It was August and hotter than hell. My friend Donny was having a Twenty First Birthday barbeque in his garden and I arrived cradling a crate of beers like a child. I passed through the house and said hello to Donnys’ family who had congregated in the lounge to eat cake and avoid the already drunk twenty-somethings lounging in the garden.
Donny and I were childhood friends but we each had our own social circles and I didn’t recognise many of the people raiding the drinks cooler or the huddling round the barbeque, fighting over the least cremated burgers. I spotted Marko, and old school friend and Donnys’ on/off girlfriend Anni. Right now they were “off”. I waved and settled into a deckchair with a beer and a hotdog and started to get drunk. I had a lot of catching up to do.
The evening was civilised enough. People ate and drank but were for the most part behaving themselves. I sat with Marko for a while catching up on his exploits. Marko was one of those unique individuals who was at the same time repulsive yet charming. He had a heart of gold but an odd streak wider than the Atlantic. He stared at his drink morosely and said “My girlfriend jilted me!”
“Join the club,” i said. Donny was currently in a ‘just friends’ phase with Anni and my girlfriend had left me a few months earlier for her drug dealer of all people! It seems free weed trumps love and affection by far. I vowed never to touch the stuff after that and moved swiftly onto scotch and bourbon. Marko grinned and winked.
“It’s all good man, I think I gave her the clap.” we both laughed and clinked glasses.
Six bottles into the night I was well and truly on my way. I was having a good time shooting the shit with Donny and getting to know the people I didn’t. We barely noticed the Sun go down and before long it was pushing eleven. Donny’s Dad came out to say they were going to bed. He handed Donny a bottle of half decent wine and said, “Just keep the noise down.” Donny grinned and rubbed his hands together like one of those mustachioed villains from a silent film, waiting for the train to come and slice up the poor damsel he’d tied to the tracks.
“Whose up for some drinking games?”
The beginning of the end.
Judging two bottles to be insufficient fuel for a round of drinking games, me and Marko shuffled off down the street to an all night off-license. “Wanna go halves on a crate?”he offered.
“Screw that I wanna get wrecked,” I replied, paying eight fifty for a large bottle of Scotch and a few more Quid on a bag of ice and some cocktail umbrellas for shits and giggles. Marko grinned back at me from the rear of the shop, a bottle of Jagermeister in each hand.
“Don’t mind if I do,” he laughed.
We took a long route back to the house, cutting through a park so that Marko could piss in a bush. Ever the eccentric, he dropped his shorts to his ankles and put both hands behind his head. He shouted back to me, “That Anni is fit man.”
I shrugged. Anni was one of those girls who wasn’t conventionally attractive, but there was something else going on that caught your attention, like a sense of vulnerability or shyness that gave her an odd allure. Donny told me that her ex was real piece of work and it had left her with some issues that even he found too grim to discuss. “She’s OK I suppose. Don’t think I would man.”
He laughed, “Man she’s done nothing but eye you up all night! You could have her like that.” He snapped His fingers.
“Bullshit she has!” To be fair I’d barely noticed her all night I’d been so caught up drinking with Donny and Marko. I pondered on this for a moment. The thought made me uncomfortable. She was Donny’s girl, even if they were ‘just friends’ at the moment, but part of me was just drunk enough to be excited by this revelation. I quickly dismissed the idea. “Anyway Donny’s still crazy about her, I’d be a scumbag to even try!”
Christ I thought, I’m not even convincing myself!
By the time we got back to the party I’d already started on the Scotch and Donny was explaining the rules of ‘Ring of Fire’. The cards were already dealt out. I sat down and poured a healthy quad measure of Scotch into a paper cup, dropped in a couple of ice cubes and perched a flowery yellow cocktail umbrella in the top. A half smug/half drunk grin split my face.
Donny’s friend Letch glared at me as if I’d just slapped his kid. “You’re gonna play ring of fire with whisky?” he spat.
