“Everybody at work is optimistic,” Jason assured Christine as they drove in the mid evening to Todd’s party. “Upper management is saying that we’re going to make the transition through the current world situation so easily nobody would notice.”
“What are the owners saying?”
“Same thing. And they’re smart, they know what they are doing. No way they would jeopardize their own company,” Jason said as they cruised past a lit up 7-Eleven and its attached 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,” Jason said like a punchline. “But you know what, you cant’ be a chump if you want to make it in the business world.”
“Yeah, ethics just get in the way.”
“It’s dog eat dog out there, but the guys I work for are all right.”
“Are they all guys?”
Jason thought for a second. “Pretty much.”
“Of course,” Christine said drolly.
“Now check it out,” Jason began, “once I pay off my debt, I’ll be freed up to take more classes. If I commit myself to more full time work, it’ll be harder to go to school.” He turned onto another avenue. “I’m not just stumbling along, I’ve got a plan.”
“Well 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.”
Jason laughed. “You know what? My dad said the same thing yesterday.”
“Maybe you ought to listen to him,” Christine said mock seriously. “But seriously, 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 added.
“That’s right,” Jason agreed, “and with our whole lives ahead of us,” he said positively as he turned off a main avenue and into a suburban neighborhood. “You know, what we do has lots of uses, not just military, so there’ll be plenty of work for us,” he reassured. “Plus, I’m learning some skills, picking up some coding, and with some more computer classes, I could 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.
“I think it’s about to expand big time,” Jason said.
“Plus 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 I like my coworkers, 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 said. “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 or taken advantage of, that’s all.”
“No one is getting taken advantage, things can only get better there,” Jason reassured. “And if by some reason it doesn’t work out, I’m gaining experience that can help me land a new job elsewhere.” He began to think more about the party the closer they got to Todd’s house. “And when I’m done with school I’ll have more options.” He glanced at the hastily gift wrapped bottle next to him in the console. “I know one thing, Todd’s going to like this,” he said as he pointed to the gift.
“No doubt he will.”
“Can’t wait to see his reaction.”
“And everyone else’s.”
They rounded another corner and Jason saw Todd’s house at the middle of the block. People were gathered out in front of the house and cars were parked bumper to bumper along both sides of the street. “Looks huge,” Jason said eagerly as he parked five houses down. He grabbed the gift as they got out of the car and they walked to Todd’s, a bright hive of noisy activity contrasting against the other quiet, unlit houses. Music emanated from Todd’s as more 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 Andrea,” Christine said as they approached. “And is she talking to Raquel? Wow.”
“Looks like they’re not fighting anymore,” Jason said.
“I suppose miracles can happen.”
They arrived and entered into the party’s surrounding aura.
“Hey, look who’s here!” someone in the group announced. Everyone in the front yard loudly greeted them. Some lifted up their drinks and toasted them.
“Andrea! Raquel!” Christine said cheerfully as she embraced them.
“Christine! So good to see you!” they responded excitedly.
“Good to see you too, it’s been too long!” Christine said.
“You were probably surprised to see us talking,” Raquel said.
“Yeah, I kind of was,” Christine replied.
“We figured it was time to bury the hatchet,” Andrea said.
“Especially when we found out we’d be at the same party,” Raquel added humorously.
“That’s great! We’ll have to catch up later,” Christine said. “Got to make the rounds first.”
Jason and Christine blended into the familiar mix of 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,” someone called out, and Jason felt a hand clap him on the shoulder.
Jason turned around. “Hey, Brian! How you been?”
“Never better,” Brian said. “So I heard about your game yesterday.”
“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 such bullshit. Those two clowns play so bad that the Clippers wouldn’t take them.”
Someone else stumbled into their conversation with a plastic cup of beer. “What’s up, Jason!”
“Careful, Jim, you’re spilling,” Jason cautioned. “So what’s on tap?”
Jim looked at his beer. “I’m not sure, but I think this is my third one.”
