Marlboros & Millers

After three or four beers, a couple shots of cheap vodka, and a few drags from a joint, Kurt and Amber were properly buzzed. They stepped outside to have a smoke and grab a beer from the cooler as their friends partied on, the apartment door pulsating to the tune of R&B. The air was warm and the sleeves of Kurt’s army-green t-shirt hugged his arms gently. Amber’s black sweatshirt was baggy, half unzipped, and as comfortable as the patch of grass they chose to sit upon. The stars gleamed back at Kurt, too pretty to ignore. His lighter sparked to life and he took a deep pull from a Marlboro, inhaling thoughtfully.

“Some night, eh?” Kurt said. “You really need to quit those things,” Amber retorted. “I will. I leave for Basic in two weeks. One way or another I’ll get clean.” “You won’t be able to run for very long.” “I’ll be fine.”

He took another drag and tossed the cigarette aside, mostly unsmoked, its ember skittering on the pavement.

“Can I get a sip of that?” “Have at it.”Amber passed her bottle of suds to Kurt. He took a sip and swished it back and forth like mouthwash. It tasted better than it should have. He passed the bottle back to Amber, wary of hogging man’s most prized possession––the last beer.

“There’s only one beer left. Rappers screaming all in our ears like we’re deaf,” Kurt rapped. “What?” Amber said. “It’s a song. ‘One Beer,’ it’s called. ‘How’s there only one left, the pack come in six? What ever happened to two and three? A herb tried to slide with four and five and got caught like what you doin’ g?’, it goes.” “You’re always doing that,” Amber said, rolling her eyes.

“Doing what?" “Rapping.” “Yeah, I guess I am,” Kurt said, laughing slightly.

Amber took another sip of beer, her legs crisscrossed, her mind at relative ease.

“How’s Brittany?” Amber asked “A royal pain in my ass,” Kurt said.

“Why didn’t she come out tonight?”

“I didn’t invite her.”

Kurt patted the pack of smokes in his pocket, thought about lighting up another, then decided against it. “You think she’ll miss you when you’re gone?” Amber asked.

“For a little while, maybe. She’s making a big deal of it, throwing a party and all, but she seems a little too eager to celebrate, in my opinion,” Kurt said. “I thought you two were good together,” Amber said. “We are, but maybe we’re a little too good together. After a while relationships just get...comfortable. You both accept it for what it is and it feels like there’s no more surprise, no more magic. It’s like driving home in the dark. You can’t see for shit, but you know the road so well you don’t need to look at the signs. You know exactly where you’re going, exactly when you’ll get there. It’s too easygoing.” “Yeah, but you never know when a drunk driver might side- swipe your car and send you fishtailing. Nothing’s that easy,” Amber said. “Some things are,” Kurt said.

Kurt settled down, laid his head on the grass, decided on another smoke. He lit it silently, the smell of tobacco filling the air.

“Can I hit that?” Amber asked. “They’re bad for you,” Kurt said. “I know, but sometimes I like them when I’m drunk. They make my head go whoa for a second. It’s fun.” “Have at it, then.”

Kurt passed the cigarette to Amber. She held it awkwardly, with two hands, and took a short pull. Her eyes watered and she coughed up a cloud of smoke. Then she gathered herself and took a deeper drag, pulling the smoke deep into her lungs, exhaling like a pro. She passed the cigarette back to Kurt.

“Fun?” “Not really,” Amber said, laughing. “I have no idea how you smoke so many of those things.” “You get used to them.” “So you and Brittany are pretty much done then? I mean, no sense in staying together once you leave, right?” Amber asked. “That seems to be the case. I mean, we haven’t really talked about it, but we both know it’s coming to an end. That’s okay, though. Shit happens,” Kurt said. “I thought you two were good together.” “We mostly are. But it’s the little things that drive me crazy. Like this morning, for example. I thought I’d be nice and make breakfast, but she got mad because I burnt the bacon. She likes it chewy, she said.” “What?” Amber said, playfully outraged. “Crispy bacon is the best bacon. Maybe you should drop her ass.” Kurt laughed. “I’m working on it.” They went quiet for a minute, neither speaking, both enjoying their respective vice. “That’s the other thing,” Kurt said. “What?” “There’s no comfortable silence with her. She can’t just fucking relax and let the moment ride. The second a conversation dies she feels the need to start up about some bullshit neither of us care about.”

