“Hey, want to hear a freaky story?” Lars blurted. “A few weeks ago, Alan and I made a dare … “
“Maybe we should make some coffee now,” Alan said.
“It’s because his uncle owns this gay bar downtown—” Lars continued, emphasizing ‘bar.’
Alan took a deep gulp of his beer. “Look, I’m not going to tell them about when you puked on stage during the rehearsal in our garage, am I? Because that’s what happened the day after!”
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 whether 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 we had snuck in,” Lars continued, his tone a combination of drunken hoarseness and the whisper of secrecy, “because Alan’s uncle owns the place and so we could go in the back door and—”
“I thought you said ‘snuck 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 half-way 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 drunk.
“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 … “
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