Why me? No, seriously - why me? I'm a nice, supportive person; I'm not some hateful curmodgeon with a lesson to learn, I'm just an unsuspecting guy who didn't want to feel alone anymore. Why does something like this happen to me? In retrospect, it probably happens to a lot of people and no one likes to talk about it. Understandable. Why you? For that matter, why us? Of all the lives the universe could have chosen to intertwine, of every lonely person in the world, why did the two of us have to be thrown together? Why did it have to feel so right? When we first met, I had no idea you would become a permanent part of my life. Not only did you do that, but you changed it, whether either of us wanted that or not. After everything that's happened between us, I can confirm two truths of life. The first is that love is beautiful evil; love is the most painful of joys, the sweetest-feeling knife wound in your side and the most infuriating blessing you could come across. The second of thing all this has taught me is that time should be cherished. That may seem like an obvious and cheesy message, but it's true; we take every moment for granted until we're sad and alone, remembering the times we wish we could go back and live through again. But we can never go back to how things were now, can we?
I want you to know more than anything that I never meant to cause you any pain, and I would never want you to be hurt the way you were. Honestly, I don't know what I could say to make everything easier. I don't know what to say, but I wish I did. I wish you didn't have to feel this bad because of me, or anything else for that matter. I wish things never changed from those days, those times we can never go back to...
It was seven thirty by the time we arrived outside Jenny Allen's house. I could see the line of people trailing out onto the sidewalk as I stared from the window of the passenger seat. The sun had just about finished setting while we spent a good five minutes driving up and down the block looking for parking. I realized I was probably right to assume everyone I knew from school and their mom had shown up.
"Jenny's family is loaded!" Travis commented from the backseat as Theo and I removed our seatbelts.
"It's crazy her parents let her project X the place whenever she asks." Theo added.
"Yo guys," Travis lamented as he hoisted his guitar case out of the car. "This is our last fall party."
"It's senior year, Trav," I replied. "Our last everything is coming soon."
The three of us lined up in front of Theo's fancy sportscar and gawked at the Allens' enormous mansion of a house. It was basically a giant white fortress complete with a tall gate and a rhinestone path to the door, leading past a luxurious granite fountain on the lawn. It easily put all three of our raggedy houses to shame, and a part of me felt like cops were going to come out of nowhere and interrogate us just for being there. Admittedly, I would've felt uneasy in such an environment if it weren't for the company of my two best friends.
When I met Theo, we were both scrawny, awkward freshmen, and of course bonded immediately. Over the years, however, Theo got taller, got muscles, got dreadlocks, got a pantheon of girls who'd give up a lung for a chance at his penis, and got a place on the football team that meant stardom amongst his peers and scholarships coming in every week. Since freshmen year, I got… Well, older. And a little taller. I wouldn't say I stopped being skinny, but my body grew to a point where it's not immediately noticeable anymore. But hey, at least the girls at school thought I was funny. They weren't generous with their vital organs or anything, but they thought I was funny.
Travis wasn't as cool and popular, but he had his own set of attributes to admire: musical talent and an undying compulsion to have a good time. Though his wild and reckless behavior got us into trouble plenty times over the last three years, once you come to expect it, it's kinda just part of his charm.
We walked past the gate and up the path, we could hear loud music blasting from the inside and indistinct voices screaming with excitement, Theo taking charge among the three of us, leading the way up the porch and ringing the bell. The melodic sounds of bells floated in from the other side.
The huge door swung open, and in its frame stood Jenny Allen, with a welcoming smile on her face and a fancy glass full of something special in her hand.
"Theo, you came!" she called with a bubbly and mildly tipsy-sounding excitement, ignoring the presence of Travis and I.
"Of course," Theo replied smoothly. "You remember Trav and Rich, right?"
She shrugged and took another sip from the glass, opening the door all the way and standing to the side.
"Make yourself at home!" she said, seemingly disappearing back into the party around us. Theo stepped in first, Travis followed, gawking like a tourist in Time Square or something, and lastly I entered, closing the door everyone else seemed to forget about.
The whole house was dimly lit with strobes and disco lights spread about, crawling with what seemed like hundreds of teenagers and some that looked a little old to be attending a high school party. Dance music shook the walls and smells of incense and spilled alcohol hovered in nearly every corner. I glanced over to Theo, and in glimpses of flashing light I could see he looked calm, collected and completely at home here, being the social god he was. Travis' demeanor was more alert and mischievous. The three of us met eyes for a moment. The music was too loud for any of us to hear each other, but a single group head nod communicated everything. Mission statement: split up, turn up, then meet up at the same spot in a half hour. My two comrades went off in separate directions and disappeared into the crowds of people everywhere. I looked around and sighed, realizing I probably should have figured out a destination.
