WARNING: This chapter contains explicit content.
Ever heard of the phrase "working your way up from the mail room?" Well apparently that bullshit is still a thing.
We've had a bunch of admittedly kind of cool challenges—water balloon fights and code breaking and relay races—all things that don't necessarily suck. And I'll even admit to learning a thing or two about programming, when i was patient enough to sit down with Neha so she could teach me the basics. But no. The challenge was paperwork. Just filing a fuckton of paperwork, all fucking day. I'm not even sure we did anything that counted towards the overall outcome of the competition. How the fuck should they know who filed the most paper, or who filed anything correctly, or who just shoved all the paper into a folder, stuffed it in a cabinet and left for the day? But still no. Chetty was all "the fundamental basics of workflow" and "a deeper understanding of our operating system" and "build your knowledge and character." The only thing I managed to build was the number of paper cuts on my fingers and a new appreciation for digital filing.
We should have spent the day scanning forms and recycling the obsolete hard copies, honestly. I almost suggested it to Chetty, but then it occurred to me that the whole point of the challenge might be innovation, to make us think about certain processes and engineer better ways to execute them. Since it was pretty clear that mouthing off wasn't going to get me or the team anything but a pat on the back, I kept my trap shut. They weren't paying me enough to reinvent their workflow for them.
The only person who seemed significantly angrier than I was, surprisingly enough, was Neha.
"This is such a useless, arrogant, fucking waste of paper," she growled, angrily snapping a binder clip onto a stack of system reports. She shoved it under Yo-Yo's nose, where it might as well have been the tip of a sword. "Do you see how much paper this is?! Do you know how many trees it takes to make this much paper?! Do you know what the effects of mass deforestation are?!"
"Um, yes?" he said, slowly pushing the stack out of his face and prying it from her hands. "I'm just gonna...put this away..."
He hesitated, as if Neha might pounce on him for suggesting anything besides an immediate protest. But Neha had already rounded on Nick. "It's a technology company! You think they'd be up themselves enough to want to use their own products instead of sticking a horde of interns with a pile of paper that's never going to see the light of day ever again!"
"Wow, you have been spending way too much time with Emily," Lyle said with a nervous laugh. It quickly died out when he noticed that both of us were glaring at him.
"Well I agree with Neha," I said, letting him off easy and flipping him the bird. "Today has been a complete waste of time and resources."
"Thank you, Emily!"
"Okay, now come on girls," Billy laughed, waving our apparently ridiculous complaints out of the air. "This isn't the end of the world, and it's not useless. I mean, what if the computers crash and you lose everything? When all that tech goes dark, you're gonna need a hard copy to scan back into your little hard drives. Paper's the way we've always done it."
"Billy," Stuart groaned from across the table. "You're great. Really, man. But if you're gonna go into one of your 'good old days' rants, I'm actually going to gouge my eyes out with these paper clips."
"Hey, Billy, what were you saying about the good old days, again?" I asked, propping my elbow on the table.
Stuart rolled his eyes, and Nick swatted me sharply on the shoulder. "Okay, we get it. We're old. Doesn't mean there's not a lesson or two to be learned from some good old fashioned filing."
"If they wanted to teach us alphabetization and organization, they could have had us practice in the computer," Neha grumbled. "Might have saved half a rain forest."
"You know, Neha," I offered. "You seem really frustrated. Maybe it's about time you worked that off." The girl looked over at me very slowly, obviously still processing the words I could have chosen more carefully if I cared. Which I usually didn't.
"What did you have in mind?"
"What I always do to work off frustration."
"Kick puppies?" Stuart suggested. "Sacrifice babies maybe?"
It was so refreshing to watch Stuart get the disappointed-father look from Billy and Nick for a change, instead of me being scolded.
"Clubbing," I suggested, as if there's never been an interruption. "And I mean a real club this time. More alcohol and dancing, less poles."
"Seriously?" Neha asked. Her rapidly growing excitement pulled her lips back to show off her scarily white teeth. It was actually a little frightening. "You want to take me clubbing?"
"Well, no. I want to go clubbing. You can come if you want, but that's secondary. I just want to go get drunk."
But even my supremely low ball attitude didn't seem to put a damper on her spirit. "Yeah! Oh my God, yes! Totally! This is gonna be so much fun. Girls night out!"
"You know, that's not a bad idea." Everyone quickly turned to Stuart.
"You wanna join girls night?" I asked blankly. "Something you need to tell us, Twombly?"
He glared at me, one eye twitch away from his eyes rolling back into his head in annoyance. "Going out, not girls night. I mean, let's be real, work's sucked the past week. I could sure as hell use a drink."
"Do we wanna go out to?" Lyle asked, looking around at his fellow penis-owners. "Couple of playas out on the town? Snaggin' some ladies, gettin' into trouble?"
"Can we please stay away from trouble with tequila?" Yo-Yo pleaded. "I don't think my liver could sustain that kind of damage again."
"Yo-Yo, there's a whole world of alcohol you haven't tried yet," Nick said with a grin. "Tequila's not always gonna be your friend. Actually, nine times out of ten, it's gonna be your enemy. There's a liquor for everyone. We just gotta find yours."
"Yo, Billy, Nick, you in?" Stuart asked.
The men looked at each other, having some weird, silent conversation with their eyebrows before Billy sighed. "Eh, not tonight, boys. We got that HTML challenge coming up, and if we're not gonna bring you down, then we're gonna need to study up."
"A-Are you sure?" Yo-Yo managed to sound even more anxious than he usually did, squeezing the stack of papers in his hands to the point that it crinkled. "Someone can stay and help you."
"Nah, we got the, right Nickelback?"
"Yeah, don't worry about us. We've had more than our fair share of party crashing. You boys take the night off, get some bad decisions in while you're young." Stuart and Lyle chuckled, doing one of those weird high fives every white boy in creation seems to know. Yo-Yo on the other hand, didn't look so convinced. Nick smiled, and leaned over to pat him on the back. "Time to take the training wheels off, my friend. You go out and you ride."
There was a moment of silence as Yo-Yo thought that over. After a few seconds, and with a look of steely determination, he dropped the stack of papers he was holding onto the table with a loud thud. Stuart and Lyle burst into applause, both getting up so they could teach him their weird victory handshake.
I rolled my eyes and looked out the wide windows at the rapidly fading daylight with disdain. "Can't we be done now?"
"Yeah, you know what? You kids run off. We got this," Billy said with a nod. "Paper filing's what we do. Just go have a tequila shot for Uncle Billy."
"Only if you never call yourself that ever again."
He pulled the folders away from me and sent me a wink. "Square deal, Emmy. Now scatter."
Neha practically threw her papers across the table at Nick. "Sounds good to me. Let's get the hell out of here."
I snatched up my bag, more afraid that Neha might take my stuff and run than anything else. She kept anxiously looking behind her as we walked out of the building, checking to see that I was still following her, even if my pace wasn't as brisk as she would have liked. The first image that came to mind was a six year old running through an amusement park, whining obnoxiously about how their parents weren't walking fast enough and they weren't going to get to the ride in time. Well, at least Neha had the courtesy to keep her mouth shut.
"We can take my car," I said, even though she was already making a beeline for it. She was in the passenger seat a millisecond after I unlocked the car. It took every ounce of energy I wasn't using to walk to bite back a sharp comment. The club wasn't going anywhere, and her ceaseless energy and enthusiasm was already making me regret inviting her along. But she was already in the car, and I couldn't exactly push her out while I was driving. Even I wasn't that mean. Usually.
She at least seemed to realize she was being overzealous once I pulled out of the parking lot. The small interior made her excitement seem that much bigger, enough that even she noticed. I could hear her too-deep breathing as she tried to calm down, but it was less annoying than listening to the passenger seat squeak if she kept bouncing.
Neha had to direct me to her apartment, but it wasn't that hard to find. Apparently, most of the interns had been offered housing in the same area at a discounted, company rate. She was only a building or two away from Yo-Yo, and she was on the same floor as Zach, the large boy who was unfortunate enough to land himself on Graham's team. She assured me that Stuart didn't even live in the complex, opting out of company housing for some reason he didn't mention. I didn't care about a reason though. So long as he stayed ridiculously far out of my sight, a was just peachy.
"So I'm pretty sure my roommate's out," Neha said as she unlocked the door. "She's super sweet, but she's got a boyfriend who's also working around here, so she spends a lot of time over at his place. But! This is home sweet home!"
The apartment looked...well, just like I would have expected any apartment of Neha's to look. The plain white walls had been covered with movie posters, and the bookshelf had been cleared to hold a staggering amount of DVDs. There was a breakfast bar with a small view into the kitchen, but most of the space had been filled up with action figures and other figurines. Paper cranes looped in strings from the ceiling, and of course, there was the cardboard cut out of C-3PO that was staring at them from the corner.
"Homey," I said, managing to keep most of the snort out of my voice.
Neha beamed. "The best part is, the cut out isn't even mine!"
"Are those?" I asked, nodding towards the precariously placed figurines.
