Jenny Mulberry stood with her back to the kitchen sink and her arms folded across her chest. She still held the wet dishtowel in one hand. Her eyes were locked on her two children, anxious for them to complete their breakfast. They had been arguing, and the current silence was like a pot of simmering water ready to boil.
Her daughter kicked her brother under the table.
"Sarah, Billy, that's enough!" Jenny yelled.
"He started it," her daughter said in her whiny tone.
"No, he did!"
"Stop already!" Jenny cried out, slamming the dishtowel onto the floor like a football player spiking a ball. "Why can't we have peace in this house?"
"'Cause he's a jerk."
"She's a baby."
Jenny clamped her hands over her ears, snapped her eyes shut, and stamped her foot, again and again and again, not stopping until it tingled and only then did she open her eyes. Both her children were staring at her with mouths gaping.
"Finish your breakfast, you'll be late for class," she said in a calmer voice.
But she was not calm. Her heart pounded in her chest and she thought the blood vessels at her temples would burst. When not in each other's company, her two children were mature young adults, but when together they were like high school kids. No, even younger. For god's sake, they were in college! She continued to stare at them picking at their food, waiting for the eruption.
"I'm not a baby," Sarah whined. "You're only a year older than me."
"A year and a half."
Jenny kicked the dishtowel. It snagged on her toe and launched into the air, hitting Billy on the back of the head before falling to the floor. Sarah giggled until she saw the look on her mother's face.
"Not another word from either of you or you're both grounded."
"But the Halloween party," Billy said.
"Then you better not say another word."
As Jenny turned back to the sink she caught Sarah sticking her tongue out at her brother, but some things were best ignored. Why couldn't they get along?
The remainder of breakfast was peaceful, if you call no talking and glaring peaceful. Well, at least it was quiet. Once the last of the food was gobbled down, the two jumped from their seats, grabbed their book bags, and bolted for the front door. The last thing Jenny heard before the door slammed shut was, "You are a baby," followed by, "You're a jerk."
Jenny cupped her face in her hands and shook her head.
Later, in the City College cafeteria, Tiffany Blake walked up to Billy and said, "Hi, Billy, have you seen Sarah?"
Billy looked at his sister's best friend with annoyance. The two were always together, and that meant she was as big a nuisance as his sister. He was about to respond when something caught his eye. Samantha Evans, dressed in her blue and white cheerleader uniform with short pleated skirt, was waving at him. He turned and left Tiffany standing there.
Sarah walked up to her best friend and said, "He's a jerk. Why are you talking to him?"
Tiffany spun around and then turned away to wipe the tears off her cheeks. When she faced Sarah again, she said, "What do you mean? I asked him if he knew where you were."
"Whatever." Susan gave Tiffany's brown ponytail a tug and said, "He like blondes, like that bimbo cheerleader he's drooling all over."
"I told you, I was just--"
Sarah grabbed Tiffany's wrist and dragged her away. Tiffany took the first few steps looking over her shoulder.
It was Halloween and a Friday. That meant no school the next day which excited all those lucky enough to be invited to a party. Billy had been, but not Sarah. But what irritated her the most was that she couldn't spend it with her best friend.
"Where you going again?" Sarah asked when the two girls were seated.
"I, um, I got grounded. Can't go out and can't use the phone."
"You? Grounded? Miss Goodie Two Shoes? You never fuck up."
"I told you, I was supposed to do a chore and forgot. My parents are pissed."
"Oh yeah. Shit! How come our parents can still ground us?"
"I guess as long as we live at home they can."
"Yeah, that sucks. So why do you like my asshole brother?"
"I don't! You keep saying that but--"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever.
Billy avoided his kid sister after school. It would be just like her to start a fight and get him grounded and miss the Halloween party. He had been looking forward to it for two weeks. Samantha Evans was going to be there and he was going to make a play for her.
