THE RESCUE BLUES
Hold me down, sweet and low, and I will carry you home.
– “Sweet and Low”, Augustana
I. Feels Like Trouble
Lily McQueen hated parties.
Of all types there were, she hated house parties. Some of these house parties were just plain making out and some were terrible parties where everybody ended up wasted and, worse, broke – either a month’s worth of piggy bank savings or a certain part of the human body.
She shouldn’t have come tonight but here she was standing in the corner next to a weird painting of a St. Bernard dog and trying to be a pretty wallflower at the least. She knew she was being a party pooper because of her apparent lack of participation and appreciation of the dancing and socializing with other senior students like her but, oh boy, she was born to be good at killing the joy out of a party. She could only recognize half the people in Douglas Jones’ party. So, what was there to enjoy, really?
To worsen her current gripe, she could see couples making out, publicly displaying affection that just couldn’t be readily unseen. PDAs were never worthy scenes to witness – too much expletives could come out of one’s mouth especially from a not “acquainted to the more daunting ways of the world” spectator like her.
Yes, she was not a fan of people in love too.
Lily McQueen was the famous “Stiff” of Fram Hill High, and stiffs like her could not and should not take pleasure in parties. No justice in it if she wouldn’t live up to the expectations of people who knew no better and only saw her as that city girl – that she was still the new girl in town even if three years had gone by and, though she tried to blend in and complement the different colors of the old backcountry town of Fram Hill, she still couldn’t fit in and color herself in the most harmonious hue.
So, here she was drinking beer all alone and considering maybe she should try painting as a hobby. Dogs might be good inspirations. It was a good hobby to have except that she was uncoordinated with a palette and a paintbrush, so she threw the idea out of her mental window. It was decided that there would be no painting anytime soon.
Lily was just standing there in the corner, holding a bottle of cheap beer when Jean Appleton approached her and started, “I know and I am sorry.”
“Huh?” Lily stared at Jean, her best friend and soon to be the most annoying person in the world in a couple of seconds.
Jean replied, “I told Milo Pearson that he can go ahead and have a little chat with you tonight. You know. Get to know each other, dance and stuff… maybe a little bit of drinking and flirting. A date maybe?”
Great, Lily thought – the irony of it all.
Having suggested Lily to have a date, Jean was thoughtful. Okay… but really? Lily wanted to bang her head against the St. Bernard dog painting. She couldn’t believe this was her best friend she was talking to. She couldn’t much more believe she let herself be Jean Appleton’s best friend in the first place. Jean could be overly enthusiastic about things sometimes, even the silliest things.
“You are setting me up with Milo?”
“Yes. Lily, come on. You don’t have a date for the party so I told Milo to ask you to dance with him. He’s actually game about it that I am shocked. Here I thought he was only interested in chemical reactions of beer and his stomach acid. Can you believe that?”
Jean Appleton, with her long and wavy red hair and green eyes, could be the most annoying person on Earth and, at the same time, surprisingly an egghead who knew a thing or two about matters that many people would easily judge Jean was ignorant of.
The redhead continued, “I am helping you finally find a boyfriend.”
Aww. Lily thought that her best friend was sweet, truly like I-want-to-dance-for-joy-of-having-you-in-my-life sweet except that she lost her sweet tooth long, long time ago when her dentist ruined her dreams of chocolate paradise for her.
Lily looked around the busy crowd and saw different people – so different from her that she couldn’t tell she belonged. This kind of crowd made her want to be this person or that person. She was not “not Lily”. She was not a cheerleader like Missy Finnegan, or a ballerina like Rachel Lane who thought she owned half, if not the whole, of the school’s auditorium, or America’s next big thing, Ms. Fram Hill Amanda Norris. The emphasis was on the “big”.
She wondered how Amanda’s ego as big as the universe itself could fit into a size 4 dress.
Lily appreciated Jean and her “good” intentions. She was comforted that her best friend was looking out for her, but she wouldn’t let Jean get away with setting her up with Milo Pearson, one of the nerds who practically had no interest in Lily besides that she was a human specimen to be examined during their Biology class.
Jean might as well as set Lily up with their junior year Physics teacher, Mr. Lou Simper. Nothing would be worse than that.
“Chill, Lil. I don’t think that Milo is as worse as Physimper. Oh, I know what you were thinking in that brain of yours,” said Jean.
Rolling her eyes, Lily replied, “Sure and I will dye your hair pink. Get me another bottle of beer. Rápido!”
