Ohhh, my. It's a long one this time, fellow babies!
Previously: The year is 1974. Robert "Eli" Whitney, sexually-overactive high school senior, is somewhat pressured by circumstances into taking an unpopular albeit attractive sophomore named Karen Hoffman -- known as "Boris Karloff" or simply "Karloff" for no reason other than the fact that high school kids are predominately vicious little creeps -- to a John Denver concert.
The two get along relatively well, considering the fact that Eli, basically, is an obnoxious jerk. Most of the time, anyway.
* * * * *
Since the John Denver concert, Karen and Eli hadn't really spoken to each other except for brief hellos and an occasional "How's it going?" when they passed in the hallways at school. So Karen was moderately surprised the day she closed her locker door at the end of the school day and saw that Eli had been standing behind it.
"Whoa!" she exclaimed. "Don't do that!"
He laughed. "Scared you, huh?"
"Well... startled me, maybe. Anyway, what's up?"
"I was wondering if you'd like a ticket to my graduation next month."
"Is this a joke?"
"No. We get five tickets, and I have one left over."
"And you have no friends? I doubt that."
"Of course I have friends. But all my friends are going to be graduating with me, goofy!"
"Oh, come on! You don't have any friends who are underclassmen, like me? I thought you were popular."
"I am... kind of. But that's not exactly the same thing as having real friends. If that makes any sense."
"It does, sadly enough. But... How about all those chicks you date... or whatever verb you use to describe what you do with them."
"Very funny. Can... Can I be honest with you?"
Karen laughed. "Only if you want to shock the crap out of me."
"Why do you keep making wisecracks!"
"The best defense is a good offense, they say."
"Just trying to beat you to the insults, for a change."
"Look, I'm trying to be nice, here!" said Eli. He quickly looked around to see if anyone had heard him, but realized immediately that most of the other students had already left the building. "For a change," he admitted, echoing her words.
Karen looked around at the hallway as Eli had, seeing that it was now empty, but for the two of them. "Great. You made me miss my bus... again."
"Big deal. I'll give you a ride... again."
They began walking toward the exit. "So," continued Karen, "Why not invite someone in your family?"
"And they said no?"
"No, of course not. They all said yes."
"You're not trying to tell me you've only got four people in your whole family! What about aunts and uncles and..."
"Yes, I am telling you that. All I have is my parents, and two cousins. That's it." Eli noticed that they were approaching the door to the parking lot. "Here comes the door. Don't dislocate your shoulder this time."
"Very funny. That was months ago."
"So? How am I supposed to know you don't do it on a regular basis?"
Karen laughed, in spite of herself. "I guess you don't. Hey... what about your cousins' parents?"
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Why do people always say that?" Eli snapped, almost angrily. "Why are you sorry? You didn't kill them!" He looked over and saw that she was staring at him because of his outburst. He tried to lighten things up a bit. "I mean, you didn't, did you?"
"That's not funny! I'll never understand how anyone can joke about something like the death of a loved one."
"I wouldn't exactly say I loved them. We weren't close. I was pretty young when their house burned down."
"Their house... ? Oh, no, that's awful."
"I guess so. Just don't say you're sorry about that."
"Are you kidding this time?"
"What do you think?"
"I can't tell with you."
"Anyway, I don't have any 'loved ones.' I mean, I don't use that... term."
"What term? Love?"
"Mm-hmm. I don't use it."
"Sure you do. Everybody does. Don't you ever say you love a movie, or an album, or..."
"Oh, that way? Sure. But I don't say 'love' like... like..."
"Like normal people do?"
"Very funny. I was going to say, like other people do. I've never said 'I love you' to anyone."
"Not even when you were trying to get some girl into bed?"
"Don't start, Karl-- Karen."
"Sorry. But... You love your parents, right?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
"You don't know?"
They'd arrived at Eli's car. He walked to the driver's side, unlocked his door, and threw the keys high into the air in an arc which brought them down on Karen's side of Eli's Plymouth. As they fell, Karen looked into the sun and tried -- unsuccessfully -- to spot them before they could land on the ground near her. "Whitney, you're a turd!" she yelled, bending to pick them off the pavement.
"Don't you forget it," he said, from inside the car.
"I can't! You keep reminding me!" She unlocked the door, got into the car, and handed Eli the keys.
The drive to Karen's home was uneventful, mostly filled with small talk from Karen about how "lucky" Eli was to be graduating and "getting out of this dump," as Karen put it.
When they got to Karen's home, Karen actually "allowed" Eli to pull into the driveway. And she agreed to take Eli's fifth ticket.
He in turn actually gave her a straight compliment. "Oh, and I was right about you!" he called out to her as she stepped onto her front porch. "You look cuter now that you're letting your hair get longer."
