This was one of those rare stories where I felt like it was actually complete when I finished it. I’m sure with a couple revisions it could get better, but I think what I mean is that I was paying attention to every detail while writing and making sure everything was consistent, and then at the end it felt good to go. When you’re done with your stories, do they ever feel complete? We used to have conversations in class about this, so I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.
The Dinner Party
Before the night had a chance to start, the Morgans were already arguing over the seating arrangement. It was a touchy subject because no one invited to the dinner actually liked each other, but they promised they would be civil as long as no one had to sit next to anyone they didn’t like. The husband and wife were on friendly terms with everyone invited. They moved to the neighborhood long after their guests.
“We could tell them the children are sick, and that we don’t want their kids to get sick either,” the husband suggested.
“We’re all adults. It’s one night out of the year. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“We don’t know,” he said, taking the plates from his wife who was standing on a chair in the kitchen, half inside the cupboard. “We only just moved here.”
“I want everyone to see we are a normal family,” she said.
She wasn’t wrong. They were the typical family from the city that grew tired of the noise and congestion. It was important to move before the school year started so the kids could blend in with the rest of the first and second graders, and more important that they grow up in a nice neighborhood where plenty of kids their age could get together.
“Have you met anyone yet?” the wife asked.
“We met the Derkins next door, right after we moved.”
“Do you mind calling them?”
“Because I asked you to,” she shot back. He gave her the look.
“Should I speak to them, or should I hang up as soon as they answer?” he asked.
“Ask them to come early, if it’s possible. We need help figuring out the seating arrangements.”
Mrs. Morgan promised she wouldn’t start so early, but she needed to take the edge off. Stress turned into anxiety, which turned into headaches. Headaches turned into sleepless nights, which made dealing with the children much worse. Drinking didn’t help either; it made her more reactionary, but it was a chance she was willing to take.
“Also, ask them to bring their kids. We’ll keep them all downstairs and don’t forget to set up the fold-out table. The chips are in the pantry and bring out extra napkins. I want everything set up so no one comes upstairs while we eat. The last thing I need is to trip over them while I’m bringing out the food.”
Mr. Morgan missed everything his wife said—only a few words in between. Kids. Basement. Extra napkins. The rest he could piece together himself. “They’ll be over in ten minutes,” he called up from the basement.
“We need them now,” she said.
“I already hung up the phone.”
She needed to stay focused in order to make the night work. Her husband was right about everyone needing to get along. She wondered what could have happened between the families that caused so much tension.
The Derkins arrived an hour before the party started; the husband let them in, apologizing for the mess. “We’re still unpacking,” he said. “The kids will be downstairs, and I’ll throw your coats in our room.” Mrs. Morgan was checking on the macaroni and cheese for the kids and the ham and vegetables for the adults.
“It smells fantastic.”
“Thank you, and thank you for coming so early. I actually need your help with the seating arrangements. I understand that not everyone gets along here.”
“That’s true. Some of us keep in touch, but we mostly keep to ourselves.”
Mr. Morgan, jumped in. “Why is that?”
“It’s a long story. Most of us have lived here all our lives.”
“How long has it been since you all got together like this?”
“Not long. This is a very recent thing, which is why some of us still have hard feelings.”
“We just need to know who needs to sit next to who,” the wife said.
The children hadn’t met prior to the dinner party. No one went out of their way to introduce themselves, which was refreshing, but one of those unavoidable things people do.
“My mom’s already drunk,” said Robby.
“What’s that?” asked the neighbor.
“She drinks special juice that makes her feel happy. And sometimes sad. I’ve seen her cry before.”
“What is she sad about?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can we change the channel?” asked the neighbor.
“Do you want to play a game instead?”
“Hide and seek? There’s lots of good spots.”
It was getting closer to dinner time and not much progress was made. The problem was trickier than they thought. They never had this problem in the city. No one aside from family visited for the most part. They talked to other parents at the park and sometimes exchanged numbers so they’d have someone to talk to while they watched their kids run around, but nothing more. Here, it was like being a part of a Shakespearean tragedy. Mrs. Morgan even began questioning what she wanted to get out of this.
“They can sit next to you two, but I don’t want to sit across from them.”
“What did they do?” she asked.
“They’re blind to the world around them. They act like they care, but they’re out for themselves.” Mrs. Derkin nodded.
“We could share one side of the table and they could sit across from us, and the family on the corner can sit across from you. There’s enough room for four people on each side.”
It was getting to the point where Mr. and Mrs. Morgan didn’t think whatever happened was a big deal. They walked back into the kitchen to talk things over. “Sometimes people enjoy being upset,” said the husband. “It gives them a sense of importance in a world that no one else would ever care about.” The wife was impressed. “I think you’re right,” she said, “but their feelings are actually hurt and we need to take them seriously.”
