Spring, 2000

The sparsely furnished rented house is loud and bustling though the party itself is tame enough. Music blaring from the living room's speakers, patched out too to the string-light and tiki-torch lit backyard, forces conversations to be shouted to be heard over the volume. No one's trying to dance, there've been no fights or crazy antics, it's just a hangout on a warm spring night. The guys' whose house it is are in their early twenties, but the crowd that's assembled varies in age, ranging between the predictable mixture of high schoolers and those in their early to mid-twenties. Newly returned from his near-year stint as an ex-patriot in Veracruz, Jordan Catalano, at the age of twenty-two, stands leaning against a hallway doorframe in the living room, shooting the shit with several guys he knows. It's their friends' place, Jordan's crashed on their sofa several nights since getting back. He hasn't settled on staying in Three Rivers and's been looking to move into the city, but he's around for now, getting a kick out of hanging with old buddies and reverting, temporarily, to his old way of life of day jobs and jam sessions, keggers and couch crashing, good friends and game girls. The crowd had been meant to be just them, just people they know, hanging out and drinking some beers. They'd barbecued earlier in the day, but like often happens, around nine or so the headcount started to swell till no longer was the dumpy little house with the expansive untended backyard filled with just the faces the hosts would recognize. People, especially the high school kids, just show up. Blame word of mouth from siblings or girls seeing someone older (or looking to). These things just get out, and even if they start small they rarely end that way, especially as the weather warms. As long as the high schoolers watch themselves, as long as they don't make any scenes and they don't start taking over, the older crowd looks past it. They all did the same when they were that age. The younger ones are most often who bring any drama, but they've got enthusiasm and a desire to impress working in their favor.

The party, if that's what it's become, is fine; there isn't anything noteworthy to say either for or against it. From across the room, a small group of high school girls standing in the kitchen catches Jordan's wandering eye, for a reason he's not quite sure of. It isn't sex, that he knows. They are far too young for him, but still, something he can't place has got him looking twice. By appearance, Jordan remains engaged in his conversation, but his gaze occasionally travels back to the girls, observing them as they betray themselves as novice drinkers: perpetually silly, and increasingly obnoxious. Everything about them is as unique as dirt, he's seen silly groups of girls showing up to places like this, having conversations like theirs, exactly like them, for probably the last ten years of his life. Unable to see anything more than what he's passively observed hundreds of times before, Jordan abandons the notion there's something more there to be seen. He's just fully returned his focus to his friends when he thinks he hears his name being giggled from that same group of girls. This time when he looks over he sees one face standing out, somehow somewhat familiar, though he'd swear he doesn't know any of them. Jordan notes the way the face's owner carries herself as if she would like to give the impression of experience, maturity, and familiarity. His eyes narrow, maybe as though to look past her fronting. There it is. Danielle Chase, now sixteen, gives Jordan a slight head nod of recognition. Jordan, in return, straightens and walks away.

...

Later, Jordan's on his own in the kitchen leaning against the counter while he finishes one of the burgers from earlier. Wiping his mouth with his sleeve, his plastic cup of beer beside him on the chipped Formica countertop, he momentarily closes his eyes as he rests his head back on a poorly hinged cabinet. A young girl approaches, maybe fifteen, possibly sixteen; it's hard to tell, she's tried so hard to up her age.

"Hi." She is short, with dark curly, curly hair and a lot of eye makeup. "You're Jordan, Catalano, right?" Aside from the makeup and the top she put on, this girl looks more like a baby than an adult, but she's got enough of the self-deceiving confidence of youth that she believes she's talking to him as equals, and that there's something worldly in the way she's standing, looking up at him. He opens his eyes and shifts his head just enough to look at her. His stare is blank as his silence allows her to continue. She does. "You drive a red convertible car, don't you?" When he doesn't show any interest in confirming any kind of personal information, she moves on. "Whuch'ya drinkin'?" She's getting nothing, just detached observation. "Hey, aren't you going to talk to me?" Still silent, Jordan shifts his weight and she shifts her conversation, watching him for his reaction: "I know someone who knows you."

