Author's note: Hey there, folks! This time I wanted to explore Corey a little more. I also wanted to show more of Carl, who (I hope) isn't quite what you expected. And what's this? Is shit about to get real? Why yes, it certainly does appear that way. Oh, I cannot wait until tomorrow....
I shrugged. “Working, I guess.”
“No shit? C’mon, C, you know what I mean.”
“No, what do you mean?” I was suddenly feeling kind of bitchy, and I honestly couldn’t have said exactly why. Maybe it was the alcohol pressing like a vise on my temples, and his words screwed it tighter, not until it was painful, but until it became an unnecessary distraction. It also could have been my latent altruism surfacing in response to his casual dismissal of someone who I disliked less and less every day.
Or, I know now, it was probably the more obvious thing.
Either way, I tossed back the rest of my drink while he said, “Christ. What’s your fucking problem all of a sudden? Don’t tell me you’re getting all friendly with those furry fucks.” He leaned in again, and he was suddenly less a bad boy and more an ass, eyes squinting through the fog and strobe lights and lasers. His voice was pitched to cut between the beat and the synth laid over it. “You ain’t gone all liberal on me.”
“So what if I have?” I said, less because I actually had and more because I wanted to argue with him. “He’s not such a bad guy. He’s… I don’t know….”
“He’s a wolf, C.” He leaned back and crossed his arms, daring me to challenge that. He watched me until the waiter brought me another Long Island, and then started talking about his day job—system administrator at a high school—and I interpreted it as: conversation over. Now that the girl has stopped being silly we can get onto more pleasant things.
I surprised myself by having a better time than I thought I would. Carl regularly had to deal with asshole high school kids, their righteous parents, and the know-it-all teachers. He talked about it when he came into the head shop, and I enjoyed listening to him. In my alcohol-induced haze I forgot entirely that I was talking to someone I had only minutes ago decided that I wasn’t going to like anymore. Or maybe I hadn’t decided that. Maybe I only thought I had decided that. I couldn’t take stock of my own thoughts, and took a long gulp to compensate while I told him about the first time I saw Jamie standing pathetically outside in the rain, practically begging to be let in, and his antisocial behavior, and his general weirdness when I had taken him for the interview with Rian.
“Useless furry fuck,” Carl commented.
I shrugged. Drink. Mm.
“Guess that Rian guy will have to learn the hard way.”
“Not like it matters. I know when you work, so I don’t ever have to see that bitch again.” He grinned at me, black lights briefly illuminating his teeth. “And you know, I’ve got a feeling that he won’t be working there for too much longer, anyway. Call it a hunch.”
“Yeah, I guess.” I giggled. I wish I could say I don’t know what I was thinking. Unfortunately I remember exactly how everything he said made a sort of primal sense, how I thought, he’s right, I shouldn’t have to deal with this shit about nothing in particular. That, and his eyes stayed with mine, even when mine slipped accidentally to his broad shoulder or chest. By the time that drink was done I was almost too drunk to feel him lay his hand over mine. “Hey,” he said, peering at me. “You all right? Want me to take you home?”
I assured him that I most certainly would like that, and as I stood I caught a glimpse from the corner of my eye, a flash illumination caught in the congruence of gyrating lasers and a window through the billowing smoke, a white canine face staring straight at me, cutting through the atmosphere like a knife. Except it was like a knife flying at a drunk target, and it only brushed me peripherally. Enough to make me stumble.
Carl was right there, one steadying arm beneath mine, standing me upright while I played the part of the rope in a tug-of-war between my senses and my rationality—both of which, incredibly, were losing thanks to my underperforming sense of balance. I looked up into Carl’s concerned face and wondered what the hell I was doing. I pushed away, stumbled, and said, “What the hell am I doing?”
Carl just looked puzzled. We were somehow standing beside the coat check, and the door was right there, and I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea to look back at the dance floor, to look for Jamie, just to see if he was still there, or still watching me. I don’t know if I hoped he would see me leave, or if I wanted to make sure that he didn’t. But everything was too blurry and rocked from side to side, and Carl’s insistent grip on my shoulder brought me back to him in time to catch, “… home, okay?”
I pulled away from him and shook my head—a mistake, because I toppled and had to catch myself on a nearby wall. I hoped the bouncer hadn’t seen me. “No,” I managed, pushing the word out before it could stop to gather thought on its way out. “I’m not leaving yet.”
Carl frowned. “Yes, you are. You’re going home.”
I pointed a finger at him. “No,” I repeated, trying to convey, with that single syllable, that I understood his game, and that at any other time I might fall for it, and had he asked me just ten minutes earlier it almost definitely would have worked, but that right then I was not actually interested in going home with him. Weirdly, I think most of that message got through. He reached out for my arm, but I yanked it away before he could grab my hand and turned and stumbled back towards the music. Everything was blurry, but it wasn’t hard to find a direction that was away from Carl, and towards things that didn’t make me feel dirty for associating with them. Carl was a nice guy—mostly. But I think I was finally becoming sensitive to what he had said about Jamie. That Jamie was a burnout and a loser, I knew. But in my alcohol-addled memory, I saw him watch me from across the floor, and that was not the look of a burned-out individual. It was too—primal. Too much like Carl.
I didn’t want to deal with either of them right then. I was drunk, I was confused, and… and, I reasoned, I had told Tamlin that I would dance.
I pressed into the moving bodies, knowing I was falling and quite unable to do anything about that except for generally control the direction in which I fell. Other intoxicated dancers kept me upright, and music that was so loud I could barely hear filed my—
The world jerked and spun, and I was off the floor before I realized it was because Carl had grabbed my wrist and dragged me towards the door. “Hey!” I tugged back, but he didn’t let go.
“You’re going home, C.” He didn’t look at me as he said it. Conversation over.
“I’m not done yet.”
“Oh, yes you are. You’re way past done.”
I tugged again, this time successfully extricating my wrist from his vise-like grip. He whirled on me, annoyed anger cranking his eyebrows—but stopped before he spoke, mouth slightly open, staring over my head. The momentum of my liberation carried me backwards into something warm and tall, a something which put a protective hand on my shoulder and another on my other. Large, furry hands.
“Problem?” came Jamie’s voice from above me.