CHAPTER 13 – Red, Red Wine
The mug shattered on the concrete floor with a smash. The base snapped off spilling out the half of a beer as the top of the mug went into dozens of tiny little pieces. It was enough to break the silence at the table, but also maybe a sign that our reunion was getting a little long in the tooth.
“Fug, Doris, I’m sorry. That’s my bad.” An extra $20 bill flew onto the table from a wad of $20’s with a rubber band around them.
“We sure do know how to raise a ruckus, right?” The group began to chuckle.
“I want to make a toast.” Larry stood and raised his newly filled mug. “Here’s to the Paulie’s Pizza. Fuck everyone else.”
“Fuck everyone else” the rest of the table clinked mugs and sucked down another beer. The conversation at the table started back up and another round was ordered. Looks like the night was just getting started after all.
I unlocked the front door, and in spilled Larry, Derek and the rest of the gang. Bailey and I had been talking so long, I guess we didn’t realize that we’d missed the movie.
Derek had a bottle in his hand of something brown. The label had been torn off, but you could instantly tell that it wasn’t Dr. Pepper. Both Larry, Fletcher and Joselyn were taking pulls from it and it looks like they were intended on killing it quickly.
I hadn’t had alcohol except for a few family outings. My family was of Polish descent, and the celebratory liquor at birthdays and weddings was called Krupnik which was a honey-flavored drink that tasted a little like gasoline was mixed with syrup in a dirty bathtub.
Tiny shot glasses and the bottle were passed around at weddings, or sometimes it was carried by a stumbling Uncle Fred. Everyone filled their shot glass and there was some sort of toast. Once you turned 10, you were eligible/forced to partake in the toast.
I remember I was at my grandfather’s birthday on Strawberry Hill in Kansas City, Kansas the fall after I turned 10, and was handed this tiny little glass by my Uncle. At the appropriate time, everyone yelled NOSTROVIA and sucked the booze down. I did the same, and nearly gagged on the taste.
Moments later, my neck got very hot, and you could sense the feeling starting to inch up to my chin, then my cheeks, then my forehead.
“Oh my God! What’s wrong!” My sister screamed and pointed at me. This got the attention of the 25 people standing around and you could feel both the heat on my cheeks as well as the eyes on me.
My face, apparently, had broken into a bright red rash. Something, obviously, didn’t agree with me and the ingredients of the moonshine I’d just ingested. And ruined my first experience with alcohol.
It became quite the circus every time the family gathered together. I was forced to go, then forced to celebrate the toast “because it’s a family tradition.” And, inevitably, I’d break out and there would be pointing and staring. Turns out it wasn’t just a poorly made bathroom batch of Krupnik. My face would flush every time I drank alcohol. I proved this by taking a pull from the bottle of brown liquid.
Like clockwork, about 45 seconds later, the giggling began. It began from everyone except Bailey, who walked over to me and put the back of her hand on my cheek. It was freezing cold and gave me the greatest sensation of my young life. I wanted to keep her hand on my face for the rest of my life because it brought me relief from the allergic reaction, but also a sense that we would be connected by this moment forever.
It lasted just a few seconds however, but I felt my face start to redistribute blood.
“Movie was over, so we deschlided to come to the pillza plafe..to the piecea… to the… fuck… to Paulies to get some food.” Larry was, by whatever measure I could determine as a 16 year old, hammered. And Fletcher seemed close behind. Because he kept walking up behind people and smacking them on the ass. “GOOD GAME” he’d yell.
We fired up the oven, and got the ingredients back out of the cooler and downed the rest of the bottle of brown liquid while eating our favorite pizza’s and getting drunk.
We spent nearly every afternoon up until then talking about nearly every topic we could come up with. Best sport. Best school subject. Worst school subject. Worst sport if it was a school subject. Worst pizza. You get the idea.
Bailey was sitting next to me and every once in a while, she’d put the back of her hand on my hand or the back of my neck just to check my temperature, and also because she was cold and I was warm. Each moment I would swallow a gasp at the sensation. It was magic each time she touched me.
We started from scratch as the alcohol began to take hold and came up with even worse topics. What would happen if Godzilla came to Kansas City and decided to play a sport? Would he play for the Chiefs or the Royals? We agreed that he’d play for the Comets – the indoor soccer team that played at Kemper Arena. I mean, you’re Godzilla. You’re probably good enough to win in that league.
Larry stood up still clutching the bottle in his hand that featured only a few drops of whiskey left. “I want to make toasty. Here’s to the Paulie’s Pizza crew.”
Wheezy chimed in, “fuck everybody else.”
Not realizing the break in proper toast protocol, Larry was the only one holding any sort of liquid at all, so he shrugged and downed the remainder of the liquid.
Bailey touched my arm again. Our temperatures had begun to regulate, but I could still feel a heartbeat at the place she touched me. I don’t know if it was her heartbeat or mine. She had taken a few pulls of the whiskey like a champ, and the touching had lasted a moment or two longer each time.
It was late. Close to one in the morning and we were all sure as hell going to be back at 10 to find out what happened with T.
Larry and Derek drove together and they left first. They said they were going to try to find another bottle, but they probably drove about a block and passed out.
Wheezy and Jocelyn took off with Jocelyn driving. Wheezy started in on her the second she grabbed his keys. “The shifter is tricky. You have to put it all the way up in first.”
“I know,” she said. “I drove us here.”
“Yeah, but if you don’t…”
“I KNOW.” They both stomped off out the door.
I went back into the kitchen as they were storming off bickering with each other to put away the rest of the ingredients and turn off the oven.
I walked back to the front dining room and the restaurant was empty. The chairs were all over the place and I had no interest in cleaning anything up.
I felt the phantom touch of Bailey’s hand on my neck, but she was nowhere to be found and my head was spinning from the alcohol and the growing sense of affection I had for her.
I made sure nothing was terribly out of place and turned off the lights.
After locking the front door, I walked to my truck out in the small parking lot. My truck was always parked in the second stall next to the dumpster. There was only one other car in the parking lot at the late hour and it was parked all the way down the lot down by the gas station which closes at 11:30.
My head was killing me and I didn’t know if it was my eyes that were foggy, or there was something weird about the car. I couldn’t even see what color it was in the dark parking lot. But managed to find my keys and stumble into the truck.
My key missed the hole the first time, but steadying myself, I got it in the second time and started the beast up. As I pulled out of the parking spot, the car came into better view. Then my headlights flashed up against the tan Chevy Impala that looked like it belonged to Fletcher.
The exit to the parking lot was between me and the Impala so I crept the truck closer and the image of a sedan with fogged windows became clearer. It was about 90% fogged but af the headlights brough even better vision on it, you could tell there was motion in the car.
The alcohol had slowed me putting together two and two. So I just sat there in the parking lot with my headlights showing directly on the car. I watched it for several moments and could see the motion inside the car match up with the rocking of the chassis.
The calculations were finally completed as I realized the activity and the occupants in the car.
It began in the base of my neck, and you could feel it moving to the side of my neck and up to my cheeks. As the sensation rose up my face, I began to feel my heart beating in the corners of my eyeballs. Then my heartbeat seemed to be pulsating through my entire body. Like one of those cartoon hearts that gets bigger, then smaller with each beat.
This didn’t feel like the caressing touch nor did it feel like the allergic reaction that I had experienced earlier in the night. This was a building rage. My hands began to clench the steering wheel heightening the pulsating sensation. I felt my right hand slip down to the stick shift on the steering column and my left foot engaged the clutch as I dropped the car into first gear.