Khalil had had to make up an excuse on the spot as to why Mina couldn’t come to pick him up at his own house, and he doubted he had been very convincing, but if Mina was suspicious she kept her thoughts to herself and met Khalil in the parking lot of the school like he asked without any further questioning. He figured he would save the “my parent’s died in a a fire at one of your parent’s estate and now I’m in foster care” conversation for later, besides it would bring up to many questions that he wasn’t ready to answer yet.
Khalil was surprised to find Mina’s navy blue Lexus empty when he climbed in and he couldn’t stop himself from looking in the backseat over his shoulder a couple times to make sure Noah or her boyfriend weren’t hiding stowaway waiting for the perfect moment to jump out and yell “April Fools!” Though Mina had invited him and offered him a ride, he still felt as if he were doing something wrong. Maybe it was the fact that he still had neglected to tell her who he really was, or maybe it was his angst at being trapped alone in a car with her, either way the closer they drew to their destination the more nervous Khalil became, until his entire body was almost drenched in her own sweat.
It wasn’t hard to spot the party in the neighborhood, and from three blocks away they could already hear the deafening ambiguous sounds that was the music blasting through the two story house. Khalil couldn’t believe the monstrosity of what he was looking at and he felt like he would pass out before he even made it up the stone front steps. The house resembled something off of an HGTV show, something that Khalil had only dreamed of or seen in movies and he fought the urge to pinch himself. Made mostly of glass, just like school, the entire floor plan was open and from the street they could look in upon the horde of teenagers jumping around wildly with cups of obscure looking liquids toasted up towards the sky. There were people on top of tables, people on top of chairs, and people on top of other people, just watching the scene unfold made his head hurt. Mina noticed his rising discomfort beside her, the way his legs were shaking a mile a minute and the way he began to fidget in his seat, and laughed aloud, parking the car parallel on the street behind an even more expensive looking SUV.
“Have you never been to a party before?” she laughed. Of course he hadn’t. He had been to busy trying to find somewhere to sleep at night to concern himself in parties, but gazing upon the chaotic scene in front of him, he would rather find himself back on the street than walk through those doors. Khalil shook his head slowly, his eyes never leaving the house towering in front of him. Another laugh reverberated from beside him.
“You’ll be fine” she shook her head without a thought, clearly misunderstanding the severity of the situation.
“Yeah”he let out a forced chuckle, his eyes the size of hub caps. It was ironic that out of all the trauma he had endured in his life, a high school party was what he feared the most. “After I throw up.” He really hoped that he was exaggerating, but the aching in the pit of his stomach was becoming to painful to ignore.
Mina only giggled, repeating her mantra to him, all the way up the abnormally faux green lawn, and again as they merged into the sea of teenagers rambling their way up the paved stone pathway and onto the front steps. The music growing louder and louder with each step they took, though Khalil couldn’t hear anything now besides the loud pounding of his heart in his chest. Mina gave him a curt smile as they stepped into the crowded house, he tried to return the gesture but it was only half-heartedly. Instead, he began to prepare himself for the chorus of heckles that were soon to follow him around for the rest of the night, but he was surprised to find that as he stepped into the house no one even payed any attention to him.
There were so many people crowded together that there was no room for anybody to stare at him like he was a fish out of water, though that was exactly what he felt like. For the first time ever, no eyes bore into the side of his head in disgust, and no whispers floated about the air in his wake, no one was paying any attention to him at all. If he wasn’t scared out of his mind he might have attempted a small grin.
Though he couldn’t see any speakers anywhere, the sound of the music seemed to emanate from within the walls themselves until the entire house was shaking under the bass. “Come on” He could barely hear the sound of Mina’s voice, but he tried his best to keep up with her pushing through the crowd of people she left in her wake following her through the house.
“Sorry” he apologized, though he still received a few dirty looks. “Excuse me. Sorry.” He wasn’t fit for this and every glare he caught made him want to punch a hole through the nearest wall. He bumped into person after person, apologetically, until...“Hey! What the hell man!”
He hadn’t even lasted five minutes inside the house and he was already about to be beaten into a pulp. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to-” but judging by the way the boy was looking at his, now stained t-shirt, he wasn’t adamant on listening to Khalil’s futile apologies.
“This shirt probably cost more than-” the boy pause in the middle of his sentence, a wicked smirk growing the length of his face. “well more than whatever your ‘cardiologist’ parents make.” Of course Chris had told everyone about their conversation at lunch, he didn’t know why he had expected any less. Now people had something else to make fun of him for.
“Tell me-” the boy continued, clearly not finished with his abuse. “Do they make a lot of money at the fake hospital they work at?” Heavy breathing. Clenched fists. All it would take was one second, one second for Khalil to connect his fist to the boy’s stomach, one second to wipe the childish smirk off his face, but before he could act on his impulses he was dragged away by a pair of nude nails wrapped around his wrist. He was pulled through the rest of the crowd with ease, and when he emerged, Mina’s face was waiting for him on the other side.
“Do you like making trouble for yourself.” Her tone was serious, but her face secretly held an air of amusement. Khalil didn’t respond, only lifting the corners of his mouth in a slight grin, glad that Mina had pulled him out of his own head before he messed up yet again.
