Authors: August Clearwing
The decision on my attire made, I curled my hair into loose ringlets, applied just a slight dab of warm eye shadow and, instead of lipstick, chose a pale pink lip gloss. Not too formal, right?
“Bye Cocoa,” I called to my cat as I plucked my short heels from the shoe rack in the entryway. She mewled at me from the kitchen counter, and I was off, bottle of Stoli in hand.
Anya won the house in the divorce. While not massive by any stretch of the imagination, it was still too large for one woman to live in by herself. The house contained four rooms on a single floor. Three of them should have been filled with bouncing baby
but never were. Thank God for that. Her messy separation nearly destroyed her as it was without adding a custody battle into the mix.
When it came to Anya’s parties, it was better if one arrived fashionably late. Most of the time everyone already found their cliques for the night by that point and I could wander, unnoticed, for an hour or so before sneaking away. Introverts, as a rule, suck at parties.
I pulled up at the curb several houses down because Anya’s driveway already overflowed with cars. I counted eleven in all, but since she lived at the corner, more were parked around the other side, I was sure of it. The cars poured into the street, leaving little room for neighbors to slip between. By the time I crossed the yard I could hear the riot inside. It was only half past seven. I wondered how the drinking could have gotten so rowdy in just thirty minutes.
The spring breeze brought in a few scattered showers. A light mist drizzled over the neighborhood while thunder echoed far away.
Not that they would’ve been able to hear it, but I knocked on the door. It was immediately flung open, and I was greeted with the wide, uninhibited smile of an old college buddy, Declan. He gasped and jerked forward to give me a bear hug. I clutched the bottle of Stoli like it was a life raft. A highly breakable life raft, but still a fucking life raft all the same.
Declan was large and strong, full of muscle with tattoos and a buzz cut to match. A self-proclaimed mulatto—seriously, his words, not mine—as his mother was second-generation Columbian-American, and his great-grandparents on his father’s side came from Cornwall, he wore the moniker with pride. He also happened to be the nicest frat brother I ever met. There was nothing fake about Declan. He said what he meant, and he meant what he said. It mostly consisted of nothing but fantastic things about everyone he ran across. At one time
really wanted to hook up with him. As most things go, though, I was too scared to make that leap. I think my field of study intimidated him. I know his sheer size frightened the shit out of me. I was afraid he’d break me if we ever slept together.
“I FOUND A PIPER,” he announced a little too close to my ear. He rocked me back and forth in his arms.
Somewhere in the background I heard Anya and a couple of others cheer at my arrival over the rhythms of Zeppelin.
“Got started early tonight did you?” I gasped. He was already drunk because he still didn’t let me go. In fact, he squeezed harder. “Declan.
He released me and stood there for a moment to get his vision straight. “I’m so fucking happy you’re here, lady. Bitches
crazy.” He waved his finger in a circle around his ear to drive the point home.
I held up the bottle of vodka. “Then it’s a good thing I brought reinforcements.”
He took the bottle with such gentle love that I thought he would make out with it right there. “
, Piper, liquid panty remover. You shouldn’t have.”
“Go easy on it. Sixty bucks a bottle,” I warned.
Declan gave a long whistle, an indication that he would be the one dishing out the servings to stretch the bottle out as far as possible. He led me into the house and shut the door. He never needed liquid panty remover; he was a smooth cat all by his lonesome. Taking the edge off did no harm, however.
Polished hard wood made for loud footsteps. Thirty or so people congregated in the living room, most of whom I never met before. I searched with frantic intent for Anya or someone other than Declan to take refuge behind. I liked Declan, but the last thing I wanted to do was be a hindrance to his next conquest. If I clung to him all night then his chances of getting laid were slim to none.
Finally, Anya made herself known. She waved me over to the sofa, content to keep her current spot. When I approached, she stood up. A gray pencil skirt accented her long legs. It complimented the blue of her halter top blouse. It served to embellish her large breasts, which she constantly flaunted now that she was a free woman.
We exchanged a hug, and she handed her drink to me. “Here, I just got a refill, so it’s fresh.”
I smiled wryly, not at all expecting to finish off this drink by the end of the night. “One drink, then I really should head out.”
“No you don’t,” she insisted. “You’re staying and that’s final. You missed my big speech about how incredible it is to be single and how much relationships suck, so you have to do this for me.”
For the record, Anya was over exaggerating. She loved relationships. This most recent one just happened to suck. She would bounce back in no time.
Declan was beside us again. He handed a fresh glass to Anya and held his own up to toast. “To bros before hoes,” he said with a winning smile. He added, “With the understanding that you’re both honorary bros.”
“Bros before hoes,” I agreed.
,” said Anya.
We toasted and knocked back a good portion of our drinks.
“Piper, will you be my wing woman tonight?” Declan asked.
I furrowed my brow. “Why do you need my help?”
“Didn’t you get my memo at the door?” He looked around to make sure no one else was within earshot,
he lowered his voice a little more. “Bitches
crazy. I may require some talking-up.”
Anya laughed, “Isn’t there some very clear rule about not sticking your dick in crazy?”
Declan stood straight again. Damn him for being so tall. He practically towered over us. “It’s more of a guideline, really. Plus, I’m a masochist. The crazy ones are always the best in bed.”
“All right,” I agreed. I finished off the drink in my hand and held it out to him. “Hit me. I’ll go round you up a girl.”
The two exchanged a subtle expression of alarm. Here I was, the most introverted person I knew, going to talk up a girl for the most extroverted person I knew. To be honest, I was pretty alarmed myself.
