Real Nice Party

By Isabella DePhillipo

I didn’t want to go to the party Dickey Henderson threw on the day he killed his parents, but really when I think back on it I never had a choice. It was right around the time we all really started to feel the noose of the future tightening, and bouncing around from one house party to the next every Friday night seemed to be the only way to take the edge off. That night I especially didn’t feel like going because I had just started recovering from a nasty head cold, and because it was one of those nights I tried on five or six different outfits and nothing I owned seemed to look or fit right. But I had promised Laura that I would go, and I knew she would hold me to it. I could picture myself getting in her car and starting to complain, and before I would even be able to get into it she would give me this hard look that said hey now, you promised, remember?

Besides, some primal part of me did feel that nameless thing everyone else seemed to be feeling, like we were all going to die pretty soon and we might as well get all of our living over and done with now. So I forced my feet into a pair of my mother’s heels and hobbled down the driveway when I heard the horn of Laura’s car from outside. That night Laura’s eyes were black smudges set haphazardly into her pale face, her mouth a dark, determined stain, and I knew we wouldn’t be going home until the morning birds said so.

“You ready?” She asked, and in that question the accusation was so blatant I couldn’t do anything but nod. She pursed those dark lips like she didn’t believe me, but she could hear the music calling her all the way across town, so she hit the gas and started chasing it.            

Laura, who always drove, had to park the new car her parents had bought her for her eighteenth birthday last month a whole three blocks away. “Jesus,” Laura said out of the side of her mouth, and I agreed. Counting all the cars we passed and calculating how many people were probably inside made me want to be there even less, but at that point it was too late because Laura had heard the house thumping from her open window and I couldn’t have dragged her away from that beat for the world.

Dickey Henderson’s house was frightfully normal, and as such it was the perfect setting for the kind of party he was throwing. Outside the lawn was neat, the walls were beige, and the front door that he would leave through less than twenty-four hours later in handcuffs was a nice cream color, with a shiny round knob and a doorbell that seemed to say Come on in! Everything is just dandy.

I assumed the inside was usually as nice as the outside, but I couldn’t tell because by the time Laura and I made it there, the party had already sunk its teeth in deep. There was at least one sweaty body on every available surface, and they were all at least three drinks in already. The door was opened wide for us when Laura rang the doorbell, and we could see nothing past Dickey Henderson but a sea of writhing, shapeless forms swaying to the beat of the drugs and hormones they were sharing.

“Hey, you made it!” Dickey Henderson said from the doorway. Compared to the other kids I could see behind him, he looked normal. No shine on his face, no stains on his clothes. His hair was combed neatly, and he had even tucked in his shirt. He didn’t know us, but he greeted us as if he did. That was just the way Dickey Henderson was with people.            

“Wouldn’t miss it. Nice place.” Laura said, swaying slightly and looking at him from under her long eyelashes because that’s just the way she was with people. Laura was the kind of person that could bring just about anyone to their knees with that smoldering look, her sensuality having peaked long before anyone asked for it, but Dickey Henderson just smiled and opened the door wider.

“Drinks and snacks are in the kitchen, bathroom is the first door on the right upstairs,” he said as he ushered us in and shut the door behind us, “do anything you want as long as you stay out of my parents’ room.” And with that Dickey Henderson vanished, melting into the throng of his followers as if he had never been there. I wouldn’t see him again that night until I broke his only rule, and after that no one would see Dickey Henderson again for a very long time.

Despite it being the first house party Dickey Henderson had ever thrown, it seemed like everybody was there. It’s not like people picked on him or anything, but he wasn’t the most popular kid either. Just normal, I guess; I never did figure out why everybody called him Dickey, nor do I think I ever learned his real name. Regardless, Dickey Henderson’s house wasn’t one you’d expect to have a kitchen full of booze, but when we finally got through that’s exactly what we saw.

Before I could ask for one Laura was pressing a shot into my hands, and though I didn’t really want it she gave me that look again that said I was going to take it. The cool glass felt foreign in my hands, but I knew it would feel like breathing for the first time going down my throat, so down it went.

This was always how I acted at those parties. I would go begrudgingly and drink unwillingly, then as soon as I got the taste I couldn’t be stopped. Laura knew this, which is why she put up with dragging me along. It never took me long to outpace her, sometimes doubling up on the shots just for the hell of it. I was seventeen, and already developing an impressive tolerance that would one day cause me to sink to my knees in the chapel at my university and thank whoever was listening that my liver hadn’t failed me.

You could tell who wasn’t going anywhere by how hard they drank. The kids doing tequila shots in between runs upstairs to Dickey Henderson’s bathroom were the ones who hadn’t gotten that magic letter in the mail giving them permission to start paying ten or twenty grand a year to keep going to school. Maybe some of them hadn’t even applied, because they had already made peace with the fact that they would be sitting around in this town for the rest of their lives, drinking cheap booze on leather couches just like Dickey Henderson’s.

At around midnight the games started. Drinking games were a favorite of mine, because even more than the alcohol I’ve always been addicted to any sense of achievement, even the fleeting kind that comes from winning beer pong five times in a row and drinking more than anyone at the table. “Slow your roll, tiger,” Laura said, but she was smiling through her smudged lipstick as if she were proud of me, like I was a handful of uncooked macaroni that she had lovingly glued to a piece of construction paper and covered in glitter.

One a.m. was the tipping point of the party, when the raucous games had finally died down but people hadn’t really started to settle in for what was left of the night yet. There was still music playing, which meant there was still dancing to be done, which meant a whole lot of other things, some of which could be done on Dickey Henderson’s couch and others that required more private conference rooms to sneak off to.

