Appalachian Hope: Chapter 2

“Where the hell is your brother Robert?” Daniel pointed an accusatory finger.

“I don’t fuckin’ know, man. He’ll be here when he gets here.”

“Well, he was supposed to be here an hour ago.” Steven chimed in.

“Guys, give Robert a break. He can’t control Andrew any more than you can.” I defended Robert, but I had my doubts that his brother could be trusted.

“I knew we should’ve kept his twenty bucks until he came back with the beer. We gave him all the money, and he just ran with it. Fuckin’ pill head.”

“Don’t talk about my brother like that Daniel or I’ll bust you in your fuckin’ mouth!” Robert took a step closer.

Steven butted in. “Yea Daniel, don’t call Andrew a pill head. Not cool man.”

“Shut the fuck up Steve, nobody asked you.” They both turned.

We’d planned the party for a month. Sandy and Jason were working a double shift. They were leaving in the afternoon and wouldn’t return until the next morning. Robert, Steven, and I were staying the night.

Daniel and Robert had become friends after each of them failed a grade in middle school. They were in classes full of strange faces, save for one another, so they sat together, and forced bonding had done them some good. But any tension caused them to default back to swearing, name calling, and threatening violence. Steve did his best to stir them up. 

The current crisis was that Robert’s brother was more than an hour late returning with our beer. We offered him twenty bucks for his services. Daniel wanted to hold the money until Andrew returned, but Andrew argued that he needed the money for cigarettes and wouldn’t make two trips into town.

We all pitched in, and had enough to buy two thirty packs. We stole a pack of cigarettes from Jason’s carton of Camel Lights, and we rigged up a beer bong from a kitchen funnel and a section of an old garden hose.

I can’t imagine what we looked like to the neighbors, a bunch of fifteen and sixteen year old kids, standing in a circle around an ashtray on a concrete porch, shouting.

“I’m tellin’ you Daniel. Andrew said he’ll be here, and he’ll be here. I’ll pay everyone back if he screws us over.”

The promise of repayment deflated Daniel. He took a last drag off his cigarette, crushed it out in the ashtray, and then sat back on the porch swing just as Andrew’s white Chevy pulled into the subdivision.

“See, here he is.”

“Just in time.” Daniel took a final dig.

Andrew crept down the drive and seemed to park a little too close to the house. His face looked drawn. He had circles around his bloodshot eyes.

He opened the door to the truck and stepped out. The act seemed to take some effort. A guy that Robert said was his cousin got out of the passenger side. He was tall and spindly like Robert and Andrew. He was wrapped up in a sweatshirt, a hood pulled tight over his head. It was summer. Andrew and the cousin both leaned against the truck.

“Sorry we’re a bit late fellas. Got held up.” Andrew lifted out two cases of beer.

We all took turns thanking him and telling him not to worry about being late. We didn’t want to anger our connection. 

“Can we have one for the road?” The cousin asked.

“Sure.” I opened my case and handed them each a can. They were warm.

“Put them to good use fellas. You didn’t get em’ from me.” Andrew nodded to the cousin and they left.

“Well, easy to see what held them up.” Daniel glanced over at Robert.

“It all worked out well enough. How about you two just quit bitchin’ at each other and let’s go down to the basement.” I walked into the house, tipped a beer out of the crate, and cracked it open.

“Mike’s got the right idea.” Steven pushed the others behind me into the house.

The basement wasn’t finished. The floor was bare concrete, but there was an area rug next to the lawnmower that we surrounded with folding lawn chairs. We had five gallon buckets for tables. Uncovered light bulbs hung down from the ceiling. A boom box played a Van Zant album on repeat in the corner.

I didn’t feel much like drinking beer, so I picked the lock on the liquor cabinet. It was full of whiskey. I reached around in the back, searching for a bottle I didn’t think would be watched.

When I returned to the basement, Steven held the hose end of the beer bong. Daniel held the funnel and Robert poured. Two empty cans lay on the floor.

“Mike! This fucking thing is great. I’ve downed three beers while you were upstairs!”

