In the front seat of Emmette’s car, Ash is laughing so hard his sides as beginning to hurt. Pete is tells them the story of his ill-fated attempt to get Bridgette Carlton, the head of the yearbook committee, to remove the pictures of the rugby team streaking through the cafeteria from the athletics page.
“I even offered her a date. She turned me down!” Pete’s huff of indignation is audible over the pounding music.
“You thought she would do what you wanted in exchange for a pity date?” Ash raises an eyebrow. “And you’re really wondering why she wouldn’t?”
“But, she’s a butter face! She can’t expect to do better.”
“Please, please tell me, you didn’t say that to her!” Emmette wipes a tear from his eye.
“Well yeah. What’s wrong with that?”
“Oh Pete, you better hope there aren’t any frontal shots of you. They’ll totally be making a cameo in the yearbook.” Ash presses a hand against his aching side.
“Sometimes you are the definition of idiotic.” Emmette shakes his head, and parks the car. “We’re here.”
“Frasier’s house?” Ash looks at the brick house they’ve parked in front of. “This is the big plan to get me over Brooke?”
“I hope you brought your money and your b-game, cause I fully intend to take all your cash tonight.”
“Ah, poker. Excellent.” Cracking his knuckles, Ash pushes open the door and hits the button to flip the seat forward to let Pete out. Across the street, he notices a couple silhouetted in a pool of porch light. Their body language conjures up an unexpected image of Sullie. A smile spreads across his face as he finally lets go of the tension he’s been carrying around all week. The sound of gentle laughter travels from the porch as Emmette turns off the car, killing the music. Ash’s intuition kicks in, jarring something unsettling in him. He tries to see through the deep shadows created by the porch light, but he can’t make out any features. The laugh is so familiar, but his mind refuses to place it. As the two figures disappear into the house, Ash remains glued to the spot, watching the now empty porch of the little yellow house.
“Hey, snap out of it.” Emmette punches him in the arm. “I don’t want to take your money because you’re actually off your game.”
Ash shakes off the uneasy feeling “You say that like you’ve actually taken my money in a game before. Ever.”
“You never know.”
“Uh, yeah, I do.”
“Jackass.” Turning away, Emmette flips his middle finger up over his shoulder as he heads up the front steps.
“Prove me wrong, man. Prove me wrong” Ash shrugs, thumping his best friend’s arm as they push their way into Frasier’s basement. Settling around the poker table set up on the far side of the room, they all throw money onto the table. As Pete begins counting out the chips, Frasier makes his way behind the bar. Grabbing four beers, he passes them to Emmette before setting out four shot glasses. He fills them each with tequila and hot sauce.
“What’s this?” Ash raises an eyebrow suspiciously as Frasier sets one of the glasses in front of him.
Emmette raises his shot glass towards Ash. “You want a night without thinking about Brooke, right? This is how we start.”
“Can you think of a better way?”
For a second, Ash’s mind once again flashes to Sullie before he shakes his head. “Bottoms up.” With a toss of their heads, they drain the shots. Ash chases the vile taste with a long pull from his beer bottle. “Let’s get down to it then.”
Pete grabs the deck of cards. The sound of paper edges clapping together fills the room. The cards travel silently across the smooth felt of the table. Ash quickly scans the table. Seeing Emmette’s lip pull in at the left corner, he knows his friend has a good hand. Looking quickly at the two face cards sitting in front of him, he tosses in his chips. Minutes later, he pulls the pile of chips towards himself. Smiling, he settles in for what promises to be a good night.
Several hours later, after more than several bottles of beer and even more shots, Ash has the largest pile of chips in front of him. Pete flips through the few chips left sitting in front of him after his second buy-in. Looking at his cards again, he sighs “Fuck it, I’m all in.”
“Alright.” Emmette matches the chips. Followed by Ash.
“Two pair, aces and threes.”
“Shit. Two pair. Jacks high.” Pete sighs
“Full house.” Ash grins lopsidedly, leaning forward to pull the chips towards him once again.
“Screw you, Ash.” Pete slurs, leaning back in his chair. “You’re a machine. I’m out.” Pushing back from the table, he heads behind the bar. He pulls open several drawers before leaning against the top.
“Fraise, lemon slices?”
“Kitchen.” Frasier peeks at the cards in front of him, “I’ll go get them after this hand.”
“It’s not like I have anything better to do.” Stumbling a little around the edge of the bar, Pete heads to the stairs.
