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It’s one of those tender moments between hours of chaos when she looks into my eyes. Something sweet, brief, hardly a second, but it matters. Ashamed of it, she looks elsewhere. It’s gone. I watch her disappear, swallowed up by a shoulder to shoulder mob.
A splash of cold.
“Bro. I’m so sorry.” Robbie Blank has spilled his drink on my shoulder. The look he has is one of flustered amazement, ruddy and confused, far beyond the point of clarity.
“You got most of it on the floor,” I point out. “If anything, apologize to Elise.” I motion to the girl whose house we’re in.
“Dude. Don’t tell anyone about this. Like. Just. Keep it. Secret,” he says, moving closer and closer while simultaneously getting louder and louder.
“You got it, chief.” I mock salute.
“Cool. Good. Good,” he says, eyes unable to connect. His gaze lingers on me without any sort of dialogue. It shoots to the left—his right—and his eyes light up. “Jimmy!” he shouts and walks off.
I examine the spill—more of a drizzle—down the slick polymer of my blue track jacket. It seeps into the top of my jeans. I’m less than enthused.
The song ‘Forever’ starts up on an iPod dock.
“Dale!” Someone is trying to get my attention. I’m trying not to make it obvious that I’m looking for them.
“Dale!” The voice comes through the crowd again and I glimpse a tuft of orange hair flailing up, over the heads of the other kids. The person looking for me is most likely Erin Wolfe who, ten-to-one, has her buddy Kylie Reid in tow.
“There you are!” She’s finally found me and, looking at her, I’m a bit put-off by her choice in apparel for the middle of January: ratty daisy-dukes, a tank that’s splotched, and a menagerie of bracelets making her look close to gypsy. I’m tempted to say something about it. Instead:
“Hey! How are you guys?”
“We have been looking all over for you. It’s ridiculous,” Erin says.
“Ridiculous,” Kylie repeats.
“Like, we were literally searching for, like, hours. This place is madness.”
“Totally insane.” Kylie is over-doing it in terms of hand gestures.
“Yeah, I’ve pretty much been in this room the whole time,” I lie. “Been trying to maintain a pretty chill atmosphere, laying back and staying cool.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Alright,” Erin says.
“Say, you guys wouldn’t happen to know where a girl is?”
“Everywhere,” Kylie says, pointing at the party and pivoting while doing so.
“Very funny,” I say. “I mean a specific girl. A certain girl.”
“Details?” Erin asks.
“Sorry, yeah, getting to that. Yeesh. She’s blonde,” I point to my head. “And wearing a, uh, um, green…top? I don’t know the type, material. Whatever. She looks a little like—.”
“Did you guys hear about what happened to Blake Hughes?” Kylie says, distracting Erin.
“No. What happened?” Erin says.
“Erin, I really need—.”
“Okay. So. Blake was with Ian Chalmers up in Sister’s Lake, because Blake has a cottage there, and they were both really, like, messed up, and it was late at night and Blake thought his parents weren’t going to be—.”
“—Kylie can this wait? I really need—.”
“—and they weren’t, but his aunt was, and so she and, like, her friend were walking in, and the lights were off so Blake and Ian had—.”
I tap Erin on the shoulder but she’s rapt. Looking at Kylie, I notice her face grotesquely expressive and almost panting. She’s using up what little oxygen remains in the room on her story. I try and distract her, but it’s no use. I walk away just as she gets to the juicy part. I know this because Erin says—or yells, rather, “Oh-my-God. No! No! No-no, no-no! No!”
I walk away as discreetly as I can. Anywhere away from these two. It’s tough to weave my way through the crowd, swerving to dodge more spilling cups and inconveniently placed ottomans and end-tables than I’d care to, but I do it.
Next on the speakers: Lady GaGa remix.
I slither towards whoever controls the music, hoping to see that they have a choice line up for the next hour, but half of the way through the masses I’m accosted by a hand. It shoots from the human thicket of the party and grabs my jacket, determined to get a hold of me. I don’t see a face connected to it. I can’t trace it back to a body like you would with audio/visual cords and plugs. I brush it off and move away.
