Twenty Nine: Costume For a Gutterball

Alley
“So, how was your day?”

I played with the top layer of my skirt nervously, waiting for Jay to answer. This was definitely awkward. I didn’t know what to say to him outside of a library or classroom setting. I didn’t think that talking about population dynamics or genetic mutations would make for exciting conversation here. He hadn’t said much of anything since we got in the car, which sort of worried me. Plus, my shoes were pinching, my bodice was too tight and I was sweating like a glass of ice water. The date was off to a grand start.

“Ah, good. Yours?” He wasn’t much for elaborate answers. I brushed a few stray curls from my forehead and breathed deeply before I replied. I felt like I was going to pass out.

“Good, good....” I trailed off, not sure where to go with it. This whole 'small talk' thing was beyond my grasp.

“Well, that’s good.”

I had the sudden urge to crack up. How many more times could we say “good” in the next thirty seconds? Jeezus. I feigned a cough, covering my mouth with my hand to hide the smirk on my face. I watched Jay from the corner of my eye. I wasn’t terribly impressed with his “costume”. He claimed he was dressed as a Mafia member, but secretly I figured it was just an excuse to wear that expensive Italian suit. Well, he looked nice, anyway.

“Ah, here we are,” he spoke up as we approached a large country house. Cars were parked haphazardly all over the lawn. The house was all lit up, and even with the doors and windows closed I could hear the pounding bass from inside. Headache, here I come... I mentally groaned. What was I doing? This really wasn’t my style.

“Ready?” he asked as I wrestled out of his Explorer. God give me strength, I thought as I struggled to walk in the soft ground in my heels. I followed him to the porch and then, reluctantly, into the house.

The first thing I saw were bodies. Masses of sweaty bodies. One after another, decked out in some kind of costume, all smashed up together in one room of this huge house, plastic cups full of beer in their hands. Shouting, laughing, smoking, and drinking. All eyes turned curiously to Jay and me as we stepped into the kitchen.

“Yo, Jay, man, whazzup?” barked a broad-chested blond guy as he walked over to us. He turned around and motioned to a friend to fix us some drinks. “Here, I’ll get you hooked up.”

“Hey, Bryan, thanks,” Jay replied, taking a cup from him and swallowing an alarming amount of the liquid all at once. Bryan held out a cup to me, but I put a hand up hesitantly.

“No, thanks.” I felt a blush creep up on my cheeks. Talk about out of place.

Bryan gave me a look. “Aw, come on. It won’t kill ya, you know. Just try it.”

“No, no, I really don’t want any.” Nothing that he was going to offer, anyway.

The look of disbelief on his face was almost comical. What? A college kid turning down a drink? Stop the presses! He made eye contact with Jay and I sensed some unspoken communication there. I bristled a little. What was the big fucking deal? I wasn't a fan of beer. So what? He set the drink down. “Well, if you insist.” He turned and walked towards the living room. “Come see me before ya leave, Jay, alright?”

“Sure thing,” Jay drawled. He turned to me, motioning with his free left hand to the nearly full cup of beer that sat silently on the table before us. “You sure you don’t want any?”

“I’m sure,” I said, exasperated.

“OK, OK....” he muttered. I drew my arms up close to my chest, suddenly feeling very naked and exposed. Wishing I could just shrink down and disappear. Someone rammed into my side, spilling their dark beer on the edge of my skirt. I grunted in irritation.

“Oh, hey, sorry,” an obviously wasted girl dressed as a prostitute screeched in my face. Well, I thought that was supposed to be a costume. I sure hoped so. I considered telling her that although the music was loud, she didn’t need to shout, only being about three inches away and all, but thought better of it. I didn’t need to make any enemies tonight, especially not drunk ones. They would do no telling what for revenge.

Taylor was right, my ever-present inner voice popped up. Maybe you should have listened to him.

