NOT DRINKING WITH ERIN
by Edward S. Barkin
Erin had been to Bob Ellis's Christmas party five years running. Eric had been there either two or three out of the last five years. He couldn't remember which.
He might have been there the year before, but he couldn't be sure. He thought he might have been there, but there was no way of telling. It was a year ago. Or longer, if he hadn't actually been there.
Which he wasn't sure he had.
Erin went to parties all the time. Going to parties was part of her job. She liked going to parties, but like anything fun parties were work.
Eric went to parties occasionally. Usually, when someone invited him.
Eric wasn't sure if he had been invited to Bob Ellis's party this year.
Bob had invited Eric's friend Eric to the party, when the three of them had been chatting briefly a week earlier -- but it was anybody's guess if both Erics were included in the invitation. Eric thought maybe he'd been invited, but there was no way of telling. Only Bob Ellis knew for sure.
In a way, it didn't matter. Eric's friend Eric invited him to this particular party every year, even though he didn't have the actual authority to do that.
Eric the friend was perennially invited to Bob's party. Only he didn't really need an invitation to show up. He lived in Bob's building and the man with the clipboard in the lobby who had been hired by Bob couldn't very easily prevent him from riding the elevator. He paid his maintenance like everyone else.
Erin was having a good time at the party. But not a ridiculously good time. She had just come from another party, where she had had a drink or two, and now she wasn't drinking. There was no sense in getting sloppy drunk at Bob Ellis's party. It was only nine or ten o'clock and she still had to work the room. She knew twenty or thirty people in the place, so it was a pretty big job. Also, it was only nine or ten o'clock. So who knew how many people she knew might show up eventually. There was no way of telling. She knew a lot of people.
Eric wasn't sure what kind of time he was having at the party. His last name was Hunt, and people kept asking him if he was related to Helen Hunt, the actress. He kept saying no. He was hoping the conversation would pick up once everybody had had a drink or two. Once he had had a drink or two.
He was drinking what tasted like Duvel, the Belgian beer. Everyone loved or hated Duvel, because it was so alcoholic.
Eric couldn't remember if he loved or hated Duvel. He was drinking some, though, so he figured that that would refresh his memory.
Erin first saw Eric loitering in the hall-like foyer area of Bob Ellis's apartment, directly underneath a gigantic "Lolita" poster. At first glance, she thought she might like to kiss him.
She watched Eric talking to his friend for a moment. They were having a chuckle about something. She looked Eric up and down once. They kept talking to each other, rather intimately.
She hoped he wasn't gay.
Eric first noticed Erin the first time she passed through the hall-like foyer of the apartment. What he noticed was that she had an unusually pretty face and that her sparkling gray top showed off her figure advantageously. (He also noticed that she had extremely good posture – which showed off her figure advantageously as well.)
Eric noticed Erin a second time when his friend Eric pointed out that she was staring at him from her vantage point in the middle of the hall-like foyer. Actually, what he noticed was Erin walking away, because his friend Eric had been so obvious about telling him that Erin had been noticing him.
"Nice going," Eric said to his friend Eric. "Eric."
As it turned out, Erin and Eric met several minutes later in the hall-like foyer, right underneath the gigantic "Lolita" poster. Eric's friend's Eric's friend Gray stopped Erin as she passed by and said, "Hi, I'm Gray... We've been admiring you from afar." "We" meant Gray and the Eric whom Erin had been admiring from afar. Eric's friend Eric was off talking to a gay guy he knew. That seemed to be keeping him pretty busy.
After Erin and Eric met, Gray talked non-stop for ten or fifteen minutes. Eric had no idea how long the conversation was. He wasn't looking at his watch. He was drinking his Duvel and looking at Erin. He was also trying to listen to Gray, but Gray was talking so fast he couldn't keep up with the conversation. Gray was a married guy on the loose for the night, and he wasn't wasting any time. He was trying to have as much fun as possible before his curfew time, whenever that was.
After Gray turned his attention elsewhere, Erin asked Eric if he wanted to accompany her to the bar. She wanted a glass of water.
"You're not drinking?" Eric asked.
"I better not drink if I want to get through a whole week of these parties."
"If I had to get through a week of these parties," Eric laughed. But the noise level suddenly rose and he didn’t get to finish the joke.
