I told Kenny that tonight was too special to spend crushed in a crowd. Though to his credit, I was now smiling as my knees dug into my chest in the back seat of a hatchback.
‘I think we should go that way!’ I yelled over the blaring music. ‘Looks safer.’
‘Stop being so scared,’ Kenny said. ‘The bumps make it fun.’
I shrugged and stuffed myself back in my seat. My shoulders were squeezed together by my other friends getting a head start on tonight’s drinking. Kenny rattled the car down the uneven path, causing someone to spill their drink on me.
‘If you crash my car, I’ll kill you,’ Amy said from the front passenger seat.
‘I know what I’m doing,’ Kenny said. ‘That’s why I’m driving and you’re not.’
‘Dick,’ she said, rolling her eyes and reaching her empty cup into the back seat. ‘Refill me.’
It was hard to tell who filled her cup, as I was still busy trying to find a comfortable position in the cramped back seat. She tilted her full cup at me.
‘Yeah, but not yet though,’ I said, shaking my hand towards the cup.
‘Alright, well don’t feel like you’re pressured to.’
She sat back down, making sure to accidentally elbow Kenny in the back of the head on the way.
‘Real mature,’ he said in response.
She ignored him.
‘I’m glad we have an excuse to go out. Work’s been killing me.’
We pulled into the parking lot of the club as a crowd was bottlenecking inside. Kenny parked right underneath the fuzzy neon sign, covering us in a magenta hue. I walked up to the bouncer at the door and proudly flashed my ID for the first time. He squinted at the D.O.B. section.
‘Happy birthday, kid.’ The bouncer unleashed the stained red rope to let us in. My stomach churned with a feeling that I dismissed as excitement as we descended into the neon blackness beyond the chipped door frame. I slowly walked into the club and could just make out bobbing heads, each with a glass of oil-coloured liquid spilling onto the illusory floor.
‘See, this is so much better than staying at home, kid,’ Kenny said. ‘Now get in there already!’ He shoved me into the crowd.
‘Kenny, you idiot!’ Amy said as she plucked me out of the crowd by the back of my hoodie. ‘We’re here to look after him.’
‘He’s not going to have any fun if you keep babying him.’
The rest of the group and I watched them as they argued back and forth. They all looked so tall, Kenny especially.
‘I don’t know why I still hang out with you!’ Amy said before tightly grabbing my wrist and leading me to the bar. I watched her golden hair fall over her stunning, porcelain face as we walked through the crowd.
When we got to the sticky hickory bar, she asked what drink I wanted.
‘What’s the best one?’
‘It’s alcohol. There’s no wrong answer.’
‘Well, when I remember my dad, he’s always drinking a tiger beer.’
As I described the drink, her face screwed up and she shook her head.
‘I’ll just get whatever you’re having,’ I said.
‘Great. You’ll love it.’ She turned to the bartender and ordered two Fireball shots and two Appletini’s. By the time the drinks arrived, Kenny had made his way to us and exchanged glares with Amy. They both turned to me and eagerly waited for me to take my first shot.
‘Remember, only if you want to,’ Amy said. I shifted my sight from the glass to their bulbous, expecting eyes. I put the glass to my lips and the back of my tongue thrashed as I muscled the hot liquid down. A spicy clinical aftertaste wafted out of my mouth, wringing tears from my eyes. Kenny and Amy cheered while I tried to hide my discomfort through splutters. Amy downed her shot and picked up her Appletini, Kenny gesturing to mine.
‘You going to drink that?’
‘I think I’ll take a little break,’ I mustered through boiling breaths.
He inhaled my drink and reacted by creasing his face.
‘Good. Don’t drink Appletini’s. They’re for girls.’ I didn’t
question him, lest I start another argument. ‘Everyone else is over there,’ he said to Amy. She shot him a glare then started to head over, but stopped when she remembered me. She pouted as she looked down at me sitting at the bar, and I waved her off.
‘We’ll be over there!’ She vaguely raised her arm at a section of the club. I watched as her shimmering hair disappeared into the crowd.
Kenny caught me staring. ‘She’s trouble.’
‘Yeah,’ I said through a smile.
‘Too much trouble. You don’t want a girl like her. Trust me.’
I wiped the smile off of my face.
‘Now that you’re a man, you have to know these things.’
‘Luckily I’ve got you.’
‘Exactly,’ he said. ‘I’m going to find everybody else. Are you coming?’
‘I’ll just stay here and order another drink.’
He got up and pushed his way through the crowd, leaving me alone at the bar. The bartender slid a glass of foggy water towards me, and I happily chugged it down. She also handed me a Tiger beer.
‘It’s on me. Happy Birthday.’
I smiled and looked at the brown bottle. Its neck reminded me of the crowd pouring through the front door.
