AJ clutched the flyer in her sweaty palms, having second thoughts as she walked away from her old Sedan parked on the curb near the house party. Tonight was impulsive, a chance she jumped on without a second thought. Of course, her motivating factor was another long, winding text from her best friend. As usually, Ellen was whining about how she had nowhere to be and nobody wanted to talk to her and woe is her, her life just sucks.

Instead of comforting her as usual, AJ dug out the neon-colored flyer that was passed out earlier this week and raided her mom's closet for something appropriate for the Start of Spring Break Bash. Her mom had been pretty radical when she was younger, participating in the Women's Lib movement and partying til early dawn. Because of her radical beliefs, she had named her two daughters after two famous feminists and rarely restricted them from doing what they wanted, something her father was not a big fan of. But both her parents trusted her and her good judgment which is why they let her out late at night in this form-fitting outfit, telling her to call if she was too drunk and needed to be picked up.

AJ used one hand to pull the dress down as far as she could, but only managed to get it an inch farther down her thigh. She groaned in frustration and let the dress do what it wanted; knowing that no matter what, just her being at this party would be a shock enough to her classmates.

She was not a frequent party-goer; she actually never went. She was considered a goody two-shoes and sometimes very naïve because of her aversion to misbehaving. She would argue and say this was the influence of her friends, who were too insecure and too uppity to be associated with the "sloppy sluts" of their class. But she would have to take some of the blame for never going out on her own. Until tonight.

AJ approached the front door and felt the tremor of the surround system through the front steps. She twisted the brass handle, taking a deep breath through her nose and pushed her way into the house party. Her senses were instantly bombarded. The thumping of the bass from the music practically shook the house and people tried helplessly to talk over the loud noise. A reeking scent of sweat and overwhelming cologne was spread throughout the rooms due to the close proximity of everyone. The main part of the house was dimly lit and AJ had trouble navigating her way through the crowds of brightly-colored, scantily-clad guests.

Thankfully, not many of them paid attention to her, too wasted or stoned to notice her push by them. That didn't stop her hands from shaking nervously so she opted to find something to hold, a drink perhaps.

As she left the main room on her quest to find some thirst-quenching substance, she managed to run into Garrett Evans, a fellow classmate who was notorious for his partying and macking on the entire female population at school. They shared a unique relationship, one built on mutual respect. Despite his party animal status, he was academically above average and only struggled in one class: AP Chem. She conveniently had the same class and let him cheat off of her, because she understood how it felt to have one of your worst classes first thing in the morning. In return, Garrett never made a move on her and sometimes gave her answers to the AP Calc quizzes.

He obviously didn't recognize her at first, opting for the introduction of "Hey baby cakes, you new here? Lemme give you a tour…"

"Uh, that's okay Garrett. I like being lost," was her smart-aleck reply, knowing her teasing tone would tip him off. His clouded eyes cleared in realization and he grinned like the Cheshire cat.

He gave her a friendly hug, saying, "Hey-ay-ay Jenks! What an awesssome surprise girl. What'cha doing here, lookin' like that? Finally decided to join the wild side?"

"Actually yes. I decided it's senior year so I should go out with a bang at least once, right?" AJ explained to him, in which he nodded vigorously in reply. She continued, feeling a bit of her discomfort shake off at her unexpected companion, "I was wondering where the refreshments were."

"We-hey-ell, you've come to the right place," Garrett told her in a suave tone, placing his arm around her shoulders, sort of guiding her through the crowd. They stopped in one of the dimly lit side rooms, where a massive keg rested in the center, with a couple of bros on each side, carrying solo cups with pride as they held one of their own upside down over a smaller keg, cheering him on as he chugged.

"Here's the main kegger, which I believe is Miller Light tonight," Garrett explained, pointing over to one of the bros cheering on the chugging dude, "Aaron over there, he's the one who'll hook you up. Make sure you watch him pour it though, he has a tendency of dropping some serious shit in people's drinks."

"Next one then," AJ shuddered at the thought of drinking something else besides beer; she was smart enough to know not to drink from an opened drink in a big party like this and Garrett's comment only reaffirmed that fear of being drugged beyond consciousness.