I’m being bumped and grinded on accidentally by nearly everyone I pass and it’s far too hot, jacket or not, for my tastes and I smell something pretty noxious—a mix of drink and, well, something else—so I move to the sliding glass door on the back wall. It’s smudged with grease from wayward hands and fingers and steamed up with enough condensation to fill up a cup. I grab the handle and slide out, ejected hot and forcefully like some spent shell casing.
The back yard is empty, covered in a pristine blanket of snow. The scene is untouched by any of the insanity inside and even the music, which envelops you like a sickening tide, isn’t too clear out here and I feel refreshed. No breeze disturbs the stolid air and sparse flakes sink down to the ground, bunching up in gentle, layered clusters. It’s then that I see this guy sitting on the steps that connect the red, wooden deck to the yard and he’s billowing smoke. The cloud coming from him is graceful, slowed by the temporal alterations of winter air. It’s lazy and lackadaisical, drifting up, dissipating to nothing.
“Hey,” I say, almost startled by the sound of my own voice.
The guy turns around and smiles. “Dale. What’s up?”
He knows my name and for the life of me I can’t recognize him. I go through all the faces in my mental database at a rapid pace. Nothing sticks.
“What are you doing out here, man?” I ask.
“Shouldn’t I be asking you that?” He looks at me and I’m concentrating on his face to make out precisely who he is. “C’mere. Take a seat.” He pats a place on the steps next to him.
I walk over, brush off a little bit of the powder from the stoop, and sit as gently and quietly as I can just to preserve the tranquility of the scene.
“So what’s up?”
I struggle to think. “Well. Not much. I mean it’s hot in there.” I point to the house, “Crazy as hell.”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s pretty wild.”
“Tell me about it.” Still drawing a blank on the face.
“How have you been man? It’s been a while since I’ve seen you.”
“I dunno. I feel really…really trapped.”
“Been there before. You want some?” he offers me a little of what he’s smoking.
I wave my hand no.
“That’s okay, dude. Still wanna talk, or something? Cause I can just let you be you. I don’t mean to, like, be a burden to you or whatever,” he says.
I remember his face now and it’s shocking. I’m talking to Evan Kinney my best grade school friend and he looks nothing like he used to. There isn’t even a glimmer of resemblance aside from the eyes and nose.
“Haven’t seen you in a while. It’d be good to catch up, you know?” he says.
“Yeah. What’s new with you?”
“Too much to tell.” He puts down what he’s smoking. “What about you?”
“Not that much. I’m not playing baseball anymore, for one thing.”
“Good man. Glad you finally took my advice.”
“Yeah, it was a lot of crap. I didn’t have time for that. Stuff is just…stuff is complicated. I’m busy, I’m like, like, not really feeling things, you know?”
He nods his head slowly, the hood of his jacket bobbing with each movement. “Truth, man. That’s truth. I’m trying to get by.” He pauses. “That’s why I’m out here,” he says, “and not in there.” A slow and uncoordinated gesture to the steamy house nearly clips me on the side of my head, but his arm misses through some grace.
“Yeah. That stuff is so done. I’m played out,” I say. I clasp my hands together to keep them warm. Evan sort-of chews his lower lip, but he’s not committing to it. Neither of us speaks for a bit. The snow starts to fall faster and what light is left outside is dimming to nothing.
“What happened to us?” Evan says.
I look at him. “What do you mean, ‘what happened to us’?”
“I mean, like, how did we get here? When did we start doing this?” He takes a handful of snow and tosses it on what he was smoking and it sizzles out. “What happened to us?”
There’s some more silence and I’m coming back to memories of us as kids in the neighborhood.
Running through sprinklers.
“I can name everyone in our grade—everyone— but I can’t tell you what my best friend’s favorite color is. I don’t know what his middle name is. Where he lives.” He stops. “And that’s my best friend.”
Evan and I used to be best friends. He’s the person I thought I’d be seeing every day for the rest of my life. Then I wonder where my mom is tonight. What my little sister is doing, where she is, and what I’m doing, where I am. I can’t say for either.
“I don’t think we can go back.”
“What?” I ask.
“I said, ‘I don’t think we can go back’.”
“We can’t change. We can’t…we can’t do anything about…this.”
“We can try.” I offer a little smile, though I know he’s right.
“We can,” he says, “but it won’t work.”