Now alone in the sea of people, I busily swam to what appeared to be a cleared out living room resurrected as a dance floor. It was filled with kids from school popping and locking and whipping and nae nae-ing and whatever the heck else they do nowadays. I slid by and leaned against the wall. Anyone who knows me knows I can't dance to save my life, being that I have the rhythm of a deaf person having a stroke. So in situations like these I usually opted to fade into the background in such a way that everyone noticed me there, but couldn't notice right away that I wasn't joining in the movement. Jordan Stevens, one of Theo's football teammates, came strutting by. He was wearing his varsity jacket and had a can of beer in his hand as he energetically two-stepped.
"Aye, Richie!" he extended his free hand to the side.
"What's good, bruh?" I responded as I slapped it. He took a heavy swig from his can and rejoined the crowd of dancing teens. See? Noticed but not noticed; mission accomplished.
Any mellow feeling of self enjoyment I'd managed to build up in the past few minutes was swiftly shattered as I glanced through the crowd and saw her: skin soft and radiant, golden hair flowing ever so gracefully, a smile like an abstract painting and eyes like an endless sky. Screw my life! I quickly jumped back and disappeared behind the corner. That blond-haired beauty was Cecilia-Jane Wellings, aka the girl I was convinced I was in love with Junior year, the reason I went into that summer vacation as the heartbroken laughingstock of Midtown High.
I realized CJ was right up there among Jenny Allen as one of the most popular girls in school and of course she'd be at a party like this. I mentally scolded myself for poor anticipation skills as I froze in place; Maybe she were like a T-Rex and wouldn't notice me if I just stood really still. Unfortunately, seconds into my Jurassic Park-based protocol, I was pushed bumped into by some wasted guy doing a played out variation of the robot.
"Look where you're goin'!" he called angrily. I turned away from him to keep moving and when I looked back, CJ was looking right at me. Direct eye contact. I pretended not to see her and continued rushing out of the room. Smooth, Richie.
Well, so much for hanging out at the dance floor. I made my way down the hallway, past a guy and a girl posted against the wall making out like there was no tomorrow, and arrived at the kitchen. It was the only decently lit place in the house I'd seen thus far, and from here the music wasn't too loud to hear myself think. I looked at the big, silver fridge and the cluster of coolers on the floor surrounding it. Maybe I could go for a drink.
I leaned over and opened the fridge, scanning through it and the contents of each cooler. Beer, beer, cheap champagne, beer, some stuff I'd never heard of, more beer. Is soda just something we don't do anymore? I shut the fridge and closed each cooler in disappointment. I guess another one of the things that separates me from all of my friends is I'm not one for being intoxicated; be it alcohol or any other substance, the idea of losing my motor skills, having my judgement impaired, then not remembering any of what happens the following day never seemed too appealing to me. I left the kitchen and continued my exploration. Passing a room full of senior guys heavily engaged in beer pong, I decided to see what was going on upstairs.
Making my way through the dark hallway, I followed the sound of melodic strumming from an acoustic guitar, along with an all too familiar voice warming up, followed by the sound of girls squealing. I walked up to the door where it was coming from, and gently cracked it open, peering in as discreetly as I could.
It appeared to be an unoccupied guest room of some kind, now full of partygoing teens, specifically a bunch of girls and one Travis. He sat on the bed, eyes closed and shirt halfway unbuttoned as he expertly played his prized guitar and sang his heart out to the audience of his adoring peers. It was a song I'm sure he'd written himself, full of "baby"s and "ooh girl"s and every excuse for him to drag out his high falsetto. Every female in the circle was thoroughly entranced, and his voice was practically drowned out by the sound of waterfalls. Our friend, the showoff.
In another minute or two, Travis finished his song and opened his eyes, doing his best sexy grin for the ladies as the collective applause came. Still in R&B singer mode, his gaze fixed on the one girl in the circle who wasn't on the verge of fainting. She was one of the faces I didn't know from school. She had dark black hair in a long ponytail, matchingly dark eyeshadow surrounding unimpressed green eyes under thick-framed glasses. Light freckles on her cheeks decorated her somewhat pale complexion, and the unbuttoned plaid shirt she wore over her black tank top matched her plaid, generic schoolgirl skirt.
"Aye," he said, pointing to Ms. Glasses-And-Ponytail. "What does the prettiest girl in the room think of that song?."
The girl raised a brow, for a second looking mildly flattered by his compliment before shrugging and straightening pushing her glasses up with her finger as she replied.
