A friend and I were talking the other day about how there probably won’t be many Christmas parties this year, considering the pandemic.
“That’s fine with me,” he said. “I’ve never been big on parties anyway. I seem to have a knack for being invited to all of the terrible ones. How about you?”
“I’ve been to some great parties and some really bad ones,” I said. “It’s kind of 50-50.”
“What was the worst party you’ve ever been to?” he asked.
My mind immediately thought of four, and believe me, it was a toss-up trying to decide which one was the worst. But I’m pretty sure it would have to be Louise’s 21st birthday party.
Back then, I attended a small, community college to study computer programming, which involved sitting in a classroom from 9 AM to 3 PM five days a week, learning every aspect of the IBM 360 and 1401 computers. My class had only 20 students in it and they ranged in age from 17 (me – the youngest) to 45 (Walter – the oldest). We sat two to a small table – two, because we each were assigned a lab partner. My lab partner was Louise. She was tall, blond, 20 and engaged to a man who was away in the military. Louise also had an IQ of about 145, so she was a great person to be paired up with.
There were a few nice-looking guys in my class, and all of them were single, with the exception of Walt, who was married. But the one guy all of the girls seemed to gravitate toward was Rick. He gave off kind of a bad-boy vibe, but he also had charm. The first day of class, for example, he bought pizza for everyone during lunch break. And another day, he gave a rose to every female in class.
I hate to admit it, but I also was guilty of being attracted to him. Every time he flashed his perfect smile at me, I practically melted.
Louise was quiet, never really talking to anyone. The only social conversation we ever had was about how much she missed her fiancé, away in the military. He would be home on leave in three more months, she told me, and she said she was counting the hours until then. The rest of the time in class, Louise was “all business,” talking only about computer-related matters, such as how to feed key-punched cards into the massive computers.
I turned 18 that October, and Louise’s 21st birthday was the first week of November. It surprised everyone when after class about a week before her birthday, she stood up and announced, “I’m turning 21 next week, and I’ll be all alone, feeling pretty miserable about not having my fiancé here with me to celebrate. So, because 21 is such a special occasion, I’d really like to have a get-together on Saturday night at my house in Claremont. I’d love it if all of you could come.”
As I was leaving class that day, Rick came up to me. “You going to Louise’s party?” he asked.
“I’d like to, but Claremont’s over an hour away, and I don’t even have my driver’s license yet.”
“I can pick you up and we can go together, if you’d like,” he said.
My mouth fell open in shock. Rick, was asking me to the party? He had his choice of any girl in class and he’d picked me?
I didn’t want to seem too enthusiastic, however, so I said, “Okay,” in a tone that could best be described as neutral, when I actually felt like doing cartwheels across the floor while shouting, “Yahoo!”
Not knowing what Louise’s tastes were, I had no idea what to buy her for a birthday gift. Seeing she was engaged to be married, however, I ended up getting her a CorningWare set that included a covered butter dish and matching salt and pepper shakers.
Rick picked me up the night of the party and met my parents. I soon learned he not only had a knack for charming impressionable young females, he also knew how to charm their parents. Within minutes, he and my dad were discussing auto racing, and my mother was offering him homemade cookies for snacking during the drive to and from the party.
The long ride to the party on the world’s darkest, most deserted roads, made me a little uneasy. After all, I thought, I barely knew Rick, other than he was from Portsmouth, which was about 45 minutes beyond where I lived. So he'd already driven nearly an hour just to pick me up. Our conversation was kept light, talking about things like hobbies, the weather, our families and our favorite restaurants.
It wasn’t until I got out of the car that I noticed a rifle lying across his back seat.
The turnout for Louise’s party surprised me. Only four guys and one female from our class showed up – and no one brought a date. There were no other guests, which made me wonder if Louise had any friends.
