Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois, 60062
It's 1987, and my parents are out of town. "Uhh… this is heavy duty, Vern. Are you telling me that we have the whole weekend to ourselves?" my best friend, Winston, asks.
"No. Just tonight." I respond. We're waiting in the pizza line during lunch when I spill the beans to Winston. He's practically down my throat for information. I try to push forward in line but he matches the gap equally. "Dude, will you just calm down. I'll tell you everything once we're sitting."
He lays off but the excitement is bursting through the seams of his wild Benetton sweater. I approach the cashier and give him a finski. "His too," I add and point to Winston. We walk through the cafeteria passing blurs of tired faces, including teachers, and exit through double doors. We sit down, our backs against the lockers in the hallway and I divulge. "They woke me up this morning and told me they were going out of town for the night. My dad has a conference or something and my mom wants to join him. Kind of like a romantic getaway. Although I have no idea what's romantic about it. My dad works for IBM."
The entire crowd cheers as Winston proceeds to shout my address. I do a quick count and about half of the junior and senior class are here. Winston is glued to me, taking it all in, salivating practically. He hasn't even touched the pizza I graciously bought for him. His mind is somewhere else and I don't like the gleam in his eye. He says one word: "Party."
"AbsoLUTELY not," I tell him. "I am not getting caught, man. You know how much heat I would take? There's like five weeks of school left and I am not getting grounded for the entire summer."
"Simple. Then we won't get caught," Winston says. He pushes his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. Winston hates to say it, but it's true: he was named after Winston Churchill, the great and honorable British leader. I always reassure him that it's quite alright, I was named after my late grandfather, who didn't do anything for any country.
Winston and I have been friends for as long as I can remember. I was about six when he moved in next door to me. He was outside playing Frisbee with his uncle and I caught a glimpse out the window and saw that he was playing with my Frisbee. Only it wasn't my exact Frisbee because that style was pretty prevalent back then. I didn't know this when I ran outside and accused him and his uncle for stealing my Frisbee and boldly playing with it outside of my window. When I was clued in on the error of my ways, all was forgiven and we have been like peas in a pod since. We are seniors now but nothing has really changed; just me and him going to parties and hanging out. Just trying to blend in. But as the year draws to a close the reality of us going our separate ways is finally beginning to sink in. I am going to Camden University out in Vermont next year and Winston isn't really sure what he wants to do just yet. All of this and the fact that I should finally cut loose weighing on me, added with the convenience that my parents are out of town, is probably why I say yes.
"Fine," I say begrudgingly, "but make sure you invite Arden." Arden is this cute and totally rad girl that I've had a crush on for a couple of months now. She's really good friends with Winston because they have several classes together and I think she likes me but one can never be too sure.
Winston looks up; astonished. Like I am a magic genie that sprang from a lamp after he rubbed it vigorously. The bell dings and we stand up to go to our respective classes. I look cautiously at his white loafers and say, "Win, you're no Don Johnson."
"You're wearing a pair, too." Yeah, but mine are black.
I glance at my Mickey Mouse watch, which Arden thinks is cute, and the hands say 12:53. "We only have two hours to spread the word. Is that enough?"
Winston smirks at me and says, "More than enough."
* * *
I'm walking out to the senior parking lot located in the back of the school with the extra cushy parking spaces when I see Winston standing on the hood of my new—to me, but used—white Datsun 280z (it was an early graduation present from my father). With a bullhorn. I desperately see how many people are watching and make sure there are no school officials as I run over to Winston. "Dude, what in the name of Billy Ocean are you doing!?"
"Frankie says relax, my friend. I've got it all under control." He raises the bullhorn to his lips.
"Hello, everyone, Winston Hewitt here. Just inviting all of you to Vernon Ross' house tonight to party. His parents are out of town." The entire crowd cheers as Winston proceeds to give them my address. I do a quick count and about half of the junior and senior class are here, listening to this.
I spot Arden among some junior girls and wave her over to me. "Will you come," I ask her when she approaches.
She toes the ground and bats her eyelashes at me. "Definitely."