“What do you think happened?” he asked.
“I don’t know. We only have a half hour before everyone else shows up.”
The game was starting to get serious. The two brothers, Robby and Anthony, raised the volume on the television so their footsteps would be harder to track. They thought they had home field advantage, but the neighbors’ house was built exactly the same way. Eric and Jeffery Derkin were also brothers and the same ages as Robby and Anthony. Neither side could gain the upper-hand so they agreed to each have one person switch sides. Robby was now with Eric and Anthony with Jeffrey.
Eric grabbed his Robby by the arm pulled him into the pantry. There was a tiny space underneath the stairs that neither team hid in yet.
“Do you like it here?” asked Eric.
“It’s okay,” said Robby.
“They’re never going to find us here.”
Eric never let go of the boy’s hand. Robby tried to let go but the Eric gripped it tighter. “We have to stick together,” he said. Robby didn’t know where else they could go without getting caught.
“Let go,” said Robby.
“Shh. They’re going to catch us.”
They could hear the other team looking for them. Their options were limited at this point. Many of the cardboard boxes from when they moved were kept in the basement, but everyone knew which ones were empty, and they’d all know if they were moved around. The laundry room had some interesting spots, but it was full of spider crickets. One wrong move and they’d jump all over them.
“Please let go,” the boy whispered.
“I like holding your hand,” said the neighbor.
The other families started to arrive. There were Mr. and Mrs. Alfaro on the corner and Mr. and Mrs. Reid across the street. Each family brought something that needed to be reheated, but there was no room in the oven while the ham was finishing. It was especially awkward because the families brought small appetizers that had be eaten before the ham came out. Mrs. Morgan thought it was done intentionally to show that they didn’t approve of the dinner, but didn’t want to outright admit it.
“I’ll be frank,” the wife said. “We know that there’s been stuff going on between you all for a little while now, but I just want to take the time to thank you all for coming and warmly welcoming us into the neighborhood. We appreciate you all putting your differences aside for a night. I don’t want to bring it up after this point, and I’ve spent too much time figuring out how to make it work perfectly, so please, just find a seat anywhere you like. Grab drinks from the kitchen, hang out on the patio out back, or stand.”
“We have IPA’s, stouts, regular beers, red and white wine, and some harder stuff depending on how the night goes,” said the husband.
The Morgans went back into the kitchen as everyone made themselves comfortable in the living room and dining room. “I think if we constantly feed them, they’ll be too focused on the food to make things awkward.”
Everyone was sitting at the big dining room table, talking quietly amongst themselves. The Derkins sat right where they said they would: in the corner but not at the head; the Reids chose the head of the table and the chair to the left. The two wives apparently held no grudges. When they sat down, they smiled politely at each other. The Reids also had an older daughter in high school who sat in between her father and Mrs. Alfaro, who brought their son who was the same age as the daughter and in many of the same classes in high school.
The Reids hadn’t met the new neighbors so they wanted to sit near the Morgans whenever they emerged from the kitchen. No one acknowledged the Derkins. Mrs. Morgan would be too busy to both be sitting at the same time, so there was always an empty chair, which ensured everyone was spread out evenly. The children at the table would inevitably leave the second they were done eating, which would make things even easier.
Mrs. Reid came into the kitchen and mentioned how nicely everything was coming along. Mr. Morgan thanked her and said they wanted to get things organized as quickly as possible before the school year. They wanted the move to feel as normal as possible for their children. “Our son and your next door neighbor’s son used to get along, but all this craziness happened. My husband won’t tell me anything and says there’s nothing to worry about, but those two were best friends. How could I not be worried?”
“I’m going to hurt you if you don’t let go.”
“Everyone hates me. Do you hate me?”
“Not yet. Why does everyone hate you?”
“I don’t know if they do, but they all give me mean looks in school.”
“Do you like me?”
Eric hugged Robby and squeezed tightly. “Stop touching me!” The other team heard the yell. They listened to the other team close in on the pantry. Before Robby could realize what was happening, Eric kissed him on the lips. “What’s wrong with you!” Robby screamed! “Boys don’t kiss boys!”
Robby’s younger brother laughed when he heard his older brother say that. He ran upstairs to tell their mom what had happened. Eric tried to stop him, but Anthony was already halfway up the stairs. Robby ran after him yelling in disgust as Eric sat at the bottom of the stairs crying, listening to the chairs scratch the new wooden floors and everyone’s voices raise.
Reminder: If you’re interested in submitting a story, click the submissions button up top for details. I’d love to start posting stories on the blog that aren’t always my own.