“All things are wearisome; more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.” (Ecclesiastes 1:8)
Tonight was her twenty-first birthday and she wanted to go out to the bar and flash off her new ID. I wasn’t in the mood to go and spend money on drinks I’d piss out in a few hours, but Ashley insisted on going and I couldn’t blame her. I got so fucked up on my twenty-first birthday. We’d been broken up then, but she knew I had been with another girl.
Ashley lived in the student apartments next to the university in Bowling Green, better known as BG. It was a small town and I hated it. Just a college and a bunch of bars. I drove to her place and let myself in. She was downstairs in the bathroom attached to her bedroom. She stood in front of the mirror putting on lipstick. When I first met her she never wore any makeup.
“A little early to be getting ready,” I said as I sat down on her bed. I pushed her stuffed animals off her pillows and put my head back.
“I figured we get a head start tonight.” She pressed her lips together and rubbed lipstick off the corner of her mouth.
“You sound excited.”
“I’ve been waiting for tonight.”
“Just to get drunk?” I made a gesture letting her know she had a red stain on her tooth.
“Is that a bad thing?” She grabbed a piece of toilet paper and rubbed off the stain.
“It’s a pathetic thing.”
“Don’t be an ass.”
“What friends are we going to meet there?” My eyes began to close. Maybe I should’ve stayed home and got a little rest.
“I don’t know. Michelle, Courtney, possibly Brian.”
“I had to invite him.”
“I hate Brian.”
“You hate every guy I know.”
“I don’t hate Nate.”
“That’s because Nate’s gay.”
“Exactly. He won’t touch you.”
“No one touches me.”
“You’re telling me that guy that works with you at the front desk never slaps your ass or gives you a nice tight hug?” She worked as a cashier at the local grocery store.
“Brad?” She rolled her eyes. “He’d never do that.”
“I wouldn’t let him.”
“Guys always touch girls. Especially when they’re drunk. They’re always copping feels and the girls never notice. Or if they do they just play it off.”
“Then fine. Guys are going to cop feels as I laugh along. But you’re with me tonight. What do
you have to worry about?”
“I’m not worrying.”
“You’re always worrying.”
We always played their game of ping pong with words. When we first met at a party she joked she was always right. I told her I was. Two years later and what was once cute now was annoying. Ashley put the lipstick away, flipped the lights off in the bathroom, and went to the closet. She pulled out a pair a knee-high black boots and put them on. She said she was ready to go. We went outside towards my car but I remembered I was almost out of gas and needed it to drive back to my house twenty minutes away. My job at Sears had been cutting hours and it had been a few months since my tank had actually been full.
“We have to take your car,” I said.
“Let me guess,” Ashley said. “You need to save your gas.”
“Is that a problem?”
Ashley frowned and handed me her keys.
Downtown Bowling Green was a few minutes from Ashley’s apartment. We tried to park in the street but every spot was taken. I pulled into a local church parking lot with a private parking sign but figured we wouldn’t get a ticket there. We got out of the car and started walking.
“Maybe they’ll give me free drinks because of my birthday,” Ashley said. She had her arms wrapped around her.
“I doubt it,” I said.
It took us a few minutes to walk to the club, and then we had to wait another twenty minutes in
line. Once inside, people filled the room wall to wall, mingling and dancing. We couldn’t see her friends anywhere, so we fought our way to the bar. I ordered a beer. Ashley wasn’t sure what to get. The girl taking our order offered a whiskey sour.
“I never had one of those before,” Ashley yelled over the music pulsing through the bar.
The girl behind the counter mixed the drink with Jack Daniels. I told Ashley that was good whiskey.
Ashley took a sip and smiled. She was still working on her first sour when Courtney and Michelle fought through the crowd and squeezed next to us at the counter. Courtney looked good. She had on a wife beater that let the curves do the talking and jeans that hugged her ass tight. And she had blonde hair. Michelle on the other hand was one of those big girls who acted like she was skinny. She had on a tight tank top, causing the spaghetti straps to sink into her skin.
“Oh my god!” the girls said in unison as they both took turns hugging Ashley, and with the same exact high pitched voice smiled and said, “Happy birthday!”
“Where’s Brian?” Ashley asked them.
“He didn’t pick up his phone,” Michelle said.
“Too bad,” I said. Ashley nudged me with her elbow, but I didn’t care. I kept nursing my beer. The girls talked about their classes, and I tried not to pay attention. Every time I was around her friends I became more conscious of everything—especially money. They always brought up our careers and and our plans and how life would be so wonderful. At first I thought this talk made me hopeful, but after two years of dating, they made me feel like I was drowning.
Ashley pulled me from the bar. Her friends wanted to dance. I didn’t want to but she insisted. We held hands as we walked to the middle of the dance floor and it made feel comfortable being hidden
among the other people. Ashley’s friends found two guys with cowboy hats and I was glad I’d get some alone time now.
