Today I have an excerpt from The Drifters by Nathan Nix as well an opportunity to get the book for free in his awesome Tax Day Giveaway.
The Drifters by Nathan Nix
April 15, 2013
Nic’s comfortable suburban life is thrown into upheaval the morning after her high school
graduation. A careless but egregious crime dashes her plans of going off to college and leaves
her family, the neighborhood’s new black sheep, struggling socially and financially. Come
August, Nic is left behind by her friends — including her boyfriend — to enter the bizarre
purgatory that is community college. As she schemes to escape, she takes refuge under the
most unlikely of wings — those belonging to a trio of third and fourth-year freshmen ghosting
the halls of the community college, borderline burnouts she used to ignore as they smoked
under the bleachers in high school. These aimless but talented musicians and artists take it
upon themselves to show her parts of the city she’s never experienced before and to teach her
how to stretch a dollar. As Nic experiences real independence and self-expression for the first
time, she must decide whether the life she’d been building is worth saving, or if it’s better to
let it fall apart so she can reconstruct it from scratch.
Chapter 1: The Plan
We were at the party that night to save my best friend, Mel, who was on the verge of making a gigantic mistake. Unless I intervened, her choice would basically bring our friendship to a premature end. I was not going to let that happen.
We may not have shared the same blood, but we were sisters nonetheless. Our parents had been best friends since attending the University of Texas in Austin together—just like Mel and I were set to do the next fall—and had raised us within a hundred yards of each other for almost two decades.
We were even born in the same hospital on the same day. It’s been said jokingly (though I suspect there is more than a hint of truth to it) that we were conceived after the same party, a Junior League soiree chaired by our mothers. Dad claims it was a “key party” and that he is really Mel’s dad and her dad is really mine. When he says this—which he does often, as dads seem to like recycling jokes—we say, “Gross!” and pretend to gag. He responds by telling Mel, “You see this little bump right here?” He points to his nose. “You’ve got it too. Just think about that.” Mel was a little freaked out the first time he said it, but eventually I told her he’d broken his nose twice, and that’s why he had the bump. She laughed, though I wondered if it made her feel insecure about her own bump, given that her nose had never been broken.
We were inseparable. Nic and Mel. Mel and Nic. The girls. Even my boyfriend, Cory, couldn’t be what Mel was to me. Every person has two best friends—one a platonic soul mate and the other a romantic lover. They meet two different needs but contribute equal levels of intimacy. Some people take decades to find these two important people, yet somehow I’d found mine before my twentieth birthday.
And I was on the verge of losing one, all because of some dumbass guy she’d known for three months. She thought it was serious, that he might be “the one.”
I knew this because 1) as previously mentioned, he was a dumbass; and 2) he wanted to take her to Texas A&M with him in the fall. But when you’re 18, every tiny shard of possibility seems like it will eventually be fashioned into the key to your future. So she’d applied, though she swore it was just as a back-up option.
I would not stand for subversion of a plan that had been in place since we were kids, dressed by our parents in UT burnt orange and marveling at the chic get-togethers our mothers threw with their Chi Omega sorority sisters. We were set to pledge Chi O in the fall, continuing the legacy. Why Mel would want to throw that all away for a guy was beyond me.
It was out of character for her too. She typically preferred her relationships like Hot Pockets—quick to heat up and consume, best accompanied by a vapid distraction like reality TV. In contrast, I was more of a chef, choosing the best and freshest ingredients, carefully inspecting and preparing them, and then letting them simmer over time until they were just perfect. Then I would savor everything and contemplate the experience and the work I’d put into making something excellent. While it was encouraging to see Mel taking relationships more seriously, it was happening at the most inopportune time.
An intervention was in order. I’d decided a visit to the campus in Austin would alter her trajectory. I couldn’t explicitly set out to break them up—that would be too obvious and would inevitably backfire. What she needed was to be reminded of all the fun times we would share over the next four years and everything she would be giving up.
The plan was perfect. After visiting the Chi O house and seeing our future rooms, we’d grab burgers at Hut’s, attend a Longhorns baseball game (Sports! Team spirit! Unity!), and swim in Barton Springs, a giant swimming hole near campus with a natural limestone floor covered in crystal clear water. A&M had nothing on that.
All of those things were merely preludes to a giant party that night. Upon hearing about it, Cory had invited himself along on what was originally intended to be a girls’ trip. He’d made up some excuse about wanting to tour a couple of frat houses himself, but we both knew the real reason he wanted to come along was to keep an eye on me and make sure I didn’t fall under the spell of some frat boy at the party—you know, that irresistible magnetism that a guy gives off doing a keg stand, playing beer pong, or stumbling around a living room blinking to stay awake and making a puke face every five minutes. Our modern knights, eh? Cory would obviously need to keep a tight leash on me.