I beam with confidence. I call out to Winston and tell him to get off my hood and get into the car. As we pull out everyone shouts that they'll be there and waves us off like we're newlyweds.
"How bad can it be," I say to Winston with a shrug.
271 Buckingham Street, Shermer, Illinois, 60062
I am sitting in my car parked in my driveway, having a mild aneurysm because the weight of the decision I have just made is finally hitting me like a ton of bricks. I scream and pound my fist against the passenger's seat a couple times. Winston will keep nagging me and nagging me … fine I'll do it. I scream again.
All better. I open my door and walk to the front door of my house. I am twisting the knob when I hear—blasting from car speakers—Pat Benatar screaming about how love is a battlefield. I turn and see Winston pulling his junker in behind my beauty. In a flurry of motions he turns his car off, locks it, and walks towards me.
"Why did I even drop you off at your house?" I ask.
Keep it righteous, Vernon. She's just a regular girl, like you. Well, you're a boy … you get the idea. "Because, man, I had to change."
I look him up and down. He is wearing the exact same thing. Wait a minute, I think he changed sweaters. "Dude, did you change your previous Benetton sweater to a different Benetton sweater?" This one has odd black and white patterns with a bold purple stripe down the side.
"Yeah, man, thanks for noticing." He brushes by me and lets himself into my humble abode.
My house is the last one before the road bends into a curve so it is safely tucked away and we only have one neighbor directly to my right, technically. I say technically because I'm pretty sure they are in Florida. They're old. So, as long as we keep it quiet and don't get too rowdy we should be alright.
Winston is rifling through my pantry, looking for anything and everything to eat. "Winston, you have your own house." He gives me a look like I had just slapped him across the face.
"Jeez, Vernon, relax man, everything's gonna go down smooth." I take a deep breath and he continues. "We'll just hang until people start showing up."
He glides over to my parents' huge Casio sound system and puts in a tape. "What is that?" I ask.
"It's a mix I made."
"Yeah, hopefully there's no Pat Benatar on it."
He pushes play. "Let the games begin."
* * *
It's a quarter to nine and already there are too many people here. What did I sign up for? So. Many. People. Everywhere I look I have a minor heart attack; everything is displaced and so too is my sanity. It's like I'm in slow motion and the world that is this party is not so much as dazed and will continue on with or without me. There are people in my kitchen, eating my food. There are people in my living room, rummaging through my records. There are people in the rooms upstairs, including my parents', and I don't want to know what they're doing. And everyone is dancing and drinking. I'm responsible so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that it's just Kool-Aid.
I can't find Winston, the one who started this whole thing, and I haven't seen Arden yet so I'm kind of rethinking this party idea. There's a tap on my shoulder. I turn around to find Arden standing there. Relief. Her face makes it easy to drown out the music and the worries and the party. All of it fades away to a din in the background. She takes my hand and leads me through the crowd. Don't let go.
She turns abruptly and stands on her tip-toes to speak into my ear, "Is there anywhere quiet?"
I know just the place.
I leave her in the hallway while I kick the two juniors out of my room. They shoot me a flippant look as they leave and it makes me feel a lot less of a jerk for interrupting their makeout session in MY room. I beckon Arden inside and I lock the door behind me so nobody barges in. She sits on my bed.
"This isn't the place I was thinking of," I say.
She cocks her head to the side, confused. I open my window and step carefully onto my roof. I help her out and shut the window a bit so it's just me and her and the stars. I put my hands behind my head close my eyes, drift away with the May night.
Her voice brings me back. "This is really choice, Vernon."
I look at her and she's wearing an oversize "Save Ferris" sweatshirt, bright neon green leggings with pink legwarmers, and white Jellies. Way cool. Her hair falls across her face in such a way that makes my heart jump into my throat. Keep it righteous, Vernon. She's just a regular girl, like you. Well, you're a boy … you get the idea. I struggle to get the words to come out and when they finally do I say it so fast it's indecipherable. "YoulookreallyprettyArden." I cough and say it again. This time I slow down.
