Shirt. But before she could go down, she realized he was gone. She stopped, checking if he wasn’t hiding somewhere along the stairs. And then she laughed, thinking he must have been so easily pissed off. Her laugh was light, and sweet, caught by the shortness of her breath, until—“Now give me my shirt.” He was holding her by the waist from behind her with the left hand, locking her wrists in his grip, lifting her from the ground a few inches. She couldn’t help herself but giggle. “Hey, hey, okay, no. I’m actually from Ken’s block. I’m twenty.” She tried to stop her laughing, and the entire staircase was filled only with the hushed sounds of two people trying to catch their breaths.
Tired, she leaned her forehead against the cold, hard wall. It was as if Tom was still uncertain whether her being a friend of Ken’s a lie or the truth, and still wouldn’t let go of her waist and wrists. His face was buried in her hair, the messy bun beforehand now collapsed into a flowing river of black. He moved his nose down to the side of her left jaw, his lips on her neck. His breath lined her skin, still low and irregular, his heat rolled off of hers. He loosened his grip on her wrist. Her fingers caught his, and she lay her hand on top of his, slowly guiding it down to the hem of her skirt. The moment his fingers touched her skin, there was no more need for guidance. He started kissing her, from jaw, to neck. His right hand unbuttoned her blouse, and he slid the sheer, cream cloth off her shoulders. He left light, slow kisses on her neck, then she turned her face to meet his. She took off his glasses and tossed them to the ground. Her arm reached back to his neck, her fingers buried in his hair, as they started to exchange breaths. His left hand slid up underneath her skirt, his right caressed the soft curvatures on her side. He slid up inside her, and there was a gap in her breath before they made their way to a quick, irregular breath. The air was sharp with coldness of the stairwell, and they radiated with heat.
He suddenly pulled off the sheer blouse that hung on her arms, and kissed her down her spine. He went on his knees, his hands at her waist, and guided her to turn towards him. He pulled down the black lace from underneath her skirt. His fingers trembled but her grip on his collar pulled him back up, as she unzipped his jeans while kissing his bare chest. He took her by the waist and raised her to his level, their lips meeting. His tongue in her mouth, her fragrance in his breath. Her legs wrapped around his hips, his hand on the small of her back. Her fingers were lost in his hair, the other hand traced his spine upwards. She was pushing unto him, until he pushed her up against the wall. She screamed, her nails scratched on the skin of his back. He pushed into her, and her arms went up in surrender. He held them against the wall, keeping her there as they both went faster, and faster, and faster up against the cold wall. She held back a scream, and bit instead into his right shoulder. He moaned in pain and pleasure. The sound of the dense air in the stair case bounced down into an endless spiral.
“Where did you run off to, by the way?” Ken said, grabbing a towel, “The game was nothing without your ghostly parenting at the table.”
Tom stepped out of the shower and dried his hair. “Your turn.”
“The girls said they found you puking in the ladies’ room.” He stepped into the shower.
Tom, still wrapped in a towel, started to brush his teeth by the sink. Ken’s voice still trying to reach out through the water.
“No seriously, why were you just sleeping outside the hallway?”
Spit, rinse, repeat. “You really don’t remember?”
“Enlighten me, Father Tom.”
The staircase was calm and silent, filled only with occasional giggling from them both. He picked up her blouse and opened it to her, as a gentleman would offer a coat. She put her arms into the sleeves, and Tom buttoned her up with nervous hands and an anxious smile. Then her small hands slid over his bare chest, and kissed it before she took the shirt to button it up for him. When she was done, Tom kissed her and she couldn’t keep back a smile.
“Now could you tell me your name?” He began.
“Yours first.” They still haven’t moved away their faces from each other.
“So many distractions.”
“Please?” A kiss.
“I know that, full one.”
“Uhm, Thomas Hardy.” He was at her neck when she laughed and pushed him off to take his face in her small hands.
“Seriously.” No one can deny that smile anything.
“Fine. It’s Thomas Jameson.”
“Ah, Thomas. Son of James.” She was just an expert at making herself laugh.
“Now, yours.” That laughter was contagious.
“Delilah.” She started walking up the stairs.
“Delilah?” He followed.
“Silas. Delilah Silas.”
“Should I call you Adele or something?”
“No,” she took a last look back at him, her hand on the door. She pushed it open and the light came flooding in. “Just Li. Spelled L-I, like Pi.”
“Alright, Delilah-Li like Pi.” And they walked out together into the crowd of music and smoke.
“You got into a drunk fight,” Tom said, buttoning up a fresh shirt.
“Really?” Ken was putting on a belt into the loops of black jeans.
“No. Someone was about to give you head in the ladies bathroom when you peed on her face, then you puked into the toilet. Had to clean you off and drag your ass back out, sat you down with the boys. I left you there to get you some lemonade or whatever, when I got back, there was this girl sleeping on the floor next to you. You were using her as a footrest before you laughed so hard you rolled down next to her.”
“You’re kidding.” Ken looked up, then he searched for his memories of the night before. The color drained from his face, “no you’re not.”
“No. I’m not.”
“I’m sorry, I have to—“ Tom said, dragging Ken out of the bathroom.
“No, it’s okay. I always see you do this. It’s sweet.”
“Maybe you won’t.” A sorry kind of smile was on her face, as she nodded to him before she turned and walked away into the busier parts of the party.
“Heyyyyyyy,” Ken managed. “Do I know her?”
“You know everyone.” He wiped a bit of vomit and spittle from the corner of Ken’s mouth.
“But how’d we get to the bed, who was she and how’d you end up outside?” Ken tried to check his phone for any pictures as they waited for the elevator.
“I helped you walk to the car, I carried the girl. You were both in the back seat. It was a bad idea.” Tom wiped the sleep off the corner of his eye with his wrist.
“So we locked you out?”
“You’re a good friend like that.”
They walked to campus. There are first-first days when you’re a freshmen, then the first day of not being a freshmen. But third and fourth year first-days feel like protocol. The last-first day feels different, like the air of possibilities and the fear of them, a certain air that only the seniors communally breathe.
“It’s our time now, bro.” Ken said, before they were to attend to their different schedules.
“And if there are no rules to break, we’d make them.”