The Party, a short story for my creative writing fiction class
Mark clutched the six-pack of Coors Light and pressed the doorbell, simultaneously running his tongue over his teeth to make sure that there was no evidence of the roast beef sandwich he had eaten for dinner an hour earlier. He heard no change in the dull roar of voices on the other side, and he bit his lower lip. He raised his hand again, left it suspended in front of the doorbell, and slowly brought it back to his side. Well, at least I can save the beer for later, he thought, and turned away.
“Mark! You came!”
Mark turned back to see Sierra in the doorway, her strawberry-red lips parted in a wide smile, revealing a set of spotless teeth. He cracked a smile back at her.
Mark had met Sierra a few days earlier in the communal laundry room, when he had dared to move the idle contents of machine #3 to an open dryer after his fourth trek to the laundry room with his laundry bag in tow. They’d probably be thankful that I moved their forgotten laundry to the dryer, he told himself. Still, he nearly suffered a heart attack when he reached down to pick up a pink lace thong he had dropped and immediately heard a cough behind him.
“Hi, I think that’s mine.”
Mark dropped the thong as if it were hot coal. “Shoot, sorry, I was just moving your —”
“Don’t worry, you don’t look like an underwear thief to me,” she said with a coy smile. “I’m Sierra. I just moved here.” She stretched out her hand.
“Hey, I’m Mark,” he said, taking her hand. He couldn’t take his eyes off her crystal blue eyes. “I’ve lived here for a while, I guess.”
“Great! You can give me the lowdown on the apartment complex and let me know if there are any underwear thieves I should know about,” she said with a wink. She walked over, picked up her underwear, and tossed it into the dryer holding the rest of her clothes. “By the way, I’m having a housewarming party on Friday night, wanna come?”
“Sure,” Mark replied, more out of politeness than anything. Sitting at home watching TV wouldn’t exactly make a good excuse.
“Neat. Come to Suite 211 at 9.” She threw in a dryer sheet, started the dryer, and turned around to leave. “Good meeting you, Mark. See you on Friday!”
“See you,” he replied, watching the door long after it had closed behind Sierra.
Mark had thought all Friday afternoon about whether to go to Sierra’s party, endlessly constructing, deconstructing, and running through a mental pros and cons chart. The last housewarming party he had gone to had been with Clarissa, when he had finally caved to Clarissa’s silly pleading that they needed to go to Kelsey’s housewarming or else Kelsey would stop being friends with her. Before going to Kelsey’s they stopped at a wine shop for a housewarming gift. Upon entering the shop, Mark eagerly reached for the first bottle under $10 that he saw and threw Clarissa a cheeky grin. She simply shook her head at him, the curled ends of her lips breaking the illusion of the sternness she tried to give him. They departed the store not only with Kelsey’s favorite chardonnay, but a bottle of Merlot to be shared by only the two of them later in the warmth of Mark’s bed. That was months ago.
It was this memory of Clarissa that finally made Mark decide to go to Sierra’s housewarming party. Sierra had been the first girl since his breakup with Clarissa to occupy his mind in idle moments, her silky white-blonde hair appearing smoother and her red lips appearing softer every time he mentally replayed their encounter in the laundry room.
Sierra motioned for him to enter the apartment, and he obliged. There were about a dozen people scattered around the living room, grouped off in pockets of three or four. Most looked to be in their early twenties, and it was clear to Mark that he was at least a few years older than anyone else in the room. A few people watched him walk in, and he met several of their gazes. A chubby girl with pink streaks in her hair smiled at him before turning back to her group.
“Most of my friends here are from college, and some are from work,” Sierra chirped.
“What do you do for work?”
“Finance. Let’s not talk about it though, it’s not that interesting. Let’s get you a drink!”
Mark followed Sierra into the kitchen, where she took his 6-pack of Coors Light and set it on the floor. The counter was overflowing with bottles of every type of liquor and beer.
Sierra handed him a shot glass. “We’re doing shots. You’re the guest, so you get to choose what we drink.”
“Anything’s fine with me. What do you like?”
“In that case, we’re doing my favorite. Gin!”
She grabbed a bottle of Bombay, and filled both their glasses.
“Cheers!” She flashed a smile, clinked her glass against his, and they both downed their shots. She made a face and drank from a glass of cranberry juice on the counter. Even her sour face is gorgeous, Mark thought.
“Here, you have to take another one,” she said, as she filled his shot glass again.
