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by Chris Avellone

It all started at Shoop's. The thing between Kyle and me. He (Kyle) was busy taking aim with one of those slender tipped red darts, rocking it back and forth in his hand, squinting real hard at the dartboard, so you really couldn't tell if he was aiming or too drunk to see what he was shooting at. He had the dart clutched kinda funny in his fingers, too, like he was aiming for the floor, but it was this trick he did with his hands to make the dart fly straighter. I'd almost forgotten about it. I watched as the dart left his fingers and thunked into the bullseye. "Not bad," I said, smirking a little. Kyle walked over to retrieve the darts with that slow walk of his. I reached for the pitcher again and refilled my glass. Behind me, chalk scraped on the blackboard as Kyle tallied up his points. "Your turn," he said, in that dead tone of voice he always uses. I could barely hear him. Even without the background noise in Shoop's, Kyle had a real quiet voice. He didn't look at me when he passed the darts off to me. He just pulled a pack out of his shirt pocket and tapped out a cigarette, fishing in his pants for his lighter with his other hand. "You smoke too much," I said, trying to coax him out a little. Nothing. I shrugged, took the first dart between my fingers and waited, focusing on the dartboard. Out of the corner of my eye, Kyle gave up on the lighter and had snagged a book of matches on the table. There was a flicker as he struck it against the book flap, and just for a second, it lit up his face. I took a quick look. I always do. You see, Kyle's got this thing that makes him kinda difficult to pin down. He's got what you'd call a "poker face," I guess. Where you can't really see what's going on beneath the surface. And there's his eyes. Girls love 'em. Some guys figure Kyle's distance is what gets him women, but I got a cold bet it's those green eyes. Kyle's got sharp green eyes, like they'll make you bleed if you look at them too long. Kyle looked dangerous. Not physically, but dangerous. You can't see far in Shoop's 'cause of all the smoke, but I could see enough. His eyes glittering, suspended over that cigarette. Stubble on his face. I turned back to the dart board, the tip of the cigarette burning in my eyes. Kyle smoldered. The first dart plowed into the dartboard, burying its point all the way up to the red shaft. Off to the left, Kyle took a drag on the cigarette and the tip flared. The second dart was a little off. It sunk into the outer rim, and I cursed. Once your aim's off, at least mine anyway, it takes forever to get reoriented. I'm also a poor-ass player compared to Kyle, and he knows it. "Macy had to go visit her folks," I said, not really caring whether Kyle heard me or not. I relaxed my grip on the third dart and let it hang from my fingers. "So I called you." Kyle didn't say anything. I let the third dart fly and shook my head. "I'm so fucking glad I ain't living with her. Sometimes she makes me sick." I passed off the darts to him, but he didn't make eye contact. "So what about you, hunh?" I hit him lightly on the shoulder. "What's up with you? I'm the one doin' all the talkin' here. What's up in your life?" "Nothing much." Bullshit. "Nothin' much,'" I said, slurring my voice and trying to fake his deadpan look. "Somethin's gotta be new with you. I ain't seen you, in what, a month? I heard you were goin' out with some girl." "We weren't going out." "Coulda fooled me. I didn't even fuckin' hear from you while she was around. Not even one call." I know it's hard keeping in touch and shit, but I hadn't even heard one peep out of Kyle for the past few months, and we used to hang out all the time, either going to Shoop's or fucking around in the 'Burg doing crazy shit till we were too drunk off our asses to do anything but pass out on somebody's lawn. We'd known each other since high school, and I don't really remember a time when we wasn't doing something...if we were bored, or if I was bored, I guess, since Kyle never came out and ever said he was bored, it was kinda unspoken between us that we'd get together and do something. We didn't always go out, sometimes we'd just talk about stuff on the phone...or walk around a while, talking about shit, nothing in particular. I guess what we said wasn't really that important. I waited for him to go on, but he didn't say nothing. Just sat there at the table, not touching the pitcher at all. "You can have some of that, you know." He shook his head, and I started getting a little irritated. The thing had cost me a few bucks. Least he could do was humor me. I watched, like in slow motion, as he tapped the cigarette against the ashtray. Macy smoked, too. But her smoking was different. The thing with Macy had all been an accident. I slept with her once during a party over the summer; I'd been drinking and gotten horny as shit; I think I woulda fucked anything. Well, the experience, what little I remember of it, was nauseating. Macy would make these noises, and grab me and shit and it was all I could do not to throw up when she was rubbing against me. Sex ain't gotten much better since then, plus, there's always that condom shit".The first time, at that party, I did it raw, Macy missed her period and I thought I'd have to fucking marry her or something, but she'd just gotten "hysterical" or some such shit and wasn't pregnant, and she didn't know until two months after she'd gotten her hooks in me. I still think it was some kinda trick of hers, but she says it wasn't. All I know is that she'd said her pregnancy test had come out positive, and all of a sudden it wasn't anymore. She said the test must have been defective. Whatever. I watched the ash from Kyle's cigarette gather in the bottom of the ashtray. When Kyle smoked, it had a certain style to it. Macy would grind her cigarette into the ashtray. Something about the way she did made me angry. But it was more than that. During that fake pregnancy shit, we used to have these fights, mostly about me and Kyle doing something...oh, but it was okay if she came along, if she was hanging with us, but then, well, that changed things. She was always forcing herself between us, so me and Kyle never saw each other as much because Macy was always there, wanting to do something. Sure, me and Kyle talked every once in a while, over the phone, but we didn't do things. Eventually, Kyle and me stopped talking. And up a few months ago, I ain't even heard a sound from him. So I decide to give him a call and see what's going on. I felt like doing something, shooting darts, and I thought