"Yeah. Well, sort of. They're my brother's, but he sent them with me to decorate my room, just in case I ended up with one of those weird feng shui, aesthetic girls who didn't want anything in the living room."
"Well it definitely doesn't look like that's what happened." I poked at a low-hanging string of paper stars and Neha laughed.
"Nah, I lucked out. Hillary's a gem. Anyway, uh, this one's my room."
I followed her through a side door to a bedroom that didn't look much different from the first. Posters still covered enough of the wall space to be a fire hazard, but this room had the added bonus of a desk that was invisible under Neha's usual bright articles of clothing, and a trunk full of her dangerously platformed heels. I was almost surprised that her bed had managed to escape the decoration period with nothing but plain purple sheets. But then Neha ran over to make her bed, and pulled the covers up to reveal the Hogwarts throw blanket stretched over the end of the mattress. I smirked, and that time I wasn't even being polite.
"So how much of what you told me about your going-out routine was bullshit?" I asked, plopping down on the bed when she indicated I should sit there.
"I mean, it's not totally crap. I'm a virgin, not a shut in. I go out just...not like out out, you know?"She walked towards a disorganized mass of clothes that seemed to be exploding out of the wall. It was completely overfilled, but somehow still managed to be sorted by color. Neha was insane, but at least passionate about taking care of her clothes. "All I have to do is figure out what I'm wearing. I didn't pack like a huge amount of my club clothes, but I've got a bunch of awesome shit at home."
"I'm sure you do," I said flatly, flopping back onto her bed.
"Totally. Colors and lace and sequins and fishnets and leather and latex and feathers..." I looked over towards the closet in—frankly—terror, but Neha popped her head out with a smirk. "Joking!"
"Thank God. If you pull out a yellow, feathered Big-Bird dress, this outing is cancelled."
"Actually, I was thinking about this."
With a little difficulty, she yanked a hanger out of the closet, pulling its dress from the tangle of fabric. It was a whirlwind of patterns and bright colors, the most prominent of which were a shocking blue and highlighter yellow. The design toed the line between paisley and abstract Aztec, so honestly, I had no idea what to call it. It was certainly very Neha.
"What do you think?" she asked, shaking it a bit before holding it up on her body. "I've got some killer yellow pumps to go with it that I haven't worn yet, and I'll throw my hair up with this sick red clip I bought yesterday." I puckered my lips as she held her hair up, trying to model the look as she rocked side to side.
"Well, that depends. Are you planning on getting laid tonight?"
"Are you planning on significantly hooking up with anyone?"
"Are you planning on kissing anyone?"
"Are you planning on flirting with anyone with a penis?"
I pursed my lips, looking back and forth between her and the dress before plastering a huge smile on my face. "You'll be fine!"
"Ugh! Emily, I don't know what I'm doing! I suck at this!"
"Oh my God, shut up, Neha. You're good with clothes and you know it."
"Yeah, clothes! Clothes I can do. Boys—Boys I can't!"
"Trust me," I said, smirking at the ceiling. "You can do boys too."
I could feel the weight of her unamused glare against the side of my head. "Apparently not in this I can't."
I repressed a groan, propping myself up on my elbows to look at her. "Listen, if you wanna wear the dress, then wear it. I'm not saying you can't. I'm saying that you are a...very intense person, and I'm telling you now that's gonna scare a lot of guys away. If your goal is getting a guy's attention, it might help if you wore a dress that wasn't more intense than you are."
"You mind?" I asked, raising a resigned hand toward her closet. I half expected her to order me away from it, like she was the only one who could touch her precious miniskirts, but she immediately cast the dress aside and nodded. I bit back a bit of annoyance at having to get up, and even swallowed my comment about letting my dad know I loved him if her wardrobe ate me whole. I was on my best behavior. Even it did feel like it was nursing a tumor in my brain.
It took a disgusting amount of effort to actually look through Neha's clothes. The blurred colors made it hard to tell where one shirt ended and the next dress began. That was without factoring in the physical exertion of driving my hands into the mass and trying to push the clothes apart far enough to see what anything was. I literally needed to ask Neha to push for me a few times so I could wrench an article from the closet's death grip. And then of course, one or both of us would change our minds, and it would get added to the Island of Misfit Outfits we were building on her bed.
Partially because I was too fucking tired to go on, and partially because I honestly liked the dress, I decided on an orange one that fell off the shoulders, with a high waist and a skirt that ended just short of mid thigh. I trusted it into Neha's hands with a wordless noise of finality, and fell back onto her bed.
Neha gave the dress a strange look, crinkling her nose. "Seriously? But it's so...plain..."
"It's not plain, it's classy. Guys are...well the good ones will be intrigued by it. Especially standing next to someone as trashy as me."
"Emily," Neha sighed, her eyes shining with what I liked to call Stage One Pity Disorder.
"Please," I scoffed, before she could get her lecture on. "I own trashiness. You can still wear the shoes and the hair clip. Scoot."
Neha gave me one last look of despair before she gave in, hurrying around the room to grab the rest of her things before heading to the bathroom. "Uh, just make yourself at home! Be back in a minute!"
A few seconds after she left, I was confronted by a conflict between my two great loves—not giving a shit about anyone's personal life, and wanting to know enough about them to have the upper hand. I decided I would just peruse what was out. No need to spend energy snooping, forget respectful privacy. Neha would probably spill her life story after a few drinks anyway.
Once I'd collected enough fucks to give about my search, I climbed off Neha's bed and started my general scan of her room. It was kind of difficult to find the personal touches between the shitload of franchise merchandise. I wasn't going to learn anything new there, except what references I wouldn't be able to make without getting into a five hour, one sided discussion of characters and plot holes. A few pictures were barely visible behind the mountain of clothes on her desk, though. One of her and her parents in front of the sign for her university, probably a couple years prior. One of Neha in a group of friends, their faces barely distinguishable under mass amounts of face paint and complicated looking wigs. Tacked to the wall was one of her and an older boy, both visibly screaming at each other with lightsabers in their hands. Presumably, that was her brother, since there was a much more normal picture of the two propped up on Neha's bedside table. They seemed like they were close. I turned away before my brain could get anymore Hallmark about it.
Neha reemerged from the bathroom more than "a minute" later. Actually, it was several, several minutes. Probably enough for me to take a few shots and then work them off before I had to drive again, but alas I spent the whole time not drunk.
"Are you sure this looks okay?" she asked, playing with the knot of curls behind her head and staring skeptically in the mirror. "This is so weird."
"I mean, if you don't like it then strip. I'm seriously not going to give a fuck if we have different fashion tastes."
"No! It's—It's not that I don't like it. I mean I own it so I totally like it, I just... Usually I'd have more accessories?"
I tilted my head, peering at her reflection in the mirror with one side of my nose scrunched up. "Meh, I guess you're right. Where's that necklace you wore to work on Monday?"
"My Evenstar Pendant?" she asked, turning around with high eyebrows. "You think I should wear a Lord of the Rings reference around my neck in a club?"
"It's not like it's a flashing neon sign that says 'Look at me I'm a dweeb.' Nine out of ten people aren't gonna think it's anything besides a hunk of flashy crystal anyway. And if they do then, hey, you found yourself a keeper. Take him home and fuck his hobbit-brains out."
Neha choked on her laugh, but retrieved the necklace from the center of the pile of clothes on her desk. "Fine, but no fucking and no hobbit brains. He'd have to be an elf if anything."
"Speak for yourself. I'll ride Aragorn into the fucking sunset."
That launched a conversation about Lord of the Rings that lasted pretty much all the way back to the car, onto the highway, and back to my house. It was bordering on exhaustingly long, and a good seventy five percent of it was Neha ranting about this movie and that actor and these actresses and those books, but at least I didn't completely want to blow my brains out.
The conversation fizzled out a few minutes before we reached the house, but I was too busy to pick it up again. My eyes were trailing carefully back and forth between the road and Neha's face, ready to assess her expression when we rounded the corner. As anticipated, I watched her eyes widen slightly, and her mouth hung open a bit. Dad would have been ridiculously proud of himself, and probably laughed. But the look just made the acid flair up and slosh in my stomach.
"This is your house?" Neha asked, voice all wonder as I pulled into the driveway. A short him was as much of an answer as she got.
It's not like Dad and I lived in a mansion or any bullshit. He was much too practical to get anything more than two floors for only two people. Still, the house sprawled a little, and the landscapers kept it looking like the front of a Home and Gardens magazine. I'd grown too used to the clean stucco walls and lion statues to care too much, and it wasn't often that I brought anyone over to remind me that it was anything special. But I wasn't going to leave my car with Neha, so I didn't have much of a choice but to put up with her dumb, dumbstruck awe.
I sped into the garage and stamped on the breaks, making the squeal echo loudly off the high ceiling. Neha cringed, which somehow made me feel better. I was up and out of the drivers seat before Neha had even reached for her seatbelt, and she had to scurry awkwardly behind me in her heels to catch up. At least she was smart enough not to say anything as I led the way through the house, past paintings in cheesy gold frames and flower vases filled with fakes that had been there since I was about three. They didn't look a week old.
