“God, you fucking suck at this game,” Sloane slurred. She takes the ping pong ball out of the plastic cup it landed in, rinsing it off in the glass of water at the edge of the table, before downing the contents of the plastic cup.
“How do I suck?” Kyler said. “There are six cups left on my side and you’re down to two. And I beat you last game.”
“No!” Sloane insists. “The point isn’t to have the most cups left. The point is to drink the most.”
“That’s literally not how the rules work.”
“That’s literally how my rules work.”
Sloane tried to steady her hand before making her throw, but was unsuccessful. The throw sailed well wide of Kyler’s remaining cups — and the entire sheet of plywood being used as a makeshift table.
“Fuck!” Sloane shouted. “You’re so bad.”
“Again,” replied Kyler. “not how the rules work.”
The ball rolled away from the table and across the room to the foot of a tattered couch. It came to a stop against Riza’s feet. She poked at it repeatedly with her toes through her yellow socks until Kyler retrieved it. The sounds of thumping bass in the background forced nearly all conversations at the party to be shouted, even ones where the parties were a few feet apart like Riza and Kyler now were.
“Does she actually not get the game?” Riza asked.
“She just wants to get drunk,” Kyler replied.
“She could go do shots with the blonde girl carrying the plant around?”
“That’s Amanda. They won’t talk until they’re both plastered.”
Kyler wiped the ball off on his pant leg and returned to the table, giving the ball a rinse before he continued. Riza watched as the beer pong game continued, trying her hardest to ignore the makeout session in progress on the other end of the couch. After a few minutes, a familiar face joined her, sitting down between her and the wannabe lovers.
“It’s early in the semester for you to come up for a weekend,” Troy said. “Rough week?”
“Not really,” Riza replied. “I just know the rest of the semester will be busy. Figured I’d get my fun out of the way early on.”
“We have very different views of fun.”
“You’ve been nursing the same beer since you got here.”
“This is my second beer,” Riza replied indignantly.
“And you’ve been here how long?” Troy questioned.
Riza looked at the watch on her right wrist, then gave Troy a smirk.
“Under the advisement of my lawyer, I am going to choose to abstain from answering that question,” Riza replied.
“I got here at 10 and you were already here,” Troy said. “And if I know you, you left with Kyler and Sloane when they came. And knowing Sloane, she got here early under the guise of helping people finish making drinks and setup when she actually just wanted to pregame. Since the party was supposed to start at 8:30, that means you guys got here at 7:45 or so.”
“It was 7:55, thank you very much.”
“Okay, so you’re ten minutes ahead of schedule.”
“This is how I drink,” Riza answered. “You get trashed your way, I’ll remember the night my way.”
“It was one time!” Troy shouted.
“I have changed clothes in front of you twice now and neither time have you been sober enough to realize what was happening.”
“And I have regretted it every waking mom–wait. Twice? What the fuck?”
“Once the second week of your freshman year when you were trying to pledge to that frat and then again last year during the last party of fall semester.”
“Oh,” Troy said. “Yeah, that checks out.”
Riza laughed and took another sip of her beer.
“Well, I promise to stay sober enough to remember it tonight,” Troy continued. “You know, in the event you don’t want to sleep on our couch in jeans.”
“You realize the fact that you were hammered out of your skull was the entire reason I didn’t change in another room, right?” Riza asked.
“Just thought I’d ask. Can’t blame me for trying right?”
“The only reason I don’t blame you for trying is because you’re not a dick about it when you do.”
Their conversation was interrupted by Kyler and Sloane walking up.
“I wanna go dance!” Sloane shouted. Even with the volume of the music, Sloane’s voice was much louder than anyone else’s in the room.
“Give me five minutes to finish and we’ll go,” Riza replied.
Sloane grabbed the beer out of Riza’s hand, downing the rest of it in two gulps.
“Hey!” Riza yelled.
“It was probably warm anyway,” Troy said.
“It was,” Sloane answered. “Now get your shoes on and let’s go. Wooo!”
Sloane stumbled off toward the front door of the apartment, tripping over her own feet as she tried unsuccessfully to get her shoes on. Riza, Sloane, and Kyler left the apartment and began the walk toward the two clubs in town.
“Was Troy coming?” Kyler asked.
“I thought he was,” Riza replied. “But he’s not here.”
“He’s probably trying to talk Amanda into coming with us,” Sloane said. “That bitch.”
“Why is she a bitch?” Riza asked.
“She’s in my journalism classes,” Sloane said. “She’s always wearing low-cut tops to get the professors to notice her. You know she’s going to end up on Fox News. Fucking blonde bimbo.”
“You should really pick something else to call her out on,” Kyler replied. “You know, being blonde too.”
