Drunken chatter and ear-splitting laughter filtered through the blaring music as I marveled at a diamond sprinkled sky, hugging myself. A warm buzz coursed through my veins from the shots of vodka my boyfriend begged me to take earlier that night. I wasn’t much of a drinker, but he was adamant about me having a good time, and convinced a few drinks would accomplish just that.
I dreaded the idea of having a party for my twentieth birthday—especially miles up north, in a village where I knew only a handful of people. It had given me anxiety for weeks, ever since Jake told me he was throwing me one. But now that the party was happening, I shocked us both at how much I was enjoying myself, which pleased Jake to no end.
The humidity from so many people being crammed in one place left me feeling claustrophobic, so I was sitting in the middle of the football field-sized yard for a break. Others scattered the yard as well. Several couples were making out while others squabbled. A crowd watched as dancers took turns in the center of the circle of people. I was watching two guys practice roundhouses when someone grabbed me from behind.
“Oh my God!” I squealed. “Jake, how could you?”
“Did I scare you?”
“Oh, no. I just seem to have misplaced my heart somewhere when it jumped out my throat.”
He laughed, giving me a quick peck on the forehead.
“I’m heading out to the SAQ to get more booze before it closes.”
“But you’ve been drinking.”
“Don’t worry. My cousin Steve just arrived. He’s sober.”
“That’s surprising,” I muttered. I wasn’t staying at the party without him. Plus, I would enjoy the ride. “Can I come?”
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay here? Anna was looking for you.”
Anna. What was her problem? I was like an obsession for her. She was a nightmare for me. She was one of the biggest drama queens I knew.
“I’ll find her when we get back,” I said, batting my eyes. “I want to be with you.”
“You’re irresistible—you know that, don’t you?”
Jake kissed me and picked me up with ease. I squealed as he swung me over his shoulder and headed down the street to where Steve parked his second-hand Cadillac. Jake set me down once we were on the road. There were no sidewalks in the village anywhere, except on Main Street, where all the stores and restaurants resided—not that there were many.
We held hands as we walked down the road, avoiding cars and trucks by stepping as close to the ditches as possible without falling in. Steve was leaning against his burgundy Cadillac with his arms and legs crossed. He straightened up when he saw me approach with Jake.
“Well, well, if it isn’t the beautiful Sofie. You couldn’t resist the chance to check out my ride, could you?”
“I just came to see if any cops are following you.”
Steve’s mouth dropped open.
“Did you tell her it was stolen? It’s not stolen. I bought it with the money I made guarding crops this summer.”
“Are you still doing that?” Jake asked. He used to work with him until they stopped going to high school. Jake graduated and was going to take up a trade in welding, while Steve dropped out to deal and steal with the occasional legit side gig. “I thought you’d have moved on from that by now.”
“Why would I? I make hardcore cash each summer just sitting around with a rifle, looking intense. Ir’s easy money. I never understood why you quit.”
“Because Jake is smart and knows how to invest in his future,” I said, wishing to say more, but not wanting to spoil the night.
“What is this Caddie then if not an investment?”
“Do you have the papers for it?”
“Sofie, I told you. The car’s legit.” Jake shook his head and smiled. He knew how paranoid I was about breaking the law. “I wouldn’t let you drive in it if I had any inkling it was a stolen car.”
“I bought it with legal currency, Sofie. Stop giving me the third degree.”
“Sorry,” I said as I walked around the car. I admired the bull horns attached to the front of the hood. It gave the car a Texas feel. “It’s a beast, Steve. Sweet ride.”
“Thank you, my dear,” Steve said, clapping and rubbing his hands together. “So should we get this show on the road before everyone goes home?”
“Yeah, right,” I said, jumping in the back seat. “Like they’re gonna turn away from free alcohol.”
Jake took the passenger seat and barely had time to close the door before Steve was revving up the engine, making the tires smoke.
“Hold on a sec, shithead!” Jake punched his cousin in the arm.
“No hitting the driver,” Steve said as he swung into the road and stepped down on the gas. “Wanna see how fast this baby can go?”
“Not really,” I said. I bent over and whispered in Jake’s ear, “I thought you said he was sober.”
“I haven’t had a drink all day,” Steve said, overhearing my complaint. “But I wouldn’t say I was sober.”
“That’s great.” I frowned, pushing back into the seat and fastening my seatbelt. No way was I getting killed because of this jerk. I glared at Jake through the review mirror. He knew I wasn’t pleased.
Steve turned on some hard rock, singing along to the lyrics. He drove as if we were on a racetrack until we were in the more populated area of Main Street. My heart rate relaxed as we pulled into the parking lot.
I stayed in the car as Jake and Steve went into the SAQ for the booze. I never went into any stores with Steve—I never knew if he was going to steal something, which was frequent.