The hall poured us out into the kitchen. I promptly ignored Neha's quiet comment of wonder and went straight for the freezer. I yanked out a bottle of vodka, pulled a bottle of juice out of the fridge and was tossing back a shot before Neha even looked my way.
"Wow, you uh...don't waste time!"
"I'm gonna get ready. Help yourself to whatever. Cab will probably be here in twenty."
"Oh, are you sure you don't...?"
"Make yourself at home." I echoed her words from before with a steely edge of finality that actually made her stand up a bit straighter. I could have felt guilty. Probably should have. But instead, I knocked back another shot and stalked out of the room.
After I called the cab, it took me all of fifteen minutes to get ready. It was a habitual transformation - adding more makeup, teasing my hair, trading day clothes for an outfit to rival a sex worker on the job. I opted for black pumps with a leather skirt, and a sparkly blue tank top that would probably end up branding every guy that tried to grind with me. I took the last five minutes for myself, enjoying the last few moments of peace I'd be able to get without being force to socialize. The only company I needed was the Fireball in my desk, which I drank enough of to sear my skin and make me doubt bringing my leather jacket. The part of my brain untouched by whiskey encouraged me to take it anyway. I obeyed, but took a few more swigs in an attempt to shut it up.
The drinking also helped take my edge off when I convinced myself to go back downstairs. Unsurprisingly, Neha hadn't touched much of the alcohol I left out. She was leaned forward over the counter, nails tapping out an impatient rhythm and looking gloomy. But the melancholy disappeared when I walked into the room. I couldn't even tell if she was just trying to be polite.
"Wooow! Looking killer, Em!"
"Better to look it than be it," I said with a shrug. "Cab should be outside soon. You ready for this?"
She took a shaky breath, but nodded her head resolutely. "Totally. Let's do this shit."
I felt my lips curl up and quickly compensated by rolling my eyes as I turned for the door. As an after thought, I ran back to the counter, pouring two shots and forcing one into Neha's hands. "You're not going out with no alcohol in your system." She opened her mouth to say something, but I'd already thrown my shot back down my throat. I shook off the bite of the vodka, forcing my eyes open only to see her still standing there like a puppy whose tail had just been stepped on. I pursed my lips and poured another shot. "Sorry. Go ahead."
She smiled sheepishly, holding up the shot glass to touch mine. "To an unforgettable night. Thanks for inviting me."
I stared at her shot glass, knowing the words that I had to say but not quite drunk enough for them to roll off the tongue without making me nauseous. "Thanks for coming," I said with a grin, and washed the taste of the words out with vodka.
Neha bounced a bit to battle the alcohol, then burst into giggles. She was already tipsy one adrenaline, and wasn't going to wait for the booze to take effect to start acting drunk. I almost snorted at the innocence, and cleared the counter of the glassware. I could have washed the shot glasses and put them away, but I figured Dad would give me less shit if he saw that there'd been two glasses. I was in for an interrogation about me new friends when I got home, but it was better than my four hundredth lecture about drinking when I had work the next morning.
We piled into the cab that was waiting at the curb, and I fed the driver the address of what I liked to call a 'starter club.' It wasn't too intense, and I would have a more difficult time trying to find someone to hook up with, but Neha could ease herself in without getting in over her head. Still, it was intense enough to have a nice time, and there'd be enough guys still drooling from a distance.
"Okay, ground rules," I said, leaning back in my seat and turning to her suddenly attentive expression. "All your basic crap about mixing alcohol and not letting guys hand you drinks. You want bar service, you lean forward enough to let the bartender almost see your chest. Girl bartender, pretend the guy next to you just elbowed you out of the way. Usually works, but it's a bit trickier. Don't wander off and not check in because I cannot promise I will come find you. If you're talking to a guy and you wanna stay, you introduce him first, i.e. 'Steve this is Emily. Emily this is Steve.' If you're talking to a guy and you want out you introduce me first, i.e. 'Emily this is Brad. Brad this is Emily.' Stay away from guys named Brad, on second thought. Never ends well. And only in a life or death situation are you allowed to pretend I'm your date, and it better not happen until I'm at least ten drinks in, got it?"
Neha blinked at me and let out an awkward laugh. "Wow you uh, really have a system, don't you?"
"World's a dangerous place, Patel. Gotta have a battle plan."
"Right. Totally right. I just..." She bit her lip, looking out the window until she had the courage to finish the sentence. "You're not gonna leave me, right? To...you know..." I cocked an eyebrow, making her backtrack. "Not that you can't! I mean, I don't wanna stand in your way, but I know that you usually like—well I mean I don't know but you sound like these nights usually end in sex, and I don't know what I'm gonna do if I end up by myself because even with you coming I'm totally freaking out about what I'm supposed to do and how I'm supposed to act and..."
"I'm not gonna leave you for dead," I said, crossing my arms over my chest. "You're right, I like sex, but it's not the be-all-end-all. I am in fact capable of going out and not fucking someone. You'll be fine." Neha smiled nervously, but nodded firmly. I could see the relief and gratitude in her eyes, but didn't feel like acknowledging it, which made me add, "Besides, if I get really horny I can just screw someone in the bathroom."
That only made Neha laugh, draining the tense relief away for more happiness and gratitude. "Sounds like a plan. Seriously, thanks, Emily."
"Yeah, yeah. Just do not mention it."
The club was already in full swing by the time we got there. Music was pumping, and the dance floor was already swarmed with mildly intoxicated patrons. It took us about an eternity to work our way up to the bar, but we managed after pushing for a few minutes and leaving a few bruises on bystanders with our elbows. Okay, mostly my elbows. But if we didn't fight, we wouldn't have gotten the measly three feet of space we did at the bar, which I had to drag Neha into before some other vultures could swoop down on it.
"So what do you want?" I asked.
"Oh uh...vodka cranberry, I guess?"
"Not what I meant. But I'm always up for more alcohol," I said with a smirk, flagging down the bartender by squishing my boobs against the bar. "Hi there. Can we get a vodka cranberry and three shots of tequila? Thanks, tiger."
"Well what did you mean?" Neha asked once he'd left us with a wink.
"Guys, duh. Take a look around, feel it out. Take a sample from the bar. Who looks like a promising nerd in disguise?"
"Seriously? Now?" she laughed, shaking her head.
"Yes now! The night is young! Wait too long and everyone in this bar with a dick is gonna be pawing at the first set of boobs available. Better to catch them semi-sober."
Neha half-rolled her eyes at me before looking down at the bartop. She bit her lip and traced a swirly pattern onto the fake wood. "I mean, I don't know! I'm not on the prowl for a hook up or anything. If a guy thing happens, then it happens, great. But I just came out to have fun, you know?"
The bartender returned with our drinks, pushing the shots towards me before handing Neha her red-filled glass with another saucy wink. "That one's paid for."
"Wait—Like, for real?"
He laughed, flicking his blonde fringe out of his face and cocking his head a little further down the bar. Neha snapped to attention, easily spotting the handsome guy with his eyes trained on her. He quickly looked down once she'd seen him, black curls tumbling down to cover his face and leaving nothing visible but his olive green shirt and black leather jacket. It was all I could do not to choke on my laughter.
"Well he certainly looks like fun." Neha might have laughed, but any cohesive response was lost when she buried her face in her hands. I waited for her to give some sort of clarification, and smacked her lightly on the arm when she didn't. "What do you think? You wanna talk to him or should we send it back?"
"I mean, I can't, can I?" she asked, flustered with desperation. "He bought it!"
"Look, vodka cranberry is cheap as shit. I'll pay for it and tell the bartender to give the guy a five if you actually feel bad about it. Just because he's dumb enough to blow some cash on a stranger in a bar doesn't mean you owe him jack-shit. You don't have to do a damn thing."
She didn't say anything for a while, anxiously stirring her drink and repeatedly casting glances down the bar toward the mystery guy. I took the time to peruse the rest of the bar, looking out for any other guys who might be available, semi-desirable, and not complete dickwads. As was to be expected, there wasn't much of a sampling.
"I guess he's kinda cute, right?" Neha said finally. She nodded to herself without waiting for an answer, and gripped the bar with a dangerous amount of pressure. "Yeah. Just a conversation. I...I can do this."
"Alright!" I cheered, pushing one of the tequila shots toward her. "To a night full of cautious, but memorable firsts."
"And not vomiting from terror," she added before throwing the shot back. She coughed a bit, pointing at the third glass. "Who's that for?"
"Also moi," I said with a shrug. I picked up both shot glasses, pouring the tequila down my throat at a rate that would make lesser women gag at the thought. Then I pushed the glasses back on the counter and clapped Neha on the shoulder. "I'm gonna go dance. I'll try and stay in sight. If you need an escape, always say bathroom. Good luck!"
"Wait, you're leaving? Emily!"
I was gone before she could voice any more of her concern. One of the great things about the crowds in a bar is that no one ever hinders you from walking away from the alcohol. They're only interested in punching your lights out for trying to get to it first. But with a sufficient amount of alcohol in my bloodstream for the moment, I headed towards the dance floor and dove into the crowd.
