“So now Alex is trying to hook him up with a job so he can pay off his back rent!” Mike said loudly to Jason over blaring party music.
“Hook who up?!” Jason replied just as loud.
“Curtis!” Mike repeated.
“Oh, good for him!” Jason yelled back. “Hope it works out!”
“Maybe he can find something for you!”
“I’ll need to make more than what Curtis is willing to work for!”
“I heard that!” Mike agreed.
They looked around the unfamiliar house at the shifty, uneasy crowd.
“Know anybody here other than Darren?” Mike asked loudly.
Jason scanned the horde of party goers. “A couple of familiar faces, but no one I know personally!” Jason shouted back.
They stood around some more and tried to fit into the agitated atmosphere of the party. Some people were drinking heavily and clustered around in separate, loud conversations. Others went in and out of a bedroom at the end of the hallway, closing the door every time they entered or exited.
“Maybe we ought to split!” Jason suggested.
“Where’s Brian and Randy?” Mike asked out loud.
As the night wore on loud, angry voices began to clash over the blasting music. Jason and Mike looked toward the clamor and saw everyone hurrying toward the front room. They went after the crowd then Jason became alarmed as he saw Randy and another party goer screaming and pushing at each other. Jason and Mike sprang toward the conflict but quickly merged into a flood of people as the room filled up. Some people reached in and tried to restrain the two fighters but their momentum escalated as they tried to wrestle each other down. Spectators in the surrounding crowd were yelling at them to stop or inciting them to fight as Jason and Mike struggled to push through. Jason watched the fight from a distance and tried to keep his footing in the lumbering crowd then someone hollered that a neighbor had called the police.
Everyone quickly untangled themselves, broke away from each other, and emptied out the front and back doors. Jason and Mike along with Darren got a hold of Randy while the other fighter was pulled away by other disappearing party goers toward the front door.
“Where is that motherfucker?!” Randy yelled.
“Chill, dude!” Darren said.
“C’mon, let’s get the fuck outta here!” Mike ordered as he and Jason pushed Randy out the back door and into the backyard. Darren trailed them as they joined up with Brian and Terry and quickly filed into a line of people running along the side of the house. They ran through the side gate and emerged into the front yard as everyone was fleeing into the night.
Lit up police cars rolled up the street, and Jason, Mike, Brian, Terry, and Darren grabbed Randy and took off in the opposite direction. They raced down one street and then another under the hazy glow of street lamps. Jason was fueled by a rush of excitement as he breathed in deep the cool night air. They kept running through the neighborhood then slowed to a jog, and then a walk as the houses gave way to the large expanse of a high school. They tried to catch their breath as they approached the front of the campus.
“Got away,” Brian said between breaths.
“So who was that guy you were brawling with?” Jason asked Randy.
“One of Tony’s asshole friends,” Randy said. “I think his name is Frank.”
“Well what were you two fighting about?” Jason asked.
“Fuck if I know,” Randy said as he wandered onto the yellow lit school grounds.
“Well that explains things,” Brian joked. “I thought it was something important.”
“You guys should’ve back me up,” Randy insisted.
“We tried but the place was packed,” Mike reminded. “We could barely move.”
“You’re lucky we got you out of there,” Jason said to Randy. “You are in no shape to be talking to cops right now.”
“For sure,” Mike agreed.
“They would’ve dragged you away on sight,” Terry added.
“Yeah, yeah,” Randy said dismissively. He wandered further onto the school and looked around at the institutional, rectangular buildings. “Haven’t been here in a while.”
“I had to get out of that party quick,” Darren said anxiously. “I think I still have a warrant out on me.”
“That the only reason why you’re so jumpy?” Terry asked suspiciously.
“At least they didn’t send that helicopter with the spotlight,” Mike said. “Ever see that thing?”
“They sure do like to keep tabs on everybody,” Brian observed.
Randy continued to survey the school grounds. He walked through the outdoor commons and took in the surroundings as everyone else followed. “Can’t believe it’s been five years already.”
“Time marched on,” Brian said as they walked behind Randy.
Hope they don’t bust Tony,” Darren worried.
“They shouldn’t,” Terry answered. “He just threw a noisy party, that’s all.”
“Yeah, as long as nothing is in plain sight,” Mike pointed out.
“They’re just there to break up our fun,” Randy said as he pulled a can of beer from his jacket pocket. “Shit, like they got nothing better to do.” He opened his beer and foam hissed out of the can. He took a drink.
“Hope you brought enough for everybody,” Brian chided.
“I might have an extra,” Mike said as he felt inside his jacket, pulled out one can, then another, and handed one to Brian. Jason then felt his front jacket pocket, found a beer he had forgotten and pulled it out. They opened their beers one at a time and each can shot out foam.
