"Savor it, Arnold, senior checkout day at last! Whatcha doing tonight?" Gerald asked, slamming his hand against Arnold's locker to distract him.
"I didn't really have any plans." Arnold said, pushing Gerald's hand out of the way so he could grab his backpack.
"Great," Gerald grinned, and leaned back against the adjacent locker, the cool metal against the muggy hallway air assuring him that summer was only a few days away.
"What'd you want to do?" Arnold finished zipping his backpack and turned toward his friend.
"Sid and a few other guys from the team are throwing a pre-graduation party."
Arnold looked at him skeptically, "Sounds like an excuse to get drunk."
"Exactly." Gerald looked at him, rubbing his goatee eagerly, "Think of it man, our last high school party. Next year, we'll be getting it on with the big boys."
"I don't know Gerald, I promised Ernie I'd help him paint the living room."
Gerald rolled his eyes, "Blow it off, you'll be helping him fix up the house all summer anyway."
"I can't." Arnold insisted, "It's my responsibility now that Grandpa's gone."
"I know, I know, we've gone through this a million times already."
Arnold looked at him, raising an eyebrow, "Then you'd think you would have gotten it by now." He turned to leave, glancing to see if Gerald would follow and continue the debate.
"Man, can't you ever just lighten up?" Gerald grumbled, grabbing his backpack from the floor and jogging to catch up with him.
"If I did, you'd have nothing to complain about," Arnold grinned, walking slightly backwards to face him.
"No, there'd still be your perfect grades, lack of girls, and granny dribbling." Gerald taunted.
Arnold stopped, pretending to look offended, "Granny dribbling? So it was my granny dribbling that won us the game last Friday, along with my 'old lady jump-shot', right?"
"No, it was my flawless three-pointer in the fourth quarter."
Arnold laughed and continued walking, "Hardly."
Gerald stepped in front of him, stopping him with a quick impact from his backpack, "Wait a minute, are you going to answer me or not?"
"Answer you about what?"
"Don't play dumb: the blonde thing only goes so far," Gerald advised, rolling his eyes and continuing with stubborn determination, "I mean about the party tonight."
"Man, you know I'm with you on most things, but I promised. I can't just back out."
Gerald sighed, "Okay. I'll tell you what, though I really wouldn't be willing to do this if you weren't my best friend and I wanted you to enjoy the finer things in life."
"You mean getting drunk and cruising?"
"Would you shut up? I'm trying to be valiant." Gerald snapped, "Anyway, I'll come over and help you paint for a few hours so we can get to the party by nine or so. That's when it really picks up anyway."
"That's valiant?" Arnold scoffed, "You know, most friends would do that willingly."
"Dude, you know how much I hate hanging out with your creepy family."
Arnold sighed, "Yeah, fine. I guess I'll go."
"Righteous, man. I knew I'd win you over." Gerald said. They opened the front doors to leave, giving the secretary a brief nod. She smiled broadly, no doubt reminiscing about how she remembered when they were just freshman.
"Win me over?" Arnold said indignantly.
Gerald grinned, "Of course. You've been yielding to me since elementary school."
"Ha, if you remembered correctly, you'd remember that I was leader. Remember? I was the one who wanted to go to Wheezin' Ed's cave, I was the one who attempted The List, and I was the one who started our band up." Arnold said smugly.
Gerald frowned, "And you were the modest one too, right?" He pushed Arnold lightly into the school flagpole.
"Oomph!" Arnold drew back and mimed a blow at Gerald's head, pulling it back at the last moment, "You know you're just jealous because I'm right."
"No, actually, what stands out clearest in my mind is that dorky hair cut you had. Little tufts of hair in some sort of Mohawk across your head."
"My hair?' Arnold ran his hand briefly across his short tapered cut, "You were the one with that cylindrical Afro!"
"Whoa," Gerald faced him dangerously, "You may be my best friend, but don't insult the 'fro."
"The 'fro." Arnold scoffed. He unlocked his car, the same old green Packard that he'd inherited from his grandpa. "You want a ride or not?"
Gerald rolled his eyes and jumped into the passenger side, "I'm going to your house anyway."
"Well then you'd better be nice," Arnold said, grinning.
"You're a bold kid, man, bold." Gerald said, and turned up the stereo. "Some other guys would beat you up for a comment like that."
"And the only reason you're not is because I could kick your butt." Arnold said, revving his motor and backing out of the high school parking lot.
Gerald punched his arm, "Beat me up?"
Arnold just laughed and stared out the window, "Hey look, it's Caroline Duncan." His voice turned dreamy as he stared at the long-legged blonde walking through the parking lot.