“Is that counting the three in the funnel?”

“Nope.” The alcohol was already hitting him. “It just kind of fell down my throat,” he said right before putting the hose to his lips.

“That’s what your sister will say to me later.” Robert’s shtick was that he said perverted shit about Steven’s sister. Half of it was forced and didn’t make any sense. Steven laughed and spit half the beer out on the floor. I figured it was a good thing. Steven didn’t need to drink a six pack in under fifteen minutes.

Steven belched. “Damn. I need a cigarette.”

“I could get behind that.” Daniel agreed.

“Just like Steve’s sister?” Robert asked.

“Seriously, man, fuck off about my sister.”

“Hey Mikey? Is tonight the night you smoke with us?” Daniel was always trying to get me to smoke. No matter how many times I said no, he never let it rest.

Every smoke break, the question came. Would this be the time? How about now?

I don’t know if it was the whiskey or if it was the constant prodding, but I shrugged my shoulders, said an inward fuck it and pushed myself up from the chair.

Daniel couldn’t believe it. “Hey man, I know you’re worried about being addicted or whatever, but of all the people I know, you’ll be able to quit if you want to. Besides that, it’s not like we can get smokes all the time anyway. Jason will notice if we steal too many.”

We all stepped outside. Daniel waved his hand in the air and the motion light kicked on, flooding the back field in an unnatural white. Daniel banged the pack against his hand.

“Why do you do that?” I asked.

“Packing the tobacco down I think. I just saw Jason do it.” Daniel handed each of us a cigarette. A chrome Zippo lighter made its way around the circle and came to me.

“You have to put the filter end in your mouth. Hold the lighter up to it, and inhale a little bit to help it get started.” Daniel instructed.

I hacked violently for the first couple drags. The tobacco tasted sweet, but stale. My head was swimming with nicotine. It felt good, despite the burning in my chest and throat.

“Well?” Robert asked.

“I don’t really like the taste of it. I don’t think it’s something I’ll stick with.”

“Eh, give it time.” Robert dismissed. “It gets easier after the first one.”

I wasn’t sure that I wanted it to get easier, but I crushed out my first cigarette and immediately asked Daniel for another. Everyone got a good laugh. “He’s hooked,” they all agreed.

We went back in, and everyone but me took turns on the beer bong. I’d returned to the liquor cabinet a few times. Daniel, Robert, and Steven had constructed three pyramids out of their beer cans. Steven’s was the tallest. I counted twenty-two cans.

“I gotta get to thirty.” Steve staggered over to what was left of the beer and pulled out eight cans. He sat them next his seat.

“Christ man, you weigh like a hundred twenty pounds. My dad’s an alcoholic and he don’t even drink thirty in an evening.” Daniel was never one to caution another, but Steven drinking thirty beers probably meant alcohol poisoning, and that meant ambulances, and ambulances meant Sandy would find out, and Sandy finding out meant we would all die; Daniel would die first.

“Fuck you Daniel. I got this. I’ll be a legend. Forever.”

“Yeah Daniel. He’s got this. Come on buddy, let’s get you set up on the beer bong.” Robert grabbed Steven’s arm. “Come on buddy. We can do this if we work together.”

“That’s right. You’re a good friend Robert.” Steven turned and kissed Robert on the side of the head. “You know, you got really floppy ears.” Steven flicked Roberts earlobe. He let out a gasp, and his eyes brightened “I’mma call you floppy!”

I spit part of my drink out on the floor. “Floppy! That’s it. Your new name is Floppy.”

“I don’t care if you all call me that as long as you don’t tell anyone it’s about my ears.”

“You got a deal, Floppy.” Daniel tried out the new nickname.

“Now are you all gonna help me get Steven here get to thirty, or are we going at it alone?” Robert turned his head over his shoulder to shout across the basement.

“Yeah! Are you gonna be good friends or are you gonna be pussies?” Steven added.

Daniel was first to join in. “I’m gonna light me a cigarette first.”

