Dan sipped the last dregs from each pint of stout. He’d begun to slur his words, so Jay decided not to buy him another pint. “I think I’ve met Leo before.”
“Of course you have,” said Dan. “We were in homeroom with him in high-school.”
“I meant more recently, but continue.”
“Anyway.” Dan buried his face in his gloved hands. “Leo never got to beat the shit out of me. I attended college where my dad killed himself, as the University was very financially supportive and let me live in his old apartment. I didn’t see you or Beatrice or Leo for years. But Faith took an art program on campus, and we always ate lunch together. One day she invited me to a party.”
Faith lived with Beatrice on the top floor of a beach-side apartment. The whole first floor belonged to a frat-house, whose brothers streamed up exterior steps in a vertical zigzag of bed-sheet togas. Dan made no conversation as he climbed with them, and instead looked at the stars.
At the top landing the toga-brothers filled the balconies overlooking the ocean. Faith Featherway leapt from the crowd and hung from Dan’s neck. Her cheeks were flush. “Dainty! You made it!” She kissed him before he could protest. He tasted beer on her breath. “Dainty, isn’t this great? The whole apartment must be up here!”
A door burst open and a man in a light-blue bed-sheet ran out to puke over the railing into the sea. Dan almost vomited at the sight. “Are these guys friends of yours?”
“They’re so nice! We go on hikes with their chapter. Hey, do you want a beer?”
“No, I don’t drink. Where’s Beatrice?”
“She’s not really into parties.” Faith dragged Dan by the hand to the balcony and kissed him again. “Don’t you love this view of the ocean? I wish I could fly over the waves like a bird.”
“I figured you’d want to be a fox.”
“I’ll be a flying fox.” Faith licked Dan’s teeth. She was a foot shorter than him, so she really had to reach for his molars. “Are you into this? Am I bothering you?”
“Does Beatrice drink? I can’t imagine her drinking.”
“Oh, Dainty.” Faith let her arms fall from his shoulders. “You’re so predictable. You could have everything anyone could want, right in front of you, and you’d still chase BeatBax to hell and back just to make awkward small-talk.”
“Well, you’re her girlfriend, and you’re kissing me.”
“BeatBax and I have an understanding.” Faith considered kissing him again, but smiled mischievously and pulled a cricket from her pocket. “But since I’ve kissed you, it would only be fair for you to kiss her, right?”
“Share this bug-stick with her.” Faith kissed the butt of the cricket and put it between Dan’s lips. “It’ll be just like smooching. So don’t say I’ve never done you any favors!”
Dan cut through throngs of bed-sheet togas. Indoors half the guests were girls who chatted on couches and drank beer from plastic cups. A portly man in sunglasses and a pink toga taught girls to smoke powdered cricket from a bong. “Sometimes I grind centipede and sprinkle it on top. Gives it a kick, you know what I mean? But that costs extra.”
Drunk party-goers clogged the hall waiting for the bathroom. Dan squeezed by and knocked on Beatrice’s bedroom door.
He did. “It’s me. Dan.”
“Oh. Faith told me she invited you.” Beatrice was reading her bible in bed. “Is that her lipstick on your chin?”
Dan wiped his chin. “Sorry.”
“It’s alright. We have an understanding. Shut the door, okay?”
He did. “Faith wanted us to share this cricket.”
“Oh. Cool.” She put down her bible and cast off her blankets. She wore full-length pajamas with bunny print. She pat the bed beside her. “Sit down.”
He did. “I’ve never smoked anything before. I don’t even have a lighter.”
“I’ve got one. Faith and I have smoked crickets since high school.” She lit the head of Faith’s cricket and puffed until five of its eyes glowed red and released potent smoke. Beatrice blew the smoke out her open window. “Do it just like that. If you want to, I mean.” She gave him the cricket.
Dan inhaled until the other five eyes were red. “Whoa.”
“Where do you get these?”
“I don’t know. Faith buys them from someone.” Beatrice puffed and tapped ash into a tray. “Dan, you’ve been staring gormlessly at me for as long as I can remember.” Dan puffed smoke and stared gormlessly at her. “All I ever do is tolerate you and you’re infatuated with me, like life wouldn’t have meaning without me. Why? You don’t know anything about me.”
“I know you like birds.”
“That’s just the thing, though. All you know are the tidbits. I don’t even like birds that much. I prefer rabbits and bunnies.” She turned her head to blow smoke out the window. “And I know only tidbits about you. You barely talk about yourself except to try to endear yourself to me. I don’t know the real Dan.”
“There’s nothing to know. I’m a pillar of salt and guilt.”
“You’re at a party. You should just be salt and alcohol.” Beatrice puffed and gave him the cricket. “Do you really think kissing me would make you feel less shitty about yourself?”
Dan nodded while he held smoke in his lungs.
“Oh, please.” Beatrice kissed him and inhaled the smoke from his chest to hers. Dan collapsed back on her bed, and she blew the smoke toward the moon. “There. Now you’ve got no excuse.”
The door opened.
The man in sunglasses and the pink toga closed the door behind him. The action took several seconds as he fumbled with drunken swagger. When he turned he almost dropped his bong in surprise. “Oh, shit! I thought this was the can.”
“Two doors down,” said Beatrice. The man sat beside her on the bed and offered his bong to both of them. “No, thank you. We’ve already got a cricket.”
“Sweet.” The man took the cricket and inhaled heartily. Dan stuck out his tongue like he tasted something terrible. “But you know, I got centipede. It makes crickets look like a fuckin’ church.”