“What? Okay, fine,” he said, and downed the second shot.
The burn in his throat reminded him of taking shots in college, and he felt his body loosen up as a smile formed across his face.
“What, I don’t get a chaser?” he said to Sierra with a slight smirk.
“Nope, men don’t get one,” she teased, at the same time holding out her glass.
Mark took a small swig, and handed it back. “I think we can make an exception for me.”
He took another look around him, and noticed two pairs throwing ping pong balls over a long table in the dining hall next to the kitchen.
“Wow, I haven’t played beer pong in years,” he remarked.
“Let’s play together! I’m really good,” she replied. She yelled to the players at the table, “Hey! Mark and I are next!” One of the players turned toward them and gave a thumbs up.
Mark heard the doorbell ring, and Sierra turned to him.
“Oh! I should go get that. I’ll be right back. Go meet my friends! Don’t worry, they’re all nice,” she said with a wink. She smiled and left the kitchen.
Mark grabbed a beer and silently sat down in a chair next to the beer pong table. He watched as a short player with a backwards baseball cap threw his ping pong ball into a cup on the other side. “Hell yeah!” he yelled as he high-fived his partner.
Mark thought back to a particular game of beer pong that he had played at his friend Mickey’s house back in college. Mark’s partner had gone to go use the restroom, and Mark had motioned for a cute brunette to come closer to him.
“Listen, my friend’s taking a piss. Can you sub for him?” he asked her.
“Okay. But if I make this next shot, I get to play even when he comes back,” she replied.
“Deal,” Mark said with a smirk.
She smiled at him, and threw her ball straight into a cup.
“Geez, now I’m going to lose one of my best friends thanks to you,” Mark lamented, lightly punching her arm.
She looked up at him and playfully stuck out her tongue. “Too bad. A deal’s a deal!”
Clarissa somehow always managed to get her way, Mark thought with a wistful smile. He shook his head and focused back on the game. He saw a ball fly into a lone cup and heard the short player yell, “Game. Over!” and high-five his teammate.
“Whatever, Brian!” one of the players on the losing team yelled back.
Brian turned to Mark. “Hey, you’re up next with Sierra, right? Why don’t you go get her so we can play?”
Mark got up from the chair, and walked toward the living room. He saw Sierra right away, and his heart stopped as it did when he first met her. She was sitting on the lap of a well-built, large man with a light scruffy beard, and her hand was intertwined with his. His face burning up, Mark turned away from the living room and walked back into the dining hall where Sierra couldn’t see him.
Brian looked over as Mark entered. “Is she coming?”
“Actually, I have to use the restroom. Why don’t you play with the next team?” Mark lied.
“It’s okay, we can wait. You were waiting to play for a while.”
“No, we’re skipping our turn. I really have to use the restroom.”
Brian cocked an eyebrow. After a pause, he said, “Sure, works for us.”
Mark managed a faint smile and looked around for the bathroom.
“There’s a bathroom in one of the bedrooms beyond the living room,” Brian said.
Mark turned toward the living room and took in a deep breath. He would find the bathroom and wait there for a while.
He briskly walked into the living room, trying to spot the bedroom that had the bathroom without being noticed.
Mark clenched his teeth, and turned toward the voice.
“Mark, come over here and meet my boyfriend!”
He saw Sierra motioning with her arms for him to come closer. The entire group around Sierra looked at him.
“Hey.” Mark tried to sound enthusiastic as he approached the group, but he was sure that his enthusiasm appeared as fake as the forced smile he put on.
“Hey Mark, I’m Joey.” Sierra’s boyfriend extended his tanned, muscular arm, and Mark took it. Joey shook for the both of them.
Sierra beamed next to Joey, and started, “Joey, did I tell you about how I met Mark? I walked into the laundry room —”
“Sierra, where can I find the restroom?” Mark interrupted. He didn’t want to stick around for the rest of the story.
Sierra’s eyebrows furrowed. “Oh, it’s in the bedroom over there”, she explained, pointing at a door.
“Thanks.” Mark walked into the dimly lit bedroom and closed the door behind him. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the door, lost in a flurry of jealousy, embarrassment, and anger. His face flushed again, and he wasn’t sure whether it was the alcohol or his emotions — either way, he hated it. He hated everything he felt, especially the jealousy. That’s why Clarissa left you, you insecure bastard, he thought to himself.
“Hey, are you okay?”
