Eric brought his girlfriend to Game Night with the gang, which was a little like bringing her home to meet the folks, except that she had no idea of the weight.
An hour before they arrived at the door, Eric sent out the text message warnings: Lindsey was not to mention the comic book world’s latest crimes against femininity, unless she could do it at something under ninety decibels. Todd was not allowed to bring any of his card games where murder, back-stabbing or gender change were possible. Riley was not allowed to burst into any rendition of internet-famous songs, no matter how applicable. Sarah and Ashley were to act like their usual selves, which was to say, the kind of selves who watched out for the good of mankind and would pummel anyone into the ground who didn’t follow their rules.
Patrick was not to mention the time that he and Eric went to Las Vegas and got lost on the bus system until five in the morning. Patrick was not to mention his and Eric’s habit to scare squirrels on campus. Or the ridiculous number of waitresses across the United States who had gotten Eric’s phone number scrawled under boy band lyrics from the 90s on that cross-country roadtrip. Or Eric and Patrick’s freshman year obsession with bacon. At the eleventh text message, he finally just told Patrick to get out the duct tape, because he wasn’t going to talk that night. Or else.
One by one, the gang showed off their instructions as they arrived early at Sarah’s house. Lindsey spent fifteen minutes at something above ninety-five decibels, just to get it out of her system. Patrick wrote all the things he wasn’t allowed to talk about in sharpie on his forearm. Then Ashley dragged him to the kitchen sink to scrub it off him. They managed to half-drench themselves in the process and when Eric and his girlfriend arrived, she looked at them in confusion.
“Sorry, dihydrogen monoxide emergency,” Ashley said and shoved Patrick down the hall toward the linen closet and the towels.
That seemed to be enough weirdness for an hour or so. Patrick stayed studiously quiet. Sarah and Ashley led a pleasant conversation, that was a little slower than the usual, but still a little faster than an Aston Martin. The game continued smoothly, with the conversation ranging around it. The only times they shouted were when Riley laid down three Draw Fours in a row and when Ashley and Sarah repeatedly Reversed on either side of Patrick to make him draw cards over and over. That seemed normal to the Girlfriend.
Then they hit the familiar discussion of Greek mythology. It was safe enough, without mentioning God of War, sprinkling the conversation liberally with the names of Homer and Euripides and Plato. Not geeky at all. Easy to follow. Hesiod was pushing it a little, but it was okay, until they started reeling off proper etiquette according to the ancients:
“Don’t eat the food of the magic people,” Todd said.
“Only those whom the gods love die young,” Ashley said.
Then they were grinning, laughing. And they were off, snap-quick.
“Don’t dress in women’s clothes,” Patrick said. “Unless you’re Hercules or Achilles.”
“It’s good fortune to have a baby on the ninth of the month,” Lindsey said. “Unless they’re girls. They’re never good.”
“If your pregnant wife says she’s hungry, don’t listen. She’s trying to steal your food,” Sarah said.
“Don’t associate with women who draw attention to their butts. They’re just trying to steal your food,” Ashley said.
“Don’t talk to women. They’re just trying to steal your food!” Sarah said.
“But it’s perfectly okay to cut off your daddy’s privates with a sharp-toothed–”
Everybody quieted as Patrick started the statement. Eric shouted, “Badgers!”
“Look at ‘em go!” Riley said, watching the imaginary mammals climb the walls.
“Aren’t they fast?” Ashley said.
“And pretty,” Sarah added. “I like Elle’s new tiara.” She pointed toward the imaginary badger in the corner.
The Girlfriend glanced around the room uncertainly and latched onto the things that were probably the safest: Eric’s hand and, “Badgers?”
Eric looked uncomfortable and didn’t say anything.
“They’re our saviors,” Sarah said.
“Some people have awkward crickets that chirp in the silence when someone’s just said something stupid,” Ashley said and looked at Patrick. He shrugged it away.
“Okay,” the Girlfriend said slowly.
Ashley smiled apologetically. “We talk so fast, there’s never really a silence, so we needed something more forceful.”
“So…” the Girlfriend said. “Badgers?”
The gang nodded.
“Are badgers… scary?” She didn’t seem to know what to ask.
“Not when they’re wearing tiaras,” Patrick muttered.
“That’s why there’s three of them,” Ashley told her. “Elle, Samuel, and Jackson. They get the job done.”
The room went quiet, waiting for her to rearrange the names and laugh. She didn’t, just tilted her head back to think. They didn’t realize she was looking at anything until she pointed to the top corner of the room and said,”I think Jackson’s stuck.”
“Keep her!” they all shouted at Eric and she hid in his shoulder, confused and laughing.