One more half to go.
In honor of hitting the 25K halfway point, here is the entire text that nobody asked for.
Weekend At Aunt Liza's
by Colin Kohrs
“They’re a half hour out!” Billy shouted to the empty living room.
Billy heard no response, which was of little surprise to him given the early hour of the day, but nevertheless he shouted again into the depths of his Aunt Liza’s house, a house that was far too large. This shout was met yet again with no response. Even if people were too far away they were probably sleeping. He resolved to shout once more and louder, but his thoughts were interrupted by Heather, who entered the room wearing sweatpants, a sports bra, and a tired expression.
“I thought they weren’t going to get in until like 10,” she said, yawning.
“Jesus Christ, put on a shirt,” Billy said.
Heather laughed and walked up to the couch where Billy was lying. Billy was wearing black sweatpants and a black t-shirt that were both covered in cat hair. She ruffled his hair.
“You’re my cousin; you’re not attracted to women; and you don’t get to tell me how to dress,” she said, slapping the side of his head. “Especially before eight a.m.”
Heather strode across the living room to the east-facing window and drew open the wall-length curtain to survey the morning sun and her father’s immaculately kempt lawn. Billy had tried and failed to open the curtains prior to Heather’s arrival, but lacked the apparent finesse they required. The light cast through the living room and onto the glass doored cabinetry in the adjoining kitchen.
“Is it too early to start pregaming?” Billy asked.
He hopped off the couch to avoid the sunbeam. It was far too bright and for too directly in his eyes.
“And does it even count if I’m still a little tipsy from last night?”
“I mean, you could probably get away with a Bloody Mary, but I don’t have the stuff for that,” Heather replied
She fixing her eyes further out the window across the lawn, down the hill, and at the blurry shapes that were the houses farther off. Blurry because they were far away, but also because Heather had not yet put in her contacts. It was early.
Heather turned around at the sound of a rude cough. Billy was staring dumbly at the vast array of cabinets.
“It’s not like you to be up and awake this early,” she said.
It was true. Billy was one to sleep in well past noon unless he had to work, which – having graduated a month prior and applied to a total of three jobs since – was something he did quite often.
“No it’s not,” he replied. “I don’t do well with drunk sleep. Don’t get enough of them REMs or whatever the hell is.”
Billy turned back around and returned to his inspection of the too-many cabinets.
“Now where’s your mom’s liquor?” he asked.
“I have my own booze, you dip.”
Heather pushed Billy away and opened the cabinet above the Keurig. Billy scowled and started opening the cabinets underneath the counter.
“Yeah, but your mom has the good shit,” Billy said, moving to the cabinets above the oven. “How many wine glasses does a divorced woman need, Christ almighty. Aunt Liza!”
Liza walked into the room wearing a plush robe, slippers, and carrying a mug of coffee from which she was sipping. She stared out the window that Heather had opened, smiled, and turned to address Billy.
“Where’s the good liquor? Your daughter’s being stingy.”
“Wine or spirits?” she replied without a beat.
She strode over to meet her nephew with an air of both ‘this is my house’ and ‘my spinal alignment is better than yours.’
“Because most of the good wine is down in the cellar.”
She stepped into the kitchen and proudly opened the three cabinet doors. There were many cabinets.
“Hah. Wine? I don’t know her,” Billy said, grabbing the closest bottle to eye level. “More of a vodka drinker myself.”
“That’s gin, Billy,” Liza said.
Billy replaced the bottle, picked up another, ensured the label said ‘vodka’, and began pouring it into a wine glass.
“Heather, I thought he was driving?” Liza asked.
Her tone was less of worry and more of curiosity. Heather was back at the window.
“Any way I can increase the chance that Benjamin Joseph O’Henry gets in a car accident and dies, the better,” Billy said, taking a longer-than-expected drink from his glass and then swirling the liquid. “Mmmmm. That’s got a good body to it.”
“He’s not driving, I am,” Heather said, returning to the two. “Where are the keys to your mom van?”
“The Odyssey?” Liza asked.
“God no, the Sienna,” Heather said. “Do you want us looking like trash?”
Heather did not want to look like trash.
“I mean, you’re the one not wearing a shirt,” Billy said, now holding an empty wine glass.
Heather glared at Billy and left for her room. Billy remained with Liza and stared back and forth between the sink and the counter, ultimately choosing to set his glass on the counter. He reached for the vodka again and was met with Liza’s hand.
“That’s Silver Tree, not Smirnoff. Wait for Heather.”
Heather returned in a grey hoodie that matched her sweatpants. Standing next to Billy, they looked ready to host a very boring, yet very comfortable sleepover.
Liza picked a set of keys off of an oak plaque with hooks that held at least a dozen keys, fobs, and that one pink fluff-ball keychain with the key that got you into the wine cellar. Liza handed the key to Heather.
“Where were your friends again?” Liza asked.
She took another sip out of her coffee. She was pretty sure that their friends had been off on a cultural-immersion trip to France, but that might have been Darlene from book club.
“France,” Heather replied.
“And according to my Snap Map, Paul and Jon are still in an airport in Belgium,” Billy said, showing his phone to the two of them.
Sure enough, their two bitmojis were fixed in the Brussels international airport.
“Well, do make sure you all come back in one piece,” Liza said, staring firmly at his morning-tipsy nephew. “I told Paul that he and his brother could stay for the weekend until their parents get back from vacation. I want them to feel welcome and fully intact.”
Billy stared vacantly at the wall of keys, debating how to word a circumcision joke.
“The offer extends to Ben and Chris too. We have more than enough rooms. Please let them know, Heather. And you,” Liza turned back to Billy. “You are not going to murder Benjamin. He’s our guest, and you’ll treat him like one.”
Billy squinted at Liza in half-playful half-sincere anger. Ben had been gone for long enough that there was no fresh hate, so Billy couldn’t honestly say that he wanted him dead. Plus, he couldn’t kill someone. Maybe hire a hitman in a time of incredible duress, but nothing with his physical hands. Liza looked over at Heather.
“Was it any better when those two were still fu-”
“That never happened!” Billy shouted, opening the front double-doors with mild difficulty and skipping away to the drive way that was far too large.
“It was better and worse in a uniquely twisted way,” Heather said.
This was no lie.
Liza smiled at the retreating figure of Billy, hugged her daughter, and watched her leave.
“Nothing happened, and you’re garbage,” Billy said, giving Heather a light shove towards a hedge lining the pathway to the driveway.
“Hmm?” Heather said, shoving Billy successfully into a different hedge and cracking a wide smile. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Heather pulled the van in line with half a dozen other cars on the side of the pull-in zone, threw the van into park, and flipped on her hazards. It was one of those bus depots where all the cross state travelling buses and airport shuttles dumped off and picked up travelers. An onslaught of passengers poured out of three buses onto the pavement while blue-coated individuals opened up the luggage compartment and started pulling suitcases. Heather watched the busied mess for their friends while Billy played minesweeper on his phone. After the buses had half emptied, Heather was the first to spot one of their friends.
“I think I see Ben!” she said, slapping Billy on the arm and pointing out the window.
Billy groaned, hit a mine, and slid down in his seat as far as he could to the point where he could barely look out the windshield. He had known going into this that they would have to pick up Ben, but he wasn’t ready just yet.
“Please tell me he’s sunburnt. Like, really really ugly sunburnt. The kind where you might want to see a doctor.”
Billy shot an annoyed look up at his cousin who was not paying the slightest attention to him. He maintained his slouched position.
“Is Chris still tall, dark, and gorgeous.”
“And straight, Billy.”
“You keep saying that, but I don’t think you have any first-hand experience that can really prove that.”
“Neither do you, Billy.”
“Hey we had that one t-”
“Pre-pubescent streaking does not count.”
“You’re just jealous.”
Billy slumped further.
“And there’s Paul,” she said. “And I believe Paul does have a light sunburn.”
“Ugly light or sexy light,” Billy asked.
“He’s like twenty feet away Billy.”
“Yet you can see his sunburn?”
Heather ignored Billy and kept staring. She stuck her head out the window and alerted the three to their presence. They didn’t hear her at first, walking around in the bright morning sun, squinting and surveying the array of cards. Once Heather had successfully grabbed their attention, they all waved, gestured towards the maze of passengers finding their luggage, and went to search. Heather sat back in her seat. Billy squirmed his way back into a more properly seated position.
“If I remember correctly we were supposed to pick up four eligible bachelors,” he said. “I tirelessly prepped four rooms.”
Heather too sat back up, turning her attention away the travelers.
“You only prepped four? We have so many more people coming.”
Billy laughed at the idea of doing any more work.
“I think Liza had the maid do the rest.”
The two jumped slightly as the trunk of the van opened loudly.
“Bonjour motherfuckers!” Ben shouted through the van.
Billy caught a glimpse of Ben’s face in the rear-view mirror. He had a wide, bright smile and was sporting a moustache that was definitely not present when he had left. He had a distinct lack of a sunburn.
Ben hoisted his suitcase into the back with a loud thunk.
“What the hell did you pack that’s that heavy?” Billy said, turning in his seat.
“Your insecurities,” Ben shouted back.
He bent over to grab another bag.
“That’s positively adorable. Does that mean that you think enough of me to keep those with you at all times?”
“I think the word haunted would be more appropriate than ‘kept’ in that situation.”
“Appropriate! You know the language manners now?”
“Manners? It’s 8:00 a.m., and I can smell your vodka breath from here, Billy.”
“And I could smell your smart ass from forty-two hundred miles away, O’Henry, but you didn’t hear me saying anything about-”
“Chris, where’s your little brother?” Heather cut in. “I thought he was on this trip too.”
Chris threw a final duffel into the trunk.
“Naw, Paul’s little bro tagged along. Where was he sitting? Benny and I sat next to each other.”
Chris slapped Ben on the ass. Billy glared back.
“We both got stuck sitting next to randos,” Paul said. “The guy next to me was on his laptop the entire time. Kept fucking elbowing me.”
“And Jon?” Heather asked. “That’s his name right?”
“He went further back. I don’t know,” Paul said.
Heather, Billy, and the three travelers stared into the crowd.
“What does he look like?” Billy asked.
“22, 115lbs, and sickly,” Chris laughed.
“Watch it Chris,” Paul said. “He’s my garbage brother, not yours.”
A dazed and confused Jon made himself visible by absentmindedly walking into a public mailbox without looking. Paul rushed over, scolded his brother playfully, and helped direct him back to the van. After getting Jon’s luggage all packed up, the six made their way back to Liza’s.
Liza watched through a window as the van, thankfully in one piece, pulled into the driveway. Not that she thought that they would have crashed or anything – she trusted Heather’s driving ability – but six kids in one van was never a good idea. Heather and Billy were first to exit the van. Heather walked to open the trunk, and Billy made a b-line straight to the front door. Heather shouted and Billy returned to help.
Ben and Chris climbed out of one side stretching their plane-ride bus-ride van-ride cramped bodies, and the brothers Paul and Jon spilled out of the other side. Heather dealt out luggage while Billy poked at the hedges, and after a short scrambled minutes, the six made their way to the front.
“It’s so nice to meet you Mrs. Heather’s mother, ma’am,” Paul said, grasping Liza’s hand and shaking it joyfully. “Your house is beautiful.”
Billy bolted past the two to collapse back on the living room couch.
“You’re far too kind,” Liza replied, meeting Paul’s handshake with her other hand. “And please don’t ever call me Mrs. Heather’s mother ever again. Liza will do.”
“Absolutely, ma’am,” Paul laughed.
“Do come on in,” Liza said, moving away to let in her niece and guests. “And where is your brother?”
Paul looked around, confused. Ben and Chris were in the living room inspecting an ornate grandfather clock; Heather was trying her hardest to shove Billy’s legs off of the couch, but Jon was nowhere in sight. Paul wasn’t entirely surprised. Jon had a knack for getting lost in even the most clearly marked places.
“He went that way,” said Billy, flinging his arm aimlessly, far from any actual direction.
“The wine cellar?” Liza asked, furling her brow.
That didn’t sound right; “Whatever floats his boat, I guess,” she said.
“Not the cellar, the hall to the south. That’s where I set up his room,” Billy replied. “Tirelessly.”
Liza gave Billy a look of ‘let’s not pretend like you did any actual work’ and directed Paul, Chris, and Ben down a long hallway filled with paintings and photo prints. After few turns and a walk through a room with a pool table, they came to another spacious living room with several doors around the perimeter.
“Welcome to the guest quarters,” Liza said with a sweeping hand gesture that may have been executed better with a fringe or sequined sleeve. “You can take whichever room you’d like though I do believe that Jon has taken first dibs.”
One of the doors was ajar. Jon was sitting on a queen bed looking at his phone, half of his luggage already strewn about the room.
“Hey Jon!” Paul shouted.
Jon did not respond.
“Well I’ll let you get to your things,” Liza said. “I’m sure you have lots of catching up to do with Heather and Billy. Take our time, and do join us tonight for a little after dinner party.”
Billy, who had appeared behind Liza, gave her an odd look.
“Party?” he asked. “This is the first I’m hearing about a party.”
“We have guests and it’s their first night in, Billy,” Liza said. “Did my sister fail entirely in raising you?”
Liza chuckled and left the room. She was replaced by Heather. Heather was carrying a large bag that lacked wheels.
“Hey Jon, you left this in the front,” she said, flinging the bag into his room.
Jon did not respond.
Heather plopped herself down on yet another couch. This one was soft, firm enough to provide proper back support, and crimson.
“You’re all coming to the party,” she said. “Mother knows how to put on a show.”
Billy threw himself down onto an opposing couch and propped his feet up on the coffee table. A vase wobbled precariously.
“I hate to agree, but she’s right,” Billy said, “When I turned thirteen she convinced my mom to let her throw the party. It put a modest wedding to shame.”
Chris and Ben looked at one another in excited confusion. Paul had claimed a room and was unpacking.
“Will it be a problem that I don’t have any real formal wear?” Ben asked.
“Yes,” Billy said without hesitation. “I guess you won’t be able to attend.”
“Ignore him,” Heather said, standing up. “Chances are it’ll be more of a reception style party than a dinner. What you’re wearing now is fine.
She looked Chris up and down.
“You might want to lose the shorts and flip flops though,” she said. “I’m going to go shower. Unpack as you will.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” Billy echoed. “Use the west north wing though; I don’t want you messing up my water pressure.”
“Oh, and one last thing,” Heather said, beckoning the attention of the guests.
She walked stepped into the nearest room and pointed to a tan-colored box on the wall.
“If you need anything, just buzz the intercom and someone will come over,” she said. “The maid works regular business hours, and if you need anything outside of those, Mother, Billy, or I can come help.”
“Hey Ben, can you come in here for a sec?” Chris said.
Ben exited his room and poked his head into Chris’s, winking.
“I thought I played this game in eighth grade, and now you’re into me?” he jeered.
“Hah hah hah, very funny,” Chris said, sitting down on the bed. “But not far off.”
Ben gave Chris an odd look.
“So you know Heather, right?”
“I mean, yes, this is her house,” Ben replied.
“Yeah, but like, know her know her. Like as a person,” Chris said.
Chris, who hadn’t been making eye contact with Ben to begin with, had begun staring at the ceiling.
“I mean, I can’t say I know her as more than Billy’s cousin who used to buy us alcohol.”
“Really. Nothing more? Even when you and Billy were fu-”
Ben jumped out of the armchair he had just sat in and scoffed.
“That did not happen. Yes I know her. What’s your question.”
Chris was lightly taken aback. Ben usually didn’t exhibit this much energy unless it had to do with one of his shows he watched that Chris tried his hardest to care about but truly didn’t.
“Well, I was… I was thinking about asking her out,” he said.
“Five years out of high school and you still talk like you’re sixteen,” he said.
Chris threw a pillow at Ben. It soared across the room and hit Ben lightly on the shoulder. Not light because of the throw – Chris had quite the arm – but light because it was a really good pillow.
