Short Story // Cast of Friends
The sun slips away to another part of the city. I used to think the sun was magic like Santa Claus, in the way that it could visit the whole world in just one day.
I’m in my light-green dress. It doesn’t cover my legs properly, so I have to keep pulling it back down. We’re drinking on Helen’s terrace. She’s just moved into a new apartment with a German girl, an English guy and a Dane. The Dane seems a little disconcerted by our arrival and declines to join us out on the terrace, electing to skulk from cupboard to cupboard in the kitchen making passive aggressive tea. He strikes me as the type who just wants to cook and clean and go to sleep, and maybe get up early at the weekends to take pictures of churches and castles and whatever other shit has been left lying around from years ago.
‘Your other housemate seems a bit . . .’
Helen rolls her eyes and shakes her head.
Unlike the Dane, the English guy and the German girl are quite sociable. They pitch in with their opinions every now and then, especially when the subject turns to travelling. The English guy is getting on my nerves a little because he keeps going on about Hong Kong and New Zealand and a million other places that he’s seen and conquered and done extreme sports in. Travel broadens the mind, and lengthens the anecdote.
‘I did a skydive in Mexico. I never thought I’d have the balls, but I did it. I nearly shit myself though!’ he says in a south-of-England accent so soft that it almost sounds French.
Clean, cook, sleep and take pictures. My friend Helen. My friend Anthony. My new friends, English guy and German girl.
The German girl is sitting against the wall in a blue dress with her legs folded up into herself to keep out the rumour of cold that’s in the breeze. There’s no furniture on the terrace so we’re all sprawled across it on blankets that Helen’s laid out. She always prepares for company this way, provides crisps and crackers and other unnecessary nibbles. She’s made some tortilla omelette tonight as well. Apparently, it’s not that difficult to make.
Maybe I could be the person who cooks and bakes and brings food to parties, and the awkwardness of meeting new people will disappear for ever as I explain recipes to everyone, and they listen and nod their head at me as they listen.
There’s a basin of icy water with beers in the middle. I keep count on what everyone’s consumed so far so as not to get the short end of the stick. We haven’t bought enough, I realised that in the shop but was embarrassed to say so because these people don’t drink the way I do.
Helen’s also wearing a dress, but hers is red, and she’s wearing navy tights to go with it. I sense she’s a little put off by the presence of her new German housemate, because even though there’s not much between them, the Kraut is definitely prettier. Helen’s still very cordial, though, shrouding envy in kindness. I’ve suspected for some time that the main reason Helen’s so fond of me is that I’m overweight and therefore not a threat to her. Beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose. I just need people to drink with. I don’t have to like them.
Helen’s phone rings. It’s one of those new smart phones with cameras and internet and all kind of features that might be useful if any of the rest of us had them too. ‘It’s Ken and Linda,’ she informs us. We haven’t seen them for a while, not since they coupled up. They come upstairs and chat for a bit but it isn’t long before they slip back into lovebird mode, kissing and fondling like we’re not even here.
When the night is over, you can buy a bottle of whiskey and go down to the river and watch the sunrise over the Guadalquivir, shimmering gold, and drink yourself to sleep and roll into the river and float away and wake up in another city . . . and teach English there.
I hate Ken and Linda most of all. It’s not just because I’ve never had a boyfriend, or a proper one at least, it’s because it’s pathetic and childish the way they hang out of each other like toddlers in horseplay. Whenever anyone speaks to Ken, Linda immediately starts stroking his hand or cuddling up to him like she’s marking her territory.
Anthony has a story to tell about one of his students saying the alphabet in a humorous way but I can’t be bothered to listen to it. I’m hungry and wondering when we’re going to leave, or whether Helen is going to rustle up something more substantial for us to eat. I go down to the kitchen to get the last few beers from the fridge, disguising it as a helpful gesture from a grateful guest, when in reality I just want to make sure I get mine. Helen follows me and starts saying how nice it is that we’re all together again and that we’ve been really bad for meeting up recently. I nod and agree because it’s the done thing.
She says this is the type of night she’s been needing for the past few weeks: just a few close friends and a few beers and a chance to find out what’s been happening with everyone. It annoys me because she’s always going on about this in one way or another. Everything revolves around the group. I reckon she’s one of those people who grew up idolising the cast of Friends; their easily resolvable trials, their safe idiosyncrasies; and would like nothing better than to waste away in Central Perk retelling the same old stories again and again until there’s no life or truth left in them.
Oh Joey, you’re a sleazy pig but you’re our sleazy pig!
We go back to the terrace and I put on my cardigan and take my warmer shoes out of my bag to put them on. Anthony has a story about a guy from home that did something once and we’re all listening to that. I get bored and start watching Ken and Linda fidgeting with each other and wonder whether they’re just counting down the minutes until it’s a respectable time to leave. Helen has waited for Anthony to finish his story so that she can talk about one of the first drunken nights we had together. We listen and count the embellishments. No one really says anything or questions her version of events except for Anthony, who claims not to remember any of it. Helen is prepared for such scepticism, however, and quickly reminds him of ‘the state he was in that night!’
