Sydnie Stern

Night Out

      An account of Lara’s “transplant” life, a patronizing appellation applied to her in the phraseology of native Floridians, who grew up under palm trees and hustled or settled for admission into the state’s prestigious and lackluster institutions, sparing their families the murder of out-of-state tuition, was provided to me over the telephone. She’d traversed a roundabout pilgrimage, having spent her elementary school years in Sarasota, moving to Jersey in 7th grade where she lived out the remainder of her adolescence, and finally abandoning the nouveau for the nostalgic.

      Her decision to migrate south for college, deepening the chasmal distance between us broke my fragile heart just a little. I cried at the airport, the final “non-goodbye, see you later,” at the airport on the day of her tearful send off. Now, comfortably entwined in her first year of collegiate life, Lara was independent as ever, semi-transplant, semi-homegrown in the land of cool air and inspiriting sea.

      Unknown to Mrs. Frazier, who assumed her daughter was flourishing at Sweetwater University based on the favorable reports relayed by her daughter, Lara spent more time at the gym and club bars than in that unimaginative, frustratingly blocky building. If she got lucky, submitted a bit of her focus to her declining academics, she could foster an increase in her GPA, provided she turns in the onslaught of missing assignments and made the odd appearance, just to answer “yes” to the professor’s attendance roster. However, neither of these things seemed possible. She protested my advice that she take these last months of the semester seriously, arguing that it’s impossible to fit classes, a bore, into her tight schedule.

      Her eventful social life was moving her towards clinical exhaustion and the danger of academic failure, which she laughed about in that disinterested, carefree way that made me love her when we first became friends in the 9th grade.

      Since there was no overlap in our spring breaks, I booked a roundtrip ticket to visit Lara on a random weekend in March. I was dying to leave the dismal rain and chill of my worn-out Boston campus.

      “You’re friend’s flagging you,” called an elderly, elegant silver-haired lady in a sun hat, as I wrestled to stuff my rain jacket away, relieved to finally step into the vacation heat.

      Lara, an ecstatic smile blooming across her face as she drives her beloved car is one of my favorite sights on this planet. Green-eyed with a strong nose that ties her delicate face together like a ribbon on a birthday gift, no one’s ever looked as angelic and devilish in the same ravishing frame as Lara. She is the novelty of a pulp-perfect Coca Cola girl from the 20th century, but less posed and a thousand times more stunning in real time. I could tell she’d been out late and hadn't gotten the chance to wash the night off her face, little black orbs of mascara pooled at the inner corner of her eyes.

      My two-day vacation commenced at once, as soon as I inhaled the palm-scented car freshener accented by her jasmine perfume. At my feet was a dumpster’s worth of empty bottles, used vape pens, tissues, receipts, torn shopping bags, and probably a person judging by the volume and how high the pile rose. She was consistently disorganized in all corners of her life.

      The tremendously priced silk numbers Lara and I felt on ourselves in the fluorescent dressing room at the Sarasota Mall, followed by macarons and milkshakes from the food court encompassed the first morning of my fleeting vacation. I was more or less uninhibited in my spending habits, as babysitting had been blessing me like a cash fountain. Lara, who blew money out the window like she didn’t want to see it ever again, fancied a wine-red suede jacket. The classic silhouette agreed with her statue.

      Lara’s antics progressively became more entertaining, a sitcom character buzzing with depth and conviction. I got a big holler out of her frantic phoning Mrs. Frazier to locate funds, fiddling with the dressing room’s velour curtains absent-mindedly as she argued her case and financial rights into the phone. The sales girl organizing the rack of unwanteds was an inadvertent eavesdropper, and advised her not to go through with an impulse purchase. Predictably, Lara disregarded the advice five minutes later at the checkout in favor of perfect fashion.

      Lara borrowed a lipstick from the same color family as the jacket from the MAC store, to complement her purchase. She was full of tricks. We left in a hurry and she didn’t turn around once. I suppose our slip up in the department store sophomore year hadn’t instilled the same fear of god it had in me. Classic.

      A buzzing minute of short-lived panic ensued, Lara mistaking her sunglasses (which were also borrowed from the department store) as missing. She estimated she’d forgotten them in her haste to leave by the MAC makeup mirrors, a risky zone to attempt a momentary return. Lara recovered them at the bottom of her purse, a black hole of every lost item in history. The countering trouble that followed was a sudden alarm at the unknown location of her car in the mall parking lot. She resolved it, as she always does with every minor or major slip-up, by jogging through the aisles of cars in the glazing sun until she located her Navy blue beauty, emitting a relieved exhalation.

