Like Blood In A Darkroom

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“Hey, want to hear a freaky story?” Lars blurted. “Last time I visited Alan in his new place, he and I made a dare … ”

“Maybe we should make some coffee now,” Alan said.

“It’s because his uncle owns this gay bar—” Lars continued, emphasizing ‘bar’. 

Alan took a deep gulp of his beer. “Look, I’m not going to tell them about how many times you puked on stage during those rehearsals in our garage, am I? Because that’s what happened!“

Opposite the two guys, the girls had gone silent. 

Lin looked from Lars to Alan but betrayed no emotion. Carrie looked away.

When the silence had lasted too many seconds, Carrie began talking quickly about how much she had fretted about going on to study law when she had been seriously tempted to go all-in with art school. 

Outside the large windows, it was pitch black, like the entire world around the holiday house had turned into a featureless night. 

Carrie kept it up for almost a minute.

“No more drawing for hobby’s sake,” she lamented. “But my mom’s always dead broke and I never want to—”

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” exclaimed Lars, who was already well into his fifth beer in less than two hours. “Choosing what to do after high school is the biggest and most difficult choice in life. It’s like groping your way through a darkroom—like the one we saw!”

Carrie frowned. “That’s not—”

“I’m going to make coffee.” Alan almost toppled the round chair as he got out and made for the kitchen.

“I don’t need coffee,” Lars called, “plenty of good things to drink already!“ He waved his beer and almost dropped it.

Carrie looked as if she had lost her car keys. “I don’t even know what a ‘darkroom’ is.” 

Lin closed her eyes briefly, then leaned over and whispered something to Carrie, who snickered. “Really?”

“So I had only been there for like two days,” Lars continued, his tone a combination of drunken hoarseness and the whisper of secrecy, “and then Alan asked if I had the nerve to sneak in, and of course I said ‘yes’. Alan’s uncle owns the place and so we could go in the back door and—”

“I thought you said ‘sneak in’?” Lin interrupted. “Which is it?“

“What I mean is,” Lars started again, “Alan has a key for the street door to storage because he cleans that and the bar on Mondays when they are closed for customers. But obviously, we’re not supposed to use that door to get in on a Saturday night.”

“To sneak in?” Lin queried again.

Lars ignored her. “There’s a ventilation shaft. If you get up on a table and take off the filter you can see a little slice of the darkroom on the other side. But there wasn’t much to see. You could hear everybody moan, though. And then afterward we talked about — ‘hey, how do you know the other guy isn’t like a big fat slob or something?’”

“Well, you can use your hands, right?” Lin looked at him seriously, and for a moment it was like Lars wavered. But he swallowed the rest of his beer and opened a new one.

Carrie looked halfway over her shoulder towards the kitchen. Alan had several bags of coffee out now, and none of them seemed to be the right one. He kept shuffling them and then putting one or another back in the cupboard.

“What I mean is,” Lars tried again, “no matter what they, well, feel they still don’t know. And there are holes in plywood walls in the room itself, you know, if you just want to—”

“Would somebody like that coffee now, or is it just going to be me?” Alan called out.

“I would,” Carrie ventured.

“I know plenty about darkrooms,” Lin said, as if she was expounding on literary analysis. “My father used to go to them rather frequently. But he fucked girls—not guys. At least as far as I know.”

Lars almost spat out his beer. “What?!”

“Lin … don’t.“ Carrie put a hand gently on Lin’s shoulder, but Lin pushed it away and Carrie felt vertigo that didn’t quite align with how little she had been drinking.

“Er, but the problem,” Lars continued, foundering like a ship in a storm, “is that you can also end up real bad in such a place. Alan’s uncle told me once about a murder in a darkroom in a bar he knows in L.A.”

“You’re full of shit,” Carrie said. 

Lars looked at her with the iciness he usually reserved for his parents. “Don’t get all riled up. I’m talking with your girlfriend here.”

Carrie frowned and looked around in confusion as if she hadn’t understood what Lars had said. Lin raised a brow but said nothing. She was still fixing Lars with intense eyes.

