The Party - Part One

Senior year was finally over. The graduation ceremony lasted nearly 2 hours. The ceremony took place on the school's football field. Eli had avoided that area, as much as he could, ever since the day he witnessed Melvin's tormented spirit, sentenced to an eternity there, branded a "coward," in the afterlife. The unusual warm temperatures made it unbearable.  The dark caps and gowns worn by the Senior graduating class, absorbed the sun's heat and baked them from the inside - out.  This year's Valedictorian was Sharon Wilkerson. Eli listened, as she paid tribute to the faculty's commitment to it's high standards of education, and the teacher's determination to ready their student's towards the next level. As her speech came to a close, the Senior's threw their caps into the air, in the customary fashion. Eli took notice of Sharon's beautiful highlighted blonde hair, as she removed her cap to join in. He recalled the conversation he and her had, in the hallway, months before. She had very little hope for her future. What happened to her? Eli wondered. She has everything going for her, yet she has such a low-opinion of herself and her achievements.  No one from her family attended the ceremony.

The crowd thinned, as the student's left to go home with their families and friends. Eli took one last look around before joining his parents in the audience. He was really searching for Melvin's face to surface somewhere among the many rows of chairs and faces.  Porter was busy taking photos with the school principle, and other students. He shouted out to Eli to come over and pose for one. Eli's father and mother, who were standing by his side, encouraged him to go on and join in the celebrations.  They were a very reserved and modest people, despite the fact that their only son was moving on to college as a First-Draft pick. Mother took a few snapshots of Eli and his father standing by the goal post, before she let Eli run off to join the others.

Porter ran over to meet Eli, half-way. Those gleaming, pearly, white teeth of his sparkled like gems, against his bronzed skin.  He had gone to Rio De Janeiro for Spring Break, and returned  home; buffed and tanned.  "Hey, Eli!..Whata say we go for a ride in my new car later?" Porter's father had bought him a 1969 Corvette convertible, Hard-Top for a graduation present.  "Smile!", someone from the crowd shouted out. The boys quickly turned forward and threw their arms over each others shoulders. The flashbulbs went off, and the boys returned to their conversation. "Your father bought you a, What?" Eli repeated. "The sweetest ride, you've ever seen!" Porter bragged. "It's over there." he pointed. "I parked it on the other side of the playing field. Come'on, I'll show you." The two of them mingled with the crowds of people, that had remained behind, shaking hands and saying, "Good Ridden." underneath of their breath, as they made a bee-line way towards the scoreboard where the car was safely, parked.  

"Well, Do you like it?" Porter asked. He knew there wasn't much, not to like about it. He was just showboating, as usual. "Do I!" Eli smiled. "Go on, Get in!...I'll let you take her out. This baby purrs!" Eli couldn't resist. He fired up the engine. Porter was right; she did purr. Eli eased it into 1st gear and let the clutch out. This car was made for speed. Porter seated himself in the passenger side and put the air-conditioner, as cold as she could get. Eli slowly drove the car off of the school's lot and onto the main highway. "Come on, Dude!" Porter moaned. "Jam!" he said. Eli did what he had asked. After a few changes in gears, the car was now cruising at 70 miles per hour. The mountain roads were designed for top-speeds of 45 miles per hour, at best. Porter insisted Eli increase the acceleration. "No, Man...Really I don't want to wreck!" Eli replied back to his pal, who was now becoming irritated with Eli's response. "Pull over, Man. Let me drive!" Eli pulled off into the same dirt clearing that he used the day he'd seen Melvin's face pressed against the glass window of his truck. "Hey, Porter. She's a beautiful car and I know she's capable of speeds up to 140 miles per hour. But, I'm not going tag along if that's what you had in mind!...I've got too much to look forward too!..I'm not gonna risk that. You'll always know what it's like to have money, woman and nice things. For me it's different. I have to work for it!" Eli was now becoming upset with his friend, not because he was rich, but because he was willing to risk Eli's life, just to show-off. "Whoa, Whoa!...It's not like that at all, Eli?..Where's that coming from?" Porter asked. "No offense, Man..but, I'm not into it." "Into What?" Porter questioned. "Listen, Porter..Just take me back to my truck. I just don't want to get in a wreck. I've lived here all of my life and have alot of respect for these mountain roads. I've seen my share of fatalities. I just don't want to be one of them." Eli explained. "Sure, Sure...I get it" Porter drove back Eli back to his truck. Eli shook his friends hand, and shut the door. Porter pulled away kicking up dirt and rocks, as the back wheels, threw them back behind the speeding car. Eli tolerated Porter's immaturity, at times. But, drew the line when it came to his reckless abandon regarding human life. Funny, a murderer should feel that way. But, He did. Eli was very cautious  about keeping out of harm's way.