“Well I better get one before you drink it all.”
“What you got there?” Jim asked interestedly as he pointed to Jason’s gift.
“You’ll see.” 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 immediately 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, was brightened by the familiar faces, and was feeling at home. Cut out letters which read HAPPY BIRTHDAY TODD were glued to a string of yarn 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 called out. 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. “Not much of a gift wrapping job, but hey, it’s the though that counts.”
Todd held up the gift to his ear, shook it, and it gave off the sound of sloshing liquid. “Gee, I wonder what it is,” he kidded.
“What’s up, guys!” Jason called out to Alex, Dwayne, and Michael.
“Hey, Jason! What’s up? Good to see you, man,” they said.
“Can’t wait to see that gift opened,” Alex said. “That’ll get the party get started!”
“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 admitted.
“As long as you keep your good looks you’ll be fine,” Alex joked, 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 whiskey.
“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 taped onto the bare drywall and support beams. 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 solo 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 informed. “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, fucker 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 if we didn’t have cash for the deposit we’d have to give him a credit card! I sure as fuck don’t have a credit card, and all Todd has is a Mervyn’s card!”
“That’s fucked up!” Jason said over the noise as he finished filling the second cup. “It used to be so much easier to rent a keg.”
“Actually, it worked out all right,” Curtis went on. “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 aggressively 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 as he grabbed his beers, “got more people to see!” He left the garage 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 Raquel.
“And you’ll never believe what happened next to Marcy,” Raquel continued. “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,” Andrea said above the clamor, “letting him walk all over her.”
“And that lazy piece of shit doesn’t cook, clean, or do anything,” Raquel admonished.
“He must be good for something,” Andrea said.
“Him? I doubt it,” Eva called out from another conversation circle and everyone laughed.
“Well he must be satisfying her somehow because she can’t seem to quit him,” Raquel said.
“At least she’s still in beauty school,” Liz pointed out. “She’s going to need something stable to fall back onto.”
“Hope she sticks with it,” Christine said.
“I don’t know,” Raquel said pessimistically. “She doesn’t seem to stick with anything except for guys who excite her then drag her down.”
“That poor girl is her own worst enemy,” Heather said and everyone agreed.
“You know,” Andrea 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,” Andrea 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 accumulating energy.
“You’re going to school, aren’t you?” Andrea 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,” Raquel said.
“Sure is easy to fall into that trap,” Jason remarked.
“I work with a guy that went to West Valley for ten years,” Terry said unbelievably.
“Whoa, that’s got to be a record,” Raquel said.
“I’ll bet it isn’t,” Andrea 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,” Raquel said facetiously, and everyone laughed in agreement.
“You know what,” Heather began, “I’m seriously thinking about moving away from here and getting a new start somewhere else. It’s getting too expensive in the Valley, and 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.”
“You’re not alone,” Andrea said.
“So where would you go?” Liz asked Heather.
“Well, I do have a cousin who lives up in Seattle,” Heather said. “She’s been telling me to move up there and stay at her place, she even says she’ll help me find a job.”
“Seattle’s a cool city,” Raquel said.
“Sure, if you like rain,” Terry pointed out.
“I wouldn’t mind the rain if it meant I could make a decent living and not have to scrape by,” Heather said.
“My dad wants me and Terry to move out to Houston for the same reason,” Raquel said. “He says it’s more affordable out there, easier to get started, 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,” Raquel said. “Way too hot and humid, and they got all these ugly oil refineries all over the place.”
“Sounds like LA,” 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,” Raquel said, “then I’d be on the receiving end of her guilt trips.”
“But if you do leave,” Mike said as he edged into the middle of the conversation, “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 asked.
“Prague, Romania, Eastern Europe,” Mike said. “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 animatedly 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, “I hate to break this up here but I need to borrow your boyfriend for a little while, if it’s all right with you.”
“Okay, just bring him back when you’re done,” Christine allowed. 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 under his breath to Jason.