Normally I would have headed straight back towards the speakers, pushing forward until the music was a vibration that rattled my skeleton instead of a sound I heard in my ears. But instead, I stayed on the fringe of the crowd, peeking out every now and then to check that Neha was still alive and well, sitting in the same spot and talking to the same guy. Ideally, I wouldn't have spent too much energy caring, but I'd meant what I said about it being a dangerous world. Sure, maybe I wasn't ready to throw girly sleepovers with Neha and let her braid my hair, but I wasn't about to abandon her in a club when she had no idea what she was doing. It felt weird having to care about someone else's whereabouts, though. I was usually a lone wolf—get in, get what I want, and get gone. It felt uncomfortably counter-intuitive to have anything resembling a pack.
With half my mind focused on making sure Neha didn't get abducted, I only had half a brain to dance. That wasn't a problem as far as my actual skill was involved. Club dancing was pretty much second nature to me, and even blackout drunk I wouldn't look half as bad as the crowd around me. But having my mind occupied did mean that I wasn't really paying attention where I was dancing. It usually didn't really matter, since club dance floors were usually a writhing mass of people with no personal bubble space anyway. You moved with the crowd or got trampled, regardless of which way you were intending to go. But that night it did matter, since the flailing idiot behind me decided it wouldn't matter if he accidentally socked me in the face.
"Hey, fuck-face! Watch where you're fucking...Yo-Yo?"
The boy let out some strangled noise—joy or surprise, I couldn't tell—and before I could move he had my arms pinned to my sides in a very tight, very unwarranted hug. "Emily! Oh my God, I am so sorry! Hi!"
"Yeah, hi," I managed, prying his arms off of me. Clearly, he had not stayed as far away from the tequila as he had promised. "Pardon my French, but what the fuck are you doing here? I thought you were going out with Lyle and Stuart? Fuck, you're not here alone, are you?"
"They didn't want to dance!" he whined, then paused to burp. I scrunched up my nose, and his eyes went wide. "You—You should tell them to come dance! They'll listen to you cause you're scary! Come on!"
"No! Santos, I don't want to—..."
But Yo-Yo was already dragging me through the crowd with impressive vigor. We poured out onto the edge of the dance floor in half the time it would have taken me on my own. My arm was yanked to the left, and Yo-Yo quickly pulled me over to one of the rare sunken tables in the middle of the bar section. The boys had spread out their things to claim the surrounding couches, and the table was already littered with empty bottles and shot glasses. They'd obviously shown up early to claim a table for the night. Fucking nerds.
"Guuuys," Yo-Yo practically sang as we barreled up to them. "Look who I found!"
"Woah, Satan!" Stuart said cheerily, leaning back in his seat. "I didn't know you got nights off from the pits of hell. How's business?"
I glared at him but bit my tongue, rounding on Lyle instead. "What the hell are you doing here? This is my club."
"Emily, I only know like three clubs," he countered with a sheepish smile. "And they're all places you've taken me."
"Dweeb," Yo-Yo snorted, stumbling as he reached for one of the glasses on the table. I smacked his hand away.
"Okay, and why is Yo-Yo stumbling around alone while you two sit pretty over here?"
Stuart leaned forward, and his eyelashes fluttered behind his glasses. "Aw shucks, you think we're pretty?"
"He's—He's fine," Lyle defended, waving a hand at the boy who was currently hopping up and down in circles. "How much trouble could he really get into?"
"Well if he had knocked into someone who wasn't me, he could have been fucking killed for one thing. Or thrown out after another bar fight and be drunk and alone on the street."
"Okay, mother hen, then where's Neha?" Stuart asked.
"A, not drunk, and B, at the bar talking to a guy that I've been watching for the past half an hour."
He rolled his eyes at the responsible answer, returning to his drink and dropping the subject. Lyle, on the other hand, broke into a grin—a slow one that instantly made me uncomfortable. "Wow. You're really taking care of her, aren't you? You—You're actually starting to care."
"I'm making sure she doesn't get sold into slavery, Lyle. Not really something you need to applaud me for."
"Oh my God, I love this song. Can I go back now?" Yo-Yo whined, his earlier mission to take the boys dancing apparently forgotten.
Lyle deferred the decision to me, holding up his hands and raising an eyebrow. Yo-Yo turned to me with pouted lips and puppy dog stare, which looked somewhat terrifying on his already large eyes. I huffed and waved him off. "Fine. But stay on the edge of the crowd! I'm not fucking coming after you!"
He was already half gone by the time I finished my sentence, and Lyle laughed. "Who'da thunk that you could be so maternal, Em-dawg?"
I shoved his head down hard enough to make him yelp, glaring at his curls. "This is why I don't go out with other people. I don't need other shit to worry about and get in my way."
"You never worry about me this much when we go out."
"Yeah, because you're an awkward nerd, not an inexperienced child. I don't need any untimely deaths on my conscience."
"Woah, you have a conscience?" Stuart butted in again. "That's a new one."
"Just about as new as that comeback," I snapped, just before Lyle threw up his hands.
"Okay, woah! Hey! Guys! This is supposed to be our night off. Can you two just step off for tonight? No fighting. Em, why don't you go check on Neha and then sit with us. Drink's on me."
I let my eyes flick to Stuart again, who was steadily avoiding my gaze. Judging by the tense shoulders though, he was not exceptionally pleased with Lyle's white flag. I didn't really have any desire to spend more time with the boys, but if it was an easy way to piss Stuart off, and Lyle was buying...
"Fine. Team night part two. I'll be right back."
I dropped my leather jacket on the couch and turned on the spot. I reveled in the groan Stuart released before I was out of ear shot, and the thud and yelp I was fairly certain was him punching Lyle for my invitation. His time off was meant to be time away from me. But I figured I'd be pretty happy using mine to mess him up.
I walked up and down the bar until I spotted Neha's bobbing curly hair. She was still sitting with the same guy, but her grin had faded dramatically. She sat next to him, eyes now dazed and chin in her hand as he talked animatedly about something she clearly had no interest in. I smirked, elbowing a twiggy redhead out of my way and pushing myself up to the bar.
"Neha! Hey there you are! I've been looking everywhere for you!" I threw an arm around her shoulders, playing up the appearance of being drunk as I leaned past her onto the counter. "Hi! Hello?! Hi there, can I please get uh...one of those apple cinnamon things with the Fireball? And a strawberry daiquiri for my girl! Thank you!"
"Uh, Emily! Hey! Uh, Mavin, this is my—no! Um Emily, this is Mavin. Mavin, this is my friend Emily."
"Nice to meet you," he said, an awkward blush rising on his cheeks as I winked at him.
"Pleasure, sugar. Ooh! Alcohol!" I practically jumped over Neha when the bartender appeared with our drinks, and pushed myself half onto the bar to grab our cocktails. I smiled apologetically when he gave me a weird look, and added in a low voice, "Sorry, could you bill this to that table over there with the two boys with the glasses? We'll be joining their party shortly."
"Nice save," he whispered, with a side glance at the couple behind me. Obviously he'd been watching the train wreck in slow motion.
"Here you go!" I said with a bright smile, pushing the drink into Neha's hand and letting myself half trip over in my heels. I grabbed her shoulder and collapsed into giggles, using the excuse to duck my head to her ear. "Tell him you have to get me to a bathroom and you'll be right back."
"Oh my God! Yes! I—I mean, okay, let's—why don't you take a break from that, Em? I'm so sorry, Mavin, I've gotta watch her for a little bit. Uh, she always gets the giggles about two minutes before the blackout and—and vomiting! Oh god, it's—it's terrible, graphic vomiting, so I..."
"I get it!" he assured her nervously, waving his hands between us as I teetered on the spot. "To-Totally okay!"
"Great! I'll be back, bye!"
Neha dragged my arm and promptly pulled me away from the bar, barely giving me enough time to finish my performance with a girly wave and a hiccup. "Toodles!"
"Oh my God," she laughed once we'd cleared the mob. "Oh my God, that was—that was so totally awesome!"
"Yeah, well I could have done without the vomiting details," I grumbled, straightening my shirt and trying to shake the fake drunk giggles out of the fabric. "But yeah. Not bad for your first performance."
"Thank you," she gushed, her words half drowned with strawberry slush. "Seriously, thank you. God, he got onto Naruto and just flew with it. I couldn't even get a word in."
"Wow, a fan conversation you couldn't keep up with?"
"Ugh, gross. That I didn't want to be a part of. I thought I was gonna be the one graphically vomiting."
I chuckled, sipping my drink until I'd had enough whiskey to loop my arm through hers. "Well I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you do not actually have to go back and talk to him. The bad news is that Lyle and I picked the same stupid club and now we have to sit with the boys."
"Oh come on, that's not bad news. It'll be fun!"
I highly doubted that would be true, but I didn't have much of a choice but to let her drag me away once she's spotted the table. She was at least kind enough to sit between Lyle and Stuart, and when Yo-Yo bounced over to greet her, she pulled him towards her other side on the semicircle couch. This created the maximum barrier between me and Stuart. Of course, that meant I was stuck sitting across from his stupid face, but the distance was probably for the better. We weren't arguing at the moment, letting the other three carry on the conversation, but it was only a matter of time.
