It was after seven at night when Junior ran up the stairs to the second floor and knocked on door number 8. The stereo was pulsating music from Chumbawamba’s first album. Lydia was in the kitchen serving Sangria and Bali Hi. Her long hair looked like an Egyptian pyramid without the symmetry. Lydia wore a sarong skirt and short tank top, and brown sandals. She said she wanted to celebrate this day as though she were on a tropical island. Everyone else was dressed as though it was really cold, in the east coast it’s the norm when the climate is 40°.
Lydia’s friends started showing up one by one, or in groups of fives and fours. Lydia’s sister, Nellie, joined the other party that was going on in her ex–sister–in–law’s kid’s bedroom. The people there were watching television and smoking joints.
Lydia sent Toby to the store for more ice. When Toby opened the door, Junior was sitting on the steps.
“It’s about time, man!” a tired sounding Junior lamented. “Hey, man! You’ve been out here all this time? How long you’ve been here?”
“It feels like an hour, but I think it’s only been…” Junior looks at his watch, “it’s been a good 15 or 20 minutes, man.”
“Did you ring the doorbell, because if you did, I didn’t hear it,” Toby laughed.
“Of course I rang the doorbell and knocked on the door, but no one heard me. The music is kinda loud.” Junior said.
“It’s a party, man! of course it’s loud. Whaddayawant, man!?” Toby laughed again. “Later, Junior, I gotta go and get some ice.”
Junior looked at Toby run down the stairs. He nodded his head back and forth, as if Toby was a lost cause. Junior entered the hallway and saw a wad of people standing against the hall door. He nodded hello to the people he recognized and glanced at the strangers. When Lydia saw Junior, she ran up to him and passionately kissed him.
“Junior, where’s your Hawaiian outfit? Why is it that this party was supposed to have a theme, but no one is theme–dressed?!”
“Perhaps, because it’s 40 degrees outside!?”
“It wasn’t my idea . . . oh, wait. Yes, it was, it was, it was my idea. Okay. So what? I’ve never been to Hawaii and I wanted to have that feel for my birthday party. What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing. Where’s the food?”
“It’s all gone.”
“Gone!? What time did the party start?” Junior asked.
“It started about a couple of hours ago, but people started coming in a lot earlier than they were supposed to.”
“Why didn’t you tell them to come when the party was supposed to start?”
“Because they said they had too much time to kill and would rather kill it with me. And to help me set up for the party. I said okay. I didn’t know they were going to come in hungry,” complained Lydia.
“Oh, Lydia, Lydia,” Junior looked at Lydia adoringly, his eyes moved slowly down her chest, stopping just a moment at the crevice of her breasts. Then his eyes moved to Lydia’s inverted belly button, clean and pretty. As his eyes continued down Lydia’s legs, Lydia took Junior’s hand and placed it against her cheek. “I’m so glad you’re here, Junior. I thought you were mad at me.”
Junior replied, “I can’t stay mad at you, Lydia. You know that.”
Lydia and Junior walked down the hallway to greet their friends with their arms around each other’s waist.
After midnight, Nellie and Bill were standing by the punch bowl. Every once in a while, Bill would reach into his jacket pocket and remove a small bottle of vodka. His eyes scanned the room, and when he was assured that no one could see him, he poured some vodka into the punch bowl. What Bill didn’t notice was Mimi watching him from across the living room, smiling and nudging her friend Michael. Michael turned to Bill’s direction and watched him pour the vodka. “Hmm, maybe we should go and refill our glasses now that the punch is more potent,” Michael said. Mimi and Michael started walking across the room toward the punch bowl, when another friend, Sonny tasted the punch, he spat it out and yelled, “Who the hell been messing with the punch?!”
Mitch came over and took Sonny to the side and said, “Man, I added some LSD to the punch, can you taste it?”
“No. I only taste fucking vodka!” said Sonny. Then Mitch continued, “Since when has your beard gotten up and danced the boogie, man? Your beard’s dancing, it’s actually moving. You know, it looks like wheat on a pasture when the winds blowin real hard.”
Sonny rolled his eyes, and with his thumb and index finger snapped together, he shook his hand toward the heavens. Then Sonny laughed, and told Mitch “I love you, man. You’re a fool, but I love you.”
Mitch, his eyebrows furrowed together caused a slight Brooke Shields effect; he pursed his lips and said “I love you too, man. Men can’t say that to a woman, you know that. But they can say it to their best friend, man. Why is that? Why are we so afraid of women? What has a woman ever done to you, Sonny, to be afraid of them? What?”
“I’m not afraid of women.” Sonny said, shifting the weight of his body from foot to foot as though one leg was more comfortable than the other; yet, not finding which leg that would be. “But you know it’s hard to tell a woman you love them. Once you do, it’s over, man, its quicksand time then,” figured Sonny.
“I disagree.” Mitch responded. Sonny looks at Mitch, waiting for Mitch’s wisdom to follow the short statement. So Sonny says, “And…?”
“And what?” responded Mitch.
