The first time that my parents told me that goblins stole naughty children away, I must’ve been six or seven. But these goblins were as distant to me as Bigfoot, or the dreaded monsters that hid under my bed or in dark closets. And even if I had believed, it wouldn’t have mattered. I was a good kid. My parents had treated me like I was practically an adult, and in return for their honesty and respect, I’d wanted to make them proud. It was the least I could’ve done for the two who raised me.
But now it was three days before my eighteenth birthday, and my best friend, Scott, was trying to talk me into accompanying him to a party that Friday, one of the last of the school year.
“Come on, Ruben. It’s almost your birthday, and then you’ll be an adult. I say you enjoy your last three days of freedom. What could go wrong?” He grinned at me, bright brown eyes glinting with mischief. “You’ve never even been to a party. And there will be girls! And alcohol!”
I laughed. “You say that like it’s not a recipe for disaster, Scott.”
“You deserve to have a little fun, Rue. You’re already on the fast track to being an adult. What’s the harm?”
“Okay, okay!” I said, holding my hands up in silent surrender. “You win. I’ll go.”
“Yes! I’ll be here to pick you up. Around nine? And don’t tell your parents. I don’t think there’s gonna be any parents there.”
“I don’t really like lying to them, Scott.”
“This is the first time you’ve done it. It’ll be fine. Consider tonight a crash course in being a teenager.”
“All right, fine. I’ll see you later.”
I stood in front of my mirror, frowning. How did one dress for a high school party? I scratched my head, then forced myself to put my hands back at my sides; I’d mess up my hair if I kept fiddling with it. I’d chosen a nice pair of jeans and a black muscle shirt under an open plaid button-up. I’d ask my mother what she thought, but Scott had made me swear not to say anything; my dinner churned in my stomach at the thought.
I heard a beep from outside and grabbed my wallet, walking out of my room and down the hall into the living room. My mother was sitting in an armchair, her head bent over a book; my father was in the kitchen, making himself a highball.
“And just where are you off to?” Mom asked, and I stopped; I should’ve known that I wouldn’t get away without an explanation.
“Scott’s house,” I replied, giving her the first answer that came into my head.
“Are you staying the night? You don’t have a bag with you,” She said, a faint smile on her lips.
“Um… I have some stuff at his house, Mom.”
“All right. Make sure you come back in the morning, okay? It’s your birthday weekend, and your father and I want to spend time with you, all right?”
“Yes, Mom.” Waving at her over my shoulder, I ran out the door before she could call me out on my lies, the first ones I’d ever told.
Scott leaned over and opened the car door for me, his grin so wide it took up the whole lower half of his face, his cheeks flushed and eyes bright with excitement.
“You ready, Rue?”
“As ready as I’m gonna be.”
“Question: Why do you act like you’re being tortured? It’s a party! You’re supposed to be excited!”
“I’m more nervous than anything else,” I replied, smoothing down the front of my shirt, my fingers trembling.
“You have nothing to be nervous about. Just stick with me, and you’ll be fine.”
When we arrived at the house, the party was already in full swing.
Music was playing, so loudly that my ears rang and the floor shook; whatever the beat was, it was bass-heavy, and I was feeling it. The house was packed with bodies pressed close together, and the tables had been pushed back to form a makeshift dance floor. There was even a strobe light, giving the house a nightclub kind of feel.
Scott led the way, elbowing his way through the crowd to clear a path for us. He kind of reminded me of a politician, shaking hands and giving hugs all around; for a moment, I was sick with envy over his ease. He seemed so at home, even in this frenzied atmosphere.
“Come on, let’s get you a drink!” He called, holding my wrist so he didn’t lose me in the crush. After what seemed like an age, we made it to the kitchen, which was mercifully quiet. An array of different alcohol lined the island: tequila, bottles of wine and vodka, whiskey, and an endless variety of beer.
What did one even choose when they didn’t typically drink?
“Here, I’ll make you a screwdriver. Or would you rather have a vodka cranberry?”
“Surprise me,” I replied, leaning against the island, trying to quiet the unease that had settled like a weight inside of my chest.
Scott handed me a glass of red liquid, and a straw. “Drink up, kiddo. You’ll feel better. But take it slow, that’s some strong stuff.”
I took a sip, finding that the cranberry and lime almost overpowered the vodka. “It’s really good!” I said, and my surprise must’ve shown in my face, because he laughed.
“Okay, let’s go.”
We walked back out into the living room again, and as if by magic, three girls from our class materialized around Scott and I.
“Hey, Scott!” Kay McDonald beamed at my best friend, showing off straight white teeth. Her short blonde bob reflected the rainbow colors of the strobes, and she was dressed in a little black dress that showed off all of her ample curves. Her hand was wrapped around a green beer bottle, and she leaned forward. “I was hoping that you’d come.”
“I wouldn’t miss it! Plus, Ruben has never been to a party, and it’s almost his birthday.” He clapped me on the shoulder so hard that I nearly dropped my drink. Kay smiled at me. “Happy almost birthday, Ruben.” Her eyes returned to Scott, and he smiled at her; sparks were flying between them, and I felt like I was watching something private.
The two girls with her, Callie Carpenter and Veronica Lang, were watching quietly, each of them nursing their own drinks. I smiled at them shyly, feeling my cheeks heat; to say that I was awkward with the opposite sex was a huge understatement.
“Hi,” I said, shouting to be heard over the thumping bassline. Callie smiled and wiggled her fingers, tilting her head to the side as though she was studying me. She was pretty, with long, dark hair that she’d formed into space buns, eyes so dark that they looked black, olive skin, plush, kissable lips, and an open, welcoming smile. She was dressed in a pair of tight red leather pants, and a halter top that was shimmery and scarlet, nursing a glass of red wine.
Veronica was watching the crowd, a distant smirk pulling at her thin, expressive mouth, a cup with orange liquid inside it perched in her hand. She had red, curly hair that she pulled into a bun at the nape of her neck, and keen, bright green eyes that glinted like chips of emerald. Her clothing was conservative, considering all of our classmates: just a simple pair of ripped black jeans and a sweater the color of crushed raspberries.
When I turned back to Scott and Kay, they were gone; I looked around and spotted them on the stairs, Kay leading Scott, their hands entwined and their drinks abandoned on the coffee table.
Later, when I’d drank a good three or four more vodka cranberries, Callie was in my lap on a couch in the den, arms wrapped around my neck, kissing me softly.
“Have you ever done this before?” She asked, her fingers exploring under my shirt, and I shook my head mutely, unable to believe my luck.
“Lucky me,” She whispered against my neck, and I shuddered. After the chaos in the living room, the room was almost too quiet, but she smelled so good, and all of my senses were overloaded, full of her; everything was clouded by her.
But even having a gorgeous girl in my lap wasn’t enough to distract from one of the windows breaking, the glass sparkling on the carpet.
Inside the hole wriggled a tiny, little green creature whose head barely came up to the sill, pointed ears twitching. It was naked, aside from the tiny, filthy loincloth wrapped around its waist.
“Your parents told you that if you were naughty, we would come for you,” It said, in a voice that reminded me of a serrated knife. “And now you must go before the king to confess your crimes, however big or small, Ruben Cafferty.”