“Christ, what now?!” Remi cried out over the music and chatter as he headed toward the front door.
Zayne fought to suppress a guilty cringe at the sound. He’d learned the hard way that when his cousins had said they wanted to invite “a few people” to their parents’ house, they’d literally meant a few people.
Unfortunately he hadn’t realized that when he opened the invitation to several of his friends… Who in turn extended it to several of theirs.
And so poor Remi and River had been forced to stand by and watch as the partygoers drank all of their parents’ expensive alcohol, ate all the food in the fridge… and wandered downstairs into Florian’s recording studio.
“Shit! Papa’s gonna kill us!” River had cried as her brother ran downstairs to retrieve the rogue party guests.
They’d used book cases to barricade both sets of stairs after that one. Maintaining damage control of one floor of the house was proving difficult enough… Especially with the seemingly endless string of new arrivals.
“Who the fuck let word get out about this?” River grumbled as her brother finally reached the front door.
Zayne shrugged, keeping his expression as neutral as possible. Beside him, Victoria almost looked as though she wanted to say something. To his relief, however, she remained silent.
“Um… hi.” An uncertain voice called from the open front door. “You must be Remi?”
Zayne drew closer, his curiosity getting the better of him. This woman sounded much too old to be a party guest.
“Remi! Hi!” Zayne watched as Rory practically threw herself at her big brother. He noticed that she was already in her pajamas.
Rory?! Oh shit. Zayne felt his eyes widen in surprise as he continued watching.
“Sorry if I’m, uh… interrupting something?” The older woman continued. “I tried calling the house phone, but no one was answering… Aurora had a nightmare, and wouldn’t go back to sleep. She just kept saying she wanted to come home…”
“Please don’t tell Mila I’m a baby, Mrs. Gerber.” The little girl begged.
“Never.” Her friend’s mother assured her. “I think she was too sleepy to even notice we left. Her Papa got her right back into bed. So don’t worry.” Mrs. Gerber smiled.
“Th-thanks for bringing Rory back home, Mrs. Gerber… We, um… appreciate it.” Remi’s smile was so forced. “And thank you for having her.” He ushered the woman out the door without another word, closing it behind her with a small bang.
“What the fuck are we gonna do, Remi?!” River raced to her brother’s side immediately. “She can’t stay here tonight!”
Oblivious to her siblings’ panicking, Rory practically ran across the room to Zayne, beaming at him. “Hi Zayne!” She called sweetly, then gave a small wave to Charlie, who stood just a few feet away. “Is this a party? I love parties! Who are all these people? Will you introduce me?! What’s everyone drinking? Can I have some?” Her sentences strung together into a barely-intelligible mush of words.
Without warning, she reached for one of the cans on the coffee table, raising it to her lips.
“Rory, NO!” Five voices cried out in unison as Zayne, Charlie, Ben, Remi, and River raced forward to stop her.
“GROSS!” Rory dramatically threw the can to the ground. “It tastes like somebody mixed together cough syrup and cat pee!”
Despite everything, her siblings and cousins couldn’t help but laugh at her description.
“That’s right.” River agreed. “It’s disgusting.”
“Then why do you drink it?” The little girl asked.
Remi smiled. “It’s a grown-up thing.”
“But… Zayne’s not a grown up.”
“Huh? What do you mean?” Victoria asked curiously.
Zayne felt fairly certain he was going to die. Oh fuck.
“He’s not a grown up.” She repeated. “I know he really wants to be, but he’s –”
“Hey Rory, I hear you like Void Critters.” Coleen’s sweet voice suddenly cut-in, interrupting whatever proclamation the little girl was about to make. “Is that true?”
Zayne could have kissed her.
“Uh-huh!” Rory smiled proudly. “Remi and River taught me how to play! Do you wanna see?!”
“I’d love to. Let’s go up to your room and check it out.”
Thank you. River mouthed gratefully to her girlfriend as the two of them headed toward the stairs.
“Hey, why’s there a bookshelf here?!” Rory’s cry of confusion was the last they could hear from the pair as their voices slowly melded with the sounds of the rest of the party.
Remi let out a slow, deep breath. Had he been holding it? “Jesus, that was close… Riv, you call Onkel Auggy. I’ll check with Tante Jossy… We’ll see if either one of them can take Rory for tonight.”
His sister nodded in agreement. “We’re not gonna tell them about the party though… Right?”
“Are you kidding? They’d tell Mama and Papa in a heartbeat!”
With a final nod of confirmation, the twins pulled out their phones and headed off in search of quiet corners where they could make a phone call.
Zayne’s heart was racing so loudly in his chest, he felt certain the entire party would be able to hear it. Maybe Victoria didn’t notice. He told himself. Little kids say dumb stuff all the time. Maybe she –
“Zayne?” Her voice nearly made him jump. “What the hell was that about?”
To Zayne’s horror, a few of his friends in the area around them seemed to be looking in their direction. Had they heard Rory too? Fuck fuck fuck.
“No idea.” All he could do was hope he sounded natural. He forced a small laugh. “Gotta love kids, right?”
Unfortunately, Victoria did not look entirely convinced. “I guess… I just –”
Zayne had never been more grateful to hear the doorbell in his entire life.
Unfortunately Remi did not seem to share his enthusiasm. “J-just a second, Tante Jossy.” He muttered, placing his hand over the receiver for a moment. “Zayne… Get the door and tell whoever it is to go the fuck home.” In an instant, his false cheerfulness returned as he returned to his conversation. “Sorry about that… Yeah, he’s right here. I’ll tell him you said hi. Uh-huh. Just a few friends, yeah… No big deal…”
The rest of the conversation faded away as Zayne headed for the door.
The face on the other side was one of the last he’d been expecting to see. “Dom?!”
