I finally finished it! *wild applause* I hope you enjoy the second part of Birthday Parties, Balloons, and Fire!
Note: The first part of Birthday Parties, Balloons, and Fire can be found here.
The balloon shot out from under my foot. I flew backward, slamming into the stove.
Brittney screamed and dropped her pizza.
OWWW! Pain jolted my backside as I plopped onto the tile.
“Oh my gosh, Sam are you ok?”
I dragged myself up by whatever part of the oven I could grab. “Yea, I’m good.” I leaned on the oven handle, trying to look natural, my backside throbbing from the floor spanking. I glanced toward the door, looking for the green balloon. It was nowhere in sight. The coward must have escaped.
“Are you sure?” Brittney asked.
She looked at me sideways. I grinned reassuringly. It came out as a pained grimace, but Brittney looked satisfied.
She bent down to pick up her pizza. The sauce had splattered all over the tile. Impressive Sam. You not only make a mess wherever you go, but you cause other people to make messes too. Skills.
“Sorry about that.” I grabbed a handful of paper towels and started wiping up the mess. She grabbed a handful more and helped. We cleaned in silence. Awkward silence.
We finished and stood up at the same time. I offered to take the dirty paper towels and throw them in the trash. She let me.
Another silence snuck into the kitchen and left my brain scrambling for something to say. Brittney took interest in a crack in one of the tiles. That tile had always bothered me as a kid.
I was probably the one who’d cracked it.
“So…” I started, hoping something would come to me mid-sentence. Nothing did. Panic took a hold of my brain. Our relationship couldn’t survive another awkward silence!
“Hey Sam! Get back in here or we’re opening your presents without you!” my grandpa yelled from the dining room.
My shoulders drooped with relief. Thank you, Grandpa.
“Coming!” I yelled. I headed for the doorway, then stopped to motion Britney through. What was I thinking, cutting in front of a girl?
She didn’t move forward. Maybe she wanted me to go. I started to step through. She did the same.
I stepped back. “Umm, ladies first.” I motioned through the door.
She gave me her trademark flickering smile and exited. I wiped my sleeve across forehead. I desperately needed to improve my existing-in-the-same-room-with-pretty-girls skills. At this rate I’d be single till I died.
Before I continue on, you’ve probably figured out what I did wrong. The pizza boxes on the stove was just a disaster waiting to happen. When I pulled myself up by the oven, I’d grabbed one of the knobs and inadvertently turned it on.
Don’t worry, it gets worse.
Brittney and I made it to the living room where a stack of nicely wrapped presents awaited.
I received the newest Call of Duty from James and an invite to play it at his house (since I didn’t have my own Xbox. I swear he got it for me just to play it himself). Liam gave me a few boxes of candy, along with a sweet pocket knife (which I wasn’t sure I was going to use, since I couldn’t bring it to school and I didn’t live in Middle Earth). I got a bunch of clothes, not wanted but much needed, from my parents and other relatives, and a cool looking novel from my sister (who was away at college). Last but not least, my parents brought out a small rectangular box. Behold! I tore off the wrapping paper to find nothing other than a smartphone.
Alright! Sure, it was an Android, but it was still a phone! After cleaning up all the wrapping paper, I gathered everyone’s numbers (including Brittney’s. I didn’t want her to feel left out).
At this point everyone was stuffed and happy. I had my phone. My relatives had caught up on all the news. My guy friends had sufficiently embarrassed me, and my girl friends, well, I assume they were happy. They looked quite entertained by James and Liam’s stories. Other than my Brittney incident, everything was going swimmingly.
All the elders migrated outdoors to watch the sunset or something, leaving the dining room table and a few decks of cards to the teens.
James was shuffling the stack as I listened to the rest of my friends gush about the new Marvel movie when a tangy smell floated in from the kitchen. It sort of smelled like…
Being the careful, conscientious person I am, I completely ignored it.
I had reasons, Ok? I thought the neighbors were having a bonfire. Or my parents had lit one themselves to combat the cold. It was possible. That’s what I thought, and that’s why I ignored the smell.
And the little cracking sounds that drifted into the dining room a little while later.
“Hey Sam, do you smell that?” Brittney asked.
I confidently assured her that my neighbors were having a bonfire.
Lucky for me (and my house), Liam spoke up.
“I thought bonfires were illegal within the city limits. Remember what happened the last time we lit one?”
He was right. Either my neighbors were breaking the law, or something was burning…in my house.
Just on cue, a loud pop split the air.
