The story so far: After a long shift at work, Allison went off to a party with her best friend, Gwen. Although Brian, the boy she loves, was going to be there with his girlfriend, Kate, she still wanted to step out in public for the first time since she had an emotional breakdown in the spring. The moment Allison left her house, things went wrong. She got pulled over by a cop with illegal beer in her car, was molested by a creepy kid, was humiliated by her soccer teammates, and broke down in tears in front of her friends. When it looked like this night from hell would never end, Allison was shocked when her older sister spontaneously tracked her down and apologized for months of terrible behavior. Then, after the party ended, Brian returned from breaking up with Kate and confessed his love to Allison. It’s nearly midnight, the day isn’t almost over, but now that she’s with Brian, Allison doesn’t want it to end. The year is 1987.
The Family Truckster barrels down a backstreet of Cuyahoga. Eric turns on the radio and searches for music to accompany us on our journey to Stop-N-Shop, the 24 hour grocery store. He swerves the car, narrowly missing a garbage can.
“Let me,” I assert, placing his right hand back on the steering wheel. I spin the radio dial all the way to the left, bypassing the mainstream stations and tuning in my favorite college radio station.
The male DJ speaks in a mellow, subdued voice. “Here’s something from that new Replacements album, Pleased to Meet Me. This one is called ‘Skyway.’”
I anticipate a song loud and raucous, typical Replacements. Instead, it is a quiet, acoustic ballad.
“I like this,” Eric says. He stares straight ahead, eyes fixed on the road, but his thoughts elsewhere. No doubt he’s thinking about Michelle Ito and their kiss, or possibly her pink satin underwear. Guys.
I look to my right, at Brian’s face, and I feel warm inside.
After the turmoil in my family and the brain hiccup and the doctors and the stares and the medications and the kiss… oh, the kiss… and the awful rumors and the nasty looks and the heartache… after all of that, something has finally gone my way.
Brian is in love with me.
I know I should feel bad for Kate; I didn’t want it to happen this way. But now that we’re together and free to explore these emotions we’ve had since we were kids , I’m going to set aside feeling bad for one night and allow myself to be… happy.
Neon lights reflect off the dust of the windshield like a million stars. Street lamps rush by in a blur, creating brilliant streaks of yellow. Brian nods his head to the rhythm of the song. He has his hand out the window, riding the wind.
When we arrive at the Stop-N-Shop, it’s close to midnight and the store is empty. We move swiftly through the aisles, filling our cart with pop and potato chips. I imagine the three of us as Ferris, Cameron and Sloane from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, wandering through the Chicago Art Institute, with hundreds of colorful cereal boxes as our own version of Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Latte.
In frozen foods, I move ahead while Brian searches for pizza rolls. Eric sidles up to me.
“Michelle said that you put in a good word for me. Thank you, Allison.”
“Anything for my second favorite guy in the world.”
“Second?” he exclaims in mock disbelief.
I look over my shoulder at Brian, kneeling down to tie his shoe. “Yeah, second.”
Our trip to the grocery store is short and sweet, just enough junk food to get us through the rest of the night and maybe stay up to watch the sunrise. Outside of the Stop-N-Shop, Eric jumps in a wayward shopping cart and rides it through the parking lot. Brian chases after him, pulling me along by the hand. Eric tips over, crashing to the ground and becoming entangled with the cart. All three of us laugh hysterically at Eric’s misfortune. Brian glances at me with pure joy on his face.
Eric finally gets up and we once again climb aboard our rusty chariot.
As we drive back to Eric’s house, I lean my head on Brian’s shoulder. With each breath he takes, I can feel myself becoming more at peace. I stare out the window at the passing memories of this city where I’ve grown up. The Dunkin Donuts where we get a dozen glazed before each Saturday soccer practice; O’Hanna’s, my favorite diner that serves elderberry pie like my Grandma bakes; First Run, the only video store I’ll rent from; St. Michael’s Church, where I had my first communion; the city library; central park; and Badlands, the best record store on the west side of Cleveland.
This moment, Brian and I riding through the sleeping city with Eric in his obnoxious car, I’ll remember it forever. Years from now, when we’ve graduated from college, I’ll know that we had one perfect moment together, one slice of time when the future seemed bright.
Eric coasts the Family Truckster into his driveway, and the car rattles to a stop. We all get out. Brian carries the groceries.
