Note: This Sam story was referenced in Doom, Glitter, and IPhones, and therefore takes place before that story
Samantha shut the fridge and stared at me like I had three heads.
“No you didn’t.”
I sighed. Why couldn’t she leave me alone? These algebra problems can’t solve themselves. “It’s true.”
My pencil hovered over the next problem. “Yes.”
Samantha skipped back into the kitchen. “I don’t believe you.”
I chewed on the eraser. “Didn’t mom tell you?”
“She said there’d been an accident. For heaven’s sake, it was a surprise birthday party. How on earth did you manage to set the house on fire?”
I set the pencil down and stared across the table at my little brother Eli, wanting to share my exasperated gaze with him. He ignored me and leaned over in his high chair, staring expectantly at Samantha. Of course a six month old didn’t care about finishing his algebra homework. He didn’t need to worry about his sister’s interruptions or about finding a job because he lit the house on fire and had to pay for repairs.
“You know heaven and earth are quite a ways away from each other.”
“Not really. But that’s beside the point,” Samantha sat beside Eli, then stared at her empty hands.
“You forgot the baby food.”
“Thanks captain obvious.” She retreated to the fridge once again. “So what did you do, exactly?”
I dropped my head onto my work page with a groan. “Just be glad you were away at college.”
“I’m not so sure I am. Aha!” She raised the jar of baby food, inspecting it in the light. “Found it. Now tell me what you did, or I’ll find someone else to give me the details,” she said.
Perhaps that would be better. Then I could finish this accursed word problem. I glanced down at my progress, gauging whether I should tell the story or finish solving for x.
A blank page stared back. Oh wait, I hadn’t made any progress.
“Alright, I’ll tell you, as long as you leave me alone after so I can get this math done,” I growled.
Samantha slid into a chair beside me, ignoring Eli’s babbled protests. “Done. Now start from the beginning.”
It was supposed to be a surprise birthday party. Now the house was on fire.
I know that sounds a little crazy, but I swear, it is not my fault. For the most part. I guess I should explain.
I was turning sixteen. Since my birthday is in January right after winter break, I had to spend most of my day locked up in school, which gave my parents just enough time to plan shocking the daylights out of their son. Who doesn’t love parents, right?
It was a pretty normal day in my reckoning. Three of my classes sang “Happy Birthday” to me in three, horribly off key versions. It was so awkward, sitting at my desk while they all sang, though I have to admit, it was nice being the center of attention.
Now that I think back, James was acting a little weird; he delayed me an hour after school claiming he’d lost his brand new IPhone. He’d gotten it for Christmas and said his parents would kill him if he couldn’t find it. I rolled my eyes. His parents could just buy him another one. James was one of the wealthier kids in the neighborhood, I guess you could say. He had the name brands, the sick Nikes, and the latest tech. I was a little jealous. I didn’t even have a phone. But I caved in anyway and helped him search. He was my friend, after all.
After scouring the gym and the classrooms for the better part of an hour, James suddenly dropped the search. Moments later he was speeding off in his black Mustang, leaving me on the school steps wondering what I’d done wrong. I mean, what kind of friend leaves his amigo in the frigid January wilderness when he just helped him look for his stupid phone? I started down the sidewalk, wondering why his parents trusted their irresponsible senior to drive at all, and in a new car too. I shoved my hands in my pockets and focused on the silver lining: James would probably crash and die and I would survive because he hadn’t taken me home in his really, really sweet ride.
It was cold enough to snow, but warm enough for the snow to melt once it touched the blacktop. Typical Ohio weather. I trudged down the cracked sidewalk. The two story houses in their blue, brown, and yellow hues rose out of the dead grass on either side of the street, taunting me with the warmth they held inside.
I was a little depressed. Who wants to sit in school all day, search for their dim witted friend’s IPhone, then walk home in freezing weather on their sweet sixteenth? A few less than friendly names rose up in my mind and attached themselves to James. Come on man, your friend is broke, it’s his sixteenth birthday (it’s snowing, I might add), and you can’t give him a ride in your awesome Stang? I was so miserable I would have chucked a snowball at some random kid if there was enough snow to make one.
I finally reached my home, which is one of those standard, brown, two-story-three-bedroom-two-bathroom-small-dining-room-and-way-too-small-living-room houses. We had a garage attached to the side, but it didn’t house any cars. It was currently littered with junk that my dad said was too old to throw away and my mom said was so ugly the garbage wouldn’t accept it.
I didn’t notice the many cars parked across the street. I did notice, however, that the lights were off in the house, which probably meant dad was at a job interview and mom was out shopping. That was even more infuriating. How could they forget my birthday? They only had three kids. Was it that hard to remember when they were born?
I will admit, it wasn’t very typical and I probably should have noticed that our family van was still parked in the driveway. Let me just say that when you’re angry and you want to stay angry, common sense doesn’t make much, well, sense.
I walked into the house and turned to shut the door. The warmth immediately soaked through my clothes, melting the chill. Weird; dad was trying to save on the heating bill. Did someone leave the furnace on?
I turned around and noticed three things in the space of a millisecond.