      We spent the rest of the daylight at her friend’s lagoon-esque backyard pool.

      Even though we divulged every inkling of our lives to each other, our phone calls were like nightly confessionals, Lara sometimes told me, regretfully, that she didn’t think she told me enough. Not deliberately. She wanted to give me the complete picture, pixel for pixel, but you cannot photocopy a still image of the condition of your life, or translate every fault and victory in the traps of long distance-ship. Still, I was decently familiar with Nadine, who was Lara’s best friend and biggest problem.

      I was looking forward to meeting her. My curiosity developed and festered quickly, after the countless rhapsodies I’d heard about this uninhibited firecracker that had taken Lara into her circle the first week of her Freshman year. Morbid curiosity bit at me. Lara was Nadine’s confidant and co-passenger on the wildest rides a seedling can undergo in the Florida nightlife scene. She was chaos incarnate, but the two kept colliding after every falling out, patching problems over with another good time without mending them. The holes in their trust never got filled, only forgotten about for the next enormous calamity. In the eight months since we’d started college on obverse sides of the East Coast, Nadine existed as an antagonist in Lara’s hilariously-narrated anecdotes.

      I’ll never judge my best friend for loving questionable people, this trait made me love her more. It reminds me that neither of us have changed that much, since we pledged allegiance to the flag every morning, still hungover and hazy from the previous night's events, and devised covert cotillion plans together to evade the restrictions of our hampering parents. She sought out the best in people and discarded their shortcomings, only seeing beauty through her impossibly beautiful eyes, like the amber speckles of her irises filtered out the bad.

      The expected trajectory of the evening was still in the works. I really had one night and one night only to spend in Sarasota, since we’d crashed harder than an ocean swell riding in from the wild Atlantic when my flight got in at midnight. Although we made adamant, naive promises to shake off sleep the entirety of the two days that I was in town, we surrendered to exhaustion, naturally.

      Going to the club sounds tacky, so instead I pitched it like this to Lara and Nadine in her yard that bordered a frothy lake:

      “I wanna dance, with good music, even its for just a few hours,” which was absolutely true.

      “We can make that happen, your highness,” crackled Nadine, her voice was unmissable and sweet but lacked strength, like she’d just given a six hour sermon, “and it’ll be more than a few hours! However long you can go.”

      Cherubic with blushing cheeks and restless, shimmering brown eyes, her charm was impossible not to collapse into, as she walked across her yard fearlessly in a lacy white romper and made each sentence a party. I could see why Lara had formed an attachment to her, why she put up with her continuous disappearing acts and petty voicemails, “trademark Nadine behavior” is what she called it. This caused me immense confusion and intrigue when she relayed it fervently over the phone, ringing me in the late hours after an explosive disagreement between the two of them, on the heels of a hangout gone wrong.

      I found Lara inherently fascinating, anything in her enigmatic world was fair game to me. I wanted to be at her side and laugh at the absurdity of everything, people included.

      This background knowledge placed the melodic girl that seemed free as fire, generously welcoming me into her stunning house and serving us lemonade and laughter, as a charlatan. But I couldn’t reconcile the two images, I was wrapped up in the ease and charm of her company, against better judgment.

      In the balmy embrace of Floridian heat and beauty, the serene scene was so perfect I wanted to close it up in my locket pendant so it would never perish. Only the disgruntled prescription of Nadine’s mother to immediately get off the neighbor’s property, when we traipsed too close to their dock to spectate the swimming bass and lizards, punctured the silkened, youthful evening.

      Once the conversation tripped and turned to the subject of men in our lives, Nadine’s naturally comical persona emerged. She was truly funny, bitching relatably about her boyfriend and his faults, but recovered his character by acknowledging his boundless generosity. Namely and exclusively, driving her like chauffeur to work, classes when she felt inclined to show up, friends houses, clubs, the mall, or any place of her choosing within a thirty mile range, and dispensing gratifying funds. Those were his primary contributions to her life. They’d met at the same club Lara raved about for its frequent open bar policy, like it was the most incredible discovery she’d made since moving. Nadine seemed to think so too, she seemed thoroughly sold on her fine catch.

