When Leto’s tiny cream-colored dog started ecstatically barking after I rang the doorbell, a bubble of hope in me rose for this party. Leto, my friend with wild red hair, opened the door, and I tried smiling wide enough to avoid meekness.
“Hi Michelle!” she greeted.
“Hey Leto. Who else is here, or coming?”
She dragged her dog away from my ankles as she led me to the living room, sparkling with a wide Christmas tree and lined with built-in white bookshelves full of hardcovers. “Just you and Sam, so far. Darcy says she’s coming soon, and Jenna and Lindsay are coming way late, for the sleepover. I’m so mad. I thought that we were going to New York City for New Years, but apparently, we’re not, so by the time I sent invitations, everyone already had plans.”
Everyone except me, I thought with some self-consciousness. My mind flits back to an earlier IM conversation, when Leto fretted that I didn’t know Darcy nor Sam very well. I wondered if that had been a hint to not come. Despite my apprehension, I decided to come anyway. I wasn’t really sure why. Though I was friends with Leto, I knew her well enough that within other friend groups, her cutesy personality tweaked somewhat into that of a slightly troubled and risky girl–who definitely was not a virgin.
Sprawled on a couch, tapping away on her iPhone, was Sam, an old acquaintance who I occasionally talked to in middle school. Her punk disregard for authority and social norms was humorous and fun, at first. When her habits became downright unhealthy–though profitable–her parents transferred her to private school.
So Sam and I did some catching up–I shyly outlined my summer fling while she bemoaned the loss of a girlfriend. After a while, I noticed a sort-of chubby dark-pink stick that Sam twirled between her fingers. Before she even lifted it to her lips to take a drag, I realized with a jolt that it was an e-cigarette. It was the first time I had ever seen one with my own eyes.
Thanks to an inspiring 5th grade D.A.R.E. session, I am wildly, almost unseemingly, averse to smoking. Yet, tonight, I can’t help but appreciate the artful way that Sam exhales the vapor, puckering her lips in concentration to achieve a perfect “O” ring. Darcy recalled the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. Several times, Sam caught me staring. I hope she realized that it was out of fascination, not judgment. We have a shared interest in smoke and its mother, her and I. I love fire’s personality and dance, as well as the silky gossamer of its heather wisps (The only hint to this during the party was when I poked the logs in the fireplace and watched the embers.) My pyromania only manifests itself in a collection of scented candles, hindered by a fear of being burned. A fear that she so clearly lacks, on so many levels.
We talked about drugs, sex, and lesbians. There was a generous heap of dirt on exes and fuckboys. And there were definitely some moments when it was just Sam and Leto talking, to the point where they worried about me getting bored. But I wasn’t. Even though each passing moment made it more clear that these people were leagues outside of my usual category, the utter foreignness of it felt…cool.
The situation is epitomized by the half-hour we spent watching Adventure Time: Adventure Time is an obscure, trippy show that I don’t watch, but from friends I know its characters and some of its basic themes and plot arcs. While sipping apple cider and chewing pizza, I watched Jake and Finn’s adventures with a confused (eyebrow tilted) but intrigued (slightly-enlarged whites-of-eyes) expression. I mostly kept my mouth shut, didn’t ask too many questions, and absorbed intently. And though much of the show was confusing and weird to me, I still enjoyed it the way that people enjoy trying new food.
Anyway, the pizza was hearty, the couch comfortable, the gossip interesting, and the dog extremely pettable. I felt like attending parties that are a little bit bizarre, a little bit bad, is a grown-up thing to do. Mm, not in an adult kind of way. More like an early-twenties-college-dorm-life kind of way. The way that sipping from your parent’s glass, driving solo, breaking rules, or secretly staying up late makes you feel. Marveling at this sensation, I reclined further into the sofa cushion, enjoying the ambiance of the conversation as one enjoys the glow of a hearth.