Dinner had just taken a potentially disastrous turn, although only one of its five participants were aware of this fact.
As well, "just" was debatable, as David was certain the stimulant now coursing through Richard's body like cholesterol in a fat guy's bloodstream had almost certainly been in the man's system for an hour. To add insult to injury, its effects were so glaringly obvious David was shocked he hadn't noticed it until mere seconds ago. Richard's face was flush, his cheeks flooding with red and sweat beading on his brow, and his friend thought it very unlikely that the paprika Alex had sprinkled over the potatoes could provoke such a physical reaction.
The host hid his alarm with a swig of wine, sneaking a glance at his wife as the stem of the glass partially obscured his widened eyes. Alex, evidently, seemed unperturbed--or at least no more so than when submitted to Richard's usual behaviour. A small part of him wanted to alert her to Richard's perilous condition, but a larger, arguably more practical part thought it a questionable move to broach, however subtly, the subject of drug abuse at the dinner table.
Instead, he refocused his gaze on Richard, who was now approximately a minute into his latest disorganized rant, this one dedicated to the subject of whichever drunken escapade he and some of his hockey teammates had embarked upon.
" . . . which is why we now call him Wallaby," he finished.
"Really?" Alice intoned.
"Yes really. An accomplished Friday if there ever was one." Chuckling, he gulped back his entire glass of shiraz, oblivious as kernel-sized droplets of sweat fell into the emptying goblet, his perspiration diluting the wine with each successive sip--though this wasn't lost on Alyssa, who had grown increasingly wary of Richard's eccentricities over the last few minutes. Intrigued, as well.
"I've been told that you teach, Richard," she said.
"This . . . is true." This response more resembled a groan than an actual verbal response.
"Whereabouts?" She sawed a potato in half, eyes on Richard's fingers as they now massaged his left bicep through his sweater.
"Uh, fuck . . . " He trailed off, his hazy vision attempting to focus on the bottle of wine in the centre of the table.
"Come again?" Alyssa prodded.
David coughed and, hoping his aim was true, thrust one of his feet forward. Richard immediately yelped, a jarring mixture of pain and surprise so sudden Alice dropped her fork.
"Oh, shit, sorry. Glebe Collegiate." The curve of his chest puffed and sunk, Richard now visibly panting; at some point between yelping and resuming his increasingly disorganized pattern he seemed to have forgotten how to breathe through his nose. "History. Occasionally English."
An uncomfortable silence descended upon the dining room's occupants, this conversational vacuum peppered only by Richard's hoarse breathing that, to David's ears, sounded less like a functioning respiratory system and more like an fevered volleyball game between the Intense Inhalers and the Exhaling Experts. He couldn't guess which side would upset the other but figured it wouldn't be a crowd-pleaser.
Unsurprisingly, it took Alice to break the silence. "Rick, are you alright?"
The teacher stiffened in his chair, tilted his head as if though he gave the subject some thought, and answered: "Have you ever heard of the Battle of Okinawa?"
David quickly rose, discreetly wiping his mouth with a napkin and starting to circle the table. "I think it's best if Richard got some fresh air." First gingerly, then with a jerk, he pried the nearly-rigid Richard out of his chair and started to lead him toward the front door.
"Dave . . . " Alex began.
"He's been cooped up inside today, is all." Flashing one last grin, he turned on a dime and shoved Richard headlong out the front door. With a wave, he added, "Be back shortly."
He slammed the door behind himself so hard the light fixture hanging above the table shook, briefly casting shadows across the equally bemused looks on the sister's faces. The eldest cleared her throat; her middle sibling poked absently at the potatoes on her plate; the youngest swished her glass.
"Dave knows some interesting characters," Alyssa commented.
"Mhmm." Alex didn't really feel like saying much of anything at the moment, let alone properly explaining their guest's sudden affliction and departure.
"I will admit," Alice began, "Kind of cute."
She drank as the others stared.