“Yeah, better give me one too.” I agreed and rose to hold the funnel, even though I knew giving Steven a single drop more was a horrible idea. Daniel poured three more into the funnel. Robert held Steven upright. And Steven did the rest.You could hear the air being sucked through the contraption. The beer was gone in no time.

“Ok guys. If I had twenty-two already, and I just had three, how many does that make? Twenty-five. Ok. Only five more to go. Load em up.”

“Buddy, I think you better see how those treat you before you have anymore.” Robert wanted to have his fun, but he didn’t want it to turn bad anymore than the rest of us.

“Oh, so now Floppy lost his balls? I thought you guys were my friends,” Steven protested.

“Why don’t we all go outside and have a smoke? Give your stomach a little time to settle?” I asked.

“That sounds good. I really do have to pee.” Steven let out another long, rolling belch and started toward the door. He leaned against the wall to put on his shoes.

Steven lit a cigarette and walked over to the exposed block. We heard the urine run. Steve let out a groan of pleasure and then screamed. He danced backward, “I pissed all over my feet.”

I laughed until I felt sick. Steven took his shoes off and threw them inside, standing barefoot in the grass.

“Man, I bet they stink. I don’t want them in my house.”

“Eh, it’s all water anyway. The smell’s from his feet.” I jabbed.

Robert took a deep breath. “You know what the smell reminds me of?”

I knew this was a setup. “No, Floppy. What does the smell of Steven’s rotten feet and piss remind you of?”

“His sister!”

“That’s it fucker.” Steven meant to take a step forward. He reached out for Robert, but he ended up face down in the yard, squealing.  He’d done nothing to slow his fall. “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up. Help me, damnit.”

When he quit laughing, Robert knelt down. “Hey buddy. What you doin’ down there?”

“Just looking at the grass. What the fuck does it look like I’m doing. Drag me inside.”

“Alright.” I bent down and grabbed Steven by the arm. “Come on. I think you’ve had enough fun for tonight.” I could barely walk myself, but I nodded to Daniel, and he took the other arm. We sat Steven on a chair.

“You guys are good friends. I love you guys.” Steven reached out and patted my shoulder and pulled me close. “Did I make it to thirty?”

“You sure did buddy. Now, I need you to drink as much water as you can.”

“But water is for pussies. Do you want me to grow a vagina?”

“Yep. A big one. I’m a good friend right?”

“I guess so.”

“I’m gonna get the biggest glass I can. You’re gonna drink it all,” I said.

“Ok. But I made it to thirty right? You wouldn’t lie to me would you Mike?” Steven looked up at me with eyes half open.

“Not even once. I’ll be right back.” Daniel and Robert sat in the other chairs sipping beer. “Daniel, don’t let Floppy give Steven anything else to drink.”

Daniel held up two fingers in a V shape. “Scouts honor.”

“That’s a peace sign dumbass.” Robert shook his beer can. “Want something to drink Stevie?”

“I think I’m just going to lay down here for a bit.” Steven slipped out of his chair and onto the concrete.

“We can’t let him lay there,” Daniel noted.  

“Find something to do with him. I’m gonna get him some water.” I pulled myself up the stairs by the railing and rummaged through the kitchen. I found a pitcher, filled it. I grabbed some glasses and a Coke for myself.

When I came back downstairs Steven was passed out and wrapped in the area rug like a booze soaked burrito. 

“For fuck’s sake.”

“It was Steven’s idea. He crawled over to the carpet, grabbed an edge and rolled himself up in it,” Robert explained.

At the very least, think you could get him a pillow Floppy?” I nudged Steven with my foot and tried to force some water down his throat.

“He’s really fucked up isn’t he?” Daniel had a minor look of concern.

“Yeah. He’s gonna feel like shit in the morning. If he asks, just make sure and tell him he drank thirty beers.”

“Think he’s gonna be alright?”

I put a hand under his nose. “He’s breathing. As long as he keeps doing that, I don’t think we need to call the ambulance.”

“We could throw him in the shower. Dump a bunch of cold water over him,” Daniel said.

“You gonna get him out of his pants, or is he gonna sleep in there?”

