The Party’s Over
I’d hoped the night of close dancing and whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ear would never end, but naturally, this wouldn’t be the case.
As the Big O’s song “These Arms of Mine” played on the jukebox the gruff bartender yelled, “Closing time in ten minutes, last call for alcohol. Order up because you’re out in ten.”
Red held me tighter and whispered, “Ronnie, this will be our last dances.” I felt wetness roll down my neck. Her tears were breaking my heart. I knew what she was talking about. Hell, I’d always known she would be gone soon.
At that precise note of the song turning on the record player, I realized what a lucky man I was. Red should have never bought that round of drinks to be with me on m birthday. If that one night had been all there was, I’d still feel so blessed to have known her. She was moving on because her life was becoming more complicated. Mine was also.
This was inevitable.
Unlike now, back then, my eyes remained dry as she quietly wept with her face partially buried between my neck and shoulder. We danced on.
The bright lights were switched on by the bartender and folks began to slowly file from the joint into the black early morning that blanketed Ponce de Leon Avenue.
“Red, can we be together tonight?” I asked as we walked towards the exit.
“No, we can’t. I have my car out back, and I need to get back to my parents house. I’m spending the weekend with them. They’ve recently returned home from their European vacation. They had extended it. We have some catching-up time. I slipped out earlier tonight without them knowing to find you at least one last time. It took a few stops before one of the apartment tenants advised me where you and Cat Daddy had gone tonight,” she advised.
“I’m happy you did. I understand what you’re saying and I’m okay with it. I’ll miss you something crazy, but I understand, really, I do.” While fumbling to open the exit door of the bar, I continued, “Where do y’all live? I meant to ask, where is your parent’s house?”
“I grew up in North Atlanta, and my parents live in the house I was raised in. It’s a few house from the Georgia Governor’s Mansion in Buckhead. Do you know where that is, Ronnie?”
“Sure I do. Wow! Some digs!” I responded while suddenly feeling as luxury small and poor as I was. For understandable reasons, for the first time, I thought less of myself and Red because for my entire life those who lived in the upper crust air of Atlanta were the enemy. I had known she was wealthy or from wealth, but this was different. I couldn’t get over the immediate thought that Red was the enemy. It’s silly, I knew, but evidently, she way wealthy. This made me feel like her teenaged boy toy.
This thought whether valid or not infuriated me.
Maybe, she saw me as her slums boy excuse that made her feel as if she were giving back. I’d never felt this cheap, so unnecessary. The last story whispered into her ear now haunted me. I wish I’d never told her that one. It totally solidified me as a loser.
This had to be fixed as quickly as possible.
“May I tell you one last short story before you leave?” I requested as we slowly made our way to her vehicle.
“Sure, Baby Whale. I’d love that.”
I opened the driver’s side car door for Red and waited for her to be seated.
“Aren’t you getting in for the story?”
“No, not this one. I’ll lay it out while standing here. This is what happened the day we returned to the boys’ club from our trip to Canada.”
“I’d Rather Go Blind”
As bad luck would have it, we pulled up to the club at three o’clock. We were early.
All of the guys were more than ready to flee little blue; not me. They awoke well rested and bolted from the bus. Carl could not get the trailer unlocked and opened fast enough.
The guys lined up and claimed their bags and pillows. Their parents waited for them in their cars at the club to bring them home. You could tell they were missed.
As usual, I helped Carl empty the trailer and policed the trash.
Carl knew how sad I was every year at this very moment. TJ had to know it as well, but TJ generally went inside the club to start catching up on all the administrative work he had delayed while with us. Being the director of a major city Boys’ Club was no easy job. TJ was an excellent director.
Carl handed me my bag and pillow; said, “Take it easy, Baby Whale.” I always told him, “I will; see you later, sir.”
It was a miserable three-mile walk to our apartment from The Warren Memorial Boys’ Club. I always tried to save as much money as I could while on these trips. Generally, I tried to make money somehow on them. The dare bet money was sorely needed. I couldn’t tell TJ that, and I’m no pussy! I thought.