I grinned like an idiot back at him. Letch fancied himself as a bit of a ladies man and had an attitude that grated on me. I’d spent most of the night avoiding him and trying not to smash a bottle across his head. My whisky drinking was clearly upstaging his manhood or some such egotistical bullshit. “Cheers,” I said raising my glass to him.
Ring of Fire is a complicated game at the best of times, let alone when everyone is drunk. Each card represents a different task or challenge and of course the more you lose the more you drink, the more you drink the more you lose. It’s an awful game that should be quickly banned and heavily policed.
Despite what Marko said earlier I was having a good time and still sober enough to have at least some control over my limbs. Three or four rounds of the game went by and as we all got drunker the game took a predictable turn. It wasn’t long before we’d all pulled off our shirts, to hell with the cold, and to Donny’s obvious joy, Anni joined in. Pulling off her shirt and wrapping her arms around herself with a sheepish grin. My guts flip flopped a little at the sight. I needed a distraction. I swigged whisky from the bottle as Marko stripped down to his underwear in a war of one-upmanship with Letch. He proceeded to strut around the garden in his underwear and a replica Nazi SS officers cap, while Letch decided he’d had enough of the cold and retired to the lounge to sulk. The thing about having an ego is that there’s always a bigger one ready to trounce you.
As the temperature dropped the party relocated indoors and shirts were returned to their respective owners. Drinking games had clearly taken their toll and the sour mood between Marko and Letch stifled the good time vibe. Donny started playing video games with Anni’s friend. I’d rather be cold than watching video games in the middle of an awkward silence i thought, so I grabbed my bottle and shuffled out into the garden. My drunken logic decided that a small children’s trampoline would be the best source of entertainment and so i spent the next few minutes bouncing and trying not to slosh booze over my shirt.
“I wanna go!” shouted Anni. I’d not even seen her come out of the house. The garden was dark and the trampoline was just round a corner from the patio door.
“Tough shit,” I said continuing to bounce. “Find your own toy!”
“Bastard,” she replied, a coy grin spread across her face. She grabbed my shoulders for balance and climbed up onto the trampoline.
Fuck I thought, this is only gonna end one way. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to stop myself. As we bounced together she slid her arms around my waist and the line was crossed. That invisible line when the brain deactivates and relocates to the balls, abandoning all reason and loyalty in favour of that massive rush of adrenaline and endorphins. In that moment she looked beautiful. She wore skinny black jeans and a figure hugging t shirt that showed off all the right curves. She was either cold or horny because her nipples were clearly visible through her bra and shirt.
At that moment I should have walked away. Just shrugged her off and left. But to be honest I was flattered by the affection and the drink had made the whole situation seem acceptable. I was still contemplating the consequences when she pulled me closer and our lips met. My Brain yelled every curse it could muster but my balls weren’t listening. I was a goner.
She grabbed my hand and dragged me off to the far corner of the garden, where we couldn’t be seen from the lounge. She pulled me close and chewed at her lip. I gave her a weak smile. “You know this wont end well for anyone, especially Donny.”
She shrugged, “Donny’s had plenty of chances, I’m not gonna stay single for him. I have needs.” She grinned and chewed her bottom lip again. She took my hands and placed one on her breast and stuffed the other down her pants. “There isn’t that better,” she laughed.
Christ she was as bald as the day she was born! I laughed back and kissed her on the neck. Fuck it I’ll blame it on the booze i thought wickedly. Her hand sneaking its way down into my pants sealed the deal. I felt like I’d sold my soul to the devil.
Ten minutes or so later we sulked back into the lounge separately, taking seats at opposite ends of the room. The hormone rush had gone, the booze fueled courage had abandoned me and I was left feeling like an utter scumbag. Donny seemed none the wiser, enthralled by his video games. I looked across at Anni and she smiled. I gave her a half hearted smile back. I’d promised to meet her once everyone had gone to bed. I felt like I was digging my self a hole and if i didn’t stop soon I might as well get a fancy headstone to go with it. I caught Marko’s eye and he grinned at me shaking his head slowly. I gestured towards the door and we slipped outside.
