“… and there are going to be bouncers –” The boy’s voice sounded apologetic.
“Bouncers?” His sister’s voice rose to a screech. “A party for twenty-five people and we’re having bouncers? Get real Gary!”
“Well, Dad said –” He sounded crushed.
“Dad said?” The girl grabbed her brother’s arm and swung him round to face her. “It’s your party Gary. Take charge! What will people think?” The couple were pushed aside by the crowd of boys and girls making their way to the school assembly.
Gary pulled himself away from his sister’s grip, straightened the sleeve of his jersey and made to move on. “It’s Dad’s party too,” he mumbled, head bowed. The emphasis on ‘Dad’ was a clear indication that he had given up. As he shuffled his way through the crowd, he wondered yet again if it had been worthwhile acquiescing to his parents’ offer of celebrating his eighteenth birthday at their holiday home at the coast.
The guest list had been a major hurdle. His sixteen-year-old sister, Stephanie, had insisted on including some of her nerdy friends; his mother wanted to fly down the sons and daughters of people she seemed to have befriended since birth; his father thought it appropriate to include the sons of some of his ‘high-up’ colleagues. “Always good for business my son,” he had said heartily, patting the back of Gary’s head. “Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” The determined ring in his father’s voice was not hard to miss. “You’ll be invited to theirs and who knows what doors will open.” He winced at the inevitability of his father’s next words, “I never had the opportunities you have, son. Make the most of them.”
‘Make the most of them!’ The words swirled around in his mind as he crossed the uneven path, automatically avoiding the roots of the jacaranda that had pushed through the cobbled paving. His mouth had slackened into an unattractive pout: all the ‘have tos’ left only six places for him and his mates at his own party!
What he really wanted to do was to sneak off to the local pub and order a beer, proudly producing his ID if necessary to prove he had reached the legal age for drinking! His father had often told him that his father had taken him to the pub in the town nearest to their farm to celebrate his coming of age when he could both legally drink and cast a vote in national elections.
Now, Gary thought sadly, there was no family farm to go to. Instead, he and his sister had been bundled off to a private boarding school in order to “make connections my boy. The ‘old school tie’ counts for a lot in business.” His father’s gravelly voice intruded once more on his thoughts, crowding his mind with the oft-repeated reasons why he should be grateful for the experience.
Gary listened to the ripples of applause during assembly and watched the formally clad boys walk across the stage to collect their certificates, medals or trophies. Some simply shook the Headmaster’s hand in recognition of what they had achieved. The list included athletics, swimming, cricket, and colours for hockey, music awards, debating, and even a prize for art. As he idly watched each boy in turn move back to his seat in the hall, Gary’s heart began to lighten and a faint smile started to play around the corners of his mouth. The heaviness of the pout began to dissipate.
He would turn eighteen on Saturday and would be leaving school at the end of the year to study sports science or physiotherapy in Cape Town. His father wanted him to take up engineering, but he had got the school counsellor to put the kibosh on that. ‘Round one to me,’ he thought happily, cracking his knuckles. ‘Let Dad bluster on if it makes him happy. I have my own life to live.’
Gary listened to the taunting of his sister again after their orchestra rehearsal later that afternoon. She was embarrassed at the thought of bouncers standing guard outside their holiday home during the party. How many would there be? Where would they come from? Her demands were relentless. “You shouldn’t just give in to Dad, Gary. We’ll be the laughing stock of the school!”
She easily manipulated her parents – with their mother her strongest ally – to get designer clothes, to spend holidays with friends abroad and having more freedom than he had enjoyed at her age. She was whining now and tears glistened in her eyes as she begged him to get their father to reconsider his decision. For the first time that he could remember, Gary felt nothing. These were the tools of her manipulation. He was not going to give into her. For the first time too, Gary felt it was important to let his father have his way.
An impressive array of luxury vehicles crowded the driveway of Peebles, the name was meant to be a fun allusion to the round pebbles that formed the crunchy driveway that spanned the front of the seaside home “all the better to alert us to intruders” his mother had declared. The fact that it was also the name of a town in Scotland was only drawn to her attention when Gary had mischievously painted pop: 6 705 underneath the name, having copied it from the 1989 version of his school dictionary. His mother had been furious with him, but his father had laughed heartily and allowed the scrawled figures to remain.
Gary surveyed the bar area next to the open dancing floor created by the clearance of the triple garage adjacent to the large family room. A marvellous feast was laid out on the veranda that ran along the length of the house. He moved onto the lawn from where he could see two bouncers at the front gate and the two guarding the softly-lit swimming pool. He was aware of a young couple employed to roam the passage which led to several bedrooms. A young woman was keeping tabs on the bathroom assigned to the girls.
He grinned in the dark at the memory of Stephanie throwing a tantrum earlier in the evening about being in Fort Knox. His father had responded with “I can arrange for a driver to take you and your friends back to school if you don’t like it. This is Gary’s party and I want his friends to celebrate without fear of falling foul of school rules. There will be no hanky-panky here, just good clean fun.” Gary had walked away from the kitchen unobserved. His step was lighter, along with his mood.
‘Good clean fun’. Perhaps not quite what his father had intended, but he had made good buddies at school and the best of them were celebrating with him tonight: Cameron had proved to be a tough adversary at chess; Henry seldom beat him at Scrabble; Ross had drawn him into the school orchestra; and Jarrett was the one who had helped him to put his father’s wealth into perspective. “It’s their dough,” he had often reminded him, “and they want to flash it. They can’t help it, but we must make our own way; decide on our own route to happiness.”
The band left at midnight amidst groans from the teenagers; the bar closed an hour later and most of the guests departed to their assigned sleeping quarters soon after. Drawn by the familiar tobacco smell, Gary stepped into the back garden to seek out his father who was nursing a glass of whisky on the wooden bench next to the herb garden. They listened to the muffled sounds from the house and watched the lights go out. A warm feeling of mutual understanding flowed between them for the first time in years. “A good party, son?” His father spoke softly.
“Not really my style Dad. I think I would have preferred a fish braai on the beach with my mates.”
“Too public,” his father laughed. “I’ve always wanted to give you the best.” He sighed and patted his son’s knee. “You’ll be a good sports scientist, but you aren’t going to get wealthy.”
“Engineering could do that for me?”
“Perhaps. If there is one thing I have learned in life it is that you can’t buy happiness, Gary. And I want you to be happy.”
“I am Dad, very happy.” They hugged each other affectionately. “Thanks Dad, for everything.”