Alan laughed when Brittany blocked his meager show of affection. They had known each other for six months prior to the trip and little of that time had spent upright. He knew she wouldn’t be around come the New Year but he had thought they would make it back to the States. He regretted losing her given how lovely she was to look at. He would hang her as art in his bedroom if he could.
Thomas was his usual concupiscent self. Alan occasionally picked women for these trips with him in mind. Poor Thomas still considered himself the lothario he was in college. But Charlene would only turn a blind eye for so many before she would reel Thomas back in with one of their vehement fights.
Alan saw Charlene as a lost opportunity. She was the only person who did not care if Alan settled down. Whatever girl he showed up with was fine with her as long as the girl kept to Alan alone. A marriage of convenience with Charlene would have prevented all the sermons on marital bliss Alan received. But at the time Charlene was available, Alan still believed in love.
“Hey, how are Geoff and Lynn?” Janie asked Alan.
“Fine, thank you. Busy with the new baby.” He answered.
“Oh, they had another one?” Janie smiled.
“Yes. I keep telling them there is no law to keep procreating.”
“How many is that now?” Charlene asked with only mild interest.
Alan held up three fingers.
“That’s too bad. Lynn was always fun in a conversation.” Paul said.
Alan looked up from his phone. “She still is.”
Paul changed his tone. “No, of course she is.” Discussing Alan’s sister-in-law with him, was akin to negotiating a landmine.
Alan’s younger brother Geoff began attending University of Massachusetts Boston while they were in their final years at Harvard. Geoff was just as droll as Alan but whereas Alan was more charming, Geoff was more engaging. Lynn was a childhood friend between the boys in age. She went to Harvard her first two years of school. Geoff and his UMass friends’ visits to Harvard became lost weekends of drinking, recreational drugs and bets as to with whom they could set up with Lynn.
Alan was fiercely protective of Lynn; watching over her from the moment she set foot on Harvard’s campus. Seeing a side to Alan he didn’t often show, the others referred to Lynn as Alan’s Human form.
Lynn transferred to UMass Boston her junior year for reasons that were never fully explained. Although it surprised everyone when she and Geoff started dating, it seemed to make sense and the rapid progression of their relationship moved along in an organic timeframe. They traveled to Asia as Geoff’s graduation present to themselves and almost did not return. Several nomadic years later, they came home and finally settled down, having babies one after the other.
The only thing surprising about Geoff and Lynn was Alan’s opinion towards them which turned somewhere around their departure to Asia. He took every opportunity to bemoan their activities to anyone who would listen, including the couple. He was impassive around them, more so than usual. His disdain punctuated any discussion about their world.
“Three kids? Is Lynn working?” Charlene asked
Alan paused. “I suppose I should answer yes to that. She has a job and she goes to it. But the only thing I see Lynn work at these days is scrapbooking. Evidently my nieces and nephews are the most interesting living creatures on the planet. So interesting, in fact, that I receive no less than 25 photos a week from her.” He lifted his phone, “I’ll bet you lunch tomorrow I have an email from her since I last checked”
He lifted his phone victorious with an email from Lynn with attachments. “Oh! Let’s see them!” Janie said coming to Alan’s side on the couch. As he flipped through his phone’s library of photos, Janie cooed and Alan frowned.
“Oh! Alan!” Janie said covering her eyes.
“Sorry, that’s one from my personal collection.” Alan said laughing. Brittany leaned over to see if it was her.
Both Paul and Janie tried to convince Alan his endless parade of women was detrimental. Paul saw Alan’s trysts as juvenile displays of testosterone that ran contrary to how they were all supposed to evolve as a group. Janie expounded about the future and what Alan might be missing out on if he waited any longer. She discussed the complexities her son Alexander had added to her life and how Alan should know such a life. Alan allowed Janie to lecture for as long as she wanted; both of them knowing he had no intention of changing.
Charlene welcomed Alan’s insatiable appetite because it was immature and immaturity entertained her. Charlene and Alan connected on their disgust for anything poignant.
“Wow – that was a freezing one.” Brittany as the latest string of air wove itself through the room.
“It was; bitingly so.” Janie added.
“And no whistle.” Thomas said.
“What?” Brittany asked.
“There was no whistle from the wall. That one snuck up on us.” Thomas said pointing to the wall.
“Obviously the temperature has something to do with the sound. It must be a molecular thing.” Paul said.
“Obviously, professor. Thank you for clearing that up.” Thomas said wobbling a mock salute.
“Doctor if you are going to be a smart ass about it. I worked for that title.” Paul came back.
“Well yes, but not too hard. Not with your brilliance.” Charlene said, laced with sarcasm.
Paul smiled at her. “Hey, Suma Cum Laude was my goal and I got it. Tease me if you want.”
“Highest graded dissertation in… 75 years, wasn’t it?” Alan said looking directly at Paul.
