Casey isn't afraid of all bathrooms, just the one at the Maple theater...
(Stand By Me)
“Come with me?”
Casey’s afraid of the bathroom. I don’t know why; we’ve been coming to this theater with our parents since we were old enough not to fuss through the entire show, and now that we’re old enough to come by ourselves, I sure wish she would act like it. We’re 11 years old now—practically teenagers, for crying out loud.
“C’mon, Liz, please come with me,” she whispered again, jabbing me in the thigh with her knuckle.
“No way,” I whispered back, brushing her hand away without taking my eyes off of screen. Corey Feldman was just about to mix it up with the man who ran the junkyard, and I didn’t want to miss it. “Can’t you hold it?”
“No,” she said miserably. In the flickering half-dark, I could see her shifting around in her seat. I let her squirm for a minute, and then I sighed and set my popcorn bucket on the floor.
“Fine,” I grumbled. “You are truly a pain in the ass.”
The bathroom at the Maple is kinda creepy, I’ll give you that. It’s nothing at all like the bathroom at South Point, the new theater, which has glossy white tiles and what seems like a hundred stalls in a row. The Maple is an old theater, and the teeny two-stall job down in the basement is more like a dungeon. It scared me when I was little, that’s for sure. Once, when I was down there by myself, the toilet in the other stall flushed, and there was nobody in there! My mom blamed it on old plumbing, but I didn’t really believe her then. I’m not sure if I believe her now. But I’m only a little nervous, and Casey’s flat-out terrified. She will not go to the bathroom at the Maple alone. That’s why I was willing to miss my beloved Corey Feldman—I was afraid that if I didn’t take her downstairs, she’d end up wetting her pants.
“Hurry up,” I said. I’d already washed my hands, fluffed my hair, and reapplied my Bonne Bell lip gloss, and Casey was still in there peeing. She really did have to go.
The toilet flushed and Casey came out of the stall, looking embarrassed. “I’m sorry, Liz,” she said. “I shouldn’t have had so much pop.”
“You shouldn’t be afraid to use the damn bathroom, is what I think. What would you do if I wasn’t with you?”
Casey smiled, and took up her half of our long-running joke. “I dunno…Depends?”
I cracked up, as I always did when I pictured my friend sloshing around in an adult diaper, but at the back of my mind, I was thinking, I know what you’d do if I wasn’t with you—you’d hover around outside the bathroom until someone else had to use it. Until it was safe. That sounds like a rotten thing to say about your best friend, but believe me, I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t know it was true.
Kids poured out into the lobby, blinking in the brighter light and chattering in excited just-saw-a-scary-movie voices. I danced around in a little circle, clapping my hands.
“Wasn’t that awesome?” I asked, and socked Casey on the arm.
“Rrraaaahhh!” Casey dragged her cheeks down with her fingers, making her eyes big and bulgy. “Get...my...dress!” We giggled together, in high spirits. Everyone was in high spirits—it was the last weekend before school let out for the summer—but we were doubly amped, because we were graduating.
“I gotta go pee, Liz. Coming?” She did her best to make her voice sound nonchalant, as if this weren’t a time-honored ritual.
“No, Casey, I’m not. But look at all these people,” I said, gesturing at the crowd around the candy counter. “I’m sure there’s somebody down there.”
“I don’t know…” Her forehead was wrinkled—she was worried. “We stayed until after the credits. I bet everyone already went.”
I just looked at her, and wordlessly she turned and made her way towards the basement stairs.
Shaking my head, I went over to the rack that held the free copies of the City Paper. I was flipping through one idly when Pete Adams walked over to me. Pete Adams. I’d had a crush on him since freshman year. We were just friends, but every time I saw him, it was all I could do to will myself not to blush, not to sputter and stutter like the lovestruck little goofball that I was.
“Didja like the flick?” Pete asked me, smiling, showing me his dimples.
“I loved it!” I gushed. "Especially when the priest started kung-fuing all over the zombies."
