Trey disappears into the crowd and I find myself standing in the center of a room filled with semi-strangers, girls and boys that I’ve known for most of my life in some capacity but never actually had a conversation with. I get nods of recognition from some, looks of what I take to be shock from others, and, just like in school, ignored by the rest, which, to be honest, is the most comforting reaction possible. I find an open armchair in the corner of the room and plop myself down in it. It’s a good vantage point for surveying the scene and trying to push the thoughts of panicked parents/lifetime grounding/juvenile hall out of my mind.
“Hey!” A boy wearing a black T-shirt and black jeans over and sits down in front of my armchair of solitude. “Callie Poulin! No fucking way!” It’s Reggie, this kid from my art class whom I’ve spoken to maybe twice. “Callie Poulin at the motherfucking party!”
How do you respond to that? I go with “Yup.”
“Your art isn’t as shitty as you think it is,” Reggie says. His breath smells like beer and Doritos.
“I never said my art was shitty,” I say.
“It comes through in your work.”
This, I tell myself, is why I never go anywhere.
“You look beautiful in that armchair,” he slurs, tracing hearts on the plastic parts of my sneakers.
“You’re super drunk,” I say, in the kindest way possible.
“With love, maybe.” Reggie’s art, I should mention, is all “fertility goddess”-based. Boobs everywhere. Our teacher thinks it’s “remarkable.” I think he’s just obsessed with boobs.
“Can I tell you a secret, Reggie?”
He leans in and his Dorito/beer breath coats the air. “You can tell me anything,” he says.
“I think our love is forbidden,” I tell him, narrowing my eyes. “If we’re ever going to make it as artists, we need to keep this wild passion between us alive by doing the most dramatic thing we could possibly do.”
“Holy shit,” Reggie says. “You mean like—“
“Yes,” I say dramatically. “Celibacy.”
His face falls and he pulls back. “Yeah…” he says, and he furrows his brow, looking confused.
“I mean, that’s what a real artist would do,” I insist.
“I’m a real artist!” he says, defensive. Then he mumbles something about “inspiration” and wanders over to Tina Walsh, whose boobs are huge.
As I scan the drunken, giggling masses around me, I can’t help feeling like I’m doing this wrong. In the movies, this is the part where my true love comes to tell me something magical and we kiss, or I lose my virginity, or I get high and there are no repercussions, or I become the most popular girl in school by winning a dance-off. I’m 16! I’m supposed to be crazy and uninhibited! So why am I in this armchair, worrying about being caught, worrying about breaking my parents’ hearts, worrying about the way Bert is feeling his way under Glory’s shirt, worrying about Tina Walsh’s having to deal with the Mayor of Creepsville and his Dorito breath, worrying about Trey, who has seemingly disappeared, worrying about worrying? Do you ever feel like you’re just really bad at being young? Like you were born an 85-year-old woman and you’re just waiting for everyone else to catch up? This is my life.
“Whoa,” a voice says. “You all right?”
Trey is standing above me, holding a bottle of water, watching as my breathing moves from zero to 60.
“I’m fine,” I say between breaths. “I think it’s just the smoke in the room.”
He sits on the ground in front of the chair and takes my hand. This does not improve the panic situation. He hands me his water but I’m too nervous to drink it.
He says, “Do you know why I wear purple pants every day?” and I shake my head no. “I started having these panic attacks in like seventh grade, and they got so bad that my mom had to take me to a doctor and stuff.”
I keep nodding, trying to ignore the fact that (a) I am freaking out, and (b) Trey McCarthy is holding my hand.
“So I had to go to this outpatient thing every day and talk about feelings or whatever. And I went for a few weeks and gradually got better, you know? And then this one day I came in wearing these dumb purple sweatpants that my grandma had bought me for Christmas, and it was the first day in maybe two months that I didn’t panic at all. So I thought, you know, maybe purple pants were good luck or something.”
“Glory wouldn’t say so,” I wheeze.
“Glory doesn’t know about it. If you could not tell her, that would be good.”
“Why don’t you want her to know?” My breathing was coming easier now, but Trey’s hand stayed on mine.
“Because she’s like my sister, and I’m supposed to look out for her and shit. She doesn’t think so, but I do.”
“I think she can handle herself.” I nod in the direction of Bert, who is sitting alone in the corner, holding a bag of frozen peas on his cheek.
“There you are,” Glory says, rushing in from the kitchen, drunk on some awful-smelling concoction that she’s holding in her red plastic cup. “Let’s go, this party sucks.”
“What happened with Acqua di Bro?” asks Trey.
“We made out for 45 minutes, and then he said, ‘I really like you, Lindsay.’”
“Oooh,” Trey and I say in unison, a studio-audience reaction to a major burn.
“It’s 4:30 anyway,” Glory says. “We need to move.”
We leave as a party of three; either alcohol or Bertlessness has caused Glory to embrace Trey as her sort-of-brother, even allowing him to hold her up as she stumbles down the street, swearing at nobody in particular, reeking of cologne.
We get to his car and he helps her into the backseat. “She’ll be OK,” he says.
“I’ll be fine,” Glory slurs, resting her head against the window.
“I have to get her back into my house,” I say, starting to panic again.
“Don’t worry about it,” says Trey, and for the rest of the ride home, for whatever reason, I don’t.
The station wagon stops at the end of the street, and Trey and I shake a now-sleeping Glory awake. She doesn’t look happy about it.
“Worst party ever,” she groans. She is sober enough to make her way down the sidewalk with minimal help from me and Trey, and together we get her into the house, up the stairs, and into my bedroom, where she gives us both a hug and tells us we’re her “OK best people,” whatever that means. We somehow accomplish all of this with the precision of CIA experts, silent and untraceable, not even allowing a piece of glitter from Glory’s shoes to hit the carpet.
As I walk Trey back to the front door, I notice that my house is dark and silent, just as it was when I left. The only thing I can hear is my father faintly snoring. They never even knew I was gone. All that panic for nothing.
We sneak out onto the front steps, closing the door quietly behind us.
“Thanks for everything,” I say.
“Yeah,” he says. “It’s not a big deal.”
Just as I’m about to say something about getting away with it, the front porch light flicks on.
“Callie?” It’s my father’s voice. Oh shit oh shit oh shit.
“Cremation, not burial,” I tell Trey. “Don’t let anyone read any poetry at my funeral.”
My father opens the front door with a horrible look on his face. “Callie Marie Poulin, just what the heck do you think you’re doing?” Oof, triple name. I am dead beyond dead.
“It’s not her fault, sir,” says Trey.
My father knows Trey through Glory’s parents. He used to shovel our sidewalks for five bucks when he was in elementary school.
“Hi, Mr. Poulin. It’s my fault that Callie’s up so early. I just came over here to tell her that I’m in love with her. I thought it would be more romantic if I did it you know, at sunrise.”
My father looks at me, and I look at the stairs, because if I move my head my brain may explode from embarrassment.
“Well, uh,” my father says, “we, uh, declare our love at a reasonable hour in this family. So, uh, go home, Trey. And you go back to sleep, Callie.” He shuts the door and leaves the two of us on the porch, and I start to look around for harps and angels, because I’m pretty sure I’m dead.
“Well, I’m out,” Trey says, as if nothing has happened.
“I guess I’ll come back later today to pick up Glory,” he says. “And to declare my love at a reasonable hour.” He smiles and walks down the street.
Glory is asleep when I make it back to my bedroom, the disappointing smell of Bert hovering around her. Soon she will wake up proclaim the night a failure, and I’ll agree with her. But when Trey picks her up in the morning and I wave at him from my window, I will silently be thanking her. ♦