“How long do we have to stay at this thing?” Norm moaned.
“Would you stop your bitching. It’s a party,” Freddy said. “It’s supposed to be fun.”
“You do realize that we hated most of the people here when we went to school with them,” said Jason.
“There are going to be a lot of people there you did like,” said Freddy.
“I think it’ll be fun to see everyone again,” said Mikey.
“Shut up Mikey.”
“I still don’t get why you’re making us come to this,” I said.
“I can’t go to a party alone,” Freddy said.
“Should we have brought something?” Mikey asked. “My nanny says you should never come to a party empty handed.”
“My guess is you’re nanny doesn’t go to a lot of keggers, Mikey,” Freddy said.
“You don’t know that.”
We stood outside the door and knocked a couple of times. Nobody heard us, of course. The sounds of the music, talking and yelling pulsed through the door. We knocked once more before we let ourselves in.
It was even louder inside. The music throbbed in my head like a migraine. I remembered instantly why I hated parties. The room was stuffed full of people from my past. Weird little things I thought I forgot years ago began flooding my brain. To my left I saw Jon Pierce, the captain of the basketball team talking to Kate Pennington, the girl’s school class president. To my right I saw Jenny Newhart, the girl who got caught doing whippets in the chapel twice, but never got suspended for it. In front of me, Ernie Miller was talking to Jules Carney. The two had 69ed sophomore year and he told everyone, but I guess now they were friends again. I felt a strange kind of claustrophobia being there.
“Whose house is this again?” asked Norm.
“Landon’s,” said Freddy.
“I don’t see him,” said Mikey.
“Does it matter?” said Jason.
We pushed through the crowd, fielding the awkward hellos as we made our way. In the kitchen there was a gingham covered table topped with all types of liquors: a fifth of Jameson, a handle of Captain Morgan, a jug of generic vodka, two bottles of red wine, one bottle of white wine with a bow around the neck, a thirty pack of cheap light beer, and a six pack of some fancy imported stuff. I grabbed one of the cheap beers and stood with my friends in the corner next to the sink.
Our group slowly integrated itself into the rest of the party. Mikey went first, following the smell of pot to the back porch, and Freddy, who got word of a drinking game going on in the basement, quickly followed. Norm went to the bathroom, and on his way back struck up a conversation with a girl he used to have a crush on. Jason got taken away by some of the guys from his old lacrosse team, and that left me.
I stayed back for a while, only leaving my corner once to get another beer. I was hoping to lay low until my friends decided to leave, but it wasn’t five minutes before Garrett Buchanan came in to fix himself a drink: Jameson on ice. He was wearing a suit that was probably his dad’s and shoes that were shinier than shoes should ever be, Penny Loafers, I think. His hair was slicked and combed to the side.
I had always thought of Garrett as the most generic human being I’d ever met. He was so perfectly adequate in every sense, the sort of person I couldn’t describe if I was looking at a picture of him. If I were a religious man, I’d say he’d been created by an uninspired God just trying to meet His quota or something. I had always wanted to see him naked, just because I didn’t think it was possible. The idea that he existed, that there was any more to him than what I could see, was unfathomable to me.
“Willie!” he howled.
“Garrett!” I said, trying my hardest to fake excitement.
He walked up to me and stuck out his hand.
“So, what’s up man? How the hell are you?”
“I’m good. I’m good,” I nodded. “How have you been?”
“I’ve been great, man,” he took a sip and nodded before tacking on, “how are you?”
“Can’t complain,” I said.
“Right on,” he said taking a sip of his whiskey. “So what are you up to these days?”
“Not much,” I said.
“Oh,” he said. “Are you working at least?”
“Oh. Yeah,” I said. “I’m a Counselor’s Assistant… like, at camp.”
“That sounds fun,” he said.
“Yeah…” There was a lull in conversation there, where I realized that he wanted me to ask him about his job too.
“So, are you working?” I asked.
“I am! I’m actually working down at the Hill,’” he said, pausing ever so briefly for me to gasp in admiration, “for the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.”
“Oh, what do they do there?” I accidently asked him.
He went on for a while about what his job entailed, and I stared blankly back at him trying my damnedest to look like I was listening.
“Blah blah blah blah blah, ya know?” is what I heard. I nodded my head to make him think that I did. “Blah blah blah blah blah.”
‘I bet he has a really hairy ass,’ I thought. ‘Or at least a weird mole.’
When he was done blabbering he excused himself from the conversation, either because he realized I hadn’t been listening or he noticed that I had been periodically glancing down at his crotch.
