President’s Day Weekend
By Susan Buttenwieser.
Usually when there’s a tragedy, a hero is somewhere in the story. But that’s not what happened when Natalie Williams died.
The reason we spent the better part of today at her funeral followed by a reception at the Hingham Street Community Center (her parents were in shock, unable to put together a gathering in their home or at an aunt’s house or something), the reason that a whole entire three days of school was devoted to grief counseling and seminars on binge drinking and art therapy workshops, the reason we had to sit through Chapel listening to Amber Montgomery and Celia Rouse sing a duet of I Knew You from Wicked, the reason for all these things is because of the blowjob I gave Tommy Marcus in the Brewsters’ basement laundry room.
Eleven hours after I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, got up off my knees and half-hugged Tommy for a few moments, Natalie Williams was pulled out of a pond in the woods behind Lizzie Brewster’s house, given CPR, wrapped in blankets, rushed to Mount Asa General, then airlifted to Children’s where they pronounced her dead.
There definitely wasn’t a hero.
Twelve people in the kitchen tripping on acid watched Natalie run across the backyard at five in the morning. She was in cowboy boots and Tommy’s Grateful Dead T-shirt. We all watched her go into the woods and no one thought anything of it, no one went after her – not even Amber Montgomery, her best friend since second grade.
We watched her through the plate glass window; it was just starting to get light, the sky shifting from black to a dull gray. There she was, Natalie Williams, running. That was last time she was seen alive, we ended up telling the cops.
A full half hour later, Tommy came down to the kitchen, hair disheveled, wondering if anyone knew where Natalie was.
“Was she still crying?” he wanted to know when informed of her high speed jaunt across the dewy lawn.
No one had noticed.
“I’ll help you look for her,” Amber offered, but that was probably so she could have a chance to do something alone with him.
I told you there were no heroes.
And because Amber and Tommy were heading off into the woods, searching for her, everyone wanted to go. It was suddenly the thing to do at 5:30 in the morning.
Finally, some genius thought to call her cell phone, but there was no answer.
“Are you looking for Natalie?” Lizzie Brewster was dancing by herself, wearing her mother’s apron and nothing else. “She just called me.”
Everyone was staring at her, wondering why she didn’t say something earlier. No one cared that she was practically naked.
“Like, 20 minutes ago, I think. Can’t remember the exact time.” She was lauging a little bit.
“Where is she?” Tommy was full-on angry now.
“I didn’t ask.” Lizzie stopped laughing.
Then after shouting for her behind the house, trying her cell over and over and over, everyone was back inside the kitchen.
Someone made some eggs, someone else made coffee. Amber called her cell phone 48 times in a row. Nothing.
“Maybe we should try her at home,” Celia suggested.
While a loud argument over the pros and cons of this idea ensued, I caught Tommy’s eye, but he looked quickly away. He had fucked Natalie after my blowjob, I confirmed later on. But it was obvious, it was obvious the moment I saw her in the T-shirt I’d untucked earlier from his jeans, running across the yard.
He told her, I thought when I saw her head into the woods. He told her. At first I felt excited, thinking about all kinds of scenarios, of a world where Tommy and I would be an actual couple.
But we would never be a couple. We had never even spoken one word to each other before the party at Lizzie’s house.
Lizzie’s parents were going to a wedding for the long weekend, and now that she was a senior in high school, they felt they could leave her alone, she told us after English class on Thursday. Word spread quickly. Her parents left in the middle of Saturday afternoon. That gave us a few hours to get ready.
Denny Lymon, who is 20, will get us booze, but we have to go to several different liquor stores to avoid suspicion. If you walk into a liquor store and buy five cases of beer and six gallons of vodka and there’s four giggly teenagers waiting in a car out in the parking lot, it’s gonna be pretty obvious what’s going on.
“Buy for minors, buy yourself three years in prison” is plastered on the signs by the cash registers of most liquor stores. Denny’s got priors, so he’ll buy liquor for us, but he does it reluctantly. He’s more comfortable with his full-time gig: drug dealing. He knows the ins and outs of that business, and avoids easy arrests if he can help it. You can get anything from him, but mostly he moves a lot of Coke and weed. He’s just gotten started on Crystal Meth, but no one likes it much. Scott and Tanner bought some off him last week and they said it made you feel paranoid for days, was too tweaky a high.
By six, we had everything we needed and people started arriving.
And then it had seemed like this amazingly great moment when Tommy Marcus came and stood next to me. It was a good three minutes before I worked up the courage to actually say something.
“Hi,” I said, finally.
I couldn’t think of anything else to say to him.
“Hi,” I said, again.
And then it was a joke. We said it back and forth about twenty times. He was smiling and I started to relax a little.
Tommy and Natalie had broken up the week before. It was a major event, shook our school to its core. They were one of those couples who everyone is entranced by. Always making out, lying on top of each other on the soccer fields. We needed to believe in true love, even if we’re not experiencing it ourselves, and Tommy and Natalie were proof that it did really exist.
But they broke up and Tommy was talking to me in the Brewster’s living room. I felt him there first of all, knew it was him without even looking. I could smell him and then he did that thing with his hands, that quick trip they take through his hair, his bangs.
After the whole “Hi” joke, we turned and faced each other. The music was pounding and we had to lean close together in order to talk at all. The neighbors must have known there was a mega teen party happening, cars everywhere, on lawns, all up and down the street. Maybe if one of them had called the police, Natalie would still be alive.
“I fucking love this song,” he’d said. Jesus in Suburbia was blasting from the basement.
“Come on,” he’d said, and grabbed my hand, and we headed downstairs.
It was one of those halfway finished basements and everyone was crowded around the ping pong table. The next thing I knew, Tommy pulled me into the darkened laundry room and we were making out. Hard. Teeth gnashing, tongues writhing around like snakes, and then his pants were around his knees and I was on mine.
It is an ugly feeling when the police arrive at 7 a.m., and you’ve been up all night drinking, and you can’t even tell what’s real and what is a part of a dream. And they’re asking you questions, and everything starts to sound suspicious, especially when there is this one huge part of the story that you don’t want to tell them. It’s not really relevant, you keep saying to yourself, so don’t say it out loud. Don’t tell them about the blowjob. But deep down, you know that’s why she’s out there, why she’s missing.
Then a helicopter is flying around and the neighbors are coming out of their houses. You walk out to the driveway and look up at the sky, then head back inside and watch Lizzie Brewster bawling while a cop keeps asking about her parents.
You start out the day thinking you’re one thing and then by the end, it turns out, you’re something completely different.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Susan Buttenwieser’s fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in Failbetter, Epiphay, 3AM and other publications. She’s been awarded several fiction fellowships from the Virginia Center for the creative Arts and she teaches writing in organizations that serve at-risk populations in New York City, including women and youth at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and Rikers Island detention center.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, June 17th, 2009.