"Snap out of it, Arnold, you'd never have a chance with a girl like Caroline." Gerald said, waving a hand in front of his face. "She's going to Harvard in the fall."
"No, come on Ger, she just smiled at me!"
Gerald sank back against the seat in resign, "No she didn't, she just saw a pack of her spritz-head friends across the parking lot."
"Well, last month, she asked me if I was going to vote for her as prom queen."
Gerald groaned, "Which you did. And she lost. So now she probably hates you. Give it up."
"I can't Gerald," Arnold sighed, "Look at her, she's gorgeous."
"And totally out of your range." Gerald reminded.
"Yeah, I guess you're right." Arnold said, and banged his head against the wheel. "I'd never have a chance with a girl like that."
Gerald sighed at his friend's low self-esteem, "Don't beat yourself up about it, Arnold. Hey, I heard she'd going to be at Sid's tonight."
Arnold looked up hopefully, "Serious?"
"Yep, looks like it's your big chance to score."
"Wow!" He looked out the window at her again, then back to Gerald, "You're a good friend, man." He carefully drove out of the parking lot and towards his house, which wasn't very far away from the school anyway.
"Yeah, I know. So I don't have to help you paint, right?"
"Ha, you're not getting out of it that easily."
"You're impossible, you know that?" He groaned, seeing they were already pulling up to Arnold's street. Arnold quickly parallel parked and dragged Gerald out of the car.
"Come on Gerald, it's not so bad," Arnold said as he pushed open the door and a barrage of animals ran out.
"They're probably escaping the fumes," Gerald said spitefully.
Arnold gave him a look and walked into the living room. Ernie had already spread out half a dozen paint pans and rollers, and was now resting on the couch drinking lemonade.
"Oh, sorry, Arnold. I got a little distracted." He apologized gruffly, and strained to get up off the couch. "Gimme a hand here, wouldja?"
Arnold gave Gerald another look, and helped Ernie off the couch. He was no longer as young as he used to be, and was now starting to feel the years of walking around construction sites and lifting heavy bricks while bulldozing.
"You're a good boy, Arnold. You too, Gerald. I'm, glad you came to help."
Arnold nodded, and picked up one of the rollers. Gerald did the same, and then with a shrug, started painting haphazardly around the room. Ernie looked as if he was going to stop them and insist they learn how to paint first, but then gave a similar shrug and joined in.
The hours went by quickly and by the time the sun was setting through the main window the living room was done.
"Hey, boys, why don't you stay and have dinner?" Ernie suggested.
Gerald cut off Arnold's inevitable acceptance quickly; "Sorry, Mr. Potts, but we have a grad party to get to."
"Oh, I see. Going to go cut a rug with some ladies, eh?" he wiggled his eyebrows, "You know I used to be quite a stud, dancin' it up with the girls and Dino Spumoni."
They backed out of the door slowly, and without another word high tailed it for the car.
"You see why your creepy family bugs me?" Gerald complained. Arnold ignored him, concentrating on backing out of his park job. He continued to ignore him the entire way to Sid's house, talking only once to tell him to shut up so he could concentrate on the road.
"Fine man, I see how it is." Arnold just shook his head.
"Well, this must be it." He said, gesturing to the long line of cars outside Sid's townhouse. The door was already open, and they could see that the party was in full throw. They grinned, and did their thumb-wiggle handshake, stepping inside. The house was already trashed, with lamps and bookcases knocked over, and cups all over the place. Friends, classmates, and people they didn't even know were running rampant, dancing and jumping on furniture. The music blasted over the stereo system, and people were yelling to be heard in normal conversation.
Gerald stepped full blow into it, joining up with Stinky and Harold, while Arnold stayed back along the wall, looking for Caroline. He saw her almost immediately, talking with a crowd of cheerleaders. He grinned and started walking toward her.
And turned back around. I can't do this. he thought desperately, glancing back at her. He tried to steady himself, and grabbed a beer from a nearby cooler to steady his nerves. Okay, it's just a girl, no need to be nervous. He tried again, but couldn't do it. Finally he resigned to a corner of the room, watching her and nursing his beer. Several songs slipped by on the stereo, and the alcohol helped him loosen up a bit. Finally, feeling more courageous, he walked up to the crowd of girls again.
She looked at him, "Um, hello, uh, Andrew."
"Actually, it's uh, I mean, it's-" he stared at her helplessly, trying to remember his own name. "Arnold!"
She stared at him. "Right. How many of those have you had?" she gestured at the beer in his hand.
