The birthday party for Danny’s girlfriend is a big success, in that she does plenty of shots with obscure names and I remember to not say anything about Danny fucking Shannon in a movie theatre even though I am plenty drunk myself. Someone’s hotwings get grainy red across my chin and I understand pool for a few beautiful moments. Danny grins at me from over a sweating pitcher and it makes my fingers pull hard around the cue. It’s nice to see everyone again.
Danny and his girlfriend give me a ride home in his blue subcompact so I stretch myself out in the familiar-smelling backseat and tell them all about university, feeling really cultured, and they exchange smiles and let me talk and talk. My head drops against the cold window and I watch the dotted white line unzip the blacktop, still talking and not seeing his arm around her shoulders. A hill, two stop-signs, a curve. Danny’s driveway.
“Just have to get a few things,” he says, shucking off the seatbelt.
I’m drunk, so I ask him what things. He has that buzzed smirk on his face and his arm on the seat is lean and tanned.
“Just a few things,” he says, and winks to his girlfriend. She giggles. He goes into the house.
“So, are you a famous poet yet?” his girlfriend asks. She is blonde and pretty but her gums show when she grins.
I tell her not yet, and I want to tell her about Shannon. I want to give her the blow-by-blow, like Danny gave me, and watch her pink-and-white smile slip down the crack of a plush theatre seat.
Danny comes back with a bag and then we drive to my house, down and around through pre-packaged suburbs. The windows are dark and empty when he pulls in. My parents, who love me no matter what but will try harder with the next one, are already entombed in their bed with sudokus.
I say thanks for the ride and climb out. His girlfriend says goodnight, Kevin. For a second I don’t remember her name, because with Danny I always just think of them as The Girlfriend, the way you think of the president or the garbage man, but then it swims up through the beer and I say goodnight, Rochelle.
“See you around,” says Danny. He grins at me. By the time I’m up the steps they are already a sort of Abercrombie octopus in the front seat, hands everywhere, but it doesn’t matter. I spear the keyhole on the third try and let myself in. The house is lemon-fresh and cold. In my old bedroom I drunkenly start to jack off, but end up collapsing into bed and I guess falling asleep.
3:04 AM, my phone jackhammers in a little circle on my nightstand. I grab at the blue glow. It’s Danny.
“Hey, man. Chill?”
“Sure. Pick me up?”
“Alright.” Danny’s voice is thick. “Be there right away.”
I throw off the covers and sneak to the bathroom. Lights click on. I rake my fingers through my hair a bit, drag a Crest-caked toothbrush around my mouth to get rid of the beer breath. When I look out the bathroom window I see the glossy blue skin of Danny’s car pulling in. Some dust swirls off the driveway and dances in his headlights.
Back down the stairs, lock the door behind me. Danny looks serious through the glass. He pulls the passenger door for me. I ask him what’s good. His eyes are raw, like he’s been rubbing at them. He says he’s just had a huge fight with Rochelle.
“Oh.” I put my head back as we slide off the driveway, sheath my smile. I’m still a little buzzed, I think. “About Shannon?”
“Nah nah. Something else.”
“Where are we going?”
“End of the world,” says Danny.
The roads are rapture-empty and it’s like we’re the last two people on Earth. Streetlamps glow hazy orange winding through residential. Trashy lawns, broken glass glimmer on the pavement. I have the window down and cold air slips up and under my eyelids. Danny’s thumb is a piston on the shuffle, but he doesn’t like any songs right now.
The streetlamps disappear and we pull in against the curb, overlooking half-dead woods. The end of the world is where the brush vanishes, cut off by a long cement drop. You can sit on the edge and look down to the river, and then past the river you see the refineries stacking smoke.
We used to bring girls here sometimes, especially when Danny was learning acoustic. All of us locking our legs together and whispering and feeling helium in our stomachs. We drank shitty beers swiped from the very back of the fridge. We wondered if we were drunk. Then Danny would disappear with a Jessica or a Kendra or a Brittany into the woods and me, I’d half-heartedly talk to the remainder and sometimes quarter-heartedly make out with her.
“Just something stupid,” Danny says, putting it in park. “I don’t know.”
“Girls,” I say, not thinking about girls. Sometimes it was just me and Danny at the end of the world, trying to roll joints with his sister’s weed and talking and sometimes jacking each other off, or lying together in the dirt with his chin scratching my neck.
My hand slides over. He watches it. I look at him and smile and put it on his warm denim leg.
“Shit,” he says. “That’s not what I meant. Shit, Kev.”
“We’re grown up now, man.” Danny presses his face against the window. I’m finding his zipper in the dark, it’s not easy. “Just stop.”
“It was different then,” he says. “We were horny kids. That’s it. That’s all. Really.”
“Last summer,” I say.
Danny shrugs. “I was drunk.”
“So was I.”
“I was really, really drunk.” He exhales. “Shit, have you even tried?”
I think about Clarissa Yale working my cock like sanding wood, biting her lip and frowning as if one of her Bio labs had gone all wrong. It’s this medication I’m on, I told her.
“You haven’t,” Danny says. He tips his head back. “Fuck, just do it. Alright? Rip some Viagra off your old man or something.”
I tell him it’s not going to work. He laughs.
“This isn’t going to work,” he says. “We’re still, shit. We’re still friends and shit. Just forget the other stuff, man.”
“I haven’t sucked off a lot of friends,” I say.
Danny goes quiet. His mouth is a thin line in the blue glow of the dash. His face is a bruise. “If you tell anyone. I’d kill you.”
Then I slam the car door open and gulp the air, sky spinning a little around my head, and I slam it shut and say fuck you fuck you, and I’m heading down. It’s been raining and my shoes are slick in the mud. Peeling branches stick out at me, trip me up. I hear the car door again, then I’m at the fence. I know where the sweetspot is, where the prickly wires have been bent down, but I still stick my hand on the way over and it stings.
Crumpled Black Label cans, cigarette butts. New graffiti on the cement. I grab my stabbed hand with the other one and look off the edge.
“Don’t you fucking dare.” Danny is pressed up against the fence, sliced into small perfect squares.
“I wasn’t,” I say, and I sit down. My legs dangle off the edge like lead weights. Way down I see slashes of brush and roots, and then the dirty river moving like treacle. The city wanders off to nothing. The stars are out but I hate them now.
Danny stays for a while and says that he has to make this work, because he’s crazy about her, he really is, and he’s sorry he said that, but those words all take up a very small timespan and it’s a much longer moment when I sit and he stands and we’re not seeing the same sky at all. The cold air makes a hollow in my ribs. My cut hand has a little heartbeat.
His feet stamp away, and fuck, it really does feel like the world ends here.
Rich Larson is a 20-year-old student living in Edmonton, Alberta. His novel Devolution was selected as a finalist for the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. His shorter work appears or is forthcoming in Word Riot, YARN, >kill author, Prick of the Spindle, and others.