“Don’t you dare tell anyone,” I stage-whispered to my fourteen-year-old brother Corey as we got closer to Reggie Wilson’s porch. The party looked like it had started hours ago. Kids sat on the front porch, drinking out of big plastic red cups and smoking cigarettes. My eyes widened. Our parents—my birth mother, who we called Mommy, and Corey’s birth mother, who we called Mama—thought this would be a good old-fashioned clean Halloween party, mostly because that’s what I thought it would be. The Wilsons were famous for the haunted house they put together for the neighborhood kids every year. Judging by the lack of strobe lights and headstones on the lawn, it looked like Reggie’s parents weren’t even in town.
“Only if you let me try a beer, Sade.” Corey smirked. He moved ahead of my best friend Jackie and me, and went inside. I stopped walking and stared after him. I didn’t think he would say anything to our moms, but you never know with little brothers.
“Don’t worry about him,” Jackie said with a wink.
A couple of people stared at me, pointing. I glanced down and slapped my thigh with the palm of my hand. “Shit,” I said, looking down at the Disney princess costume Mama had sewn for me. The ice blue dress fell to my ankles, the long sleeves and velvet fabric clinging to my body. Although I loved the costume, it just wasn’t sexy enough. I yanked off the dress, revealing the short fairy costume that Jackie let me borrow. The night air felt cool against my legs—about normal for Connecticut in October—but it didn’t matter. We would be mostly inside throughout the party.
“Relax people, nothing to see!” Jackie called to them as she helped me put on the fairy wings. I slipped my feet into her heels, shoved the white flats and glacial blue dress into my bag, and followed her inside.
I felt the eyes of everyone on the porch on me as we walked past, but the screen door closed behind us in seconds, shielding me from their smirks and head shaking.
There must have been a hundred people inside the house. Although Clarington is a small town, I didn’t recognize any of the faces we passed. Music boomed in my ears. People either danced, or stood off to the side drinking out of more big red cups. In the hallway between the living room and kitchen, even more people stood talking.
I followed Jackie into the kitchen, where three long tables were set up with cups all over them. Kids stood at either end of the tables, tossing a ping-pong ball back and forth. I turned to ask Jackie what they were doing and realized she’d gone ahead into the dining room. I hurried after her, my heart pounding, terrified I’d get lost or someone would spill alcohol on me, and Mommy would smell it and ground me forever. I hoped the dining room would be less crowded so Jackie and I could catch our breath and try to find Corey. It was even worse in there. It only took me a few minutes to see why. Kids were lined up with more of those red cups in their hands, waiting to get them filled at this huge metal drum in the corner of the room.
“Sweet, a keg,” Jackie said. Her mouth was really close to my ear. “Isn’t this great?”
“Did you see where Corey went?” I asked, but she didn’t hear me over the music. She grabbed a red plastic cup from a stack on the shelf and held it out to me. I shook my head. She shrugged and got in line. I followed her and tapped her shoulder. “Did you see where Corey went?” I repeated.
Before she could answer, the kids in the dining room started counting. A really tall kid was doing a handstand on top of the keg and had the nozzle in his mouth.
“Twelve! Thirteen! Fourteen! Fifteen!”
“Come on, Harry!” a blonde girl yelled, jumping up and down.
“Twenty! Twenty-one! Twenty-two!”
I wondered how he didn’t fall down, or pass out from holding his breath for so long. I poked Jackie. “What’s he doing?”
She rolled her eyes, and I blushed. “It’s a keg stand. You drink upside down for as long as possible. You get drunk faster that way.”
“Oh. Uh … okay. Are you doing one?” I really wanted to ask her when she started to care so much about getting drunk, or even how fast she got drunk, but I already felt stupid enough.
“Hell no! I have to walk home!” She grinned. “Why, do you want to?”
I shook my head. “No way! Remember when we used to do handstands and get dizzy?”
She wrinkled her nose. “Yeah, I guess it can’t be all that fun, then.”
“Thirty-five—oh!” Everyone’s gasps rippled through the crowd. Silence fell over the room.
We looked up. The kid doing the keg stand sat on the floor looking dazed. A couple of people helped him up from the floor, then helped someone else get up onto the keg.
I watched the first guy—Harry—gag with his hands on his knees, hunched over the garbage can. I tapped Jackie again. “I’m gonna go see if I can find Corey,” I said. “I’ll be right back.” I headed back toward where I thought the kitchen was, but without Jackie, the house seemed much bigger.
I tried to remember how to get back to the dining room. I spotted a door that I thought looked familiar and went inside. Music videos flickered on a TV, but I couldn’t hear them over the music. Several people sprawled all over couches, making out and rubbing their hands all over each other. One girl even had her shirt off and her bra unhooked. I rolled my eyes and left the room quickly, heat spreading across my cheeks. I went straight back through the hall and found myself in the kitchen.
“Hey!” Someone touched my arm.
I whirled around, swaying in Jackie’s heels, a little off-balance from stopping so abruptly.
A girl dressed in rainbow colors, her blonde hair dyed to match, nodded to me. “We need an extra player. Danielle’s too drunk. You down?”
I glanced at the long tables and shrugged. “I’m looking for my brother, but maybe later.” I didn’t think there would be a later, but I didn’t want to look lame.
“Aw.” She sighed.
“I just wanna make sure he’s all right.” I smiled like I was a pro at big, crazy drinking parties.
“Oh no, he didn’t drink too much, did he?” She took a sip from a brown glass bottle. I didn’t recognize the name on the label, but I doubted it was soda.
