Tom never had any luck with girls. It never stopped him from trying, though. Joe admired that about Tom, his sheer boneheaded persistence, his boundless optimism.
This time, they were bringing the beer, which Tom thought was an instant key to pussy. Hell, maybe it was. Joe didn’t really give a shit. He was bored, it was Halloween weekend, and he’d finished his homework and had nothing better to do than drive Tom home when he’d gotten completely smashed.
They’d been friends for years, though Joe sometimes found himself wondering why. Tom liked beer, breasts, and boasting; Joe could take or leave the first, wasn’t interested in the second, and was getting increasingly tired of the third. Still, a bond that had lasted from first grade through junior year wasn’t something either of them were quite ready to throw away, so they kept a weird, awkward semi-balance, with Joe helping Tom with homework and Tom dragging Joe to the occasional terrible party. It didn’t seem quite even, but Joe appreciated that Tom still thought of him as a friend. And hell, it was Tom’s truck, and Joe got to drive. That wasn’t too bad. Tom had a very sweet truck.
They had two kegs of beer loaded up in the truck bed, Bud and Bud Lite, though Joe had advocated for a microbrew. “Girls get drunk quicker on the cheap stuff,” Tom had assured him. Joe was one hundred percent sure this was bullshit, but it wasn’t worth arguing over.
“There we are,” Tom said, as they crested the hill and the driveway leading to the cabin became visible. “That’s the shit. Good thing I got four-wheel drive.” He adjusted his John Deere cap and Joe resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
Sheree’s parents’ hunting cabin was up in the mountains; part of the driveway felt like a total vertical. Most cars couldn’t even make it up.
Tom grinned. “I’m gonna get lucky tonight. I know it.”
Joe rolled his eyes and parked the truck.
The girls from Westfield that Will had promised hadn’t showed up, making the second keg of beer useless and crushing most of Tom’s hopes to get laid. But it turned out to be a pretty good party anyway, maybe because it was quieter. Joe didn’t mind quiet, or an excuse not to pretend to like girls.
“…Nah, nah,” Adam said. “Old lady Ruth, she was a nun for sixty years. Left the convent when she was eighty-two and came out here to live in the cabin.”
“Uh-huh,” Joe said. He took another swallow of beer. Adam was sitting on one of the old run-down sofas with his arm around Lisa. Joe had pulled up one of the rusted folding chairs to talk to Adam, though he was no longer sure why he’d bothered.
“So she lived out here for a year and a half, right? But, see, this is the freaky part. They found her dead here– like she’d completely burned alive. But there wasn’t any fire. She was…what was it?”
“Spontaneous human combustion,” Lisa said, shifting her weight to get closer to Adam. Lisa had clearly heard this story many times before. Joe found himself wishing she’d told the whole thing to start with.
“So in her will the old bitch said she’d lived her whole life practically for a lie. She gave all her money to Planned Parenthood and sex ed. So now….” Adam nuzzled Lisa’s neck. “You have to have sex if you come up to the cabin.”
Joe sniggered. “Or what?”
“Or she’ll set ya on fire,” Adam answered. “Duh.”
“Oh,” Joe said. “Yeah. I bet.”
“There was a girl in my sister’s class it happened to,” Adam said. “All that was left of her was a pile of ashes.”
“She ran away,” Joe said. “My mom told me.”
“Ashes,” Adam repeated, as if the word alone could make it true.
“I thought it only happened if there was a full moon,” Lisa said, putting her head on Adam’s shoulder.
“Full moon tonight, right?” Adam said. “So–”
Joe was about to give up on the whole conversation when Gwen came through, yelling so loud that for a minute he couldn’t even figure out what she was saying. Her face was red and tear-streaked, ugly in that weird way people who are crying always are, unless they’re on TV. “Fuck you,” Joe finally managed to make out. “You can just go to hell, Sam. I’m never gonna do anything with you, you creep! I’d rather die a fucking virgin!”
“Gwen, what happened?” Lisa tried to ask, but Gwen was already walking toward the door, still yelling more stuff Joe couldn’t make sense of. Lisa got up and tried to grab Gwen’s arm, but Gwen shook her off, grabbing her coat with her free hand. “Fuck all of you,” she growled, as she shut the door behind her.
