I got out of the car, slamming the door behind me. A guy around my age jogged up to me with a beer and popped the cap off.
“Here!” He shoved the drink into my hands. The bottle was ice cold, chilling my hands thoroughly it was almost difficult to hold. I tipped it up to my mouth, wasting no time and took a drink.
“Come on! You guys are behind!” The guy that brought me the beer shouted at me, grabbing my hand and pulling me toward the fire. Dust kicked up behind my feet. My laugh got lost in the sounds from the other shouting people and the music pounding from a speaker of one of the trucks. Which one, I couldn’t tell.
My friends that had been in the car with me jogged beside me, beer bottles already clutched in their fists. I looked back at Ryan, her red hair whipping around her face as she grinned back at me. I pulled the blonde strands of my hair from my mouth as we approached the fire. It was cold enough tonight to want to be close to it.
The desert heat didn’t allow for much of a spring during the day and the nights still turned crisp enough to wear long sleeves. The perfect time for bonfires. Cool crisp air blended with the smoke billowing up from the fire. A wave of heat blew on the breeze stinging my eyes.
Someone came up behind me and slid a hand into my back pocket.
“Hey Vic.” I looked over to Ryan who took another sip from her beer. “You look hot tonight.”
“You look hot tonight!” I complimented, “aren’t you cold?” I asked, taking in her crop top and loose pants.
“No,” She shook her head. “And if I am that is what-” She lifted her beer bottle to me, “The alcohol is for.” I laughed and wiped the lipstick from the rim of my bottle.
“How very classy, Ry.” I laughed and clinked the rim of my bottle to hers.
Ryan slipped her hand from my pocket as one of the guys that had brought us beers walked over to us.
“Hey, Ryan,” the guy smiled at her. I’m pretty sure his name is Jason. “Victoria.” He tilted his chin down to me and I smiled at him, nodding back. “So, Ryan, are you celebrating or drowning your sorrows tonight?” He stepped a fraction closer to her and twisted his body a little toward her. She smiled, leaning forward too.
“Now, why would I be doing either of those things?” She asked. I took a sip of my beer listening to the conversation and scanning the rest of the group.
“The midterm for business law was really fucking hard.” Jason and Ryan were both attending our university for accounting and had several of the same classes together.
My eyes landed on a group of guys that I also recognized from our university. They were all shouting in each others faces about something. Two guys sat on the bed of a truck with a girl between them. They were obviously competing for her attention. I silently bet that the guy with the lip ring to her left would win. I smiled to myself at the thought, taking another long drink from my bottle.
Another two girls were dancing on the bed of a silver truck while more people crowded around the passenger door of a black truck. Presumably the one that’s playing music.
“Hey Vic.” I turned around to come face to face with Tucker. A boy I went to high school with. He joined the military and I had no idea he would be home.
“Tuck!” I shouted, flinging my arms around him. My heart soared at seeing him. “How are you?” I asked, as he lifted my off the ground, squeezing me to his chest.
“Great!” He planted me back onto my feet.
“You look great! Come here let’s go get you a drink.”
“I have a drink.” I tipped my bottle to him.
“A better one.” He winked at me and I followed him over to a truck filled with bottles of alcohol.
We sat and caught up about his experience in the military so far. He talked about boot camp and how terrible it was at first. He asked me about college and I told him that it’s hard but I like it. Not a lie. We were interrupted by another few people that had gone to our high school and I was pulled away to dance with Ryan. We danced to nondescript hip hop songs. We danced so close to the fire that sweat rolled down my neck and chest. I wiped at it and wished I had worn less clothes. Ryan was correct with this one.
We took videos and cheered pointlessly as two guys wrestled each other in the dirt. Someone was supposed to be judging but it officially ended when one of them threw up. Someone else tried to jump over the fire and burned himself while another girl tried to throw another pallet on it and ended up throwing it at the feet of someone else splashing him with sand.
My head spun with the alcohol and the heat. I stumbled a few steps from the fire and inhaled deeply, filling my lungs with crisp, cool air and my head cleared just enough for me to find a truck to sit on. No one else was sitting on this one but the bed was down.
I hopped onto it and laid back. Staring at the night sky the sounds from the fire and all the people dancing around it faded to a dull hum. I blinked at the stars, watching them dance around my head.
“I’m drunker than I thought.” I murmured to myself and pressed my fingers into my eyes.
“What?” A voice asked from behind me on the truck. My heart flew into my throat and I bolted upright, twisting to see who the voice belonged to.
A boy around my age sat with his knees up to his chest, staring at me from the dark corner of the bed of the truck.
“You scared the shit out of me!” I nearly shouted.
“Oh, I thought you knew I was here.” He gestured vaguely to the truck and pulled his jacket sleeves back over his hands.