“Okay, just because you haven’t had a boyfriend since Billy-”
Ben threw the pillow back at Chris. It landed in his lap.
“Flirty,” Chris joked. “But as the poor oppressed heterosexual that I am, I can’t just rely on Grindr all day.”
“Well,” Ben said. “As the poor oppressed homosexual-leaning bisexual that I am-”
“-I think I am going to appeal to a higher power.”
Ben leaned his head out the door.
“Paul!” he shouted. “We need a straight opinion!”
There was a muffled sound followed by footsteps as Paul bounced his way into the room.
“Excuse me,” he said. “You know full-well that I am heterosexual-leaning pansexual.”
“Yes, and that is why we complete one another,” Ben said. “But right now I need the part of your head that craves crushing the puss.”
“Gotcha. What’s going on?”
“Well-” Chris started.
“He’s tryna fuck Heather,” Ben interrupted.
“Oooooh,” Paul exclaimed, dropping down next to Chris on the bed, causing him to bounce a bit. “You do realize that this is her house right?”
“Yes?” Chris said.
“And this isn’t high school anymore, right?”
Chris batted Paul in the face with the pillow. Paul wrestled it out of his grasp.
“Forget I even asked,” Chris said.
He scooted further onto the bed and grabbed another pillow.
“No, nope, not having that,” Paul said. “Ben, get over here.”
Ben joined the two on the bed.
“If you want to get with Heather, it is our responsibility as former members of the Ray Bradbury Middle School winning battle of the books team to help you,” Paul said.
“Even if Heather isn’t that cute,” Paul added.
“What?” Paul said, whacking Ben with the pillow. “Like, I’m not trying to hit that if Chris is, but she’s cute.”
“Eh, not my type,” said Ben.
“Yeah, ‘cuz she’s a woman,” Chris laughed.
Ben and Paul stared at Chris silently and both threw pillows at the same time.
“You’ve earned yourself an hour-long lecture on bi-erasure, sir,” Ben said.
Chris retreated back into his pile of pillows.
“Until then, what exactly is stopping you from trying to get with Heather?” Ben asked.
Chris thought for a long moment. It’s not like Heather had been dating anyone. She was single all through college and even senior year of high school.
“We didn’t match on Tinder?” Chris offered.
“Chris, she’s your friend. Friends don’t swipe right on friends,” Paul said.
“Unless you’re catfishing them,” Ben added.
Paul nodded in agreement.
“Well you got me. I guess I’m just an unlovable piece of trash.”
“No. Self. Negging.” Paul shouted, smacking Chris with a pillow on each word. “You are smart. You are intelligent. You are good looking, and you deserve love.”
“But how do I get to that point?” Chris said, placing his face down in a pillow. “Like, I’m not even suave when I’m drunk. I’m the flirt equivalent of a mumble rapper.”
Paul and Ben looked at one another silently. They knew what he said was true, but didn’t want to agree with his negativity.
“Here’s what we’ll do,” Paul said.
Chris sat up.
“Tonight at the party, you’re going to get shit faced,” Paul said.
“That’s a given,” Chris replied.
“Heather is going to get shit faced.
“That’s a given,” Ben replied.
“Once Heather heads to bed, we will text her for you,” Paul said. “Some Cyrano de Bergerac bullshit.”
“Oooh, retweet,” Ben said. “We can try to hit her in that sweet spot of super drunk and super tired but not yet asleep.”
“Why do I have to be drunk though?” Chris asked, puzzled.
“Being drunk helps you on a couple fronts,” Paul said. “It’ll help mask your writing style if for some odd reason she knows what you sound like in text, and you can use drunken inhibition as an excuse if she rejects you and you want to keep things amicable!”
Paul smiled at Ben and Ben smiled at Chris. Chris clutched his pillow.
“How drunk are we talking?”
“Halloween 2016 drunk,” said Paul.
“Graduation Eve 2017 if you can push it,” said Ben.
Ben and Paul left Chris to his own devices and returned to their own respective rooms to unpack the rest of their belongings.
“You’re a charitable woman, Liza.”
Liza, who was seated in a high-backed chair jumped and dropped the book she was holding. She knew there were a lot of people scuttling about her home, but she did not expect to her Andy’s voice.
“Jesus Christ Andy, when did you get here?”
Andy made her way around her sister’s chair, grabbed a mint from an ornate glass bowl on the center table, and took a seat in an armchair. She dropped her bag unceremoniously on the ground.
“An hour or two ago?” she said. “My son is allowed to think your house is cooler than mine, but like hell is he getting away without spending time with me this summer.”
Andy grabbed a bottle of water from her purse and took a drink.
“I reckon I only see him at mealtimes nowadays,” she continued. “At least I know how to keep food stocked.”
Liza laughed and collected her book back off the ground. One of the pages had crumpled on impact. She made a mental note to buy a new copy.
“Andy, you know any food I buy ends up spoiling,” she said.
“Yes, yes. From the atmosphere of depravity.”
Andy popped the mint in her mouth. Liza gave Andy a playful glare. It was a mixture of depravity and fruit flies. Liza liked to keep her windows open.
“Sadly it looks like my Billy’s been spending time with his friends, so I’ve had to find better things to do,” Andy said.
“Like?” Liza asked.
“Oh, you know the usual. Cooking, cleaning, reading-”
Liza convulsed in a half-cough, half-laugh.
“I’m pullin’ your leg, I’ve been spying on the kids.”
“Ooh, do tell.”
Liza got out of her chair and took a seat in the couch next to Andy, waiting intently.
“Well, I opened saying that you are quite the charitable woman, Liza.”
“A well-known fact.”
“Because this house, god willing, is going to be ruined by Monday morning.”
Liza cocked her head to the side.
“I have a maid and contractors for that. What are you talking about?”
“You’re opening your home to a team of drunk horny teens for a weekend? And you think that’s going to work out in your favor?”
“Andy, they’re in their twenties.”
“I remember when Billy was nineteen and back from his first semester of college. He had some friends over and got completely wasted without me knowing,” Andy said. “Two broken bowls, one broken candle – nice candle at that – and I’m still not convinced that it was the cat that peed in my dresser drawer.”
“Andy, Andy, Andy,” Liza said, placing a hand on Andy’s wrist.
Andy pulled her arm back offended.
“They were underage, lord knows where they got the booze-”
“-but they’re adults now. They know how to behave themselves,” Liza said. “Hell, Billy’s been half drunk since seven, and the worst thing I’ve seen him do is put his dirty shoes on the couch in the foyer.”
“Andy, they’ll be fine,” Liza said, once again grabbing her sister’s hand. “And even if they do break things, things are replaceable.”
Liza got up and returned to her chair with her book. The crease was bothering her.
“Well then I suppose you don’t want the latest gossip,” Andy said.
Liza looked up from the crease.
“Oh, so the banal warnings come with actual tea? Spill.”
Andy took a sip of water.
“One of those boys is going to try to get with Heather.”
Liza put her book back down.
“Heather? My Heather?”
“No, the other Heath- yes, your Heather.”
“Wait, I’m confused,” Liza said. “Heather’s much older than them, and I thought they were all gay.”
“They’re only like three years younger, and not all of them,” Andy said. “One’s bi, one uses one of them fancy new terms, but I think a few are straight.”
Liza looked down at the shag rug with wide eyes.
“I let young straight men into my home,” she said. “Which one is attempting to court my daughter.”
“That’s a great question,” Andy said slowly.
“You don’t know?!” Liza said, looking up sharply. “You’re going to dump all this on me and you don’t know?”
“Sorry, sorry. I have an idea,” Andy said.
She returned her water bottle to her purse and zipped it.
“A couple of them were all talking about it just a bit ago,” Andy said. “I was walking over to welcome them back, but they were having a heart to heart, and I didn’t want to interrupt that rare moment of homo-social male bonding, ya feel?”
“And someone else, one of Heather’s friends, was also listening in.”
“Short, young, nerdy sort of girl?”
Liza had no clue.
“Hmmm… could be,” she said.
“And I can tell you for sure that Billy wasn’t in the room, and I know that that Jon kid wasn’t either, and going strictly off voices, I think it’s Paul.”
Liza sat back in her chair, looking up and away, thinking.
“Which one is Paul?”
“Which one is Jon?”
“For god’s sake, the scrawny one.”
“Ooooh, right, right, go on, what do you know about his Paul.”
“Not much, other than he did that book competition thing with Billy, Ben, and the other one in eighth-grade.”
“Is he a good person?”
“In the eighth-grade?”
“I couldn’t tell you.”
Liza shouted in frustration.
“If he’s friends with Billy, I’m sure he’s a good person,” Andy said.
“Are you sure?”
“I mean, he’s friends with your daughter too, Liza. Does that not tell you anything?”
“They’re closer to your son than they are my daughter, and to be fair; Heather has had some shitty friends.”
“Shitty, but any truly unsafe people?”
“You have a point there…”
The two stared at one another for a moment and sat back a bit into their respective seats. Liza flipped her book open, stared at a page blankly, and closed it.
“Did you hear anything else?” Liza asked. “Be honest with me.”
Andy considered telling her sister about overhearing discussion of binge-drinking, but decided against it.
“Nothing,” Andy said.
Liza thought for a good minute.
“I’m going to tell Heather.”
“What!” Andy yelled, picking up a throw pillow and, appropriately, threw it towards her sister; Liza was too far away and the pillow fell to the ground.
“I won’t tell her you told me,” Liza said.
“But why tell her at all?!” Andy said, rushing out of her chair to retrieve the pillow. “Are you trying to make me a snitch?”
“I said I wouldn’t say it was from you!”
Andy chucked the pillow at Liza, successfully this time.
“Oh, how many times did you say that and then completely do the opposite when we were growing up?”
Liza removed the pillow from her face and rubbed her forehead. Brocade was not the softest fabric with which to be attacked.
“Andy, I’m not a child anymore! Neither are the kids!” she said. “I just want what’s best for Heather.”
“So you tattle on her aunt like a child?”
Andy moved back to the couch to grab another pillow.
“Andy, stop,” Liza said. “You had a daughter; I had a son.”
Andy slowed her arms which were prepared to hurl another pillow.
“And you should know full well what it was like when you were in your twenties,” Liza said. “People get drunk; people get wild; people get drugged.”
Andy dropped her pillow to the ground.
“You don’t think-”
“I don’t think that any of their friends would do that,” Liza said. “But I do worry that they might. It’s just a precaution.”
“Okay,” Andy said. “But you’re not going to use my name, right?”
Liza picked up the arm covering from her chair and threw it at Andy.
“Jesus Christ woman, it was one time!”
“I was nearly kicked off the tennis team!”
The two were interrupted by the doorbell that rang through the house. Both Liza and Andy hopped up and scuttled three rooms over to the foyer. Liza opened the door do find a scrawny looking boy.
“Jon?” she asked.
“Connor,” he replied, staring behind Liza and into the house. “But I’m here for Jon.”
Liza motioned him in. Connor walked into the foyer and stared around the high ceilings in awe.
“Fuck,” he said.
“Right?” Liza said, smiling.
Andy scowled at the two.
“Jon should be in the guest quarters with the rest of your friends. Down that hallway, take a right, past the pool room and you’ll be there,” Liza said.
She looked the boy up and down, “Are you a minor?”
“No?” said Connor before scuttling away.
After he had turned the corner, Andy turned to her sister.
“Do you just let anyone in this house?” she asked. “I mean, I don’t expect you to know if I’m here or not, but I have a key.”
“You and your worries, Andy. People have been showing up all day,” she said. “I’m ninety percent sure someone showed up while you were attacking me with that pillow.”
“Aren’t you worried about theft?”
“No. Things are replaceable. Plus, this whole place came with security cameras, so I’m never too worried.”
Connor strolled through the pool room and into the guest quarters. He found three open doors and spotted Paul in one room using his laptop. Paul looked up and caught Connor’s eyes.
“Connor! What’s up!” he said, closing his laptop and walking to the doorway.
“Where’s Jon?” he asked.
“That room over there,” Paul said, pointing to the one door in the quarters that was closed. “I think Bailey beat you here.”
Connor didn’t reply, and instead walked over to Jon’s room, entered, and closed the door.
Jon was sitting on the bed and Bailey in a side chair. The two looked over at Connor as he entered.
“Connor!” Bailey shouted. “Long time no see! Isn’t this place crazy?”
“Totally crazy,” Connor said. “Where the hell are we even?”
Connor looked at Jon who didn’t respond.
Jon looked up.
“Oh, sorry. We’re at Paul’s friend’s ex-boyfriend’s cousin’s house,” he said slowly.
A muffled shout was heard from the adjoining room containing Ben.
“You look like trash,” Connor said, looking at Jon. “Jet lag hit you hard?
Jon didn’t respond.
“He’s in a mood again,” Bailey said. “But on the bright side the wifi here is so good that Fortnite on mobile doesn’t glitch out constantly.”
“I’m not in a mood,” Jon said, finally speaking up. “Paul’s just being an ass.”
Bailey and Connor both gave Jon odd looks.
“I thought you two were finally getting along,” Bailey said.
“Yeah,” Connor agreed. “I mean, hell, he agreed to let you come to France with you all. I wouldn’t take international travel lightly.”
Jon didn’t respond.
“Jon, you’re entitled to your feelings, but like, maybe at least pretend to get along with Paul?” Connor said.
“Yeah,” Bailey said. “Like, he’s really our only connection here. If you two are beefing then it’s really weird that we’re at a stranger’s place without the connections…”
“And hey, Paul seems to be in good spirits,” Connor added. “He was all chipper when he directed me here.”
Jon sat in continued silence.
“Fine, if you wanna be that way,” Bailey said, setting down her phone. “I’ve got some potential dirt on Paul.”
Jon’s eyes widened, and he sat up quickly.
“Potentially,” Bailey said. “What do you know about this Chris guy?”
“I thought this was about my brother.”
“Getting to that,” she said. “What do you make of Chris?”
“I mean, he’s the only normal one of Paul’s friends, that’s for sure,” Jon said, looking down at his legs. “He used to have really bad acne though, but now he doesn’t, and he’s garbage.”
“And his Facebook is on private,” Bailey added, putting away her phone.
“So what’s the dirt?” Connor asked.
“Well,” said Bailey. “I was heading over this morning when I ran into some woman.”
“Liza?” Connor asked.
“Who’s Liza?” Bailey asked.
“The homeowner. Fancy clothes, European vibe.”
“Oh, no. But she did answer the door. This woman was a little frumpier. Similar face though.”
“Billy’s mom,” Jon said, eyes still fixed on his phone. “She used to run carpool.”
“Anyway,” Bailey said. “I was looking for you, Jon, and I ran into Billy’s mom who was already listening in on your brother. He was in one of the rooms with Chris and Billy.”
“Go on,” Jon said.
“And from the sound of it, Chris is going to try to get with Heather tonight.”
Bailey sat there smiling, waiting for a reaction.
“Which one’s Heather?” Connor asked.
“Oh my god,” said Bailey. “Jon’s brother’s ex-boyfriend’s cousin. She lives here. Keep with the program.”
“Anyway, Chris was all like ‘oh no, I’ll never be able to hit that’ even though he’s objectively a hot piece of ass, and your brother was like ‘what if Ben and I hit on Heather for you through text when we’re all trashed’”
“Like, tonight at the party?” Jon asked.
“Yup,” Bailey said.
Jon sat in contemplation, wondering what to make of this new information. Bailey and Connor exchanged looks.
“Let’s destroy him,” Jon said.
“Jesus Christ, man, no,” Connor said. “What the hell? He’s your brother. I’m not allowing that.”
“It’s not something I can do alone. At the very least will you help me ruin their plan?” Jon asked.
“I’ll help,” Bailey said.
“Are you sure?” Connor asked.