Alan had stopped the coffee machine and pulled out a French press instead. But it just stood there on the table, and he did nothing more.

“It doesn’t matter.” Lars made a sour gesture with his free hand and then took a big gulp from his current bottle. “It doesn’t matter. But it’s true, all right. Imagine that, huh?“ 

He trailed and looked to the darkness outside the east windows for solace. “Imagine that … you feel something sticky and it’s not cum but someone else’s blood. Just like real life.”

“I thought darkrooms were real life?” Alan came back and sat down. Without coffee. He studied Lars like he was studying the scene of an execution.

“So now the fun is beginning,” Alan continued, “maybe I should go break open the champagne? It’s not yet midnight, but since we’re having so much fun we might as well celebrate early, huh?” 

Lars just looked away. He looked deflated in the round chair. “Forget it, man. I’m just drunk. Forget it … ”

“What was that all about?” Carrie sighed. “Tonight was supposed to be … ”

“Fun?” Alan helped.

“Yeah.”

“I think the story is relevant,” Lin continued, unabashed. But there was something in her eyes now that was darker than the night outside. “I often think of life after high school as fumbling through a dark room, not sure what you are looking for.”

“And sometimes you find something you definitely don’t want to find,“ Alan suggested, lighting up a little.

“Exactly.” Lin smiled, but without warmth. She took a sip of her red wine for the first time this evening. She usually drank very little or very much. There was no in-between with her. 

They had all emailed each other for weeks before Christmas about how cool it would be to have their first new year’s eve after high school be a reunionborrow the holiday house on the Canadian side of the lakesget away for one last time together. A strange feeling of still being able to live in your past life and yet not knowing if it meant something. So they agreed, met in Cleveland after the mandatory family Christmas parties, and went up there. And it had been a kaleidoscope of memories and laughs. Until now.

“I’m sorry, man,” Lars finally said, “I’m drunk. And—” he looked at Lin with as much steadiness as he could muster, “about your dad, I mean—”

“Never mind,” Lin said. “I say a lot of shit, too, when I’m drinking. And my dad’s dead, as you know. He doesn’t care.”

“But—”

“I don’t want to talk about him.”

On the sofa, Carrie changed position uncomfortably. Beside her, Lin leaned back and looked up. For a moment she studied their flickering shadows on the ceiling, a strange inverted reflection of the flames from the fireplace.

“Well, what should we talk about then?” Alan eyed Lars with mock cheerfulness.

“We could talk about Carrie … ” Lars had sunk far back in the round chair, his beer-free hand in his pocket now. “Uh, what was that you said about art school?”

Carrie grimaced and looked far from ready to pick up that topic again, but Lin made sure she didn’t have to.

“Oh, so you want to talk about Carrie now?” she purred. “What would you like to know? I’ll answer for you.”

Before Lars could reply to that, Lin made a small jump on the sofa so she almost ended up in Carrie’s lap. Then she reached for Carrie’s cheek and turned her head so she could kiss her quickly on the mouth. 

“I think you’re jealous,” Lin mused and proceeded to lean her head against Carrie’s shoulder. 

Carrie was again caught too much off guard to decide how to respond. She just sat there, frozen. 

For a moment, everything tethered on a precipice.

Lars swallowed. “I’m—”

“Oh, I’m just fucking with you.” Lin moved away from Carrie as quickly as she had come on to her, then grabbed one of Lars’ beers from the small table between them and opened it effortlessly.

“I’m fucking with you, Lars Anestad!” Lin repeated and looked around as if waiting for applause. She then shook her head in a goofy way so her face got half-covered behind her wild curls. “You’re so negative all the time. All of you. You need to lighten up.”

She blew a kiss towards Lars and took a big gulp of her bottle of Molson, then put it down beside her unfinished glass of wine. “Cheers.”

“Why not?” Alan said.

“Why not what?” Carrie asked, feeling an intense need for the coffee that would never come.

“We ask questions to each other and somebody else answers,” Alan explained. “Lin answers for Carrie and vice versa. Then me and Lars.”