“Excellent party,” Jason complimented. “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. A cloud of smoke was above them. “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.
“When do the drinking games begin?” Jason asked as took the tap from Todd and filled his empty beer cup.
“Soon,” Todd answered, “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 reached through the crowd and shook Stu’s extended hand, then saw Randy in the group. “Hey, there you are!”
“You found me at last!” Randy called out to Jason. “In the middle of the action!” He bustled through the crowd to Jason and roughly embraced him. They hugged each other with drunken affection, then Jason felt his feet leave the floor as Randy picked him up, let out a scream, then dropped him back down. Jason recovered his footing as he became immersed into 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 scolded. “When was the last time your ass was on the court?”
“Any time, any place,” Brian answered.
“All right, settle down,” Todd ordered. “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 pointed out.
“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 every other raised shot glass.
“Over the hill!” Alex said and everyone laughed in agreement. They all downed their shots and Jason felt the caustic hard liquor go down and warm him from the inside out.
“Oh yeah! Smooth! Hits the spot,” everyone was commenting as they put down their empty shot glasses.
Jason relaxed into the camaraderie and was contented. “House is neater than usual,” he complimented Todd. “Looks good.”
“Thanks,” Todd said. “I bet you weren’t sure if you were in the right place or not.”
“I’m in the right place now.”
“And it can’t get any righter!” Randy added.
“Seriously, this place was a sty,” Todd continued. “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 informed.
“Good, the more the merrier!” Todd proclaimed, then turned back to Jason. “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, thin 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 among 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 yelled at Stu. “But yeah, like Stu was saying.”
Jason licked the salt off his hand and drank the clear, fiery liquid with everyone else. He then picked up a lime wedge, bit the fruit from the rind, and the sweet, sour juice overpowered the harsh 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 for support.
“Dude, there are so many chicks 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?” 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 couple of pipeloads of cannabis was passed around and a cloud of smoke filled the room. Jason’s senses dulled further and was pleasantly 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 convivial, positive aura. 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 accused.
“Of course I know!” Jason said defensively. “You think I’m some kind of 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 added. “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, smoking, 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, kaleidoscopic exhilaration.
As the evening progressed, a pair of couples 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 yard. 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 smiled tipsily. She took his hand and led 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 he subconsciously swayed one way then another. They 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 carefree and obliviously, then Christine pulled Jason closer and held on to him for support as they danced a little slower. “I think I’m drunk,” she confessed.
“From one beer?” Jason asked.
“Andrea brought a bottle of schnapps.”
Jason kissed Christine deeply and tasted peppermint. “I can tell.”
“I can you tell that you all broke into Todd’s gift,” Christine said. “And maybe something else?”
Jason smiled coyly. “Maybe.”
“Must have been a lot, whatever it was,” Christine kidded. They danced some more as everyone in the living room moved together joyously and rhythmically in a loose, pulsating symmetry. More party goers and some new arrivals crowded into the living room and joined in the dancing, and the shared social euphoria lifted the spirit of the party ever higher as it soared to a new peak.
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 among 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.”
“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 appreciate things in life that I used to take for granted. Things that matter, things that are important, and I think 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. Andrea brought out paper plates, plastic forks, and handed them out 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 as 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 looked around the kitchen area.
“Watcha looking for?” Todd asked.
“Something to sit on,” Jason said. “Looks like all the chairs are taken.”
“Someone get up and let Jason have a seat!” Todd ordered.
Jim staggered up from his chair. “You can have mine.”
“Why that’s very gentlemanly of you, Jim,” Todd said.
“Yes, thank you,” Christine said gratefully.
“You’re very welcome,” Jim said proudly. “And let it not be said that I am not a gentleman.”
“You’re a prince among men,” Jason complimented.
“I need to take a leak anyhow,” Jim muttered as he wandered away from the table.
Jason and Christine went to the vacated chair. “Go ahead and sit,” he said to her, “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.
