In my rearview mirror, the orange din of the party looks like a funeral pyre. For what, I don't know. High school? Yeah, that's it. High school. That fits. I'm being cynical, but I'm also too drunk to be doing anything that involves looking into a rearview mirror. Perhaps that's where my cynicism is coming from.
"Well, we've graduated." I start to try to convey this beautiful train of thought to an equally drunk Maggie in the passenger seat. She could very well be paying little to no attention. Or even be conscious. "We graduated, and back there's a... a funeral. For all of us." Still no response. But damn, that's clever. Wouldn't hurt to write that down when I get home. Might be a useful anecdote in the future.
I continue, undeterred. "That was the last chance we're gonna have to really bond as a class. It's over. My summer's taken up, so I guess that was my last hurrah."
While I'm sure that the late-night get-togethers and wild parties will only increase in fervor as the summer lurches forward, I'm trying to jump ship before I break any bones. Or maybe jumping from this height will be what does it.
I throw a sluggish glance her way. It would really pay to know what state she's in right now, because I can't afford for her to be catatonic, or anything near that. She seems glazed, which is normal for her. A relief, but I can't bask in her normalcy for long. After all, I'm driving.
I hear her shift as my eyes meander back to the road. It's the sound of someone shifting to be comfortable; a familiar, homely shift. A good shift.
"I'm ready to be completely done with everyone." She finally speaks. The words seep from her mouth, held together with twine. It would take a Maggie expert to interpret. Luckily, I'm exactly that. "I've been done with them. All year." A gesture accompanies this second part, though I can't be sure of its intention.
I'm sure she means what she says. I would be too, if I were in her shoes. Hell, in my own shoes, I should be just as done with them.
I'm not. Not quite. Some days I feel like I'm on my way out the door, ready to wave them all off to a bright future and never turn back. But then, some days, it feels like everyone else has that attitude, too, and you start to feel tethered to what is nothing more than a sinking ship. Even leaving the party feels like trying to escape a wormhole; the gravitational pull of the entire senior class stuffed into one house. The night was full of cigars I wasn't interested in smoking, conversations I wasn't interested in having, and a pool I wasn't interested in jumping into. And yet just being there has a hypnotizing effect. Pulling away is difficult. It washes over you softly. As pointless as it seems to be there, you'll catch yourself feeling fondly towards the people around you.
Kind of sickening to think about.
"I'm done with them too, honestly," I lie, adding, "the whole lot of them." It takes a lot to mask uncertainty with vigor. Pandering to Maggie has always proven to be the best approach, and that goes double for when she's drunk. Maybe the old adage of "drunk words, sober thoughts" is rearing its head here.
"Well, that was the last of them. After tonight, it's summer. Then college. No more of them."
"Exactly right. No more."
We really mean it; at least, she does. Why wouldn't we?
I make a left turn.
"Wait, where are you going? It's quicker to get to Darren's house the other way."
"I'm taking you to your own house. I'm... jeez, I thought that's what you did with drunk people."
"But when I asked, I told you I needed to go to Darren's. I can't go home."
"You asked me two hours ago. That was a... different situation. Why can't you go home?"
I expect her to say something about showing up to her house this late and this drunk, something about her stepfather, something about setting a good example for her little sisters. The usual.
"Darren's my boyfriend. It's fine. What are you worried about? Honestly, I live a half hour away. Don't risk it. You're drunk too."
Too drunk to protest any longer, at that. "Alright, his house it is."
I debate internally as to whether I'm on track to regret this tomorrow. Maybe it's not the worst idea. It's after midnight, and she has a point-- I'm not driving out into bumfuck county in complete darkness if I'm not in a state to find my way out of bumfuck county in complete darkness.
But there's a lot to worry about. Not that I distrust Darren. On the contrary, we're actually good friends. Maybe it's just that Maggie has a way with him that makes him less tolerable, brings out the worst parts of him. Maybe I'm losing track of whether they're fighting or not because my brain can't scrounge up the last little anecdote she said about him, and maybe the last thing she said about him was bad, so I'm perhaps a tad uneasy about putting them in the same playpen right now. Maybe I'm just being... motherly.