Paul feigned ignorance, “Oh, I don’t know about that.”
“No, I’m sure that’s what I read in the Crimson when it came out. Astounding. And you barely had to work on it. Imagine that.” Alan’s wasn’t even pretending to be clever.
Paul saw Alan’s anger flaring and decided to back off Alan and his simple girlfriend; it seemed to be getting under Alan’s usually thick skin.
Keeping Paul on the ropes was giving Alan unexpected joy. He decided to keep his trump card in his packet for now.
“Brrrr. It’s freezing in here.” Brittany said inadvertently breaking up the standoff.
“Allow me to warm you up.” Thomas said salaciously over her shoulder. All eyes fell on him, none of them happy. Thomas produced a bottle of brandy from behind his back, sending a snicker of relief around the crowd as snifters were distributed.
“Oh, this is much better than that apple stuff.” Brittany said.
“Calvados is the pride of the French.” Paul said to her.
“They can keep it.” She retorted.
“I would think anything refined would be preferable to moonshine.” Paul mumbled, forgetting his resolve.
Janie and Alan opened their mouths to respond. Brittany interjected, “Did that guy turn off the heat in here?”
Janie looked at her quizzically. “What guy?”
“That guy you found.” Blank stares met her. “The one who broke your baby statue.”
Charlene threw her head back and let out a guffaw. “RAUL! Of course, that merry prankster.”
“How clever of you Brittany.” Janie said, delighted with Charlene’s show of generosity towards the girl.
“Raul, my glass is empty!” Charlene barked out hoisting her glass aloft.
“Christ, Char, is there a hole in that thing?” Thomas asked.
“Oh hush you. This is what makes you all tolerable.” She sneered.
Alan filled her glass with Charlene tipping her head in appreciation. As he turned, she grabbed his arm. “What’s the new kid’s name?” She asked. Alan looked at her quizzically. “Geoff and Lynn – what’d they name it?”
Alan stiffened. “McKinley.”
“McKin… they always choose the most interesting names.” Janie said sweetly.
“You mean like Mount McKinley?” Thomas asked.
Alan nodded and took his seat on the couch.
“Mount McKinley… where you and Lynn were supposed to pack to after graduation?” Charlene said, her eyes narrowing.
Alan nodded again, reaching for his phone.
“What ever happened to that trip, Alan?” Janie asked.
“Geoff happened.” Alan said quietly to his screen. After a moment of baited silence, he added. “They ran off to Asia right after school.”
“And that nullified your plans?” Janie asked.
“I was not consulted.” Alan responded evenly.
A small juice glass fell from a shelf in the kitchen.
“Hey, Raul, you wanna lay off?” Thomas said rising to find the broom.
“Why not let Brittany do that?” Paul asked. Janie grabbed his arm.
Brittany looked around. The tension was palpable and it was hard to tell if she or Paul was the recipient.
“I got it.” Thomas said with contempt.
“I can help.” Brittany rose nervously and took the dustpan from Thomas.
Paul attempted to justify himself. “I just meant that she was closer and Thomas is tanked. Who knows what else he would knock over?”
“What you meant was some of us need to earn our place here.” Thomas spat out.
Charlene cocked an eyebrow. Perhaps Brittany was a problem.
“Oh stop it. That is not at all what I am saying. Brittany has as much right to be here as all of Alan’s others.”
Janie began nervously straightening magazines and collecting empty bottles.
“Christ, Paul.” Thomas said emptying the dustpan into the trash. He walked away from Brittany without so much as a glance.
Brittany returned to the couch. She sat as close to Alan as she could without being on him. The wolves were circling.
“Sorry, Brittany.” Paul began, “I didn’t mean to mention ‘the others’. You do know Alan was not a virgin before he met you right?” He said laughing, alone. “I don’t need this shit. I have better things to do.” He pulled out a worn book with sticky notes marking pages along with a notebook and began writing.
“Surely someone else can do that for you.” Alan said without looking up. “Jinny Mathis, perhaps?”
A sudden snap of wind shot through the room. The temperature dropped, the group members froze. Paul affixed a glare on Alan so intent Thomas sat back so as not to cross it.
“That’s ancient history, Alan.” Paul said pointedly. “Unsubstantiated ancient history.”
Alan lowered his phone to his lap. “Then we have nothing to worry about do we?”
Charlene leaned forward beaming. Alan was her favorite antidote to Paul.
Janie, who was returning from the kitchen area, stumbled and placed her hand on the wall to steady herself.
“Oh!” She said jerking it back.
“What?” Paul asked annoyed.
“It… a shock. I received a shock.” She said rubbing her hand.
“Huh.” Thomas said, returning to re-inspect the wall. “It must be a static electricity thing.”
Janie and Charlene locked eyes. The energy that came through the wall was not so easily explained.