“Do you know what the term emotionally unavailable means?” Steve asked his newly disappointed friend named Cory.
“Of course, I do,” Cory said. “Why are you asking me this?”
Cory had just got dumped by his girlfriend. He was in no mood for theatrics, let alone the harsh and unsolicited words that were soon to come out of Steve’s mouth.
“Does everything have to be a teachable moment?” Cory asked Steve.
“Cory, you need to examine why Maria left you.”
“No, I don’t. She left because staying with me makes her miserable.”
“Did she say that?”
“In so many words,” argued Cory.
Steve went over to the fridge and pulled out two Coronas, much to the chagrin of the sober and somber Cory.
“Don’t you dare hand me a Corona,” yelped Cory.
“I don’t drink beer.”
“Cory, you need to drink a beer. Quit drinking white wine and mimosas for once.”
“Bro, I don’t drink mimosas. I drink mojitos.”
“Same fucking thing,” Steve harangued. “And sometimes you don’t even put alcohol in your mojito.”
“I just like the taste,” Cory responded.
“You’re going to turn into a beluga whale if you keep sucking down all that sugar.”
Cory could tell by looking out the window that it was going to be a warm evening, with just enough wind gusting through the air to incite the two friends to go out for a night on the town.
“Where do you want to go first?” Cory asked Steve.
“Let’s check out that place with the security in front,” Steve responded.
“I suppose it is our last night in Lima. Might as well see all we can.”
The two friends walked amongst the large gathering of young people who had come out to participate in an evening of epicureanism.
Slender women sporting high heels shot Steve skeptical glances, some filled with interest, others intent on judging him for his choice of clothing.
“Is everyone here really that judgmental about what kind of clothes you wear?” Steve asked more rhetorically than directly.
“Chicks are probably wondering why a pretty face like yours is dressed in such downtrodden attire,” Cory chuckled.
“My clothes aren’t downtrodden,” Steve fired back.
“Bro, you got a bacon collar and enough wrinkles across your torso to make a withered grandma feel like the fountain of youth when she looks in the mirror.”
“That’s a bit much,” Steve garbled.
“Maybe. Sorry if I’ve just offended your grandma,” Cory said.
“I never knew my grandma. She died when I was in the womb.”
“Probably to escape having to deal with you,” Cory remarked.
Steve looked up at the night sky and then sighed. “Maybe,” he solemnly offered.
After receiving a warm greeting from the hostess, Steve and Cory sat down inside a restaurant bearing the resemblance of an English pub.
A server then came over, her expression diffident and unsure as to why two foreigners were seated inside this restaurant.
“Can we get a couple Long Islands?” Steve asked the server.
After pausing for a brief second, she nodded her head and walked away.
She soon came back with a tray that carried the two drinks, then carefully set them on the neatly placed coasters lying helpless on the marble table.
Steve grabbed his drink with excitement and let his lips run across the rim of the glass.
“I haven’t even tried my drink yet, and already I can tell it’s going to be amazing,” Steve said.
“Why’s that?” asked Cory.
“You can always tell how good a Long Island is going to taste by the volume of lemon tang bursting from the top of the drink.”
“Really?” Cory asked.
“A drink is a performative experience, Cory. I can measure the amount of lemon just by twitching my nose at the glass. In that sense, the experience is mine to absorb and digest.”
The server came back with the bill fifteen minutes later, right before Cory and Steve prepared to order more drinks.
“We can’t order another drink?” Cory asked.
The server shook her head and then walked away, apparently disinterested in even entertaining the idea that her profit margins could increase if she allowed Cory and Steve to further patronize her restaurant.
After splitting the bill by laying two bundles of cash on top of the check, Steve and Cory headed back out into the night, making their rounds through a part of the city filled with beggars and importunate individuals.
“Look at this guy,” Cory said to Steve, pointing at a man who was dead set on interacting with people from other parts of the world.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” said the man, his ragged clothing drooping off his shoulders and his pants in dire need of a belt in order to sustain their intended function.
“What’s up, man?” asked Cory.
“Can you spare me a nickel?”
“A nickel,” Cory huffed. “Dude, it’s 2020. What are you going to do with a nickel?”
“Or a dollar. I could take a dollar, even two if you can.”
Cory begrudgingly reached into his pocket and took out his billfold that contained a handsome sum of capital.
The man in worn attire shifted his eyes to Cory’s wallet, closely monitoring the insides of the leather item.
