That evening Turner got back to the apartment. He was ravenous. The ride back home had been brutal, uphill most of the way, and choked with traffic.
Will was getting ready to leave. “Hey, man,” he said. “What are you doing for dinner?”
“No plans,” Turner said.
Will knew that Turner was broke and that he’d refuse to take his money back. “Why don’t you come to this party with me? There’ll be food, a little, and a shit-ton of beer and liquor.”
“I’ll pass, but thanks.”
“C’mon. It’s just a rush party. We’re not psycho killers, Turner. It’ll just be a bunch of guys hanging out and having a good time. The frat rented a house for the weekend out on Lake Travis. I’ll wait for you to get cleaned up.”
Turner was so hungry that the thought of food overcame his aversion to frats. Plus, he’d never been to a frat party, and he’d be with Will, who was a junior. They didn’t have a lot in common. Will’s father worked with Turner’s dad, and Will had needed a replacement for a roommate who had backed out at the last minute. “Okay.”
It feels like the first time
Will had to pick up a couple of frat brothers, and by the time they got to the lake house, which was a solid hour’s drive from Austin, it was past nine o’clock and the party was in full swing. A drunken kid at the door was manning the keg and stuffing a full cup of beer into everyone’s hand as they entered.
“No, thanks,” Turner said.
“You can’t party sober,” Will laughed.
The music was so loud that it hurt Turner’s ears, and the main room was jammed full of guys. The only woman in the room was a stripper. Turner was transfixed. He’d never seen one before.
She stood on a low table and gyrated as the guys stuck money into her g-string. Her breasts were bare and her pelvis was inches away from the faces of the drunken children.
Will grinned. “She’s hot, huh?”
Turner’s eyes went to her face. She was smiling as she gyrated, but her eyes were completely empty. His initial surge of excitement drained as quickly as it had come, as if he was looking at someone who had been put in a zoo. It was horrific.
He turned away and saw a friend from high school who, like him, was at his first frat party, but unlike Turner, he was actually rushing the frat. And unlike Turner, he was completely drunk. “Hey, Joey,” Turner said.
This kid had already learned the uniform. In May he’d been the same schlumpy kid as Turner, wearing old t-shirts and scuffed up tennis shoes and three-year-old jeans. Now he was crisp with the ironed Levi’s, although some of the snap, crackle, and pop seemed to have taken a beating from his nervousness and from the beer.
Joey looked at Turner, but didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. Joey had on the uniform and drunken mask. Turner was the same old dork he used to be, right down to the scuffed up tennis shoes. Turner held his gaze for a few seconds, just long enough for the mask to crack, and he saw it, the thing that drew all these kids together: The fear of what was inside them, and the fear that they were the only ones who were afraid.
Chips, salsa, and the fire down below
Turner went outside by the pool, where the food consisted of five giant bowls filled with tortilla chips and several gallon-jugs of salsa. He quickly ate until he was completely full. He watched through the plate glass window as the stripper unhooked the final curtain and flung it into the crowd.
“What in the hell is she going to do now?” he wondered. “There’s nothing left to hide.”
He made up his mind to go back out to the curb and sit next to Will’s car until the party ended. As he pushed his way through the crowd, Will grabbed his shoulder. He was now just as hammered as everyone else. “Hey, man, come over here. Got something for you.”
He guided Turner down a hallway. In front of the bedroom door stood a big fraternity brother, clutching a beer in one hand and a fistful of dollars in the other. Four or five rushes stood drunkenly in line. They were all sweating and nervous despite the deadening effect of the whiskey and beer.
Will pushed past them. “Hey,” he said to the guy with the money. “Let my buddy in.”
“No pay, no play.”
“Fuck that,” said Will. “I’ll pay for him. But let him go see if he wants it first.”
“It’s pretty good shit,” said the big guy. “Or at least it was when I tried it, but that was twenty or thirty guys ago.”
The burly brother opened the door and pushed Turner in. When the door shut behind him the music from the main room muffled almost totally. The room was dark except for a dim lamp on a small table next to the bed. He stood there for a few seconds waiting for his eyes to adjust. “What the hell is going on?” he wondered.
He took a step towards the nightstand, then stopped. A woman was lying on the bed with her head propped up by several pillows. Her skirt was pulled up around her stomach as the guy on top of her pushed and grunted. A cigarette was burning in the ashtray.
Turner watched the naked ass of the guy rise and fall. He couldn’t believe he was watching two people have sex. It was all just as brutally casual as if he were watching them play a game of cards.
“C’mon, babycakes,” the woman said. “Shoot your squirt gun, I ain’t got all night. You ain’t drilling for oil at the bottom of the fucking North Sea. And quit fucking slobbering all over me.”
At the moment Turner realized that the guy atop the woman was Joey, the woman saw him standing there. “What the fuck are you doing here? Wait your goddamn turn.”
Joey turned his head and looked at Turner, but he was so drunk he didn’t recognize him. Joey was sobbing.
Turner spun around and went back into the hallway. The gatekeeper and Will were laughing. “That get your motor running?” the big guy said.
Turner ignored him and went back to the big room. The drunks had taken the stripper and thrown her into the pool. She was cursing them as they laughed and poured beer on her as she tried to get out of the pool. Each time she reached the edge, they’d push her back in and dump more beer on her. Finally one of the frat brothers stripped naked and jumped in the pool, too.
“He’s going to rape her,” Turner said to himself as the poolside drunks screamed and yelled encouragement.
He stumbled back through the house and went out to the curb. He felt sick. A few minutes later Joey came out. He didn’t see Turner. He was sobbing and choking. He leaned against one of the parked cars and vomited, over and over. Then he walked over onto the grass and passed out.
An hour or so later Will came out with the gatekeeper and the woman. He saw Turner. “I been looking for you, man. I’m spending the night here, this party’s gonna be going on for a long time. You want to ride back to Austin with Galen and the whore? He has to take her back.”
“Okay,” Turner said.
They climbed into Galen’s pickup, with Turner in the middle of the bench seat. No one said anything. After about fifteen minutes Galen pulled over onto the side of the road. They were out in the hill country along Lake Travis. There were no houses or cars on the isolated two-lane blacktop.
“Get the fuck out of my truck,” he said to the woman.
“What?” she said.
“You heard me, you fucking whore. Get the fuck out of my truck or I’ll throw you out.”
“We’re thirty miles from Austin.”
“That’s your problem, you stupid cunt. You want me to pull you out myself? I’ll beat your fucking face in if I do.”
Terrified, she opened the door and swung out a leg. Galen reached over and grabbed her purse, yanking it from her with one hand and shoving her out of the truck with the other. She hit the asphalt with her shoulder. It made a dull thud. “Close the fucking door!” he roared to Turner as he gassed the pickup.
“Fucking stupid whores are all the same,” he laughed. He flicked on the cab light and dumped the contents of her purse onto his lap. “There’s a couple thousand dollars here, buddy. Not bad for a night’s work, huh?” He took five twenties and shoved them into Turner’s hand. “Don’t fucking tell anybody, okay? And just so you know, you’re a complete fucking dork. We wouldn’t let you into our frat on a bet, and if you ever pledged we’d literally kill you. If you weren’t Will’s buddy I’d probably kick your skinny ass just for the fun of it, you know?” He looked at Turner and laughed, expecting him to enjoy the joke.
“Yeah,” Turner said. “I know.”