"Chill out." Melinda smacks her lips together, smudging her brilliant ruby lipstick a little. "It's a party. You look like somebody died."
“Your lipstick is smudged.” I look dubiously around the room. Everyone already looks wasted—a good sign, I suppose. Even though I’ve always lived in this city, the college life is so different than the townie life that it shocks me that this frat house is only a block away from mine.
“It’s dark, nobody will notice.”
“Nobody fun will notice.” It’s a subtle jab, and she smiles so the impact is softened, but I still feel it.
Melinda’s right though. I am not fun. The party is too loud, and the strobes are too bright, and there are far too many people. “I don’t know why you brought me here anyway. You know I’m boring.”
“What?” Some guy, already drunk, stumbles in between us, incoherently wailing the words to the song playing.
“I said,” I yell, “that I’m boring!”
“You’re not boring.” Melinda smooths down her dress, and how she can handle touching all those sequins is beyond me. “You’re just… sheltered.”
She’s right, but she shouldn’t say it. I tug at the edge of the crop top she convinced me to wear. “I should just leave.”
“No, no, no. You’re the one who wanted to come in the first place. Everyone should go to a real New Year’s Eve party at least once! Plus, I don’t want to walk home alone, that’s not safe.”
Privately, I doubt that she’ll be coming back to our room tonight at all. But she’s right; I want any… encounters that she has tonight to be on her own terms. “Alright, fine. But I’m going to make this terrible for you.”
Melinda laughs. “No way. Behind every sheltered girl is a party animal.”
I roll my eyes. “If you say so.”
“Alright!” Melinda grabs my arm. “Come on then. First stop; the kitchen!”
I let Melinda drag me into the kitchen, which is even more packed than the foyer.
“Melinda!” A chorus of cheers sound from the table, where a pack of already-drunk frat guys are trying their very hardest to play beer pong. “You made it!”
“You know I did!” Melinda grins at them. She was right; nobody but me seems to notice the smudged lipstick.
“Hey!” A girl pops up from behind me, causing me to jump into a guy.
“S’alright, man,” he mumbles back, tottering out of the kitchen
The girl grabs my hand and shoves a solo cup into it. “Hey!” she says again.
“Didn’t we have chemis—hic—istry together last year?”
“I didn’t take chemistry last year.”
“No, no, we totally did!” She turns to Melinda, spilling half of her drink down her front and smacking her head on a cabinet. “Didn’t she take chem with us?”
“Katie, I didn’t take chem with you last year either.” Smoothly, as if she’s done all this a million times before, Melinda grabs the cup Katie is holding, dumps it in the sink, fills the cup with water and gives it back to Katie before yelling “Bottoms up!” which causes Katie and everyone in the immediate vicinity to immediately chug their drinks.
“Wow. That was impressive.”
Melinda raises her eyebrows at me. “You too, El.”
“What?” I look down. “Oh.” The solo cup I was so graciously given by Katie is filled with something brown and carbonated. “What is it?”
“Whatever the punch of the evening is. I dunno.” Melinda shrugs. “I never drink any of it. Too much sugar, it’s unhealthy,” she says, taking a pull straight from a bottle of… I don’t even want to know. “You should try it though.”
After that endorsement, how can I not? I take a delicate sniff—it smells like soda, I think, although the room is filled with so many other things I doubt it’s very accurate anyway.
“Dude. Just take a sip. If you don’t like it, you can put it down immediately. It’s not poison.”
“I mean, it is. Technically speaking, alcohol is a poison.”
“El, I swear—”
“Fine, fine, fine, I know.” I take a small sip. It’s not so bad, really—much better than the wine I’ve had before. Sweeter. “What is it?”
Melinda shrugs. “Hey, Porter! What’s in this!”
Porter lifts his head from the beer pong table, and his red rimmed eyes are unable to fixate on me. “Iz, uh, rum and root beer and uh…”
“Thanks, man.” Melinda turns back to me. “It’s rum and root beer, apparently.”