As much as I hated to admit it, this time my inner voice was probably right. How irritating. And as for Taylor, he was probably at home right now having a hernia, judging by his bizarre reaction just before I’d left. What was his deal, anyway? I was beginning to wonder if he was suffering from cabin fever or something. Or maybe schizophrenia. I looked around at the chaos around me, snorting. Or maybe... telepathy.

“I’m gonna go do the rounds,” Jay said.

“Uh, okay...”

He walked away, leaving me alone in the kitchen. Well, not technically alone, if you counted the prostitute, the ghost, Frankenstein, the two M&M’s, and a couple dressed as Sid and Nancy. Damn him. Wasn’t he supposed to introduce me to people or something?

I wandered out of the kitchen, my eyes taking in all the chaos. Apparently “the rounds”, as Jay had called it, was going around, slapping every guy on the back and asking, “How the fuck are ya?” I thought about following him, but decided against it. Let him have his “guy” time.

I walked into another room, which appeared to be the living room of the house. The TV was blaring and people leaned lazily against the furniture and the wall, talking. I crept towards them, listening. After several minutes, the conversation steered towards music. Yes! I thought. Now that was something I could get into. They didn’t notice me creeping around the couch, and I stood there, eavesdropping, for several minutes, waiting for a chance to jump in the conversation.

“No, no, no... Keith Moon was a much better drummer than John Bonham,” a tall, black-haired guy said. He was dressed as a vampire, with a long black cape and two neat little fangs poking out over his lip. I stifled a laugh, thinking about Taylor’s vampire teeth. The vampire’s girlfriend giggled and tucked her arms around him as he spoke. I rolled my eyes. Obviously she wasn’t keeping up with the conversation.

“I have to disagree,” I spoke up suddenly, startling the small crowd. “Keith may have been more entertaining, what with his crazy antics and all, but Bonham was much more solid.” I smiled, feeling quite self-satisfied, knowing that I could keep up with the best of them when it came to rock music.

“Who are you?” asked the vampire rudely.

I was speechless for a second.  “Uh-- I’m... Alley... I’m here with, um, Jay...”

His eyes widened a little, and I noticed several meaningful glances pass between the members of the crowd. I smoothed down my skirt, suddenly feeling incredibly uncomfortable.

“Oooh,” he replied coolly. “Nice to meet you.” If he had been any more transparent, I would have been able to see the wall behind him.

“Yeah, you too,” I muttered. The girlfriend giggled again, and I resisted the urge to reach out and slap her. “Well, see you later.”

“Yeah,” he said flatly as I turned around and left the room. “Anyway, as I was saying....”

I re-entered the kitchen and sat down at a bar stool, feeling dejected. God, even the un-dead thought I was a loser. I wanted nothing more than to be at home right now, eating pizza or Twinkies and drinking Ale8s. I would rather be at home, with Taylor, as crazy as he was lately. At least he would talk to me... although now I wondered whether my attitude towards him had changed that any. Who knew? I could go home and be ignored there, too, for all I knew. I surely deserved it. And all just because I had to prove a silly point.

I propped my elbow on the counter, sulking with my face in my hand. No one even noticed I was there as they carried on with their drunken festivities. Now I knew how Taylor felt all the time. How it felt to be invisible, while others carried on without you, not giving it a second thought...

I really am a jerk, aren’t I? I thought. I winced as I recalled the way I had screamed at him only weeks before. Of course he was right. He knew I wouldn’t have a good time here. I knew I wouldn’t have a good time here. He knew that I knew I wouldn’t have a good time here. So, Miss Allison Krzyzewski, why am I here? And that was a question I couldn't find a solid answer for.

I jumped up, filled with the sudden impulse to leave. I mean, it wasn’t like anyone would try and convince me to stay. Jay certainly didn’t appear to miss my company yet. I could go home, get out of this ridiculously tight costume and into my boxers and tank top, and then try and salvage what was left with my relationship with Taylor. He'd been nothing but a great friend to me, and this was how I repaid him... God, I hoped he forgave me.