Joe got up. “She probably needs some space,” he said, walking over to Lisa. “She’s pretty upset.”
“I’ve never seen her that pissed,” Lisa said, and turned straight to the doorway Gwen had come out of. “Sam Roberts,” she yelled. “You asshole. What the hell did you–”
Gwen’s scream interrupted her. Joe was closest to the door, so he was the first to see the flames.
They crammed into the cabin’s main room, elbow to elbow to elbow. “Okay,” Joe said, when Lisa’d stopped crying enough for him to say something. “Let’s talk about this.”
“Talk?” Lisa’s voice verged on hysteria. “What the fuck is there to talk about? Gwen and Sam caught on fire.”
“Right,” Joe said. His head was starting to hurt. “And there’s fire at the end of the driveway.” That seemed to not spread or do any normal fire things, just block the driveway. “And our cell phones don’t work.”
“We’re stuck in a fucking horror movie,” Tom said. “And if we don’t fuck, we’re all gonna die.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Joe said.
“You saw Gwen blow the fuck up,” Adam said. “You got a better idea?”
Joe didn’t. “Sher?” he asked.
Sheree was sitting back in the corner, hugging her knees. “I dunno,” she said. “Never happened to me before.”
“What about that girl?” Adam asked.
“My folks told me she ran away.” Sheree shrugged. “Shit, maybe she did. I don’t know.”
“We should just fuck each other and get it over with,” Tom said.
Lisa glared at Tom. “Yeah, ’cause I’m so horny now, since my best friend caught on fire.”
Allison hadn’t said anything since the flames started. “No,” she said. “I mean…it sucks, but I think he’s right. It’s the only way we can be sure we’ll get out alive.”
“It’s probably some kind of biochemical thing,” Alan said thoughtfully. “It probably doesn’t have anything to do with sex. It’s probably just where they were standing, or what they did.” He grabbed his girlfriend’s arm– Joe couldn’t remember her name, but she went to MIT and had a face like a horse– and headed for the door. “Come on, we’ll prove it. We’ll just go where they didn’t step and–”
They were ashes before they even reached the door.
“There are twel–ten of us,” Adam said. “So we can just pair off.”
“No threesomes, huh?” Rob said, and Sheree punched his arm. Joe started mentally counting: Allison, Sheree, Lisa and Briana; Joe, Adam, Tom, Will, Rob, and Mike. Four and six. But of course Adam and Lisa were set.
“Girls should pick,” Will said. He never said much and fiery death made him even quieter. “Only fair.”
“Yeah,” Joe said. “Okay.”
Lisa looked over at the bedroom door. There was a tiny scorch mark where Sam had been. “So…what. We take turns?”
“Yeah,” Briana said. “Um. You two can go first. Since.”
Adam and Lisa had been a couple since sixth grade. Lisa nodded. “Okay,” she said, getting up. She took Adam by the hand and led him into the bedroom.
Will got up and turned the radio back on again. It was full of static. He spun the dial. “Shit,” he said. “Now this doesn’t work either?”
The last thing Joe wanted to hear was Lisa having reluctant sex with Adam. “What about a tape? Maybe somebody’s got a tape–?”
“There’s a TV,” Sheree said. “In the cabinet. We could try that.”
The TV didn’t work either, but they found a VCR, and setting it up kept Joe’s mind off the acrid smell in the cabin and the quiet noises from the bedroom.
Tom held up tapes like a carnival barker. Joe could see him covering his stress with attitude. “Okay! We’ve got It’s Pat, Baby Geniuses, Son of the Mask and… Shanghai Surprise.”
“It’s like a festival of suck,” Joe said, and Tom snickered.
“How ’bout Shanghai Surprise? ‘Least Madonna’s hot.” Will was opening up another beer.
“Don’t drink so much you can’t get it up,” Tom said.
“What, afraid I won’t save myself for you?” Will snapped.
“Look, we’re all tense,” Joe said. “Everybody just calm down, okay?”
Sheree smiled at him. Oh, God, Joe thought to himself. Don’t pick me.
Sheree went to the cabinet and found some little coffee stirrers the girls could use as straws. The girls each picked, and then they went off to the corner to talk.
“What the fuck are they doing?” Tom muttered to Joe.
“I don’t know,” Joe said. “Probably figuring out who’s gonna sleep with who.”
