Statistics and crime map…
Mar 07 Published in Novel Excerpt, Fiction by Wordsmith
This is the third chapter of my novel, Heart's Delight, it begins about four hours after the end of chapter 2, and is the Friday night of Todd's 25th birthday party. Still a work in progress but hope to have this whole thing wrapped up soon.
WARNING! Does contain some profanity and substance use.
smart, they know what they are doing. They wouldn’t jeopardize the company.”
“I’m sure they come off that way,” Christine said, “but you don’t know what they’re saying behind closed doors. Business people can be pretty ruthless, and I should know, I work for lawyers.”
“You got to be at least a little ruthless to make it in the business world, but the guys I work for are all right.”
“Are they all guys?”
Jason thought for a second as he drove. “Pretty much.”
“Of course,” Christine said.
“Look, once I pay off my debt, I’ll be freed up to take more classes. If I commit
myself to more permanent work, it’ll be harder to go to school,” Jason said. “I'm not just stumbling along, I’ve got a plan.”
“I know,” Christine said. “All I’m saying is don’t trust them too much, they’re only going to tell you what they want you to know. You never know what’s going to happen, even engineers lose their jobs these days.”
“Chris, the reason why engineers lose their jobs is because they stay in one place for too long and get a bunch of raises, so they get replaced by someone younger who’ll work for half the pay, and right now, I’ve got youth on side.”
“Okay, just make sure they don’t take advantage of you.”
They drove into a suburban neighborhood of cozy tract houses. “You know, what we do has lots of uses, not just military, so there’ll be plenty of work for us,” Jason said. “Plus, I'm learning some skills, and with some more computer classes, I can get into programming, operations, all kinds of stuff. 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.
“Of course,” Jason said. “If you jump from job to job, you never get a raise or seniority, so you never get ahead. Sure, they should be paying me more, but ten an hour ain’t bad, and I can work it around my school schedule, and my coworkers are all right, some real interesting people. I know you’re just trying to help with your uncle's job, but technology is everything, that’s where the future is at.”
“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.”
“Well I don’t plan on spending the rest of my life there,” Jason said. He began to think more about the party the closer they got to Todd’s house. “It only has to last until I’m done with school.” Jason looked at the hastily gift wrapped bottle of whiskey next to him. “There is one thing I’m sure of, I know Todd will like this,” he said as he pointed to the gift.
“Oh, I bet he will.”
They rounded another corner and Jason saw Todd’s house at the middle of the block with people gathered out in front. Cars were parked bumper to bumper along both sides of the street and Jason parked five houses down. “Looks huge,” he said. He grabbed the gift and they got out of the car. As they walked to Todd's Jason saw a bright hive of noisy activity contrasting against the other quiet, unlit houses. Music emanated from Todd's as other people were gathering to the party and Jason felt a rush of anticipation. Small groups were on the front lawn talking, laughing and standing around with drinks in their hands, some had cigarettes.
“Oh look, there’s Cheryl,” Christine said.
“Is she still going out with Roger?”
“No, they broke up, you know Cheryl,” she said as they were approaching. “And she's talking to Rachel, guess they're not feuding anymore.” They arrived at Todd’s house and entered into its surrounding aura as everyone in the front yard noticed them.
“Hey, look who’s here!” someone announced as the group of party goers welcomed and greeted Jason and Christine.
“Cheryl! Rachel!” Christine said cheerfully as she embraced them. “How are you?”
“Christine! So good to see you!” they said excitedly. Jason and Christine
blended into the mix of the people, talked a little louder and turned their attention outward as
they went around and said their hellos to the everybody.
“Jason, what's up,” one of the party goers said as he stumbled over to Jason and clapped him on the shoulder.
“Hey, what's up,” Jason said.
“Heard about your game yesterday,” Brian said.
“From who, Randy?”
“Yeah, and he was going on and on about how you guys cheated.”
