Appalachian Hope: Chapter 3

Monica Blevins was Daniel’s aunt. She lived with her husband Mark in Pennsylvania. The drive to their house took us out on the interstate before exiting down a road I never learned the name of. We called it Rollercoaster Road because of the way it sharply crested hills and wound back and forth through corn fields.

More than once we sped over the hills trying to feel weightless, stopping just shy of lifting off the ground.

I’d known Mark and Monica for a few years. I basically lived half time with Daniel, and that meant that Sandy dragged me to all her family functions. Mark and Monica occasionally took Daniel and I along on their family outtings, and when they were in charge, Daniel and I could do anything we wanted.

Once we got our driver’s licenses, Daniel and I spent all of our free time with Mark and Monica.

I never thought anything of it at the time, but in retrospect there were a lot of red flags around Mark and Monica. They invited Daniel, Steven, and I on trips to Ocean City and Myrtle beach. We shared a house with them. Sandy stayed behind. Mark and Monica had three children, two of which didn’t belong to Mark. Neither one of them ever mentioned the biological father of the two older children, but both of those kids seemed unhappy. The girl was slow, and the boy was pretty antisocial. I always had a feeling that the girl had been abused in some way, but I never asked, and they never told.

I don’t remember how we sold the trips to Sandy and my mom, but we went with Mark and Monica often. Daniel’s Aunt and Uncle gave us access to debauchery and a friendly place to experiment.

The first time we traveled with Mark and Monica without Sandy and Jason was to Myrtle Beach. Steven and Daniel were both driving by then. I sat in the passenger seat for most of the ride and kept an eye on the map. It was my first trip away from home. I took some of my summer money and bought two disposable cameras to document the trip. Mark drove the family van and met us at Sandy’s. We were in Steven’s Mustang.

“You fuckers ready to roll?”

“We we were ready an hour ago. We’d be on the road if we didn’t have to wait on an old man.”

Mark put his hand on his chest like he’d been terribly insulted, “Yeah, Yeah. Trust me, I was waiting on this one.” Mark tilted his head toward Monica. “Don’t know what it is boys, but anything with a pussy lives an hour behind.”

Monica laughed and punched Mark in the arm.

“Not to mention these retards in the back. Each one had to piss twice. Let’s roll.” He tossed a cigarette butt out the window, rolled it up, and started down the cul de sac.

Mark flew down the road, and we struggled to keep up with him as we headed south. When we reached I-95, Steven and Mark took turns pulling alongside one another. I flipped Mark the bird from the passenger seat, he returned the gesture, and we fell back behind.

“You should moon him Mike,” Daniel said.

“Fuck yeah, you should!” Steven Agreed.

“Alright.” I put the window down and unzipped my pants. “Speed up.” Steven switched lanes and stepped on the throttle. I positioned my ass on the door and pulled down my pants. The wind whipped by at more than 80 miles an hour. The others roared with laugher. “Did he see it?”

“Not yet.”

“Honk the horn or something. This isn’t exactly comfortable.”

“Quit being a bitch.” Steven honked the horn. “He’s looking.”

The radio squelched, Mark’s voice cracked through the speaker. “Tell Mikey I can see his pussy.”

I reached over and grabbed the radio. “You can have a closer look later if you play your cards right Marky Mark.”

“Call me by my radio name there Possum, bears might be listenin in.” We’d each picked radio names before we left. I didn’t choose Possum.

“Ten four, FB. We’re clean clear to the border, come on.”

“What the fuck is FB?”

“It’s your radio name, stands for Funky Bunch.”

“Haha. Fuck you Possum. We need to pull over for gas up here. Let Pizza Boy know to pull off the next exit with a fuel sign.”

“10-4, FB.”

“I don’t want to be Pizza Boy.” Steven complained.

“Well, Steven, can you tell me where you work?” I replied.

“A pizza place.” Steven sighed.

“Steven, could you tell me what this car smells like?” Daniel joined in.

“Pizza.”

“What would you say is your current job title?”

“Pizza delivery driver goddamnit.”

“And what is shorthand for pizza delivery driver?”

“Fuck you guys.”

“Hey man, I didn’t want to be Possum.”

“Yeah, you think I wanted to be Big Dan? That’s not even a fucking nickname. It’s just my name and size.”

“Here’s your exit.” I pointed out the window.

“Good job Magellan. Way to keep us on track.” Steven flicked on his turn signal and let off the gas.

