a short story by Philipp Kroiss

He was a boy. Well, a man, technically. A young man. Young-ish? He felt that early twenties were a strange age to be in. It’s at the beginning of adulthood that you realise that, despite of what you’ve always thought, most adults don’t actually have it all figured out. They only pretend they do; they merely fake it until they eventually make it. Once you turn 18 you don’t automatically know all about cars and parenthood and bank accounts and the job market and…taxes? Adults know about taxes, right?

But he didn’t want to think about taxes. Or how he felt that he was supposed to find a job that was related to his studies somehow. He also didn’t want to concern himself with the feeling that maybe he didn’t work hard enough. Or that he could be working too hard. Not tonight. Tonight he was going to play hard. At least he’d play hard at a level that he felt comfortable with. All he needed was one night off to relax and enjoy himself. He would treat himself to that. One night with the boys having drinks and going clubbing. And he would enjoy clubbing this time, he promised himself.

The evening should start with drinks and chatter at Terry’s place. The young man was the last of his friends to arrive there and when he rang the bell the door was opened by Jamal. Jamal decided to skip ‘Hello’ and ‘how are you’ and went straight for the fashion review.

“So that’s what you’re wearing?” he said in a condescending tone, inspecting the young man from head to toe.

“Yeah, what’s wrong with it? I thought I looked nice and I haven’t even taken off my jacket and -”

“I’m just messing with you, boo. Come in.”

The young man stepped in and inspected the place as if he’d never been there. He guessed that the last time he visited Terry at home must have been at least half a year ago, but not much had changed. It was a simply decorated bachelor’s flat.

“For real though, what’s with the shoes?” Jamal followed up.

“What do you mean?” the young man inquired.

“Why would you wear those?”

“They’re comfy.”

“You see, that was your mistake.”

The two of them went into the kitchen where Terry and Eric where babbling. Eric was telling a story about a weird customer at the bank which wasn’t as interesting as he thought it was, but Terry, who must have been in a good mood, listened to him anyway. Meanwhile, Jamal lead the young man to the others as if he were a realtor presenting his estate,”So as you can see, we are having the finest bottle of wine that five pounds can buy. Except for Eric, who is drinking beer because he’s masc.”

“It’s an acquired taste – you wouldn’t know about it. I’m also too old to be drinking this rubbish you call ‘wine’,” Eric defended his choice of beverage.

“Spoken like the Dad that you are,” Terry commented.

“Don’t call me that word, I’m not that old.”

“Well,” said the young man,”Terry is 25 and you’re forty-”

“You better watch your mouth if you want all your limbs to stay where they are. I’m nobody’s Dad – I’m more like your older brother. A relatable guide through life if you will.”

“You’re more like my Dad’s older brother,” said Jamal.

“Okay, how about a cool, young uncle?”

“I’ll settle for uncle. So,” Jamal turned back to the young man,”I guess you’ll be having the wine?”

“Why don’t you go ahead and make it a spritzer?” the young man tried his best to sound smooth. He didn’t. Jamal poured him a glass anyway. Curious of the exact plans for the night the young man asked:”So where are we going again?”

“It’s this new place, Euphoria,” Terry answered,”my weed-guy told me about it. They opened last month and they’re only 10 minutes from here so I figured why not. ”

“Sounds dope. Is there any sort of theme tonight?”

“Would you have dressed for a theme if there were one?”

“That’s not the point.”

“It said online that the event was called Hungry Like The Wolf,” said Jamal.

“Is that supposed to mean something?” asked Eric.

“I think you get a free shot when you howl at the bartender.”

“Shots?” Terry pretended to be insulted, clutching his imaginary pearl necklace,”after I’ve served you but the most prestigious liquor?”

“You’re right, of course” the young man answered,”experts agree that the best wines burn your throat when going down.”

The group continued to banter and snack on the bag of crisps that Terry had opened. Meanwhile, the plate of carrot slices and dip that Eric brought was left untouched. The young man wondered how his host could stay in his athletic shape with his kind of eating habits while he himself had to visit the gym at least three times a week, just to keep up his sort-of average figure. While feeling envious, he was also grateful to have Terry and the others in his life. He had met Jamal at uni who in turn knew Terry from a party who in turn knew Eric from a night at a different club. He didn’t know many other people who would go to these kind of events but he was glad that he had found them.