“We’re not interested,” said Dan.
“My name’s Henry.” Henry extended a hand for Beatrice to shake.
Dan shook it. He noticed Henry drew his toga higher up his chest than any of the other frat-brothers had theirs. “I’m Leo,” said Dan. “Isn’t centipede hugely illegal? More-so than crickets?”
Henry gave the cricket to Beatrice. She wiped off Henry’s saliva with her sleeve, then passed the cricket to Dan. Dan inhaled until the whole cricket was ash and embers. He gave the butt back to Henry, who tried to suck smoke from it but failed. “All drugs should be legal,” said Henry. “My dad’s rich.”
“I do think American drug laws need revision,” agreed Dan. “The war on drugs has always been a farce for racial discrimination, and crickets seem pretty harmless.”
Henry smirked and tried to give the bong to Beatrice, who ignored it. Henry eventually toked from the bong himself. He finished smirking to blow smoke in Dan’s face. “I bet you’d want drugs to be taxed, too, huh.”
“No one likes to pay taxes,” said Dan, “and to be honest, I’m not sure I’d approve of what the taxes would be spent on. America spends too much on its military and not enough on healthcare, education, and infrastructure. But yes, I’d guess crickets would probably be taxed, like many other luxury goods.”
“Pfft.” Henry leaned over Beatrice to shove the bong into Dan’s hands. “I don’t need Uncle Sam stealing my money to build roads for poor people.”
“But you drive on public roads.” Dan held the bong, but did not smoke.
“Don’t you know roads were better in the 20s, when private companies paved them?”
“So drive on those roads,” said Dan.
“I can’t. The government maintained them, like commies.”
“So pay your taxes.”
“But the roads were better in the 20s!”
“What does that have to do with what I said? If you use a service without paying for it, you’re the thief!”
“Fuck you!” Henry snatched his bong and stood from the bed. “Drugs are wasted on hippies like you, Leo!”
The man in the pink toga stormed away. Beatrice huffed and crossed her arms. “Thank God, he’s gone. What a weirdo. Why did you provoke him?”
“I’ll be back.” Dan stood from Beatrice’s bed and jogged down the hallway.
“Dainty!” Faith waved him to a couch. “Have you seen this guy’s bong?” Henry smiled at the crowd around him. He didn’t notice Dan sit beside Faith. Faith whispered in Dan’s ear. “What happened? I figured you’d want to talk to BeatBax for a while.”
“Can I have a beer?”
“Put some liquor in it.”
Faith stood and stumbled to the keg to fill a plastic cup. Dan watched Henry grind bug-bits with a handheld metal grinder. “You can smoke crickets or centipedes with this thing. I like smoking cricket with centipede on top, it’s a stronger high.”
“Here Dainty.” Dan drank the beer in one gulp. Faith giggled when he asked for more. “You smoked that bug-stick, right? Take it easy. Smoking and drinking don’t add, they multiply.”
“Anyone want to buy a centipede?” Henry unscrewed a jar and made a girl smell it. She grimaced. “I got these from a guy who smuggled ‘em off an island somewhere. Primo stuff, I sampled some before I drove over. You know, the secret to driving high is to go way faster than you think is safe.”
The crowd laughed nervously as they tried to figure out if that was a joke or not. Dan examined the centipedes. “It looks like your source got the better of you,” said Dan. “He conned you into buying centipedes with no legs.”
Henry finally noticed Dan. “Everyone knows you can’t smoke the legs, idiot.”
“Everyone knows the legs are the best part,” said Dan. “Don’t be salty just because you got conned. Let the buyer beware, am I right?”
“Dainty, what are you doing?” Faith held his hand.
“You wanna take this outside?” asked Henry. “Cause I don’t mind takin’ this outside.”
“Why bother?” Dan stood and whipped off his shirt. The party-goers murmured. “Fight me right here.”
“Dainty, what the hell!”
“You serious, bro?” Henry put his bong on the coffee-table and stood. He was an inch shorter than Dan, but twice the weight. “Aren’t you worried I’ll beat the shit out of you?”
“All I’m worried about is cutting my knuckles on your sunglasses.” Now the crowd spoke behind their hands. The frat-brothers in togas were ready to tackle Dan to the ground. “So if you wanna fight, take ‘em off.” Henry took off his sunglasses. “The toga, too. I don’t want you to blame your bed-sheets for tripping you up when you finally regain consciousness. Because I’ll knock you out,” Dan said, in case it wasn’t clear.
“Dainty, please! Stop it! Sit down!”
Henry was hesitant to open the front of his toga. But, seeing more men in bed-sheets prepared to take his side, he shrugged it off and stood bravely in his boxers.
The crowd went silent. All eyes were on Henry’s swastika tattoo, which was big and bold and professionally inked—he’d obviously doubled down since high-school. Henry shook, deciding whether to draw the toga back over his chest. Instead he raised his fists to Dan.
“He’s not with us!” promised a man in a bed-sheet. “I’ve never seen him in my life!”
Three men in bed-sheets tackled Henry to the floor. “Get off!”
The frat pulled Henry to the door. Dan sat next to Faith; he didn’t care to watch them drag Henry down the stairs. “Faith, I don’t think I can drive home. Can I sleep here tonight?”
“On the couch,” Faith declared. “I’m sleeping with my girlfriend. You can leave in the morning, when you sober up. Don’t wait for us to show you the door.”