“Bullshit,” Jason said, “they play so bad the Clippers wouldn’t take them.”
“Hey. what’s up,” someone else stumbled in with a plastic cup of beer.
“Careful, Jim, you’re spilling,” Jason said to him. “So what’s on tap?”
Jim looked at his beer. “I’m not sure, but this is my third one.”
“Well I better get one before you drink it all.” Jason touched Christine on the arm. “I’m going to get us a beer.”
“Okay, thanks,” Christine said. Jason entered the open front door into the low lit house and was enveloped by an aggressive rhythm blaring from the stereo. People were scattered about the front room in groups of three and four and preoccupied into 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 him and said hi when they saw him. They shook hands with him or nodded to him as he loudly said hi to everyone while making his way through the house. He was brightened by the familiar faces and felt he at home. Cut out letters that read HAPPY BIRTHDAY TODD were were glued to string and hung across the entrance to the kitchen. He crossed under the bow of letters and saw Todd leaning back on the kitchen counter and talking with a group of friends.
“Todd!” Jason shouted across the kitchen. “Happy birthday!”
“Jason!” Todd answered as they approached each other. They shook hands and embraced then Jason gave him the gift. “Good to see you, my man.”
“Wouldn’t miss this for anything,” Jason said and shook hands with the ring of guys with Todd. “Alex, Dwayne, Michael, how you all doing.”
“Hey, Jason, what’s up,” they all said as they greeted him.
“Well let's see what we have here,” Todd said as he opened the wrapping and looked at the gift. “Johnny Walker Black, you shouldn’t have.”
“How often do you turn 25,” Jason said.
“I wouldn’t mind stopping at this age,” Todd said.
“As long as you keep your good looks you’ll be fine,” Alex said and everyone
“So where’s your better half?” Todd asked Jason.
“Just about to get her and myself a beer.”
“Keg’s in the usual place,” Todd said as he indicated the door to the garage. “We got to do some shots of this later,” he said to Jason as he held up the bottle of Scotch.
“Can't wait,” Jason said as he headed to the garage and opened the door. A blaring gust of music from a boom box blew past him. He entered the garage and encountered more people partying and drinking. Some colored streamers and other decorations covered the bare drywall. He smelled cannabis and saw a pipe being passed around by the people standing around the keg which sat in the center of the concrete floor in a tub of ice water. Jason joined the circle of people around the keg and they all greeted 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. He got two plastic cups from a tubular plastic bag laying on top of the keg. “So how you doing?”
“Not bad. We’re collecting for a keg fund,” Curtis said. “You can pay me or Todd.”
“I got him a bottle of Johnny Walker Black,” Jason said.
“I guess that counts,” Curtis said. “Yeah, it was a fuckin’ ordeal getting this keg,” Curtis yelled.
“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 fluid and filled the cup.
“Oh, yeah,” Curtis said. “First, we had to reserve the keg ahead of time, and we never had to do that before, then the greedy fuckin’ bastard wants a fifty dollar deposit.”
“What for?” Jason asked as he set the full cup on a nearby washing machine then began filling the second cup.
“They say said it was for the keg and the tap in case we lose them, and he was going to gauge for some more if I didn’t give him my driver’s license.”
“You had to give those bastards your license?” Jason said over the noise as he finished filling the second cup. “That’s fucked up.”
“Actually, it worked out all right,” Curtis answered, “Todd talked to him a little more and he settled on writing down our address, phone number, license numbers, all that shit. He said there was nothing he could do about it, some new bullshit state law. We even got a backup for when this one runs out,” Curtis said as he pointed to the 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 of seconds before he exhaled. He passed the pipe and lighter to the next person.
“We’re regular customers,” the next person yelled over the constant, loud background music before he inhaled from the pipe, “he shouldn’t be giving us a hard time.”
He exhaled the smoke as he was speaking.
“I heard it was A.B.C.,” 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.”
“A.B.C.?” Curtis asked. “You mean like Channel 11?”
