Carrie sat in the front seat with the overhead lamp on daubing her lips with a potent shade of red. The sky outside was the color of an old dog's mouth. "You figure they'll be much going on?" she said, smacking her lips and looping one tendril of hair over her forehead just so. I felt bad hauling my sister along to this, but Mom and Dad said to watch her carefully while they were gone. They didn't say to avoid a social life. I'd be shipping out soon enough. Parris Island, here I come. This was the last party of the summer for me.

"I guess." Downfield and just ahead of the hummock of earth that marked the Reutter's property edge, a bonfire bloomed, showing tree branches and a bunch of figures huddled together in various groupings.

"I'm kinda excited," Carrie said. "I'm going to know some people there, right?"

"You'll know everybody," I said. I reached into the back and got her vodka and a bottle of fruit juice. I poured half the juice out the open car door and filled the rest with vodka.

"It'll be so funny to see them all out of church."

"Just remember don't never drink anything but what I give you or what we brought." I got out with the case of beer Uncle Shorty bought for me.

"You're so fucking serious," she said, tugging at her shorts as she got out. We walked downfield and into the firelight, where I got a bunch of high fives and some hugs from already drunk girls I knew. Somebody had hauled down a couple picnic tables, and at one of them, Joe Pickett, a guy from over the next hill, was arm-wrestling our token dyke, Marcella. I could see Joe straining at her arm, and Marcella held him there in about the three quarter position, laughing at something someone behind her had said. Marcella wasn't anybody to mess with. She had blonde hair cut short and had been working her dad's farm since she was little. Now she stood a good six feet, maybe 170 pounds or so, wearing her track shorts and a wife-beater. Joe had his off hand clutched at the edge of the table.

"Cheater," Marcella said simply, and whipped her arm around and down, thumping Joe's arm into the table, rattling the empty cans of beer off onto the ground. It was then I noticed half the guys around her didn't have pants on. There were tighty whities and boxers everywhere. I heard Carrie giggle behind me.

"I see a guy I know over there," Carrie said. "I'll see you later, Jim?"

"Cool," I said. I turned back and spoke to Marcella. "What's up, Marcie?"

"What's up is these guys are losers." Marcella said. "They want to play strip-arm-wrestle, they better come with the goods." She flexed her biceps like a weightlifter. "You next, Mr. Marine? I been through these other guys like hot sauce through a widow woman." She cracked her knuckles.

"Not yet, I'm not." I looked around and saw Carrie standing at the edge of a group of juniors, still with her juice bottle in her hand. I turned back. Someone passed me a bottle, and I didn't even look before I tipped it back and caught a double-shot in the back of my throat, feeling it warm me even before I swallowed it. Jack Daniels, most likely. I'd be without pants if I lost, and so what? There are worse things in a field full of drunk girls. I cracked a beer and sat down across from Marcella, who presented her hand and elbow immediately. I took her warm hand and wrapped mine around it.

Someone said go, and I went. Marcella's arm looked like something out of a Rocky movie, and I pulled against it half strength, and her wrist didn’t move.

"Do they take pretty boys in the Marines now?" Marcella said. I wanted to laugh, but instead I went to almost max power. I was straining so hard I farted a little against the wooden bench. Marcie and I were about the same size, and she held me pretty easily, though I could feel her shaking a little. Then her face changed, and I punched her knuckles hard against the rough board of the table.

"Ow," she said. Some girls behind me applauded, but then the music went on and Marcella stood up and stripped off her wifebeater. "Let's party," she yelled, her bra overstuffed with flesh. Someone handed her a beer and she disappeared into a crowd of pantsless guys and the girls who liked them. She'd let me win for some reason.

I took that opportunity to grab a couple more shots of Jack, and held my warm beer in my hand as I scanned the party for Carrie. I couldn't see her, but it was too early for her to get into trouble, so I found Joe Pickett and some other old boys who passed around a pipe, until we were all floating on our good wills and the knowledge this phase of life was over. Everybody would be off doing something else in a month. College for a couple, military for most of the guys, and what for the girls? Hard to tell. They'd get married. A few had kids already. They'd work in stores and at the bank and as accountants or something. Mostly they'd be wives though, and they all knew a guy they wanted to partner up with in that pursuit. I had a hard time seeing Marcella married, but I knew it would happen. What else could she do?

As the fire died down, we scouted the woods for blowdowns and dead branches. I ventured a little farther down near the crick, remembering a thick tangle of deadwood left over from when the crick had flooded, in the spring. There'd be enough to get through the night. I heard sex-noise, and I tried to skirt around it, but I was afraid I knew who it was. I crept up quietly, feeling badly but needing to know. Carrie stood leaning back against a tree, one naked leg wrapped around a guy who looked like he was trying to fuck her through the tree to the other side. I stood up, red inside, but she saw me and her eyes went wide. I got close enough to see she was waving me away. She wasn't being taken advantage of, at least. I hated the idea of her doing this here. What could be more sad than what we were doing, fucking and drinking away the summer and beginning something else?

I got back to the clearing, and while the fire glowed higher now, most everyone had passed out or paired off. Marcella sat at the table with a row of beer cans in front of her. "I been waiting for you."

"That why you let me win?"

"Not good for the country's morale if a Marine loses," she snorted. The fire shifted and I saw her face working at something. "All over pretty soon," she said.

"Yeah," I said. "It's all over now." In the woods I could hear some high-pitched giggling, and a guy just howling. Soon, all around us, we heard more howling, everybody thinking they were a wolf or something. Marcella got up and sat behind me, pressed her hot sweaty breasts into my back, put her head against the nape of my neck, and began to cry. I felt like doing it too, adding my voice to the high howling around me, but the feel of Marcella against me, sobbing, sobered me up a little. It was no night for howling for her. She'd lost something. As far as I knew Carrie had too. Just as suddenly as they'd begun the howling stopped. Dead silent. Marcie pulled me up roughly and sat me on top of the picnic table and stepped out of her shorts. She wiped at her eyes with the heels of her hands and mounted me. As I slid inside her, she said "ok now. Do your howling." And I did, the last voice in the last night of the last summer party.