“Hey listen, man,” he said putting his hand on my shoulder, “I got a group of guys waiting for me over there so I gotta go. But it was really good seeing you.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You too.”
I finished my second beer and got a third. When that was done, I looked down at my watch. It came to me that standing there alone at a party for as long as I did probably seemed a little weird, so I tried to go out and mingle. I went out to the dance floor – or whatever you call it where everybody is when it’s a house – and stared, wide-eyed, at the sea of bobbing heads as they chatted the room full of hot air. I was instantly overwhelmed. Jason and Norm were both out there but they were too far in the crowd for me to get to them. Instead, I went to the front hall, where I was the only one, and sat on a couch that looked like it might have been too expensive to sit on. I pulled out my phone and played Sudoku on it, hoping it might look like I was texting someone.
As I sat there, more and more people trickled in through the front door, more and more faces from my past, more and more people I didn’t care to talk to. Edward Gray, the captain of my cross country team, walked in first. After him came Eli Bryson, the kid who got a boner during the facts of life video in seventh grade. He was followed Jon Leibowvitz, the kid who told everyone about it. Miles Prower, Leslie Manning, Jack Buchanan: cheated on the SATs, cheated on her boyfriend, touched himself under the bleachers.
From the looks of it, Mikey might have been right about us bringing something. Only half of the people that came showed up empty handed. Everyone else brought bottles of wine, or six packs, or even the occasional handle. One guy brought a bottle of champagne. Another brought what looked like a small bottle of Everclear. Another still brought a bottle of white wine and a funnel.
I finished a column but got bored, so I switched to Tetris. I was just about to lose when I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“What are you doing out here?” Freddy asked. “You’re at a party. You’ve gotta stop being so antisocial all the time.”
“I’m not being antisocial,” I said. “I’m responding to a text.”
“Who could you possibly be texting?” he asked. “We’re all in there.”
“I have other friends besides you guys,” I said.
“Okay, well, when you’re done texting your mom, come down to the basement and play a drinking game with us,” he said.
It was one of those basements that was clearly never meant for anything more than storage and dodging tornados. The floor was made up of scratched concrete, the ceiling exposed rusty pipes that shook when water ran through them. In the corner, directly on the floor, was a big old TV with a VCR and a PS2 plugged into the back. The only piece of furniture was a tattered gray couch in front of the hot water heater. People were sitting in a circle on the floor, drawing from a ring of playing cards in the middle.
“Four,” Suzy Wilkins read aloud.
“Four is whores,” yelled Aaron Addler. “Girls drink.”
“Six,” said Johnny Wentworth.
“Six is dicks,” yelled Aaron Addler. “Guys drink.” I didn’t really understand the game, and frankly I didn’t care to muster the effort it would have taken to learn. Instead, I just drank when they drank and let my mind drift. I don’t think I was supposed to sip half the times, because I ran out of beer pretty quickly. I didn’t feel like getting another one, though, so I just kept drinking from the empty can.
My phone vibrated in my pocket and I let it go voicemail. If I had picked it up, Freddy would have called me antisocial again, and for some reason I didn’t want him to. It rang twice more and stopped.
“It’s your turn,” he told me.
“Oh,” I said, and I drew a card.
“Eight, pick a mate,” cried Aaron Addler.
“Huh?” I said.
“Pick someone to drink with you,” he said.
“Oh, okay,” I said. “Freddy.”
“Shocker,” Freddy said under his breath.
We drank as Jessica Huber took her turn. She drew a Jack.
“Five fingers up,” screamed Aaron Addler. “Never have I ever.”
Shit. I hated this game. Not only did I rarely get to put a finger down, but I never knew which of the many things I’ve never done to choose from. I put my fingers up, put my head down, and braced myself.
“Never have I ever been to Asia,” Jessica Huber said. Four fingers went down.
“Never have I ever done cocaine,” said Zac Chapman. Four fingers went down.
“Never have I ever had a threesome,” said Aaron Addler. Two fingers went down, including Freddy’s, which was surprising. The thought of it made me wince a little.
“Never have I ever eaten caviar,” said Suzy Wilkins. Two fingers went down.
“Never have I ever been arrested,” said Johnny Wentworth. Two fingers went down.
“Never have I ever pooped my pants at an Arby’s,” Freedy said. Even though he was trying to embarrass me, it actually felt kinda good to finally put a finger down. And in my defense, I was ten at the time.
“It’s your turn,” said Freddy
“Oh,” I said. “Um, pass.”
