Page 13 Cartoons

Tequila Sunset

February 1, 2007

I really canÂ’t remember the whole story that well. I was pretty drunk that night, so if you want a completely factual, down-to-the-last-detail account, youÂ’ve come to the wrong guy. I was just as fucked up as everybody there. But donÂ’t think that I had anything to do with it. The police already asked me that. I didnÂ’t even see Shane until he was dead, and thatÂ’s the truth. IÂ’ll swear to that.

I was pretty good friends with everybody at the party that night. I had known a lot of them since the beginning of college, and I had known Shane since I was five—which is why it hit me pretty hard when I saw him lying there with a hole in the side of his head. I completely lost it when I saw him. I pried the gun from his sitffened fingers and punched through a window and broke my hand.

Even though Tiffany wasnÂ’t really to blame, she took it really hard and somebody told me she almost killed herself, too.

It didnÂ’t surprise me that much that Shane actually did what he did, either. He was obsessed with Tiffany, and I mean obsessed, triple-underline. He had almost killed himself before over her, after he had walked in on her hooking up with a guy from the basketball team. That was in December, at Katy MitchellÂ’s apartment. I was sitting next to the stereo guarding a bottle of Jack DanielÂ’s when he sidled up to me, looking around nervously like he was afraid someone might be watching him. It was about eleven oÂ’clock and I had just seen Tiffany out on the patio with another guy.

“Hey, Matt, give me that bottle. I’ll give you thirty bucks.” He was all hyped up, almost twitching. I’d never seen him this bad before.

“Whoa man,” I said. “Since when are you the party animal? What do you need this for? You can’t drink shit.”

“Just shut the fuck up and give it to me, man, fuck. There’s no law saying how much I can or can’t drink.”

“Why should I? This baby’s mine. We were all set on having a nice evening together, just me and Jackie girl.” I laughed, caressing the bottle. I knew I was pissing him off but I didn’t care.

He stared at me like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Well God damn it,” he said slowly. His face was flushed and his eyes were unnaturally bright. “Just give me the fucking handle.”

“Forty dollars,” I said.

“Fuck. Fine, whatever, just give me the liquor.”

In his hurry, he gave me a twenty and a fifty. I kept the extra as a tip for all the hassle he had given me. It was only fair. I found him at seven the next morning. He was in the bathroom with his back against the wall and his arm hanging over the toilet, which was full of stale puke. I was all over him right away, checking for a pulse and listening for his breath. I was afraid that he was dead, but he wasnÂ’t, not this time.

I should probably tell you a bit about Shane because this is really his story. We both grew up in Providence, on the shore. Our parents had been friends before we were born and we played together in Little League and on the football team in high school. He was good at football but he never really cared that much about athletics, which set him apart from the rest of my friends.

It was the only thing he wasnÂ’t serious about. In everything else, he was straight as an arrow and always focused. He never broke any rules or challenged authority. When we were on a class trip to the mountains in middle school, me and some other guys were going to sneak over to the girlsÂ’ rooms, but Shane wouldnÂ’t do it.

“Come on, man,” I said. “Don’t be such a pussy. All the chaperones are gone by now.”

He was on one of the top bunks, half-inside his sleeping bag and propped up on his elbows.

“You guys are idiots. You’re going to get caught and even if you don’t get sent home, the rest of the trip will suck for you,” he said, shaking his head.

We ended up going without him and we almost got caught but we didnÂ’t. I donÂ’t think he ever lived that down, because Tiffany was in the girlsÂ’ room that night and ended up kissing three different guys when we played spin the bottle.

Tiffany had moved to Providence when we were eleven, towards the end of the summer before fifth grade. She was cute and she fell right in with the fashionable girls, and I think she was the first girl to drink in our class. It was at a dance in eighth grade. I could smell some sort of sweet liquor on her breath when we slow-danced.

Shane got straight AÂ’s in high school, even though he wasnÂ’t a genius. He worked his ass off in every class. He didnÂ’t manipulate the teachers, like Tiffany did. He didnÂ’t cheat, either. He just focused and worked. He was honest about everything. And serious.