“Dude, be careful.” Ash laughs as Pete bumps into the wall. Flipping him the finger, Pete disappears up the stairs. “Man, he is wasted.”
“And you’re not?”
“We will find out when I stand up.” He tosses his cards into the centre of the table. “I fold.” Tilting back his bottle, the final drizzle of warming beer fills his mouth. Ash feels the wave of dizziness hit him as he pushes himself into a standing position. “Yup, drunk.” Behind the bar, he slides down to the floor beside the fridge, taking a minute to regain control of his motor functions. The distinct sound of female laughter filters down the stairs as he twists the cap off a fresh beer and leans his head against his knees.
“Look who I found.” Pete announces as he comes around the corner.
“Hey, Jay. I thought you were over at Monica’s tonight?” Frasier’s voice sounds edgy as he greets his sister.
“We were, but then her mom came home and kicked us out.”
“She’s totally bitchy these days.” Monica sighs.
“She totally is! She freaked when she saw the vodka bottle.” Brooke’s voice rings in his ears, recognizable even from his spot hidden behind the bar.
Ash’s hand freezes. Bottle halfway to his mouth. His lips, expecting the cool touch of glass, parted in an awkward waiting motion. His stomach clenching as if a fist is digging its way through him. Ash stands to see Emmette’s head flip between the leggy red head and the bar behind the girls.
“You can’t be here.” Emmette’s voice leaves no room for argument. He gets one anyway.
“You don’t live here. You can’t say.” Brooke replies in her typical petulant fashion.
“I can.” Frasier pushes himself back from the table. “You can’t be here.”
“Frasier!” Jamie steps towards him, “You can’t kick my friend’s out. It’s my house too!” She sees his eyes flash towards the bar. Following his gaze, she sees Ash standing behind it. “Shit,” she whispers, “Sorry. I guess we can go upstairs. We’ve got nowhere else to go.”
“Don’t worry about it, Jay. I’m leaving.” Ash feels his body move into action automatically. He heads towards the stairs. His feet already on the first step before anyone can say anything.
“Ash, wait!” Frasier calls, standing to follow him.
“I’ll go.” Emmette pushes past Brooke, purposefully bumping into her. Hard. By the time he gets upstairs, Ash is already sitting on the front step, pulling on his shoes. “Dude, I am so, so sorry. I promised you this wouldn’t happen. Guaranteed it. I had no idea Jamie and Brooke were hanging out again. They’ve been on the outs since last year.”
“I didn’t know either.” Ash pulls the laces of his shoes tight.
“Come back in. We’ll get rid of them.”
“I’m just going to head home. I need to not be here.”
“How are you going to get there?”
“It’s like a million blocks.”
“It’ll only take an hour on the trails.”
“Let me call you a cab.”
“I just need to go, Em.” Pushing himself up from the steps, he heads towards the street.
“At least take your beer. It’s almost full.” Emmette holds out the bottle.
“You’re always looking out for me, man.” Taking the frosty glass in his hand, Ash heads to the street. He steps off the curb, heading towards the woods at the end of the block. As he passes the little house down the street, he remembers the odd feeling he’d had earlier in the night. Under the influence of too much alcohol, he heads towards the house, inhibitions gone.
Stepping up to the window, he finds a gap in the curtains and peeks through. Across the room, he sees a girl straddling someone’s lap. Large tanned hands stand out against the white fabric of her shirt. Sliding up to wrap themselves in her long black curls. Ash’s breath catches in his chest. Penelope’s hair. Suddenly, he doesn’t know how that laugh hadn’t immediately registered. Shifting his position, he tries to see the guy whose lap his sister is on. He give silent thanks that they’re fully clothed.
She laughs as the guy wraps his arms around her, and pulls her into his chest. Swinging her hair to the side, Penelope buries her face into his neck. Ash feels his body stiffen as he sees the smiling face come into view. His brain tries to reconcile the image of his teacher, standing at the front of the room assigning the best criminology project he’s ever had with this guy whose hands are now all over his sister.
The alcohol flooding through his blood pushes him towards the door, egging him on to bust through and kick the crap out of the sick bastard. The sober part of him, hiding in the back of his mind, yells at him to talk to Penelope first. Taking a long drink from the bottle in his hand, he backs away from the house, trying to restrain himself. He stops, staring back at the sliver of light through the curtains. Before he can talk himself out of it, the bottle is flying out of his hand. He watches as it shatters against the large front window. The noise sounds like an explosion in the quiet neighbourhood. Ash runs to the end of the street where he disappears down the trail into the trees, sprinting to the safety of his bedroom.