"I'm booored," Yo-Yo whined, flailing in his seat. "Let's do something."
"Dangerous last words, dude," Stuart said, smacking him on the back. The boy rocked dangerously, reemphasizing Neha's previous assertion that he was too drunk to be permitted onto the dance floor.
"Uh, drinking game?" Lyle suggested. "We could drink our way through an ice breaker or something."
"I love drinking," Yo-Yo agreed desperately. He climbed half over the couch to get the attention of one of the servers, and Neha had to grab the back of his button down to stop him from escaping.
"Ooh! How about 'Never Have I Ever'?" she suggested, and I groaned.
"No. Absolutely not."
"Em hates that game," Lyle explained to her, patting my knee in a patronizing way that made me consider breaking his hand.
"What? Oh my God, no! It's like the best! Why?"
"Because, quote, it's boring and unoriginal and nothing interesting ever comes out of anyone's effing mouth. End quote."
"If you're going to quote me, can you at least be man enough to fucking curse, dumbass?"
"Really?" Stuart asked, ignoring my bonus comment and leaning forward on his knees with his annoyingly incorrect I'm-going-to-win smirk. "Sure it's not cause she always gets out and can't drink her weight in tequila?"
"Excuse me, I can drink my weight in anything just fine," I countered. I leaned forward to match him, and he raised an eyebrow from behind his glasses. "You don't want to step to a girl with tolerance, Twombly."
"I don't think someone so intolerable can have all that much tolerance. I'll be okay."
"O-Kay," Lyle sighed, accepting the tray of shot glasses and bottle of tequila that Yo-Yo had ordered from the server. I passed him a couple bills to pay it off, and escaped with only a mild look of annoyance for starting trouble. It was nice to see his nerves change to resignation so quickly. At least he'd given up the hope of avoiding conflict. "We'll all play 'Never Have I Ever' and, as an added bad idea that doesn't surprise anyone, Stuart and Emily will have a drinking competition. Who wants to go first?"
Neha quickly volunteered, scooting forward in her seat and distributing shot glasses with a mischievous glint in her eye. I took the glass and put up five fingers along with everyone else, narrowing my eyes. "Neha, so help me God, if you start with..."
"Never have I ever had sex."
"Motherfucker!" I yelled as Stuart, Lyle and I all put one finger down. She laughed and high-fived Yo-Yo, and Stuart cracked open the bottle of tequila to begin pouring. "You see this? This is why I hate this game. Because people can never fucking think of things on the spot, and then they ask stupid, vague questions that overshadow a bunch of more interesting ones. Now we can't ask questions about sex for the rest of the game, cause it's targeting, and you already know who's going to drink."
"Chillax, Em-sicle," Lyle said, passing me the bottle after he'd poured his own half-shot. "Sixty percent of us are drinking. There's still plenty of questions to ask that I probably don't want to know the answer to."
Stuart held his glass over the table knocking it against Lyle's and mine with a smirk. "Shut up and bottoms up, Terrell."
"Oh, what a poet," I grumbled, but tossed the shot back.
"Okay, okay, okay!" Yo-Yo bounced up and down in his seat, and the hand with five fingers shook dangerously in the air. "Never have I ever had a sibling." Lyle, Neha and Stuart all groaned, and Yo-Yo whooped obnoxiously as they began pouring drinks. "Only children, read it and weep, suckas!"
"One older brother," Neha shared as she lifted her glass into the air. "His name's Ani, he's the coolest, and he's in film school in New York."
"This is not care and share time," I said, rolling my eyes. "Just take the shot."
"Woah, no, I think that's a good idea," Lyle said, bobbing his head. "I mean, if we're all gonna sit here and play this game that not everyone likes, we should probably learn a thing or two about each other. It's good for the team!"
Stuart shook his head. "You've been spending way too much time with the old timers."
Lyle gave him a pointed look and lifted his glass next to Neha's. "I am the youngest of five. All girls. Harley, Tracy, Taylor, and Emma."
"I uh..." Stuart hesitated, staring down at his shot for a few seconds before he pushed it into the other two. "I've got a younger brother, Brandon. He's thirteen."
"Aw! Baby siblings are the best," Neha gushed. "I always wanted a little sister. Mostly because it would be so freaking good for group cosplays, but..."
Stuart threw back his shot without listening to her, pulling a face as his second consecutive shot burned his throat. His three fingers held up again, he rounded on me. "Never have I ever had a one night stand."
"Targeting is a very weak game strategy, you know." I shrugged, pouring myself a shot and pausing before I drank. "Oh, I'm sorry. If we're all show and telling, am I supposed to recap my history for you guys? Maybe give a few highlights?"
"Please no," Lyle begged from my side.
"Okay. Your loss." I drank the tequila, handing the bottle back to Stuart before the liquid was even all the way down my throat. "And if that's how you want to play, never have I ever had to wear glasses."
"And you say I'm weak? That's the only question you could think of?"
"Come on, Emily," Lyle groaned. "At least don't take me down with him."
"Sorry, Lyle. War has casualties."
He stuck his tongue out at me after his shot, though it more taking advantage of his momentary alcohol gag than actual spite, and then shook his head. "Okay. Uh, never have I ever...never have I ever...had sex with a co-worker!" He turned to me with a wide smile, but my grin never faltered. I pushed my hand into his face, proudly holding up the three fingers I still had up. "Oh come on, for real?"
"Sorry, bro. You're not getting me this time."
"Anyone?" he pleaded, looking around as everyone at the table left their fingers up. "Damn it." Lyle went about pouring himself his penalty shot, ignoring Neha and Yo-Yo's jabs about the slim calculable probability was that he was going to get Stuart or me out with that guess.
I let my eyes drift across the table for a moment, not as surprised as I could have been to find Stuart watching me carefully. I smirked, and he immediately looked away, busying himself with pouring his next shot in case he couldn't dodge the next question. Well, we weren't lying.
The game dragged on, and I hated it as much as I hated every other round of 'Never Have I Ever' that I have ever played. People asked stupid, basic questions when they couldn't think of anything, and with Neha's new personalize-it rule, I learned more about my teammates than I ever really cared to know. Yo-Yo had grown up sitting in on the university classes his father taught, and once he was ten his mother made him start doing the homework for said courses. Lyle had been a part of way too many borderline-incestuous Halloween costumes since he was the only available boy to dress up in the group. Once his sisters were old enough to bring friends, he was demoted to dressing up as unnecessary side characters. Neha had grown up with a pretty benevolent, awesome family, but she was always closest with her brother. They'd sneaked into an R rated movie when he was twelve and she was nine, sufficiently mentally scarring themselves, but also lighting there passion for film and media. Stuart had been working in a restaurant pretty much since he was born, climbing the ranks through silverware sorter to busboy to host to cashier to server. And I... Well, to my credit, I'd done a pretty good job of not giving out too much information on myself. The entire table now knew about my brief passion for photography—which I quickly emphasized was something I'd given up for good—and that I was tentatively majoring in communications at school but hated it. That was about it, and I was very pleased about it.
Besides my annoyance at the small talk and fun facts, the only other thing that remained constant during the game was the competition between Stuart and I. Just about every thing we came up with was aimed to force the other one to drink. Some were hits and some were misses, but we were both getting smashed very quickly. I couldn't even remember when the last time we'd glared at each other was.
After about an hour of games, and another of small talk and drinking, Yo-Yo had to make a mad dash to the bathroom. He returned sweaty and gaunt and, if I had to guess, with his stomach a lot emptier than it had been when he'd gotten up from the table.
Lyle's face paled at the sight of him, and I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd barfed his guts onto the table. "Oh wow, okay! I think it's about time we get you home, buddy." Yo-Yo nodded limply, but gave no other signs of life as Lyle hopped up from the table, swayed, and hurried over to clap him on the back. "Well, guys, this has actually been like, a super successful night out! Good goin' fam! Take your aspirin, drink responsibly, and we'll catch ya tomorrow morning for those HTML seminars!"
Yo-Yo lifted opened his mouth to say goodbye, but burped instead. He settled for a weak wave with his other hand clamped over his stomach. It earned him a sympathetic look from his shepherd, and then Lyle began herding him towards the door.
"Uh, actually, hold up!" Neha's call made them pause, and she turned to me with an embarrassed smile and a low voice. "I think I'm gonna head out too."
"What? No! No, we can share a cab home. Stuart's giving up in a couple minutes, right?"
"You wish," he snorted. I flipped him the bird, but he waved me off and hauled his ass out of his seat to say goodbye to Lyle and Yo-Yo.
Neha rolled her eyes next to me. "A couple minutes? You two? You're so stubborn, you and Stuart will probably be here drinking and fighting until the sun comes up. And to be honest, I do not want to be in the middle of that."
"And you were afraid I was the one who was gonna leave you to die."
"I'm not leaving you to die." She cast a quick glance over at Stuart's back and winked at me. "I'm leaving you to flirt."
I pouted, and glared at her over my shot. "I'm not drunk enough to let you get away with that."