"She thinks you should focus less on looking cool and more on hitting the right key."
The circle around him suddenly switched from cheering him on and erupted into a unified 'ooh!'.
"Well hey," the girl said, as if suddenly realizing the effect she just had. "You have a good voice, just work on it."
I'll leave him to his bruised ego. I closed the door, still confident no one had noticed me, and made my way back downstairs, this time opting to check Jenny Allen's giant backyard.
Said backyard was a in the midst of a full on bonfire, tiki torches lined against the fence for light and a huge fire pit in the center of the action as more teens danced and trotted around. I stepped over an empty pizza box discarded on the ground and made my way into the calamity.
"Yo, Rich!" Theo's voice boomed through the crowd. I turned to see him warming up by the fire in a lawn chair, with a pretty girl I'd never seen before sitting in his lap.
"They got marshmallows or something here?"
"No idea," I replied. "But there's no soda."
The girl in Theo's lap whispered something in his ear. I stood there awkwardly, pretending not to notice.
"Aye," he said to me. "You seen anybody we know yet?"
"Ooh, there goes the second."
He motioned behind me.
"Grant, would you just stop!" cried CJ's voice. I winced. But wait, Grant? I turned around to see her being followed out of the house by the tall, blond haired, ill-mannered soontobe frat boy known as Grant Peters, the basketball player CJ started dating less than a week after impaling my heart with a stake. CJ was just about as angry as I'd ever seen her, but Grant persisted with a creepy, alcohol-slurred laugh.
"Jesus Christ…" I thought aloud, as Theo laughed.
"Why can't we just have a good time?" Grant said sleazily, trailing his hand up CJ's thigh. She swatted it down forcefully.
"How many times do I have to tell you to back off!?" CJ yelled. I didn't have all the details, but apparently she had dumped him toward the end of Summer break, on account of his getting drunk and causing scenes at parties (go figure) as well as cheating, lying, and generally being a dick. Can you guess who wouldn't have done all that stuff to her? Not that I was bitter toward him or anything, though. It's also equally preposterous to think I found the way he treated her to be fitting karma for leading me on last year.
"Why can't you just leave me alone?" CJ yelled, this time even more serious. By now the backyard's party had pretty much paused and attention shifted to the yelling not-couple as everyone unanimously eavesdropped while acting like they weren't.
Theo sighed. "Guess no one else is gonna say something." he said with a shrug, patting his new friend on the butt as an indicator for her to get up. She complied without a word, and he straightened his jacket as he walked over to the fight scene unfolding before us. Grant kept laughing and pushing up on CJ until Theo slid in between them and firmly stood his ground.
"How is this your business?" Grant demanded. Theo spoke with a firm bass in his voice.
"She said leave her alone."
Grant scoffed and proceeded to try and step past Theo. Theo grabbed his shoulder and pushed him back, and Grant's expression quickly darkened. Just then, everyone in the backyard went from socializing in separate groups to forming the quickest 'Let's watch a fight!' circle you'd ever see around Theo and Grant. CJ took the opportunity to slide out and away from them.
"Go ahead," Theo said, without the slightest bit of hesitation in his voice. "Do something."
Grant looked around at everyone, then back to Theo. As if the first bit of logic had finally slipped through the cracks in his boozed-up mind, he sucked his teeth and turned around.
"Forget CJ," he groaned. "She's stuck up now, anyway."
And with that he slipped back into the house. The circle of spectators gave a collective groan of disappointment at the lack of a fight before resuming the party festivities.
"I owe your friend one." CJ said to me. I nearly jumped as I turned to see her right next to me. Crap! I was too distracted by the non-fight to notice her sneak up on me.
"CJ," I began, trying my best not to sound awkward, though I'm sure I failed. "Long time, no see, huh?"
She gave that same innocent-looking smile that drew me in Junior year.
"Yeah," she replied. "How've you been?"
"Good, good," I lied, struggling to avoid eye contact. "Just, you know, holding up, I guess."
"Richie," she said, her tone shifting to a more serious one. "Maybe we should talk."
"I know we haven't really talked about what happened last year…"
"Why would we, it's not like I'm a living person with emotions or anything."
"You haven't really talked to me since. If I didn't know better I'd say you were avoiding me."
"Well, I wouldn't say 'avoiding'…"
"It's true. You think I haven't noticed the way you're cutting me off? We used to be so close, now you won't even talk to me."
I sighed and gave up trying to run from her with my eyes. I looked up and locked eyes with her, staring head on into those beautiful blue ones that saw right through me.
"I miss you," she continued. "I don't want to have to lose a friend over something dumb that's in the past now."