The German girl has stopped listening. Her English is perfect, but as we’re all starting to get a little drunk maybe she’s struggling to follow amid the shouting. I’m staring at her now, wondering what she really thinks of us. She catches me staring and I look down at my beer.
Helen’s trying to make plans for us all for the following weekend, month, summer, year, and has a few ideas for things to do after that as well. I nod along half-heartedly at her proposals and make vague commitments that I have no intention of honouring. I look over at her English housemate again and wonder if I’ll be drunk enough to fuck him later, or rather, he’ll be drunk enough to fuck me. I can’t decide if I’ll bother my arse with him and think about how it might just be easier to pick up a horny Spaniard in whatever club we end up in.
Helen tries to get everyone to commit to a festival in June before our teaching contracts finish. Anthony says he’ll definitely go, but Linda reckons that her and Ken have other plans and aren’t that into festivals anyway, because of all the mud and rain and music. They drift out of the conversation again and Ken starts kissing her neck. The English guy says he doesn’t think he’ll be able to go and reminds us that he’ll be home by then and that he’s not actually a TEFL teacher. His company have just sent him here for six months because his job is really exciting and allows him to travel around the world while making shitloads of money. And he’s fucking amazing at it but still down to earth enough to hang around with a couple of native-speaking, English-teaching imbeciles waiting for real life to happen.
I will write a book about this one day, and that will show a lot of people.
Eventually it’s twelve o’clock and there’s talk of the neighbours complaining and that it might be time to leave. Then Anthony mentions that Harry is in town and that he might meet up with him. The others all say something to the tune of: ‘Harry! I haven’t seen him in ages. What’s he been up to?’ But the truth is we haven’t seen Harry because Harry has found a better group of people to hang out with. He only hung out with us out of necessity, when we were all together at that hostel where we first met. Anthony refuses to accept this and still holds on to the notion that Harry likes us, because Helen certainly knows that he doesn’t and is unenthusiastic about meeting up with him for precisely that reason. Nothing depresses her more than the thought that our little fuckwit posse might not be the cool gang. Harry saw the loser in us all and gradually drifted away. He saw the loser in Anthony before Anthony ever saw it in himself.
Helen mentions that a couple of Spanish guys she met a few nights ago are going to Malandar and that we should go there because the music is always good.
But when we get there it’s the same old story. Helen hooks up with one of her Spanish guys and Anthony slips off to a gay bar, which he never invites anyone to. Ken and Linda abandon ship and I’m stuck with the English guy and the German girl, and they’re stuck with me.
People keep bumping into me as Robyn’s ‘Dancing on My Own’ tests the strength of the speakers. I throw my eye around the room but no one catches it. I down my third whiskey and Coke before realising I’ve got no more money, so I start dancing with Helen’s housemate in the hope that he’ll buy the next one. He’s polite and dances back a little, but I soon realise that he’s actually into the German girl. He keeps looking past me at her while we’re dancing. I move in closer to him and flash a hand over his cock, but just as I’m about to try to kiss him I admit to myself that he’s really not interested and fuck off outside for a cigarette even though I don’t smoke.
The first guy I ask says he doesn’t have any, but then a large, owl-faced friend of his offers and so I start talking to him. He puts his arm on the small of my back as he crouches to listen to my pidgin Spanish. This is all the encouragement I need. I pull him over to the wall and kiss him with enough tongue to ensure he knows he’s getting laid tonight if he takes me home, which he does.
He wastes no time with kissing and foreplay, just pushes my head down to his cock for a blow job. I deliberately apply too much tooth so that he’ll want to have sex instead, which he does. His weight proves to be too much for me, so I manoeuvre out from underneath him and get on top. I grab hold of his shoulders for more leverage, push down and down until I feel him shrink inside me. I ask him if he’s cum already, but he says nothing. I get off and he starts touching himself in an effort to revive the little monster. That’s when I discover that he just wants to masturbate over me.
I let him cum on my chest and try to remember exactly when guys stopped wanting to have sex and started wanting to just cum on things instead. Then he falls asleep and I find myself wishing that I had my vibrator and could round the night off with that. It’s funny how the orgasms are quicker and vastly more reliable with that little gizmo, yet there’s still something about having that warmth in the bed beside you.
I check my phone and see a message from Helen. She probably went home with her Spanish man and wants to pretend like she’s been looking for me. I don’t reply. I just lie back, close my eyes and try to synchronise my breathing with the snores of the satiated heap of man lying next to me. And as I drift off I can almost hear the music:
. . . I’ll be there for you when the rain starts to fall . . .
Paddy Doherty is an Irish writer who emigrated to Andalucía a decade ago. His short stories have appeared in the Irish Independent, the South Circular Literary Journal, Crossways Magazine as well as the Bohemyth Magazine and have been Broadcast on RTE Radio (Ireland's national broadcaster). He is also the host of Lift the Sink short story podcast, @liftthesink.
On the motivation behind this piece Paddy says…
‘Cast of Friends is a story about a girl without an affinity for anything. She’s young and bored and hates everyone around her, yet she craves their company. She drifts from gathering to gathering in the hope that she’s one drink or fuck away from an epiphany.’