Everyone jumped. I traded glances with Liam.
That’s when it hit me. I’d turned the oven on.
I threw my chair back and rushed into the kitchen.
Flaming pizza boxes covered the stove and counter. The wall behind them was already scorched black. It would catch soon.
I stood anchored to the floor, shocked. My pulse lagged and I swear time itself slowed. Each flame writhed in slow motion.
Liam skidded to a halt beside me. “Um Sam…”
My heart sped back up again and so did the world around me. The rest of my friends rushed in to behold the disaster.
“Grab the fire extinguisher!” I yelled, reaching for a nearby cabinet and throwing open its doors. Liam and James shot off to retrieve the extinguisher, though I was pretty sure they had no idea where it was.
I shoved aside cans of food, searching for the flour, because flour kills fire, right?
At this point I probably should have called my mom or dad, but I was so panicked I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I wasn’t thinking straight. Besides, I knew what to do. As soon as the flames were out I’d seek their assistance.
I found the flour and tore off the lid.
A side note before I continue: flour is white and powdery. So is powdered sugar. They look exactly the same. One puts out fire.
The other explodes in your face. I didn’t know this helpful little piece of information. Again, they look exactly the same, and they were literally side by side in the cabinet. I thought I grabbed the flour.
Whoever created powdered sugar, I hate you from a deep corner of my soul.
Because I was panicked, I took the container by the sides and tossed all of its fluffy, sugary contents toward the fire. A large part of it landed on the floor. The small portion that was left hovered above the fire for a millisecond, caught mid-air.
Then it exploded in the brightest flash I’ve ever seen.
I fell back, taking half my friends to the floor. All the girls screamed.
A head appeared in the window above the kitchen sink. Mom.
The flames had grown and now crept down the edges of the cabinets and up the wall. Mom jumped when she saw the flames. Then she caught sight of me and her mouth moved. Thanks to the thick window, I couldn’t hear her.
I didn’t have to hear her to know she was yelling my full name, plus a few choice descriptive words. My mom’s a great woman, but when she gets mad…
I’m dead. I am so dead. The thought circled my mind like a carousel.
The chaos had only just begun. The fire alarm started screeching and everyone cowered, covering their ears. Mom’s face disappeared from the window. Moments later the faces of the rest of the adults flashed by as they made their way around the house.
Liam and James came back with the fire extinguisher. I didn’t have time to ask them how they’d found it, for instead of putting the fire out themselves, they shoved the extinguisher at me.
I fumbled with the pin, but couldn’t pull it out. I hammered it on the floor, trying to loosen it.
Come on come on come on….
The pin snapped off. OH NO.
The front door slammed open and before I knew it I was dragged backward by the collar and thrown outside with the rest of the kids.
I plopped down on the curb. My hands shook. Great job Samuel. You really blew it this time.
I dropped my head into my hands.
Sirens broke through the serene night air, their pitch rising as they raced closer.
“Come on Liam, let’s go to the park or something,” I said, resting my arm against the window. The houses crawled by, haunting me with their wholeness.
“No. Your mom wants you back home.”
After last night’s chaos had died down and a nice hole had been burned through the ceiling, Liam had invited me to his house. He must have seen the murderous look in my mother’s eyes and decided he wanted me to live to see another day. It was a nice gesture…while it had lasted.
The time had now come for me to face my death.
My stomach twisted. “My mother wants me home cause she’s finally decided how to kill me.”
Liam steered the car around a corner. The green street sign flashed by. Bridge Street. My street.
“You’re being dramatic.”
“You don’t know that. Are you really going to drive your friend to his execution?”
Liam sighed. “You need to go home. If you mope around my house any longer I’ll get depressed.”
“I wasn’t moping.”
“Then what do you call silently slouching through the house gazing bleary eyed out the windows?”
“Which is exactly why you need to go home.” Liam eased around another corner and my house rose into view. I didn’t think my heart could drop any farther, but it did, all the way down to my toes. I rested my forehead against the window and stared down at the passing road, trying to deny reality for a little longer.
Why hadn’t I called mom inside as soon as I’d discovered the fire? Why hadn’t I realized that I’d accidently turned on the oven in the first place?
The tires scraped against the curb. Liam pulled the gear into park and shut off the car.
“I’m not opening the door for you.” Liam stepped out of the car.
He didn’t need to.
The door was jerked open and I grabbed the seat belt to keep myself from plunging head first onto the sidewalk.
Mom stood over me, hands on her hips, feet spread wide like some Amazon warrioress trying to intimidate her enemies.