As ludicrous as his worries were, I didn’t mind having him around at all. He was nearly as close to Mel as I was—almost like a brother to her—so his presence would hopefully make her feel more vividly what she would be missing out on.
It was this plan that led me to that particular couch cushion in that particular frat house on that particular April night.
Stuck with a particular douchebag. I was ripe for the picking, as my guard had fallen down. A girl my age knew better than to end up alone on a couch at a frat party unless she was purposely putting herself in the shop window. I was most definitely not making myself available, but was instead lost in thought trying to determine whether the events of the day had been productive or not, whether Mel was now leaning back toward UT.
Cory had called earlier and said he was going to get a ride to the party with some of the frat brothers he’d met on his tour, so Mel and I had been on our own to start the night.
Upon arriving, we’d found a couple of the Chi Os who had given us the tour earlier, and they took it upon themselves to get us our first drinks. Cory hadn’t shown up yet, so I’d sent him a text. He’d returned it saying that since he wasn’t driving, it wasn’t up to him how soon he’d get there.
As I’d had my head down, focusing on typing out my reply, I’d heard a male voice come up and begin chatting with Mel. I’d looked up to see a towheaded guy, who appeared to be around 21, with one arm propping himself up on the ledge behind Mel and the other arm holding a red plastic cup with beer in it. His eyes beamed bright under his almost shoulder-
length mane. The smile on his face couldn’t have been made to go away even if he’d tried, so I knew he was really enjoying talking to her. The more sips she took of her own drink, the flirtier Mel became, wiggling back and forth as she spoke with her whole body. She was enjoying the conversation just as much as he was.
Mel was an instinctive flirt, so in general I shouldn’t have been surprised. But she was also in a relationship and had been more cautious of her behavior the preceding few months. That this guy had so easily penetrated her defenses made me think perhaps she had encountered a temptation she couldn’t handle as easily as those back at home—the college guy. Bigger, stronger, ostensibly wiser, able to buy beer—it was boys vs. men, despite only a couple of years’ difference in age.
Though surprised at how easily swayed she was, since it worked in my favor, I’d decided to slip away and let them be. I wasn’t going to let her hook up with him though, so I kept an eye on her from across the party.
I’d spotted the aforementioned empty couch in the den and had gone in and sat down. Even with my head buried in my phone, it only took five minutes for the douchebag to plop down next to me.
Though the party was still in its early stages, he was already pretty buzzed and obnoxious. He started in with small talk, but I kept my answers short and blunt. After a moment of awkward silence as I looked at my phone, he realized I “needed” a drink. I didn’t. The one the girls had made for me when I first arrived sat on the end table next to me. Before I could tell him so, he was gone. My instinct was to split, but something kept me on the couch. After a few minutes, I thought I might have lucked out and he’d forgotten about me. I was due no such luck.
“Here, you gotta try this.”
He set a red plastic cup on the kitschy coffee table in front of us, pushing aside a pipe and wiping away some stray seeds to make a clean surface for it—as close as you would get to a silver platter in that place, I guess.
“Listen, nothing personal, but I don’t drink anything a stranger brings me unless it’s factory-sealed, ya know?” I replied.
“No, no—it’s fine. See?”
He picked the cup back up, took a gulp from it, and set it down again
He looked up as though I should act like everything was ok, like it would be completely normal for me to start drinking from it and ignore the big wet spot glistening on the lip at the top of the cup.
I swear I could see little bubbles slowly slipping down the inside and back into the clear liquid concoction.
“Oh, that’s much better,” I said. “Thanks.”
He was gonna swap saliva with me one way or another.
“Still, I think I’m gonna just stick with this,” I said, holding up my own red plastic cup.
“Whatev. Your prerogative. So, how old are you?”
“Seventeen,” I told the guy.
“No, you’re not,” he said before taking another gulp of whatever was in his cup.
He was right—I was 18, about to turn 19.
“Yes, I am,” I said before sipping from the only drink I planned on having that night. I’ve never been a fan of getting plastered in strange places.
“I know that’s not true,” he said with a smile and a wink.
“Oh really?” I asked.
“Yeah, really. I checked up on you. Michelle said you were about to turn 19.”
So he really did know.
Why would Michelle tell him? Of all the Chi Omega sisters we’d spoken to earlier in the day, she was the first to warn us some of the sleazier SAEs (Sigma Alpha Epsilons) would target us because we were still high schoolers and didn’t know their reputations yet. Then she went and gave him the green light to come over and corner me on the couch? What the hell?
“Maybe I am, maybe I’m not,” I said, looking away, trying my best to show disinterest.
Where was Cory? And where did Mel go? Either would be helpful right then.
“Well, we’ll assume you are 18,” the guy said, laying his arm across the back cushion of the couch, right behind my head. He bent the leg closest to me and pulled it up on the couch, angling himself my direction. “So,
you’re gonna be a Chi O, huh?”
“Bunch of sweet girls, those Chi Os,” he said, grinning and looking around at the other girls.
