Joey Hart was the type of kid in high school that would look up books on SparkNotes instead of actually reading them. He is now trying to rectify these past sins by reading and writing with enthusiasm every day. He is currently studying journalism and economics at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
The Party Crashers
“Don’t get into any trouble and be home by midnight!” was the last thing that Andy’s mom told him before he walked out the door. Now he sat on the front step of his porch, tapping the wallet in his pocket with one hand and resting his head on a fist formed by the other. He stared out into the street past his front yard, watching as cars passed by, their engines rumbling off into the distance. Though the afternoon was quickly turning over into the evening, the heat and humidity from the day still lingered over the green, suburban landscape and a serenade of cicadas chirped in the background. Andy felt a trickle of sweat run down the small of his back. He was wearing a blue, textured, button down shirt and brown, khaki shorts, and he could feel the globule breach the top of his boxers.
Finally, he pulled out his phone and looked at his text messages. The last one, from Earl, read “Be there in ten.” He checked the timestamp, which said 7:26. It was now 7:40.
“Mother fucker,” he muttered to himself. A week ago they had officially finished their junior year of high school, and yet, his friends still couldn’t learn how to be punctual. Besides, he thought, the party starts in 20 minutes.
He sighed, put his phone back into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He examined the new addition to his billfold that had come in the mail just three days ago: a shiny Illinois driver’s license complete with Andy’s name, picture and an accurate physical description of a Caucasian male, five feet, eleven inches and 157 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. The birthdate, though, was off by exactly four years, and he had never actually been to the city of Elgin, though it was only a one-hour drive from his hometown of Alperton, Wisconsin. He ran his hands over the new plastic and watched the holographic patterns in the lamination dance in the sunlight.
He slipped the fake ID back into his wallet and the wallet back into his pocket.
Faintly, Andy heard some music playing off in the distance, which grew louder until a blue Toyota minivan pulled up to the front of his yard, booming with rap music. As soon as Andy saw the car, he got up and started walking down to greet it. He smiled as he saw Earl in the driver’s seat, wearing sunglasses and throwing up a peace sign. Earl rolled down the window.
“Get in, bitch,” he shouted across the yard, turning down the music.
“Jesus Christ dude, there’s kids on this street,” Andy said, getting closer to the car. Earl wore a black, long-sleeve polo, and Andy could see that he had put even more gel in his blond hair than usual today.
“Fuck that,” Earl said, rolling the window back up.
Andy opened the side door to see Chester sitting up front in shotgun and Nelson sitting in the far middle seat. Chester was wearing a salmon-pink button down shirt and blue, khaki shorts. Nelson had on a red visor and a black and white, striped flannel shirt with brown, khaki pants. All three of Andy’s friends had very similar taper haircuts and each one was more or less six feet tall when standing. Andy could smell that someone was wearing cologne, but he could not tell who.
“’Sup, dude,” Nelson said, nodding his head.
“Hey, Andy,” Chester said.
“Hey, guys,” Andy replied as he settled in, ignoring his seatbelt.
Earl turned to watch Andy get into his seat, then moved the gear shift to drive and hit the gas. He drove to the edge of the block and turned south at the stop sign, heading for the Mini Mart on the other side of the railroad tracks.
“So, do you really think I have a chance with Kari?” Chester asked after a minute, turning to look at Earl.
Earl sighed, flashing a glance back at Chester.
“Dude, why are you so hung up on this?” Earl said. “I’ve told you, all you need is confidence and she’ll go for you. Chicks love that shit.”
“Yeah… confidence,” Chester said.
“If you just do what I’ve been telling you, you’ll be fine. Remember what I said?”
“That’s right. If you don’t talk to her, you have the power.” Earl took one hand off the steering wheel and pointed his finger at Chester. “You’re in control. Make her want you. Understand?”
“I think so.”
“Good. Have I ever let you down before?”
Chester stared at Earl for a second, then looked down at his feet.