“I got that, yeah.” It’s pretty good though, so it doesn’t take me long to finish that cup, and then another while Melinda tries her hand at beer pong, and then a third before I’ve realized that there’s a buffer before my hand moves and my head feels heavier than normal.
“Melinda?” I say, turning around way faster than I feel like I should be. Melinda is not there. When did she leave? I vaguely remember her telling me she was going to a different room. Did that mean she was leaving? Shoot.
“And that’s why,” Katie says, slurring, “the… the size of the hatzegopteryx goes… against the principle of insular dwarfism.” I didn’t realize I was still talking to her.
“What…” Why am I so warm? Is Katie this warm? “What are you even talking about right now?”
“What?” says Katie, and I can’t help but laugh. This is ridiculous.
“I’m find Melinda,” I try to tell Katie, but from the look she gives me, I’m not sure either of us even speak English. Wouldn’t that be funny? If neither of us spoke any English? Oh, and my legs are carrying me now. That’s right, I was gonna find Melinda.
Luckily for me, she’s out in the living room, having a ball. “El!”
She grabs my shoulders. “You’re having a good time!”
“I am!” At least, I think I am. “It’s too hot though! I wanna take off my shirt!”
Behind Melinda, a guy starts to throw up into a wastebasket and I hear myself say “Uh-oh.”
“Uh-oh? Uh-oh what?”
I feel the alcohol bubble into the bottom of my throat. I’ve never been able to see someone vomit without vomiting myself. “Bathroom!”
“Up the stairs!” I can’t tell if it’s Melinda telling me or someone else, but either way I dart up the stairs, turning into the nearest room which, luckily, is the bathroom. The punch tastes a lot worse coming up than going down, and my eyes and nose burn.
“Drank too much already, did you?”
Blearily, I turn towards the bathtub, in which sits a girl with long black hair.
“I didn’t drink too much,” I try to tell her, but the slurs still in my voice don’t make it very convincing. I lean against the toilet. “But someone downstairs threw up, and it made me throw up.”
“Ah.” The girl in the tub nods sagely. “I get that. Whenever I smell strawberry whoppers I almost throw up.”
“Did you do the thing where you eat a bunch of them and then throw it all up?”
“That happened to my brother.”
For a minute, we sit in silence. I’m still a little woozy, but I feel much less drunk now that I’m in the quiet of the bathroom. “What’s your name?”
“Ally,” says Ally. “Yours?”
“Elizabeth. People call me El though.”
Ally raises her eyebrows. “Not Lizzy or Beth?”
“Mom calls me Beth. I wanted something different for school.”
“Ah.” Ally nods knowingly. “I get that. So you go to the school in town?”
“No, actually, I go to Valen College—do you know it?.”
“Yeah. I visited there, but my mom thought it was too far away.”
Ally’s nose twitches. “Really? It’s barely an hour.”
“She’s a little protective.”
“I’m surprised that she let you come to a frat house on New Years Eve, then.”
“She, uh, might not… know.” I’m thinking a lot more clearly now. Melinda’s voice kicks in, telling me I should drink some water.
Ally chuckles. “That’s fair. My mom doesn’t know where I am right now either. She thinks I’m spending the night with my cousins in town.”
“Your cousins live here? Who are they?”
“The Brextons? Remmy and Olivia?”
I shake my head. “Sorry. Thought I might have heard of them.”
Ally lays her head back. “S’alright.”
I wish I had thought to hold on to my solo cup to get some water, but when I go to stand, my head gets all fuzzy again. Probably better I stay down. “Are your cousins here?”
“What? No. Just some guy off Tinder I was talking with.”
“Oh, I see. Where’s he at?”
Ally shrugs. “Dunno. He ditched me to play beer pong.”
Probably Porter. “So you just came up here?”
“Yeah.” She sighs.