“That’s a stupid game,” Lars commented. “We should play D&D instead. I’ve got some dice.”

“We finished that,” Alan said. “Our Dungeons and Dragons campaign is finished. Just like all the classes. The school bands. The—”

“I like the idea,” Lin quipped.

“You kind of started it,” Carrie muttered, looking out the window again. 

Lin squeezed Carrie’s arm. “It’ll be fun. We’ve got some time until midnight and the fireworks. And I don’t want to talk more about Lars’ cum.”

“Hey—” Lars started.

But Alan interrupted him. “It’s a deal.”

He raised his glass. “Let’s see if there are some things about each other we still don’t know, after our long ‘sentence’ together in Cleveland’s most deadbeat high school.”

“I feel I know you all well.” Carrie fumbled after another soda on the table since there was no more cola.

“Well, nothing to fear then … ” Lars added wistfully. Now it was as if he also had become enormously interested in the writhing shadows on the ceiling.

“We should only do it if we promise not to lie,” Lin said, “about—” she looked at Carrie.

Alan nodded. “It’s easy to lie if you talk about yourself. Harder if you talk about someone else, because you don’t know what it’s okay to say or not.”

“I think Lin knows most of my secrets.” Carrie finally decided on a Molson. Not that there was much else left. “And I also think this is a stupid game.”

“It’s just to lighten things a little up,” Alan said, getting more comfortable every minute, as opposed to Lars who still concentrated grimly on the ceiling. “It’s not okay to lie, but it’s okay to give bullshit answers, yes?”

“You’re making up the damn rules as you go along,” Lars growled. 

“It’s my job.” Alan shrugged. “I’m your Dungeon Master.”

“Was,” Carrie said. “Do you think you’ll find a new group in Duluth?”

“Sure,” Alan said, “but not as good as you guys.”

Carrie allowed herself a guarded smile, but it was over quickly. 

“So who will start?” Lin broke in, something gleaming in her eyes now. 

“I’ll start,” Lars said. “You said so before.”

Lin nodded, and nobody protested.

“Okay,” he continued, “Lin—why did Carrie choose to study Criminal Justice in Columbus instead of going to art school in Cleveland?”

“Because she hates Cleveland,” Alan interjected, trying to make it sound funny.

“That’s right.” Carrie nodded somberly as if she thought it wasn’t a joke at all.

“Hey—” Lin broke in, “I’ll answer this!”

There was an awkward silence. Then after a loud spark from the fireplace, Lin said, “Carrie chose to study law instead of art because she is a person with a powerful sense of justice. She wants to do something for the world and she feels art as a pursuit is too egoistic.”

Carrie grimaced again. “Lin, that’s not what I—”

“It’s true, though, isn’t it?” Lin eyed Carrie, but the intensity had faded from her gaze, and instead, there was compassion as well. 

Carrie lowered her shoulders. “It’s—” 

“Not now,” Alan interrupted. “We just continue. Next, I will ask Carrie about Lin. Then we switch.”

“You’re still making up the damn rules,” Lars shot in.

“And I’m good at it.” Alan didn’t conceal his satisfaction. It was obvious the coffee was all but forgotten, and so was all the extra searching around for it. 

Alan crossed his arms and looked at Carrie. “Now, let’s hear the answer to this: Will Lin Christakis ever write a book that becomes famous, like her big idol—Virginia Woolf?“

Carrie’s eyes flashed briefly to Lin. Then she said, “Yes.”

Alan raised a brow, waiting. 

Lars still moped. “I thought we were going to talk about who we are, not the bloody future. This game is worse than one of your kill-’em-all dungeons, Alan!”

“It’s not the future,” Carrie said. “It’s not a prediction.”

Alan looked expectantly at Carrie, while Lars just shook his head for the nth time. Lin hardly moved.

“She has already written a novel that is going to be famous,” Carrie said.

“Ah,” Alan said, “but will it be? Do you believe it will be?“

“ … Yes.”

“She’s hesitating, man,” Lars blurted, “just like when she had to review the songs I wanted for the album.”