I had been standing outside the bathroom door, bladder screaming and bucking like some untamed beast, for about fifteen minutes before I put my ear to the door and heard the breathless sounds of two people inside. I had sense enough in my inebriation to be annoyed, and to hope it wasn’t Laura in there with some dude whose name she wouldn’t remember tomorrow, because I was really getting fed up with living and I wanted to go home soon.

Finding Laura was a problem for later. For now, I needed a bathroom, and I had a wild thought that if I didn’t find one soon I was going to piss right there in Dickey Henderson’s hallway. In slow motion my head turned to the side and I looked down the hall. I hadn’t seen a bathroom anywhere downstairs, but all these nice two-story houses had one in the master bedroom. Stumbling along the shag carpet, I tried each door clumsily until I got to the end of the hall.

With my hand on the knob, I suddenly remembered Dickey Henderson’s warning from earlier: Whatever you do, stay out of my parents’ room.

Well, that’s tough, Dickey Henderson, I thought, If you knew how bad I have to pee, I’m sure you’d understand. Alcohol always made me uncharacteristically brazen. That, or being sober always made me uncharacteristically withdrawn.

I opened the door, and the first thing I thought was what a shitty paint job. It took me longer than it should have to realize what the red streaks all over the walls were. The blood was everywhere. It dripped down the walls, pooled on the floor, and soaked into the bed where the bodies were. There was even blood sprayed on the ceiling, wide red arcs tracking the back and forth movement of the claw hammer as he had swung it in and out of their heads.

He admitted to using the hammer to kill both of them. It was his father’s hammer, and he took it from the toolbox in the garage at four in the morning, before creeping upstairs and bludgeoning both of his parents before they even had time to react. The story was sensational as soon as it broke, and no details from the investigation were spared. I don’t know how it was that I suddenly knew Dickey Henderson was standing behind me. Maybe some primal remnant from the time we lived in caves kicked in. I turned around, and there he was. He still looked incredible, which is quite a feat for a house party at one in the morning. He was standing unnaturally still, taxidermy eyes trained just past my shoulder at the scene beyond. Maybe he wasn’t even looking at them either, but something past that only he could see.

His voice was flat when he spoke. “I asked you not to come in here.” 

Suddenly my mouth was bone dry, and I felt myself instantly sober. “Looking for a bathroom.”

He turned his head slowly to look at me, and pointed down the hallway behind him. “That’s the only one.”

I bobbed my head aggressively and stepped out into the hallway away from him. I dared a glance around, but no one else was paying any attention, all too busy trying to black themselves out. “Thanks, I’ll just wait then.”

He stood there for a moment, thinking, and then nodded once. He closed the door to the bedroom gently, as if he didn’t want to disturb someone sleeping inside. As soon as the scene was out of view he visibly relaxed, muscles loosening and eyes brightening. “Having fun?”

Again I nodded. “Yeah. Real nice party.”

He smiled at me, and I thought for just a moment that perhaps I had gone crazy, and that maybe I was the only one of us who had seen the corpses on the bed. As he edged past me to go back downstairs, I couldn’t stop myself from reaching out and grabbing his cold arm and asking, “Why?”

He looked at me funny, as if he didn’t understand the question. His lips turned down as he shrugged.

“I don’t know,” he said, “I just got bored, I guess.”

I never saw Dickey Henderson again, though I stayed in his house for another hour at least, drinking faster and harder than I think I ever had before and all the while never getting any drunker. The next morning would be the first Saturday in a long time that I would wake up early, without a trace of a hangover. It was the first of many mornings I’d wake with the image of Dickey Henderson’s dead parents imprinted clearly in my mind. The story was already on the morning news when I made my way downstairs, and when I reached the living room my parents were both watching Dickey Henderson being led from his house to a squad car. One of their nosy neighbors had called for a welfare check, said the reporter, and the police had showed up to find Dickey Henderson, downstairs eating cereal and watching cartoons, while just upstairs his parents were starting to smell.

It was just past two in the morning when the party really started to get quiet, when people were either falling asleep or just talking and existing together. I was crammed in tight on a couch, with a girl to my left drooling on my shoulder and a guy to my right trying to talk to me about the future with an uncooperative tongue, when I looked around for the first time and nearly made myself dizzy from the familiarity of the scene I was sitting in.

I realized right there on that couch that I had been to Dickey Henderson’s party every Friday night since I could remember, and that I would continue to let myself get dragged along to Dickey Henderson’s party again next weekend, and every weekend following until they put a diploma in my hand. After that some of us would keep going to house parties, and others would trade in for dorm parties, but we would all still be going to Dickey Henderson’s party.

The drink I didn’t know I was holding slopped over the rim of the cup and splashed onto my hand as I thought for the first time about how bored I was. People speculated endlessly about what drove Dickey Henderson to do it, spouting theories about life insurance and abuse, but I knew none of it was true. He did it because he knew that his life only consisted of the same narrative, repeated over and over again until the boredom drove him mad. Sitting on his couch that night, sipping from a drink I couldn’t even taste, I knew I was standing on that same precipice, and at any time any one of us could fall off the edge just like he did.

I found Laura in the kitchen, pouring herself another shot. “I want to go home.”

She looked at me, her eyes slowly gaining focus as they studied my blurry features, and poured her shot out to swap it for cold water. Later that morning, while she was screaming down the freeway to an end neither of us could really see, she asked me if I had noticed anything off about Dickey Henderson that night.

“I don’t know,” I said, “he was just bored, I guess.”


Bio: Isabella DePhillipo is an emerging writer from Southern California, completing an undergraduate degree in English at California Lutheran University. Any spare time she gets is spent reading, writing, or thinking too much about her own existence.

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