I shook my head and laughed. “Corey? Yeah right. He’s never even had a beer.”
Even though I was a year older than Corey, I’d never had a beer, either. I wasn’t about to tell her that, though. She had a metal ring through her nose, a couple of tattoos, and something told me the dye in her hair wasn’t the temporary stuff Mama allowed us to use.
She laughed. “I’m Olivia.”
“Sade,” I said, pronouncing it extra hard—Sha-day—so she got it.
“Like the singer?”
I cringed. I’ve never even listened to her music, but I don’t plan on starting anytime soon. People always assumed I was named after her. “Like the chick standing in front of you,” I said, my face hot. The words stumbled out of my mouth and I regretted them almost instantly. I swallowed hard, hoping she wouldn’t take offense.
Olivia laughed again, though, her eyes sparkling.
“I’m getting thirsty!” A guy with dark hair and a goatee drummed his knuckles on the table. He looked older—a lot older.
Olivia winked at me. “So, you playing?”
“Let me go get my friend first. Be back in two minutes!” I said, and headed toward the dining room.
“Aw, come on,” the older guy said as I left.
I found the dining room, but Jackie was nowhere to be seen. I went back into the weird little hallway I’d walked through earlier, and stood in front of the door to the make out room. I did not want to go back in there. I headed back to the kitchen and rejoined Olivia. “I have no idea where my friend went. Did you see a little blonde Puerto Rican girl in a sailor costume?”
Olivia shook her head. “Blonde Puerto Rican?” She lifted an eyebrow at me. “Isn’t that, like, an oxymoron?”
I started to explain that nothing about Jackie was ordinary. She was Puerto Rican with blonde hair and blue eyes, and didn’t speak any Spanish. She could dance and usually had a line of boys chasing after her. She knew how to make me laugh and kept my secrets. We had met in kindergarten and became best friends when another girl stole my lunch money and Jackie kicked her until she gave it back. I couldn’t sum up almost ten years of friendship in just a couple of words, though.
“We playing or what?” the older guy demanded.
Olivia rolled her eyes and turned to me. “You’re on my team. You ever play?”
I decided to just go for it. I figured Corey was off having his own fun, and Jackie obviously was, too. There was no reason why I shouldn’t, either. I hesitated, though, because I didn’t know what they were playing. I wondered whether I should try to wing it and make myself look dumb, or admit that I’ve never been to a party and look even dumber. “The rules are so different everywhere,” I said, inspired by a poster board taped to the wall with “House Rules” written in big, black letters.
“Okay,” she said, “obviously, you have to get it in. You can’t bounce it off the table, and clean catches don’t count. If it hits two cups, they,” she jabbed a finger at the older guy and his partner, a short blond guy that at least looked like he was still in high school, “drink one each. If you knock one of their cups over, it doesn’t count. You drink. That’s pretty much it. Got it?”
I nodded. She handed me a ping-pong ball. It felt weightless between my fingers.
“Me first,” she said and, with a flick of her wrist, sent the little ball sailing over the table. It just missed one of the cups. I realized the cups were lined up in a triangle, with the tip pointed toward the opposing team. “Your turn,” Olivia said.
I swallowed hard and stared at a cup in the second row. There is a reason I don’t play sports. Please don’t make me look stupid, I thought as I tossed it over. I squeezed my eyes shut.
“Yay!” Olivia squealed, and hugged me. I opened my eyes. The guy with dark hair set the cup to the side and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
The game went by super fast. The next thing I knew, Olivia and I won and were “racking up” again to play against two other guys. Her friend, the still-drunk Danielle, cheered us on from a chair on the side, smoking cigarette after cigarette. She kept offering me one, but I said no each time. The only person I smoke with is Jackie, and even then, it’s only once in a while. Cigarettes are too gross to get hooked on.
I expected beer to taste nasty—since neither Mommy nor Mama ever drank it—but it was kind of fizzy, like soda, but the color of ginger ale, bitter and wet, kind of like the yeast Mama used for baking. I loved drinking the foam the most.
Each time we started a new game, Olivia reached into a box and pulled out two or three cans of beer. The first time, I watched her fill the cups with just over a mouthful, maybe two, but after that, I started filling them. By our third game, I was filling the cups with three or four mouthfuls, and Olivia laughed each time.
“You are gonna get us smashed,” she said, hugging me and leaning on me. “I feel so good right now! How’re you feeling, girl?”
I nodded. I barely noticed the rough words in the rap blaring over the speakers anymore, and the boom of the bass made me want to dance. Everything—even when I missed a cup or knocked one of the guys’ cups over—made me laugh.
As we racked up our fourth game, I heard someone shouting my name. I turned and saw Corey pushing through the crowd watching us play. “Sade!” he yelled.
“What?” I finished filling our cups. “What’s wrong?”
“Okay,” I said, and tossed the ball. “So what?” I froze as my younger brother’s words sank in. “Oh shit. Olivia, I have to go!”
“Aw!” She pouted, then turned to her friend. “Danielle, can you play another game?”
I followed Corey, tripping awkwardly in Jackie’s heels. “Slow down,” I whined. “Where have you been?”
“Upstairs, playing Xbox with Reggie and some other guys. Where’s Jackie?” he shouted as we circled the downstairs part of the house a second time.
“I tried looking for her earlier. The last place I saw her was in the kitchen.” I leaned against a wall and yanked the heels off.
“We are in so much trouble,” Corey said.
“I know,” I said, my heart pounding. “I don’t think I feel too good, either.”
“No,” Corey said. “Look.” He pointed.
There, in the front door of the living room, stood our moms.