THE COLD INSIDE
by AL BRUNO III
Saturday December 3, 1994
Fred Trager was a sophomore and a new addition to the football team’s first string, the party was at his place. His parents were out of town and that meant the conditions were just right for something epic to happen. Fred knew that a successful party would solidify his place in the pecking order.
So far it was a success; there were half-drunk kids wandering from room to room, the Offspring were pounding from the stereo but luckily none of the neighbors had called the cops.
The preparations had been exhausting and exorbitant. The build up to this moment had been more work than he had expected, begging cash from his parents had been just the first part of the ordeal. Getting the keg had been a nightmare. He didn’t have fake id so he’d ended up having to get one of his older cousins to make the purchase and the son of a bitch had agreed only after setting a one hundred percent surcharge.
That surcharge had left Fred with no money to buy weed but he figured if he invited Evan Crawford, that would take care of itself.
Fred walked to the keg, it was sitting in a nest of ice in the middle of the room, and refilled his glass. Ronnie Miller was sitting on the couch, Pam Bloom on his lap. Fred raised his glass to him in a silent and very grateful toast. He owed Ronnie big time, the captain of the football team had been the first to show up and the first to realize that while Fred might have done a great job of getting a keg he apparently had never realized that he also needed to buy a tap. Fred had always assumed the tap came included. If Ronnie hadn’t run out and gotten one Fred would have been the laughing stock of the school. He would have ended up sitting at the dork table in the cafeteria like Pam’s psycho dog-killing brother.
The chips were running low, Fred headed into the kitchen to grab another bag. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Solana sitting at his family’s breakfast nook with her little clique of failed cheerleaders. She was nursing a beer and looking bored.
It’s now or never. Fred thought to himself. If there had been one thing he had wanted to out of tonight it was a chance to get to know her better.
Maybe, God willing, really know her better. She had been all he had been able to think about for months. Everything about her drove him wild- her bronzed skin, her accent, her ankles- even her ankles made him crazy! He sat next to her in Science class and they were always exchanging nods and smiles but that was all he had managed to do because it wasn’t easy to be suave when your mouth was full of drool.
Solana glanced his way and flashed him a smile. His heart fluttered and his feet felt like lead. It’s now or never, he thought again. He walked the breakfast nook, “Ladies… Enjoying yourselves?”
The girls all looked up at him at once and Fred suddenly felt outnumbered. They all made small talk for a time and one by one, as if by some unspoken signal, the other girls excused themselves until he was alone with Solana.
“You look…” Fred spoke slowly and deliberately, trying to sound cool, “…most excellent in that dress.”
She said,“You’re cute.”
Fred smiled, “But you always look excellent… Most excellent.”
“You’re sweet.” Her accent made her voice seem like a purr.
“Most excellent.” He paused to sip at his beer, desperately scouring his mind for other words he could use. “I’m glad you came to the party.”
“I’m always ready for a party.”
“If it gets you here I’ll have a party every night.”
Solana giggled and toyed with her hair, “Are you flirting with me?”
Fred took another swig of beer, “Maybe we should go out sometime. I was thinking, maybe a movie or a hockey game.”
“I’ve never seen a hockey game.”
“Really? The River Rats are pretty... er... excellent.”
“That’s the name of our hockey team.”
“I like soccer.”
“I’ve seen you play, you’re really excellent.”
For God’s sake stop saying that!
For God’s sake stop saying that!
“I see you and your buddies watch us practice, I think you like to watch us girls run around in our shorts more than you like to watch us play.”
“I take the fifth.”
The stereo fell quiet and for a moment all Fred could hear was blood pounding in his ears, it matched tempo with the hammering in his chest. Solana stood up and crossed around behind him, for a moment he sure he had somehow offended her and that she couldn’t wait to tell her friends what a doofus he was. Instead he felt her small strong hands massaging his neck and shoulders. He closed his eyes.
“You’re so tense,” She said. “You think I don’t like you?”
Tense? She doesn’t know the meaning of the word.
“I… I wasn’t sure.”
“I think it’s cute the way you always look at me in Science class and pretend not to look at me.”
Fred didn’t know whether to feel relieved or do backflips. Actually he didn’t want to move from that chair, he just wanted to stay there in the kitchen with her forever- to Hell with the party, to Hell with everything. He reached up and took hold of her wrist.
I’m going to stand up and I’m going to kiss her. It’s going to happen!
The background noise of the party had been a rambling susurrus of voices and music. It all stopped dead as Fred stood on watery knees. Amplified grunts and moans filled the silence. The blood draining from his face Fred ran from the kitchen to find everyone gathered in the parlor around the big screen TV. Kenny and Bobby were fast forwarding and rewinding the VCR.
There was a porno movie playing, Fred fell back against the girl of his dreams. Of all of the videos, why did they have to be watching Latin Spice 5?
“Hey Solana!” Kenny snickered, “That girl looks like you!”
Fred wondered if it was possible to die right on the spot. Of course he didn’t, not for lack of wishing. “That must be my Dad’s,” he said.
“Then what was it doing in your underwear drawer?” Bobby asked as he freeze-framed on a particularly vivid image.
Everyone was staring at Fred like he was the most disgusting guy on Earth. A few of the girls were shaking their heads at him, most of the guys were laughing.
“No wonder he drops the ball so damn much. He’s goin’ blind!”
“You’d think his sticky hands would make up for it!”
“He probably likes beating off all the time.”
“Better warn the coach this guy needs cold showers!”
Fred opened and closed his mouth several times, gasping like a fish. The humiliation felt physically painful.