“Please don’t look at me like that,” Cory told the man. “I’m trying to do something nice for you.”
“Then do something nice for me,” the disenfranchised man encouraged.
“I’m not an ATM,” Cory said, then put his billfold back in the pocket of his pants before removing any cash.
“I thought you were going to give me something,” the man said to Cory.
“I did too,” Cory replied, then motioned to Steve that it was time to go.
“God has no room for sinners in his heaven,” the man yelled at the two as they slowly walked away.
At the next bar, a petite waitress brought out two vodkas and placed them before the hands of her patrons.
“Why didn’t you give that guy any money?” Steve asked Cory.
“He was a dick, Steve. I don’t play that shit.”
Steve chuckled animatedly, the first sips of the second drink coursing through his veins and altogether temporarily suspending a calming reality he had emotionally persevered to achieve.
“I’m serious,” Cory continued. “That guy should not have lectured me.”
“Sure, but I mean, that guy didn’t seem all there,” Steve said.
“Are you taking his side?”
“Cory, I’m not taking sides. I was literally just standing there when it all happened. The dude was rude and then we walked away. Simple as that.”
“Except it’s not though, is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean because if it was that simple, we wouldn’t be talking about this, would we?”
Steve took another sip of his drink, no longer trying to enjoy his Saturday night, but instead finding security in the liquid inside a glass that offered a defense against Cory’s unbecoming gaze.
“Why don’t we take a shot? I’ll pay,” Steve segued, sidestepping a point of contention he felt didn’t need to be further explored.
The server soon brought back two shot glasses. The friends clinked glasses and then threw their heads back to properly absorb the sting of the alcohol.
“Next place?” Steve asked, brushing a drop of liquid off his chin.
Cory nodded his head and the two walked over to a nightclub that had a smattering of young adults standing outside.
“How much for bottle service tonight?” Steve asked the bouncer.
“$50,” the bouncer replied.
“You guys take credit cards?”
The bouncer said yes before then wrapping an orange insignia around each man’s wrist.
They were then led inside and given a table right next to the dance floor.
“What kind of vodka do you want?” the server asked.
“Smirnoff,” Steve said, handing the server his plastic.
A few minutes later, the server brought back the bottle of Smirnoff, along with a bucket of ice and a few bottles of soda.
She sat the bucket on top of their wobbly table, then wedged the bottle of Smirnoff in between chunks of ice.
“Thank you,” Steve smiled.
Cory took out a cigarette and began to blow smoke into the vast expanse of the sparsely populated nightclub.
“It gets busy in another hour,” the server told Steve after she was asked about the viability of her club’s attraction.
“We’ll see about that,” Cory smirked.
He wasn’t one for empty promises.
“At least there are still some girls here,” Steve noticed.
“A few sixes and that chick in the corner could maybe pass as an eight and a half,” Cory snarled.
Steve nearly spit out his drink, then began howling with uproarious laughter.
“Jesus Christ, Cory. You’d be complaining if you were chopping it up with a 9.3. You’d tell me her nose isn’t perfectly symmetrical and then you’d dump her because you’d convince yourself there is someone better out there.”
Cory shrugged his shoulders and went back to his cigarette, none too bothered by Steve’s sentiments.
As the ear-numbing hip-hop tracks continued to play, more people filed into the club.
Having inhaled his third glass of vodka in the last two hours, Steve suddenly felt loose in the legs.
“It’s time to dance,” he told Cory, and without further dialogue waltzed onto the dance floor in pursuit of a good time.
Cory remained at the table, watching his friend parade around a suddenly busy dance floor.
Steve looked over at Cory to see if he would join the masses in gyrating to a popular Latin pop song, but Cory was content to remain where he was, looking as much at the door as the dance floor, knowing that the next day would bring about more uncertainty.
Later in the night, with only a few ounces of liquid still in the bottle of Smirnoff, Steve drunkenly turned to Cory and suggested they leave.
Cory nodded his head and the two friends walked out of the club, reaching the door and suddenly feeling like they could breathe again.
“I almost choked on all the smoke and sweat floating around in there,” Steve chuckled as he caught himself on the railing of the steps.
“Have you over-imbibed tonight, young man?” Cory asked.
“When in Rome, or wherever the hell we are,” Steve chuckled.
With the midnight sky blanketing the cool streets of Lima that were lit only by the faint beam of lampposts, the two began walking back to their apartment.
“Hey, you,” said a voice.
