“Oh my god, that’s hilarious,” said Jessica. “Steve, check out this llama at Carrie’s desk.” Jessica handed the phone to Steve. Everyone was smiling.
“That’s a life-size llama,” said Steve.
“We had to carry it back to our office on the bus,” said Carrie. “It almost didn’t fit through the door, that’s how big it was. We almost hit the bus driver in the face with it, that’s how big it was.” A few people laughed. Carrie reached out for the phone. “Here.” She flipped to the next picture. “That’s how big it is.” The photo showed Carrie and the llama, Carrie with her arm around the llama, Carrie wearing glasses and grinning, the llama looking dingy and staring with its dead eyes at the camera, the two of them in Carrie’s well-lit office.
“Oh my god, you look so tiny next to that llama,” said Jessica.
Carrie had plants in her office and, peering over Bill’s shoulder, Megan could see a bottle of Kombucha on the desk in the photo.
“I’m so lucky. I love my boss and I love my office,” said Carrie, reaching again for her phone.
Megan looked across the party and saw Randy by the bathroom. She was trapped between Jessica and a coffee table. To get to Randy would require her to either step over the coffee table or ask Jessica to press herself against the wall, and Jessica looked like she was having a nice time.
“Well,” said Carrie. “I have some cool news.”
It would be rude to interrupt Jessica’s good time.
“You know that magazine, Dale Carnegie? They’re doing a 30 under 30 thing next issue.”
And it would really look like she was a wild animal or something if she tried to climb over the table. And plus her ass still hurt, so it wouldn’t be graceful. She’d have to limp her way out of the corner.
“Do we know any of the 30 under 30?” Bill asked.
“I’ll say,” said Carrie. She was being cheeky.
A girl named Annie walked up to their small group and said, “Hey! Sorry, I was eavesdropping. Is it you? Are you one of the 30 under 30?”
Megan reached into her purse and took out another beer. The sound of the tab cracking was her first contribution to the conversation.
After Carrie nodded, Annie took out a cigarette and said, “That’s awesome.” Annie and Megan had met before. Megan cleared her throat.
“Hey, Annie, can I have one of those?” she asked.
“Oh, sure,” said Annie.
“Randy has mine. I can pay you back later.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. Really.”
Annie passed her a Camel and then held out her pink lighter, already lit, in the center of the circle. Megan had to dip her head into the middle of the conversation, which had stopped, it seemed pointedly, and light her smoke out of Annie’s hand. Megan straightened, leaving behind a plume of smoke.
“Thanks,” she said.
“It’s cool. I feel like I haven’t seen you in a while, Megan, what have you been up to?” asked Annie.
“Well, I cut my ass on a knife in the kitchen sink.”
It was uncomfortable to have four people looking at her and listening to what she was saying. She took a drink of beer while Annie laughed a little and said “What?”
“I fell in the sink on a knife and cut my ass.”
“Oh my god, are you all right?”
“Sure,” said Megan.
“Did you have to go to the doctor?”
“Nah,” said Megan. “Now that it’s over, it’s kind of funny.”
“Hmm,” said Annie. Her face communicated that she didn’t really think it was that funny.
“Hey,” said Megan, looking at Jessica. “Could I get by you? I have to pee.”
“Thanks for the cigarette,” Megan said to Annie. Annie forced a smile and waved.
On her way to the bathroom, Megan stopped by Randy. She whispered, “Carrie can roll it up and stick it in her asshole.”
“Jesus Christ,” said Randy.
There was a line for the bathroom.
The tall guy in front of her said, “So you’re in the line, too, huh?”
“Yeah,” said Megan. She covered her mouth to burp and opened another beer.
“Sucks. This always happens at house parties,” said the guy.
“Yeah, well. People don’t usually have more than one bathroom.”
“You want to come in with me? I could pee in the tub if you really need to go.”
“No, I’m good, thanks,” said Megan.
“Hey, man, I was just offering ok?”
“Yeah, I know, it’s fine.”
“You don’t have to act like an asshole about it.”
“Well, I don’t really think I’m being an asshole. I just don’t, uh, I don’t really have to go that bad.”
“Then why are you in the bathroom line? There are people who actually have to go, you know.”
Megan looked behind her and saw no one.
“I just think I can wait, that’s all.”
“What kind of accent is that?” asked the guy.
“What do you mean? I don’t have an accent.”
“Yes you do. Are you a liar?”
“I mean…I’m from Michigan.”
“You have a foreign accent,” said the guy, and then the bathroom door opened. “Ladies first.”
“No, really, go ahead,” said Megan. “Allow me to do this one thing for you.” The guy snorted. He was in and out in a minute, he didn’t wash his hands. When he got out of the bathroom, he held the door open for her and bowed a little.
Megan locked the door behind her, washed her hands, then pulled down her pants. There were no leaks on the bandage and she decided to leave it alone. She pulled her pants back up, finished her beer, and looked at herself in the mirror.
“Hello,” she said to herself. “Hello, darling.”
Amanda, a familiar face from school, was in the kitchen looking in the refrigerator.
“Hey, familiar face, I have beer,” said Megan.
“Phew!” said Amanda. Amanda was nice to Megan and she had an unpretentious look. Amanda was low-medium pretty, less pretty than Megan, which put Megan at ease, but more attractive than Megan because she bothered to groom herself. Megan observed that Amanda’s level of grooming was not too high, though, and then she felt guilty for gauging her comfort with Amanda by such idiotic standards. Megan reached into her purse and handed Amanda a beer.