Garrett led her towards a darker part of the house where the music literally shook the walls and many people danced in intimate proximities. Garrett pushed them towards the edge of the room where there was more space to navigate and led her over to a mini-bar. He said directly into her ear, which she could barely make out with the music, "This is where the hard liquor's kept, in case you want to start out strong and wipe out early, unless of course, you can handle it."

AJ only nodded as he began to pull her back towards the entrance near one of the side halls, away from the thumping music. He told her in a calmer, softer voice, "And then there are some beers in coolers in the kitchen which is down this hall and to the left. I'd love to stay and chat but there's a busty blond over there calling my name. Nice to see you out and about, Jenks."

He slithered away as she called out half-heartedly, "You too…"

Her nerves returned, a bit sated but she felt suddenly alone in this house party, not really knowing or even recognizing anyone. She began to move towards the kitchen at a slow pace, ignoring the leering glances of some wall-hangers. She cursed herself for picking out such a tight-fitted dress but it was the only dress in her mom's closet that wasn't ridiculous looking or belonged in a gay club.

Finally she made it into the kitchen which was brightly lit with fluorescents. Surprisingly, not a lot of people lingered in the kitchen, instead grabbing a drink from one of the many coolers and quickly moving back out into one of the rooms. She gulped dryly and made her way towards the first cooler in her reach. She pulled out a grapefruit wine cooler and put it back quickly in disgust; she hated anything with grapefruit in it. She moved quickly to the next cooler, which had ciders and cheap lagers. AJ decided on a Heineken and looked around for a bottle opener. She found a bunch of them in a solo cup on the counter in the kitchen and quickly popped the top off.

AJ was not unfamiliar with alcohol; her parents offered her sips of their drinks at dinner sometimes. So the sting as she swallowed her first sip wasn't unbearable. In fact, the beer tasted all right, chilled enough to balance out the usually nasty aftertaste. And it felt good to have something cool in between her sweaty palms.

"Jenks, is that you?"

AJ spun around at the familiar voice and found the host of the party, Alex, standing in the doorway of the kitchen, looking unusually bright-eyed. She gave a small grin as she greeted him, "Hey, Alex. Cool party."

"Thanks," Alex stepped into the kitchen, heading towards one of the coolers closer to the window as he asked, "So are you here by yourself?"

"Yeah, it was a last minute decision. I had nothing better to do so here I am," she reasoned lamely, feeling like a loser in such a cool setting.

Alex pulled out a couple Blue Moons and Coors, placing them on the counter. He said, "Well, I'm glad you came. It's cool to see you outside of class, since we don't hang out much. Do you wanna come downstairs with me?"

"Uh…" she trailed off, unsure of how to answer. What was downstairs? She knew Alex was nice and all and yeah, they had never really hung out outside of class. But that doesn't mean she was just another faceless classmate he could screw around with. He was, after all, the king of house parties. All of his parties got talked about for weeks and weeks on end.

Alex saw the look on her face and half-grinned; he grabbed for a bottle opener as he elaborated, "There's a couple of us down there and we're just chilling and playing some games."

"Okay," she answered with a relieved smile, feeling a bit guilty for thinking of Alex in such an off-putting way. She followed Alex out of the kitchen, offering to help him carry some of the drinks; he refused, telling her he was the host.

They made their way down the hall and through a couple more rooms where Alex received pats on the back and "Great party!" from those who were still sober enough to remember where they were. Eventually, they stopped in front of a door in the middle of a hallway. AJ reached over and opened the door for Alex, who thanked her before they both went down the narrow stairs.

Alex led her into an open room that was filled with ambient light and an enormous couch that surrounded a large flat screen. Around the couch were bean bag chairs which some of the guys had occupied as they battled on screen, playing some fighting game on Alex's Xbox. There were bowls of half-eaten chips, pretzels and popcorn strewn about, along with empty solo cups, beer bottles and soda cans. AJ noticed there were bookshelves filled with books and DVDs on the other side of the room.

Alex announced in a strident voice to the room of ten guys or so, "I have brought the beverages and a very special guest of honor."

Those who weren't playing turned around in their seats to look at AJ; she recognized a few from her classes. One boy in particular stuck out: Bradley Daniels, Ellen's ex-boyfriend. She offered him a friendly smile, hoping that he didn't think she was here to make his life a living hell for breaking up with her best friend. Usually, she would be the one who tormented the ex-boyfriend but this was a special case that was exempt from the rule, particularly since Ellen was getting on her last nerve.

