“Everybody at work is optimistic,” Jason said to Christine as they drove to Todd’s house. “At our last company meeting, upper management said that we were going to make the transition through the current world situation so easily nobody would notice. They’re smart, they know what they are doing. They wouldn’t jeopardize the company.” They cruised through the mid evening and drove past a lit up strip mall.
“I’m sure they come off that way,” Christine replied, “but you don’t know what they’re saying behind closed doors. High end business people can be pretty ruthless, and I should know.”
“Right, because you work for lawyers. But you know what, you can’t be a chump if you want to make it in the business world.”
“God forbid they should have any ethics.”
“The guys I work for are all right.”
“Are they all guys?”
Jason thought for a second. “Pretty much.”
“Of course,” Christine said.
“Check it out, once I pay off my debt, I’ll be freed up to take more classes. If I commit myself to more permanent work, it’ll be harder to go to school.” Jason turned onto another avenue. “I’m not just stumbling along, I’ve got a plan.”
“And that’s good. All I’m saying is don’t trust them too much, they’re only going to tell you what they want you to know. You never know what’s going to happen, even engineers lose their jobs these days.”
“Chris, the reason why engineers lose their jobs is because they stay in one place for too long and get a bunch of raises, so they get replaced by someone younger who’ll work for half the pay. And right now, I’ve got youth on my side.”
“Yes, we both do,” Christine reminded. “Just make sure they don’t take advantage of you.”
“They won’t. That’s your job,” Jason kidded. He turned off the avenue and into another suburban neighborhood. “You know, what we do has lots of uses, not just military, so there’ll be plenty of work for us,” he said. “Plus, I’m learning some skills, and with some more computer classes, I can get into programming, operations, all kinds of possibilities. I got a good thing going where I’m at, and if I stick with it as things get better, I can grow with the company.”
“Is the company growing?” Christine asked.
“It isn’t shrinking,” Jason answered. “If you jump from job to job, you never get a raise or seniority, so you never get ahead. Sure, they should be paying me more, but ten an hour ain’t bad, and I can work it around my school schedule. And my coworkers are all right, some real interesting people. I know you’re just trying to help with your uncle’s job, and I appreciate it, but technology is everything, that’s where the future is at. Hell, it’s already here.”
“Well, sounds like you know what you are doing,” Christine relented. “It’s just that everyone is saying these days that the average American is going to work at least four or five careers over their lifetime. I just don’t want to see you left behind, that’s all.”
“I don’t plan on spending the rest of my life there,” Jason reassured. He began to think more about the party the closer they got to Todd’s house. “It only has to last until I’m done with school.” Jason looked at the hastily gift wrapped bottle next to him. “There is one thing I’m sure of, I know Todd will like this,” he said as he pointed to the gift.
“Oh, I bet he will.”
They rounded another corner and Jason saw Todd’s house at the middle of the block with people gathered out in front. Cars were parked bumper to bumper along both sides of the street and Jason parked five houses down. “Looks huge,” he said. He grabbed the gift as they got out of the car and they walked to Todd’s. Jason saw a bright hive of noisy activity contrasting against the other quiet, unlit houses. Music emanated from Todd’s as other people were gathering to the party and Jason felt a rush of anticipation. Small groups were standing around on the front lawn talking and laughing with drinks in their hands. Some had cigarettes.
“Oh look, there’s Cheryl,” Christine said.
“Is she still with Roger?”
“Not anymore,” Christine said. “They’re not the long term types,” she added as they were approaching. “Is she’s talking to Rachel? Guess they’re not fighting anymore.” They arrived and entered into its surrounding aura.
“Hey, look who’s here!” someone announced from the group of party goers. Everyone in the front yard loudly greeted them.
“Cheryl! Rachel!” Christine said cheerfully as she embraced them. “How are you?”
“Christine! So good to see you!” they responded excitedly. Jason and Christine blended into the familiar mix of the people, talked a little louder, and turned their attention outward as they went around and said their hellos to the everybody.
“Jason! What’s up?” one of the party goers called out as he stumbled over to Jason and clapped him on the shoulder.
“Hey, Brian!” Jason replied.
“Heard about your game yesterday,” Brian said.
“From who, Randy?”
“Yeah, and he was going on and on about how you and Randy cheated him and his boy, Ronnie.”
Jason laughed. “That is bullshit. Those two play so bad the Clippers wouldn’t take them.”
Someone else stumbled in with a plastic cup of beer. “What’s up, Jason!”
“Careful, Jim, you’re spilling,” Jason said to him. “So what’s on tap?”