“You could come back down, you know. I’ve got a friend, Melinda, she’s loads of fun.”
“That’s alright. I like being up here, away from all the noise.” She checks her watch. “You’re welcome to go down though. The countdown is starting soon.”
“The countdown?” Oh right, New Year’s Eve.
“Yeah. Don’t you want to be with people?”
“I don’t know. They were kinda… overwhelming.”
“I get that.” For the first time, I notice that Ally’s eyes are red. Either she’s been doing drugs or she’s been crying, and she seems too coherent for the former. “Are you good?”
“I mean like, are you alright?”
Ally tucks her knees in. I probably should have supposed earlier that someone sitting alone in a bathtub at a party might not be good. “Yeah, I suppose so.”
“Yeah, no, I’m… I’m alright.”
We sit in silence a little while longer.
“How was your Christmas?” I ask her.
“Ah.” Idiot. I should have said holidays. “Well then how was your—”
“It was fine,” she says, cutting me off with a wan smile. “And yours?”
“It was alright. I was with my parents the whole time.”
“Well, that’s pretty normal for holidays.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Ally looks down at the floor. Maybe I should leave her alone, but as I go to rise, she says “Hey, can I ask your opinion on something?”
I pause. That’s usually not a good question. “Sure.”
“I guess its less of an opinion, more of a… question.”
“Still, sure.” That’s even worse.
“Are you… excited for the new year?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean… are you happy that it’s coming and there’s going to be a whole nother year coming up?”
“Well, it’s better than the alternative, isn’t it?” I try to sound like I’m kind of joking, but Ally’s face doesn’t change, and she doesn’t say anything. “Isn’t it?” I repeat.
“I…” Ally’s expression changes, pinches, like she’s going to cry, and my chest clenches. I hope she doesn’t cry. I’m useless when people cry, and I don’t even know this girl. “I just… I don’t know. I remember when I was younger and it was a big deal to stay up until midnight and wait for the ball to drop and I was so excited to start a new year and now…”
“That’s just part of becoming an adult, I think.” I don’t mean to cut her off, but I want her to feel better. “At least, that’s what people keep telling me.”
“That’s even worse.” She looks up at me and her eyes catch the light. “The rest of my adult life is going to be this way? Waiting for nothing? Getting excited for nothing?”
Privately, I think that what she’s describing sounds more like depression to me, but I doubt saying that would help right now.
“It’s just,” she continues, “the older I get, the more I think about how there’s not a point. Nothing is going to get better. In a worldly sense, I mean. People are going to continue to be terrible to each other. I mean, if you do everything right in the whole world and are super careful and do your absolute best every day, you’ll end up miserable. But if you don’t do your best, the fact that the world is terrible is partially on you, isn’t it? Don’t you feel that guilt?”
Man, it’s far too late for all this. Or maybe I’m still too drunk, although I feel like talking to her has quite sobered me up, if that’s possible. Is it? I don’t get drunk enough to know. Oh, and now she’s looking at me. She’s waiting for me to say something. “I don’t think you should feel guilt, exactly, for the state of the world.”
“Shouldn’t I, though? I mean, I’ve been given all these… privileges, all these gifts with my life, and I’m not using any of them, you know?”
She’s looking at me as if that wasn’t rhetorical. “Uh… no?”
“I mean like…” Ally purses her lips. “Like, I have fifty dollars in my purse right now, and I’m not donating it to any charities or giving it away to someone who is homeless. Like, this fifty dollars means nothing to me. It won’t even make a dent in my tuition or anything, but this could buy… diapers, for a mother, or help pay for insulin or whatever. And all the money that’s going towards tuition—how I know that’s really worth it? If I spread that around, that could make a difference to a lot of people, but for me it’s giving me what? A psych degree? I don’t even know if I’ll be able to get a job with that anyway.”
“Well, that’s more a problem with the American education system than with you.” Below us, I hear loud chanting, although it’s muffled. Is that the countdown?