“No, dummy, Alcohol Beverage Control.”
“I thought the A.T.F. handled that shit.”
“You guys figure it out,” Jason said, “got more people to see.” He grabbed his beers and went back into the house. He could feel the cannabis affect his body and slightly distort his sense of reality as he entered the fog of music and maneuvered through the sea of people which had multiplied since his arrival. He said hi to a few more people while keeping his beers from spilling. He found Christine in the living room talking to some friends an he gave her one of the beers.
“Thanks, hon,” Christine said to Jason while she was listening to Rachel.
“And you’ll never believe what happened to Tiffany next,” Rachel said, “after he moved in he fell off the wagon in record time, then he lost his job, and he isn’t even looking for a new one. She is totally supporting that loser.”
“She is way too nice,” Cheryl said above the clamor, “letting him walk all over her.”
“And that lazy piece of shit doesn’t cook, clean, or do anything,” Rachel said.
“He must be good for something,” Cheryl said.
“Him? I doubt it,” Eva called out from another conversation circle and everyone laughed.
“I mean, come on, where is your self respect,” Rachel said.
“At least she's still in beauty school,” Cheryl said, “she’s going to need something
steady to fall back onto.”
“I don’t know,” Liz said, “she doesn’t seem to stick with anything except for guys who drag her down.”
“That poor girl is so lost,” Rachel said and everyone agreed.
“You know,” Cheryl said to Christine, “I've been thinking that I should try doing
what you do.”
“Really,” Christine said, “it can be a lot of work sometimes, but it’s not bad. I guess it’s more high end than being a mere secretary.”
“And maybe I can meet a rich, single lawyer,” Cheryl said
“And you know it’s a secure because there’s always going to be people suing each other,” Terry said and everyone laughed. Jason eased into the flow of the party as the house filled with more people and became louder. Friends and acquaintances milled around, talked, joked, laughed, and carried on through waves of music as everyone mixed into the gathering energy.
“You’re going to school, aren’t you?” Cheryl said to Jason.
“Yeah, I’m taking a summer night class right now,” Jason answered, “pretty soon I’ll have enough units to transfer to State.”
“That’s good,” Rachel said, “get out of junior college purgatory.
“Sure is easy to fall into that trap,” Liz said.
“I work with a guy that went to West Valley for 10 years,” Terry said.
“That's got to be a record,” Rachel said.
“How do you go to school that long without graduating,” Jason said.
“Take only one or two classes at a time milk it,” Terry said.
“You know what I'm seriously thinking about doing,” Heather said, “moving away and getting a new start somewhere else.”
“Ah, we’d miss you,” everyone said.
“I’d miss you guys too, but it's getting too expensive here. I know I can get ahead better somewhere else,” Heather said. “It sure isn’t easy trying to keep up here.”
“So where do you want to go?” Liz asked.
“I have a cousin who lives up in Seattle,” Heather said, “she tells me I should move up there, says I can stay at her place, she even says she'll help me find a job.”
“Seattle’s a cool city,” Rachel
“Sure, if you like rain,” Terry said.
“I don't mind if I can live better,” Heather said.
“My dad wants me and Terry to move out to Houston,” Rachel said, “and he says it’s more affordable out there and easier to get started and all that, plus he thinks California is too fruity.”
“Not everywhere,” Mike added.
“I wouldn't move there, anyways,” Rachel said, “way too hot and humid, and they got all these ugly oil refineries all over the place.”
“Sounds like L.A,” Jason said.
“Yeah, and who’d want to live there,” Terry said.
“My mom would feel abandoned if we moved out there anyways,” Rachel said, “then I'd be on the receiving end of one her guilt trips.”
“You know what people are saying now,” Mike said, “the real action is going to be in Prague, Moscow, all those places. They have no idea what business is, or how to make a profit or any of that.”
“Sounds like the next big thing,” Terry said.
