Don't Come Home Tonight by John L. Neel

After high school, I began college at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.  One of my best friends, Bill, and I shared an apartment not far from the campus.  I hated it.  There was little privacy, never enough food, and the cost of the place depleted what little money I made working in the genetics lab.  I was living on one meal a day, either a Burger King Yumbo or two Sneaky Pete hotdogs, at lunch.  One morning, I was so starving I ate a can of Vienna Sausages and a glass of Gatorade for breakfast.  Bill was perpetually inviting people over, mostly guys, which would make sense later on when he came out of the closet, so the place was usually a mess. 

It was a definite low point in my life.

However, one day, Bill called me at the lab and told me, "Don't Come Home Tonight."  I knew he had a date that evening with a girl from our high school class and he was telling me that they were planning to have sex.

I was pissed off.  If he had sex, this would leave me as the last remaining 18-year-old virgin on the planet, or so it seemed.  Hell, I wasn't even dating anyone at the time. Sure, I had eyes on a friend of the family and she seemed receptive to my attention, but I didn't have a spare dollar with which to take her out.  Bill, on the other hand, had a car and worked at Burger King, and always seemed to have plenty of money.  Now he had a date with what seemed to be a "sure thing."

Being a true friend, I called Mom, who worked at UAB, and asked her if I could ride home with her, stay the night, and ride to school the next day.  My sweet mom, asking no questions, readily agreed, and fed me like a king for supper--steak and biscuits, my favorite!

The  next day, as I waited for my first class to begin, Bill came up, strutting like the Cock-of-the-walk, with a big shit-eating smile on his face.  I said, "I don't want to hear about it."  He, of course, didn't listen and began telling me everything that happened.  I listened, actually intrigued that this kind of stuff did happen to some guys.  To make matters worse, over the next couple of weeks, he would call me several times to say, "Don't Come Home Tonight."

It became a depressing cycle; the more they were together, the more adventurous they got, the more I had to hear him boast, and the deeper I fell into virginal oblivion and depression.

One morning, while I was working in the lab, one of the interns came back to the sterile area and said I had a phone call.  Expecting another call from Bill, I was completely taken off guard to hear the voice of one of my best female friends from High School.  She asked if she could stop by to see me that evening.

Throughout high school, I had been interested in this girl, but she was always unavailable.  I was perpetually in the Friend Zone.  She was amazingly funny with the greatest personality and wit of any girl in school.  She wasn't beautiful, but she was very cute, pixie-like.  She stood all of five-foot-two, with short curly hair, pretty brown eyes, and a slim athletic figure.  Daily, she would drive me to distraction, sitting across from me at the lunch table, in her low-cut tops, showing off her disproportionately large boobs.  I was mesmerized, especially when she wore this one blue dress, which I never understood how she got away with wearing. She never seemed to mind when she caught me gawking.  I began to think she wore that dress just to torture me.

We had been on dates a few times, but she always wanted to talk about her last boyfriend or other guys she in whom she was interested.  I had let her know that I liked her, but she had let me know that she didn't like me like that.  When it came time for college, she and I were both accepted to Birmingham Southern and she seemed excited that I'd be there and equally disappointed that I chose UAB instead.  She had been by the house several times but got the idea that Mom didn't like her.  She was not wrong.  Mom thought she was wild, a bit crazy, and not the kind of girl I should be dating.  Her mother didn't like me much either, thinking I was immature, trying to get in her daughter's pants, and that I drove too fast and recklessly, correct on all counts.

When I got back to the apartment that afternoon, her Mustang was sitting across the street. All my friends knew this car, a dark green 1969 Mach-1, 351cid, with a shaker hood.

Mom knew this car too.

She was in the apartment talking to Bill when I got there.  We tried to talk to each other but Bill kept interrupting.  Finally, I suggested she and I go for a drive and she agreed.  Bill stood up too, but I waved him off and told him, outright, that I wanted a little time alone with her. On the way down the stairs, she stopped me, kissed me, and told me she had missed me.  I was shocked but admitted that I had missed her too.

The only thing I remember about the drive was that, for the first time, she was talking about me--she had wasted her time...she realized now...she was crazy not to realize. Maybe I was out of the friend zone.

I, honestly, did not know what to do...or say.  I did find the wherewithal to agree that we should date.

I called her a few times the next day and finally caught her in her dorm room.  Things were so much harder before cell phones.  I asked if she would like to "go out tonight" not knowing what we'd do since I was so broke, but she said, "No."

Before I could jump out of the lab window, she said, "I want to go to your place and make love all night."  I think my response was, "OK,"  trying my best to sound like I knew what I was doing.

I called Bill at Burger King and said, "Bill, Don't Come Home Tonight!" 

He asked, " Who?...  You Lucky Dog!  Have Fun.  Take it Slow.  Tell me All About it Tomorrow!"

I hurried home, cleaned the place up, took a shower, changed the sheets, and selected some of Bill's albums, mostly B Streisand, since he and my date had the same tastes in music.  That he liked Streisand so much should have been a clue, but back then, it didn't dawn on me.

When she arrived, we sat on the couch and talked for a long while.  We sang Funny Girl at the top of our lungs and laughed until our heads hurt.  We drank wine and had something to eat, I don't remember what and then talked some more until it was dark outside.  We began kissing and proceeded into the bedroom.  I remember thinking, Go Slowly!..and, amazingly, I did.

Things were progressed nicely.  She was more beautiful than I had ever imagined a girl could be, then...SOMEONE STARTED BANGING ON THE DOOR!

"Oh, God! It's My Mother!" we whispered at the same time, both convinced her Mustang had been spotted across from my apartment.

The banging continued.  We scrambled out of the bed and I began throwing on pants and a t-shirt.  She hid behind the door.

When I opened the door, there stood Bill.

"My Parent's House burned down!  I can't find them!  I need your help!"  He was frantic.

Then he spotted my date coming around the door, wearing nothing but her blouse and it dawned on him what he had done, what he had interrupted.

His mouth dropped open.  He stood there mumbling something about being so sorry. 

I hit him, hard, squarely on the nose. 

He fell back against the stair rail and crumbled to the floor, his nose bleeding profusely.

The girl pushed me out of the way, went to help him, and yelled at me, "What Have You Done?"  Bill looked at me with tears in his eyes, blood dripping off his chin, and said, pleadingly, "Really!  My parent's house burned down.  You have to help me find them."

The balance of the night and into the morning was spent tracking them down at his sister's house, going back by the house, looking for salvageable items, and helping in any way I could.

The girl left about midnight, and though I tried, I didn't see her again for many years. She stopped by my mom's place one day when I happened to be at home.  We talked of the old days back in school.  We didn't speak of that night. There was nothing there, nothing left.

Bill married my ex-girlfriend from junior year, became a preacher, gave her two children, divorced her, and now lives with his significant other in out West.  He and I remain good friends, but I've never forgiven him.