“Ok, so let me get this straight.” Sandy stood with her arms crossed. Her face was red, and her eyes were puffy. Daniel stood out of arm’s reach. “You’re just going to go live with Kenny in some trailer park?”
Daniel nodded silently.
“Are you going to live there too, Mike?”
“You’re staying at home.”
“What’s so bad here Daniel?” Sandy was biting the inside of her cheek, fighting tears. “I mean, I clean your room for Christsake. You think you’re ready to be out on your own?”
Daniel stood and looked at her blankly, without emotion. “Do you even know where to mail the checks for your car insurance? Your cell phone bill? You’re still in high school.”
“Until the end of the month.” He noted, “I’ll be eighteen.”
“You’re going to drop out of school?” I said reflexively, immediately regretting the insertion of myself into this volatile conversation. I didn’t even know why I was here. I’ve always hated these uncomfortable moments. They seemed to be coming more and more frequently since Daniel got his dad’s money.
Daniel nodded again in answer. I can’t believe he would drop out of school so close to the end of his senior year. He had run the race for more than eleven years, just the sunk cost of an entire childhood would’ve been enough to convince me to stay and take the diploma.
“Where are you gonna work, son? You got money right now, but it won’t last forever.” Sandy stood with her arms folded, frown lines deepening around her mouth.
Daniel shrugged, “I’ll come up with something.” Daniel was uncomfortable. He was afraid of his mom, and with good reason. Sandy had an explosive temper. I’d once seen her drag Daniel out of a room by his hair to the kitchen because he broke a glass and didn’t bother to clean up the pieces (a justifiable response in my opinion). But now, she was eerily calm, puffy eyes and closed posture were the only clues of her discomfort.
Sandy shook her head, exasperated. “The social security checks run out on your birthday.” In the moment she admitted defeat, she relaxed and almost smiled. “Better get a job by then. You’ll eat through your Daddy’s money in no time with Kenny and Alicia spending it for you.”
“They’re gonna be paying part of the rent.”
Daniel tried to correct Sandy but she just smirked, “sure they will.”
Sandy was right. Daniel hadn’t thought about the long term sustainability of this arrangement. It was plain to see. Alicia had some self-respect. She worked her minimum wage job, and made enough money to keep her and Kenny just above water living at her parent’s house. But Kenny couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed with the regularity a day job required.
Kenny had been bitching about having to live with Alicia’s folks for months. He said they always complained that he didn’t have a job or a future. They spoke openly about how they believed that Alicia was wasting her youth on Kenny. They said the best thing about Kenny was that he was sterile and they didn’t have to worry about Alicia getting pregnant. Splitting rent with Daniel meant that Ken and Alicia could move out of her parent’s house while insuring that they wouldn’t be evicted, at least until Daniel ran out of money.
Sandy turned around at the end of the hallway. “When you pack your stuff, all of the furniture stays here. Take your video games and whatever else, but the bed stays. You’ll probably be needing it when you come back.” She turned back and stormed off toward her bedroom, slamming doors behind her.
The house was silent while we carried what little actually belonged to Daniel out to the car.
Daniel didn’t have much, a few boxes of clothes and some miscellaneous odds and ends. It all in fit in the Firebird without much effort.
We drove to the trailer. Kenny, Alicia, and Steven were already there. The road through the trailer park wound along through staggered rows. The trailer park was phasing out some of its older models, making room for improved and more expensive units. The older trailers had galvanized, sheet metal siding. The panels were sloppily riveted, and yellowed silicone caulking spread out from under the overlap. The newer ones, in contrast had vinyl siding, were twice as wide, and had a large bay window looking out over a wooden porch.
“I wonder which one is ours?” I said aloud even though I was alone in the car. I followed Daniel down the dirt road. I recognized Kenny’s junk Mustang in front of the ugliest trailer yet. It was hard to understand what I was seeing, but the trailer didn’t look to be livable. The sheet metal had long since begun to rust through, revealing yellow fiberglass insulation underneath. Moss had started growing from the roof, and vines of ivy spread out over the length of the trailer, nearly enveloping the front end nearest the main door. There was no porch, no central air, I was beginning to wonder if there was even heat. The only redeeming quality was that it was far from its nearest neighbor, and slightly hidden behind a hill.
Kenny, Alicia, and Steven were milling about out front, there were a few empty boxes shoved up under the trailer’s frame. Kenny waved, and Daniel and I stopped. “There you all are! Welcome to Casa De Team Midnight.”
“Team Midnight?” I asked.
“That’s right,” Steven butted in, “Mikey was at work that night, remember?”
“We formed a racing club.” Daniel stacked two boxes and gathered them in his hands.
“Do I get to be a member?”
“You have to go racing with us.” Daniel grunted as he hefted the first of his boxes. “You gonna give me a hand Mikey?”
“Yeah, yeah. I guess I have to since you let me in your secret club.” I laughed. “Is Steven in the club?”
“Nah, I don’t wanna make you all look bad with my minivan.” Steven laughed.
Del opened the door just as Daniel was struggling to puzzle out how he was going to open it without help. He had a cigarette in his hand.
“You letting people smoke inside?” I asked Alicia. She nodded regretfully.
“Yeah, we are just keeping our bedroom shut.” Ken said.
“Damn, so we won’t have to freeze our asses off this winter. Nice.”
“Now, if a bunch of you are lighting up all at once, we will have to blow that shit out the window.” Kenny added.
I took a deep breath and took another look at the trailer. “This is going to be a good spot.” It definitely wasn’t much, but it would be ours. A place where we could express our true selves, the people we were apart from the demands of our parents, work, or school.