"No, but I'm sober enough to escape your wrath." She patted my knee and scooped up her coat before climbing over my seat. "Drink some water and try not to get too smashed?"
"Eh, no promises, turncoat."
I waved to her and Lyle as they draped Yo-Yo between them. It took a little effort, but he didn't seem to be as far gone as he was on app night, which was a marked improvement. Lyle and Neha would probably pump him full of water and aspirin before he got home, and with any luck, he wouldn't have to barf during the lecture.
Stuart took his seat across from me again, smug smile on his lips as he poured another shot. "Ready to forfeit, Em?"
We held eye contact as we each drank our next shot, and I slammed the glass back down on the table. "Make me, Twombly."
I wish I could say how many shots I ended up having. I'd probably be pretty proud. My liver would probably want to cede from the rest of my body. But I hadn't actually been counting. The number hadn't been the point. The point had been figuring out which one of us would break first, look the other in the eye and say, "You win."
I did not say "you win." But after another twenty months of nothing but vague taunts and shots of tequila, I was growing tired of the game. So what I did say was, "Fuck this. I need to dance."
"Finally," he groaned, dropping the half-full shot glass in his hand and collapsing into the couch. He threw his arms up and his head back. "Sweeeet, sweeeet, sweet victory!"
"That's cute," I said, cracking my neck and rolling my ankles before I even attempted to stand up in my heels. "I did not say that I was giving up."
"Come on, Terrell. You said 'fuck this.' Just be a big girl and admit you want to stop."
"I don't. But I'm getting restless, and if I sit here any longer, I'm gonna snap and kill you before I can enjoy my success. So I'm gonna go dance, and we can keep drinking when I get back."
"Woah, hey, no!" He sat up when I stood, probably too quickly judging by the way he grabbed his head, and had to peek at me through his fingers. "How do I know you're not off eating or puking?"
"I don't trust you not to cheat."
I looked at him for a moment, feeling my lips split into a wicked grin before I could stop them. "Well then, I guess you better keep up."
If he voiced any kind of protest, I ignored him. With a mission in mind, I marched towards the dance floor without so much as a wobble in my step. When you walk like that, people positively split to get out of your way. It's incredibly awesome, a power trip whether you're off your ass drunk or stone cold sober. That makes walking easier, and before you know it, people are half throwing themselves out of your way as if you're the second coming of Christ. Since I couldn't hear him griping behind me, I figured he probably wasn't having the same kind of luck. But within minutes, I found myself a place at the heart of the throbbing crowd. I swung my hips, let the first warm body grab me, and let adrenaline and pent up aggression take over.
Honestly, I kind of forgot about Stuart for a while. I didn't really care whether or not he found me. I'd probably get an earful for forfeiting the next morning either way. At the moment, I was too drunk to care about anything but the physical experience of being in a club - the guy who was hovering behind me but too shy to dance, the sting on my skin as the girl next to me whipped her hair into my arm, the wave of bodies that sent me tumbling left because of some who'd shoved their way into the crowd on the right. Nothing could exist outside of this. It was enough effort to process the sound of the music in my head and move my chest enough to breathe.
Someone grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me around faster than I was prepared for. My nails sunk into the fabric of a button down, and I laughed loudly but inaudibly as my body toppled into theirs. The hands readjusted to my back, my waist, my shoulders again, and Stuart's voice weaseled its way between the down beats in the music. "Emily! Jesus Christ, stop moving!"
"We're dancing!" I laughed over the music. I grabbed one of his hands off my shoulders, spinning under my arm and letting the crowd push me back into him. "Moving's kind of the point!"
Apparently, he didn't understand that was the point at all. I knew that he could dance—had seen it first hand on the team's first night out, when it'd been dangerously close to good. But in the middle of the dance floor, he suddenly wasn't able to muster anything beyond a few head bops and neck scratches. I didn't know whether it was performance issues, overwhelmed senses, or just him being a limp dick, but frankly I didn't care. I wanted to dance, and my patience was historically stretched thin.
I gave him about thirty seconds before I dropped his hands, giving myself free reign over the square foot of floor space I could call my own. If I had to freestyle solo for a little bit, so be it. I would give him a song to snap out of it, maybe a song and a half if I was feeling particularly generous and ridiculously lazy. If he wouldn't man up, I'd find someone who would, and I'd sleep just as well either way.
I actually ended up dancing alone for two songs, occupying the space in front of Stuart without really acknowledging that he was there. I faced him, I turned my back, twirled in idiotic circles, but he didn't move all that much. When the third song started, I mentally shrugged, flicking my hair over one shoulder and turning to go find the very attractive blonde boy who had been dancing not too far away from me before Stuart showed up.
A pair of hands grabbed my hips—stronger than I would have expected, but gentler than I would have liked. I pushed myself back into the chest as a response, and felt the fingers press harder, the palms flatten against my skirt. I narrowed my eyes at the thought hanging in midair, and rolled my hips back against the the boy behind me. And if you think people walking out of your way makes you feel good, you should try rendering a guy completely rigid when he's horny. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a power trip.
I grinned, laying my hands over his and coaxing his hips into motion with mine. They were tentative at first, rolling with such potential skill, but not enough pressure to give a damn about. I tightened my grip on his hands, letting my nails dig into his skin. That seemed to be the trick start. The front of his jeans pressed harshly into the seat of my skirt, and his hands slid down my thighs as he pulled me closer. His fingers drummed over the skin at the end of my skirt, and I let my head fall back against his shoulder so I could grin up at the ceiling.
This was the part I usually let myself get lost in—the meaningless grinding, the mindless grabbing—until I woke up the next morning a messy bundle of sore limbs and hazy memories. But I couldn't stop thinking just yet. Not until I'd locked on my target. So instead, I focused on the waves of air that brushed over my neck. He was looking down at me, each breath against my skin giving me better insight into his brain. I listened to each intake of air and rocked my hips against him, until his breathing hitched and he swallowed hard.
I released one of his hands, dragging mine up over my chest. I paused at the neckline of my shirt, playing with the edge until the breathing hitched again. Good. He was watching me. My hand skimmed over my neck and made the jump to his, traveling up until my arm was bent back with my fingers sinking through his hair. It made him instinctively lean forward to accommodate me, and he panted gently into my ear. I pushed the smirk off my face. This was essential. I looked a fraction to the right, and then slowly—very slowly—twisted my neck so I could look at him.
There was a glare over his glasses, barely allowing me to assess how dark his eyes had gotten. There wasn't enough light to be sure he was looking at my lips, but if his hips were anything to go by, he was definitely thinking about it. I let my teeth graze over my lip, marginally tightened my hand in his hair, stopped my breathing as I stared him down. And like clockwork, Stuart's lips crashed into mine.
Here was familiar. Stuart's hands grabbing my waist while his lips bruised mine. My fingers tangling in his hair until he almost growled. He spun me quickly, easing the strain on my neck and grabbing it with one hand while the other hovered below the hem of my skirt. It was too close to my ass to not be grabbing me. Frankly, it was rude. So I just snatched his wrist and moved it there, arching my back to emphasize the importance of the gesture. Stuart caught on quickly and dropped both his hands to my skirt to correct his mistake. I raked both hands through his hair and brushed my tongue over his lips as a reward.
It was only a couple minutes before I realized that we were rapidly becoming those people that everyone hates—the ones that pretty much screw each other on the dance floor and subject you to watching a porno with clothes while you're in public. Stuart's tongue flicked against mine, and for a brief moment I decided that everyone else could go fuck themselves if they had a problem, because I was doing pretty good where I was. Then an unnecessarily sharp elbow banged into my back, most likely aimed by an annoyed passerby, and I pulled my face back so I could look him full in the face. I was proud to see that his cheeks were a bright, splotchy red, the result of a combination of heat and lack of breath, and his hair was sticking up in all directions from my fingers. I grabbed his shirt to keep him close, smirking when I noticed tiny blue sparkles embedded in the fabric.
"So here's the deal. We can stay here dry humping until we get bored, or we can go back to your apartment and fuck each other's brains out."
He blinked at me, and glanced down at the hand I had embedded in his shirt. There wasn't much of a pause. "Cab's on you."
Now traditionally, this is the part people skip. End scene, cut to bedroom, graphic sex scene or fade to black. But that isn't the way life pans out, and unless we develop teleportation accessible to the public, it never will be. The reality isn't glamorous. It's elbowing your way back through the crowd and facing the giant tab you opened for your drinking competition. It's calling a cab trying not to let yourself sink into an uncomfortable silence. That usually leads to more making out on the sidewalk until the cab shows up, which I had to initiate because Stuart was being an awkward child who was making it painfully obvious that he had never done this before. Kissing he seemed fairly comfortable with though, and I was backed up and pinned to a parking meter by the time the cab pulled up.
I pulled him into the backseat of the car, meeting the cabby's grumpy gaze with an even smile. Judging by the way he pretty much barked his question about our destination, he was not looking forward to a car ride with two drunk college kids in his backseat.