The deejay played a song by Nine Inch Nails, something about being in the backseat of a car. I remembered hearing it at a strip club once as a girl slid down a pole. I held my bottle in my hand and wrapped the other one around Ashley’s waist. She grinded against me and I closed my eyes and moved with her. She leaned her head back against my chest.
“You’re so sexy,” I whispered in her ear. I was horny, and I was hoping she was too. It’d been a while since we’d done it. Almost a month in fact. The last I tried we were lying together, I went to kiss her ear, which used to always get her going, but she rolled onto her stomach and told me to go to bed. I hoped she wouldn’t do that tonight. I finished my beer and felt the bass swell in my body.
I heard a guy yell out Ashley’s name. He wore a corduroy sport coat that I would have never worn but he seemed to pull off the look well. He had a handsome face. He pushed through the crowd and stood in front of us.
“Brett,” Ashley said with her eyes wide.
“It’s been so long,” she said. “I haven’t seen you since you graduated.”
“I know,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
“I go to Bowling Green now.”
Ashley put her arm around me. “This is my boyfriend Jake.”
He shook my hand. “Where are you from?”
“Toledo,” I said.
Ashley asked, “What are you doing in BG?”
“I just moved here,” he said.
Another guy in a sport coat came by and pulled Brett by the hand. He shot a grin and waved to Ashley as he walked away.
“He’s a queer,” I said to Ashley.
“Yeah. He was a big one back in Cleveland.”
We went back to the bar. The guys in cowboy hats bought beers for Courtney and Michelle and Ashley ordered a rum and coke. Across the club I saw Ashley’s friend again. He was dancing with the guy that had pulled him away. The whole time they stayed close to one another holding hands.
Ashley pulled my head to face hers. “What are you staring at?”
“Nothing,” I said. “I’m just thinking.” I kissed her cheek and told I had to take a piss.
The men’s room was at the back of the club. There was a line to get in the bathroom. I stood there waiting, as the guy in front of me kept swearing and saying he had to go. We were next in line. The door to the bathroom was propped open and instead of waiting for a stall or urinal the guy said “Fuck it” and went and pissed in the unusually low sink, to the amusement of everybody else in line.
I made my way back to the bar and saw Brett talking to Ashley again. Courtney and Michelle had disappeared.
I sat down next to Ashley. “Where’s your friend?” I asked Brett.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he said.
“Brett was just telling me he graduated last semester,” Ashley said.
“What’d you major in?” I said.
“Computer science,” he said. “And what about you?”
“A teacher, huh. The girls will drool over you.”
I felt my face flush red and didn’t know what to say. Ashley gripped my hand.
They talked for a little while. Brett had found a job in town and had moved here a couple of weeks ago. I half-listened, only looking up once in a while to see him shoot a warm smile. I was surprised Ashley hadn’t mentioned him before. As he spoke he kept tapping her hand, and I kept shooting Ashley a look.
Courtney and Michelle came back to the bar with the cowboys behind them. Ashley introduced them to Brett. They all hugged. Brett complimented Courtney’s hair and then turned to the whole group and said, “Shots. Ashley, you’ve got to do a shot for your birthday.”
“What should we get?” Ashley said.
Brett leaned over the counter and got the bartender’s attention. “Seven shots of three wise men.” The bartender mixed the drinks and put the shots on the counter. Brett handed the shots to everyone, but before he could hand me one, Ashley shoved her hand in front of the drink.
“He’s driving,” she said.
“Looks like you’re getting two Ashley,” Brett said.
Everyone downed their drinks.
A couple of hours passed. Ashley was laughing with Brett and the cowboys and the girls were dancing behinds us. I stared at my cell phone, constantly checking my text messages to look busy. Ashley turned her head back to me and kissed me on the cheek and I could smell the drinks on her breath.
“You don’t look like you’re having a good time,” she said.
“I’m fine,” I said.
She squeezed my hand. “We can go.”
“All right,” I said.
She turned to Brett. “I think we better get going.”
“Oh you can’t,” he said. “It’s too early.”
Michelle leaned in. “You’re not leaving are you?”
“It’s getting late,” Ashley said.
Brett stood up and put his hand on Ashley’s shoulder. “You have to come to my place before you go home. I just bought a wine rack. We’ll have a bottle.”
“I think Jake’s getting tired,” Ashley said.
“It’s only twelve,” Brett said. He leaned towards me. “Come on, Jake. Don’t spoil the fun.”
Ashley looked at me. “It’s my birthday, Jake.”
I looked at Brett and back at her and told myself I was ruining a good time. “I don’t mind,” I lied.
“Perfect,” Brett said.
“We’ll have to walk back to the car,” I said to Ashley.
“No need,” Brett said. “I live down the street above the guitar shop. It’s just a short walk.”
We all stood up. Ashley took turns hugging Courtney and Michelle. One of the cowboys tipped his hat towards us.