After Erin got her water, she started wandering around the party with Eric.
Erin was the kind of girl who liked to keep moving. That was okay with Eric. He didn't really care if he was moving or stationary at the moment as long as he was somewhere in the vicinity of Erin.
He was busy just soaking up her ambiance. Her aura. He was busy not drinking with her.
Erin wanted to go out on Bob Ellis's deck, but it was too cold out. She started to get goosebumps as she neared the sliding glass door.
The previous year, she had let a handsome young movie star kiss her on the deck, and that had been kind of memorable. Things were different for me last year, she reflected -- though the reflection was not completely conscious. Things are always changing. Always different... in big ways and small.
Last year, for example, she wasn't cheating on her boyfriend. (The incident with the movie star didn't count, really.)
Another example: This year, there was no Christmas tree in Bob Ellis's living room.
Big ways and small.
After Erin got cold, Erin and Eric moved back into the crowd near the bar. The bar was the party's source of life. It kept it alive and warm and festive. Uncoincidentally, it also contained many different kinds of alcohol. Adorning it were huge, gift-sized bottles of Duvel that two French girls were mistaking for champagne. One of the French girls was wearing one of the lowest-cut dresses Eric and his friend Eric had ever seen.
Gray was trying to get the French girls some champagne, but it was not going to happen. The girls would have to settle for red wine. Bob Ellis wasn't about to waste his New Year's Eve champagne on a bunch of free-loading French girls.
Near the bar, Erin ran into a few friends and business associates. She was glad to see most of them. Though she didn't know all of them that well. For a while, she introduced them to Eric, whom she still had in tow. Eric smiled and said a few things whenever he got the urge. Mostly, though, he was just basking in Erin's appealing feminine aura. He was on vacation, and everyone else was working.
For a while, Erin talked to Eric's friends, Eric and Gray. Gray was a non-stop talking machine, though, and he seemed to like talking to Erin, so actually she was doing all the listening.
"What's Gray doing?" Eric asked the other Eric.
"I don't know, he doesn't get out much anymore," Eric answered. "I'll tell him to take it easy."
Erin was getting tired of listening to Gray, so she took Eric by the arm and led him away from the bar. They didn't get very far, though, before Erin ran into a guy she knew. The guy kissed her on the lips.
"I'm her boyfriend," he explained to Eric.
"No, he's not," Erin said.
Eric just smiled and drank the watery remains of his drink.
After a few more minutes, it became too difficult for Erin to include Eric in her conversations. So she parked him in a corner of the party with a female author she knew and told him she'd be back in a little while.
The author was very intelligent but nowhere near as attractive as Erin.
Eric thought hardly anyone at the party was as attractive as Erin.
It wasn't anyone's fault or anything, he knew. It was just the laws of statistics in action.
Eric had once had a girlfriend who used to take him to parties and let him roam free while she did the same, albeit with much greater efficiency.
While he was talking to the author who knew Erin, Eric thought back to the relatively brief time period when he had dated this girl. The relationship had ended when the girl confessed that she had a boyfriend in another state. That had been something like eight years ago. Eric rarely thought about this girl anymore, even though he had been very sweet on her at the time.
Something about Erin reminded him of this girl. Maybe it was her penchant for moving around.
After about twenty minutes, it began to dawn on Eric that Erin wasn't coming back anytime soon.
This kind of thing happens all the time at parties. People go away and don't come back.
Sometimes they do it intentionally and sometimes not. Usually, they do it intentionally.
That's why there's a saying: "Promises are meant to be broken."
Whoever thought of that was a genius.
While Eric was wondering why Erin had deserted him, the author who knew her started talking about the fact that she had a boyfriend. Erin, that is. She probably assumed that Eric knew this, since he appeared to be pretty cozy with Erin.
But when she saw the look on Eric's face, she said, "By the way... how long have you known her?"
His eyes scanned the crowd. "An hour or two," he answered.
The conversation between Eric and the author woman died out pretty quickly after that. Eric went back to the bar and found Eric and Gray. They were talking to the French girl in the low-cut dress in between talking to each other.
"Hey, Huntsy," Gray said. "Sorry about before, I wasn't trying to mow your lawn. Honest."
"So where's the lady in question?"
"Over there," Eric said. "I think she ditched me."