We pulled into a dilapidated Texaco. The gas pumps still had analog numbers. The convenience store inside was manned by a lone foreigner.

“Look at this fuckin’ camel jockey over here.” Mark pointed his thumb and shouted loud enough for the clerk to hear. “Come on boys, we’re going shopping.” Mark unzipped Steven’s hoody a bit and led him around the store. “We’ll take some of these. And some of these.” Mark shoved Steven’s jacket full.

The clerk came out from behind the counter and confronted us toward the back of the store. “I call the police!”

“What the fuck for?” Mark shouted back.

“You steal! Get Out!”

“You fuckin’ stupid Paki. I paid for my gas didn’t I?”

“I call the police! You steal! Get the fuck out of my store!” The clerk shouted

“Listen here sand nigger, I paid for everything I’ve ever gotten. Fuck yourself!” Mark turned and unzipped Steven’s jacket the rest of the way. Pretzels, chips, soda, and candy spilled out onto the floor. Mark stomped on some of the snacks and ground them under his feet while the clerk shouted and flailed. “Fuck you!” He flipped the bird. “Comeon boys.”

We sprinted back to the car. Mark walked. The clerk followed behind him.

“Wave bye to the sand nigger kids.” We heard Mark instruct his family as he climbed into the van. Little hands popped up behind the windows.

We didn’t stop again until we reached Pedro’s South of the Border. For the uninitiated, Pedro’s is a giant tourist trap. It’s a gift shop, rest stop, and theme park crammed into an untenable mess alongside the interstate. There are pun laden billboards for a hundred miles in each direction counting down the distance from Pedro’s. One billboard had a giant fiberglass weiner and says “you never sausage a place.”

The kids had to pee, so Mark stopped and we followed. I walked through the gift shop while the others waited in the car. Mark wasn’t long in coming out in a huff.

“Man, fuck this place. What a fucking joke.” He was red in the face, shouting across the store. “Did you hit the head? It’s two fucking dollars in quarters to unlock the stall. Can you believe that shit?”

“That’ll cost you a fortune with all those kids and Monica.”

“Cost me two dollars. They’re holding the door open for each other. Taking turns.”

I laughed. “Surprised you didn’t have them crawl under the door.”

“Didn’t think of it. Where were you ten minutes ago?”

I couldn’t tell if he was kidding.

When we reached Myrtle beach, we found out the house we rented was in a gated community with its own security patrol. Mark went ahead of us and was quickly let through. We pulled forward and a crusty looking security guard looked down into the car from the booth.

“Evening. I need the driver’s license of anyone who wants to operate a vehicle inside the community. Your all’s house has a golf cart. Anyone who is gonna drive it needs to register here with the office as well.”

We all took a look at one another. This is the first we’d heard of a golf cart, but each of us visualized its potential uses.

I was the only one too young to drive. Steven and Daniel each handed their licenses over.

“Just the two of you?”

“He’s only got a permit. He’s fifteen.”

“Well. learner’s permit’s enough for the golf cart in the state of South Carolina.”

I leaned to the side to pull my permit out of my wallet and hand it to the old man.

“Awe. Looksa whosa gonna drive a golf cart.” Steven reached over and made like he was going to pinch my cheeks. I smacked his hand away.

“Now don’t you boys be fuckin’ around in here. You can have a nice stay, or we can make it hard on ya. The guy who’s here mornings is my boss. He’s a real asshole. You got only a couple a rules. Don’t disturb other people. Don’t run over the ducks. That’s about it. You boys hear?” He leaned out of the booth and held my permit.

“Yes sir.”

“Good. Now you boys have a good one.”

“Thanks.”

We made our way down roads with names like Oceanfront Drive and Sandy Avenue. All of the houses were pastel colored with a pull under deck. There were signs for duck crossings. Mark was nowhere in sight. He’d left us to find the house on our own. We didn’t even know the address.

It took us nearly an hour of driving in circles before we found a little cottage, tucked away in a corner. It was different than all the others, smaller, and instead of a deck it had a carport with a picnic table.

“What took you boys so long?” Mark didn’t rise from where he was reclined in a lawn chair. The air reeked of marijuana.

“You left us, you old fuck! We’ve been driving around for almost an hour trying to find this place.”

“Sorry about that. We got down the road a little ways. Thought you guys were behind me. Came back to the guard house, you were gone.” He took a deep drag from the joint in his hand. “Here Stevie. This will make you feel better.” Smoke fell out of his mouth with each syllable.