“Hey, sorry I’m late.” His friend smiled. “Had to basically sneak out… You know how my parents can be.” Dom rolled his eyes.
Zayne forced a small laugh. “Yeah. Well… I’m glad you could make it.”
What the hell? Who invited him? Did I invite him and forget?! Panic began bubbling up inside of him. What was he supposed to do now? He couldn’t ignore Dom, could he? But then, what if people started questioning why he was hanging out with someone so young? What if they figured out they’re the same age? What about Victoria?
One hour and several drinks later, Zayne no longer cared.
And thankfully, neither did any of the other party guests. Aside from a few curious whispers of “Hey, who invited the kid?” no one really commented on Dom’s presence at the party.
In fact, after Remi returned from dropping Rory off with Auggy and Noah, Branden practically dragged Dom into their game of Truth or Dare. “We’ve gotta get the kid in on this! Come on!” By that point, Remi and River had given up on any attempt at stopping the party, so they each grabbed a drink and joined the others. Zayne somewhat uncertainly followed suit.
“Alright, I’ll go first.” Leah called out before anyone else could volunteer. “Let’s see… Natalie. Truth, or dare?”
The girl bit her lip nervously. “Oh gosh. Um… Dare, I guess?”
Without another word, Leah crossed over to the bar and pulled out a glass. She began pulling bottles of varying sizes and colors from behind the counter, pouring a bit of each into the cup. After three, Zayne lost count of how many different types of alcohol she’d mixed together. At last, she carried it back over to the group.
“Drink this.” She said with a smile.
Natalie eyed the glass skeptically. “What is it? It looks horrible.”
“Exactly. Just drink!”
She took a deep breath and did what she was told.
The rest of the party guests whooped and hollered in excitement as she choked down the mystery concoction. “Oh my GOD.”
“That will make the rest of your night interesting…” Leah giggled. “Alright, it’s your turn.”
Finally recovering from her disgust, the other young woman scanned the crowd thoughtfully for a few moments. At last, her eyes rested on Mateo. “Okay, Mateo. Your turn. Truth or dare?”
“Truth.” He winked at her. “Ask away.”
Zayne silently began to panic as he wondered what would happen when it got to his turn… But he tried his best not to think of it as he waited for her to finally choose a question.
“Okay… Where did you have sex for the first time?” She asked at last.
“Hmm. Depends. How do you define ‘sex’?”
“I dunno… However you want to, I guess.” Natalie shrugged. “Just make it good. We want the whole story.”
Mateo took another swig of his drink before replying. “Okay, how about this one? I was fifteen, skipping out on my bio lab… so I decided to hide out in one of the empty classrooms. I think it was a French class or something. There were a bunch of posters I couldn’t read.” He shrugged. “Anyway, turns out this girl about two years older than me – Melissa, I think her name was – she had the same idea I did. Ended up hiding out from her algebra test in the same room I was. We were both bored as hell, so we started talking. One thing led to another, and the next thing I know, she’s giving me a damn hand job right there in the back of the classroom.”
“Ha! No freaking way!” Rich laughed heartily along with the others.
“Oh, it gets better.” Mateo continued, joining in his friends’ laughter. “The bell rings right as we’re, uh, ‘finishing up’… BAM. Students come pouring in getting ready for class. And we were still sitting in the back corner with her hand down my goddamn pants!”
The air was suddenly full of applause and laughter. “Ha! Those poor kids… Scarred for life!”
“Oh my God, Zayne, could you imagine walking in on a scene like that when we get to Fessler’s class Monday morning?” Dom could barely control his laughter.
A sudden quiet seemed to descend upon the room at his words.
Zayne’s eyes widened as he realized exactly what Dom had just said. Oh my God.
Without warning, the quiet was replaced by curious murmurs and questions… And that was even worse.
“Didn’t you say you were taking a gap year, Zayne?”
“Who’s Fessler? That’s not one of our professors, is it?”
“Dude, isn’t this kid like fifteen or something?”
“Remember what that little girl said? ‘Zayne’s not a grown up’…?”
“Holy SHIT, no way…”
But one voice stood out among all the rest. “Zayne, what the hell?!”
He wasn’t sure whether he was going to puke or cry or laugh or scream. Maybe all of them at once.
“Does this mean what I think it means?!” Victoria continued, looking at him as though seeing him for the very first time. “I mean, I never thought I’d even have to ask, but… How old are you, Zayne?”
His throat was so dry. How could he even find his voice? “I, uh… Um…”
The laughter that filled the air was deafening. It was cold and cruel and cut right through him. After months of pretending, the truth was finally out… In the worst possible way.
“You LIED to me?!” Victoria practically shrieked.
“He lied to all of us.” Damion narrowed his eyes at Zayne as he spoke. “Was anything you told us true?”
Victoria shook her head slowly. “I bet you don’t even work at that restaurant, do you?!”
“I do! I… I just… I wash the dishes.” Zayne hung his head in shame. This can’t be happening. Please, tell me this isn’t happening.
“Hey, this explains why he puked all over Gavin and Erin at Remi’s party! Poor kid can’t even hold down a few drinks…”
“Probably never even saw a real pair of tits before either!”
“And I guess that’s why he always bails so early at every party… Needs time to fit in a bottle before bedtime!”
“Jesus, Vic… You dated a kid?! Aren’t there laws about that where you come from?”
“Hey, lay off! Why is everyone being such a dick?”
“He’s the dick! He lied to us!”
“What’s your problem, Zayne? Why couldn’t you just tell us the truth?!”
“Guess he doesn’t have the balls. Maybe they haven’t dropped yet. Ha!”
The cries of confusion, anger, and amusement continued.
But Zayne did not stick around to hear any more of them.