All the blinds were drawn; we have some great blinds, apparently, so the room was near pitch black. The next thing I noticed was that something was draped across the ceiling and a shape was crawling towards me. This all added up to: a giant spider had made webs across my ceiling, closed the blinds, and was about to murder me.
My conclusion was a little out there, I admit. But in my defense I had watched The Return of the King last night, so it seemed like a reasonable explanation.
I scrambled backward and flipped on the lights.
“Surprise!” screaming people rushed into the living room. I let out a slightly less-than-manly squeal and jumped back against the wall.
Don’t judge me. I was still on the spider-is-coming-to-eat me page and sometimes my mind has trouble catching up with my surroundings. James stood near the front of the crowd and I stared at him for a whole second, my brain fogged up in confusion. My thoughts ranged from What!? to What! to Why is James here?
A bunch of people were now squished into our previously referred to small living room. I counted both sets of grandparents, a handful of aunts and uncles, and a bunch of my friends. Oh yes, and my parents. They were there too.
That’s when it all registered. Streamers, not spider webs, hung from the ceiling. Heaps of plastic cups and plates were piled atop the dining room table. The spider that was about to snack on me a moment ago was actually a green balloon.
“Happy birthday Sam!” my mom said.
I was then engulfed by smiling people. My relatives hugged me and said I was growing up and they were so proud and all that. My girl friends (friends that are girls, so we don’t get anything mixed up; I’m not a player I promise) were already telling me how hard it was for them to keep this party a secret. My bros were laughing and trying to replicate my facial expression when they’d scared me. James apologized and told me the IPhone and car thing was a ruse so all my friends could get here.
After I recovered from the initial shock and embarrassment, it took a little while to get adjusted. If you’ve ever been the victim of a surprise party, you know what I mean. You’re not really sure what to do next. You’re happy and all, but suddenly your thrown from being a normal person minding your normal business to being the host of an increasingly abnormal party.
Mom ushered us all into the dining room, where my ever original favorite food, pizza, awaited. After Dad prayed, thanking God for me (though they don’t always seem so appreciative), we dug into the pizza. As the birthday boy, I got first dibs.
Now at this point you might be wondering when the fire comes in. Just wait for it.
After the food was dished out, we settled down, the kids in the living room and the adults in the dining room.
It was pretty cool once it sank in. My parents and friends actually cared enough to put a party together for me. Me, little old Sam. I felt sorta bad for my previous lack of faith in everyone. I’d have to thank them all before they left or something, to make up for it.
I started enjoying myself, for the most part. James and my other friend Liam were trying to impress everyone with their awesome storytelling skills. Unfortunately, all their stories revolved around me and my most embarrassing accidents.
Trying to stop them only made them try harder, and soon all the kids were laughing as James and Liam acted out (a much exaggerated version, I might add) the time I knocked over a flower display at a funeral.
I escaped into the kitchen, my cheeks hotter than the Sahara in July. Despite their stories, this day had seriously taken a turn for the better.
Pizza boxes were stacked high atop our old, knob ridden oven, witnesses to all the aching stomachs (including mine). I pulled out the overflowing trash bin and stuffed my plate on top of the others.
A burst of laughter drifted into the kitchen. I slid the trashcan back into the cabinet. I’d probably have to clean everything up after the party was over, but I didn’t mind so much. It was the least I could do for all they’d done. I grabbed the Dr. Pepper and poured myself a cup.
Something brushed against the back of my leg. I jumped, almost spilling my drink. I looked down.
There it was, my worst enemy.
The green balloon.
It had trailed me into the kitchen, I was sure of it. The balloon had waited till I was alone before attacking. Its demented, permanent marker smiley face grinned up at me. Talk about creepy. I set my drink onto the counter and glanced at the doorway.
“So you thought you could sneak up on me, Mr. Green?” I said to the balloon.
You are mine now, annoying child! I imagined it saying.
“Is that so?” I reached back and grabbed a pen from the pencil holder.
I pictured the creepy smile melting into a frown as I brandished my weapon.
You wouldn’t dare!
“Oh yes I would…”
“Sam, who are you talking to?”
I jumped at least a foot.
“Whoa, uh, hi Brittany. I wasn’t talking to anyone,” I said, slipping the pen behind my back.
Before we go any farther, let me reiterate; I (sadly) don’t have a girlfriend. That didn’t mean I didn’t want one. Brittney would be my first choice *cough* my only choice. I wasn’t obsessed or anything, just interested. Slightly.
An awkward silence stretched between us. I grasped for something to say.
“So Brittney, you want a drink or something?” I asked, fumbling with a new cup.
“No, just more pizza,” she said, nodding toward the box behind me.
I dropped the cup back onto the counter. “Um, sure. Don’t let me get in your way.” I hastily backed away from the box.
When I turned away from the box, I turned my back on the green balloon. Let me just say, when the people in action movies tell you to never turn your back on your enemy, it’s great advice.
I stepped back and planted my foot and most of my balance, not on the solid floor, but on a squishy balloon.
TO BE CONTINUED
Thanks for reading! The second part of Birthday Parties, Balloons, and Fire will be posted next week. Hope to see you then!
Gabrielle Pollack (A.K.A. The Great Rising Puzzlement)