My brain took over and shouted as I entered Berne Street headed east towards our apartment; this damned first mile and a half is always the worst.
What am I going to walk into when I get there? Mom has probably been without cigarettes for a day or two, and she’s having those crazy nicotine fits by now. The welfare check has been long gone for days. I’ll have to give her all of my money. I shouldn’t have eaten that meal in Montreal. That five would have come in handy.
I wish Mom wouldn’t cry and scream so much with her fits. It’s impossible for her to quit smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. We can’t afford them, but she has to have those death sticks. Some days it’s four packs.
I wish Richard didn’t have to go home with his grandparents after the trip. I could really use his company right about now.
One of these days, Mom is going to break all of her fingers and both hands when she pounds the table or cement floor with them.
I wonder where Linda and Thomas will be. Will it be a quick trip to juvenile to get him released or two days searching all the parks to find where Linda is and has been sleeping? Maybe it’ll be both; they’ve happened before. Her friends and their moms are getting tired of me begging for her whereabouts. I wish she would quit running away.
Dear God, I need Papa right now. Papa, can you help me? Papa, please give me the strength to walk on like you used to always do. God, why did you have to take him now?
I need Mike.
Papa, you know better than even me I want to keep walking. I couldn’t tell TJ the best place for me was on those huge rocks at the bottom of the falls. That’s where I belonged. But, he kept insisting that I had a great life; that I had the whole world ahead of me. He always talks that good stuff up. He said I was lucky to be so young with so much promise; right, promise my ass. He needs to spend a few nights in the Homes; eat some roaches, and fight every kid with a first name. That’s what TJ needs to do.
I hate this first mile.
I’m hungry. Oh crap, I forgot. Will there be any food in the apartment? All of the government food is probably gone by now. I better hide a few dollars deep inside my wallet for food. I told Mom to feed Linda and Thomas. At least, she better had done that much.
I was startled into the real world when a horn blew to my rear. It sounded close. I jumped about six inches straight up as a convertible drove slowly by me. It was occupied by two adults in the front seat and a teenage looking girl was in the rear seat. She was a beautiful red head. I could see her smacking a huge, pink, wad of pillowy gum. I assumed those were her parents in the front seat.
They slowed even more as they drove right beside my left arm. Miss cutie-pie red, stood up in the back floorboard, turned to face me; and blew me a big kiss that I instantly caught of course. As I smacked my clutched hand to my lips she shouted, “Hey, good looking, I’ll be back later for you, big boy.”
I smiled like a jackass and shouted back, “Hey baby, I’m Baby Whale, and I go to Roosevelt.”
I could barely hear her response, but I did. She answered, “Me too, Ronnie Whale Shaw, I’m a cheerleader, I’m Kathy.” Then she blew me an even bigger kiss. They turned right at the last word she spoke, and they were gone. She was gone, but I had hope.
Oh my God, what did she mean, “me too?” She could only mean she goes to Roosevelt, too, and she’s a cheerleader. I’ll see that baby next year, and she’s hotter than July in Georgia. Maybe, I’ll run into her this summer. Wait a second, she knew my entire name. That dream already knows me, and she likes me.
Just that quickly, the spring was back in my step. I looked around and things were alive. The summer flowers were in bloom, and the mixture of their sweet fragrances danced against my nostrils. The sun was out. The warmth felt so good on my face. The sky looked endless. It was a bluebird sky and crystal blue clear as far as you could see.
Life was good. TJ was right about everything. I am the luckiest boy in North America. I spit the falls, charmed a hooker, made a bunch of new friends, picked up a little scratch along the way, and made it home in one piece.
Things were going to be different. I didn’t need Mike. I can handle it. No matter what comes up, I can beat it. Papa, we can beat it together.
TJ was damned right. I could see my ship coming in as I easily managed the four steps up to my apartment in one leap.
You’re damned right, my ship has arrived, I thought as I shouted, “Hey, Mom, I’m home!”