“I know a friend of a friend who’s going to move out there,” Mike said, “he's going to make his fortune, come back home in ten or fifteen years and retire. He says it’s going to be too easy.”
“Damn, that's what we should be doing,” Terry said.
“Yeah, right,” someone said sarcastically and everyone laughed in agreement. A warm buzz came over Jason as he further dissolved into the chemistry of the party. People were talking excitably loud to be heard over the loud music, some talked louder and dominated the conversation until someone else talked louder and led the conversation in a direction 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. Some people raised their drinks and tried to start a group toast. The loud buzz 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 of young adults.
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.”
“Just bring him back when you're done,” Christine said. Jason let himself be pulled away by Todd.
“Excellent party,” Jason said, “where are we going?”
“Time to do some shots.” Todd grabbed Jason’s cup and looked inside of it. “But
first, we need to get a refill.” He led Jason past the sea of party goers through the kitchen and into the garage. The garage was filling up and more people were circled around the keg. “Out of the way, keg magnets,” Todd said 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.
“Can't wait until the drinking games begin,” Jason said as took the tap from Todd and filled his empty beer cup.
“That’s right,” Todd said, “and tonight, I’m feeling lucky.” When Jason was
finished he passed the tap to the next person and then followed Todd back into the house. They pushed their way through and down the hallway into Todd’s room. Eight or ten guys were gathered around a collection 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 said to him, “long time, no see.” Jason then saw Randy in the group. “There you are!”
“Where you been?” Randy called out to Jason. He bustled through the crowd to Jason and embraced him. They held onto and greeted each other with drunken affection, then Randy tried to lift Jason. Jason felt his feet leave the floor for a couple of seconds as Randy screamed then drop back down. Jason smelled alcohol from Randy. “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 said to Brian. “When was the last time you were on the court, you pussy.”
“Any time, any place,” Brian responded.
“All right, settle down,” Todd said, “first, let’s take a shot of Jason’s present.” He
twisted off the cap of the Johnny Walker Black and filled up some shot glasses with the light brown whiskey.
“That’s the third bottle someone got you for your birthday,” Stu said.
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Todd said as he was pouring.
Jason and everyone else picked up a shot glass. “To Todd,” Jason said as he raised his shot glass, “a whole quarter of a century.”
“I’m getting old,” Todd said and touched his shot glass to Jason’s. Everyone else raised their shot glasses.
“You’re over the hill!” Alex said and everyone laughed. They all downed their shots and Jason felt the smooth hard liquor go down and warm him from the inside out. He relaxed into the camaraderie and was contented.
“House is neater than usual,” Jason said to Todd. “Looks good.”
“Thanks,” Todd said, “I bet you weren't sure you were in the right place.”
“I'm in the right place now,” Jason said.
“And it can't get any righter!” Randy added.
“Seriously, this place was a sty,” Todd said. “We spent all day yesterday and today cleaning, scrubbing, vacuuming, we spent about thirty bucks on cleaning supplies, and we had to take care of the neighbors, too, tell them about the party so they could take precautions.”
“I think I saw a couple of them here,” Brian said.
“Good,” Todd said, “and getting the keg was a bigger than usual nightmare.”
“Yeah, Curtis was telling me,” Jason said.
“Right, and you can’t rely on him because he has warrants,” Todd said, “but
somehow we did it. I just hope we have enough alcohol.”
“You need to catch up,” Randy said to Jason as he grabbed the bottle of scotch and
poured more shots. He picked up one of the filled shot glasses and pushed it onto Jason. Jason drank it one gulp and set the shot glass back on the chest of drawers. He felt the initial burn and then the alcohol coursed through him and inebriated him further. Randy grabbed the tequila bottle and poured more shots. “One more.”
“You’re killing me,” Jason said.
“C'mon, you can take it,” Randy said as he filled up some tall shot glasses and handed them out. They were filled to the rim and drops of tequila spilled over.