“Come one” she breathed aloud, singing her words as she bounded into an open swinging door behind them. Khalil followed her silently, pushing through the arched doorway behind her until he found himself enveloped in the stench of alcohol and smoke. The inside of the kitchen seemed to retain the air of expensiveness as the rest of the house, and it looked to be even bigger then the entire bottom floor of the bungalow. Khalil was immediately gripped by an overwhelming sense of jealousy, these people had everything made for them and they didn’t even realize it. At least now he realized why they were so egocentric.
The counters were a marbled swirl of grey and white, matching the paneled white cabinets hung upon the wall. Hanging lights cascaded down, suspended in midair as if time itself had stopped around them, hovering above the kitchen island where Khalil’s eyes were glued.
“Here” He had been so enamored by the extravagance of his surroundings, he hadn’t even been aware that Mina had left his side, but now he was staring down at her, sporting a small grin and two identical cups of a strange amber liquid in each hand. Her eyes were full of a mischievous light unaccustomed to her usual shy personality and Khalil couldn’t help but wonder is she ever embodied this new personality around her friends.
Testing the waters, he took the cup from her left hand warily his eyes never leaving hers. He watched as she lifted the cup to her lips with a curt smirk and took a large sip, and then another, and another. It looked as if she had emptied its contents, and the way she began twiddling the cup in between her fingers confirmed Khalil’s theory. His mouth and eyes must have widened in unbridled shock, because Mina could’t hold back a chuckle as she wiped her lips with the tips of her fingers.
“You have absolutely no idea how much I needed that.” she laughed, setting her cup down onto the marble counter only to refill it with the same amber liquid two seconds later. Khalil was barely holding onto the plastic between the palm of his own hands.
She let out a sigh and Khalil realized he had accidentally struck a nerve, he immediately wished he hadn’t opened his mouth.
“Them” she nodded, taking a much smaller sip of her newly refilled cup. “Them and my p-parents.”
Her parents. This was the first time she had brought them up and Khalil was doing his best to hide his curiosity behind a blank stare.
“Your parents?” he pretended to be concerned, feeding into her illusion. She nodded in confirmation.
“Are they jerks too?” A half-hearted laugh echoed through the kitchen. Khalil didn’t want to admit it, but seeing that Mina’s life, Mina’s parents, weren’t as perfect as he thought made him feel better about his own messed up and dead family. He wasn’t the only one who was broken beyond repair.
“You have no idea! They work....alot-” She swallowed, and Khalil noticed her grip around the plastic in her hand tightening. “I mean...that’s all the ever do” He could hear the slight tears in her voice now, but he couldn’t bring himself to make her stop. He had to listen. He had to know.
“They uh- they don’t ever call...or text. They just disappear” she forced another smile, but Khalil could see that it was painful. “You know they’ve never been to a lacrosse game, never come to see me cheer. They’ve never even met my teachers...something always comes up.”
Khalil nodded, he never knew what the right thing to say was. He just stared from Mina to the floor and back awkwardly.
“And I know!” she exclaimed into the air, startling him back into reality. He wondered how long she could go on like this, and as much as he just wanted to comfort her, another part of him wanted to hear the trauma. Another part of him wanted to see her cry.
“I know they’re just doing their jobs!” she threw her hands up in the air exasperatedly. “But sometimes..I don’t know. Sometimes I think they’re just trying to run away from me.”
“Why would anyone ever want to run away from you?” Khalil spoke softly.
“Right” she scoffed, her eyes rolling to the back of head. “Because Mina Joyce Mendes is the perfect little angel, and no one could ever hate her!” That wasn’t exactly what he had meant.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry.” She began to frantically apologize, waving her hands about the air once more and Khalil came to the implication that she must not have drunk very often, though how one drink had caused all of this he had no idea. “I brought you here to have fun, not to be my personal therapist.” She held up her drink in the air in front of her, gesturing for Khalil to hold his own as well.
“Here” she touched the rims of both plastic cups together in a toast. “Here’s to a-” she trailed off struggling to find the words.
“A stress free night?” Khalil offered, and instantly Mina’s eyes were twinkling with humor once more, it was like she had flipped a switch and become carefree once more.
“A stress free night” she echoed, raising her new cup to her lips, this time barely draining the top. Khalil still held his own cup in his hand, eyeing it nervously as if it were a bomb that would go off at any moment.
“What?” Mina giggled, taking her own cup from her lips. “You don’t trust me?” she tried. He probably trusted her to much. With a small smirk, he brought the cup to his lips slowly. Keeping his eyes locked on Mina’s eyes all the while, he slowly began to sip the warm liquid into his mouth. His throat immediately began to burn at the contact and, seconds later, strange spurts of coughing overtook him and an unfamiliar strangled sound emanated from the back of his throat.
Laughter rang in his ears, and he peered down at Mina’s glowing figure in front of him, she was clutching her own cup in her hand as if she were worried she would drop it at any moment. Khalil should have felt embarrassed, should have felt flustered, but the only feeling he could muster at the moment was elation and despite himself he began to join Mina. Again his thoughts betrayed him and he began to wonder if she laughed like this with her own friends...with Asher.
