I heard his laugh. It came in the midst of a dream I was having about Amanda Evarts. I heard Noah Banks’ laugh, clear as day. I opened my eyes and the blurry yellow of the day hit. Amanda was sitting up in bed. She looked angelic and illuminated by the sun. Her blonde hair was askew and her face was pillow-blotched. She had her small breasts hidden underneath a white sheet, but I could still see the dark of her small nipples. She was a site, and I was hungry for her now that everything was right between us. Everything was as it should be. I felt like she and I could really begin now, this time, for sure.
“Hey beautiful,” I said.
“Hey yourself.” Amanda’s face darkened.
“Why the look of contempt?”
“Are you up?”
“Can you function?”
“I think.” I rose from my pillow. That’s when I felt the pounding thud ringing between my ears. I didn’t want to move. I was afraid I would hurt more. “I need aspirin and water, I think.”
Amanda pointed toward the doorway. I looked. The thudding in my head became a symphony of pain and sickness. I focused my eyes. There was Noah, in the doorway, with the water and aspirin I so desperately wanted.
“Christ,” I said, dazed. I sank back onto my pillow.
Noah laughed. “The fun and games always end the next day.”
“What did you do to me?” I asked. He came over and sat on the bed. He handed me the aspirin and the water.
“I introduced you to Canadian Club whiskey,” he said. I took the aspirin and shot down the water. It was a huge mistake. My stomach rumbled, the pain in my head seared, and I was up like a bolt, naked except for my boxers. “And now you’ll be introducing it to the toilet.”
I ran into the bathroom. I just made it, before a torrent of used up beer, food, and whiskey plummeted into the bowl. I was on my knees. Sweat rose up in me. I heaved again and again and again, until I felt like my guts would come up. This was death for sure. This was the worst kind of death. Then I heaved again. It was one last, great heave. When I came up for air, I could hear Noah and Amanda laughing in the bedroom. Were they laughing at me?
“You knew this was coming this morning,” Amanda said, when I staggered back into the room. She was still holding a sheet to her breasts and Noah was sitting right there.
“Give the man a break,” he said. “He’s a whiskey drinker now.”
“I still contend you tried to poison me,” I said, getting back in the bed. “Maybe you had an ulterior motive. Maybe you were trying to get me out of the picture, so you could screw my girlfriend.” No one laughed.
“That’s such a charming thought,” Amanda finally said. She rose off of the bed with the sheet wrapped protectively around her.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“To the bathroom. I have to get ready for another stupid day at Roadwise, if that’s okay with you?”
“Yeah. I picked up an afternoon.”
“You didn’t tell me,” I said. “We never talk anymore.” I said it as a joke. But, again, no one laughed.
Then Amanda shrugged. “I must’ve forgot.” She looked at Noah. “I think I might put my notice in today, too.... if you think I should.”
Noah nodded. “Do it. I’ll meet you at the Cage this evening, and we’ll square it all away with Rich.” Then he looked at me. “Your girl is gonna be under my wing, per se.”
“I heard,” I said, looking at Amanda. She gave me stern look then I turned back to Noah. “Looks like you’ll be seeing me more and more.”
“Yeah, right, Big Al. Rules still apply.”
I grabbed my wallet out of my jeans, and showed him the fake I.D. that I got from Steve Scanlon. “Rules are made to be broken.”
Noah looked at the I.D. and frowned, which wasn’t what I expected. “Childish.”
“Yeah, well that’s Steve Scanlon for you,” Amanda added. “And people who hang out with him.”
Her tone pissed me off. But I had nothing to say back. I mean she was right. Steve was childish. But I wasn’t. I just didn’t like how she and Noah were ganging up on me. They should’ve been cooler. A fake I.D. meant I could come and talk with Noah at the Cage, and see Amanda on those late nights she had to work. I shouldn’t have been getting shit about it. Maybe Calvin wasn’t the problem between us. I looked at Noah. He just stared straight ahead. Once Amanda abandoned the hallway and closed the bathroom door behind her, he turned to me with a sympathetic shrug.
“At least you finally got rid of your guilt,” he said.
“Yeah, but to what end?”
