Finally, it arrived, “D” Day, Graduation Day, “Dewey Day” as Short Round was calling it. The day Michael so guiltily dreaded, though he was happy for his friend. What did it feel like to know that high school was over forever, Michael wondered.
They sat in the auditorium, waiting for the ceremony to begin. Dewey’s parents were beaming—their son had graduated in the top ten of his class, Anya’s parents looked proud, and Michael and Short Round’s parents sat smiling, knowing that next year it would be their sons’ turn. They leaned over and talked to each other in soft tones that Michael and Short Round couldn’t hear, though they didn’t care to listen anyway. For them, this ritual represented a loss that had to be endured.
At their parents’ insistence, the Tony Hawk tee shirts they wore were covered black cotton button-downs. In keeping with the solemnity of the occasion, they had worn black jeans and black Vans. When the last graduate marched out of the auditorium they planned to remove their shirts and reveal their tees and salute Dewey with raised fists.
One by one the graduates filed down the aisle and seated themselves on the stage. Though they could not sit together, Dewey and Anya did not take their eyes from each other. The grads sat nervously in their chairs, waiting for the diplomas to be handed out, so they could make good their escape.
Boring speeches followed, giving by smug graduates who forgot that some of their peers wanted only for the ceremony to end so they could leave and escape to the parties where they could begin to celebrate in earnest. Michael noticed among them a few who had once been his friends but abandoned him, with the commencement of his family’s misfortunes. “Good riddance,” he thought, “I’m glad you’re gone. There are only two people on that stage that I care about, that I’m going to miss. You’re lucky Dewey’s a nice enough guy to invite you to his party—I know I wouldn’t.”
The grads filed off the stage, now official adults. Dewey winked at his friends as he headed up the aisle, and Anya gave them a small, secret smile. Good, thought Michael, the boring stuff is over, bring on the party, Dew Man.
The ceremony over and done with, the boys piled into Michael’s parents’ car. He and Short Round sulked in the back seat as his parents drove to Dewey’s house. Suddenly, guiltily, Michael remembered that his sister had not gone with them, not that she would have enjoyed witnessing the ceremony, or seeing Dewey with Anya for that matter, but her absence suddenly became a matter of concern.
“Mom, where’s Little Bit?” He could safely use the nickname since it was not in her presence.
“She had a dance rehearsal, sweetheart, remember?” Michael cringed at the use of “sweetheart” in front of his friend as Short Round Snickered. “She had dinner at Lisa’s, then they were going to rehearse at the Community Center.”
“How’s she getting home? She isn’t going to take the bus, is she?” Michael felt a rising sense of guilt, tinged with panic. Please, he thought, please tell me she doesn’t have to take the bus.
“What’s wrong, Michael? I’m sure Lisa’s parents will give her a ride home. You’ve certainly become the protective big brother this year.”
“Yeah, I’m sure she’s going to be okay. I just forgot why she didn’t come with us, that’s all.” Short Round dug an elbow into his ribs and Michael glared at him. He, of all people, knew that this was serious.
“Calm down, Blondie,” Short Round whispered, “It’ll be fine.”
But what if it’s not?
Cars lined both sides of Dewey’s street. The whole neighborhood seemed to be turning out to congratulate the graduates. As they got out of the car, several people waved to them. Michael’s mom and dad waved back, calling greetings to old friends. It seemed like one of the old neighborhood parties, no one looked or whispered awkwardly behind his parents’ backs.
He wanted to escape to the bonfire he knew would soon be started in the fire pit, but stopped suddenly when he saw Thea making her way to the back yard. Of course, Dewey would have invited her, Michael’s problems with Thea were not his problems. If he could deal with her at the skate park, surely he could deal with her at a party. If he wanted to divert her attention away from him, there were lots of girls he could flirt with. His life had been so intertwined with Mariah that he had ignored the girls at his school, and now he felt it was time to change that.
