David was dizzy. Probably from drinking. But also from social anxiety. He downed the remainder of a lukewarm Pabst and crushed the can in his palm, shuffling nervously through the crowded living room towards the kitchen for another one. He’d had five already. May as well make it an even six.
There were four Others lingering around the frig, chatting about something. Politics or gossip… Bullshit, basically. If David was going to get a beer, he realized that he’d have to somehow slip between them, interrupt their conversation and – worst case scenario – get sucked into it himself. He heard his heart pounding against his ribcage. Felt his forehead growing warmer. Taking a deep breath, he took an awkward step forward.
“Excuse me,” he mumbled before grasping the handle of the door and pulling it open. The four Others had put their discussion on hold. David’s hands trembled as he fumbled through the loaded frig for a cold Pabst. After some difficulty, he managed to locate one and closed the frig with a barely audible “Sorry.”
“S’okay,” one of the four Others sighed. A girl, probably 19 or 20, with dyed black hair and too much eyeliner. David felt her annoyance in his bones. He’d never seen her before, or most of the people here for that matter. He’d come to this party – against his better judgment – at the behest of his friend Tess, but now, she was nowhere to be found. She’d gone off with some of her other friends shortly after she and David had arrived. He was still pissed at her for this.
She knows I have awful social anxiety, he thought, Why the hell would she just throw me to the wolves like this?
There he was, alone, guzzling Pabst Blue Ribbon, standing in his own little corner on the fringes of a party whose host he’d yet to meet. The alcohol had not produced its intended effect of calming his nerves enough so he could actually engage the other revelers and enjoy himself. He decided to go out on the back deck and do what he normally did in these circumstances – chain smoke.
It was a mild later summer night. The weekend after Labor Day. The air was balmy, the sky was clear and peppered with blazing stars. David stuffed an unlit Camel between his lips. There weren’t a whole lot of Others out there with him. Two girls he didn’t know were cuddled up together on a weathered deck swing. Three guys and another girl stood on the opposite side, laughing and passing around a joint. Hoping he wouldn’t be noticed, David lit his cigarette and slunk into the far corner of the deck. He gazed up at the night sky, trying his best to clear his head. Just keep drinking, he thought.
Some time passed. By now, the three pot smokers had gone inside, the couple on the deck swing had dozed off, and David had smoked roughly five cigarettes. He was working on a sixth. He’d long since finished his beer, but found no desire to get another one. Too many people. Suddenly, he heard his name called from behind. He turned his head. It was Tess.
“David!” She half-shouted, “I have been looking all over for you,” She ambled up to him, spilling some of the contents of her red Solo cup on David’s windbreaker.
“Shit, I’m sorry about that,” she slurred and attempted to rub the stain out with her palm.
“It’s fine,” David forced a semi-smile.
“Why are you out here all by yourself?” Tess asked. The aroma of tequila lingered upon each word.
“I’m not by myself. I made some friends.” David motioned to the passed out couple on the deck swing.
“Honestly, I just needed some air,”
“There’s better air inside!” Tess laughed. She was hammered.
“I’m fine out here,” David tried to assure her, but after some thought, said “Actually… I think I may just jet…”
“What do you mean? Why?”
“I kind of just want to go home, smoke a bowl, and watch Adult Swim.”
“Well how are you gonna get home?” A painfully sincere look of concern came over Tess’ face.
“I dunno. Walk I guess. I only live a few blocks from here.”
“I think you should staaaaaaaaay.” Tess implored, tugging at David’s sleeve as if that would suffice as a convincing argument to persuade him. ”
“Tess…” David began, carefully going over in his head what he was about to say, “Tess, I really didn’t want to come here in the first place. But you swore – swore – that it’d be fun, that we’d have a good time, and I’d be glad I came. Then, as soon as we get here, you go off with your friends and leave me alone amid complete fucking strangers. You know that I have crazy anxiety about this shit. I can’t loosen up. I can’t have fun. Fuck, you’re the first person that I’ve talked to in the two and a half hours that have gone by since we got here,” David exhaled deeply. The two were silent.
“Listen, I’m sorry man…” Tess finally said, “But I still think… ” here she hiccupped, “I still think that you should come back inside and hang out. We’re listening to Converge and push moshing. It’ll be fun!”
“I mean, that’s great and everything, but… I still think I’m just gonna call it a night. I’m just not feeling okay.”
“I understand. Alright David. Be safe getting home. Watch out for hoodlums!” The two friends hugged briefly and bid each other farewell. David walked down the steps of the deck to the backyard, then through the gate and finally onto the sidewalk. He lit himself another cigarette, inhaling deeply, and savoring the robust flavor of genuine Turkish tobacco. He blew a thick plume of smoke at the night sky, which now seemed much clearer, more inviting. Feeling calmer, David started for home.

-r. miller


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