      “My boyfriend gets done with work soon, he can drive us to Bounce,” she announced matter-of-factly, draping a slender arm dramatically, like an opera artist in the rose-colored spotlight off the hammock, french-painted nails grazing the grass.

      From the briefing Lara provided on the way to her place, Nadine was the undisputed director of their routine evening circus, no plans or shift in the breeze could be averted without her approval. It wasn’t tyrannical, more empress-like. You didn’t feel obligated to comply, free will was very much an object, but rather compelled. She was a tigress moving through tall, mysterious pines that you couldn’t see the tops of, which made you want to get to the edge of the forest a thousand times more.

      Nadine’s bedroom radiated regality, mauve canopies cascading to the floor from the tops of her mountain-esque silver bed frame, the diaphanous white sunshine amplifying the room through the arched windows like a light box. We sat on the carpet and caressed her marshmallow-colored bunny as she gathered rogue bottles of alcohol from the depths of her walk-in closet. I affably turned down Nadine’s welcome present, an unopened bottle of Malibu.

      I wasn’t much of a drinker anymore, not that I’d ever been one, outside of obvious occasions like prom or graduation. The responsibility of work study and maintaining a consistent G.P.A. was wearing down my energetic battery. And I had more sense than to take on the night in a town I hardly knew, accompanied by strangers from Lara’s circle, save for Lara of course, feeling any kind of buzzed or removed from reality.

      After twirling curls like carnival fries in her ash blond tresses, spritzing some lavender perfume that gave an olfactory impression of a freshly-cut field of botany, and lending me a leather jacket that screamed Jersey, a place I always considered an ode to Lara and I’s temple of friendship, the three of us were prepared to kiss the stars and savor the beauty of tonight and togetherness, before my plane ride returned me to mundanity tomorrow afternoon.

      My notion of an enjoyable night out is heavily-influenced by the predictable experiences of my college life back at South Boston U. I scarcely went out, it took some convincing from my friends, but when I did, it was brief and contained. Dancing was my sole objective during these outings, to shake off the stress of tiresome exams and the expansive, magnified vocabulary memorization required of my Business major.

      Carina, Josephine and I, and whichever girls we happened to bring with us, usually acquainted through classes or the social networking of our dorm building, always stuck with each other from the walk there to the taxi ride home. We laughed at whatever inebriated bastard entreated us with unnecessary conversation, before he could finish his slurred, nonsensical sentences. We habitually left early, the earliest train to leave the station, because we were bored or exhausted, realizing there was not a sliver of significance retrievable from these unfamiliar boxes of rooms once we were too burnt out to dance. Whoever was feeling most responsible that night, the most sober and clear-headed, reminded the band that she had an early class the next morning, ergo rest was imminent. The consciousness reminder of our college responsibilities would spur a collective realization, and suddenly, getting back in our beds seemed impossibly appealing.

      I decided tonight would be different, given the energizing change, and improvement in location and absence of tedious commitments lined up for the following day. As a firewall against getting tired, I downed coffee to prevent my social stamina from dying in Nadine’s marvelous, ivory marbled kitchen.

      Evan announced his arrival by honking the sound of a tyrant's trumpet several times in her driveway, like an aggravated trucker on the interstate. She immediately ran outside to greet him, a wild flame in her red camisole dress, so tight you could almost see the macaroons we’d brought her from the mall. She instructed us to get the liquor bottles and our belongings, it was time to leave. Bounce kicks clubgoers out at 2 A.M. and it was edging towards ten.

      “My mother is asleep!” she upbraided his impatient uproar.

      “Fuck that,” he scoffed, inflating the volume of his loud music that I didn’t think could get louder.

      What a douche. Evan had an elaborate contraption lodged in the backseat of his pickup, he vehemently told us not to set anything on it as soon as our boots grazed the carpet, which was accented in cigar wraps and beer cans.

      The speaker was as big as a person, a third passenger beside Lara and I. Nadine lit a spliff, again I declined, I’d decided to stay sober the whole night, something was already feeling off, but not so off I couldn’t renounce its effects on my temperament, and instead retreat in the comforting presence of my best friend, and her best friend that I’d taken a meteoric liking to.

      Forty five minutes down the odd backroads and we finally pulled into Evan’s buddy’s house, a detour he was insistent upon and convinced Nadine would enhance our night at the club. All he had to do was mention the comprehensive bar in the basement and she was in, turning around to inform us of the amendment in plans with a flash of her dazzling, magic smile.