My mood lifted at the thought of going home, and it was the best I’d felt all night. I would just tell Jay that I didn’t feel good and request to be taken home. No problem. A glance at the clock indicated that I’d been sitting there for well over an hour. That was more than enough time to say I made an appearance at the party. I stood up from the stool, knocking into another girl. She glared at me, and I casually flipped her off as I marched out of the room. Bitch.

I slowly walked from room to room, my eyes scanning the crowd for Jay. He was nowhere to be seen.  After completing a wide circle of all the downstairs rooms and the front porch, I resigned myself to climbing the stairs and looking. Hey, the worst that could happen was I’d find him in bed with another girl, right? The thought of that, oddly enough, actually cheered me some. It would be a great excuse to leave in a hurry. And it was pretty obvious he wasn't that interested in me anymore, anyway...

After I got upstairs, I slinked down the hall, holding my skirt tight to my body so it wouldn’t swish up against anything. I could hear voices, they sounded distant, muffled, like they were coming through the wall. I stopped for a minute and closed my eyes, listening intently. The voices were coming from a room down the hall to the left. I followed the sound. The door was cracked open, so once I stood next to it, I could hear everything perfectly.

“Hey, man, hand me another,” said a deep voice. Jay! I’d found him. Thank God...

“Yeah, man, sure.” The guy with him was that Bryan guy I’d met earlier.

“Thanks.” I was about to knock on the door, but stopped. Hmmm... he probably would have been upset to know that I was eavesdropping, but I was curious... I'd never really seen him in action around his friends. I wondered if he would act any different. I dropped my hand and stayed perfectly still, listening outside the door as he and Bryan discussed movies (lame action vehicles starring Bruce Willis), music (even lamer 'compositions' by rip-off bands like Creed), and, of course, beer (Bryan liked Rolling Rock, Jay preferred Amber Bock). I rolled my eyes. Was this really what guys talked about? Dumbed-down pop culture and alcohol? I sighed, preparing to give up and knock, when Bryan’s next topic of conversation halted me.

“So... Jay... what’s up with you and that chick?”

“That chick?” Amusement danced in his voice.

“Yeah, man. You know, that chick. The skinny one. You bangin’ her or what?”

“Hell, no!” Jay laughed uproariously. I cringed. What? Was I not good enough for him to bang? Not that I was particularly interested in doing that with him anymore, anyway, but I wasn’t bangable?

“Well, why’d you bring her? What a wet blanket... dude, did you see the look on her face when I offered her that beer? Shit... Isn’t she one of them geeky kids? Studies all the time, that kinda shit? She probably hasn’t seen the outside of the library in years.” He snorted loudly after this statement. I felt my face grow hot with anger. “She’s not exactly your type.”

“No, she’s not... and yeah, she’s a smart little bitch,” Jay said, his voice smug. “And did I tell you that I got an A on my bio midterm? And on the test before that?”

No way, man! How’d you pull that one off? You’re a fucking idiot!” They both laughed loudly at that.

“Well, yeah, well, she helped me study a lot, you know.” More snickering. I clutched my hand to my chest, knowing my knuckles were probably turning white...

“Bullshit. Now, really, how’d you do it?”

“Dude, as much of a bastard Tanenbaum is, he don’t pay much attention during tests.”

Bryan paused, soaking that statement in. “So... you’re saying...”

“He gives everyone the same test. I sat next to her during the test, let my eyes wander a little....” he trailed off for a second before finishing. “....and voila! We get ourselves a 93 percent on the midterm.”

Oh, God... no... he cheated? He had been fucking cheating off me? I took a deep breath, trying desperately to dispel the rage that was building inside me...

“He didn’t notice you had the same answers?” Bryan was fascinated with this story, and from the looks of it, didn't see the complete lack of ethics involved.

“Well I changed some of ‘em, you know. I figured the bitch was smart enough to get most of, if not ALL, the answers right, so I could afford to miss a few.”

“Dude!” They both cackled. I peeked in through the crack to see them giving high-fives. “What’s her name, man? I gotta sign up for that next time I have a science class!”