Jim looked at his beer. “I’m not sure, but this is my third one.”
“Well I better get one before you drink it all.” Jason touched Christine on the arm. “I’m going to get us a beer.”
“Okay,” Christine said. Jason entered the open front door into the low lit house and was enveloped by an aggressive rhythm blaring from the stereo. People were scattered about the front room in groups of three and four and preoccupied with their own conversations. Many colored balloons and streamers were tacked to the walls and ceiling and brightened the ordinary house. Some of the party guests called out to Jason and said hi as he made his way through the front room. Some shook hands with him while others slapped him on the back or raised their drink to him. He loudly said hi to everyone and was brightened by the familiar faces and was feeling at home. Cut out letters that read HAPPY BIRTHDAY TODD were glued to string and hung across the entrance to the kitchen. He crossed under the bow of letters and saw Todd leaning back on the kitchen counter and talking with a group of friends.
“Todd!” Jason shouted across the kitchen. “Happy birthday!”
“Jason!” Todd answered. They came to each other and embraced happily. “Good to see you, my man!”
“Wouldn’t miss this for anything!” Jason gave Todd the gift. “Sorry about the hasty gift wrapping.”
“Hey, it’s the though that counts.”
“Alex, Dwayne, Michael!” Jason called out to the group of friends around Todd.
“Hey, Jason! What’s up?” they all said.
“Now this party is going to get started!” Alex said.
“Hey, at least he brought something,” Dwayne chided Alex.
“Well let’s see what we have here,” Todd said as he opened the wrapping and looked at the gift. “Old Number Seven! You shouldn’t have.”
“Hey, how often do you turn twenty five,” Jason reminded.
“I wouldn’t mind stopping at this age,” Todd said.
“As long as you keep your good looks you’ll be fine,” Alex said and everyone laughed.
“So where’s your better half?” Todd asked Jason.
“Just about to get her and myself a beer.”
“Keg’s in the usual place,” Todd said as he indicated the door to the garage. “We got to do some shots of this later,” he said to Jason as he held up the bottle of Scotch.
“Can’t wait!” Jason headed to the garage and opened the door. A blaring gust of music from a boom box blew past him. He entered and encountered more people partying and drinking. Some colored streamers and other decorations were randomly placed on the bare drywall. A group of people stood around the keg which sat in the center of the concrete floor in a tub of ice water. Jason smelled cannabis and saw a pipe being passed around as he joined the circle of people around the keg and they all said hi to him. “What are we drinking tonight, Curtis,” Jason said loudly to one of the keg people.
“Moosehead!” Curtis yelled over the music.
“That’s better than usual,” Jason said loudly. He got two plastic cups from a tubular plastic bag laying on top of the keg. “So how you doing?”
“Not bad. We’re collecting for a keg fund,” Curtis reminded. “You can pay me or Todd.”
“I got him a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.”
“I guess that counts,” Curtis nodded. “I’ll have to try some of that later.”
“Why don’t you now?”
“On keg duty right now,” Curtis yelled. “Yeah, it was a fuckin’ ordeal getting this keg.”
“Really.” Jason pumped the tap a couple of times then took the hose, angled the cup up to it, and pressed the little plastic lever which released golden, foamy fluid.
“Oh, yeah,” Curtis began. “First, we had to reserve the keg ahead of time, and we never had to do that before, then the greedy fuckin’ bastard wants a fifty dollar deposit.”
“What for?” Jason asked as he finished filling the cup. He set it on a nearby washing machine and began filling a second cup.
“They say said it was for the keg and the tap in case we lose them, and he was going to gauge for some more if I didn’t give him my driver’s license.”
“You had to give those bastards your license?” Jason said over the noise as he finished filling the second cup. “That’s fucked up.”
“Actually, it worked out all right,” Curtis answered, “Todd talked to him a little more and he settled on writing down our address, phone number, license numbers, all that shit. He said there was nothing he could do about it, some new bullshit state law. We even got a backup for when this one runs out,” Curtis said as he pointed to a corner. Jason looked and saw another silver keg.
The pipe and lighter came around to Jason. He set the full beer next to the other one, took the pipe and lighter, held the flame to the bowl and inhaled deeply. He felt a hot rush of smoke go into his lungs and held it for a few seconds before he exhaled. He passed the pipe and lighter to the next person.
“We’re regular customers!” the next person yelled over the aggresively loud background music before he inhaled from the pipe. “He shouldn’t be giving us a hard time,” he said as he exhaled smoke.
