An excerpt from

The Thursday Night Club

Jesse Cabral and three of his friends—Izzy, Ava and Randy—gathered for their weekly Thursday Night Club get-together on Izzy and Ava’s front porch; they waited for the group’s final member, Kevin Robinson, to start playing cards. They’d just settled in after their final college move and were ready to pick up where they’d left off in May.

As college seniors, who’d escaped the dorms the previous year, Jesse and the small crew had quickly grown to love the safe haven. A dim porch light illuminated their late night games, assisted by a gaudy table lamp that sat in their living room. On the interior sill, there was an external speaker that could be accessed when the window was open—which was most of the time. Although the gang was good about keeping their music at a respectable volume, the music was always on—as they took turns running through each of their play lists on their smartphones. An old, wooden table—its green paint worn and chipped—sat near the porch railing and was surrounded by mismatched chairs. There were several fixed items that sat on the table: an ashtray for guests (none of them smoked, so it was almost like a trap to unsuspecting guests who would face a serious lecture if they ever lit up on the porch); a worn deck of cards they counted each time to ensure there were still fifty two; and empty peanut jars left by Jesse. Knotty pine floorboards led to a creaky glider that sat in the porch’s corner; it was where Izzy and Ava sat—when they weren’t playing cards—buried beneath Ava’s grandmother’s colorful crocheted afghans. An old steamer trunk, filled with pillows and throws, was used as a footrest or seat—whatever—while a framed photo of a black Labrador Retriever they called McGruff hung above the glider. As they couldn’t keep any four-legged friends on the premises, it was the next best thing. The quaint space was an extension of the apartment’s interior—just another room in a poorly decorated dwelling indicative of young people on tightly fixed budgets. Just beneath the porch, a recyclable bin was filled with empty wine bottles, pizza boxes and soup cans, while a plastic trash can overflowed with everything else. The rent—much like their college books—cost ten times its true value. But they didn’t complain. Unlike most of the other college apartments in the area, this dump had a porch.

“I swear,” Ava said, “it’ll be nothing shy of a miracle if I make it through Professor McKee’s class.” Ava was a petite brunette with a cute face and shiny eyes.

 

Jesse grinned. “Well then, it’s a good thing that miracles do happen,” said the tall, lanky man.

“I’m serious, Jesse,” Ava said. “She’s inhuman.” Ava shook her head. “She’s honestly the coldest person I’ve ever had to deal with.”

“Stop,” Jesse said, shaking his short-cropped head, “she’s not that bad. I had her for philosophy last year. I admit she can be tough, but trust me…” he grinned, “…under that hard shell, you’ll find a warm, gooey center,” he finished, his protruding Adam’s apple nodding to each word.

“There’s no way we’re talking about the same Ice Queen,” Izzy, the theatre arts major, chimed in. With long blonde hair and brown eyes, the laid back dreamer was actually speaking foul of someone—drawing surprised looks from the rest of them.

Just then, like a sudden Oklahoma twister, Kevin arrived on the front porch. Wearing the usual Irish skelly cap and secondhand clothes, he claimed his seat at the table. “Sorry I’m late, guys,” he said, “but I broke down on the way over here.”

“Oh no,” Izzy said, concerned.

Kevin smirked. “My car’s fine,” he grinned. “It’s just that a really sad song came on the radio and I had to pull over to the side of the road and have myself a good cry.”

While Izzy and Ava slapped his arm, Jesse laughed. Randy shook his head. “You’re such an idiot,” he said.

Kevin’s head snapped toward Randy. “Says the guy who ate a tuna fish sandwich made of cat food.”

Everyone laughed but Randy—who sneered at each of them, while fighting back his own smile. “Yeah, real funny, clown,” Randy said. “You mark my words, I’ll get you back for that one too.”

Kevin shook his head and looked over at Jesse. “I swear, ever since we dressed Randy in that Easter egg costume and hid him where no one would find him, he’s gotten really mean.”

 

Jesse shrugged and looked over at Randy. “Sorry, brother,” he said, “I never realized we were supposed to look for you.”

 

Changing the subject, Ava asked, “Why were you late, Kev?”

 

“It’s probably that girl,” Izzy added. “What’s her name?”

“Marybeth.”

 

“And she’s the reason Kevin’s cut back on the partying this year,” Randy complained.

“Well, there are worse things,” Jesse commented.

 

Ava nodded. “Why don’t you bring Marybeth by to meet the group?” she asked Kevin.

He shook his head. “Because she’d never survive in this viper pit.”

“What?” Izzy asked.

Kevin laughed. “We have way too much history together and almost everything we talk about is an inside joke.”

