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All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.  The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of any product referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
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Originally published June 2010 in Spaceports & Spidersilk.

If you'd like to download this story with two additional short stories, you can get a free copy here.

By M.J.A. Ware

When I asked Mom if I could have a boy-girl party, I should have realized that she gave in way too easily.  “Clean out Grandpa’s old room, Zoey, and you can have your party there—just no closing the door.”

It sounded like a great idea. I mean, it’s huge and way down at the end of the hall—as far away from parental supervision as you can get without leaving the house.

Just one problem: ever since Grandpa died, that’s where everyone dumps their junk. So if I didn’t want my party to be a bust, all the stuff that’d piled up over the last few years had to get moved to the garage.

“How’d Mom convince you to clean up Pop’s room?” my little brother, Chad, asked.

“Said I could have my party here, but only if I picked the place up first.” I added, “Care to help?”

“Don't think so. I’m looking for my basketball. Dad said it's in the closet.”

Chad opened the closet door and a rush of cold air came charging out.

He dug around the walk-in closet. “Be careful with Grandpa’s suits,” I said, as I put my hair into a ponytail. Grandpa had been an ornery old geezer, but he always dressed sharp, never leaving the house without a suit. Not those old man suits with patches on the elbows. He only wore wool, custom-fitted ones. The closet was full of them, steamed and pressed, like he might step out in one at any time.

“Darn it. My ball’s not here. That’s the third basketball I’ve lost.”

“I’ll let you use mine, if you promise to stay clear of my party.”

“No problem, I’m sleeping over at Jimmy’s.” He ran off towards my room.

“Just don’t touch anything else,” I hollered.

It took most of the day, but I managed to clean the place up. The worst part was a moldy grilled cheese sandwich I found semi-permanently fused to the carpet. I cleared out just about everything, except for the closet and a shadow box with Grandpa’s old war medals. Dad wouldn't want those taken down. I brought in a paint-splattered card table, some folding chairs, and an old mini-stereo. I even talked Dad into dragging the extra sofa in from the garage.

I had just enough time to take a shower and curl my hair before Tammy, my best friend, came over. “Wow, you really made this creepy room look nice,” she said as she flattened the wrinkles in her skirt.

“What do you mean, creepy?” Sure, Grandpa's style was old-school, but Chad and I had always played Pinochle with him in here—it wasn't creepy.

I glanced at the card table, the same one we'd get out when we used to play cards. Except Grandpa always put a tablecloth over it. We liked playing with him because he never just let us win. But he'd get so ticked if he had a run of bad luck—his face would get all tense and contorted, still somehow, for us, he'd manage a painful looking smile.

“I don’t know, there’s not much light. Plus, your gramps croaked in here. It’s just creepy.” Looking around the room, she added, “But tonight it will be totally perfect for spin the bottle.”

“Yeah right, maybe my parents will join in.” I rolled my eyes. “They’re not even going to let us close the door.”

“I sleep over like every weekend—I know your parents always watch a movie in their room.” Tammy put her hands on her hips. “When your parents go to their room, you better promise we can play spin the bottle.”

If they go to their room, we’ll see.” I didn’t know what she was getting all excited about. None of the guys we knew had ever asked a girl out—I bet none of them would even dance.

A couple hours later, just about everyone had shown up. The room was packed. The guys all stood around the card table devouring chips and sodas. The girls, as expected, were the only ones dancing.

Mom kept coming in, supposedly to check the snacks, but I knew she was just spying on us.

It was almost nine when Dad poked his head in and said, “Zoey, turn the music down, your baby sister just went to bed.” He looked around the room. “Mom and I are going to watch a movie. But I’ll be checking on you kids.”

Tammy looked over at me and smiled. We both knew there was no way we’d see Dad again until the party was over.

As soon as he left the room Tammy ran and turned the stereo down. “Okay, everyone, time for spin the bottle.”

Some of my friends giggled; most of the guys just looked at each other nervously.

“Oh, come on. It’s no big deal.” Tammy got her backpack and pulled out a beer bottle.

“You brought beer?” one of the boys asked.

“No, silly, it’s empty.” She grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to the floor. “You’ve gotta play with a beer bottle, it’s a rule.”

“How do you play?” asked Lance Jones, a little too eagerly.

“If you get a bowser do you have to kiss her?” shouted Justin Roberts; on cue, all the guys chuckled.

