I don't like clubs.
I think I used to. I think I used to kind of enjoy a dark, crowded space where my head could take a break from thinking and instead just succumb to the pounding bass. I used to see them differently than just the cesspool of single people I see now, the ones sweating and dancing and making eyes at each other over the shoulders of the people they're dancing with.
"Jackson!" My best friend Edward pulls me inside one of the buildings with boarded-up windows that I think are supposed to give it an edgy feeling. It just makes me feel like we're both condemned. Still, I let myself be pushed inside, past the bouncer who barely checks my ID even though I know I don't look twenty-one. We follow the strange crowd of people filtering into a line down the bar, where half-priced tequila shots are hastily thrown down underage teenager's throats before they head into the main dancing area, blood racing with liquid courage. Edward hands me a shot and I take it distractedly, forcing the amber liquid down my throat until I feel the heat pool in my belly.
"There," he shouts, pointing a finger at two brunettes laughing hysterically while they move slightly to the music. Edward does this kind of thing to me every time, thinking I come with him to meet a girl. I guess he's too busy meeting his own one-night stand to realize that I never actually leave with anyone.
We push through the crowd and I feel slick sweat across my arms. I glance to my left and am greeted by a couple making out in front of me, their bodies swaying together while their lips stay locked. I roll my eyes and refocus on the challenging task of following Edward. God, I am not drunk enough for this place.
"This is my buddy Jackson," Edward yells, and I take a step closer to the girls I'm being introduced to. Edward has already claimed the one on the right; I know from the way he has placed his hand on her elbow. His eyes flick appreciatively down her bare legs that must have been uncomfortably cold walking to the club.
I nod at the girl I'm supposed to distract and she smiles back. She's pretty enough, but I don't want to be here. I don't want to be standing here with a girl in a short skirt, waiting for Edward to leave with her friend. I just want to go home to the silence of my empty apartment, and I definitely don't want to bring anyone back with me. Still, I resign myself to what I've been pressured into and try to pretend I could like this girl who has been, quite literally, thrust upon me.
As I grab her hand and pull her into the crowd of swaying bodies, the DJ fumbles and the song skips. I cringe, but no one else notices; they just keep rocking back and forth, swinging their hips against their partners', and they don't realize that the person being paid to make them dance just fucked up. I pull the brunette close.
Over her shoulder I see Edward making out with her friend and I know that I'm almost allowed to go. Once Edward leaves with a girl in tow, I am always right behind him. I roll my eyes away from them as his fingers start to roam down her chest.
"You look grumpy," the girl yells into my ear and I focus on her again. She has wide, pretty eyes that are staring right into mine, and her pixie lips lilt into a smile. "Turn that frown upside down." I have to resist the incredible urge to roll my eyes at her. Who the fuck actually says that?
Instead I smile a tiny bit so that she won't leave and Edward won't get pissed at me for being the worst wingman in the history of wingmen. As she grins back and dances closer, I can't help thinking that she and Edward would at least have something to talk about; my declining mood that, apparently, even a stranger in a dark club can see.
Edward thinks I'm sullen.
That was his exact word: sullen. Only Edward would bother to say sullen when he could have just told me I'm a downer. And I guess he's right. I guess if I had been paying attention I would have noticed earlier that my social life had deteriorated to video games with Edward on a Saturday night and mornings interacting with Starbucks employees so I can get a decent cup of coffee. The rest of my time I spent reading alone in my apartment or working, and I haven't seen anything wrong with that until Edward put down his controller in the middle of a mission.
"What did you do last night, Jackson?"
I looked at him in amazement. "Dude. Could you play the game?" I thrust my hand at the screen. "You're about to get shot!" I circled around him to try to kill some of the swarm around him, but it didn't really work. There were just too many of them.
"Did you do anything?" He asked again, completely unconcerned with the fact that his character just exploded in a splatter of animated blood. I tossed my controller onto the chair beside me and half-heartedly glared at him.
"I read a book."
His expression didn't change. He looked at me almost pityingly, though I couldn't imagine why.
"What?" I asked impatiently.