From the bathroom came the rusty squealing of the shower nozzle, and the brash opening of a torn baseball-themed shower curtain. Then Amanda Evarts sang something I didn’t know. It was amazing to me how peaceful she sounded when alone. She sounded refreshed. Sarah used to sing in the shower too. She sang show tunes, and songs by chick singers. I continued listening to Amanda, as Noah and I sat quietly on the bed and smoked a cigarette. The joyous sounds of her getting ready for work: the swirl of a borrowed hairdryer, the make-up bag zipping and unzipping, and the thumps of her feet as her legs went through underwear and pants. It all depressed me. I felt like a failure at the old love game again.
The bathroom door shot opened. Amanda bound back into the bedroom with the same angry look she’d had when she left. She set down her bag and looked at Noah and me sitting on the bed. “Don’t you two look cozy?”
“How’d you get a change of clothes?” I asked. “More to the point, how did your bag get here?”
Amanda gave me a strange look.
“You must’ve been pretty drunk last night,” Noah said to me. “You don’t remember me telling you that Amanda and I were going to get her stuff from her car.”
“I didn’t know Amanda had stuff with her.”
“I...I always have an extra change of clothes on me,” she said.
“I told you that weeks ago. Don’t you remember?”
“I guess not. But your car was parked all the way up on Philips.”
Noah shrugged. “It was a nice night. We walked.”
“Drunk?” I asked.
“Only you were drunk, Alex,” Amanda added.
I thought about everything from last night, for a moment. Noah was gone. Amanda wasn’t sitting with the others. It made obvious sense; aside from misunderstanding about the change in clothing Amanda always claimed to have on her. I know she never told me about that. “Are you coming over tonight?” I asked, as she gathered her things.
“Are we actually doing something tonight?” she said.
“Same as usual.” I smiled Amanda didn’t smile.
“You’re damn right we’re doing something!” Noah broke in, saving me. I lifted my head. His self-assured smirk electrified the room. “I’m throwing another little bash tonight!”
“You are?” Amanda said. She leaned back. He expression softened.
“I don’t know if I can,” I said. “I mean my parents, you know?”
Amanda laughed bitterly at this.
“Oh, like you can get away with two nights?”
“Yeah,” she said. “It’s called ignoring their calls and not going home.”
“Children,” Noah began, diplomatically. “Let’s not fight about this. To hell with parents, I say. Alex,” he looked at me, “do as your girlfriend said. Don’t tell the folks. I have plans for us today anyway.”
“Yes. You’re helping me get the stuff for tonight. Then while I’m with Miss Amanda, here, you will be setting up things back on the home front. Get it?”
Amanda smiled and looked at her watch. “Are we done here? Otherwise I’ll be late.”
Quickly, she walked over to me and planted a cold kiss on my lips. Amanda’s arms hung around my neck an extra second. It seemed like they wanted to linger. But then she let go. I felt a familiar pain. Loss. So close this time, Javorski. But maybe I was just being overly dramatic. Hell, Amanda had been drinking too. I wouldn’t want to be going to work at the library after a night like that.
I watched Noah and Amanda make small talk. They seemed so easy and comfortable together. Noah would say something and Amanda would laugh. Hadn’t I had that just three weeks ago? Hadn’t I had that once for nearly three years? I watched them some more. It was like I wasn’t in the room. And I knew it. Maybe Amanda was just a passing phase in my life. Maybe she was temporary to me. I watched Amanda hug Noah. Then she blew me a kiss, and left. Maybe it was just a matter of time before she’d be gone for good.
Noah and I spent the day racing around the city in his car. We picked up booze and other provisions for that goddamned party. We talked about the time that had passed between us. He kept telling me how cool it was that I wasn’t like the rest of his friends. It was all of the stuff I’d heard a million times. It used to make me feel good when Noah said things like that. But, riding in his car on a hot summer afternoon, I just felt like some odd thing he collected. I felt like some freak, which was strange considering people like Steve Scanlon always called the Noahs of the world, freaks. Then he blasted music and laughed. I thought about Amanda Evarts. I wondered if she smiled at all during the day, and, if so, who had made her do it.