Stuart hesitated at the question, throwing a side glance to where I was slouched comfortably next to him. It was the point of no return. The moment he said his address I had him pinned for the point, whether we ended up screwing or not. But after a second he fed the driver his address, and collapsed back next to me. For once, he seemed content to put his pride aside. Which tends to happen when boys get horny and need someone to take care of them.
"Now listen," the man up front started, glaring at us in the mirror. "I've had enough of that hormone crap for a life time. So if I catch any funny business back there, you're out on the curb and paying full fair."
"What?" Stuart half-laughed, and I smacked him on the chest.
"No problem, sir. Best behavior."
His glare doubled, and I leaned into Stuart to rest my head on his shoulder with my most innocent smile. The driver grumbled and pulled onto the road, driving faster than was probably safe. Clearly, best behavior or not, he wanted us out of his precious roadtrap as soon as possible.
I sighed and pushed my head farther into the crook of Stuart's neck. One hand slid over his knee, tapping out a rhythm while I turned to out the window as we drove. He glanced down at me again, cocking an unimpressed eyebrow. "What exactly do you think you're doing?"
"Relax, Twombly," I said with a small smile. "Not everything I do is a death threat in disguise."
I winked at him, patting the inside of his knee and looking back outside. "Ye of little faith."
To be fair, it wasn't a lie. The oh-look-we're-such-a-cute-cuddly-couple play had not been part of a plan to kill him. It was part of my plan to mess with him, though.
Now in the optimal position, I let my fingers trace the seam on the inside of Stuart's jeans. Just a light absent minded thing that went completely unnoticed. It also went unnoticed when I slid my hand a little higher, the light brushes turning into small circles I was rubbing into the denim. It took him a few minutes to react, but I noticed the moment his opposite foot stopped impatiently tapping against the floor. He shifted a bit in the seat, cleared his throat as quietly as he could manage without letting on that he was uncomfortable. I stalled my hand for a moment, only moving my thumb as I waited to see whether or not he was going to call me out on it. But Stuart didn't say anything. He just kept his eyes ahead of him, looking distant and a little terrified. Exactly what I was going for.
I monitored his expression closely as my hand slowly moved up his thigh. I dragged it out as long as I could, darting back towards his knee, changing the direction of the circles, pretending to get distracted by the view and stopping for a few seconds. But by the time I was two thirds up his thigh, he'd caught onto the game. The best part, of course, was that he couldn't say anything. If he tried to say anything, even let his careful expression break, the cab driver would probably slam his hand on an eject button and we'd be on the curb. That meant either walking or public indecency, which I was pretty sure Stuart wasn't up for. I watched with a grin as his poker face got tighter and tighter, each crease and twitched laced with fury as I slid my hand closer to the inconspicuous but growing bulge in his pants.
When the car screeched to a stop, I quickly sat up and grabbed my bag. I grinned as Stuart coughed over his own groan of disappointment when my hands left him cold. The driver's suspicious look eased when he saw the large tip I handed him, but Stuart put it right back in place when he practically dislocated my shoulder yanking me from the car. He didn't jump me like I expected him to, but the grip he kept on my wrist was tighter than necessary as he pulled me toward the building.
The place wasn't exactly a dump, but it clearly wasn't as nice as the company provided housing. The staircase he dragged me up was rickety, with peeling paper on the walls and paint splatters left on the banister. I was prepared to find doors hanging off their hinges and a tea party of cockroaches when Stuart opened his door, but the actual apartment was a lot nicer than the hallway. Really, it was just a lot plainer than Neha's apartment. There was a small television and couch, which still had Stuart's open suitcases laying behind it. There was a small, unusually clean kitchenette to the left, and a small dining table on the right, though I doubted it got much use. Judging by the state of the place, and the cramped amount of space, Stuart was probably living here alone. Well, at least there wouldn't be an awkward roommate meet-and-greet the next morning.
"So, you're too good for company hou—..."
The rest of my sentence was a muffled squeal as Stuart rushed me, grabbing me roughly and stumbling as he backed me into the table. I grabbed his shirt again, instinctively trying to keep my balance, and let out an involuntary moan as he slipped his tongue past my lips. The surge forward made me bend back, and I raked my nails down his chest before dropping my hands to the table behind me. I gripped the edge, ready to hop up on top of it, by Stuart was already grabbing my wrists again. He forced my arms apart and shoved me back, pinning me back to the table and forcing my back into an awkward arch. I'll admit it wasn't exactly uncomfortable, especially with Stuart's hips circling into mine and grinding me against the edge of the table. I spread my legs to accommodate him, and he pushed my arms farther back on the table.
When being stretched and toyed with like Play-Doh had lost its charm, I bucked my hips into his, gaining just enough of an advantage to take control of the kiss and bite down on his lower lip. He yelped, stumbling back with a hand to his mouth and giving me the room I needed to stand up.
"Ow! What the fuck was that?"
"What? You wanna play rough that's what you're gonna get. I told you I'd bite."
"Cute," he grumbled, pulling his hand back to check if he was bleeding.
"Hey, I'm all for sex on the dining room table. But we're not gonna get very far if you don't let me use my hands." I pulled the strap of my purse over my shoulder and dropped it dramatically on the table. Yeah, very unnecessary, but it got him watching me. And I was all about the show.
He watched motionlessly as I pulled the shirt over my head, tossing it onto the table with a quirked eyebrow. I watched his eyes flick over the lace of the teal and black striped bra, which seemed to keep him sufficiently occupied as I walked toward him. Or maybe he was just waiting for me to make my move, like any other game. He'd certainly made it clear that he was going first. Now it was my turn.
I let my eyes drag over him, contemplating for a moment before I reached up. I sank my hands into his hair again, pulling him down to me and kissing him hard. It wasn't super passionate or anything, but it was slower than the heedless one he'd thrown me into. I dragged my tongue over his swollen lip, as much of an apology as he was going to get. He didn't seem to be holding out, though. His hands grabbed my hips again, thumbs twitching when they met the bare skin over my skirt. He slid his palms over my stomach, around my sides, up onto my back. I should have seen it coming when his finger slid under my strap, but I was focusing on sliding my hands down his chest to get his button down off.
"Fuck!" I yelped, jumping against him at the impact and rubbing at the red mark he'd left with the elastic of my bra.
He smirked, sliding his hands smoothly down my back to settle on my ass. "Hey, payback's a bitch too! You've got so much in common!"
I glowered at him, any resolve I had to maintain logical control of the situation evaporating with the last of my patience. If he wanted to play that way, then fine. I'd keep control with brute force.
I roughly grabbed his face for another kiss, and was yanking his button down off before he was prepared. The sleeves tangled on his arms, folds cutting in pretty painfully if the grunting against my lips was anything to go by. I went for his shirt just as he went for my bra, and the two items knotted up when we tried to take them off at the same time. Stuart grabbed the entire pile and hurled it across the room. This time he grabbed my face with both hands, and we stumbled back a few steps from the force. I ran my hands over his torso and pressed myself against him. My nails nicked his hip bones over his jeans, and I gently scratched one nail up the trail of hair to his navel. Either that or my rack pressing into his chest seemed to make him sufficiently frantic.
In a matter of seconds my back was being slammed against the wall. Stuart bent down, breathing heavily in my ear before he started a trail of kisses along my jaw. I went for his happy trail again, but had my hands harshly thrown away. He didn't pin my wrists again, which was kind of a shame, but I guess he made up for it by groping my ass. This time there was no hesitation or ceremony. He squeezed his way down to the edge of my skirt, then slid the whole thing up onto my stomach without bothering to undo the zipper.
"Cheater," I mumbled, throwing my head back against the wall as he grabbed at me, fingers sinking into flesh. He apologized by teasing my pulse point with his teeth, then sweeping his tongue over the mark.
I pushed him back by his hips, making just enough room for me to unbuckle his belt. I popped the button and zipper on his jeans, grabbing each side so I could pull him around the corner and into the hallway. He caught on quickly, bringing his mouth back to mine and trying to guide me to the bedroom. Unfortunately, he really failed to do literally anything but blindly push me into more walls. I would have pushed him off me and walked on my own, but he'd finally come to the realization that my bra being off meant that his hands could be on my tits, so I let it slide until he actually managed to push me into his room. Then I was done with being led.
With my hands on his chest, I drove Stuart back until I could shove him down onto the bed. I hooked my fingers under his pants, yanking them down to his knees. I held eye contact and leaned down, choosing a bit of skin over the elastic of his underwear and pinching with my teeth. His hips bucked involuntarily, and I had to dodge getting jabbed in the throat by his boner. I rolled my eyes and stood up, flicking his inner thigh. "Lose the pants, Twombly."
For possibly the first time, he listened to me without complaint. I busied myself taking off the shoes and the misplaced skirt, pouting down at my matching thong before deciding to strip that too. No point waiting another three minutes for a big unveiling. It wasn't like he hadn't seen a vagina before. Though that little fun fact was completely at odds with the sight of the struggling boy on the bed. Maybe his jeans were too small, or Stuart was too drunk—either way he looked like a fourteen year old about to lose his V-card the way he was struggling to get his pants off from around his ankles. I let myself appreciate the pathetic sight for a few seconds, until I started getting impatient and horny again. I shoved his back down on the mattress and ripped the jeans off with one good tug. I was going to snap at him about it, but his face was already flushed from adrenaline and embarrassment, so I kept the snark to a smirk. I could hold it over his head for the rest of eternity anyway.