Mark’s eyes immediately opened and scanned the room. He saw a silhouette sitting up on the bed and as his eyes adjusted, he recognized her as the chubby girl with the pink streaks he had seen earlier.
“Yeah, I was just feeling a bit dizzy.” He walked toward the bed.
“I know what you’re talking about. I drank too much too quickly so Sierra let me rest in her bed to recover. I guess I’m feeling a little bit better now.” Even from a couple feet away, Mark could smell the strong alcohol on her breath.
Mark sat down next to her with his legs resting on the floor. She plopped her head back onto the pillow. He turned toward her and studied her face. She had far too much makeup on, what with her eyeshadow giving her a black eye and her skin looking like someone had simply covered her face with a shallow layer of dirty clay. There were a couple bumps on her face around her lip, probably an acne outbreak she attempted to hide by caking on makeup.
“So who are you?” she said, breaking the silence.
“I’m Judy,” she volunteered. She continued without encouragement, “Sometimes, I wonder if anyone really gets me.”
She had clearly had too much to drink, and he decided to humor her. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, you know Sylvia Plath? I love her work. I love literature. I was an English major in college, by the way. Anyway, you know how she killed herself by sticking her head in an oven? And sometimes, I feel like Sylvia Plath.”
“Please don’t go sticking your head in ovens.”
“No, don’t be stupid, I mean like I’m misunderstood. No one really understood her and I’m like the same way, you know?”
He didn’t say anything. He lifted his legs and lay on the bed, facing the ceiling with his eyes closed. He felt tired.
She continued. “I just want someone to understand me.”
He turned toward her, not sure what to say. He found her already facing him, eyes looking straight into his. He studied her bulbous nose, her bushy eyebrows, her crusty skin, and the pimples resting above the layers of fat that had accumulated under her chin.
“I just want to be understood,” she repeated.
Mark closed his eyes, leaned in, and kissed her.
She eagerly kissed him back, pushing her lips against his. Mark imagined himself kissing Sierra, then imagined himself kissing Clarissa, but the bumps on her chin scraping his face and her sloppy, wandering tongue made the fantasy impossible. He opened his eyes and slowly pushed her heavy shoulders back. She opened her eyes, confused.
He got up off the bed. “I need to use the bathroom.”
Spotting a door on the other side of the bedroom, he slowly made his way toward it. When he entered the bathroom, he flipped on the light and turned on the sink. He looked in the mirror and saw tired eyes beneath ruffled hair. He loudly splashed water onto his face several times and let the water drip down his face with his eyes closed. Suddenly, he realized that there was someone behind him. It was Judy.
Mark quickly wiped his face with the towel next to him, and stammered, “What are you—”
“Shhhh.” She held a finger to her lips and smiled. She closed the door behind them, locked it, and pulled him by his arm to the bathtub.
“I know what you want,” she said with a grin. She climbed into the bathtub and lay down. “Come and fuck me.”
Mark stared blankly at her. “Judy, I don’t —”
She had unbuttoned her shirt and was taking it off. “Come on, come and fuck me.”
Her grin gradually melted away and her eyes narrowed.
“What? Why? You were just kissing me!”
Mark took a deep breath. “Listen, I didn’t —”
“You know what?! Fuck you! Fuck you!”
In the bathroom light, he could make out every detail of Judy’s angry face: the smeared mascara, the too-thick eyeliner, every part of her face jiggling as she proceeded to scream at him. Her screaming became mixed with sobs, and he stood there horrified, watching all of the makeup run down her face in globs.
Mark was still standing there, shocked, when she finally got out of the bathtub and ran out of the bathroom, no longer screaming but heaving her body with every sob. When she had finally gone, Mark closed the door, locked it, and ambled over to the toilet, as if in a trance. His body lurched once, and he spewed out a heavy, dark brown stream of roast beef, liquor, and beer. He stood over the toilet with a dribble of vomit dripping down his chin.
Heavy knocks came at the door, and he heard Joey’s voice, “Hey! Is everything okay in there?” Sierra’s voice came next, “Mark! Are you okay?”
Mark flushed the toilet, and dragged his feet to the door. He unlocked the door and opened it. Sierra, Joey, Brian, and several other guests stood silently, waiting for him to say something. He simply stared straight ahead, not meeting their gaze and not seeing them, and slowly walked past them in silence, out of the bathroom, out of the bedroom, and out of the apartment.