Madison served herself some punch from the bowl in the kitchen, took a sip, and then rushed to the sink and spat it out. “What the hell?” she yelled, turning to see if anyone in the room could explain what she had put in her mouth. A boy held up an empty plastic bottle which, judging from the label, had contained grape-flavored grain alcohol. There was a stupid grin on his face.
“That tastes like mouthwash,” Madison said. “Is there anything to drink that doesn’t taste like ass?”
“There’s a keg in the back yard,” the boy said. He had a slightly southern accent, or maybe rural Ohio. Madison didn’t recognize him. “You have some mouth on you for a nun,” he added and then went for a high-five from his friend who declined the invitation.
Madison rinsed her mouth with water from the kitchen tap and then wound her way through the crowd back to the living room. She found Bryce sulking in the corner. “There is nothing to drink that isn’t gross,” she said.
Bryce held up his red solo cup. “This isn’t terrible,” he said.
Madison sniffed it. “I hate beer. I miss juice boxes,” she said.
“With the pointy straw glued to the side!” Bryce added.
“Yes. Except, I guess now straws are bad,” she said.
“No, I read an article in the school paper and this know-it-all girl said that they really aren’t a big deal,” he replied with a quirky grin.
“Shut up, Elwood,” she retorted.
“It’s Jake, thank you very much. Elwood is thin and tall and handsome, and I’m not speaking to him.”
Madison rolled her eyes inadvertently. It was instinct. She couldn’t help herself. “What is it this time?”
“Some kids found Fletcher’s parent’s coke stash. They’re doing lines in the bathroom upstairs. He wanted me to join him. And I was all, ‘gross, no,’ and he was all, ‘come on, don’t be a baby,’ and well, you get the idea,” Bryce explained.
“So is he doing it?” she asked.
“You should stop him. What kind of parents leave coke sitting around where kids can find it, anyway?” she asked.
“The kind who leave an idiot like Fletcher alone for the weekend while they go off God-knows-where on Halloween weekend. What did they think was going to happen?”
Madison looked around. Other than all the cups and a few crushed chips on the floor, the room wasn’t trashed. “It’s not so bad. People seem to be behaving themselves,” she said.
“It’s early. By the end of the night, the cops will be here, and the place will be a biohazard site. There will be people in hazmat suits trying to identify the substances on the carpet.”
“Lovely,” Madison said. “We need to leave before it gets that far,” she said. “You should go make up with Elwood so we can get out of here.”
Bryce looked at her with sad eyes and a frown. Madison waited. “Fine,” he huffed and headed toward the stairs.
Madison slumped onto a couch next to a sad clown. “Hey,” she said.
“Hey,” the girl replied. “Madison, right? The reporter?”
Madison turned to her and nodded. “Sister Madison tonight. Do I know you? It’s hard to tell under the makeup. Great costume, by the way. I’m glad I’m not the only one here bucking the slut trend.”
The girl laughed. “Tiff,” she said and offered her hand for Madison to shake. Madison loved shaking hands. It made her feel grown-up, and she performed the ritual with gusto. “I’m in your health class, but I don’t think we’ve ever talked,” Tiff said. “Just a sophomore.”
“Oh, sure. I’ve seen you.”
The two sat in silence as a scuffle broke out in the corner. Two boys were merely play-fighting. But a lamp ended up broken on the floor, nonetheless.
“First casualty of the night,” Madison said.
“Seems that way,” Tiff agreed.
“You have a ride home? When my friend gets back, we’re getting out of here. This isn’t a party you want to stay for the end of. Trust me,” Madison said.
“Why not?” the sophomore asked.
“Fletcher’s parties always end with cops. If you do sports or anything, getting caught up in the sweep can get you kicked off.”
The girl turned to Madison shocked, “Oh. I didn’t know it was that kind of a party. I came here with my friend, but it turns out I ceased being useful when we got here. She was really coming to have sex with her boyfriend who her mom hates. I was just her cover story.”
“I’m sorry. That sucks,” Madison said.
“I use the word ‘friend’ loosely,” Tiff replied. “People suck. I don’t know anyone here.”
“I’ll give you a ride home. I’m not drinking or anything,” Madison said. “I’m thirsty, and there’s nothing safe to drink here but tap water, and it isn’t filtered or anything. It tastes like the lake. Wanna get a coffee somewhere?”
“Dressed like this?” Tiff asked, looking down at her giant clown shoes.
Madison smiled. “Why not? It’s Halloween, right? It’ll be funny.”
“Yeah, okay. I mean, I guess so. I should tell my friend I’m going, except I’m afraid if I find her she might be in the middle of doing it.”
“Gross,” Madison said.
“Exactly,” Tiff agreed. “I suppose when the cops come she won’t be too concerned with finding me anyway.”
Bryce appeared and sat in Madison’s lap. “Ow! You’re heavy!” she protested.
“My boyfriend hates me, and you’re calling me fat. Perfect,” Bryce said with an exasperated sigh.
“Can we go?” Madison asked.
“Yes. He’s up there with those cokehead jerks. I guess he decided to pretend to be heterosexual after all. One of them is wearing the hat that I bought. Can you believe it?”
“The nerve,” Madison said. “Bryce, this is Tiff. She’s a sophomore. She’s gonna ride with us. We’re going for coffee.”
Bryce gave Tiff his hand gently. “Enchanté,” he said dramatically.
Madison couldn’t read Tiff’s expression through the clown makeup, but her response of “Tout le plaisir est pour moi” seemed to take Bryce by surprise.
“I have no idea what you just said, but it sounded dreamy. You will teach me French on the way for coffee, sophomore,” he commanded.