Saturday, September 9, 2000
“So what’s Abe short for?” The girl scooched closer to Abednego, her plastic cup sloshing green frothiness precariously close to the top. Her eyes were almost the same green as the drink; her hair, spilling over her bare shoulders, Abednego’s clothed shoulders, and the back of the couch, was nut-brown and soft as silk; the scattering of freckles on her pale skin were green, too.
Her presence, and the four frothy drinks Abednego had already drank, the loud music and the friendly fellow students and the tusks and horns, scales and animal ears and bears, oh my, were all going to his head. He smiled crookedly back at her, wondering how he’d ended up with the hottest girl in…
…never mind, there was no such thing as the hottest girl in Addergoole, they were all, everyone here was, immensely distractingly gorgeous.
Even the guy with tusks.
But especially the hot girl with green freckles. Rowan. Her name was Rowan. How had he gotten lucky enough to have her draped on top of him? He wasn’t ugly, sure, but he wasn’t up to Addergoole-pretty standards.
Draped over him and poking him in the ribs, giggling. “Are you still there? Abe? Abe, I asked you a question.”
He blinked at her. “You… you did?”
“Oh, you really are a lightweight. Well, I suppose that’s a good thing.”
“I… I’m not usually.” He looked at his drink — empty, it turned out — as if it had betrayed him. “What… what did you ask me?”
She chuckled at him. “I asked what ‘Abe’ was short for.”
“What if it’s just Abe, not short for anything?”
“Oh, come on. This place doesn’t do normal names. The new students include an Efrosin, an Indigo, a Sequoia, and a Ragnvaldr.” She ticked the names off on her fingers. ”I don’t believe you’re just Abe. Even Abe isn’t just Abe, he’s Abelard. And he came first. So what’s Abe short for?”
“Well, when you put it that way…” Abednego sighed. ”I guess my name isn’t weirder than anyone else’s around here. It’s Abednego.”
Rowan stiffened, her whole body tensing. “As in ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego?’”
“Like the song, yeah, like the Bible. I don’t know what our dad was thinking.” He was practically through the speech before he noticed the way Rowan was pulling away from him. “Hey, what?”
“Are Shadrach and Meshach your brothers?”
Shit. He’d done a good job of avoiding Shad and Meesh when they’d come home last year, and they hadn’t really wanted their kid brother hanging around them, any more than they ever had. But there’d been a couple minutes, just before they headed off to college. Meshach had grinned at him, that smile that always meant trouble.
“Hey little bro, when you finally head off to Addergoole, you oughta have a lot of fun there. We softened them up really nicely for you.”
He knew how Meshach softened people up. He knew what Shad and Meesh did when they gave someone their full attention.
But it had been a year, and he’d hoped whatever damage they’d caused would have scabbed over by now.
He should have known better.
“Answer me! Are you their brother?”
Abednego swallowed. ”Yeah. Yeah. Shad and Meesh are my big brothers.”
The words fell into sudden silence. Someone had switched the music off. And the room was staring at him. At him, the runt.
Rowan stood up, still staring at him. “You’re Shadrach and Meshach’s brother. You’re one of them.”
“Shad’s brother?” The bodybuilder at the bar stood up and cracked his knuckles. Abednego hadn’t caught the guy’s name, but he looked like he could bench-press a couch. Maybe a car. Notably for this crowd, he also looked like a normal human — no horns, no spots, no funny ears. Just a very very strong-looking Asian guy with a ponytail and an expression of barely-controlled fury. “I wonder if he mentioned Megan?”
“I wonder if he mentioned me?” If the guy looked like he could break Abednego with a finger, the Mediterranean girl who walked forward looked like a strong breeze would knock her over. She was thin, very thin, wearing skin-tight pants that just showed off how skinny she was. Her hair was blue — was this Indigo that Rowan had mentioned? No, that was a new student — and her ears had cute points. Cute… except the fact that she was glaring at him. “But of course he didn’t, don’t be silly, Taro.” She was still looking at Abednego, but she wasn’t talking to him. “Come on. Megan and I were just… distractions. Hobbies.”
“Toys,” offered another guy, black-haired and so pale-skinned it had to be makeup. “Like Ardell and Delaney were to Meshach.”
“Don’t forget Rafe,” the blue-haired girl purred. She sounded happy. Abednego knew that voice.
“Nobody asked your opinion,” Rowan hissed. “It’s disgusting. You’re disgusting. And I almost took you to bed. I almost fucked you.”
She’d almost fucked him? Abednego blinked at her. She acted like he didn’t have any say in the matter…
…hell, as drunk as he was, he probably wouldn’t have argued too much. If at all. He stood up, wobbly on his feet but steady enough in his intention.
“Yes,” the pale-skinned guy said. He held out his arm, looking for all the world like a bad vampire movie. All he needed was a cape, and a slavic accent to go with his ridiculous widow’s peak. “Why don’t you leave now? You’re not welcome in this suite anymore. I’m sure you’ll find yourself unwelcome in quite a few places. And…” He paused, far too dramatically. It made Abednego want to punch him. “I wouldn’t try forcing your welcome anywhere. Your brothers have already done far too much of that.”
“Right.” Abednego found that there was a clear path to the door, although the path was flanked by the skinny blue-haired woman and the angry bodybuilder. He knew what that meant. But he couldn’t very well go out the window. This place had no easy escape.
Maybe he was drunk enough he wouldn’t feel it. He walked as straight and level as he could, directly for the door. There wasn’t any point in giving them an excuse. There wasn’t any point in—
He’d been expecting the fist to the gut, but it still drove him back a couple paces. He straightened back up as quickly as he could and walked forward again. The faster he was out of here, the faster—
The bony knee to the crotch knocked him back, knocked him over. He struggled to get to his feet, to even catch his breath, but he couldn’t move.
“I thought you were told to leave.” Rowan’s green slipper caught him in the kidney. “You don’t listen any better than your brothers do.”
“Then let him leave.” Suddenly, someone was holding Abednego’s elbow. They didn’t so much help him to his feet as haul him to his feet. “Come on. Just a few steps and you’re out the door.”
Through vision gone a little uncertain, Abednego managed to make out tusks and horns. He got his feet under him enough that he was escorted out the door rather than dragged, his whole body tense for the next punch.
It never came. When the door shut behind them, the tusked man pulled Abednego straight up. “Look. I never got the raw end of your brothers’ sense of fun, but that doesn’t mean I liked them. Can you make it to your room?”
I’m not my brothers. It had never done him any good before. It wouldn’t do him any good here. Abednego nodded, not trusting his voice not to crack.
“Good. Look, you probably don’t want to come to any more parties.”
With that incredibly obvious advice, the tusked guy left, leaving Abednego alone.
“I am going to be haunted by those assholes,” he muttered, “for the rest of my goddamned life.”
His first week of school was not turning out to be nearly as auspicious as he’d hoped.