And a cocktail party invite.
The following short story appears in The End, published and edited by my former After the Orgy co-host Ann Manov. Tomorrow evening, there’s a cocktail party for its launch in NYC. RSVP here if you’re interested and please let me know if you’re going!
Also, I was told to subtly remind you guys that the dress code is serious and so is the start time, since there is a performance component. I don’t know how to be subtle, so there it is explicitly LOL.
Support my journey…
In other literary news, I’ll be hosting a Chicago-based reading in January along with Sam Buntz, 2D Cloud, and our other friend-of-the-blog Steff. Stay tuned for more info on that…
Boca Raton, 2018.
You wake up in Vic’s mom’s attic for the first time since you were 17. You had spent all night drinking warm 40s and smoking American Spirits. Today you feel like shit and smell like a urinal.
You're 28 now, you don't drink and you don't smoke (you never smoked, though you pretended you did) but this was the closest thing to freedom you had—your buddy Vic's backyard, chain smoking and no parents to tell you to go home or turn the music down or not to smoke inside.
Where have Vic's parents been all these years? Ten years later, and he's still living at his mom's house and she’s still “at work.” Vic throws you a bottle of Adderall which hits you in the eye, so dry it feels swollen shut. He asks you if you want one like he's offering you a cup of coffee.
"Isn't it hard to get these refilled?" you ask him.
You almost open the bottle but think better of it. You grab a half-empty water instead. It's warm and tastes vaguely like garlic which disgusts you, but it's better than whatever you’d get from the tap.
“Nah man, it’s easy.”
Vic has changed. His 30 is a well-worn 30. His baby fat is now a moon-face. He’s gained 40, maybe 50 pounds. His beard, which was always patchy, is now flecked with gray. He wears the same Vans he did in ‘08.
This ages him in a way that surprises you.
You look at Vic now and you see a fat ass scooping bourbon chicken into his mouth; the kid who only ate Burger King until his pediatrician told him it was gonna kill him. You see his C- in a remedial math class at Olympic Heights. You see the GameStop cashier who wasn’t capable of doing better and didn’t. He’s got a tattoo on his ankle. The Green Lantern.
You think to yourself: he was never gonna leave home, was he?
The morning—which you realize is really the afternoon, it's 1 p.m.—goes the same way these mornings have always gone. You laze around the house. Mom is still at work. The fan makes the air too dry and the porcelain tile on your feet is cool. The sky is blue, an endless blue. You watch Judge Matthis; Laron Parker is suing his ex-girlfriend for $1,375. You listen to Vic argue on the phone with his girlfriend, something about regs, something about a shower, you two go to Burger King, you shoplift.
At the Goodwill, Vic asks you if you're on steroids, and before you can say, “No, what are you talking about?”, he tells you about how Andrew, who still works at the food court at the mall, got obsessed with steroids in 2015, and…
Michael Baker got a crazy sales job and moved to San Diego. Matt married Erica. Katie has an OnlyFans.
Spending time with Vic, you feel like a tourist in your own memories. You've completely forgotten what it’s like to be comfortable around him.
Driving along 441, still listening to the same music you listened to when you guys were in high school, he asks you how the wife is. You don’t know if he actually cares about Mary, or if he’s just asking because it’s one of those things you’re supposed to ask. He asks if you guys have a house yet.
He wants to know if you’re happy—if you’re normal. If you escaped, if or if it only looks like you escaped.
He asks you if you have kids. He tells you that Andrew’s balls shrunk because of the steroids, so he’s infertile now. That doesn’t sound right, but you realize what he’s really doing is giving you an out. It’s cool if you’re on roids and your balls shrunk.
Vic launches into something about how Steve had a kid. You know Steve had a kid because it happened when you were a senior in high school. Steve dropped out, became a mechanic, had big buggy thyroid eyes. Dumb as shit. Should have been sterilized.
You remember how Vic told some girl he fucked—some girl he fucked and shouldn’t have —some girl who ended up going to the University of Chicago—how she and Steve should date. Vic told her this right after taking her virginity. She was fat and had a bush and gave lousy head, Vic said. You can’t remember who Steve knocked up. But you remember Vic telling that girl she should date him. She could have done better. You hope she did. You hope she escaped, too.
Vic’s talking about how Steve’s kid is eleven. There’s something unfair about this. Steve’s an adult and you aren’t.
You don't tell Vic that you haven't had sex with your wife since you were 25. You don't tell him that you haven't cheated on her either, that you two just don't fuck, and you fucked more at 15 than you have in the whole of your 20s. The best it ever was going to get was Brittany and you at a house party—Brittany saying I love you, I need you, I need you so much, wanting to marry you, wanting you, curling on top of you on her bed, on top of her too many pillows, at her party, looking into your eyes and saying, I love you, I’ll love you forever, fumbling with a condom, her not knowing how to move, not knowing how to touch you, you not knowing how to touch her, neither of you coming, both saying I love you, I’ll love you forever—
The conversation’s moved on but you finally answer his question. No kids.
He says, “Oh. Well, Katie got an abortion.”
There's a moment of silence. It’s so hot in his car.
He asks, “Did Mary get one too?”