“Where’d you get this.” Steven took the joint and puffed.

“Brought it from home. Been tossin’ some seeds and stems and shit behind the house. Stuff just started growin’ on its own.”

“Where’s the beer?”

“Oh, that’s right. Little Mikey don’t smoke the devil’s lettuce. I’ll blow some in your face for ya.” Mark laughed. Daniel took the joint next. “Beer’s inside kiddo.”

“Cool. I’ll take the bags and shit in while I’m at it.”

“You all are staying in the sun room. Keep the lights out. Kids’re asleep.”

The cabin was quaint, but we wouldn’t be spending much time in there anyway. I only volunteered to go in so I could secure the most comfortable bed, ideally one that wasn’t on the floor.

I grabbed two beer out of the fridge and went back outside. The guys were still passing the joint around.

“Those both for you?” Daniel pointed.

“You can have one if you want.”

“My mouth is a little parched.” Daniel and Steven both burst out laughing. Mark just looked on. I got the joke; I just didn’t think it was funny.

I handed the beer over and took a seat. They kept passing the joint around. Each time it came to me, they offered and I refused.

We slept until noon the next day. The three of us were piled up in the tiny sunroom, Daniel and Steven on the floor, and me on the day bed.

Mark and his family were already up and out of the house. The car was gone, but the keys to the golf cart were hanging next to the door.

“Oh shit boys!” Steven ran around dangling the keys. “What do you think we could get up to with these?”

“No good probably. We just need to remember not to hit any ducks.”

“Oh, if I see one of those fuckers, I’m running it over.”

“Didn’t you hear the old man last night? Hitting ducks is serious fucking business around here.”

“Eh, it’ll be fine.”

Once we had our swimming trunks on, we headed out to explore our surroundings. There were gardens on both sides of the road, meticulously kept in front of each home. The newer cabins were cookie cutter versions of one another, but there were older, smaller ones scattered throughout. It was apparent that the neighborhood was split between independent owners and some kind of commercial interest. We saw some ducks, and we decided not to run them over. There was a gym, and several playgrounds, a fishing pier over a pond, and a pool. The pool was of particular interest, it was filled with unsupervised girls who were far from home.

“We gotta go to the pool, man,” Steven said.

“What for?” Daniel sounded nervous.

“Look at all that pussy just waiting over there to be snatched. One of those could be yours.” Steven reached over and clapped me on the shoulder, “Or yours,” he did the same to Daniel with the other hand. “Oh my, I do declare, I’ve never been with a mountaineer before.” Steven tried his best southern accent and fanned his face.

“I’d rather go to the beach. Or go back to the house and get drunk.” Daniel was heavy. When he had his shirt off, deep and wide stretch marks spread out in a star pattern from his belly button. His hips were striped, and his stomach lapped a full six inches over his waistband. He was self conscious about it and never went anywhere, including swimming, without a shirt.

Steven looked up in the rear view. “Look Daniel, no one is ever going to fuck you with that attitude. The ladies love a confident man. You don’t even have to be attractive to get them falling all over you. You just have to act like you’re confident. Mike, are you confident?”

“I’m feeling pretty confident Steven.”

“Daniel does he sound confident to you? He sounds like he’s doubting himself to me. Now goddamnit Mikey, I said are you confident?”

“Yep.”

Steven leaned over to whisper in my ear. “We gotta get Daniel worked up or he’s going to be cock blocking us this whole trip.”

Steven picked his volume back up. “Now, Mikey, are you ready to go in there and pick up some bitches?”

“Yeah!”

“Are you a beast?”

“Yeah!”

“Daniel, are you with us man?” Steven turned.

“I’ll give it a try.” Daniel looked down at the ground.

“Good enough for me.” Steven took his shirt off in one smooth motion. “Let’s do it.”

Steven led us. He stood with his shoulders back and head held high. I walked like a normal person, and Daniel dawdled along behind. We picked out a corner at the end of the pool and sat our stuff down. I dove in. The sun was hot. Daniel sat leaning forward on the chair with his shirt still on, and I could hear Steven trying to coax him out of his shell a bit. I knew Steven was trying to be a good friend, but he was wasting his time.

I took a spot in the deeper end of the pool, hanging by my outstretched arms in the gutter crucifix style. There were two girls our age across from me. They couldn’t see my eyes staring behind my sunglasses, but they were each taking turns glancing my way and then toward Steven and Daniel at the end of the pool.

Their conversation was barely audible.

