Casual Cruelty

After the ceremony, the kitchen staff brings out a tray of the Saratogan’s infamous Green Drink. Kohana calls out to those gathered. “The color green holds the energy of life and growth.”

Kim, standing by his side, continues for him as the tray gets passed around. “We are survivors and in this green and growing place, we take health and life into our bodies.”

Kohana speaks again. “Drink and become vital, become vibrant.”

They speak the last word together: “Live!”

I haven’t tried it before, but when the tray comes around, I shrug and take a cup. I take a swig and almost gag. God, that’s foul. I set the cup down gingerly and look around.

“Where’s Sinclair?” I say aloud, to no one in particular. I haven’t seen him in a while, which strikes me as unusual.

Francis, Artie’s best friend who happens to be standing nearby, answers me. “He got pretty high and wandered off somewhere.”

“What? Shit.” I take off down the path to find him.

Sinclair has not been doing well recently: he’s been fighting more and more often with his wife Mary, who keeps demanding that he spend less time campaigning and more time at home with her and their children. She doesn’t know that at least half the time he’s “campaigning,” he’s actually been at Club Diamond with Nate. And he’s been getting pushes from several of our friends to come out publicly, which he is not quite ready for. I know that he’s been feeling pulled in a hundred different directions, and lately he’s been turning to drugs to escape. I’ve been asking him to slow down, to no avail.

At this point I’m feeling pretty sober, though the Green Drink does seem to be having the effect of heightening my emotions. I’m worried about the article I’ve promised Ruben I’ll write, I’m worried about the spreading disease, and I’m worried about the friends who will inevitably get sick. But right now, I’m focused on worrying about Sinclair.

I peek into the Darkroom, but he’s not there. I head for the Pillow Room. I don’t bother taking my shoes off; I simply peek inside. He’s not there, either. I turn to check the private room that’s in the same cabin as the Pillow Room, and find myself face to face with Ike.

“Hey, Ike. Have you seen Sinclair?” I ask.

“Yeah, he’s fine,” Ike says.

“Where is he? I’ve been looking all over for him. I heard that he was… not in a good place.”

Ike glances over his shoulder, then back at me. “He’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” I realize that Ike is not just casually hanging out – he’s guarding the door.

I eye him suspiciously. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. He’s with Ruben. They’re talking,” he says.

I relax. “Oh, okay. Good.” I trust Ruben. “Well, just… make sure he calls his wife, okay? She gets pretty upset when he’s out late and doesn’t call to tell the kids goodnight.” Ike nods, and I turn to go.

Just then, Chain walks in and marches straight up to Ike. “Where’s Sinclair? I need to talk to him.”

“He’s busy,” Ike says, firmly planting himself in front of the doorknob.

“Oh, come on,” Chain says. “I just want to talk to him.”

The door to the Pillow Room opens yet again. “Where is he?” Nate demands. Ike steps aside and lets Nate into the room he’d been guarding, then stands in front of it again, blocking Chain from following.

“What?” cries Chain. “Are you kidding me? Why does Nate get to go in?”

Ike sighs. “Because he’s Nate. Nate does what he wants.”

“What, does Sinclair need protecting? From you? You couldn’t even protect your own boyfriend from getting attacked,” Chain spits angrily.

Last New Year’s Eve, Ike and Ruben had ducked into an alley for a quick kiss. Unfortunately, they were spotted and attacked by some thugs who decided to “teach those fags a lesson.” In his fury and in trying to protect Ike, Ruben had ended up getting beaten so badly that he’d been airlifted to the hospital. He’d needed emergency surgery, and it was weeks before he could even speak. Even today, he still sometimes gets stuck on words or loses his balance.

I gasp at Chain’s callousness. I don’t know Chain well, but his words seem uncharacteristically cruel.

Ike shrugs, seemingly unperturbed by Chain’s comment. I hear a scramble behind the door, and Ruben bursts from the room. He advances on Chain, fists clenched. “What the FUCK did you just say to him?” he snarls. He’s standing so close that I can see bits of spittle land on Chain’s face.

“Ruben,” I say softly, laying my hands on his fists and gently pushing his arms back down to his side. He ignores me.