“Haha, yeah.” Daniel nodded his head.

Robert tramped down the stairs. “I got the pillow guys. I got these too.” He held up two black permanent markers.

“Aw shit yeah. We are definitely drawing on him.” Daniel and Robert both looked at me.

“I don’t think we should do his face. If we draw on his face, we might have to explain it to Sandy.”

“He’s right.” Daniel said disappointed.

“Let’s see if we can get him to take his shirt off. Draw under his clothes. Sandy won’t see that,” I said. 

“Yea man, that’s an awesome idea.” Robert walked over to where Steven was rolled up in his carpet burrito. He crouched, “hey buddy,” he tapped Steven on the shoulder. “Wakey, wakey.”

Steven stirred and groaned.

“He’s passed out pretty hard. Think we should just leave him alone?” Daniel was having doubts.

Robert reached down to try again. Steven shot up. His eyes were rabid and fully alert. He shouted “one, two, three, four, five, six,” and then flopped back down on the floor. Steven stumbled. Daniel and I froze in place.

“What the fuck was that?” I asked

“We were watching some shitty exorcism movie yesterday Exorcism of Emily Rose. The girl does that in the movie,” Daniel explained.

“Holy fuck. That scared the shit outta me man. My heart is racing,” Robert walked over and grabbed another beer, popped it, and took a deep swill. “We are definitely drawing on him now.”

Robert couldn’t wake Steven enough get his shirt off, so he went upstairs and gathered as many blankets as he could carry.

“What the fuck are you up to?” I asked.

“Ok, so here’s the plan. Steven gets really hot under all those blankets right?” Robert replied.

“Yeah?”

“He gets really hot and then he takes his shirt off.”

“That’s the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard.” Daniel said and took a drink. 

“This might actually work.” I said with my hand on my chin like a detective.

“Yeah, Daniel. Mike is the smart one” Robert said.

“Steven usually sleeps in his boxers right? Even when he’s at someone else’s house?” I noted.

“He does that all the time over here.” Daniel agreed.

“My house too,” Robert said.

“So we make him hot. He wakes up, feels he has clothes on, shoves the blankets off and takes his clothes off,” I repeated.

“I still think it’s stupid,” Daniel crossed his arms. 

“Worst thing that happens is he sweats out some booze,” Steven reasoned. 

“I say go for it.”

Soon Steven developed huge beads of sweat on his face. He licked the sweat off his upper lip; his brow crinkled and he rolled his head back and forth. His eyes flitted.

We leaned forward.

“He’s going for it.” Daniel pointed.

“Shhh. You’ll jinx it. Give it a minute.” I put a hand up.

Robert reclined back in his seat. “I’m not gonna get my hopes up yet. Wait.” Robert’s back straightened. “You guys hear that?” He was sitting closest to Steven on the floor.

“What?”

“Ewww it fuckin stinks.” Robert pinched his nose.

“I don’t smell anything.”

“He burped. Oh it’s bad.” Robert laughed. Steven opened his mouth and let out another.

“Do you think he’s gonna-”

Steven, flat on his back, shuddered in his carpet burrito. Without turning his head, he puked a curdled liquid. It hung in the air for what seemed like a full second before falling back onto his face and all over the blankets, basement floor, and carpet.

We jumped out of our seats and looked at each other “Fuck.” I bolted forward, grabbed Steven by the arm and jerked him forward onto his side. A weak stream of vomit dribbled out of his mouth. “He’s gonna choke.”

“Damn. Is he gonna be ok?” Daniel was worried.

I bent over and checked his pulse. He was still breathing. “When was his last drink?”

Robert looked at his watch. “It’s been at least an hour.”

“We just had this in health class. I think they said it takes a half hour to feel a drink, an hour for your body to metabolize it.” I bent and timed his pulse. “Heart seems normal. He’s breathing.”

They were all too scared to call me out on being full of shit. I was CPR and first aid trained. I was bookish and took human anatomy and health classes in school, but I was far from an authority. I knew as much as anyone in the room, and I guess that was good enough.

