We continue with another story from my collection 24 Exposures, which was written around the turn of the century. Some old, familiar characters pop up in this one.
Another boring Sunday night, and it was the three of them again, Kevin, Rick and Pedro, sitting around Rick’s apartment, not much to do and not much energy to do it with. Rick was the lynchpin here. He worked with Pedro and went to school with Kevin, although he was halfway to quitting the job and half a grade point from getting booted out of school. He didn’t really care at the moment. Monday was his day off from work and his first class wasn’t until two o’clock. He sat on the floor, carefully shredding and combing a fat bud in preparation for another bong load while Pedro watched intently and Kevin sat on the sofa, legs crossed, holding Rick’s giant stuffed panda in an almost inappropriate way, chattering a mile and a half a minute about nothing.
“G, it was amazing,” he said, bouncing on the couch. “You should have seen it.”
“Uh huh,” Rick muttered, not listening.
“The cops came and everything, it was classic.” He giggled in that annoying way of his, like a Catholic schoolgirl seeing her first porno, then got a very serious expression. “G, call her.”
“Man, it’s two in the morning.”
“She’ll be up. Come on, call Melinda.”
“Maybe she’ll bring her sister…” Kevin said, almost singsong.
“In your wet dreams, dude,” Rick said.
“I bet they would,” Kevin shot back, grabbing the phone off the dining room table.
“You’re a pig and you’re stupid,” Rick replied. “Here, suck on this and shut up.” He held out the results of his efforts and Kevin put down the phone, grabbing the bong and extending his hand for the lighter. “Melinda and Stacey are not some lesbian sister act. They’re nice girls. You should respect them.”
“Oh, I respect them,” Kevin said, making it sound even more obscene than he intended. “I saw Melinda’s tits once.”
“Yeah, so? I saw your mother’s tits.” Rick shot Kevin a grin, then saw the look on his face, like he almost believed that comment. “Kidding,” he added. “Sorry.”
“Don’t… don’t say stuff like that, okay?”
Jesus, Rick thought, that sure hit some weird soft spot. It was like he’d shot Kevin’s dog or something. “Hey, dude, I said I’m sorry, okay?” Rick offered. Kevin nodded and moped, head down, and then let out a choked sob.
“Shit, Kevin, I didn’t mean it, really.”
Kevin gestured vaguely and Rick and Pedro looked at each other, a little embarrassed. “Kevin…?” Rick started, but then Kevin looked up, a big shit-eating grin on his face. “Psych!” he said. “I don’t cry for nothing. Never.” Triumphantly, he picked up the bong and took a gurgling hit off of it.
“Sometimes, you’re such an asshole,” Rick said.
“I aim to please,” Kevin answered while holding in the hit, passing the bong to Pedro. Pedro took it and fired away while Rick stared at Kevin, incomprehending. Sometimes, he didn’t know why he hung out with this guy. Then he heard Pedro huffing up the smoke and remembered — Kevin did get the best weed Rick had ever had. Pedro was cool. If Kevin was King Asshole, Pedro was some kind of anti-asshole. Quiet, polite, agreeable. That got a little boring sometimes, but at least he wasn’t obnoxious. As Pedro passed the bong to Rick, Kevin finally exhaled. Rick put his mouth over the skunky tube, then looked at Kevin.
“So, when the hell did you see Stacey’s rack, anyway?”
“They’re not completely identical. We were playing truth or dare.”
“Aah, of course. And I bet the game was your idea, right?”
“Not that time, no.”
Pedro looked at Rick oddly. Rick noticed, raised an eyebrow. “Truth or dare?” Pedro asked.
“Yeah, some stupid party game for high school girls and sexually repressed college boys,” Rick explained.
“Who usually aren’t sexually repressed by the time the game is over, thank you very much,” Kevin added. He looked at Pedro, who still looked confused. “What, you’ve never played?”
“He’s not a skank like you are, Kevie,” Rick said, then put the fire in the hole and sucked away.
“It’s not a skanky game. It’s like group therapy,” Kevin explained to Pedro. “You really never played it?”
“No,” Pedro answered, shaking his head. “The girls I know aren’t like that.”
“Catholic school, is it?” Kevin laughed.
“He said aren’t like that, douchebag,” Rick barked out, holding the smoke.
“That’s right. Some of the best pussy I’ve gotten has gone to Catholic school.”
“Would that be St. Rosy Palm and the Sisters of Perpetual Motion?” Rick asked, punctuated with the proper gesture. Kevin shot him the finger, then popped off the couch and sat in front of Pedro.
“I still can’t believe you’ve never played it,” he said.
“And we’re not,” Rick said, rapping him on the shoulder and passing the bong.
“I wasn’t suggesting it, ass-wad,” he answered, grabbing the bong. “I don’t see any girls here.”
“No, just a big pussy.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
Kevin gnashed his teeth in Rick’s general direction, giggled, then took another hit. Rick turned to Pedro. “Don’t mind him, he doesn’t get out much. You okay? You’re kind of quiet tonight?”
“Fine,” Pedro said. “Very stoned, though.”
“Yes sir, I do agree,” Rick said. “This is certainly the most primo example of fine herbage you’ve yet commandeered for our personal use, Kevo.”
