It's quiet for a long time when we get in the car and I think maybe he is never going to start the engine, but then he does. We pull out of the driveway and just around the corner and then he parks again.
“You're in front of a hydrant. This is illegal,” I say, because he's scaring me. He turns on the flashers. Then he slams his hands into the steering wheel. When he leans forward, I squint in the light of the streetlamp to see if he's crying. Dear God, don't let him be crying.
“Jesus.” I watch while he sucks his teeth, and presses his thumbs into his forehead. He reminds me of Tom Cruise on the verge of collapse. “Why? Why didn't you fucking tell me, Mack?”
And I don't know what to say.
It seemed irrelevant somehow.
I haven't seen you in three years.
You were wearing cargo shorts at the time.
You broke my heart.
“I didn't know how. I still don't. I mean, what would I say? 'Good to see ya, Kev. Hey so, remember my dad? The career alcoholic? Well he died yesterday. Crazy, right? Wanna come to his weird memorial dinner party at my mom's? Open bar!'”
He laughs and then doesn't. “You're an asshole, Mack.”
“Don't call me an asshole. My dad died.”
“Yeah. I heard.”
Kevin doesn't take me home. Instead he takes me to this craft cocktail bar a couple miles from Mom's house, his treat.
“I owe you a drink, at least,” he says when he starts the car again, and I don't have it in me to turn him down.
The bar is actually sort of cute. Lots of exposed wood, it's got a very rustic, Scandinavian thing going on. We sit at the bar, I assume because the girl working also has a very Scandinavian thing going on.
Kevin orders us a pitcher of some obscure and expensive IPA he's recently discovered, and I hide my face out of shame at being seen with him.
While we wait for the beer we learn that the bartender's name is Stace, because of course it is, and that she is working here while she saves money to go back to school. She wants to be a veterinarian and she leans provocatively over the bar to show Kevin pictures of her German Shepherd. We also learn that Stace gets off work at 1am, and was planning on calling her roommate to pick her up, but that her roommate sometimes goes to bed early, and if she could get a ride from someone else...
The man is an animal.
Finally, the pitcher settles and Kevin pours himself a glass and then slides what's left over toward me. “Stace, sweetheart, can I get a straw for my friend here, so she can have her way with the rest of this?” Kevin asks. She blushes all over herself at being called “sweetheart”, and I suppress my gag reflex.
“I don't know what you think I'm gonna say,” I resist, sucking IPA through the straw.
“Why don't we start with what the fuck happened,” he turns his whole body toward me, leaning comfortably against the bar.
As I tell it, I hear it out loud for the first time. And it all sounds so much worse.
“It was nothing, really, it was-basically, I slept with some random on New Year's Eve. And the next morning we're fucking standing in my bathroom, and he's like being all weird and domestic and stuff, and then I get a phone call, from you know, the Holiday Inn where Gerald was living, or squatting or whatever.”
“The Express by the freeway?”
“Of course the fucking Express by the freeway. Like he'd have a chance at a regular Holiday Inn. Anyway, it's this concierge girl, Beth. On the phone. And she's blubbering and basically tells me she's in the room with Gerald, and he's dead and she hasn't called 911 and so can I like come ID him and you know, call someone to like, pick him up? And I can't say no. I mean, what the fuck do you say to that?”
Kevin opens his mouth like he might have an idea, but no words come out.
“Anyways, so I go. And I have to take this guy, the handsome one-night-stand domestic guy, because part of his domestic thing is that now he's all worried about me, meanwhile I don't even remember what his name is, so I feel bad asking him to leave cuz he's just like, trying to be nice I guess? Anyway we show up, and Gerald's… my dad is um, just like naked on the floor. Like naked on the floor, and dead. And Beth's there. Just like, crying on his face. She's got his head in her lap, which is so fucking like, what the fuck, and then she's just dripping these huge mascara tears on his face. And the domestic guy just barfs. I mean he actually barfs because he doesn't know what to do, and he's probably never seen a naked dead guy before. So I have to call the ambulance, and then like, try to calm Beth down a little bit. And eventually some paramedics show up, these two like cartoon paramedics, and they bag him up while Beth is chugging fucking white wine spritzers from the mini fridge. And then the paramedics haul Gerald out and take him to the morgue, or wherever they do autopsies. That's the morgue, right?”