Much to his dismay, he was noticing that Thea looked good tonight, even beautiful. She’d put on a black lace shift that was cut low enough for the flames from the bonfire to reveal the curve of her breasts. A black jet choker encircled her neck like a dog collar, and her earrings almost brushed her shoulders. She’d gone all out with her makeup, and with her freshly cut hair she looked grown-up. He felt unexpected pangs of jealousy when he saw guys checking her out, talking to her. He had almost gone over to tell her how nice she looked but stopped himself. He would do nothing to give her the wrong idea.
Avoiding her didn’t change the fact that he liked Thea, always would. He was sorry for the estrangement between them, but he wanted to be friends and no more. And that was the problem right there, Thea did not want to be just friends. What she wanted from him was not hers to have. He’d always be there for her, give advice for her guy problems if she asked, but he did not love her. She would have to accept, what was certainly to her, the unacceptable.
He saw his mom beckon to him as she and his father talked to Dewey’s parents. He sighed, shrugged his shoulders and went and stood next to her. He leaned into the arm his mother put around his shoulders as she told Dewey’s parents that Michael had an early acceptance to UCLA. He tried not to look embarrassed as she told how his grades and SAT scores, along with his essay. earned him a full four-year scholarship. He could even start the next year and finish whatever high school requirements he lacked. Michael shook his head impatiently if she said too much more, he was going to shake her arm to make her stop.
“Mom,” he said, his eyes pleading, “ please don’t”.
“Okay, I’m sorry, I’ll stop.” She kissed the top of his head. Michael looked at the martini glass in her hand and noticed Dewey’s parents had been drinking, too. The night was supposed to be Dewey’s, but he knew his friend didn’t begrudge his parents a little of the fun, so Michael decided his parents deserved theirs, too. He kissed his mom on the cheek, then wandered away before she could pull him back.
He decided to head back to the bonfire, in spite of Thea’s presence there. He surprised a few girls from his class by stopping to talk to them, even being flirtatious. News of his acceptance to UCLA had spread, probably thanks to Short Round, but he was pleased to find out a few of the girls he spoke to had the same school as their first choice. At least there would be a few people that he knew. California seemed like the ends of the earth, yet there was a part of him that wished the coming year would fly by so he could find himself on a jet, ready for a new adventure.
“Hey,” Dewey appeared before him, Anya, a vision in pale pink, on his arm. “I heard your parents bragging along with mine about what geniuses we both are. I saw you and figured you’d make your escape. Come on, Short Round brought a secret stash of beer. Not much, just enough for us kids to be bad and catch a celebratory buzz. Here,” he pushed a can into Michael’s hand and the three of them toasted the party, graduation, and themselves. They made their way, arm in arm, to the bonfire and by the time he had the second can of beer, Michael was feeling more friendly and flirted with the girls who suddenly flocked around him.
Short Round joined them, and they started talking about skateboard competitions, camping trips to be taken before Dewey left, and what the next school year would be like. Thea stood on the opposite side of the fire, looking angry and fierce, resenting Michael’s attention to the other girls. She drew a lace shawl over her shoulders and walked away, but Short Round and Dewey were so caught up in their conversation they didn’t notice.
The caterer arrived with the portable barbeque, and suddenly a suddenly ravenous crowd began to consume the chicken, ribs, sandwiches, baked beans, coleslaw and potato salad that flowed from the van.
Dewey spread a blanket on the ground and the four of them sat and ate. The boys greedily devoured their first helping, then went back for seconds and thirds while Anya daintily nibbled at her first. Michael decided against another beer and grabbed a coke out of a cooler full of different kinds of sodas and drinks.
The first party mix that had been on the stereo now turned to a harder rock beat, and the parents took it as their clue to say their goodbyes. Michael and Dewey stood politely while different parents, some of whom Michael didn’t know, congratulated them and wished them luck in the coming year. “When did you suddenly turn host of this party?” Dewey whispered as an aside.
“Thanks to our parents or the little Buddha, I’m sure. I bet he’s drinking all the beer we’re not, or his brothers are. We ought to find him and see what shape he’s in.”
Dewey laughed, startling a parent who was shaking his hand. “Let’s make our escape and go see what he’s up to. No good, probably.”