“I mean, Heather seems pretty cool from the little I’ve seen of her, and it’s sort of shitty that they’re trying to trick her into getting with Chris,” she said. “Like, coercion isn’t cute.”
“I guess,” Connor said, tentatively.
“So what are we going to do, tell Heather or something?” Bailey asked.
“No, we’re going to make sure their plan backfires,” he said.
The day progressed casually. Heather and Billy listened to their friends recount their travels, most of the story provided by Paul and Ben with occasional comments from Chris and maybe one or two sentences from Jon.
Come dinner, Liza evicted everyone from the house to prepare for the party. Jon left with Connor and Bailey, and the remaining six took a trip in the van together with only a fleeting playful comment from Andy about feeling excluded.
When Billy, Heather, and their guests re-entered Liza’s they were in shock. The foyer had been completely decorated in black and gold from the ceiling to the floor. Like, an unrealistic amount of decorations for even a team’s worth of people to put up in an hour. A well-dressed man, presumably a bartender, stood in the kitchen in front of the widest variety of drinks that anyone had seen.
“Oh goodness, you’re back sooner that I had expected,” said Liza.
Liza’s rushed to meet them. She was wearing a black and gold sequined gown. Her hair was slicked back into a tight bun into which she had pinned a feathered fascinator.
“Close your eyes, all of you, and go back to your rooms,” she said. “We don’t even have the cake in yet.”
Everyone shuffled away, except for Heather and Billy, citing family privilege.
“I wish you had told me the party would have a color pallet,” Heather said. “I could have rented something cute.”
“Oh but that’s the best part of hosting a party!” said Liza. “Not telling anyone and looking the best by default.”
She glided over to the bar and the bartender immediately poured four flukes of champagne. Liza handed one each to Billy and Heather.
“Drink up you two and go get dressed. I’m not having this be an Easter party,” she said, pausing to look at Billy. “Heather, why does this one look drunk already?”
Billy looked up at his aunt and laughed. Andy stared at her son, more amused than disappointed.
“He had two long islands at dinner,” Heather said. “I have theories about this behavior.”
Liza clapped joyfully.
“Oh this is going to be a party isn’t it,” Liza said.
Andy turned on her sister.
“Weren’t you worried about them getting too drunk earlier today?” she said.
“Yes, but this is Billy, not them,” she said, sipping her champagne. “The worst thing Billy has done while drunk is Ben, and I’m still supportive.”
Billy started to make a sound of disapproval but was cut short by Heather.
“Worried about what?” Heather asked. “Mom you’ve never shied away from a party like this.”
Liza and Andy exchanged glances.
“Oh it’s nothing dramatic my dear. I just care about you,” Liza said.
She pulled Heather into an uncomfortable side-hug. Sequined fabric is not comfortable to be hugged with.
“I also don’t know half these people you’ve invited, but I trust your judge of character.”
She kissed Heather on the head.
“Just make good decisions please.”
Heather gave her mother an odd look and moved away.
“Well I’d like to talk to Billy here,” Andy said, looking down at her son laid out on the couch.
One arm rested off the couch lazily yet held the champagne fluke without spilling.
“Oh thbpt,” Billy spat. “I’m 23, give me a break.”
“I’m not here to judge you honey,” Andy said. “I’m just wondering if you’re drinking so much because Ben is around.”
Billy glared at his mother, sat up, and downed the rest of his drink. Heather and Liza watched excitedly.
“So what if I am?” he said.
He sat his glass on the ground. Liza picked it up immediately.
“Well, I know you always say that the two of you never dated or anything, and you two did make quite the pair when you were closer. Have you considered getting back on that?” she asked.
“I am too sober to answer that question,” he said.
Billy got up to return to the bar but was stopped by Heather.
“I wanna hear this,” Heather said, smiling.
Too drunk to fight the surprisingly strong grasp of Heather’s arm, Billy sat back down.
“Okay, yes, Ben is pretty,” Billy said.
Liza, Andy, and Heather inched closer.
“But he is just too much, I’m sorry.”
“You’re one to talk,” Heather quipped.
“I’m sorry Heather, should we walk through your dry-ass dating life?”
Heather backed away.
“What I need is some half-baked cross between Ben and like, Jon or something,” Billy said.
“Jon?” Liza asked. “The skinny gross-looking one?”
“Yeah, but not that part,” he said. “I just need someone like Ben, but who also knows how to shut up for once in a while. He’s like one of those little yippy dogs. I hate it.”
Billy looked upset, and upset was not party material.
“Thank you for telling me, and I’m sorry that I pried,” Andy said.
“Why don’t you two go get dressed. The cake should be here any moment,” said Liza.
“Cousin shot?” Heather asked in a clear, but appreciated, attempt to get back on Billy’s good side.
“Cousin shot.” Billy replied.
The two stopped by the bar before heading off to their rooms to change.
Ben was the first to return. While lacking gold, he wore all black: a dress shirt and dress pants. Chris accompanied him wearing a dark purple flannel, and Paul showed up in a black v-neck.
Liza gave the latter two a judgmental look before walking them over to admire the cake that had arrived. It was enormous. Seven tiers covered in fondant and buttercream.
“I really should wait for the rest to arrive, but you know how buttercream is in a warm room,” Liza said before quickly cutting a piece and skipping away to the bar.
Heather and Billy were next to show, both looking considerably more dapper than their friends. Heather donned a purple sequined dress, not unlike her mothers, and Billy stumbled in wearing tuxedo shirt, pants, and cummerbund.
“I think you’re missing something,” said Ben, walking over to the two carrying a slice of cake.
Billy gave Ben a one-over and landed on the cake.
“Yeah, the carbs,” he said.
“Let’s not pretend like we’re dieting with the amount you drink, honey,” Heather said, patting Billy on the stomach.
“Couldn’t find the jacket,” Billy said. “At least I didn’t show up wearing the same outfit as the bartender. How embarrassing.”
Billy walked past Ben to the bar as Jon came into the room with Connor and Bailey. Jon and Connor both matched with jackets over tshirts. Bailey wore a loose jumpsuit. Connor noticed the cake and strode over immediately. Jon and Bailey followed.
“So what exactly is this plan?” Bailey ask quietly. “‘We’re going to make sure their plan backfires’ is literally all you gave us.”
She sliced a piece of cake eyeing the room. Some older people had arrived, probably friends of Liza’s.
“With time, with time, Bailey,” said Jon, cutting a slice of cake for himself, also observing the room.
“That’s a like, super inefficient strategy if you ask me,” Bailey said.
Jon glared and took a bite of cake.
“I’m still figuring things out,” he said through a mouth of buttercream. “Spread yourselves out. Bailey, go chat with Heather about whatever.”
Connor head straight to the bar, nearly bumping Paul, who was attempting to carry four shots at once. He set them down on the coffee table in front of himself, Ben, Chris, and Billy. Billy took the shot immediately.
“What’s in this?” Chris asked, sniffing the liquor.
“Literally no clue,” Paul said, turning back to give a lame look at the bar. Heather had begun chatting with Bailey.
“Goes down like water,” said Billy, swiping Ben’s shot and taking another.
Ben shot Billy a look but abstained from speaking.
“Excuse me Billy, those were all for Chris,” Paul said.
Billy laughed and sat back in his chair, closing his eyes. On Paul’s orders, Chris took the remaining two shots. He coughed violently.
“What the hell is this? Grain alcohol?” he said, his eyes bloodshot.
“I already told you I didn’t know,” Paul said, still watching Heather. “And you’re not allowed vomit okay. How much has Heather had?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t been watching,” Ben said.
“Two shots, a mixed drink, and a lite beer at dinner if that counts,” Billy said stuttering back awake.
“Not nearly enough,” Paul said.
Billy sat up straighter.
“At last, someone is finally on my side,” he said. “That deserves a drink.”
Billy got up and left for the bar.
“I can’t believe you two used to date,” Chris said between laughs.
The shots were starting to hit him.
“I told you; that never happened.”
“And never will?” Chris asked.
Ben got up to go get a drink, bumping shoulders with Connor as he walked by. Connor, who was carrying two flukes of champagne, stumbled but kept his footing and did not spill. He handed one over to Jon who approached him quickly.
“What’s the plan chief?” he asked.
Jon didn’t reply but chugged the champagne in an attempted display of power, burping dumbly after.
“I’m going to go hit on Heather,” he said, walking past Connor toward the bar.
“I’m sorry, what?” said Connor, reaching out grabbing Jon. “Is this part of the plan? I’ve heard you try to flirt with women on Xbox live, and it is.”
“Not good. Like, really, really bad.”
Jon removed Connor’s hand from shoulder.
“Yes. Women are evil and hate me for who I am. I know that I don’t have the bone structure of Chad-”
“Yes, Chris, but that’s not important. The first step is to just to stir things up.”
“I don’t follow.”
“They’re all having a great time thinking that they’re fucking puppet masters or something.”
Jon pointed over to Paul, Ben, and Chris who were all laughing raucously. Connor grabbed Jon’s arm and put it back down.
“And I can promise you that they think they have a clean playing field. They have no contingency plan for any funny business.”
“So I’m going to go over there, make a fool of myself talking to Heather, and scare the hell out of my brother who thinks he’s a mastermind.”
With that, Jon marched over to Heather who was still talking with Bailey.
“Hi Jon!” Heather said warmly, pulling him in for a hug.
Jon was taken aback but accepted the hug.
“I’ve just been getting to know your friend Bailey here. Jumpsuit was a choice, but she’s pretty cool!”
Jon and Heather laughed. Bailey gave a small smile and picked up two beers from the bar and Ben’s arm.
“Hey let’s go elsewhere,” she said, thrusting the beer into his hand.
“I don’t drink beer,” he said as Bailey pulled him away. “Who are you again?”
“Oh fun, let’s get to know each other over there by the cake!”
They walked past the couch of laughing men and away from the bar.
“Long story short, Paul doesn’t know French as well as he says he does and it took him the rest of the day to find us,” Chris said, finishing his drink.
Paul gave Chris a playful angry look; Billy gave Chris a bored drunk look.
A loud laugh from over at the bar grabbed Billy’s attention. He looked over to see Jon and Heather deep in spirited conversation.
“Huh, since when has your brother had the hots for Heather?” Billy asked, turning to Paul. “And where did Ben go?...”
Chris spit out the drink he was sipping.
“Say what?” he asked, turning around in his chair violently.
He too saw Heather and Jon laughing. Jon had placed a hand on her leg. Chris didn’t like that. He got to his feet. So did Paul. Billy stared at the two confused.
“We’re going to the bathroom,” Paul said, taking Chris by the elbow.
“Hot,” Billy quipped.
Paul started dragging Chris away and stopped.
“Where is the bathroom?” Paul asked.
“Depends. You trying to pee or smash,” Billy said, giggling.
Chris and Paul both glared, unamused.
“Down the hall, take a left. If you’re looking for something a little roomier there’s another across from the pool room,” Billy said, pointing. “But I mean, you’ve got beds here, unless you’re just looking for the aesthetic.”
Chris didn’t particularly like being dragged through a crowd by the arm, but Paul’s insistence gave an air of confidence and in his drunken haze, Chris needed someone to rely on. They walked down the hallway as Billy had directed but found no bathroom. This wasn’t much of a problem as neither one of them needed to pee – well, Chris did a little but he didn’t want to break the seal – so when they passed another living room, this one with a prominently featured grand piano, they took refuge and sat down, Paul on the piano bench and Chris on the floor.
“Why can’t I just punch him or something,” Chris slurred, picking at the fringe of the rug he found himself on. “Like, isn’t that the kind of something that girls like?’
“Depends on the type,” Chris said quietly. “Give me your phone.”
He looked around. The place seemed relatively quiet save the hum of the climate control that, to Paul’s best bet, probably cost a grand a month to operate. Chris shoved a limp arm into his pocket and felt around.
“I’m not finding it,” he said.
Chris pressed his face into the ground. It was soft and smelled clean.
“I’ve failed you, Paul, and you were just trying to help.”
Paul got off the bench and sat down next to Chris on the carpet. Chris was definitely at Halloween 2016 levels of drunk.
“You haven’t failed anyone,” Paul said. “Where’s your phone. Did you leave it back at the party?”
Chris slumped into the fetal position. As he curled, his phone was pushed out of his back pocket. Paul picked it up hurriedly and turned it on.
“Passcode?” he asked.
“Paul, I told you I don’t know where it is.”
Paul wrenched Chris’s arm from underneath him and forced his thumb onto the phone. It opened. Stirred awake by the mild pain of having one’s arm yanked in an irregular direction, Chris sat back up.
“Oh right, it was in my pocket,” he said. “What are you doing?”
“Texting Heather. Time is of the essence.”
Heather’s phone buzzed. Heather, however, was wearing a purple sequined dress which, like most purple sequined dresses, did not have pockets, so Heather’s phone was in her purse which was sitting next to the couch next to Billy. Heather’s phone buzzed again, this time catching Billy’s attention. He shouted in Heather’s direction, but through the volume of the party, the distance between the two, and Billy’s general lack of effort in the yell, Heather did not hear him. Taking this as permission, Billy reached into the purse and pulled out the phone. Two messages from an unknown number, ‘hey’ and ‘what’s up’.
Intrigued and energized by the spirit of this overt anonymous booty call, Billy got up and walked over to Heather.
“Bye,” he said, pushing Jon away.
Jon had seen Paul rush off with Chris and wasn’t too worried, so he gave Billy an appropriate look of disgust and tromped away to find Bailey and Connor.
“Thank you,” Heather said. “That creep was getting way too touchy. What’s up?”
Billy laughed and produced Heather’s phone.
“I guess I’m here to get rid of one creep and present you another,” he said. “Who’s this and why don’t you have his number?”
Heather took the phone and looked at it.
“Oh good! My order shipped.”
“What? No, the texts. Who are they from.”
Heather opened her phone and looked at the message.
“Oh god, let me scroll. I’m really bad at naming my contacts,” she said. “Jesus Chris, last message was from 2016. I think this is Chris.”
Billy picked the phone out of her hands.
“May I?” he asked.
“My pleasure,” she said, ordering a whiskey ginger from the bar.
Billy held the phone in his hands, squinting at the screen. He was at that level of drunk where he really wanted to be playfully vindictive, but forming an intelligent written sentence was daunting, especially with fat fingers on a touch screen.
“Are we responding positively or negatively,” he asked.
Heather sipped from her glass and looked around the party. Liza and Andy were sequestered with their friends in a corner; Jon had met up with Connor, and Bailey was talking with Ben of all people.
“Does she know she only has like a 2 percent change of riding that?” Heather asked Billy.
“He’s actually more of bot- sorry, what am I texting?”
Heather snapped herself back to the question at hand.
“Well I would say first thing’s first, ‘new phone who dis’, and if it is Chris, ask him where the hell he is.”
“Gotcha. ‘new phone who dis, second question, how’s the sex with Paul’”
Heather snatched the phone out of Billy’s hands.
“What the hell?” she yelled.
“They left to go pee together. They’ll get the joke.”
Paul stared at the text on Chris’s phone and swore loudly. Chris was still out of it.
“Get up, we’re heading back,” Paul said, dragging Chris yet again by the arm.
As they walked through the hallway of painting and prints, Paul popped off his phone case and switched it Chris’s. It wasn’t an exact fit – Paul had an Android – but with a hand on the back of the phone, it was barely noticeable.
“Why are we heading back?” Chris asked, his eyes fixed on the floor. “We didn’t even pee. I think I need to pee.”
Fearing the pee, the two searched for and successfully found a bathroom. As Chris did his business, Paul sent back a quick text as Chris.
“‘lol you’re hilarious. Paul’s had a bit too much and he needed to pee. We’re heading back’” Heather read out loud.
“Really?” Billy said. “Paul only had like five drinks.”
Heather didn’t reply to Billy but was instead deeply invested in staring at her phone. Billy, unamused with the lack of attention he was getting, turned to look at his cousin.