“So is Ashley good in bed?” Brett asked. We sat on a sofa bed that Brett had pulled out. His place felt quaint and tidy, definitely the work of a gay man. There was a large clock on the wall that was
no doubt from Target, a cheap decoration that looked impressive but was probably made in China. I couldn’t believe his boldness but Ashley laughed and I was surprised she wasn’t the least bit offended.
“Hell yes,” she said.
“I wouldn’t know anymore,” I said.
“Is that all you care about?” She punched me in the shoulder.
“Not at all,” I said. “Like you say all the time, it’s only sex.”
“You listen to this bullshit, Brett?” she said.
He laughed at us. “I didn’t mean to cause any problems. I’m just nosy. I think you two make a fine couple.”
“He acts like I’m a prude,” she said.
“Why don’t you kiss him and prove to him you’re not,” Brett said.
“I think you just want to watch,” she said.
“And if I did?” Brett said.
I wanted to change the subject but she just kept laughing. And Brett just sat there smiling.
“I think I’ve had too many drinks,” Ashley said.
“You should make out with her,” Brett said.
I felt a little awkward at the suggestion and looked at Ashley,. “We don’t have to,” she said.
I felt angry at being put at the spot. But something inside me wanted to impress Brett. “No, it’s okay,” I said. I leaned in and kissed her.
He laughed. “You two are sloppy,” he said. “Ashley, Why don’t you get naked?”
“You really want me to prove I’m not a prude,” Ashley said.
“I think it’ll help your relationship,” he said.
“Jake doesn’t like other guys looking at me. Tell him Jake.”
“You think all I care about is if other guys think about you,” I said. “That I’m just some raging bull who gets jealous.”
Ashley let out a sigh. “I don’t want to do this here,” she said.
“It’s just sex,” Brett said. “Ashley never told you about our wild parties in Cleveland?”
I looked at Brett, who was close to us on the bed. My mind started to imagine scenes of Ashley getting naked in front of other guys. “What parties?” I asked.
Ashley looked over at Brett and back at me. “I didn’t do anything.”
Brett leaned forward. “She was quite the stunner.”
I stared at Ashley. “You’re right. It’s just sex.” I started to tug on Ashley’s shirt. She tried to pull her arms down but I kept pulling on the shirt, finally lifting it past her fingertips and revealing a lacy black bra.
She took a deep breath and then leaned to my ear. “We don’t have to do this,” she whispered. “I won’t do anything you don’t want to.”
“I’m tired of being so protective of you,” I said.
“Then why are you?” she said.
“I’m not making you two uncomfortable, am I?” Brett interjected.
Ashley pulled her shirt down “I’ve had a little too much to drink,” she said
“I understand,” Brett said.
I felt my heart slow down and the sudden urge for a cigarette. Ashley got off the sofa and went to the bathroom down the hall. Me and Brett stayed on the bed, myself itching for just a hit of tobacco.
I wasn’t sure why I felt angry or why I was here. I didn’t like this guy.
“I think we’re gonna get going,” I said.
Brett reached out and laid his hand on top of mine. “It’s okay,” he said. “I understand
what you’re feeling.” His hand remained resting against mine, and I let it stay there, not sure what to say but not wanting to pull mine away. I heard the toilet flush from down the hall and saw Ashley sniff as she walked back into the room
I jerked my hand away from his, afraid she’d see.
“I’m ready to go Jake,” she said.
I stood up from the bed ran my hand thru my hair.
Ashley hugged Brett and said it had been fun. I didn’t mind when he kissed her on the cheek.
Outside there was a cool breeze. Ashley had requested the whole week off of work and we had made plans to go to my place tomorrow morning and swim. We walked to her car that was still parked in the church parking lot. A parking ticket was pinned to her windshield by the wiper.
“Fuck, Jake.” Ashley ripped it out.
“Give it to me; I’ll pay for fuck sake.” So much for the church being the safe place.
“You don’t have money to pay. You only work two days a week.”
“I’ll put it on my credit card.”
We got into the car and I sat at the wheel, wondering what the fuck had just happened. I wanted to say more, but I kept thinking about Brett and what he said. What did he mean he understood. and why did I care so much?
“Are we gonna go?” Ashley asked, slapping her knee as she rested her head against the door
“Yeah sure,” I said and turned the ignition, just ready to get out of there.
The whole time neither of us spoke about what happened. Ashley must have known I was jealous, and to be honest I felt like an asshole. But I kept quiet and so did she, and neither one of us seemed to be happy. I wasn’t sure about how I felt Brett, but I couldn’t get the sensation of his hand against mine out of my head. I kept reminding myself to relax, I was with my girlfriend. You’re not gay.
I put on my favorite rock station.
“Jake, you know I hate rock music,” she said.
I nodded. It was her car after all. I put on the local pop station and kept my thoughts to myself as the radio played the newest trash. We were about five minutes away from my house and without thinking I whispered, “I hate you.” It just rolled off my tongue and I really didn’t mean to say it, but it didn’t matter. Ashley must have not been paying too much attention because she said, “I love you too.” I just stared ahead.