“Any lime and salt?” Jason asked as he took his shot glass.
“Right here,” Todd said as he pointed to a salt shaker and a small plate of lime wedges amongst the bottles and glasses. Jason licked his hand then sprinkled some salt on it. Randy held up his shot of tequila.
“What are we drinking to this time?” Dwayne asked.
Randy raised his shot glass then everyone else raised theirs. “For the host of this awesome party, a keg of decent beer, and to growing old without growing up.”
Jason licked the salt off his hand and drank the smooth, fiery liquid with everyone else. He then picked up a lime wedge, and bit the fruit from the rind. The bitter juice overpowered the strong tequila flavor then he took a long drink of his beer. His consciousness diminished even further and was feeling blissful.
“To all my friends,” Todd said with a sweep of his drink hand, then staggered a bit. “Boy am I fucked up.”
“I'm so wasted I can’t walk straight or see straight,” Alex said.
“Ain't nothing straight about you,” Randy chided and everyone laughed.
“Dude, there are so many broads here,” Brian said, “I’m going to have to pry one of them away and get her into my van.”
“That ugly ass Econoline of yours?” Todd said. “What a turn on.”
“Fucking thing should be condemned,” Dwayne said.
“You just stay away from Amy,” Stu said to Brian, “she’s mine!”
“Not until I’m done with her,” Mike added.
“Hey, I claimed her first!” Stu declared.
“What did you do, brand her?” Mike said.
“Gentlemen, let’s not fight,” Alex said, “plenty of women to be had.”
“The lech is right,” Randy said, “think of women like they're doorknobs, everybody gets a turn.” Everyone laughed in agreement as the conversation meandered from women to the party to sports and occasionally erupted into uninhibited laughter. A pipe load of cannabis was passed around and a cloud of smoke filled the room. Jason was pleasantly forgetting himself as intoxication dulled his senses.
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 accumulating positive energy. Jason barely felt his legs as he walked and thought he was floating as time warped into a fluid, 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 that big guy, you know, played linebacker for us?”
“I ran into him the other day.”
“Really,” Jason said not sure if he was remembering the right person, “how's he doing.”
“Dude, you don't know who I’m talking about,” Drew said.
“Of course I know,” Jason said irritably, “you saying I'm stupid?”
“Aw, you’re just fucking with me,” Drew said as he laughed then fell toward Jason. He threw his arm around Jason to hold himself up and they both leaned into Stu as he was moving ahead. They all fell forward but were supported by a mass of people, remained upright and were able to stand back up.
“Hey, is this guy bothering you,” Stu said to Jason.
“We’re trying to have a conversation here!” Drew yelled through the noise.
“Yeah, that's right,” Jason said, “we were just talking about...you know, what's his name,” Jason said to Drew as he was trying to drink.
“So where's the keg,” Drew said as he held up his empty beer bottle, “I need a refill.”
“Looking dry myself,” Stu said as he peered into his empty beer cup.
“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 more crowded and festive as everyone was talking, joking, laughing and carrying on while the music boomed and the line inched forward.
When Jason got to the keg, he filled his beer half way, drank it, then filled it again to the top. He hung out in the garage for a while then wandered with another group of people back into the house as he held onto his beer and pinballed his way into the living room where the party was noisy and rollicking.
Chaotic joy reigned over everyone in the early fun stages of drunken exuberance.
Barriers dissolved around the separate cliques of party goers as everyone fused into a single entity of shared euphoria, ultimate youth, and boundless optimism. Uncontrolled voices and laughter everywhere intertwined with the music and coalesced into a rising and delirious exhilaration that sprang from the nexus of the party.
As the evening was progressing the people clustered around the stereo began to move and sway to the music. They pushed the coffee table and chairs aside as the crowd gave way and overflowed into the rest of the house and out into the front yard. A pair of couples began to dance on the cleared floor space, then more people joined while others watched and moved to the music.