“I heard it was ABC,” Jim said as he refilled his cup. “They’re cracking down on keggers because of all the underage punks who can’t handle their alcohol. They fuck it up for the rest of us.”
“ABC?” Curtis asked. “You mean like Channel 11?”
“No, dummy, Alcohol Beverage Control.”
“I thought the ATF handled that shit.”
“You guys figure it out,” Jason said. “Got more people to see.” He grabbed his beers and went back into the house. He could feel the cannabis affect his body and slightly distort his sense of reality as he entered the fog of music and maneuvered through the sea of people which had multiplied since his arrival. He said hi to a few more people while keeping his beers from spilling. He found Christine in the living room talking to some friends an he gave her one of the beers.
“Thanks, hon,” Christine said to Jason while she was listening to Rachel.
“And you’ll never believe what happened next to Marcy,” Rachel said. “After her latest boyfriend moved in he fell off the wagon in record time, then he lost his job, and he isn’t even looking for a new one. She is totally supporting that loser.”
“She is way too nice,” Cheryl said above the clamor, “letting him walk all over her.”
“And that lazy piece of shit doesn’t cook, clean, or do anything,” Rachel said.
“He must be good for something,” Cheryl said.
“Him? I doubt it,” Eva called out from another conversation circle and everyone laughed.
“I mean, come on! Where is your self respect?” Rachel said.
“At least she’s still in beauty school,” Liz said, “she’s going to need something stable to fall back onto.”
“I don’t know,” Rachel said. “She doesn’t seem to stick with anything except for guys who drag her down.”
“That poor girl is so lost,” Heather said and everyone agreed.
“You know,” Cheryl said to Christine, “I’ve been thinking that I should try doing what you do.”
“It can be a lot of work sometimes, but it’s not bad,” Christine said. “I guess it’s more high end than being a mere secretary.”
“And maybe I can meet a rich, single lawyer,” Cheryl said slyly.
“And you know it’s a secure because there’s always going to be people suing each other,” Terry said and everyone laughed. Jason eased into the flow of the party as the house filled with more people and became louder. Friends and acquaintances milled around, talked, joked, laughed, and carried on through waves of music as everyone mixed into the gathering energy.
“You’re going to school, aren’t you?” Cheryl said to Jason.
“Yeah, I’m taking a summer night class right now.” Jason answered. “Pretty soon I’ll have enough units to transfer to State.”
“Good, then you can get out of junior college purgatory,” Rachel said.
“Sure is easy to fall into that trap,” Jason said.
“I work with a guy that went to West Valley for ten years,” Terry said unbelievably.
“Whoa, that’s got to be a record,” Rachel said.
“I’ll bet it isn’t,” Cheryl countered.
“How the hell do you go to school that long without graduating?” Jason wondered.
“Take only one or two classes a semester and milk it,” Terry said.
“That’s getting ahead,” Rachel said facetiously.
“You know what,” heather began, “I’m seriously thinking about moving away and getting a new start somewhere else. It’s getting too expensive here. I know I can get ahead better somewhere else.”
“Ah, we’d miss you,” everyone said caringly.
“I’d miss you guys too,” Heather said, “but I’m getting tired of trying to keep up here.”
“So where would you go?” Liz asked.
“I have a cousin who lives up in Seattle,” Heather said, “she tells me to move up there, says I can stay at her place, even says she’ll help me find a job.”
“Seattle’s a cool city,” Rachel said.
“Sure, if you like rain,” Terry pointed out.
“I wouldn’t mind the rain if I didn’t have to scrape by,” Heather said.
“My dad wants me and Terry to move out to Houston,” Rachel said, “and he says it’s more affordable out there and easier to get started and all that. Plus he thinks California is too fruity.”
“Not everywhere,” Mike added as he wandered into the conversation.
“I wouldn’t move there anyways,” Rachel said, “way too hot and humid, and they got all these ugly oil refineries all over the place.”
“Sounds like L.A,” Jason said.
“Yeah, and who’d want to live there,” Terry added. Everyone nodded in agreement.
“My mom would feel abandoned if we moved out there anyways,” Rachel said, “then I’d be on the receiving end of her guilt trips.”
Mike edged into the middle of the conversation. “If you do leave, if you really wanna get out of the valley and head to greener pastures, you might as well go where the real action is.”
“Where’s that?” Terry said.
“Prague, Romania, Eastern Europe!” Mike said emphatically. “Those places that have no idea what business is or how to make a profit or any of that,” he added excitably. “You can go there, make a fortune, come back home in ten or fifteen years and retire, easy. Some guy at work told me all about it, says it’ll be the next big thing, all you need is a passport and airfare.”