Some of them greeted her but soon turned back to the match, making side comments about who was losing, hoping they would be able to play next. Alex passed out the drinks, telling her, "You can sit anywhere. Make yourself at home."

Clutching her beer, AJ picked a seat on the ottoman on the left side of the TV, away from most of the guys but close enough to see the action playing out on screen. She recognized the game; it was one her brother and his friends would always play on his Xbox when they were over. She remembered not being allowed to play it because she was a girl and her brother never played it on his own, due to the fact that he always sucked when he played it with his friends.

Quickly the match was over, with accompanying swears from the losing combatants who sourly passed on their controllers to the next round of players, which got them a scolding from Alex about treating his equipment properly even if they sucked at using it. That got a laugh from most of the guys and the air quickly changed from a tense one to a pleasant one. That kind of quality that guys possessed, being able to go from fighting to friends, was something she had always been jealous of. With her girl friends, they always had to fight it out until everyone else conceded and one person was proven right and then, they could all become friends again, although more bitter towards each other.

Alex and Grant, her English Lit buddy, were up next against one of the stoners and a guy whose name started with an "H"; Haley or Harry, she was sure of it. Grant, of course, was goofing off and not taking the match seriously, which made Alex a little frustrated but he still laughed at some of the crude jokes Grant made at the expense of the other team, who didn't think it was as funny. Harry was particularly sour about getting his butt kicked and being taunted about his mother, enough so that he threw his controller on the ground in aggravation.

Alex paused the game, and said in an authoritative tone, "You know the rules, Henri. You throw my shit, you leave the basement."

Henri grumbled, shoving Grant for good measure before calling everyone a "pussy", making his exit very loud and immature. Alex only rolled his eyes as he asked, "You wanna sub in, Jenks?"

Grant insulted her with his easy grin, "Yeah, lemme kick your ass girl. At least, I'll be playing a real pussy tonight."

AJ laughed heartedly, knowing better than to take Grant's comment seriously; she shook her head, "I'll pass on this one."

Alex only shrugged as he resumed the game; one of the other guys sitting around jumped in to take over Henri's character.

As she watched the match with more interest, she began to laugh with the other guys at Grant's comments and made a couple of her own, which had the guys chortling. She had drained her Heineken and one of the guys graciously offered her a can of Coors Light as they rotated out again.

A couple more rounds went by and there was barely any tension left in the room, either because of the camaraderie between the guys or the alcohol intake. But AJ didn't care as she cheered on Grant as he beat the crap out of Bradley who was grinning the whole time as his hunter got pummeled.

"Hey, look there's the man of the hour! Scotty, my man," Alex announced merrily, greeting the newcomer as he came down the stairs. AJ looked up to see who Alex was so enthusiastically greeting. He was very attractive, to anyone's standards and dressed the part very well, looking very dapper in a black button down and dressy jeans. He went with an old-fashioned pair of Chucks to complete the outfit, which gave off the impression that he was a playful sort of guy. A charmer who wasn't interested in anything long-term. Or maybe, she should stop reading so much into it.

His blue eyes were absolutely dreamy and his hair was kept messy, falling across his face in a sexy manner. His smile was the most swoon-worthy she had ever seen. But she wasn't here to hook up. She was here to play and have fun with the guys, a night away from girl drama. And this guy screamed girl drama. She would never hear the end of it from Ellen or Mona if she went and made out with this hot stranger without sharing.

She needed to stop thinking about her friends right now; she turned back to the match, which had continued on, even with the arrival of the new guy. A lot of the guys knew him apparently, so he must have been a regular patron at Alex's parties. Alex seemed very fond of him. AJ tried to remember if Alex or any of the guys ever mentioned a Scotty in class.

Once or twice maybe, but always associated with Alex's parties. He went to another school obviously, or she would've recognized him. AJ took another swig of her Coors Light as they rotated out again. AJ noticed that neither Alex nor Scotty joined in. AJ saw them out of the corner of her eye chatting over near the bookshelves, away from the main attraction. They were probably catching up since they hadn't seen each other in a week or so.

AJ soon got caught up in watching the fighting matches, mocking Grant whenever he was losing, in which he made lighthearted retorts, leaving her in stitches of laughter. She barely noticed how much time had passed until a beer can was outstretched in front of her. She turned to see Scott sitting next to her, with his own beer in hand. She took the can with a short smile as he introduced himself, "I'm Scott Ripley, or Scotty as Alex likes to call me."