"Alright. His house." I repeat.
We drive in silence until we hit town. We're heralded by dazzling street lights signaling us into civilization, and the distant signage of a Price Chopper. That's what this town is like-- intermittent strips of things amidst much larger strips of nothing. It's the slowest strobe light you'll ever subject yourself to.
"You've been busy tonight." She drips. The way it comes out makes it sound like she spent the entire past three minutes thinking of the best way to deliver it.
Busy is right. Two trips thus far, and a third planned for later when I get back. I'm establishing my own little taxi service. It's even turning professional; the first girl's brother paid me for my altruism. He certainly established a good precedent.
"Well, someone's gotta do it." I say. "I'm basically permanent designated driver, anyway."
"What? No, no, I mean with Sam."
Oh, she means with Sam.
But I don't know, really, what she's referring to. Sam, who I'd just met that night. Sam, who was someone's cousin or someone's childhood best friend or something. Sam, who I'd had all of two conversations with over the course of that night. Which of two conversations qualifies me as being busy?
I ask her.
"Both of them. She was clearly very interested. Too interested."
"I didn't notice," Now that we're on the topic, I find myself realizing that, yeah, I did think it weird how she said she'd 'heard so much about me.' Given the school I went to, I'd assume that was a bad thing.
"Oh, don't lie. Of course you noticed. She was practically all over you."
'All over you.' I hear that phrase a lot. I read it in a lot of bad writing, especially. And I've never really gotten a feel for what it actually means. Do you mean physically? Do they wrap their legs around you? Do their words loom above you like a storm cloud, raining their interest down on you? Regardless, I don't think anything she did was out of the ordinary.
"I didn't think anything she was doing was out of the ordinary." I repeat aloud.
"You don't give yourself enough credit. What she was doing was the ordinary."
All over me. I didn't get that impression, but Maggie has far keener eyes than I do. We talked once on the stairs, right at the beginning of everyone starting to file in. I was sober then, and still didn't pick up anything. And again, once, amidst the cigar- drenched patio-goers.
"Well, it's too late to do anything about it now."
"Never too late." She croons. "You're going back, right? She'll still be there. Never too late."
"At this point, it's a bust. Let the girl live."
The sigh she responds with is colossal.
We dip under a train trestle and back into a glassy blackness. This part of town is always far less awake by this point, and far less populated. I don't have anything to respond with. Well, technically, I do, but like I said, it's always better to pander to Maggie. I didn't see the point in trying to make something happen. Maggie always saw the point.
Maybe I was making a mistake.
We descend back into silence, the cover of night choking us. I pull my full attention back to driving, because it occurs to me that it's been a bumpy ride up until now.
We're approaching the cutoff point. There's a sharp right coming up that'll loop us back into town; into Darren's neighborhood. Keep straight, and we hit a state road that'll carry us over to the town that Maggie lives in. A small part of me believes that I could hold straight and drag her, likely kicking and screaming, to her house. If I veer right, it's Darren's house or bust.
I'm inclined to make a last plea to get her home. I'm beating myself up for even trying to have a say in this. But I hear too much. Any other friend wouldn't even have to think about this. Yeah, they'd say, I'll drop you off at your boyfriend's. No problem. I hear too much to make that decision easy.
"Why wasn't Darren at the party, anyway?"
"He had his cousin's graduation party today. He's got a big family. It didn't get over until late."
"Really. You didn't go with him?"
"I was too busy hanging out at yours."
"No need to be hostile."
"I wasn't!" The sudden energy she puts into this is jarring. But it's a desperate energy, like she cares too much that she might be in the wrong. "I'm sorry."
"No, it's... not a problem."
I make a right turn.
"I thought he would've made it out. He was, like, the only person I didn't see there."
