(8) Grim's Party
THE NOISE OF THE PARTY reached them long before they saw the actual house, decked out with fake webbing, carved pumpkins and plastic tombstones. Two plastic skeletons clung to the front wall of the house, reaching for the windows. A sign on the front gate said, BEWARE OF ZOMBIE DOG. And beneath it: One bite is all it takes.
Bethanie smiled. This was Nathan Merrit’s house. The Merrits owned a Dachshund.
“Are you sure it’s okay for me to come?” Dylan asked beside her. He was looking at the house, not with apprehension, but with interest.
“Of course. Everyone goes to these things.” The sun had set, the light leaking from the sky. In the dying light, she almost missed the look on Dylan’s face – the look that let her realise the mistake in her words.
“I don’t,” he said.
Bethanie felt embarrassed by her own ignorance. Of course he didn’t come to these things. To her, he may have always been Dylan Corvall, boy-next-door. But to the rest of the school he was the Town Loner – the Hains Recluse. The boy who hid not just behind his camera, but also in the shadow of his father the Mayor.
Bethanie ought to pity him, but she didn’t. There was something about him that suggested he wasn’t bothered by his lot, nor worried by the titles placed upon him by their cohort. Even standing before a house filled with people who disliked him, he seemed calm in a way she could never manage. He seemed strong.
She put on a smile. “Well there’s a first time for everything.”
Swinging open the gate, they treaded up the path. The house before them was practically booming, and the sounds of talking and laughing echoed in the air. Bethanie stepped up to the door and went to turn to the doorknob. She’d learnt very early on that you don’t knock when coming to parties like these – you let yourself in.
“You didn’t think you were going to this party without me, did you?”
The two of them swung around. Back on the path, Florence stood with a wide smile, as if she had just manifested out of thin air.
“Florence!” Bethanie said, surprised. “What are you doing here?”
She rolled her eyes. “I may be new, but I don’t live under a rock. I’ve come for the party, of course.”
“How did you know we’d be here?”
She shrugged. “I took a chance.” She started walking up the path towards them until all three were at the front door. “You really should have invited me, you know. I’m new. I need to be introduced to people.”
Bethanie laughed. “You seem to be doing a pretty good job of that yourself.”
Florence smirked. “I know.” Then she reached for the door and swung it open.
All at once, they were awash in the party. The volume of the music outside the house was nothing compared to inside – in here, it roared, the bass vibrating through the air and mixing with the cacophony of voices. Bethanie had to admit – she’d missed this.
“I’ll get us some drinks,” Florence yelled over the music, and disappeared into the throng of bodies.
Bethanie felt herself moving to the left, as though caught in a current. She couldn’t help scanning the faces of those around her to see if any belonged to Amelia or Chance. She told herself it was because she wanted to avoid them, but some part of her just wished for a reunion – for things to go back to the way they were yesterday. Bethanie had wanted this day to be different, to be a break in the endless routine, but she hadn’t expected feeling nostalgic. And she didn’t want to.
“Bethanie!” someone shouted. It was Nathan Merritt, already intoxicated even though the clock was only just ticking over to 8pm. He had on a black hooded coat with a plastic scythe tucked under his arm. When he reached in for a hug, his dark blonde hair smelled of beer.
“Grim reaper?” she asked.
He smiled. “Good guess!” It really wasn’t.
Nathan’s eyes travelled over her shoulder and landed on Dylan, standing just off to her right. Bethanie caught him looking. “You know Dylan.”
On a normal day, Nathan might have insulted him, maybe even told him to run off home. But he was drunk. “Corvall,” he said, slapping him on the arm. “Good to see you.”
Dylan just nodded. “Nathan.”
A smash echoed from another room and the cheeriness dropped off Nathan’s face. “Hey!” he yelled, storming off. “What are you doing with my mother’s glassware, asshats?”
“Well that’s the friendliest I’ve ever seen him,” Dylan said, turning to watch him go.
Bethanie laughed softly. “Don’t get used to it.”
Minutes later, Florence was back with three red plastic cups, each sloshing with some mystery liquid. “I hope you like corona,” she said, handing each of them a drink.
“Who does?” Bethanie said, laughing.
“Valid point,” Florence replied, knocking their cups together. They both took a drink. Dylan just held his, clearly not one for drinking.
When Bethanie lowered her cup, she caught sight of Amelia across the room. Her gut twisted with nerves. “I’ll be right back,” she told the two of them, and began making her way through the crowd.
When Bethanie was near, Amelia caught sight of her. She’d been talking to Jane Ezra, a shallow popularity seeker, but promptly ended the conversation upon seeing her.
“B!” she exclaimed. Amelia was wearing a scanty nurse out fit stained with fake blood. Typical. “Where the hell have you been all day? I saw you at the festival but you got lost in the crowd before I could call out to you. I thought you said you were going to meet us there?”
“My plans changed, I guess. Sorry, I should have called.”
At that moment, Chance sidled up to the pair, her brown curls bouncing, the beer sloshing over the sides of her cup. She didn’t seem to notice. “B! Where were you? We missed you today.”
“I was around,” Bethanie replied cryptically. “Doing…stuff.”
Amelia leant forward. “B, I’ve seen you – what the fuck are you doing with Dylan Corvall?”
Chance’s eyes went wide. “Wait, wait, wait – Loner Dylan?”
Bethanie ignored her. “He’s a nice guy.”
“He’s the school loner!” Amelia replied, looking appalled. “And frankly, he’s creepy. I mean, he’s always got that camera around his neck. Penny Waldow swears she saw him taking photos of her in the girl’s bathroom.”
Bethanie felt herself warming up, as if something was sparking in her chest. “Those are just rumours. He’s not a loner, and he’s certainly not creepy.”
“Why are you defending him?” Chance asked, aghast. And then in a quieter tone, “You don’t like him, do you?”
“No!” Bethanie replied hastily, then changed tacts. “But what if I did? What’s so wrong with that?”
Bethanie shrugged and looked away, searching the room for Dylan. He was over near the door, talking to some people she rarely gave the time of day.
“What’s happened to you?” Amelia asked.
Bethanie looked back, the spark in her chest expanded into an angry heat. “Guess I’m just sick of pretending I’m better than everyone else. Frankly, it’s exhausting.” Harshly, she shoved her cup of beer into Amelia’s stunned hand. The liquid sloshed over the edge and onto her white costume.
“Bitch!” Amelia exclaimed, looking down at her wet outfit.
Bethanie span on her heels and strode back to the front door, pushing people out of her way as she went. Dylan was talking to someone from school – someone she’d never deemed worthy of her attention. The realisation was sickening: she didn’t even know his name.
Dylan gazed over just as she reached him. “Hey,” he said.
She took his arm. “We’re leaving.”
He looked at her in surprise. “What?”
“I did something I’m going to regret and there’s sure to be some sort of retaliation. I’d much rather not be here when it happens.”
They made it to the door, which was already flung wide open. Party-goers had spilled out onto the front lawn like litter.
“What about Florence?” Dylan asked.
“What about me?” Florence said, materialising in her usual manner on Bethanie’s other side.
“Dylan and I are leaving,” Bethanie replied.
Soon they were at the gate. Dylan swung it open. “Where are we going then?”
“I don’t know. Anywhere.”
“I have an idea,” Florence said, smiling mischievously. They both looked at her. “What? You’re going to love it.”