Every teenager goes through something that makes them an adult. A crucial point that could potentially make or break their future. For some, it’s passing their final exams. For others, getting into the university that they’ve been dreaming of since they were children. For me, it was my first drinking party.
I’ve never been a social person (I’d say I’m clinically introverted). But for some reason I may never know, the captain of the football team decided to take me under his wing over the summer of grade eleven. We were both working in an old record shop, and after he saw my cripplingly depressing social life, decided to be my friend.
“Dylan, bro!” He would call after my retreating back once work was done.
“Yes, Mike?” I would always respond.
“Lemme walk you home, dude.”
And no matter how many times I had tried to get rid of him, he just won’t go. I knew he wasn’t dangerous; he wouldn’t hurt a fly. But I didn’t realize that what was dangerous about him was his stupidity.
This day in particular, July nineteenth, was very important. Because unlike every other day, Mike didn’t stick to his routine script. He had decided to ask something of me.
“Dylan, here. I want you to have this.” Mike passes me a business card.
Sighing, I read it. Keg Stand Mike: Available for kids’ parties, graduations and funerals.
“Every guy needs his second guy. I need you, Dylan Moore.” He smiled proudly at me. “There’s this keg party tonight. I need you to keep me just drunk enough to do multiple keg stands, but not so drunk that I end up baking coconut cream pies.”
“Let me guess: there’s a story behind that statement?” I asked, tucking the card in my leather jacket pocket.
“One time I got so drunk I made fifty coconut cream pies for the women’s shelter. It was pretty rad, dude. But I can’t get that drunk! There’s a girl coming tonight that I really want to impress.”
“I don’t think my mom will let me do that,” I started nervously. “She’s not a big fan of alcohol ever since it ruined her marriage.”
“Well, tell her you’re staying the night at mine! C’mon, Dylan, it’s gonna be LIT!” Mike shoved his fist in the air, doing a full on Breakfast Club.
I almost passed out from the cringe.
“Fine, Mike. Sure. Just promise me that I’m not going to have to hang out with your friends.”
“Is Dylan jealous?!”
Now keep in mind I have never had a sip of alcohol in my life, let alone have I gotten drunk. But for Mike, this was the pinnacle of his high school career. I despised the school’s social hierarchy and everyone that topped it. Yes, you could call me the Jughead Jones of Whitebridge High. But I had never guessed that the damned system would help me meet my Betty Cooper.
Here’s the setting: that night, we’re in the middle of the woods. The trees are wrapped in string lights and red solo cups are strewn over the ground. Pop music is blaring over someone’s amp in the back of their pickup truck. You know, the song that probably went something like, summer, the best time of our lives, or some other bullshit like that.
I was standing in the circle of football meatheads when I first saw her. Short chocolate hair, even shorter denim shorts and an old pilling sweatshirt. I could have sworn time did the whole ‘cheesy 90s movie’ thing and slowed. She was laughing with a group of older students, all of them filming a guy playing beer pong. Once he scored, he ran over to her and scooped her up in his arms. I looked away.
“Hey, Scotty!” Mike yelled over my head at the guy who won beer pong. “Is that your sister?”
The guy who’s name is now Scotty, grabbed his sister’s hand, and towed her along.
“Yeah. I decided to bring her along to a party so she could make friends before getting in high school in the fall.” He threw his arm over her shoulders protectively and she blushed. “Eleanor, you know Mike and the rest of the team.”
“Hi,” she went to wave to Mike but he went in for the hug.
“Nice to see you again.” He smiled sweetly and then gestured my way. “This is my new baby bird. His name’s Dylan.”
Our eyes met for the briefest of seconds before she looked away, blushing even harder.
“Yeah. Uhm. I’m Dylan.” I held my hand out for her to shake.
“He already said that,” Eleanor smiled and shook my hand anyway.
“Anyway, we need to get back to the game. I promised Cory I’d beat him in another round… people are already betting, and this little lady is my good luck charm.” Scott bro-hugged Mike and walked off with his sister.
“She’s so cute,” Mike sighed, watching her walk away. Watching a six foot six tower of muscle swoon over a five foot five teenage girl made me a little uncomfortable.
“Mike, you’re an actual teddy bear.” One of the guys punched his shoulder playfully.
“I won’t be once I get a few shots in me.” Mike turned to me and gestured to the makeshift bar only a few feet away. “You wanna get a drink?”
“The smartest answer would be no, I don’t want my brain cells to disintegrate faster than naturally anticipated. But I don’t have a choice, right?”
The football team cheered and proceeded to ‘playfully’ push me around.
I followed Mike to the bar and looked around a little bit more. There was a game of Spin the Bottle happening under an oak tree; two girls were holding each other’s hair back while they threw up behind the bushes; a cluster of drunk, sweaty teenagers were grinding to the awfully overplayed music.
