“Don’t mind my friend Karen here, she’s just going through a minor series of personal crises,” Darcy says from behind the wheel. She’s pouring vodka into a half empty bottle of orange juice. She fills the bottle, then hands it to me. “Nothing my famous screwdrivers can’t fix.”
I take a sip. The vodka burns. A friendly kind of burn.
“You want one?” Darcy looks to the backseat. I steal a look at the girl we’d offered a lift. Not that she’d said where. Not like we’d asked. Her stringy hair is in her eyes, but I see her watching me in the side view mirror. She nods.
I’m trying to figure out what was going through Darcy’s mind when she called out to the girl. She’d crossed the highway as I pulled over, running in heels and an expensive looking dress in tatters. Darcy had looked back at me with that smile I remember from college. It was the smile she gave when a cute guy invited us to a party, when someone offered her blow or x. It’s the smile she gives when she’s presented with a choice most people would turn down. She accepts the choice with that smile.
I locked eyes with her, trying to dissuade her from whatever it was she was planning. My jaw clenched, I shook my head. Darcy’s smile only got wider. She laughed.
“Need a ride?” she’s called out to the stranger. The girl cracked a thin, broken smile. She nodded.
Now she’s sitting in the backseat, taking gulps of Darcy’s drink, watching the darkened landscape. She hasn’t said a word since she got in the car.
That’s okay, though. Darcy’s making sure there are no gaps in conversation.
“Karen always followed the rules, you know, which is what makes this particular series of crises so weird. We were college roommates, and I never once saw her put a fucking toe out of line. She was always the DD. She never cheated on her dick of a boyfriend. She never got too drunk, she never did any drugs.” She laughs, pulls a cigarette from the box on the middle console.
“This one time, she almost killed her best friend,” she says as she lights her cigarette, “but she talked herself out of it by repeating some Zen shit or something. Remember that, Karen?”
“Yeah.” Of course I remember. I smile a little. I catch the girl’s eye in the side view mirror again.
“What happened?” she asks.
“Well,” Darcy takes over, “it was our sophomore year, and we’d just moved in to this totally shithole apartment, and were having a huge party in celebration, of course. Miss Karen here was totally excited, because she’d invited her two best friends from high school, Sheri and Mark.”
Darcy always was a good storyteller. She’s dramatic, moves her hands a lot. Even when she’s driving. I lean back, enjoy the story.
“Well, Sheri, Mark, and Karen go way back. I’m talking like back in diapers way back, they’ve known each other forever, so far as I’ve heard. So, like with any cross-gender friendship group, crushes form and feelings occasionally cross the just friends barrier. In this case, Miss Karen had fallen totally, inescapably in love with Mark. She was totally looking forward to the party because she intended to get him drunk and bang him.”
She nodded at me. “A totally admirable plan, of course.”
“The night of the party arrived, and Karen looked totally smokin’ – in part , of course, because she had yours truly do her hair and make up. Karen and Mark had been talking for weeks, and there was definitely some chemistry happening at the party. Arm touching, hair twirling, goo-goo eyed chemistry. Things were going really good. They were into each other.
“But this whole time while Karen and Mark are being ridiculous and whatnot, Sheri is watching pretty closely. She’s looking over the shoulder of whoever she’s talking to, she’s being supercreep in the corner by herself – just always watching them.
“So then, little miss Sheri invites Karen and Mark to do shots with her. One. After. The. Other. I’m not even kidding here, they must have done seven shots in the course of ten minutes. I can’t even drink like that, I’m total pro status.
“Then, Sheri starts getting sick. She’s all, ‘oh, no, I’m going to throw up, too much too fast! Oh, Mark, where’s the bathroom here?’ You know, as it that isn’t obvious, since this is his first time in that shithole, too. And Karen, who’s naive to the point of blindness, points the two of them to the bathroom waits around. She mingles. Guys are trying to draw her into conversation because she looks so hot. And she’s watching the bathroom, wondering what the hell is taking so long.
“Then, at about the same time the whiskey really hits, so does the reality – they’ve been gone over 15 minutes, and people have been coming in and out of the bathroom for nearly all of them. She pulls me away from this gorgeous guy without any kind of explanation, and pulls me down the hall.
“And she just pushes open the door to her room. It isn’t even closed all the way. She pushes, and who else would be there, on her knees, blowing Mark? That’s right, whorebag Sheri. She’s working it so good that neither of them even realize that we’re standing there, watching.”
The whole time, I’m watching the girl in the rear view mirror. She hardly reacts to any of Darcy’s words, and a part of me even thinks she’s tuning her out. But at that image of tiny Sheri, on her knees, blowing Mark – at that her neutral mouth turned into a deep frown. She shakes her head a little.
“Anyway, it takes a few minutes before cool, collected Karen reacts. And then, shit, does she react. She takes a step into her room, grabs a picture frame from the dresser right by the door, and chucks it at the back of Mark’s head. He thrusts forward, Sheri chokes, and apparently triggers her gag reflex, because she upchucks all over Mark, not to mention neat-freak Karen’s brand new rug. And as they’re standing there, Sheri choking on her own vomit, Mark stunned and in shock, Karen screams, ‘you knew, Sheri, you fucking knew.’ And she picks up the lamp on the dresser, totally poised to hit them, when all of a sudden, she stops.
“And she starts muttering. It sounds like a pseudo-Buddha type chant, but no one can really make out what she’s saying, even me, who’s standing right next to her, with my mouth all open in the shock of it all. Her eyes are closed and she must have chanted for, like, two full minutes. Then she opens her eyes, glares at the two of them — Mark pulling up his jeans, which are covered in Sheri’s chunks, Sheri on her knees looking fucking terrified – and Karen just turns on her heel and leaves. Walks out of her room, out the door, and we don’t see her for two days.”
Darcy erupts in laughter, and even I have to smile. “What were you chanting, anyway?” she asks.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you,” I respond, shaking my head. “I had just started that intro to religions class, so it might have been Buddhist or something. And I was way to hammered to remember what exactly I was saying, I just remember trying to stop myself from clawing her face off.”
“Did it work out?” The girl is looking at us from the backseat. She looks at me, a genuine worry in her wide eyes.
I smile. “You could say that. I met a guy at the bar I went to after I left. Spent the weekend and four years with him. And I never saw the two of them again. They were gone by the time I got back Monday morning.”
She leans back and returns her gaze to the window, looks satisfied. Darcy pulls off the freeway. “Alright kiddies, time for a fill-up.”
I turn in my seat to look at the girl, who’s sipping on her drink and looking out the window again. “What’s your name?”
She looks at back at me. “I’m Sophie.”