Our Last Party

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“Danielle, I know I can count on you to accept your punishment like the adult you are, can’t I?” Will said, using the same over-the-reading-glasses trick that his parents had always used to scare him straight back in the day. His granddaughter flopped down miserably on a deck chair facing him, still dressed in the suit he’d ordered her to wear to her sentencing, her hair blowing a bit against her face in the summer breeze that meandered across Will’s front porch. He poured her a glass of iced tea. “You know your mother would’ve wanted it that way.”

“You’re not going to tell Mom, are you?” Danielle’s mother — Will’s daughter — was a colonel in the army, currently deployed and just inconvenient enough to reach that Danielle had managed to keep her disorderly conduct arrest a secret from her — for now. “Please, Grandpa?”

“You’re old enough to make your own decisions about that,” Will said. “But I do expect you to take your lumps here and pay the price without any whining, okay?”

“Haven’t got much choice about paying it, have I?” Danielle grumbled.

“Could’ve been a lot worse than fifty hours of community service.”

“All I did was have a little too much to drink, and pee in the bushes because there wasn’t a bathroom available! What’s the harm done?!”

Will nodded and gave his granddaughter a long, quiet look. “Probably none, Danielle, but rules are rules. And getting as drunk as you did that night is never a good idea.” Looking over her shoulder, he added, “Wouldn’t you say, Rebecca?”

Danielle whipped around to see Dr. Pixton standing behind her, at the foot of Grandpa’s front steps. “Ohmygod, Dr. Pixton!” She turned beet-red. “Did you just hear…”

“I’m afraid I did, Danielle,” said Rebecca, climbing the steps slowly. “But you know what? We all do dumb things when we’re young. You’re not the first to get caught, and you won’t be the last. Your grandfather and I both know the best thing for you to do now is just serve your sentence and put it behind you.” Rebecca settled herself beside Grandpa on the porch swing and put her arm around him. “It’ll only make matters worse if you don’t.”

“Oh, Dr. Pixton, Grandpa, no offense, but…”

“But what do we know about being young?” Will offered, giving Rebecca a knowing look.

“Well, yeah! I know when you were my age it was totally different, so…”

Rebecca let out a hoot of laughter. “Oh, my dear, hasn’t your grandfather taught you anything about our youth?”

“Evidently I haven’t,” Will added. “Danielle, there’s plenty I never told your mother because she was very, very different from both you and me, and I was quite sure she would never understand.”

“Different from you and me?!” Danielle shot back. “You were a soldier, she’s a soldier, I’m the family screw-up!”

“Oh, you’re not the only one of those in the family,” Will said. He paused for a sip of his iced tea, giving Danielle a moment to wonder and himself a moment to decide just how much to share. “Danielle, I never told your mother just why I joined the army in the first place, way back when. Your grandmother wouldn’t let me. She knew your mom looked up to me like no one else and she thought I was straighter than an arrow — just like you seem to think — and she didn’t want to spoil her image of me. Just as well that your mother looked up to her dad but took after her mom. She was the straight arrow, not me. Wouldn’t you say, Rebecca?”

“Heavens, yes,” Rebecca concurred. “The army straightened you out, Will, but Martha was straighter than an arrow already.”

“Were you and Grandma friends, Dr. Pixton?” Danielle asked. Cancer had taken her grandmother six or seven years before.

“The best of friends,” Rebecca said. “But I’d be lyin’ to say I didn’t envy her a little bit,” she added, turning to Will with a grin and kissing his cheek.

Danielle smiled for the first time in what felt like forever. “Is it okay if I ask…”

“Why we didn’t get together until we were older’n dirt when we grew up together?” Will asked.

“Well, yeah.”

Will and Rebecca looked at one another and laughed, not unkindly. “Will, I think you’d better tell her,” Rebecca said.

“About us or about my sordid past?”

“It’s all one and the same, isn’t it?” Rebecca pointed out.

“How sordid can it be?” Danielle demanded. Her mind off her legal troubles for the moment, she was now both intrigued and amused. “It was the fifties, wasn’t it? What’d you do, Grandpa, steal some other guy’s mug of root beer and do the twist with two girls at once?”

Rebecca burst out laughing, and this time it wasn’t such a friendly laugh. “The twist, my dear, was years later. We’re older than that! And our youth was nowhere near as innocent as you kids today think it was!”

“She’s got that right,” Will added. “Do you really think our generation never got in any real trouble?”

“Hey, I took history in high school!” Danielle protested. “It was the optimistic post-war era, and everyone wanted to forget about the war bakırköy escort and the Depression and bask in the peaceful and affluent…why are you looking at me like that, Grandpa?”

