Girls Like Boys

After the Party

We left from Murphy’s and headed straight to Ryan’s teammates’ house on the north side of campus. The boys had managed to scarf down two and a half pizzas, talking about how it was important to eat before drinking. They’d attempted to sort out the designated driver issue, but when Ryan volunteered, they all rebutted, saying that he would probably leave by 11:30. From there, Travis decided that they could just crash at their friends’ house if they weren’t ready to go when he or Ryan were.

We took two cars to the party. Me, Erick, Benji, and Travis in one and Flynn, Shay, and Ryan in the other. Unlike the race, Ryan drove his own car this time. Travis booked it around campus, purposefully avoiding the quickest route in order to avoid the students. When he finally pulled over, Ryan barreling into the dirt behind him, we were parked in front of a row of noisy townhouses.

When we headed in, I was surrounded by a sea of boys. Travis led the way, standing almost directly ahead of me as we crossed the grass. The others circled me, talking to each other over the noise of the party. I stayed quiet as I considered the street – the line of cars and lit up apartments. I wondered if anyone really minded the boisterous party raging in the center townhouse.

Travis grabbed my hand as we climbed the porch steps and merged into the group of people nursing drinks. The boys funneled into a line behind us, each of them saying hellos and heys to people I’d never met. We’d lost a couple of our friends before we even entered the house; they dispersed in different directions, heading to people they knew.

Travis pushed on through the house. From the porch, it opened up to a hallway and parallel staircase – one that headed to the back of the house and the other to the second floor. From what I could see, the living room was to the left and packed with people, and to the right, there was what looked like a first-floor bedroom, also brimming with college students. Travis glanced in each direction, obviously looking for someone, and then pulled me down the hallway.

Travis and I stepped into the kitchen and it opened up to a bigger space. There was a round table packed with alcohol bottles and a counter full of red cups and chip bags. All the in-between spaces were filled with people. Travis let go of my hand and glanced back to see if I was good as he pulled away, having found the person he was looking for. I side-stepped as Ryan slid past me, heading in the same way as Travis. I hadn’t even realized that he was still behind us.

I stood at the corner of the counter and watched the cousins walk up to another boy, who was submerged in a circle of people. Travis got there first, touching the boy’s shoulder. I took him in when he turned around – a little taller than Travis and Ryan both, brown-hair a shade similar to Shay’s, and a solid build. He fell into easy conversation with the cousins, grinning, nodding, and handing out cups.

After a moment, Travis shook his head and turned, pointing to me where I stood poised at the edge of the counter, trying to blend in among the crowds. The guy said something and Travis responded by nodding and waving me over. Slowly, I slipped between the neighboring groups of people and made my way to Travis.

“Brian,” Travis said, passing the cup to me. “This is Cody. Cody, Brian.”

Brian grinned at me. “Glad you came,” he said.

“Yeah, thanks,” I answered, glancing down at the cup in my hands. “What is this?”

“Jungle juice,” Brian said, laughing slightly.

I frowned at the drink and handed it back to Travis.

Travis laughed too. “It’s just a mixture of stuff, Code,” he said easily, giving it back. “Try it and if you don’t like it, I’ll get you a beer instead.”

“Or you could get me a beer from the get-go,” I offered, reaching past him to set it on the counter. Once I took my hands off of it, a drinking cardinal sin, Travis nodded.

“We’ll find something in a minute,” he said.

“Beer’s in the fridge,” Brian echoed. “Sucks that you two are DDing though.”

Both Travis and Ryan shrugged on either side of me. “It’s not bad,” Travis said, his arm going around my shoulders.

The boys kept the conversation going with our host for a few minutes longer, but eventually let him get back to his friends. We headed back down the hall, toward the door we came through and the music that was louder than ever. I could see the other guys in the mess of people, but I knew they were around somewhere. It wasn’t until we rounded into the living room that I saw Benji in the center of the room, dancing and drinking with a brunette girl.

Travis grinned as we shuffled in along the wall. I took a drink of my beer, trying to find familiar faces in the crowd. The minutes passed as the songs counted on, getting rowdier and louder with each next one. Travis had just gotten back with my third beer and one for himself when Erick found us tucked into our corner of the living room.

