Joey turned over the shot glass and slammed it onto the counter. “Nineteen.” He picked up the next one, slammed back the tequila and slammed down the glass. The liquid didn’t burn anymore. It was hot and filled his stomach with bravado and sex-appeal. His little, fading voice of self-preservation begged him to stop and go to the bathroom to throw it all up, but he couldn’t. Not when he was surrounded by his entire frat.
“Twenty-one,” the crowd announced and cheered. “Happy Birthday, Joey!”
The bar broke into a jumbled, off-key rendition of Happy Birthday.
He waved to his new fans. He tried to stay very still on the barstool. He felt the liquid hate in his stomach trying to eat him from the inside out. He clenched his jaw in a pasted on smile as people took pictures of him with their phones. One smart-ass even had a digital camera to record his every move. Spidy was an asshole. He documented everything with that damned camera of his. Joey made sure to make rabbit ears behind his “big brother” Bobby and his “little sister” Tanya from their sister sorority. They had different meanings, of course, because he was totally going to get into Tanya’s pants one of these days.
She was a heavenly person – patience of a saint and the curves of a sinner. She was smart and funny and so out of his league that he shouldn’t even bother.
She was also his best friend.
He leaned on her shoulder. She laughed at him, musical and carefree. She was one-hundred percent sober. He pulled her into a loose hug and didn’t let go.
“Come on, birthday boy, let’s get you home.” She tugged on his arm. The other boys from the frat made kissy noises and cheered them on. She rolled her eyes and fished her keys out of the bowl at the end of the table. He followed her like she were his lodestone leading him north.
“You’re the best thing about this place,” he told her. At least he hoped that the words came out properly. She seems to flex and bend in his sight. “Tequila sucks.”
“Oh, sweetie, you have no idea.”
The car ride was nauseating. “Stop,” he managed. She pulled over instantly and reached across him to open the door. He emptied his stomach into the gutter. He spat once, then twice. She handed him a paper towel. They made two more stops before they made it to his house. She walked him to his room. She filled a glass of water.
“Drink,” she ordered.
“Bed,” Joey replied.
He pouted, but drank up the water. Then, he collapsed backwards. “You’re still the best thing in this place.”
“Love you too, jerkwad.” She pulled off his shoes. “And that is as much of you as I’m going to uncover. You want to be comfortable, you need to figure out how to do it yourself.”
“So, so mean.” He struggled with his jeans and then conceded victory to the belt. “Still love you.”
“Sleep well. There’s ibuprofen on the side table for when you wake up and I’ll leave more water.” She brushed a kiss across his forehead.
He didn’t think he’d imagined it. He gave her a sleepy smile. Maybe she wasn’t out of his league after all.