“What, he send you a dick pic or something?”
Heather kept typing and didn’t respond. Billy got excited.
“Wait, did he literally send you a dick pic? Let me see.”
Billy wrenched the phone from Heathers hands and was disappointed to find no such picture. Instead he found a series of cordial back and forth messages between the two. Billy handed the phone back to Heather.
“I would appreciate it if you stopped stealing my phone,” Heather said typing.
“I would appreciate it if you asked for a dick pic,” Billy said.
Heather slapped her cousin on the head.
Drunk Chris finished washing his hands and walked out of the bathroom. One of Liza’s friends was standing outside of the door, waiting. She locked eyes with the two and smiled.
“I support this,” she said, pushing past the two into the bathroom.
The two continued their way toward the party. Paul shoved his own phone with Chris’s case into Chris’s hand.
“Chris, I need you to keep my phone out when we get back so it’ll look like you’re the one texting,” he said.
Chris looked at the phone with mild confusion.
“But this is my phone,” he said.
“My phone, your case, keep up buddy,” Paul said. “Just make sure that you look like you’re texting when I say so.”
The two returned to the party which was just as full as before, save a few more missing pieces of cake. Ben was sitting with one of Liza’s friends, attempting and failing to make small talk. He greeted Paul and Chris as they entered and Liza’s friend parted. Heather was still at the bar with Billy. She saw the two enter and waved at Chris. Chris gave a drunken wave back and sat down next to Ben.
“Phone out, Chris,” Paul whispered.
Ben looked over confused, but quickly surmised what was happening and scooted closer to Paul.
“This looks good,” Ben said. “She looks engaged.”
“Millenials and their phones, am I right?” Andy said, giving performative side-eye.
The crowd around her burst into laughter.
“What are you saying?” Billy asked, splitting his attention between Heather and Chris.
“Can’t you go feed off someone else right now?” Heather asked.
Billy looked around the room. One group had his mother and aunt, one his ex, the last Jon.
“Nope,” he said. “How’s the conversation.”
Heather looked over at Chris and smiled. Chris smiled back.
“You two are disgusting. I’m leaving to vomit.”
Billy left to go pee.
Ben took the phone from Paul’s hands and read over the conversation. It was good. Heather was either interested, incredibly bored with the party around her, or a mixture of the two.
“Do you have any dick pics in here?” Ben asked.
Chris gave him an angry look.
“No,” he said firmly. “But also don’t look.”
Ben and Paul chatted strategy, deciding that Chris should ask out Heather on a lunch date for the following day. Before they could relay the message, Chris stood up.
“I want cake,” he said confidently.
Chris stumbled his way over to the cake like a toddler. There he met a very bored looking Bailey, Connor, and Jon.
“Excuse me friends, I have cake to eat,” Chris said, picking up the knife and cutting himself a sizeable chunk.
“Is she falling for it?” Jon asked casually.
Chris stopped and took another look at Jon to ensure that he wasn’t Paul. The two didn’t look much like one another despite being brothers, but Chris couldn’t think of any other reason he would know about their plan.
“Come again?” Chris asked, feeling around the table for a fork, picking up the knife again by mistake, setting that down, and successfully finding a fork.
“Or I guess I should say are you falling for it,” Jon said.
Chris was very confused. Hungry, drunk, horny, and confused – in that order. He began to eat cake without responding to Jon.
Also confused: Connor and Bailey, whom up to this point Jon still had not specified any kind of plan.
“I’m with Chris, come again?” Bailey said, looking Jon in the eyes.
Jon took a few steps to block Chris’s exit with his body to the best of his abilities. Chris was at least twice his size, but at his level of inebriation he had little motivation to plow through.
“Well remember when Ben was just chatting with us earlier?” Jon said loudly. “About how my brother was going to hit on Heather for you but then pull admit it was him the whole time?”
Chris’s eyes widened, and he stopped eating cake.
“I lived with Paul for most my life, and I can tell you he’s had a crush on her for at least half decade.”
Chris threw down his cake in anger and left the party.
Heather looked up from her phone to see the back of Chris retreating quickly. Another look down at her phone to see ‘I need to pee something vicious. May or may not be back, also very tired.’
“What an odd thing to say,” Heather said to Billy.
Billy was checked out to the point of not responding.
“Ben, go get Chris, now,” Paul said, attempting to maintain a calm expression.
“What do you think I’m going to do?” Ben said, two years of ventriloquist camp really helping out for once.
“I don’t know, get him back? What the hell set him off like that?”
Ben stared down the hallway where Chris had been moments ago and was reminded of the Halloween party.
“How much did he have?” Ben whispered.
“I wasn’t counting. Why does it matter?”
“He’s angry drunk. I’ve seen it before,” Ben concluded. “Remember when he revenge-peed in Billy’s underwear drawer?”
“Wasn’t that you?” Paul asked.
“We need something to get him out of the funk, give me the phone.”
Ben yanked the phone out of Paul’s hands and typed a message.
“Billy, if I were to bail on you for lunch tomorrow, would you survive?”
Hearing his name, Billy awoke from his eyes-open slumber.
“Sorry, bail who what?”
“Lunch. Tomorrow. You have plans?”
“Nothing really, why do you ask?”
“Cool. I think I’m getting lunch with Chris.”
Billy turned to Heather and then to the bar. He ordered a glass of water and drank slowly.
“No witty comment of disapproval?” she asked.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Billy said, continuing to drink.
He finished his glass and let out a belch.
“Just know that you’re leaving me alone with these people to pursue a selfish endeavor.”
Heather gave Billy an indignant stare. She began to speak but was cut off by Billy who began to smile.
“I’m kidding. You two will have beautiful babies,” he said.
Heather’s stare turned to one of mild amusement.
“But you really are giving me over to the dogs,” he said. “One dog in particular.”
He stared across the room at Ben. Ben looked uncomfortable, but in a ‘could just be drunk discomfort’ sort of way.
“One, I have never heard that phrase in my life, and two, is dog a good thing?”
Heather smiled at her cousin, shifting her eyes between him and Ben. Ben really did look concerned. Billy ordered another glass of water.
“We have a date. I repeat we have a date,” Ben said, pointing to the phone.
“What?!” Paul said, yanking the phone from Ben. “How’d you get that so quickly?”
“You’d be surprised what you can get done by being direct,” Ben said. “Now give me the phone and I’ll track down Chris.
Ben got up and left into the depths of the house. He walked down the hallway of paintings and portraits, past the bathroom that was larger than his college dorm, through a room with a piano, through a room with a pool table, past a room that looked completely empty except for a fish tank, and back to the guest quarter. Chris was laying down on the couch in the center room. He startled awake and looked up to see Ben.
“Your moustache is stupid,” he said before closing his eyes.
With great restraint, Ben ignored Chris’s comment and sat down.
“What the hell has gotten into you,” he asked. “This wasn’t part of the plan.”
“Neither was texting during the party,” Chris replied. “Or Paul stealing Heather.”
Chris placed his face into the couch cushion and started making the physical movements one might associate with weeping, but the sounds that emitted were more of a prolonged groan.
“Lord, you really have had too much to drink,” Ben said, consolingly.
He took Chris’s phone out of his pocket.
“Read this. It might change your mind.”
Chris and Ben reentered the party, much to the surprise of Jon who was skulking in the corner. Chris made a b-line for Heather, pausing only to look once at Paul but not actually say anything. Ignoring Billy completely, Chris took a stool next to Heather.
“How was the pee?” Heather laughed.
“Thought provoking,” Chris said.
Heather didn’t completely understand, but with Chris’s current state, she didn’t think much of it.
“Can we kiss?” Chris slurred.
Billy did a spit take.
“That is so sweet of you,” Heather said, her tone as if to a child. “But you are drunker than I’ve ever seen. How about a good-night hug instead?”
Chris smiled and accepted. The two embraced.
“Jon, Jon!” Bailey whispered through her teeth, jabbing Jon in the side. “What the hell is that?”
Jon looked over to see Chris and Heather in a hug that Heather was visibly done with, but Chris was trying to squeeze a few extra seconds out of.
“Did we do something wrong?” Connor asked.
“We?” Bailey hissed. “You did literally nothing all night.”
“We can fix this,” Jon said.
His voice was low, cold, and very direct.
“But not tonight.”
Without saying goodbye, Jon slipped away, exiting the party. Unsure what to do and having brought no sleeping clothes, Connor and Bailey made their way over to Liza, whispered some sweet nothings about the party, and made their way to leave. Liza made a comment about driving safety; Bailey responded with a rudimentary explanation of Uber, and the two left the party.
Their departure was not entirely unexpected with the atmosphere. It had run well past midnight and most of Liza’s friends had already departed. Only a few stragglers remained. Heather, who had long detached herself from Chris, was tired beyond belief and ready to turn in for the night.
“Chris,” she said.
Chris stuttered back to reality again.
“I’m going to head to bed, and I think you should too,” she said.
Chris gave a half smile.
“Separate rooms, Chris,” she said. “And I expect you to ask me out again tomorrow when you’re sober. Let’s go.”
Heather took Chris’s hand and made to leave into the house. As they passed, Liza stuck out an arm to stop Chris. Heather gave her mother an embarrassed look.
“My house, my daughter,” Liza said curtly. “It’ll just be a chat.”
Heather apologized to Chris severely, none of which he really processed.
“Why don’t you and Billy show the rest of your friends back to their rooms,” Andy said. “I don’t think they’ll find them on their own.”
The guests slowly got up and herded around Billy and Heather like peaceful drunken cows.
“Oh, and Heather, make sure to really highlight the bathrooms,” Andy said, staring directly at Ben. “We don’t need anyone vomiting or peeing anywhere they shouldn’t tonight.”
Heather led the train away until just Liza, Andy, and Chris remained in the room with the quiet clinks of the bartender packing up for the night.
“Would you like me to stay?” Andy asked.
“You can if you’d like,” Liza said.
She walked through the foyer to the front door. She picked a pink fuzzy ball of the plaque of keys.
“I’m going to show Chris the wine cellar.”
Liza grabbed Chris’s arm and marched him through the house, heading in the opposite direction from where Heather had left with his friends. They walked through two hallways, through a library, and past a room filled with comfy looking chairs and a floor to ceiling fireplace. At last they reached a door. Chris had begun to sober up during the walk, and his anxiety started to pulse. He was less afraid about the whole cellar ordeal than another individual might have been and more worried about the one on one time with Liza while he was still fairly drunk.
“Open it,” Liza said, handing him the key.
Chris placed the key into the lock while Liza watched. He could help but think there was something deeply Freudian about the experience. The lock clicked and Chris pulled the key out immediately and handed it to Liza. Some pink frooffies floated to the ground. With a great amount of effort, due to his physical state and not the weight of the door, Chris opened the door to find a staircase leading to darkness. To the left of the door hung a flashlight that Liza grabbed. She turned it on. It was a backlight.
“I’m quite superstitious with my wine,” she said.
She prompted Chris to descend the stairs first. He obliged, searching for a railing with his right hand and finding none. The home was definitely not ADA compliant.
“Most people will tell you that it’s fine to have lights in a wine cellar as long it’s not too direct and the bottles are dark enough, but I don’t buy it,” she said. “You might as well keep it in a window.”
The two continued down the stairs. Liza kept the light on her own feet and Chris stumbled his way down. It was dark, and he was out of it, but he felt like they had descended at least two floors.
“Why the blacklight?” Chris asked nervously.
They reached the floor.
“I read in a magazine that it affects the wine less than other kinds of light,” she said. “It’s also a good research tool.”
Liza shined the light up and down Chris. The white threading in his flannel lit up.
“Have you ever read Poe’s ‘The Cask of Amontillado?’” she asked, directing Chris further into the cellar.
Chris wasn’t sure, but he didn’t like the sound of the question.
“Maybe?” he responded.
“Well,” Liza started.
She pushed Chris to the side and shined her light on a rack of wine. She plucked up a bottle.
“Take a look.”
She handed the bottle to Chris and kept the light on it. It was a literal cask of Amontillado.
“Isn’t that hilarious?” she said, laughing.
Chris joined in laughing, not getting the joke.
“Now what are your intentions with my daughter.”
Chris immediately spat out water that he was not drinking.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“My daughter,” she said.
She shined the black light into Chris’s eyes. His pupils contracted, and he shut his eyes immediately.
“What are your intentions.”
Chris was lost in a battle of two minds. Was this the reality of being under the roof of some ultra-rich wino? Was this a drunk hallucination? Was he less sober than he previously assumed?
“I mean I sort of just wanted to pay for her food a couple of times and talk about her interests,” he said, chin retreating into his neck.
Liza took the black light off of Chris’s face at let him ease. She shone the light into the rows of wine racks and began to walk. Chris, unsure, began following her.
“You know Chris, I was actually surprised when I saw that it was you who was courting my daughter,” she said.
Chris tripped on a break in the concrete floor, not a ‘fall on your face trip’ but a ‘had to grab onto a wine rack to steady himself’ trip.
“Because I’m not the type to flirt?” Chris asked.
Liza paused in her strides and turned around to face Chris with the light.
“No,” she said. “I was made to believe that Paul was going for her.”
She turned around too quickly to see Chris’s face fall. First Jon, now Liza. Corroborating evidence. Were they planning on some sort of prank on the date? Were they plotting some Carrie nonsense?
“But Andy’s never been the greatest source of information,” she said. “Oops, I wasn’t supposed say her name.”
Andy? Was Billy in on this too?
“This is what I get for not having a lesbian for a daughter.”
“My mother really did have it easier…”
Liza turned a corner and began walking through an aisle of barrels, large barrels, gigantic Donkey Kong-esque barrels.
“Are these filled with wine?” Chris asked, running his hand along one of the barrels. It wobbled slightly.
“Most,” Liza said. “But not enough to fill out an entire row, so some are just there for the aesthetic.”
They continued to walk until they reached what Chris perceived to be the furthest point of the cellar from the stairs. Liza turned off the light plunging the cellar in complete darkness save the green light emitting from Chris’s Fitbit.
“Chris, how much do you think I make a year,” she asked.
Chris’s eyes darted around in the dark, unsure what to look at when he could see nothing.
“I don’t think that’s appropriate to guess,” he stuttered.
Liza laughed. Her laugh seemed further away than her question had been, but the echoes felt much closer.
“Give me a ball park estimate,” she said.
“I don’t like this game,” Chris said, stepping aside nervously.
He bumped into an empty barrel, knocking it over. Liza swore and turned on the light to recover and reset the barrel. Once finished, she kept the light on and walked back over to Chris.
“I’m ‘make it look like an accident and get away with it’ rich,” she said, stepping closer.
Chris took a few more steps backward, this time away from the barrels.
“I mean, I’ve never had the impulse to do anything like that,” she said, pausing in her movement. “But like, I can imagine myself getting there.”
She looked upward, thinking.
“Yeah, I can see that.”
She returned the light to Chris’s eyes.
“So let this be very clear Christopher-”
“My full name is actually just Chris.”
“-my daughter doesn’t need no daddy with a shot gun. She has two mommys with lots and lots of money… well, one with a lot, and one with half of what I had at the time of the divorce… But it’s still a lot of money.”
“Should we be worried about him?” Paul asked, sitting down on his bed.
Heather had led him to his room and had taken a seat in a chair. Jon was long asleep, Billy was halfway across the house in his room, and Ben was two rooms away and fading fast.
“He should be fine,” Heather said. “My other mom’s the gun nut. This one’s just obsessed with wine and parties.”
“When do you think he’ll be back?” Paul asked. “And more importantly, what’s the date plan?”
Paul dropped down onto his chest and propped his chin onto the heels of his hands, kicking his feet up in the air in a teen girl parody. A pillow hit his face before he could see that Heather had thrown it.
“Provided he’s here tomorrow, just lunch,” Heather said, casually.