“Come on Dan. See those two girls over there? You’re keeping me from them.” Steven pointed, and the girls took notice.

“I told you. I’ll get in here in a little bit.”

“Alright man. More chicks for me.” Steven turned and dove. He came up right next me. He flopped his hair around out of his face and held himself up by his fingers facing away from the girls and the center of the pool.

“Are they checking me out Mikey?”

“Yeah, they sure are. They glance over here and then talk to each other.”

“There’s two of them. That’s good. One for you and one for me.”

“What about Daniel?”

“Eh. He’s fucking hopeless. He thinks girls only want the good looking ones.”

“He is pretty heavy. I’d be self conscious about it too I guess.”

“Eh, he likes to eat. Girls don’t care about looks all by themselves. He could be funny, or confident, or play the guitar or some shit, but there he sits.”

“Couldn’t even get him to budge?”

“He blew some smoke up my ass, but he’s not getting anywhere near those girls unless we drag him. He’ll figure it out on his own. Are they still looking?”

“Yeah. They’re talking about us.”

“Want to go over and say hi?”

My heart skipped. I was fine to get into the water, but it seemed pretty forward to go over and talk to them. The hesitation must’ve shown on my face.

“Not you too Mikey. Not you. I thought we were confident?”

“Oh, I’m so fucking confident.” My heart raced, but I pushed myself off the wall and swam across the water. Steven was right behind me.

I was nervous about it, but what was the worst that could happen? Rejection? Embarrassment? They all resulted in me being right back where I started.

I climbed out first but let Steven take the lead. We’d have better luck if he did the talking.

“Hey ladies, I’m Steven, and this is my friend Mikey.” Steven stuck his hand out for a shake. He elbowed me to do the same, and I did.

The more attractive of the two girls was Nikita. She wore a tiny blue and black bikini. It just barely covered her, and she had the sexiest thick and flowing brown hair. Mariah, the other girl, wasn’t all bad, but she definitely wasn’t the one we’d be fighting over. She was taller and rail thin. She had a snaggletooth that hung over her lip when her mouth was closed. Both of them talked in the most glorious southern accent.

“It’s good to meet y’all. Where ya from?”

Steven still held Nikita’s hand. He turned it to the side so her knuckles were up and delicately held her fingers. He looked down at her hand and then back up to her eyes for what seemed like a minute before he told her we were from West Virginia.

“I love your accents.”

“We are from Tennessee, and y’all are the ones with the accents.” Steven and I laughed politely at the joke.

“You guys here with your parents?” Steven asked.

“Yeah, unfortunately. They are just no fun at all.” Nikita spoke, but some signal passed between the girls. “Do y’all have any alcohol?”

“Yeah we do. We are down here with our buddy’s uncle. He doesn’t give a shit about what we do,” I chimed in.

“Yeah, you all should come over to our place tonight. We will be drinking. You can share some of ours,” Steven added.

“What do you think Mariah?” Nikita asked her friend

“I don’t know, Nik. I think it sounds nice, but your folks would have a cow if they caught us drinking with them boys.”

“You’re right, but you know how they do. They start drinking about eight and by nine they don’t know or care what we are up to any how.” Nikita reached out and dragged a finger down Steven’s arm. “Think we could swing by about nine-thirty?”

“That sounds good to us, doesn’t it Mike?”

I nodded and took a long look at Mariah and figured I’d be a good wing man. I’d keep her busy, but I wasn’t sure I wanted what she had on offer.

“We will see you boys tonight then.” Nikita flashed a bashful southern smile. Steven and I both dove in, competing with one another to be the flashiest  on the way back to the chairs.

“How’d it go?” Daniel was reclined with his eyes closed behind his sunglasses.

“We struck out. They wanted you Dan. The whole time we were hitting on them they kept wanting to know when big sexy was going to come over and say hello.”

“Fuck off Steve. How’d it go Mikey?”

“They’re coming to drink with us tonight at nine-thirty. Their folks are uptight, so we are going to get them drunk and see what happens. That about cover it Steven?”

“Young Master Michael, you have always had an efficiency with language.” Steven held his pinky out and mock drank from a tea cup.

“They seem pretty good lookin’ from here.”  Daniel gave his opinion.

“The one in the tiny blue bikini is Nikita. She is fine, but Steven has pretty much claimed her.”

“Damn right. The other one is a little dog faced. But she seemed pretty excited about you Daniel.” Steven looked at me side eyed.