He hopped into his truck and took off in the opposite direction, that Porter had turned. He was only a few miles into his journey, when he spotted Sharon Wilkerson walking along the highway, alone. He pulled off into the shoulder, a mile up the road and waited for her to reach the truck. The trees that lined the highway offered up some relief from the sun's intense heat. As Sharon reached the top of the mountain's steep upgrade, she saw Eli's truck parked, with it's hazard lights, flashing. She paused for a moment, then continued her pace. Eli watched in the rear-view mirrors as she approached the tail-gate. He opened up the driver's side door. Then stepped out.  "Sharon?..Let me give you a lift home?..Please!" Eli pleaded with the girl. "It's alright, Eli...I've walked this road a thousand times." Sharon stated, proudly. "Please, Sharon!...Your house is still another 3 miles...Here." Eli offered her a cool bottle of Spring Water, as she walked passed the open door. She stopped. "Thanks!" she reached out and took the bottle. "That was an incredible speech you gave today!...No, I really mean that!..Come on, Jump in. It's too hot for a walk today!" Eli smiled back at her. "Ok." she agreed.

As Sharon climbed up into the truck, her dress rose up, revealing a well-toned pair of legs. Eli could not help but to notice, as she pulled her dress down to cover them up. He reached over and cranked up the air-conditioning, and pulled back into the highway. She sat quietly and starred out of the passenger-side window, then got up the nerve to talk. "I saw you leaving with...a..Porter?..Is that his name? she asked. "Yeah, Porter..Porter Round." Eli said, looking over at her. "Is it too cold in here?" he asked. "Alittle. Would you mind turning it down?" "No, Not at all." "You know, Sharon. I can't help but remember what you said to me in the hallways about not having enough options and all after you've graduated. But, You couldn't be more wrong about yourself." Sharon interrupted Eli. "Please, don't!..I didn't try to be Valedictorian. Do you know that after the ceremony Bonnie Newman threatened me? Sharon confessed. "Threatened You!..Why? What for?" Eli returned. "She'd been working these past few years, trying to win the honor, in order to get into Harvard Law School. Look at my dress!  She threw a bottle of Hawaiian Punch, out of her car window when she drove by." Sharon removed her sweater that she had been wearing over her dress, to hide the red stain, and showed it to Eli.