Billy struggled buckling the holster for his six-shooters, tugging the leather strap, trying to fit the little pin into the last hole. He wanted it to hang low, but he had grown since he played cowboys and Indians and it no longer fit. He had to wear it high, above his hips. It looked dorky, but it was the cool part of his costume. Without it, wearing jeans and a plaid shirt made him look like a farm boy with a cowboy hat. He checked himself out one last time, tipping the cowboy hat down a tad over his right eye, and then he went downstairs.
His mother was waiting, embarrassing him with her giggles and telling him how cute he looked. His sister was there as well, but she was not smiling.
"You wear your guns like a faggot," she said.
"Sarah, be quiet," his mother said. Then she turned to Billy. "Here, let me put this on you."
She reached for his neck causing him to lean away and take a step backwards.
"You need a kerchief around your neck," his mother said.
"That's a girl's scarf."
"No one will know that."
Sarah snickered. "Yeah, the way you're wearing your guns it will go with the rest of your faggot outfit."
"Enough!" Jenny screamed. "Sarah Mulberry, one more word out of you and you will be studying all weekend." She turned back to Billy. "C'mon, let me put it on. If you don't like it, you don't have to wear it."
Billy tilted his head back so that his mother could tie the kerchief around his neck. When he looked in the mirror he smiled. It completed the costume.
"Thanks, Mom," he said and kissed her on the cheek.
"Okay, have fun. And be careful."
She always told him that. Yeah, like he was going to get into an accident on purpose. But a part of him wondered if she was talking about sex, and when he was in his car he checked his wallet to make sure the condoms were there.
When Billy arrived at the house where the party was taking place he had to park a block away. It was going to be crowded. His assumption was validated as soon as he entered the house. He had to push through people in his search for Samantha. He just hoped he'd recognize her. Some of the masks people wore covered their entire head. Most of those were of ghouls or monsters which he didn't think the pretty cheerleader would wear.
Billy stopped short when he saw Samantha. She was dressed as a cat with a black nose, whiskers, and two pointy ears on top of her head. The slinky black outfit hugged her body, accentuating her thin waist, curvy hips, and full breasts. It even had a long tail which she held in the crook of her arm. Billy's first thought was that the outfit would be difficult to remove. His second thought was more troubling. She was surrounded by many boys who seemed to be as infatuated with her as Billy. He shoved through the horde of yapping college students until he was one of the boys circling her.
"Hi, Samantha," he said. He had to raise his voice just to be heard over the music and chatter.
She looked his way and said, "Hi, Billy, meoowww," as she raked her nails at him with her free hand.
"You look great," he said.
"You too. Cool costume. Like the kerchief."
"Say, do you want to go talk somewhere?"
"I'm talking to these guys. See you later."
Those words were crushing. See you later? What did that mean? She had told him she was looking forward to seeing him at the party. Billy's shoulders slumped as he sulked away.
Billy was sitting on a couch with his head down, twirling one of the toy pistols between his spread knees when he heard, "Can I try that?"
He looked up at a princess. Her costume was all pink and lacy with the long dress flaring out from her thin waist. Her hair was the color of the sun and had a rhinestone tiara atop it. A mask with matching rhinestones covered the upper portion of her face, from the bottom of her nose almost to her hairline. Mesmerized, Billy dangled the pistol from his finger, holding it out until the girl took it.
She held the six-shooter with her finger over the trigger and spun it. She shrieked when it went flying and bounced off the side of Billy's face. He grabbed his cheek but moved his hand out of the way when the girl leapt onto the couch and brushed her fingers across his cheek.
"I'm sorry," the girl said. Her voice was filled with anguish and her face turned red, at least the part of it not covered by the mask.
"That's all right. It was an accident."
"I'm so clumsy. I shouldn't have tried it."
Billy was aware of her closeness and that her fingertips were still caressing his cheek. Her knee pressed into his thigh.
"Let me buy you a drink and we'll call it even."
"You have to pay for the drinks here?" the girl asked, incredulously.
Billy chuckled and he thought the girl's face became even redder. Even her neck was red. "I was just kidding. No, the drinks and snacks are free."
The girl's chin dropped to her chest and she clasped her hands in her lap.
"I'm sorry," Billy said, "it was just a joke. Say, what's your name?"
.... There is more of this story ...