“Troy just tries to sleep with dumb, easy, pretty girls,” Sloane continued. “Of which Amanda Hawthrone checks two of the three boxes.”
“So she’s not easy?” Riza interjected.
“She’s not pretty,” Sloane sassed back. “Not pretty enough for TV, at least. She’s got a face for radio though.”
Riza sighed and began to walk faster, quickly outpacing Kyler and Sloane. For as much as Riza tried to visit Kyler, her biggest aversion to doing so on a regular basis was Sloane. Besides having an attitude where anyone who wasn’t a close friend was fatally flawed in multiple ways, Riza always felt like Sloane tolerated her presence because she had to, not because she liked her.
Sloane and Kyler had been together long enough that Riza typically assumed that they’d just be together. Or at the very least until Sloane found something wrong with Kyler that she couldn’t convince him to change. But then there would be moments, however rare they were, when Riza would be convinced otherwise. One such moment began to play out behind her, causing Riza to slow her walk just enough to stay within earshot.
“She’s pissed off because you’re a dick to my friends,” Kyler said.
“Troy’s an asshole,” replied Sloane.
“No, Troy thinks with his dick. But he’s not an asshole about it. Just because someone wants to get laid doesn’t mean they have to be a perv about it.”
“But he only picks sluts!”
“He’s been trying to get Amanda to go on a date with him for months,” Kyler insisted. “It’s not his fault she keeps saying no, only to flirt with him five minutes later.”
“Because she’s a slut!” Sloane shouts.
Riza rolled her eyes. From what she’d heard about Amanda, the entire basis of Sloane’s argument seemed to rest on the fact that Amanda was flirty, attractive, wore moderately revealing clothing, and had had sex before. Riza struggled not to point out this logic to Sloane, if only because she didn’t want to get involved in the escalating shouting match taking place behind her.
“So you’d be fine if Troy started flirting with one of your friends?” Kyler retorted. “What about Shanna? She’s single.”
“Shanna doesn’t date guys who don’t have real majors,” Sloane replied.
“How the fuck isn’t geography a real major?”
“You’ve got to make money, Kyler. That’s how you survive. You won’t use yours for a living. What makes you think Troy will?”
“Seriously?” Kyler replied, his voice nearly at full volume.
“You’re getting pissed about nothing,” Sloane said. “Look, I’ll just meet you at the bar. I’m going to see if Shanna wants to meet up while you calm down.
Riza came to a stop, turning around to see Sloane heading down a side street to Shanna’s apartment. She walked back toward Kyler, who stood on the sidewalk, watching Sloane walk away.
“You alright?” she asked.
“She’s such a bitch sometimes,” Kyler replied. He turned and started walking toward the bar. His pace was much faster than Riza expected, leaving her scrambling to keep up.
“Does that happen often?”
“Her being an ass to Troy? Yeah, definitely.”
“I don’t care about Troy right now,” Riza replied. “How often does she belittle you?”
“She just doesn’t know how to explain herself sometimes,” Kyler insisted.
“By telling you that your major is worthless?”
“It’s not,” Kyler replied. He came to a stop in the middle of a crosswalk, turning to Riza and continuing. “Is it?”
“Get across the street, Kyler,” Riza answered. “But no, it’s not.”
Satisfied at Riza’s answer, Kyler began walking again.
“Why are we still going to the bar?” Riza replied.
“Because I said I would,” Kyler replied.
“Are you going because you want to or because Sloane told you to?”
“I was planning to stay with her tonight. I’d rather not make her even angrier.”
“Something tells if the angry sex wasn’t good, you wouldn’t be going.”
“I’m right though, aren’t I?” Riza prodded.
“Why are we talking about my sex life?” Kyler asked.
“Because if I had someone kick my hopes and dreams in the cock, my real one better be getting the apology. Metaphorically speaking, of course.”
“Do you also tell people who piss you off to suck your metaphorical dick?”
“Literally word for word.”
Kyler laughed at the thought of an enraged Riza making that remark. Riza didn’t get upset often, but when she did, she had some of the most creative ways to tell someone off Kyler had ever heard.
“She’ll calm down,” he said. “She always does.”
Later that night, just before closing time, Riza was searching the bar for Troy. Even though Kyler had left for the evening with Sloane, Riza was still staying at Kyler and Troy’s apartment. And with Kyler gone, that meant Riza was responsible for getting Troy’s drunken self back home safely. Or at the very least stealing his keys until the morning.
After nearly ten minutes of searching, Riza found Troy. He was seated at a corner of the bar well away from the dance floor, nursing the remains of a short glass of a mixed drink.
“You about ready to go?” she asked.
Troy dug his keys out of his pocket and handed them to Riza.
