In the laundry room where Katie Shiller had made out with Erica Dougherty, Kyle Higgins leaned against the cinderblock wall. The muffled cries of “Drink! Fight!” from the back yard thumped like the sound system in his brother’s 2002 Honda Accord. The duct tape on his hands smeared the blood on his upper lip as he tried to wipe at it with his sleeve. His JV wrestling sweatshirt was ruined. The lucky thing was, the other bottle was mostly full. He took a bitter sip.
Dumb stupid Kyle, he thought for the hundredth time. He should have just stayed home. He could be at home finishing his chemistry (masturbating.) He could be at home watching Teen Wolf (masturbating.) Instead he had to come to Jared Bushing’s fricking party and instead of being at home writing his college essay (masturbating) he’d gotten between Jodie Miller and Ashley Brookstone, who were fighting for sport in the yard, and caught an elbow to the nose.
Stupid Kyle. You should have just been cool. He had been standing in the sloped backyard. The girls had continued to fistfight behind him once he was safely out of the way. (“Sorry, dude!” Jodie had shouted before she dealt Ashley a mean jab to the collarbone. He would never understand girls.)
And when he had seen Jessie Stein pull up in her mom’s Range Rover, he could have been cool. Instead he had taken one look at her walking up the gravel driveway and shrugged off Natalie “The Biter” Ortega—who had so far been superhelpful in getting him cleaned up—and ducked into the back door, beer sloshing out of his 40’s, hid in the laundry room. Leaving Natalie to stare down at Jessie, muttering “Jessie Stein. She’s so dang sexy.” That was when he had drank the first of the two bottles.
Don’t judge me stupid washing machine, he thought. The washing machine was totally staring at him. Next to it hung a sharp-edged aluminum laundry chute. Kyle used it to cut through the duct tape attached to the empty 40, ignoring the fact that he could mortally wound himself. I’ll catch it, he thought. The 40 hit the cement floor, shattering. “Drink! Fight!” Another Saturday night teen girl fight ring. Then he unwrapped the duct tape from his left hand and set the (mostly full) 40 on the dryer. He stepped over the mound of broken glass and malt liquor on the floor and sat on the dryer.
One lightbulb hung from the ceiling. The washer and dryer and laundry chute and pile of broken 40oz bottle glass were at the end of the room, flanked by an old hamper full of rolled-up posters. Jared’s mom drew the posters for the Akron U student ballet company, a fact that Jared was weirdly proud of. (“I’m proud of my mom, you know, she does the posters for the Akron U student ballet company,” he’d say, unprompted.) “Drink! Fight!” came the chorus from the yard. Kyle took a sip of warm beer. Then all noise stopped and Kyle looked up like a squirrel.
One shout: “COPS!”
Kyle shrank toward the wall. He could hear the kids not cowering from their crushes in the laundry room getting into their cars, gravel peeling under their tires. He thought randomly of police in like, civil rights times, spraying people with hoses.
The door opened and Kyle spilled beer on his crotch.
Jessie Stein stood in the doorway. The light bulb swung between them.
You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, thought Kyle.
“Sup?” he said.
“I didn’t know you were here,” said Jessie.
“I heard the cops are here,” said Kyle. I love you I think, he thought.
“Yeah,” said Jessie. She wanted to tell him about the album she’d made on Garage Band. It was called: KYLE. Instead, she said, “I’m like, superstoned, and I’m not about to get a DUI. Figured I could hide in here.”
“I could go, if you want,” said Kyle. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“What happened to your eye?”
“Oh, this,” she said. “If you don’t want to fight, you know, they just hit you once in the face with a pipe,” she said patiently.
“Oh, duh,” said Kyle.
Jessie came over and leaned against the washing machine. “Oh, looks like you got one too. Darn,” she said, going to a shelf.
Jessie wanted to say, I’ve thought you were so cool, since you started giving that retarded kid a ride to school. Instead she said, “do you mind?” and pressed a cold cloth against his nose.
“No, I don’t mind,” said Kyle, but with the pressure on his nose it came out, “Do, I dond bind,” and they laughed. He took the cloth from Jessie and offered her the bottle.
She smiled. Kyle felt his heart slide around his chest like a stick of butter in a pan. Then he got a boner.
“Thanks, I’m so flippin’ thirsty,” she said, and took a swig. You’re so cool, Kyle thought. They looked at each other. And for the first time in his life, Kyle felt the many-named sensation: He got a vibe.
I’m hanging all my expectations on you, Kyle thought.
She wanted to say, I think about you all the time, even when I had dry sex with Mitch at Busch Gardens. Instead, she said, “this light is really harsh.”
She got up and soon the only light came from under the door, a pale rectangle of yellow.
She was sitting next to Kyle on the dryer.
They drank the rest. I’ve been in love with you since before you got your neck brace off, thought Kyle.
“I really liked the Teen Wolf shirt you wore last week,” said Jessie.
Her words hung in the air like a beacon.
He turned toward her, their breaths mingled with the scent of malt liquor and hope.