Picking up the bottle, I stood up and squeezed through the crowd following the vague directions Amy gave me. Whenever a parting in the sea of patrons presented itself, it closed just as quickly. I turned to my side and squeezed between a chest and a back, shuffling towards the enclosing walls, the only stable thing I could see. I reached a clearing and finally took a deep breath, my oesophagus singeing with each heave of air. The chanting crowd clued me into the fact that the clearing was actually a dance circle, and I was in the middle of it. I could only move my eyes as I scanned from right-to-left, the pupils staring back at me, expecting something. My legs shuffled instinctually backwards into the relative safety of the crowd. I stood behind backs with sweat stains like ink blots and watched over their shoulders as the dance circle continue without me. The movements of the dancers in the middle caught my attention. Their spontaneous, unrestrained dance was highlighted by a clear white spotlight hanging overhead. The tips of my toes were straining as I peeked over shoulders and under swampy armpits, capturing glimpses of their light. The moment was brief as the crowd quickly filled the circle, and with it, I lost my breath.
My arm was outstretched as I waded through the crowd, looking for the wall. I felt my breath return as I clung to it. My hand traced it as I walked through the neon basement, struggling to find my friends, seeing only blurry faces. The surface under my palm changed. It was the door to the men’s room. I squeezed my way inside for a break from the stampede. Now that I was alone, I could smell the thick stench of sweat that covered me. I turned on the tap and tilted my head underneath it, lapping up the foamy water. Sitting on a closed toilet in an empty stall, I rolled the bottle of beer around in my sticky palms. The back of the stall door was caked in crusty gum and crude graffiti.
Eventually, the crowd hushed, so I left the bathroom and saw that everyone had packed it in for the night. I looked over the littered floor and at the slumped bodies in the tacky leather booths. I recognised two of them as Amy and Kenny. He was trying to carry her outside, but could barely walk himself. I looked at the brown bottle in my hand and put it down on the bar, still full. All of our other friends had left, so I asked one of the bouncers to help take my remaining friends to Amy’s car. They both slurred their gratitude as we put them into the back seat. I fished through their pockets for Amy’s car keys and Kenny’s credit card and went back into the club to pay the tab.
As I emerged from the club, thick raindrops turned a foggy purple by the buzzing neon sign pelted my scalp. I avoided the glassy curacao puddles on my way back to my friends and noticed the car was rocking a little. As I climbed into the driver’s seat, I looked in the rear-view mirror. Amy was buttoning her shirt back up, and Kenny was wiping his mouth with his forearm. I handed him his card back and told him how much tonight costed, which he either didn’t or couldn’t care about.
‘You shouldn’t drive,’ he slurred. ‘I’ll do it.’ He tried crawling into my seat, and I put my hand on his chest.
‘Sit back down,’ I said. ‘I’m driving.’
I turned the key and the engine jolted awake.
‘Fine,’ he said, his lips ringed by fresh stains of lipstick.
Purple raindrops coated the windscreen in a thick wet blanket that I could barely see through. The sheet of rain reflected my face back at me. I stared at it, half-painted magenta by the sign.
‘You good?’ Kenny said.
‘Trust me kid, you’re drunk from that shot. Give me the wheel, I can drive.’
‘No, you can’t!’ I slammed my hand on the wheel. ‘I’m driving now.’
I turned on the wipers and pulled out of the lot. The slick crackle of chipped gravel under the tires was made louder by our silence. Kenny huffed and slouched in his seat. No-one made a noise after that apart from the warm hum of the engine and the creak of the wipers. Amy laid across the middle seat with her eyes closed, while Kenny rested his head on the window. Our eyes locked through the rear-view mirror. The streetlights looked blurry as they flashed in his wet irises. He looked away and stared out of the window the rest of the ride. I pulled up outside of his house, and we silently walked to his front door with our jackets spread over our heads.
‘Hey,’ he opened his door then stopped. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘No, I am. I was an ass tonight.’
‘I didn’t notice.’
‘Yes you did. Even if you were hiding the whole night.’
‘Yeah. I just don’t think this is my scene.’
‘That’s alright,’ he smiled. ‘Thanks for looking after us, by the way.’
‘You’re…’ he paused slightly. ‘You’re a good man.’
‘Goodnight,’ I nodded with a smile.
We stood outside his door, covered in the fresh white porchlight before he patted my arm and walked into his unit.
When I got back to the car, Amy still had her eyes closed. I gently shook her shoulder, and she woke up.
‘Are you ok?’ I asked.
‘Oh Jesus,’ she groaned. ‘Where are we?’
‘Kenny’s house. I just dropped him off.’
‘Kenny.’ Her breath was sharp. ‘I kissed him, didn’t I?’
‘I think so.’
She palmed her forehead.
‘I’m such an idiot. He’ll never let me hear the end of this.’
‘It’ll be alright. He’s a good guy.’
I got into the driver’s seat and asked where she wanted to be dropped off.
‘My house. It’s not far.’
I turned the car lights on, and they shaved a cone of white light into the mist as I drove.
Oliver North is a London-born, Australian-raised BFA Creative Writing first year. His writing meditates on the key events in our lives that have shaped our characters. He also wants to let you know that he once got thrown down the stairs at Dan Flashes.