Randy held up his can. “To the old school,” he said solemnly, and everyone else lifted up their cans. They all took a drink. Jason winced at the taste of the warm, acrid beer.
“Not too often we get to see the old school,” Randy reminisced.
“You didn’t see too much of it when you were going,” Mike kidded.
“Yeah, but when you’re in high school you can’t let classes get in the way of having a good time,” Randy imparted.
“Can’t argue with that,” Jason said half seriously.
“That’s right,” Terry agreed. “So what if you weren’t the valedictorian.”
“Yeah, I was a pain,” Randy acknowledged, “but I never thought I was going to miss it.” He looked around the campus longingly as he walked ahead. “Now it’s all a bunch of kids who were in fucking junior high when we were here. Can you believe that shit?” Randy quickened his pace as he went by a row of lockers. Everyone else jogged after him while trying not to spill their beers until they entered courtyard in the middle of the school buildings. They all stopped, and Randy looked around the open space nostalgically.
“Sure looks empty with nobody around,” Terry said after a while.
“Yeah,” Jason agreed, “and smaller.”
Randy gazed around raptly, then focused on one of the larger buildings. “The cafeteria,” he spotted. “Did a lot of Saturday school there.”
“Couldn’t have been as much as me,” Mike said.
“I remember this one time a food fight broke out in there,” Terry began. “When no one was looking, I walked out with a case of Fanta.”
“Did you guys hear someone else?” Darren asked warily.
“That’s nothing,” Mike said to Terry. “One night I carved donuts on the soccer field with my old Camaro.”
“I think that’s just our voices echoing,” Brian said to Darren.
“Yeah, I tore it up good,” Mike reminisced as he pantomimed making a sharp turn with a steering wheel.
“Oh, I remember now,” Terry said to Mike. “It was after that party when…”
A piercing scream suddenly filled the vacant courtyard and startled Jason. He looked around and saw it was Randy. The scream ceased and its echo reverberated off the buildings.
“You’re right,” Randy said to Brian.
“Goddammit, Randy! There are cops around!” Jason said angrily.
“Relax,” Randy said.
“Hope nobody heard that,” Darren worried.
“Oh, that was heard,” Mike remarked.
“You’re awfully jumpy tonight,” Terry said to Darren.
“He’s always jumpy,” Brian added.
“Cops won’t come,” Mike predicted, “they’re too busy rousting Tony and whoever didn’t make it out in time.”
“Aw, man,” Darren lamented.
Randy walked further into the courtyard. “You know how people that say that high school is the quickest four years of your life,” he began, “well it’s been about five years since we all left, and those four years were a lot more fun than the years that came after. Ain’t that a bitch.”
“Life was better then and we didn’t even know it,” Brian said ironically.
“Couldn’t wait to get out of here,” Randy said as he looked around the open space yearningly, “and here I am.” The yellow lights on the buildings glowed beside him and his shadow stretched across the ground and moved with him. Jason watched Randy as he wandered to the center of the courtyard and appeared to be lost in memories. “Back then we were always hanging out with each other, like family. Now we don’t see each other the way we used to.” He stood by himself in the middle of the courtyard. “Especially since some of you are whipped by your girlfriends.”
Jason uneasily suspected the last comment was directed at him.
Randy looked around some more, then focused on one spot in the far corner. “The center of it all,” he recalled happily. “The smoking section.”
“That isn’t the smoking section anymore,” Terry informed.
“What?” Randy looked stunned. “Where the fuck is it?”
“They don’t have one anymore,” Jason said.
“You’re shitting me!”
“All the high schools got rid of them,” Mike said, “happened a couple of years ago, new state law. Didn’t you hear?”
Randy lowered his head in disappointment. “Everything good in life, they take it all away,” he brooded. “It’s bullshit!” He paced around angrily. “Where are you supposed to go now to hang out with your bros and smoke a bowl?”
“Library?” Mike joked.
“Dammit I’m serious!” Randy yelled from the middle of the courtyard. “We have been betrayed by a bunch of fucking new rules! Freeways cover up our old stomping grounds! Shit is getting too expensive! It’s getting too fucking crowded! We can’t do what we want anymore!” he declared with fists clenched. “Where’s the fun? The crazy adventures? The brotherhood!” A tense pause filled the air.
“Maybe things aren’t as fun as they used to be,” Mike finally said, “but life ain’t that bad. Why stress?”
“Because we had something!” Randy emphasized. “We were the big men on campus, and nobody could fuck with us! And now it’s all gone! Fuck!” He flung his can of beer and it skidded across the blacktop then struck one of the buildings as it left a wet trail of foam in its path.
“Hey, that’s alcohol abuse,” Terry kidded.
Randy advanced toward Terry. “You think I’m joking?”