“Because there’s a world of difference between what those days were like in a history book and in reality.” He turned to Rebecca. “You think she can handle the unvarnished truth about that night?”

“I think for her own good she’d better hear it!” Rebecca said. Turning to Danielle, she added, “My dear, you’ve got a lot to learn!”


Jimmy pulled up in his father’s Hudson just as the sun was disappearing over the new houses up on the ridge. He rolled up Billy’s empty driveway and killed the engine, and glanced over the hedges at Mr. Wielding’s yard. Billy’s nosy neighbor wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but his Spanish bride was pruning the bushes around their front porch. She looked up to see Jimmy stepping out of the car. “Good evening, Jimmy!” she called out.

“Hi, Rosa!” he replied with a wave. Then, on cue, Billy and Joe tromped down from the porch while Jimmy unlocked the Hudson’s trunk. “Nice job with the garden,” he said, stepping up to the edge of the driveway; Billy joined him there while Joe retrieved the three bottles of whiskey from the trunk.

“Thank you!” Rosa purred. “You boys having some friends over tonight?”

“Just a few, Rosa,” Billy said. “Some of our buddies are going to college or the army, so, you know, last chance.” While he was answering, Jimmy took a furtive look to see if Joe had gotten the booze inside. He had.

“Good for you for taking that last chance, Billy!” Rosa stood up and brushed the dirt off her jeans. “It’s what being young is for. Have fun!”

“Sure is refreshing to hear an adult say that,” Billy said as they waved goodnight to Rosa. “Mr. Wielding sure is a lucky guy.”

“No kidding,” Jimmy said. “Listen, speaking of last chances, you invited all the girls, didn’t you?”

“Yes, including Frannie. But I doubt she’ll turn up if she’s guessed Joe’ll be here.”

“She had a big job at the garage anyway,” Jimmy said. “But we already agreed, neither of us bothers with Frannie even if she is here, right?” Like most of the boys in their class, they’d been lusting after Frannie longer than they cared to remember. But when they’d hatched plans for the last and best party of their youth, they’d agreed it was best to focus their lust on other girls if either one wanted to become a man tonight.

“Course not,” Billy agreed. “Like you said, no need to go only for the very best when there’s so much pretty good around, wasn’t that it?”

“Fuckin’ poet,” Jimmy laughed. “But that’s it, all those other girls we could’ve had if we hadn’t been crazy about Frannie all these years. But what about Joe?”

“You know what she thinks of him!” Billy reminded Jimmy.

“But he doesn’t,” Jimmy said as he held open the front door for Billy. “Ever since the fourth grade, he thinks she’s gotten over it.”

“Gotten over what?” demanded Joe, who had taken advantage of Billy’s parents’ absence to commandeer his father’s armchair by the Philco radio.

“Come on, Joe!” Billy said. “Frannie? Fourth grade?”

“So I flipped her dress up,” Joe chuckled. “We were just kids then. She don’t care.”

“And that’s why your parents always have to go out of town to get their car tuned, even now?” Jimmy reminded him. Frannie’s father was the town mechanic, reportedly called her “Son,” and had taught her everything about fixing engines from the moment her slim hands were big enough to hold a socket-wrench. He hadn’t forgiven Joe any more than his daughter had.

“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about,” Joe said, and Billy and Jimmy had little doubt he really didn’t; Joe’s parents had never bothered him with any of the details of adult life that they could recall. “Besides, all the bitch had to do was tell us whether she wore shorts under her dresses, since she just had to butt into our baseball games. I did ask first.” He watched, but didn’t stand up or offer to help, as his two friends collected the whiskey bottles and carried them out to the kitchen.

“I’ll bet any money she doesn’t show up tonight anyway,” Jimmy said as he set the three bottles triumphantly on the kitchen table. “Eureka Clemens brought his truck in with a busted carburetor today, he came in the drug store for lunch and spent the whole time whinin’ about it.”

“Frannie could fix a carburetor in her sleep, you know that!” Billy reminded him.

“Yeah, but how’s she ever gonna clean up in time for the party?” asked Jimmy.

“You know damn well she’ll be here lookin’ like a million bucks,” Joe told him.

“He’s right, for once,” Billy needled. Like Jimmy, he remembered that day on the playground well enough to hope Frannie wouldn’t have to put up with Joe tonight — and, like him, he didn’t want to vie fruitlessly for her affections yet again. But it was no use in thinking a busy day at the garage would keep her from a beşiktaş escort party. Since that awful day eight years before, she had outlived the taunts of “Franniepanties!” to become the class heartbreaker at their high school, the belle of the malt shop, the queen of the senior prom…and the object of Billy and Jimmy’s lust for longer than they cared to remember. No one knew just how she was able to blossom forth in a frilly dress with perfectly clean fingernails and turn all the boys’ heads after spending all day up to her elbows in axle grease, but everyone in their class had seen it happen countless times.