Even more than grades and not drinking or doing drugs, Shane was serious about Tiffany. I think he liked her from sixth grade on, but he only told me about it at the end of sophomore year. Most guys, if you give them shit about the girl they like, theyÂ’ll laugh it off or fire right back with a comment about the girl you like, but not Shane. One night when we were juniors, he almost knocked me out.

“Looks like Tiffany’s on to guy number six for the year. That puts her on pace for nine. I think you’ve got a pretty good chance, as does the rest of Providence,” I said, when we were at a party.

Shane, as was his way until the second semester of senior year, hadnÂ’t drunk a drop. I, on the other hand, was almost falling over, so I really donÂ’t remember much aside from feeling my ass hit the floor. He was really sorry, but he got the point across. From then on, I didnÂ’t talk about her unless he brought her up.

Later that night, I saw Tiffany kissing Shane, in some shadows down a hall. Tiffany had her back against the wall and then she pushed Shane off her and through a doorway into a bedroom. She stumbled as they were crossing the hall, limbs entangled. When Shane pulled her up she jumped into his arms and placed her lips all over his face. He staggered backwards into the room and after a moment the echo of the door closing filtered down the hall to where I had started talking with another girl. I think they were in there for at least an hour.

I asked Shane what had happened the next morning, but he wouldnÂ’t say a word.

“What the fuck, man?” I said. “It’s no big deal. You got to tell me.”

“It’s between her and me,” he replied. “Why does it matter to you?”

Prying wasnÂ’t going to do anything so I stopped, but do I know three things about that night. First, Shane was a virgin. I donÂ’t think he had even kissed more than a couple girls in his life. Second, Tiffany was not. I know for a fact sheÂ’d had sex with a guy from Newport earlier that year. Third, Tiffany was extremely drunk. I had done three shots of vodka with her earlier that night and, like me, she could barely stand up straight.

IÂ’m not saying that they had sex or even did anything in that room. They could have stopped kissing as soon as the door shut and talked for the rest of the time. I didnÂ’t see them come out. But Shane must have felt something in that room that he never stopped yearning for. As far as I know for sure, the only time they ever kissed was in that hallway.

It was kind of strange that Shane and I ended up going to the same college, because his grades were so much better than mine, but I got in on football. I would have missed the GPA cut-off by a full point. Tiffany got in with her grades, too, and the three of us all acted like we were going because we thought it was the best college for us, not because of the others. But I know Tiffany had something to do with ShaneÂ’s decision. He made his decision before Tiffany, but he knew which way she was leaning.

Shane changed a lot when we came west to college. He kind of developed two personalities. The part of him that was serious stayed there, intensified even. He kept his room cleaner than anybody elseÂ’s and when it was midterms he barely left the library at all. His grades were still a full letter above mine. But Shane also became more relaxed in certain ways, too. He started smoking weed and I know he tried coke at least once, because he did it with me. He could finally just relax and have a cigarette with me at the end of a night because he had gotten over his fear of cancer. And he really started to like drinking. He was becoming more normal. He had more friends and he was more comfortable at parties. I was happy for him.

But everything wasnÂ’t perfect, and I knew this before I saw Shane with the hole in the side of his head. He called me on ValentineÂ’s Day, obviously drunk even though it was early in the evening, while I was out to dinner with a girlfriend of mine. He went on and on about how much he loved Tiffany until I had to cut him off. The girl asked who it was and I told her it was nothing, but I was worried. I had talked to Tiffany earlier that day, and I could tell there was no way she could ever like him.

The night that Shane died started as one of the nights that made me love California. It was May, and it was already beginning to stay warm and light deep into the evening. As I walked west towards the ocean, I could see the last of the receding pink and purple of the sunset. Behind me, the sky had already become dark and the stars shone valiantly over city lights. Only a few cars passed me and there was nobody else on the sidewalks. It was as if the city was taking a nap, but I knew that within three hours the whole coast would be alive with girls in outfits that were little more than bathing suits and guys drinking tequila and loud, pulsing music that would shake the glasses of mango margaritas and vodka tonics. It was that in-between time, when everybody has come home from the beach but no one has finished showering yet, that only happens in California.