"He really has to spend time with his family right now." I hear this one a lot. It's a very sobering thought, even if I don't know enough details to really have the right to be sobered by it.
"Well, it's good that you're with him, then. There for him."
It's not that I don't appreciate their relationship. Or respect it. I just find it hard to justify something that's inevitably cleaved apart by college. Especially one this... involved. Maybe that's why I didn't think to go after Sam.
"I need to be."
I've long since stopped asking for reasons to back up why she 'needs' to do things with Darren. This particular instance seems clear.
"I mean, I really need to be." The tension in her voice becomes more pronounced. It always does when she talks about him to me; she's trained herself to be braced to my criticisms. "He's been through so much. So, so much. And he's going through all the same stuff we are on top of that. He feels so alone."
I worry, because I know how their relationship works, and a lot of what makes them good together bites them in the ass, too. It's like they're spinning a roulette wheel. Where will they be as people at the end of the summer? Hell if I know. Maybe in decent enough straits to go long distance. She keeps mentioning it, but really, it's a crapshoot.
Maybe I should have gone after Sam.
But who knows where I'll be by the end of this summer, either.
"Wait," she yells, grabbing my arm, "wait. Stop the car." I obey, sliding off the road. We're not near any houses here; it's pretty backwoods-y. We're in the part of the border that fails to live up to its title of 'town.' It's a little sketchy, but I turn the car off, leaving just the headlights on. Maggie tumbles out, landing on all fours, and lets loose a torrent. I stare ahead. Common courtesy, after all.
God, and the first girl had to vomit, as well. That's two for two tonight.
It goes on for a few minutes. I let it. I'm in no place to interfere. Maggie's really good at this part. Holds her own hair back and everything. To try and help her would be more trouble than it's worth, for the both of us.
Even after it's all over, she still kneels there for a second, breathing in rhythm. This is normally a very cordial affair with her. She politely requests a swift exit, gets it all out, gets back in the car, and we move on with our lives. No fuss, no muss, no hard feelings.
Hell, I'm almost going to miss it.
This is different. This is weird. Only my car lights give shape to the curvature of her back as she keeps still. Her breathing gets erratic, then heavy, and it becomes clear to me that whatever she's doing out there, she wants to keep hidden.
"Maggie? You ok?" She doesn't respond immediately. All this anticipation is starting to make me sick.
"Are you... ok to keep going?"
Wordlessly, she gets to her feet. It's a trial. But she's back in the car with an unceremonious clump.
I don't start moving yet. It would spoil the moment. She speaks softly.
"He's going to break up with me."
"If not, really soon."
"Huh." That's the best I can come up with, honestly. It comes out sounding like a pathetic attempt to cover up the fact that I know something. Which it is.
“When did he tell you?" Her voice is slipping toward complete silence with every syllable.
"He didn't. Will did." No point in playing dumb.
"So you've known for a while."
"I, personally, wouldn't say a while. A week. probably less. That's barely anything in high school time. "Yeah, a little while."
"And did Will tell you why?"
"He, uh, he didn't. I guess I didn't need to know that part."
I think I know exactly what she's going to say. She'll rail on me for not telling her. Tear me apart for keeping that information out of her hands. How, she'll ask, can you call yourself my friend when you're only making things difficult?
It felt wrong. I pulled gossip in, I never leaked it out. It wasn't my place, no matter who it was about. And with all of us leaving, I was resigned to keeping myself tight-lipped. Even just carrying the information was excess weight. I'm hearing tabloid bullshit from people I'm trying not to associate with. It's... high school drama. And we're done with that, right? Done with everyone. Even with my best friend, I wasn't too keen on cracking the last batch of gossip. I give her enough shit about Darren when there isn't anything to talk about. Was it my place?
God, high school time. High school drama. Listen to me.
"Thank you for not telling me. I would've freaked out on you instead of Will. That would've sucked."
"You freaked out on Will?" That's mostly rhetorical. I'm more relieved than inquisitive.
