There was something in the way that his shoulders slumped. Perhaps there was too much breath in his sigh, in the barely audible groan that accompanied it. His eyes, always so alive and inquisitive seemed dimmed, focused too much on the ground. Whatever it was that tipped Joanna off, she knew without Kevin saying a word that his day was too long to forget over one drink.
“Come on in. What’s wrong?” she asked, waving him in through the front door.
His voice was deep, almost slurring, but rather spilling, out of his mouth. “It’s been a long day Jo. I’m glad it’s almost over.” Kevin slumped into the overstuffed — and if she were honest, oversized — chair that she had jokingly dubbed ‘Kevin’s Chair’.
She smiled, but faintly, like a reflex. His melancholy seemed contagious. “Stay a while, tell me about it. I can put you up.”
“Again? I think that I’ve imposed enough.”
“Nonsense, friend. I’ll get you a drink.”
She had known Kevin for over a year, almost a year and a half, and in that time, she had thought of him as the closest person in her life, her best friend. There was a kinship in the way they thought, the way they reacted to the insanity of college life around them that she had come to treasure. With a practiced motion, Joanna reached up into the kitchenette cupboard where she kept her booze, pulled down the bottle of Johnny Walker and poured two plastic glasses. This too had become their “thing”, this ritual of bonding over drinks at Jo’s little rent house near campus.
She offered him the cup without a word, passing by his chair towards her usual spot on the couch. Her hand dared to linger on the back of the chair but before thought could register, she had already plunked herself down.
His hands wrapped around the glass. His fingers, long and delicate, gripped the bottom as he lifted the cup a slight bit, and he took a sip, wincing as the taste bit his mouth.
“So what?” Kevin didn’t look up from his drink. “It was a bad day. You were here for most of it.”
“Yes, but I wasn’t around the day before, or the day before that. What’s wrong?”
Now he lifted his head. “What would you say if I told you I didn’t wanted to talk about it?”
Joanna looked at his slender frame hunched over his drink. Kevin ran on a religious basis, and she personally felt there was nothing to him. “I’d think you’re trying to be cute but failing. Get on with it, Kevin.”
“Whatever’s wrong, buddy.” She shrugged, retreating towards practiced faux indifference.
Kevin smiled and took another drink. “This is good.”
“Uh huh. Get on with it.”
“I was just thanking you…” Her blank stare returned his impish grin. “Okay. I just, I just had a long day at work, and between that and my midterms, I’ve been running on lack of sleep for a while.”
“Uh huh.” Joanna had found that being silent was a great way to get people to talk. It seemed that Kevin had more to say, anyway.
He smiled, shaking his head. “I mean, it’s been tough, you know? My teacher’s a prick and it’s hard to study in the house. What can I say?” Silence. “I mean, I just, I’m just having a hard time sticking with the frat. They mean well, but you know how frat boys are.”
Joanna tried not to smile. There it was. “Like, what’s so hard about living in the frat? I thought you liked those guys.”
“I do, but sometimes you need a break, you know?”
“Awww, too much beer bonging for wittle bitty Kevin?” she laughed.
“Hey, I only did that once, and…”
“Mm hmm, and you puked on my shoes,” she said, punctuating with a sip.
“I cleaned them up,” he protested.
“Honey, nothing could have saved those things.”
“Well, what about the time you barfed on the frat president?”
Joanna bit her lower lip. She hated reliving that particular night, but she knew she’d never hear the end of it. “Anyway.”
Kevin’s smile was wide. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
She took a long sip. Jo had spent so much time with Kevin’s frat that the life-style of drinking all night and paying all day after had become a staple in her life. Even now, all alone with the one person she called a best friend, their ritual of drinking wouldn’t end with just a chat over one pour of scotch. She stared the dusk trickling in through her shades, the light dancing on the bottles by the window, making rainbow hues on the crystal and glass. Did it really matter? They were young and in school, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?
Kevin spoke again. “I think its just all of what Cullen was saying the other night. I know he was drunk, but it just stuck in my mind.”
Right, silence. Listening. “What was that?”
He leaned forward again. Had he leaned back? His rail thin features just didn’t look right all bunched up like that. “Well, we were talking about Avery’s girlfriend back home, and everyone got to talking. You know how those guys are.”
“Ah yes,” she clicked her tongue. “Did all their endless bragging about their make-believe sex lives get on your nerves finally?”
He laughed. “Heh, no. In fact they started talking about me.”
“Well, they thought I should… they were saying all about I’m always hanging out, but I never really… well, anyway, they just thought I needed to find a girlfriend, but I’m just too busy.”
Joanna felt each word form clearly in her mouth. “Perhaps you should find some girl to get lucky with for a while.”
Kevin looked her funny. “You too?” He shook his head. “Nah, I’ve got too much work to do, too many classes to worry about that.”
Joanna took another sip. The scotch suddenly didn’t agree with her for some reason, but she continued. “So? I’m not saying you should go get married or anything. Just, ya know, find some frat-mat to shack up with for while.” She arched an eyebrow, proud of her ability to do it so dramatically. “Might do you some good.”
“I can’t believe you’re saying this. This what I’ve been sick of hearing it all last night.”
“Ever think those guys might be right? I know it’s pretty hard to see, but maybe those meatheads are on to something.”
He finished off his cup. “I need another drink.”
“I’ll get it,” Joanna said as she sprung to her feet towards the kitchenette. “I want to hear about this, though. Don’t you think it’d be great to fall in love?”
