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These People I Know

by

Alex Stephens

 

 
     
   

 

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THERE ARE THESE PEOPLE I KNOW THEY SLAP ME ON THE BACK, THEY HUG ME AND SAY THINGS LIKE, THERE HE IS, HAVE A DRINK, AND HOW ARE YOU DOING, YOU GETTING THROUGH, THESE PEOPLE ASK IF I'M OKAY. I nod to everyone and say I'm doing just fine, I'm getting through the bad times and hey we all have bad times. And everyone cheers and someone comes from the kitchen and hands me a cup, a plastic cup. Soon I am encircled and someone says how about a toast let's toast to something and a guy says to me, "you need something good to toast to right? Especially now, you need something good." I nod and smile and I squeeze my cup, just a little so it indents and makes a cracking sound.
_____After we toast and take a drink I ask what's in this cup, what has someone given me. And there's this girl and she's the only one not smiling and she tells me, "I heard what happened, I'm very sorry for your loss." And she says it loudly because there's music and a lot of people talking. I tip my cup to her and I say, "thank you. I think I need another drink." "Of course you do, you need another drink."
_____I'm on the couch and it's this great couch and I'm talking to the owner of the couch, well mostly listening to him as he tells me about his trip to Seattle, to some sort of music festival full of bands I've only heard of but never really listened to. I tell him, "sounds like a lot of fun." "Yes," he says, "this CD, the music now playing," and some wine from his cup sloshes out and spills on my pants, "I got this CD in Seattle."
_____I slap him on the shoulder and say I like the music and the girl who refilled my cup is dancing in a small circle near the kitchen. She nibbles her lower lip and smiles when I nod. I stand up and think I might dance, maybe I'll go get some vodka in my empty cup and I'll dance close to her and she might say something to me, maybe she'll tug on my shoulder and put her lips really close to my ear so I can feel her breath and she'll whisper something.
_____In the circle she yells to me, "do you feel like dancing? Are you up for it?" A guy shoves a cup in my face and says, "are we drinking tonight or are we drinking?" I take the cup from him to let him know we are drinking and I swallow the liquid not knowing what's inside. He laughs as I cough and hit my chest and then I laugh. The girl dancing shakes her finger playfully and grins and I wonder why I've never met her before. I try to ask her this; I yell but I'm not close enough to her, and she says something I don't understand. So I decide to get another drink. In the kitchen there are more people and they are lined up against the counter and I have to say excuse me but I need something more to drink and one of them grabs a bottle of Jaeger and I say, "no thanks. Vodka?" And he hands me a bottle of vodka and jumps into a conversation about politics. And I pour and I say, "don't get me going, don't let me get started on this shit." And a girl with black hair and glasses says, "why, what's your opinion? You can say if you want."
_____I take a long sip and when I squint and recover I begin and I talk loudly. The group responds to me, saying things like "yes, I know," and "see this guy knows what he's talking about." And the girl who's shorter than I, the one who was just dancing, stands across from me and I step forward a bit and acknowledge the crowd. And I keep talking and I talk faster and louder and everyone laughs when I want them to laugh. And I begin to almost scream and I'm stomping my foot to accentuate a point and everyone keeps nodding and making sounds of agreement. And the girl is biting her lip and looking right at me, right in my eyes and I turn my head around to the crowd and for just a second I think if I talk loud enough, if I jump, if I fucking scream then they'll know what I'm really talking about, what I really want to say. To the initial group guarding the liquor I say, "see, I told you not to get me started." I'm still holding the vodka and I drink right from the bottle and everyone cheers. Everyone except the girl who likes to bite her lip; she's straight faced and she pulls the bottle from me and says, "slow down," then she smiles, "just a little."
_____And later after the party has started to die I'm on the small porch overlooking an alleyway, with a cigarette hanging from my lips. The cigarette's burning but I don't make any real effort to take a drag. She comes up behind me and pulls the cigarette from my mouth. She says, "you okay." I nod and blink hard for a second to stop my eyes from watering and then she gets hold of both my ears and our foreheads are together. She begins to rock her head back and forth and now she's licking her bottom lip instead of biting it. She kisses hard and fast with her tongue darting into my mouth then she pulls my head and I squint from her nails on my ears. She says, "is this okay? Is it okay if we do this?" I say nothing; I grab her by her shoulders and kiss her pressing my tongue into her mouth.
_____Even later, so late it's early because the sky over the small
porch is a light gray, the girl and I are on the couch under a blanket. She is asleep and has put her shirt back on but I can feel her against my legs and I know she still has her pants off. My head hurts but I don't really want to move. I don't want to go home; I don't want to get off this great couch and I think how cool it was for these people I know to let me stay, to let me get really drunk and loud and smoke on their porch and sleep on this couch.
_____She wakes up and her voice is broken and she says, "what is it, why are you smiling?" And I turn to her and I say, "it was a good night," even though that's not what I really want to say. "Yes, very great." And she presses her nose to my shoulder and then strokes my neck. "You were crying in your sleep. I heard you but didn't want to wake you." She says this and I remember I didn't stop crying when she held my face and ran a hand down my head. She kisses me on the neck and asks, "do you remember?"

 

 

 

 

     

Alex Stephens

Alex Stephens

Alex Stephens is an aspiring writer currently residing in Salt Lake City, Utah. He studied film and literature at the University of Utah and creative writing at Goddard College in Vermont. He likes all types of fiction; however, he thrives on the short form. Currently he is working on a collection of short fiction, which will be finished in the spring of 2008.

 

In May of 2007 "These People I Know" was selected by multiple judges as a notable story in storySouth's 2007 Million Writers Award. Congrats Alex!

--The Our Stories Staff

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