By Lark Medford
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When I saw Carter's mother, I quickly dove into the bushes and tried to
hide. I had planned to spend the night at Carter's, because I my house was
so far from the party, and I'd never make it home before curfew. It was the
night before Senior Ditch Day, a tradition at our school. Mrs. Keane wasn't
supposed to be home yet. We would get up early tomorrow, go back to Rachel's
house, he'd get his car and I'd get mine. Carter said his mother was coming
back from Pittsburgh tomorrow afternoon. But when he fumbled with the key,
still wobbly, Mrs. Keane opened it herself.
She looked relieved to see him and said "Oh, thank goodness you're here!".
After her initial relief at seeing her son alive and fairly well, she
remembered that he was seriously late for curfew. "Carter Jason Keane!" she
scolded. "What are you doing out this late?" It was 12:30. I didn't think I
could be of much help to him, so I continued to hide and hoped I wouldn't be
discovered. I thought my presence would only make things worse. Carter came
up with some lame statement. He seemed to have sobered up a little since I
had last seen him. She looked at him strangely and said, "Have you been
drinking?". He said no, but looked rather ill. Just as she and Carter went
inside, I suddenly realized hiding near a flower garden wasn't a good idea
for someone with allergies. I sneezed loudly. She jumped. "What was that?"
Carter pretended to sniffle. "It's just allergies," he explained. She
didn't accept his excuse and looked around. And that's when she saw me.
"Thomas!" she cried, and I was caught. I stood up sheepishly, and managed to
say "Hi, Mrs. Keane". She didn’t seem thrilled to see me, but maybe she
thought I could explain what was going on. "You're coming inside with me
too, or I will call your mother. You may not have a curfew, but Carter
does." Like prisoners, we walked into the family room. I've always loved
the Keanes' family room, with the big screen TV and brown, overstuffed sofa.
Now, it looked too bright and alien. Carter and I sat on opposite ends of
the sofa while his mother sat in a chair by the telephone.
"I want you to tell me what happened," Carter's mother said slowly. Carter
leaned against the arm of the couch, his eyes almost closed. "Don't pass out
on me" she said sharply and I shook him. He groaned and sat up slowly. He
may have been sober but he was still tired. "Why don't you go first,
I was driving down Route 25 when I saw Shannon's car on the side of the
road. I had Carter's keys because he was much too drunk to drive, and he
knew it. I had seen Carter and his friends earlier that night at my friend
Rachel's party. I'll admit we picked Rachel's because her parents are so
frequently out of town. Not that that mattered much to me anymore, not as
much as in the bad old days. When I arrived, Carter, William and Bryce were
already playing some drinking game that William made up. The object of the
game is to go around a circle and name an animal and a country that begin
with a certain letter. If you can't think of one, you have to take a drink.
Carter was never very good at geography, so he was already half-drunk before
they got to T. Bryce fell asleep on the sofa, and William and Carter started
playing Quarters and other games. I decided to separate myself from Carter's
self-destructive antics before someone got hurt. I should have helped more,
but I didn't know just what to do. Fortunately, Carter knew when to give up
the keys. The last time I saw him at Rachel's, he was completely smashed. I
think Rachel might have been rather drunk herself, so I stayed after to help
her clean up.
I took a deep breath and started talking. "I didn't see anything until I
saw Shannon's car on the side of the road. I figured either two
things--either something was wrong with her car or Carter was on the side of
the road, throwing up. I sort of figured it was the latter." My
interrogation had begun.
I drove up about 11:30, saw Shannon's car and honked my horn really loud.
She was back inside the car, but seemed surprised to see me. I parked and
walked around to where they were. Claudia was standing there handing him
tissues, while Carter was sitting on the ground, head in his hands, looking
pretty sick. "You look seriously messed up" I said. He looked up and nodded
weakly. "I don't feel so good," he muttered. "Wow, isn't this a switch,
Keane. I was the one who was so wasted, and you were just standing there. I
didn't exactly see you throw up, though."
"You should have been here a few minutes ago" Claud said. Carter groaned
but didn't say anything. "Aren't you cold?" Shannon said.
"I'm freezing!" Claud replied. "I'm too sick to be cold" Carter complained.
"Sick or not, you're definitely going to freeze out here" Shannon said,
sounding between concerned and impatient.
"I think you need a hand, Carter" I said and helped pull him up. He kind of
wobbled as I led him back to Shannon's car. Almost as an afterthought, I
asked if I could stay over. I explained that my parents would be angry if I
stayed out past curfew if I were not at someone's house. He thought for a
minute and said yes. Just before they drove off, Claud said coldly, "You've
got to stop running away from your problems, Tom." That statement brought me
back to the present, and I was still on trial.
I told Mrs. Keane the truth about what I saw and heard when I stopped on
the side of the road. Carter replied, "You didn't actually see me get sick.
I think I would have remembered that."
"Claudia told me, and you said so. I remember you saying you were too sick
to feel cold, when it was raining and we were out of the car."
He was trapped. Carter had never been a very good liar, but that never
stopped him from trying. "I must have gotten carsick or something. Shannon
can't halfway drive," he explained lamely.