“Maybe Lin’s writing is not to her taste?” Alan was looking straight at Carrie.

“Maybe  … ” Carrie said “ … I am not so stupid that I believe romance novels are the only good books around. And I like what she is writing. I can see it is good. And someone will like it even more—many people.”

Carrie faltered and looked at everyone except Lin. Lin patted Carrie’s knee, almost without touching.

“And we both like Fitzgerald,” she said, no more than a whisper. Lin was staring into the fire behind Alan and Lars.

“Now it’s your turn,” Carrie said, a new firmness rising in her voice. She wiped something from her face. Then she fixed Alan and Lars with her ice-blue eyes. 

“You should—” Alan began.

“Lars,” Carrie said, without waiting for Alan’s permission, “why did Alan want to go to that gay bar?”

“What? He didn’t. He—” 

“I thought we could ask any kind of question? So why?”

I wanted to go,” Lars said sullenly. “I was daring him. Stupid shit you do when you are drunk. We also went into a pornshop once, if you want to know.”

“I don’t,” Carrie said, “I want to know about the gay bar.”

“That’s not a fair question,” Alan started to argue, finally getting a hold of himself. He mustered a decisive tone of voice, but it sounded like it came from a man who had just been tackled. 

“You don’t get to make up the rules on this one,” Carrie said. “Let Lars answer the question.”

“I’m not making up the rules,” Alan shot back. 

“Pfff … ” Lin snorted while sipping dark red wine once again.

“I don’t know why he wanted to go,” Lars said and shrugged. “Maybe we should just get the champagne ready. It’s almost 12.”

Everyone looked at Alan, who rolled his eyes. “We were drunk, okay? There’s no secret homo thing going on here. If you are in doubt, just ask Nadine.”

“I did,” Carrie said, “right after you invited me to this holiday house last Christmas because you said she didn’t understand you. Your ex-girlfriend happens to be my friend, too. I wanted to make sure I didn’t get into trouble.”

“Last Christmas?” Alan looked confused. “I don’t remember.”

“You asked her,” Lin broke in angrily, “you asked her to come up here during the holidays—Carrie and you—‘because she listened so well’. Or some such crap.”

“What the fuck is this?” Alan pushed back the chair and looked around. “What have I done that you are suddenly going after me like this? I thought this was supposed to be our going away party. I thought we were—”

“Friends … ” Carrie finished for him, but with no genuine enthusiasm left in her voice. She was sitting slightly crouched on the sofa, looking for something indefinable in the utter blackness outside the wall-sized windows.

“You had it coming,” Lars said, looking at Alan. “I don’t get why you always go after Carrie like that. She has been good in the group since she joined. And you both draw.”

“Well, I do architecture now,” Alan replied dismissively and got up, but with nowhere to go he just drifted toward the kitchen again. “I’m going to find the champagne,” he finally said. “You want champagne, don’t you?”

There was some muttering and nodding, but for reasons, nobody fully understood it felt like the door to the winter outside had been flung open. 

“While we wait for the champagne, I believe there is someone who hasn’t been questioned yet.” Lin folded her hands and looked innocently at something close to Lars.

“Can we stop this already?” Lars grabbed his guitar, which had been leaning idly against his round chair until now. “I’ll play the damn song if that’s what you want to ask about.”

“That’s exactly what I wanted to ask about.” Lin smiled, for the first time with a semblance of spirit. “When somebody out of the blue asks me to write the lyrics for a song for his first album, I’m entitled to hear it.”

“It isn’t finished yet.” Lars probed the strings tentatively. “I told you all evening, but you kept pestering me to play it.”

“I didn’t pester you … ” Lin replied, her smile fading.

Alan came to the rescue with the champagne glasses which he handed out to everyone. Lars looked at him briefly and then concentrated on his guitar.

“It’s not quite there yet,” he continued. “Maybe in another week.”

“When will the album be finished?” Carrie asked, smiling as best she could. Something was glistening in her eyes.

