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Everyone gets together; Craig meets someone special.

Around nine o’clock, Randy and Craig turned off the car racing video game they had been playing and checked on the tea in the freezer. They had made it in two big pitchers, a combination of soda, beer, vodka, and frozen Lime-Aid concentrate. Technically they were supposed to add Everclear, but they couldn’t get their hands on any, and Randy said his friends would probably call them pussies, so whatever. Randy had been to parties where they real stuff was served, and he couldn’t tell the difference between this and that. “But I don’t know, because I was usually pretty fucked up at the time,” he told Craig, laughing. They weren’t sure if the two batches were even, but when they tried some, it seemed fine. Randy got a text from Ali that they were on the their way over, so the boys decided they’d kick things off with one of the dark beers that they had debated over mixing into the tea. Music was selected, they found a football game to watch, and Randy went upstairs to change his shirt.

Craig was on the couch watching the game when the door announced Ali, and Randy hopped down the stairs to let them in, smelling of expensive cologne that he’d gotten from his dad’s side of the sink. Ali entered with two women and a guy named Tony who Craig remembered from some other time. The girls were both what passed for “hot” in similar jeans and tank tops. The group introduced themselves and Craig met Ali’s girlfriend, Michelle, the shorter brunette with a dark mole on her cheek, and Elize, who was busty and loud, with big hair.

“Nice to meet y’all,” Elize said to Randy and Craig, eyes flashing with a bright smile. Immediately Craig was determining what Randy’s position was regarding Elize. He decided to play it safe until it became apparent. Soon the teenagers were in the kitchen and Randy was pouring tea, playing host. “Oh y’all got a hot tub out back?” Elize said, walking up to the long window with her drink. It was dark outside, but the ground lighting illuminated the blue pool.

“We do indeed,” Randy said.

“Maybe we should go for a dip later,” Elize said, moving closer to Randy and that about settled it for Craig.

Ali and Tony were both students at one of the private schools in Houston called Strake Jesuit. Michelle and Elize were classmates at the sister school, St. Mary’s. Each of them came from Protestant families, with the exception of Ali. “Is your school co-ed,” Michelle asked Craig. “What’s that like?”

“I don’t know. Normal, I guess,” Craig said. “What’s it like for you?”

“Oh it’s so nice not to have to worry about guys during the day. We have some classes together, but mostly it’s just girls.”

Ali put his arm around Michelle’s waist and they leaned up against the counter together. “You should see their parking lot after school gets out. All these chicks in their cars, doing their make-up before meeting their boyfriends. It’s like that movie Grease.”

“Oh you love it,” Michelle said to Ali. “Anyway, Craig, it’s nice. Do you have a girlfriend at school?”

Craig shook his head. “No, not really at the moment.”

Nodding enthusiastically, Michelle went on, “Oh good! I really want you to meet my friend Janey. She’s coming later on tonight, I think. Don’t you think they’d make a cute couple, babe?”

Ali rolled his eyes at Craig and said, “Oh yeah sure. Totally. Janey’s real cool.”

Not wanting to be visibly eager about it, Craig did his best to sound nonchalant. “It’d be nice to meet her if she shows up.”

“So who wants to play Asshole?” Tony called out. He and Randy were at the kitchen table with a deck of cards. Tony was shuffling them, cracking the cards over one another and bridging them together.

“Everyone gather round,” Randy said and began to explain the house rules.
“All right y’all,” Elize said, raising her hand high, as if about to witness. “I just want y’all to know that I’ll play, but I am not making out with Michelle this time.”

The boys hooted and Michelle called out over them that they couldn’t handle it anyway. In this way, the game progressed between bouts of laughter and an increasingly complex set of arbitrary rules that made it more and more difficult to keep track of everything as each person drank for every penalty. After one game, the girls were definitely tipsy, and Craig himself felt lightheaded. It was not altogether unpleasant. When the doorbell rang, he jumped up and then caught in the moment, recovered quickly by asking if anyone wanted something to drink.

“Is that Janey?” Randy asked. Michelle nodded—she had been in touch with her on her phone as she approached. The three of them went to the door to bring her in.

Tony collected the cards and began to shuffle them for a new game. He and Elize were talking about music and it was obvious that he was taking the opportunity to hit on her. Craig refilled his tea and hung around the living room to get a look at the new girl. He feigned watching the football game, which was on low volume, and sipped his drink. His hand was cold and wet from the glass. He wiped it off on his pants leg as Ali and Michelle led their friend in, Randy behind them.

“This is Craig,” Michelle said. “Craig this is Janey. We all go to school together.”

“What’s up,” Janey said, taking off a thick knit purple hat and holding out her hand. Craig held it gently, not wanting to squeeze too hard. Janey had her hair in a large dark brown bun and there was a small diamond in her nose. She struck Craig as being artsy, but she dressed sensibly enough in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt.

“How are you?” Craig said.

“And you know Tony,” Michelle went on.

“What’s up J-dog,” Tony called from the kitchen table. “Come get your drink on!”

As Janey passed Craig on her way to the table, he caught a whiff of perfume, lip gloss and cigarette smoke. Something inside of him stirred, and he took care walking back to his seat.

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