Caitlin lit a cigarette as we stood on the east side of the street at the furthest bar south on the Wrigleyville stretch. Behind our backs, pizza and burger joints were dark inside, with freshly mopped floors and sleeping lamps. Outside them the sidewalks were nearly barren and still, and busboys and hosts congregated in the ally behind, tired and greasy, shifting weight in worn shoes and venting about management and stingy tippers.
Before us the sidewalks were alive with movers, gallivanting from bar to bar. Girls in calculated outfits debuted summer scants and boys in white and light blue button-up shirts marveled at the mass of bare legs and side swept bangs.
We walked north through streams of perfume and heavy cologne. Caitlin led us, and I felt like a midget in my flip flops amongst the swarms of tall gentlemen and girls in high wedges and booties. Most of the bars had open windows or street side drinking gardens. Those in baseball caps and t-shirts waited in a short line outside the bright bar with classic rock blaring. Those in shirt dresses and graphic black tees waited in a long line outside the bar with techno and house music inside.
Some girls with ugly features perfected over by expensive makeup and quality hair extensions looked at Caitlin like she was a stain. She did look rather silly amongst them in her basketball shorts and belly showing tee, but she was unaffected by their judgments.
"Nice to see ya, how's it goin'. Hi there," she said patronizingly, as we squeezed through the pretty drunks.
"In here," she said, motioning to 'Nihil', a bar where flip-flops and high heels collide. The bouncer was fat and bald, which must be a job requirement because every bouncer on this block seemed to be an identical twin of the next. There wasn't a line and Cait pulled her ID out from inside her t-shirt.
"You can't bring those chips in here," said the bouncer, handing her back the ID. She handed me the two bags, one which wasn't opened yet.
"Here finish these," she said.
"There's no way I can eat two enormous bags of chips right now." I held them up to her, emphasizing what an impossible feat it would be.
"Put some in your pockets then."
"I don't want crumbs in my pockets!"
"God you're difficult!" she said. She poured a mouthful down her throat from one bag and tossed it onto the walk. She held the unopened Doritos out, offering them to random movers.
"Hey you want these chips? Hey take these chips." Passerbys walked off the sidewalk into the bike lane to avoid us standing there, likely assuming that Cait was crazy.
"Here we go here we go," she said, noticing a homeless man sitting on the corner down the block. He had a long gray beard and wore an old blue sports jacket, likely a prized find in a dumpster dive some years ago. He had a bucket in front of him with loose change inside. We walked over to him.
"Can you spare some change?" he said.
"Here!" she said, tossing him the bag of Doritos.
"I don't want your goddamn chips..." He threw them onto the walk. We both looked down at the chips, puzzled.
"Sir. Foul move... Now I'm giving you a gift and I find it a little rude that you'd just throw it in the street like that," said Caitlin, picking up the chips and offering them back to him.
"You wanna give me a gift? Go get me a goddamn pint!" he said. He smiled and crackled a laugh, exposing some grimy brown teeth that seemed they may shatter with a gust of the wind.
"You'll starve with that attitude, you know!" screamed Cait.
"Scram!" He stuck out his tongue at us.
"Fine," she said. We walked back to Nihil and left the bag of chips in the road.
It was dark and loud inside, and a row of red booths and a long black bar was parted by a table-less walkway of loitering groups, drinking with few words in between, on account of the raucous of speakers nearby. We walked up to the higher level where dancing was happening, mostly by some sickly butt rubbing girls with tall men behind them, who held and glided the hips with their hands.
"Get it girl," said Caitlin, to a serious faced lone dancer in a yellow mini dress. Cait guided us to the bar behind the dancers and she coolly ordered two Jamesons on the rocks.
"Bye bye," she said, tapping her plastic cup to mine. We snagged two stools at the bar and she talked fervently about the hipsters and their lame music and their unpatriotic attitudes and the ungrateful homeless man and how much she wished she had that bag of Doritos right then.
"We can get food when we leave here," I said.
"Yeah yeah stellar idea. I'm coincidentally craving a meat sandwich now," she looked passed me deeply and I could really see how hungry she was.
Someone nudged me in my back with an elbow and a cold drink spilled down my shorts. My pink underwear would now glow against the cotton once again that day. I turned around and a fair skinned, short blonde boy was squeezing near me to reach the bar. His drink was empty.
"Oh God, I'm so sorry. Did I spill that on you?" he said. His eyes were dark brown and recognizably drunk, because the left one looked lazy in the same way my fathers' did when he drank.
"Yeah you did actually," I said, "My shorts are all wet."
"Sorry I got pushed. Did I ruin them? I'll get you a drink. What'll you have?" he talked fast and his teeth were big and bucked, and if I hadn't heard his midwestern voice I would have thought he might be British.
"Jameson, just on the rocks," I said.
His face turned suddenly adoring.