“You want shots or a beer, Dyls?”
“Don’t ever call me ‘Dyls’ again. And I’ll have a beer, please.”
Mike sighed and grabbed us some drinks. Poor guy was just trying to make friends. But he was just so awfully awkward and muscular that it was painful.
“Listen,” Mike grabbed my elbow and pulled me aside from the group. “I really like Eleanor. Damn, I’ve been crushing on her since the beginning of the summer. You’re her age, probably in her grade… could you be my wingman? Could you help me out?”
I sighed. I had actually been in his grade ever since junior high.
“Mike. Look at me. Do you think I know the first thing about girls? Because I don’t.”
“All you have to do is go over there and chat me up. She’ll see what a strong, caring, sensitive guy I am and she will come right over.” He took a sip of his beer before throwing it over his shoulder. “Sorry. It tasted like pee.”
I shook my head at this failure of a football captain.
“I just… I don’t know…”
Mike flashed his puppy dog eyes.
“Fine! Fine! God, I’m going.” I huffed and marched over the battleground. “Damn it, Mike.” I cursed under my breath.
I wasn’t watching where I was going and I tripped over a tree root, barreling straight into Eleanor. My cup slipped out of my hand and went all over her. We were both lying on the now sticky dirt, looking up at the stars.
“I was supposed to sweep you off your feet, but not like this.” I wheezed, still trying to recuperate the breath I had lost. I jumped to my feet and helped her up, muttering apologies.
“Are you alright?”
“My sweater is soaked,” she sighed. “But other than that, it’s fine.”
Mike ran over. He was shirtless, his perfectly chiseled abs sparkling in the moonlight. He had pulled his hoodie off, and was apparently not wearing anything underneath it.
“Here,” he gave it to Eleanor. “Sorry for my baby bird.”
She smiled and accepted the sweater. “Thank you, Mike. I’ll give it back soon, I swear.”
“Nah, keep it.” He grinned bashfully and pointed to his truck. “You can get changed in there if you’d like. It’s unlocked.”
“Mike, as usual, you are a godsend.” Eleanor reached up on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek, but could only reach his jaw. Blushing, she ran off to get changed.
“Yes!!” Mike turned to me and gave me two very hard high-fives. “You made me look so good, dude. I can never thank you enough. Now she’ll have my sweater to smell when she feels lonely and misses me.”
There were so many things wrong with that sentence, I didn’t even know where to start. I decided to save my now precious breath and let it go.
“For what you just did…” Mike took a deep breath and pushed me down so I was on my knees. He used a dirty stick from the ground to ‘knight’ me. “You are now a member of the football team.”
“Oh, really, I don’t deserve this honour.” I stammered, trying to get out of it. I was going to become the very thing I hated: a popular kid.
“Yes, you do, bro. You made me look good in front of a prospective girlfriend. You so deserve the spot.” He grinned and helped me back up. “You do need to work on your abs, though. But you have a few months before school starts, anyway.”
I rose to my feet just as Eleanor came back. She had tied the sweater so it fit better using her hair elastic. She smiled a lip gloss smile and ran her fingers through her hair.
“Thanks, Mike. Seriously. What can I possibly to do repay you?”
Mike began to sputter and turn red.
Man down, man down!
I stepped hard on his foot to wake him back up.
“Say something,” I hissed.
“Eleanor, can I get your number?” Mike flashed his Prince Charming smirk.
I felt violated.
“Yes, Mike. Of course.” She smiled and repeated her number four times whilst Mike, with his shaking hands, tried to type it into his phone.
“We should probably get going,” I gave an apologetic smile to Eleanor and grabbed Mike’s arm. “He’s, uh, supposed to be doing a keg stand in a few minutes. You know, usual Keg Stand Mike stuff.”
Eleanor cringed at the words Keg and Mike. I adored this woman.
“Alright.” She clasped her hands together and rocked on her feet. “Well, text me later Mike. Hopefully you don’t die tonight.”
“Babe, I’m like a cat; I got eight lives!” Mike flashed his veiny biceps.
“Cats have nine lives…” She seemed amused.
I would’ve paid so much money to see what would’ve happened if I hadn’t have pulled Mike away at that very moment. But, being the unthinking, sentimental boy that I am, felt sorry for him and decided to release him from his social misery.
I grabbed his arm and towed him past the Hippies by the campfire until we reached an outhouse. I pulled him behind it and slapped him across the face to sober him up.
“What the hell, Gillings?” I yelled like a frustrated football coach. That would get to him if nothing else would. “Did you pregame before you came here? Are you already inebriated?”
Mike tried to pronounce the word ‘inebriated’.
