“That spazzy shit really drew all this?”
“Yes, and please be nice to him.”
“What? I’m always nice to his face.”
Chris, always the diplomat.
We were getting a good response for Death Man at the art show. Because we were both juniors and maybe because the material was slightly graphic, we didn’t have a prime location for our booth. But we got traffic. People seemed to be making a special point to make their way back to us and check the whole thing out.
I have to say that most of the booth was done by Andrew. He did a border all the way around the top of the booth that looked like the New York skyline with Death Man standing on a rooftop surveying the whole scene. Under this were some large format pictures of Death Man himself with tiny detail scenes surrounding him. And on the table were multiple copies of the three stories we’d worked on with Mrs. DiScala so that people could pick them up and read them as they visited the booth.
“Where is Dickface, anyway?”
“Dunno, said he was gonna check out the other art. Should be back soon. And can it with the Dickface, okay?”
Andrew did come back after a while, and our silent treatment continued. I was happy we had so many people checking out the booth to talk to because if we had to just sit back there like two little clams, this whole experience would not have been fun.
The art show closed up at 8:00 p.m. We sort of tried to shuffle people away from the table, but a couple of parents kept hanging around, asking us questions. I finally started to take the drawings off the board to give them the message.
“Why did you go to the prom with Suzie?”
The sound of Andrew’s voice shocked me more than the question.
“I dunno. she wanted to go.”
“Yes, but why did you go with her? I thought you were going with Jenny.”
“Well, so did everybody else. But she never asked me.”
Andrew just kept disassembling the booth, so I thought maybe the question and answer period was over and we were back to sitting in each other’s penalty boxes.
“So did you go with Suzie to make Jenny jealous?”
“No, I told you, I went with her because she asked and she didn’t have anyone to go with.”
I put my last bunch of papers into the box I was packing and picked it up to bring to my car.
“So you went with her out of pity.”
I spun around.
“No. It wasn’t pity it was. . .she just deserved to go. She wanted to go, and she didn’t want to go alone, and what’s-their-names said she didn’t want to ask anyone. So I said that was stupid and she should just go, and then it was like, all of a sudden, it was me, and it was cool because Suzie’s cool. Why do you freakin’ care, anyway?”
Andrew had his back to me. He was twisting a pushpin on the back wall of our booth.
“But you wanted to go with Jenny.”
“Yeah, I guess, I dunno. Everybody just said she was going to ask me, so I was just waiting. But she had a date, and then the Suzie thing happened, and I just went with Suzie. Why is it such a big deal to you?”
Andrew turned around and put the last piece of the boarder in his box.
“Hmm, maybe she’s not as in love with you as you thought, eh?”
I put my box back down on the table.
“I never said she was in love with me—you said it. And I never said she was going to the prom with me—everybody else said it. And I never said I was in love with her either—I just. . .why is everything about me and Jenny? I’ve spent all of high school just like staring at her and waiting for her and, it’s like why? What am I waiting for? And why am I waiting for her?”
“Don’t you like her?”
“Of course I like her, but. . .I’m not. . .like, it’s not like I’m in love with her, she’s just. . .she’s Jenny.”
“Wait. . .do you like Jenny?”
“Oh, Casey, so oblivious. No, I do not like Jenny. I’m not sure I can like anyone in high school, even her. All too much, and all too little at the same time. I’d rather just wait until we’re not all so dreadful.”
I picked my box back up, and we started walking toward the parking lot.
“So why is everything between me and Jenny so mixed up?”
“I guess that’s sort of my point, Casey. I can’t get involved in this mired muck called young love. It’s just. . .not for me. But as for you and Jenny. . .I would say that everyone just thought you two obviously liked each other, so we can’t really understand why you never went out.”
I didn’t understand it either. And I was tired of trying. Andrew and I walked together to the parking lot. I put the boxes in my trunk.
“You want a ride home?”
“No, it’s a nice night; I’ll walk.”
“Cool. It was a good show though, wasn’t it?”
“Unmitigated success I would say. Congrats, my friend.”