“Damn, that’s what we should be doing,” Terry said. “I bet we could do that!”
“Yeah, right!” someone said sarcastically, and everyone laughed in agreement and joked some more about the idea. A warmth came over Jason as he further dissolved into the party. People were talking excitably to be heard over the loud music, some dominated the conversation until someone else talked louder and led the conversation in another direction. Some people talked louder than the previous person before they could finish their story which led to joking arguments and some roughhousing. Others listened, laughed out loud at punchlines, and waited for a pause to jump into the stream of conversation. Occasionally someone raised a drink and tried to start a group toast. The pleasantly loud hum of many people speaking combined with the pulsating rhythms of music to induce a happy delirium, and a loose, optimistic feeling charged the entire gathering.
An arm grabbed Jason around the shoulder. He looked around and saw it was Todd. “Hey, Christine,” Todd said to her, “I hate to break this up here but I need to borrow your boyfriend for a little while, if it’s okay.”
“Okay, just bring him back when you’re done,” Christine said. Jason let himself be pulled away by Todd.
“Hey, I’ll join you guys later,” Terry shouted after them.
“Of course,” Todd replied. “Whipped,” he said to Jason.
“Excellent party,” Jason said. “Where are we going?”
“Time to do some shots.” Todd grabbed Jason’s cup and looked inside of it. “But first, we need to get a refill.” He led Jason past the sea of party goers through the kitchen and into the garage. The garage was filling up and more people were circled around the keg. “Out of the way, keg magnets!” Todd ordered as he pushed his way through the crowd and began to fill his cup.
“Hey, Todd,” Curtis said, “I think this is the biggest party we’ve ever had.”
“It’s the raginest, bitchinest party ever!” Jim added drunkenly.
“And the night is still young,” Todd said as he finished filling his beer. “Someone already hit the bottle,” Todd said under his breath to Jason as he nodded toward to Jim.
“Can’t wait until the drinking games begin,” Jason said as took the tap from Todd and filled his empty beer cup.
“That’s right,” Todd said, “and tonight, I’m feeling lucky.” When Jason was finished he passed the tap to the next person and then followed Todd back into the house. They pushed their way through and down the hallway into Todd’s room. Eight or ten guys were gathered around a collection of liquor bottles with some shot glasses set up on top of a chest of drawers.
“Hey, what’s going on,” one of the new party goers said to Jason.
“Stu!” Jason yelled out. “Long time, no see!” He cheerfully shook hands with Stu, then saw Randy in the group. “Hey, there you are!”
“Of course I’m here!” Randy called out to Jason. “Where you think I’d be?” He bustled through the crowd to Jason and roughly embraced him. They greeted each other with drunken affection then Randy tried to pick up Jason. Jason felt his feet leave the floor for a couple of seconds as Randy screamed then drop back down. Jason was immersed in an aroma of alcohol. “I was just telling everyone how we took it to Tim and Ronnie.”
“Yeah, yeah, we heard you the first time,” Brian said.
“And you should’ve been there!” Randy chided. “When was the last time your ass was on the court?”
“Any time, any place,” Brian answered.
“All right, settle down,” Todd said. “First, let’s take a shot of Jason’s present.” He twisted off the cap of the squared, black labeled bottle and filled up some shot glasses with the light brown whiskey.
“That’s the third bottle someone got you for your birthday,” Stu said.
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Todd said as he was pouring. Jason and everyone else picked up a full shot glass, Randy raised his glass and tried to make a toast, then Todd stopped him. “Wait, Jason’s turn, he just got here.”
Jason raised his shot glass and tried to think of something to say. “To Todd,” He said, “a whole quarter of a century.”
“I’m getting old,” Todd joked and touched his shot glass to Jason’s and everyone else’s raised shot glasses.
“Over the hill!” Alex said and everyone laughed in agreement. They all downed their shots and Jason felt the smooth hard liquor go down and warm him from the inside out. He relaxed into the camaraderie and was contented.
“House is neater than usual,” Jason said to Todd. “Looks good.”
“Thanks,” Todd said. “I bet you weren’t sure if you were in the right place.”
“I’m in the right place now.”
“And it can’t get any righter!” Randy added.
“Seriously, this place was a sty,” Todd said. “We spent all day yesterday and today cleaning, scrubbing, vacuuming, we spent about thirty bucks on cleaning supplies, and we had to take care of the neighbors, too, tell them about the party so they could take precautions.”
“I think I saw a couple of them here,” Brian said.
“Good,” Todd said. “And getting the keg was a bigger than usual nightmare.”