“There’s like a whole other party going on in that back room,” he said, shaking his head and talking loudly. “It’s awesome, but it’s going to give me a headache.”

“What is it?” I asked, frowning at the fact that his entire left sleeve of his shirt was dripping wet.

“Just a bunch of drunk people with water balloons and squirt guns,” he said, “and alcohol.”

I grinned, turning to see Travis’s face. He rolled his eyes, shaking his head just a little bit. “We’re steering clear of that room,” he said. “The last thing I need is a bunch of soaking wet drunk people in the M5.”

“It’s more exciting than just standing here,” Erich said, bumping Travis’s elbow with his arm. He turned to me and nodded toward the mass of people. “Want to dance?” he questioned, smirking as he avoided Travis’s eyes.

I frowned, glancing at the girls and the boys in the center of the room. The music didn’t have lyrics now, but nobody seemed to mind. Instead they just moved with the sounds, pressing into each other and turning away.

Erick saw the apprehensive look on my face and reached past Travis to grab my hand. “Come on, Cody,” he said lightly. “Don’t be so stoic. We get enough of that in Travis. I know you can dance.”

I smiled despite myself and nodded, setting my beer down on the little side-table behind us. I caught a glimpse of Travis’s surprised face as I ducked away with Erick, letting him lead us closer to Benji and the tornado that he was in the eye of. When Benji saw us coming, he grinned and nodded, doing his best to make a little bit of room.

The heat and the closeness of the crowd pressed Erick and I together, so I slung my arms around his neck and grinned, glancing down to watch his feet for a moment. His hands came to my sides and rested just above the band of my jeans, moving with the sway of my hips as I followed the music. When the music peaked, the crowd started jumping, pressing me closer into Erick. He wrapped his arms around me to keep us in sync as we jumped too.

Benji was a few people away from us with a girl of his own holding onto him. I laughed when he met my eyes and turned my gaze back to Erick. This was as close as we’d ever been and despite his typical appearance, he was much broader than he looked. He grinned down at me and ran his hands along my back and back to his hips as he danced, laughing at the momentum of the crowd and how hyped everybody was.

When I spun away from him, pulled into the group of girls next to me to dance some form of a dance that they knew and I didn’t, I didn’t notice until I returned that Erick had stepped away. In his place, surprising the life out of me as I bumped into his chest, was Travis.

I grinned and gave him a look. “You don’t dance!” I shouted, knowing he probably couldn’t hear me over the music, but hoping he could read my lips.

He shrugged, eyes on mine, and took a drink of his beer before reaching past the people on the outskirts to toss the empty can onto the coffee table. When he came back, his hunter eyes met mine and he held his hands up like in surrender, questioning.

I nodded and his palms pressed into my sides, brushing against my skin where my sweater had risen up. And I was right about Travis: he didn’t dance, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t know how to. The songs changed again and Travis pulled me to him by my hips, our chests brushing and my fingers tangling through his hair as we moved. My favorite moments were when Travis’s eyes closed for a fraction of a second, his face tipped towards the ceiling, before he looked to me again. Sometimes I found myself doing the same thing as I danced with him – losing myself in the moment and the feel of his hands keeping me close to him.

After a while, we were both sweaty and tired, held together by the pressure of the crowd and his fingers through my belt loops. I ran my hands down his sides, grasping fistfuls of his shirt at his hips.

“I’m going to get something to drink!” I said as I pressed up on my tip-toes so he could hear me. His chin brushed against my cheek when he pulled back and nodded, moving to make way for me to get out of the crowd.

As the people parted, Travis led me out, back to the door that we’d come through and the mouth of the hallway. Before I could head down the hall to the kitchen, Travis snagged hold of my arm.

“I’m going to the bathroom,” he said, nodding toward the stairs. “I think Shay and Ryan are in there – ” He nodded down the hall. “Keep an eye out for them.”

I nodded, not wanting to yell of the music, and he let go. We headed separate directions. The hallway was made narrower by the people that lined it, clinging to wall space and talking across the tiny void between them. I slipped past, practically walking sideways until the hall finally opened up to the kitchen. Unlike the rooms before, most people weren’t hanging out there. There was a sedentary group near the fridge, but most came to get drinks and left again.

