"Hello?" I answered, as normal as if I had no idea who it was.
"Yes?" I replied.
"Where are you guys?" Her voice sounded flat.
"We're probably about 2 or 3 blocks from home. About 5 minutes." I said. "Why? Are you guys okay?"
"Yeah," she said slowly. "Hey, did you pick up a water bottle when you left?"
"Did you pick up a water bottle when you left to get the cats," she repeated, starting to sound impatient.
"Oh," I said. " Do you mean the blue Dasani bottle?"
"Yeah, I have it right here. Was it your's? I was thirsty and didn't feel like going back in the house. Sorry, I'll buy you a new one..."
"Did you drink out of it?" she asked.
"No," I replied. "Not yet. Why?"
She was through playing games. "Don't fuck around with me, Liz. Do you really think I'm that fucking stupid?"
"Actually, yes" I said. "Because I'm surprised you think I'm that fucking stupid. A water bottle, Bri??"
"Who the fuck to do you think you are...?" She started yelling.
I glanced at Julia. She had sank back into her seat. This was getting ridiculous. I had my right hand behind me, petting Lulu because she now wanted to climb around the front seat. I didn't want her to do that, just in case. I had my phone tucked under my neck and my left hand driving the car.
Bri continued to yell. Finally I cut her off. "Bri, I'm almost home. We'll deal with this when I get there."
I hung up. Julia just stared out the passenger window. I slowed the car down. "Julia." I said.
She just stared. I stopped the car at a traffic light. "Julia, look at me."
Her eyes were shining with tears. "Julia, I'm going to handle this. I need you to trust me. I don't want you getting into that car with Bri. New Jersey's a long drive."
She shook her head vigorously. Then her face crumpled.
"What is it?" I glanced up. The light was still red.
She began to cry, saying that she had landed in a similar situation not too long ago, trusting someone she hardly knew to drive. She was upset about being so naive, yet not having the guts to stand up to them. Or Bri. And she was especially upset because she felt this was going to affect her ability to do other future gatherings like this. She returned to staring out the window.
The light turned green and I accelerated slowly. I let go of Lulu and took Julia's hand and held it tightly. "Hey," I said. "Hey. Julia, look at me."
She wiped her eyes and sniffed, then looked at me. I stopped the car right before my street.
"Julia, listen to me. This isn't something on you. At all, okay? I mean it. Just let me do the talking. But no matter what, you are NOT getting in a car driven by Bri. If I have to drive you to New Jersey myself tonight, I will."
Tearfully, Julia nodded.
We approached my house. My headlights swept over a frightened looking Amanda and a furious Bri. I turned the car off. Squeezing Julia's hand I said, "You're going to be okay. I need you to trust me."
We got out of the car.
Julia carefully got out of the car, just in case Francis was ready to bolt. She was still under the passenger seat.
Lulu climbed into my arms as soon as I said, "Hey, Lulu...!" Then I stepped out of the car as well. Julia waited until I started for the walkway, then she followed me.
"What the fuck, Liz?" Bri started.
"Bri, I have to bring Lulu in. You're going to freak out the cat." I walked passed her and Julia just stood on the sidewalk, eyes pointed down. Amanda also stood there, silent.
I unlocked the front door and put Lulu down. "Hey, Lulu," I cooed. "This is your hotel for the week..."
Lulu went right toward the couch and darted behind it. I followed and peeked at her, "Lulu, it's okay..."
She just stared back at me with wide green eyes. I smiled and went back out to retrieve Francis.
As I walked down the front pathway, I could hear Bri talking to Julia heatedly. Amanda was trying to calm her down, but I couldn't hear what she was saying.
"This is bullshit. That's it. I'm leaving right now," Bri said, heading for the front seat of her car.
"Fine, Bri. But first, pop your trunk," I said.
"Why?" she asked.
"I need to get something out of Julia's bag."
Bri opened the trunk. I began removing Julia's bags.
"What the fuck, Liz?" she asked.
Very quietly I said, "Julia's not driving with you."
"What?" she turned on Julia. "This is fucked up. I'm not driving by myself. Amanda, you're coming with me." Amanda lived two towns away from me. Hardly New Jersey.