“Nothing, I thought you were going to follow that thought with something else,” Sonny concluded. “I thought you were going to say that men don’t like to tell a woman he loves her because then that means commitment. Or, that men don’t like to be “sensitive” or “sissy” and talk about love like girls do. Or, that men are afraid to say I love you because it leaves me, I mean men, vulnerable. I thought that was what you were going to say.” Sonny said as he refilled his drink from the punch bowl.
Mitch looked at Sonny and said, “I wouldn’t drink so much of that punch if I were you, man. It’s for your own good. Remember who’s driving tonight, you’re the designated driver.” Sonny slapped his forehead in response with a look on his face that screamed OH,SHIT. But it was too late, so Sonny took another gulp from his glass. Then Mitch warned, “Just so as you know and drink a lot of water before we leave. Okay?” Sonny nodded yes, and then realized, “Wait a minute; we took a cab because I didn’t want to drive in the first place.”
“Oh, right. I forgot. Drink as much as you like.” Mitch said. “But, you know, what you were saying about girls and love. I wish I knew how to stop saying I love you to women. They all believe me. And to me, love is like, like, the word “fine.” How are you today? I’m “fine,” you see it’s just a word to me. I don’t know what word I’d used if I really did love somebody. I mean what word would mean as much as the word love? Maybe the word important, nah. Or maybe the word . . .”
Sonny interrupted, “Mitch, shut up.” Then Sonny walked toward Lydia and Junior, as Mitch yelled, “I love you, man!” Sonny turned around and smiled at Mitch, and mouthed the words “I love you too, man.”
Lydia and Junior were dancing very close when Sonny came over and tapped Junior on the shoulder. Junior, turned around and gave Sonny a look, but like a gentleman, he gave his permission for Sonny to dance with Lydia. Sonny nodded thank you and took Lydia into his arms. “How long have you and Junior been together, Lydia?”
“A long time. Well, not really that long. Almost two years, but that’s the longest I’ve ever been with anyone. What about you, Sonny, what’s your longest relationship?”
“Four months, no, make that four weeks. If I had a relationship that lasted four months, I’d be lucky. Have you decided what graduate school you’re going to?”
“No. Have you?”
“I don’t think I’ll be going to graduate school. I’m thinking about moving to California to work with my dad. He’s into cars and California is nothing but about cars and movies.” Sonny tried real hard to sound convincing, then suddenly, “Do you think you’ll marry Junior, Lydia?”
“Well that’s a strange question, isn’t it? I don’t know, marriage is a huge step. I want to finish graduate school first and see what the future has to offer before I make up my mind about marriage.”
“Has Junior proposed?” Sonny asked.
“No. I don’t really expect him to, actually.”
“That’s strange, isn’t it? I mean you love him and he loves you, you guys have been together for over two years. And you guys never, ever split up, even when you guys fight. You never left each other, even for a little while.”
Lydia looked at Sonny for the first time. She tried her best not to expose the feelings she felt at that very moment because they didn’t make any sense.
Junior forced his way through the crowd to the kitchen which was next to the front entrance. When Junior opened the refrigerator door, the front door opened. Standing at the entrance was a medium height woman, with short hair, her eyes wide open. It was then that Junior realized that it’s Connie, Lydia’s ex–sister–in–law, she didn’t know there was a party at her apartment.
“Hi, Connie,” Junior said.
“What the hell is going on here?!” Connie screamed.
The people in the hallway and living room, stopped talking and looked toward the voice, and resumed what they were doing when they couldn’t see who was talking. The people in the bedroom and bathroom were unaware of the owner being home. When Connie walked further into the living room and spotted Lydia with Sonny, Lydia stared at Connie and Connie stared at Lydia.
“Okay, Connie. It’s my birthday; you said I could have a few friends over.”
“Lydia, I said a few friends, not everyone you know from Central Park. What’s wrong with you? This is my home. Look at this place. I want everyone out of here now. Now, Lydia.”
Lydia indicated she understood and called Junior over to help her get rid of her friends.
“Where should we all go, I mean it’s still early, you know.” Junior said.
“Well, I know.” Lydia replied. Lydia got a chair and stood on top of it. After getting everyone’s attention, she announced that the party was moving to the beach. Everyone reacted with surprise, and commented, “It’s too cold to go to the beach.” “Yeah, how’re we supposed get there?” Lydia replied, “Take the subway, people. Listen, we can hang out on the beach and cook frankfurters or something. We don’t have a choice, people. We have to leave. Now people, so who’d like to go to the beach?”
Junior asked, “Which beach?”
“The closet one is Orchard. We can take the train.” Everyone groaned and shuffled their feet not wanting to move from the warm and comfortable, yet loud party. One person snuck into the bathroom, maybe if he hides for a little while, the hostess may change her mind. Then there was Craig and Al, boyhood friends that crashed that crashed parties. Their reputation became known as the Party Boy Crashers, so people stopped inviting them to parties because they knew they would crash them anyway. They were in for the night. Connie observed that this party of people wasn’t moving anywhere quickly enough for her comfort. Connie came over to Lydia and stood by her, “Say it again, Lydia.” Lydia repeated the invitation to go to the beach. Again, no one moved. People just groaned again and complained of the long subway ride to the Bronx. Cyndee, slithered to the fire escape, opened the window and sat outside. She listened to the street noise on one side and the party guests on the other, a synergy of communication. Cyndee smiled at this thought.