No sooner did I locate an acquaintance, Sarah, than Declan swooped in for the handoff. I thought briefly about pulling the
How I Met Your Mother
line, “Have you met Ted?” but Sarah was
to be reckoned with. She rarely watched television of any sort, and the reference would be lost on her.
Instead, I started with small talk—really small talk—which grew into asking her if she knew anyone here. Thanks
to God she didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Declan before that night. So, when Declan leaned up on the kitchen bar with a mischievous grin, I was able to slide him into the conversation and leave them alone to their own devices.
From there I mingled. I actually mingled. I was shocked. Two glasses of what I thought was Jack and Coke later, I felt the slightest of buzzes creep up on me.
Under ordinary circumstances,
my face would be buried in the sofa by now. I held my own tonight, and I was glad I did.
The hours wore on, and the guests slowly trickled out to their cars. Out on the back porch, I nursed my drink and lit up a cigarette while I watched the water in the pool lap against the edges. It rained on and off for a while. The nice buzz I had going coupled with the drizzle to relax me.
“Do you have a lighter I can borrow,” a male voice requested from behind me. I spun around to see who was asking.
He couldn’t have been too much older than me, maybe twenty eight on the high end, with straight black hair that sort of feathered itself down across his forehead and around his ears. His hazel eyes were bright and welcoming. Even the light, scattered freckles across his cheeks were attractive. They gave him a splash of boyish charm. He also followed Anya’s rules about parties; he wore a black and red button down which he kept unbuttoned over a black undershirt that could have been just a tad small for his slender, toned frame. I glimpsed the outline of his
through the fabric. His blue jeans came pre-torn in strategic, flattering places.
Once I took in the bit of eye candy beside me, I fished through my clutch purse for my Zippo and passed it to him. “Yeah, no problem, here you go.”
“Thanks.” He flicked it open, lit the cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, and took a long drag from it before passing the lighter back to me.
I glanced around the back porch. No one else was around. I made out the time on the wall clock in the kitchen through the sliding glass door. It read 12:47. The living room and kitchen looked barer by the minute as everyone either claimed a back room or was dragged from the party by their designated driver. I should have been among the crowd that left long ago.
“How do you know Anya?” I asked the stranger absently.
“Oh, I don’t, not really.
More of an acquaintance.
I’m here with Declan. Someone has to keep an eye on him. That’s not weird, is it?
I kind of feel like I’m crashing the party.”
“Not weird at all. I only recognize a handful of people too. And I may have undone all of your hard work tonight by introducing him to a girl.”
He laughed and flicked some ash from his cigarette off the back porch. “So, you’re the one to blame for him ditching me.”
I shrank back toward the house a bit.
Sorry. He asked me to.”
“It’s hard to say no to that man when he asks you for something,” he agreed with a smile. Then he pointed to my glass. “What are you drinking?”
I looked at the brownish red liquid swimming in the ice. “Jack and Coke… I think?”
He motioned for a sip to test it. I handed him the glass.
“Nope, that’s Sailor Jerry.”
“Rum,” I sighed and accepted the drink back. “That explains a lot. By the way, I’m Piper.” Having decided to at least attempt to meet people, I offered my hand out to shake.
He was about to introduce himself, but then his sights were glued on the events unfolding in the living room through the large bay windows behind me. “Fuck me running,” he breathed out the words more than spoke them.
I turned to see what he was referring to. Most of the guests meandered away from the party by this point, and the living room consisted of seven people; Anya, Declan, and Sarah, the girl I thrust onto Declan earlier that night, were among them. They all gathered into a circle around the coffee table.
“Excuse me a second.” He snuffed his cigarette and placed his glass on the table beside us before walking briskly to the sliding glass door. I couldn’t hear much of the conversation above muffled voices, but watched inaudible dialogue through the glass between him and Declan for a minute before he returned.
“Is everything okay in there?”
He took his drink from the table and bobbed his head towards the doors. “Probably not, but we should be in there anyway.”
For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what he meant. I followed him back into the house, securing the door behind me. “What’s going on?”
Anya called. Everyone around her mimicked her, calling my name out in another round. Somehow my name had become a universal greeting for the night.
“Are you playing?” Declan asked. He was busy fishing my bottle of Stoli from the freezer. I was surprised to find it was more full than not, though I had a sinking suspicion it wouldn’t be full for long.
“What are we playing?” I asked, taking a cautious step forward.
The man with whom I was speaking a few moments ago just shook his head and mouthed a silent “No” at me.
Declan rounded the corner of the kitchen and clapped him on his back. “Don’t puss out on me now, Noah.”
Noah. So, that was his name.
Handsome, charming guy.
Equally handsome, charming name.
Declan uncapped the bottle of Stoli and placed it delicately on the glass top of the coffee table. He explained, “We are playing a game called Never Have I Ever.”
Noah’s head dropped.
“Bad idea, man.”
“Why? It’s just a game,” I said. I slipped between the sofa and loveseat to sit on the floor in front of the coffee table. To make myself seem braver than I actually was, I added, “I’m in.”
Holy shit, the drinking loosened me up well tonight. The normal Piper would never agree to play a game she didn’t even know the rules to.
Anya laughed, “That’s the spirit! Live a little, my dearest nerd!”
Noah spun a wooden chair from the dining room around on one leg and sat across from me and beside Declan. He rested his glass on the coffee table and motioned for it to be filled. As Declan grinned and poured him a glass Noah said, “Fair warning to all of those involved: this game usually leads to most participants getting naked.”