“You need to relax,” Jason warned.
“Fuck that!” Randy paced around some more. “None of you get it! All you motherfuckers are relaxing too much!” he accused as everyone watched him. “Everything we had, our whole world, everything important to us, is disappearing! It’s going to be gone forever! And all you’re doing is settling into your nice, boring routines! Dull, predictable lives!” He stopped pacing and looked at them contemptuously. “You know what? You’re all dead inside.”
“Whoa, Randy, that’s heavy,” Mike cautioned.
“And take it easy,” Jason ordered. “There are cops around!”
“What the fuck is wrong with you guys?” Randy went on. “Are you even listening to me?” He stopped pacing around and moved in closer. “And you know what else? In the old days you guys would’ve backed me up.”
“We tried but everybody rushed in,” Mike said defensively. “We could barely move!”
“And then someone said the cops were on the way,” Brian added.
“Yeah,” Jason said. “What the fuck were we supposed to do?”
“You’re supposed to remember who your brothers are!” Randy shouted. Silence fell over the courtyard again.
“Okay, Randy, sorry for not jumping in on time,” Brian finally replied. “We didn’t know you were going to start some fight with a total fucking stranger.”
“Fuck, man!” Randy continued angrily. “I told you, I didn’t start shit! That fucker bumped into me on purpose! Then he started shooting off his mouth! I couldn’t let him get away with that!” he asserted. “It wasn’t my fault!”
“It never is,” Terry remarked.
“Fuck you!” Randy shot back. “You’re supposed to be on my side!”
“Let it go, Randy,” Brian said.
“No! Fuck that! I’m not letting anything go!” Randy seethed, then he slowly started walking in a circle around them. “I know what’s going on here,” he began. “No one wants to hang out with Randy anymore. Your old ladies don’t like having me around.” They turned around to follow him. “They think I’m an embarrassment, a bad influence, they think I’m trouble…but there is one thing none of you can never forget.” He came to a stop. “I’m the one who makes things happen!” he shouted, and his outburst reverberated throughout the courtyard. “What would you have done without me, huh? Sit around and jack each other off all day? ‘Our lives are so boring,’” he mimicked, “‘if only there was somebody here to make things exciting.’ And you know what? All your memories are because of me!” he declared triumphantly. “I’ll be the one you tell stories about whenever you all get together! And I’ll be the center of attention whether I’m there or not! You can’t deny that!” He stood defiantly as the impact of his tirade hung in the air.
“No one has forgotten,” Jason finally said.
“That’s right,” Mike agreed. “Always the life of the party.”
“I was the party!” Randy asserted as he continued to occupy the center of attention. His eyes narrowed as he appeared to focus on another memory. “Hey, you guys remember that party we went to in the east side? At that ranch up in the foothills? Big place, kegs everywhere. And we met those farmer chicks, I think they were drunker than we were,” he said with a laugh. “And there was that one I hit it off with, Rhonda or something. Then we went behind a shed, and had our own party,” he added luridly.
“Yeah, I remember that party,” Terry said, “or at least I remember going there. I think I blacked out at some point.”
“Better that you don’t remember,” Mike kidded. “You’d die of shame.”
“Oh, I missed that party,” Brian recalled, “had to deliver pizzas that night. Sounded like I missed out.”
“One of those girls had her hands all over you,” Randy said to Jason.
“Yeah, I remember,” Jason replied cautiously.
“She was wild, drunk as hell too. You totally could’ve fucked her. ”
Randy moved toward Jason. “So how come you didn’t?”
Jason was caught off guard. “I was going out with Jenny at the time.”
“So I didn’t want to cheat on her.”
“Well good for you,” Randy said ominously. “That shows loyalty.”
Jason began to feel anxious. “What are you getting at?”
“I remember a time when you were loyal to your friends,” Randy reminded as he advanced upon Jason.
Jason was shocked. “Aw, c’mon!” he denied. “Where do you come off saying shit like that?”
“Tell me I’m wrong,” Randy demanded as he glared at Jason accusingly.
“I went with you to Tony’s sketchy party, didn’t I?!” Jason defended as he felt the heat of persecution.
“After I begged you, which I never had to do before to get you to go to a party!”
“Fuck, dude, I can’t hang out like we’re cutting classes anymore!” Jason argued. “I’ve got responsibilities now, bills to pay!”
“And leaving behind your old friends?”
“What?!” Guilt overwhelmed Jason. “Don’t you think I want to do all the fun things we used to do?! Don’t you think I wish I could turn back time?!” he pleaded. “I miss those days, but I can’t be a kid forever!”
“No more room for Randy,” he said with angry self pity.
“Hey! I’m here now!”
“Chris finally let you off your leash.”
Jason was further stung. “What the hell do you want from me? The old Jason?”