      My and Lara’s unspoken protests disintegrated like a dried up, unwanted flower against the roof of our mouths.

      A sprawling, flawlessly-maintained front yard greeted us as we pulled in through the wrought iron gates. In my heeled boots and leather jacket, I felt overdressed for the occasion, or lack of occasion, and subsequently highly embarrassed. We followed Evan, who looked even more rodent-like once I could view him in proper light, betraying the description Nadine had given us of a “Southern fox,” into the yard through the grassy side alcove of the house. I clutched Lara’s hand close to mine, our tense palms melding for comfort. She left her jacket in the car, persuaded under the pretense that this excursion wouldn’t surpass forty five minutes at most.

      A ring of guys about Evan’s age sat on foldable chairs and stumps encircling the bonfire. The only girl in company was standing up, a vacant expression gazing down into the flames. She shot daggers of steel immediately, a look of irritation and surprise materialized on her face. She looked a bit like a man, physically not out of place at the shindig. Dressed in a similar outfit to theirs like it was an unofficial uniform, she wore torn-and-tried blue jeans and sturdy cowboy boots.

      None of the guys gave Nadine a hello, or acknowledged us stragglers trailing behind awkwardly. Not that I wanted them to, but their abrupt rudeness towards their alleged best friend’s girlfriend told me everything I needed to know.

      A sun-speckled cowboy like the ones on TV sipped from his beer can, tall and proud in a flannel and belt of shells. His eyes rolled back slightly, revealing the reddened whites like he’d been chugging since the sun went down. Back and forth in his hands, he was passing a cigarette between him and another fellow that looked like his clone but with long hair. A blonde, hefty pair of square glasses squeezed a crunchy roasted pickle until it spilled juice, chomping fervently on the delicacy.

      Nadine sat in Evan’s lap, removed his baseball cap and tousled his hair while he talked to the boys about the goings-about of their training at fire school, car troubles, and who was getting alcohol for their trip to the beach tomorrow. I whispered to Lara that if Nadine invited us along, although I hoped to god she had more sense than to hangout with these guys again, I’d adamantly refuse. We consorted to go inside and get water.

      “Where’re y’all going?” slurred Nadine, astonishingly midway finished with the bottle of bullshit Evan handed her from the cooler, chugging it like it was nectar foraged from Mount Olympus.

      “Inside, to get a drink,” I said, not realizing that my version of a drink, which meant a glass of ice-cold water, was different from hers, and she might attempt to trap us out here with these weirdos by offering alcoholic refreshments from the cooler.

      She didn’t, she was completely bored with us, her unfortunate and uninteresting retinue. She turned back to face Evan while my words lingered in the evening air. I was feeling severely dehydrated, my thoughts were disconnected and increasingly disoriented. It’s an unsettling thing to stand-in somewhere unwanted; you’re a sinner in someone else’s sanctuary, obscuring their privileged property with your presence.

      “Door’s locked, I’ll get it for ya. Just be quick so the dogs don’t run out there into the pasture, I don’t wanna chase them all night,” bellowed an unknown figure, rising to an upright stance.

      We followed him blindly, the wily grass brushing our mid-calfs. In the light of the garage, his only discernible quality was a set of paralyzing blue eyes, the rest of his face swathed in beard and handlebar mustache. The cavernous garage was decked out with as much fishing and hunting equipment as a Dick’s Sporting Goods. Different colored rods poked out of a metal mount like decorative swords, standing plumb and patriotic next to an arsenal of guns. Everything was on display like a gear convention, us outsiders were merely visitors to marvel at the finery.

      Another one in his early-20s, the spitting image of Kevin, the owner of the house, emerged barefoot, wearing a sweatshirt stitched with the fire department’s insignia and paint-stained khakis. He introduced himself as Kevin’s brother, but didn’t give a name or ask for ours. From his disapproving, repulsed once-over, I don’t think he fancied us as ladies he’d like to know.

      “Y’all got the possum-stompers on tonight,” was all he said, as my Steve Maddens hit the brass threshold parting the garage step and indoor redwood floors, emitting a weighty thump.