“Hey dude,” Andy spoke up, putting a hand on Chester’s shoulder, “we’re going to a party at Michael Stanton’s house, and his parents aren’t home. Everyone there is gonna be hooking up.”
At this, Chester turned around and gave Andy a half smile.
“You think so?” Chester asked.
“Of course. Besides, I think you guys would make a great cou–”
Earl braked hard for the next intersection and the minivan jolted to a stop, halting all the action in the vehicle.
“Look, man,” Earl said, gripping the steering wheel tightly and pushing the gas again, “I’ll talk to her and put in a good word for you. I’ll be your wing man.”
“For sure, man” Earl said, turning towards Chester. “I’m your friend.”
Chester turned toward his side window, grinning. Andy opened his mouth, then closed it again. He looked at Nelson next to him who stared forward, silent. The car drove on and the boys watched the neighborhood as it changed from overhanging trees and green lawns to cinderblock buildings and concrete lots. The car jolted as it went over the tracks.
“You nervous?” Nelson asked Andy after a bit, taking off his visor and scratching his forehead.
Andy moved his hand to his wallet. He thought back to three weeks ago when the guys decided to chip in to buy the fake ID. He remembered how he felt when they drew lots to see who would have to order it, and how he’d drawn the short one. He remembered the mysterious Chinese website that they had ordered it from. He remembered being confused when he received a package with a jar full of blue beads inside in the mail three days ago. When he opened the jar, though, and dumped out almost all of the beads onto his bedroom floor, his order was revealed and everything clicked. Now, he breathed in.
“No,” Andy responded. Nelson could sense his attitude.
“Dude, I just want to get through this night without without any problems,” Nelson said.
“You and me both.”
Earl pulled into the Mini Mart parking lot and put the car in park. He left the engine running.
“It’s your time to shine, brother,” Earl turned around and said. “And remember, if you get arrested, we don’t know you. I heard they plant undercover cops in this joint all the time.”
Andy glared back at him. Everyone handed Andy some cash for the beer. He climbed out of the car and, instantly, a wave of dry heat hit him. It must be the asphalt, he thought, that was radiating the sun back off the ground. It was still technically a spring evening, though someone without a calendar could have easily mistook it for summer. The smell of gasoline permeated the small lot and the hum of a truck engine roared in the distance. Andy walked up to the glass double doors of the Mini Mart. He peered inside, scanning for cops.
Seeing none, Andy opened the doors, chiming a bell above his head. It was a small store, and Andy looked around seeing several aisles in front of him and the cashier at the counter to his far left. It appeared that no one else occupied the building. He walked to the back of the store, straight to the beer section and then stood, arms crossed, staring at the selections behind the refrigerator doors. He could already see what he wanted: a 30 pack of Coors Light out of the many stacked before him that the group had agreed upon beforehand. Still, he stood, watching. He looked down, then peered through the aisle at the cashier, a hairy, overweight man in his mid-thirties who was watching a baseball game on the TV behind the counter.
He looked back inside the refrigerator at the case on top of the stack, at the picture of the snow-capped mountains printed on the cardboard box. He thought about the funny commercials where the narrator would say that the beer was “as cold as the Rockies.” He opened the door, then closed it again. Running his hand over his chin, Andy thanked God that he had forgotten to shave that morning. He took a deep breath, then opened the door and grabbed the case.
Andy moved quickly to the cashier, walking past aisles of chips, baking goods and bread. He dropped his selection on the counter and pulled out his wallet, slipping the ID out of its slot. The cashier turned. He looked Andy up and down. Noticing this, Earl’s words came back into Andy’s mind. No way, he thought, no way this guy’s a cop.
“Can I see some ID?”
Andy handed him the license immediately. His heart beat out of his chest, and once again sweat ran down his back. The cashier studied the ID.
“Okay, we got a problem here.”
Andy’s heart sank. He saw himself being put into hand cuffs and loaded into the back of a squad car, like on Cops. He heard his parents’ reaction as he called them from the police station and told them what happened. He saw the principal telling him that he would lose his position in Student Council and how he would be suspended from the soccer team. He saw the rejection letter from Marquette, his dream college, telling him that they don’t accept felons.