“I’ll just have a sip of 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 down at Christine. “Probably better that you sit on my lap than the other way around.” Christine stood up, then Jason slid behind her and sat down. She sat on his lap sideways and draped her arm around him. 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 him 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 offered his cup to Christine. She took a sip, handed it back, and Jason 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 and alcohol. “Todd, this might be the best party that’s ever been,” he stated.
“Damn right it is!” Brian said 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.”
“Oh yeah! It was!” Brian suddenly remembered.
“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’re a true friend,” Mike joked as he took a drink.
“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, the nineties 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 agreed, “so what if he’s a prick.”
“You know what I think,” Dwayne said, “we should all get rid of all our governments.”
“Yeah, anarchy,” Alex kidded.
“Seriously,” Dwayne went on, “they just get in the way.”
“Something to consider,” Todd said.
“All people need to do is get together like this on a regular basis,” Jason opined.
“That’s right,” Mike agreed, “when you don’t, it just leads to trouble.”
The quarter bounced and clanged around on the kitchen table as the party settled into an easy groove.
“Speaking of trouble,” Alex said, “I think I saw Gina show up.
“Why you assuming the worst?” Mike asked.
“Past history?” Alex replied.
“Well I wonder if they’re at it yet,” Todd said.
“I did see them outside talking,” Brian said.
Christine began to shift around on Jason’s lap.
“Just talking?” Dwayne said.
“They were starting to get loud,” Brian said.
Christine looked toward the sliding glass door.
“Well 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 reminded.
“Ah, quit your whining,’” 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 started to grow louder.
“And just when we were finally having a good time,” Todd quipped.
The argument outside escalated into back and forth shouting and swearing. Christine got up and went to the window.
“Can’t they just get along,” Dwayne said.
The noise of Randy and Gina’s screaming match carried into the house and infected the happy buzz of the party. More people gathered into the kitchen area looked out the window as the fight grew louder. Gina’s voice rose ever higher then overpowered Randy and erupted into an onslaught of profanity. She threw open the sliding glass door, stormed into the house her eyes wet from tears, then slammed the door shut behind her.
“Fucking asshole!” Gina cried. “I hate him!” she sobbed as she staggered past everyone. Christine went after Gina along with Lena, Andrea, Raquel, Liz, and others. They followed her into the living room and called after her. The commotion moved away and the kitchen area became quiet again. Everyone around the table looked at each other with surprise.
“Well that was sudden,” Brian finally said.
“Wonder what they were fighting about this time?” Alex asked.
“Same old, same old,” Todd said.
Jason glanced into the living room. More people tried to intercept Gina and calm her down as she was barging to the front door. “Fuck him!” she hollered as she exited. “I never want to see that piece a shit again!” A few more people followed her out to the front yard and tried to console her.
“Looks like Gina’s taking off,” Jason told everyone.
“She’s going to miss out on this quarters game,” Mike said humorously.
“So whose turn is it?” Todd asked.
“Wonder if she dumps him this time?” Tim asked.
“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 emerged into the doorway. He leaned against the sill for a moment then stumbled into the house. He noticed everyone was looking at him. “Anything happen while I was gone?” he asked.
“We were about to ask you the same thing,” Brian said.
Randy walked obliviously toward the quarters game, grabbed onto a chair, dropped into it, and scooted up to the table.
“You took my seat,” Alex complained.
“Mine now,” Randy said as he settled in comfortably. He looked around the table at everyone as they all looked back at him. “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Am I right or what?”
“No, you cant’ 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 queers,” Randy accused.
“Not all of us,” Todd said, “but you two sure made a scene.”
“Yeah, you disrupted the vibe of the party,” Mike blamed.
“Okay, so I lost my cool,” Randy admitted, “but she drove me to 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 two, uh…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 she could do,” he said with a laugh. “That did it. But seriously, 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?” Brian joked. “What’s she thinking.”
“The women just have to grab onto the Randy express and hold on for dear life,” Alex kidded some more.
“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 scolded.
“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