She didn't bother telling him that his earlier comment was the reason why she was letting it grow out to begin with.
* * * * *
Eli graduated on an absolutely gorgeous evening in early May.
After Eli's graduation -- that is, immediately after -- Eli introduced Karen to his cousins and his parents, and then shrugged off their invitation to attend a private party at home in favor of going to a predictably larger bash at Teddy Wilson's house.
As Eli walked to his car, he realized that he was being followed. He stopped and turned around, only to find that it was Karen. "Umm... Hi. What's up?"
"I need a ride."
"Why? Because my parents brought me here, dropped me off, and left. They couldn't get into the ceremony. No tickets." Eli was staring at her. "What did you expect them to do, wait in the parking lot for two hours?"
"I guess not. Okay, sure, I can give you a ride home."
"I don't want to go home."
"Well... I'm going to Teddy's party."
"I'm up for that."
"Who says you're invited?"
"He's back to normal..." she muttered. "Couldn't I get in if you bring me?" He seemed to be thinking about it. "Just as a friend? I mean, you know, not like a date. God forbid."
"Yeah, that would work."
"I mean, you're not ashamed to be seen with me?"
"Don't start that crap again. It's not like I have anything against you. In fact, in between the insults..."
"Is there an 'in between' to the insults?"
"Sure. Look, Karen, you're the closest thing I've got to a friend, in terms of chicks, anyway. I can't really talk to girls, usually." He saw a smirk play across her face. "Don't say it," he warned, only half-kiddingly. Then they both laughed.
As they entered Teddy's house -- well, Teddy's parents' house -- Teddy himself greeted them. He looked at Eli first, then at Karen with obvious surprise. She immediately became defensive and said "It's okay, Wilson, I'm with Eli. But not as his date."
Teddy shrugged, saying "I don't care what the hell you are," before looking away from her and back at Eli. Karen realized with some surprise that his comment, disdainful as it was on the surface, was also "permission" to stay.
"You want a beer?" Teddy asked Eli.
"Just Miller, or Michelob."
"Is it cold?"
"Either will do." Eli looked at Karen. "You want a beer?"
Before she could answer, Teddy said, "If you'd rather have some kind of sissy girlie drink, my mother's downstairs fixing sloe gin fizzes for most of the chicks."
"Well... In spite of the way you said that... I think I'll have a sissy girlie drink."
Teddy pointed to a doorway in the next room. "That's the door to the cellar. Stairs are kind of steep; don't fall."
Karen began walking away, as Teddy and Eli headed toward the kitchen. Eli called out to her. "And try not to puke on anybody!"
Karen ignored him and opened the door. She was greeted by music -- "Street Fighting Man" by The Rolling Stones -- which assaulted her from the darkness below. She walked downstairs. Not far from the end of the staircase was a fancy, well-stocked bar. Judging from that and the elegantly-decorated basement, Teddy's parents evidently took their entertaining -- and their drinking -- very seriously. Behind the bar sat a plump, cheerful, bleached-blonde woman -- Teddy's mother -- who jumped off her wooden stool as Karen approached.
"What can I getcha, sweetie?" asked Mrs. Wilson.
"Umm... a sloe gin fizz," answered Karen, trying to toss the request out as if she'd been ordering sloe gin fizzes for years... and failing miserably.
Mrs. Wilson squinted. "How old are you, honey?"
Karen decided to be honest. "I'm... I'm... uhh... sixteen."
"Sorry, sweetie, didn't hear ya. You said eighteen?"
"Eighteen... Right, babycakes?"
Karen finally caught on and nodded. "Yes! Eighteen!"
Mrs. Wilson mixed the drink and handed it to Karen. "Good girl! Everybody here's at least eighteen tonight, ya know?"
Karen thanked the older woman for the drink, and walked away toward the far side of the room, sipping her drink through a straw. Now what was she supposed to do? Should she go upstairs and search for Eli? She didn't think it wise to remain down here. It would have been bad enough if she hadn't known anyone at the party. This was worse. She did know most of the kids, and liked none of them. Why had she talked Eli into bringing her along?
Even as Karen was asking herself this question in her mind, she heard a familiar voice.
"Ohhh... myyy... Gawwwd!" said a high-pitched, slurred voice that Karen immediately recognized. It was Wendy Taylor, one of Denise Nealon's crowd. Wendy was tall and buxom; her long, frizzy hair was that very light shade of brown sometimes referred to as "dirty blonde."
"Are they filmin' a horror movie here?" asked Wendy, speaking to no one in particular.
"Ahhh, c'mon, don't start, Wendy," said another young woman, one of the two dozen or so teens who stood or sat there in the basement.