“Gotcha,” Ava said, and the others didn’t question it any further either.

 

Jesse turned to Kevin. “Yeah, I have to admit it, Kev,” he said, smirking, “you got Randy pretty good with that cat food sandwich.”

“Pretty good? “ Kevin repeated, nearly squealing.

Randy’s eyes narrowed and his face turned red.

Jesse shrugged. “It wasn’t bad.”

“You’re insane,” Kevin said. “That gourmet sandwich is going down as legendary on this campus.”

 

“You’re the one who’s insane!” Randy barked. “That prank was lame.”

 

“And I suppose you could do better?” Kevin asked, defensively.

 

“Any one of us could top that stupid prank,” Randy said, looking over at Jesse for back up.

 

Wearing a devilish grin, Jesse nodded in agreement.

 

Izzy and Ava looked at each other and shook their heads. “Here we go again,” Ava said.

Excited with an idea, Kevin stood and held out his palm. “Okay. Okay. I know exactly how we can settle this.”

There was quiet, each of them looking at the others and smiling.

 

“We’ll make a bet,” Kevin said. “Each one of us will kick in twenty-five cents. For a full week, we’ll go out and have fun with any unsuspecting victim we can find. Exactly one week from tonight, we’ll report back here and reveal our greatest prank. After an honest vote, we’ll finally see who the true master is.”

While the boys nodded their approvals, the girls surrendered in disgust.

 

“That’s just asinine,” Izzy said, “and you can count us out.” She looked at Ava. “Aren’t you happy we don’t have testosterone?” she asked.

Ava nodded. “It’s unbelievable. We’re graduating from college in the spring and you guys are acting like you’re still in high school.”

“I know, right?” Izzy added “Real mature.”

Jesse, Randy and Kevin sat at the table, grinning.

 

“Maturity has nothing to do with it, Izzy,” Jesse said. “It’ll be a wonderful exercise in male bonding. It’s a guy thing, you know?”

 

The girls shook their heads again.

 

Kevin nodded. “That’s right, though we all know who will dominate…”

“Yeah, me!” Randy barked.

 

“You’re both wrong,” Jesse said. “You boys just don’t have the creativity to compete.”

 

The three guys argued for a bit, each believing that he was the wittiest. Then, Jesse got back to the bet at hand. “I like the idea, Kevin,” he said, “but there’s one problem.” He took a deep breath and grinned. “Randy and I both know that you tell the truth like a used car salesman.”

“Yeah, right,” Kevin snapped but still took a moment to give it some thought. “Fine. We’ll each record the craziness on our cell phones. The witness testimony of another player is the only other evidence that’ll be allowed. Deal?”

While Randy and Jesse nodded in agreement, Kevin dumped one of Jesse’s half-empty jars of peanuts onto the table and blew out the dusty remains. Grinning, he threw a single quarter into it. Randy and Jesse each added their quarters. Kevin screwed the cap back onto the jar and handed it to Ava. She shook her head and placed it into the corner of the porch.

 

“Any way to get disqualified?” Randy asked.

As Kevin began to shake his head, Jesse jumped in as the voice of reason. “Anything physically harmful or offensive should definitely be grounds for disqualification,” he said, grabbing a handful of peanuts from the table.

Each man nodded his agreement, Kevin, a little more reluctantly.

 

“Awesome,” Randy said. “Now we’ll see who the real funny man is.”

Kevin laughed. “And don’t worry about the money, boys. This prank-master plans to give you both your quarters back. I’m just in it for the braggin’ rights.”

They each chuckled.

 

Kevin nodded and continued. “And that’s braggin’ rights for all time.”

 

Jesse scooped another handful of peanuts into his mouth.

 

“Don’t you ever eat anything besides peanuts?” Izzy asked.

“Yeah, peanut butter,” Jesse said.

 

Ava laughed, which came out as its usual giggle.

Jesse stood and stretched. “Well, I have an early class tomorrow,” he said with his mouth full, “so I’ll see you good people around campus.” He looked at Randy and grinned. “And beware, everyone is open game now.” He chewed a few more times before swallowing whatever remained in his mouth.

 

Randy stood to join him. “I have to head out too,” he said, turning his attention to Izzy and Ava. “See you all next Thursday night.”

“Unless we see you first,” Kevin blurted.

Randy shook his head. “You’re so lame, Kev,” he muttered.

Kevin stood and turned to the girls. “Ladies, we’ll see you next Thursday.”

Izzy and Ava nodded.

 

“Bye boys,” Izzy said.

“And don’t go getting kicked out of school for seventy-five cents,” Ava added.

One final laugh echoed into the clear night.