“MJ!” Their laughter was brought to an abrupt stop at the creaking sound of the kitchen door swinging open with the entrance of another, much shorter brunette girl. A prominent frown was written across her face at the sight of them both. Khalil found himself tensing once more, afraid of what he would be accused of next.
“Hi Hailey.” A quick glance toward Mina and Khalil realized that she despised the girl who had just pushed her way through the door just as much as he did, which made him feel better about all the thoughts that were rushing through his head.
“I’m glad you made it” The fake smile plastered across the girls face told a different story.“And I see you picked up..another stray on your way.” Khalil forced himself to stay still while the girl in front of them continued to talk about him like he wasn’t standing a few inches away.
“Don’t mistake my tolerance for friendliness.” she smirked beside him, Khalil couldn’t help but wonder if the alcohol that was now coursing through her body was making her bolder. “I’m just here for my boyfriend.” Suddenly Khalil couldn’t find interest in anything but the tiled floor below his trainers, if he had taken a sip of his drink he was sure he would have choked.
“Your boyfriend?” the girl laughed comically. “If you’re here for your boyfriend, then why are you in here fraternizing with the help instead of out there with him.” Khalil could practically feel the heat radiating off of Mina at this point, and he would be lying to himself if he didn’t admit that he was heated too, though he was sure it was for an entirely different reason.
“Just because you struggle to keep one guy’s attention doesn’t mean everyone else does.” As bold as Mina had become, Khalil had known her long enough to know that that snarky comment hadn’t fallen from her lips.
“Speaking of strays” the girl named Hailey muttered underneath her breath though Khalil was sure she had meant for everyone to hear it, as another third party pushed their way through the creaky swinging door and into the kitchen. Noah was still dressed in her loud alternative clothing, and Khalil found the sight strange, it was bewildering to think that all these students had a life outside of attending prep school.
“Please Hailey...don’t give me a reason.” The air had become stiff and Khalil could feel the glares radiating all around him, he found himself uncomfortable at the energy that had just filled the space.
“I’ve been looking for you.” Noah cleared the thick air first, though judging by the look on Mina’s face she was no happier to see her friend than she had been to see Hailey. She spoke with an air or annoyance, as if Mina had done something wrong. Khalil still questioning, in the back of his head, why she was even friends with these people in the first place.
“Asher’s been looking for you” she added, her eyes darting over to Khalil’s figure momentarily before she was accusingly staring at Mina once more. He was sure Mina had caught the shift too.
“We’ve been avoiding you.” Is what Khalil wanted to say. “It’s a crowded house” Is what came out of his mouth instead, and as soon as the words left his lips he wished, for the second time that night, that he hadn’t spoken at all. Luckily, Mina was quick to his rescue, the way she always was it seemed.
“Yeah.” she agree without hesitation. “Khalil and I were just going to...hang out.” she hesitated, watching Noah’s face all the while, though her voice never wavered, Khalil wished he had the ability. “If that’s ok.” It wasn’t ok, and the mirrored looks on both Hailey and Noah’s face only confirmed Khalil’s inference, but she payed neither of them any mind.
“Come on.” she hummed, and without waiting for confirmation from either of her ‘friends’ she plowed through the pair of them without a second thought, protests arose behind her.
Khalil wasn’t sure when she had wrapped her nails around his wrist, but he was suddenly aware of the strong stinging sensation of fingers pressing into the skin of his arm as she pushed them back through the swinging oak doors of the pristine kitchen and back into the crowded living room. It looked as if the more people had managed to push their way through the front doors and Khalil was convinced that the walls would eventually collapse in on themselves at the capacity.
“What” Khalil snapped back to reality. Mina had let go of his wrist, leaving them both standing in the very middle of the heavily sweaty and bouncing crowd. A song Khalil didn’t recognize blasted at max volume from the walls and he watched curiously as Mina began to sway back and forth in front of him. Her lips were moving frantically but he couldn’t hear a single word, this time it wasn’t the music that was making him lose focus.
“I said do you want to dance?” she exaggeratedly yelled through the space, and a few heads turned in their direction for a quick suspicious glance before returning back to their respective cliques. Yes.
She didn’t wait for an answer, before she was grabbing his wrists once more and pulling him closer to her, still moving back and forth to the beat of the song. A small laugh escaped her mouth as she watched him try to mimic her movements and he gave her a shy shrug in respond, returning her curt smile with one of his own. She had invited him to a party and ditched her best friend and her boyfriend to awkwardly dance alongside him in the middle of a bobbing crowd full of people who hated him. Khalil couldn’t help but think the entire situation was to good to be true, and a quick glance over Mina’s shoulder proved him right.
Standing just against the wall in the far corner of the room, surrounded by another large crowd of people was Asher, but his back was to Khalil and he was completely unaware of his girlfriends antics. It was his best friend beside him who was making Khalil itch in his skin. Chris’s eye bore into his own with intense ferocity, pure unhinged hunger written across his face and suddenly Khalil could feel the alcohol he had just consumed threatening to rise up the back of his throat like bile. He remembered.