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Over Christmas break, the bar McCrane’s was where Nick and everyone else home from school went to get aggressively “holiday drunk” — a volatile combination of “Fuck it, I don’t live here” drunk and “I own this town, you bitches” drunk. The end result of holiday drunk for Nick was almost always his parents having whispered conversations the next morning, which cycled between furious, disappointed, and anxious, while standing over their half-naked, technically adult child, who was passed out on the couch in front of the TV (which was, at least, mercifully no longer playing premium cable soft core pornography).
On those mornings, Nick looked like he had been hit by a train while fighting rabid wolves during a hurricane. His parents’ conversation, of course, always went completely unheard by Nick, whose body had, by that point, buried itself as deep into unconsciousness as possible without actually reaching full coma, so as to at least try to partially numb the soul shattering pain of the monstrous hangover that was crushing his body’s basic, animal instinct to keep itself alive.
While Nick’s parents questioned their child’s life choices and mental well-being to each other — saying things like, “It’s that fraternity of his, dammit,” or wondering, “Maybe his finals were more stressful than we thought?” — there were usually forty forgotten, black, smoldering remnants of pizza rolls sitting in the oven, on their fourth hour of cooking, while a stale bar stench wafted through the family room thanks to Nick’s heavy, labored breathing, which smelled like the exhaust of a car that runs on rail liquor and Bud Light.
McCrane’s was always a good time.
Though fun, being at McCrane’s did elicit an array of emotions from Nick. A roller coaster that swung from excitement to dread and back again, depending on who he saw approaching in a given moment, more or less nonstop throughout the course of the night. Those reactions were only amplified by drinking, especially the seemingly endless line of reunion shots everyone took upon seeing each other for the first time in, realistically, like only a month because of Thanksgiving break. “Hey, great to see you…let’s forget that we saw each other,” they’d all essentially say by hugging and then downing 80 proof and above shots over and over again until all that was left of the previous night’s “I love yous” and “We should hang out mores” were, the next morning, nothing more than vague, blurry recollections of, “Did I see Steve last night? I feel like I talked to him for like an hour. Why the fuck would I do that?” There were also usually around five text messages sent to Nick with the intention of sharing a phone number that he now had absolutely zero desire to ever text or call back in the cold, regret-illuminating light of morning.
Nick’s excitement for seeing a friend from a different, usually out of state, school at the bar would eventually turn from a smiling, open armed, “Hey! Laurrrrennnn,” to an unhinged, “Carl you SICK FUCK! Get your fat balls over here before you get somebody pregnant! ANOTHER ROUND OF RUMPLE MINZE! MERRY CHRISTMAS!”
“I can’t in good conscience give you any more of that, man. Your blood is mint flavored at this point,” a bartender once told Nick.
In turn, the dread of seeing someone Nick considered to be objectively worthy of early euthanasia, so as to be put out of the misery of their own existence, had its own devolution.
It would start out as, “Oh shit, there’s Stanton. Fuck I hope that twat doesn’t see us. He’s gonna go on and fucking on again about how not going to college and working at the AT&T store instead was a way better idea — even though he texts me twice a month asking to come visit so he can tailgate and ‘crush some sorority puss’ — because he thinks making 38 grand is a lot and that schools don’t teach ‘real world experience.’ Christ, I would’ve helped him study for the SAT senior year if I knew I was going to have to put up with him roundaboutly justifying scoring an 1100 on it for eternity. I hope he dies. Shit. Here he comes. At least he’ll buy us drinks so he can act like he’s big time. Hey! Staaannnttonnnn.”
By the end of the night Nick was incapable of masking disdain, such as when an ex-girlfriend would approach.
“YOU KEEP AWAY FROM ME KATIE YOU SHE DEMON! YOU HITLER WITH TITS! TITLER!”
Nick yelled at that particular ex-girlfriend of his to stay away from him with no regard for the fact that he had texted her, “You up?” three days earlier, and equally as drunk. She never responded, though he wouldn’t have been able to answer even if she had, because twelve minutes after sending the text he passed out with his hand down his pants while Cinemax’s “EXXXotic Babes of Planet Dinosaur” blared on the TV and a neglected, baking, Costco sized box of pizza rolls threatened to burn the house down with his entire family inside.
When Nick arrived at McCrane’s on Christmas Eve with a group of high school friends, some of whom were in his fraternity as well, the bar was already uncomfortably packed. There was no time for Nick to stop and think about why he enjoyed being at a place that forced him to rub himself on five hundred people in rapid succession over the course of four hours if he wanted to move around. He hadn’t had a beer in going on twenty minutes, and he was getting antsy.
Nick beelined for the bar, afraid the multitude of beers and assortment of shots he took beforehand somehow weren’t going to maintain him. Or maybe he was subconsciously aware that he needed to be twice as drunk as he currently was to endure the crowd, and its occupants.