Amber didn’t really have anything to say to that, so she said nothing. Kurt squinted his left eye, smirked a little, looked off to the left. He always did this when something was troubling him.

“It’s not really fair to do this,” he said. The first sentence always lacked context. But now that he had decided to speak he’d get his point across, eventually. Sometimes it just took him a while. She waited.

Kurt finished his cigarette and tossed it off to the side with the other. The silence was deafening now, and he knew it was time to speak. But still he said nothing. Sometimes he needed a little prodding.

“Do what?” she asked.

Kurt let the moment ride a while longer.

“Compare other girls to you,” he said. finally. “They always fall short.” “Oh, please,” Amber said, laughing gently. “I’m nothing special. And we never even dated, really.” “Oh, you’re special alright,” he said. laughing back. “You’re real fucking special.”

Amber went quiet for a second. The silence wasn’t comfortable, but it wasn’t uncomfortable either. It was the perfect mixture of mutual understanding, mutual disagreement, mutual desire, and mutual aversion.

“I told you, I’m not looking for anything right now. And even if I were, you’re leaving soon. And you’re still with Brittany. And we live two states apart. And I’m a mess, like a total fucking mess. It’d never work out,” she said.

Kurt looked upwards, outwards, inwards, beyond. He wasn’t sure where to look, so he looked at Amber. It was easiest. “Well, at least I’m hot,” Kurt said, laughing. “And once I get through this army training? Shit, I’m gonna look like Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter. Then we’ll see who’s chasing who.” “You know, it’s okay to say something serious without making a joke out of it. It’s okay to be serious sometimes.” That blew Kurt’s mind a little bit. He never knew he did that. He didn’t know you could do that. “Well, if it’s meant to happen then it’ll happen. I believe in that sort of thing,” Kurt said.

"And what, we're meant to be together?", Amber said.

“I’m not saying that. I’m just glad I met you. Even if we never get together, even if I never see you again, I’m just glad I got to meet you. It’s beyond luck,” Kurt said. “It’s just a coincidence. It’s all just one giant coincidence.” “Maybe,” Kurt said. “But I don’t think it is.”

Amber drank the last sip of beer and put the bottle down.

"So this is how we’re gonna end the night? All sad and shit?” “We don’t have to,” he said. “What time is it?” “11:45,” Amber said. “The corner store’s still open, it ain’t too late. Praise that in your arms like it’s a bouquet.” “Here we go with the rapping again,” Amber said, laughing.

“Come on, we can make it,” he said, pulling Amber up by the arm. “I’m coming, I’m coming.”

They made the corner store just in time to split a six pack, finishing most of it on the walk back. They weren’t sure which of them had two and which of them had three, so they shared the last beer, passing it back and forth until they were both delightfully drunk and there really was no beer left. Then Kurt, stumbling more than Amber, walked her back to her apartment and kissed her on the forehead playfully.

"You really are a jackass, Kurt. You really are.” “Sure am. See you in the a.m.?” “Whoa, whoa, whoa. I don’t do mornings. I’ll see you in the evening."

“See you then,” Kurt said, stumbling down the staircase drunkenly. “Be careful!” yelled Amber as he walked away.

She sounded more like an echo than a person, but he gave a wave goodbye anyways. Nothing really seemed that serious anymore. He was drunk, the air was warm, and the stars were bright. He tossed his pack of cigarettes into a nearby trash can, knowing damn well that’d he be buying another pack in the morning. Then he looked up at the sky, like a gorilla, and asked himself a single question, one of the big ones.

"What the fuck am I doing?"