“Yeah, fine,” Jimmy conceded. “But even so, Joe, what makes you think she’ll want anything to do with you anyway? Isn’t she going to college? Someplace back East? You know, where they have real men from Harvard and stuff like that?”

“That’s why she’s gonna want a real man before she goes,” Joe said. He plopped down in Billy’s mother’s chair at the end of the kitchen table and watched Jimmy and Billy pour the whiskey into the punch. “Think a bunch of Ivy League fruitcakes are gonna want anything to do with a mechanic in a dress?”

“Good thing I didn’t have to keep this stuff cold,” Jimmy said as he poured the liquor into the punch bowl, reminding himself yet again to ignore his old friend’s bullshit rather than trying to reason with it. “Already had to promise my firstborn kid to my brother for him to buy for me!”

“Poor you,” Joe sneered. “Like you’re ever gonna get some chick to marry you to begin with.”

“Why’d we invite him in the first place, Billy?” Jimmy demanded.

“How many times I pulled your ass outa the creek when you couldn’t swim it?” Joe drawled. “That’s why!”

“That plus he’s gonna be the entertainment tonight,” Billy added. “His last chance to make a fool of himself over Frannie, remember?”

“Tell you what, guys,” Joe said. “You’d better not turn on the back porch light once I get her back there and she’d better get set, ’cause I’m gonna love her tonight, one way or another!”

“Like the last five hundred times she wouldn’t even let you buy her a sodapop at Maggie’s?” Billy needled him.

“Maggie doesn’t put that shit in her drinks, does she?” Joe said, pointing at the now-empty bottles.

“You think Frannie ain’t gonna know we spiked the punch, you dope?” Jimmy said. “She ain’t stupid.”

“How’s she gonna know if I don’t tell her? And I know you losers ain’t gonna stab me in the back like that! Not when I’m gonna be your boss one of these days.” Joe’s uncle was a foreman at the local factory where most of the boys went to work after high school, from which all three of them had graduated a few weeks before.

Billy looked at his old friend in disbelief. “You’ve never tasted booze, have you, Joe?” He dunked a glass in the bowl and handed it to Joe, who took a manly swig.

Then Billy and Jimmy were treated to the sight of their ever-boastful companion recoiling in surprise and nearly spitting it out. “Guess that answers your question, Billy,” Jimmy said.

“I’ll bet you ain’t ever had any either!” Joe snapped once he’d managed to swallow the drink.

“No, but I ain’t the one thinkin’ Frannie’ll drink that stuff without knowin’ what it is!” Jimmy shot back.

“That’s ’cause you’re a damn mama’s boy, Jimmy,” Joe said. “I’m sure gonna enjoy bein’ your boss one of these days.”

“Speakin’ of mama,” Jimmy said, ignoring Joe’s barb, “Are we really sure your folks aren’t gonna turn up tonight?”

“Yeah I’m sure,” Billy said, stirring up the spiked punch. “They’re off to Chicago for the Fourth, won’t be back till late Monday, and they think I’m working at Maggie’s.”

“You’re bettin’ a lot they won’t find out Maggie’s is closed for the long weekend,” Joe said.

“When’s the last time you saw anybody’s parents there?” Billy asked with a grin.

“Yeah, but how do you know that wetback next door ain’t gonna squeal on you?” Joe added. “Know what my pop said about the real reason Mr. Wielding brought her home?”

A knock on the screen door saved Billy from losing his temper. It was two more of their buddies, Frank and Peter, who both lived on the next block. “Just in time to help us set up, guys,” Billy said. “I’m gonna go get my records. Jimmy, guys, you want to move the couch and chairs over out of the way?”

“What about Joe?” Jimmy grumbled, although he did pick up Billy’s father’s armchair and lug it over in the corner by the Philco TV set they would not be using tonight.

“Would you trust him with your mom’s stuff?” Peter joked as he and Frank picked up the couch to move back to the far end of the room.

“Good point,” Jimmy said, noting that Frank and Peter were smart enough to put the couch kittycorner against the wall so Billy’s mother’s curio table in the corner would be protected. Of course Joe wouldn’t have thought of that.

Billy appeared in the doorway with his shoebox of 45s just in time to see a green Lincoln pull up in beylikdüzü escort the driveway. Two girls got out, one in a dress that matched her car, the other in red with pink tights. Billy stood uncertainly in the doorway with a goofy grin, the records almost forgotten along with his resolve about having nothing to do with Frannie tonight.