She laughs and shakes her head. "That was super cute." She scoots closer to me and wraps my arm around her body and this is the moment I've been waiting for since a couple of months ago. It's happening.
She tilts her head towards mine. I go 80, she comes 20. Our lips collide. This kiss brings us close. There are a million hearts under this starry night sky and ours have just connected.
I hear fireworks. Fireworks!?! I get up too quickly and almost lose my balance, which would have been totally catastrophic, but thanks to my catlike reflexes I don't go over the edge. When I set myself right I can see the remnants from something exploding in the sky. I shove the window open, help Arden in, grab her hand, and rush downstairs and out the porch door into the backyard.
Great. Reggie and Stocsh. The two half-bakes from my gym class. Of course these are the two that would be doing this to my poor lawn. What did it ever do to them? There is a huge black burn of grass where they shot off the Roman candle. "Hey! Hey! Super bogus. Give me those." I snatch them violently from Reggie and he holds his head low and mumbles out an apology. I look at Stocsh and he says sorry as well. "I didn't think it'd burn your grass…."
"Go inside. The party's inside. Not out here." The slink inside, like dogs that got caught eating up the trash. I stare out at my house, every single light is on and the music is loud enough to hear in Chicago. I drop the candles on the ground and run my hands through my hair, exhausted from this nightmare. Arden grabs at my hand and asks, "Are you okay?"
This is out of control. Where is Winston?
Winston is nowhere to be found. Arden is squeezing my fingers, but to be honest, I'm pretty numb. I check my watch: 11:47. It's still fairly early into the night and yet my house is being destroyed brick by brick.
I get an idea.
I battle through the blast of people rushing at any exit in order to remain a free citizen. Winston, for all reasons unknown to the human mind, has a car phone for his disgusting car. I rush inside, dragging Arden behind me, and knock off the people who are yet again making out on another piece of my furniture. I sit Arden on top of the table with a hard thump! and reach for the phone. I jam in Winston's number and wait for what feels like a thousand days. He picks up.
I can't hear a thing, mostly static and music. "Turn your stupid music down!"
"Whoa, Vern. Why the bogus ‘tude?" he says nonchalantly.
"Dude, dude, dude! Where are you!?" Feverishly I look over my shoulder at Arden to make sure she's still there. She smiles, like the house and the universe aren't going to implode or anything.
"Slow it down, Vernon, I'm on my way back. Had to drop someone off. Where's the fire?"
"Here, dipstick! I need everyone outta here, like now!"
"Okay, I may have a plan for just that. Be there in a minute."
I sit down on the chair, which is a nice accompaniment to the table, but I have no inclination to think of these things right now. I'm going to be killed and all the people here will party on my grave. Arden's fingers find a nice refuge on my shoulders and I ask her if she wants anything to drink while we wait. She declines. I run my hands through my hair—feathered if anyone is asking, but no one is—and almost drift away from the impending trouble. My head is jerked out of my hands by what I hear next.
"COPS!! COPS ARE COMING!! COPS!!"
I turn to look at Arden and her eyes are frozen in terror, like I'm sure mine are. I battle through the blast of people rushing at any exit in order to remain a free citizen, and open the basement door to jump through to the top of the stairs, preparing to wait this out. I slam it closed. We're too close to whisper. So we kiss instead.
* * *
"VERNON? VEEEEERRNON?? WHERE ARE YOU?"
Puzzled, and with Arden clogging up most of my brain's activity, I stumble through the door.
Winston, with the bullhorn. The best friend I've ever had. I take a look around—kitchen, den, family room—and assess the damage. I don't even want to venture upstairs. I look at my watch—12:18. My parents won't be home until two in the afternoon. Just enough time to perhaps get the house rebuilt.
"Hello, Arden," Winston says with a cheeky grin.
"Hi," she responds, shyly.
"Arden, do you need a ride?" I ask.
"No, it's cool. I'll stay, I wanna help." She smiles at me. I am charged with an electricity so dense I'm surprised I haven't shut down a power grid.
"Okay, crew, Winston, let's get to work."