All Are Welcome! All Welcome!

!

I wonder if she hates me. I wonder if she'll still talk to me tomorrow. God damn it, why did I have to fuck things up again? I didn't mean to hit him; well I did, but I didn't want her to know about it - no, actually I did. I wanted her to see him fall. See how he's not so tough. See how he can't FUCKING PUSH ME AROUND ALL THE FUCKING TIME. That's right! He fucking got his, didn't he? That little fucking asshole. Oh, he gets the girl, so he's hot shit and he can do anything and I'm nothing but crap - WELL I DON'T FUCKING THINK SO YOU LITTLE BITCH! Maybe if I had just reasoned with him - oh, I shouldn't have yelled at Rita like that. She didn't do anything except pick him over me. And I did - I did what any young hormone-filled man would do in a fit of passion. Sure, I could have handled it better, but then again, how would I have felt? I would have felt like much the pussy, no? First, he gets the better of me in the love game, then I go home with my tail between my legs like a little bitch. At least now I can feel like a man, right? At least now I can look at myself and know that I'm not a chump. You know what? Fuck her! Fuck her! I don't need her love and I don't need her friendship! What the hell am I worrying about? I'm fucking glad she saw. And next time . . . next time I'm gonna fuck him up worse. See how she likes fucking a lump of bloody nothing.

@

"Paul! What are you doing? Stop it! Get off of him! Let him go!" With his left fist clenching Alan's tank-top collar, holding up the punched-up boyfriend, Paul slapped Alan's face with the back of his right hand. Rita jumped on Paul's back, clinging to his sweaty shoulders for a moment before slipping off. Paul's giant body felt her flea-like presence, distracting him from the pummeling. He turned towards Rita's fallen body.

"What the hell are you doing with this fuck, Rita? Why aren't you with me? Why can't you give us a chance?"

"Paul, you're a fat, temperamental drunk, and I'm not in love with you. I've told you that. I've told you that every time you bring it up, which happens to be every time you drink, which happens to be nearly every damn night! I'm not attracted to you. I like you as a friend, but when you pull this crap, I don't like you at all. Now, if you don't get out of here, I will call the police." Rita remained on the floor, fearing if she stood, she might receive one of Paul's hands across her face.

"You don't know what you're talking about! You said you loved me - "

"I never said that! You must be delirious or something - "

"No! You told me that, two weeks ago, right after you met this fuck. We were at that party up on third. We were drinking and we were walking home and I remember it very clearly." Paul spread his eyelids out wide, searching for clarity. "You said, 'I love you, Paul.' That's what you said."

"Well, if I did, then I was drunk and it meant nothing! Now, get the fuck out of here, right now Paul!"

#

"Seriously, why do you hang out with that guy?" Alan sat across from Rita as they ate at the dinner table. Everyone else in the house had left to go to the barbecue next door, but they decided to have dinner alone.

"Oh, he's not all bad. He just gets a little weird when he's drunk." Rita took a sip of the Strawberry daiquiri in front of her.

"Well, I'm gonna say this right now, if he tries to pick another fight with me tonight, I won't be responsible for what I do - "

"Listen, just go easy on him, all right? He's all talk, but he won't do anything. I promise."

"You say that, but remember the last time. He finally got some balls and took a swing at me. Luckily he was too drunk and he just fell over. Otherwise, I was gonna have to put him down."

"Can you drop this, please? Let's just try to have a good time tonight, all right? I don't want to fight about Paul all night." A knock on the door finished their conversation. Rita stood up to answer it. "Paul, what are you doing here? The party's next door."

"I was just over there," he said, monotone. "I'd like a word with you, sir." Paul pointed in Alan's direction, antagonistic.

Realizing what was about to happen, Alan slapped his napkin down on his plate. "Good. I got some words for you too."

$

It took four guys to hold Paul up, but he did it. He lasted a whole thirty seconds on the Keg-Stand. After the six-pack shotgun salute, and the 40-ounce pre-funk, Paul's mind sufficiently spun.

Bridget observed with joyous glee. "Atta-boy, Paul! How do you feel?"

Paul's face turned white. He leaned to the left, stumbled to the left, tripped over his left foot and caught the side of the wall before his entire left side slid to the ground. Vomit exploded from his mouth, splashing on his shirt from the ground below. He rolled over the puke puddle and pushed his way back up to his feet. He found the eyes of his best friend Nick and said, "Okay! I'm ready for another one, my man!"

"I think you better sit this one out, buddy. Why don't you go get some air?" Nick put his arm around Paul's shoulder, coaxing him to the front door.

"That's a good idea, man. Hey, do you know where Rita is?" Paul tried to sound casual, but he had been thinking about her all night. Disgusted and frustrated, Bridget turned around and walked back towards the keg.

"I think she's in the house with Alan."

"Aww man! Fuck Alan!" Paul punched his left hand with his right.

"I know man. I know." Nick, very much drunk himself, was not the best of influences, but he was loyal. "Why don't you go over there and kick his ass, man?" Nick didn't really believe Paul would do it. Paul had never kicked anyone's ass. But, he thought it would be a funny thing to see, and he imagined it all the way back to the party.