From across the room, the girl's friends watch attentively. Jordan and the girl are out of hearing range, but they see him standing there, listening to her. In time his stoic indifference shifts and he comes to look just slightly amused, saying one or two words to her every now and then. The girl, who is on her way to being drunk, with unmerited familiarity reaches out and places her hand on his forearm— Under her shameless underage touch, things shift again and in one easy movement, Jordan detaches himself from the girl, coolly delivers some sort of discouragement, and slips back into the crowd.

...

The party in the backyard is still going, but most people by now have gathered into smaller clusters, and the crowd, in general, is a little less animated than earlier in the night. Many have moved to the porch or inside the house, but there are still some people in the yard. Danielle stands alone out at the keg, pumping it up and down. Up and down. Up. And. Down. With unconcerned ease, Jordan approaches. Casually, without her realizing he's beside her, Jordan sets his hand on hers mid-pump. "You've pumped it too much." Danielle looks up. He takes the tap from her and squirts it onto the ground. "It's all foam." He takes her cup and continues to fill it and dump it to eliminate the foam.

Watching this, Danielle takes a step back, a little embarrassed, "Thanks."

Jordan doesn't look at her, just keeps watch the overflow of beer until the pressure reduces and a steady stream of beer returns. "That was your friend. Wasn't it."

"Who?" Disinterested in her teenage coyness Jordan cocks his eyebrow in answer as he hands her the beer. "It wasn't my idea," is her confirming statement. Jordan lights a cigarette and exhales away from her face. He doesn't have much of anything to say to her. "So," she peers up at him, "aren't you going to ask me what I'm doing here?"

Impassively, Jordan glances at her. Her thin body is too exposed in that tight dress she's got on. For Pensylvania, the night is warm enough, but not so much she doesn't need sleeves or even straps, or a lower hemline. Her sister never dressed like that. He doesn't remember ever liking the way some girls show up for something like a backyard kegger dressed like they're waiting in line for some club. But they do it, especially the young ones. "I see what you're doin' here."

Jordan's disengaged nonchalance pushes Danielle to assume the air of cool aloofness. She does not want to stand out; it's been years since Danielle was a rookie on any sports team she plays on, and she doesn't intend to be one here. "Well, anyway, the party sucks."

Amused, Jordan looks down at her with a smirk, "Oh, yeah?"

She's blasé when she answers, "I was at a better one last week." This could be true, or this could be her first party ever, it is difficult to say. She's definitely playing it cool, and is much better at it than someone else, as he remembers. Indifferently watching her posturing for adulthood, Jordan vaguely wonders if she's for real or only trying it on for size. He'd been in a hurry to grow up, but she, she had been the opposite — thinking she wanted it, but holding on to being a kid in so many ways. With another glance in her direction, he wonders if the little sister's that same way. But before he thinks too long on it he stops. It isn't any of his business. He owes nothing to this kid. Danielle Chase or not.

Jordan takes another drag from his cigarette. A girl comes by and it's evident to Danielle that Jordan and she clearly know each other. She's twenty or so, and understated and hip; Angela's younger sister watches as this girl leans on him slightly as they exchange a few friendly words. There's a small amount of flirting between them; she touches his upper arm, he grins at her, wags his eyebrows. When she walks away, Danielle follows the girl with her eyes. She then glances at Jordan, asking dryly, "You talk to Angela ever?"

Jordan looks her over with a knowing partial-smirk before he looks away, "I'll bet you already know the answer to that."