I walked until I hit the beach and took my shoes off so I could feel the warmth of the sand against my feet. I had sat down and was watching the waves when my phone vibrated. A girl was calling but I pressed ignore. I would see her later at the party.

Unlike Shane, girls for me came and went. IÂ’d had four girlfriends and hooked up with at least ten others since we started school a year and a half before. For Shane, though, girls were different. He just never paid much attention to them. Maybe he lacked libido. Girls were always below academics, orchestra, sports, and even sleeping sometimes. But there was something about Tiffany that he couldnÂ’t let go of.

You should know that Tiffany was not an extraordinary girl. I would love to say otherwise, because that would make it all make sense, but she really wasnÂ’t. She was pretty enough but not in any unique way, the kind of girl who was always running off to the bathroom to touch-up her eyeliner. She danced exactly the same way every time I danced with her. It was fun but sometimes it felt like dancing with a robot. She was never mean to Shane on purpose, but she made him feel bad a lot of the time. I donÂ’t think she really understood how deeply ShaneÂ’s feelings for her went.

I saw Shane once at the party before he died. I was in ten beers deep at least. I think it was around nine-fifteen. He had just come through the front door with Tiffany, and he beamed as he glanced sideways at her and then around the room to make sure everybody saw that he was with her. He turned to her, said something, then left her talking with her friend and hurried over to me.

“Dude, tonight is going to be great,” he said. “I just took her out to the Dorado Grille. We had an amazing dinner. Lobster for both of us. She loved it. Isn’t she looking unbelievable tonight?”

“Yeah,” I said, because she was.

“Shit, I have to get her and her friend a beer. I’ll catch up with you later. Wish me luck, man!” he said.

I said good luck but he had already turned and started off in search of the keg. It was the last time I would ever see him alive.

After Shane left to find the keg, I took another look towards Tiffany. Already, she and her friend had attracted two guys from the football team, Mark Barton and Dave Brown. It was a well-known fact that Barton could get any girl in the greater metropolitan area and I could see that tonight he was setting himself on Tiffany. She already had a beer in her hand, presumably from Barton.

When I turned back towards the bar to get myself a margarita, I saw this girl Anne Marie who I had met the other night at a bar. I offered to get her a drink and she agreed, walking over to the counter where the blender was.

The night had unfolded just as I expected. Sunburns pressed against tans to the rhythm of the stereo. Brights and pastels collaged together in every direction. The smell of salt passed through an open west-facing window above the keg, mixing with the odor of spilt beer and surf wax, and a breeze flowed past the curtains of an opened double door. It was California at its finest.

I turned my attention back to Anne Marie and began to persuade her to come upstairs with me. We were sitting on the bed and I had my hand on her thigh and was leaning in to kiss her when the shot went off downstairs.

I quickly rushed to the head of the stairs and as I looked down I could see a puddle of blood growing at their base. When I reached the bottom, I saw Shane with a hole in his head. I grabbed the gun from his hand and with it in my fist I punched it through the first window I could find.

When Shane came back with the beer for Tiffany, she was gone. Somebody told him that she had gone into a room alone with Mark Barton. This really set him off, I guess, and he started banging on the door, shouting for her to come out. Greg Cross, this guy who Shane occasionally bought drugs from, was at the party, and after a little while Shane left and went to talk to him in another room. Nobody could tell me for sure whether Shane asked for the gun or if Cross offered it to him, but a few minutes later Shane returned, banging and yelling even more, until he pulled the gun out of his belt and pointed it at the door. People were trying to get him to put the gun away before anything bad happened, but he told them all to shut the fuck up, because he was in love with the girl and he would die for her. Everybody was yelling at him—somebody told him not to hurt Barton—when he said his last words.

“Tiffany, I will!” he screamed.

Then his hand fell from the doorframe and his chin sagged onto his chest. They told me he was looking at the ground as he placed the muzzle against his head and pulled the trigger. Fifteen seconds later I had the gun in my hand.

After I took some of the glass out of my fingers, I moved his arm back into a normal position and huddled over him with my broken hand under his head until the police came.

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