“Spanish, huh? Well, FYI, I’m threatened by you dyeing my hair pink. Duh! You’re just jealous of my beautiful, vibrant red hair. Come on, Lil. Milo is a nice person. Probably he’s the only nerd I can tolerate talking about the freaking Stephen Hawking nonstop. He’s not entirely weird, and the thick rimmed glasses are stylish by the way.”
Lily could only smirk and shake her head in return. “I know you mean well, thank you, but no. You shouldn’t have. It’s already embarrassing that I am here sulking with those people over there making out.”
With a sigh, Jean smiled back. “Okay. I kind of agree.” But something caught her eyes. A bottle of beer in hand, she dragged Lily to another corner, far away from the awful dog painting.
“Look over there. You see Frank Bosworth?! Lily, he’s so handsome… my ultimate crush! He’s one reason why I came tonight.”
Lily rolled her eyes. “Will you just stop yelling at my ears? I can hear you well enough.”
“I was yelling?” Jean pouted, “Fine but look. He is so damn hot! It’s a shame that he’s still dating Missy Finnegan. What does he see in that cheerleader anyway?”
“I thought they broke up last month.”
“They did but Finny seduced him back and BANG! Goodbye, Spring Dance. My prom!”
How many eye rolling would she be guilty of tonight because Lily rolled her eyes again. “Jean, the Spring Dance is still next year. You can find someone else to bring as a date. What is it about Frank Bosworth anyway that he’s your ultimate crush? I mean, yeah, he’s blond just like what you are usually attracted to, but he’s a… jerk. He’s the Thor, the Chris Hemsworth in your list of crushes but a jerk. Plus, he dates all girls, with amazing rack or not.”
Jean only pouted back and said nothing more because she knew Lily was spot on that Frank Bosworth was a jerk, a flirt, and a what?
Frank Bosworth was a running back for the Fram Hill High Arrows Football Team.
Though Lily hated it as much as she hated lychee, Fram Hill High girls had a thing for football players and that, unfortunately, included Jean.
And, guiltily, so was Lily.
Whenever Lily heard the team’s name, Fram Hill High Arrows Football Team, she hated it because it meant work for her. Work for her meant writing news about them in the school’s publication – The Bugle. Most of the publications were about them. Fram Hill High wanted to know more about them especially that the games would start soon. Yes. The Arrows Football Team’s games and practices were featured in The Bugle, disappointingly so but bittersweet nonetheless.
Gossips about girlfriends were excluded. Lily tried so hard in every issue to exclude them. Most of the time, she failed.
Feeling defeated because Frank Bosworth was so out of her reach, Jean drank her beer and became a pretty wallflower too. On the other hand, Lily decided she didn’t like alcohol anymore so she swallowed the last of it.
How could Douglas serve cheap stuff like this? She wondered. She thought Douglas and his family were one of the richest families in Fram Hill.
Wow! She was truly bored that she could only think about how disappointed she was with her drink.
Enough with the party, it wasn’t a graded school activity anyway and didn’t need her utmost participation, she began, “I’m leaving. Tell Milo that I have stomach flu. I can’t dance or chat with him. Have fun, Jean. And stop ogling Frank Bosworth. Okay? You look funny stealing glances.”
She motioned to leave but Jean grabbed her arm and dragged her closer to the crowd instead.
“What are you doing? I’m leaving. I’m not dancing with Milo, okay? I’ve had enough of this party. In case you have forgotten about it, I am the freaking Stiff.”
“I heard you the first time and I’m not listening. You don’t want to dance with Milo. Fine. You hate the booze. Fine. You are bored to death and a wallflower. Fine. But look who came to tonight’s party?”
There in the middle of the crowd was Fram Hill High’s most notable couple – Dan and Sophie.
Oh well. For Lily, they were the most boring couple the stupid Cupid had ever made.
Mentally admitting her secret defeat, she envied the couple not because they were the most popular and the sweetest lovebirds around town but because they were obviously in love and looked like they were meant to be.
And Dan… he was not in love with Lily.
If Lily had a boyfriend, he would be Dan Pierce. Nobody else would do. Period.
This was not the first time that Lily dreamily thought of Dan. She dreamed of him even when she was copying Ms. Timbles’ Shakespearean love sonnets, making a clay pot during Mr. Hark’s class, or sulking during her “Pee-sick” class with Mr. Simper who always sucked the life out of students like a raging black hole.