“Yeah, Curtis was telling me,” Jason said.
“Right, and you can’t rely on him because he has warrants,” Todd said, “but somehow we did it. I just hope we have enough alcohol.”
“You need to catch up,” Randy said to Jason as he grabbed the bottle of Jack Daniel’s and poured more shots. He picked up one of the filled shot glasses and pushed it onto Jason. Jason drank it one gulp and felt the initial burn, then the alcohol coursed through him and inebriated him further. Randy grabbed a bottle of tequila. “One more.”
“You’re killing me,” Jason protested.
“C’mon, you can take it,” Randy coaxed as he filled up some tall shot glasses and handed them out. They were filled to the rim and drops of tequila spilled over.
“Any lime and salt?” Jason asked as he took a shot glass.
“Right here.” Todd pulled out a salt shaker and a small plate of lime wedges from amongst the bottles and glasses. Jason licked his hand then sprinkled some salt on it. Randy held up his shot of tequila.
“What are we drinking to this time?” Dwayne asked.
Randy raised his shot glass then everyone else raised theirs. “For the host of this awesome party, and a keg of decent beer.”
“And to growing old without growing up!” Stu butted in.
“Don’t fucking interrupt me when I’m toasting!” Randy said irritably to Stu. “But yeah, like Stu was saying.”
Jason licked the salt off his hand and drank the smooth, fiery liquid with everyone else. He then picked up a lime wedge, bit the fruit from the rind, and the bitter juice overpowered the strong tequila flavor. He took a long drink of his beer and his consciousness blissfully diminished further.
“Hey, I want to make another toast,” Todd said with a sweep of his drink hand, then staggered a bit and grabbed onto Alex for support. “Boy am I fucked up, forgot how to walk.”
“Man, I’m so wasted I can’t walk or see straight,” Alex said.
“Ain’t nothing straight about you, Alex,” Randy joked and everyone laughed out loud for awhile as they fell on each other and jostled around.
“Dude, there are so many broads here!” Brian said excitedly. “I’m going to have to pry one of them away and get her into my van.”
“That ugly ass Econoline of yours?” Alex said. “What a turn on.”
“Fucking thing should be condemned,” Dwayne asserted.
“You just stay away from Amy,” Stu said to Brian. “She’s mine!”
“Not until I’m done with her,” Mike chimed in.
“I claimed her first!”
“What’d you do, brand her?” Mike said to Stu.
“Guys, don’t fight,” Todd admonished, “plenty of women to be had.”
“Where the fuck did you come from?” Randy said to Mike.
“I heard shots being poured,” Mike said
“Well step right up!” Randy said as he grabbed a bottle and poured more shots. Everyone continued partying as the conversation meandered from women to the party to sports and sometimes erupted into uninhibited laughter. A pipe load of cannabis was passed around and a cloud of smoke filled the room. Jason’s senses dulled further and was blissfully forgetting himself.
After a while, Jason and some of the other guys stumbled out of Todd’s room, passed the line of people waiting to use the bathroom, and mixed into the noise and commotion of the party. More people had arrived and were adding to the gathering positive energy. As Jason walked he barely felt his legs and thought he was floating as his sense of time warped into a random sensation.
“Hey, Jason,” someone yelled.
Jason looked around and saw a figure emerge from the mass of people. He didn’t recognize him at first, then saw who he was. “Hey, Drew” Jason answered loudly, “how you been?” Jason sensed that Drew was as drunk as he was.
“Never better,” Drew answered. “Hey, you remember, you know, what’s his name, played linebacker for us? Big motherfucker.”
“I ran into him the other day.”
“Really,” Jason said not sure if he was remembering the right person, “how’s he doing?”
“Dude, you don’t know who I’m talking about,” Drew said.
“Of course I know,” Jason said defensively. “You saying I’m an idiot?”
“Aw, you’re just fucking with me.” Drew laughed until he lost his balance and fell toward Jason. He grabbed onto Jason and tried to hold himself up and Jason tilted back. They both leaned onto Stu and they all fell forward clumsily but were supported by a mass of people, remained upright and were able to stand back up.
“Hey, is this jerk bothering you?” Stu asked Jason.
“We’re trying to have a conversation here!” Drew yelled through the noise.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Jason said, “we were just talking about…you know, what’s his name,” Jason said to Drew.
“So where’s the keg?” Drew asked as he held up an empty beer cup. “I need a refill.”
“Looking dry myself,” Stu said as he peered into his empty cup.