When the last parents shook their hands then made their way to their cars, Dewey kissed Anya and told her to meet him at the bonfire. He and Mike took off running, heading towards the bonfire to find Short Round holding court, benevolently passing out cans of beer. He was about to pop the top from another can when Dewey came up from behind him and grabbed him by the neck, while Michael grabbed the beer from his hand, tossing it to someone standing near the bonfire before Short Round could snatch it back.
“Gotcha,” said Dewey, “Just how much have you consumed of your contribution to the party, anyway?”
Short Round squinted up at him. He held his thumb and index finger apart about a half an inch, then when Michael glared at him he spread apart his fingers a little more, then a little more.
“Not as much as you think I have, not really. Probably a little more than I should have, but it’s not like I’m going to drive or anything. And I can walk, maybe even run, though it might not be good for me to try any long-distance running. Hey, this is a party, what’s a party without a little beer?”
“As long as you’re not falling down drunk. Don’t worry, we won’t make you take a breathalyzer.” Michael grinned. None of them were guilty of being problem or frequent drinkers. But despite that fact, once in a while Short Round would appear with the beer, thanks to a brother who knew better. Anya would even sneak an occasional beer with the boys, but it never went further than that.
Michael looked around the fire, seeing people from his old neighborhood. Since his family had started to have financial problems, some of the old ‘friends’ had mysteriously absented them from his life. At first, it had hurt, hurt a lot, but now he knew his real friends from the old crowd. He, Dewey, and Short Round had closed ranks and that had helped a lot. Now Dewey was leaving, and the only person who’d be left that he trusted was Short Round. This party had not only been a farewell for Dewey, it held something of the same for him.
As he looked around, he missed a familiar face. Though he had carefully avoided her all evening, Michael expected that Thea would still be at the party. “Guys,” he said, “Where’s Thea? Did she leave?”
“She left a while ago.” Short Round was draining the water out of his cooler, “I gave her a beer and asked her how she was doing and she said, ‘How do you think I’m doing?’ I guessed she was talking about you, Mike, but I figured she’d get over her pissy mood and have fun. I haven’t been paying much attention, but I did see her throw a can in the garbage, then leave.” He paused for a moment, “I also thought I saw her drinking out of a little flask she hid in her purse, but I don’t know what it was.”
“Any idea how long ago, or were you paying too much attention to the beer to take notice?” Michael wanted to smack Short Round’s head or shake him.
“Well, I can’t say. I’m here enjoying myself. She didn’t try to talk to me or anything, so I probably didn’t pay attention. I don’t think anyone here would know either. If you were so concerned about her, why didn’t you keep an eye on her?”
Michael sighed. “Okay, fair enough. I was here to have a good time, too. I saw her, but I didn’t really speak to her. I figured it would be a good idea if I just kind of stayed away, so I didn’t talk to her. I just noticed that she was here and that was it.” He paused a moment, “This is going to sound weird, but if I knew where she was I’d feel better. Something doesn’t feel right.”
“Oh, so maybe you’re coming around after all, hmmm? Take the live girl, screw the dead one.” Short Round was slurring his words a little, but not too badly. He looked up at Michael, eyes slightly unfocused.”
“Hey, screw you,” Michael retorted, “that’s none of your business. If you feel so sorry for Thea, why don’t you rescue the damsel in distress? I’m worried about her too, something about this doesn’t feel right.” He didn’t add the encounter he had with Thea when she had caught him talking to Mariah, or his warning to stay away from his house. He wished she’d believed him, but it was more likely from her reaction that she hadn’t. For all the time they had spent at school and the skate park in each other’s company, he still didn’t feel like he really knew her. When he’d realized that she was pursuing him that only made things worse. And now he was worried about her even though he didn’t know why.
He excused himself and began to wander through the crowd, looking for her. Please, Thea, be here, he thought, don’t leave without telling someone to tell us you’re gone. You wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye to Dewey, right? He looked around, not always sure who was who while the night grew darker. Finally, he gave up and went back to the bonfire, hoping that Dewey had gotten Short Round under control.