"Mind your own business, Cheryl," said Wendy, walking right over to Karen. "How did you get in here, Karloff? Through the doggie door?"
Karen held her glass in both hands, fingers intertwined, sipping quickly and nervously at her drink. Karen's eyes discreetly looked across the room. Teddy's mother wasn't looking in her direction, and The Rolling Stones did their part to ensure that Mrs. Wilson couldn't hear the commotion.
Then things got worse. Teddy's mother abruptly left her place behind the bar and walked upstairs without a backward glance.
With her left hand, Wendy reached out and slapped Karen's hands just hard enough to slosh a little of the sloe gin fizz over the rim of the glass. "Hey, I asked you a question, Boris!"
"Why don't you get the heck away from me," Karen said, her voice trembling.
"You little punk!" spat Wendy, slamming the heel of her palm into Karen's chest. It hurt. Karen realized that her back was literally against the wall at this point. She also noticed that Wendy --who was on both the girl's basketball and field hockey teams -- was half a head taller than Karen was, and about thirty pounds heavier.
"Leave the kid alone, Wen!" another girl said.
Wendy didn't look away from Karen, as she wound her hand into Karen's dark blue silk blouse. "I thought I told you to shut up, Cheryl."
Cheryl, part of the crowd which was gathering around the two antagonists, replied, "I didn't say that. That was Daphne. But I think you should let her go, too."
Wendy laughed. "Who cares what you bimbos think? There isn't any one o'you who's strong enough to stop me from redecoratin' this mouthy little tramp's face!"
"Don't be so sure, Wendy," said a voice far too deep to be either Cheryl's or Daphne's. Wendy turned around and saw that it was Eli. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he asked, but he didn't wait for an answer. "Take your grubby paws off of her."
"And if I don't?" she demanded defiantly.
"I'll punch you right in the mouth. You think you're tough, don't you? Well, if you want to act like a guy, I'll treat you like a guy."
Wendy felt a chill. She didn't know whether Eli's threat was serious or not. Neither did anyone else in the crowd.
"Whadda you care what happens to her?" Wendy asked, even as she released Karen's blouse from her grasp.
"Karen's with me."
Wendy laughed. "She's your date?"
Karen spoke up. "I'm not his date!"
Eli looked pointedly at Karen. "You didn't have to say that! I don't care what the hell Wendy thinks." He looked back at Wendy. "Karen's my friend, not that it's any of your damned business."
A dirty smirk formed on Wendy's face even as Karen darted around her and positioned herself behind Eli. "Oh, I get it. Workin' on the underclassmen now, Eli? I didn't think you'd already gotten to all of the juniors and seniors!"
"No, Wendy. Not all of them. Quite a few, though... including you, of course. What was it... five, six times?"
Wendy turned almost as red as what was left of Karen's drink. One of the many witnesses to this verbal confrontation -- which by now included virtually all the party-goers in the cellar -- had turned down the stereo, so everyone had heard Eli's remarks.
"You don't even know?" said Wendy, in a much more timid voice than she'd spoken with during any other part of this evening.
Eli looked at her as he would something distasteful that he'd scraped from the bottom of his shoe. "I guess they just weren't all that memorable." He turned away from her and looked at Karen.
Wendy was humiliated and furious. "Don't you dare turn your back on me!"
He looked back only long enough to speak three short, sharp words to Wendy... two of which (the “F-word” and the “C-word”) Karen had certainly never heard him speak before tonight! And with that, he took Karen by the hand and led her upstairs.
They stayed among the upstairs celebrants only long enough to finish their drinks.
As Eli drove Karen home, she broke the uneasy silence by saying, "Don't you think you were a little hard on Wendy?"
Eli snorted. "You're welcome!"
"No, I just mean..."
"From the looks of things, she was ready to beat the stuffing out of you! I saved your neck! Show me some gratitude, will you?"
"Oh, I don't know if I was really in any danger..."
"For crying out loud, Karen, wake up! I've seen Wendy fight boys and win. She would have creamed you."
"Umm... That reminds me..."
"Reminds you of what?"
"You wouldn't really have punched her in the face, would you? Guys like that ... you know, guys who hit girls... they scare me. There's no excuse for--"
"Spare me the moralizing. I saved your ass, in plain English. So let's just drop it, okay?"
They were only silent for a couple of minutes before Eli asked, "You aren't really scared of me, are you?"
"No." She laughed. "Because we're friends. You said so yourself."
"Oh, geez... Look, don't go getting all gooshy on me."
"Okay, I won't. But you did call me your friend. And you did save my... behind. So thanks."
"You're welcome. But don't get used to it."
"Because that's as good as I'll ever get."
And unfortunately... Eli was right.
* * * * *
Oh, why spoil it?
Thanks for your time.