“Well let’s go!” Jason said. He pushed Stu ahead and they navigated through the horde while picking up more followers as they went. The merry crowd gave way to the train of party goers as they burrowed through the kitchen, into the garage and hooked onto the line of people that were already lined up at the keg. The garage had become even more crowded and festive as everyone was talking, joking, laughing and carrying on while the music boomed and the line inched forward.
Jason got to the keg, filled his beer half way, drank it, then filled it again to the top. “I think it might be time to tap the second keg!”
“This is the the second keg!” Curtis replied.
“Awesome!” Jason hung out in the garage for a bit then wandered with another group of people back into the house and careened into the living room while trying not to spill his beer.
The party was noisy and rollicking and chaotic joy reigned over everyone in the early fun stages of drunken exuberance. Barriers dissolved around the separate cliques and everyone joined in a shared euphoria of youth and abandonment. Uncontrolled voices and laughter everywhere intertwined with the music and coalesced into a rising, kaleidescopic exhilaration.
* * * * * *
As the evening progressed a pair of couples that were standing near the stereo began to move and dance to the music. Some others pushed the coffee table and chairs aside and danced with one another on the cleared living room floor as the crowd gave way and overflowed into the rest of the house and out into the front and back yards. More people joined in the dancing while others watched and moved to the music.
Jason was at the edge of the living room, talking with Alex, Dwayne and a couple of others, then felt a tug on his sleeve. He looked around and saw it was Christine. “C’mon, let’s dance,” she said while smiling tipsily. She took his hand and pulled him onto the dance floor. He placed his beer cup on top of a speaker crowded with other drinks, then their hands met as he became more aware of the music through his inebriation. The rhythm infused into him and moved him as he subconsciously swayed one way then another. The two of them mixed into the up tempo of the music and commingled with the other dancing people in the dim light of the living room. They danced serenely and carefree, then Christine pulled Jason closer and held on to him for support as they danced a little slower. “I think I’m drunk,” she admitted.
“From one beer?” Jason asked.
“Cheryl brought a bottle of schnapps.”
Jason kissed Christine deeply and tasted peppermint. “I can tell.”
“What have you been drinking?” Christine asked.
Jason tried to think for a moment. “Don’t remember.”
“Must have been a lot, whatever it was.” They danced some more as everyone in the living room moved joyously and rhythmically in a loose, gyrating symmetry. The shared social euphoria continued to lift the spirit of the party ever higher as it took off into a new phase. More party goers and some new arrivals crowded into the living room and joined in the dancing.
* * * * * *
At midnight, Lena and some of her friends brought a homemade, rectangular birthday cake from the kitchen and out into the living room. They set the cake on a table and Jason got a better look. It had some decorative frosting, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TODD written in icing, and a 2 candle next to a 5 candle. One of the women lit the candles and people slowed their dancing as they noticed the birthday cake. Someone turned down the volume of the stereo and everyone stopped moving in the sudden silence then gathered around the cake. “Where’s the birthday boy?” Lena asked.
“Right here,” Todd said as he bored through the crowd and moved into the center amongst the women. He looked at the cake and laughed. “You know you’re getting older when they stop putting on the number of candles that matches how old you are.”
“That would be too many candles to light!” someone shouted from across the room.
“Okay, everybody,” Lena began to sing. “Happy birthday to you,” everyone else joined in the singing, “happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear To-odd, happy birthday tooo yoou!” Todd blew out the two candles and everyone clapped and cheered. A few shouted out some drunken, funny, well wishing comments.
“Thank you, thank you everybody,” Todd said after the cheering subsided. “Well,” he began, “now that it’s past midnight, I am officially twenty five years old.” A few more cheers and claps erupted and a couple of people whistled. “Wow, a whole quarter of a century. Damn that sounds old.”
“You’re getting better with age, Todd,” Alex said followed by a chorus of comical agreement.
“Yeah, yeah,” Todd said as everyone focused on him in the dim light. The buoyant mood gave way to somber reflection and everyone became expectant for Todd to say something. “Twenty five years,” he said almost to himself. “Time sure does go by. I may not have learned much in all that time, but I do know one thing, I am very lucky to have this girl right here.” He hugged Lena and kissed her and everyone aaahed exaggeratedly. “Thanks for the cake, sure looks good, the women here did an excellent job. And I want to thank everybody for coming, especially those that brought me gifts.” Everyone laughed. “Well,” Todd said, then thought for a moment. “Half way to fifty, some ups, some downs, but so far so good. It sure has been a lot of fun, and now, after all this time, I think I’m finally starting to grow up a little.” Everyone groaned. “No, don’t worry, I’ll be the same old Todd, I’m not growing up completely, but I feel…I feel like I’m starting to have more appreciation for the things in life that I usually take for granted. And I think that the most important thing of all are the people in your life.” Lena hugged him and held onto him as he talked. “Everybody here, all my friends, you’re like a family to me. Honest to god, you guys are the best, I love you all.” Todd gave a toast with his beer cup, and everyone raised their drinks. “All right, now everybody dig in!” Lena handed Todd a knife and he began to slice the cake into squares. Cheryl brought out paper plates and plastic forks and handed them to everyone as they gathered around the cake. Two to three hands at a time reached in with plastic forks and scooped up the pieces of cake. Someone turned up the music and the party continued as everyone ate.
