We all had hoped for a much happier reunion. As it was, we could at least be thankful that the only casualty was a hamster. Even so, dying in a house fire, hamster or not, is still a pretty tragic way to go.
Muffin was old, as far as hamsters go. Jenny had bought him in seventh grade for a science experiment. He came with the name. We unanimously agreed that he should keep it, it might have been the only sense of identity the poor orphan had. There were originally four hamsters. Muffin was the control. We're pretty sure that had something to do with his survival. Now, six years later, it didn't matter that Muffin survived an arsenic experiment in seventh grade. He was still dead.
We were all at Jenny's house to celebrate our last Spring Break at Hillcrest North. Sure, we had grown apart over the years, but no bond is stronger than that of family. Ok, so we aren't actually family, but living on the same street since birth and hanging out at the pond every summer seemed pretty darn close to me. There are five of us on Seymour Lane: Jenny, Lloyd, Clara, David, and me. We used to have a sixth, Heather, but her dad got promoted and they moved to Minnesota during the summer separating ninth and tenth grade.
Anyways, the fire started somewhere around 2 and was put out at 2:07 in the morning. Some time before that, around eleven or so, Lloyd got a sudden craving for pizza rolls. Now, Lloyd is a big guy - think football player times two. He also is used to always getting his way (being the son of a prosecuting attorney has its effects on your persuasive skills). So when Lloyd announced that he wanted pizza rolls, we were determined to find some. Despite our thorough search of the entirety of Jenny's cabinet, pantry, refrigerator, and freezer space, our efforts were futile. Refusing to accept defeat, David suggested we go buy some.
The first obstacle: how to get to a store, was easy to solve, seeing as how we all had drivers licenses. The second: how to pay for the pizza rolls, presented a slightly larger challenge. Emptying our pockets, we saw that our collective monetary worth totaled exactly $1.56, not quite enough for the puffed up pepperoni goodness of hot pizza rolls. We scattered to search the house. I went into the living room with Clara. After tossing every cushion off the couch and flipping over every rug, we managed to find another dime and two nickels to add to the pot. With everyone else's contributions, the new total was $1.98. A half hour had passed since Lloyd first voiced his desire of pizza rolls. Time was running out before he would turn to violence.
"Cars!" I suggested. "Everyone, check your cars!"
We ran like a rabid Doberman was chasing us from the house and leapt into our beat up station wagons and rusted pick up trucks. Diving into my '92 Ford Ranger, I thrust my hand under the driver's seat, braving the dusty darkness. My fingers brushed paper, my hopes soared! Pulling it out into the light, I saw that it was nothing but a receipt from Clucky's Fried Chicken. Groaning in frustration, I tried again. A cool, circular object was under my forefinger. It felt large . . . had I struck the big money? YES! Pulling it out, I found myself staring at the large profile of Mr. George Washington.
"Guys! I found a-" but my joyous shout was cut off by exuberant screaming.
"FIVE DOLLARS! JACKPOT!" Jenny was dancing in the pale light from the garage.
"7 Eleven, here we come!" Lloyd exclaimed.
"Yeah, well I found a quarter," I mumbled, climbing into the backseat of Jenny's faded blue '95 Park Avenue.
I strapped on my seat belt. It was habit, but only when Jenny was driving. Giving her a large car like a Park Avenue was wrong, plain and simple. She never signaled and she thought speed limits were minimums. This was her third car in the past two years. I suppose that if her dad weren't a used car salesman, I'd be surprised that she kept getting cars from her parents. As it was . . . not so much.
Thankfully, at midnight on a Wednesday, Main Street was completely deserted. The tires squealed as Jenny slid into the parking spot closest to the door. They screeched as she pulled out of it, realizing after she had turned the car off that it was handicapped reserved parking.