"I'm AJ," she conceded, shaking his hand, "Most people call me Jenks."

"Jenks? That's an interesting nickname," he said, fascinated as she took a sip of the cold beer.

She informed him, "It's my middle name, the name everyone seems to remember."

"So, what's your first name?"

"Guess," she stated simply though her tone was friendly, light-hearted. He grinned at the challenge. He tapped his chin in thought, taking this matter seriously. It made her smile a little bigger as he came up with his first guess, "Anna."

"Nope," she said cheekily as she took another sip of her beer, slowly losing interest in the match between Grant and Jeremy.

"Is it something exotic like Adamaris or Azaria?"

"Do you know a girl named Adamaris?" she chuckled at the thought.

"I may know one now."

"No, it's actually a normal name. Nothing exotic."

"Well, can I get a hint?"

"I'm named after a famous women's rights activist."

"… I give up, I kind of skipped that part of history in APUSH," Scott admitted a bit dejectedly, hoping not to offend the redhead.

"Don't worry, I would've been more surprised if you actually got it," she chuckled at his expense.

However, their conversation was interrupted by Alex's announcement, "All right, I think it's about time we switched games. Do you have any suggestions? Raise your hands like the gentlemen you are."

Scott's hand instantly went up and Alex faked a heart attack, "The beautiful Scotty has a suggestion for all of our humble souls. Hush now, brothers as we listen to his wise words."

"You're so full of shit, Alex," came Scott's humor-filled response, which got laughs out of everyone, "I'm kind of in an old-school mood. Let's play some Mario Kart."

This suggestion, however, was not met with agreement. In fact, it was met with the exact opposite.

"Nintendo's for old school fags!"

"Yeah, we don't need no pussy system down here."

"If we play that faggot shit, I'm leaving."

"Guys," Alex's voice bellowed over those in disagreement, "We cannot deny the awesomeness of the old school racing game extraordinaire. We may be a society, brethren of Xbox but we cannot deny our Nintendo roots. So… who will play?"

"I'm in," Scott said as he stood up to defend his suggestion, "And I'll bet ten bucks that no one can beat me." No one else voiced an opposition but no one stood to join him.

AJ was a big fan of Nintendo and was a proud Wii owner, although she did enjoy her fair share of Xbox games. In fact, her favorite game was Mario Kart, a dirty secret she kept under wraps from her brother's critical friends and from her own friends who saw video games as childish and nerdy. She was so sure of her Mario Kart skill that she considered herself a worthy opponent when it came to tournaments. So of course, in the awkward silence, she said openly, "I'll take your bet. And don't you dare go easy on me."

There was a chorus of "oohs" as Alex went to go set up his Wii; Scott and AJ took their seats in the two beanbags situated in front of the TV. Scott challenged her, "Oh don't worry. In fact, because of your gender, I'd say I already have this race in the bag so you can hand over your money now."

"Yeah okay, let's just see who the real pussy is," AJ rolled her eyes as she took the GameCube controller from Alex and noticed Scott took one as well. They really were playing it old school tonight.

Grant said, "All right, betting pool! Throw in what you got; this is going to be the match of the night."

Many of the guys unsurprisingly put their money on Scott, already aware of his skill after playing with him for many nights. In fact, Alex was the only one who put money down on AJ, a good sum of twenty bucks.

Scott used this to egg her on as the game started up, "You see? This match is already over."

"Don't get cocky. Underdogs always have the better chance of usurping the favorite, especially if he's a boastful asshole," AJ replied matter-of-factly.

The guys were excited behind them, murmuring about their choices as they went through the different selection screens with practiced ease. Scott finally put the race on random choice so they wouldn't have to fight over the course and it would be fair for them both.

Everyone held their breaths as the race started. It was the Sherbet Land course, one of her most hated courses to race. But she didn't let it show as she revved up her Baby Mario's engine. The countdown began and AJ felt the tension in the room start to cultivate until the timer hit zero and they were off.

Using what she remembered from playing this course, she stayed off the main track when she could and boosted her way through some of the tight crevices. She zipped past the annoying penguins, knowing one collision with them could cost her the race. She passed the finish line for her second lap, noticing then that she was in second place and her competition, Wario, was only a few feet in front of her. Again she veered off the track, collecting some red shells along the way.