Pete broke up. “'I kick ass for the Lord!' And how 'bout when they start kicking that guy's half-head all over the floor? Genius.” He closed his big blue eyes in cinematic rapture. “Simply genius.”
I smiled, pleased that he was pleased. I pointed at the bulletin board behind the paper rack, at the poster for Pet Sematary 2. “Can’t wait to see that one. Do you think it’ll be as good as the original?”
“I hope so,” he said. “Only one way to find out.” He stopped, and I was amazed to see that he was blushing. Just a little bit, but he was definitely blushing. He cleared his throat. “Hey, Liz, do you think…” He trailed off, looking over my shoulder.
I closed my eyes, and said a little prayer. Please God, I think he’s going to ask me out. Please don’t let him be looking at what I think he’s looking at. Please.
Casey tugged at my sleeve. “Uh, Liz?” she said, low and apologetic. “There’s nobody down there.”
“Just wait a little bit,” I replied, half-turning to face her. Anyone in the world but Casey would’ve thought my voice was pleasant. “Someone will come.”
“I already waited five minutes.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that she was already starting up the patented Potty Shuffle.
“Pete, could you excuse me for a minute?” I glared at Casey. “I have to go to the bathroom.”
“Uh, sure,” he said, obviously confused.
“Be right back.” I grabbed Casey’s arm and dragged her downstairs, practically shoving her into a stall.
“I can’t believe you,” I said. I leaned against the chipped white sink and faced the wall, tracing complex, years-old graffiti with my eyes while I listened to the all-too-familiar sound of Casey Parker peeing in the Maple’s bathroom. “What is it really, Casey? What? I was scared of this place when I was a kid, but we’re almost 18 years old!”
Casey’s voice came from behind the battered green stall door, small and faltering.
“I don't know, Liz. It's hard to explain. I used to have nightmares about being locked up in one of the stalls, and not being able to get out. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but from the first time my mom brought me here to see Grease when I was 3, I felt like if I was left alone down here…something bad would happen.”
Now she sounded close to tears, and most of my irritation went away from me. You can’t help what you’re afraid of, I guess. Hell, my aunt Jeannie is scared to death of Christmas elves. If that isn’t nutty, then I don’t know what is.
“Well, I know something bad that already did happen. Pete Adams was finally going to ask me out, and your bathroomaphobic ass interrupted him.”
Casey came out of the stall. Her eyes were too bright, but she was smiling.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “He will.”
He didn’t, though. When we went back upstairs, Pete was gone.
Times have certainly changed. Mapleton has changed, and it seems like it’s been such a short time! After Casey and I met for lunch at What’s Cookin’, our old hangout, we drove all over town in her little green jeep, looking at the changes and feeling the weird kind of happy-sad that’s endemic to ten-year high school reunions.
“Look at that,” I moaned. “Will you look at that?” The long-abandoned elementary school across from my old house had become an apartment complex. A pink apartment complex.
“You are ugly!” Casey shouted indignantly, flipping off the mauve monstrosity as we cruised past it. I couldn’t help but agree.
It was like that all over—the children’s park had been modernized and plasticized and padded beyond all sense. It wasn’t dangerous in the slightest! When we were kids, we skinned our knees on bare concrete, and we liked it!
“This is depressing,” I muttered, scrunching down low in my seat so that I could barely see above the dashboard.
“Ten years, Lizzie-baby. That’s what ten years does to a town. Want to quit with the masochism, go get a drink somewhere?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah! We can do that now—we’re grownups!” I shouted the last word out the window, punishing River Boulevard with the word.
"I dunno. Where do the cool kids go?" I asked, and laughed.
“We’ll find something.”
On our way down River, I realized we were nearing the Maple--or at least where the Maple had been when I left for college--and I built myself up a nice healthy wince-in-advance. If it was gone, or if they had changed it…
“It’s still the same!” We said it at the same time, but I was delighted, and Casey sounded as uneasy as ever.
“And look what the hell’s playing!”
Casey looked at the marquee—the same blessedly unchanged marquee.