      Two floppy-eared dogs greeted us, the only friendly beings we’d encountered so far. The border collie’s eyes wilted at the corners like she hadn’t slept in centuries. Kevin told us she had dementia. Lara removed her pumps and seated herself at the Medieval-esque dining table, which looked like it would seat King Arthur and his knights, the chair tops carved like turrets. The afflicted old thing, Bella, and Jamie, her sprightly Corgi companion were soft like snow in our arms. Lara and I were relieved to have some animal company in place of the humans we came with.

      A spontaneous game of basketball began in the driveway. Nadine was getting more drunk by the minute, urging Evan relentlessly to give her the ball. Dammit! The discordance between the two echoed off the garage walls, their back-and-forth quips like wrestling, pinning each other before they could step.

      “Sit down, drunk ass,” he laughed.

      The girl who’d greeted us with her stony glare strutted in to gun us down some more and get something from upstairs, or shield herself from the fact that the guys she was probably in love with were showing Nadine attention, good or bad. Don’t know the reason, don’t care. I heard one of the guys tossing apologetic-sounding words out like a line out from the garage, Brianna, c’mon, get in the game. She was out of sight in an instant, leaving her boots at the door to let them know she was calling it a night.

      Lara and I debated whether we should bribe Evan to drive us to Bounce already, for god’s sake, grotesque as the idea of giving him money was. It was dangerously close to midnight.

      A startling detonation, clattering like glass beakers against a chemistry classroom floor spooked the dogs. Lara’s eyes widened, she was both accustomed to and exhausted with weathering the aftermath of Nadine’s explosions, whatever shape they assumed. Anxiously, we proceeded outside to make sure she wasn’t passed out on the pavement.

      “Now look here what you done!” raged Kevin’s brother, while his friends halted their game and spewed laughter like hellhounds or hyenas, daftly amused with the escalation.

      The mount holding the fishing rods was sharply splintered at the base, like it’d been chopped with a saw. A conic tip of a shoe heel. She must’ve given it her most powerful roundhouse kick, for a reason I will never understand.

      Nadine had caused an enormous splash, and since we’d arrived with her, we were susceptible to the consequences of her discourtesy. There was no going back now.

      The dogs were plotting a harrowing escape into the forbidden cow pasture at the sudden opportunity to escape. Exactly as Kevin implored us not to, we’d mindlessly left the door ajar in our haste to check on our friend, not that it was helping. Nadine had been standoffish towards us since we arrived, like we were crashing her party, although it didn’t seem Evan or his friends coveted her company either.

      Hero of the hour, the chunky blond with Lennon-like frames huffed and charged with all his fireman-in-training strength to make it to the door in time, pulling the handle shut. Bella and Jamie yelped in protest.

      Brianna had returned. Wonderful. Fixed in a scowl, she made a grand show of rolling her eyes and discussing something heatedly with Evan. Probably us, and all the reasons why she’d wanted to keep the gathering between her and the boys that night.

      Kevin’s brother was crouched beside the mount, which was still bracing a barrage of rods despite the fracture. Looking at it with his expert eyes, he assessed the damage. When we thought our luck couldn’t soar any higher, we realized another salient issue was against us, besides the struggle of attempting to redeem the promised ride to the club, or home, since the joyous ambience was flattened. Anyplace that we weren’t gatecrashers.

      “My phone is missing,” wailed Nadine, spinning haphazardly around herself to see if it were lying somewhere on the ground.

      Evan ignored her petition to search for it, and vehemently lambasted his girlfriend for wrecking his buddy’s property. Can’t wait to drop y’all bitches off.

      His rosy words amplified her misery. The girl with no phone seated herself on a random stool, forehead pressed against her palms, like she was Atlas, the cruel world weighing on her back.

      Lara and I found the missing phone laying in the grass near the dead bonfire, where one of the cowboys predicted it would be.

      “Who’s phone is it?” he asked, his words obscured as a piece of straw he was chewing hung out of his mouth.

      He’d missed the whole fiasco, having gone to his truck parked across the street to get a case of beers.

      “The girl in the red dress,” Kevin paused thoughtfully, rubbing his stomach. “It’s a nice dress.”

      Miraculously, Nadine finally convinced Evan that it was time to drive to Bounce. He gave in willingly. Gratefully. Not more grateful than Lara and I. It was midnight on the minute, this wretched night had turned into the early prayers of a better day, and we made the celebratory walk to his pickup. I could jump five feet in the air. It was our escape vehicle, lit up like a fluorescent Christmas tree in the inky nighttime ether.