After about an hour of pregaming the group went on its way to Euphoria. When they arrived the doorman joked about wanting to see Eric’s ID, but he didn’t joke about seeing the young man’s. The moment they entered, the young man checked out the other people in the club – mostly to see if they were checking out him. He thought about how everyone except for him knew how to dress. What did he think wearing his sneakers to a night out? Had he unconsciously sabotaged himself so other people wouldn’t want to talk to him? Did he not actually want to meet someone tonight?

Once inside and relieved of their jackets, Jamal made the whole group howl at the bartender. He was confused, not knowing anything about free shots for that night. However, after Terry worked some of his charms on him the group received four shots for free and the bartender’s phone number. The young man was, as always, baffled by Terry’s ability to talk to strangers and be instantly likeable. Before moving on to the dance floor, he pulled Terry to the side,”How do you do it? How do you make everyone…fall in love with you?”

Terry laughed and blushed.

“You know what those ‘pick-up artists’ always say?” He explained,”About negging people, making them feel bad so they’ll try to impress you? Do the exact opposite of that. Anything anyone ever wants is to feel appreciated and sometimes a nice word can make someone’s crappy day brighten up. And what do you know? If you’re nice to people, people are nice to you! We live in a world where small gestures of kindness have become a precious rarity, more valuable than diamonds – or like a nutrient we don’t even know we’re craving.”

“Wow, that…sounds amazing. Except for when you mixed metaphors, you should just stick to one. But I’m honestly impressed by your insight into the human mind.”

“I’m full of surprises,” Terry shrugged,”And of bad wine.”

“It wasn’t that bad.”

“It was the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.”

“Yeah…it really wasn’t good.”

“Come on, let’s join the others on the floor before they howl at any more people.”

Even though the club had been somewhat crowded, Eric’s tall stature made him and Jamal easy to find and they were soon joined by Terry and the young man. Everyone seemed to be having a good time – except for the young man who felt nervous for some reason. His movements were awkward and he still felt he was being watched by the other people in the club. When he had a look at his friends he noticed how relaxed they were; there was no sign of worry on their face, but an expression of pure joy instead.

All of a sudden the young man had a moment of clarity. He wouldn’t be able to enjoy himself if he kept focusing on others. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter if anyone looked at him at all. He wasn’t here to impress or meet anyone anyway, he was here to have fun – no more, no less. So he took a deep breath in and out and stopped thinking alltogether. Instead of contemplating his dance moves he let the rhythm of the music decide his movement for him, which helped him calm his mind a lot. He had no idea that you could even be relaxed while dancing. He felt his mouth taking the shape of a smile but it was almost as if he had left his body and watched everything happen from a third person’s point of view. For a moment, the only two things in the entire world were him and trashy pop music blasting at full volume.

At some point, when the entire club was singing along to Bad Romance, the young man spotted someone checking him out. Another young man, handsome with a cheeky smile. And before they knew, the two young men were dancing together and the two only things in the world had become three. They quickly found their own rhythm in accordance with the music, moving back and forth – almost touching, but not quite. They danced for at least one more song before the other young man gestured for them to get drinks at the bar. They both ordered a white spritzer and clinked glasses.

“I thought you didn’t like to this kind of place,” said the other young man.

“‘This kind’?”

“The gay kind.”

“People change, Alex.”

“Evidently. What made you come here?”

“Oh, I saw it on one of those gay sites-”

“So it was Terry’s idea.”

“One hundred percent.”

Alex smiled,”This isn’t exactly how I imagined us running into each other.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“I don’t know, somewhere on the street? In a supermarket? At an orgy? At the movies?”

“Is the orgy at the movies or are those two separate events?”

“That depends on the movie, I guess.”

“So, like, Paddington 2?”

“Are you kidding me? It’s about a talking bear – the definition of an orgy-film!”

“So you can imagine me at an orgy-film, but not at a club.”

“Never, you’re too classy for that.”

“Yet here I am, so joke’s on you.”

Alex’s expression turned slightly more serious,”You know, it’s good to see you again,” he said while stroking the young man’s shoulder,”you should probably go back to your friends though – they’ll wonder where you’ve gone, but why don’t we hang out for tea some time?”

“I’d like that,” said the young man before he made his way back to the dance floor. When he returned to his group, he noticed Jamal having a stupid big grin on his face. The young man rolled his eyes and continued dancing. He was happy he took the night off for this.