Lloyd was the first out of the car, jumping out before the car had come to a complete stop. Besides Jenny, I was the only one that got out of the car after it was turned off. I ran to the back corner, where I knew the freezer was located, passing a wet floor sign, and fell into David when I slipped on a puddle. When I sat up, the scene that greeted me was pathetic. Lloyd was on his knees in front of the freezer, hands pressed to the glass and head hanging in defeat. Peeking around him, I saw the rack that normally held pizza rolls was empty.
The girls were checking with the management to see if there were any pizza rolls in the back, but it was useless. They were out. Ever the problem solvers, they convinced the clerk at the cash register to call the next closest building to see if they had pizza rolls. We were in luck! After much negotiation, Jenny convinced the other store to hold a box of Pepperoni Pizza Rolls at the register for us. Climbing back into the deathcab, I asked why she bothered having them hold the pizza rolls. Her answer: because the nearest 7 Eleven was a half hour away.
A half hour. Only if you obeyed traffic laws, which, thankfully for Lloyd, Jenny didn't. She made the trip in ten minutes. Now, I did my best to avoid looking at the speedometer, but I slipped once and I'm pretty sure the needle had surpassed ninety. It's a good thing the highway was as empty as Main Street, otherwise Jenny might have gotten pulled over. And though we knew it was an emergency, I'm not sure a uniformed police officer would agree that a need for pizza rolls was justification for going more than thirty miles over the speed limit.
It took two forms of identification (her driver's license and a school ID) for the clerk to give us the pizza rolls, but hey, Jenny was the one who asked for such high security measures - the clerk was just doing his job. The total cost for the pizza rolls, with tax, was $4.02. We almost used the change to buy bubblegum. We decided against it on the grounds that we could not unanimously agree on a brand or a flavor and we didn't have time to argue about them, since Lloyd was pretty close to eating the pizza rolls raw. For once, it was a good thing we couldn't agree on anything. We needed the money to buy gas.
A tip that was called in over the radio station we were listening to advised that there was a cop waiting on an overpass, looking for traffic violators. Jenny slowed to a respectable 68 miles per hour. We saw the cop. We got a better look when he pulled us over. Jenny probably could have talked her way out of it, except she didn't go into the talk with the Officer with that in mind. Her first words were, "Geez, if I would have known you were going to pull me over for 68, I would have kept going 90 so I could just out pace you." Two tickets later (one for speeding and one for failure to cooperate with an officer), we were back on our way to Jenny's house. He didn't take her in since he had only caught her doing 68. But he did follow us until we got off the highway in case the opportunity to pull her over again presented itself.
"I think you made a friend," I laughed.
By the time we arrived back at Jenny's, it was 1:46. Lloyd ripped open the box like a madman and dumped the pizza rolls onto an oven tray.
"It'd be quicker to nuke them," I suggested.
"Don't be barbaric - baked is the only way to eat pizza rolls," he responded.
In hindsight, we should have just tied him to the chair and nuked the pizza rolls anyway. But that wasn't the way things played out. Agreeing to bake the pizza rolls was mistake number one. Mistake number two was leaving Lloyd in charge of baking them. See, he had the bright idea that if we skipped the preheat stage, and just set the final bake temperature for 600, that they would be done in about the same amount of time as just letting the oven warm up. That was not the case. We saw smoke coming out of the oven at 2:04. When Lloyd took them out at 2:07, one of the pizza rolls was on fire and the rest were scorched black. As he was dumping the rolls into the sink, we heard Jenny scream. We quickly doused the ruined snacks with water and ran to her aide. When we got to her room, Muffin had already passed.
Because he died during the fire, we thought it fitting to send him off with a Viking funeral. We went to the pond at the end of Seymour Lane and sent Muffin off on a shoebox lid, lighting the corner of the box and pushing it into the center. When the flame disappeared beneath the surface of the lake, we trudged back to Jenny's house unsure what to say. Jenny was the first to break the silence.
"Well, he lived a good, long life for a hamster. It seems to me, we'll need some food for the memorial." She paused to look around at each of us, a mischievous glint sparkling in her eye. "Anyone up for pizza rolls?"