“I’ll be damned,” Casey said softly. “Donnie Darko—the director’s cut. Playing at 4:45.” We lived about an hour and a half away from each other, but we kept in touch faithfully with weekly letters. Real letters, not email. I knew Donnie Darko was one of her favorites.
“No. Huh-uh. We don’t have time.”
“C’mon, it’s only half past 4! I love that movie. You love that movie. I’ll even walk you to the goddam bathroom, if you still feel, uh, uncomfortable about it.”
“Well…” Casey looked at me, and then back at the marquee. “4:45. The reunion starts at six. Everyone’ll already be sauced by the time we get there, Liz.”
I pointed back at the liquor store we’d passed. “Not if we’re bad.”
So we were bad. We bought a pint of 151, and I smuggled into the theater in my purse. After we bought a box of Dots and two large Cokes, I hustled Casey down to the Ladies.
“Now pee,” I instructed Casey, checking my reflection in the cracked mirror. “Get it all out. I’m not leaving halfway through the movie so you can have a stress-free tinkle, do you hear me?”
“We’ve already seen it.”
“But not the director’s cut.”
Casey was very good. We snuck the rum into our cups, drank every last drop, and got cheerfully sloshed, but she didn’t so much as mention a trip to the bathroom. Didn’t even jiggle in her seat.
After the credits had rolled, we made our way into the bright-bright lobby.
“Oo, contest!” Casey squealed. The girl loves entering contests—always has. “We can win the soundtrack!”
“We’re not going to win.”
“It’s a good soundtrack.”
“We never win.”
“I don’t care,” Casey said stubbornly. “I’m entering anyway.”
“Fill one out for me,” I said. “I’m going outside to have a cigarette. You need to pee before I go?”
“Nah, lemme do this first. I can hold it,” she said, dismissing me. “That’s a filthy habit, by the way.”
“You sound like my mother.”
“I meant to.”
They say second chances are rare, but I’m here to tell you that it works out that way sometimes. You’d be surprised.
There I was, squinting in the bright sunshine of the street, smoking my filthy cigarette, when who should come out of the theater but Pete Adams. Sometimes things don’t change—he was still beautiful, and I was still trying not to blush.
“Liz Miller,” he said, with genuine pleasure.
“In the flesh,” I agreed, sneaking a quick peek at his left hand. No ring. “Still a movie nut, I see.”
“Are you kidding? Donnie Darko? Director’s cut?” He shook his head. “If you ask me, they should’ve left a lot of that stuff in the original cut. Would’ve made it a lot easier to understand.”
And just like that, we were off and running—attacking the movie from all angles, comparing theories. It was great, and best of all, it was comfortable…until the doors opened again, and Casey came out.
“All done!” She chirped. “You can take me to the…” She trailed off, seeing Pete. “Oh. Hi.”
“Long time no see, Parker. Enjoy the movie?”
“Uh, yeah. Um, Liz?” She bounced lightly from one foot to the other.
I turned to face her, looked directly into her eyes. “You go on ahead, Case. I’ll wait here.”
I expected her to protest, but she just lowered her head and went back inside.
Pete watched her go. “What is it with her? Is she afraid of bathrooms?”
“Not all bathrooms.” I sighed. “Just this one.” I tried not to feel bad. She’s a grown woman, I told myself. She can take care of herself.
Pete and I continued to talk movies, but the life had gone out of the conversation—I kept looking at the lobby doors, and at my watch. Five minutes passed, and then ten. Then fifteen.
“Go ahead, Lizzie. Go check on your friend,” Pete said, and I could’ve stamped on his foot for the indulgence I heard in his voice.
“I’ll see you at the reunion,” I said, no longer caring if I did, and not knowing then that I wouldn’t be there anyway.
She was killed instantly—that’s what the doctors said. Embolism, aneurysm, some kind of ism. I don’t remember the word, but it means something popped in her head.
I won, by the way. Casey filled out a ballot slip for me, like a good friend, and I won. My very own copy of the Donnie Darko soundtrack.
I have it here with me, but I can’t bring myself to listen to it.