From the moment Rick and I entered, I knew the party wasn’t going to be something I’d be raving about in class on Monday. Louise’s place was very dark and drab. A table holding a small birthday cake and a bowl of chips and dip was the only thing in the room that even hinted we were at a party. There were no decorations and not even any music playing. The guests who already were there were sitting stiffly on straight-back chairs in a row against the wall, their hands folded in their laps. They looked like contestants waiting for their turn in a spelling bee.
Louise, dressed in hip-hugger jeans and a halter top that bared her midriff, greeted us and said, “Hi, guys! Glad you could make it! There’s a cooler in the corner with beer in it. Help yourselves.”
Rick walked over, grabbed a beer and offered one to me, which I refused, then he asked Louise if he could use her phone (cell phones weren’t even close to being a thing yet). She pointed to the phone and he used it to make a call. I caught only bits of his conversation, which puzzled me. He was telling someone he’d arrived safely at John’s house and they’d be going hunting at the crack of dawn.
Well, I thought, at least that explained the rifle in the back seat. But if he was going hunting at the crack of dawn and wasn’t going back home, according to his conversation, I wondered what was going to happen to me. I mean, was he even going to drive me back home, or just leave me at the party?
“Do you have any music to liven things up and get this party started?” Brian, one of our classmates, asked.
“I have a record player in the bedroom,” Louise said. “But it’s pretty heavy to carry out.”
She looked directly at Rick and smiled. “Can you help me with it, Rick?”
“Sure,” he said, rising to his feet and setting down his beer. He followed her into the bedroom.
The rest of us talked about the drive up there and how deserted the area was. Jean, the only other female guest, said she’d taken a wrong turn and had ended up in a cow pasture.
At that moment, Louise’s bedroom door closed.
We cast curious glances at each other, wondering where the record player was. It was then that we heard Louise and Rick…and let’s just say it didn’t sound as if they were sorting through record albums and discussing which ones to bring out to play.
No, “quiet” brainy Louise actually was pretty loud when she wanted to be.
We guests just sat there in total silence, wide-eyed and uncomfortable because we all had no doubt about what was going on in that bedroom behind the closed door. And it made me furious. Louise was my lab partner, my tablemate in class. And she was engaged! How could she be doing this…and especially with MY date?
Suddenly, the front door burst open, and there stood a handsome young man wearing a military uniform. “Surprise!” he said, “I managed to get an early leave just for your birthday!”
He looked curiously at us, just sitting there, and frowned. “Where’s Louise?”
No one dared to answer.
“She’s in the bedroom,” I told him, way too cheerfully.
“I can’t wait to surprise her!” he said, dashing toward the door.
Oh, you definitely will! I thought, silently cackling fiendishly.
A lot of shouting and crying suddenly came from the bedroom. Brian, who was sitting next to me, said, “Let’s get out of here before the cops and an ambulance get involved.”
He didn’t have to ask me twice. We both ran out to his car and took off. He ended up driving me home, thank goodness.
That Monday in class, Rick showed up with a black eye, and Louise kept her head down all day, not looking up at or speaking to a soul. I did notice, however, that she still was wearing her diamond ring.
As it turned out, Rick also had a fiancé back in his hometown, and he’d lied to her about the party and told her he was going hunting. He did apologize to me for his behavior that night and explained that I hadn’t actually been his date – he’d only offered to give me a ride to the party, nothing more. In other words, he was just an early version of an Uber driver…with a rifle.
Now that I think about it, that actually wasn’t the worst party I’ve ever been to. I think it would have to be the one I went to with my steady boyfriend at the time, where I turned out to be the only female among a bunch of men. Oh, there actually was one other female there, the hostess – a married woman in her 40s, whose husband was away on active duty in the military. An hour into the party, my boyfriend disappeared with her and left me sitting there alone with all of the strange (and I do mean “strange”) men, to fend for myself.
Wait a minute...I think I’m sensing a pattern here.
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Sally Breslin is an award-winning humor columnist and the author of “There’s a Tick in my Underwear!” “Heed the Predictor” and “The Common-Sense Approach to Dream Interpretation." Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.