"I'm the first, I mean, this is the first one I've had."
She gave him a look of disgust and turned back to her gaggle of friends.
Arnold walked away. "I blew it!" he moaned, cursing his inability with words.
"How'd it go, Romeo?" Gerald said from behind him.
"Awful. She thought I was drunk."
Gerald nodded, "Tough break man. Hey, you wanna get out of here? Harold's already tried to get me into three chugging contests."
"Yeah, let's just go." Arnold said regretfully.
"Cheer up man, she's not your type anyway. Spritz heads never are. All they care about is themselves."
"You go start the car. I'm going to grab a beer or two, and we'll have our own party back at your house."
"I guess," Arnold grumbled, and started the car slowly. Gerald hopped back in with a few cans and stashed them under the seat.
"Let's roll man," he said, laughing. Arnold could already smell the beer on his breath, but decided not to comment. He'd probably be drunk by the end of the night anyway.
The cool night air was young and alive with possibility, the wind whipping through the windows smelled like lawn clippings and barbecue. Though most of the evening's activities had died down, the night still held the summer ambience. Arnold, however, was in no mood to enjoy it, instead mulling on how he'd gotten rejected- again.
He parked gruffly in front of the Sunset Arms, noticing that the boarders had already gone to bed, and even the porch light was off. Ernie probably hadn't expected him until much later.
The shut off the car, and motioned Gerald to be quiet, though his friend was giggling at something and walking shakily, so the message probably didn't get through. They managed to steal upstairs with out waking anyone, despite Gerald's tipsiness. When the door was closed Gerald let out a long sigh and collapsed on Arnold's bed, dropping the beer cans to his side.
"Man, I hate all that tiptoeing around!" he proclaimed, his words slightly slurred with drunkenness.
"Yeah, well just be grateful no one woke up and saw you with all that beer." Arnold said icily.
Gerald sat up and glared at him, "What's your problem? Oh, I see," he nodded knowingly, "You're still all upset that you didn't score with Caroline."
"I didn't want to 'score' with her Gerald, I just didn't want to make a complete fool out of myself." He sat down on the bed heavily, grabbing a beer and popping it open.
"Hey, man, I know her type. She'll probably get so hammered at Sid's she won't even remember you."
Arnold groaned, and downed half his can.
"No, it's a good thing," Gerald amended, "that way you can get a fresh start next time you see her."
Arnold turned to him, "You think so?"
"Of course," Gerald replied grinning, "Have I ever lied to you?"
Arnold shook his head. "No, man, you've always been true to me." He smiled, and Gerald turned toward him, their faces inches apart, and slapped him on the back.
"You know man, you've always been true to me too." He paused thoughtfully, "You really are a great guy. And if that Caroline doesn't see that you've got class, then she's a bigger airhead than I thought." he rubbed Arnold's back soothingly, and Arnold sighed, placing the beer can on the nightstand, its effects already setting in.
"Thanks, Ger." He said, and laid his head on his shoulder, feeling for a minute like a kid again, safe and comforted. He felt Gerald's shoulders moving beneath him with his breath, calm and sedated from the late hour and the alcohol. And he felt Gerald's goatee move lightly across his forehead, and following it, a light press of lips.
He looked up and met Gerald's warm brown eyes; glassy and unsure. For some reason, he wasn't startled, perhaps because the alcohol in his system was beginning to slow down his reactions, or maybe because he felt so comfortable anyway.
He stared at Gerald for a long time, and then slowly leaned forward, letting his lips touch the other boy's lightly. He pulled away after a few seconds and stared into Gerald's eyes again. Then, as if there was an unknown signal between them they both tilted their heads, meeting their lips against each other again, pushing against each other with intensity. Toppling back onto the bed, they explored each other's mouths with long, searching kisses.
Finally they parted, panting slightly and out of breath. Staring at each other for so long ages seemed to slip by, planets were formed, and the universe could have been recreated.
Slowly, and tenderly Arnold kissed Gerald's neck, rubbing against his cheek with his faint stubble and leaving of trail of soft kisses up to his ear. Gerald wrapped his arms around him, softly letting his hands roam the other boy's back, and then releasing him gently. He rubbed his face against Arnold's, placing his lips on his again and kissing him lightly. Then, he fell back against the bed, his arm still around Arnold's waist, and Arnold, suddenly tired and feeling the effects of the beer, fell asleep against him.
During the night they both felt the other's arms against them, pulling each other tightly and caressing them softly. And in the morning neither remembered, and nothing had changed, each of them having only given in to a night of loneliness and the bonds of a close friendship.