Today wasn't the best of days.
The longest short story I've ever written clocks in at a little over 5000 word, and as I continue pass that with this novel, I've started to get strong vibes of imposter syndrome.
Less vibes, more a drastic realization of 'oh yeah, this is my first attempt at a novel and it is gonna be a hot mound of garbage.'
As I continue on, I'm becoming hyper aware of how all my sentences look the same, how everything is too dialogue heavy, how none of the characters are different, and how it was a colossally terrible idea to adapt a play for prose without first cutting the cast down by like half.
Long story short, I had a sober moment of reflection in a Chipotle today after my phone died and all I had to accompany me were my thoughts and the fleeting sight of a pretty Chipotle worker.
Nevertheless, I took a look at some of my older writing to analyze what I did well then and what I'm failing at now, and the answer is very much so that I'm doing too much dialogue, or at very least, not enough thought, summary, and narration.
You'll definitely see towards the end of this addition that I apply that, but the earlier half not so much. I think for tomorrow my entire writing project will be revamping the hot pile of trash that is the first few thousand words and amping it up.
So anyway, here's my dumpster fire. Oh and if you haven't read my Day 1 intro, please do.
I'm also too tired to set up the title and the Ke$ha quote, so here's just the text.
“They’re a half hour out!” Billy shouted to the empty living room.
Not hearing a response, he shouted again, which was met with another silence. He decided that they were probably sleeping and that he might shout 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. 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. “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, fixing her eyes further out the window across the cul de sac.
She turned around. 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 quipped. “I don’t do well with drunk sleep. Don’t get enough of them REMs or whatever the hell is. Now where’s your dad’s liquor?”
“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 dad 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, smiled, and turned to address Billy.
“Where’s the good liquor? Your daughter’s being stingy.”
“Wine or spirits?” she replied without a beat. “Because most of the good wine is down in the cellar.”
Liza walked 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. “I need vodka in me now.”
“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.
Heather had made her way back to 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?”
“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 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. Go 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.
“France,” she replied.
“And according to my Snap Map, Jon and Paul are still in an airport in Belgium,” Billy said, showing his phone to the two of them.
“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 Chris and Ben 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. Liza looked 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.
“It was better and worse in a uniquely twisted way,” Heather said.
Liza smiled at the retreating figure of Billy, hugged his daughter, and watched his daughter out the door.
“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. 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. 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 and slid down in his seat as far as he could to the point where he could barely look out the windshield.
“Please tell me he’s sunburnt. Like, really really ugly sunburnt. The kind where you might want to see a doctor.”
Billy maintained his position.
“Is he 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.
“He really is a charmer.”
“And a fucking wild card,” Billy said, straining his neck to try to see more out the window. “There should be a sexuality registry of every man with abs or a toned ass.”
“That would be illegal.”
“That ass is illegal.”
Heather stuck her head out the window and alerted the three to their presence. 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 sat back up.
“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 house workers 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 lacked 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, bending 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. Ben 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.
“He went further back. I don’t know.”
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.
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. 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 father, 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 his other hand. “And please do call me Liza.”
“Absolutely, ma’am,” Paul laughed.
“Do come on in,” Liza said, moving away to let in his 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.
“He went that way,” said Billy, flinging his arm aimlessly, far from any actual direction.
“The wine cellar?” Liza asked, furling her brow; she shrugged. “Whatever floats his boat, I guess.”
“Not the cellar, the hall to the south. That’s where I set up his room,” Billy replied. “Tirelessly.”
Liza gave Billy a look 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. “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 him 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 in raising you?”
Liza chuckled and left the room. She was replaced by Heather, carrying a bag.
“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.”
“I hate to agree, but she’s right,” Billy said, throwing himself down onto an opposing couch and propping his feet up on the coffee table.
A vase wobbled.
“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 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, Mom, 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; he 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. 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.”
“Well, I was… I was thinking about asking her out,” Chris said.
“Five years out of high school and you still talk like you’re sixteen,” he said.
Chris threw a pillow at Ben.
“Okay, just because you haven’t had a boyfriend since Billy-”
Ben threw the pillow back at Chris.
“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!”
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.
“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.
“Andy, you know any food I buy ends up spoiling,” she said.
“Yes, yes. From the atmosphere.”
Andy popped the mint in her mouth. Liza gave Andy a playful glare.
“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.
“Well then I suppose you don’t want the latest gossip,” Andy said.
Liza looked up from her book.
“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.
“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?”
“Hmmm… could be.”
“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.”