Paul imagined it too, as he walked all the way over to Rita's house.

%

Man, I thought she was gonna be here. She told me, she fucking told me - oh dammit! She better not be with that fuck Alan. I swear to God, if I could only get my fucking hands on him . . .

"Paul, glad you could make it!" Nick walked over and slapped Paul's open palm. The ROTC guys behind Nick couldn't help but think the same thing, oh Great. Paul's here.

Every time Paul showed up at one of their parties, he either broke something, puked on someone, or passed out in the middle of the dance floor. When he wasn't doing that, he was spilling his beer all over the place, yelling too much, eating too much, grabbing too much female flesh -

"Hey guys, where's the keg at?" Paul smiled with his game face.

Jared, one of the ROTC guys who lived in the house, stopped Paul in his tracks. "Listen, Paul. I gotta tell you, if you get too fucked up, I'm gonna have to ask you to leave, all right? I don't want any of our shit to be broken."

"Hey man, no worries. I'm just gonna be here for a few minutes, then I'm gonna head down the block. I got another party I'm gonna check out." Paul smiled as he sashayed his way around Jared, towards the keg. Jared rolled his eyes and walked the other way, not wanting to deal with Paul's drunken antics. He stood at the other end of the room, with a watchful eye on the keg-area.

"Paul! You made it!" Bridget flung an arm around his neck and kissed his cheek. Paul blushed, took a can of Natural Ice and gunned it.

^

"Hey, do you mind if we just take our food back to your place. I don't really feel like drinking tonight." Alan stood on the back porch, five feet from the grill, with his toasted bun cradling his charred burger.

"OK, no problem. Let me get my bag and we'll head over there." Rita returned in two minutes, after explaining her reason for early departure.

Alan knew that Paul was going to be at the party, and he didn't want to deal with him on an empty stomach. He had only known Rita for two weeks, and had already had a number of encounters from the obsessively possessive male-friend.

Rita knew that Paul was going to be at the party, and that's why Alan wanted to leave so early. Explaining her relationship with Alan to Paul had been one of the hardest conversations she had ever endured, and Paul's being drunk that night two Saturday's ago only made the experience that much more grueling.

--So, who's that guy I saw you with tonight?

--Oh, that's Alan. He's . . . just a new friend I met. He lives in one of the frats, but he's not like a "frat-guy" or anything. He's . . . nice.

--You fucking him yet?

--Dammit Paul! No! Why would you even say that?

--Because you're fucking him and you're lying to me! Tell the truth!

--Listen, Paul. I just met him. I'm not "fucking" anyone right now.

--Yes you are, stop lying to me.

--Well, if I was fucking anyone, I wouldn't tell you -

&

"So Paul. You coming tonight or what?" Nick listened on his end of the line for a response from the heavy-breathing Paul.

"I don't know. Is Rita gonna be there?"

"She's already here, man. She's with that Alan guy."

"I fucking hate that guy, Nick. You don't even know - "

"Hey, you know who else is here, don't you? Bridget's here. Remember her? You met her last month I think."

"Well, if I did, I don't remember it. Refresh me."

"She's the sophomore with the short red hair and the spike through her nose. Anyway, I think I can hook you two up. But, you got to get down here right now! She'll be drunk soon, and I just know she's gonna latch on to someone tonight. Could be you, man. Could be you."

"Maybe." Paul's voice trailed off as he thought of Rita. He thought of how much fun they had together before she met Alan. He thought of how much time they spent together, laughing and walking and talking about their futures after college. Moving to New York. Living the screenwriter's lifestyle - poor and unsuccessful, with a heroin habit and a terrible addiction to coffee and cigarettes. Like they were resigned to the fact that they'd live a most unhealthy life together . . . even if it had to be platonically. But, there would be no one more important in their lives. No one would ever ruin that dream.

Paul snapped out of his daze, picked up his bottle of Old English, said his goodbye with an "I'll be there," and hung up the phone. Thirty minutes later, out the door.

*

"What happened to Alan tonight?"

"He left me. He said it wouldn't work out." Rita sat next to Paul on his couch, sobbing into Paul's chest. "Why would he do that to me?"

"I don't know. He's a piece of shit. I tried to tell you last week, but you wouldn't listen to me."

"I know, I'm such an idiot." Rita looked into Paul's eyes. "You've always been there for me. You've always loved me, haven't you?"

Paul's face turned red. He averted eye contact just long enough to respond, but they returned like magnets. "Mmm hmm."

Rita slid her arms around Paul's body, bringing her face to Paul's. From kissing to groping to naked to fucking in a matter of moments. Paul had been waiting for this moment since he had met Rita; he wanted to make it last.

The phone rang and Paul opened his eyes. He ignored as long as possible, but the answering machine with Nick's voice yelling jovially ruined the moment. Paul pulled his Casper the Friendly Ghost boxers up around his waist and answered the phone.

"Hi Nick," Paul tried desperately to catch his breath.

"God, you sound terrible. What's going on over there?"

