I blow out the candles, and things start to get a bit hazy. My mom starts passing out cake. Uncle Fletcher takes the biggest piece. I accidentally drop mine on the floor, and since no one seems to notice, I just leave it there. It’s a terrible thing to do, but I get the feeling that if I bend down, my mind will go all woozy.
Eventually, Rachel comes and finds me. “You don’t look so great,” she says.
“That’s not a pleasant thing to hear,” I say.
“No, I’m serious,” she says. “You look kinda pale.”
“I’m drunk, girl,” I say. “This is what drunk looks like.”
“What were you drinking?”
“The punch! That deliciously horrendous punch.”
“You drank that?”
“Wasn’t everyone drinking it?”
“No,” Rachel says. “I couldn’t get even a sip down. It was nasty. I don’t think anyone here was drinking that.”
I look around the room and notice for the first time that no one is holding anything other than glasses of water or beer bottles.
“It did seem weird that it was always full,” I say.
Rachel calls for Charlie. He strolls over as if it’s a favor.
“What did you spike the punch with?” she asks him.
“Because Lauren has been drinking it all night.”
“Uh-oh,” he says playfully.
“Charlie, what did you put in it?” Rachel’s voice is serious now, and at the very least, I can tell she doesn’t think this is funny.
“In my defense, I was just trying to liven up what we all knew would be a rather lame party.”
“Charlie,” Rachel says sternly.
“Everclear,” he says. The word hangs there for a little while, and then Charlie asks me, “How much did you drink?”
“Four glasses-ish.” It would be a hard word to say if I felt entirely in control of my faculties. As it is, it comes out with a lot more “sh” sounds than I mean for it to.
Both Charlie and Rachel join together, albeit by accident, to say, “Shit.”
Charlie follows up. “I honestly thought some people might have a glass or two, tops.”
“Dudes, what is Everclear? Why is this a dig beal?” I’m not entirely sure I said that correctly just now, but also, I’m starting to feel like if I did mess it up, it’s funny, and I should keep doing it.
“It’s not even legal in every state. That’s how strong it is,” Rachel says to me. Then, to Charlie, she adds, “Maybe we should take her home.”
For once, Charlie doesn’t disagree. “Yep.” He nods. “Lauren, when was the last time you puked from drinking?”
“I have no idea.”
“I’m going to tell Mom you aren’t feeling well,” Rachel says. “Charlie, will you get her into the car?”
“You guys are being such dillyholes.” Whoa. Not a word. But should be. “Someone write that down! D-I-L-L-Y—”
Rachel leaves as Charlie takes my arm and directs me toward the door. “I’m really sorry. I swear, I thought people would realize that it was strong and not drink that much. I thought maybe Uncle Fletcher would have a glass or two and start dancing on the table or something. Something fun.”
“Dudes, this was totally fun.”
“Why do you keep calling me dudes?” Charlie asks.
I look at him and really think about it. And then I shrug. When we get to the front door, my mother and Rachel cut us off.
“Mom, I’m just gonna take her,” Rachel says.
But my mother is already feeling my forehead. “You look clammy, sweetheart. You should get some rest.” She looks at me a moment longer. “Are you drunk?”
“Yep!” I say. This is hilarious, isn’t it? I mean, I’m thirty years old. I can be drunk!
“I spiked the punch,” Charlie says. You can tell he feels bad.
“With what?” my mom asks him.
Rachel cuts in. “It was strong, is the point. And Lauren didn’t know. And now she’s had a bit too much, and I think we should bring her home.”
“Charlie, what the f**k?” my mom says. When my mom swears, you know she means business. It’s sort of like how you know to be scared of other moms when they use your full name.
“I thought it would be funny,” he says. “No one was drinking it.”
“Clearly, someone was drinking it.”
“I can see that, Mom. I said I was sorry. Can we drop it?”
“Just get her home,” my mom says. My mom doesn’t really yell. She just gets really disappointed in you. And it’s heartbreaking sometimes. I feel bad for Charlie. He tends to get it more than the rest of us. “When will Ryan be home to take care of you?” my mom asks.
Rachel cuts in. “I’ll stay with her, Mom. She’s just drunk. It’s not a big deal.”
“But Ryan will be there, right? He can make sure you’re on your side, you know? So you don’t choke on your own vomit.” My mom doesn’t really drink that often, and because of that, she thinks everyone who does is Jimi Hendrix.
“Yeah, Mom, he’ll be there,” Rachel says. “I won’t leave until he gets there.”
“Well, then, you are going to be there for a loooooooooooong time,” I say.
“What?” my mom asks.
Rachel and Charlie try to stop me with “Come on, Lauren,” and “Let’s go, Lauren.”
“No, it’s cool, guys. Mom can know.”
“Mom can know what?” my mom asks. “Lauren, what is going on?”
“Ryan left. Vamoosed. He lives somewhere else now. Not sure where. He said not to call him. I got Thumper, though! Woo-hoo!”
“What?” My mother’s shoulders slump. Rachel and Charlie shut the front door, dejected. We were almost out of here scot-free.
“He left. We don’t live together anymore.”
“Mostly because the love died,” I say, laughing. I look around, expecting to see everyone else laughing, but no one is laughing.
“Lauren, please tell me you’re joking.”
“How long ago was this?”
“A few weeks or so. Coupla weeks. But did you hear the part about how I got Thumper?”
“I think we should take Lauren home,” Rachel says, and my mom looks as if she’s about to argue with her but then doesn’t.
She kisses me on the cheek. “One of you will stay with her?”
Both Charlie and Rachel volunteer. So cute. Cutest little siblings.
“All right,” my mom says. “Good night.”
They both say good night, and as I’m just out the door, I call to my mom, “I accidentally dropped some cake into the corner over there.”
But I don’t think she hears me.
Charlie and Rachel put me in the backseat, and I can feel just how tired I’ve been this whole time. We hit a red light, and I hear Charlie tell Rachel to take Highland to Beverly Boulevard, and then he turns toward me and suggests I get some sleep. I nod and close my eyes for a minute, and then . . .
I wake up to the sound of my doorbell ringing. The world seems cloudy and heavy, as if I can feel the air around me and it’s weighing me down. I start to stand up and realize that Rachel is lying in bed next to me. Thumper is in the corner coiled into a ball.
The doorbell rings again, and I hear someone go to open the door. My head feels like a bowling ball balancing on a wet noodle. I wade through my house until I see my brother and my mother standing on either side of my front door. Charlie must have slept on the couch.
“Hey,” I say to them. I can feel the sound of my voice pulsating through my head. It vibrates in my eyes and jaw. They both look at me. My mother has a cardboard drink tray of four coffees in her hand. Rachel comes up right behind me.
“Oh, good,” my mom says, stepping into the house. Thumper hears her and comes running, too. “You’re all up,” she says.