Paul gave her a curious look and Heather broke into a wide smile that she had been hiding.
“And I’m really really excited.”
Paul smiled back, Heather’s joy feeding into his.
“So is this gonna be a thing? Is this gonna be a one-off or like, do you actually like him?”
“Would it be cliché to tell you I have notes in a diary from middle school with hearts around his name?”
Paul’s jaw dropped.
“You’re shitting me,” he said. “You’ve liked him this whole time?”
“Oh god no,” she said. “It was an on and off fantasy for most of middle school. It ended for a while, and started back up a bit when Billy started sleeping with Ben-”
Muffled shouts sounded from the other room. They faded into snoring.
“But I guess that all died away when I didn’t see you all for so long…”
Heather stared at the dresser-top mirror across from the room. Her angle was skewed so that she could not see her reflection, but instead she examined the gold frame.
“So what are your plans for the rest of your weekend stay?” she asked.
Paul rolled onto his back, contemplating the question. Frankly, his plan’s had started and ended with playing matchmaker. He hadn’t expected it to go so quickly.
“Is Ben asleep?” he whispered.
Heather got up and tip toed out of the room. Halfway to Ben’s door a loud coughing snore answered the question.
“Did you have to deal with that the entire trip?” Heather asked.
Paul stared at Heather, the dark circles under his eyes quite noticeable. They were there for more reasons than just Ben’s snoring: jet lag, binge drinking, a genetic predisposition to skin sagging and discoloration, but Heather surmised from the rest of Paul’s expression that it had been quite the trip to France.
“So you know how Ben’s been super bitchy lately,” Paul said.
Heather nodded fervently.
“And how Billy’s been super bitchy too,”
Heather nodded faster.
“I want to change that.”
Heather stopped nodding and cocked her head.
“We hook them up together again.”
Before Heather could speak, a half-drunk half-terrified Chris came bursting into the room. He saw Heather and experienced both fear and drunken lust in the same moment. True love.
“Chris!” she said, hopping out of her chair to hug him. “Have you sobered up yet?”
It wasn’t even three yet. Chris had not sobered up yet.
“But more importantly, take a seat,” she said, pointing to the chair next to her. “Paul is about to give an explanation for the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.
She smiled widely and performatively as Chris settled down and Paul sat back up.
“It’s not a stupid idea,” Paul said. “Just think about it. When those two were-”
He dropped his volume. Paul had no issued with the f-word but it seemed to function as a bat-signal for Ben.
“When those two were fucking, they were tolerable,” he said. “Gross and in love, but tolerable.”
Chris leaned over to Heather. Having not had been there for the beginning of the conversation, he was confused.
“Why are we talking about the bitchy gays,” he said, still very drunk.
Paul threw a pillow at him and Heather slapped his wrist violently.
“Bad Chris!” the two scolded in unison.
Chris muttered a quick apology and rephrased his question.
“Why are we talking about the respectable homosexuals,” he said.
Paul threw another pillow. Chris yelled, and Heather hushed him.
“Jesus Christ, why are we talking about the respectable homosexual and esteemed homosexual-leaning bisexual,” he said.
“Thank you,” Paul said. “Because they’re being bitchy gays and we’re trying to get them to stop.”
Chris thought back to their trip. Ben had been perfectly find the entire time, but it was true that the instant he came in contact with Billy he turned into a combative self-conscious tool with a sub-par moustache.
Ben grunted in his sleep.
“So how are we going to fix them?” Chris asked.
“By fixing them up with each other,” Paul said.
Paul explained his plan. Billy and Ben were too stubborn of people to admit that they liked one another. Both of them had that ‘showing affection for anyone or anything is a sign of weakness and could be used against you in some manner so I will instead exhibit an air of postmodern hip rejection of sentiment that is actually just a fear of being really human’ vibe. Neither would be first to admit it, but if convinced that they were the second…
“How was it last night?” Connor asked, taking a large bite out of an omelet.
Jon did not respond. The bed that Liza provided had been the most comfortable sleep of his life, but he was too mad at his brother and his brother’s friends to express any kind of joy in that moment in that Denny’s.
Connor and Bailey had met up with Jon that next morning for breakfast. Both Connor and Bailey were drinking water to cure the night prior’s dehydration, but Jon sipped on black coffee.
“We got home safely, thanks for asking,” Bailey said, slicing the edge of her fork into a waffle. “Anything happen while we were gone?”
“No,” Jon said, taking another sip and wincing; the coffee was hot. “I fell asleep.”
“Well,” Connor started, unsure where to go with the sentence but trying to fill the sullen silence with something.
He poked at Bailey’s waffle with his fork. Bailey smacked it away with her own fork. That was her waffle.
“What’re the plans for the rest of the weekend?” he asked.
Jon reluctantly informed his two friends that Liza offered for them to stay for the weekend too, citing the usual worry about drunk driving.
“Homegurl really doesn’t get Uber,” Bailey said, laughing. “I’d love to stay. Are there any planned activities?”
Jon didn’t respond. Bailey knew there were no planned activities.
Connor looked over at Bailey with a ‘he’s bothered about Chris and Heather still, isn’t he’ look. Bailey looked back with a ‘I’m not here for Jon’s negativity, but I also want to support him as a friend and as a person’ look. The two turned to Jon as he spoke.
“I have a better plan,” he said. “And it’ll work better than the last one.”
Connor laughed. They hadn’t had much of plan the night prior. Jon gave him an angry look, and Connor returned to his plate of pancakes.
“You two are still banging, right?” Jon asked, pointing at the two of them in turn with his fork.
The two nodded, munching.
“We’re going to use that to our advantage.”
More munching, but confused munching.
“How comfortable are you two with loud sex?” he asked.
They both voiced affirmation, Bailey louder than Connor.
“Bailey, do you think you can imitate Heather’s vocal tone convincingly?” he asked.
“Like this?” she said, as Heather.
She sounded more like Melissa Altro, voice of Muffy Crosswire on PBS’s Arthur than Heather, but someone listening through a wall might be convinced.
“What’s the plan?” Connor asked.
Jon took a long drink of his coffee and explained.
“Liza, come with us,” Paul said, motioning with his hand.
Liza, deep in a morning coffee haze looked around confused.
“I’m sorry, what? What’s going on.”
“We need you,” Paul said.
“Does Heather need anything?” Liza said, sipping her coffee.
Paul turned to Chris and sighed.
“Let’s get Andy, she’ll probably be just if not more helpful.”
The two started to walk away. Liza, offended, jumped off her seat and followed after, her robe flowing as she walked.
“I will not be played like this,” she said. “What do you need me for.”
“Ben’s out in the garden,” Chris said.
Liza picked up her pace. The two men were walking briskly.
“Which one is that?” Liza asked. “And come to think of it, which are you?”
She pointed to Paul. She was well aware of Chris’s role at this point.
“Friend of Billy and Heather’s,” Paul said.
“You or this Benjamin?”
“Me,” Paul said. “Ben used to date your nephew.”
“Ah yes,” Liza said, shaking her head.
She was never alert in the mornings. She tried to take a sip from her cup, but it sloshed around in the cup with the speed they were moving. She was actually surprised at how well the two seemed to navigate the house. Even Liza got lost from time to time if it was dark and she was drunk and alone and on cold meds and it was that one time in April of 2016.
The approached the door to the back yard garden. It was a sight plucked straight from Princess Diaries 2, plants of every shape and color, an elaborate series of hedges, a large water feature at the center, Anne Hathaway was there (in spirit). Paul put out a hand to stop them. In the distance they could the backs of Heather and Ben. In agreement with Chris and Paul, Heather had lured him out earlier that morning for coffee.
“You’ve gone and confused me again,” Liza said.
She was staring through the window with a pair of binoculars plucked from nonbeing.
“Why is the one with the moustache with my daughter. I thought this one was.”
She slapped her arm outward and mistakenly hit Paul in the chest. The motion concerned Chris.
Paul pulled waved his hand in front of the lenses, and Liza lowered the binoculars from her face. She offered them to Paul.
“See for yourself!”
“No no no,” Paul said. “We set this whole thing up. Now come with us and follow our lead.”
Paul opened the door and strode out. It was a comfortable morning, slightly chilly in the shade, but not enough to need a jacket. Chris handed Paul an empty ceramic mug, held one himself, and the three strode into the garden. ‘To stride’ may not be the appropriate word. They definitely moved with direction and confidence, but there was a significant amount of performative clomping on the behalf of Paul and Chris, much to the confusion of Liza. They aimed to be as noisy as possible.
“If you ruin my grass the gardeners will have your heads,” Liza whispered.
Paul laughed. A chill ran down Chris’s spine.
They continued until they were positioned two hedges and fifty feet away from Heather and Ben, unsure if they had yet been noticed by the two.
“The hell is that,” Ben said, swiveling around in his seat, nearly spilling his coffee. “Do you keep horses here?”
Paul leaned against a tall lamp post that marked the corner of the hedge, and Chris and Liza stood next to him, Chris excited, Liza still confused.
“So did you hear Billy last night?” Paul said loudly.
“During the party, or after the party once most everyone had gone to bed?” Chris said, matching Paul’s volume.
Liza gave a confused stare to the two and sipped her coffee.
“Once everyone had gone to bed,” Chris said. “When he was drunk and bemoaning his lost relationship with Ben.”
Ben heard his name and his ears perked up.
“Who else is in this garden,” Ben said, straightening his back. “Why did I hear my name.”
“We own all forty acres behind this house,” Heather said, pointing across the garden, the fields behind it, and a small patch of trees. “Could be anyone. No please, continue telling me about how you’re sad and alone.”
Ben did not respond. He kept his mouth shut and ears open.
“Oh yeah, it was obnoxious,” Paul said. “He just kept whining.”
“Nobody’s out there for me. I’m so sad,” Chris replied.
“I should have never broken up with Ben, and I’m still madly in love with him,” the two said in unison.
“Why don’t we walk around for a bit,” Heather said.
Leave it to Paul and Chris to position themselves poorly. She could barely make out their words save ‘Billy’ and for some reason ‘bemoan.’
“I’m not done with my coffee,” Ben said, pointing to his still full cup.
“Your moustache is stupid,” Heather said, yanking the cup out of his hands and pouring into the grass.
The gardeners weren’t going to like that.
“Let’s go look at some fucking flowers.”
She grabbed Ben by the arm and began clomp tromping through the garden.
“The hell is that,” Chris said, turning around to Liza nearly spilling her coffee with a blunt elbow to her arm. “Do you keep horses here?”
Liza took a moment to think.
“Not here,” she said slowly. “But I do believe I own horses on another property. Heather used to ride in elementary school but stopped after getting thrown like once.”
Chris nodded, the horse-girl energy finally explained, the tromp clomping not so much.
“They’re on the move,” Paul whispered. “Move.”
On Paul’s command the three unplanted themselves and rotated through the garden, Paul and Chris making as much noise as possible as a warning to Heather, Liza imitating the two, unsure why but beginning to enjoy herself.
“You know, what you’re talking about is pretty old news,” Liza shouted out unexpectedly.
Paul stopped immediately. Chris bumped into him.
Heather stopped immediately. Ben bumped into her. Heather had heard her mother’s voice. Liza wasn’t part of the plan originally.
“Was that your mom?” Ben asked.
Paul stared wide-eyed at Chris. Chris stared back just as wide-eyed. Liza imitated the two and smiled.
“I said, it’s all really old news!” she shouted. “As an aunt I can tell you that Billy has been pining for Ben this entire month.
Paul and Chris’s eyes widened. This was news to them.
“Correct me if I’m using the word wrong, but I would might describe him as thirsty for Ben.”
Chris covered his mouth with a hand to stop from laughing.
“You got it right!” Paul replied, louder than ever. “Thirsty is the perfect word to describe Billy and his ongoing lust for Ben.”
Ben and Heather’s jaws dropped simultaneously. Either her mother was really good at improv, or Billy had been spilling more to his aunt than his cousin, Heather thought. For the record, Liza was quite adept at improv, her all-female college improv group one several regional tournaments, but none of that was relevant for what she shouted bluntly into the garden was entirely true.
“Are they lying?” Ben asked.
It was very clear to him now that Liza, Paul, and Chris were somewhere else in the garden.
“I don’t know,” Heather said, legitimately unsure herself at this point. “I don’t see any reason they would have to lie.”
“True,” Ben replied.
He was still not entirely convinced.
“And I hear he really has a thing for Ben’s moustache,” Chris shouted.
Ben peed a little.
“Oh don’t get me started on that moustache,” Liza shouted. “Billy made some moustache-ride comment that no aunt wants to hear from her nephew.”
Paul and Chris stared at one another. Paul’s eyes said ‘I hope to god that isn’t true, but it also really sounds like Billy’. Chris’s eyes said ‘I know the exact episode of Parks and Recreation he stole that joke from’ and also ‘do I need to grow a moustache now?’. Liza stared at the two with a ‘do we leave now?’ look.
Words unspoken, the three strode, quietly this time, back to the house. As they reentered they encountered a robe-clad Billy holding a coffee cup of his own.
“Up so early?” Liza laughed.
“We do have guests,” Billy replied. “And this morning feels like a ‘coffee outside’ morning.”
He put in his earbuds and exited the house.
“Wow,” Ben said, taking seat on a bench.
“Wow,” Heather replied.
“It’s so sad,” he said.
Heather turned to Ben. This was not the reaction she was hoping for.
“That poor thing must be obsessed with me.”
This really wasn’t the reaction she was hoping for.
“Or maybe it’s cute?” Heather said, unsure what her expression to make.
Ben sighed loudly.
“I guess I might have to take him back,” he said in an overly-verbose manner. “You know, in a sort of charity way.”
Heather smiled, nodding.
“Yes, yes, I agree,” she said. “Just sixty-three cents a day. Perfect. Sarah McLachlan is shook.”
Ben wasn’t sure what to make of Heather’s reply, but was stopped short in his thought by the arrival of Billy.
“Heather, why would you taint morning garden coffee with this one,” Billy said, popping his earbuds out.
The bench was only fit for two, so Billy hovered. Ben turned his face to make his moustache as prominent as possible.
“Strong words from someone who doesn’t live here,” Ben replied.
“I might say the same to you. At least I have a familial relation,” Billy said.
“Familial or famil-evil.”
“That was terrible.”
“I accept that criticism,” Ben said. “And if you’re gonna sport boxers in the open you really should invest in a safety pin for the fly.”
Billy looked down in horror, closed his robe and left back to the house.
“Oh my god, he’s so into me,” Ben said, stroking the ends of his moustache.
Chris and Paul were lounging with Liza in the garden sunroom making that oddly warm chitchat that one does with one’s friend’s parents when Billy rushed past them hastily. The three turned to watch him as he exited.
“I thought we were supposed to get him in the garden too,” Chris said.
Paul agreed, getting out of his chair.
“I’mma tail him. You get Heather. Text me if things go awry.”
Chris got up and marched out the door. Liza remained in her chair, sipping her coffee amused and nonplussed.
“Ben, Heather! What are you two doing out here? Have you been here all morning?” Chris said, feigning worry.
Ben stood up quickly, looking back and forth between Heather and Chris.
“Oh, uh, no,” Ben said. “Haven’t heard anyone.”
Heather nodded to comfort him.
“We totally just got here,” she said. “It’s been very peaceful and quiet, especially since Billy just left.”
Ben nodded at Heather. He didn’t want Chris to know that they had overheard him speaking about him earlier, and he was glad she was playing along.
“Yup, full cup of coffee and everything,” Ben said, quickly raising up his cup that he had been holding at his side.
He put the cup to his lips and tilted his head back like a shot.
“Mmmm. All gone now though,” he said. “I do like me some iced coffee.”
“Yes,” Heather said. “Iced coffee in ceramic mug. You’re so quirky.”
She punched Ben in the shoulder and laughed loudly. Chris laughed back, finding it harder and harder to keep up the act.
