Monday September 5, 1977 Labor Day
April Schweiter was staring out the window of the back seat of her father’s station wagon as they proceeded south, returning from spending the Labor Day weekend at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, as they’ve done for years. School was going to start the next day, as it always had in Brokerstown, New Jersey. It was the last day of April’s almost one month grounding that began on her birthday in early August.
April thought back to that day. The yelling, the high heeled shoes being thrown at her head, the sudden end to the surprise party for her 13th birthday.
It had started out well, everyone was having fun. Especially nipping off the bottle of whiskey that was pilfered out of her garage.
“Happy Birthday dear April! Happy Birthday to you!” Her smiling young friends sang in the backyard that opened up from the basement. The white stone gravel patio was sparingly decorated with helium balloons. There were burgers on the built in gas grill and a pink cake on the wooden table that matched the rest of the outdoor furniture.
“Whoa! Thanks guys! This is outta sight! I never had a surprise party before!” Somehow April knew to wear her new white short shorts and red tube top that she bought at the mall with the money she earned for picking weeds in the yard.
April’s parents finished the burgers, wished her a happy birthday, and disappeared for the rest of the evening. They knew they were not wanted at the first boy-girl party at April’s house.
April was cute for a 13 year old, but she was going for “sexy” more than “cute”. She wore no makeup, her parents wouldn’t let her. She was slender and her hair was
blonder than usual, due to the fact her family had just returned from a month long vacation down the shore. A lot transpired during that month, a chance to live a life separate from her friends back home. What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them, she thought. But she couldn’t wait to confide in her best friend Cassie about some parts. The boys, the partying, what she experienced and learned about all that.
“Happy Birthday April!” It was Vince, her next door neighbor. He was a childhood friend a year younger than April. He handed her a small package. “I whittled this at Boy Scouts!“ April opened the small box with the gold foil top, obviously taken from one of his sisters’ rooms. It was a wooden cross laying atop a wad of cotton balls from the bathroom. “Wow! Vince! This is so cool!” He suddenly gave April a peck on the cheek. Vince’s face turned red, April giggled a little too loudly, and Vince turned and walked quickly away.
The sun was starting to set when Michael and Paul, boys from a nearby neighborhood, started passing around a bottle of whiskey. April watched Melissa Trotter take a small swig.
A hand grabbed April’s shoulder and turned her. “I got you this present April! I stole it from Woolworths!” Jay was Vince’s brother. He was older than April, turning thirteen back in December. He had classic Italian good looks; dark messy hair, rounded nose, dimple in his chin. They were close friends, but recently things were beginning to change between them. April wasn’t sure if it was good or bad, but she liked the way it made her feel. Jay was certainly going out of his way to pay more attention to her. More than he did when they would play in the woods in their backyards, or in the street playing kickball with everyone.
The gift was a green hoodie. April would wear that hoodie for years to come under a white down vest that had rainbow stripes running up the front and down the back.
April put the box down and Jay and April walked over to where Melissa had just involuntarily shivered upon taking another swallow of the illicit whiskey.
“Where’d you get that?” Jay asked. “In April’s garage!” Paul replied. “Can you believe it! There was a whole case lyin’ right there!”
Actually Jay could believe it. The neighborhood kids were familiar with the contents of April’s parent’s garage. April did not know why her parents only went to the liquor store twice a year, but there was a lot more than just a case of whiskey in there.
It wasn’t the first time a bottle was lifted either. April swiped a bottle of vodka and brought it down the shore. Actually, April had Jay do it one time when the garage was standing open. It always seemed as if April’s mother watched her like a hawk, so she dared not be seen with a vodka bottle when her mother could step into the garage at any moment. Jay hid the bottle in the bushes, as any hell-raising teenage friend would do, and April managed to sneak it upstairs and into her luggage.
Paul Murphy and Michael Hill were from a neighborhood on the other side of Sussex Avenue. It was in walking distance and recently they seemed to end up outside in front of April’s house all the time. April wondered if her mother actually invited them to the party. She made a mental note to ask her tomorrow.
That question never got asked. It wasn’t too much later when April’s mother threw open the sliding glass doors from the kitchen and appeared on the deck that hovered over the backyard. She started screaming. “You bastards get outta my property! Now! I’ll call all your parents! April? Where are you? In! Now!” Her voice was loud, shaky and somewhat slurred.
April was on the side of the house in the shadows, under her bedroom window, taking a hit off a joint with Cassie. Cassie had a sister in high school and was buddy-buddy with some of her pot-smoking friends.
“Holy shit Cassie! My mother’s gone ape-shit!” April waved her hand attempting to clear the pot smoke away. She went running around the corner.
“Mom! I’m right here!” “Go guys! You’ve got to go!” she yelled to the audience still in attendance in the backyard. She ran into the basement and up the stairs.
“Mom! What’s going on?!” Just then April’s dad stepped in front of her blocking her progress toward the kitchen. His face was red and he was trying to hold his composure. “I got mom to go upstairs.” He explained. “Mrs. Trotter called to say that Melissa arrived home drunk tonight.” April’s face feigned shock. “Would you like to explain how that happened?” her dad said. “Dad! I have no idea!” April lied. “Really!” she continued. “We were dancing and eating cake!”
The only dancing going on were the boys wrestling like they always do to show off, and the rest of the cake was finished off when the munchies set in. In fact Linda and Dennis tried to feed cake to Melissa before her mom picked her up to try to sober her up.
Suddenly April’s mom came barreling down the stairs, turned the corner at the bottom, saw April and her dad, and threw a high heeled shoe at April’s head. Janet and Tim, awakened by the commotion came quickly down the stairs just in time to see April reflexively block the shoe with her arms. It clattered to the floor as the shoe’s mate came hurtling through hallway along the same path as the first one. Janet and Tim burst into tears upon the realization of their mother throwing spiky shoes at her daughter.
“For cryin’ out loud Harriet! What the hell?” April’s dad rushed over to his crazed wife and ushered her back up the stairs as Harriet yelled, “How could you! You bastard! You’re grounded for a month!”
When he finally came back downstairs he found Janet and Tim, aged 11 and 10, consoling and soothing each other, as close siblings do, eating Pop Tarts in the kitchen. Once he got them back in bed, he found April in her room on her phone. It was the Princess phone and private phone number she got for her last birthday after her parents
got fed up with not having the house phone available for their own use. Janet couldn’t wait till she turned 12 and would get one too. April quickly hung up the phone, not even saying goodbye to whoever it was she was talking too, remembering the 1 month grounding.
“April, I’m dog-tired and can’t talk anymore tonight. We’ll have to talk more about this, but I’m trying to figure out if you even did anything wrong.” He sounded sad more than upset. April was counting her lucky stars she didn’t get caught smoking pot with Cassie.