Driving home, I thought about what Andrew had said, about Jenny and me as well as calling me his friend. I don’t know if Andrew and I really resolved anything. I still didn’t understand him or why he gets all into my business, but I was okay with us going back to being friends. It was a relief. And Jenny, well, I guess I can’t really expect to get answers from Andrew there. Maybe there were no answers.
When I got home, my mom was on the phone.
“. . .he just walked in. Case, it’s Todd.”
“Hey, how was the art show, kid? Did you art the be-jeesus out of them all? Did you win all the arts?”
“Yeah, it was good; people liked it. How was Lizzie’s thing?”
“She’s in the room, so I can’t tell you how horrible it was, hehe. I’ll just say how much I loooooove high school orchestras.”
I heard someone say, “Shut up, Todd,” in the background, but I couldn’t tell if it was Lizzie or Cheryl.
“Hey, kid, I meant to ask you this the other day. Cheryl and I are going to Barbados in a couple weeks. Can you and your wrecking crew watch the house? And, if you’re all ambitious, you can weatherproof it for me. I’d throw you guys some cash.”
Uncle Todd’s house wasn’t big, but it was cool; lots of big picture windows and high ceilings. It was set way off the street, and there was a small pond in the yard. There weren’t any neighbors around it for a good half mile. It was the perfect party house.
“But, Case, no parties.”
“No, of course not.”
“Yeah, seriously, you and the guys can crash there, and I don’t mind maybe a couple more people, but really, no parties.”
“Yeah, of course, no parties.”
We had a party. It didn’t mean to be a party. It wasn’t intended to be a party. It was going to be ten to twelve people, tops. Then it was ten to twelve people each. Final total: there were about sixty people invited. That’s a party.
The afternoon before the party, Chris, Steve, and I were on the roof of Todd’s house, brushing weatherproofing onto his wood shingles. Steve and I had paintbrushes in one hand and beers in the other. Chris was drinking Zima.
“What? It tastes like soda. It’s good; you guys are crazy.”
Sure, I didn’t care for beer much, but that Zima stuff just didn’t seem right. Besides, after two beers, beer tastes a lot better.
By the time people started arriving, we had finished painting and were cleaned up. We had told people it was BYOB and that we’d have some tents set up if people couldn’t drive. I wasn’t a power drinker like some kids were, so I was riding a nice buzz from the afternoon. Chris had another six-pack of Zimas in the fridge, and Steve had loaded twelve Coronas into a small garbage can filled with ice. He carried it around with him all night.
People arrived in dribs and drabs. Jenny came with Dana, which was cool because I liked that kid. And though I’d invited both Suzie and Andrew, I didn’t expect them to arrive together. Just sharing a ride, I guess. In the end, half the people we invited didn’t show up, but it seemed like the people who were invited brought other people, so there were still fifty to sixty heads there. All sorts of kids I didn’t even know. But as I tooled around the house making sure no one was breaking anything, it seemed like everyone was having a good time.
I strolled on down by the pond, just looking to get my head clear of the music and noise for a second. I was looking out at the water when someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “There you are.”
I turned around, and it was Lizzie. But it wasn’t Lizzie. I mean, it wasn’t little Lizzie from the backseat of Todd’s 4runner. And it wasn’t goofy Lizzie from sledding down this hill and across the ice on the pond. I thought I saw her just a couple weeks ago, but I would swear she was three inches taller now. And her hair was straight and shiny and full of moonlight. Her voice was echoing off the water and singing sweet songs in my ears, and her smile was tractor beaming my little grin into an ear-to-ear affair. She gave me a tiny hug that managed to stop my lungs from functioning.
“What are you doing here?”
“What do you mean? Todd said you guys were having a party, and I should come down. Is that not cool?”
Oh, it was cooler than cool. Not sure how Todd knew we were having a party when he told us not to, but I figured that was just part of the mystery of Uncle Todd. The other mystery presenting itself was Lizzie. When did she. . .do whatever this was? Was it just the beer and the moonlight? Was it some sort of bovine, hormone induced, growth spurt? Or was she always like this and I just never knew it?
“Casey, you gotta see this!”
Chris was calling me from the top of the hill.
I turned to Lizzie. “Hey, no it’s cool; it’s definitely cool. I mean, you’re cool; it’s cool.” I had hoped I had established it was cool. “Grab a beer outta the fridge if you want, mix it up; I’ll catch you after I see what Chris wants.”