Daniel Clane Pierce, or simply Dan, was her first and only crush in Fram Hill. Undoubtedly, he was her first love and she would love to be his girlfriend. Once, she thought of making a love potion to make him fall in love with her. It was an absurd idea but Jean made her thought about it when the former came upon a “How to Make a Love Potion” video online.
She thought about it over and over again until she lost faith in the possibility of changing Dan’s mind and heart for his girlfriend.
What was to hate about Dan and Sophie together? What was to hate about Sophie?
Sophie made Dan fell in love with her without using a love potion. She was not hate-able at all which was annoying as hell to Lily. She was sugar and spice and everything nice.
Lily murmured, “So what if the lovebirds are here?” And again she was not a fan of people in love.
With the front door in sight, she began pulling away from her best friend’s hold.
“Honestly? I wanted you to be majorly jealous of the lovebirds.” Jean smirked. “Joking aside, I only intended to point your eyes to Dan’s direction. While doing so, I did not see his girlfriend who seemed to be glued to his body.”
Lily replied, “Yeah. She seemed glued to him. If she’s glued or surgically attached to him or whatever, I got to go. Granny Violet may already be looking for me. You know how she is. And I think I need to vomit all I drank soon.”
Jean patted her best friend’s shoulder and nodded in agreement. “Poor you. Get out of here then.”
When Lily turned to leave her best friend and forget about the lovebirds, she took one last look of the party. People were still partying and Jean was already talking to Katie James who was also a senior and took feature pictures for The Bugle.
Then, she passed a group of cheerleaders and saw Milo walking towards her. He waved to her but she only ignored him. She knew he got the message. He was smart, and she was being difficult and tipsy.
Almost to the door, she bumped into someone. As an unintentional reaction, she pushed him away.
On the cold floor, he was mumbling that he was fine and swore that he wanted his dog to bite a certain Frank.
Did he just mean Frank Bosworth? Lily stared at him who was obviously drunk and noticed that he had chocolate-brown hair and quite tall, maybe 6’2″. She knew him – he was Alastair Childs, the only son of the town vet.
“Don’t be a loser, Alas. You’re drunk. Your dad will be mad at me since I promised him that I’d take good care of his only son. Look at you. Man, you’re hopeless. Here, let me help you up.”
Out of the blue and amidst the deafening noise of the party, this new character helped Alas off the floor and opened the door out. He was also familiar to Lily but his name eluded her memory at the moment. Clearly, though, he was Alas’ friend.
Trying to stand on his own two feet, Alas replied, “Yeah. I’ll just tell my dog Bruce to bite you instead. You’re breaking your promise to my old man. Why did you bring me here? For this? This?”
Alas’ friend replied, “Dr. Childs has always been nice to me. I don’t want to lose a drinking buddy because you refuse to be a man right now. Get up so I can drive you home.”
Still wobbly, Alas tried to stand and let his friend lead him out. By the time he was outside the door, he turned to look back at Lily and shouted, “Hey you!”
Lily was clueless. All that time, she was standing there, she was clueless. “Who? Me?”
“Uhh. Sorry. I’m… yeah. Screw… right… screw you, Miss….”
“What?!” She was still clueless.
“He meant Missy.” Alas’ friend butted in. “He did not mean you. He meant Missy. You are wearing red and Missy is wearing red so figures. He is confused right now. Sight’s not right. I’m sorry, Stiff.”
Then, he turned to leave with Alas.
Not a minute passed by, Jean caught up with Lily and worry was in her voice when she asked. “Hey wait! You sure you can drive your way home? I almost forgot that one thing.”
Oh! Lily mentally slapped herself. “Oh…I think I can.”
Shaking her head, Jean grabbed Lily’s arm. “You’re already tipsy. ” She walked Lily towards her 1977 yellow beetle. “Who are those guys? Something happened?”
“They’re Frank Bosworth’s friends I think. Alastair Childs and that leather jacket guy.”
Lily almost tripped on her way – the pavement were like rocks on her way to a mountain trekking.
An idea came into Jean’s mind – a light bulb. “Wait here.”
Walking towards a 60’s vintage black Mercedes, Jean immediately recognized Alas Childs and that leather jacket guy Lily talked about.
How Lily could forget an important detail about the leather jacket guy of all things in the whole universe was a question to Jean.
