Michelle Taylor was having a Christmas party and I was invited. It was weird to be going to anyone’s party, let alone the most popular girl in school. Us goats didn’t have a lot of parties to go to. Not real ones anyway. Sam’s mom gave him a birthday party for his 13th birthday in their basement, but I have to say it was totally lame. We all stood around and drank punch and ate m&m’s from little bowls set around the room and nobody knew what to say or do. There were no games or anything. At least when we were kids there would be pin the tail on the donkey or capture the flag or something, now we were too old for that, but too young for anything else. We were supposed to dance I guess. Sam’s mom kept putting on records that Sam hated, disco stuff, but nobody wanted to dance and finally he threw a fit and said she had stupid taste in music and could she just turn it off. I think he was super embarrassed about how lame the party was and that no one was having a very good time and so that’s why he yelled at his mom, but I could see her face drop and she got really sad because she was just trying to do her best to make it fun for us, but we were impossible to please.
I was going to the party with Denise. We were going to meet at her house first and “get ready” which meant we would hang out in her room for a couple of hours curling our hair and getting dressed and playing The Carpenters Double Album, “Now and Then” and singing and all. I was looking forward to that. I wasn’t so sure about the party. I don’t do well in large groups. I’m more of a one-on-one person.
The news of the party was all over school. Sam couldn’t wait to speak to me secretly after school, so he cornered me in the hallway outside of Algebra.
“Are you invited?” he asked.
“Um, yeah.” I wasn’t sure how he would take my answer.
“Great, you can get lots of information for the cooty-catcher.” He said. “Call me as soon as you get home and we can brainstorm.”
“Okay… but I don’t think they’ll be revealing too many deep dark secrets in front of everybody.”
“You never know,” Sam said, “Just call me and tell me everything and I can figure out if it’s useable.”
“Uh, yeah, sure.” I said, because I wasn’t sure what else I could say.
“Here they come.” He said looking up the hallway, and took off in the other direction.
“That your boyfriend, Carson?” Steve Parnelli asked me as he and Michelle approached holding hands. They were dressed alike in matching wool sweaters that tied at the waist and had an Indian design around the bottom. Her pattern was pink and black and white and his pattern was blue and black and white, but that was the only difference. I kind of thought they looked like bathrobes, but the sweaters were super popular that year.
“No, Sam and I grew up across the street from each other.” I kind of stammered.
“I think he’s kind of cute.” Said Michelle in such a way as to make it seem like a threat.
“Yeah, if you like that sort of thing,” Steve said making a little gesture with his hand, bending his wrist and acting all girly.
Michelle giggled and said, “Stop it Steve, that’s mean. He’s Carson’s friend.”
“Oh, sorry Carson. I was just kidding, you know that right?”
“Yeah.” I said. “I’ve got to get to English.” I said, and took off down the hall.
“You coming to the party?” called Michelle.
“Yeah, I’ll be there.” I called back, and disappeared around the corner where I could finally react.
I was really shocked. I leaned up against the wall for a minute. I had never witnessed Steve be mean like that. I guess it was true that being on the inside gave a person a different view. I was feeling really confused, there were a lot of things to process here. Like for one, I wanted to go to the party. I was even sort of excited about it. But I didn’t like what I had just witnessed in Steve and plus I was mad at Sam and Sharon for making me feel so separate from them and putting me in this position and acting like they weren’t my friends, even if it was part of the plan… and then Sam, expecting me to gather information and report to him, like I was a soldier in his own private army, but he didn’t really care about me, it seemed… Also I was mad at myself for not standing up for Sam to Steve. The weird thing was, the only person I wasn’t mad at was Denise. I was looking forward to listening to the Carpenters and doing our hair tonight. Her mom would bring us cheese fondue with little crusts of bread and apples to dip, or something fun, and make a party of it before the party.
Denise did my hair in a French braid, like Judy had done, which made me want to tell her about Judy, so I did and she said, “Oh, you mean that creepy homeless girl? You know her?” She didn’t want to play the Carpenters that night, she was in a Bee Gees state of mind, she said, and put on the Saturday Night Fever album. Her mom wasn’t home and so of course no fondue. Denise’s dad came into the room and awkwardly presented us with a wooden tray that had a bowl of Pringles potato chips and two glasses of 7-Up on it. He seemed really nervous and sad and asked Denise to remind us of where we would be tonight.