“No passing,” screamed Aaron Addler. “Go!”
“Um, okay. Never have I ever…” I wracked my brain for anything to say. “Swam with a dolphin.”
Two fingers went down. Freddy shot me a look, and I couldn’t tell if he was glaring or confused. I dunno why, but I felt kind of stupid, and I really didn’t want to play anymore. I took a sip of my nonexistent beer and got up out of the circle. Everybody looked at me when I did.
“I need to get another beer,” I said.
From the kitchen, I could hear Jason screaming. He wasn’t saying any words, just making really long, loud guttural noises. I had forgotten how bro-y he could get when he was with his bros. I got another beer. There was only one fancy one left. I took it because I felt like I’d earned it.
My phone vibrated in my pocket. On it there were four messages. All of them were from Mikey, and all of them said, “come to the back porch.”
I slid open the glass doors and walked out onto the back porch. It was raining now, the kind of rain where the drops were really big and clunky. It was noisier than it was wet. Mikey was sitting under a patio umbrella with a joint smoking in his hand. Sitting next to him were Jeff McHale, the class pot dealer, and Sally Hawking, the girls valedictorian. I walked over to sit with them, but there weren’t any chairs. I had to stand there, half under the umbrella and half under the rain.
“Hey,” Mikey said, smoke billowing out his mouth. He passed the joint to Jeff.
“What’s up?” I said.
“What?” he said.
“You told me to come out here,” I said.
“Oh yeah,” he said.
“Why?” I said.
“I forget,” he said. Then he started to laugh. Not giggles, but big belly laughs like he was actually laughing at something.
“Jesus Christ,” I said. “How high are you?”
“What?” he said.
“I’m going inside,” I said.
“You know what I was thinking about,” he said. “Is time, like, a thing?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Like, you know how air is invisible, but it’s still a thing. It’s a thing that’s all around us,” he said. “Is that what time is?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“I think it is,” he said. Sally passed the pot back to Mikey, who took another hit. He let the smoke dangle in his mouth for a breath, and pulled in back in through his nostrils before finally exhaling. He stuck his hand out of the umbrella and began catching raindrops in his palm.
“I can feel it,” he said. “I can feel time.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, walking towards the door. “Me too.”
The music seemed almost louder, the house more crowded, and my headache worse than ever. I just wanted to go home. I decided to brave the dance floor and find Norm in hopes that he would share my sentiments.
A circle had formed on the dance floor. In the center were Jason and his bros. They were slurring along to a Bruce Springsteen blaring from the speakers, their arms around each other’s shoulders, their pants around their ankles. They swayed as they sang, spilling their drinks all down one another’s backs. The crowd around them was cracking up.
“Don’t run back inside, darling; you know just what I’m here for,” they crooned. “SO YOU’RE SCARED AND YOU THINK THAT MAYBE WE AIN’T THAT YOUNG ANYMORE.”
I spotted Norm across the circle, and pushed over to stand next to him.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” I said.
“Can you believe this?” he said.
“Maybe,” I said, “how much has he had to drink?”
“I’m not sure,” he said, “but he drank most of it out of a funnel.”
“WE GOT ONE LAST CHANCE TO MAKE IT REAL,” they screamed from the center, “TO TRADE IN THESE WINGS ON SOME WHEELS!”
“Promise me I get to be the one to remind him of this tomorrow,” I said.
“Okay,” he said. “But this isn’t even the worst of it. At least he’s wearing underwear now.”
“Hey listen,” I said. “Do you think you may wanna leave soon?”
“I’m actually kinda having fun,” he said.
“You can go without us if you want,” he said, “I mean, we don’t all have to leave together.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’ll just grab a cab or something.”
“You sure?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Just tell them I felt sick, or something.”
“Can do,” he said.
I pushed my way through the people and off the dance floor. The music faded behind me as I walked down the hall towards the exit.
Before I could open the door, someone opened it for me. On the other side was a girl. She had long, brown hair, and big blue eyes. She was very pretty, but not in an obvious way. She was wearing a big black raincoat, dull orange rain boots, and carrying a bright yellow umbrella. She had dated Aaron Addler for a week in eighth grade, but the two of them split after she saw him talking to Suzy Wilkins. She pantsed Lisa Bayer during the Christmas pageant, and almost got suspended for it. She’d sat next to me in Mr. Meyer’s English class and always asked questions. For the life of me I couldn’t remember her name.
“Hi,” said the girl in the black raincoat.
“Hey,” I said. Then I walked past her, out the door, into the rain.