Home > Make Me Bad

Make Me Bad
Author: R.S. Grey

1

Ben

It’s been quite a while since I threw a punch. The last time was in high school.

A part of me worries I’ve forgotten how to do it, but it seems intuitive: put some heat behind it, aim well, and be prepared for the consequences. Simple enough.

Normally, I don’t find myself in situations like this: at a seedy bar on the wrong side of town, seconds away from losing my temper. I glance down at where my hand grips my drink. My knuckles are white. The glass is about to shatter into a million pieces. My palm will be a bloody mess.

My friend Andy notices. His hand lands on my shoulder in a gesture of solidarity. “C’mon, dude, ignore them. They’re idiots.”

Idiots is exactly right. At the table behind me, there are three guys I’ve known since we were kids. Usually, the only emotion I feel toward them is pity. If I grew up with a silver spoon in my mouth, they grew up with dirt stuffed in theirs. Since the days of little league and Pop Warner football, our paths have rarely crossed, but tonight, Andy wanted to get a drink at Murphy’s. “It’ll be fun,” he said. “We’ve never been there. Maybe it has a cool atmosphere.” So, here I am on a rickety barstool, drinking cheap beer and listening to these Three Stooges run their mouths.

It starts with low-hanging fruit.

“…pretty boy came to our side of town…”

“…thinks his shit don’t stink…”

“…too good for us…”

I ignore them, drink, and watch the Rockets game on TV, but they’re growing restless, getting impatient. They want a reaction, and the longer I sit here with my back to them, the more they dig for it.

“Hey Ben!” one of them shouts, trying to force me to pay attention.

I ignore them.

A low whistle follows and then another one speaks up. “Ben, we’re talking to you.”

I tell myself to keep my focus on the TV. The Rockets are up. I had a good day at the firm. My clients are happy. My beer is only half empty. Life is good.

“It’s okay if he doesn’t want to talk, guys.” It’s their ringleader piping in now—Mac. He’s a big, burly guy with a thick scraggly beard. We played on the same little league team and he wasn’t so bad then, but I remember his dad usually yelled at him a lot during the games. Guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. “He’s probably sad about his mom.”

His taunting words are a poison dart.

My vision tunnels and Andy turns on his barstool, jumping in before I can. “Hey, what’s this about? Can’t we all just watch the game? Let me buy you guys a round.”

That’s my best friend: level-headed, cool to a fault. He once sweet-talked his grade up from a 75 to a 93 on a law school paper. He still brags about it to this day.

The guys behind us laugh at his offer, and I finally turn to assess them over my shoulder. Mac meets my eye, and it’s just as I suspected—he needs to lay off the fast food and find a dentist. He spits tobacco juice into a Styrofoam cup and sends a yellow-stained sneer my way.

I get it.

These guys are pissed at the world—high school dropouts, the outcasts of society—and we offered them a gift by stepping in here tonight. I’m everything they despise. To them, I’m the rich prick with my foot on their backs, holding them down. I’m the reason their lives suck. Maybe I would have let them take jabs at me all night just to ease their suffering a little bit, but the second they decided to bring my family into it, there was no going back. My dad and I have been through hell these last few years, and now that I think about it, I wouldn’t mind taking out my anger on these guys. In fact, it sounds kind of nice.

I slide off my stool and shrug out of my suit jacket. It’s new and I happen to like it enough to keep it clean. I toss it back onto my seat and then smile at the group while I roll up my sleeves.

“My friend offered you a drink,” I say, my voice calm and even despite how hard my heart thunders in my chest.

The guy closest to me is wiry with oil-stained coveralls. I forget his name, but it’s not important. He’s leaning back and only two of his chair legs touch the ground. It’s a cocky pose. He’s daring gravity to get him.

He spits on the floor at my feet. “We don’t want your fuckin’ charity.”

Andy frowns. “Now that’s just not nice.” He points down. “You got spit on his shoes. No one wants spit on their shoes, man.”

Wiry guy makes a real show of hacking up more phlegm in this throat and then he takes careful aim at my feet again. To anyone else, it’d be enough to elicit a reaction, but I don’t give a shit about this guy and his overproduction of saliva.

It’s Mac who finally hits the target.