“That’s retarded,” Tom hissed. “Why the hell did they draw straws?”
Tom shrugged his shoulders.
Adam and Lisa opened the door to the bedroom; everyone almost jumped. “Well,” Adam said. “We’re. Um. Alive. I left…um. Rubbers. If anyone doesn’t…”
“Thanks,” Tom said.
Sheree took a deep breath. “Um. I’m next. And um. Will.”
Joe took a deep breath and tried not to look visibly relieved.
Shanghai Surprise was a really shitty movie, but it did keep Joe’s mind off of sex, death, and spontaneous human combustion. Well, it did sometimes. Madonna being a nun or missionary or whatever didn’t help, but she was pretty, and Sean Penn was good-looking enough in the 80’s. After Sheree and Will came out of the bedroom, Rob and Briana took their place, which wasn’t a surprise, since they’d been dating a couple of weeks.
Which left Mike, Tom, and Joe. Joe tried to calculate the odds. Mike had dated half the girls in school; half those girls missed him, and the other half wanted his balls. Allison hadn’t dated him, but Briana had, and Joe thought she was pretty firmly in the balls camp. He was good-looking, anyway, tall, with blond hair and a long, lean build. It could be worse, anyway.
Rob and Briana didn’t take long. They both looked embarrassed. Fuck, the whole situation was pretty embarrassing.
Allison got up and smoothed out her denim skirt. “Okay,” she said. “Um. Mike?”
Mike got up. Joe could hear someone hissing out breath; Tom, or Mike?
And then it hit him that he was going to have sex with his best friend since first grade. Tom who used to throw up before soccer games and who had hair on his back and who always said they’d be friends forever no matter what. Shit. Shit.
Madonna was doing something stupid on the TV. Joe could hear Mike getting up, the bedroom door shutting. Tom was shifting his weight; away from Joe. Joe wasn’t surprised, but he felt his stomach sinking anyway.
“I’m, um.” Tom stood up. “Gonna get some fresh air. Still totally going to have sex,” he announced to the room. “Just…air.”
Joe put his head in his hands. “Hey,” Sheree said. “You okay?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s almost over,” she said. “Hopefully.”
“Yeah,” he said.
She put an arm across his back. He didn’t move, but he was grateful for it. “I’ll see if I can make some coffee,” she said, getting up. “I need to sober up.”
“Thanks,” he said, and meant it. “I think we all do.”
“You should go out there,” Lisa said. “Talk to him.”
He pushed his fingers into his temples. It didn’t help. “And say what?”
“I dunno,” she said. “You should say something, though. You guys are best friends.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I know.”
He heard Will cough. “Nobody’ll…you know. It’s not like it’s you guys’ fault.”
“Just go out there and talk to him,” Sheree said. “Tell him I’m making coffee. Something.”
“Fine,” Joe said. He stood up. “If it’ll shut you up, fine.”
Tom was staring out at the darkness, his back against the cabin.
“Sheree’s making coffee,” Joe offered.
Tom didn’t say anything. Joe sat down with his back to the side of the cabin. For a minute, he wished he smoked. It would at least give him something to do.
“I’m sorry,” he said, finally.
“It’s easier,” Tom said, sinking down to balance on his heels. “For you.”
“Why’s it easier for me?”
“You know.” Tom wouldn’t look at him. “You’re–”
He’d never told Tom. He’d never told anyone. “I’m not–”
“Don’t lie to me,” Tom said. “Please.”
“I never,” Joe said. He looked at his hands and realized he’d been turning his class ring around and around on his finger. The fake garnet looked black in the dark, which seemed about right. “I never…I never told anybody.”
“I’m your best friend,” Tom said. He seemed to relax a little, though.
“You coulda told me.”
Joe swallowed. “Yeah,” he said, finally. He could just make out the sculpted Trojan on the side of his ring. Why he’d wanted the damn school mascot on the side…. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s cool,” Tom said. “I. I guess it’d be hard. To tell people.”
Joe nodded. Words were hard.
“I don’t wanna go back in there,” Tom said.
“I don’t either.”