“You two faced bastard,” he yelled, laughing and slapping me on the back.
“Cut the crap, she made the move! Anyway how did you know?”
“I came looking for you and saw you doing the pants dance by the bushes.”
“Shit. Donny’s gonna go ape shit if he finds out.”
“Man, if you feel like a shit head, its because you are a shit head, and if it feels wrong it’s because it is wrong. Go tell Donny. Talk to Anni. End this shit now if your regretting it. Your into damage limitation now. Once you’ve done the pants dance there’s no going back.”
He patted me on the back and went back inside. I slumped down and sat on the wet grass for a while, contemplating my next move. After a few deep breaths and even deeper swigs of whisky I went over to the lounge and called Donny. He ambled over drunkenly, an empty bottle clutched in hand.I struggled to look him in the eye. I knew he loved Anni even if they weren’t together. I took a deep breath and out it came. The whole rotten episode. He Glared at me for a while, his eyes drifting in and out of focus.
“Sonofabitch!” he managed to mumble, the drink firmly in control of his brain. His arm arched back and launched a clumsy, over exaggerated punch. I saw it coming and didn’t even try to dodge it. I owed him that much at least. His fist connected with my cheek and knocked my head back and I went down with a thud. He stood over me swaying slightly, spitting curses. I spat blood. I saw the empty bottle still clutched in his fist and fully expected it to come crashing down across my skull any minute.
Donny leaned down and I flinched, expecting another smack, but instead he held out his hand. Tears were welling in his eyes. In the nineteen years I’ve known Donny I never once saw him cry. I took his hand and he pulled me to my feet. He glared at me, still swaying slightly like a palm tree in a strong breeze.
“Don’t you dare fucking hurt her!” he bawled “she deserves more than a one night stand.”
“Donny I know, I feel bad enough as it is. I’ve already fucked you over I’m not gonna screw her over too. Ive dug this hole deep enough already. I’ll set the score straight with her.”
He mumbled and nodded to himself. I grabbed his shoulders and looked him in the eye, “Donny I’m truly sorry.”
He nodded and shuffled inside.
We spent the next half hour sat in silence, while the others played video games and finished off the rest of the booze. I threw what was left of my whisky away and sipped a glass of water.
It wasn’t long before we all drifted off to bed. I was sharing a room with Letch of all people. He called shotgun on the bed so I curled up on a pile of coats and draped my shirt across my shoulders, the room spinning like some demented fairground ride. Letch spent the next ten minutes bitching about Marko and bragging about his dubious sexual exploits. This moron really has something to prove I thought.
I forced my eyes shut and willed sleep to come, but found myself snapping wide awake when my phone buzzed in my pocket. My heart started pounding in my chest; it had to be Anni. Shit, I said I’d meet her downstairs. Christ what do I do! I could ignore it and plead ignorance? No I promised Donny I wouldn’t mess her around. I needed to tell her straight that nothing could happen. It was for the best. I’d sobered up and seen sense. I checked the text; it said ” you coming down or what? x” Now’s as good a time as any I thought, and snuck out of the room and down the stairs to the lounge.
“Anni look this isn’t…” She stopped me in my tracks. She stood in the middle of the room wearing nothing but an XL t shirt, her eyes wide and a smile from ear to ear. “Anni…” I whispered, but she sushed me and held a finger to her lips. She grabbed me by the waist and pushed me across to the couch. My heart started pounding again and my hands trembled slightly as I could see the line approaching. Brain off balls on. This was a bad situation. Right now I was a German gunner on the D-Day beaches and Anni was the whole Goddamn American army coming to wipe me out. I sat there and sighed to myself. She kissed me gently on the neck then backed up into the middle of the room giggling. The shirt was criminally short, barely brushing against her thighs. She grabbed it by the neck and pulled it off over her head, revealing her perfect naked body. She was beautiful.
I slouched back into the couch. “Oh fuck!”