After what seemed like hours Ronnie got up off the couch, nearly knocking his girlfriend to the floor in the process, and switched off the TV. “Jesus Christ will you guys just grow up a little? The guys got a freakin' porno tape- so what? What are you doing going through his underwear drawer?”
Kenny blushed “Yeah but he-”
Ronnie said, “And do you expect me to believe you don't have a few stroke magazines hidden way?”
“I do not!” Kenny said.
“This kid worked hard to try and make a cool party and all you two can do is try to find ways to piss on it.”
Bobby approached Ronnie, “Back the fuck off man it was a joke.”
“Aren't we getting a little old for all this? Is this how you're going to act in college?”
Evan looked up from picking at his fingernails, “Hey anytime you want to let the losers sit with us at lunch you let me know.”
A collective gasp went up from the crowd, Evan and Ronnie had come to blows several times since they were Freshmen. Some of the kids moved closer, eager for blood, others began looking for their coats.
“Up yours pot head!”
“No up yours, the only reason they rag on Fred is because he shouldn't have to be using porno tapes. If he knew how to act like a man he wouldn't have to.”
Now it was Pam's turn to get in on things, she stood shoulder to shoulder with her boyfriend, “Yeah, all he needs to do is act like you. Then half the girls in the school will hate him.”
“The only girls that hate me are the ones that want me and can't have me... Pam.”
“Oh yeah, everybody wants you.”
Yvonne tried to sound angry but she was too stoned, “Maybe you're jealous.”
“Maybe you're stupid.”
Every one was glaring at each other, everyone had food, beer cups or plasticware gripped tightly. Suddenly Fred remembered that all this was taking place in his parents’ living room. “OK everyone, maybe we all need to calm down a little.”
Evan said, “Maybe you need to shut up before someone starts talking about your screwed up family.”
“My family?” Fred blinked in confusion, he was an only child.
“Not you jerkoff.” Evan pointed to Pam, “Her.”
Pam walked right up to him, “Your problem isn't my brother, your problem is that no matter how much you begged and pleaded I wouldn't give it up to you.”
“Yeah. Right.” Evan rolled his eyes. “I can get any girl I want any time I want, you just aren't worth the effort.”
Fred realized that any second now his mother's art deco lamps were going to be flying through the air and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it. He turned to speak to Solana but she had retreated back to the safety of her friends.
“The only girls you can get are the ones that are too stupid to know better.” Monique Leromenos stepped out of the crowd of students. One beer too many had left her with slurred speech and uncertain posture. “You think you're such hot shit.”
“Maybe,” He smiled, “or maybe you're just sorry you don't have me anymore.”
Pam shook her head, “You're crazier than my brother.”
That got a lot of laughs and for a moment the arrogant expression on Evan's face slipped. Ronnie took over where she left off, “No he's just full of shit, like he's always been.”
“Big man.” Evan said.
“Remember when you said that if we wanted to you could set the football team up with free pussy. Whatever happened to that? Or doesn't that count anymore?”
“Please, I could get you all laid right now if I wanted to.”
“Gee thanks dude but you're not my type.”
“I mean it, all I have to do is make a phone call and I'll have her here.”
“Who is her?”
“A girl I know,” Evan glanced at his shoes and then back up at them, “she's not pretty but she'd be more than willing to take care of you bunch of needledicks.”
Pam sniffed, “Sounds like a real skank.”
Even said, “At least she knows what she's doing.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“Sorry. An educated guess.”
Ronnie made a big deal of rolling up his shirtsleeves, “That mouth of yours is gonna get you hurt.”
“Oh here we go.” Evan started to shoulder out of his jacket. The crowd around them started to buzz with anticipation. Bets were being taken and arguments were erupting over side issues. Kenny and Bobby had turned the TV back on and were running the porno tape with the volume muted.
Pam grabbed hold of her boyfriend's arm, “No, he isn't worth it.”
“See that?” Evan handed his jacket to Yvonne, “She can't bear to see my face hurt.”
Ronnie's hands were fists, “You are so dead.”
Pam grabbed his arms, “Ron… Ron please. Let's just go. No matter how hard you beat him he'll still be an asshole.”
That got Bobby laughing, “Now listen to your Mommie Ron.”
“That's it.” Ronnie turned to Fred, “Sorry man, but I've had about all of this assholes I can take.”
“I'm- I'm sorry?” Fred said.
“Not your fault. See you Monday.”
And with that the Captain of the football team and the most desired girl in school left. Linda Kaspary and Monique Leromenos quickly followed. Clusters of party-goers left after that in couples and sets. Fred could hear them discussing other parities and hangouts. When Solana and her friends exited Fred tried to say something at the door but she refused to make eye contact.
All that was left was Evan, Bobby, Kenny, Yvonne, some girl named Brie and a handful of others that showed every intention of not leaving until the keg had ran dry. Nothing went right tonight. Nothing. Fred thought as he drained his cup of beer. Fucking dick, he owes me.
They had loaded another of his porno tapes into the VCR and were watching it dully. Evan and Bobby were passing a bong back and forth as they tried to see who could do a more grotesque impersonation of Ronnie. It took Evan a few minutes to realize that Fred was staring at him. He sneered at the sophomore, “Uh oh guys. I think we're going to get kicked out.”
He owes me. Fred realized there was still a way he could salvage the evening. There was still a way this party could go down as a rousing success but it was going to take strategy and balls; two things you had to have a lot of if you wanted to get moved up to the first string of the football team.
Fred walked up to Evan and stared at him, then he grabbed the bong from his hand and inhaled a mouthful of thick smoke. When he was done he asked the question he was sure was on the mind of every guy still there, “Did you really mean it when you said you could get us all laid right now?”