“We’re going to be at Michelle’s, Daddy, remember?” She said in a sweet voice that made me envy them.
He nodded and said, “Be safe.” And set down the tray. It seemed like he was about to cry.
“We will, daddy, don’t worry.” Denise said.
“Denise, is everything okay?”
“Sure.” she said, “Why?”
“Your dad seemed kind of down.”
“My mom left us.” She said, really matter-of-factly.
“What?” I was in shock.
“She ran off with her boyfriend. I hope she never comes back, the witch.” (only again, she used the ‘b’ version of the word.)
We ate some chips and sipped 7-Up. Denise lent me some earrings she’d made with beads she’d bought from Bedazzled and lent me a pink satin hooded pullover shirt to wear with a pair of maroon velvet pants and a skinny gold belt, she had also lent to me.
“Don’t lose my earrings, and don’t spill anything on yourself.” She said as we walked out her front door. I was instantly petrified. I knew that I would do at least one of those things. I’m kind of a klutz and I lose things a lot, especially earrings. They just seem to fall off. But I didn’t say anything. I didn’t go back in and change into my own clothes like I knew that I should.
When we got to the party it was packed. I was surprised because I didn’t think there were this many kids Michelle would find worthy of attending her party. Denise and I walked in and everyone turned to look. It turned out they pretty much did that every time the door opened, but at the moment it felt like all eyes were on me and I’d never had that happen before. “Don’t worry about it, you look great!” Denise whispered to me, like she’d read my mind.
“Who are all these people?” I asked. “I don’t recognize half of them.”
“A lot of them go to Saint Mary’s and O’Dowd.” She said, speaking of the two Catholic Schools.
“Wow.” I said.
“What?’ said Denise, “You don’t think she would just invite our school? What a lame party that would make.” Then she saw someone she knew across the room, said, “be right back” and ditched me for the rest of the night.
Eons later, I was leaning up against a wall listening to Funeral For A Friend and watching, when Steve Parnelli approached me holding out a beer.
“No thanks,” I said.
“Oh, a good girl.” He said.
“I don’t like to drink.” I said.
“Have you ever?”
“Then how do you know?” he asked.
“So like, where’s Michelle’s parents?” I changed the subject.
“They’re upstairs.” Steve said. “They’re cool.”
I nodded. We looked at each other. He offered the beer again with his hand. I shook my head. He shrugged, guzzled his own beer and then started to drink the one he brought for me.
“Good song,” he said.
“Yep.” I said. “Great album.”
“You own it?” He said.
“Yeah,” I said. “I listen to it a lot in my room.”
“I bet you know all the lyrics to this part.” Love Lies Bleeding was playing now.
“As a matter of fact I do.” I said.
“Elton’s cool.” He said.
“Yeah, but Bernie Taupin, the lyricist, is why the songs are so great.” I ventured.
“You going to the concert?” he asked.
“Why not, you should come.” He said.
“Are you inviting me?” I asked.
“I guess I am.” He said.
“To go with you and Michelle?”
“Michelle’s not going.”
“Which mean’s what?” I asked.
“Which means I’m asking you.”
I looked up. Michelle and Denise were staring at me from across the room. Once again, all eyes seemed to be on me.
Maybe it was because of what happened next that I chose to put the info I’d learned about Denise’s mom into the cooty-catcher; I was so hysterical when Sam called me at home that night, it just came pouring out.
“He was just talking to me!” I cried. “They didn’t have to do that!” They didn’t have to humiliate me like that!”
Sam sort of snickered, it seemed, but then he got empathetic. “I’m sorry, Carson. You didn’t deserve it. They’re jerks” he said “and I’m sorry I made you hang around them.”
It was all over school on Monday. How Carson was trying to steal Steve Parnelli from Michelle Taylor and just then, how Denise Maura had noticed (and pointed out in front of everyone by the way) that Carson had gotten her period and ruined Denise’s best pair of velvet pants, and how Carson had gone crazy and started screaming at everyone like some kind of maniac and run out into the street crying her head off.