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Joshua Hardy checked his reflection over one last time in the mirror. He flattened a stray tuft of brown hair, straightened out his red T-shirt, and with a confident smile he started downstairs. His mother, Patricia, was sitting on the white living room sofa, sipping a glass of orange juice, watching a rerun of one of her favorite soap operas. This is where Josh could find her most of the time. Patricia drew her eyes away from the television screen and smiled warmly as soon as she noticed her only son enter the room.

"It's eight-thirty, Mom. I'm headed off to Mark's party," he said, leaning his six-foot, 17-year old frame against the doorway of their spacious living room. He crossed his muscular arms and waited for her to say something. He knew what was coming.

As expected, the warm smile left Patricia's face and her expression grew stern. "All right Joshua. But you be sure to be home by one o'clock sharp."

Josh sighed. "Yes Mom."

"And if there's any alcohol of any kind at the party, Joshua, leave immediately. I don't care if it's just beer or Jack Daniel's or wine coolers or whatever. Just leave. You know better than that anyway," Patricia warned her son. She set her orange juice glass down on the glass coffee tabletop, stood up, and gave Josh a determined look.

Josh just rolled his eyes. "Yes, I know, Mother. I've heard this all a million times before. Save your breath."

Patricia's warm smile returned, and she crossed the Persian carpet to give Josh a comforting hug. "Oh, I know you know. You're a smart boy and I love you."

Josh couldn't help but smile, and returned the embrace. Josh loved his mother more than words could express. His father had died in a car accident when Josh was three. The driver who struck his father had been drunk, and Josh's mother was the only thing he ever had growing up.

"Love you too Mom," Josh said as his mother pulled away from him.

She stood back, grasped Josh's shoulders, and studied him carefully. Now Josh was getting annoyed.

"Just please Joshua; be careful, and for the love of God, don't drink anything," Patricia said, a pleading tone in her voice.

Josh pulled away from her and headed for the door. "For the millionth time, I know Mom. I'll be careful. I'll drink Pepsi. Water. Whatever."

He grabbed his car keys from the hook by the door and stomped out to the driveway. Josh was in the process of unlocking his black Grand Prix when the patio door opened and his mother stuck her head out the door. Josh sighed loudly and shut his eyes. He was getting sick of all this police s--- his mom was constantly putting him through.

"I forgot to mention that I'm going to the grocery store later," Patricia informed him, much to his relief. "Is there anything special you want me to pick up?"

Josh opened his eyes and thought for a moment. His mom had always loved late-night grocery shopping. She claimed that it relaxed her.

"Um, blueberry Pop-Tarts please. And another jug or two of Gatorade. The blue kind," Josh replied.

Patricia smiled. "Sure thing."

Josh watched as her blonde head disappeared back into the house. He sighed again and climbed into the driver's seat of his car. He'd had it since freshman year. It was the product of his own sweat and blood from working for his uncle's landscaping company for three summers in a row.

Josh started up the car and as soon as he was a mile or two down the highway, he reached under his seat and pulled out a silver flask of rum he'd had down there for a week or two. He took a swig or two, just to get himself warmed up for the party.

Mark's house was only a ten minute drive away, and by the time Josh got to the house, there was a ton of people there. The old white colonial-style house was brightly lit and even with Josh's stereo going, he could still hear the thump of bass coming from the house. He parked in a spot on the side of the long driveway, hoping somebody wouldn't pin him in later. There was no way he'd find out whose car it was.

The house was full of smoke, music, and gyrating bodies. Josh maneuvered his way through the dance floor/living room and found his way to the kitchen, where he knew Mark would be. Much to Josh's relief, he found Mark stationed in between two kegs next to the kitchen sink.

"Hey man!" Mark greeted Josh, and pushed a plastic cup of beer into Josh's hand, causing some of it to slosh over the edge and onto the floor. It sounded like Mark was already sloshed enough.

Josh greeted Mark with a huge smile and gladly accepted the cup of beer. "Anything good going on yet?" Josh inquired of Mark, knowing full-well he may not get a substantial answer anyway.

Mark shook his head. "Macy's supposed to show up soon. She told me she'd be here. And she's bringing some friends..." Winking, Mark nudged Josh who only laughed.

He'd had a crush on Macy McGregor ever since he could remember and she was finally starting to seem interested in him, after all his efforts. Maybe he'd go look for her soon.

Josh stayed in the kitchen and chatted with Mark and his other buddies for the majority of the night. He lost count of how many beers he'd had after number five, and they only kept coming. Someone showed up with two liters of Coke and some Captain Morgan's, so the shots and drinking games started as well. By eleven-thirty, there was three of everything Josh looked at, but God, did he feel good. And it was always nice seeing three of Macy.

Suddenly, when the CD player was in the process of switching CDs and the house was full of only muted banter, Josh heard a shrill wailing coming from outside.

Everyone at the party knew what that sound meant. Cops.

Girls shrieked, everyone swore, and a mass exodus began as masses of bodies spilled out of the old white colonial-style house. Mark jumped up and ran upstairs, and Josh, swearing, took off in a full sprint towards his car. If he got caught, his mother would positively kill him. Josh stumbled down the driveway and managed to climb into his car. Luckily, no one had pinned him in. With much trouble, he stuck the key in the ignition and started the engine. There were two steering wheels, but he grabbed blindly, hands miraculously landing on smooth black leather. Josh knew he was in no condition to drive, but if he got caught...he didn't even want to think about it.

So spinning gravel down the driveway, he peeled out onto the highway and headed towards home. His mother would surely be asleep by now, since she generally trusted him enough not to wait up for him. Her late-night grocery shopping didn't usually go this late. He was two miles away from his house, nearing the top of the last hill, when suddenly there was a bright flash of lights. Startled, Josh swerved to the left, into the oncoming traffic. He heard a deafening crash, a sickening thud, and the crushing and twisting of metal. Shards of broken glass flew everywhere, he heard a shrill scream, and then everything was black.

When Joshua Hardy floated back into consciousness, he was very cold and very thirsty, lying on the gray ribbon of highway, flat on his back. His legs felt higher than his head, and he soon realized he was lying near the bottom of the hill. He recognized the bright flashing lights of cop cars and an ambulance. There was a crowd of people near the massive ball of twisted metal; something that used to be two vehicles. Josh was so thirsty. He needed water or something, anything, to moisten his tongue. He'd never been this thirsty in his life.

Painfully, Josh tilted his head and noticed a tiny stream of liquid running close to him, down t he hill, within reaching distance. Desperate for something to quench his terrible thirst, Josh reached out, dipped his finger in the liquid, and gratefully brought it to his lips. Josh recognized the taste. He thought as clearly as he could for a moment, and then placed it. Taking another lick from his finger, he realized that the liquid tasted like sweet, berry Gatorade. The blue kind.

by Molly VanNatta, 16, Platteville, Wisconsin

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