“Too many words, G,” Kevin said, passing the bong to Pedro, who declined and passed it to Rick. Rick took another hit, watching the other guys as he did so. Both of them were assuming the horizontal position, happily stoned floor flounder on the cheap carpet. Rick glanced at the clock. Five after two. It seemed like an hour since he’d last looked and it had been two o’clock. Time dilation had been achieved. He slowly eased the bong into position on the table, then lay down himself, staring at the ceiling, fascinated with the faint brown water spot that crept out of the wall and through the off-white cottage cheese. It had been there as long as Rick had. Longer. It would be there, no doubt, long after he’d gone.
Kevin was muttering some stoner monologue, about how there’d be no wars in the world if political struggles were settled with a game of truth or dare. “Like, I bet we’d just smear Fidel Castro in one move. ‘Okay, G, I dare you. Shave your beard.’ He wouldn’t do it, game over.” He laughed again. Rick flinched at the sound, which seemed to echo off the ceiling. It really was a puerile, girly giggle, an involuntary burst that always sounded like Kevin had just been gang tickled by a flock of animate feather dusters.
“Oh, you’re not Cuban or nothing, are you, Pedro?” Kevin asked, Rick flinching anew at that question.
“I was born in Pacoima,” Pedro answered.
“Truth,” Kevin spouted. The response was silence, which Rick knew was the most frustrating thing in the world to him. “I said, ‘truth,’“ Kevin continued.
“We’re not playing,” Rick said.
“I’m bored,” Kevin whined. “Anyway, it’s a drinking game.”
“It is not,” Rick shot back.
“It can be,” Kevin explained. “Anything can be a drinking game.”
“I like drinking games,” Pedro offered from somewhere across the carpet. “None of us’s got to do anything in the morning.”
“Let me get the drinks,” Kevin heaved himself up from the floor and stumbled off to the kitchen.
Rick turned his head, found his nose an inch from Pedro’s right ear. “Now you’ve done it,” he said.
“What?” Pedro asked, turning his head, eyes almost crossing to focus.
“I’ve seen him do this before, he’s always the first one to start this and the first one to back out of anything mildly embarrassing.”
“Yeah, but like he said, no girls here. How bad could it get?”
“You don’t know Kevin,” Rick sighed. Kevin was an instigator, the kind of person who took passive-aggressive glee in giving a group the right nudge, then watching all their neuroses and problems play out on each other while he sat back, always seemingly immune to it all. He had the annoying ability to fade away in a crowd when the sparks started flying, Mr. Innocent in the corner, never connected to the trouble he caused once things got rolling. Rick had no doubt that Kevin had seen Stacey, or Melinda, or whoever’s tits at a party, but he also had no doubt that he hadn’t had to make that demand to get his wish. Just a little clever manipulation of some other poor, dumb schmuck who wanted a peek — toss a few offhand comments into a brain already set on purée, and the resulting cocktail was Kevin’s recipe, someone else’s hemlock.
Why did people seem to like him? That was what Rick didn’t get. But hell, half the time, he liked Kevin, or put up with him, at least. It had to be that face. Not that he was cute. No, it was that he looked innocent and harmless, like an altar boy suddenly thrust into an adult body. No, not thrust. Stretched. He was tall and skinny, and you’d find bigger muscles in a bucket of KFC, although it was a toss-up between man and chicken which one was more deeply fried.
Anyway, no matter how annoying he got, telling him off would have been like punching a kitten.
Kevin came back with the Tequila — the good stuff, not the Cuervo, the putz — and three shot glasses, at least one of which still had most of the gold intact on the three Greek letters down the side. That was the only memento Rick still had from his eighteen-month freshman year at Purdue. That, and there was a faceless picture of his ass still floating around on the Internet, his souvenir to the world from his first and only Freshman Nude Olympics snow run.
But that had nothing to do with why he left.
“So,” Kevin explained, setting the glasses on the table and slopping Tequila into them, “You call truth or dare, and you have to answer honestly or do the dare, or else you drink.”
“And the point of this game is…?” Rick asked, sitting up.
“Staving off boredom,” Kevin answered simply.
Pedro dragged himself to the table and sat there waiting. Nobody said anything for a while. Finally, Pedro asked, “Who goes first?”
“I will,” Rick said. “Kevin — truth or dare?” he asked, knowing already what it would be.
“Truth,” Kevin said.
Ah, yes, always the safe way. “Okay, Kevo,” Rick said. “Are you a big fag?”
“Hell, no,” Kevin answered without hesitation. “My point, and… Rick. Truth or dare?”
“Dare,” Rick replied, defiantly.
“And the man’s got serious scrotage,” Kevin said to Pedro, thinking. “Let’s see…” Kevin’s eyes flickered around the room and he bit his lower lip. Then, he picked up the bong and passed it across the table. “Have a sip, Ricky.”
Okay, Rick thought, that didn’t take very long to get disgusting. But he wasn’t going to let Kevin get away with it tonight. He took the bong, looking Kevin right in the eye, Pedro staring in disbelief. Rick smiled, hoisted the bong in a toast and said, “Salud.” Then, he lifted it to his lips and tilted it back. God, the smell could have killed a hog, but he knew the thing was opaque enough that no one would notice he kept his lips shut. The water was cold and rancid, but none of it actually got in his mouth.
He put the bong down and coughed in half-mock disgust. Kevin’s face was motionless, mouth open and Pedro had fallen on the floor, moaning, “Oh, man. Gross.”
“My point,” Rick smiled.
“Fu-u-uck,” Kevin finally said.
“Pedro, truth or dare?”…
To be continued