“About me?” Daniel looked to me for confirmation.

“Oh yeah. Her name was Mariah, and she was all- who is y’all’s friend over yonder.”

Daniel turned scarlet. “Quit fuckin around you guys.” He looked at the ground.

“Dude, we aren’t lying to you,” Steven reached out and grabbed Daniel’s shoulder.

“Not even a little.” I smirked.

Steven turned around and waved at the girls before we left the pool. They giggled, and Nikita waved back. “Boys, I think I’m in love.”

“And a true love it is.” I laughed.

“Do you think they’ll actually come over?”

“The more important question is who is going to get laid?” Steven hadn’t yet abandoned his strut.

“You’ll end up taking Nikita and sticking one of us with old horseface.” I elbowed Dan. “Right?”

“At this point. I’d be willing to settle for her.” Dan laughed. “Mikey can go beat off in the bathroom.”

Steven’s eyes widened. He stepped in front of us and turned. “If neither of you guys want to sack up and take one for the team,” he pointed to each of us in turn, “then I guess I’m just going to have to screw both of them.”

“Go for it Stevie.” Daniel laughed.

“So it’s decided then. The mission for tonight is to get me a threesome with two beautiful southern belles!”

“More like one beautiful southern belle and Seabiscuit”

“Fuck you Mike. You’ve always been a glass half empty kinda guy.”

“So what do you guys want to do until tonight?”

“We still have the golf cart.”

“Yeah, we do!”

The golf cart was full electric, and it barely went at all. Daniel thought the batteries were old, but he believed he could get more power out of it by messing with the wiring. Daniel was a mechanical whiz. He did mechanic work for all of his friends. He knew everything about cars, and he especially loved Chevys. When we were kids we would sit by the road and he would call out the cars by their sound before they rounded the corner. He was right far more than he was wrong. By the time Daniel was done, the golf cart was scary fast.

We flew around the subdivision, each of us shifting weight to prevent a roll over. We discovered that if Daniel and I both stood on the back foot rests and Steven backed up and then dumped the golf cart from reverse to drive that we could hang a wheelie for as long as we didn’t need to turn.

If we picked up the cart’s rear and dropped it suddenly, we could burn rubber and launch it so hard whoever was driving would nearly snap their neck.

But after about an hour of hard driving, the battery started to die.

“The batteries on this piece of shit only last an hour?”

“They do when you get rid of the governor and drive it like a maniac.”

“We better get it back and put it on the charger.”

“I’ll drive us back. I didn’t get to drive much.” I climbed in the driver’s seat and turned us back toward the house.

I drove two blocks back toward the house and took a corner past a stop sign.

“Hey Mike, there’s a guy flying up behind us here in a truck,” Steven pointed.

I turned around to look, and there was a silver pickup right behind. I got over as far on the shoulder as I could without driving off of the road, and I waved for the truck to go around. I heard it accelerate, and it came up next to us. The driver turned the wheel into us and forced us off the road. The driver parked in front of us, blocking our way forward, and I couldn’t see a thing through the deep tinted windows.

“What the fuck is this guy up to?” I got into fight or flight mode, and I thought back over the day. We’d raised plenty of hell doing burnouts and wheelies in the golf cart, but we hadn’t hurt anyone.

The door of the truck opened and blue and white lights flashed from behind the windshield. A short man with a white mustache, mirrored glasses, and a starched white shirt climbed out of the truck. His badge twinkled in the sun, and his mirrored glasses reminded me of the man with no eyes from Cool Hand Luke. It was apparent to anyone looking that he was an asshole who took his job as a rent-a-cop at a gated vacation community way too seriously.

I leaned over and whispered to Steven who was standing next to me, “this must be the guy that the old man warned us about.”

“Give me your fucking driver’s license right now.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’ve been getting calls about you all ripping through here. I’m head of security, and I said give me your fucking driver’s license.”

I turned and looked at Steven to see if he had any idea at all how to proceed. If he knew what we should do, he didn’t communicate it. I reached for my back pocket before I realized that I was wearing swim trunks. My wallet was back at the house.

“Let me guess. You don’t have your license on you. When you checked in here, you signed a paper saying you agreed to keep your ID on you at all times. You remember that?” The man stepped closer to me. I could smell the coffee and stale tobacco smoke on his breath. “Maybe you all have a different definition of all times where you’re from. You are a licensed driver, aren’t you boy?”

“My license is back at the house. If you want it, you’ll have to follow us back. Why did you pull us over?” I asked.