Tom reached over and kissed Joe. It was kind of awkward, but Tom’s hands felt really good against Joe’s face. Tom tasted like cheap beer, which was kind of nasty, but then Joe remembered he was getting kissed and he got over it. Tom was gentle, and it was…it was nice. It was really nice. Tom was warm. Tom was his friend. Maybe it would be okay. He reached out and touched Tom’s shoulder to pull him closer.
Joe broke the kiss and moved back. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I–”
“C’mon,” Tom said. “There’s blankets in the truck.”
They laid a couple down on the flatbed. Joe tried not to look at Tom. Tom mostly looked at the blankets. “Um,” Tom said, finally, taking his hat off and rubbing his hand over his hair. “Do you…do you wanna get naked? Or should we just…”
“Uh…it’s up to you,” Joe said. They were really close to each other in the bed of the truck. Tom felt warm.
“Let’s just see what happens, I guess,” Tom said, and sat down. “Um.”
Joe leaned over and kissed him. There was a little stubble on Tom’s cheek; his beard always grew back fast. He was getting used to the beer taste. Tom reached down, under Joe’s shirt, and touched his back, pulled him closer. Joe tried to push his panic down under how good it felt, how good Tom smelled. He felt himself getting harder as Tom stroked his back, and he reached out and started unbuttoning Tom’s flannel shirt. Tom and he both lifted at the school gym, and he could feel Tom’s muscles under his fingers as he worked; he was even warmer under the flannel, and he shivered as Joe reached in to touch him.
Neither of them talked; it was easier that way. Easier to lean back on the blankets and let Tom pull his sweatshirt over his head; easier to pull Tom’s zipper down and get his dick in his hands. It was half-hard, more than he’d expected, and a few strokes stiffened his cock completely. Joe took a deep breath, ignored his own hard-on, and moved his face down to the fly of Tom’s jeans.
“You don’t have to–”
“Shut up,” he said, and put his face next to Tom’s cock. It smelled different than he expected, smelled different than he did after he jerked off; for a second, he hesitated. Tom put a hand in Joe’s hair, and the touch was warm, comforting, enough. Joe licked Tom’s cock from base to tip, and then slid it into his mouth.
“Shit,” Tom said, and bucked up so hard that Joe almost gagged.
“Take it easy!” he spat, before he put his lips back around Tom’s cock.
“Sorry,” Tom said. “Shit. So fucking good–” His hands tightened hard in Joe’s hair.
Joe had no idea what he was doing, but Tom seemed to like it, so he just sucked and moved his tongue around. Tom’s dick felt alien and strange and alive in his mouth, and he tried to respond to it, to what Tom moaned over, to what made his hands clutch so hard it hurt. It worked; it worked faster than he expected it to, and Tom came what felt like buckets in his mouth.
The taste was awful. Joe spat, and heard Tom chuckle. “I don’t taste that bad,” he said. “…do I?”
“I dunno,” Joe said, wiping his mouth and wondering if the nasty feeling would ever go away. “Never done it before.”
“Yeah,” Tom said. “Me neither.” He pulled Joe’s zipper down.
“You don’t have to–” Joe said, but he didn’t mean it, and Tom took Joe’s cock in his mouth anyway.
Oh, God. Joe wondered how he’d ever get off with his hand again, knowing how fucking good it felt. Remembering Tom, he didn’t thrust, didn’t try to, just let the wet and the warm and the sucking do it for him, and fuck, it sure did.
“Damn,” Tom said, when he’d come. “You didn’t last very fucking long.”
“Like you did,” Joe said, smacking him on the shoulder.
“Yeah, well.” Tom sank down on the blankets. “It’s a blow job.”
“Yeah.” Joe hesitated for a moment and then sank down next to him. It felt…all right. Not weird like he’d been afraid it would be. “You think she’ll be happy?”
Tom put his hands behind his head. “We probably oughta do it again. You know. In case a blow job ain’t enough for her.”
“…okay,” Joe said.
Later, they figured that was about the time the whole cabin caught on fire.
Everyone got out, fortunately; and so, okay, everybody else caught Tom and Joe in a 69 in the back of the truck, but luckily they figured it’d taken a while for them to get started and it was their first round, not the second. And then they all agreed never to talk about it, so that was good.
Joe drove home with his hand on Tom’s thigh. That was pretty good too.
But neither of them ever, ever, talked about Sheree’s crazy theory that the two of them were so hot together the old nun had probably just exploded.