"I don't know. What did you guys say to her before?"
Gray and the other Eric exchanged a look.
"Nothing, we were just rapping."
"Well, she has a boyfriend. That might have something to do with it."
"Sorry to hear that," Gray said. "But hey, don't sweat it, right? You have her number."
"What are you talking about?"
"Didn't I give you her number before?"
There was a pause. Then Gray laughed suddenly.
"Oh, shit," he said. "That wasn't you?"
Eric started making his way through the crowd toward Erin. He wasn't thinking about boyfriends, telephone numbers, or whether or not he was about to embarrass himself. What he was thinking about was talking to Erin. He was planning to do this momentarily.
At the moment, Erin was talking to the editor of a prominent magazine. She was thinking about the subject of the conversation she was having, which was fairly interesting to her. When Eric appeared, she smiled and gave him her attention.
"Hey, listen, did my friends say something that upset you?" Eric asked.
"I thought maybe you didn't want to talk to me anymore."
"Oh, no, I just have to talk to some other people."
They looked at each other. Erin leaned over a bit.
"Don't worry," she said in his ear. "I'm not leaving without you."
Half an hour later, they were on the street.
It was hard to find a cab.
"It's so cold out," she said.
He put his arms around her.
"Is that better?"
She thought about it for a moment.
"Yes," she said.
They started kissing by the curb.
He put his arms inside her coat and felt her waist. She put her hands on his hips. It was cold all around them, but they were ensconced in a warm breathy glow. The glow was coming from their own bodies.
"I have a boyfriend," she said after an appropriate interval.
He looked at her. Her face was a few inches from his.
"That's okay," he replied eventually.
They kissed again.
"Are you drunk tonight?" he asked her.
"No," she said. "I know what I'm doing."
After another interval, she said, "Do you want to do the alpha male thing and get a cab?"
"There are no cabs."
"That's weird, isn't it? I wonder why that is."
"It's Christmas... Do you want to walk?"
"These shoes are killing my feet."
"We'll just walk a block or two."
As soon as they started walking, she spotted a cab. He ran for it and she caught up with him. They got in.
In the cab, they started kissing again. She slung her legs over his. He kissed her more deeply. Their bodies rested comfortably against each other. The motion of the cab was gentle, almost imperceptible. It was like being on a boat.
When the cab stopped, she got out her purse and said, "Are you getting out?"
He wasn't entirely sure what she meant.
"Um... yeah," he responded and reached for his wallet.
Once the cab was gone, he walked her off the street and onto the sidewalk. They turned to look at each other. He put his arms around her again.
She said, "Listen, I really have to warn you. I have a boyfriend. I love him... I'm having an affair with an Italian bartender. I like men. I'm bad... I'm confused. I'm in therapy."
He nodded. "It's okay," he said. "I was dating a married woman a couple of months ago."
She looked at him with interest.
"She pursued me," he explained. He didn't go on.
She nodded slowly. Wondering a little. Then she gave him her business card. "Call me tomorrow."
He kissed her goodnight, but the kiss turned into a French kiss and they lingered on the sidewalk another minute or two.
"Okay," she said finally, and with just enough resolution to be convincing. "I'm going to go up now."
He hesitated. "Okay."
They stood there on the street for a few seconds, neither one going anywhere yet.
Then he kissed her one last time and started to walk away. But she was still looking at him, so he came back and kissed her again. This time very gently.
As their lips separated, he realized that he was stone-cold sober.
Strangely, it was a good feeling.
She took a tiny step back, keeping her eyes on him. Mm, she thought.
Silence swept the street. A breeze picked up and died away slowly, like a sound effect fading out. For a moment, they were hypnotized by each other. Under a beautiful spell and hypnotized.
Then he smiled at her and walked away for real.
Edward S. Barkin is a graduate of Yale University who has written numerous screenplays and plays and has made three narrative feature films that have played at festivals such as Sundance and Montreal and in theaters in New York and L.A. Variety called his last film “offbeat and accomplished” and singled him out as an “attention-capturing” writer/director. He has also published a number of articles in respected academic journals such as the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Physics Essays and the International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence. And he has self-published a novella, I Wish You Were Dead. Most recently, he guest blogged on a website with over three million views and published two short stories in the literary magazine Literally Stories.