“He is a riot,” Chris said. “A riot that should get out of the garden and back in the house!”
Ben gave a confused look, but obliged as Chris grabbed Heather’s hand and Heather grabbed Ben’s. Chris tugged the train to the door. They had finished their coffee, and Ben couldn’t think of a better reason to resist.
“Why do you need us, Chris?” Heather asked, over articulating each word.
“I need you because, lunch date,” Chris said.
“It’s nine,” Ben said.
“Pre-planning for lunch date,” he continued. “And uh, Ben…”
They opened the door and entered the sun room where Liza sat, still sipping her coffee, watching as though at a theater.
“Liza wanted to show you her fabulous wine cellar,” Chris said.
Liza looked from her daughter to Chris to Ben and back to Chris.
“Yes, indeed I do,” Liza said, standing up. “I wish to show the moustache man my wine cellar.”
She straightened her robe and began walking down the hall. Ben looked around and hustled after.
“My name’s Ben by the way,” Ben said.
“I’m aware, Liza said. “Now move quickly, uh, the wine could spoil.”
The two shuffled out of sight, leaving Chris and a very confused Heather. She started on Chris the moment Liza and Ben turned a corner.
“What the hell is going on,” she said.
“I’m trying to figure that out,” Chris replied, staring at his phone urgently.
Paul hadn’t yet responded to Chris’s request for a status update. Chris wondered whether it would blow their cover to call him. Heather smacked him on the head to get his attention.
Chris looked up from his phone.
“Well maybe you can answer. What’s going on with Billy? He sprinted through here like Ke$ha was on tour or something.”
“Oh yeah,” Heather replied. “He whipped his dick out in the garden and ran.”
Chris spat out coffee he wasn’t drinking.
“Accidentally, accidentally-” Heather started.
“How do you accidentally fla- aren’t you his cousin?”
“Boxers, robe, open fly. Ben thought it was hilarious.”
Chris took a deep breath.
“Did it work then?” he asked. “Phase one complete?”
“Yes,” she answered. “What’s going on with phase two?”
Chris texted confirmation to Paul.
“Well,” Chris said, still texting. “We were going to use the garden for both phase one and two, but if he saw you two in there already that’s probably shot. Plus- hold on Paul just texted me back.”
Chris read the text out loud ‘this house is a fucking maze. I’ve lost Bitchy Eagle 1.’
“Oh he’s probably in his room changing,” Heather said, grabbing Chris’s hand a heading out of the room. “Paul’s a fucking idiot.”
A warm tingle ran down Chris’s arm and through his body.
“The blacklight affects the wine less than other kinds of light,” Ben said, genuinely amazed. “That’s fascinating.”
“Isn’t it!” Liza said, shining the light through the cellar. “Have you ever read ‘The Cask of Amontillado?’”
“Well duh! Ben said. “Who hasn’t read Poe’s greatest short story? ‘Tell-Tale Heart’ stans, don’t @ me.”
Heather and Chris scurried through the house, physically running into Andy.
“Jesus Christ this house,” Andy said, catching her balance. “It is nine in the morning, why is everybody sprinting like Ke$ha is on tour or something.”
Everyone had a deep-seated love for Ke$ha and her diverse discography of amazing music.
“Everybody,” Heather said, out of breath. “Who’s everybody?”
“Well Paul was just running that way a bit earlier, Liza and the one with the moustache were running to the wine cellar? And Billy just about mowed me down a bit before Paul.”
“I thought Liza’s coke days were behind her.”
Heather grabbed her aunt’s arm and hurried onward.
“What’s happening,” Andy said.
She was not standing in an optimal orientation for the way that Heather had grabbed her arm. After a few yards off rapid sideways grapevine she shook Heather’s grasp.
“We need you,” Heather said, grabbing Chris’s arm.
Chris grabbed Andy’s, forcing her to spin once and continue with the train.
“Excuse me, I can walk like a sane individual,” she said, pulling from Chris’s grasp.
Andy stopped to wonder if this could be a manifestation of Liza’s child-leash use in Heather’s early years. Andy had discouraged the practice.
“What do you even need me for?” she asked.
Heather turned around to see that her aunt had stopped moving. Heather stopped herself.
“Chris, text my mother to get up here. She’ll probably be just if not more helpful.”
“I don’t have her num-”
“Let’s go,” Heather said.
The two started to walk away. Andy, offended, continued after.
“That is not a way to speak to your aunt,” she said, her tone one of mixed performative and sincere outrage. “What do you need me for.”
Billy rifled through the drawers. While he spent a fair amount of time at Liza’s he didn’t have a full wardrobe, which frustrated him. He was also frustrated with his interaction with Ben. And to top it all off, he hadn’t had his coffee yet. The whole morning was going poorly.
Billy yanked a pair of wrinkled black jeans out a drawer. They were black, so the wrinkles weren’t too noticeable. The pants weren’t skinny jeans by any means, but they were skinny enough that he had to lie on his bed, feet in the air, to fit them over his legs. As he shimmied his way into the stretch denim, he heard muffled voices outside the door.
“Oh, you two are the sweetest,” Andy whispered. “He really needs to a new relationship. Even a hobby would do. You saw how much he was drinking last night.”
“I just need your help finding my necklace!” Heather shouted, stepping into the room next to Billy’s. “I looked all night, and at this point I think I just need another set of eyes.”
Billy put his legs down and trained his ears. His pants were not yet completely on. Heather sounded like he needed help.
“Of course honey,” Andy shouted. “The more eyes the better. Except for Billy we don’t need him.”
Heather gave Andy a ‘stop being so transparent’ glare.
“I agree,” she shouted. “There’s simply too much underwear all over the floor that I would be uncomfortable having a male in here.”
Chris eyed the two, confused.
“Strike that, I would be uncomfortable having my cousin in here,” she said, loudly. “Exceptions include Chris, Paul, and women.”
As if conjured by his name, Paul turned the corner to find Andy, Heather, and Chris shouting at Billy’s door. The three turned in unison.
“Why hello there Paul,” Andy shouted. “Would you like to join us in looking for Heather’s necklace?”
“Why of course!” Paul replied.
The four piled into Heather’s room and shut the door. Heather turned the lock.
“Who has a deadbolt on a bedroom door?” Paul whispered to Heather.
Heather didn’t reply.
“So what does the necklace look like, Heather?” Chris asked, pressing his face to the wall between the rooms. “And after telling me, please detail your conversation with Ben this morning. He seemed frustrated, sexually.”
Heather joined Chris at the wall. Andy and Paul stomped around the room and opened drawers like two Foley artists after a long night of drinking.
“Silver chain, white pearls,” she said. “And boy was he sexually frustrated.”
Billy, midway through a second attempt to squeeze his pants over his butt, stopped yet again and lowered his legs. The voices were still muffled. He put his ear to the wall.
“Sexually frustrated in what manner?” Chris yelled bluntly.
His tongue caught the wall. It tasted mysteriously sweet.
“Oh you know, Ben,” Heather said. “Always talking about how the good one got away.”
“I can corroborate that,” Paul said.
Heather jumped. Eyes to the wall, she had not seen Paul sneak up next to her.
“The entire time we were in France he was all ‘Oh non. J’ai triste. Je ne passait pas l’opportunite de continuer etre petit amis avec Billy’”
“English?” Heather shouted in genuine anger.
“He said, ‘I’m so sad. I shouldn’t have passed up the opportunity to keep dating Billy’” Chris translated. “Except in really poorly constructed French. Ben didn’t really have a solid grasp on the subjunctive or the French language in general.”
“Is this your necklace?” Andy asked.
She held a blanket in the air.
“No,” Heather replied. “Remember, silver chain, pearls, and is that right that Ben is still madly in love with Billy?”
“Love, or whatever scrolling through his Instagram every night means,” Paul shouted into the wall.
Billy peed a little. Fortunately he had a change of underwear.
“Do we keep going?” Andy whispered. “Because I actually found your necklace.”
Andy held up a silver chain with gorgeous white pearls. Heather snatched it out of her hands.
“Holy fuck, I’ve been looking for that for months,” she shouted.
Chris and Paul shot dirty looks at Heather. Even if they wanted to continue, she had incidentally concluded their rouse.
“Well now that you have your necklace, why don’t we go to the wine cellar!” Paul shouted. “I hear that Liza is giving a tour that can’t be missed.”
The four exited Heather’s bedroom, Paul taking the lead. Heather grabbed Andy’s mostly-finished cup of coffee and splashed it on Chris, much to his surprise. Chris swore loudly.
“Oh no, your shirt!” Heather yelled. “It’s covered in coffee. Why don’t you go ask Billy if you can borrow one of his? I’ll take this one.”
Heather pulled Chris’s shirt off his torso and packed it into a ball. Chris stood in front of his friends and Andy smelling like coffee and oddly aroused.
“Good idea,” he said. “You can all go to the cellar without me. I got the tour last night.”
Billy pulled on his pants quickly, bracing for Chris as he opened the door without knocking.
“Hey Billy, do you have any extra shirts?” asked shirtless Chris. “Heath- I mean, I spilled coffee. On myself.”
Billy gave Chris a one over and tossed him a towel first. Chris wiped the remaining coffee off his chest and pulled on the basic grey crew neck.
“I heard you,” Billy said, staring directly at his now full-clothed friend.
“What you said about Ben.”
Chris scratched his neck, trying his hardest to feign embarrassment. This was a lot more acting than he was used to.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, staring anywhere but at Billy.
“My Insta feed every night. Now that’s just desperate,” Billy said.
Chris continued to look away from him.
“I’m not telling anyone,” Billy said.
“There’s nothing to tell,” Chris replied. “Sooo… You tryna get that dick wet?”
Billy contemplated the question of the century.
“I mean, I guess,” he said, his voice one of clear underplaying. “If he’s really that hung up over me, it’s only polite.”
Liza and Ben were halfway up the cellar stairs when the door burst open and Paul, Heather, and Andy trundled down the stairs.
“Oh dear,” Liza said, staring at the oncoming stampede of people. “No, nope, turn around. Visitation is over and even if it wasn’t, one flashlight is not nearly enough for five people. People have gotten lost in the past.”
“Oh shucks,” Paul said. “Guess we’ll just have to organically – and with reason – return back to our daily activities.”
“Well said,” Heather said. “I’m going to find Chris to go make those lunch plans.”
“I thought you were going to do that earlier,” Ben said, looking up at Heather.
“He’s a super picky piece of shit and they didn’t decide,” Paul said. “We should make plans too. Let’s go.”
Everyone exited the cellar, and dispersed back throughout the house. Heather found Chris and after a brief discussion and a Siri inquiry, agreed to stop by the local bakery / lunch place. It was much like a Panera, but they weren’t a chain and the prices were higher. Good coffee though. Liza decided for Andy that they would be going to an Italian restaurant that Andy had never heard of, and Paul – horrified of the group that resulted from this sick game of gym class lunch date lineups, agreed to head out to an American restaurant with Billy and Ben. Jon and his friends had yet to return from their morning activities.
Chris had expected to be more nervous on the date, but after the drunken mess he had made of himself, the cellar tour with Liza, and morning antics, a one-on-one lunch away from that house was a relaxing idea. Heather drove. The two remained quiet for most of the ride. It wasn’t a hostile quiet but a reflective quiet. A, not enough coffee has happened yet and it still feels like morning, quiet. Heather was quiet and comfortable behind the wheel, but carried with her a certain anxiety she couldn’t place. Her mother’s behavior the night prior had concerned her to a degree, but that wasn’t the first time she had given a cellar tour. The morning was chaotic, but Heather had a long list of people she had manipulated into sleeping with one another in the past. What was high school even for?
Heather pulled into the parking lot of the ‘definitely not a Panera’ and the two got out.
“This looks a lot like a Panera,” Chris said, holding the door open for Heather.
“I think the building used to be one,” Heather replied, holding the second door open for Chris. “But it went out of business because nobody in the area would be caught dead eating at a Panera.”
They walked to the front counter and ordered their food.
The second party had an equally quiet car ride, much to Paul’s enjoyment. Billy was unsure what to say to Ben, Ben was unsure what to say to Billy, and Paul was holding his tongue and hoping that nothing would backfire. Billy drove the party with Paul sitting shotgun and Ben in the back. Completely sober, Billy was oddly worse at driving than he was normally, which was not a testament or encouragement to drunk driving by any means. In either state of mind Billy was a terrible driver – Liza had connections at the DMV that had singlehandedly got him his driver’s license – but Billy refused to let Paul or Ben drive, Ben because of a superiority complex probably, and Paul because Paul was also a poor driver.
Ten minutes, three potholes, and two instances of a car justifiably honking at them, they arrived and piled out of the car. Paul reached the door and held it open, leaving Billy and Ben to do a back and forth two-stooges ballet of who would enter first. Ben ultimately entered, followed by Billy.
“Should I be worried about the latte?” Chris asked, smiling across the table at Heather.
Heather was holding a much-too-big ceramic mug of much-too-expensive coffee that was filling her up like no man ever could. She awoke from her coffee haze at Chris’s words.
“Worried?” she said. “I already paid for this myself, Chris.”
“No, not that,” Chris said, blushing a bit. “Remember earlier today when you poured coffee on me.”
Heather laughed, consequently spitting coffee on Chris’s shirt. Well, the shirt that Chris was wearing. It was Billy’s shirt, which made Heather care less.
“I would say I’m sorry about that, but we needed someone in with Billy,” she said. “Plus, the shirtless moment wasn’t too shabby.”
She winked. Chris shivered. Heather spat again.
“I completely forgot to ask how that went!” she yelled.
The restaurant patrons around her glared. Heather ignored them.
“What happened? Tell me everything.”
Chris took a sip from his cup, water, and told her how the scene had went. Heather was very pleased.
“Did you tell Paul?” she asked. “It was his idea to begin with.”
Chris pulled out his phone and composed a text.
Paul was in the bathroom when his phone received the text, but his phone wasn’t on the table or anything. Paul brought his phone into the stall with him like a regular human being who needed constant stimulation. Plus, he was trying his hardest to ride out the bathroom break for as long as he could. The moment they had gotten their food, Billy and Ben had really started going at it, not in a sexy way, well, maybe a sexy way, Paul wasn’t sure. From his perspective it was petty arguing that he did not want to be in the middle of. Correction: slightly offset and to the right of. The restaurant only had booths, and he was sitting next to Ben, so while he wasn’t in the crossfire of it all, it was still unpleasant.
Paul swiped away from Facebook to read the text. ‘Bitchy Eagle 1 is set’ it read. Paul texted back quickly requesting clarification. ‘Billy took the bait’.
That didn’t seem right, Paul thought, jumping slightly as another restaurant patron entered the bathroom and stepped into the adjoining stall. Paul ensured his phone was on silent.
“Apparently they’re still bitchy,” Chris said, putting away his phone.
Heather, who had just burned her mouth on too-hot soup, thought about it.
“What kind of bitchy though?” Heather asked.
“There are different kinds?” Chris replied.
“Of course,” Heather said. “At least with Billy. He’s got the ‘I hate you’ bitchy, the ‘I love you’ bitchy, the ‘you used to be my alcohol provider and you only stopped out of spite how dare you’ bitchy.”
“I’m just saying, a burger is not lunch food,” Ben said, hands up in surrender.
“And I’m saying that the only difference between my burger and your chicken salad is the type of meat and presentation,” Billy said, taking another bite and continuing to speak. “It’s all the same shit.”
Paul, who had returned to the table, sighed and took a sip of his water.
“You know, this pasta is pretty good,” Paul said.
“Great,” Ben said, dismissing Paul immediately. “I’m well aware of what I’m eating, Billy, I’m just saying that there’s a socio-cultural expectation of what one eats at what times. You have free will to eat whatever you want, but you have the same free will to jump up on this table and scream at the top of your lungs. It’s just weird to eat a burger now, and it would be more appropriate for you to eat something like a salad.”