      “Damn, that looks pretty,” I said absent-mindedly, forgetting this remark could be perceived as a compliment towards Evan, when I only meant to check out the striking visual.

      “Don’t say that. The car looks like shit,” Nadine responded sharply, waving the comment out of the air with her hands.

      That made me howl. At the very least, the girl could maintain her wit even in the middle of her self-created disasters. She was right, nothing Evan owned or cared about deserved any praise.

      Lara timidly puffed her vape pen, looking at me with her gorgeous round eyes like an owl startled in its birch. I shrugged, not sure if she was awaiting a comment or answer from me. I gazed out her window as we whizzed past fields of grass and novel farmhouses. There wasn’t a lot to say, we’d experienced all of it, more than what would translate into our tired words.

      Neither Evan or Nadine stirred, the lull of quiet persisted. His way of expressing his frustration was to kill the music completely. It was as silent as the Parisian catacombs. He slammed the brakes at stop signs, like a broken carnival ride operator. Nadine lurched forward at the speed bumps, cradling a bottle of Skrewball in her lap, the seat belt protecting her from further implications. She was more concerned about preserving the bottle than her own safety.

      The silence so thick that quicksand would be jealous occasionally subsided, as Nadine’s abrupt, useless interjections punctured the quiet.

      “You’re gonna ignore me, it’s that bad?”

      He gave her radio silence in return. You could hear dragonflies buzzing in the next state over. Lara and I looked at each other blankly, unsure what we could offer to subdue the tension. We silently agreed to do what we had been, keeping our mouths shut while Nadine digs herself further into her own grave, at which she was remarkably gifted.

      “You’ll blow up my phone tomorrow,” she laughed, chugging the peanut butter whiskey, spearing the bottom of the bottle to the roof of his car.

      Bounce was jumpin’, all kinds of people were faded and festive standing outside, awaiting their entrance. I thought it’d be a lighter scene, considering it was roughly an hour and fifteen until closing. The girl checking I.D.s looked bored as bricks, surrounded by rowdy bouncers who kept making jokes she didn’t seem to find amusing. She was slumped over in the chair, struggling to make it through the final hours of her graveyard shift.

      Nadine tossed the finished bottle into a trash can, and immediately set to work to overcome the succeeding obstacle: scavenging more alcohol. The heels and gold chains standing behind her in line waited as she calculated her next move. Lara and I were waiting, praying for Nadine to act accordingly to the situation for once, and present some payment for the cover fee to the zoned out I.D. girl.

      “I need a wrist band,” she proclaimed confidently, squaring her chest like a boxer stepping up to a match, the straps of her small dress sliding off her olive-hued shoulders.

      The bouncer’s gruff scoff almost split the pavement open. It was like he’d seen Nadine there before, or others like her, testing their way to privileges.

      “Nope, no wrist band lady,” snapped the girl at the stand, not in the mood for a stunt.

      “It’s in or out,” the bouncer chimed in, talking to the three of us collectively, Lara and I hadn’t made a move towards the door, halted in transit and shock.

      Nadine had to have been joking. It was one o’clock by now, and I could hear the lively music inside, perfect for groovin’ for at least a brief while, until the window of time closed and the bouncers kicked everyone to the streets.

      I pulled Lara to the side to let a cluster of girls and guys pass, while Nadine consulted herself on the most profitable course of action. The ultimate oracle. Since the Bounce girl wouldn't illegally waive an underage girl for drinks, she’d have to find another way.

      A car with tinted windows emitting a pungent marijuana tang rolled up just in time for her flawed decision making. Two of the skeeviest fellas I’d ever seen were sitting up front, proudly, like they were captains of Apollo’s chariot.

      “You need a ride home?” came his fervid voice from under a baseball cap through the rolled down window.

      I was waiting for her to do the logical thing, to drop this act of insanity and spin around to face us, her friends, and give the strangers an indisputable no. I looked to Lara, who shrugged her shoulders helplessly, her eyes watering with frustration. In a perfect world, we’d quit loitering in the entryway of Bounce, the three of us would dance to the ear-splitting music that I could feel in the soles of my possum stompers, no meddling outsiders infringing on our parade.

      “You got drinks?” she appraised their assets.

      “In the trunk,” he assured her, I could now make out his jack-o-lantern leer. If I thought he couldn’t get any cornier, he surprised me, “more at the house, you and your friends down?”