“What do we do?” Daniel asked.

“Robert, you fed him those last couple beers. He was upright before then,” I scolded.

“Barely,” Robert said, looking at his feet.

“So I think you should have to clean this shit up. Sandy’s gonna see that the blankets are covered in puke.”

“Got it!” Robert took off up the stairs.

Daniel and I looked at each other. “He was … excited.”

“He’s up to something,” Daniel said.

“I don’t really care as long as I don’t have to clean up that puke.”

“Ditto,” I agreed.

“We should try to get him up. Maybe take him upstairs, let him piss and then put him in the guest room on his side.”

“Think he’s done throwing up?”

“Not a clue.”

With the very edge of my fingers, and with my eyes turned, I pulled the blankets away. Steven was covered. I gagged a bit. My eyes started to water. “Oh, that’s fuckin’ ripe.”

“I got it.” Daniel finished pulling the covers off. “It’s all over his shirt.”

“We’ll have to get him out of it then. Can’t send him upstairs with it on.”

“Think we can get him awake at all? Wait. I got an idea.” I grabbed the glass of water, dipped my fingers in it, and flicked them in Steven’s face. His brow folded up and he pursed his lips.

“That seems like it’s working.” Daniel stood back.

After a couple more flicks one of Steven’s eyes opened and he croaked “quit it fucker.”

“There we go.” I kept it up. “Steven,” I crooned at him. “We need to get your shirt off and get you upstairs.”

He just nodded, tried to set up, and failed.

It was a process, but Daniel and I helped Steven out of his shirt. He crawled up the stairs on all fours. We were worried he would fall. Daniel stood in front, and I followed up behind.

When we finally reached the top of the stairs and hit the carpeted hallway between the living room and the bedrooms, Steven was groaning that he was going to be sick again. We shoved him in the nearest bathroom and dragged his head over the toilet. He put his hands down on the floor on either side of the bowl.

“You alright for a bit Steven? We gotta clean up.” I asked. Steven nodded. We shut the door behind him.

“Jesus. He’s really fucked up.” I turned to Daniel.

“I’m not doing so good myself.” Daniel said. His eyes locked on to something over my shoulder. He smiled.

I turned around. Robert was wearing elbow length yellow gloves, safety glasses, an apron, and a bandanna. He was carrying a bucket of soapy water.

He sat the bucket down, shuffled his feet a bit, and held up his gloves like a surgeon. “I’m ready. Where’s Steven?”

“He’s in there throwing his chunks until we’re sure he’s done.”

“Daniel, think you could help me throw those blankets in the washer? I’ll get the rest?” Robert asked.

“Sounds good to me.” Daniel agreed.

“I’m going to stay up here and keep an eye on Steven.” I had a weak stomach. If I helped clean up puke, we would only have more to clean. 

I sat on the floor with my back to the bedroom door and shouted “You all right in there?”

“Yeah.” Steven’s voice was tired. “I’m pretty drunk, huh?”

“Yeah, you are buddy.”

“I think I’m done throwing up Mikey.”

“Ok, I’m comin’ in.” I opened the door. Steven was sitting on the toilet, no shirt, pants around his ankles. I covered my eyes, “Jesus, man. What the fuck?”

“I had to piss.”

“Do you always piss sitting down?”

“Not always.” His elbows were on his knees. His head was in his hands.

“How do you decide?”

“I don’t know man. I’m drunk. Want me to piss on the floor?”

“No. You done?”

“Yea, I think so.” Steven stood up. He struggled to maintain his balance and pick up his pants.

I walked him to the guest room and helped him into bed.

“Mike?” He said.

“Yeah?”

“You’re a good friend.”

“I know.”

I shut the door and joined the others in the living room. They had finished up sooner than me. Daniel was sitting in the recliner, smoking a cigarette and flipping through channels. Robert sat on the couch, pulling off his gloves.

“Steven all good?” Robert turned.

“Yeah. I’m a good friend.” I chuckled. “I don’t know if I should tell you all this, but Steven was pisssing. I accidentally walked in on him.”