Jason was talking with Alex, Dwayne and a couple of others then felt a tug on his sleeve. He looked around and saw it was Christine. “C'mon, let's dance,” she said while smiling tipsily. She took his hand and they sauntered into the living room. Jason placed his beer cup on top of a speaker crowded with other drinks, then he and Christine held onto each other lightly and began to move and sway to the rhythm. They mixed easily into the up tempo of the music and commingled with the other dancing people in the dim light of the living room. Jason serenely and unconsciously danced with Christine then she grabbed him
and pulled herself up to his ear. “I think I'm drunk,” she whispered.
“From one beer?” Jason said.
“Cheryl brought a bottle of schnapps,” Christine said.
Jason kissed Christine deeply and tasted peppermint. “Tastes good,” he said.
“What have you been drinking?” Christine asked.
“Must have been a lot, whatever it was.” They kept dancing as everyone in the
living room moved randomly and rhythmically with joyous abandonment. A shared social euphoria lifted the spirit of the party higher and higher as it radiated and touched everyone.
More party goers crowded into the living room to join in the dancing, then at midnight, Todd’s girlfriend, Lena, and some of her friends brought a homemade, rectangular birthday cake from the kitchen out into the living room. They set the cake on a table and Jason got a better look at it. The cake had some decorative frosting, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TODD written in icing, and a 2 candle next to a 5 candle. One of the women lit the candles and people slowed their dancing as they noticed the birthday cake. Someone turned down the volume of the stereo and everyone stopped moving in the sudden silence then gathered around the cake. “Where’s the birthday boy?” Lena asked.
“Right here,” Todd said as he bored through the crowd and moved into the center
amongst the women. He looked at the cake and laughed. “You know you're getting older when they stop putting on the number of candles that matches how old you are.”
“That would be too many candles to light!” someone shouted from across the room.
“Okay, everybody,” Lena began to sing, “happy birthday to you,” everyone else joined in the singing, “happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear To-odd, happy birthday tooo yoou!” Todd blew out the two candles and everyone clapped and cheered. A few shouted out some drunken, funny, well wishing comments.
“Thank you, thank you everybody,” Todd said after the cheering subsided. “Well,” he began, “now that it’s past midnight, I am officially twenty five years old.” A few more cheers and claps erupted and a couple of people whistled. “Wow, a whole quarter of a century, damn that sounds old.”
“You’re getting better with age, Todd,” Alex said followed by a chorus of comical
“Yeah, yeah,” Todd said as everyone focused on him in the dim light. The buoyant mood gave way to somber reflection and everyone became expectant for Todd to say something. “Twenty five years,” he said almost to himself. “Time sure does go by. I may not have learned much in all that time, but I do know one thing, I am very lucky to have this girl right here.” He hugged Lena and kissed her and everyone aaahed exaggeratedly. “Thanks for the cake, sure looks good, the women here did an excellent job, and I want to thank everybody for coming, especially those that brought me gifts.” Everyone laughed. “Well,” Todd said, then thought for a moment. “Half way to fifty, some ups, some downs, but so far so good. It sure has been a lot of fun, and now, after all this time, I think I’m finally starting to grow up a little.” Everyone groaned. “No, don't worry, I’ll be the same old Todd, I’m not growing up completely, but I feel…I feel like I’m starting to have more appreciation for the things in life that I usually take for granted, and I think that the most important thing of all are the people in your life.” Lena hugged him and held onto him as he talked. “Everybody here, all my friends, you're like a family to me, really, you’re the best, I love all you guys.” Todd gave a toast with his beer cup, and everyone raised their drinks. “All right, now everybody dig in!” Lena handed Todd a knife and he began to slice the cake into squares. Cheryl brought out paper plates and plastic forks and handed them to everyone as they gathered around the cake. Two to three hands at a time reached in with plastic forks and scooped up the pieces of cake. Someone turned up the music and the party continued as everyone ate.