Steve turned to his right, not enough to place a face with the words, but enough to acknowledge there was a commotion that interrupted his stream of consciousness.
“Hey! Gringo!” yelled the same voice.
Cory and Steve turned, and just then a young woman appeared at their six.
“Good evening,” Steve said in greeting the woman.
“Where are you guys going?” asked the woman.
“Home,” Cory said rather sharply.
“I know a place with some girls, if you guys want to check it out,” the woman claimed.
Steve took out his phone and noticed the clock was creeping closer to 1 A.M.
“Vices got me in vise grip,” Steve laughed.
“I think we’re good,” Cory told the woman, then turned to walk away.
“You really should come. You will have fun,” the woman explained.
“I suppose we could check it out,” Steve said, too nice to completely dismiss the persistent woman.
“If we go to this club, I’m going to kill you,” Cory said half-jokingly to Steve.
“Guys, pretty girls. Let’s go,” urged the woman.
At that moment, the three walked in the opposite direction of Steve and Cory’s apartment, following the woman away from the busy district of the downtown and into what could best be described as a dilapidated part of the city.
“Is this area safe?” Steve asked after ten minutes of walking.
“Yes. Very safe,” the woman said, her attention more concerned on leading the charge than assuaging her companions’ concerns.
Two minutes later, the trio arrived at a rundown building, and the woman extended her hand, formed a fist, then rapped on the metal door.
The door slowly opened, a security guard on the other side peeking out and offering a skeptical gaze.
“Uh, is this supposed to happen?” Steve asked.
The security guard nodded and then opened the door so the three could comfortably get past.
Twenty feet later, they arrived at the main floor.
“Told you there would be girls,” the woman smirked.
She wasn’t lying.
There were at least forty scantily clad women congregated in the middle, with no more than three other men patronizing the establishment.
When Steve and Cory stopped next to a set of couches, everyone’s gaze shifted toward them.
“Why are all these women here?” Steve asked, but by then the music had drowned out both his words and his thoughts.
“Go over there,” the woman said, leading Steve and Cory to an empty leather couch, after which a man in a tacky black suit approached Steve.
“Do you want to buy a bottle?” he asked Steve while Cory’s eyes scanned the room.
“I don’t need a bottle,” Steve said to the man. “I’ve already drank too much.”
“So, that’s a yes?” the man asked.
“Um, no. That’s a no,” Steve replied perplexedly.
“It’s a good price though,” the man in the suit insisted.
“But I’ve already had a lot to drink. Really, I’m fine,” said Steve.
While the man pestered Steve about buying a bottle of cheap liquor, about half the women in the club made an orderly queue around the couches.
“Really, you should stop. I already said no three times,” Steve tiredly said to the man, then noticed the throng of women and peered over the man’s shoulder to see all that was happening.
“Let them breathe, Gerard,” the woman from earlier said to the man in the suit, who then retreated back to the bar with a foul look on his face.
“What’s all this?” Steve said to the woman, motioning toward all the women.
“Just pick one,” she instructed.
Before Steve could protest, Cory spotted a woman he liked and hailed her over.
“Well, then,” Steve mumbled to himself, looking at the woman who brought them in with a look of embarrassment on his face.
“Is there a problem?” the woman asked.
“Not exactly,” Steve said. “It’s just that I have a girlfriend. She would kill me if she knew I was here.”
“You don’t have to do anything though. Just hang out and give the girl a tip when you’re done,” the woman said.
Cory paused his seduction of a lovely lady and leaned over to interject in the conversation.
“He doesn’t have a girlfriend. He’s lying to you,” he said.
A weird look formed on Steve’s face, like he couldn’t decide if it was Cory or his own good conscience that had betrayed him in that moment.
“Why did you say you have a girlfriend?” the woman questioned.
“It’s complicated,” Steve said.
The woman, seeing the pitiful look on Steve’s face, then meandered away and began having a conversation with Gerard.
The row of women surrounding the couches soon trickled away, and then Steve sat alone while Cory basked in the opulence of the moment.
Gerard brought over a few drinks, evidently having recovered from being unable to push the purchase of a bottle on Steve.
“Thank you,” Steve said, caressing his drink and examining a room with filled with an immorality that reminded him that not everyone was born into similar circumstances.
“Hey there,” said a voice.
Steve looked behind and noticed it was one of the women from earlier. She wasn’t attractive, a fact that Steve tried to conceal with a fake smile.
“Oh, hey,” he said.