about Shoop's, and me and Kyle when we used to go down there and talk until we were shit-faced. As I felt the phone ring, I felt kinda funny, especially what Macy had said about Kyle and this girl, but before I chickened out, he answered the phone, like he was asleep or something. We had this short talk, I asked him if he wanted to head out and do something, shoot darts. He didn't say much during the call. He said he'd come, though. I was kinda hoping things might go back to normal when we got to Shoop's, but there were too many people around. I shifted in my seat. No matter where I sat, I felt uncomfortable. Kyle still hadn't touched the pitcher. "So," I said. "What happened between you and this girl?" This time I pressed it. "Come on, we're supposed to be pals, right? Friends and all. What happened?" "Nothin', Dave." "She was a whore, wasn't she? Man, they all are. Macy is. And dumb as a fuckin' stone." I shook my head. I felt the edge of the dart and stared hard at the board like I didn't give a shit. "She was a whore, wasn't she, this girl, I mean?" I turned, because I didn't hear anything. When I turned, he was looking at me, dead in the eyes. Without meaning to, I got mad. I flung the darts on the table, where one of them rolled to a stop by the pitcher, leaving a trail of spilled beer behind it. "Don't want to play anymore? Why, sure," I said. "Good time to stop while yer ahead, right? Sure it is." Kyle didn't say anything when I sat down, and after a few minutes, another couple of guys asked for the darts and started up another game behind me. I finished off the pitcher and ordered a bottle for myself from the waitress, seeing as Kyle wasn't drinking anything. I watched him take another drag from his cigarette, smoke trailing from the tip. A few weeks ago, I finally figured out what was up with Kyle, why I hadn't heard from him. I found out from Macy, of all places. Go figure. She's laying on the couch one night, stuffing herself with popcorn, when she up and says that Kyle been seeing some college girl. She said it really low, like some kind of fifth grader telling a secret. It surprised me to hear it, so much so I didn't get mad at Macy at first. I was curious, I guess. I mean, Kyle hadn't dated much. This girl had to be something special. Macy said the girl's name was Casey. I took a swig from the bottle. It was getting warm in Shoop's. Me and Kyle sat in silence for a minute, me drinking, Kyle smoking and then he says something, which I don't catch at first, so he repeats it. "You know why I came out with you tonight?" Kyle said, slowly. He didn't make eye contact. "No." I snapped, then paused. "To whip my ass in darts?" I added quickly. "No," Kyle tapped the cigarette against the edge of the ashtray and I watched the little red flecks sink to the bottom. Kyle had left the book of matches next to the ashtray. "I was hoping we could talk." "Okay," I said. "Go on, then." I took another drink from the bottle, but I didn't want it. Kyle shook his head and took another drag on the cigarette. His eyes were embers. "Does she know?" There was a slight pause that made me uncomfortable. His voice dropped, and it sounded like it was coming from underground, buried. "Macy. Does she know?" "Know what?" I tried to give him the what the hell are you talkin' about' glance, but it got lost along the way, so I just said it. "What the hell are you talkin' about?" He snorted, and smoke curled from his nostrils. Only half of his face was visible beneath his hair. "What?" I wiped my mouth and set the bottle down on the table. I had a sudden urge to shove him. "Never mind," Kyle flipped open the matchbook and pulled out another flimsy cardboard match. He dragged it (slowly) across the back, and let the sputtering flame touch the edge of his cigarette. Smoke curled from his nostrils out onto the table, like some kinda dragon. "No, come on," I smiled, but it was losing whatever bit of friendliness it had to begin with. "You say something like that, you gotta back it up." I felt my cheeks grow hot. "Come on, what?" There was a moment of silence, real weird like, and I swear, Shoop's kinda faded out, like someone had turned down the background noise. "Is it about that girl yer seeing? Is that it?" Kyle shook his head. "I feel sorry for you, Dave." The room froze. "Get outta here," I said, sneering at him. "Yer the one I feel fucking sorry for. Whoever this college bitch you been seein', she shore as hell didn't know you. Go figure, a smart girl like that thinkin' she can score with a faggit like you." The second I said it, I regretted it. My hand was shaking on the edge of the table, real close to the beer bottle. "I mean, come on. You didn't fuckin' like her, did you?" I said. "What? I thought you hated women, ain't that right?" My face was warm. "What made her so fuckin' special, anyway?" Kyle snorted, and when I heard it this time, it got me. It was like fire. I watched the smoke trail across the table again without it really registering. There was just Kyle, his eyes locked on me, and I started getting hot, in a mean kind of way. And there was that beer bottle, sitting right there. He looked at me, with those fucking eyes. "You can't even admit it, can you?" Kyle took another drag on the cigarette. "Why can't you just be honest with yourself for one time in" I grabbed the beer bottle. Before I knew what was happening, the table had been turned over, and there was breaking glass, and there was this hot feeling all around and hands grabbing me, pulling me off Kyle, while I was screaming, trying to hit him and the beer bottle was broken on the ground, and there was all this smoke, and I was calling him all these names, faggit and a whole buncha shit. He was holding the side of his face, his eyes closed, breathing real hard, but not saying nothing, and as the guys were pulling me away, Kyle just faded out into the smoke in Shoop's. Next thing I know, I'm catching my breath outside, mist coming out of my mouth. A bunch of guys from the bar were with me, some just watching, others asking me if I was okay. My shirt felt too tight, and I was kinda hunched over, like I was going to throw up or something. I didn't see Kyle anywhere. I told 'em I was fine, I didn't need no fucking help, it was just a misunderstanding is all, and they let it go. I remember walking home, kinda dazed. I ain't seen him in a while. Kyle, I mean. I sure as hell don't call him anymore. Macy used to ask me what happened, but you know, she wouldn't understand shit like that. So I just tell her it ain't none of her business and let it go. The thing at Shoop's, it was between Kyle and me.