She shot me a big smile and spun away on legs that were longer than should be legal. Definitely a growth spurt, I thought.
I found Chris and Steve standing in front of the picture window to the back bedroom. The lights were on inside, and someone had turned the side floodlight off so it was dark on that side of the house.
“Who’s in there?”
I looked in, and it was Suzie and Andrew. They were sitting on the little twin bed I slept in when I would spend the night at Todd’s. Andrew had both his feet on the floor and his hands folded around a Coors Light can. Suzie was leaning back a little; one leg was half lifted onto the bed, and her knee was touching Andrew’s thigh. She was drinking a Woodchuck. It looked like Andrew was mumbling something into his beer, and Suzie was laughing.
“We shouldn’t be watching this, guys. I mean, we really shouldn’t.”
We all took sips of our drinks. Because the lights were on full strength in the room and it was pitch black out here, Suzie and Andrew couldn’t see us even though we were twelve feet from the window. Suzie sat up on the bed. We sipped again. She put her hand on Andrew’s cheek and turned his face toward her. In spite of all his talk about not wanting to get mucked up in young love, the boy didn’t hesitate. I took a sip out of respect.
“Fucking spazzer’s going to go for it.”
“Not while I’m watching.”
Andrew’s hand was moving chest-ward when I rapped on the window. They both shot up like their parents had caught them.
“WE CAN SEE YOU, CLOSE THE BLINDS.”
Andrew hurried across the room with his hand on what must have been a heart near about to burst from both terror and anticipation. He mouthed “thank you” as he dropped the window blanket and wiggled his eyebrows a bit.
“Oh, shit. Brenda’s here.”
“Hehehe, have fun, brother. Casey, meet me on the roof, wanna chill for a second.”
I walked the long way through the party to the other side of the house. I wanted to make sure everybody was still having fun without breaking stuff. All was right in teensville.
When I got on the roof, I found Steve there leaning against the chimney, complete with his garbage can full of Coronas.
“Your private stock, I’m blessed.”
We clinked the necks and watched the party below us. Some guy was playing a guitar, and a couple girls were taking turns doing ridiculous dances. A couple of the football players were pretending to surf on the picnic table. Chris and Brenda were talking, probably ready to either fight or make out; they could go either way, and they’d probably do both before the night was through.
“Not too shabby, right? I mean, this is way more people than I thought would show up.”
Steve took another swig. “Ya done good, Casey; this will go down as a classic.”
“Is Kadence coming?”
“Yeah, I think so. You know she doesn’t like drinking or people who are drinking or anything.”
“Half these people aren’t even drinking.”
“Yeah, try telling her that.”
Suddenly there were flashing lights in the driveway and a voice coming over a PA, “Stay where you are, this is the police.”
Steve and I instinctively slipped to the other side of the chimney.
“Oh, well,” I said, “it was fun while it lasted.”
“I guess it’s not a party without some cops. Hey, did you get a chance to talk to Jenny?”
“Nah, we just. . .I’m just going to leave it alone. She’s out of here after the summer anyway. Train’s left, ya know?”
“What about Lizzie?”
“What about her?”
“Nothing I guess. She’s just a nice girl; you should go talk to her. But you know that.”
We both sat silently and listened, finishing off the last of our beers. The cops hadn’t shut off the stereo yet, seemed like everything was going very orderly.
“I should probably get down there. This is my uncle’s house, so I guess I should handle this.”
“I’ll come with you.”
“No, stay here, enjoy the Coronas. No need for you to take any heat.”
“Thanks, Case. I owe you one.”
I stood up and deposited my empty in Steve’s garbage can. I looked down into the yard, and the party was still in full swing.
“Shit, that wasn’t the cops. That was Tom Bowman in his Bronco. What an asshat.”
“Bowman? He owes me five bucks. Let’s shake him down, Case.”
“Call me if you need backup; I’m going to go find Lizzie.”
Steve reached over and hugged me. A one-armed hug, he wasn’t letting go of his garbage can.
“Go get her, Casey.”
“Go get yer five bucks, Stevie.”
Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.