"He fucking deserved it."
We stew for a moment. I calculate my next question carefully.
"Well, what's your plan?"
"Fight it." Saying that seems to make the life ebb back into her voice. It's a sort of sloppy, floundering life, but it's there. "I know I have to fight it. I love him. And he loves me. So, whatever his reasons are, I have to convince him otherwise."
I nod. She's a fighter. Of course she'll fight. Even if this news blindsided her when she showed up, she'd snap back with full force.
"So you're committed, then. You're genuinely willing to try long distance."
"One hundred percent."
I make a noise, somewhere between a scoff and a squeak. "You're crazy." She gleams. "You're crazy, but he isn't. That's what I'm afraid of."
"You're not supposed to be afraid. That's my job."
I rest my elbow on the ridge of my driver's side window. Vomiting has evidently sobered her up quite a bit.
"He's the only thing I have left of this town. He's the only part of it I want. I'm terrified. But I'm not so afraid that I can let this not work out."
It's not a stance I can really comprehend. She wants more of this place than I do. A lot more. And I trust her judgment, but it's putting far too much stock in something that's probably not worth it.
That's my opinion, and I'll keep it to myself.
"Well," she adds, almost as an afterthought, "and you."
I can tell that Maggie's slipping somewhere close to drunken rambling. She knows I've heard all this before. She loves Darren dearly; he and I are the only people she can bear keeping in contact with, so on, and so forth. We've tread every conceivable square foot of this conversation. Not that this territory is necessarily unwelcome.
But it's all too familiar. We lock eyes for a moment, and she shrugs. Neither of us can push the issue farther. We know what comes next, at least as far as tonight's concerned.
"He's a good person." I say. "He's worth the trouble."
That, of course, isn't true. He's worth some trouble-- the trouble I go through to keep my friendship with him in working condition. He's not worth the trouble.
Again, that's my opinion. Not going to test the waters.
"He really is, isn't he?" She's truly in love. It's very scary.
The car starts up hesitantly, as if it thinks the conversation isn't quite over.
We're two minutes away from Darren's house; we travel the last bit in zen. It's a battle I can't win, even if I wanted to. I don't care about Darren enough to get up in arms about it. I do, however, care about Maggie. Maybe only a little bit. But she's the part of the town that I'm willing to keep.
She doesn't make me drive all the way up Darren's driveway. "Halfway's fine." Nor does she hesitate in jumping out.
"What do you want, then? Fifteen?"
"Tonight you're making people pay, right?"
I sigh. "Not for you. Besides, my rule is, if you puke on the way, no charge. You have more important concerns at that point." I didn't mention that stipulation to the girl's brother. Truth be told, it's a developing business model. Maggie knows I pulled that one out of my ass, but she lets it slide.
"Then my payment is that I drive next time. I'll even do it sober."
And she's gone. Pleasantries are always unnecessary with Maggie. She's in Darren's front door before I can even obnoxiously flicker my headlights at her.
Bless her soul.
I try not to think too hard about what's about to go down in there as I pull out of the driveway. Whatever happens is her business. Sometime over the next couple of days, it will become my business, so I opt to enjoy the precious hours in between. It's done, she's forging ahead.
I'm almost jealous. I have two months of free-floating ahead of me. Nothing to worry about, nothing anchoring me to the present. Maggie may be in bi-weekly arguments for the foreseeable future. Somehow, I'd almost prefer the latter. It's something to do. Something to kill time with. Something to give weight to what is otherwise empty filler. A metaphorical loading screen. The life equivalent of an airport terminal.
I knew neither of us were really telling the truth. We meant it, but we aren't quite done.
My mind wanders to Sam.
My foot presses on the gas.
Back to the funeral pyre.
Mark Guido is a junior studying Creative Writing at Potsdam College. He writes both for classes and for fun, which is quite a lot of writing. Even writing this bio has added three more sentences to his output today—that’s amazing.