“Socio-cultural expectations, Ben? You’ve literally eaten ass,” Billy laughed. “My ass.”
“Okay!” Paul shouted, looking around fearfully at the family of five with a toddler seated ten feet away. “Why don’t we tell Billy more about France! That’s fun isn’t it?”
“Eat any ass in France?” Billy asked.
“I don’t understand this text,” Paul said, showing Heather his phone. “He says they’re talking about eating ass. Is that code for bad food?”
“No,” Heather said, taking the phone and scrolling back through the messages. “That’s code for eating ass.”
Paul gagged a little.
“Is that a gay thing?” he asked.
“Not always,” Heather whispered, continuing to stare at the phone. “Do you mind if I text?”
“Go ahead,” said Chris. “I’m going to quick hit the bathroom.”
“So how’s book club been?” Andy said over a plate of something Liza had ordered for her that might have been duck?
“Oh you would not believe Darlene,” said Liza. “Complete alcoholic.”
According to Paul, Billy and Ben continued to argue and were directed to do so in a more family friendly manner. When Chris returned from the bathroom, Heather was still on his phone. She laughed.
“How are they doing?” Chris asked, finishing up his plate.
“Sorry what?” Heather asked. “Oh right, Billy and Ben. I’ve just been texting Paul. I think they’re fine. You ready to leave?”
Chris hesitated. She had been texting Paul. What did that mean?
“Because I am ready for the nap of my life.”
“Me too,” said Chris, grabbing his phone out of Heather’s hands and putting it in his pocket. “Lost my energy.”
Heather and Chris arrived back at Liza’s shortly before the Paul, Ben, and Billy bus. Liza and Andy had planned to be out longer. Stomachs full of food and minds full of thoughts, they all made their way to their rooms.
Heather and Billy walked split away from the guests to their own rooms. Both found silver embossed cards laying on their beds.
“Oh lord, what is this,” Billy asked, picking up the card and stepping over to Heather’s room.
Heather was holding an identical card. They were invitations to another party.
“Again?” Billy said. “I don’t know if I have the energy in me for a round two.”
Heather patted her cousin on the shoulder.
“That’ll come with the nap,” she said. “Liza’ll have your head if you don’t come. You know how she likes her parties. Plus, this one’s bound to be more low key than last night. Nothing crazy.”
“You better be right,” Billy said.
“Plus, I’ll probably be spending more time with Chris this time, so you can use tonight to, uh, reconnect with friends.”
Heather winked. Billy left the room, mulling over those words.
Heather examined the card for a dress code.
It was both Henry and Henrietta’s first day of work. Security for the gated community had a surprisingly high turnaround rate, and the two had been hired on at the same time. They arrived at the office building prior to noon and found Darlene, the hiring manager and head of security, waiting to greet them. She stood with Verne, assistant manager and lead regional supervisor.
“Welcome, welcome. We’re glad you two could start on short notice,” Darlene said, shaking their hands in turn. “You were the only two applicants, so I think you’ll be great.”
She beamed a smile at the two. They smiled back just as eagerly. She handed the two notepads and pencils and took a seat at a table. Henry and Henrietta followed suit. Darlene took out a three-page packet and flipped it open.
“This job is very easy, very basic, so please take copious notes,” she said.
She put on a pair of glasses.
“We train with you for now, and then we’ll see how you two fair on the night shift.”
Henrietta raised her hand.
“Yes, the girl,” Verge said.
“How long does the night shift last?”
“We usually run a strictly sun-based schedule,” Darlene said, shoving a handful of Big League Chew into her mouth. “Starts at curfew, ends at sunrise. To keep things simple tonight we’ll do a eight to six.”
Henry raised his hand this time.
“Yes, the boy,” Verge said.
“It’s noon now. Are we going to get a break?”
“Of course! The whole purpose of training is to break you in.”
“No, like, that’s eighteen hours. Do we get to go home at any point?”
Darlene and Verge looked at one another, confused.
“Do you want this community to be unsafe?” Darlene asked. “You know what, how about this, if you finish training before midnight, you can have the interim period to do whatever you kids do these days.”
“I’m nineteen…” Henry whispered.
“Same,” Henrietta whispered in reply.
“Though, back when I did my Master’s in Business Administration, the motto always was, ‘the more training the better’” Darlene continued. “So we’ll try to go for as long as possible. First question: Are you honest people?”
Henrietta and Henry nodded fervently.
“That’s a good answer,” Verge whispered to Darlene.
“What if they’re lying?” Darlene whispered back.
“They said they were honest; honest people don’t lie.”
Darlene continued in a full voice.
“Are you ready for your first assignment?”
Henrietta and Henry nodded.
“There are two separate positions to be filled at all times,” Darlene said.
“This is better with a visual aid. Verge, go get the model.”
Verge nodded and left the room. Less than a minute later he returned with box approximately the size of a standard board game. He set it down on the table and opened it. Much like a board game box, inside there was a board and several pieces. Henry and Henrietta looked at one another confused. Verge spent the next few minutes putting together what was eventually revealed to be a model of the neighborhood.
“Now I know what you’re thinking,” Darlene said, looking at the faces of the new hires. “It’s not to scale. And you’d be right. The cul de sac less square than the model makes it out to be, but there are only so many online board game manufacturer’s that will produce ready-to-use prototypes like this in quantities of under one hundred.”
Henrietta and Henry nodded.
“So back to your duties.”
Verge pulled out one of those baton-like teacher’s pointers that were a thing before laser pointers got cheaper and smart boards took over schools like lice. He pointed at the gate at the opening of the cul de sac.
“You may remember this gate; you entered through it to get here. It is much like the gate on this model except much larger,” Darlene said.
Henrietta and Henry nodded.
“There is language in the neighborhood code of security duties indicating that someone must be present in the gate at all times,” she said. “Prior to your hiring and right after our last two security guards were lost to the food service industry, Verge and I have been working twelve hour days trading off every four hours. It’s been an exhausting experience, but I think it has definitely brought us closer together.”
Darlene grabbed Verge’s shoulder and shook it in a ‘wow look at us being friends’ way. Henry raised his hand.
“Yes, the boy again,” Verge said, pointing the pointer uncomfortably close to Henry’s nose.
“Who is staffing the gate right now?”
Darlene and Verge looked at each other and looked out the window in horror. Verge stood up immediately, handed the pointer to Darlene, and left the office. Once the door closed, Darlene handed the pointer to Henry.
“Here you go. Verge usually does the pointing while I do the talking. Just follow my lead.”
“So as I was saying, someone should be covering the gate at all times of the day except for New Year’s and Christmas Day,” she said. “We think that was written in the code to give us the time off, but as it turns out there’s no way to keep the gate open for more than a few minutes, so we just work those days too.”
Henrietta and Henry nodded.
“To recap, one person must always be in the gate,” she said. “Secondly, during night hours, one person must always be patrolling the street.”
Darlene looked at Henry and then back at the model. Henry slowly moved the pointer away from the gate and to the street. Darlene stared at the road, actively moving her head in a circle, stopping to stare back at Henry.
“A circle,” she said. “Move the pointer in a circle.”
Henry traced the cul de sac once.
“Perfect,” she said. “In essence, one person must always be strolling through the street to ensure that the cul de sac is safe and sound. Does that make sense?”
Henrietta and Henry nodded. Henry stopped moving the pointer.
“Henry,” Darlene said with a condescending tone. “Why did you stop moving the pointer. I told you, one person must always be patrolling the street. Don’t nod in confirmation if you don’t actually understand.”
“I do understand-”
“Let’s not be terse with me on our first day,” Darlene said. “Now keep it moving.”
Henry kept the pointer moving.
“Now you there,” Darlene said.
“Henrietta,” said Henrietta.
“Oh that won’t do. Three syllable names are much too long. From now on I will call you Henri,” Darlene said.
“But my name is Henry,” said Henry, pausing his pointer motion and immediately starting back up after receiving a death glare from Darlene.
“Oh that does create a problem. How about we shorten your name to Hen,” Darlene said. “Does that sound appropriate Henri?”
Henrietta and Henry both said, “yes.”
“No no, I wasn’t asking you Hen. You already failed yourself with the pointer. Hand that over to Henri.”
Henry handed the pointer to Henrietta who began circling the cul de sac quickly.
“Good job,” Darlene said. “Though it may be of note that you won’t be able to actually move at that speed. As I’ve said, the real cul de sac is much bigger.”
Henrietta and Henry nodded.
“Now on to assigning tonight’s duties. Henri, I think you’ve proven yourself as patrol with your work just now. Hen, you will operate the gate. Is that clear?”
Henrietta and Henry nodded.
“Perfect. Verge, go get the lantern.”
Verge, who was at the gate and not in ear shot, did not respond. Darlene scowled.
“I guess if you want to get something done you do it yourself,” she said.
She left the room, leaving Henrietta and Henry alone to listen to the sounds of the pointer circling the model cul de sac. Darlene returned with a lantern that looked as if it were plucked from a thousand-year-old shipwreck.
“The gate has lights in it, but what you may not know is that not working in the gate means you do not have a light,” Darlene said.
She reached out her arm to hand Henrietta the lantern.
“Should I stop?” Henrietta asked, pointing to her circling hand with her free hand.
“Henri, if you are unable to complete the duties assigned to you, we may need to have a discussion about your behavior,” Darlene said, thrusting the lantern into Henrietta’s free hand. “This is the only lantern we have, so be careful.”
Henrietta and Henry nodded.
“That was not directed at you Hen,” Darlene said. “You have lights in the gate.”
“The rest of your training will take place outside. Let’s go.”
Darlene marched right out the door. Henry followed. Henrietta, sincerely unsure, set down the pointer and the lantern and followed after Henry. As she closed the door Darlene scolded her, reminding the both of them that only the gate had lights in it and that Henrietta needed to bring the lamp. Henrietta returned to the office, grabbed the lamp, and head back outside.
Darlene was not wrong about the dimensions of the cul de sac. The model was shaped quite circular, whereas the cul de sac in real life was like if someone had tossed a long rubber band onto a table. Darlene took the lamp from Henrietta and stepped onto the sidewalk, beginning the circular stroll.
“This lamp is to be held by the lead of the patrol, so we should decide who will lead the patrol when you two are working.”
Henrietta and Henry looked at one another. Darlene looked at the two.
“Henri, would you like to volunteer to be the lead of the patrol?” Darlene asked. “Or would you like me to assign you as lead.”
“I volunteer?” Henrietta asked.
“Perfect,” Darlene said.
She handed the lamp back to Henrietta and strode along the sidewalk. They made two laps of the cul de sac in complete silence save the clunking of the lamp before Darlene spoke.
“Now that we have a feel for the walking, I can give you a tour.”
Darlene pointed to different houses indicating the homeowner, typical residents, and any pets that they may want to look out for.
“The biggest one here is owned by Liza,” Darlene said, smiling. “We have book club together every Tuesday night. Some of her family is staying this weekend including guests of family, so Hen.”
Darlene turned on Henry. He jumped.
“Expect more people than usual, and people that you haven’t met before.”
“I haven’t met any of them before?” Henry said, cautiously, having yet to work a shift.
“That’s what I said,” Darlene said, rolling her eyes. “But we’ll go through more of that when we train you on gate duty. As for patrol.”
Darlene looked at Henrietta. Henrietta straightened her posture.
“Remember the three D’s,” Darlene said.
Henrietta nodded. Darlene started to speak again, and Henrietta nervously interrupted her.
“I’m sorry, what were the three D’s?”
“Did you not read the handbook?” Darlene asked.
“We didn’t get a handbook,” both Henry and Henrietta said.
Darlene scoffed and glared at her two new hires.
“You should have asked them before we got out here. Now I’ll have to tell you all the acronyms myself,” she said. “The three D’s are no Drugs, Dogs must always be on leashes, and anything else Darlene tells you to Do.”
Henrietta and Henry nodded, committing this to memory.
“The neighborhood code unfortunately doesn’t specify what kind of drugs to prohibit, so to be safe you will not be permitted to self-medicate while on the clock, prescription or otherwise,” Darlene said. “We don’t need any more stoners than we already have.”
Darlene glared at one house in particular, three houses down from Liza’s.
“If you find someone breaking neighborhood code, you are to perform a citizen’s arrest immediately,” Darlene said.
Henrietta and Henry nodded, unsure of the legality of the request.
“We don’t have a jail cell or anything, but the office is always open for use and the closet can usually fit anyone under four feet tall,” Darlene continued. “And please refrain from arresting any dogs. We used to enforce that policy, but the last time Verge threw one in the closet it peed everywhere.”
Henrietta and Henry nodded.
“Do arrest people; do not arrest dogs. Here are some zip ties.”
Darlene pulled a handful of zip ties from her pockets and handed them to Henrietta and Henry. Darlene informed them that there were more in the office and more in the gate if they were to run out during the night. After that, Verge gave an overview of the gate, how it opened and closed, ID verification, and her own tips for the best ways to identify weed smell.
“Skunk is a bad comparison to use,” he said. “I’ve been informed by many youth in the area that the streets are full of them. Always spraying. Haven’t seen them myself, but I’m a good driver.”
The three returned to the office, and after giving Henry and Henrietta both copies of the handbook and contact information for the neighborhood residents, Darlene reluctantly let them break.
“Be back by eight at the latest,” she called out as the two shuffled out of the office quickly.
Post-nap, Paul took a car of friends in town to grab new clothes for the party. Liza – even after the repeated demands of her daughter – refused to give a dress code or color theme aside from ‘smaller party than last night, better fashion, and we will be using the ballroom.’ Heather and Billy stayed with Liza through the afternoon and helped set up the party. Help here referring to the contractors that Liza had hired rather than Liza herself.
“I didn’t know this place had a ballroom,” Billy said, arranging chairs.
“Oh we don’t use it much,” Heather said.
Though it was her own home, she did have to ask for directions when Liza said to meet in the ballroom, but to her credit she had lived elsewhere during college.
There wasn’t too much to decorate. The ballroom was gorgeous already. All that was added were a few silver ornaments here and there, a seating area for guests, a seating area for a seven-piece musical group that Liza had hired, and the bar.
The first to arrive was a woman who looked remarkably like Andy, but carrying a violin. Andy had never carried a violin. She was more of a bagpiper herself. Once the rest of the music section arrived, a viola, cello, bass, flute, clarinet, and bassoon, Liza shuffled away to go get dressed. Heather and Billy followed suit while the musicians tuned their instruments.
Liza was first to return with only the musicians and bartender present, so she left. Heather and Billy returned, Heather in a well-tailored floor length charcoal grey gown with a sweetheart neckline and pockets, Billy in a grey suit that was just a bit reflective over top of a hot pink shirt and white bowtie.
“The pink was a choice,” Heather said, stepping out of her slippers and into a pair of black two-inch pumps.
Billy was about to defend himself when Liza entered the room in wearing a gown of pure silver. She looked like pure mercury, and as she entered the musicians began to play. She pranced over, the sound of stiletto heels clicking as she walked.
“I paid them to do that,” Liza said, turning to the section and telling them they could stop. “Isn’t money wonderful?”
“It really is,” she said.
Paul and Jon were next to arrive, looking better dressed than frankly anyone in the room had expected. Well, it would be disingenuous to imply that the bartender or musicians would have pre-conceived expectations of the brother’s fashion abilities, but it definitely was surprising. The two wore standard matching suits, which Jon somehow made look considerably uglier just by the way he walked, stood, breathed, and existed.
“I hope we’re not early,” Paul opened.
“Oh by no means,” Liza said, staring over his shoulder at the door. “The invitations did say nine. Why don’t you four have a drink while I go look for my sister.”
Liza left the ballroom under the pretense of looking for Andy, but actually just to have an excuse to reenter with more people. Chris and Ben showed up, also in matching suits – they chose a dark navy. Connor and Bailey were last to arrive, Connor in all black and Bailey wearing a dress very similar to Heather but much limper, and no pockets.
