The next week at school was odd. Rick sat with Tom in class, and the two of them made sure to sit with different people throughout the day – not ignoring the usual crowd, but mixing with new faces a little – and the truth was that Rick was a natural charmer. People were falling over themselves to talk to him, you could see it.
And you could see the change in Rick, too. His whole demeanour seemed to change, he became brighter than ever, more cheerful, more optimistic. He’d be talking to people and he’d casually invite them around for the party after the next match.
But the next party saw the same old faces, and the disappointment on Rick’s face was clear.
“Relax,” Tom said as they sat out on the porch again, a couple of beers in their hands.
“No one’s here,” he said. “Well, apart from the normal guys, you know?”
“So next week just say to people that you missed them at the party. They probably think you weren’t being serious inviting them to a post-match celebration – most of them don’t even watch football – can you be surprised they’re not here?”
“No, I suppose not.”
“It’ll happen, don’t worry.”
A cute blonde poked her head around the door. “Tom?” there was a pleading tone in her voice.
“Go ahead,” Rick smiled. “When in Rome, you know?”
“Yeah…” Tom shrugged and went inside after Lisa, who had persuaded him earlier to go upstairs with her. One thing he’d noticed over the course of the last couple of parties was that if he declined the offers of the cheerleaders, it only made them more determined to get him between their legs. And sometimes you just had to give in to get them to leave off.
But the sex was, for the most part, mundane. Too much make-up, too much perfume, and girls that were just too self-obsessed. No foreplay, no passion, no real feelings involved. It was little more than mutual masturbation.
The thing about Rick, though, was that if you gave him a target, he did not give up. The next week, he kept asking people to the next party, and the week after that, and so on. Eventually, the football players and cheerleaders were surprised to find a few people they’d never met before at the parties. Then more and more trickled in, and the vast great mansion owned by Rick’s parents was full to bursting of high schoolers.
“Tom, you are a God,” Rick said, the party so lively with all these new people around.
“Well, it makes for a better night, huh?”
“It’s never been better. For once, the girls aren’t just asking everyone upstairs with them.”
“Some of the cheerleaders are.”
“Well…” Rick was all smiles, “you know how it is – they can’t understand why they’re getting no attention from either of us. This is the first party I’ve actually enjoyed for…well, ages.”
“You had any luck with the ladies?” Tom asked, and both of them knew he meant apart from the cheerleaders.
“Well, what a choice, huh? I mean…sure, they’re not models, or anything like that, but some of them are gorgeous…I mean…they’re so interesting and…well, I don’t know…sexy, somehow.”
“It’s because they don’t have air between their ears,” Tom chuckled, and Rick joined in.
“I think I might be on to someone.”
“No!” a grin spread across Tom’s face. “That’s great – who is it?”
“There’s this dark-haired girl. She’s called Alex. She has the sweetest face and these glasses that kind of make look really cute, but also she’s so clever. She’s pretty shy, though.”
“So go after her,” Tom said. “But take it slowly. You don’t want to rush things with someone as special as that. I mean if anything happens, you can’t let it get out of control or she’ll think you’re just using her as a one night stand, you know?”
“Yeah, you’re right. You think I might have a chance, though?”
“Of course,” Tom reassured his friend. “Just be considerate and don’t be tacky like you might be with a cheerleader.”
“I’ll do my best.”
With all the events, Tom had been changed, but the truth was he’d only been changed on the surface. Inside, he was the same old Tom, still too shy to really form the centre of social events. He was still the kind of guy who sat at the fringes, happy to be there without forming the centre of attention like Rick generally did. The only difference was that people now knew who he was, they recognised him, and since he was famous for saving the life of the star of the school football team, people automatically liked him, even if they hadn’t ever met him before.
That part of things he liked: he loved that people would smile at him when they passed, it made him feel appreciated. But here at the party, the biggest party ever, he was sitting at the side again, up two steps of the staircase, out of the centre of things.
People milled past him, drinks in their hands, occasionally wandering past him and seeing him sitting there, and they held up palms of greeting, or they just smiled at him, and that was enough for him. But looking across, Rick was there just as he had said he would be, talking animatedly to Alex, the sweet little thing he’d had his eye on all evening. He seemed to be getting on well with her, and Tom could certainly see the attraction. She didn’t look like a supermodel, but she had the kind of shy good looks that melted men’s hearts. She wasn’t going to get onto the cheerleading squad, but her smile was something a man might put his life on the line for.
Tom smiled. It was obvious what would happen: Rick was a smart guy, he wouldn’t lose her now. It gave Tom a warm feeling inside to know that the guy was going to get what had essentially been missing from his life: a proper relationship. Sure, he had a lot to be thankful for, but the truth was that Rick was a fundamentally good person, and he deserved to be appreciated for that by someone close to him.
Tom sat there, holding a glass that had been full of wine, but was now looking pretty empty. Should he go and get another drink or had he had enough already? He looked around. He felt a little light-headed and his cheeks were warm, which always happened when he’d had enough wine. No, best not. Better to sit there and watch the delightful interplay between Rick and Alex. Look at them: both of them clearly infatuated by the other, yet each too nervous to just fall upon the other.
There had been a girl at the party that Tom had had his eye on all night – she looked so sultry, so intelligent and so very sexy, it made his stomach turn to molten lava. But she just looked too…too perfect, and made Tom feel that in all honesty, he hadn’t changed much inside. He was still the same guy he was, pretty shy deep-down, like most guys are in real life. He couldn’t see her right now, but even if he could, he’d never be able to just go up to her and talk to her like Rick would have done.