Sitting around the living room, my roommates and I have gone all out tonight – Shake and Bake chicken, cheesy potatoes and green beans. We’re sitting around the television tearing it all up like a pack of wild dogs, and then the front door opens, and in walks Heather, a tall, curly-haired friend of ours, carrying a purple Adidas bag.
She doesn’t live with us, that’s just how people are around here, barging in like Lenny and Squiggy. Nobody knocks. She kind of peeks in at the four of us, though, as if unsure anyone would be home.
She says, “Oh my god, I’m starving!”
We’ve made a lot of food, so I get up and get her a plate and a beer and she takes my chair while she’s at it, and I end up eating on the front porch, talking to everyone through the front door.
It’s a nice October night, and I’m feeling pretty comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt, out on the porch, watching everyone on Patterson Avenue make each other nervous. This is the very edge of north campus, so half of the people are regular folks who own their homes and have kids and like to work in their gardens, while the other half are knucklehead college students, who like to turn their music up and sit on the roofs of their porches. There’s peace tonight, but there’s tension, too.
We’ve got some people coming over later. Inside, Jason tells Heather all about it, his flannel shirt hanging open, his chest hairy with maybe a little bit of Shake and Bake sprinkled in it. There are people coming over just about every night, but we always portray it like it’s a special occasion, because people seem to like that.
Mike and Rob there, too, a lot more interested in chicken and the mob movie on television, than Heather or any plans we might all have later. Some kind of thing going on maybe, between Jason and Heather, we don’t know. The guy never makes a move toward any of the girls we meet and yet they flock to him, landing on him like pigeons, making little noises – he barely cares.
Heather finishes dinner and then unzips the Adidas bag and says, “Hey, you guys mind if I use your bathroom?”
We don’t mind, and she takes the bag with her, rustling around in it as she creaks up the stairs.
She’s gone for a little while, and pretty soon, I have to go to the bathroom, so I go upstairs and the door is open, and Heather’s standing there in front of the mirror with some kind of bag over her head, patting paste all over her scalp.
There’s not a lot to say to that, so I just stand there in the doorway, and she turns to me, eyebrows up, like can I help you?
Seems like I’ve got all the information I need to figure out what she’s doing, but I still look around a little bit and notice the box of hair dye on the sink, and tell her, in case she hasn’t noticed, “You’re dying your hair.”
I’d like her to put those eyebrows down now, is what I’d like her to do.
“I’m dying my hair,” she agrees. With a weird tone, like I’m in her bathroom instead of her in mine.
So I go into Jason’s room, and urinate right through his screen into the back yard, getting the attention of a dumpster cat out there, hearing the noise. And then I stop in the bathroom doorway again, and Heather simply ignores me now, no eyebrows, no nothing.
That’s fine, I creak back down the stairs, and I forget to mention to the other guys anything about hair dye or urinating out windows, and after a while, Heather comes back down the stairs, her hair bright blonde now.
She drops her Adidas bag by the door and asks us what we think.
Mike and Rob don’t think anything; they don’t even look away from the screen.
Jason says, “Looks good.”
And I get up and ask her if I can stick my fingers in it, and she says, sure, so I do. Feels kind of stiff. I take my fingers out, rubbing them together, looking at them.
Huh. “Looks good,” I agree.
She says, “I might see you guys later tonight,” and then gets her Adidas bag, and another piece of chicken, and she walks right out the door eating it.
Then we’re just sitting there again, zeroing in on the leftovers, scraping the casserole dish, watching the end of the mob movie. People start to show up – we’re right out of high school, so some of them are still in it, and have curfews to worry about. Mike’s got an enormous amp that he’s hooked up to a little discman, and he cranks the Sanford and Son theme song – wherever he got it – nice and loud, and we all scuttle out to the porch to get frowned at by the neighbors.
A few hours later, it’s getting pretty crowded. There are probably twenty people there, but it’s a big house, and everyone’s spread out through different rooms. I’m standing on the front porch when a Baby Boomer in a long black coat gets out of a Lexus with a very stocky sidekick, wearing a suit jacket. They stop and have a muttered conversation, out there on the sidewalk, looking at us, and then they approach.
We’re right out of high school, so a lot of our guests are underage; they disappear like roaches, and then I’m standing there with Jason, who just leans against the wall to watch.
“Can I help you guys?” I ask.
The sidekick is security. He puts himself right in front of me, looking me in the eye. Shorter than I am, but gargantuan just the same, shoulders like a small car.
The taller guy has salt and pepper hair, mostly salt. He says, “I hope so. I’m looking for my daughter. She’s taken off.”
Five guys living here, this could be bad. “Who’s your daughter?”
He tells us, and it’s Heather. “Heather’s nineteen, isn’t she?”
Now the security guy speaks, leaning nice and close to me. He says, “That don’t mean her dad don’t care about her.”
Heather’s dad nods at me. “Yes, she’s over eighteen,” he says. “That’s why we’re here, and not the police.”
Smiles when he says it, too. Both of them smile nice and wide, wanting me to know how simple things are.
“Well, okay, guys, she was just here. She didn’t say anything about running off or anything. She just showed up, ate some chicken, dyed her hair…”
Trailing off now, my face falling down around my neck. Oh. Dying her hair.
“We know she hangs out here,” Heather’s dad explains, “because she’s got your address written down on some things, in her room.”
So I blow out a lot more air than I inhaled in the first place, and tell them, “Look, I can see you want to come in and check the place out, make sure your daughter’s not here. So, to be clear, that’s all you want, right? You aren’t worried about how old anyone is, if they’re standing there with a beer, or what that smell is, or anything like that, am I right?”
“That’s right,” her dad agrees, showing me his hands now. Is that supposed to mean, look I’m unarmed?
So I glance over my shoulder at Jason, and he very casually wobbles away from the wall behind him, and strolls inside to spread the word, Tom’s about to bring someone’s dad inside with his thug for a tour.
It’s a three story house, but they don’t scour it. If Heather were here and wanted to stay hidden, she could have just hopped in a closet or under the bed. It’s more that we’ve showed them we have nothing to hide and so they believe us.
Back down on the porch, Heather’s dad gives me his business card. He tells me again that he’s worried about his daughter, and that he’s not going to go into why, but that he needs to find her.
I figure, it’s about fifty-fifty. Either Heather’s got a good reason to want to stay away from her dad, or she’s a dipshit nineteen year old girl, with a stupid reason for wanting to stay away from her dad. I spend a couple of seconds looking right in his eyes, trying to figure out if he’s genuinely concerned, or some kind of control freak.
Seems to me, I either help him find her, or I don’t, and either way, it’s going to be really good for Heather, or really bad. Doesn’t seem to be any way to know for sure.
I tell him, “Go down to South Campus at around eleven o’clock. Go into a dive bar called Purity. It’s an underground bar on the east side of High Street, just south of 11th Avenue. It’s huge, so just go on in, and walk around in a big circle, and there’s a good chance you’ll find Heather. If that doesn’t work, try Crazy Mama’s, around 9th and High, except this one’s on the second floor. You want to try Crazy Mama’s around 1:30.”
Now we’re all pals. They shake my hands and tell me that I’m all right, and they get back into their Lexus and drive away. And I stand there watching them, having just made the first paternal decision of my life without even realizing it, and I never get to find out if it was the right one.