“You’re sitting in a dark corner at a party. Why would I know that you’re there?” He gave me a slight shrug. His mouth opened but then closed like he was going to respond and decided against it. I stared at him for another moment not sure what to say and he stared back, his finger picking relentlessly at the seam of his sweater. “Well, we’re here now.” I attempted a small laugh. “You want to come keep me company?” I tapped the open space next to me and turned back around to watch the fire again. A moment passed and I was sure he was just sitting there and not going to come over. Then another and I wondered if I made him up but then the truck groaned under his weight as he stood up and walked to the end. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him sit down next to me, his hands in his lap.
“Why aren’t you out there?” I asked, nodding to the fire.
A shrug, “Why aren’t you?”
“Too hot. Too dizzy, too-” I took in a lung full of air, “Drunk.”
“Ah” He nodded and picked at his sweater again.
“So, who brought you here?” I asked, looking over at him. He had a long straight nose and slicked back blonde hair. Broad shoulders and from what I could tell from how he was sitting he was rather tall.
“A friend.” He gestured again to the fire.
“Well, duh. Which one? Do I know them?”
“I don’t know.” A shrug.
“Well, what is his name?”
“Oh! I think I know him. I mean kind of. My best friend Ryan knows him. They have been stuck in the same classes together for their degree for years. They were dancing earlier. I thought that was his name but I wasn’t confident enough to actually call him that. You know, in case I was wrong.” I looked over at him again and he looked back toward the fire. “So, how do you know Jason?”
“High school.” I nodded and swung my legs back and forth. The silence began to swallow us whole. A full uncomfortable silence. Too much time had passed without either of us saying anything. “High school sports. We uh- we played baseball.” He cleared his throat. “Together.”
“Ah, okay. So, old sports buddies. You guys are still close?”
“That’s like my friend Ryan we-”
“Who did you come-” We both started at the same time. “Sorry.” He mumbled and I laughed, under my breath.
“Go ahead.” I gestured toward him and he sighed. He seemed irritated and I couldn’t tell if it was directed toward me or himself.
“I was going to ask who you came with but I forgot you already told me.”
“Yeah, yeah. My friend Ryan.” I gestured back to the fire, searching for her. “We’ve been friends for years. If you spot a really gorgeous redhead with Jason, that's Ryan.” I looked at him again, noticing the slight flush in his cheeks as he bit down onto his nail. “I’m Victoria by the way.” I held my hand out to him. “But most people call me Vic.”
He reached toward my hand, “I’m-” He pulled his hand back and wiped at it with the sleeve of his jacket. “Sorry, I was biting my nails. That’s gross.” He mumbled, more to himself than to me.
“It’s okay, it’s just spit, I can take it.” I stuck my hand in his and shook and his cheeks flushed darker.
“I’m sorry.” He offered, giving me a tilted smile. I held his hand in mine and shook my head.
“You don’t need to be sorry for anything. I would like to know what to call you though.”
“Right uh- Gabriel.” I let go of his hand. “But most people call me Gabe.” He added and I smiled at him again.
“Well, nice to meet you, Gabe.” I nodded and tilted my chin up to the sky.
“You too Victoria.”
I smiled without looking back and I knew he saw it.
“So, really, what are you doing over here all by yourself? I didn’t see you over there earlier either.”
“I was.” He turned his head toward me. “Over there I mean.” I heard the sound of his teeth on his nail again.
“Why did you leave? Do you have a cigarette?” I asked all at once. He opened his mouth then closed it again then nodded, reaching into his pocket.
“You want one?”
“No, I just wanted to see if you had them.” I teased and his eyes narrowed on me.
“Wh-are- wait-” He shook his head and I almost felt bad.
“I’m fucking with you, Gabriel.” I winked. “I would very much like one if you would be kind enough to share one with me.”
His shoulders relaxed and he nodded, pulling two cigarettes from the pack. He stuck both between his lips and lit them then handed one to me.
“Thank you.” He didn’t respond. I let the silence fall over us again and through my drunken fog, I wondered if I was bothering him.
“There were too many people.” He nodded to the fire again and I realized he was answering my previous question.
“Ah,” I nodded, “Sorry, am I bothering you?”
“No, no.” He answered a little too quickly.
“I don’t quite believe you. You know you could tell me to leave and I would go.”
“No,” He shook his head, “Why would- I mean- It’s not that you- I’m not-” He sighed pressing his fingers into his eyes. “It’s the crowd.”
“The crowd bothered me.”
“Ah.” I nodded and took a long drag of my cigarette. I couldn’t tell now if it was because of me or him but the silence fell again. Not as uncomfortable as the last time.
“I’m enjoying your company.” He said finally, filling the silence.
“I’m enjoying yours as well.”
We both looked down and smiled at each other and the silence wasn’t awkward.