It feels like no one in the bar is talking anymore.
“Fuck.” Kevin downs the rest of his beer for emphasis and slams the empty glass down on the bar. “I mean, fuck. Mack. Fuck.”
“Yeah, I don't know. I'm dealing with it,” I say and sort of flip my hair like it's no big thing, which is insane. And it doesn't work. Because he's looking at me like you might look at a person after they've just fallen off a roof.
“I'm staying at the Express by the freeway,” he says after a minute “Just for a few nights, while I'm in town.” I sort of gape at him.
“You were there, then.”
“I was there. Yeah.”
“I didn't see you.”
“Yeah, no shit.”
I put my face in my hands, unsure where to look. You never think, when you're a kid that you're going to grow up to be the disaster at the bar, telling their horrifying life story into a pitcher of beer. But here I am.
“How are you doing? I mean, like, Jesus Christ. How are you doing?” His voice is soft again, like it was at the dinner table. He's asking the most obvious question in the world, but he puts his hand on my knee to do it, and something about it makes everything else goes dark. Like we're spotlit in this one little corner of the bar, just me and him. No more Stace. No more wood paneling. Just me and Kevin. He's looking right at me, into me, the way he used to when we were really friends, and I can't quite breathe right and I can't lie to him.
“I-I don't-I sort of feel like, like-finally. You know? I sort of feel like, okay. It happened. The thing you… the thing you wished would happen, it happened. Finally it happened. And I'm just-empty now. Like, I don't know what to do when I'm not wishing for that.”
As soon as I say it, I worry it's too much. It is. Way too much. I don't trust Kevin, I can't trust Kevin. And I want to swallow it all back, and leave. I shift my leg out from under his hand. We're drowning in this quiet where I think he must be thinking I'm evil or just beyond fucked up. I finish the pitcher, making that horrible straw slurping sound that soccer moms make with their frappucinos. And then Kevin, from out of the silence says, “Yeah. I know what you mean. Sometimes I wish my dad would die.”
If people weren't so afraid of being fucked up, this moment would be the definition of intimacy.
We are breathing the same air at the same time. Blinking at the same time. Like two things that completely understand each other. We're closer to each other than we've ever been, and we're on separate sides of the world.
I get a pain in my chest like I want to say something. I want to tell him he can talk to me. Or just that it's okay. That I've thought that too, wished that too, more times than I can count, and it's ugly and awful, but it's okay. It doesn't make you a bad person. I run through a million clichés and nothing is right.
Families are hard. Or, Love is pain. Or, We don't choose our parents. Or, There are some things we will never understand.
And then, when I can't make the words come, when I can't find anything to say at all, I have to accept that we aren't friends. And I wonder if it's my fault or his or if we were always going to end up here. And I want to hold him, and I can't.
And so I just keep not saying anything.
The booze is getting to my head, I think. I close my eyes, and when I open them I think I see Gerald, but then it's only Kevin.
This feels like a big deal, but maybe it isn't.
It's quiet forever. Just me and him in our spotlight forever.
Until I flinch and he catches me studying him. Then he shakes his head, lets out this sort of desperate laugh and says, “Oh, fuck off, Mack. I wasn't even serious.”
And just as quickly as it started, it's over.
So then we don't talk more about my dad, even though that's why we're here, or Kevin's dad, even though he is paying for our drinks. Instead, we order another round and gossip about everything we've been up to for the last couple years like tonight is normal and no one is dead. It's fantastic.
The more I drink the better it feels. Kevin tells me about his disgusting and horrible adventures in online dating. And I tell Kevin all about working at the DEAR ALICE “offices”, and writing for her blog.
“Do you always write the horoscopes?” He gets this mischievous look in his eye that I recognize from when we were in school.
“Every week,” I laugh.