"Wow. Jameson huh? I think I love you," he said. He ordered two drinks and turned back to me.
"What was your name again?" he said.
"It's Scarlett," I said, smiling.
"It can't be."
"Why can't it be?"
"You don't look like a Scarlett."
"People don't look like anything," I said.
"Sure they do," he scanned the room.
"That guy over there? His name's Ted," he pointed to a burly fellow with a pug nose and a brown bowl cut.
"And her? Her name's Ashley... or Sarah," he said, pointing to a girl in a purple tank top with a nose ring and dark jeans. She walked by us.
"Excuse me. What's your name?" he said to her.
She turned, "Kelsey," she said, "Why?"
"Never mind. I thought you were someone else. Carry on," he made a 'cheers' notion towards her and she kept walking.
"Close enough." He smiled and took a large gulp of his drink.
"So what do you think my name is then?" I said.
"Hmm... Something cute, like 'Paige' or 'Brooke'. Scarlett's too dramatic. You don't look dramatic."
"I think you think too much."
"No such thing," he said.
"You look like a Chris.. or a Matt."
"Oh yeah? Why's that."
"Because that's what everyones' name is," I said.
"Actually It's C.J, but my friends call me Wheeler. What about you? Do you have friends or are you just here by yourself?"
"I'm here with her," I pointed to Caitlin, who was now in somewhat of a dance off with a lanky black break dancer, who was beating her shamelessly, and only I could see that she was joking.
"That girl? Over there?"
"Yeah, that's my roommate." I was numb to her antics. The first time I met her she was dancing, and I'd seen her moves a thousand times since. She took any opportunity to put on a show. We watched her for a few songs and Wheeler burst into laughter from time to time.
"I'm meeting some friends but I'd love to take you to dim sum tomorrow. Have you gone? It's Chinese. We can go to dim sum and have yum cha. I'll pick you up," he said.
"Alright! Here, put your number in my phone." he handed it to me. I entered in the right digits, a rare act, and he drank the rest of his Jameson quickly before walking away.
"I'll call you tomorrow Paigebrook," he said.
I watched the crowd spilling past me towards drinks and more drinks, towards dancing and pursing one another. Songs carried on and Billy Idol wailed throughout the dense room. I started to feel drunk so I corralled Caitlin away from the dance off. She was resistant, like the crowd was expecting an encore performance and I was sabotaging it.
"Alright alright. Let's go," she finally said. We walked out of Nihil and crowds of staggering loiterers stood in the street waiting for cabs. Girls with messy hair and drink splattered dresses looked as though they may have once been presentable, prior to sweaty dances and inordinate shots. The lanky break dancer and two other dancers, less lanky and more black, trailed behind us.
"They're taking us for pancakes," said Cait.
"Where?" I said, "I don't really feel like pancakes."
"Then order French toast. It's right around the corner," she said. She walked forward fast as me and the lankys followed behind.
At the diner Cait ordered a stack of chocolate chip pancakes for her and the lighter lanky. The waitress looked at me, "What'll you have?" she said.
"She'll have whatever's French. Anything French that you've got, she'll take it," said Cait.
I confirmed with a shrug.
We sat in a booth, me in between the darker two, who didn't speak. In fact I questioned if they actually could because I hadn't heard a word. Not a mutter. Not a peep. Not even a yawn. They both smelled too, like sweaty shirts from a musty closet.
I got a text from a number, which turned out to be Wheeler. He said, "Paigebrook: dim sum in the a.m, yum cha in the p.m." It seemed subliminal. All I said back was, "meow."
The waitress brought me French toast and French fries, and a bottle of Perrier to drink.
"That's all the French we got," she said, setting down the plates.
"Thank you thank you," said Cait, who was already putting syrup on the pancakes and sucking down the root beer she'd ordered. Her and the light lanky talked about beats and music, as she drummed with her fork on the retro table. I ate ravenously.
Lanky settled the bill and we hailed a cab towards our place.
"Let's hope no one's in our apartment," said Cait.
"Why would someone be there?" asked Lanky.
"Because we don't lock the door." she said.
I rolled down the window in the front seat and rested my head on the door. The sun was rising and my eyes were heavy and exhausted. I could hear the waves of Lake Michigan, momentous and calm, nudging against the sand rhythmically. I made hills into the wind with my tired hand and my attention faded like the sunset. The conversation between Cait and Lanky in the backseat seemed serious.
"Are you close with your family?" he said.
"I left home when I was 18. I haven't spoken with them since." Her voice was vacuous.
"I'm sorry to hear that. How sad."
"No, it's okay. That's the best part of getting older, you get to choose which assholes you want to keep around," she said.
It made me remember that my sister would be in town the next day. She'd be expecting to see me. I would need to clean up all of my messes before her arrival, if possible.
The breeze was harsh on my face and I closed my eyes as they watered. I was falling asleep, and there was no way to stop me.