“I’ll be right there,” I call out, running over to retrieve Eric’s basketball from his neighbor’s driveway. Brian catches my eye and I nearly melt. A car pulls up behind Eric’s car. The passenger door opens and shuts. The silhouette of a girl walks through the beams of the headlights as it backs away. The closer she gets, I recognize who it is.
“The one and only,” she replies.
“Nick was interested in two things: Whitesnake and getting to second base. The latter I was kind of okay with, but he kept going on and on about the ‘awesomeness’ of David Coverdale and, well a girl has to have principles.”
“What are you all doing?”
“We’re going to eat crappy food and watch videos. Some Saturday Night Live with William Shatner?”
“Ooh, Lone Justice was on that night. Count me in.”
We start for the house.
“Brian broke up with Kate and he wants to start dating.”
Gwen stops cold. Jaw wide open. “And you’re just telling me this now?”
“You just got here!”
“Wow. Just… wow.”
Without warning, Gwen gives he a huge hug, one of those wrap your arms around me and the world is a better place hugs. God, I love her.
“Is it tacky that he just broke up with his girlfriend and he asked me out me a half hour later?”
“What the hell do I know about tacky? I’m sixteen. I know about the heart, the soul and friendship. If your heart is telling you that it’s right, then it’s right.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
She looks at me.
“You’re my best friend, you goober. I’ll always let you know when you screw up. This thing with Brian? You’re not screwing up.”
“Why are you so good to me?”
She drapes his arm around my shoulders. “That, Allison, is where the soul comes in. Boys will come and go, but I’m with you, always. We’re legendary.”
We walk to the front stoop, where the plastic Santa is waiting for us.
“What’s up with this thing, anyway?” Gwen asks.
“Something about the spirit of youth. You know Eric.”
Gwen nods. “Well, he’s coming with me.” She picks up Santa and enters the house.
I pause. My eyes drift upward, to the millions of stars and the moon, high and distant in the sky. From inside, the notes of a synthesizer blast from the TV.
“Looks like I forgot to rewind the tape.” Eric says.
“Leave it play,” Gwen responds.
Drums kick in, and a twangy guitar strums anthemic power chords. I know this song. Gwen put it on a mixtape for me soon after I came home from the hospital. It’s called “Shelter” by the band Lone Justice. The lyrics include this wonderful verse:
Disillusion has an edge so sharp
It tears at your soul and leaves a stain on your heart.
I need you to wash mine clean
You’ve felt it, too, and you need me
That kind of sums up my last year. Through all of my lows, my friends were by my side, ready to lift me up. They protected me, giving me hope in my darkest hours. That’s what your best friends do.
I love them.
“Nice Cheetoh-stache,” Eric laughs.
“I’ll give you something to laugh about,” Gwen hollers back.
Their exchange is followed by the crinkle of cellophane snack bags and the giggles of Eric and Gwen, no doubt lobbing Cheetohs and potato chips at each other.
If this is how it’s going to be all summer long, in the company of my best friends and the boy I love, laughing and providing the shelter we need to get through life, then I can’t wait.
The screen door opens. It’s Brian.
“Allison, everything okay?”
“Everything’s great,” I reply, a huge smile filling my face. I reach up, take Brian’s hand, and follow him inside to join the others.
Today’s artwork was by Chogrin. Chogrin is an illustrator & designer from Guayaquil, Ecuador. His work is inspired by classic American & Japanese cartoons. More at www.chogrin.com and www.facebook.com/ChogrinArt
The Replacement’s song, “Skyway,” is found on their 1987 album, Pleased to Meet Me.
Lone Justice’s song, “Shelter,” is found on their 1986 album, Shelter.
Previous Chapters: Chapter 33, Chapter 32, Chapter 31, Chapter 30, Chapter 29, Chapter 28, Chapter 27, Chapter 26, Chapter 25, Chapter 24, Chapter 23, Chapter 22, Chapter 21, Chapter 20, Chapter 19, Chapter 18, Chapter 17, Chapter 16, Chapter 15, Chapter 14, Chapter 13, Chapter 12, Chapter 11, Chapter 10, Chapter 9, Chapter 8, Chapter 7, Chapter 6, Chapter 5, Chapter 4, Chapter 3, Chapter 2, Chapter 1, Introduction