"Son of..!" Eli yelled out. "No, Eli!..It's OK, Really!" "No! It's not OK, Sharon!..She drives that BMW, the black one?, Right!" Eli was furious. He found himself becoming very protective of this shy, and talented young lady, he admired in secret. "Aw, Sharon? Come on!...That's BS!" Eli continued. "It's over!...High School's finished with!...I'll never have to deal with any of that, any longer." she said. "What do you mean?...Have these girls been doing crap like that to you, all along?" Eli asked. He was becoming even more concerned after learning that this quiet, beautiful girl had been getting pushed around and bullied the entire four years of high school, and he hadn't even noticed, or cared. He did now!  "Eli?...I've never seen this side of you before? It's nice to have a champion-But your four years, too late." Sharon declared.  Eli felt like a smuck, after that comment. But, Sharon was right. It was too late. "I'm sorry for that, Sharon. I would have stepped-up. Had I known!"  A tender moment passed between them.  Eli slowed down to pull into her driveway. It was the only one at the bottom of hill, and you could have easily missed it, due to the fact that no one trimmed back the low-hanging branches, at it's entrance. "No, No. Here's fine!" Sharon called out. Eli wondered why she wouldn't allow him to pull in? "Oh, Ok..sure." "Thanks for stopping for me, Eli. You take care of yourself." she said, softly. "You too!" She jumped out of the truck, closed the door, and pushed back the branches that hung in the way. A couple of dogs came running down the drive, as she dragged herself along the gravel road.  The mongrels tried to jump up with their muddy paws and greet her, but she pushed them away. One of them nipped at her bare ankles. She kicked at it, to go away. Eli heard a man's voice call out to her. "Is that you, Girl?..Quit kickin my dogs!" A man stepped out of the screened in porch.  He was drunk. His over-alls were filthy with grease stains and his hair was oily and unevenly cut. Eli watched from the cab of his truck,  as he threw an empty bottle of beer at the girl, for having kicked his ugly dogs. Sharon looked back to see if Eli had witnessed her father's abuse towards her. He had. Eli now understood why she felt the way she did about herself. Everyone, including her own family had been abusing her for so long. She considered it, "common" and allowed it to continue.

Although, Eli felt terrible for the girl and felt very uncomfortable having seen what he just had. If things were different for him, and his future hadn't looked as amazing as it did.  Sharon's father would have suffered the same fate as the Wane Brothers. As well as, Bonnie Newman. However, he couldn't allow himself to become to personally involved. He was leaving soon and hoped that she would come to her senses, realizing that she had the power and the talent, to make a good life for herself, somewhere else, with someone else. He drove away and didn't look back.

Eli had finally agreed to face his fears and go to Porter's house for a graduation celebration. He never went to New York City when they offered, but now he felt he was ready to conquer his, "demons," and be done with it. He was certain that his guilt had been the reasons behind his, "daytime hallucinations."  Eli's parents had driven back home after the ceremony. Mom had planned a special dinner for the three of them, and then afterwards, it was off to Porter's house for some, "playtime." Porter's father spared no expense for this gathering. Everyone he knew was invited to the celebrations. Eli also learned that the Jet's Quarterback; Joe Namath was coming, along with Pete Rose, just to meet him. This was going to be an outstanding night.

Eli had a quiet supper with his parents, when he returned home. Dad handed him a legal-size envelope, like he always had in the past. Inside of it contained, ten brand new one-hundred dollar bills.  "Dad?...This is too much!..I can't take this much away from you and mom!" Eli handed him back the envelope. "Eli..Take the money, Son!" his father stated. "Aw, Mom...I can't take that from you and Pop!...Please don't do this!" "It's alright, Eli. We've been saving for this. We're fine." she reassured him. "Listen to her. She's right! Now, Go on and get ready for that party. But remember, No alcohol, No cursing, and No girls! Now, I know that's asking an awful lot, because their's an awful lot to celebrate. But, Now's not the time to lose your head over it. There's too much at stake, and you worked too hard for this. You know I'm right! Don't you!" Eli's father stood up from the table and embraced his son, and patted him on the back. "Now, Go on! Have some fun! and get me Joe Namath's autograph. Here take this football we used to throw around." he joked with him. "Your good parents! I would have never made it this far in life without you both. I love you!" Eli's mother began to cry. He reached out to hold her. "Aw, Mother you promised not to turn on the water works." Eli's father offered his wife his handkerchief, and let them have a moment. "Alright, Let the boy be, Mother." she laughed at her husband's comments and swatted him with his hanky.  She gave her son a kiss on his cheek and sent him on his way. He charged towards the staircase to get ready for his, "party."