Everyone’s attention finally turned when Connie opened up her lungs and demanded all of their attention. Finally, there was silence in the room. “I am going to say this only once. Get out of my house right now or I’ll call the police and have you forced out. You can party at the beach, at your parent’s house, or hell. I don’t give a damn where, but get the hell out of my house RIGHT NOW!” Everyone started forming groups to decide where the party was going to be next, at the beach or another house. Eventually, only a handful decided to finish the party at the beach.
After Lydia changed her clothes to jeans, a black sweater, black boots and a Navy marine coat, she led the clan out the door. Sonny, Mitch, Cyndee, and Junior followed.
The subway cars were practically empty except for an addict here or there. Then there were the hard working people with graveyard shifts. The looks of exhaustion on their faces gave their life an identity where you can fill in the blank. Lydia and Junior were sitting next to each other actively talking. Sonny watched them with his eyes half closed, being lulled by the rocking car underneath his cheeks. He strained his ears to listen.
“What do you mean you don’t know? Lydia, this is the first time you ever told me something like this. What am I supposed to do with it?” Junior asked. He was winding and unwinding a long piece of string he picked up on the subway platform. Every once in a while, Lydia would intercept her finger into Junior’s spiraling string; “You should have waited. Don’t you think?” Junior said. Then he got up and walked to Mitch and Cyndee who were at the end of the subway car, in between the cars, taking in the subway air. Every so often a whiff of some odor would catch their attention, and they’d try to guess what the smell was or where it came from.
The train pulled to the last stop, and it was twilight. The sky was a dark blue. They all got out of the train and quietly started walking to the beach. It was over a mile from the subway station to the sand and ocean. In between was the park, where children and adults played baseball, softball, tennis. Not too far away from the courts were the picnic tables. They continued walking.
Finally, they reached the beach. They ran toward the water, freezing their skin, but nobody seemed to mind it, except Junior who meandered behind the group.
Mitch and Sonny went to the lifeguard’s booth and dismantled the wooden stand. Then they placed one board atop another to create a pyre, and then lit it. It created a great bonfire. Afterwards, Mitch and Cyndee broke into the ice cream stand and stole bars of ice cream and sno cones. Lydia sat down and crossed her ankles, and waited for the sun to rise. Sonny sat down next to Lydia and watched her face silhouette against the sky. Without looking at him, Lydia smiled. Then Sonny smiled, too.
Junior came over and asked Lydia to take a walk with him. Lydia got up and followed him to the shore.
Junior took Lydia’s hand and held it tightly. “It’s over, isn’t it, Lydia?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I thought I had everything figured out. But then, tonight, it all got confusing. I just think, that now, you know, I’m twenty two. It may be a good idea if we saw other people. We’re starting on a new life, how do we know it should be with each other?”
Junior watched Lydia, and his eyes slightly teared up. He tried very hard not to cry, blinking his eyes profusely and abruptly turning away. Lydia tried to take a hold of his hand, but Junior pushed her away. “Junior, I’m not saying we can never see each other again. I’m just saying let’s be a little more open with each other’s time. My birthday’s at 6 in the morning, we have another hour. Let’s enjoy it.” Lydia pleaded.
“That’s a lot to ask, Lydia. I mean, I never thought . . .” Junior couldn’t finish the sentence.
“I know. I thought the same thing until tonight.”
“What’s so special about tonight, what happened?” Junior pleaded.
“It occurred to me that I was starting graduate school next semester. All of a sudden, my past and future got mixed up and I felt like, even though I’m going toward the future, somehow, I was really just staying in my past. It’s hard to explain.” Lydia said.
“Did you meet someone else? The truth.”
“No, no one in particular,” Lydia replied. Then she glanced over at Sonny who was watching the two of them. Lydia looked at her feet. Junior took Lydia in his arms and said, “Okay. I can’t stop you. But, I can’t spend the rest of the day with you like nothing’s happened. I don’t want us to break up, Lydia, but if you don’t want me anymore, then I have to leave. I hope you’re sure about this, because I don’t know if I can come back.”
“I understand.” Lydia said, and Junior softly licked away the tear that started to drop down her cheek. Junior let go of Lydia, and walked away without saying a word to anyone.
Sonny quickly got up and walked over to Lydia. “Are you okay? Where’s Junior going?” he asked.
“Home, I guess. We just broke up.” Lydia started to cry. Sonny put his arm around Lydia and said, “I’m sorry.” Then Sonny lifted Lydia’s chin in time to catch the sun rise in the horizon. The bright light from the sun illuminated both Lydia and Sonny’s eyes. They looked at each other and then back at the sun. Lydia nuzzled against Sonny’s warm body and they watched the dawn of a new day.
Written by Jo.Ann Rodriquez
All rights reserved. No part of the short stories may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the author, “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” and email to firstname.lastname@example.org