“When it’s ready,“ Lars said and struck a chord. Then he blinked and looked at Carrie as if she had only just entered the room. “I don’t expect you’ll even want to hear it. You told me once you don’t read books by ‘jerks’. I guess the same applies to music, huh?”

“There are no jerks here tonight,“ Carrie said, pulling herself together. She held her glass ready. 

“Let’s have a toast to that,” Alan chimed in from behind them. 

He had come back from the kitchen once more but hadn’t bothered to sit down again. Instead, he stood ready with the champagne bottle by the fireplace, exactly where there was a little ugly souvenir clock on a shelf above the flames. 

The clock was adorned with mud brown reindeer running along its wooden frame, presumably in search of a romantic winter motif. Alan’s mother had bought it on a Christmas market in Toronto in 1988. That was all he had told the others when Lin had asked about it only two minutes after she and Carrie had arrived at the holiday house. Lin had taken it down and petted the reindeer even before she got her coat off. When Carrie asked Lin why she wanted to know about the thing, Lin had replied that she ‘loved oddities’. 

Alan began fiddling with the cork of the bottle, but Lin stopped him. “Let’s hear the song before midnight. We have time, don’t we?”

“I’ll try.” Lars started playing.

And so, nobody spoke for almost five minutes. It was a song about tears in the rain and life as an old movie, and Lars matched the last chords almost precisely to the moment the hands of the worn souvenir clock struck 12 with a single ‘ping’. 

Then Alan popped the champagne and cheered wildly while filling their glasses and splashing the rest on the sofa table. “To Nineteen-fucking-ninety-eight! Let’s own this year—yeah!”

*

They had planned to go down to the lake after the champagne, but it took a long time for someone to finally take the lead. However, the fireworks from Rochester on the American side would still be beautiful, right? If they were lucky, they could even see some of what was going on in Toronto. Alan had said as much when he sold them on going up here as if he needed to. 

The guys had gone ahead. Carrie excused herself that she needed some boots which were still in the car, and Lin waited for her. Above them, there were only faint specks of stars in gaps between heavy clouds. It was a lightless new year’s night. 

Carrie made her way back through the snow, looking glum. “Ready?” 

Lin shrugged. “I dunno. We could stay here and drink the rest of Alan’s stash.”

A slight smile crossed Carrie’s lips. “I don’t think so. It would just make things more awkward.”

Lin looked up at the remote light specks. “What the hell happened in there? Aside from the song, it was all drama after that stupid darkroom-story.”

Carrie sighed. “I have no idea why it went down like that, but I’m not … happy about a lot of things. Coming up here hasn’t helped. Maybe it’s the same for the guys?”

Lin frowned. “What are you not happy about?”

“I’m not sure it was the right choice to go to Columbus and, well, law school … ”

“Hey—I went with you, remember?”

“We’re on different campuses.”

“It’s the same address. At least we didn’t go to Duluth!”

They laughed, at last, and began walking. Alan had left a flashlight which they almost forgot. 

Carrie ran back and got it from the bench outside the main door. She turned it on but the pale beam revealed only never-ending rows of shadowy pine trees surrounding the house on the lakeside. 

“Where the hell is the path to the lake?” Carrie muttered.

“Does it matter?” Lin said.

Carrie kept searching. “Aw, come one … Where is it?”

“If you can’t find it, I think I’m going back.”

Carrie turned and for a moment accidentally shone the flashlight in Lin’s face. Lin blinked but didn’t turn away.

“Are you all right?” Carrie asked.

“Yes. Let’s get going. I’m freezing my butt off.”

“What about your pills? Did you—”

“I’ve got them, but they aren’t so good with alcohol, you know.”

Carrie knitted her brow. “But you took them?” 

“I can drink for one night,” Lin said, irritation creeping into her voice. “It won’t be a problem.”

“So you … didn’t take them?”

“What do you think? I will not die of pills and Molson. Not in this godforsaken place. Everybody’s raving about Lake Ontario. Looks like all the other damn lakes to me!”

“Especially in wintertime,” Carrie mumbled. Then she pointed with the flashlight. “Look there. I think that is the path.”