Amanda very quietly said, "Bri, I have to work tomorrow. I can't go anywhere."
"So what the fuck am I supposed to do? Drive by myself?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "How about not at all?" I asked.
"This is so fucked up," she yelled. "Julia, I'm fine to drive."
Julia just stared at her, I could see her eyes welling with tears.
"No, you're not," I said evenly.
"Who the fuck do you think you are, Liz?" Bri yelled at me. "You can't tell them what to do. It's their decision. They're fucking adults."
I folded my arms. "Yeah, well guess what, Bri? You actually made the decision for them. You're the one who chose to drink today. And anyone knows you do NOT get in a car with a drunk person."
At this point I remembered that poor Francis was still under the front seat of the car. So I walked over, opened the passenger door carefully and got on my knees. A little set of shiny dark eyes peered at me from a big ball of fur. "Hi, Francis..." I said soothingly.
"I am not drunk!" she yelled after me, following me to the top of the driveway.
"Come on Francis... come on sweetie, it's okay..." I then turned my head toward Bri, my voice getting deeper and angry as I said, "Bri, you may want to fuck up your own life, but I will NOT let you endanger the life of one of my friends. You must think I'm fucking stupid. If I have to slash your tires, I will. And don't think I wouldn't dare..." I returned my attention to Francis while Bri once again screamed at me in regards to my not having the right to make Julia's decisions for her, "Fraaaaaaancis... come on honey...."
I decided to give up on Francis at that point and stood up, then walked to where Bri was standing. We began arguing about how I knew she drank and how much. She began to raise her voice. I also noticed neighbors' faces starting to appear at various houses' windows. Bri then turned on Julia, "Fine. Don't go with me. I don't fucking care. So I'll drive myself, get lost, fucking crash the car and get killed."
Amanda was sobbing at this point and Julia covered her ears, slumped to the ground, crying, while saying, "Stop it! Stop it! Liz, I'll just drive with her..."
"Oh no you won't," I said.
"It's her fucking choice, Liz," Bri yelled.
I sighed. I felt like I was in a 3 ring circus. Between poor Francis wedged under the front seat and Julia's bags scattered all over the side of the street... ugh.
Bri," I said quietly, but firmly. "You listen to me. You're gonna lower your voice right now. I have to live in this neighborhood. I will not have you embarrass me out here. And if you go out, crash, and get killed, that will be by your own doing. But at least I won't have to live with myself knowing that I didn't stop you from destroying other people's lives."
I helped Julia up, whispered in her ear, "I need to you to be strong here, Jule." Then I kissed her on the cheek.
Julia stood behind me. Amanda put her arm around her. I folded my arms again and looked Bri in the eyes.
"Bri," I said. "This was probably one of the BEST weekends I have ever had. We all had a great time. Everyone. Each Fishy left whatever baggage they had at home and let themselves just cut loose and have fun. What makes you think you are so special that you have the right to be selfish?"
"What are you talking about? You're the one who's selfish, trying to control everyone," She retorted.
"No, Bri," I shook my head. "Out of everyone who came, you're the only one that caused people to have to worry. You think people didn't notice how much you were drinking last night? I got news for you. A lot of people told me how much they were concerned. And do you know why? It's because we all love you. I wouldn't be standing out her and embarrassing myself in front of the whole neighborhood like this if I didn't care about you. I'm probably the first person to have ever stood up to you like this and I'm not backing down. Bri, you have a serious problem and I'm not going to stand by and let you self-destruct."
Oh geez. I sounded like an After School special or something. But as crazy as it all seemed, it was all the truth.
Finally we all decided that we should go inside. Poor Francis was still in the damn car. Julia decided to help me. She said, "Here, we'll just shove her out..."
I started laughing. That wasn't really necessary. All Julia had to do was crouch down and reach her arm in and Francis came flying out. I think that poor cat had decided she'd rather have me carry her around than Julia, since she didn't know her.
We brought Francis in and she darted under the stove. Great. What would top the evening off would be if Francis singed her fur while hiding beneathe the oven. I hoped she wasn't going to lift her tail. I had no idea how low the pilot light in the oven was.
Now that the cats were safely inside, I decided the Bri situation needed to be finished...