Sweet Sixteen

Maureen is her parents’ most illuminated success in a failing marriage. They throw her a large Sweet Sixteen party on their estate, complete with a live band, paper lanterns hung from the trees, and tiki torches surrounding the pool. On the deck sit large buckets of champagne, wine, beer, and cans of Coke and Sprite for us kids. You can feel the excitement. Something magical is going to happen tonight.

Maureen is my best friend. She’s the most popular girl in school and it’s the quest of many horny sixteen-year-old boys to deflower her, and themselves with her. She’s tall, tanned, and hers is a body that no underdeveloped girl in our class could possibly conceive of having.

Her neighbor Ali, who lives across the street and is a grade below us, is the next to arrive. She boldly snatches a Bud from one of the buckets but Maureen’s father confiscates it and warns us to stay away from the booze, leading us to the sundae bar set up in the dining room. We're sixteen, not 6.

Relatives pull up in their boxy, chrome Volvos with head rests that look like waffles. Classmates are dropped off armed with pastel-wrapped gifts. Adults dive into gin and tonics and gossip. Ali takes a bottle of vodka from behind the bar, slips it into her backpack, and suggests we get a bit tipsy. 

Reluctant and titillated, I run with Ali and Maureen through the front door, down the hill, and toward the woods beyond the development. A silver Saab approaches. Jason, Leo, and Brett pull over when they spot us. 

“Hey Maureen, need a ride?” 

Ali wiggles the bottle in front of them. “Pre-game?” 

They park and follow us down the hill grinning and elbowing each other. 

We sit on a few logs. Ali unscrews the lid and drinks straight from the bottle. I stop after the second sip, it’s just too hard to stomach. I’m nervous. I think we should go back, I don’t want to miss the party. But bold as always, Maureen grabs the bottle and drinks the vodka like it’s ice cold water and she’s been stranded on a desert island. 

I don’t want to seem uncool, but on gulp number five I yell, “Stop!” I grab the bottle out of her hand. She pulls it away from me and runs. Brett runs after her. I get up to run after them. It’s her Sweet Sixteen. She can’t be drunk when she re-enters the party. 

“Ali, we have to get her. Her parents’ll be looking for her. Her friends are showing up and she’s not there.”

Ali tells me to chill, that we’ll head back in 20 minutes. Jason pulls out a joint. He breathes in, and Ali is already extending her hand impatiently.

“Chill dude,” he says and coughs a bit while handing her the joint. 

My heart is racing. Ali passes it to me, coy.

 “No, I’m cool. Thanks,” I say. 

She rolls her eyes. Next to me, Leo pulls from the joint, turns around places his hand on the back of my neck, holds it, leans in slowly and all I know is my body feels weak, submitting to whatever his actions make me do. He places his mouth over mine and releases a slow, deep exhalation. I don’t pull back as I breathe it in. Ali and Jason are making out. I’m high, I feel like a cloud, like my head is separated from my body and for the first time this ethereal lure removes me from my mind and allows me to surrender. 

Like a young bruise, the sky is yellow and purple as the sun sets. The air feathers softly over my skin. I am holding Leo’s face, taking a breath from his lips and tongue and his large brown eyes look into mine and his warm mouth is back on mine. He’s our class president and on the football team and I’m an invisible dork. 

I hear the faint noise of John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Little Pink Houses” and adult laugher. Elated, lubricated voices drift from Maureen’s house. 

Lost in time, I finally push myself away from Leo and become alert—it was only five minutes ago that I was running after Maureen. I yell over to Ali, who’s consumed by Jason and major under-the-shirt petting, “We need to get Maureen. We need to find her and Brett and get back to the party.”

The sky is no longer yellow nor purple. The sky is dark. I begin walking. Leo follows. Ali is of no help. Leo and I begin yelling Maureen and Brett’s names until we come upon them.

Maureen’s white capri pants are in a ball on the ground and she is naked. 

 “Brett, what the fuck!” I yell. “What’s happening?”

He stands up and clutches at his Nexxus-shampooed hair. Maureen is unconscious. I shake her and her head bobs. She’s dead weight. Ali and Jason catch up to us. Ali asks Brett what’s going on. He doesn’t speak. It’s not fair. He’s fully clothed, even down to his docksiders.

“Ali, help me get her dressed,” I say. 

Brett looks on. Leo says he’ll get the car. The boys turn to go with him. I grab Leo’s wrist. “Don’t. Don’t leave and not come back. You have to help us.” 

He says he’ll be back and they walk off into the dark.  

I’m panicked. How will I carry her? I can’t find her underwear. I can’t see anything. Fuck the underwear. “Ali, help me get her pants on,” I say. I can’t breathe. My head is spinning, swimming. Ali and I struggle to pull wet fabric over muscular thighs. 

Leo appears. He lifts Maureen's shoulders. Ali and I hold her legs. We walk. We put her in the back of his car. Ali sits in the front passenger seat and Leo drives, lights out and as quiet and slow as possible. When we’re close to Maureen’s house, Ali jumps out of the passenger side and runs home. Leo and I get out and sling Maureen over each of our shoulders, walking toward the garage entrance. 

The automatic floods lights go on.

Urine runs down Maureen’s thigh, soaking her white cotton pants with the button torn, zipper open. Leo runs.

Maureen’s mother comes out of the house, followed by relatives. In the spotlight, in front of many pairs of eyes, I hold Maureen, her head tilted back and eyes closed. Her mother and father stare. Her mother covers her mouth.

The guests return to their cars and the band packs up early. 

I sit on the toilet. Maureen is naked beneath a cold shower while her mother, who works in an emergency room, induces vomit. She pinches the underside of Maureen’s arms, explaining it’s the most sensitive part of the body, and asks me a tyranny of questions: What did she drink? What drugs did she consume? Did they have sex? Where was I? Where did we get the booze? The pot? Who were the boys?

Maureen becomes barely conscious and asks about Brett. Her mother shakes her. “Brett, who’s Brett? What’s his last name? Bridget! What’s Brett’s last name?”

After giving vague answers, the only answers I know, her mother tells me that Maureen’s father will take me home now. My stomach drops. I’m going to be sick. 

We get into the car. He drives. We look straight ahead, barely take a breath. I am still. I make no noise. He makes no noise. It’s dark. No one is on the road. We sit at the red light, the first of three before we to get to my parents’ house. The sound of the left hand turn signal, click-click click-click click-click , is deafening. I think Maureen’s father can hear my heart beat. I feel his revulsion. I feel his humiliation, and my mortification. He can’t speak. He doesn’t want to. He wants hit someone. I don’t know who, but I know this. He wants to spit, to scream, but he remains still, so still, so quiet. 

BRIDGET O'NEILL is an essayist and storyteller whose work has been featured in live shows and podcasts including The Moth, Risk, How I Learned, Yum’s the Word, and The Soundtrack Series. Her essays have been published in Slice Magazine, and New York Press, among others. She's currently an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature candidate at Stony Brook Southampton.