Furious would not have been an accurate word to describe what I was feeling at that moment. Pure, fucking, unadulterated RAGE was a little more precise, but still not close enough. I felt like storming in the room and punching him right in the face. He used me! I meant nothing to him, I was just a pawn in his little beat-the-standard-moral-code game! My God, how many times could Taylor be right in one day? He fucking used me!!

But Jay wasn’t done yet. I listened in horror as he continued his confession. Apparently Bryan's admiration had encouraged him to continue...

“Yeah, I knew it’d work, hell, she’s had a crush on me for no telling how long.” He stopped to take another swig of beer before continuing. “Man, she’s just dying for a piece of me.”

“You gonna let her have any?”

For starters, no, I was not dying for a piece of him, and secondly, he certainly wasn’t giving me anything tonight, except a ride home!

“Yeah, I figure I’m gonna have to, sooner or later. Gotta give a little to get a little, y'know.” He belched loudly. “Besides, it’s only another two months. I figure we’ll go out a few more times before I try anything serious... she seems like the uptight type. I'll get her, though. Right before finals, I’ll get her. That’ll be the final interaction.” He paused. “Although, if she’s any good, I might do her again afterward, as like a consolation prize or something.”

“Man, you got it all planned out,” Bryan said admiringly. “But what if she gets sick of you before then? Or finds another guy?"

“She won’t get sick of me,” Jay said confidently. “I told you, she’s been after me for months. Another guy?" He laughed loudly, and I cringed. "Let's just say she doesn't seem the type who dates much... besides, where's she gonna meet someone else? At the library?" He snorted. "Nah, it's all worked out, man. She's got it bad."

Rage. And complete and utter sadness. I felt hot tears spring up underneath my eyes, and I quickly lifted my hands up to wipe them away before they smeared through my heavy makeup. So this was what people thought of me. No wonder everyone had given me that look when I’d walked in; they probably already knew. I was the big joke here, the laughingstock of the party. I didn’t even care so much that Jay didn’t like me.... I mean, I had already figured out that he and I were simply not compatible, that wasn’t really a heartbreaker... but just the fact that he didn’t even view me as a human being. Just some object he decided to use up and throw away, like an old napkin or rag. I was such an idiot.

“Well, man, I’m gonna head back downstairs,” Jay announced, standing up. I panicked. I had to get out of there. Turning on my heels, I raced down the hall and down the stairs, searching frantically for a phone so I could call a cab, call Louise, something. Just to get me out of there so I could try and reclaim some of my dignity.

“Where’s the phone?” I shouted over the music to a few people sitting on the couch. They shrugged and turned back around. I felt like screaming. Was everyone an asshole around here? I headed out of the room, jerking my head from side to side, looking for a phone, or even a door so I could get the hell out of there. Shit, I’d walk home if that’s what it took, gypsy costume and all...

I’d managed to do a full circle of the house before I realized I was back at my starting point. I whipped around and started in another direction, only to be stopped by someone’s chest. Oh, no.

“Hey, where you going?” I looked up into Jay’s grinning face, noticing not for the first time that his smile didn’t meet his eyes. They were always cold, distant... That should have been my first clue. Compared to Taylor's, Jay's eyes were like two huge, looming black holes...

“I, uh, I.... um...” I stuttered, wishing that I had the guts to tell him what I really thought.  “I don’t feel so good.... maybe you should take me home.”

“Oh, no, don’t leave, we’re just getting started!”

“No, no, I really don’t feel well... I’ll call a cab or something, that’s fine, you don’t have to take me...”

“Well,” he said, running his hands through his hair and over the front of his fancy suit, “I guess I could go ahead and take you home.”

Oh, how kind of you, I thought sarcastically. He grabbed his keys and another cup of beer, then headed out of the house to the car. I followed, my head downcast and my pride trailing in the dirt behind me.

We rode home in silence. For once I was glad he wasn’t much of a talker, and I stared stonily out the window the entire time. I re-ran all of his comments through my head over and over, feeling the rage resurface and double. He was such a jerk. And a liar! If only I had the guts....