I tried to smile, but mom’s stony face made me swallow it.
“Sam, we need to talk.”
Before I knew it she had dragged me indoors and sat me at the dining room table. One glance at the blackened insides of the kitchen told me I was in a heap of trouble.
Mom slid a plate of eggs in front of me before taking a seat. I eyed them suspiciously. This didn’t mean I was out of the woods. Even the apocalypse couldn’t stop my mother from feeding her children breakfast.
How had she made scrambled eggs anyway? The fire had completely destroyed the stove.
“Sam, I want you to know you aren’t in trouble,” she started.
“At least not yet. Now tell me what happened.”
Samantha scooted forward, her elbows crinkling my algebra homework. “So what happened next?”
I tugged my page out from under her elbows. “I told mom what happened.” “And?”
“She said I shouldn’t have tried to put the fire out by myself. In other words she said I was incapable.”
“And she told me I’d be paying for most of the repairs.”
Samantha sat back. “That was relatively anti-climactic.”
I huffed. “What do you want from me?”
Eli squalled. Samantha cast a glance his way and then realized the baby food was still in her hand.
“Did I forget you, Eli?” Samantha pushed her seat back and slipped into the dining room in search of a spoon. “I was expecting a little more punishment after all that build up.”
“You wanted your little brother to suffer.” I knew it. My big sister was a witch in disguise. She probably had a wand in her closet, along with a collection of dried frogs and slugs.
“No. I just don’t want mom to go to easy on you. She needs to make sure you’ve learned your lesson.”
“I’ve learned it well, thank you,” I picked up my pencil. My story was over. The smart side of me said I should go back to my math. The other part wanted this conversation to continue so I didn’t have to.
I waited for Samantha to say something. She found a spoon and sat beside Eli without another word.
Fine then. I turned back at my math problem.
So x plus 7y equals x squared minus…
I read over the problem, then plugged in a few numbers. I got an answer, but I was pretty sure it was wrong. The original equation didn’t have an “i” in it.
Samantha glanced over at me every so often, absent-mindedly pushing the spoon Eli’s way.
After the fiftieth glance I finally looked up. “What?”
Samantha was in the process of freeing her earring from Eli’s grasp. “One moment,” she pried his fingers open. “I swear this child will grow up to be Gollum.”
I waited till she reclaimed her ear. “You know the fire could have been avoided,” she said.
I tilted my head. “Yes, I gathered that. If I had paid more attention, I would have caught onto the fire earlier.”
“No, not that,” Samantha stared down at the spoon in her hands. Eli reached for her earing again, but she leaned away. “I don’t think attention is all that matters. I think it’s a mind set.”
I cocked my head. “What?”
“You thought that just because the fire was your fault and your responsibility that it was solely your problem to solve.”
I rolled my eyes. “I live with a family of philosophers.”
Samantha smiled. “No, just thinkers. All but you of course.”
I chose to ignore that last comment. “Those words mean the same thing, smart one.”
“No they don’t.”
“Yes they do.”
I waved her words away. “They mean the same thing. Now leave me alone.”
“Are you still on problem one?” she asked.
“Yes, and I will be for all eternity if you don’t leave me alone.”
Samantha sighed. “As you wish.” She returned to feeding Eli.
I went back to the problem and scribbled out a few more calculations. It didn’t come out right. Curse you algebra! Who on earth created this torture? I dropped my chin onto the table, glaring at the problem in silence.
Samantha cleared her throat.
“I might be able to help you with that.”
I glanced down at the problem. “No I…”
Could Samantha really make it any worse?
“Fine. See what you can come up with,” I said.
Samantha once again left Eli and took a seat next to me. We slowly worked out the problem and actually solved it (after three pages of notes). Victory! Take that you cursed problem!
After we read the next problem aloud, Samantha looked up from the sheet.
“You know, I was wondering something else.”
“What’s all that glitter doing in the carpet near the front door?”
I ducked my head. “I think we should continue with this problem. It looks really hard.”
“So what do you think I’m supposed to solve for? The watermelons or the pumpkins?”
Samantha sat back, propping her hands on her hips.
“It’s a story for another time,” I explained.
“Alright fine. Another time. But mark me,” she wagged her finger at me. “You will tell me.”
I sighed. “I will.”
Samantha raised an eyebrow.
I hope you guys enjoyed the second part of Birthday Parties, Balloons, and Fire (even though it was a little late). See you next week!
-Gabrielle Pollack (the Great Rising Puzzlement)