Everyone You Know is Gone
by Bryant Musgrove
They drive toward Elsinore, careen into curves. No reason really, other than there’s nothing else to do and no one else around. The Ortega flattens in front of them and his friend guns it. Hits the lights.
“It’s like we’re floating,” he says.
“Dude,” Tim answers.
Around them it’s black. The minivan does indeed manage to convey the illusion of flight, of space travel, and sitting in bucket seats high above the ground, Tim feels set apart. He grips the dashboard. He checks his seatbelt. He’s never liked the way his friend drives.
“Dude,” he says again.
Brendan just smiles and pops a tape in the deck. Cranks the stereo.
A few days later at Dieter’s, they get their triple espressos, and Brendan asks, “I thought you said you didn’t want to come here anymore?”
“I don’t,” Tim answers. “But what else are we gonna do?” He’d only said that because he’s stranded for another month while everyone else they know has already left for college and already this new crop of kids seems so much younger.
Brendan isn’t going anywhere. He might get a job, he says, or he might go to the community college where his mom works. “We could drive,” he offers.
But they won’t. Tonight they have Tim’s Mazda and his dad checks the odometer, always asking, “Why so many miles? Where is there for you to go?”
They take their coffees outside so Brendan can have a cigarette. Tim bums one. He’s never liked the taste, but he’s bored, and knows it makes him look tough. And we’re legal now, he thinks, we don’t have to worry anymore about getting caught, about teachers or parents. He finds some comfort in this kind of aging.
Tim coughs smoke and his friend kicks his foot. “Dude. Look.”
A girl they don’t know sits at a far table, reading a book. She wears a glittered tube top and tight corduroys with a hole in the knee. Blonde roots dart her dark thatch, and the cigarette in her hand shrinks to a nub, flanked by a column of ash. She turns the page before noticing it is done. Lights another.
Brendan says, “She’s really fucking hot.”
Tim says, “I know.”
Brendan’s wandered to see if the keg isn’t tapped. Tim and Janie share a 40. The three of them are at a house party thrown by their friend Ben’s little sister. Surrounded by drunk kids, kids still in school, they start to suspect that they might already be getting old.
That night they met, Tim and Janie talked about Hesse while Brendan smoked and now, in a back room somewhere, Tim sinks into a easy chair while Janie slumps to the ground, back against the wall. He studies her, deciding that she is different from the other girls he’s known – she smokes Benson and Hedges 100s, speaks fluent German, wears riding boots and sport coats when it isn’t hot out, and wears short shorts and tube tops when it is – but he doesn’t know how to think of her, how dangerous she might be. He has no idea how long the memory of her might last.
Some other boys in the corner fuck around on a computer, but Tim finds it easy to ignore them as he and the girl sip the malt liquor. She hands him the bottle and asks, “What’re you going to study?”
He answers, “I don’t know. History maybe. I’ve got time to think about it though.”
“When I go next year, I’m going to study literature, maybe specialize in medieval poetry.” She had gone to the Catholic school, which is why they’d never seen her before, and she is stuck here too, having decided to take a year off, figure things out, not realizing what that means when everyone you know is gone.
“That sounds good too. Maybe I’ll double major. I don’t really know yet.”
“You should,” she tells him. “It’s what you seem to like.”
But he isn’t sure. He feels that he knows about things because school forced him to learn them, because he knew that getting decent grades might be his only way to leave, and now he likes that she thinks that he is as smart as she is.
“Is it okay if I sit with you?” she asks. “This floor is hurting my ass.” He understands already that she is the kind of girl who talks dirty to impress boys; speaks of being horny and having to take a crap; mentions casually that she loves to masturbate.
“I’ll get up,” he offers. “I don’t mind.” Trying to be a gentleman, but she already straddles him. “Oh … Okay,” he says.
She takes a long swig and hands him the green bottle of Mickey’s. “Shhh.”
He takes a sip and then she kisses him and this swallow almost suffocates him.
They’re out back, bobbing in the Jacuzzi, when Brendan announces, “Jesus. I don’t think I can feel my feet.”