“No, but, you know what I mean.” Ally leans back and I wonder why the water spigot isn’t digging into her back. Maybe it is. “Nothing… seems worth it. It’s so hard to find things that are worth it anymore, you know? I can’t… I can’t make things better enough. I’m not worth the worth I have been given. I’m never going to be worth this life, you know? And the debt I owe gets greater every year.”
The chanting has turned into a cheer. It must be officially midnight now. “I—”
“Sorry, sorry. You’re drunk in a bathroom on New Years Eve, you really don’t need to be dealing with this. You don’t even know me. You’d probably be happier if you went downstairs and celebrated. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Don’t listen to me.”
“Don’t tell me what I would or wouldn’t like.” Wait, that’s more aggressive than I wanted to sound. “What I mean is, uh, don’t put words into my mouth. I want to be up here with you.”
Ally faces away from me. “You don’t even know me.”
“Well, uh, good. Not in a ‘I don’t want to know you’ kinda way but in a… ‘you still have intrinsic value’ kinda way. Like… maybe being alive and being happy is valuable in its own right, you know?” That sounds pretty okay, right? This is not the time to ask me for advice, I will admit.
Ally glances at me, but says nothing.
“I mean, you’re here. And you’re alive, and you’re here, and you bring people happiness.”
She scoffs at me.
“Well, you made me happy. You talked to me, feigned interest. That means a lot to people. And maybe… maybe present happiness isn’t the main goal, you know? Maybe it’s not that you’re super happy right now, but that you have the capacity for happiness. Maybe each coming year is… a chance to get happiness.”
“That won’t assuage the guilt, will it?”
I don’t know what assuage means. “Uh—”
“I mean, isn’t just looking for happiness for yourself just selfish?”
“If you’re doing it at the expense of others, sure, but if you’re just… trying to be happy for yourself and to make others happy while not making yourself miserable, I think that’s… noble. A noble goal.”
Ally’s nose twitches. I think she’s trying not to laugh. “Noble,” she echoes. “What an odd word.”
“Well, what word would you rather I use?”
“No, no, I like it.”
“A noble goal,” I repeat. “To just be happy… or work towards being happy, being happy being yourself, if that… makes… sense?”
Ally turns over my words. “It… does not. Not like, in a grammatical sense, anyway. But I get it. I get what you’re saying.”
“Yeah. So maybe… maybe we should just concentrate on that. Not even the fact that there is a new year. I mean, time is fake, right? Humans made it up. Doesn’t mean anything.”
Ally chuckles. “I mean, we did already miss the countdown. Sorry about that.”
“Stop apologizing so much, you’re fine. I don’t know half those people anyway.”
“You don’t know me either.”
“No, but at least you’re not telling me to chug.”
“You should probably drink some water though.”
“Yeah, I know. But I’m so comfy though!”
“On the tile?” She laughs, and it’s a welcome sound.
“Hey, it’s a pretty cozy tile. You’re in that bathtub, you wouldn’t get it.”
Ally and I hover in that bathtub and by the toilet respectively until dawn. It’s a little awkward, but it’s nice—and much nicer than the roaring party downstairs, from what I can gather. When Melinda knocks on the door and calls in for me, I stand up and help Ally out of the bathtub.
“It was nice meeting you,” I tell her. We walk down the stairs together, and I wave at her as she gets into her Uber.
“How do you know her?”
“Oh, I don’t,” I tell Melinda. “I’m surprised you’re still around, that you didn’t go home with someone.”
“Oh, girl, let me tell you…”
Melinda tells me about the boy that chased her all night, and I think about the future. Ally’s not going to be in it, but I don’t think I’ll get her out of my head.
It’s New Years Day, and the future hasn’t started today. The future is ongoing, forever, continuous, and I’ve been living in it the whole time. Tomorrow will come, and we’ll learn to be happy being. Piece by piece.
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