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A Good Birthday for a Funeral
A loud splash echoed through the night sky, followed by a moan of panic. A young man stood at the end of the dock frozen in horror at what he’d just done. “Idiot!” he thought to himself and pounded his forehead with his palms. His actions sobered him and he realized how irrational he had been. A second wave of panic engulfed his body. He had to get away. The man took two slow steps backward, still staring at the ripples left in the water. Then he turned and sprinted toward the Saab he’d parked on the side of the road. He threw himself in the drivers’ seat and sped away. Where to? He didn’t even know.
* * *
Cullen paced back and forth in his bedroom. “Where is Kevin” he muttered silently to himself. His knuckles turned white as he tried and failed to grab hold of his greasy unwashed hair. Three days’ captivity in his bedroom left his body feeling limp and exhausted, yet it had been awhile since his mind had been this alert. It was crazy how sobriety could be so foreign it felt like a high; like a bad trip. Although this time the fearful anticipation wouldn’t subside when the hallucinogenic effects wore off.
He remembered only fragments of that night, but the few sharp images that resided in his brain were unsettling. Certain events were clear as ever; he could replay conversations that occurred as if he had just overheard them, but could not decipher what they meant or what was being discussed. He mulled each event over and over in his head, hoping he could pull something more out of it each time. “This would all be so much easier if Kevin had picked up his phone!” Cullen let himself slump back onto his bed, so he could make one last attempt to comprehend the details of what happened on Friday night. He closed his eyes and let his mind take him back there.
Three Days Earlier:
“Yo, Cull, Happy 17th Birthday!” Kevin got out of his car to give his best friend a bear hug.
“Word. Thanks, Kevin!” Cullen walked around the front end of Kevin’s Saab and let himself into the passenger seat. “Where have you been? I thought you said you’d pick me up at eight?”
“I drove by Alex on my way over here and he called me up and asked if I wanted to match a quick bowl. So I met up with him and that frizz ball head sophomore chick he’s been hanging out with, Jess, or whatever.” Kevin swirled his arms around his own head to emphasize the magnitude of Jess’s hair. Cullen laughed at the gesture.
“Dude, I didn’t know she smoked,” Cullen was surprised.
“Nah, she doesn’t. She just sat in the car while me and Alex were using his piece. And the whole time she was just sucking on this lollipop and giving Al mad googly eyes. So I just peaced before things got awkward.”
Cullen chuckled, “Well good for Alex, I guess. So, now what do you want to do?”
“Let’s get really messed up,” Kevin’s mouth opened in a suggestive smile as he spoke. Cullen agreed.
Kevin pulled out of Cullen’s driveway and sped off for a mile or so out of the development. Predictably, he pulled into the parking lot of the local Super Stop & Shop. This would do until they found better plans. A few stragglers were making their way out of the store with their late night groceries. It was nearing nine o’clock. Kevin unzipped his backpack and pulled out the necessities: a fat blunt and a cigarette lighter.
“Hooho!” Cullen beamed at the masterpiece in front of him. “Dude, Kev! That looks...” Cullen paused as he thought of just the right word to describe it. “Magnificent!”
“First hit goes to the birthday boy,” Kevin grinned and passed the blunt over. Cullen accepted it happily. He inhaled for a full ten seconds. The sweet taste of the blunt wrap was soothing as the smoke warmed his lungs. Easily the best hit he’d taken in over a week. They continued on in that manner for at least an hour; blasting Biggie Smalls with the base turned up full blast so that the whole car was bouncing. They laughed at the cars driving by who slowed to look at who was in the car, which was exuding smoke through a cracked window.
“Dude that’s AJ and Eddie driving by,” Cullen mumbled and lazily lifted his arm to trace the path of the silver Saturn that was passing. Kevin pulled out his phone and dialed AJ’s number.
“Hello AJ. Can you sell me a twenty bag?” Kevin goofily asked in a sing song voice that set Cullen into a fit of giggles. Classic Kevin, Cullen reflected. Cullen had known Kevin since they’d met in the principle’s office in the fifth grade. Kevin tried to compliment the substitute teacher; he told her she had nice boobs. Cullen witnessed the entire thing and broke into a fit of hysterical laughter. The teacher was so appalled that she sent them both to the office. They’d been friends ever since.
“Wonderful! We will see you young lads shortly.” Kevin sang these last few words as though they were a scale, the last few notes reaching up into the soprano range. Apparently weed did wonders for his singing voice. He moved his seat back up from the reclined position and started the car.
“Where are,” Cullen’s sentence drifted for a moment. He had to think hard about what he was trying to say, “We going?” Kevin turned and stared at Cullen with squinty red eyes and his mouth slightly open; dumbfounded as though the answer was obvious.
“It’s your birthday. Isn’t it? We’re going to a birthday party!” Cullen didn’t ask questions; Kevin’s logic was good enough.
Kevin pulled up to AJ and Eddie’s apartment. Cullen had been buying from them since he was a freshman, when Eddie and AJ we’re still in high school. Now they both went to a college near by and threw several legendary parties at their off campus apartment. They also had the best Headies in town. Cullen guessed that Kevin scored an invite to their party when he called and asked for a twenty.