The woman continued to linger behind the couch, careful not to touch Steve or invade the party that Cory found himself immersed in.
“I’m really just here for my friend,” Steve said, ironic considering he was the one who first vocalized an interest in coming to this place.
“Oh, I know. Let’s just talk though,” the woman said.
“I have a girlfriend,” Steve again lied.
“Maybe just a massage,” the woman suggested.
“Not necessary,” Steve told her.
The woman became upset, likely recognizing her ability to capitalize from this conversation was quickly fading.
Steve stood up to go to the bathroom, drawing a look from the prospective gazes scattered throughout the room.
“You ready to go?” Cory asked when Steve returned, his infectious smile plastered all over his attractive face that just earlier in the night was sabotaged by a wrinkly shirt.
“I’m Tracy,” Cory’s new friend said, introducing herself with a firm handshake.
Steve walked over to the bar to pay for the drinks. As he stood in front of Gerard, the scorned woman re-approached him.
“I want a tip,” she told Steve.
Steve reached into his pockets. He had a few pesos, but nothing that would satiate this woman’s blood-like thirst.
“I don’t have any cash,” Steve said, feeling powerful because he was backed up by the truth.
“But I want a tip,” the woman persisted.
Gerard handed Steve the bill, then Steve handed Gerard his credit card.
“Please, just give me a tip,” the woman said again.
“I would. I just don’t have any cash,” Steve reminded her.
The woman glared at him, in a way that made Steve worry she may pull a knife on him and stab him in the bicep.
That was Steve’s fear, that a reckless soul may see him as an individual worthy of being eternally punished.
Steve shrugged his shoulders at the woman, who in a fit of rage turned around and retreated back to the couch.
“Ready?” Cory asked, his left arm supporting an enamored woman who could not stop playing with his facial hair.
“Just about,” Steve said, turning back to Gerard, who either purposely or inadvertently revealed that he charged too much money to the credit card.
“Can you fix it?” Steve tried to ask calmly, by then tired of the histrionics that seemed to go on in this venue.
“Yes, but I’ll need five minutes.”
For Cory, this was evolving into the most romantic night of his life, but for Steve, the scintillating buzz acquired earlier from the alcohol was fast devolving into a strain on his disposition.
As time drifted even closer to early morning, Steve recognized he was in for a rough next day. First, the alcohol demons would invade his brain, causing a crippling headache that was certain to prevent him from accomplishing any of his daily tasks.
Then, he would also have to deal with the emotional hardship of leaving Lima and all its memories. Steve was certain that he would never return to this glorious city, no matter which regard his memory eventually convinced him it held in the pantheon of his life’s experiences.
“Here you go,” Gerard said, finally handing Steve his credit card back, along with a receipt that indicated no foul play had occurred in this house that rivaled that of a brothel.
The trio of Steve, Cory, and Tracy walked back into the night.
Steve grabbed his outdated phone and opened the Uber app, only for them to tell him no cars were available.
“We just used it tonight,” Cory slurred.
“Yeah. This is fucked,” Steve echoed.
Eventually, a man who worked at the club intervened. He was much nicer than Gerard and wore a three-piece suit that was tailored to the unique contours of his body.
“You’re a very nice person,” Steve said as the man explained how he could help.
Within minutes, a cab had arrived to whisk the three inebriated passengers to safety. The man held the door open for Tracy and did the same as Steve entered the front seat.
As the car rumbled toward Steve and Cory’s two-bedroom apartment on the other side of town, a smile formed on Steve’s face.
For one of the first nights in a long time, he was happy; not because he felt in control of his life, but because for once, being out of control didn’t send him into a tailspin of paranoia and self-doubt.
“Thanks for a good evening,” Cory told his friend as the three swiped through the entryway to the apartment complex, unlocked their building door, and then squeezed into the apartment.
Cory and Tracy immediately went off to do their thing, leaving Steve to look around his apartment.
“It’s been a life,” he said to himself, opening up the fridge and finding a few slices of old bologna still waiting to be consumed.
After depositing the sustenance into his gullet, Steve walked into his room and fell flat on the bed, his head slightly spinning due to the wrath of the Smirnoff, but altogether slowing down enough for him to accept the fact that his body was now about to go to rest.
The events of tomorrow were not certain, but one thing was: asking for things to go differently than they already had was a futile pursuit, one that would only waste the life Steve still had left to live.
Quentin Super’s next book, The Long Road East, will hit a bookshelf near you this spring.
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