Bored, I left the car to stretch my legs, and smoke a cigarette, when a red jeep zoomed by. It drove so close that the wind lifted my skirt. I hollered bloody murder at them as I swung my fist in the air. Paranoid, I got back in the car and rolled down the window so I could finish my smoke. I wasn’t chancing getting hit by some drunk loser.
The guys came back to the car with several bags that clinked with each step.
“We gotta stop at the depanneur for some beer and chasers,” Jake said, giving me a quick kiss as he placed the bags beside me. “I wanna make sure I don’t have to make another trip.”
“Why? Didn’t Steve steal enough?” I half joked.
“I never lift from the SAQ. It’s a government run business that sells all of Quebec’s hard stuff. Can you imagine being banned from there? Not me.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. Steve often surprised me with what he came up with. His way of thinking made sense, but was corrupt with immoral thoughts or unlawful actions. He had one of the worst reputations in the village. People often said he had a screw or two loose. Besides breaking the law in various ways, he’d get into fights—sometimes paying the other person to fight him—pay them fifty bucks to punch him in the head or kick him in the stomach. I still couldn’t understand why Jake insisted on hanging with him. He may have been his cousin, but he was more trouble than anything else.
The caddie almost spun out of control as Steve left the parking lot and sped up Main Street. It didn’t take long to get there. The boys ran into the dep and grabbed three two-fours of beer.
“Think you have enough?”
“I hope so,” Jake said with a grin, slipping a pack of cigarettes into my hand. “I know you’ll be needing these later.”
“Let’s get this party started,” Steve howled as he whipped back up Main. We were halfway there when we came across a man waving us down in front of a car with the hood up and smoke flying out of the engine. “Mr. Wilkes, is that you?”
“Steve, I’m so happy to see you,” the mayor said. “My car broke down and my phone is dead. Can I make a few calls on your phone?”
“Who did you piss off?” Steve asked.
Confusion passed over Mr. Wilkes’ face.
“Who did you piss off to be having such a bad day,” Steve repeated, looking skyward.
Mr. Wilkes caught on.
“I don’t know Steve, but the gods are angry. That’s for damn sure.”
A light exploded from the other side of the village. The four of us stopped talking and watched, trying to figure out what it was. Besides a loud boom, nothing else happened.
“What the hell was that?” I asked.
“No idea,” Mr. Wilkes said. “It was some type of explosion. A transformer, maybe?”
“Is the party getting too wild?” Steve laughed.
Jake and I looked at each other, worried.
“No, but I think it’s time we got back,” Jake said. “Could you be quick with the phone, please? Steve, I gotta get home.”
After Mr. Wilkes made his phone calls, and we knew he’d get a lift home, we hightailed it back to Jake’s house with no other mishaps. Laughter and chatter mixed as the music blared from Jake’s place. More people must have shown up because the yard was overflowing like the house was.
“Is the entire village here?” I asked in wonder. “There must be over fifty people here.”
“Easily,” Jake said with pride. “You can’t have parties like this in the city. Cops would show up every few seconds.”
As if on cue, we could hear sirens in the distance. The guys broke out laughing, slapping their legs, and stomping their feet. I hugged myself as I searched for the red and blue lights that never appeared.
Several of Jake’s friends came to help bring in the alcohol, so I gave Jake a kiss, and went on the lookout for Anna. She annoyed me like a puppy would an old cat, but if I didn’t at least look for her, she would become unbearable for months.
“Anyone see Anna?” I asked several people before finding people who knew her.
“I think she split with some guy and her boyfriend.”
“Shoot,” I said, snapping my fingers. “I have to talk to her.”
If she found out Steve was there without her having any warning, my ass would be in the dirt below the grass. She would be livid and make the party a complete downer.
I was still playing hide and seek with Anna when I noticed multiple people take out their phones almost instantaneously. The booze no longer existed. The music ignored. The happy vibes disappeared. Tears replaced the smiles. Crying and gasps filled the air as the crowd’s atmosphere did a total one-eighty.
“Jake, what’s going on?” I asked him. “What’s wrong with everyone?”
Jake pulled me to the bathroom, kicking out three women who were gossiping as they fixed their makeup.
“Sofie, there’s been a terrible accident.”
“Oh, no! Did anyone get hurt?”
“Anna and Darrel were in a car accident,” he said, avoiding my eyes. “Sofie, they died.”
My hands shook as I raised them to my face. I pushed back my hair as I tried to comprehend what Jake had said. Anna and Darrel were dead?
“But they were just here. How is that possible? What happened?”
“I don’t know, Sofie.”
My vision blurred, my lips trembled, my body quivered like a leaf on a tree during an autumn’s night. Jake wrapped his arms around me as we mourned.
The party died down within minutes. Majority of everyone was no longer in the mood to drink, so they walked home or drove with a designated driver. Steve offered to give people lifts, too, but no one wanted to drive with him.