"You spent your Friday night reading a book."
"Yes. That's what I said. Can we kill more zombies now?"
He exhaled, long and slow. "Look, Jackson. I think it's time for an intervention."
I laughed. "An intervention? What, two beers on a Saturday night means I'm an alcoholic?"
"Not for alcohol, dipshit." That's one of the things I like about Edward – his inability to be nice for longer than a few sentences. Even when he's trying to tell me I have a problem, he's not above telling me I'm being an idiot. "You don't do anything anymore."
"I'm playing video games with you right now."
"Yeah, video games one night a week doesn't count as a social life."
"You're telling me I don't have a social life?"
"Well you don't."
"That's -" I stopped and thought about it. The last time I did something outside of my house that didn't involve video games or work was at least three months ago. Probably longer.
He looked down at his hands. "And it's not just that you don't do anything. You're – different."
"Different." I repeated.
"Sullen," he said, looking up at me with worried eyes. "You're acting very sullen."
I let the silence settle in for a minute before I answered him quietly. "Ten-point word, Edward."
"Me too. It's an impressive word. You been doing crosswords?"
"Jackson. What's going on?"
"Nothing, man. Nothing." I ran a hand through my hair, pushing a blond lock out of my eye. "I honestly don't know what you mean." But I was lying. I knew I was lying.
"You used to go out Friday nights." I shrugged, and he continued. "When I ask you to come out with the guys, you say you're busy."
"I've been tired."
I didn't answer. I guess I could have told him that I was tired of the club scene on Friday nights, but he would know that wasn't it.
"You haven't even talked to Andy in months."
Inwardly, I cringed, but managed to keep my facial expression neutral. Andy. Of course I haven't talked to Andy. How the hell could I?
I shrugged again, knowing that I was not helping diffuse this intervention. My noncommittal answers were just bolstering Edward's claims that there was something wrong with me.
He waited for me to answer, but I can wait longer than he can. The quiet doesn't bother me. After what must have been over five minutes, he sighed loudly and stood up, walking past me to his kitchen.
"Right, so you won't talk about it," he said in defeat. "I'm just supposed to pretend that there is nothing wrong with you, that what you're doing isn't different, that you're not different."
"Not sullen," I couldn't help interjecting. He stepped back into the living room just to glare at me, and I gave him a sheepish smile. He moved back behind the dividing wall and I decided to follow him. He opened the fridge and passed me another beer, taking one for himself and popping the caps off.
"I was just trying to make sure you're alright."
I took a long swig of beer. I leaned against the counter and started to peel the label off, keeping my eyes on the bits of paper floating through the air when I answered. "I'm fine. I appreciate the concern, really. But I'm okay."
I could feel the skepticism in his eyes.
"So let's go out tonight," he challenged, the tone of his voice already assuming he knows I'm going to say no. "We'll go downtown, like before. Half-price tequila shots at TJ's. You like it there, right?" I hid the grimace on my face.
"Yeah, it's alright."
"So let's go." He checked his watch. "It's only eleven."
I bit back the sigh that threatened to escape my lips and nodded. "Sure. Let's go."
A grin broke out on Edward's face and he seized my arm excitedly. "Really?!" I nod again. "Awesome, it's going to be awesome," he assured me.
I was not convinced.
And that's how I ended up dancing with a short brunette while she sings the wrong lyrics in my ears and Edward makes out with her friend on the other side of the club.
When the song finishes and the next one is just starting, she kisses me. It's messy and wet and mostly unpleasant, but there's a tiny part of it that I like, a small bit of closeness that something inside of me aches for, and I don't stop her. I let her run her tongue across my teeth until she giggles into my throat and leans off of my lips.
"Want to get out of here?" she yells in my ear. I can see dewy desire in her eyes, tequila shots making her frisky, and I think of Andy. Andy pops into my head and overwhelms me until the memories push out the vapid girl in front of me, and I shake my head at her.
"Sorry," I yell back, and walk away. I take a quick look around for Edward and see him pushing his brunette against the wall, basically fucking her right there in the club. I don't bother telling him I'm leaving.