Dumb? In the past? Easy to say when you're the one that did it, huh? Her words sounded so honest, her voice sincere, her eyes reaching out with vulnerability. No way was I falling for that crap again. I took a step back from her, unable to find the right words to say. I felt a vibration in the pocket of my jeans. Perfect timing. I pulled out my phone and read the text message I had just received.
Travis: Wher u at?
Never before had I been so thankful for a drunk text. I looked back up at CJ and motioned toward me phone.
"I gotta go find Travis." I explained, placing the phone back in my pocket and spinning around. Before I could take a step away, I felt CJ's gentle hand grip my arm..
"Richie…" she said, almost impatiently. I turned to face her again.
"Look, CJ," I began before I knew what I was going to say. "I don't think this is gonna work. Me and you, I mean; You did what you did, there's no way to just erase it, so let's not pretend, alright? Good luck with Grant."
I pulled my arm free and walked away before she could respond, making my way back inside of the house. That may have seemed a little harsh without full context, but when you've had the experience I did, when you know CJ like I do, you know it's pointless to get caught up talking to her. She may play the sweet and friendly act, but underneath it she only speaks to mislead and manipulate. I'd let her sweet-talk me into letting myself open once, I wasn't about to let her in again while I was still doing damage control.
Trying guess where Travis might be, I made my way back to the dancefloor. My suspicions were confirmed as I saw him with a beer can in his hand, spazzing out to dubstep.
"Yo, Trav," I called, shaking his arm. "What do you need from me now?"
He turned to me and smiled. "The sexy girl from your art class is here."
"Denise?" I asked with a raised brow.
"Yeah, man. You know her, I need advice."
"No, you need to not say anything to her."
"Why not? She's super hot."
"She's also super lesbian. Try again, Trav."
He gave a look of disappointment.
"You know," I said as I guided him over to my spot against the wall I previously made. "Not every social interaction has to lead to sex. Why can't y'all just go to a party and not try to bang everything that moves? Just have fun and dance, dang it."
"What's got you all mad?" Travis moaned as if I'd killed his buzz.
"Nothing," I lied. "Can't we just chill out for a while."
"Bump that," Travis said, downing another sip from his can. "We're seniors now, Rich. This is the beginning of the end. No time to 'chill out' we gotta live! We gotta experience!"
The alcohol was making Theo almost poetic.
"You've had enough." I said, confiscating his can.
"That's your problem, man," he continued, as if reaching a sudden higher understanding. "You're always worrying about the next day. Always scared of messing up. Either that or you're always hung up on the past. You gotta learn to live in the moment, man. Cuz if you don't, the best parts of your life are gonna go by before you know it."
I paused, not quite sure what to say. The drunken expression on Travis' face and the dazed look of confusion in his eyes made it clear he probably didn't know what he had just said either, nor would he remember it come tomorrow morning, but for some reason that didn't make it hit me any less deep.
"Ever hear of personal space?" an angry girl's voice boomed through the party, cutting off my train of thought and interrupting this session of 'Motivational Speeches with Travis'. We both nosily turned to peer through the darkness and crowds to see where it was coming from, and I'd realized I heard that voice once before. I couldn't exactly place it though, that is until we spotted her.
Across the room stood the girl with the glasses and the green eyes and the dark hair braided into a ponytail; the girl from the music room earlier, unimpressed with Travis' song. The new girl, whose name I still didn't know. She stood with a look of anger as Grant Peters all but felt up who I assumed was her friend, one of the popular girls from school. She struggled to push away Grant's arms, his big, dumb, drunk smile unfading. Ms. Glasses-and-Ponytail vocally protested him too, but couldn't do much against the hulking, athlete.
"Be right back." I said to Travis, handing him back his can and patting him on the shoulder.
"What are you gonna go do?" he called, coming to his senses.
"Live in the moment."
I walked over to the two girls and their blond-haired nuisance. I don't know what it was that came over me, but my body had been set to motion and it wasn't slowing down.
"Yo Grant!" I called out. Both girls' eyes shot to me in surprise before Grant finally turned around to face me. He looked at me for a brief second, then focused his attention back to the girls. Without a second of hesitation or forethought, I felt my left hand jolt out and reach to his shoulder. As I pulled back and spun him around I felt my other hand cock back, then rocket forward with force that seemed to come from nowhere. In a second, the dancefloor was filled with gasps and hollering as Grant Peters lay unconscious on the ground.
"Aye, Richie," Travis cried out cheerfully. "That's my boy."
Before he could utter another word of enthusiasm the beer he drank resurfaced, along with everything else he ate, all over the floor where he stood. High school parties, always unpredictable.