“You sure?” Lin took a step past Carrie to inspect the plethora of footsteps in the snow, which didn’t really indicate any specific kind of ‘path’. “Some of these don’t look so recent, Carrie. Fuck. The boys could have waited for us. Then we would have been sure.”

“Let’s try,” Carrie said. “If we get lost, they can try to find us. Then we will see if what Alan is pissed about is more important than our lives.” Carrie made a show of saying ‘lives’, as if she was speaking for a B-Movie trailer. 

It was a fragment of impromptu acting skills that Carrie hadn’t bet on either for her career, except that they made Lin’s argument easier when she had to convince Alan that Carrie should play Dungeons & Dragons with them.

Lin laughed at Carrie’s goofiness, but it sounded like it came from a believer who had lost her faith.

“I think Lars is more pissed than Alan, but we’d better find out.” She started walking down the alleged path Carrie had found.

“You were pretty rough on him,” Carrie said. “He didn’t know that much about your father.”

“I don’t feel good about that either,” Lin said, “but what can you do?”

“You can take your damn pills.” Carrie slapped Lin on the shoulder with forced playfulness. 

“Did you know that Paxil also takes away your sex drive?” Lin asked as they carefully dove into the embrace of the dark frosty pines.

“No,” Carrie said, “but if that’s true then I’m not worried about our friendship.”

She was relieved when Lin laughed at that.

*

“So what’s your fucking problem, anyway?” They were almost at the frozen lake, and Lars had his eyes firmly fixed ahead.  

“My problem?” Alan blurted, sounding both angry and surprised. “What do you mean?”

Lars took a few steps past Alan, towards the lake. The beach, if one could call it that, had been covered with stones, but now it was also covered with snow and only some stones protruded like black lumps. 

“You never know anything, do you?” Lars had his hands tight in the pockets of his leather jacket. “You always pretend everything is a surprise.”

Their eyes had gotten somewhat used to the dark, but following the lonely beam of Alan’s flashlight had also worked against the shift. For all intents and purposes, they could only see a little slice of the voluminous night world around them. Everything else was still indistinct, gray and black masses.

“Don’t go further towards the lake now,” Alan said. “We can’t see exactly where the ice starts. There’s too much snow.”

“You’re dodging the subject.”

Alan took a deep breath of the icy air, and Lars could hear that he regretted it as it filled his lungs too quickly. 

Alan lowered the flashlight. “I’m sorry about that stupid thing with my uncle’s bar last month.” 

Lars looked at him. “Why?”  

Alan sounded like he was further away than just a few steps. “Because I love my uncle. He was there for us when my parents almost worked themselves to death. He got me a gig when I moved from Cleveland to live on my own so I didn’t have to start college being piss poor. He never hesitated to talk about, well, being gay and all. But also you could talk to him about everything else—you know, life and stuff. And without him being a condescending ass like my dad.”

“Yeah … ” Lars nodded. “Like when I had broken up with Denise and wanted to drink until I died. He talked me out of that one. Wise man, your uncle.”

Alan nodded. “He is the best. And he has been living with George for like a million years and they are incredibly boring at home. And then … there is the bar.”

“He never told you about what they did? In the darkroom?”

“I’m not sure he does anything in there.“ Alan shone the light further out on the ice. “But he owns the place, and he makes big bucks. He always told me exactly what was going on in there at night, though, and that he made more money because of it. He also told me that if I wanted to earn my buck cleaning the storage and bar, I had to promise to stay out of the d-room. He would clean that up himself.”

“We didn’t go in,” Lars said. “We just peeped.”

“Yeah, right,” Alan said. “Feels like I betrayed him, though. And for what?”

Lars’ voice became firmer. “I don’t know, Alan. Is there something you haven’t told me?”

“Me?” 

“Yeah, you,” Lars said. “You’re not, like, gay or something?”

There was a moment of near-stillness. They could only just hear echoes of fireworks from diffuse directions around the lake. But they could see absolutely nothing. It was like the rest of the world was happily entering 1998, except for Lars Anestad and Alan Stockdale.

Then Alan laughed. “You—you think I—?”