Andy stood silent, and the cashier pointed at a sign on the wall behind him. It read, in bold letters, “WE DON’T SERVE CHICAGO FANS.” Andy looked back and saw that the cashier was smiling.
“I’m sorry man, I’m just kidding,” the man said. “I couldn’t resist when I saw that you were from Illinois.”
“Oh,” Andy said in a hoarse voice. Then, much deeper, “Oh. I gotcha.”
“$21.99” the cashier said, clicking some buttons on the register and giving Andy the card back. Andy slipped the ID back into his wallet, counted out $22 in cash and gave the man the money.
“Do you want a bag?” the cashier asked, handing Andy a penny.
“Okay, have a nice day.”
Andy walked out of the store, case in hand. His chest was puffed up, and he strutted back over to Earl’s minivan. Nelson opened the door for him, and Andy shoved the case into the car, then climbed back into his seat.
“Get us out of here,” he said with a smile. Nelson offered him a fist bump, which Andy reciprocated. Chester looked at him and gave him a congratulatory grin. Earl stared blankly at Andy, then at his other passengers.
“Thanks for doing your job,” Earl said.
“You’re welcome,” Andy quipped. He wiped off his wet brow and settled back in his seat amidst the cool atmosphere of the car. He looked at the beer case and the cans, which he could see through the opening at the top of the box. They dripped with condensation. He opened the box, pulled a can out, popped it open and drank.
“I bet that tastes good,” Nelson said.
Andy just smiled and enjoyed his beer. He buckled his seatbelt, sat back and exhaled heavily. Earl raised his brow at Andy in the rear view mirror, then squinted at him. He threw the car into reverse and backed out of the lot, then turned back towards their part of town and started for the Stanton house. It wasn’t long before the Mini Mart was out of sight.
Through the drive, Earl kept looking back at Andy, who continued to enjoy his purchase.
Already three or so blocks from the store, Earl looked forward towards the road and again squeezed the steering wheel firmly. Up ahead, he saw a four-way stop. He could see clearly the empty road to the left of the intersection, which was sandwiched between two large, vacant, concrete plats. To the immediate right on the corner was a condemned, brick apartment building, but Earl could see enough of the street to know if any car was coming, he thought. He detected no sign of life in this all but abandoned part of town. A smile crept up his face.
“Hey,” Earl said, tapping Chester on his breast. “How much do you wanna bet that I won’t run through this stop?”
Chester smiled back.
“Don’t test me, dude!”
“Dude, that shit’s not funny,” Andy said.
“Do you dare me?” Earl said.
“Hell yeah!” Chester said.
“Seriously, shut the fu–.”
“I’m serious, I’ll do it!”
Earl stomped on the gas and the tires screeched as the car zoomed towards the stop sign. The car was going so fast that Andy had no time to say anything more as they approached the intersection. It was going so fast that when the woman ran out from behind the building and into the street, Earl couldn’t react in time to slow the car’s momentum. The woman’s body snapped as the front of the minivan made contact with her midsection, and her head smacked onto the surface of the car, making a dent on the hood with a decisive thump. Earl stomped his foot down on the brake pedal with such force that he couldn’t even hear Andy’s reverberating cries of “Oh shit!” nor did he see the woman being thrown into the middle of the intersection and the final crack of her skull against the concrete.
“Earl! What the fuck!” Andy screamed at the top of his lungs.
“I don’t know! I don’t know! I didn’t see her!” Earl declared, matching Andy’s volume.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Andy demanded.
“It’s not my fault! She ran right out in front of me! What the fuck was I supposed to do?”
“Dude, drive away,” Chester commanded.
“What?” Andy screamed.
“Drive away, man! She’s fucking dead and there’s nothing we can do now but save ourselves from getting arrested for fucking manslaughter!”
“Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ,” Nelson muttered to himself in the background.