      Lara pleaded with Nadine to get back to the curb, but her best friend interrupted her concerned warnings and shrugged off her protective arm around her. Her mind was fixated on one thing. She would follow the supply wherever it was going, to whatever destination decided by any old, unfamiliar drifters. Nadine was deficient in any kind of matrix of discretion.

      Tears rolled down Lara’s cheeks and erased a line in her powder peach blush as Nadine shook off her arm on her purse. No thoughtfully-worded, whole-hearted convincing would persuade her to reconsider. I stood there uselessly, wooden-mouthed and confused as to how someone could have such negligence for their safety. And their friends.

      “Why are you being like this!” blustered Nadine, when we declined the outrageous offer to accompany her as backseat passengers in the alien vehicle.

      Making two questionable car ride situations in the span of an hour, Nadine rebuked our sirens to safety and jumped in the car, gone faster than you can flip between Television channels. The bouncer scoffed behind us at Nadine’s impulsivity, having witnessed the operatic scene of abandon. In her haste to claim the drinks she seemed convinced everyone owed her, she’d forgotten to ask Lara for her I.D. back, which burned an unsettled temperament in Lara when she realized she’d likely have to get up early to return it to her. At Nadine’s request.

      All the anecdotes were beginning to pan into picture. Their eight month history of disasters, instigated by Nadine, collapsing and exploding on top of one another. Somehow their friendship resurrected and resumed shortly in the wake of each wrong turn, under the conditions of the right apology and promises of change.

      “Is this normal for you guys?” I asked in a daze of shock.

      “This is nothing, tonight was chill,” was Lara’s dejected response.

      She was burnt out from all this hyperactivity, from running the race that is being Nadine’s confidante and disposable party companion.

      The music was monotonous and mediocre, but we made it last like the last tea leaves in the pot. We tried to enjoy the final hour of Bounce, the last movement of tonight’s staggering sonata, the two of our original three grooving on the dance floor and laughing at drunken stragglers getting helped to the door by their equally intoxicated friends, as if we hadn’t just done the same. I lent Lara Nadine’s leather jacket, though it wasn’t really mine to barter. She wore it better than any clothes horse you find in the spines of luxury magazines.

      The bartender told her that he could tell she was from Jersey from her outfit, to which she replied in a bombastic southern accent that she was born and raised in Tennessee. I laughed. My girl’s a riveting mythologist.

      Once we were freshly showered and thoroughly exhausted back at her apartment, preparing for a merciful descent into sleep while some slowdive music played from her CD player, Lara left three voicemails on Nadine’s cell phone asking if she was alright, if she had made it home, and urging her to call back. On the seventh ring, we almost sprang off the bed like grasshoppers with relief to hear her voice. After that risky suicide mission of getting in a strangers car, I’d hoped to God she was at her beautiful house, and not lying stiff at the bottom of a ditch or freezer.

      “I’m home. I had the most enlightening conversation with Luke,” she struggled to sort out her short-term memory spanning the past hour, “I think that was his name.”

      In between gulps of grape juice and bread, a premature hangover cure as the freshly-drunk feeling was just mellowing into haziness, Nadine performed a histrionic recount of the car ride home. It was impossible to listen to, a lost cause talking in circles about her interactions with other lost causes. I rolled over in bed, bored from the phoniness of it all as Lara held the phone up on speaker. According to Nadine, our reaction was an overreaction. She got a ride home for free and received complimentary alcohol. Score.

      In a stroke of luck, she managed inside using the unlocked screen door her mother habitually forgot to seal up. This convenient oversight immensely accommodated Nadine, she could retreat inside to her pretty bedroom when the party ended in the morning, and rest until the side effects of her mission to outdrink God wore off.

      Once the pointless phone call was over, more taxing to endure than any drawn-out lecture I’d attended since starting college, I decided to wash off the night. Literally. Early morning light was five or less hours away, I would be a purified vessel to receive it. There’s nothing a steaming shower can’t fix.

Sydnie Stern is a second year English student at St. John’s University. In October of 2022, she became a staff writer for the University’s independent publication, The Torch. During 2022, she held an internship position with Brooklyn-based writer Christine Stoddard. She's credited as a literary editor in the anthological novel Lunar Phoenix and Stoddard’s travel novella, Not Joan Didion's El Salvador. Her expected graduation date is May 2025.
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