Leather jacket guy was none other than the freaking Ray Carter. The Ray Carter, Lily, the Ray Carter!
“Hi, Ray Carter.” Jean stood next to him. She had a smile on her face. “I’m Jean. I think you’ve heard of me as one of The Bugle people. I don’t really write. I just do some research and a few admin tasks. No biggie. I tried running for the Math Club’s presidency but I lost because, apparently, only students who understand numbers are allowed to win. So, I ran for the “Food is Life” Club presidency instead. I’m still not surprised I won to be honest. Boo-yah! Anyways, I’m with a friend who’s over there. See that girl near the yellow beetle?”
Raising his head, Ray Carter looked at Lily’s direction. “Yeah, the Stiff. The Bugle writer, right?” He had this smile on his face.
She nodded back. “Yes. The Stiff. You see she’s drunk. I’m worried about her driving home alone, slightly inebriated if you ask me. Just a bit. She’s not much of a drinker. When she does drink, she doesn’t know any better.”
Staring at Jean, he thought that she was being cute and all but, nice try, he knew exactly what she wanted from him. “How about you do the driving for her? My hands are already full because of this shit.” He pointed at Alas who was sleeping like the dead weight he was at the backseat of the car.
Looking for a good justification after failing subtleties, she used The Bugle. “As I have said, I am one of The Bugle team, and, unfortunately, I have this writing assignment because one of the writers can’t do it. I need to go back to the party and you know the rest that I do. Apparently, Douglas’ party tonight will be featured in the next issue.”
Please make it work, Jean mentally prayed.
“You want me to drive her home. Is that what you’re telling me? I get it.”
“Ray Carter, I didn’t know that you are so smart. You got it! So will you? Pretty please?”
Out of words, he only said, “Wow.” He looked at Alas to Jean then Lily and back to Jean. “That’s something I don’t know if I can do.”
“Why can’t you anyway?”
“I told you I’m not leaving the party anytime soon that is. I have an important writing assignment. Remember?”
“Yes, a very important writing assignment. But she’s your friend. You do it.”
Ray turned his back and opened the front car door.
Jean put her hand on his left forearm and said, “Your hands aren’t really full. You can still give my friend a ride home. Please, drive that poor, drunk girl home. Be her hero. A knight in a shining 1960’s vintage black Mercedes.”
The smiling and batting of eyelashes should do it, she thought.
Ray couldn’t think of an excuse why he couldn’t drive a poor girl home. He was a guy and she was a girl. That was a reason enough to say no. What else? Nah. It wouldn’t hurt to help. Anyway, he did not have anything else to do aside from dumping Alas’ pitiful drunk ass somewhere.
Finally, he said, “Don’t give me that look. Fine. Where does she live?”
Jean almost shrieked. “Thank you so much! She lives by the 7th Street Rose Trail. The house with those untrimmed pine trees. You would know when you get there. Her house is quite distinct.”
“Not far from Concord I see. Go. Get your friend.”
“Okay. I’ll drive her car and go see her tomorrow morning. I promise. Nice Mercedes by the way. Hot.”
She winked at him and went to get Lily.
Lily was already slumped inside her car and hopelessly near asleep. Jean hauled her out of the car, took the car key and walked towards Ray’s own car.
Lily tried to protest but Jean shut her up.
“Aren’t you going to say goodbye to her?” Ray asked Jean.
With Lily sitting shotgun, Jean replied, “How can I? She’s being hopeless. I fully trust in you taking her home safe.”
“Bye then.” He started the engine and headed home.
Jean only stared at the black car. After a while. she went back to Douglas’ party, grabbed another bottle of cheap alcohol and tried to enjoy the rest of the night. With Finny still flirting with Frank Bosworth, she didn’t know if the party was better than alcohol combined with the bitterness of her secret crush for him. Someday and, maybe, in one of Fram Hill’s many house parties, she would be the one flirting with him and not Missy “Finny” Finnegan.
That would be a better writing assignment for her and the most interesting of all but, for now, flirting with another bottle of beer would do.
It was the only consolation she got from a terrible house party.
Ray Carter was driving one of his best friends home. It was okay since he did it on a regular basis. But tonight? Something was not right. Something was off.
Maybe because he was also driving a damsel in distress home. That damsel in distress was the Stiff – Lily McQueen.
The arrangement was not right but he thought that nothing was serious – only that he felt something he shouldn’t feel, not in a long time now.
He felt trouble; he felt like she was trouble.