Janie giggles. Tim refills his flute. She drinks her father’s champagne from the bottle. They’re all naked but can’t see anything really. Only the overhead in the kitchen glows through the sliding doors. Brendan’s pilfered a handful of her mom’s pills too – leftovers from that time she had whiplash.
“Let me have some more of that.” Brendan motions for the wine.
“I don’t think you need anymore.” Tim explains, “Being in here makes you drunk faster.”
“Don’t be a pussy. I’m fine.” He takes the bottle, refills, slugs it back like a shot. “This is good shit,” he declares. And then, hesitant, “This is good, right?”
“It better be,” Janie responds. “‘Cause my dad is going to kill me when he finds out it is gone.”
“It’s good,” Tim agrees.
Brendan inspects his stemware. “Can I throw this? I feel like throwing something.”
She shrugs, and he launches it into the air. The glass curves upwards, at first incandescent in the reflected light, and then disappears, soaring higher before shattering back behind the diving board.
“You’re the one who’s gonna have to clean that up,” she tells him.
“Yeah whatever. I just felt like doing it.” He hoists himself out. “I think I’m going to jump in anyway.” Ambling down the steps, he collapses at their foot.
She laughs and Tim shouts, “Are you okay?”
There’s no answer, so they go to him and examine the wreckage. Brendan’s a heap, curled into himself, but doesn’t look bruised or injured, and Tim notices his friend’s pale member as it flops with each troubled breath.
“What should we do?” she asks.
“He’ll be fine. Just needs to sleep,” Tim answers.
They struggle to move him. They lay him out on a chaise lounge and cover him with a towel. Down by the pool, light bounces off the water, making it easier for Tim to admire her beauty – lithe, small breasts, curled tufts – and to watch her from behind as she leads him to a hammock at the rear of the yard.
“It hurts,” she says.
“But I thought-”
She’s underneath Tim, on top of a blanket, in the back of the Mazda, wearing nothing but his engineer boots. They’re parked up on the hill above the school. Brendan’s gone and got himself a job at Dieter’s working the night shift, allowing Tim and Janie their first opportunity since they met to really be alone, away from him.
He kisses her. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” she says. “It’s got to happen sometime.”
He withdraws and sits up. She lights a cigarette, rolls down the window, offers him the pack, but he shakes his head.
“Try, try, try as he might, but the bitch was too tight,” she singsongs.
He forces a chuckle. Her directness scares him and he doesn’t like her smoking in his dad’s car, but instead he tells her, “I think I really like you.”
“I really like you too.” She exhales a ringed cloud.
“No, I mean really like you.”
“You mean like … Like love?”
Not knowing the answer, he just grabs her cigarette and takes a hurried puff, running the other hand down her bristled leg, all the way down to the rim of the leather. His hand slides in and grabs an ankle. “Why’re you wearing my fucking boots?”
“‘Cause, they’re my fucking boots,” she answers.
“I really thought it would be him you wanted,” Tim tells her. “It’s always him.”
She drops the butt out the window. Looks him in the eye. “Come back,” she says.
At the Pic ‘n’ Save they wander the aisles and pretend to be interested in all the crap. Brendan’s taken his mom’s video camera and can’t stop filming. He pushes it in customers’ faces and asks for interviews. Scans the racks and captures the detritus for posterity.
“Watch this,” he says. Then he disappears down the aisle.
Janie picks up a remaindered copy of Amy Fisher’s tell-all from the shelf and says to Tim, “I’m going to buy this for you. It’ll look good on your shelf in your dorm room.”
“Don’t waste your money,” he responds.
“It’s only a dollar,” she says. “Besides, it’ll let all the girls know you got some culture.” She says culture like she’s got a New York accent. They laugh, feeling like they appreciate the kitsch.
She stops walking, takes his hand. “I feel bad. Do you feel bad?”
“What do you mean?” he asks. “About what?”
“I feel like we’re separating away,” she answers, jerking her head in the direction that Brendan went. “Like we’re leaving him out.”
“Well, I leave in two weeks. I want to see you as much as I can.”
“No,” she tells him. “You want to fuck me as much as you can.”
Tim smiles, embarrassed.