“How do we know she’s dead? We could still save her and if we do the cops might not arrest–,” Andy screamed, then Earl turned back to look at him. “Any of us!”
“Says the guy who just spilled beer all over the car!” Chester said.
Andy looked down to see a foamy, wet patch on the van’s carpet in front of him next to the beer can he had been holding two minutes ago.
“What are the cops gonna think when they smell that?”
Andy looked at Chester, then stared forward, silent.
“Fuck this,” Earl said. He put the car in reverse and backed up from the woman’s body. All four of them looked through the windshield and saw her, arms spread out on the pavement, blood running from the top of her scalp and a cut on the side of her abdomen where the car had initially struck her. She was wearing a pink Under Armor running shirt and sweat pants, and her running shoes twitched slightly on her feet. Her MP3 player laid on the ground just out of reach of her right hand, and the force of the crash had knocked the headphones out of her ears. Her head drooped to the side, mouth open, eyes shut.
“Do you think anyone saw?” Earl asked no one, still staring out the front windshield. They all looked out the windows and saw no witnesses.
A long second passed.
“Earl,” Nelson said calmly, looking down. He opened his mouth to say more, but found no words.
Earl looked back at him, then at Andy, then at Chester. Then, he threw the car into drive and pressed the gas. Earl maneuvered the car around the woman’s body and sped off down the street. He turned at the closest intersection, turning again later to go back towards home. With the exception of Earl who kept extra diligent as he drove, the boys stared forward expressionless for the duration of the ride. The car jerked a little as it went back over the tracks, but no one said a word. Andy looked down and saw the can he had dropped on the car floor. He picked it up, downed the small amount of liquid that remained inside, then rolled down the side window and threw it out onto the street. The can rattled across the pavement, but the boys heard nothing. In fact, the only noise that could be heard in the car as the boys headed towards their part of town was the engine.
Eventually, they got close to the Stanton house. Earl parked the car on the street, ripping the key out of the ignition and cutting the engine. He turned around to face his companions, and his eyes found theirs for just a brief moment each. He leaned back into his seat, and they all sat for a minute or two. Then, as if by plan, the guys looked at each other and exited the car at the same time in silence. They started to walk up to the house with Earl in front and Nelson in back carrying the beer. Before they could get too far, Earl turned around.
“Alright, look,” he barked, “we’re all in this together now. All of us. We don’t say shit to anyone, ever, because if any of us do then we’re all fucked for life. Understand?”
“Yeah,” Chester and Nelson said with the same, somber tone. Andy looked down.
“Understand?” Earl asked Andy directly, louder.
Andy looked up.
“What are you going to do about the dent?” Andy asked.
Earl looked back over at the car, seeing a small but very noticeable depression in the middle of the hood. Besides that, the car looked clean.
“I’m sure Michael’s got a plunger in that house somewhere. I’ll just borrow one and suction the dent out in a little bit. It’s almost dark and no one will see me.”
Andy looked as his phone. It was already 8:16, and night was approaching by the second.
“Okay,” Andy said.
They walked up the street towards the house. It was a big house, a colonial style mansion with grounds and foliage to match. They walked past the sprawling front yard and the neatly-trimmed shrubs on the edge of the lawn. Then, passing next to a large oak tree by the front sidewalk, they came upon the driveway that ran up to the side of the house. They walked up and knocked on the side door.
“Hey guys!” Michael, dressed in a T-shirt and athletic shorts, said as he opened the door. He looked at their faces. “Uh… you guys okay?”
“Yeah, dude,” Earl said for the group, pushing past Michael. The others followed him into the kitchen. “Where is everyone?”
“Well, you guys are actually the first ones here. I texted everyone to come a little later because apparently my mom told Mrs. Levowits to come check in on me and and the bitch just wouldn’t leave.”
“I guess we didn’t get the message,” Nelson said. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s fine,” Michael said. “She’s gone now and everyone else is coming in like fifteen minutes. You guys can just get a head start on drinking.”