“Yeah, you!” Lars sounded both annoyed and cold at the same time.

Alan shook his head and even in the gray night, Lars could see that there was wonder in his eyes, like when he described those treasure chests they discovered in the game after they had killed the dragon. Like Alan could really see them in his mind’s eye and was sure everybody else could. 

“No,“ Alan said. “I thought it was you, man.”

“Me? Why did you think I was gay?”

“Well, you kissed that guy from the band at your release party? Don’t you remember?”

“Oh, Derek?” Lars replied as if that cleared up everything. 

“Yeah, that’s him,” Alan affirmed.

“Well, since this is the last time in a very long time I may see you … ” Lars stared wistfully into the darkness “ … I guess it doesn’t hurt to tell you that—yeah, I have had my thoughts about that. But also about others.”

“Others?” Alan swallowed something.

“Lin … ” Lars’ voice was gossamer thin.

“Lin?” Alan exclaimed. “Say, where are the girls? They should’ve been here ages ago.”

They both turned and looked back, but there were only the dark, jagged shapes of the massed pine trees. 

“Should we go after them?” Lars asked.

“We have to,” Alan replied. “They should have been here.”

“What if they arrive after we have gone?”

“There is only one path. We’ll backtrack.”

“There must be other paths,” Lars suggested.

“Yeah, well, I don’t think they—say, maybe I should just call them if I can get a signal.” Alan pulled out his Motorola and flipped it open, the small greenish display lighting up in the dark.

Alan punched in a number. “No answer. But there is a signal … ” He looked befuddled.

Lars took the phone from him. “Let me see—is that Lin’s number?”

“Yeah, Carrie always whines about how she can’t afford a phone,” Alan said. “Hey, has she got one now?”

“How the hell should I know?” Lars snapped. 

“What’s your problem now?” Alan snatched the phone back, almost knocking it out of Lars’ hand and down in the snow.

“‘My problem’?” Lars repeated. “‘My problem?’”

“Yeah, you sound like I kicked you over the fucking kneecap or something.”

Lars had stopped by one of the big black stones. He hesitated slightly but then stepped up to balance on the stone’s icy surface. Lars looked at Alan for a long harsh moment, before he said anything.

“Wouldn’t you be pissed if your best friend tried to out you by dragging you into a gay bar to peek into a bloody darkroom—when he could just have bloody asked?!” 

“Look, I do a lot of stupid shit when I am drunk—” Alan started.

“Don’t give me that fucking excuse!” 

Alan’s lips were close to curling into a snarl. “Well, look who is the master of excuses. You start talking about that stupid darkroom-thing to the girls and then go after me for ‘outing you’. You take a swipe at Carrie because you are jealous of her and Lin, and then you take a swipe at me because I don’t really think that much of her anymore.”

Lars laughed a short, joyless laugh, but didn’t hit back this time. He just shrugged and looked around the darkness, like that was his real home and not the songs he worked on every day.  

Alan breathed in a lot of cold air again without flinching, as if he was emptying a particularly strong drink. “Hey … buddy. Let’s go find, Lin, okay? And Carrie.” 

Lars got down from the stone and shuffled after Alan without a word.

“We can talk about all this shit after we find them,” Alan continued, not looking back after Lars. “We can’t see anything down here, anyway.”

Lars followed but kept his distance. “Why did you want to out me—that night at the bar?“

“I didn’t,” Alan said. “Honestly, I was just drunk and doing drunk things.”

“Okay,” Lars said. “Guess I could write a song about that.”

“Yeah,” said Alan. “You’ll have plenty of time in the new year—unlike the rest of us college-stiffs.”

“Nobody forced you to go straight to college,” Lars said. “It’s a free country.”

Alan just walked faster through the snow.

They went back in between the pines, brushing frosty needles away from their faces while calling out to Carrie and Lin.

*

Last updated 16 Sep 2021

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What would you do if you had ruined the first meeting with someone who could have been your best friend? Carrie has to find out quickly after her first meeting with Lin – at an insane party where everyone has a secret.

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