I saw Ryan the huddle near the fridge. He was sitting up on the counter and talking to the people around him. I almost did a double-take; I hadn’t seen him this casual outside of his, Benji, and Travis’s apartment. I slipped between a couple people trying to get out of the room and made my way to the circle of people around Ryan, searching their faces for anyone familiar. Besides Shay, I found one other person.

“Aubrey!” I greeted easily, stepping up the crowd. Most of their eyes swiveled to me and I saw Ryan and Shay’s acknowledgement as I joined them.

The reddish-haired blonde turned away from the group slowly and then smiled when her eyes landed on me. Despite the fact that she was only a year older, she always seemed to have it figured out. I wasn’t surprised to see her mixing in with this group of people. I think she was more surprised to see me there, honestly.

“Cody,” she said in return, shuffling closer to the boy on her right to make room for me. “Hey, how are you, girl?”

I grinned and shrugged, pushing my heavy hair over my shoulder in an attempt to cool down. “I’m good,” I answered easily.

The rest of the group was either watching us or talking quietly among themselves. Aubrey motioned back to the rest of the house with her cup. “You’re here with Travis Laughlin, right?” she asked, glancing toward Ryan. “I saw you guys come in together.”

I nodded easily, grinning at Shay as he passed a beer across the circle to me. “Yeah, with Shay, Ryan, and the others too,” I added. I caught a couple odd looks as I called Ryan by his middle name rather than his first. It was a habit that I’d picked up from Travis and the others. I popped the beer can open, only to have it lifted unceremoniously out of my hands and over my head.

I frowned and turned around as Travis set the can on the counter behind him. He offered me a grin and wrapped his arms around my shoulders, leaning against me as Aubrey continued the conversation. Quietly, to me, Travis said, “that’s your fifth drink. You should slow down.”

To Shay, who was closest to the fridge, Travis asked, “can I get a couple waters?”

The brunette fished them out and passed them over. Travis opened one and handed it down to me before keeping the other one for himself. He leaned against my back again, tuning into the conversation happening between the seven people surrounding us.

Aubrey shot me a smile.

A guy next to Brian spoke up, catching the attention of everyone. “Travis,” he said, “are you running in any races this week? I heard there’s one going down on Highway 11 on Wednesday night.”

Travis lifted his chin from my shoulder when he answered. “No, I’m busy,” he said simply, “but I am racing in a couple weeks. Erick and Cam have the details on that though, if you’re interested.”

Shay jumped in, rambling something off about the Supra that Travis was racing next. It was the same conversation I’d heard dozens of times in the last two weeks, and it was cool being able to follow the conversation. For once, I wasn’t the person who Shay had to slow down for, and I grinned as the race boys’ voices grew in pitch as their excitement did. Eventually they were all talking over each other.

Aubrey shook her head, smiling, and grabbed my arm. She nodded to the only other girl across the circle from us, and the two of them stepped away. Travis frowned when Aubrey pulled me with her, forcing him to let go of me. I shot him an amused and apologetic smile and went with the girls to the other side of the kitchen. They both dropped down into chairs at the table, and I followed.

“Have you two met?” Aubrey questioned, motioning between me and the blonde. When we both shook our heads, she introduced us. “Raquel, this is Cody – she lives on my floor. Cody, Raquel – she’s in my sorority.”

After we said hellos, Aubrey picked the conversation back up. “Those guys are cute and all,” she said about the circle of boys in the room, “but when they get going about cars like that, it gets old quick.”

I grinned. “Eventually they stop,” I said, “but only when you give them food to eat instead.”

The blonde girl looked to me. “You hang out with them a lot then?”

I shrugged, but Aubrey answered for me. “She’s never around at the dorm,” she said easily, shaking her head at me as I watched her speak. “Every time Ramsy – her sister – is out in the common room, Cody is always over with Travis.”

I took a sip of my water, unsure of what to say. I didn’t spend much time in the common room; she was right, but I hadn’t realized how much of my friendship with Travis was gossip for everyone else. Despite the fact that it really didn’t matter, it still bothered me to know that they paid attention to my whereabouts.

Raquel spoke to me. “I saw you and Travis dancing,” she said, smiling lightly.

I smiled. “We were just messing around.”