“Good cake,” Todd said,” glad one of us knows how to cook,” he said teasingly to Lena.
“Lucky you,” Jason kidded while he ate, then he felt Christine smack him. Everyone devoured the cake while the music played and then trickled back onto the dance floor or elsewhere throughout the house. Jason and Christine wandered back into the living room and slow danced to a mellow tune. She laid her head on his chest and he embraced her as they moved easily with other couples. People rotated in and out of the living room, mingled, drank, toked, caroused, and chatted in clusters as the party continued at a steady energy.
At about half past midnight Jason and Christine wandered out of the living room and into the kitchen where a ring of party goers were standing around the kitchen table. They moved in closer and Jason saw Todd sitting at the head of the table holding a quarter sideways with two fingers and a thumb and aiming it at the table. People were sitting around the table with drinks in front of them while others stood around and watched while aimlessly talking to one person or another.
“Jump in,” Todd said to Jason. He then bounced the quarter off the table and it made an arc toward an empty glass. It glanced off the rim and landed on the table. “Shit! That was close.” The door to the garage was propped open and people went in and out to refill their beers in a steady stream. Intoxicated laughter echoed from the garage and created a noisy racket that drifted into the kitchen.
Jason found an empty chair and pulled it up to the table. “Save this,” he said to Christine, “I’ll get a couple more beers.”
“I don’t know if I want another,” Christine said as she sat down.
“It’ll dilute the schnapps,” Jason said.
“Can’t I just sip on yours?”
“Have a seat,” Todd said to Jason, “I got people to fetch drinks for me, I’m the birthday boy!” He picked up an empty pitcher from the table and held it up. “Somebody fill this.” A hand reached in and took the pitcher away. Jason looked around for another seat, found an empty plastic crate, brought it to the table and sat by Christine. He pushed aside the empty bottles and plastic cups from in front of them and made a small path to the empty center where the quarter and the empty glass were. He noticed Tim sitting on the other side of the table.
“Hey, how’s the shooting arm,” he said to Tim sarcastically.
Tim gave Jason a disinterested look and then picked up the quarter. He held it over the table, steadied his hand, then bounced it off the table and landed it into the glass. “Yes!”
“Too bad you can’t make baskets that easy,” Jason said.
“Have one on me, smart ass.”
Jason looked around then saw a full pitcher of beer get set down on the table. He filled his cup, passed the pitcher to the next person, and took a drink. Time seemingly slowed down to Jason as his senses warped into a pleasantly surreal semi awareness. He looked around the house and saw friends and new people, talking, joking, and laughing spontaneously, drunk with happiness as well as alcohol. “Todd, this might be the best party that’s ever been,” he stated.
“Fuckin’ A it is,” Brian added loudly from Jason’s left.
“Better than the one Alex and I threw last month,” Dwayne said as he picked the quarter out of the glass. “And that one was raging.”
“Must have been,” Alex said, “my memory is a real blur that night.”
“This party has taken over where that one left off,” Todd said.
“May it never end,” Dwayne said then bounced the quarter. It clinked against the glass and landed on the table. “Damn, I don’t think I got one in yet.”
“Are we going in order?” Mike asked. “I think I was skipped.”
“Just go with it,” Todd said as he grabbed the quarter. He bounced it off the table and it fell into the glass. “Yes! Life is good. Drink up, Mike.”
“You know,” Brian began, “my old man was talking to me the other day, and he said, ‘Brian, you’re young, you got your whole life ahead of you in the greatest country on earth, and the 90’s will be the best decade ever. And now’s the time to make your mark.’”
“At least we finally have a president who knows what he’s doing,” Alex said.
“Yeah,” Stu added, “so what if he’s a prick.”
“You know what I think,” Dwayne said, “we should all get rid of all our governments. Seriously, they just get in the way.”
“All people need to do is get together like this all the time,” Jason said.