Steven walked over and put his arms around my shoulder. “We are gonna get so drunk. You should see Kenny’s liquor collection.”
“You mean the stuff he’s ripping off from 7/11?” I asked.
“You won’t believe how much alcohol is inside.”
I walked over and grabbed a couple smaller boxes from the Firebird and headed toward the door. “Well, show me.”
Steven opened the door in front of me. The inside was dark and musty. The ceiling was low around the outside of the trailer and it rose sharply toward the middle. The interior walls were wooden paneling painted white. The ceiling was some stucco variant, colored with decades of abuse, dust, and tobacco smoke. I dropped the boxes on the floor. The kitchen, living room, and dining room were combined. The kitchen cabinets had no doors, even under the sink, and served as simple shelves. Each one was full to the brim with bottles of liquor.
“Holy shit.” I walked toward the open cabinet and spun the bottles around so the labels faced out. “Some of this stuff is expensive.” There was a bottle of Scotch whiskey with a gold gilded label, it would’ve cost a fortune if anyone had paid for it. I broke the seal and opened the cap. I put the bottle to my nose and inhaled. My nose burned like I’d just snorted rubbing alcohol. “Well, I’ll probably never get a chance to try expensive Scotch again.” I turned the bottle up and took a swill. The fire burned all the way to my belly. “Whew wee.” I shook my head, “Can’t handle much of that.” I laughed.
“I know it’s awesome right?”
I moved from the cabinets to the refrigerator. The fridge had beer and a few stray sodas. “They gonna buy some food at some point?”
“Who needs it?” Steven pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “We can all just go on a liquid diet.”
“Christ Stevie, look at Kenny and Daniel, you think they are gonna more than a minute without something to eat.” I pushed my belly out in imitation. “You’re king of the munchies anyway with all that weed you smoke.”
Pot had become much more available since Daniel’s father died. It was always too expensive and hard to come by before. But Daniel’s influx of money meant that older guys were much more willing to be seen with us, and more willing to sell to us. “Have you seen Daniel’s new paraphernalia?” Steven accentuated each syllable, making an effort to sound fancy.
Steven frowned, “He bought a bong. It’s big.” He held out his hands out shoulder width. Steven waved me toward the bedroom, “Come on, I’ll show you.”
Daniel’s bedroom was simple. There was a double bed, small dresser, and a television. An ashtray and a pack of cigarettes sat below a lamp on the nightstand. There was an attached bathroom, and the toilet was full of cigarette ashes and butts. The room reeked of tobacco and a lack of hygiene. It looked like Daniel had at least spent more than a few nights here. The white ceiling was yellowed with cigarette smoke and a yellow depression was next to a rumpled pile of blankets on the bed.
“This place is gross.” I waved the smell away from my face.
“Eh, it’s better than the alternative.”
“I laughed. Yeah, it’s gross, but it’s ours I guess.”
“Until Daniel runs out of money.”
“I thought Kenny was paying.”
“Pshhh.” Steven looked behind him and lowered his voice to a whisper, “That dumb fucker can’t hold a job long enough to pay for anything. Use your head, Mikey.”
“If Daniel is paying for everything, then why doesn’t he just get his own place?” I moved closer to Steven and spoke into his ear.
Steven thought for a moment. He put his hand on his chin, “I don’t know. Maybe he needs someone to clean and do all the dishes.”
“How’s that gonna work?”
“Well, if he pays the rent, then they kind of have to do whatever he says, right?”
“Yeah, that sounds about right. I also think Daniel just wants to be the boss.”
“Could be, there doctor Phil.”
We laughed together at the absurdity of everything. Steven turned to continue rifling through Daniel’s room. “Where the fuck is… oh, here it is.” Steven pulled out a giant, blown glass bong from under the bed. The chamber was as long as my arm. It was decorated with colored glass twisted into a tight double helix.
“Damn.” Steven handed it to me, and I held it out like a newborn baby, afraid that breathing on it would form a crack. “How much did he pay for this?”
“Four hundred dollars. I don’t even want to think about how much weed you gotta put in it to fill the chamber.”
“I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m excited about all this. It’s gonna be fun to have a place to party down, but… I don’t know, I just have a bad feeling about all this.”
“Eh, what’re you worried about Mikey? Daniel’s a big boy.”
The door creaked further open and Daniel walked in, Kenny and Alicia followed close behind. Steven changed the topic before Daniel knew we were talking about him.
“What do you think Mikey?” Daniel cast his arm about like a ringmaster welcoming an audience.
“I mean, it’s definitely impressive. It’s going to make a sweet party house.”
“That’s an understatement,” Kenny chimed in. “Have you seen the pile of booze.” Kenny pointed toward the open faced cabinets and the bottles spilling out of them.
I laughed, “What do you think the neighbors will say?”
Kenny dismissed my concern. “We are down behind this hill.”
“They’ll be cool with all the traffic and people coming and going all the time?”
“Who gives a shit Mikey?” There was a tinge of anger in Daniel’s voice. “We pay the rent. They got no say in it.”
I threw my hands up. “I’m not trying to rain on the parade you all. I’m gonna be here as much as anyone. I just think we oughta keep a low profile at first is all. Ease the neighbors into it.”
“No, no, no” Daniel asserted himself. “Fuck all that. We have booze and a place to drink it.” He looked at each of us in turn. “I’m tired of letting other people run me. We are having a party this weekend.”
Kenny and Alicia exchanged a glance. Daniel hadn’t asked them first. This was Daniel’s house. Kenny and Alicia just lived in it.
Alicia glared daggers at Kenny. Kenny said nothing. There was nothing he could say.