“You mean aside from you all rippin’ and tearin’ about the neighborhood?”

“You going to write me a ticket for that? Can you write a citation for rippin’ and tearin’?” I mocked.

“I didn’t see it, so no I can’t. I did see you run that stop sign back there, and I did see you speeding.”

“Speeding?” Daniel spoke up, “How is that even possible?”

“Speed limit through here is 10 miles an hour. I clocked you at 17 miles an hour.”

“How was I supposed to know how fast we were going? There’s no speedometer.”

“Not my problem kid. Now stay put.” The rent-a-cop’s shirt crunched as he turned to go back to his truck. I could just barely make out his shape behind the windshield. He was fumbling with his ticket book and clipboard. The drivers that passed us on the street stopped to take in the scene, some of them shook their heads in disapproval.

“So, the guy’s not a cop right?” I leaned over and whispered to Steven and Daniel.

“No, I don’t think so, right? Like, he’s got to work for the town, or the county to be a real cop. This guy works for this subdivision.”

“There’s no jail or anything for him to lock you up in Mike. What’s the worst he could do?”

“I have a feeling we’re about to find out.”

Another truck crept down the road. It was the same make and model. The truck pulled in behind and turned its lights on. The old man from the gate house climbed out and stepped down to meet us.

“Didn’t take you boys long did it?”

“No sir, I guess it didn’t.” I laughed.

He smiled and put his hands back on his hips. He was tall outside of the booth, and he had a huge pot belly, but a kind face. He leaned in and whispered “He’s a dick, huh?” and then he leaned back and spoke more loudly “What did you all do?”

“Got us for speeding and running a stop sign.”

“Speeding?” The old man looked at the golf cart and then back at us. “How’d you guys pull that off?”

“We were roaring around at 17 miles an hour.”

“They oughta lock you all up.” The old man chuckled a bit before the door to his boss’s truck clicked open. The old man straightened up. “Just what the hell were you all thinking, running that stop sign and speeding around through here? Kids live here.” He winked at me.

I glanced at the boss rent-a-cop and then back at the old man. I shrugged inwardly and decided to follow the old man’s lead.

“We are very sorry sir. We didn’t mean any disrespect, and we surely won’t do it again.”

“Damn right, you won’t.”

“Didn’t realize you were here.” The boss rent-a-cop said to the old man.

“Just came to let you know that someone was asking for you up front. It’s that lady who always has trouble with her neighbors.”

“Jesus Christ.” The boss rent-a-cop let out a sigh. He ripped the ticket out of his book and handed it to the old man. “You can handle this can’t you?”

“I think so.”

“Good, the driver there has to sign a copy once you see his driver’s license. Follow them back to their house and then give me the copy of the ticket after he signs it.”

“Got it.”

The old man took the ticket and the boss cop speed walked back to his truck. Apparently breaking up a feud between an old lady and her neighbors was more urgent than a few teenagers going seven miles per hour over the speed limit.

“Alright boys, I’m gonna follow you back to your house now.”

“You were right about that guy.”

“He wasn’t always this way. Poured himself into his work after his wife left him. He’s a retired cop or something like that. Turned this place into his own little precinct.”

“Thanks for bailing us out.”

“You’re welcome, but I warned you all not to be fuckin’ around in here, and what’s the first thing you do? Pull wheelies and run stop signs.” He roared back and laughed. His belly convulsed with the effort of it.

“We’ll have to be careful not to get caught next time.”

“You all will be on your own next time.” The old man patted me on the back. “Let’s go.”

It was a short trip back to the house. I got my learner’s permit and handed it to the old man. He copied down some information and added it to the ticket. “Got your first ticket before you even got your license.” He handed the ID and ticket back to me.

“Hey Mikey, we should get a picture to commemorate this moment.” Steve ran inside and grabbed one of the disposable cameras that I bought for the trip. “Say cheese!”

I held the ticket up like a trophy. The old man put his arm over my shoulder and smiled. The flash bulb went off and blinded both of us for a moment.

“Well, I’ll see you boys around I’m sure.” The old man laughed his deep belly laugh and headed back to his truck.

“Hey, before you go,” Daniel stopped him, “How much is the ticket Mikey?”

I looked down at the paper and scanned around for a number. “Um,” I was shocked, “Two hundred dollars! I can’t afford two hundred dollars!”

The old man laughed louder than ever, nearly doubling over.

“Daniel, why is he laughing?”