I crawled over him, straddling his hips and dragging my nose along the center of his chest. Stuart's hands slid up my legs and onto my ass, and I tugged on his earlobe with my teeth. He almost managed to swallow the curse, but wasn't quite fast enough. I sat up with a grin and plucked his glasses off of his face.
"Oh my God, these don't even do anything," I laughed, holding them up to my face. "These are glorified brainy specs."
"I need them for distance, shut up."
I rolled my eyes, dropping them on the bedside table and leaning over him again, hair falling around my face. "You're such a fucking hipster."
"And you're a fucking tramp. Are we doing this or not?"
I raised an eyebrow at the vocab word. "Damn, someone sounds kind of desperate." I trailed a hand down to tease his dick though the fabric, grinning when he rammed his eyes shut and pressed his head back into the pillow. He gulped, but managed to slide his hand between my legs, swiping his fingers through me to tease me back. I sighed before I could bite my lip.
"Yeah? I'm not the only one."
We glared at each other for what could have been a whole minute, each with our fingers on the metaphorical trigger. It didn't take a genius to guess the challenge we were proposing, even without words. It was always going to be some sort of battle. But with this, whoever came last won. Pun very much intended.
Because he was being an asshole as usual, Stuart didn't have any shame in giving himself a head start. I wasn't about to try and win a round of foreplay by rubbing his dick out dry, so I had to go scrambling for the jerk lotion that was on the nightstand—just like it was in pretty much every other guy's bedroom I'd been in who was under the age of thirty. It was, of course, a little harder to manage when Stuart decided he'd just start out the gate pushing two fingers into me and going to town. It took a little more discipline than I care to admit to keep my cool. The boy was good with his hands, and judging by the colossal, shit-eating grin on his face, he fucking knew it. Of course, I was pretty good too.
I pushed my hands past his underwear, wrapping one slicked hand around his cock and dragging it up slowly but firmly. Honestly, most guys are so used to the incompetently hard and fast rhythm of their own hands from jerking off that a girl taking a handjob slow usually blows their mind. Stuart didn't freeze like most guys I treated, but I did catch him biting his lip before he curled his fingers and made my eyes flutter. I half grinned, pumping my hand again with one finger dragging slower than the rest, the nail barely scratching the underside of his shaft. That one got him. His head tilted back on the pillow and his jaw dropped with a ragged breath. I smiled smugly, and leaned up to match our lips again. It was partially to hide my hitched breath when his thumb brushed my clit, but he didn't have to know that.
The slow and steady thing didn't last long, though. Stuart added another finger and started picking up speed, probably to goad me into doing the same. I know I shouldn't have taken the bait, especially when my dignity was at stake for the rest of the summer, but I wasn't all that disciplined. It was only a few minutes before my hair was sticking to my forehead from exertion and adrenaline, and my legs were shaking a bit as I tried to stay balanced with both hands otherwise occupied. Stuart picked up on that pretty quickly, moving his hands to my hips so he could flip me onto my back. I disguised my sigh of relief as a huff of annoyance, and finally got around to pulling Stuart's briefs onto his thighs. I gave his cock a slow tug with both hands, but he quickly grabbed my wrists.
"Oh come on, Stewie," I said with a Cheshire grin. "It's okay. I know I'm good. You don't have to be embarrassed."
He pursed his lips, making it obvious that he was embarrassed, but shook his head as he sat back to peel his underwear off. "It's not that. I just, uh...figured that we should probably..."
"Get around to the fucking part before you blow your top and find out that Twombly Junior isn't capable of rebounding?" He glared at me, and I propped myself up on my elbows. "Dude, I know how this goes. It's fine. Get a condom and get on with it, because I cannot promise I'm gonna wait for you."
Stuart hopped off the bed, rummaging in his drawers for a box of condoms and turning his back to me so he could put it on. I repressed a snort. I never really understood why guys felt like they needed to do that. More often than not, the dick had just been halfway down my throat, but you got shy trying to get it dressed? Penises are fucking weird, and we all know it. Absolute children.
After a few seconds of struggling, Stuart walked back over and hopped up on the bed. I watched as he took a deep breath that puffed his cheeks out, and he settled himself between my legs before leaning over me. He stayed like that for a few seconds, pushing his hair out of his face and looking me up and down without actually moving a muscle. I'd already used up my patience for the night though, so instead of waiting for him to get his bearings, I laughed.
"Oh God, please tell me you're one of those 'get under the covers' guys. That's hilarious."
"No, I just..." He sighed, squeezing his eyes shut and then squinting at me in uncertainty. "Are you sure you want—...?"
I promptly punched him in the shoulder. And I don't mean like oh-that's-so-funny-bro. I punched him in the shoulder and he yelped and sat up. It gave me enough leverage to shove him back and roll us over, where I could easily climb on top of him again. "Jesus Christ, Stuart. Grow up."
"What? I was just try—ah God..."
The rest of his sentence slipped off his tongue and back down his throat as I grabbed his cock and pushed myself down on top of it. I circled my hips a few times, half to find the most comfortable position to ride him and half because the face he made whenever I moved was actually fucking hilarious. Once I was happy with my seat, I shifted gears from circling to rolling, slowly ghosting my hands up Stuart's torso and planting them on his chest. He was already blinking hard, looking confused by his own heavy breathing as I bucked into him. His hands were shaky, but they managed to make it to my hips. They steadied out once he got a hang of my rhythm, and in a minute his fingers were digging into my hip bones hard enough to leave bruises. I didn't mind in the slightest.
"Shit," he cursed under his breath, and his head tilted back until I could barely see anything but his exposed neck. His grip tightened on my hips, and suddenly he was lifting me.
I dropped back onto him with a moan, and he bucked his hips to pick me up again. I dug my nails into his chest, and it actually took my brain a few seconds to process what was happening. "W-Wait. No! You're not—fuck—you're not allowed to do that!"
"What?" he asked through clenched teeth, pushing me back down and bucking his hips a little further off the mattress. It made me moan again, but I wasn't about to lose my train of thought.
"I'm on top!"
"So stop fucking power-bottoming, dickwad!"
"Wh-What? Are you seriously making that joke right now? I thought that—fuck!"
He broke off again, slamming my hips into his despite my protests. And despite my protests, I matched each and every stroke, panting heavily and trying to concentrate on the red marks my nails were leaving on his pale skin. I was not going to break first. I was not going to lose. I was in control of the situation, and I was not going to...
I laughed loudly as Stuart groaned, his body twitching under mine as he came first. I kept bouncing, sped up even, and brushed a strand of hair away from my face. "See? Tha—That's what you get when you're an asshole! You lose, and I w—oh! Sh-it!" I jumped a bit when Stuart rubbed his thumb in a harsh circle over my clit. My jaw dropped open with a whimper, and no matter how many times I tried I couldn't seem to get it to shut.
His unoccupied hand reached up behind my neck, the fingers knotting between my hair and then yanking me forward until I was only an inch or two from his face. "Stop talking, Emily." He didn't give me much of a choice though, pulling me into another kiss that was bordering on vicious. Teeth knocked against teeth, and my eyes clenched shut as his tongue flicked mine.
I dug my nails into his shoulders, and a few seconds later I gasped into his mouth as I came. Stuart's hands moved slowly to my lower back, holding me steady until my breath stopped stuttering. Then he pushed me onto my back next to him on the bed. Our legs were still tangled uncomfortably, but neither of us moved. We just laid on our backs, breathing heavily.
As I stared up at the cracked ceiling, it occurred to me that I was fucked. Not physically, though Stuart had done a pretty commendable job at that too, but in general. Because sex with Stuart was never part of the plan. The plan was always go out, have fun, screw a stranger, don't call back. No connections, no repeats. But even if I didn't sleep with him again, Stuart wasn't someone I was going to be able to avoid. I was going to see him every day for this stupid, fuckass job, and I was probably going to have to face some sort of twisted consequence. That was stupid, because I knew it was just sex—sex that I had totally won, at that. It was another point I got to chalk up for myself in my war with Stuart. But that door swung both ways, and I had a bad feeling that I had just opened it.
I really didn't like feelings like that. So I did what I always had when feelings and emotions and crap tried to get the best of me. I shut the fuck down, and completely ignored the situation.
I kicked Stuart's legs until I was free, then rolled onto my side with a grin. "So, you want top this time?"
A/N: I want to preface this by letting you all know just how difficult this chapter was to write. Emily has a very different attitude towards sex than I do, but I wanted the chapter to be unquestioningly her voice. I'm sorry if any of her actions or terminology made you uncomfortable. This is a general heads up that several chapters from here on out will contain similar content. If you guys think it's necessary, I'll put warnings in the beginning like this.
But I'm glad I got this out. Sorry for the length, and for those of you who don't mind, you're welcome. Excited to hear what you all think of this development.