***** ***** *****
Penelope waits on the couch in the living room while Gil orders a pizza from the kitchen phone. Flipping through the channels mindlessly, she stops on a local station replaying footage from the previous week’s lacrosse game. Her mind drifts back to Gil’s bedroom: the sensation of his fingers against her skin; his lips against hers; the weight of his body. Her eyes close as she feels the fluttering begin in the pit of her stomach.
“Sleeping?” The cushions shift as Gil settles onto the couch.
“Nope. Remembering.” She leans into his side as his arm wraps around her shoulder. She drinks in his smell, committing it to memory. She opens her eyes as she hears the television change from sports to news. Reaching for the remote, she moves to change the channel.
“My house. My choice.” He pulls the remote from her fingertips. Flashbulbs explode on the screen around the image of people walking into a courthouse. A perky brunette stands in front of the camera.
“What’d that guy do?” She leans into Gil’s side.
“Beat his wife to death and left his kids alone with the body for three days before someone found them.” Gil watches the television intently. “If I’m here long enough, I might try to work these kind of cases into your brother’s criminology class.”
“He really did those things? He’s kind of good looking.” Penelope tilts her head towards the picture of the dark haired, dark eyed man staring out from the tv.
“You think so?”
“I guess he’s kind of my type.” She grins up at him, running her fingers through his hair. “I’m surprised though. I guess I just never thought someone that awful could be attractive. Aren’t they all like wacked out freaks or something? Tweaking on meth and stuff.”
“I think maybe you need to take my criminology class.” He shakes his head before hitting the power button for the tv.
“No thanks. I get enough of that crap from Sullivan.”
“Sullivan? You’re friends?”
“Super close. She’s totally into all that true crime stuff. She sees all these patterns that other people don’t notice. Or at least that I don’t notice. I tune her out. She is in your crim class, so you could always just ask her.”
“I know she is.” He pulls her onto his lap. “You know the rules. No talking about school. It’s your stupid rule.”
“What would you like to talk about instead?” She adjusts her legs to straddle his lap.
“Who wants to talk?” His warm lips press against hers. The roughness of his cheek grates pleasantly against her skin. His hands slide up her back, into her hair. She pushes her fingers under his t-shirt.
“The pizza will be here shortly.” He whispers against her lips.
She sighs, pulling back from him. “But I’m so not thinking about food right now.” She whines playfully, burying her face in his neck.
“We’ve got all night,”
An explosion erupts from the other side of the room. The noise so loud it drives them both off the couch. Gil dives towards the floor, throwing Penelope from his lap as he goes.
“What the fuck?” He looks around the room, trying to find the source. Moving to the window, he cautiously pulls back the curtain. Barely an inch. Just enough to see that there is no damage. Just liquid dripping down the glass. Gil leaves the house, shuffling cautiously under the front window. He finds broken pieces of a beer bottle on the windowsill and the ground below. He runs out to the street, looking for the culprit. Seeing no one, he heads back to the porch, puts an arm around Penelope’s waist and leads her back into the house. “Someone threw a beer bottle.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Must have been random. No one knows I live here.” He shrugs. Closing the door behind them, they head back into the living room. Penelope’s arms still crossed over her chest. “Are you okay?” He rubs her arms with his hands.
“Yeah. It just… scared me I guess. I mean we’re talking about murder and crime and stuff, and then that happens. I hate all that stuff. It always freaks me out.” She waves a hand towards the window, smiling unconvincingly. “Seriously, I’ll be okay.” A loud knock sounds from the door, making her jump again.
“Stay here.” His voice quiet. He edges carefully towards the window to peek behind the curtain. Laughing, he turns back to her “It’s the pizza guy. Go back to the living room.” A few minutes later, they’re settling onto the couch again. The pizza box open on the coffee table. Sauntering over to the window, Gil peers out into the dark before pulling the curtains tight.
“I’d rather kick your ass at something fighty.” Penelope jerks her chin towards the wall of gaming equipment.
“You think you have a chance?”
“I never lose. I’m a button mashing savant.” She cracks her knuckles before grabbing a piece of pizza and taking a huge bite. She smiles around her mouthful of food. “You pick. I’ll win.”
“You are so on.” He tosses a controller onto the couch beside her. “Wipe your hands before you touch that.”