“Did you hear me, Ben?” Mac prods, sitting up to his full height. “I asked about your mom. She still fuckin’ crazy? Oh, wait, that’s right, I forgot she’s—”

The rubber band inside me snaps. Without an ounce of hesitation, I step forward and kick the legs out from under wiry guy’s chair.

Consequences be damned.

2

Madison

Today is my 25th birthday and I’m standing in the middle of the children’s section at the library while my coworkers serenade me. This is my official birthday party, the only one I’m going to get. I wish I were in Vegas at one of those clubs where the Kardashians have their birthdays. Strobe lights would be flashing, my dress would be killer, and I’d stumble upon a billionaire financier who just so happened to have the body of an NFL player in the hall on the way to the bathroom. I’d accidentally trip and fall—oops!—right into his path. He’d fall too, for me, instantly. My life would forever be changed.

As it is, here in reality, there’s a small cake and a few streamers hanging haphazardly from the ceiling. Most have already fallen to the ground, crunched beneath our shoes. To his credit, my friend Eli brought in a fancy fruit and cheese tray this morning, but there’s really only a few blue cheese crumbles and sad melon left since we’ve been taking swipes from it all day.

“Happy birthday to you,” he sings loudly, trying to carry the torch for the other two partygoers. He even waves his hands back and forth like an orchestra conductor as if that will energize them a bit. “Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Madison—”

A lone voice breaks out from the pack. “Madeline…er…Madison.”

Our intern, Katy, still doesn’t know my name, and she’s been here for six weeks. Also, she’s currently texting.

Eli shoots her a glare and carries the song home for everyone. “Happy birthday to youuuuuu! Woo!” He claps uproariously. “Make a wish!”

My lone candle is seeping blue wax down onto the cake, which is homemade courtesy of Mrs. Allen. She’s admittedly not a baker, but her heart was definitely in it, and she even wrote my name across the top in shaky white cursive. I love it.

I close my eyes and try to think of a wish right when Katy whispers to Eli.

“Do I have to be here? Like, am I still getting paid?”

All day, I’ve been carefully avoiding the urge to take stock of my life, a universal instinct on birthdays. I’ve stayed off of social media lest a stray engagement or birth announcement catch my attention. I’ve removed all temptation to text old flames (of which there are exactly 1.5) to see if they want to “catch up” by locking my phone in my desk drawer. Now, though, in the span of one millisecond, I’m struck with the quarter-life crisis I’ve so desperately been trying to fend off.

HOW IS THIS MY LIFE?!

I keep my eyes closed, tumbling through a wormhole of disbelief. How did I get here? As a preteen, I thought by the time I turned 25, my life would have really come together. I’d have a sleek red convertible, a three-story dream house, a hip-to-waist ratio under .75, and a boyfriend named Ken. Admittedly, I now see that was Barbie’s future, not mine.

I blink one eye open, praying that, by some miracle, I’ve teleported myself to that club with the Kardashians and the billionaire, but unfortunately, my life is still the same. There are three people at my birthday party: Mrs. Allen, the 75-year-old library administrator; Katy, the uninterested intern; and Eli, my best friend who works up in Fiction on the second floor.

We’re quite the motley crew.

I lean forward and blow out my candle, not bothering to make a wish that won’t come true anyway. “No, Katy, you can head home.”

She grins and I can tell she barely stifles the urge to punch the air with glee. With a pop of her gum, she adds, “Is it cool if I take some cake for my boyfriend? He has a total sweet tooth.”

That’s cool. Her boyfriend likes sweets and my boyfriend doesn’t exist. I grumble at her to take as much as she wants and then get to work slicing it. It feels good to stab something.

“What flavor is this, Mrs. Allen?” Eli asks, inspecting the strange, murky brown color of the cake sitting on his paper plate.

“Pumpernickel.”

Makes sense. Why wouldn’t you make someone’s birthday cake out of rye bread? Vanilla? Pah. Too generic and delicious.

“But,” she continues, “I didn’t have any baking soda, so I just added an extra cup of flour.”

Oh dear. I force down exactly one forkful, plaster on a large, appreciative smile, and am eternally grateful when Mrs. Allen flakes out soon after Katy with an excuse that her bunions are killing her. The second she turns, I spit the cake into a napkin and shudder from the taste.

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