“Oh no, you might have to go change,” Chris whispered to Heather after getting a good look at Bailey.
“I think we know who wore it best.”
Liza returned with Andy to flowing music. Liza was still in her silver dress and Andy was in a slightly duller and thicker version of the same, like if Liza’s dress had been washed a few too many times, but was also built for the winter.
The lights dimmed, the music played, and Liza quite aggressively demanded that everyone dance.
Heather, appropriately, paired with Chris. Heather had gone through a dance phase after her horse phase, so she knew what she was doing, Chris less so, but Heather was able to lead in a way that made it look like Chris was doing the work. The two spun around the dance floor in an effortless rotary waltz.
Connor and Bailey paired up immediately. The two were surprisingly swift dancers. This left Jon alone, and a charitable Andy swept in as his partner. Jon was a centipede of left feet and his hands were sticky.
Liza and Paul glanced at each other, back at Billy and Ben who were staring around the room nervously, and paired together. Liza lead with confidence and the two spun around, keeping eyes on the rest of the floor.
Billy and Ben paired together in performative reluctance.
“Are they together?” Liza asked Paul as the spun.
She had neglected to put in her contacts, which didn’t make her completely blind or anything. She had had Lasik, and without the contacts she could function, but faces were still a little blurry.
“Heather and Chris?” Paul asked, turning his head every which way. “Or Billy or Ben. It’s yes to both.”
“Good good,” Liza said. “I guess while I have you here, what are your thoughts on Chris?”
Paul smiled, continuing to step in time.
“Great guy,” Paul said. “If you really want a good review, I’d talk to Ben. They’ve been best friends for longer than I’ve known them, but I’ve only good things to say about Chris.”
Liza was comforted by Paul’s words. From her own perception, Chris was relatively harmless, but even the best of people use Yelp from time to time.
“He is a lightweight though,” Paul said. “I’d change that in him if I could.”
Elsewhere on the floor, Billy and Ben were battling hand positions.
“No, no, I’m leading,” Billy said, pulling his hand out of Ben’s and reorienting it so Ben’s was in his.
“Who said you got to lead,” Ben replied, shifting his own hand.
“I took Ballroom Dance 1 in college,” Billy hissed, taking back the lead and nearly running into Paul and Liza.
“I also took Ballroom Dance 1,” Ben said, moving his other hand to Billy’s back. “We were in the same class.
“Yeah well I took Social Dance in high school,” Billy quipped. “That’s got to count for something.”
The two continued to spin. There was something about the rotary waltz that made it so you really couldn’t be unhappy – unless you were Andy of course dealing with Jon’s sticky hands. The background turns to a blur from the spinning leaving your partner the only thing in focus like an Instagram photo. You feed off the push and pull of your partner with a constant joyful fear of breaking the rhythm. Billy stared at Ben and Ben back at Billy, and the two couldn’t stop from smiling, even if they were still bickering the whole time.
Joy aside, the two were objectively poor at special awareness, careening around the ballroom with reckless abandon. Heather and Chris’s dodged the gay loose cannon on the dance floor gracefully. They didn’t speak, but stared at one another smiling. One of those ‘conversations without words’, except not really a conversation, or if it had been a conversation, the only words exchanged would have been ‘I feel joy’ again and again.
The music ended and the couples broke their forms, Billy and Ben quickly, Chris and Heather slowly, and Paul and Liza last of all; Liza insisted that Paul twirl her out for a final spin. Everyone clapped, mostly for the musicians, Liza for herself. The crowd split up, most to the bar, and Jon, Connor, and Bailey to the seats. The music started back up.
“Oh my god, is she singing?” Bailey said, looking over at the music section.
The violinist was playing violin and providing vocals in tandem. Bailey was slightly aroused.
“You two still down for the plan?” Jon asked.
He sipped his drink. Scotchka on the rocks.
“Of course,” Bailey replied, taking a sip of her own drink, whiskey. “My purse is like, full to the zipper with lube.”
Connor blushed, and Jon grinned.
“We just need to ensure that Heather leaves for long enough and we’re set.”
Ben and Chris returned to the table. Billy and Heather were chatting with their parents back at the bar. Chris, who was only one and a half drinks in was already buzzed.
“Well look at you two love birds,” Jon jeered.
Ben and Chris stared back Jon, confused.
“He means you two independent of one another,” Bailey said. “It’s all very cute.”
Ben blushed, and Chris smiled sheepishly.
“You think so?” Chris asked.
“I mean, I always assumed that Paul would end up with her, but you seem to be doing a good job.”
“You two are absolutely adorable,” Liza said.
Heather smiled, but Billy shied away from the words.
“And I want you to know, Heather, that I approve of Chris. Word’s out on Ben though.”
Heather winked. Billy flushed and sipped his drink.
“You know for someone constantly rejecting the mainstream, you seem to be riding my coattails this weekend,” Heather said, playing with her dress.
Billy gave her a confused look.
“Oh you know, Chris and I start being a thing and now you and Ben are dancing again.”
Billy started to speak but was cut off by Heather.
“The change looks good on you,” she said. “The boy. Not the pink.”
“Well I think you two deserve a celebratory shot,” Liza said.
On Liza’s word, the bartender poured four shots of vodka which Liza, Andy, and Heather took. Billy hesitated initially but took the shot. He made a face.
The night continued as did the drinks and the dancing. Partners were swapped here and there, tripping happened, but all in good fun. As the night began to stretch thin, Paul flashed a hand gesture which Connor returned with a nod. As the music finished, ending the dance, Connor tapped on Heather’s shoulder. She broke from Chris.
“Could I talk to you over here?” Connor asked.
Heather, confused, obliged and walked with Connor across the ballroom away from Chris. Chris, quite drunk, made a brief vocalization of approval and sat down next to Jon. He zoned out.
“Do you need to pee?” Jon asked Bailey.
“Yes, yes I do,” Bailey replied.
She grabbed her bag and walked out of the ballroom, passing Connor with a wink.
Heather didn’t know who Connor was. Up to this point he was just another one of Jon’s creepy friends, but she was social-drunk and a little drunk-drunk, so she was willing to get friendly. Connor grabbed her hand and took her out of the ballroom.
“I’ll be back!” Heather called out to no reaction from the room.
The music started back up.
“Where are we going?” Heather asked, trotting along.
Connor walked quickly. He produced a ball of pink fluff from his pocket. Heather recognized the fluff.
“Why do you have the key to the cellar?” she asked.
“Well, Billy, Chris, and I were talking earlier today and they said that the cellar was super cool, and I never got to be here for the tour,” he said. “So I was looking to see if you could show me around?”
Heather thought for a moment, still following Connor. It seemed like a reasonable request. They reached the cellar and Heather led them down the stairs, carrying the flashlight.
“Damn, I left my phone upstairs,” Connor said. “Do you have yours? I’m having a hard time seeing.”
“Why yes I do!” Heather said, gleefully demonstrating that her dress had pockets. “Look at how it fits so perfectly into my dress. It doesn’t even leave a lump or anything because there’s already so much volume.”
Heather spun around and handed he phone to Connor.
“Thumb?” he asked.
Heather provided her thumb and opened the phone. Connor flipped on the flashlight and the two walked through the cellar. It was much bigger than Connor had expected, which was good. Heather gave the tour to the best of her abilities, explaining the black light and covering all the ground that her mother usually did when entertaining guests. They reached the far back corner with the barrels.
“The funny part about this is that some of the barrels are completely empty,” Heather said, grabbing one and tipping it slightly.
“Wild,” Connor, said.
“Oh! I almost forgot Mother’s stupid joke,” Heather said, shining the flashlight around the room.
She had no idea what wine was where.
“Have you ever read that Edgar Allen Poe story?” Heather asked.
She racked her brain for the title.
“‘The Cask of Amontillado?’” Connor filled in.
“Yes! That’s the one!” Heather said.
Heather was going to mention how there was an actual cask of Amontillado somewhere in the cellar that she didn’t know, but was stopped when Connor turned off his light and yanked the black light from her hands. He sprinted to the exit, pointing the light over his own path, Heather’s entirely unclear.
“Connor what the hell!” Heather yelled, her voice cracking. “Where are you going?!”
“I’m drunk and it’s a prank!” Connor yelled back.
He was not drunk and it was definitely not a prank.
“Connor if I bump into shit and knock something over Liza’ll have a cow!” Heather yelled to no avail.
Heather heard the sound of the cellar door open and shut leaving her in pitch black.
“This was a terrible idea,” Heather said, reaching out in front of her, stumbling blindly in the dark. “I’m going to have to talk to Paul about the people he lets his brother hang around.”
Exiting the cellar, Connor sprinted across the house and to Heather’s room where Bailey stood outside, waiting. He checked his watch; they were well within time.
“How’d it go,” Bailey asked, opening the door and walking in.
“Perfectly,” Connor replied. “She’ll be in there for at least ten minutes.”
Back in the ballroom, Chris was getting anxious. Heather had been gone for longer than he had expected, and given the current dancer pairings, he was left with Jon, and he didn’t want to dance with Jon. Jon had sticky hands.
“Hey Chris,” Jon said in a worried tone.
Chris turned to Jon. He really didn’t want to dance with Jon.
“I don’t want to dance with you,” Chris said bluntly.
“You don’t have to,” Jon said. “Let’s grab Paul and head out for a second. There’s something you might want to see.”
The two marched over to Paul who was swing dancing with Liza, pulled him away and exited the ballroom, shouting back something about needing to pee. Only Billy, Ben, Liza, and Andy remained, but with the musicians and bartender it still felt like a party.
“What’s goin’ on l’il bro,” Paul said, drunkenly.
He reached over and ruffled Jon’s hair. Jon slapped his hand away. Jon led them through the house to Heather’s room. Paul and Chris recognized the room immediately, having had been in there with Andy during the morning’s charades.
“What are we doing here?” Chris asked. “Is Heather okay?”
Chris was starting to feel nauseous drunk, and that feeling fueled his fear that Heather might be ill.
“Oh she’s okay… maybe more than okay,”
Upon hearing the three sets of footsteps in the hallway, Connor and Bailey went to work, which wasn’t a euphemism. Connor got cold feet at the idea of having sex in the host’s bed and chose instead to dry hump fully-clothed.
“Oh fuck!” Connor screamed loudly, bouncing on the bed with the intent to produce a good bedspring sound, but failing.
“Oh fuck!” Bailey shouted back, doing her best to imitate Heather’s voice.
Chris’s ears perked up.
“Jon, what’s going on.”
Connor dismounted Bailey and the bed. He stood at the foot of the bed and rammed it violently into the wall. The headboard made a satisfying slam.
“Oh Connor!” Bailey yelled.
“Heather!” Connor yelled back, continuing to shake the bed.
Chris’s face drained to white and flushed to red in the space of two seconds. Paul looked at his friend. He hadn’t seen Chris like this since middle school. With a treble and a shake Chris lunged for the door, but was immediately apprehended by Jon and Paul. They succeeded in pulling him back, but not before he collided with center of the door.
Connor turned around sharply. Jon hadn’t said anything about Chris entering the room. He exchanged worried glances with Bailey and climbed back onto the bed.
“Get on top,” he said.
Bailey obliged, pushing her dress out of the way.
“She’s in there with you!” Chris yelled at Paul through gritted teeth. “She’s in there with you!”
Paul stared at Chris in utter confusion.
“Chris, I’m here with you right now, not in there. Do you hear me?”
Paul loosened his grip on Chris’s arm. Chris breathed heavily and dropped to his knees, crying. More banging sounded from Heather’s room, but it was not heard over Chris’s sobs. Paul kneeled down to Chris’s level. Jon stood by awkwardly.
“Chris, you are so much better than her,” he said. “You need to stop crying and start not giving fuck what or who she’s doing.”
Chris’s crying faded, and he looked up at Paul.
“Who…” he said.
He looked to the door and lunged at it. Had he been more sober or in a different mood, Chris may have not had had the quad strength to go from a near seated position to a dead spring in one motion, but he was fueled with a sudden rage curiosity and moved quickly, too quickly for Paul. Chris grabbed at the door knob and pulled. The door did not open, not because it was locked or anything, but because it was hinged to push inward like most bedroom doors.
Jon and Paul took that moment to lunge at the enraged Chris who managed to open the door. They tackled him to the ground. Paul reached to shut the door immediately, but not before all three caught a glimpse of a figure in a grey dress straddling a pair of legs.
Jon and Paul knew it was best to get Chris as far away from Heather’s room as possible. While the two disagreed constantly, they still had a fraternal telepathy though which they agreed to drag Chris halfway across the house. When they were out of earshot beyond reasonable doubt, Paul slapped Chris in the face.
“You need to get your shit together,” he yelled. “I know you’re mad, and I know Heather is being the most dishonest, terrible friend ever, but this is her house, and you can’t just break in on two people having sex! What were you planning on doing when you got in there?”
Chris continued to pant. His head was less clear than it had ever been. His thoughts were completely gone and his mind functioned only in pictures. All he could see was Heather on that bed.
Paul slapped him again. Chris looked up at Paul.
“What,” he said.
“I need you to be civil.”
Chris took in the words but didn’t really process them.
“Before you ran into that door, we could have walked away. She would have been none the wiser, and we could have dealt with this sober and another day,” Paul said.
He stared directly into Chris’s eyes. There was something about his face that felt sincere, but the anger welling felt much more appropriate to scratch.
“I don’t know if she saw or heard us, but there’s a good chance she did. Either way, you have two choices, Chris.”
Paul’s eyes burned into Chris’s.
“You either grab your shit and leave this house immediately or you walk into that ballroom like all we did was pee and pretend like nothing happened.”
Chris did not respond. Paul could tell he wasn’t listening.
“Tonight is not the night for this, Chris. Tonight we are ignorant. Tonight we are kind. Tonight we are guests.”
Chris’s brow unfurled, which Paul took as a sign of progress. Jon’s face was twisted too, but only because he was trying his hardest not to beam at his own progress.
“Do we need to walk outside for a bit,” Paul asked.
“I’ve got a joint if that’d help,” Jon offered.
Chris looked between the two and took a deep breath.
“I think I’ll be fine,” he said. “Let’s go back.”
During their chat, Connor and Bailey had shuffled their way back to the ballroom where they found Liza and Andy swing dancing their hearts out next to Ben and Billy who were drunkenly slow dancing to the most stylistically inappropriate music imaginable.
“What a great pee,” Bailey said loudly, taking large steps to return to the heart of the dance floor.
“And I vomited!” Connor said, brazenly. “Boy did I vomit. Too much to drink for me.”
Andy heard this last bit and broke from Liza, her mom-mode immediately engaged.
“Oh no, that’s not good,” she said, walking up to Connor. “Did you have enough for dinner? Let’s get you some water. We don’t need any hangovers tomorrow.”
Andy returned to Connor with the glass when a frazzled, frustrated, wine-stained Heather re-entered the ballroom.
“Connor!” she yelled, moving through the room like a corpse bride. “What. The. Hell.”
Connor’s eyes widened, and he did his best to hide behind Andy. Liza rushed up to Heather.
“Heather! Your dress!” she exclaimed. “How much have you had to drink?”
“Not nearly enough,” Heather said, quietly this time.
She strode over to the bar, took a tall shot of vodka and a deep breath and returned. Everyone stared at her waiting for her to address her state.
“You know what, it’s fine,” she said. “Dresses are replaceable. Wine bottles are replaceable. Connor was probably just having a little fun.”
She smiled at Connor through gritted teeth.
“You know what? It’s getting late, and I look like a mess. I might turn in early,” she said.
“Or, we could both do costume changes!” Liza said, trying to stir up a little fun. “Come on, it’s only twelve-thirty. Let’s keep the party going!”
Chris stormed into the ballroom flanked by Paul and Jon, and Liza got her wish.