“How many beers do you have in there?”
Megan looked in her bag and said, “Used to be 24, but I’m not sure.”
“Hahaha, you’re nuts.”
“Oh, I’m nuts,” said Megan. “I’m a regular nut.”
“So, what’s up? How’s work?”
“Work is…I spend 32 hours a week with a woman who isn’t allowed to cut her hangnails for religious reasons. We listen to lite Christian rock together all day. She forwards me photo threads of baby animals with affirmations at the bottom and she belches all the time.”
Amanda laughed and said “Gee whiz.” Megan shrugged and offered up a cheers.
There was that kind of pause that happens when one person is trying to think of something interesting to say while the other person waits. Megan grimaced and said, “I’m not that interesting.”
Amanda laughed again. Then she became serious and said, “Hey, are you going to look for something else? You seem pretty unhappy.”
“Eeehh. I don’t know. I’ve looked, and I usually end up feeling pretty overwhelmed and under-qualified for all of the interesting jobs, and then I have a thought spiral, and then I feel like I made a bad move somewhere back in middle school, and then I feel like there’s no hope at all for me and then I contemplate suicide.”
Amanda rolled her eyes in a friendly way and said, “I know what you mean, but it’s not that big of a deal. You just apply for stuff. And fake it.”
“I’m just trying to live pure,” said Megan. “Ambition’s for the devil.”
At that moment, Carrie walked up and gave Amanda a hug and said, “Oh my god, girl!” Megan opened another beer and put the empty back in her purse. “I’ve got to show you this llama my boss and I bought off a homeless guy.”
“Hahaha,” said Amanda, taking Carrie’s phone. “It’s enormous! Megan have you seen this?”
“Yeah, I’ve seen it.”
“Hey, can I get a cigarette?” asked Carrie.
“Oh sure,” said Amanda. “You want one?”
“Yeah, thanks,” said Megan.
“I quit,” said Carrie. “I quit smoking and I quit coffee, and I feel so much better now.”
“How long have you been not smoking?” asked Amanda, handing Carrie her lighter.
“Like, three weeks. Have you ever quit before?”
“I take breaks sometimes,” said Amanda.
“It’s just this really clean feeling, like I can feel everything that’s dead inside of me coming to life again. I can feel life flowing through me.” Carrie held her hands out, palm up, and flexed her fingers like claws. The cigarette was between her right pointer and middle fingers. Megan raised her eyebrows at the floor.
“Except when I’m drinking, then I can’t help it,” said Carrie.
“You’re fine just as long as you don’t buy your own pack,” said Megan.
“Exactly,” said Carrie, looking at Megan for the first time all evening. “Hey, do you have anything to drink?” she asked Amanda.
“No, I got this beer from Megan.” Carrie looked at Megan with a dumb expression.
“Take your pick,” said Megan, holding the bag out to her.
“Oh my god, there are like twelve empty cans in here.”
It was true. Megan smelled like beer and had been trailing a little dribble of lukewarm beer behind her all night.
“I’m from Michigan,” said Megan. “I take them back across the border for the deposit money.”
“Hahaha,” said Amanda.
“That’s disgusting,” said Carrie, but she reached into the sack anyway. “So, what is that, like a dollar twenty in cans?”
“So, how have you been?” asked Amanda.
“Pretty good, pretty good,” said Carrie. “I have so many projects going on right now that my head is like,” she bugged her eyeballs and held her hands on either side of her head.
While they were talking about having too many interesting things to do, Randy and two of his friends walked up to their circle.
Randy whispered “Can I have a beer?”
“Can I have a cigarette?”
“You should try some of David’s growler,” said Randy.
Megan shook her head. “Never mix, never worry.”
“It’s both beer,” he said.
Megan turned to him and said very quietly, “This is killing me,” and then she walked out of the kitchen.
When it was time to wind things down, Megan was sitting on the couch with the guy from the bathroom line. Megan spotted Carrie and said, “Hey, Carrie! Come over here. Hey, this is the girl I was telling you about with the llama. Hey, Carrie come show this guy the picture of you with the llama.”
“Um, I really have to go,” said Carrie.
“She’s got this picture of herself with a llama the size of a young woman trapped inside of an enormous stuffed llama,” said Megan. “And she’s embracing it with one arm and she’s smiling at the camera.” Megan mimicked Carrie unfavorably. She made a peace sign.
“That sounds cool,” said the guy.
“She and her boss got it off of an untouchable.” She whisper-yelled the word “untouchable.”
“Time to go home,” said Randy, helping her up from the couch.
Megan’s purse clanked as they walked down the sidewalk.
“Why is everyone such a fucking asshole?” she asked.
“What do you mean? Who’s an asshole?”
“Why is everyone I said.” Megan’s knees buckled. She palmed the ground. “I hate Carrie. She repulses me.” Randy hoisted her by the arm, the way people do with toddlers.
“Come on, she’s not repulsive. I can see how she might be kind of intimidating. She used to intimidate me a little.”
“I didn’t say intimidating, I said repulsive. Intimidating would imply that there was some reason I should feel inferior to her, but I don’t feel inferior because her life is a lie and she’s got no heart.”
Randy laughed a little and said “Ok.”
“She’s got no heart!” she bellowed.
“Ok,” said Randy.
Megan straightened herself, rolled her eyes, chuckled, and said, “Soooo typical, sooo typical,” not knowing quite what she meant.
Adapted from Jillian, by Halle Butler, Copyright (C) 2015 by Halle Butler. With the permission of the publisher, Curbside Splendor.