“You seem pretty sweet yourself.”
Really? Really? That was his line? I looked over and rolled my eyes to let him know what I thought.
“No, really, you are,” he said. “That’s not a line. Personally, I’d rather a girl be sweet like you and the other Chi Os than all skanky like…”
He nodded toward the couch opposite us, where a girl from some other sorority was splayed out, a guy on top of her, kissing up her neck.
“I thought that’s how you SAEs liked your girls—stupid and willing,” I murmured.
“Wow, a complete sentence! No, not all SAEs are like that; but it doesn’t matter anyway—I’m not an SAE. I’m AKPsi.”
My head swung quickly his way. I looked in his eyes and waited to see how he’d react. He let me stare for a few moments, and then he smiled.
“What was that for?” he asked.
“My boyfriend’s thinking of going AKPsi,” I said.
It was true. One of the houses Cory had visited was the AKPsi’s (Alpha Kappa Psi—the business frat). He was still undecided where to pledge. His dad wanted him to go AKPsi, like he had; but Cory was thinking about SAE too, because…well, because Troy Aikman had been an SAE.
After talking to Michelle earlier and hearing what she had to say about some of the skeezier SAEs that circled Chi O parties like vultures, I had hoped Cory was leaning toward AKPsi.
But after meeting…
“What was your name?” I asked the guy.
“Chris,” he said.
…Chris, I was beginning to wonder if maybe the AKPsi’s were just as predatory. Or maybe it had nothing to do with any of those random capitalized letters, but instead had more to do with the fact that any time you get college kids and booze together, there’s an asshole quorum that has to
“Oh, yeah? What’s his name?” Chris asked.
“Don’t know any Corys.”
“He’s not a member yet. We’re still in high school, remember?”
“I’ll take that as a ‘no’.”
“He’ll be here soon.”
“But he’s not here now, and that’s all that matters, right?”
I didn’t know what Chris meant, but the darkening of the timbre of his voice sent a shiver through my body. He closed his eyelids a bit as he said it, trying to look and sound suave. Instead, he looked high or like he was taking a dump in his pants.
I’d huddled in the depths of the couch as much as physically possible, but I’d hit rock bottom. As he continued talking, smiling, and trying to charm me, he picked his hand up to emphasize a point. When it came back down, the tips of his fingers landed on my knee and stayed there.
“Seriously, I have a boyfriend, and he’s gonna be here any minute, so why don’t you just move on to some other girl?” I said.
“Heyyy,” I heard Mel say somewhere on the other side of Chris’ swollen cranium. “Looks like someone’s found a friend.”
Chris looked behind him, then loosened his tense body and twisted toward her when he got a good look at the goddess addressing us.
“Heyyy, yourself,” he said to her.
She was by herself and seemed in good spirits, a drink in hand and a sultry smile on her face.
“Mind if I sit?” she asked him.
“Not at all,” he replied. He seemed to be getting really optimistic about what was happening. “The more the merrier. Three’s never a crowd with me—unless two of the three are dudes.”
“I know, right?” Mel said, feeding into his fantasy as she sat. Her presence caused Chris to switch the leg that he was sitting on, so he now tilted toward her, giving me breathing room.
Mel downed the rest of her drink and then peeked around Chris to me.
“Lizzie, I need my drink,” she said.
I looked at her, confused.
“No, you don’t—I’ve got a drink right here you can have,” Chris said, grabbing the slobber-covered cup off the table.
“Oh, no,” Mel said, “I mean my special drink. Lizzie knows how to make it. You wouldn’t mind making one for me while I get to know your friend, would you?” she asked.
I took the hint.
“Not at all, babe. You keep him company. I’ll be back in a few.”
I rose, circled behind the couch, and lifted Mel’s cup out of her hand.
“Hey!” Chris said as I started to walk off. I debated pretending like I hadn’t heard him, but there was no way I’d get away with it. I twisted my upper body around without allowing my feet to change course.
“Michelle said your name was Nic or Nicole or something,” Chris said. “What’s this ‘Lizzie’ stuff?”
I did the only thing a girl can do to kill the need for an explanation—I winked. Then I walked off and never returned.
Nathan Nix is a native Houstonian. After completing his journalism studies at the University of Houston, he discovered he enjoyed making stories up from scratch more than working a reporter’s beat. Given that most respectable publications tend to avoid fabrication, Nathan turned to fiction as a way to dodge a life of crime. He has also dabbled in filmmaking, photography, and music. But really, who hasn’t? His work has been featured on Relevant Magazine’s website and in Free Press Houston, among other publications.
Nathan is hosting The Drifters Tax Day Giveaway will run from Monday, April 15, through Monday, April 22. Basically, if anyone owed the U.S. government money this year, they can email Nathan that week, and he will send them a coupon code for a free download of The Drifters eBook.
If you enjoyed this post, please Subscribe to Book Briefs in a reader