Chip creeps up like a fog.
“You want something to drink?” he asks loud enough and close enough to be heard over the heartbeat thump of the music.
You tell him the same thing you do every night.
From the VIP balcony you watch the crowd of a hundred-plus people pulse like one organism below. Dancing among them, like a neon splotch, is a girl in a hot pink tube top, who is definitely too young to be in here.
Chips spider-fingers graze your arm as he passes you the glass of bourbon. Had he left and come back already? Or had he come prepared?
There was a time when you took pleasure in being the only person Chip would get a drink in his own club.
Below, the lights go down and the crowd roars. It’s 11 o’clock. It always happens at 11 o’clock. The band frontman yells: “Are you ready to get down tonight!” An electric guitar squeals.
The air tastes tangy and oppressive with sweat. Overhead, an air duct churns to life, spurting your shoulders with cold.
“You could join us,” Chip says into your ear.
Behind you are a pool table and leather couches, and a party of the exclusive selection. They’re alumni of Chip’s same business program, or his father’s friends’ sons, or some other distant collaborations, plus plus-ones.
There was also a time when you played hostess. You would laugh. You would charm. You would curl your hand around Chip’s arm like touch was desirable.
But you feel like someone at some point has taken a paint stripper to you, and all that’s left is faded out and smudged. Maybe you did it to yourself. You paint on your face now instead: eyebrows and eyelashes, contour and blush. An imitation of a person you don’t have the energy to pretend to be. If your face is pretty, you don’t have to expend the effort to be a pretty soul, or a soul at all. People will take you at face value and extrapolate.
He’s gone. You’re gone. You drink. You taste nothing.
The band descends into its first song of the genre pop-y, danceable, and forgettable. Except for a harmonizing voice. It’s familiar. You blink at a distant face on stage. You know that man on the guitar.