“It’s simple. You go into the closet for two minutes with whoever the bottle points to. You don’t have to kiss or french or anything, if you don’t want to.”

Pretty much everyone looked a little alarmed by this.

“It’s my bottle, so I have to go first, that’s another rule.” By now, everyone sat in a circle: boys on one side, girls on the other. “Zoey goes after me, ’cause it’s her party.”

Tammy spun the bottle three times before it finally pointed to a guy: Kevin Ramirez. A little shy, not the cutest guy, but it could be worse. At least he wouldn’t try to stick his tongue down her throat or something.

They went in the closet and the door closed behind them with a whoosh. The hinge creaked like an old abandoned vault. Lance turned off the closet light, and a couple of guys kept time. We all stood around, looking at the door or the wall, just not at any of the boys. When exactly two minutes had passed, three guys lunged for the handle, whipping open the door and flipping the light on. Tammy and Kevin sat on opposite sides of the floor. Tammy smiled. “Well, wasn’t that fun?”

She popped up and actually took Kevin’s hand, pulling him out of the closet. He had Tammy’s glitter lip gloss all over his face. But I totally wasn’t buying it. I’m pretty sure she just smeared it all over him in the dark—either that, or she’d managed to kiss him everywhere except his lips. Kevin wasn’t about to say anything. All the guys were already giving him high-fives and fist-bumps.

“Your turn, Zoey.” Tammy thrust the bottle into my hands.

“I don’t know.” I started to hand it back.  “I think my dad might come—”

"No backing out now." Tammy took the bottle and spun it for me. Around and around it went. With each spin my mind raced. Who would it point to? Was I seconds away from my first kiss? How could I get out of this?

Slowly the bottle rolled to a stop, pointing right at Justin Roberts. Tammy patted my leg excitedly. Someone squealed—it wasn’t me.

Most of the girls would have been thrilled to be in my shoes. Justin was one of the most popular kids in school. I wouldn’t have even had the guts to ask him to the party if it wasn’t for the fact that he went to my church.

Golden curly locks or not, I did not want to go into the closet with him. He had a reputation. Always talking about girls like they were video games—something to get the high score on.

I tried to protest, but before I knew it, I was in the closet standing across from Justin. Grandpa’s old suits lined both walls, like an army of hollow pinstriped soldiers.

He flashed me a cocky smile right as the light went out.

Standing there frozen, I had no idea what to do. A hand lightly touched my wrist, slithering its way up my arm. I batted it away, like it was a blood-sucking insect.

“Don’t be like that, Zoey. Relax, you’ll be the envy of every girl here.”

“I don’t think so,” I said, as the forgotten smell of Grandpa's sweet tobacco tickled my nose.

“Come on, don’t be a prude.”

He tried to put his arms around my waist.

“Stop that.”

Mere inches from my face came a puckering sound, like some old lady moistening up for a wet sloppy kiss. I stuck out both arms to keep him back. "Leave me alone."

"I know you don’t mean that. My brother told me all girls say no at least five or six times."

"Then your brother’s a pig too."

His hands clamped around my arms and pulled me in. "Just one little kiss."

It took all my strength to break free. Still he reached for me. I pushed him back against the suits. His fingers grasping at me—I pushed harder, my anger turning to fear. I could just barely see the tips of his fingers grabbing wildly at me. The arms and legs of the suits whipped about like they were clawing at him.

Regaining his balance, he stepped forward and grabbed my shirt. He couldn't stop me; I was overcome by a desperate desire to keep him away. I just kept pushing and pushing—deeper and deeper into Grandpa’s suits—like they went on forever. He released my shirt then gasped, choking as if being gagged.

A second later, the light popped on and Tammy threw open the door. "What are you two lovebirds—" she stopped.

Dozens of wide eyes, fixed right on me.

"Zoey, are you okay?" She stared into my eyes; she could see something was wrong.

Justin wasn’t standing. "Pig," I said under my breath, trying not to shake. I didn't even look down as I walked out.

"Where’s Justin?" Kevin’s voice wavered, like when he's called on in math class.

I turned around. In the closet, on the floor, was a pile of Grandpa’s suits. They lay in a mound, one on top of the other. Like football players in a dog-pile.

It didn’t look big enough for Justin to hide under.

Kevin dug in and started throwing suits aside. It only took a few seconds to realize—

Justin was gone.


* * * * *

Copyright © 2010 by M.J.A. Ware

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