On the evening of the party, everyone gathered at Kaz’s place. He and three of his buddies were renting a house several blocks away from the campus, and they had a reputation both for being very chill, and for throwing good parties. Naturally, this made the rest of their classmates happy to be their friends.
Phoenix didn’t know any of the home’s residents himself, but Trev did, and according to him, Kaz was a cool guy. And this was fine with Phoenix. He was always happy to meet new people.
There were already a few people coming and going from the house when he and the rest arrived.
“Yo! Make yourselves comfortable! There’s beer behind the house, and we’re going to get a bonfire going soon. Should be some snacks by the kegs, too. Have fun!” Yep, Kaz was as nice as everyone said he was.
While everyone was filing in, Trev spotted someone across the yard.
“Yo, Eddy! What’s up, man?” He eagerly made way towards the unfamiliar man.
“Heya, Trev. All’s good. It’s about time you party a bit. What’s the point of college if you don’t? Wanna jam later on?” Eddy invited.
“I don’t know if I sound good enough yet. But I’m in, if you’re in,” Trev agreed.
“Sure thing. Let’s get this party started!”
“Oh, by the way, this is my girlfriend, Jeanne. Jeanne, this is Eddy, my guitar teacher.”
“Ah, so that’s who he’s been ditching me for!” Jeanne joked, prompting a chuckle from Eddy.
“Yes, and let me tell you, this guy’s got talent. He’s learning the instrument much faster than most of my other students. And I’m not just saying that because he’s paying me to teach him. Really, keep up the great work, Trev. I’ll go help Kaz set up the bonfire.”
Eddy went towards the pit where the rest of the partiers were setting up the kindling and wood for the fire and Jeanne looked at her boyfriend in a new light.
“Well, well, well, young guitar prodigy, when were you going to tell me about your success?”
“Oh, I’m not that good, really. But thanks. One day, I’ll serenade you, promise.”
Meanwhile, Phoenix and Jeanine were helping out with the bonfire as well. Or rather, Jeanine was. Despite Phoenix’s futile attempts to help carry the heavier logs, she did her best to get to carry most of them, trying to exercise even here. The other partiers didn’t notice, but he did. Now, as they were warming their hands over the burning flames, he decided it was as good a time as any to broach the subject.
“Jeanie, you really need to take it easy once in a while. We’re at a party, you can relax for once, you know. Look, even Millie is having a beer, and she’s literally only here for a degree.”
“I am taking it easy, though. After the weight room at the gym, these logs are practically pillows,” she rationalized.
“Maybe, but that’s not the point. The point is that you’re constantly wearing yourself out. We’re all worried.”
“I know you are,” she retorted in annoyance. “You think I didn’t have enough trouble circumventing Jeanne’s talks and health facts? I’m not stupid, Phoenix. And I’m not wearing myself out. I know I spend too much time at the gym, and I’m sorry it’s been biting into my time with all of you. But I’ve wished I had access to equipment like these my whole youth. Of course, I’m spending a lot of time there. And I am eating, despite what your cousin’s telling you. Just rarely at home. But I’m definitely not starving myself – I know better than that, especially as Jeanne and I share many classes together and I’m learning all those important facts about the human body.”
He nodded, still not completely satisfied. At least, she understood why they were concerned and she wasn’t being careless.
He did think she was spending too much time at the gym. She was his girlfriend, but sometimes he felt that she was having an emotional affair with that fancy modern gym, since that place saw her more often than he did, on some days. But he understood what a selfish line of thought this was.
“As long as you’re being careful and don’t overexert yourself, I’m cool with you spending long hours at the gym. We just care about you, that’s all.”
“I know. And I appreciate it.” She threw another stick into the flames. “Anyways, what’s with the beer? Like, your sister is having some, but is she going to complain if we do?”
“Nah, not Millie. Let me get you a drink.”
He headed towards the keg to pour her a cup, but once he came back, she wasn’t by the fire. Kaz seemed to notice Phoenix’s confusion and nodded towards the front of the house.
“If you’re looking for Jeanine, she’s talking to that blond chick by the front door. Do you know who it is? She seems like a real bitch.”
“I do not. Let me go check.”
Jeanine was indeed talking to some unfamiliar blond woman, whose body language was telling Phoenix all he needed to know about her – bad news.
“So, Jeanine, I didn’t realize you went to parties.”
“Doesn’t everyone? It’s college. Are you joining us?” Jeanine shrugged towards the bonfire.
“No, I was just going back to the sorority house. I thought you were planning to work out tonight?”
“I don’t live at the gym, Ashley. You do know that, right?” Jeanine chuckled.
“Oh. I just thought you were committed to the team. Maybe I was wrong.”
Well, Phoenix thought, Ashley was quickly making her way to the top of his “Least Favorite People Ever” list. What the hell was this?!
“Ashley, I think it’s enough that I have to put up with your oh so lovely personality during practice, am I also supposed to “enjoy” your company during my time away from the team?” Jeanine didn’t miss a beat.
His girl was awesome!
“I just thought that some of us could always use more effort to stay in top notch condition,” Ashley tried to sound polite, but hopelessly failed.
“And I thought assholes weren’t supposed to harass people during their personal time, but maybe I was wrong,” Phoenix approached the two of them, inserting himself into the conversation. “How did you even know Jeanine was here, whatever your name is?”
“He’s right, how did you know?” Jeanine frowned.
“I… well, I was passing by and…” Ashley found herself caught.