By early evening I had managed to clear away a few beers, as I set the rest of them in old coolers on Noah’s front porch. While I set up chairs and chain-smoked, I thought about maybe going up to the Cage to surprise Amanda. I wanted to lend her some support. But I didn’t in the end. It was a stupid idea. I mean Amanda was already trying to put one over on Noah and his boss. It just would’ve looked bad for her teen boyfriend to show up. They were gone a long time, though. I was kind of worried.
I did do something worse, however. I called Calvin on his cell phone to invite him and the guys to the party. When Cal didn’t pick up, I called Steve. Steve didn’t pick up either. I dialed Tom. Then I dialed George. I went down the line and called them all again. No one picked up. I guess I was done with those guys once and for all.
Noah eventually arrived back at the cottage. He was alone. Or, rather, he was without Amanda. Gene Oldham, Karl Rudolph, and the girl that I only knew as Gennifer with a G, Noah’s sometimes girlfriend, were with him. No one said anything about Amanda being absent, but Noah said the interview went great and that she got the job. So where was Amanda Evarts to celebrate? I watched as everyone sat in a semi-circle. They were drinking beer and laughing. Gene plucked quietly on an acoustic guitar. I asked Karl where Amanda was, but he just laughed nervously and said ‘women.’
The sun was setting. I looked at my watch. Amanda was nowhere to be found. I sent her a text. Then I called Calvin again, as more people ascended the stone steps of the cottage and Noah restocked the coolers with mounds of import beer. I got the same response as before. Finally I took a seat on an old rocking chair. I cracked open a beer. All the hipsters chatted coolly, as I surveyed the scene. I felt alone.
As the night wore on, more and more of Noah’s friends began to show up. By now, I knew all of their bored faces and I had little to say to a lot of them. Killian arrived drunk with a group of his hipster, poet friends. They were all laughing and trying to outdo each other with knowledge about the most obscure of writers. Clara wasn’t with them. Killian immediately began harassing me about writing. He pointed his thin fingers into my chest. I wanted to hit him. I wanted to go home and scream about Amanda. I wanted to hit the Metro and have Steve call me a pussy or something, and then laugh as George Rubio told me a dick or fart joke.
Finally, Amanda showed up. She looked fresh and relaxed, and aloof. She had on a sundress and nothing underneath. We eyed each other, but she kept her distance. She made the rounds from Noah to Gene to Karl, and then to everyone else. Amanda knew all of the hipsters more than I did. But soon she gave in and came over to me. We kissed, and had a few strained words. I felt her dress to make sure my assumption about nothing underneath was correct. I was right. Amanda gave me an uncomfortable giggle. Then she moved away. She plucked a beer from the cooler and sat beyond my grasp. She poured all of her energy into fawning over Karl.
I hung around for about another hour, listening to Amanda’s buffoonish come-ons to Karl. The poor fool stared ahead as she whispered in his ear. He looked scared shitless. I looked at Amanda, hoping for something in her eyes. There was nothing. She would stare back at me blankly, and then suck down another beer. Amanda Evarts was getting drunk. She was sitting almost on top of Karl, and she had her sundress hiked up to her thighs. Amanda seemed so cheap that she depressed me. I grabbed myself another beer and got off the porch. Noah watched me but said nothing. I thought I heard Amanda laugh. I needed to be alone. So I went and sat on Noah’s back porch. A half hour later, she found me sitting there.
“What's wrong, Alex?” She opened the backdoor, and tripped out on the steps to join me. “You're always sulking.”
“I'm just enjoying the silence, babe.”
“Running away from your own party. That's brilliant. Why did you go and invite all of those people, if you were just going to run away?”
“I invited no one. They’re all friends of Noah.”
“But you just happened to do all of the work.”
“Something like that,” I said.
“You’re such a fool,” Amanda continued, derisively. Then she sat down, flung her head back, and stared into the night sky. “It’s part of your charm, I suppose.”
“No. Thank you, Alex Javorski,” she said, laughing.
I shrugged. I didn’t know what she meant by that, and I didn’t care. I reached for my beer, and took a good pull. “Anyway, the beer is running out and this little shindig will be over soon.”
Amanda laughed. I was beginning to hate her laugh. Then she lit a smoke from her own pack. They were the same brand Noah smoked. As we sat there, a large group of people led by Gene Oldham walked up Forbes. “I guess that leaves me with you, Noah, and Karl,” she said. “Unless God totally hates me and Calvin shows up with that prick, Steve.”