The mansion that once stood abandoned, high-atop it's mountain plateau. Now, could be seen from the small town of Havertown, it all of it's intended glory. The traffic in town was unusually busy, as many of the guests arrived for the party from out-of town. The town's people marveled and then complained about the outsiders.  Mr. Round had to make a generous donation to the small town's Christmas fund, just so he could have this party, because the traffic had to travel through the small streets of town, just to get to the road, leading up to the Rounds' mansion. Mr. Round even hired rent-a-cops to direct traffic towards the road. The entire mountain-side was illuminated from the hundreds of light strands that outlined the property and road.  It was amazing to look at from below. It's more action this town has seen. Ever! Eli finally arrived after spending an hour in traffic. A valet came over to the driver's side door to park his truck. Eli glanced over and saw his name on a sign post just outside of the front door. "I'm Eli James." he said to the valet. "Can I see some ID?" he asked. Eli pulled out his Vermont drivers license and handed over. "Sorry, Mr. James. Welcome to your party.  This man will show you inside." The valet whistled to a young man dressed in a Tuxedo. "Please escort the guest of honor to his table." "Certainly. Mr. James? Please follow me." Eli was impressed. He'd never seen so many people in one place, and they came to see him.  The mansion had been completely remodeled. Nothing was the same. This made it easier to forget. Porter was dressed in a gray satin Armani suit with an slightly off blue tie. Eli was sent over a similar suit, only it was a black satin-finish, Armani suit, with a gray tie.  These two young rising stars were shining. Porter introduced Eli to all of his father's partners at the firm. They were already booking odds on this dynamic duo, down in the parlors' of Las Vegas, Nevada and Reno. Eli felt amazing about being the honorary guest for so many important people. He liked the attention he received. Porter told him it was only the beginning. Once they started playing football for the, "Fighting Irish." the world was theirs for the taking!

"Ladies and Gentleman, May I have your attention?...Thank you all for coming to my home to honor our distinguished rising stars! My son, Porter Round, II and Mr. Eli James, Notre Dame's new quarterback and running back. Let's give these hard working lads a hand!....Fellas, Come on up here!" Mr. Round announced into the cluster of microphones, there on the platform. He was waving his hand for them to stand-up and be recognized before the hundreds of people, who were now cheering and clapping, as they walked onto the platform, side by side, with Porter's dad. The journalists from Sports Illustrated were invited to attend, along with other leading Sport's announcers from ABC Sports.  Eli counted 7 microphones, in all. He did it. He was on his way to fame and fortune. The endless flashes of lights from the cameras in the audience were incredible. A large yellow banner was released and un-rolled downward, behind them. It read, "Play like a Champion Today." This is the very same banner in the locker room hallway, the team players touch as they walk to and from the field. The audience went wild, as Eli and Porter went over to the banner and touched it. The events moved very quickly. When it was time for Eli to say something to the mob of eager beavers, mover and shakers of the world, Eli was a, "natural." The crowd ate it up, and fell in love with this small town quarterback, and his country-boy charm and easy smile.

The minute Eli was down on the floor, at least a half- dozen or more girls surrounded him. All of them, drop-dead gorgeous!  The security team rushed over to Eli's side, and escorted him to the main room. Several of them managed to stuff their cell phone numbers in his pant's pockets. Although, Mr. Namath was unable to attend the affair, he did record a special message for Eli and Porter. They played it on a large, teleprompter that had been brought in. As Mr. Namath offered his regrets for not being there to meet them, both. He did send over autographed footballs and a bottle of Pepsi, because they were still under the age of 21 and unable to drink. This didn't stop Porter, he always drank. Eli could honestly say, that he never touched the stuff, even now. The champagne was flowing like the Nile river. Eli refused to drink. After more than 4 hours of shaking hands with America's Elite Business CEO's, Eli decided to call it a night. He was escorted out to his truck by several large, body guards. The girls had paid the valet staff, hundreds of dollars to tell them which vehicle, was Eli's. It was easy money for these guys. They knew even if they had pointed out which vehicle was his, they'd never get near him. So, Why not spill your guts. His name had been removed from the spot, the minute he arrived.  The security team thought it would be best for Eli to be brought home in a limousine, rather than in his pick-up truck, Now that he was, "In Demand." they joked with the young man. Eli agreed to be driven back home. The security team would flat-bed his truck, back to his parents house the next day.

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