“That’s a good idea,” Earl said. Earl watched as Nelson and Chester each took a beer and clinked cans before guzzling down their drinks. They offered Michael one, and the three of them sat down to drink at the kitchen table. Earl smiled, but his joy dissolved when he looked at Andy sitting on the kitchen counter, staring into the tiles on the floor. Earl sighed and picked up a cold one from the pack.
“Andy,” Earl said, and Andy looked up. “Catch!”
He threw the beer and Andy caught it in two hands. Andy saw Earl smile at him. He tried to return it, but failed.
“I’m just gonna go outside for a minute,” Andy said. He put down the beer and walked into the family room, then out through a door to the back patio.
The Stanton family’s backyard was locally famous, winning the city’s Home and Garden Tour award for Best Landscaping the past three years. To the side of the stone patio was a forest of daisies, tulips, lavender, herb patches, wisteria, clematis vines, hedges, crabapple trees and all sorts of other aesthetically pleasing plants that formed a miniature nature preserve adjacent to the massive yard. A stone path cut through the enormous garden, leading to a circular clearing in the middle with a small pond and mini waterfall. Andy sat on a stone bench underneath a crabapple tree. He watched and listened as the water trickled down into the pond, the only noise besides the crickets that had just started chirping. It was calm out, and the heat of the day had retreated so that the night was easy and warm, though it was still humid.
Andy loved this garden. He had been to many parties at Michael’s house over the years but always made sure to spend some time out back. He enjoyed every moment that he spent in it, especially during the summer. He wondered if Michael knew how lucky he had it, growing up with such a place literally in his own backyard.
“Hey,” Andy heard someone say.
He looked up to see Earl walking out of the path towards him.
“How’s it going?” Earl asked, sitting down next to Andy. “You forgot this.” Earl handed Andy the can of beer that he had left in the kitchen, carrying one of his own in the other hand. Andy took it, but did nothing with it. He looked down.
“Look, dude,” Earl started, “I just want to make sure you and I are still cool. Is that alright?”
“You know that I didn’t mean to create any conflict between us. That was some fucked up shit that happened, and I tried my best to stop, but that lady just came out of nowhere.”
“Okay, look at me.” Andy looked up and was caught by Earl’s blue eyes. He always thought Earl had handsome eyes, but in the moonlight, they looked like steel.
“You know I never would have done that if Chester hadn’t told me to.”
“What do you mean?”
“What do I mean? The dumbass told me run through the intersection, remember?”
“And then he fucking told me to drive away! You can’t tell me you don’t remember that.”
Andy tried to look away, but then he felt Earl’s warm hand on his shoulder.
“Andy,” Earl said. “I’m not saying that we should turn him in. I just want to make sure that we have each other’s backs if something comes up. I mean, I’m the only one who appreciates the fact that you got us the beer. And I don’t even care that you spilled it all over my mom’s minivan. I admit that I was in the driver’s seat, but you know that none of this would have happened if Chester hadn’t told me to do those things.”
“Yeah,” Andy muttered. “You’re right.”
“Hey,” Earl said under his breath, now rubbing his hand up and down Andy’s back, “I’m your friend. Now drink!”
Earl took the beer that Andy was trying to ignore and placed it firmly in Andy’s grasp. Andy looked at him, then popped the can open. White foam erupted out of the opening. Earl clinked his can with Andy’s.
“Cheers,” Earl said, and he slugged down what was left of his drink.
Andy watched him, then brought his own can to his lips and downed three large gulps himself. Earl peered over his can to watch Andy and smiled. Earl stood up, then let out a roaring burp as Andy wiped his mouth.
“See you inside,” Earl said, and he chucked his empty can off into the garden.
Andy watched him go. He sat for a minute, or two or twenty, dazed. Then, he too stood up and walked back into the house.