“Thought so,” I sighed and leaned against the rough wood. “You almost blew your chance out there. You were naked, well, topless, flexing, and talking about cats. You have humiliated yourself.”
“She’s just so pretty,” he whined. “I’m gonna call her, dude.”
“Dude, she’s right there.” I mocked his drunken slur and pointed to her. “She’s literally five feet away and can probably hear this conversation.”
“I’m going home! This party was NOT LIT.”
And I swear to God, I swear to God, this boy did a Reverse Breakfast Club. Now, if you cannot imagine what on earth this could possibly look like, let me paint the picture for you. A six foot six jock shirtless, his abs glinting in the moonlight, was pouting like a duck. Upset that this party was not as good as anticipated, he did the opposite of the excited Breakfast Club he did earlier (fist straight up in the air). He proceeded to punch the air in the direction of the ground, screaming like a viking. On second thought, instead of calling it a Reverse Breakfast Club, let’s call it a Hulk Smash. That’s more appropriate.
“Listen, buddy. Calm down.” I patted him on the back. “I will take you home, okay? Where are your keys? Don’t worry, I haven’t had a drop of liquor.”
Mike turned green. I thought he was going to throw up all over my new shoes.
“In my hoodie pocket,” he moaned, looking wistfully at Eleanor.
“What are you gonna do?”
“Rip the sweater off and keep running.” He was stone cold and dead serious.
“No!” I held him back. “That’s called assault and ends in juvenile detention.”
“So she won’t think I’m hot?”
“Unless she’s into criminals or BDSM, no, I don’t think so.”
“You don’t know what I’m into, Drink Guy.”
Gasping, we both turned in the direction of the voice. Standing with one hand on her hip and the car keys in the other, was no one else but Eleanor Maclaurin.
“Can I have my keys?” Mike’s bottom lip quivered. “I wanna go home to watch Friends.”
Eleanor tossed the keys, expecting Mike to catch them. Instead, they hit his chest and fell to the forest floor. He looked down at the keys, then at me.
“Dylan, can I ask her to join the football team? That was killer!”
Eleanor and I both sighed with shame and frustration.
“You wanna come along for the ride?” I asked her. “I can drop you off at your place when I’m on the way to Mike’s.”
“How will you get home?” She bit her lip, as if she was genuinely concerned about me.
“I live right nextdoor. It’s no problem.” I smiled goofily.
“Okay! I’ll go tell my brother that I’m getting a ride home. You go put Mikey in the back, okay?”
I nodded and watched her run off before turning to the aforementioned boy. He was asleep on the ground.
“I’m awake, Monica! I promise I didn’t fall asleep… Turn around so I can see your hot face....” All of a sudden, he sprung up, his eyes wild. “It wasn’t Monica, Dylan. It wasn’t Monica!”
“Get in the car, Mike.” I grabbed the keys and passed them to him. “Go get in the backseat, okay? I’m driving you and Eleanor home.”
He bear hugged me.
“You’re my best friend, Dyls. Thank you so much for taking me home.”
I ripped him off of me and helped him into the car.
I got in the driver’s seat and stuck the keys in the ignition. Eleanor jumped in and we pulled out of the clearing.
“Maybe if we turn on the symphony radio station, he’ll fall asleep.”
I chuckled and let her channel surf. We drove for a few minutes in silence and I found myself falling into the sweet bliss of the night air.
Outside, the sky was an endless black, ribboned with deep purple sashes. On the old dirt roads, the sky was so clear that you could see the infinite amount of stars. The full moon illuminated the rough, dusty, path that kicked up clouds behind them. Mike’s truck drove by golden fields and dancing fireflies. In a way, the night was still young, even though this sky had been viewed by millions of people for over thousands of years.
I glanced over at Eleanor. Her typically dark hair was now feathery and golden; almost as if her locks were absorbing the starlight. She glanced over at me, her emerald eyes startlingly bright. Her full lips parted and she watched me watch her for the briefest of seconds before I turned back to the road.
“You’re looking at me. Why?” Her voice was low and wistful.
I chose not to answer her. Instead, I turned the radio up and focused on the road.
Eleanor turned it back down. I felt her staring at me.
“Drink Guy, I’m talking to you.”
“And I’m not talking to you, okay? My best friend is passed out in the backseat. He’s in love with you. I’m not going to give him any reason to be nervous about us talking together.”
“It’s Mike, for God’s sake! He will be over me in a few days, I swear.” She rolled her eyes and sighed. “You can talk to me.”
I finally pulled onto the town roads, lined with streetlights and 7/11s.
“My place is right down there,” she pointed to an upcoming turn.
I turned and pulled up to a large southern-style house with a wraparound porch.
“Thanks for the ride, Drink Guy.” Eleanor winked and jumped out of the truck.
And that’s how I got myself into the mess of the high school hierarchy.