“Just leave the key under the welcome mat,” Troy replied. “I’ll let myself in.”
“Rough night. Amanda came out with me, only to go home with someone else.”
Troy shrugged. He sipped at his drink again, barely any of it making its way into his mouth.
“Come get tacos with me,” Riza said. “I’ll take your mind off things.”
“It’s fine,” Troy replied.
Troy lifted the glass to his mouth, only for Riza to push his hand back down to the table before turning his face toward hers.
“Troy whatever your middle name is Kidman. If you don’t get off this barstool and come eat shitty fast food tacos with me, I will not talk to you for the rest of the semester.”
Troy grumbled and groaned before climbing off his seat. He downed the rest of his drink and started walking to the door.
“Icarus,” he said, before opening the bar door and running out. “Race you to tacos.”
“Troy!” Riza shouted, running after him. “You can’t just drop that you’re named after a Greek mythological figure on me and not explain!”
Kyler woke up the next morning to the smell of eggs and bacon frying in the kitchen. One of Sloane’s roommates had decided to have a non-liquid breakfast. That sounded amazing to Kyler, even if he had no desire to roll out of bed and get some. He turned over to find Sloane still sleeping, her body curled up against the bedroom wall. The tiny bed didn’t leave for much space while sleeping, meaning Kyler would generally find Sloane hugging the wall in the morning in an effort to get away from his body heat. He rolled back over and flipped his phone open to see the current time staring back at him. 8:22 am.
“Fuck!” Kyler mumbled under his breath as she scrambled to get out of bed and get dressed.
Not having thought ahead to bring clothes for the morning, Kyler grabbed his jeans and socks from the night before. He spent the next few moments looking around for his shirt before realizing where it was.
“Sloane,” Kyler said, nudging her awake, “I need my shirt. I’m late for class.”
Sloane slowly stirred awake, grumbling her way out of sleep.
“What?” she asked.
“You’re wearing my shirt. I need it for class.”
“Come back to bed and you can take it from me yourself.”
“I can’t, Sloane,” Kyler reiterated. “Class started 25 minutes ago.”
“Fuck,” replied Sloane. “That means I need to get up too.”
She sat up, pulling the shirt over her head and tossing it at Kyler.
“There,” she said. “But you owe me.”
“For giving me back my own shirt?” Kyler asked.
“For not humoring the rare morning where I want to keep you in bed.”
Kyler leaned across the bed to kiss Sloane goodbye. Sloane eagerly kissed him back, grabbing his hand and placing it on her bare breast.
“You. Owe. Me.” she repeated.
Kyler sprinted out the door and to campus. If he was lucky with timing lights and crosswalks, he could make it to his creative writing class a few minutes before it ended. But this was the day the class was to pick their research subjects. Being this late, Kyler was bound to get stuck with someone boring.
Traffic lights and Kyler’s hungover body did not cooperate. By the time he stumbled in the door of the classroom for English 3303, class was letting out. He ran to the front of the room and got into line behind a pair of students signing up for their subjects.
“Mr. Stone,” said Dr. Torrance from behind him. “What a pleasure it is that you chose to grace us with your presence.”
“I’m so sorry, Dr. Torrance,” Kyler replied. “I didn’t hear my alarm go off.”
“No need to apologize to me. I’ve been twenty and drunk before. I did my fair share of failing to set alarm clocks. You haven’t hurt my feelings any. Though you should be more careful to plan for your own responsibilities in the future.”
Kyler shuffled to the front of the line, arriving at the signup sheet for the project. All of the lines under the normal subjects section were filled in. In fact, the only options left were the three challenging subjects.
“Dr. Torrance,” Kyler said. “There aren’t any normal subjects left.”
“Really?” he replied. “That’s the first year that’s ever happened. There’s always some overachiever that wants to tackle one of the challenges.”
“Do I have to take one of the challenge subjects?”
“That’s the drawback of showing up late. You have to choose from what’s left.”
Kyler reviewed the three remaining options. Matthew Henry Carvell, the gym owner and former child-framed-for-murder didn’t appeal to him at all. As much as Sloane and Troy both loved watching police and courtroom procedurals, they bored Kyler to death.
As for Ashlyn Coreno, the former college student turned porn star to pay her bills, he did find her story interesting. Kyler would be graduating with a mountain of debt from college, so he could see the appeal to taking a good-paying job to offset that. But considering the fact that Kyler was familiar with Ashlyn’s work — or, more accurately, her work under the name of Harper Vale — he figured he’d be too embarrassed to conduct the interview professionally. There was also the fact that Ashlyn was decidedly attractive, which was sure to go over very poorly when Sloane found out about the project.
That left Kyler with only one option. He wrote his name down beside billionaire motivational speaker Charlie Madagan.
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