“How about the one who isn’t whipped?”
“Dammit! If you can’t keep a woman, that ain’t my fault!”
“I can get any broad I want!” Randy’s eyes narrowed. “Even yours.”
Jason was stunned. “You can not be serious,” he said disbelievingly.
Jason tried to respond but was unable to speak.
“I’m not good enough?”
Jason remained out of words.
Randy stepped in closer. “I have known you a lot longer than she ever did! We grew up together! We played together! Partied together! Did everything together! And we used to go after the same girls, and they never got in the way!”
Randy’s righteous anger and accusing glare bore down on Jason. Memories of shared happier times and an idealized past called to him. He felt the allure of nostalgia and yearned for its embrace, then buried fears of disappearing youth and fading camaraderie arose and widened the gulf between past and present. “Dammit, Randy, I love Christine is the woman I love!” he finally responded. “She’s not some party skank! And do really think my life is some kind of fucking fairy tale? I’ve got all kinds of new problems to deal with! A job I can’t stand! Credit card bills! Mooching off of my parents like I’m still a child!”
“Oh, so I’m holding you back!” Randy further accused. “Is that it?!”
“What the fuck am I supposed to do, lead you around by the hand?!” Jason shot back as anger, guilt, and frustration culminated within him.
“You’re supposed to remember who your brothers are, you selfish fuck!”
Tension hung in the air as they stood off against each other. Jason saw his old life slipping away, leaving only an instinct for self preservation.
“Todd would have backed me up!” Randy went on. “And Alex, Dwayne, even Curtis!”
“Well they’re not here!” Jason yelled. Their standoff continued.
“I think those guys are at Stu’s,” Mike interjected.
Randy quickly turned to Mike. “Stu’s throwing a party and you didn’t tell me?!”
“You wanted to go to Tony’s!” Jason reminded angrily.
“I think it’s more of a get together,” Mike added.
“We ain’t at Tony’s now!” Randy shouted back at Jason.
“Yeah, thanks to your brawling,” Terry reminded.
“Fuck you!” Randy threw his almost empty beer can at Terry.
Terry quickly moved out of the way and the can thudded against a wall. “Whoa! What the fuck, man!”
“Get a hold of yourself!” Mike ordered.
Randy remained defiant. “You know what? Fuck Stu! We’ll have our own party!” he declared. “We’ll get some more beers, a bottle, and we’ll drive down to the beach!” He turned to leave, then looked back at everyone. “C’mon! Let’s go!”
“We’ve been drinking all night!” Jason reminded. “We can’t drive over the hill!”
Randy tuned back around and faced everyone again. “You see, that’s the kind of pussy bullshit I’m talking about!” he reiterated. “Not willing to jump in and take a chance!”
“And get arrested or get into an accident!” Jason shot back.
Randy looked at Jason and shook his head. “You just don’t get it, do you?” He then looked to everyone else. “Who’s with me?!” he shouted.
No one responded.
“C’mon! I know all of you got wheels!”
“Dude, we’re not driving over the 17,” Terry argued. “We’ve been drinking all night!”
“Stop your whining! Shit, I can drive that fuckin’ hill blindfolded!” Randy bragged. “Darren, we’ll take your car!”
“No way, the brakes are shot.”
“Are you kidding? My alcohol level has to be twice the legal limit right now.”
“Don’t let me down, Terry!”
“Fuck it, I’m heading home,” Terry said, then started to move away.
“Guess I don’t need to ask you,” Randy said flippantly to Jason.
“I’m out.” Jason also began to leave, then Mike.
“Darren!” Randy said with exaggerated friendliness. “You won’t leave me.”
“Sorry, bro, I gotta keep out of sight.” Darren left and jogged up to everyone else leaving.
“So that’s it?” Randy called out as everyone exited the courtyard. “Just gonna leave ol’ Randy all by himself?”
The echo of Randy’s voice haunted Jason as they continued down the corridor toward the school entrance.
“Well I don’t need any of you motherfuckers!” Randy yelled. “Go back to your boring lives! I’m a one man party! A creature of the night!” Randy’s voluminous voice became distant as Jason and everyone else approached the school entrance. “That’s it! Keep going! Don’t worry about Randy! I’ll go invade Stu’s! Or find some other party!” Jason heard Randy’s footsteps in the courtyard moving away quickly in the opposite direction.
Jason and the rest of them left the campus and made their way down the sidewalk. A couple of them drank the last of their beers and tossed the empties into a nearby trash can.
“Damn, what a night,” Mike commented.
“Yeah, everything sure went haywire,” Terry said as they walked along, and everyone muttered in agreement.
They then saw a police car driving down a cross street, and they froze momentarily.
©2017 Robert Kirkendall