“I don’t know Mike.”

“Hey, when you’re done there, we’d like to be in on the joke.” I took as comedic a tone as I could given the circumstance, and then added “please” to the end.

The old man gathered himself, took a deep breath and then pulled a cigarette and a lighter from his coat pocket. He took a long drag and revelled in our suspense. “Pay it in Monopoly money kid. That ticket’s just as real.”

“I figured.” Daniel said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“We are security guards kid. This badge,” the old man flicked the gold shield on his chest, “doesn’t mean shit. We can’t arrest you. Hell, as far as I know, we aren’t even allowed to ask you to leave. You all paid to rent this house right?”

“Yeah”

“So, we can write you as many tickets as we like, and we can spend the week making each other miserable, but that’s about it.”

“So what happens if I don’t pay the ticker?”

“See that little due date on the bottom there?”

“Yeah”

“The date is for after you all will be gone right?”

“Yeah”

“We can’t put out a warrant for your arrest if you don’t pay it, right?”

“Yeah”

“You guys don’t live here. You’re not part of the homeowners association right?”

“I’m so not part of it, I’m not even sure I know what it is.”

“Exactly. So what are we gonna do to you if you don’t pay it? The person you rented from might get a nasty letter, but that just means you can’t rent this house again. So what? Just rent the next one over. Damn boys, I gotta explain everything to you?”

“So you’re saying I could just crumple this up and throw it away?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying, but I’d save it. Make a hell of a souvenir.”

“Yeah, you should keep it Mike.” Steven handed me the disposable camera. “Thanks again!” Steven stepped forward and shook the old man’s hand, and the rest of us followed suit. The old man climbed back into his truck and pulled away. We plugged the golf cart back in and each of us got ready for our evening.

We gathered up what was left of our booze and put it on ice on the picnic table outside. Daniel and Steven each took hits from a bowl filled with Mark’s weed. They coughed until they nearly puked and grabbed a beer.

I looked at the outside clock. The girls wouldn’t be coming for several hours. “Aren’t you guys going at it a little hard? Want some gas in the tank for later, right Steven?”

“Eh, I’m pregaming it dude. I need to drink before I drink. You know what I mean?.”

“What about you Dan?”

“I’m not going to get laid anyway.”

We all laugh.

We sat in a circle and talked for a bit. The beer and weed worked on Steven and Dan. They started to slur their words a bit. Getting up from their chairs took a little more effort. When Steven was drunk he would throw his head back, and the shifting weight would throw him hard against the sagging cloth back of the folding chair. Mark, Monica, and the kids came home shortly after suppertime. They had gone to the beach for the day and grabbed pizza.

“You faggots oughta eat some of this pizza and get sobered up.”

“Eh. Fuck you old timer.” Steven countered. We laughed. “We aren’t drunk yet. We’re getting ready for some bitches to come over.”

“Yeah. Steven is going to have a threesome with two girls from Tennesee.” Daniel put on his best southern accent.

“Naw. You all ain’t drunk at all. That all sounds completely reasonable.” Mark sat the pizza down on the picnic table in front of us and opened the box.

“Well, maybe just a little.” Steven reached forward. Mark shut the box before he could get his hand in it. “Come on. What happened to fuck you old timer?”

“You know I didn’t mean it.” Steven put on his pouty face.

“You’re really sorry, aren’t you Stevie?”

“Terribly sorry.”

“Well, seein as how you’re so sorry and all.” Mark took his hand off the box. Steven dove on it before Mark could change his mind. We each took a piece. Mark turned to go inside, leaving us to our own devices. “Give those girls hell.” He laughed and said with his back to us.

“Kiss my kids goodnight for me.” Steven shouted after him.   

“Fuck you.” Mark yelled over his shoulder. Steven laughed.

The sun dipped down below the horizon, and the darkness was profound. There were no street lights, but after a while we saw a bouncing flashlight walking toward the house.

“Holy shit. Think that’s them?” I leaned over to Daniel.

“Hey ya’ll.” We heard Nikita call from behind the flashlight.

They approached the house, and when they came into view, I popped the caps off two beers and handed them over.

Steven was slouched deep in his chair. “How’re you two fine ladies doing on this evening?”

I’d seen Steven drunk often enough to know that the alcohol was creeping over him. Slouching was the first sign. His relaxed body slid down the chair. He would use his arms to right himself, but in another twenty minutes he would be slurring his speech. An hour after that he’d get mouthy and hyper. When he was about to pass out, his perception of time got wonky. When he started asking what time it was, he had less than a half an hour before nodding out.