It was a casual gathering, Kevin and Cullen let themselves in. The apartment was typical to that of a college boy’s. It smelled of alcohol, weed, dirty laundry and whatever was on those old plates of food that had been left out. The two main rooms were overcrowded with people; a good mix of college and high school kids, and some that never made it through either. The walls showed evidence of boys eager to express themselves in ways that they couldn’t while still living at home. There was a combination of hippy-like tapestries, Bob Marley and Pamela Anderson posters. Over the Beirut table in the living room was a poster displaying “The Periodic Table of Beer”. People crowded the table, blocking the entrance to the bathroom and the two bedrooms. In the kitchen was a big red cooler. Eddie opened it and threw each of them a beer when they walked in.
The rest of the night was mostly a blur to Cullen, except for a few details that remained clear in his memory. He and Kevin were partners in Beirut but lost in their first game. Cullen remembered them both slumping over to the couch in defeat. AJ was snorting cocaine off of the coffee table. Cullen was pretty sure he and Kevin joined him.
“I hear it’s your birthday Cullen,” Em had come over to sit next to him on the couch and whispered flirtatiously in his ear. Cullen glanced down to see her hand rising up his thigh. She smiled at him invitingly, she looked pretty. She stood up and he followed her lead through the crowd of people into one of the bedrooms. He really did love his birthday. He looked back at Kevin, who was bent down, face close to the coffee table, and grinned. That kid was a champ!
It could have been three minutes or three hours later, time held no relevance. Em pressed her finger to Cullen’s lips.
“Shh,” she giggled. “Pretend we’re passed out so this won’t be awkward.” Cullen didn’t understand her logic, but he kept silent anyway. Two bodies walked in and the door closed behind them. Cullen could overhear AJ and Eddie’s panicked voices.
“Are those two passed out?” AJ questioned and nudged in Cullen and Em’s direction.
“Yeah, I think so. AJ what the hell are we gonna do?” Eddie sounded scared. His body fell back onto the wall. Cullen looked at Em to see if she understood, but her quite snores confirmed that her artificial slumber had become real.
“If anyone finds out this happened at our house; I don’t even want to think about it. We have to cover this up!” AJ’s whisper was nervous, but devious. It was clear he was formulating a plan.
“No, no, no, no, NO!” Eddie’s voice was becoming hysterical; he banged his head against the wall with each word he spoke. AJ’s hands flew to his shoulders to calm him.
“Watch it! You’ll wake them up!” AJ took a deep breath before he continued, “Listen to me, I got his car keys. You get his friend home and I’ll take care of it.”
What “it” was and how it was taken care of Cullen never found out. He remembered nothing else from the night. He woke up Saturday morning to his mother kicking him awake on his front lawn. Kevin must have been really messed up. He usually had the decency to help Cullen get into his house after a night like that. Now Cullen had to surrender his cell phone and be confined to his bedroom for a week. Great way to start off his 17th year. Last night he had managed to sneak out of his room and use the house phone to call Kevin, but he didn’t pick up and Cullen remained left in the dark.
Dusk arrived on the third night and he couldn’t take it anymore. His parents were still awake downstairs watching the news, but he didn’t care; he had to try calling again. He threw open the door of his bedroom and thundered downstairs past his parents sitting in the living room.
“What are you doing out of your bedroom!” Cullen’s mother questioned threateningly.
“I’m getting something to drink,” Cullen lied quickly. He went to the refrigerator anyway. He might as well pour himself a glass of milk while he figured out how he would get to the phone. The news played in the background while Cullen’s hand clanked around in the cupboard, reaching for a glass.
“Good Evening. This is Tom Wieland with ABC Breaking News. We’re following a developing story concerning a teenage boy found dead at the bottom of Lake Champlain. The body was discovered this morning by a man fishing off the Mallett’s Bay dock. The body was transferred to the local hospital for an autopsy. We’ll take you over to Mary Etters who’s at the hospital with more information. Mary?”
“Thank you, Tom. I’m here with Pathologist Bob Richardson to discuss the peculiar discovery of the body of a teenage boy found dead at the bottom of the lake this morning. Dr. please tell us what you know.”
“Sure thing Mary. We cannot definitively state the cause of death at this current time, but we can confirm that it was not drowning. We have determined by the rate of decomposition that the body has been in the water for approximately three days. We do suspect drug use, though what kind and exactly how much is still unknown.”
Mary Etters wrapped up the story, “The body has just been identified as 17 year old Kevin Wright, eleventh grade student at St. Paul’s High School. We’ll continue to keep you updated as we find out more on the case. I’m Mary Etters, Back to you Tom!”
Cullen had made his way over to the living room throughout the news report without even realizing it. The end was of the program was confirmed when the empty glass fell from his hand and shattered on the floor beneath him. His mother turned to look at him, her expression both deeply concerned and accusatory. Cullen did the first thing he could think of: without saying anything he turned and sprinted up the stairs, slamming the door of his bedroom behind him. Tears spilled from his eyes and he lunged for the hollow trophy on the shelf nearest the door. From his hiding place he grabbed his stash of pain killers. Hands shaking violently, he crumbled up the pills and combed up the powder into a neat line on his nightstand. This reality trip was more than he could handle anymore. He needed an escape.