“Good cake,” Todd said,” glad one of us knows how to cook,” he said teasingly to Lena.
“Lucky you,” Jason said jokingly while he ate, then he felt Christine smack him.
Everyone devoured the cake while the music played and then trickled back onto the dance floor or elsewhere throughout the house. Jason and Christine wandered back into the living room and slow danced to a mellow tune. She laid her head on his chest comfortably and he held her close 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.
After a while Jason and Christine wandered out of the living room and into the kitchen where a ring of party goers were standing around the kitchen table. They moved in closer and Jason saw Todd sitting at the head of the table holding a quarter sideways with two fingers and a thumb and aiming it at the table. People were sitting around the table with drinks in front of them while others stood around and watched while aimlessly talking to one person or another.
“Jump in,” Todd said to Jason. He then bounced the quarter off the table and it made an arc toward an empty glass. It glanced off the rim and landed on the table. “Shit! That was close.” The door to the garage was propped open and people went in and out to refill their beers in a steady stream. Intoxicated laughter echoed from the garage and created a noisy racket that drifted into the kitchen.
Jason found an empty chair and pulled it up to the table. “Save this,” he said to Christine, “I’ll get a couple more beers.”
“I don't know if I want another,” Christine said as she sat down.
“It'll dilute the schnapps,” Jason said.
“Can't I just sip on yours.”
“Have a seat,” Todd said to Jason, “I got people to fetch drinks for me, I’m the
birthday boy!” He picked up an empty pitcher from the table and held it up. “Somebody fill this.” A hand reached in and took the pitcher away. Jason looked around for another seat and found an empty plastic crate. He brought it to the table and sat next to Christine. He pushed aside the empty bottles and plastic cups from in front of them and made a small path to the empty center where the quarter and the empty glass were. Jason noticed Tim sitting on the other side of the table.
“Hey, how’s the shooting arm,” he said to Tim sarcastically.
Tim gave Jason a disinterested look and then picked up the quarter. He held it over the table, steadied his hand, then bounced it off the table and landed it into the glass. “Yes!”
“Too bad you can’t make baskets that easy,” Jason said.
“Have one on me, smart ass.”
Jason looked around then saw a full pitcher of beer get set down on the table. He filled his cup, passed the pitcher to the next person, and took a drink. Time seemingly slowed down to Jason as his senses warped into a pleasantly surreal semi awareness. He looked around the house and saw friends and new people, talking, joking, and laughing spontaneously, drunk with happiness as well as alcohol. “Todd, this might be the best party that’s ever been,” he stated.
“Fuckin’ A it is,” Brian added loudly from Jason's left.
“Better than the one Alex and I threw last month,” Dwayne said as he picked the
quarter out of the glass, “and that one was raging.”
“Must have been,” Alex said, “my memory is a real blur that night.”
“This party has taken over where that one left off,” Todd said.
“May it never end,” Dwayne said then bounced the quarter. It clinked against the
glass and landed on the table. “Damn, I don't think I got one in yet.”
“Are we going in order,” Mike asked, “I think I was skipped.”
“Just go with it,” Todd said as he grabbed the quarter. He bounced it off the table and it fell into the glass. “Yes! Life is good. Drink up, Mike.”
“You know,” Brian began, “my old man was talking to me the other day, and he said, 'Brian, you're young, you got your whole life ahead of you in the greatest country on earth, and the 90’s will be the best decade ever, 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 said, “so what if he's a prick.”
“You know what I think,” Dwayne said, “we should all get rid of all our governments, seriously, they just get in the way.”
“All people need to do is get together like this all the time,” Jason added, “when you don't, it just leads to trouble.” The quarter bounced and clanged around on the kitchen table as everything settled into an easy groove.
“Speaking of trouble,” Todd said, “I think I saw Gina show up.
“I wonder if she and Randy are at it yet,” Jason said.
“I saw them outside talking,” Brian said.