“Frannie and Snazzy Sue!” proclaimed Jimmy loud enough to ensure Joe would hear in the kitchen.

“Don’t call me that, I’m a woman now,” snapped the girl in green as she opened the screen door and stepped inside, her friend on her heels. To Billy she added, “Hi, Billy,” in a much nicer tone. “So your folks are away, are they?”

“Off to Chicago until sometime Monday,” Billy confirmed. “Hi, Frannie,” he added.

“Hey, Billy,” Frannie said. “Are we just the first or were you guys dumb enough to only invite us?”

“Everyone’s invited!” Billy said. “Whole idea’s we’ll probably never see each other again.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Snazzy Sue helped herself to a seat on the couch. “I’m off to California for college, you know, and I don’t care if I never see this little town again.”

“She been like that all summer, Frannie?” Joe had finally appeared in the doorway, and they all turned to see him leaning against the doorjamb with one thumb hooked in his jeans. “You deserve someone friendlier, you know.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Frannie said, making a point of looking at all the guys except Joe as she said it. Billy barely suppressed a smirk as he noted that Frannie grabbed fistfuls of her skirt in both hands. “Billy. The records? Are we just supposed to look at them all night?”

Billy laughed. “Sorry! Yeah, let’s get started.” He opened the lid to his father’s console stereo and flipped on the switch. While the tubes were warming up, he stacked half a dozen of the 45s on the changer. “Got lots more when these are done,” he said, pointing to the shoebox. “You girls want some punch?”

The first record roared into life while Jimmy and Billy were in the kitchen serving punch — which both girls took to more agreeably than Joe had — so no one heard when another carload with three guys and two girls arrived. They learned of the arrival nonetheless when Joe burst into the kitchen. “You dopes invited Backseat Becky?!” he demanded.

“Told you we invited everyone,” Billy said. “I told everyone about it at Maggie’s all week. The losers know they’re not really invited, everyone else’ll come, it’s cool.”

“Since when ain’t Becky a loser?!” Joe said. “That slut puts out for everybody.”

“Everybody except you is what I heard, Joe,” said Snazzy Sue.

“And I don’t remember you ever being very choosy about girls either,” Frannie added.

“What the hell is this kind of party, Billy?” Joe whined. “We should’ve just gone fishin’ or somethin’.”

Just then, a figure appeared in the kitchen doorway, swathed in a flashy and scandalously short blue dress. “Drinks in here, I heard?” she said. Then, seeing who was in the room, her eyes lit up. “Billy!” she beamed.

“Hey, Becky,” Billy said. “Glad you could make it. I wasn’t even sure if you were still in town.”

“For two more weeks,” Becky said, throwing her arms around Billy, much to his friends’ scandalized amusement. “Summer session starts then, hoping to get a jump on chemistry. I’m thinking about trying for medical school.”

“Since when can a girl be a doctor?” Joe mumbled. Now used to the taste, he then slugged down a glass of punch in one gulp and helped himself to some more.

“You go back in your cave!” Frannie said. “Becky, I think it’s great you’re trying, but…”

“Yeah, I know,” Becky said. “Look, the state med school sets aside two slots a year for women now, so you never know. If it doesn’t work out, I can be a chem teacher, maybe. Somewhere far from here!”

“Amen, sister,” said Snazzy Sue.

“Same here,” said Frannie. “But can we change the world tomorrow? Tonight’s the party!”

“How much of that punch has she already had to drink? Jimmy asked as the girls sauntered off back to the living room.

“Just the one glass, I’m pretty sure,” Billy said. “She’s always like that. Probably didn’t want high school to end, just like Wendy didn’t want to leave the nursery.”

“You still watch Disney movies?” Joe sneered.

“You knew what he was talkin’ about, didn’t you?” Jimmy shot back. “C’mon, Billy, the girls had the right idea.”

Two more carloads of old friends arrived during the second record, and Billy split his attentions between greeting them and watching Joe’s pathetic attempts at flirting with Frannie. Just like he saw regularly at Maggie’s, no one wanted to be the first to start dancing. So he had a clear view of Joe trying time and again to corner Frannie on the edge of his father’s armchair, and Snazzy Sue running interference. After he’d let all the new arrivals know where to find the punch, Billy slugged down the last of his own glass and, ignoring the burn in his throat, he took the lull between the second and third records as a cue.

He timed his walk across the as-yet-deserted dance floor perfectly, and reached Frannie just as the new song roared to life. “Frannie, want to dance?” he asked, hoping Jimmy would understand — it was only a dance after all.

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