When Andy returned to the party, more people had arrived and the place was really bumping with music and drinks. He saw a few other friends from school and exchanged greetings. He drank a couple more beers and started to loosen up as more and more people arrived at the party. By 11:30, he was drunk. Too drunk, and he knew it. But when he saw that people were passing around the beer bong, he couldn’t control himself.
“Hey, Andy, you gonna hit this?” Michael asked him in front of a crowd in the kitchen. He nodded his head with a stupid, drunk smile and everyone cheered. He watched as Michael filled the cone with Natural Light and raised the contraption above Andy’s head.
“I d-don’t dur-rink N-Natty Light,” Andy slurred.
“You can wash out the taste with this,” Michael told Andy, handing him a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon that was on the counter.
Andy took the can, then put his mouth on the end of the beer bong tube.
“I’ll count to three,” Michael said. “One, two…”
On two Michael released the beer down the chute, and Andy felt the cool liquid slither down his throat and hit his stomach as spectators applauded him. He looked up, suddenly on a new level of intoxication.
And then, he saw it all.
He stumbled into the packed family room, beer in hand, and saw Nelson sitting and listening to classmates cracking dirty jokes and Chester grimacing while pouring people shots of vodka at a table in the corner. Other peers, all friends and acquaintances of his, were about, talking, drinking and laughing, paying Andy no attention. In his left ear, he could hear two girls nearby having a conversation. He turned to look at them.
“Did you hear about the hit and run?” one asked.
“Oh my God, no,” the other said. “What happened?”
“Nobody knows exactly, but this woman was found on the street, clearly hit by a car, and-.”
Feeling his stomach churn, Andy ducked out into the hall searching desperately for a toilet. After finding the first floor bathroom occupied, he crawled up the staircase to the second floor. He opened the first door he saw in the hallway at the top of the stairs to his right. It was a bedroom, and in front of the doorway was Earl, back turned to Andy, unbuckling his pants. Earl turned around.
“Dude, get the fuck out,” Earl said, and slammed the door in Andy’s face.
“Please tell me that wasn’t Ches–,” Andy heard a female voice coming from the room, but it trailed off as he walked further down the hall. At last, he came upon a bathroom at the end of the corridor and entered. Standing over the sink, Andy tried to gag himself, but nothing came out. Then, he collapsed over the toilet, rubbed his eyes and saw his reflection in the water. He was clammy, pale and worn.
He vomited immediately.
Andy moaned, then sighed, then looked up, feeling vomit drip off of his chin. He looked down and realized that the PBR can was still in his grasp. He brought the can to eye level, cracked it open and doused his face with the cool liquid inside, rubbing his hair and cleaning off the rest of the puke. Andy breathed in, then out, then wiped his face with a towel, got up and walked downstairs.
He walked past the family room and stepped into the kitchen where Michael still was.
“Andy, we’re doing shots of tequila on the back patio if you want to come,” Michael told him, waving a bottle of Jose Cuervo.
“I’m good, man,” Andy said. “It’s time for me to go.”
Michael looked at him, shrugged and walked away.
Andy started towards the door to the driveway, but then stopped himself. He took out his wallet and slipped the fake ID out from its slot and into his grasp. He rubbed it, examined it and waved it under the kitchen light. Then, he chuckled, snapped the brittle plastic card in half and threw it into the kitchen garbage can.
After declining a couple more offers to keep partying, Andy left the gathering and walked back to his house as it was not very far from Michael’s. It was still warm out as Andy returned home, but the humidity was gone from the air, and for the first time that evening, everything was clear. Eventually, Andy staggered up to his porch, opened his front door and walked in through the hallway to the kitchen. He threw his wallet on the kitchen counter, turned on the light and flinched when he saw his mother staring at him in her bathrobe. He looked at the oven clock behind her, seeing that it was now well past midnight. She crossed her arms.
“Andrew, you are in big trouble!”
Meanwhile, at Alperton Mercy Hospital, Jennifer Kingston, having been comatose since the unfortunate accident, died of cerebral hemorrhaging with her husband and doctors by her side. At the time of death, police had no witnesses and no leads.