“I’m sure it was an accident.” Robert nodded and winked.

“It’s ok Mike. I always knew you were queer, and I’ve never treated you weird.” Daniel didn’t take his eyes from the TV.

Anyway. Steven was taking a piss sitting down like a woman.”

Daniel sat the remote down. “What?”

“Steven was taking a piss sitting down.”

“Why?” Robert asked.

“Said he was afraid of pissing on the floor.”

“Makes sense.” Daniel argued.

“Do you think he does that all the time?”

“I don’t know man, he was pretty drunk. Hard to read into it to much.” Daniel waved his hand.

“I think him being drunk means he does it all the time. His puzzle solving skills were probably pretty broken. He sat down out of habit.”

“Ok, Mister Holmes,” Robert chuckled.

“Fuck you guys. I’m going to bed.”

“I bet your tired after solving that mystery,” they roared.

I walked back to Daniel’s bedroom. He had a beanbag on the floor filled with memory foam. It was better than any of the beds in the house aside from Jason and Sandy’s. I didn’t realize how much I’d had to drink until I felt the room rotate around me where I lay. I felt warm and heavy. I wasn’t long falling to sleep.

“Pssst. Mike. Pssst.”

My eyes shot open. The room was lit up in blue light from the TV. Robert was shaking me. “I think Steven got up.”

Daniel rolled over on his side in the bed.

“I heard Steven get up and go into the bathroom. I also think I heard Sandy and Jason get home from work,” Robert clarified.

Daniel glanced at the clock on his nightstand. “Fuck. It is them.”

We heard Sandy walk down the hallway and try the doorknob.

“What do we do?” Robert’s eyes danced between Daniel and I.

She knocked on the door. We heard Steven slur “Yeah.”

“Listen. Laugh. She’ll probably just think he’s half asleep.”

“Steven, is that you?” Sandy called out. 

Another “Yeah.”

“Oh, ok” I heard Sandy trudge back down to the living room.

“We should go out and get him.” Daniel looked panicked. 

“I’ll do it,” I stood up. 

“Yeah, you’re Mom’s favorite. She won’t kill you,” Daniel added.

“She might hurt you though,” Robert grinned.

I squeezed out of the bedroom. Steven threw the bathroom door open, staggered into the hall, naked. I froze. Steven yawned and scratched himself, just a few steps out of reach.

“Psst. Steven!” I whispered.

Steven looked right at me, but didn’t acknowledge me before he turned and started off toward the living room where Sandy was sitting. I jumped after him and barely managed to shove him in the guest room before I heard Sandy get up from the chair. I ran on my tiptoes to Daniel’s bedroom; I could hear Sandy walking down the hall. I dove back into the beanbag chair and shut my eyes. I shouted telepathically for the others to follow my lead and pretend to be asleep.

Sandy cracked the door. A line of dim light from the hallway bisected the room for a moment. I peeked and saw that the others were passed out. Sandy left.

I got up before everyone else. It was just before noon, and I had been up for a couple hours. I was watching TV and waiting for a frozen pizza to cook. The others wouldn’t be up for a while.

“Good morning Sandy.” I always sucked up when I had a chance.

“Good morning Mike. Did you all have fun last night?” She said with a tone that said I know you all did something, but I don’t know what.

“We sure did. Played a lot of video games. Watched a movie on HBO.” I did my best to shrug off any suspicion.

“Good. I’m just getting a little water. Jason and I are going to watch TV in the bedroom.”

“I’m going to have pizza here in a few minutes if you want some.” I laughed.

Sandy smiled, “Just make clean up afterward.”

“Yes ma’am.”

I heard the glasses tink around in the the kitchen. The sink ran for a bit. Just before Sandy went back to the bedroom, she turned and looked at me for what seemed like forever. “Oh, and Mike.” My heart sank. We were busted after all. She noticed the missing cigarettes or blankets.

“Yes?”

“Tell Steven something for me? Tell him next time he shits in my toilet to flush and not to use a whole roll of toilet paper.”

“I will.” I said as soon as laughter would let me catch my breath.

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