I shook my head. "I don't mingle."
"Am not," I said. "I just hate people."
It was only eight in the evening, and we were trapped at a pre-Valentine's Party that a friend of a friend was throwing. The Muse was a queen of fitting in, as usual, while I had cornered myself in the kitchen. I sat at the table, next to dozens of bottles of alcohol--whiskey, vodka, wine--that spread out beside me like a miniature industrial zone, glass necks reaching up like tiny crystal smokestacks. It was the first time in a half hour I'd been able to get myself somewhere away from the crowd. The Muse had checked in on me to see how I was faring.
"You know," she said, "people actually do like you. You can come out here and play."
I shook my head. "I never should have come. I hate these things. I barely like parties where I know everyone."
"Then just sit there and frump," she said. "I'm going to go and fit in." She got up and slipped out of the kitchen, leaving me to stew.
I soon realized that hiding at the alcohol table wasn't the smartest idea at a party. At least in a group, I could hide at the fringes, and dodge conversation by appearing to be part of any other satellite conversation going on around the central mass. I was quite skilled at that. However, here there was no escape. Everyone who came by felt the need to attempt to engage me in conversation, no matter how much I scowled and tried to look feral and disturbed.
"There's the guy," one bald man said to me. He took a few bottles off the table and began mixing a drink.
"Yep, here's the guy," I said back.
He grinned an alcohol-fueled grin at me. "How's it shaking?"
"Like an earthquake." I didn't return the grin.
He set the bottles down and clapped me on the shoulder. "That's great, buddy. Keep it real." He took his glass and headed back towards the center of the action. I had no idea what his name was, and had never been introduced to him.
Kill me now, I thought to no particular deity whatsoever.
"Oh, hey! Nice to see you!" said a woman I'd never seen before. She'd had so much cosmetic work done that she looked like the Shroud of Turin, muddied by time, ghostly features, skin like fragile cloth.
"Yes," I said. "Hello."
She grabbed the neck of a bottle of whiskey and attempted to pour roughly half of it into the open mouth of a can of Diet Coke. "You shouldn't sit in here all alone. You want some company?" She shook her can--soda can, that is--at me. "I've got the drinks."
Jesus, Buddha and Cthulhu, save me, I thought. "I'm here with someone."
She grinned sloppily and swayed unsteadily. "Who? That sexy girl in there with the cute butt on her? She's got everybody playing some kind of game or something." She blinked slowly and set her hand on the table to keep herself standing up. "I think there was a bra on her head. I don't think it was hers."
"Muse!" I shouted, getting to my feet. "I'm going home!"
"Spoilsport," the Muse said softly from right beside me. I jumped and shrieked. "What?" she said.
"How the hell did you get there? I never saw you come in."
She grinned. "I walked, sugar." She shooed her hand at the drunken Shroud. "Buzz off, honey, this bee-otch is mine."
The woman humphed. "Fine. You're not getting your bra back, though."
The Muse growled at her. "I don't wear one, sweetie. I've got tits of steel."
The woman blinked at her, then shuffled out the kitchen door, Diet Coke in hand.
"Tits of steel?" I said.
The Muse shrugged. "I have no idea. It just sounded tough."
"Take me home, Muse."
She threw her hands up. "I give up. You're just going to be antisocial forever, aren't you?"
"Hey, I love you, don't I?"
"Shut up," she said, and handed me her keys. "I'm sort of plastered. You take me home for once."
"My hero," I said, and headed towards the door.
"Just a sec," the Muse said. She leaned over the table and scooped up a half dozen bottles in her arms. She saw me looking at her and said, "What? It's for the ride home."
"You're in the back seat."
She shrugged. "Whatever. Grab my bra on the way out, would you? It's a little nipply out."
She made kissy noises at me, and we headed out of the kitchen.