I hate parties. Always have. I go to them thinking that maybe this one will be different. Better. Fun. But that never happens, of course. I go alone, I stay alone, and I leave alone.
Maybe Devin will show up at this one, but I don’t know why I care. It’s not like he ever talks to me.
Look at everyone. They’re clustered around in happy flushed sweaty drunken knots, talking and laughing and flirting. They smell like alcohol and perspiration and body spray. I might as well be the fucking wallpaper. How can they even hear each other over this pounding music?
There isn’t much room down here and I head upstairs. The house has a balcony, and I figure I can at least stand outside where I won’t have to see all these people having fun.
Just as I find the bedroom that opens up to the balcony, feet sound on the stairs. And then Devin storms right by me and through the bedroom door, followed by his stubby, toad-like little friend Mark. Devin doesn’t say a word or even look at me, but what else is new? He shoves a pizza box full of gnawed crusts and grease splotches aside and slams a shiny, silvery disc down on the desk. I edge into the room behind them.
“Here they are.” Devin points at the disc.
Mark looks down at it and then back up at Devin with a raised eyebrow. “What the hell am I supposed to do with that?”
“Put it in your fucking laptop!” Devin yells.
“Uh, dude? Where, exactly?” Mark holds up his MacBook Air to demonstrate that it has no DVD slot.
Devin glares until Mark lowers his MacBook, looking embarrassed.
“Fine. Let me get my old laptop.” Mark turns around and rummages in his closet.
“Why’d you put those on a disc, anyhow?”
“Because I don’t want these on my fucking phone.” Devin’s red and fidgety, more upset than I’ve ever seen him.
Mark finally produces a dark gray laptop and hooks it up to a charger. Devin barely waits for him to plug it in before shoving the DVD in the slot.
“Open up the ‘FAMILY’ folder and look.”
“All right, already. Keep your shirt on,” Mark mumbles.
I can’t see the pictures from where I’m standing, but they’re freaking Devin out. He actually takes a couple of steps back from the monitor, as if whatever’s on it could reach out and hurt him.
“What?” says Mark. “These are from last weekend. What’s the big deal?”
“Look.” Devin stabs a finger at the monitor. “It’s her.”
“So?” Mark says. “I see her around a lot.”
“Think about it, idiot.”
Mark thinks about it. And then his eyes snap wide open behind his glasses. He takes a deep breath and looks at the monitor again. “Are you sure…” he says, trailing off.
“That it’s her? Hell yes. That girl was on my ass like a hemorrhoid all the time. How could I forget? And here she is again. And again. She’s always in the background, but she’s there.” Devin’s clicking away and jabbing at the monitor over and over. The light from the screen makes his already pale face look ghostly.
“Not what I meant. Are you sure she was …” Mark looks around the room, and I duck behind a bookshelf. Something about this conversation is making cold fingers play up and down the back of my neck.
“She had to be,” Devin says, lowering his voice. “I mean, you saw her. Nobody was getting up and walking away from that.”
“Shhhhh!” Mark waves a hand sharply.
“There’s no way,” Devin says. “She was gone.”
“Maybe someone found her. Maybe they got her to the emergency room. Like we should have.”
“We talked about that,” Devin hisses, grabbing Mark’s arm hard enough to turn his knuckles white. “I could lose my scholarship over a DUI. And my parents would fucking kill me. And we couldn’t have helped her anyway.”
“Yeah. I know,” Mark whispers. He stares down at the laptop for a minute, and then shakes his head.
“That isn’t her.”
“But it totally is.”
“Lots of girls kind of look like that. Frizzy hair. Glasses.”
My face goes red, because I kind of look like that. And I can tell from his tone that this isn’t considered especially hot. That’s hardly news to me, but still. Ouch.
Devin sweeps his longish red hair out of his face in a gesture that always makes me melt a little. I think I see the exact moment when he decides to believe that Mark’s right. Whoever this person in the pictures is, it’s not the Her that he’s so afraid of.