A loud voice resonates from across the aisles. “Son, if you don’t get that thing out of my face, I’m going to shove it where the sun don’t shine. You have to have a permit to film … Now, do you have a permit or not?”
They round the corner and find that the voice belongs to a mountain of meat in a security uniform pinning Brendan up against some coloring books. The Hi-8 drops from his hands and dangles from his shoulder. He looks worried but says, “Do you have a permit to see my permit?” Then he grins. “Because I’ve got to know that you’ve got your proper paperwork in order.”
The week before Tim leaves. They had planned for it to happen at her house, but her parents stayed home even though they said they were going out, so Brendan went and got his mom’s minivan, and then they ended up here, parked down by the state beach.
“I think I might love you but I think I might want to fuck him,” she’d said.
Tim didn’t know how to respond so he nodded and agreed, told her he understood what she meant. So now, lying side by side, her in the middle, he’s about to share this girl, about whom he doesn’t know how to feel, with his friend, about whom he fears he’s left behind.
She undresses first. He watches her slip her panties off and then kiss Brendan, her hands grasping back towards him. “Take your clothes off,” she whispers in their ears.
The boys follow her orders. Dim sodium-vapor glare allows them the vision to take each other in. Tim studies Brendan, noting the ways that they are different, and he stays still, rigid – not knowing the move to make.
“Maybe you two should kiss,” she suggests. “Maybe that will make this easier.”
But they just giggle and shake their heads unconditionally. So her hands travel down, tugging at them both.
Tim closes his eyes, then opens them, observing: first himself, then Brendan. His friend grows and he watches her pull, up and down. He thinks he might want to too but is afraid of what that might mean.
After, they go to Denny’s. In the bathroom, at the urinal next to him, Brendan says, “Dude, I just fucked your girlfriend … Is that cool? … Are we cool?”
Tim answers, “She’s not my girlfriend. She’s just some girl.”
He flushes. He rushes out, leaving Brendan behind. He corners her at the table. “So?”
“So. What?” A cigarette dances between her knuckles.
“I meant … what?”
“What? … So? Was he better?” Almost shouting with an unknowable and iridescent rage.
“What does that mean?”
“So … Maybe.”
“So? Was he bigger? Did you like the way he fucks?”
“How can you ask me that?” she says.
Three days left. Then he’s gone and doesn’t have to see these people anymore. Then he gets to go and be whomever he wants. They don’t know that yet.
“I’m going to miss you dude,” Brendan says.
In the Kmart parking lot, they lean up against the minivan, down in front of the liquor store, hoping to pimp some beer.
“Yeah. Me too,” Tim lies. “Maybe you guys will visit…”
“It’s only a five hour drive. My mom might let me borrow a car if I register for classes.”
Janie nods. Nobody is going into the liquor store. She flicks her cigarette. “This is getting boring.”
Tim realizes they are waiting for the world to entertain them.
“Yeah,” Brendan agrees. “What are we going to do? We need something to do.”
“Choke me,” Tim says. “Choke me like when we were kids.”
Brendan laughs, crushes his half-finished butt with his toe. “Okay. Why not?” He turns to Janie, “When we were kids and just got bored, we’d like choke each other until we passed out. Makes you feel like high … kinda.”
Janie nods again. “I’ll watch.”
Brendan comes to him. Tim feels the air leave his head. His eyes go heavy. Next thing, he’s on the ground, looking up.
“Have a nice trip?” Brendan offers an arm to help him.
Woozy, he shakes it loose, asks, “You next?”
But Brendan shrugs, “Nah. I want to have another smoke.”
She stands up. “I’ll go.”
Tim wraps his hands around her neck till his knuckles meet. He watches her eyes roll back in her head and glances to the other one – his friend.
“Dude,” Brendan says.
On release, she falls. Her forehead smacks the curve of the bumper. The cut arcs blood.
“Dude,” he says again.
Standing over her, Tim watches her eyelids flutter. He can hear her breath. He thinks he doesn’t feel so trapped anymore.
Bryant Musgrove grew up in Southern California. He now lives in Brooklyn, NY, where he is currently working on a collection of short stories and a screenplay. His work will also appear in the fall issue of the Washington Square Review.
Art by Margarita Korol.