“Just talking?” Dwayne said.
“They were starting to get loud,” Brian said.
“Let's see if they can control themselves,” Todd said. He bounced the quarter bounced off the table and hit off the glass. “Shit! Who thought of this fuckin' game?”
“That would be you, birthday boy,” Alex said.
“Ah, quit your bitchin’” Mike said as he grabbed the quarter. He bounced it off the
table and it clinked into the glass. “That’s how it’s done!” He pointed to Brian. “You, drink up, you’re not drunk enough.”
Stu wandered over to the window and looked outside. “There they go,” he said. The unruly voices in the backyard grew louder and escalated into a shrill melee of back and forth shouting and swearing.
“Can't they just get along,” Dwayne said. The noise of Randy and Gina’s screaming match carried into the house and affected the buzz of the party. People in the kitchen area looked out the window as the fight grew louder. Gina rose higher in pitch until her voice cracked and she erupted in tears. She threw open the sliding glass door, marched into the house her eyes wet from crying, then slammed the door shut behind her.
“Fucking bastard!” Gina wailed. “I hate him! I fucking hate him!” she sobbed as she stormed through the house. Christine got up and went after Gina along with Lena, Cheryl, Rachel, Liz and others. They followed her into the living room and called after her.
“That was sudden,” Brian said.
“Wonder what they were fighting about this time,” Alex said.
Jason slid onto the chair left by Christine and glanced into the living room. More people tried to intercept Gina and calm her down as she was barging to the front door. “Fucking son of a bitch!” she hollered as she exited. “I never want to see him again!” A few more people followed her out to the front yard and kept trying to calm her down.
“Looks like Gina's taking off,” Jason said.
“She's going to miss out on this quarters game,” Mike said.
“So whose turn is it,” Todd asked.
“Wonder if she dumps him this time,” Tim said.
“Why, so you can make your move,” Dwayne said.
“No, I'm just saying,” Tim said.
“She'll be all right,” Todd said, “she just needs some time away from Randy.”
“Yeah,” Alex said, “like the rest of her life.”
Todd looked around the table. “Where’s the quarter?”
The glass door slowly slid open. Randy leaned onto one side of the doorway, then stumbled into the house. He noticed everyone was looking at him. “Anything happen while I was gone,” he said. He advanced toward the quarters game, obliviously grabbed onto a chair and dropped into it, and wedged himself around the table. “Well there goes the woman of my dreams,” he said. “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them, am I right?” He sank into his chair. “Shit.”
“No, you can't live without them,” Todd said, “but you can always trade them in for a newer model.” Todd looked around real quick. “Good thing Lena didn’t hear that.”
“Looks like all the women left us,” Dwayne said as he looked around.
“Yeah, thanks Randy,” Mike said.
“Who, me? What'd I do,” Randy said, then put his arms up on the table and slowly sat himself up. “Okay, she said I wasn't being honest enough with her, so, I told her what I thought. I guess she didn't like that,” he said as he shrugged.
“So what'd you say to her,” Jason asked.
“It was nothing,” Randy said casually, “she was getting on my nerves, so I tell her to shut the fuck up, then she gets all pissed off at me,” he said as he shrugged. “What the hell is her problem?”
“Got me,” Dwayne said.
“You know, she's got to stop bitching at me to do shit that I don't wanna do,” Randy said. “I don't need to change.”
“A winner like you,” Mike joked, “what’s Gina thinking.”
“The women just have to grab onto the Randy express and hold on for dear life,” Alex said.
“Fuck, dude, I need a beer,” Randy said as he grabbed the pitcher and poured the rest of the beer into an empty glass.
“Hey, we’re using that glass for our quarters game,” Mike said.
“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 said.
Randy drank the beer as everyone watched. The glass slowly emptied leaving the silvery coin laying at the bottom. When he was done, Randy slid the quarter out of the glass and into the palm of his hand. “Fuck it. Let’s play.”