It Used to Be
“This party is amazing!” Shelly told him, sitting down next to him on the couch. “I love Derek’s parties!” She seemed genuinely thrilled, but he wasn’t sure if it was any particular quality of the party or of the drink – her fifth, if he had been keeping track correctly – that she held in her hand. He supposed it didn’t matter much; fun is fun is fun.
“You’ve just been here so quiet, John!” she went on, leaning closer to him. “Is everything okay?”
He thought about her question. “It is,” he decided finally. “I guess I just feel kind of … bored.”
“Bored?” she repeated in disbelief. She looked around at the people dancing to the frighteningly loud music, at the large amounts of food and drink, and at the gigantic TV where a football game was entertaining a cluster of avid, drunken fans. “Are you crazy?” She laughed. “You just need to get up,” she advised him. “Meet some of these awesome people!”
He also looked around the house. Some of them were people he knew, but none of them were his friends per se. He had always been friends with Derek – since they were little kids – but over the last six years, all of the people who used to hang out with them had moved on – to college, to jobs, to other parts of the country. Jason and Debbie had both joined the service; he hadn’t heard from them in years. Trevor had disappeared – no one even knew where he had gone off to, although his sister was sure he’d turn up eventually – and Dana had married that Italian guy and moved to Europe. It was just Derek now, really, and his tastes had changed as he’d made new friends. He was still a great guy, but since he worked long hours, he had begun playing long hours as well; he liked to throw parties, and his work-friends liked to come to them. At first the old gang had come too, but as they gradually moved on, John had found himself sitting more and more often in the couch in the corner, having free food and a beer, saying a few words to Derek as he made the rounds, and going home alone. He had tried to get to know some of Derek’s co-workers, but it always felt forced and empty.
He was part of Derek’s old life.
“Well,” he thought. “I can either sit here trying to find what used to be, or I can move on too.” It had never really occurred to him. He had a good job, but he had always wanted to travel. He had wanted to teach skiing. He was good at it. Why hadn’t he done that? “Because all my friends were here,” he murmured aloud, and Shelly turned to him.
“What did you say?” she asked loudly, trying to be heard over the music and the football game.
He smiled at her. “I said I need to go,” he told her. He got up off the couch and went in search of Derek.
He found him in the kitchen. Derek was talking to a woman from work; John had met her before, but he couldn’t remember her name, so he just smiled and nodded a greeting to her before approaching Derek. “Hey, man,” he said, gripping Derek by the shoulder. “I need to go.”
“Already?” Derek asked. “The party’s just getting started!”
John grinned. “I know,” he said. “I love you, man,” he said. “You’re, like, my best friend. But I gotta do something different with my life, man. I gotta go.”
Derek stared at him. “What are you talking about?” he asked. “Are you – do you mean you’re leaving leaving? Like, town or something?”
John nodded. “Winter’s coming,” he said. “I think I’ll head for the mountains, teach some skiing.” He grinned again, and pulled Derek into a bear hug. “I’ll keep in touch, okay?” he assured him, repeating earnestly, “You’re my best friend.” He glanced around him at the crowded party. “You throw an awesome party, man,” he said. “Thanks for always making me a part of it.”
Derek, looking a little perplexed at the abruptness of John’s announcement, grinned back. “You’ll always be a part of it, man!” he told him, and hugged him again. “I love you, bro! Let me know where you end up!”
“I will,” John said. He shook Derek’s hand, and clapped him on the shoulder. “I promise.” He turned then, and made his way through the dancing party-goers to the door of Derek’s house. Outside, the sun had already gone down and dusk was creeping in. “I need to talk to my manager,” John thought. “Give two weeks’ notice.” He stepped off of Derek’s porch and headed up the street, feeling a little sad but mostly pretty good about his decision. He loved Derek, and he’d miss him, but it wasn’t like he wouldn’t know where to find him – and when he did, they’d go out for a beer and talk about old times and their new lives, and hang out for a while like they used to.
He realized he was heading for home, and changed directions. He’d go to the movies, he thought. He hadn’t gone to the movies for a while.