"Nothing. What's up?"

(

--So you are fucking him!

--Grow up, would you?

--What's wrong with me anyway? We have our fun together. Isn't that all you need?

--Sure, that's part of it. But, I need more. I need that attraction level to be there.

--So, it's about looks, then. That's what matters most isn't it? Admit it.

--Well, there's got to be something! It's not everything, but it's a part. Personality will get you close, but that attraction, that physical level of lust, that's what I need to be really intimate with a guy.

--And I'm not that. I knew it. I'll never be that for anyone -

Rita and Alan kissed one last time before crawling out of the mattress on the floor. The blankets a tangled blob at their feet; they silently dressed.

"Do you still want to go to this barbecue they're having next door?"

"I don't know, Rita. Couldn't we just stick around here? Or maybe go to a movie or something?" Alan sat in the desk chair while tying his black and white Nike basketball shoes.

"Come on! They're expecting us. Jared and the guys always make such great burgers. You know you're hungry after that workout." Rita walked over and tousled Alan's hair.

Alan smiled in response. They were out the door minutes later.

!)

"Hi Margo. Is Rita there?" Paul readied himself - pants around his ankles - in anticipation of Rita's voice over the phone.

"Hi Paul no," she said in unspectacular rapid succession. "She's upstairs with Alan."

Paul squeezed the phone until his knuckles turned white. Trying to maintain casualness, he said, "Can she come to the phone?"

Margo twirled her gum around her index finger, staring out the window at the squirrel climbing a maple tree. "No, I'm thinking they'll be busy for a while. Would you like to leave a message."

"No thanks." Click.

Paul couldn't stand thinking about them together, in bed, fucking and squirming, writhing in rhythm, breathing heavily into each other's ears. Tongues slipping in and out of each other. Eyes screaming, hands panting. Paul couldn't stand thinking about it, but he couldn't help it. He couldn't help thinking about all the pleasure and pain being inflicted upon his coveted woman. In her bedroom, on her mattress. It had only been two weeks since they met. Paul had known Rita for so much longer than that! He couldn't stand thinking about it, so he set up his own fantasy. A fantasy where they weren't fucking. A fantasy where she really did love him.

Paul closed his eyes.

!!

"Hey Bridget, glad you could make it!"

"Hey Nick. Where's the food at, I'm starved." Bridget rubbed her bare stomach, complete with butterfly tattoo and navel ring.

"It's in the back - wait, don't go yet. I have to talk to you." Nick grabbed her arm, gently, friendly.

"What's up?"

"Hey, do you remember Paul?"

"He's your senior friend, right? Yeah, I think I know him. He's pretty damn funny when he's drunk. Is he gonna show up?"

"Yeah, I was just about to call him. So, what do you think?"

"Mmm, I don't know." A look of doubt landed on her face. "Isn't he hung up on that Rita chick?"

"Yeah, he is. But, that's where you come in. You gotta help him out. Make him forget her. Let him get some drinks in him, you get some drinks in you, and just . . . let it happen."

"We'll see about it. Can I go eat now?"

Nick let her arm go. She dove headfirst into a pile of conversation around the grill, laughing and munching. Nick ran over to the phone, wasting no time.

[email protected]

Rita greeted Alan at the door with a kissy-faced embrace. "Hey." Alan wrapped his arms around her waist, lifting her into the air. They walked into the house like that.

"What's going on today?"

"I thought we'd go over to Nick and Jared's later. They're having a party and we're invited to go get drunk."

"Is Paul invited?" Alan let Rita go with a furrow of his brow.

"Well, yeah. He is Nick's best friend. Come on, I bet you'd like him if you two could just get to know each other and - "

"And he's not drinking at the time! You know how he gets when we're together! He's all fists and stumbling. I just don't think I can take that tonight."

"Well, can you take me tonight?" Rita slid her arms back around Alan's neck.

--Come on, Paul, you'll be that for someone. It just takes the right girl. I'm not the right girl for you, that's all.

--How can you say that? You're perfect for me.

--Oh Paul, you know I'll always love you.

--You don't mean that and you know it.

--Yes I do. Look at me. Am I not serious here?

--Then why are you hanging out with other guys?

--Paul, can't you just drop it? I'm tired. We're almost at my house. I've got to get some sleep, but I don't want to be worrying about you all night. Are you going to be all right? Will you be able to make it home?

!#

"Yeah. I'll be fine. I haven't had that much to drink tonight."

"OK, good. Well, I'm gonna turn up here. I'll talk to you sometime tomorrow; see how you're feeling." Rita stopped to face Paul.

"All right. Goodnight." Paul dropped his head, on the verge of tears. Rita saw this and hugged him.

"Hey, it's OK. Don't worry about anything. You'll be fine. You'll see."

Yeah, I'll be fine, because I know it's over. You're gone, you're moving on and I'm still here, stuck on you, miserable. I'm disposable. I'm nothing and I'll never be anything. In your eyes, I'm a friend and nothing more. But I'll be fine. Sure.

Paul turned down his block. Looking back every so often to witness his untarnished love's backside one last time.