Vic lights a joint.
Vic asks you if you want to go to a show tonight. You might as well.
You and Vic pull up to a storage unit by some tracks where a crustpunk died train-hopping 15 years ago. A Spanish River High kid had thrown a rock at him. The air inside the venue is wet, like a bowling alley. Multi-colored Christmas lights hang in different places in bunches, the cement floor covered by a tessellation of dirty Persian rugs.
If you felt out of place here at 17, you feel out of place now. Even in two-day-old clothes, sticky with sweat, something isn’t right. You’re too clean. And the kind of people who go to shows can always smell it on you—that you don’t belong there. For the first time in your life, you feel old.
Vic doesn’t feel old though. Vic belongs there, somehow, fading into the crowd, drinking a tall boy. You don’t know if you should follow him or not so you don’t.
“Stella’s here. I smoked her out, man,” you hear Vic tell a kid who can’t be older than sixteen. You think you hear him tell the kid that Stella let him eat her out in his car. You look around the room for this Stella, but can’t find her. You wonder if she’s sixteen, too.
A girl who you could only describe as dressed in “2011 retro” interrupts your eavesdropping and comments on your sneakers. She says your sneakers look “orthopedic.”
What? Why can't she give you the benefit of the doubt here? These assholes can wear Velcro shoes and it's ironic and alternative but if you do it, it's…
“They're the wrong kind of ugly,” she explains to you, ashing a cigarette in a sea full of vapes.
You stare at your feet.
"You're the wrong kind of trash." As you hear yourself say it, you realize you recognize her. Her outfit isn’t a throwback. She just hasn’t changed.
This is Katie Osborne, Vic's ex with the OnlyFans.
You're in fight or flight trying to figure out how to backpedal, but Katie Osborne doesn't care that you called her trashy.
She recognizes you too, and she's excited to see you.
No pleasantries. Just, I never thought I'd see you at one of these again!
Then she asks you if you want to get a drink instead of hanging out with middle schoolers who think they're in bands. Are they really in middle school? Of course not, but we can do better than this. Katie feels old, just like you do.
Even though she's your age, Katie drinks like she's still seventeen. She’s clutching a plastic cup of well whiskey, taking big sips out of it like her only M.O. is to get drunk. She drinks like she doesn’t know you don’t have to get shitfaced. For the second night in a row, so do you.
You don't catch up. You're just two people at a bar, a strip mall dive between a laundromat and a 7/11. The bar has those Christmas lights, too. Just bunches and bunches of tangled Christmas lights. There’s a pool table. The only other two people in the bar are a Haitian guy in khakis and a Dominican nurse drinking Blue Hawaiians. There’s no music playing and you can hear the parking lot toads croaking.
Katie wants you— you know she wants you— she looks at you like you’re attractive. She touches your hand, your neck, your knee. She doesn’t just want to get fucked. She wants to get fucked by you.
You don’t think about anything else but what’s happening right now. You just are.
Katie kisses you. You're too drunk to pretend to want to say no, to pretend to want to push her away, to make some mean comment about her being almost thirty selling pictures of herself online—about her desperation, twenty-eight and hanging around warehouse shows—-too drunk to pretend like you think she’s really a whore.
Too drunk not to see her as you first saw her in high school. This is more than just desire. It's more than just wanting to fuck her. You feel warmth spread through your body. Fondness.
The rest of the night passes at a quick clip. A $9.00 Uber, fumbling to get through the front door of a $800/month beachside bungalow, the kind crawling with palmetto bugs, more humid inside than it is outside. Neon green walls and a cheap mattress and the cheap polyester comforter everyone had in college. Finally being too tired and too drunk and too porn sick to consummate the first instance of mutual desire you've experienced in six years.
You pass out and wake up at 7 a.m., three hours later. Even though you've sobered up, you still feel the afterglow of affection. You don’t want to leave her. Katie isn't suddenly ugly to you; you don’t even feel shame or guilt. She is even more beautiful in the sunshine. You want to run your fingers through her hair. You want to take her out of this house and out of Florida. You want to be her boyfriend, not Vic. You want her to have never gotten an abortion. You want her to be sixteen again.
You want to be her husband. Whatever you feel for her in this moment hurts—but hurts because it’s too much, too big. You want her, completely.
Katie's eyes flutter open. You think she’ll smile at you, but she doesn’t. She asks if you could leave because she doesn't know how to share a bed and she has work (what work?) in a few hours.
The house is cramped. It feels like someone else lives there. There’s a palmetto bug on the sliding glass door. It reminds you of being a teen, driving out to the houses by the beach with Vic and all the friends whose names you can’t remember, parents never home, smoking and drinking, and passing out on an sagging couch filthy with sand, shoes off, feet dirty.
You walk out to the beach, not even a mile away from Katie's place, and lie there for a while. The sun is too bright as it rises over the ocean—you think there’s something insecure about the way the light ricochets on the waves.
An old man jogs past you, the skin around his tanned thighs loose. He’s breathing heavily, kicking sand everywhere. His tank top says, “I was at Andrew Katz’s bar mitzvah, April 12, 2008.”
He’s completely alone.
Substack encourages me to include these…