“Mack, do you understand that this is a goldmine of possibility for me?” Of course I hadn't realized this until now, but I should have. You are, at any moment, one of two things with Kevin: his date or his wingman. It's about three seconds before he has found out Stace's sign, Leo, and written a horoscope on his napkin for me to put up on the blog this week. That he'll have to manipulate her into reading Alice Knows Best is of no concern to him. I want to throw the napkin away as soon as he hands it to me, but instead I put it in my pocket and promise to publish it.
“We're even now,” I say. “For me crying on you earlier? We're even.” He laughs in this obnoxiously self-assured way that lodges in my ribs, but I'm too drunk to do anything about it.
We sit around the bar talking shit for another half hour or so, before I say, “Well, I'm gonna get a cab.” Kevin makes a face like he doesn't want me to go, but says nothing. “I think that'll just make it easier... you know... for you and Stace and everything,” I go on. He laughs, and nudges me to keep my voice down.
He follows me outside to wait, and when we hug good night, he kisses me on the cheek and promises we'll see each other again soon. I nod and bite my tongue.
“And hey,” he says, looking me dead in the eye, “don't be such an asshole next time, Mack. I love you. You know that.”
My throat tightens up, and so I just look at the ground and get into the cab. Kevin runs around the front of the car and hands the cab driver a fifty, his treat, and gives him my address. I watch him from the back window as we pull away. He stands outside for a second, smiling and shaking his head at no one, before adjusting his shirt, stretching his neck from side to side and going back into the bar.
“I love you. You know that.”
I turn around and slump down into the backseat. Don't do this, Mackenzie. Don't do this again. It is so not worth it.
I take the napkin out of my pocket and read.
“You're on a lucky streak, Leo. You've met that special someone who attends to your needs and makes you feel like queen of the world. Allow yourself to be swept up in the frenzy of it all. The stars have aligned, and it's not an exaggeration. You're at your sexual peak now, and you should take every opportunity to open yourself up to all this new man in your life has to offer.”
It is so not worth it.
I don’t realize quite how drunk I am until I’m climbing the stairs to our apartment. I fumble around for my keys outside the door, and I think I’m probably waking up the neighbors. How embarrassing. Finally inside, I bump into every piece of living room furniture I can on my way toward the bedrooms. “Motherfucking cocksucker,” I blurt out after stubbing my toe on the coffee table. Even I’m surprised that I’ve been this crude, and I tell myself it’s the tequila, wine, beer cocktail in my stomach talking.
“Mackenzie?” I hear Mel’s groggy, half-asleep voice as the light switches on in her room.
“I woke you up. M’sorry!” I call to her.
“You’re drunk, yeah?” I hear her sit up in bed. There’s no fooling Mel. I stumble down the hall and flop down on her bed.
“Kevin made me do it.” I tell her, as she strokes my hair.
I’m expecting her to be mad at me for going out with Kevin, but she doesn’t say anything about it.
“How was dinner?”
I look at Mel’s half-asleep face, and I know that I can’t lie to her. “It was so sad,” I admit. “It was so sad and horrible, Mel. And everyone was just so broken down and miserable to be there together. And Mom--” I remember her face in the bathroom, so tired and confused and upset with herself, and I can’t believe I didn’t try to do more to help her. I hope that Alice stayed with her for a long time after I left. “God, it was just so awful.”
“I’m so sorry,” she says.
“I think I did the whole thing wrong,” I say.
“I don’t think so.” Her voice is so collected and patient, and I love her the most of anyone in the world for being this way with me. “You can only ever do your best, Kenz. That’s the most that any of us can ever do. All you can do is your best.”
And so I start to cry there on Mel’s bed, and she just strokes my hair and tells me that I did my best and it’s going to be okay in the end, because I did my best.
“Would you mind if I sleep here?” I ask, and I feel like a four-year-old who has climbed into bed with her mom after a bad dream. Mel just smiles and scooches over to make room for me.
So I curl up in a little ball next her, and she puts her arm around me and coos nice things in my ear. I laugh a little through all my pathetic whimpering and say, “If we sleep the whole night like this, it might mean we’re soul mates. I read all about it in Cosmo.”
And Mel just says, “Shut up, you freak. We are soul mates.”