“I don't think Calvin and Steve are coming. I called them, but no one got back in touch with me.”
“You actually called, Calvin?” Amanda said. “Of course you called, Calvin. You wouldn’t be Alex Javorski without the guilt.”
“You’re a real glutton for punishment.”
“Yeah.” I finished my beer. “Like I said, no one got in touch with me. So don’t worry, you won’t be stuck here with them tonight.”
“I'm not stuck with anybody. I drove here.”
“Yeah, but you're not leaving,” I said. I put a hand on her beer. “If you have any brains you’ll stay here and sleep it off, like I am, and suffer the consequences tomorrow. Plus you’re underage. If you leave, you could get into trouble...or worse.”
Amanda smirked. “Whatever. Too bad you don’t know how to handle your friends.”
“I’m not responsible for my friends.”
“Noah treats you just as badly as you treat Calvin.”
“Where’s this coming from?” I asked.
“You acted like Calvin was so important to you, but all I had to do was bat my little eyes and you were rolling all over the bed with me.”
“It was that simple, huh?’
“Yes. Except for all your guilt. Oh, poor Calvin. I can’t sleep with my girlfriend because of poor old Calvin.”
“You’re being kind of a bitch, do you know that?”
“Maybe I’m always a bitch.”
“At least I have a backbone. You, Alex Javorski, you have no backbone.”
Then we heard the screen door tap and Noah laugh. Everything was funny to everyone that night. Nothing was funny to me. I didn’t want Noah there at that moment. But he came on to the back porch to join us anyway. Amanda pushed her face close to mine. “Did you know he grabbed my ass twice tonight?” she whispered.
“I thought you kids had taken off,” Noah shouted, drunkenly. I turned to gaze at him. His face was splotchy and swollen. He stood over us with his fists nailed firmly into his hips, like a dejected superhero. He didn’t look like himself.
“The party’s over?” I asked.
“Over? I just sent people out for girls, more beer, and other shit. The party is far from over, Big Al.”
“Hey Noah...” I started, but I stopped myself. I didn’t want to ask the question I was going to ask.
Amanda glared at me, and I knew. By not taking Noah on, I’d failed her again.
“Come on, buck up, Big Al!” he continued. “This party is seriously lacking in women.” Then he looked at Amanda. “Except you, sweetness. You’re the finest thing here. You’re not into any kinky stuff, are you?”
“You’re a real class act,” Amanda said.
“Ain’t that the pot calling the kettle black, babe?”
Amanda looked at me. “Cat got your tongue, Alex? Or don’t you care that your friend is insulting me?”
“Noah, don’t insult Amanda,” I said plainly. Maybe I should’ve defended her more, but for some reason I just didn’t buy this little fight. It seemed put on. Amanda and Noah were getting along too well before this. Although he did come home without her. And Amanda had been acting odd all night. Did Noah come on to Amanda? “I mean just leave her alone, okay?”
“Gee, thanks,” Amanda said. “Thanks for being a world-class jerk.”
Noah laughed. “Don’t insult, Big Al. He knows that I’m a truth teller.”
“And just what do you know?”
“I know a lot more than you do.”
“Screw you!” Amanda shouted. Then she stormed off.
“Well that about ends the night,” I said, getting up.
“Go and chase her, then, Alex,” Noah scoffed, shooing me away as if I were trash. “I’m sure she’s off trying to dry hump, Karl, by now.”
I did as instructed. When I caught up with Amanda, she was in tears. “Hang on a second,” I said, clasping her arm. She stopped still and stared at me.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“I just want to talk.” I tried to smile.
“Fine.” She broke free from my grasp. “Talk.”
But I had nothing to say.
“That’s what I thought,” she said. Then Amanda bound down the avenue toward her waiting car.
“Wait!” I shouted. “You can’t go! You’ve been drinking!”
She spun around. “I’m not leaving. I wouldn’t want to ruin your life by dying in a car wreck. I’m going to bed.” She went to her car and grabbed her overnight bag. “I’m so tired of you, Alex,” Amanda finally said, before walking up the cottage steps and disappearing down the walkway. I was tired of me, too.