Suddenly, she heard a whizzing sound and realized the terror was on its way. She slowed down a bit, allowing two other karts to vie ahead of her for first place when the blue monstrosity appeared. It hit Wario right on the head, its force field knocking the other two racers off the course, allowing her the perfect gap to race through and claim first place.

Before she knew it, she was on her third and final lap, leaps and bounds ahead most of the racers. She didn't stop racing though; she knew firsthand that anything could change in the last leg of the race. So she remained cautious, dropping bananas and throwing green shells to counteract red shells that came her way. She hoped and prayed that no blue shells came her way.

But as her luck would have it, Peach, Scott's racer, came and bumped her into a penguin in the cave. She swore under her breath and picked up a red shell on her way out of the cave. She grinned as she realized how close they both were to approaching the finish line so she decided to pull a dick move and throw the red shell at Peach right before she crossed the finish line. Peach went flying up as Baby Mario crossed the finish line, claiming first place, which got everyone in the room screaming and hollering.

Alex pulled her into a tight hug, hooting in praise as he won the big betting pot while the others smacked Scott on the back, asking him where he went wrong. But the tension dissipated instantly as everyone clamored about, taking up the controllers, eager to race now.

Scott reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet, "A deal's a deal. You clearly know how to race old-school."

AJ snorted, telling him as she pushed herself off the bean bag, "Save your money. Use it to take me out on a date next time or something."

The guys began another chorus of "oohs" but she only flipped them off as she asked Alex where the bathroom was. Alex pointed her towards the door on the far end of the room, next to some of the bookshelves. She opened the door and found a clean bathroom, smelling like bleach and lemons. It was a quiet escape from all the ruckus outside. Not that she minded. This was probably the most fun she had in a while, just hanging out with friends, playing video games, acting like immature idiots.

Ellen would never make a crude joke about her mother.

Kaylee might but she would be too self-conscious to make jokes around so many guys.

Mona would brag about her acceptance letter to Brown and her full-ride scholarship, critiquing the guys' misuse of grammar when they insulted each other.

Ellen would spend her time complaining about how her hair was being uncooperative that day (AJ believed it looked fine but Ellen told her she didn't know any better) and how her mother is always making her feel guilty and how Bradley must be faring off worse than she was because without her, he was a complete mess.

But by the looks of it, Bradley seemed fine, well-adjusted and not troubled in the slightest as he was playing. He didn't complain obnoxiously about how bad Ellen had been, how selfish she acted, how horrible she was at sex. Maybe, he didn't say anything so openly in front of his friends; he probably bitched about her in private. But he didn't seem angry or dejected. He seemed happy and carefree. Of course, he had dumped her so maybe he wasn't feeling such animosity towards her. But he had to break up with her for some reason. He must have felt something for her; not exactly love but something else.

Why was she even thinking about this? This wasn't her relationship; she had no business inquiring about such delicate matters. But the way that Ellen managed to make every conversation about it made her feel like she was in the relationship, like it was her problem when it clearly wasn't. The only reason she cared about it was because it involved her best friend. But her best friend didn't know when to stop complaining.

And suddenly, there was this guilt that she was betraying her friends by being here, by being at this party. By being associated with these drunkards, these sluts who had awful judgment, these bros who wanted nothing more to beat the shit out of each other in a virtual game, who bounced back so quick from a sour fight that it was like nothing bad ever happened down here in this basement.

Goddammit, this wasn't fair. All these people got to be irresponsible with no consequences and she was left to deal with all the responsibilities in the world. Well, not literally but it definitely felt like it.

AJ realized she had been staring at herself in the mirror for a good ten minutes thinking about this. If she hadn't felt like a loser before, she certainly felt like one now. She splashed some cold water onto her face, trying to wake herself up from the deeper thought process. She reached over and grabbed the hand towel, pressing it to her face to dry herself off.

Ignoring the cold drops on the back of her neck, she put the towel on the rack and opened the door, heading back out to the action. Everyone was energetically racing, swearing and cheering as they played. Grant reached over and tried to mess the other guy's game up by moving his joystick around. AJ laughed at the sight and realized with a resounding deliberation: she wanted to be here, amongst all the life and fun these guys were having.