She does, pretty much. While she's closer now with her sister than she was when they both lived at home, Danielle's only ever gotten glimpses into Angela's actual life in high school, or her ongoing relationship with the brooding enigma Jordan Catalano. Even Danielle's own feelings about Jordan have never been all that clear to her. He'd been unknowable to her in her youth. Angela had always been withholding on the subject, he was hardly ever around, and when he was he never spoke, to her. Nothing that wasn't monosyllabic. That doesn't seem to have changed. And while Danielle had found him taciturn and closed-mouth, frustratingly sedate and subtly mocking, he had nonetheless been folded into her formative adolescent conceit of a subject of desire. It's strange now to be there, in a torch-lit backyard of a house party, conversing with him, no longer the dismissible younger sibling. She does not desire him, but he, and Han, and Sundance, and Rhett, and Renfro, are the shaping sources of her desire, though she could not have named him as part of that list until she saw him there this night, as she'd watched from across the room. She looks again at him: Jordan Catalano, for her, merely represents the abstract of something she is waiting for, but for her sister, he was actually it — her first heartbreak, her first love. And worldly affectation aside, Danielle is still young enough, and inexperienced enough, to believe that that will always matter — that it does, and shall continue to, count for something. And she wants to see proof of it. "She's seeing someone else, you know." Danielle watches him, waiting for a reaction.

Jordan has no particular reaction to this. He's been living nearly half a world away on the beach of another country; when Angela'd bailed on Mexico, there'd been exactly one phone message and a postcard between them since. There're no hard feelings on his end, but she'd left, as he'd known eventually she would, and he'd stayed, and that's exactly how they left it. There'd been one phone call, actually, just a month or so back. He'd used up five calling cards on it and they'd talked for more than an hour. They'd skipped over the circumstances of her leaving and just talked, just like it'd for so long been so easy for them to do. It was their longest, most expensive phone call, and none of it had been about them. If they'll ever come back together at some point, the time for it isn't now, and Jordan doesn't much care if there's a guy in her bed in the meantime, there's been plenty of girls in his. He only answers because he can tell her little sister's expecting him to. He clears his throat. "Oh yeah?"

Having never gotten the full story from her sister, Danielle's brows narrow as she asks, "What happened between you two?"

Jordan studies her before answering. "We grew up."

Somewhere on the spectrum between pointed and thoughtful Danielle remarks, "I don't think that had anything to do with it."

"Maybe not." Jordan takes a drink.

"Catalano, hey," a friend of his approaches, "we're taking off, man." Jordan nods. The friend looks Danielle over. "Pretty young," he shakes his head with amusement. Jordan half-cracks a smile as he looks away and takes a long drag off his cigarette. The day he starts looking at high school girls, or at Danielle Chase as anything other than— he stops. There's no need to finish the thought, neither's ever going to happen.

"I'm Angela's sister," Danielle tells the guy.

Jordan's attention's called back to her with this remark; bemused, his brow raises some. His friend is friendly, but dismissive in his reply, "I don't know who that is, baby."

Danielle sees now the extent to which things have changed. If 'Angela' is not a name recognizable to his friends, then Jordan really has moved on. A little part of her absorbs the hurt on her sister's behalf. She doesn't even know why she'd said it. Was it to justify herself or in spite of herself? Danielle does not wish to eternally be the baby sister, the younger one in the elder's shadow, but in that context, she'd already been tagged as young and out of bounds. What's more, she hadn't like the smarmy paternalistic way in which he'd remarked on her being beside Jordan. Maybe she had said it to justify herself or to make some excuse for him. Suddenly she sees it silly to be standing there with Angela's former boyfriend. What had that been about proving?

In response, Danielle downs the rest of her beer, or, as much of it as she can. This too amuses Jordan. His arms are crossed and he flicks some ash from his cigarette as he watches her. His friend too finds this funny and wraps his arm around her, "All right."

Danielle Chase, Jordan notes, is not easily shaken. Nothing about her is timid or wilting; trepidation has always been reserved for her sister alone. So while unappreciative of, and admittedly uncomfortable with this twenty-two-year-old's close proximity, she is neither frightened nor entirely dissuaded from mixing with an older crowd. Under the weight of him slung over her, her shoulders stiffen and her gaze diverts to the side, but otherwise, she appears the same as she ever did. It isn't too tough for him to recall Angela at that age, soft-spoken when out of her depth, more willing to wait something uncomfortable like this out than to risk a scene. He recalls too Danielle as she once had been, skinned kneed and in uniform for sports or scouts, not undressed and made up like this. It's unclear which vision of her makes a stronger case for intervention. "Later, Seth." Jordan speaks the words huskily but remains casual in his comportment.