“Bah.” Kevin stood up and went to the bathroom.
The day was slowly ending, and the sun now was a red blob on a hillside. Joanna had drawn the shades, and poured herself another drink. She filled Kevin’s too, left the cup by “his chair.” She stood there for a moment, lingering, then went back to the kitchen area and grabbed the bottle, leaving it near the couch before she lay back down on it. There was something in the way Kevin acted when she talked of love, of relationships. She knew he needed someone, something, but…
Joanna sipped a rather large sip, letting the booze run through her system and settled into the couch. She didn’t want to move, didn’t want to go anywhere, but just let the night slide by, spend time with her best friend.
Let the night buzz around her as she drank again.
Everyday, she hated it more and more. She hated those loud parties and those girls, those girls with no self-respect, no control and no shame. She pictured her friend, drunk, playing with one of those girls in a back hallway…
She had spent so many long nights with Kevin, but those nights were marred with all the booze fogging her mind. She didn’t know what to feel anymore, she lived her life in a endless stream of friendship.
Friendship and nothing but friendship.
It was Joanna’s turn to show her cares on her face, and Kevin’s words followed quickly, as he materialized out of the bathroom. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m just starting to get a buzz, that’s all.”
“Jo, you’ve only had one drink.”
“I didn’t eat much.” She felt she didn’t sound convincing.
“Let’s go get something, then.”
“No, no Kevin, I just want to sit here. I’m comfortable.”
“That’s cool, you look it.”
Joanna took a long sip. They sat there, not saying a word, just sat in her small living room, watching the sun fall. Every know and then, Kevin would take a sip. Joanna took one.
Kevin stood up. “I have to go check in at the frat, can I leave you here?”
She barely turned. His words were already distant, so Joanna let him leave, mumbling a barely audible “Uh huh.” The door closed, and she closed her eyes.
Jealous, perhaps. It was jealousy, and desire that she felt when she saw Kevin with that girl. It was a drunk moment, for sure, but a moment, a moment of that undeniable rush of attraction and passion. Her body felt good, loosened by the alcohol. She touched her breast, laying the cup of scotch by her side. She lay there, lazily feeling herself, when the face of Kevin appeared in her mind. She stopped, dumbly letting her hands fall to the side of the couch, and simply lay flat, as her mind fought the spirits to figure out what she was thinking, to figure out what she had just stumbled upon. She lay there, until her eyes became heavy, and she soon fell fast asleep.
It was dark when a familiar voice woke her up. The smell of beer was present, and it brought her back to consciousness immediately. “What time is it?” She wiped her eyes.
“It’s not really all that late Jo, but I thought I’d get you into your bed. That couch can’t be comfortable.”
“Okay.” She thought she sounded as if she were five again, being put to bed.
Kevin pulled her up, she tripped once over an empty bottle of Johnny Walker, but regained her feet with his help. Once he had wrapped an arm around her waist, she merely floated along as Kevin guided her to the bedroom. Again, the nagging sense of a past thought pulled at her, but she was too tired to recall what she was thinking.
One drink Kevin had guessed, and Jo had simply let him think that she was sober. She tried to remember how much she had before hastily putting the bottle back up in the cupboard when Kevin had knocked, but she couldn’t concentrate. She was so close to her bed, to the sleep that would erase all of the scotch. To the dreams she was just having that she couldn’t seem to remember.
Kevin let her sit on the bed, and she held her temples as he brought her water. She thought maybe he knew, maybe he had seen through her lie, and he was just being nice. He was her best friend, after all. She took the water, thinking about the times she had seen the drunk girls at Kevin’s frat sitting on a bathroom floor, drinking their water, looking like death itself. The glass of water had almost become a symbol in mind that the night was done. Joanna sat up straight, trying to focus. She was no lightweight.
“I’m awake, thanks Kev.”
“The idea was get you to sleep, Joanna.”
“Well, you failed. I want to be awake.” She put her hands on her hips for emphasis. It probably looked silly, but she didn’t care.
“Well, did you want to do something?”
She hadn’t thought about that. Would could she do? It was late, and she would never survive a party, no matter how hard she tried. She shrugged. “I just don’t want to go to sleep right now.”
Kevin laughed softly, and moved over to her bed, sitting somewhat away from her. “You want to talk?”
Joanna struggled to focus. Taking a sip of water, she found that her head was clearing at a slow pace. “What about us?” Again, that distant feeling that had disturbed her dreams returned, and Joanna felt slightly awkward. Her stomach felt fine, but she couldn’t deny that her heart began to beat a little faster.
Kevin leaned back against the wall, away from her. “I mean, I just was thinking how great our friendship is.” A pause. “I feel like I can tell you anything.”
“Uh huh?” Staying quiet always worked before. Stop, and listen. Surely something else was coming, anything else, just a sentence, a phrase, hell, a few words would do. Anything to stoke the building yearning that she could no longer deny. Any moment, Kevin’s beautiful lips would part again, and he’d break the spell. Her heart pounded and she could feel the glass of water in her hand heavy and present.
Silence, Jo. Silence and the answers come.
Kevin just looked at her intently. They sat there, looking at each other, neither saying a word. Finally, Joanna smiled at him, but even drunk and half-awake, she could tell her smile was a half-hearted thing. He smiled back, and for a moment, it looked like invitation, until her eyes focused and saw it for the mask it was.
With a crash of hope and the only energy she could muster, she stood up, took a deep calming breath, turned around, and offered an unsteady hand to her best friend.
“Come on. Let’s have a drink.”