Adelaide’s glass slammed down on the table a split second before Isaac’s. Mark erupted into cheering, pointing at Adelaide to announce her victory to the dizzy and exhausted competitors.
“Fuck!” Isaac slurred, immediately picking his glass back up to flip it over and pour himself another drink. “It’s scary how good you are at this.”
Adelaide had her eyes shut, clearly affected by the alcohol, but it didn’t stop her from nodding and waving her arms over her head in a graceless victory dance.
After he’d downed half of his new drink, Isaac stood up from the table and leant his weight against it. “Where’s my phone?” He asked, squinting at his drinking buddy.
Adelaide leant over Mark to point at one of the lower kitchen cabinets. “I got it hooked up to the AUX.”
Isaac grumbled and dropped to his knees to open the cupboard, finding the bus’s audio system hidden within it. He picked his phone up from the top of the player, fiddled with it for a moment, before unplugging the cable and returning to the table with it. The music continued to play.
“There you go, I connected it to my bluetooth,” he explained. Adelaide beamed and held her hands out to him, but he dodged the hug by placing their half empty liquor bottle in her grip instead.
Mark threw Beau a glance from where he was sipping an energy drink on the other side of the table. He raised his eyebrows and lowered his head, asking, “You alright?” Quietly underneath the kerfuffle of Adelaide and Isaac’s little party.
Beau snapped out of his trance and quickly nodded, bringing his drink to his lips. Mark continued to stare at him with a concerned frown, so he leant forward and uttered the first excuse that came to mind. “I just zone out when I drink,” he lied, “And it’s been a while since I had one, so I’m being a total lightweight.”
He punctured his statement with a forceful laugh, which seemed to ease Mark’s concerns enough for him to release Beau from his attention. In truth, Beau had been zoning out, but not because of the liquor. If anything, it had made him drink slower, so he hardly felt tipsy.
He was trying his hardest to centre himself, but his gaze kept drifting onto Isaac throughout the night. Even while they played games, exchanged videos, and took turns dancing in the tiny walkway between the bunks and the kitchen, his eyes kept landing on his host. Plus, with each drink he poured, his inner voice only got louder as it berated him for acting like such an idiot outside the bus.
It didn’t make the thought of getting drunker very appealing, so he cradled his vodka and sipped it delicately. He made sure to laugh nice and loud whenever someone made a joke, so no one would suspect him of skipping out on the celebrations, and held on as long as he could to fall asleep at the same time as his friends.
When Mark left the party to settle into the driver’s seat with a fresh energy drink, Adelaide finally began to yawn. Beau took that as his cue and set his empty glass down as he stood up from the table, which resulted in an immediate whine from his friends. He ignored their complaints and stretched his arms over his head, ruffled Adelaide’s hair, then slipped out of the booth to seek refuge in his bunk.
It didn’t take long for the music to stop and for shuffling feet to follow him down the hall. The bunks creaked as his co-stars climbed inside and closed their curtains, leaving the bus in a sudden state of quiet. Beau peered out from behind his curtain, confirming that the bus was dark and ready for sleep, then pulled it shut and turned onto his side.
Immediately, Beau began to count, falling backwards from a thousand in multiples of three to help himself fall asleep. He did his best to focus on the countdown as he pulled his thin sheet over his head, but the quiet of the bus quickly began to amplify the angry monologue in his head.
Stupid. Selfish. Brazen. Selfish.
How could he think about his closest, straightest friend that way? How could he fall so deeply into his crush that he nearly acted on it?
He squeezed his eyes shut tighter and tried again. 979, 976, 973…
This was probably why Isaac and Adelaide were best friends and Beau was just the roadie that helped them along the way. He was the kind of person to lean too far, to smile too long, to stare when Isaac wasn’t looking. He was the creep, the uncertain one who couldn’t hold down a relationship, who only dated blonde girls because they wouldn’t remind him of Isaac, but prayed for every birthday slumber party to spend a night closer to his friend…
He inhaled sharply, ready to restart his countdown, but caught the lingering scent of strawberry on his clothes. It startled him, but soothed him at the same time, and he held the blankets tighter over his head so he could capture it beneath them.
Beau’s chest felt tight. Hot. Like a balloon was swelling up in his lungs. He’d wanted to feel that strawberry-laced stubble so badly, he’d almost ruined everything for it. Now he just laid there, replaying it over in his mind like it had happened, still wishing it would. He hated himself for it.
He couldn’t do that again. He couldn’t do any of this anymore. To put a friend in such an uncomfortable situation–
Beau’s spiralling thought process was interrupted by a familiar jingle playing from the bus’s speakers. He opened his eyes and lowered his sheet, squinting into the darkness as he tried to place it. The music ended as quickly as it had started, and suddenly a very different sound was blaring through the audio system. Sounds of slapping skin and breathless moaning filled the bus.
Beau shut his eyes when he realised what was playing. For fuck’s sake. Who was hooked up to the bus’s bluetooth to watch…?
“You like that cock? Yeah? Take it, baby,” boomed from the speakers.
“You’re so big, fuck me already,” moaned a deep, masculine voice in response.
Beau’s eyes shot open.
The panting continued until he was distracted by a loud thud from the hallway next to him. Then, Adelaide was shrieking with laughter above him, and Beau heard the patter of feet rushing down the hallway.
Beau hooked a finger around his curtain and tugged it just an inch, trying to peek without being seen. Isaac was crouching in front of the audio system, the cabinet flung open and his eyes a wide, panicked stare as he stabbed at random buttons to try and turn off the machine.
The two men in the audio kept whispering and moaning to each other until Isaac’s fingers found and jammed against the power button, leaving the bus in silence once more. Adelaide’s laughter trailed off into an exhausted wheezing, while Isaac sat there as a dishevelled heap on the kitchen floor.
“Uhhh… Y’all good back there?” Mark called out from the driver’s area.
“It’s fine,” Isaac shouted, far too loudly, far too quickly. “Sorry. P-prank video. A, uh, friend sent it to me,” he stammered.
“Uh huh,” Mark laughed, which set Adelaide off again. “All good… Just warn me next time. Nearly drove us into a ditch.”
Isaac kept his head lowered and Beau saw his fist clenching and unclenching at his side. Then he whipped his head around to look up at Adelaide, scowling at her bunk.
“Shut the fuck up,” he whispered harshly. “You’ll wake Beau.”
Beau instinctively flinched backwards behind his curtain at the mention of his name, trying to stay hidden from view.
“Pretty sure you woke up all of the west coast,” Adelaide snarked at him, before Isaac stood up and stomped back to his bunk.
Once he’d laid down and slowly drawn the curtains, Beau heard one last quiet, “It was a prank,” from Isaac’s bed, in a trembling, unconvincing tone.
Left to lie in silence once more, Beau felt like he’d been slapped in the face.
His eyes were still wide, staring at his ceiling as he tried to calm his breathing and slow his heart rate. Isaac didn’t text anyone besides he and Adelaide, that had been made very clear multiple times before. That, plus the wavering tone of his excuse, sent shivers down Beau’s spine.
Why was Isaac watching… that?