The friend Seth looks down in reference at the girl he's got underarm, then at Jordan. With no skin off his nose and a sort disinvested self-effacing laugh, he easily removes his arm and walks away, nodding at Jordan as he leaves. "Later, Catalano."

Danielle sidesteps a little to remove herself from the wake of that discomfort and then looks at him. "You didn't have to do that."

Without getting either heavy or paternal, Jordan questions, "How many of those've you had?" indicating her cup with his eyes and an understated head jerk.

Danielle is not interested in being handled, and to communicate this she boldly takes his cigarette from his hand — in response to which Jordan's eyebrows raise. With his half-smoked cigarette between her fingers, Danielle makes deliberate eye contact, takes a drag, and hands it back. While this same move acted between two different people, or even if one of them had been different, may very well have been a come-on, possibly a good one, here it's a simple defiance of youth. "I'm not counting," she tells him as she exhales. Once more, Jordan can't help but entertain comparisons...

Exiting the house, the curly-haired brunette from earlier shows up beside them along with a friend of Jordan's. This little girl is drunk and uneven in her steps and fairly irritating in her conversation. She's the sort of girl who, at sixteen, sees herself as thoroughly mature and so on the same level as twenty-three-year-old guys, so much so she thinks she can boss them around and be admired for doing it. It's a self-deception not uncommon and one that gets entertained when the older guys are fairly certain they'll make out in the exchange. "Danielle!" the girl enthuses.

Danielle dispassionately makes the introductions, "This is Sheri." Jordan lifts his eyebrows at the girl, then nods a 'what's up' to the guy. Danielle addresses her friend, "Where's Lindsey and Jamie?"

"They went home," she shrugs, too lit to care that Jamie was their ride.

Danielle loses her tough act when she hears she has been stranded. "What?" But no one really hears her or the strained pitch in her voice because at that same moment several more guys appear, talking to Jordan and the friend who's standing with the girl Sheri. As they stand there, the older, taller guys are quite literally talking over the girls' heads, carrying on their conversation as if the girls weren't even there.

Eventually, the conversation comes around to the one with his arm slung round Danielle's friend telling Jordan, "We're headed over to Kim's."

"Oh, my God!" Sheri kind of throws herself on Jordan, "You should totally come!" He steadies her and then takes a step away.

"This chick's nuts, man," one of them chuckles.

Jordan ignores the invitation and amidst the others' conversation discreetly tilts his head towards Danielle, "Hang tight." Jordan breaks away from the group and walks into the house. Ignoring the girls, the guys continue to talk amongst themselves.

Having taken care of what he'd needed to — saying 'late' to the buddies whose place this is and bowing out of a previously arranged meet-up with a girl — Jordan returns momentarily, lighting a new cigarette as the group around the keg is finally motivating to leave.

"So, we're going to Kim's," the bearded friend says.

"Yeah," another confirms, pulling his keys from his pocket. "We'll meet you there."

"I need some cigarettes first," the one in the hat interjects. "You're driving, man," he nods at the first guy.

Scratching his beard and half grinning, the one friend asks, "Did'ya see Lacey here tonight?" He gets some knowing smiles in response as the group of them starts to make their way through the side yard and out to the street.

Jordan too takes a few steps to follow, then pivots to turn back to Danielle who's remained in place, now again standing alone by the keg. "Com'on," he says. "I'll take you home." She looks at him, around the emptying yard, then down at her remaining beer. The night had not turned out how it was meant to, why act as though it had? Decidedly, she tosses the plastic cup to the ground. He waits for her to catch up then walks alongside her to the street.