“How fucking dare you. Don’t you ever speak to him like that. EVER,” Ruben growls. His fists raise back up to his sides, and I push them down again before placing a hand on his shoulder. He is shaking with fury.

“Ruben,” I say again, gently. “Come on. You don’t want to do this.”

Thankfully, Chain seems to come to his senses. “You’re right. I should not have said that.” He turns to Ike.” I was very upset, but that’s not your fault. I’m very sorry.” He turns back to Ruben. “That was unfair of me. I apologize.”

Ruben scowls at Chain down for another moment without speaking, then turns and goes back into the room, pausing only to stroke Ike’s cheek briefly.

Long Time Coming

I’m drifting around aimlessly, taking a swig from the drink in my hand every now and then, when I spot Kimberly along one of the paths. She grins lasciviously at me, and I grin back. Kimberly has now hit on me more times than I can count. She’s good-looking and definitely wild; just my type – well, for a casual hook-up, anyway. And, because of Charlotte, I know for a fact that she’s a firecracker in bed.

Charlotte is the main reason I’ve rebuffed all of Kimberly’s advances. They were mostly monogamous, as far as I know. The breakup was over baby drama: they couldn’t agree on who the father should be. C’est la vie. Things were rocky in our little group for a little while, but we’re finally stable again. Charlotte and Kimberly are no longer a couple, but they’ve managed to remain friends. And thank goodness: Santiago and I knew all along that they wouldn’t last, but Kimberly really grew on us. We were both happy not to have to choose sides. For better or for worse, Kimberly is one of us. And now that she’s no longer attached to Charlotte, she’s fair game, I thought.

I curl an arm around Kimberly’s waist and pull her close. “Wanna check out the Pillow Room?” I purr, my face very close to hers.

She pauses. “Uhh,” she says, looking surprised.

I laugh. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you speechless before.”

She laughs, too. “And I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this drunk before.”

“Well, why don’t you accompany me over there? Keep me safe. You know…  just in case.”

“In case any wild lesbians decide to jump your bones?” she teases.

I wink at her. “Something like that.”

The Pillow Room is surprisingly empty when we arrive. Removing my shoes, I sit on one of the few cots that still has a mattress on the springs instead of on the floor. Kimberly sits down next to me. “So–”

I cut her off by pulling her face to mine. I kiss her aggressively, my tongue eagerly exploring her mouth. She answers by wrapping her arms around me.

I jump when door opens. Pepper bursts in with Kohana, who is one of the Saratoga hippies and Joani’s spouse, along with some other guy not too far behind them.

“I’m telling you, they were transcendental balls of energy!” Pepper is insisting to Kohana.

Kohana gestures to Kimberly and I on the cot. “Are they transcendental balls of energy, too?”

Pepper scoffs. “No, they’re lesbians. It’s different.”

Kimberly and I burst out laughing and sit up. Kohana and the other man join us on the bed while Pepper mutters more about transcendental energy and gesticulates wildly.

I glance at the stranger and stick my hand out. “Hey. Katherine.”

“Jerred,” he says, shaking my hand.

“So, what’s going on?” I ask.

Kohana answers, “Pepper’s taken… something… and now thinks that people are balls of energy.”

I glance at Pepper. “…huh. But not us, eh?”

“No,” Pepper insists. “The others were transcendental balls of energy. You guys are just people.”

“Are you sure?” I ask, bemused. Pepper cocks his head, contemplating me.

Kohana takes in our disheveled appearance. “I’m sorry, did I interrupt something?”

“Well, yeah,” I say. “We were just about to–”

“But it’s not exactly interrupting if you’re planning to join us,” Kimberly interrupts me.

I open my mouth to protest, then close it again. Oh, what the hell? I think to myself. It might be fun. My philosophy has always been that some dick every now and again can be fun, as long as it doesn’t happen too often, and the dick doesn’t want a relationship afterwards.

“Whaddya say, Katherine?” says Kimberly, a gleam in her eye. In response, I lean over her and begin making out with Kohana.

Soon there is only a tangle of bodies and limbs, and even I can’t tell who’s who.