* * *
On the porch:
Richard stumbled, the sound of the door being slammed shut so powerful it sent a wave of pain through his skull. "Ah, fuck, was that really necessary?"
"No, probably not," David replied, brushing his hair with his hand. "But maybe this hand." And with that he delivered an open-palm slap to Richard's face. The other man stopped straight in his tracks and, as if his entire body was broadcasting with natural satellite delay, fell back onto the couch four or five seconds after the fact, one hand lightly dabbing at his assaulted cheek.
"The fuck? . . . " he groaned. "That really hurt."
David nodded, rolling his head about to work out a kink that had been building in his neck during dinner. "Kind of the idea."
Creases formed on Richard's forehead and he tried to drag himself up off the couch. "You son of a--" He slipped, falling back on the seat with a huff.
"Don't hurt yourself, it really isn't worth it at this point." David rubbed his hands together, in particular caressing the palm with which he had struck his friend. "Ouch," he winced, "that kind of stings."
Richard threw up his hands in exasperation. "See?" Grunting primally, he pitifully attempted to straighten himself in his seat, only to discover his limbs were being uncooperative. "This . . . this is problematic."
"Quite possibly." The other man wrung his wrist and gestured for his friend to scoot over, gently lowering himself onto the chesterfield once enough space was available. "Richard, Richard, Richard," he said. "What are we going to do with you?"
Rick looked up, cautiously regarding his friend. "You aren't mad?"
"I was, but I'm pretty sure I used it all up with that slap." Try as he might, the burning tingle in his palm just wasn't going away. "Jesus, is it supposed to feel like that?"
"You've got to snap your wrist," Richard explained, demonstrating with his own hand. "Snap, then slap. Snap, then slap." He caught himself rocking back in forth in time with his cadence. David looked at him with pity.
"You need help."
"I will admit I've made some poor decisions lately," Richard said weakly.
"I'll take 'Understatement of the Century' for $500."
"Ha, ha, very funny."
"Well, let's consider the facts." He started to count off on his fingers. "You cheated on your girlfriend--"
"--Admittedly a bad move--"
"--brought drugs into my house--"
"--consumed these drugs at an alarming rate--"
"--and nearly had a heart attack at dinner. Not quite a champ move."
Richard held up a finger in protest. "Still, I'm going to be a conversation topic for years to come."
"No," David corrected, his tone stern. "Your death will be a conversation topic, because that's what's going to happen if you stop this shit very, very soon."
Richard waved him off. "Ahhhhhh, fuck off."
"Hey," David said, "Psssshaw all you want, doesn't make it less true. I could go on about how you're being way too irresponsible for someone of your position, but I'd just be pussyfooting around the larger issue."
"Which is?" Richard asked innocently.
David was dumbfounded, so much so he had to bite his tongue lest he fly off the rails. "'Which is?' You're a Goddamned train wreck."
"People slip up," Richard argued, a little weakly this time.
"Nice try. I'd list all the reasons how and why but I'd just be repeating every thing I've told you since 9:30 this morning." He sighed, stood up, brushed off his lap. "Quite honestly, I'm this close to not giving a shit anymore."
"Hey, just wait a minute . . . " Richard touched his friend's arm, was shrugged off.
Hand on the doorknob, David looked his friend in the eye. "I'm not going to waste an extra minute of my time chastising somebody so deluded they don't realize they've done something wrong." He twisted the handle. "I've done enough of that already."
And before Richard could say another word, his friend had stepped over the threshold and shut the door in his wake. His body still tensed from the effects of the drug, he attempted to maneuver into a more comfortable position, failed, submitted to gravity, letting his head loll against the padding of the seat back.
The rustle of metal against wood to his right. He turned to see David poke his head out the door, his expression neutral.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey," Richard replied.
David nodded slightly. "Your bag." He dropped the beaten overnight satchel onto the front porch, throwing up the dust that had settled into the welcome mat. With that, he retreated into his home once more.
Richard, left with no other option or aid, remained as he was, contemplating his satchel in the day's dying light.