Ned used to be one of those people who needed it absolutely silent to sleep. After living in the dorms of Nebraska State University for two months, he wasn’t one of those people anymore. Instead, Ned was one of those people who drank straight from a bottle of Five O’Clock vodka every night before passing out. He thought about branching out sometime and asking Brad, the upperclassman he met in Psychology 101, to pick out a Merlot, or some whiskey. Maybe even try a bottle of Absolut. But Five O’Clock was cheap—under twenty bucks a week for two bottles, even with Brad’s buying fee. It wasn’t a lot of money, considering the importance of a full night’s sleep. Still, Ned didn’t want to spend any more if he didn’t have to, and it wasn’t like he cared how his medicine tasted.
If anyone cared about the taste of liquor store medicine, it was Brad. Ned learned this the first time Brad stayed for a few minutes after digging the paper bag of clinking bottles out of his backpack and taking the wad of cash from Ned’s hand with a brush of calloused fingers. He said, “Hey man, have you tried Stoli? And what do you mix with this shit so you can stand it?”
Ned said he drank it straight.
Brad said, “If you’re gonna drink it, why wouldn’t you make it taste good?” and stayed until the episode of Fresh Prince playing on Ned’s television rolled over to commercials.
A few weeks later, Brad asked Ned to come to his house sometime. They could play Call of Duty, do some shots. Maybe this Friday.
That was the first time Ned passed out in someone else’s house. Right before falling asleep on the rice-and-beans colored couch he saw Brad’s silhouette in the light from the bedroom door and remembered how during the last shot—gripping each other’s shoulders for balance, throwing it back, swallowing and shuddering, heads knocking together, staggering towards the wall—how that was the first time he actually tasted the difference between Five O’Clock and Brad’s Absolut. Ned closed his eyes after Brad’s light went out and also realized, sinking and drifting in the couch’s embrace, that the entire house was absolutely silent, aside from the comfortable creaking of Brad’s bed springs as he settled in for the night. Even if he wasn’t plastered, Ned wouldn’t have had any trouble falling asleep.