Finally, thankfully, my house appeared on the horizon, and I gathered my things, ready to leap from the car as soon as he stopped. He pulled into the driveway, put it in park, and smiled at me.

“Here we are.... hey, babe, what’s your hurry?” I noticed, for the first time, as he hadn't talked on the entire ride home, that his words were slurry. God, what an idiot I'd been! What was I thinking, letting him drive me home drunk? How many beers had he had? He put his hand gently on my leg and squeezed, inching it up towards my thigh. I watched it in horror. Oh, no you don’t.

“Thanks. Bye,” I said shortly as I reached to open the door. He grabbed my arm and stopped me, pulling me towards him, kissing my lips roughly. He reeked of beer and cigarette smoke, and I choked on the scent. I struggled to pull away, but he was much stronger and kept drawing me in.

MRGGHMMRHGHG!!!!!” I screeched from the other side of his lips, clawing to get away. I reached up and grabbed his hair and pulled it as hard as I could. He screamed and threw me off.

“What the hell are you doing? God, do you have to be such a bitch?” he roared. That was all it took. It wasn't often that I totally, completely lost my temper, but when it happened, it was always provoked...

“ME!?” My blood was boiling. “What the hell are you doing, you fucking pervert? Leave me alone! Don’t touch me. And you know what else? Don’t you ever, ever call me, or even talk to me again, got it?” Oh, man, that felt good. "Jackass," I added for effect.

He grabbed my arm again, his thick fingers tightening and bruising it. Maybe I should have waited until I was out of his arm's reach before I freaked out... I whimpered softly as I tried to jerk it free.

What did you call me?” he seethed. “Don’t you ever call me that.... after everything I’ve done for you! Took you to that fucking party so you could get out of the house for once! Studied with you for weeks!”

“God, you’re such an asshole!” I yanked my arm free, eyeing the beer sitting in the cupholder. I grabbed it and threw it all over him.

“My suit!” he screamed. It was enough of a distraction for me to get away. I opened the door and jumped out, running towards the house. I tried vainly to open the front door, but it was locked. Damn. I held up arms up, looking for my keys. Hadn’t they been in my hand just a minute ago?

“Looking for these?” I turned, horrified to see him advancing towards me slowly, my keys dangling from his hand. I dropped my purse and the feather boa, feeling the adrenaline rush through my body. Gypsy costume or not, if I had to fight, then by God, I would fight.

He stopped less than two feet from me, the keys still in his hand.

“What are you gonna do about it?” he taunted me. His stumbled over the words, the alcohol clearly taking effect. “You know what I think? Lemme tell you what’s gonna happen. You’re gonna get down and apologize for ruining my whole night and--”

Apologize? For ruining his night? Oh, like hell!

As soon as he lowered his arm I went in for the kill, rearing back and slapping him as hard as I could in the face, then kicking him viciously right where it hurts. Oh, shit, that hurt... I grabbed my hand, the palm throbbing. He squeaked loudly, dropping my keys and falling on his side. I grabbed them and the rest of my stuff, then shakily opened the door and ran inside, slamming it shut and locking the deadbolt. I leaned against the door, muffling my sobs, then slid down to the floor into a sitting position, listening intently.

I must have sat there, gasping for breath for at least ten minutes before I heard him get up, cursing and groaning, and walk back to his car. Apparently he wasn’t up for another fight; he didn’t even try to get into the house. The car started up and he drove away. I rose to my knees, crawling to a side window, watching him leave. I rested one hand on my furiously pounding heart and used the other to wipe away the streaming tears from under my eyelids.

“Alley?”

I turned to see Taylor standing on the stairs, his eyes huge and a bewildered look on his face. My lips trembled at the sight of him -- he looked so worried; concerned. I shook my head, sniffling in reply, and he ran the rest of the way down the stairs to me. "Taylor," I sobbed as he drew closer. Relief flooded through me as I threw all my weight against him, burying my mascara-smeared face in his neck and hugging him close. His hands ran soothingly down my back.

“So,” he said from somewhere above my head. “Um, how was the party?”