“I don’t really know him,” she said, glancing behind me to the guys, “but he seems sweet enough.” She smiled and nodded to them. When I turned around to look, Travis’s eyes were on me, eyebrows raised. I nodded to let him know that I was good.

“Where’s Perry?” I asked Aubrey, referring to her Theta Chi boyfriend.

She glanced around the room like he might be here somewhere. “He has finals tomorrow,” she said, “but he might show up eventually. Did I ever introduce you two? I think him and Travis might have things in common.”

When Travis came to help me escape a little while later, I was beyond grateful. The conversation had moved from introductions, to boys we knew, and then to boys we didn’t know but wouldn’t mind ‘knowing’. Since Aubrey was in a serious relationship, she helpfully pointed out all the boys on campus that she’d already gotten to know. Avoiding the conversation while being stuck in the middle of it was impossible.

Travis walked over and crouched down next to my chair, interrupting the talk. “Do you want to hangout for a while or get going soon?” he asked, eyeing the half-empty water bottle in front of me. He flipped his empty bottle around in his fingers.

I shrugged and glanced back toward the group of guys. “Did Ryan leave already?” I asked, not seeing him in the room anymore. I hadn’t even noticed him leave.

“He said to tell you that he’d see you later,” Travis said, grabbing onto the arm of my wooden chair. “He’s actually going to meet up with a couple guys at some bar, so he’s not home.”

I nodded absentmindedly. “What do you want to do?” I asked, turning in my seat to face him a little bit more and avoid the curious eyes of the girls at the table.

Travis shrugged and glanced at the time on his phone. “I know that Benji won’t want to leave yet,” he said, looking up to me, “but Brian said that he can and the guys can crash here tonight if they’re staying.”

Travis and I ended up leaving without the other guys. Out of them all, I was the most surprised when Shay hung back, deep in conversation with another sub-group of the original kitchen circle group. I made the rounds to say goodbye, interrupting his conversation first. He hugged me and tucked his chin against my head before promising to see me again before I left for winter break.

Benji was still in the living room and I hadn’t seen Flynn all night, but I found Erick sitting on the stairs with people that I didn’t know. I waved a quick goodbye as Travis and I made our way out of the townhouse. Like when we came in hours earlier, there were people sitting on the porch rail. Travis walked me back to the BMW.

“You look tired,” he said, a couple feet away.

I shrugged and looked to the sky.

He veered over to me and bumped his shoulder against mine. “What’s up, Cody?”

“I leave in two days,” I said, blinking as we arrived at the car and I looked to him.

Travis nodded, rounding the front of the car to the driver’s side. He met my eyes over the hood and rested his elbows against the car. “It’s only a few weeks,” he answered easily. “Then you’ll be back here.”

“A lot can happen in six weeks,” I answered. “We became friends in a day, Travis. It wouldn’t be that hard to undo everything. Who knows if Charlie will even let us come back.”

Travis rolled his eyes. “Get in the car, Cody,” he said, unlocking it and then doing so himself.

I sighed and climbed in, crossing my arms over my chest as I settled into my seat. Seeing the look on my face, Travis shut the car back off and let the keys dangle from the ignition.

“Cody,” he said as he turned to me. “If you’re worried about me and you, don’t be. We’re solid. We can survive a bit of a break from each other. But if you’re worried about what Charlie wants you to do, then I’m sorry, but you have to knock it off. You’re an adult, Code, and you can come back to school if you want to come back to school.”

“Charlie pays for a lot of it,” I answered. “He owns the truck and pays our phone bills.”

“So what,” Travis retorted. “If he takes your truck away, I’ll come pick you up. If he get pissed and shuts off your phone, you can work for my dad at the car shop. He’ll pay you to wash the cars when he’s done fixing them – I don’t know. And if Charlie stops paying for school and housing, you’ll figure it out. You can always stay with me until you do.”

I frowned at him. “I thought you gave the spare bedroom to Erick for the break.”

Travis shook his head. “We’ll kick him out, Cody. It’s not rocket science.”

Content with my lack of an answer, Travis started the BMW up and backed out of the grass onto the narrow street. A lot of the cars from earlier were already gone, but I hadn’t noticed that much of a change in the atmosphere of the party. It wasn’t the last one of the semester, I knew that for a fact, but it was the last one for me.