The line to get a drink at the bar was more like a staggered crowd. A thick, swaying collection of semi-aimless people, all of whom Nick was unspeakably outraged at for not sharing his sense of urgency (see also: uncontrollable alcoholism). Nick saw three guys in front of him turn around with drinks and, instead of moving somewhere else to talk, they posted up right there and raised their bottles.
“A toast!? A fucking toast?!? Celebrate your stupid fucking friendship reunion somewhere else you tool fuck losers!” Nick screamed inside his own head.
Nick’s alcoholism was serious.
“To Stanton,” one of the guys said, his bottle still raised.
“Oh shit Stanton’s here?” Nick thought, panicking and looking around quickly.
“He didn’t have a long life, but he had a crazy one,” the guy continued.
“That’s how he went out too. Crazy. Crashing his ATV into a propane tank. Exploding everything,” another one of the friends added.
Nick nodded his head, acknowledging to himself that this sounded exactly like a way Stanton would’ve died. Except there was no mention of the twenty or so Keystones Nick assumed Stanton would’ve drank before driving an ATV that he was probably behind on in payments.
“I told that crazy asshole he should’ve worn a helmet,” the first guy said.
“He died in an explosion,” the second friend reminded him.
“Yeah but he only veered into the propane tank because that bird hit him in the face and blinded him,” the third friend chimed in.
“Hell he wouldn’t have even driven through all those birds picking at the old wheat field if he hadn’t been so shitfaced,” one of them concluded.
“Therrreeeee it is,” Nick thought.
“And the propane tank probably wouldn’t have exploded if Stanton hadn’t had his gun with him, and hadn’t been shooting at the birds while he drove his ATV at them. After he was blinded he kept firing for some reason. Hit the tank right as he crashed into it.”
“For fuck’s sake Stanton!” Nick thought.
Suddenly Nick remembered something.
“Wait, that was probably all happening on Stanton’s family farm. I think he invited me to that weekend.”
Nick checked his phone. Stanton had in fact texted him about coming down to the farm for a weekend, which he now sort of regretted missing.
The final text Nick received from Stanton — the final words Stanton ever spoke to Nick, a person he considered at least a good friend — read, “Farm this weekend. Bring some sluts we can thrust into next week.”
The final words, the way he died, everything about Stanton’s death seemed pretty much about right to Nick, who immediately stopped thinking or caring about that human being and his tragic passing as soon as someone cut in front of him in the line and alcohol once again became his only concern. Nick saw an opening to his left and darted through it to the front of the bar, where he immediately got the bartender’s attention.
“Two Bud Lights,” he ordered, already prepared to double fist because fuck standing in that bar line again in twenty minutes.
“Two shots of Rumple Minze too,” Nick added, determined to reach celebratory blackout mode as quickly as possible.
Before Nick could take the shots a tiny, familiar looking blonde in a loose, Christmas-y flannel, leggings, and boots saddled up next to Nick at the bar and nodded toward the Rumple Minze.
“Did you get one of those for me?”
Aside from the time a Papa John’s delivery driver exposed himself on Nick’s front porch, Nick enjoyed it when an interaction started out basically the same way as a porno.
“Obviously. What took you so long to get here?” Nick replied.
The two took the shots and hit it off immediately. Stanton was dead and some random hot girl was all about Nick. “What a Christmas,” he thought.
The girl’s name was Danielle. Nick made a legitimate effort to commit her name to memory so as not to miss this one foot putt of a hookup because of something so simple and preventable, yet also so seemingly impossible time and again. Like poverty or the World Cup, other people’s names were something Nick probably should have cared about and paid attention to, but he simply couldn’t bring himself to do it.
Danielle said she was a freshman at State, which is how Nick decided he recognized her. In fact he had remembered seeing her at a bar a couple of weeks ago. The pair kept drinking and talking. Katie, Nick’s witch-demon ex-girlfriend, saw them from across the bar and shot Nick a gloriously disgusted look that he reveled in. He let her disgust wash over him. Her disapproval, which was especially intense this time, warmed his soul. He always found her displeasure so pleasing that he once bet $500 against her little brother’s football team when they made it to state, just so he had a reason to make posts across all social media platforms celebrating their defeat, which he eventually did.
After what seemed like no time at all, Danielle asked Nick if he wanted to leave.
“We can go back to your place, right?” She asked.
“No we can’t. It’s packed. My grandparents are in town. And my grandpa snores pretty loudly. There’s no way I’m staying focused through that.”
“Um… okay. We can go back to my parents’ house,” she decided hesitantly. “We just have to keep quiet.”
Keeping quiet wasn’t exactly a non-starter for Nick. Worst case scenario he’d have to wait until he got home to shout from the rooftops that he fucked Danielle. Nick was open to basically any qualifications she wanted to apply to the hook up. She could’ve asked him to bend her over and rail her from behind while a plate of cookies and a glass of milk sat on her back, intended to be eaten and drank by Santa, who would then pop out of the chimney, eat and drink the milk and cookies, and shake the remaining crumbs out of his beard, all while standing over the human fuck table.