“That’s right,” Alex agreed, “when you don’t, it just leads to trouble.” The quarter bounced and clanged around on the kitchen table as everything settled into an easy groove.
“Speaking of trouble,” Todd said, “I think I saw Gina show up.
“I wonder if she and Randy are at it yet,” Jason said.
“I saw them outside talking,” Brian said.
“Just talking?” Dwayne said.
“They were starting to get loud,” Brian said.
“Let’s see if they can control themselves,” Todd said. He bounced the quarter bounced off the table and hit off the glass. “Shit! Who thought of this fuckin’ game?”
“That would be you, birthday boy,” Alex said.
“Ah, quit your bitchin’” Mike said as he grabbed the quarter. He bounced it off the table and it clinked into the glass. “That’s how it’s done!” He pointed to Brian. “You, drink up. You’re not drunk enough.”
Stu wandered over to the window and looked outside. “There they go,” he said. The unruly voices in the backyard grew louder and escalated into a shrill melee of back and forth shouting and swearing.
“Can’t they just get along,” Dwayne said. The noise of Randy and Gina’s screaming match carried into the house and affected the buzz of the party. People in the kitchen area looked out the window as the fight grew louder. Gina’s voice rose higher until it cracked and she erupted into a wail. She threw open the sliding glass door, stomped into the house her eyes wet from tears, then slammed the door shut behind her.
“Fucking bastard!” Gina cried. “I hate him! I fucking hate him!” she sobbed as she stormed through the house. Christine got up and went after Gina along with Lena, Cheryl, Rachel, Liz and others. They followed her into the living room and were calling after her.
“That was sudden,” Brian said.
“Wonder what they were fighting about this time,” Alex said.
Jason slid onto the chair left by Christine and glanced into the living room. More people tried to intercept Gina and calm her down as she was barging to the front door. “Fucking son of a bitch!” she hollered as she exited. “I never want to see him again!” A few more people followed her out to the front yard and kept trying to calm her down.
“Looks like Gina’s taking off,” Jason said.
“She’s going to miss out on this quarters game,” Mike said.
“So whose turn is it?” Todd asked.
“Wonder if she dumps him this time,” Tim said.
“Why, so you can make your move?” Dwayne accused.
“No, I’m just saying.”
“She’ll be all right,” Todd said, “she just needs some time away from Randy.”
“Yeah,” Alex agreed, “like the rest of her life.”
Todd looked around the table. “Where’s the quarter?”
The glass door slowly slid open, and Randy appeared in the doorway. He held onto the door for support then stumbled into the house. He noticed everyone was looking at him. “Anything happen while I was gone?” he asked drunkenly. No one answered, then he obliviously advanced toward the quarters game, grabbed onto a chair, dropped into it, and scooted up to the table. “Well there goes the woman of my dreams,” he joked as he settled in comfortably with everyone around the table. “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them, am I right or what?” He looked around at everyone.
“No, you can’t live without them,” Todd said, “but you can always trade them in for a newer model.” Todd looked around real quick. “Good thing Lena didn’t hear that.”
“Looks like all the women left us,” Dwayne said as he looked around.
“Yeah, thanks Randy,” Mike said.
“Who, me? Shit, they left because you’re all a bunch of fuckin’ queers,” Randy said.
“Not all of us,” Todd said. “But you two did make a scene, kind of disrupted everything.”
“Okay, so I lost my cool, but she made me do it. We were just having a regular discussion, then out of nowhere she gets all pissed off and starts tearing me new one! What was I supposed to do?” Randy looked around the table. “Whose turn is it?”
“So what were you discussing?” Jason asked.
“It was nothing,” Randy said dismissively. “She was getting on my case, telling me what to do with my life, so I told her what to do,” he said with a laugh. “She’s just got to stop bitching at me to do shit that I don’t wanna do, I don’t need to change.”
“A winner like you?” Mike joked. “What’s she thinking.”
“The women just have to grab onto the Randy express and hold on for dear life,” Alex said.
“Fuck, dude, I need a beer,” Randy said as he grabbed the pitcher and poured the rest of the beer into an empty glass.
“Hey, we’re using that glass for our quarters game,” Dwayne chided.
“Relax,” Randy said. He began to drink from the glass.
“I think the quarter’s in there,” Jason said.
“Let’s see if Randy swallows,” Todd suggested.
Randy drank the beer as everyone watched. The glass slowly emptied leaving the silvery coin laying at the bottom. He finished, then slid the quarter out of the glass and into the palm of his hand. “Fuck it. Let’s play.”
©2016 Robert Kirkendall