“I didn’t have a drink yet,” Steve said, disgusted. “Why does everyone shit on me? What did I do?”
“What haven’t you done?” I mumbled. “Steve, no one trusts you. You’re trouble.”
“Do you trust me?”
I didn’t know what to say. Of course, I didn’t trust him. No one in their right mind would.
The front door slammed open. Three hulks stomped in, searching the room.
“Where’s Steve?” the biggest one of them demanded. “Where is he?”
“Over here,” Steve called out. “What do you want?”
The man punched Steve in the gut and winded him before winding up for the next punch.
“Hey!” Jake bellowed.
Everyone stopped in their tracks.
“What did he do?” Jake asked. “You can’t just bust into my house, beating people, without a good reason.”
Jake stepped in between them. My heart fluttered at his courage.
“Jake, you haven’t heard? Steve killed Anna and Darrel.”
“What?” Steve, Jake and I yelled simultaneously.
“Don’t act dumb, Steve. Anna told everyone before she died, so don’t play off like you didn’t do it. I’m gonna kill you.”
“Wait! Matt, that’s a lie. I didn’t do anything!” Steve said. “I didn’t do shit. If you want to kick my ass because some chick lied.”
“Don’t say shit about my sister. I’m warning you,” Matt said, fists raised. “Jake, you better move out of the way before I knock you out, too.”
He pushed Jake out of the way and swung, connecting with Steve’s skull. One guy blocked Jake, while the other two jumped Steve, who usually loved fighting, but not with these three brick houses. Soon enough, blood covered Steve like a coat of paint. Women screamed for them to stop—myself included. Jake tried to help his cousin, but he was no match for Matt’s friend. Obviously he took some martial arts because all he did was block and defend himself. Jake was livid.
“What did he do?”
Everyone’s eyes darted towards the door, but nobody moved.
Two men in uniform entered the room.
“What’s going on here?” one of them asked.
“Um, nothing officer,” Jake said, gaining his composure. “How may I help you?”
“We’re here for Steve Hamill. We’ve got to question him about a car accident that transpired earlier this evening.”
Jake and Steve looked at each other. Fear filled both their eyes. Steve’s done time before, but that was over petty stuff. This was serious.
“I wasn’t in any accident tonight. Go take a look at my car.”
“Yeah, Sofie and I were with him all night.”
The cop looked at us like we never said a word. He assessed Steve and called for an ambulance. He turned Steve over and handcuffed him. Cheers from several guests and the three big guys filled the room. Steve never was a gang favourite.
“Can you at least tell us what you think happened?”
“One of the deceased named Mr. Hamill as the driver who ran them off the road and into the main transformer, causing an explosion.”
Jake, Steve and I gasped.
“But we weren’t anywhere near there,” I said, stepping forward. “We saw that explosion. We were on the other side of town, helping the mayor.”
“The mayor?” the cop scoffed.
“He needed help with his car.”
“Sure he did.”
“Yeah, Jake,” Steve groaned. “Get Mr. Hamill on the phone—please, before the ambulance gets here to patch me and they throw me in jail.”
Jake tried. He left several messages for the mayor, explaining the situation, but it was the weekend so no one was in their offices.
The ambulance arrived, took Steve’s vitals, stitched up his wounds, and gave the cops the go-ahead to take him away.
Steve was in the car when one of the cops got a message over the speaker. He called someone from inside the police car with Steve in the back. After writing a few notes and terminating the call, the cops talked for a few minutes, walked over to the back of the car, spoke to Steve, and uncuffed him.
The rest of us watched with gaped mouths as Steve walked towards us with a bloody grin, making his swollen eyes even smaller. The cops got in the car, and inched their way out of the driveway, staring at Matt and his buddies who had beaten Steve. Everyone got the message. “We’re watching you.”
The ambulance and three men left immediately, not waiting to hear why they let him go, but the rest of us couldn’t ask fast enough. Various versions of the same question shot at him like bullets. Steve relished in the attention.
“Mr. Hamill already knew what they accused me of and what happened. He went straight there once he got picked up. When he found out that the feds were coming for me, he called the captain, told him I was innocent, and that he was my alibi.”
Half the crowd cheered, while the others moaned. Steve gave a few of them the finger.
“Why did they think it was you?”
“Anna tried covering for Darrell by saying it was me,” he shrugged. “You know how much she hated me.”
Everyone grew grim for a moment at his use of past tense. The realization that the two of them gone forever smacked everyone in the face—hard. The community was like one enormous family—everyone didn’t like each other, but they all grew up together, so a tragedy for one affected all of them. Tonight, they lost two friends.
Steve clapped his hands and headed towards inside.
“Now, can we get this party started?” Steve asked. “First one’s for Anna and Darrell. The lying pricks.”
I shook my head as I followed them in. The truth saved him, but it was only a matter of time when the truth would be his undoing.