The sliding glass door tears open with a startling woosh and the music and smell pour out onto the lawn in waves.
“Dale!” a voice calls. It’s probably Kylie.
“What?” I turn around and it is indeed Kylie who’s standing at the threshold between outside and inside.
“Are you getting a ride back with Aileen?”
“She’s leaving, like, right now.”
“Give me a minute. I’ll be out there in a little bit.”
“Yeah, but like right, right now.”
“Okay, can you hold on?”
“She’s going to leave without you.”
“Could you just…leave? I’ll meet you guys at the car.”
“Whatever.” She retreats back inside and slides shut the door.
Evan is looking at me, a little despondent.
“We should hang out some time,” he says.
I get up and brush my hands off on my jeans. “Yeah. Call me. Or, something.” I smile and look back at the sliding door, “I gotta go. It was good seeing you.”
“What’s your number? I don’t have it.” He pulls out his cell phone.
“Right, yeah.” I tell him the number and he puts it into his phone dutifully.
“I’ll call you soon. Peace.” He waves at me.
“You too. You too.” I move to the side gate and leave through a gangway rather than risking another trip through the party. A crowd is gathering in front, on the lawn, and I see Kylie getting into Aileen’s car. I walk over, get in.
“Well that was a waste of time,” Kylie says.
Erin opens the rear door and sits next to me. “Tell me about it. Those people are so…gross.”
“Shady,” Kylie says.
“Shady,” Aileen says.
“Shady, shady, shady,” Erin says.
Kylie whips out her cell phone and starts texting like a fiend and says, “Oh my God and can you even believe what Brendan Herman was doing with Lindsay?”
“Ugh, I know. That. Was. Gross.” Aileen starts up the car and the radio immediately starts playing.
I Gotta Feeling by the Black Eyed Peas.
“I mean, like, at least wait a week before you start getting on a girl after you break up with your Ex,” Aileen says. “I do not want this on my radio. Kylie, change please.”
“Here,” Aileen says, “put on my iPod. You know how to work one of these, right?”
“Yeah. I’ll put on something amazing.”
“Don’t tell me it’s what I think it is!” Aileen hits the steering wheel estatically.
Poker Face by Lady GaGa.
They’re singing along to it and really going all out, swaying about in the car, singing off-key, eyes closed, hands in the air. I look down at my lap, then out the window, trying to see past the condensation. I can’t see much of anything through it, just some blurry outlines of people walking about. Some guy throws up in the bushes and his friend joins him within seconds. A girl falls down on the sidewalk. I think her heel snapped, but then I see that she holds them in her hand and I guess she just stumbled. It’s hard to make out though. The window is pretty fogged.
The song ends and Erin jumps, startled. She takes out her phone and concentrates on the screen for a little bit before shrieking in excitement.
“What?” Kylie asks.
“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh. My. God.” Erin shakes her hand limply and looks up at the ceiling out of ecstasy.
“Robbie Blank just said that he is into me! Oh my God!” Erin and Kylie clap and jump excitedly and Aileen turns out onto the street and starts driving—too fast.
“I am so jealous of you right now. Like, really, super jealous at the moment,” Kylie says.
“Who just texted you?” Aileen asks, whipping around the corner of Kenton and 99th Place.
“Robbie Blank,” Erin says.
“Robbie? I don’t mean to be mean, or like, whatever, but he’s kind of a jerk.”
“Yeah. He is a little. But you should still totally get with him,” Kylie says.
Erin looks at Aileen. “How is he a jerk?”
“He’s…” Aileen falters for a moment and, choosing her words with great tact and care, hisses, “He’s just so bad.”
Erin laughs, “Yeah, he is bad.”
“So bad,” Kylie says.
“So, so bad,” Erin says.
“The worst,” Aileen says.
I look at the fogged window and hate how I can’t hardly see anything through it. I draw a languid heart on it, which looked better in my mind than it does on the window, wondering what happened to the girl at the party. I wonder if she made it home all right. I wonder if she had a good time; if she’s happy with her life. I wonder who her friends are and if they’re really her friends. I wonder what it would have been like to talk to her. I wonder who she is. “Who says we’re any different?”
This will certify that the above work is completely original. Killian Michael Walsh.