Danielle’s house was quiet and unlit on the inside except for the Christmas tree. No one home was awake. The outside of the house was illuminated by a carefully considered but far from over the top arrangement of Christmas lights. They snuck in through the front door and settled in the living room, on a couch across from the family’s Christmas tree. They were barely sitting before Danielle was on top of Nick. They made out with the intensity and sloppiness of two horny, incredibly drunk, and newly blind teenagers. She started to undo his belt with the sort of belt unfastening urgency usually reserved for when a trauma victim is bleeding out and needs a makeshift tourniquet.
Nick’s dick was outside his pants and inside Danielle’s mouth in an instant. (A glorious instant.) All he could do now was sit back and hope he wasn’t too drunk to finish. The way she was working it, that probably wasn’t going to be a problem anyway, he concluded.
An odd click sound from the darkest corner of the room yanked Nick out of his blow job pleasure trance. It was a sound he had heard before.
“That sounded like…” he thought, before being interrupted by a large man appearing from the dark corner, and holding a shotgun.
“Jesus Christ!” Nick screamed.
Danielle leapt up from her knees and turned around. The Christmas lights from the tree blurrily reflected on Nick’s wet penis, which, assuming this was Danielle’s father, probably ruined the idea of Christmas lights and potentially Christmas trees for him. There was no way this man was going to look at that tree, let alone enter that room again, and not feel a little piece of his soul die.
“Daddy!” Danielle screamed.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Nick thought.
He was about to just get up and go. He was drunk enough to really not give a shit about the entire situation. Danielle’s dad wasn’t going to actually shoot Nick, even despite seeing Nick’s penis inside his daughter (a penis he drunkenly still hadn’t remembered to put away, and was now also half flaccid and hanging out of undone pants).
“You come into MY house,” Danielle’s dad started.
Nick got up. He wasn’t in the mood to hear an angry dad speech.
“Listen, I’m sorry sir. I’m just gonna go,” Nick said.
His dick was one hundred percent still out and swinging. And the entire sentence was spoken in an arrogant slur. Essentially, by speaking Nick increased his chances of being shot in the face by roughly double.
“You are TOO YOUNG to be doing this! Let alone running around and getting drunk,” Danielle’s dad continued at his daughter.
Nick turned to leave. Clearly this was an insane father, slutty daughter issue that he had no business being a part of.
“Hold on,” Danielle’s father said to Nick. “Where do you go to school?”
“State, with your daughter,” Nick shrugged, his penis still drooping out of his unzipped pants, and now a little more erect because he had looked at Danielle for a second.
Danielle’s dad laughed and then became even more enraged.
“With my daughter!?! She goes to Davis High, you sick fuckin’ pervert.”
Nick’s still exposed penis was now at its most flaccid. He turned to Danielle.
“You’re in fucking high school!?!” He yelled.
“I’m eighteen but yes, I’m in high school,” she responded, both apologetic toward him and furious toward her dad.
“I’ve seen you at the bars!” Nick exclaimed.
“I was visiting older friends,” Danielle explained.
“Fucking hometown high school landmines,” Nick sighed.
“You are a sick man,” Danielle’s dad said to Nick.
“I’m sick?” Nick asked, offended because he was too drunk to understand the severity of a shotgun being pointed at him and his flopping wiener in the home of a man whose daughter he had been violating.
“I’m sick?” Nick continued. “You clearly just watched your daughter blow me for like a minute before you emerged from the shadows. I mean you saw her take it down. Down fucking town, man. That’s pretty fucked.”
Danielle’s dad raised his shotgun. Nick was too drunk to notice.
“I mean you sat in the dark and looked on while she chugged cock like it was a cure for some sort of cancer that she had. Or, not my cock was the cure, but my jizz was the cure and she needed to work it out of there as quickly as possible. You know what I mean.”
The wall behind Nick exploded. Danielle’s dad was ready to fire the shotgun again. Nick turned and bolted for the door.
“I’ll kill you you son of a bitch!”
Nick, pants still undone, penis still out and about, sprinted out the door and down the street. He ordered an Uber mid-run. He hoped he’d see Danielle when she visited State again.
“Please put your pants on before you get in,” the Uber driver said to Nick when he arrived.
The next morning, Christmas morning, Nick’s parents found him looking like a corpse and smelling like a Schnapps soaked hobo. A feast of pizza rolls was burning in the oven. He had missed church. Nick’s mom, who would normally be horrified and genuinely insist that Nick go to AA, instead just looked at him with compassion.
“They had a really nice bit about your friend Brad Stanton in the mass today. It’s so sad to see someone so young pass away,” she said.
“Stanton’s dead?” Nick asked, groggily rubbing his eyes..