“Yeah. Maybe I’m confused. That must be it.” The corner of his mouth turns up in a half-smile.
“Only thing that makes sense, right?” Mark claps Devin on the back. “You had me scared for a minute, though. This some kind of Halloween shit?”
Devin lets out a very unconvincing laugh. “Sure. Just a prank. Gotcha.” He looks around the messy room as Mark pops the disc out, and I shrink against the bookshelf again.
I want to cry. Or throw up. Maybe both. It’s becoming clear that something awful happened to someone. And Devin was a part of it.
And if they figure out that I know…
They don’t look my way as they leave the room, and I let out a long breath.
The silvery disc reads “FAMILY PIX” in black marker. I’m about to put it in the laptop and take a look at this person they’re talking about when tons of footsteps pound up the stairs. The door to the balcony is open, and I hurry through it before anyone can catch me snooping.
But they all come outside too.
“Hey guys. Just wanted to get some air,” I say. Devin and Mark are part of the group, and Mark shoots a bored glance in my direction before rummaging around in his shirt pocket for a cigarette. Did I really think they’d care if they found me up here?
Something under my feet sways a little. The balcony looks splintery and rickety, like it’s older than I am. And everyone else is blocking my way back inside.
And then I remember something. A light bright enough to hurt my eyes. A screeching sound.
There’s another creak. It doesn’t stop this time and the balcony shakes a little under my feet.
“Hey, guys?” They don’t even look my way, but I keep trying. “I don’t think we should all be — ”
The balcony drops out from under us and everyone’s falling so fast that they don’t even have time to scream. Devin’s bug-eyed look of shock strikes me as horribly funny and I let out a really inappropriate hoot of laughter before they all land on the pavement three stories below. The noises their bodies make as they hit the concrete turn my stomach.
But I’m still standing up where the balcony was. How?
When I turn to my left, Devin’s up here too. And yet he’s still down there where he landed.
“What the fuck just happened?” That might be the first thing Devin’s said to me beyond the occasional How’s it going?
Some of the people down on the pavement are stirring, moaning, trying to sit up. Mark’s holding his head and coughing.
But Devin looks like a doll someone dropped from the sky. His neck is at a horrible angle. Something dark spreads on the sidewalk under his head.
People are running out of the house now, and some of them start to scream. A car squeals to a stop on the street, and oh, that sound. It jars something loose inside me and when I look back at Devin, I remember.
I’d left another party two weeks ago. Alone, of course. Devin didn’t look at me at all that night; he was with some pretty blonde who hung on his every word and brought him beer after beer.
After wasting an hour or so watching them, I finally accepted reality and left. I was trudging along the long, badly-lit road that winds around the back of the campus when I heard a car coming. I stepped into the grass.
But it didn’t matter. The car kept coming right at me and the last thing I saw before the bright headlights blinded me and the bumper knocked me down and the tires crushed everything out of me was Devin’s face. I guess I lied; he did look at me that night.
And then he just drove off. I heard the tires screeching on the pavement as I lay broken in the grass.
And after that, all I could do was stay near him. And wait. And watch.
“You’re a piece of shit,” I say to Devin. “That’s what happened.”
His green eyes get huge. “But … how are you here? I don’t get it.”
“We’re in the same place now, dumbass.” How had I ever thought he was hot? Up close he looks like curdled cottage cheese, with a possum-like pointy nose.
Down on the sidewalk, Devin’s still laying there with his neck at that crazy angle. The stuff under his head continues to spread as the red and white lights of an approaching ambulance illuminate his body and a siren pierces the night.
“Stephanie?” he says.
“My name is Sarah, asshole. Or it was, anyhow.”
I’m going away now; I can feel it. I’m rising above this scene. Everything’s fading.
“Sarah? Don’t go,” Devin says, staring up at me, his green eyes wide and looking scared. “Don’t leave me.”
That’s a pleasant thought to go out on.
Now he gets to know what it feels like to be all alone.