"This has absolutely nothing to do with Shannon's driving skills or lack
thereof, as you say." She paused. "Why were you getting a ride with Shannon,
and what happened to your car?"
"It broke down?"
"So you just left it at Rachel's house?"
"I got your keys right here, Carter. I don't know, you seemed kind of
'tired', so I did you a favor. I was going to take you back to Rachel's
tomorrow to go get it. When you were sitting on the ground, I had the keys
in my hand and you saw them and said 'My car!'. So it's still there."
"I don't know what happened!" he whined. "One minute I was at Rachel's
party, the next I was out in the cold, sick as a dog." I thought I was going
to be sick myself pretty soon if I kept having to listen to him whine and
deny. He hiccupped. "Can I get a drink of water?" "I'll get you some water"
Mrs. Keane said and went to the kitchen, leaving us alone.
Carter glared at me for several seconds, still hiccupping. "Tom," he
grumbled, "why do you have to tell on me? I'm not an alcoholic!"
"Look, I never said you were. But it makes no sense to keep drinking like
you are, it isn't normal. I'm not going to cover for you this time. It's
your word against mine, as usual. Who's she going to believe: her first-born
golden boy or the troublemaker kid from down the road? She's always thought
I was a bad influence. Someone's being influenced, all right, but it isn't
"I honestly didn't mean to do this," he protested. "It wasn't like I went
to Rachel's party intending to get plastered. I know you're angry at me just
because I didn't have your back earlier, when you were drunk."
"The more you say you didn't want this to happen, the more I think you have
a problem. I refuse to sit up here and try to preach like I've never been in
your position." It was late, and I was tired of listening to Carter
repeatedly con his mother and get away with it. I wished Mrs. Keane would
hurry back with the water. I looked at my watch and realized it was already
after 1 o' clock in the morning. I would have plenty of explaining to do
when I got home. You probably believe that I can't stand Carter, and it was
just my bad luck to be stuck with him in this situation. I consider him one
of my best friends, though it was agonizing to have to repeatedly turn him
in like this.
When I first met Carter, almost two years ago, he was a good kid and didn't
smoke or drink, while I got drunk almost every weekend. I had turned my life
around, only to watch him start falling. It wasn't such a great life, and I
didn't want to see what would occur if he continued his present course. He
would just have to straighten up sometime, and tonight would be a good time
for it. I looked him straight in the face. His blue eyes looked watery and
bleary. "Carter, you have to stop lying. It isn't fair to your mother, it
isn't fair to your friends, and it isn't fair to me. I've got your back
"How do I tell her? When do I tell her?" he said, sounding somewhere
between scared and sad.
"When it's right, you can tell her and you'll know exactly how. I can't
exactly guide you." I replied. I couldn't tell him I had gone down this road
myself six months ago. I should have, but hardly anyone at school knew what
I went through. I remember all the whispers, how drinking a little was
considered "in" but if you drank more than that, you were considered just as
bad those kids who were strung out.
Finally, Mrs. Keane came back with the water and a cup of coffee for
herself. I heard footsteps upstairs, and suddenly a small figure appeared
halfway down the stairs.
"Cassandra Keane!" she cried. "What are you doing out of bed?"
"I was coming back from the bathroom, and I heard your voice and Tom's
voice, " she explained. "Is Carter in trouble?" Cassandra was Carter's kid
sister. We used to call her "Shorty" and "Muppet", but now she was almost
"Go back to bed, honey" Mrs. Keane said. After Cassandra plodded back up
the stairs, she said, "Now, how would you explain this to Cassie?" Carter
squirmed as if he was in the hot seat.
"I really don't know how to explain it...I just know it's wrong for me to
continue what I have done." He paused as if reconsidering his decision to
speak out. "I went and drank at Rachel's house tonight. I knew it was wrong,
but I went ahead anyway. I can't remember half of what I did tonight and I'm
sure my friends prevented me from doing anything more foolish. Tom's not a
bad kid at all, and he's probably part of the reason I'm here safe this
Mrs. Keane probably knew the truth all along, and she seemed more sad than
angry. But Carter went on. "This wasn't the first time I did this, just the
first time I've been caught." He seemed near tears. "Tom and my other
friends have told me I've needed help. Tonight, I finally realized I really
Mrs. Keane began to cry. "I don't know how you could have done this...how
far you could have fallen without me paying attention." She seemed as angry
with herself as with Carter. "I've tried to be a good mother, I know
sometimes I've been a little short with you and Cassie lately, and I'm
sorry. I can't tell you exactly what I can do, what I want to do about
this." She was still angry, but most of all she seemed unforgettably sad. I
felt I was intruding on this private moment and wanted to leave. I felt both
sorry, relieved, and a little sad. Sorry I was willing to desert my friend
earlier and pass it off as not wanting to interfere, relieved that maybe
Carter's fall could be stopped before it got out of hand, and sad Mrs. Keane
believed that it was all her fault. No one was forcing him to drink. Just
like no one had forced me. I never thought he was in any immediate danger,
but I have seen how far people can fall in situations like this, even
farther than I had. Who knows, this same scene could be happening on another
street, in some other town, with two other friends. All I know is that the
largest problems can't be solved overnight and that maybe a friend can help
another friend take the first step.