“You good, man?” asks Haden. Bam belches in response. He looks over at Terry. Then he lifts the quart up to his mouth and makes quick work of the rest of the milk.
“No sweat,” says Haden.
“No sweat, man,” says Bam. He smiles at our crowd and winks at me. Terry and his friend turn to look at me, as if they hadn’t noticed I was there before. I duck behind Sam a little.
“How much time is left?” I ask.
“No sweat, no sweat, I could drink three more of these and then go fuck your sister, Joe,” says Bam, laughing. The kid next to Terry scrunches up his face and starts turning the color of cooked beets. But Terry puts a hand on his shoulder just as he starts to make a move. “Just kidding, man,” Bam says.
“You’ve got 17 minutes,” the milk kid says, holding out the second quart.
Bam lets out another burp, and his hands leap to his stomach for a second. Then he takes the quart and raises it to his lips, pausing before he puts his mouth around the whole top of it, the way my mom taught me not to drink, because of the backwash. He downs it in three gulps and reaches for the third quart.
Ivan, who has been smoking and bullshitting with Terry since we got here, comes up next to me. “You think he’s gonna make it?”
The milk is sloshing around violently. A trickle makes its way down Bam’s neck. I shrug. “He might get sick.”
“Terry said they went to Burger King before this and Bam had two burgers with chicken fries and a large Coke,” I say. “They dared him after.”
“Psh, that’s nothing,” says Soren. Once we’d watched Soren eat a tray of dollar-menu burgers just for the hell of it, no money or anything.
“Milk’s rough, though.”
Bam’s put the bottle down in front of him and his hands on his knees.
“Oh no,” one of the skaters says.
Terry laughs. “He’s gonna puke!”
“Lay off, man,” says Haden. Terry’s friend starts jiggling around in anticipation. His face is red and his head is blond and buzzed, naked like a vulture.
Bam picks up the milk. “I’m fine, just full.”
“Wimp,” says Soren under his breath. Bam straightens up and puts the milk back up to his face.
The circle closes in tighter. Only a third of this quart is gone, and Bam’s face is all screwed up. As he’s drinking he takes his hat off and throws it aside. The hair near his temples is wet, and so is his T-shirt under each arm. He takes three long swallows one after another. Terry and the vulture start whooping.
“We should get out of here,” Sam says to me, ruffling his hair. I nod, but he doesn’t move, so I don’t either. Bam pulls the milk away with a pop of his lips. It’s almost empty. With the quart still dangling from his hand he just makes it out of our circle before he starts to hurl all over the blacktop. I turn my back.
Soren and Sam have moved up closer with their phones to take pictures. Bam blocks their view with the remaining quart. Then he really starts puking and I have to turn away again.
“I guess they did go to Burger King,” I hear Haden say. The skaters are smirking and I see them passing around some dollars. Terry and the vulture are cracking up and Ivan is standing next to them smoking with his sunglasses on. Bam starts to dry-heave.
The skaters flip up their boards and cross the grass, look both ways and slide onto the street. The milk kid looks at his watch. “Two minutes left.” He opens the fourth quart and takes a sip.
“How can you drink that right now, man?” Terry says, catching his breath. “Weirdo.” The kid smiles and starts chugging. His long neck bobs back and forth and even Bam, sitting next to his hurl on the blacktop, watches as he empties the quart. “That’s why I love this kid,” says Terry.
“Time,” the milk kid says, checking his watch. “Peace, guys.” He drops the empty jug on the blacktop and picks up his board to join his friends, hunched shadows waiting for him at the corner.
“Well, show’s over,” Terry says, throwing his lemonade bottle on the grass. Soren elbows Ivan, who makes no move.
“What about the beer, man?” Soren asks. Terry laughs.
“It’s getting late, man. Sorry.” Terry looks over, eyes me up and down. “Unless she wants to go for a ride to get it.” The vulture grins. I can feel the guys weigh this for a second.
Terry takes their pause for a no. “Your loss,” he says. He shakes Ivan’s hand, salutes Haden, and then he and the vulture walk toward their car. I try to take a deep breath, but the smell of milk and puke has made its way over to us and I swear only death could smell worse. I pull my tank top up over my nose and ask Sam if we can get out of here.
“Damn it,” Soren says, and then, remembering me, adds, “What an asshole.” I nod.
“I didn’t have any money anyways,” says Haden, kicking the gravel.
“Yeah, let’s go,” Sam says, looking disgusted, and we start over to Soren’s car.
“I feel bad for Bam,” I whisper to Sam. He takes out his phone and shows me the pictures. The stream of milk coming out of his mouth is so solid you can’t tell if it’s coming out or going in.
“I stopped before things got ugly,” Sam says, putting the phone back in his pocket. It’s getting dark. Ivan jogs up behind us, pulling up his jeans, then taking off his sunglasses. Soren follows behind him. Haden is still on the blacktop, talking to Bam. We all watch as Haden holds out a hand and pulls him up. Bam stumbles over to his hat and brushes it off.
When we get back to Haden’s the sky is heavy around us. On the porch Rita’s Christmas lights are on and the mosquito candle is lit, and the light is on inside too. We all sit down in the same spots, except I steal Ivan’s because the cushion is less moldy. He only complains for half a second before settling down in my old seat.
Rita slides open the glass door. “How you guys doing?” she asks, her curls and earrings wiggling. She’s got white paint on her cheek. “I’m going out,” she says, stepping onto the porch, “but you help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge.”
“Thanks, Rita,” I say.
“Thanks, Mom,” Haden says. As she brushes by him she kisses him on the head, and no one makes fun of him for it after she’s gone. We hear the squeak of the garden gate as she leaves.
“This sucks,” Soren says.
“You’re relentless, man,” Ivan says, a cigarette between his teeth.
My mouth is dry. I get up and slide open the back door. After all that, I wish we did have some booze. It’s been a long time since I stopped trying to convince them that we could have fun without it, and sometimes I honestly like them better drunk. I open the fridge and gasp. But instead of calling to them, I open my phone and text Max to come over.
I go back out onto the porch. I sit down, put my beer on the table and then snap open the top. Even Sam perks up at the sound.
“What the—” Haden gets up and runs inside. He comes back a minute later with an armful of beers. “I love my mom.” He lets them spill out onto the table and the others catch them as they almost roll off. I lift mine up to my lips and look across the table at Sam, who gives me a cheers and then downs about half the can in one sip.
“I texted Max, who else should we call?”
“Not too many people, or we won’t get drunk enough,” Soren says, but pulls out his phone.
“Maybe we should call Bam?” Haden asks, scratching his head.
“No way,” says Ivan. “That guy’s a loser.” The mosquito candle has gone out and Ivan picks at the wick until he gets it to stand up. He lights it, then lights a cigarette off it and coughs. “Poisonous.”
The cicadas are out. A breeze is rocking the tire swing back and forth. My mouth isn’t dry anymore, but beer’s too bubbly to really quench your thirst. Soren goes in and comes out with a second armful of cans and some brownies Rita made for the last day of school. Max texts me that he’s on his way over. Haden reaches for three brownies and eats them each in one bite even though they’re stale. I decide I won’t eat one, at least until I’m drunk. It’s still early. ♦
When not writing odes to her beloved roommate (and friend crush), Sarah, Monika Zaleska blogs for Teenagefilm.com and writes for news outlets around Philadelphia. This is her first published short story.