“And Jeanine was behind the house, so there was no way you could have accidentally seen her,” he continued. “Hey, babe, Jeanne was looking for you and said she needed some help – she wouldn’t tell me anything about it. ‘Girl stuff’ or something like it. Can you help her out, pretty please?”
“Yeah, of course,” Jeanine went to look for her friend and Phoenix turned to the annoyed-looking Ashley.
“Look, I don’t know what your problem is, but Jeanine’s been working her ass off both in the gym and elsewhere since before you could walk, and she is in great shape already, so whatever the hell your problem is, why don’t you take it and shove it where the sun don’t shine, ok?”
“Excuse me?!” Ashley feigned shock. In reality, she was giving him a look he might’ve found complimentary had it come from someone other than this girl. It was the same look Morgan used to give him, a hungry look, which kind of reminded him of some wild predator.
“You’ve heard me clearly, Ashley. I don’t know what you were trying to accomplish by showing up here and trying to make Jeanine feel guilty about not spending every waking moment of her life exercising, but you better drop this before I and the rest of our friends report you to the university police for inappropriate behavior. Got it?”
“I see. I was just trying to be helpful. After all, Jeanine is on a scholarship, so losing it could hurt her.”
“And why the hell would she lose her scholarship?” Phoenix gave her a look that he hoped conveyed his best impression of a mobster. It must have worked, since she got the hint and left.
Good. She’s been giving him that predatory look ever since she heard him call Jeanine “Babe”, and it was beyond annoying.
“Darn it, I’ll have to mention this to the others. Kaz called it right – what a bitch?”
Back with the rest of the partygoers, Jeanine was enjoying herself. She quickly realized her friend didn’t actually need to talk to her about any “girl stuff” when she saw her and Trev enjoying themselves with a couple of beers nearby. So, she gratefully took Phoenix’s “rescue” and, for once, let someone else deal with her maddening teammate.
Yes, she and Ashley were on the same team. No, it didn’t mean she had to like the woman. Especially when she was so irritating.
She eyed the flames sadly. She loved soccer, but had to admit, people like her teammate certainly made practice much less pleasant than it should’ve been. What was her problem, anyway? Jeanine knew she had much more skill on the field than Ashley. Ok, so maybe she herself had an issue with this. Why did she have to prove herself over and over again just to be accepted as a valid player, when the less-skilled person got the same accolades? Was it because she was skinnier? Or because she was richer?
She didn’t want to think about this any longer. No, she was here to enjoy the party.
“Cheer up, the party’s just getting started!” someone smiled at her. It was Eddy, Trev’s new friend. “As soon as we’re getting the bonfire stable, we’re going to play some tunes. It’ll be a blast.”
“Sounds wonderful,” she smiled back, for real. The guy couldn’t really know what she had on her mind, but he was genuinely friendly and she appreciated that.
Soon, Phoenix came back, high-fived her, and announced that she had nothing to worry about and all the offending individuals were off the premises. They had a few more hot-dogs, a few more beers, and a whole lot of fun throwing random junk into the flames. (One of the hosts threw in his old notes from his least favorite class – he called that better than therapy. Someone else threw in an old hairband from a cheating girlfriend.)
As promised, Trev and Eddy provided entertainment for all the partiers by covering popular guitar numbers, such as “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “More Than Words,” which made the atmosphere so much warmer and merrier.
By the time they came home, everyone was in a great mood, but tired. Except for Jeanine, who still felt hungry. It was strange, she thought – she actually had a good appetite tonight! Usually, she was too tired to even think about food.
Maybe she should party more.
Jeanne joined her for a midnight snack of her own.
“So, what’s the deal with your crazy teammate? Is she harassing you?” Her friend always jumped straight to the point.
“Phoenix already told you? Yeah, that’s Ashley for you. That girl has some issues that neither of us is qualified to help her with, trust me,” she rolled her eyes.
“No kidding. Finding you off-campus while you’re at someone’s party? That doesn’t sound like “issues,” that sounds like she’s a creep!” Jeanne was indignant. “I’d report her to the campus cops, if I were you.”
“For what? For being at a party and talking to me? And Ashley is annoying, but she’s all talk. I think she’s just pissed that having money in the bank makes her less the center of attention that she wants to be, so she’s taking it out on whoever is close.”
“I still don’t like this,” Jeanne sighed. “I know you like minimizing problems, but please tell me if anything’s weird. Anything at all. I don’t want you to get hurt. Again.”
“You don’t need to be so protective of me, Jeanne. I’m not a kid,” Jeanine laughed.
“No, but you are my closest friend. And I still feel like shit over how things went in high school. I don’t want you to go through something bad by yourself again,” the girl admitted.
“I know. And I won’t. Promise. Now, let’s go to sleep. It’s past 1 am.”
Phoenix was awake when she got to their bedroom. While they had a lot of fun in the bedroom at the beginning of the semester, as their schedules filled up, they had less and less time and energy for sex, which was kind of a bummer for both. But they were free and available right now. She quickly stripped down to her nightwear and jumped into bed.
“Hey… what’cha thinking about?”
“I’m thinking that it’s really hot when you tell people off. Especially when they deserve it,” he pulled her into a kiss. “Did I ever tell you how kick-ass you are?”
“Hmm, really? Wanna show me?”
“That’s a rhetorical question, babe.”
Despite their level of lust, the couple only got through a sleepy makeout session before the long hours caught up with them and both fell asleep. Lovemaking would have to wait for another night.