“We’re doing just fine. Sorry we’re late. Had a little trouble sneaking away. Mariah let it slip to my pops that we were talkin’ to some boys earlier by the pool.”

Mariah was standing behind Nikita, sipping. The girls took seats across from us.

“So you guys had to sneak out?” Steven repeated.

“Yeah, but my dad was passed out in bed with my mom. It wasn’t sneakin’. We just kinda walked out.” Nikita replied.

“I didn’t want to come. I thought your dad would talk some sense into you.”

“You ain’t my mom Mariah. Pull the stick out your ass and relax a bit. Here, this’ll help.” Nikita reached over and pushed the bottom of Mariah’s beer toward her face. Mariah pulled away.

“I’ll drink it. I just didn’t see coming here in the middle of the night and drinking with some guys we don’t know.”

“We don’t know any guys here. That’s the fun in it.”

“Whatever.” Mariah took a drink.

Nikita turned her attention back to Steven, and then addressed me. “He’s feelin’ pretty good ain’t he?”

Steven answered her “Had to do something waiting for you all to get here. Catch up.”

“Shut up Stevie. Sorry, he gets mouthy when he’s drunk.” I apologized.

“I’m not bein’ mouthy. I’m sorry ladies.” Steven’s stood and bowed, crossing himself with one arm and throwing the other behind. He flashed a crooked grin and then flopped back down. “And I’m not drunk Michael.

“That’s right buddy. You sure aren’t.” I reached over and patted him on the shoulder.

Nikita helped herself to a second beer. Mariah did the same a minute later. If the girls were disturbed by Steve’s behavior they didn’t show it. If anything, it seemed like they were tolerating us.

Conversation was difficult to keep going. Steven spoke a lot, but his speech was slurred, and his thoughts were disconnected from any meaning at all. There’s no real expectation of a deep or thought provoking conversation at that age, but the girls didn’t seem interested in talking at all. They never initiated conversation. They would respond when we spoke with them, but their answers only met the scope of the question, and they never offered additional information or asked a question of their own. So Daniel, Steven, and I talked, and invited the girls into the conversation when it made sense.

Steven sank deep in his chair. He’d been pretty animated, doing his best to focus his attention on Nikita and ask her thoughtful questions. He told her about his life, and once or twice he invited her away from the group in an effort to separate her from Mariah. The booze was loosening the girls up. The girls kept an alarming pace, finishing four or five beers in an hour.

We felt the need to try and keep up with them, even though we’d been drinking longer. Men were supposed to hold their alcohol better than women. We couldn’t let them out drink us. My mind was swimming in alcohol. Daniel was sitting quietly, too nervous to say much to the girls, despite his drunkenness. Steven’s speech was slurred, and he’d already started asking what time it was.

Steven would be passed out soon.

I heard a deep male voice call out from a distance.

“Did you all hear that?” I asked.

“Hear what?” Steven put a hand up to his ear and rotated his head. “Nope.” His eyes were half open.

“There it was again.” The same voice, a little louder and a little closer.

“Shit!” Nikita jumped out of her chair. “It’s my dad!”

“Nikki,” closer this time.

Nikita stood frozen like a deer in the headlights. Mariah stood and grabbed her by the arm. “Nik, we have to go.” She hissed in her ear.

Nikki regained her composure. She leaned over to Steven and whispered something in his ear. Steven looked at her and the color drained out of his face, but he smiled.

The girls ran behind the house and disappeared through the fence gate into the dark.

The voice called again “He’s further away this time,” I said. We turned our heads to hear.

It was hard to make out Steven’s face through the dim overhead light and the fog of swarming insects gathered around it, but his eyes were half closed.

Daniel was the first to ask “well, Steven, what did she say?”

“Oh,” Steven set up straight, “a gentlemen never tells, but…” he paused for suspense and took a look at each of us. “She said” He twirled his hair a bit and put on a soft southern voice. “It’s a shame my Daddy showed up. We were gonna fuck y’alls brains out.”

“There’s no fuckin’ way that’s what she said. You’re too fucked up to even hear right.” I laughed.

“Hand to God.” Steven put his hand up and grinned.

“Don’t think it woulda mattered anyhow. I think I might be too drunk to fuck.” He made an effort to stand, made some progress and then fell back into his chair. “I think you might haveta help me.”

 

 

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