A few paces ahead of them are Sheri and the guy she's been hanging with. Jordan watches as his buddy walks with her to the cars, his hand round the back of Sheri's neck. Jordan looks down at Danielle beside him, who is just then rubbing her eyes and yawning. This decides it. Jordan throws down his still-good cigarette, quickens his pace, and catches up to the twosome ahead of them. "Hey, Sheri," he says casually. "Got a cigarette?" She stops walking to look through her bag. The guy moves on, still walking toward the street, hardly noticing he's lost her. Sheri teeters as she searches, and Jordan looks bored as he waits for the cigarette he'd never needed. Eventually, she finds one, then begins the hunt for a lighter.

"Jordan," the guy in the hat calls, pounding the hood of the car, "let's go."

Having not waited on Sheri, Jordan's friend has reached the others and upon unlocking his own car calls out, "Come on." He rolls his eyes as he loses patience with the girl who's holding them up, "Let's get outta here!"

Still rifling through her bag Sheri stumbles a little, "Hold on!" The guy's head drops back in exaggerated and disproportionate irritation.

Meaning the girls, to his buddies Jordan answers, "I got them."

Fine with that, the friend calls back, "Kim's!" He opens his door and climbs in. Jordan nods. The guys load into the cars and drive off.

With the others cleared out, Jordan heads towards his own car, nodding to the girls, "Com'on." To Sheri, who's still rummaging, he says, "Forget it."

Already behind the wheel and waiting for the girls, Jordan starts the car which, Danielle notes, is not the car she'd always seen him in. This car is not red, it is not a convertible, and, to her at least, it is not Jordan Catalano. Sheri pushes into the back seat, followed by Danielle taking her place in the passenger seat. Shifting into gear Jordan looks into the rearview mirror, "Where d'you live?" His voice is gruff in the asking, but only Danielle hears it.

"We're going to Kim's!" Sheri declares before her eyes roll from the dizziness.

Danielle knows full well he has no intention of taking them anywhere but home. "Just take us to my house," she says, leaning her head against the cool window. Sheri falls back against the seat and slouches into a — hopefully, sobering — slumber.

Jordan exhales. This is not what he'd signed up for for the night. Making a left turn, he heads for Angela's.

...

Driving down the familiar street, Jordan pulls up outside the Chase house. How many times before had he made this drive? It seems to him both for a lifetime and as though it'd been a lifetime ago. Sitting there, Jordan looks past Danielle through the passenger window and kind of studies the house — he has not been there for a long time. So many nights, so many nights he'd sat there on this same quiet street, in front of this same Craftsman-style house, in a different car, with a different Chase sister. Hours, and hours cumulatively they'd spent out there. Talking, fighting, making out, listening to music, doing nothing at all. So clear to him even now are some of those times, while others cloud together in general memories that could swap out one for the other. He remembers the desire, the anticipation, the anxiety, the dread, the pleasure, the frustration, the resignation, the love, all the things and more he'd felt on all those many different times he'd driven to this house. Danielle too looks, then steals a glance back at Jordan, wondering what he's thinking or possibly remembering. She starts to say something but the stopped car has aroused her friend.

"Hey—" she looks around groggily. Jordan rolls his eyes; he's ready for this night to be over. Sheri straightens up and leans forward into the front seat, "Do you think your friend will call me?" Jordan looks at her, then at Danielle, and after a pause gestures to the house with a slight nod. It isn't his job to give her a lecture, he'd done his part in driving them home and extricating them from a situation they had no business getting themselves into.

Danielle takes his meaning and opens the door, "Right." She steps out of the car and proceeds to help her friend out. It takes some doing as she's still drunk and still protesting that it's too soon for their night to be ending, but once both are out on the curb, Danielle pauses and looks at him, holding the door before she shuts it, "Thanks, Jordan." Then the cool act is up once more, "See you around." She shuts the door, and without a look in her direction, Jordan Catalano starts the car and drives away.


*Posted 12/2/12