Over the next hour, Jake and Eric worked side-by-side to get the living room ready for the party. Furniture was moved to create mingling space, tables were set up, snacks were displayed, and musical options were debated and settled on. At first, Jake was dismayed to find out just how small and weak he actually was, his limitations becoming blatantly obvious whenever he attempted to move a chair or reach for a particularly high shelf. Eric noticed this and asked Jake to instead do smaller chores like arranging the snacks on the table and retrieving CDs from the boys’ bedrooms. Over time, Jake seemed to grow a little more comfortable in his own skin, smiling sheepishly whenever Eric would ruffle his hair affectionately or lift Jake up by his armpits to reach something out of his limited reach.
With only a few minutes to spare, the brothers finished setting up and stood back to admire their work. Food and punch were displayed proudly on two tables on opposite sides of the room, flanking a wide-open space in which one could fit dozens of middle schoolers.
“Not bad.” Jake declared. “Not bad at aaaah!”
Before Jake could finish, Eric grabbed him around the waist and hoisted him into the air, throwing the boy across his shoulders. Jake screamed in mock terror as Eric twirled around, giving the child an amusement-park quality ride as both boys laughed jubilantly. Before they could get too dizzy, Eric hoisted Jake off of his shoulders and gently laid him flat on his back on the floor, allowing him to rest for a second before waging an all-out tickle attack. Eric’s fingers moved deftly over Jake’s feet, armpits, and stomach, grinning ear-to-ear as Jake was overcome with hysterical giggling.
The boys were interrupted by the sound of the doorbell, forcing them, for the moment, to cease their horseplay. His smile fading a bit, Eric looked down at Jake, who was still trying to catch his breath.
“That’d be my friends.” Eric finally said. “Y’know, you’re welcome to stick around and enjoy the party, if you want.”
Jake smiled graciously and looked away. “I don’t think I’m up for that quite yet. I’ll just hang out in my room until all your dumb little friends leave.”
Eric chuckled and helped Jake onto his feet. “All right then. See you later tonight.”
“See ya.” Jake cheerfully replied. Filled with energy, Jake dashed up the stairs, causing Eric to laugh and shake his head as he went to answer the door. Eric opened it to find his two best friends, Paul and Jay, waiting on the porch. With flowing black hair, dark brown eyes and a penchant for wearing black t-shirts with a long sleeved shirt underneath, Eric guessed that Paul was the kinda guy that would develop into a hardcore metalhead once he hit high school. Jay was virtually the opposite; green eyes, blond hair, almost always seen in a brand-name shirt and equally trendy khaki pants. Kind of a preppy kid, really. Jay belonged to a popular crowd that Eric never really penetrated, but they were brought together by their deep abiding love of baseball, and, more specifically, the Cincinnati Reds.
“What’s up, dude?” Paul enthusiastically inquired. “Place looks great.”
“Thanks. C’mon in.” Eric stepped aside, allowing his friends entry. “’Sup Paul?”
“’Sup?” Paul replied in his usual reserved manner.
Waiting for the other guests to arrive, Jay and Eric snacked idly on the spread, debating whether or not Cincinnati should pick up Adam Dunn’s option while Paul perused the CDs piled up next to the stereo, making audible sounds of disgust when confronted with the efforts of the more wholesome pop acts. After several minutes of this, Eric began to grow anxious, wondering if anyone else was going to show up. Maybe the popular kids who said they’d be there were just humoring him and laughing behind his back. Worst of all, he might have terrorized Jake and made him cry on numerous occasions for no good reason.
Those fears rushed out of his body, only to be immediately replaced with excitement and anxiety as the doorbell finally, mercifully rang. Eric straightened himself out quickly, took a deep breath, and strode over to the door. Eric swung it open and saw three boys from the in crowd, each more trendy looking than the last.
“Hey guys, thanks for coming.” Eric welcomed his guests, doing his best to hide his nervousness at speaking so casually with those above him on the popularity ladder. The new arrivals responded with tight smiles and muted thanks, a little suspicious of this party some kid they barely knew was holding. Two of them gravitated towards Jay and began talking about this and that, while the other headed over to Paul and struck up a surprisingly lively discussion of music.
For the next thirty minutes, guests arrived sporadically in small packs - a couple of girls here, a few guys there, nobody ever arriving alone and their attitudes always ranging between indifference and mild geniality. Once inside, though, everyone grabbed a cup of punch and a handful of snacks and found someone to talk to. Eric was having a pretty good time, conversing and laughing with kids he wouldn’t have to nerve to approach during normal school days. Still, Eric was a little disappointed that Megan had failed to show up. The party was nice and all, but he’d still consider it a bit of a failure if he didn’t get a chance at speaking with his crush.
The doorbell rang one more time, prompting Eric to check his breath and straighten his hair for about the tenth time that night. By this point, he was convinced that Megan wasn’t showing up and that his repeated preparations were becoming kinda pathetic. He sighed and opened the door, set to greet another anonymous group of guests.
On his porch stood Megan Ruggins, smiling sweetly and bathed in a soft, ethereal light. Of course, that turned out to just be the headlights of an idling car, and once it moved, her visage was still gorgeous if not quite supernatural. Eric stood with his mouth agape for a second, taking in her shining emerald green eyes and nearly translucent blond hair, neck-length and perfectly styled. His eyes wandered downward for the briefest of moments, Megan’s developing breasts a point of fascination for a boy his age. Eric only allowed himself to stare for an instant, though - God forbid she think he’s a blithering moron or, worse yet, a pervert.
“Hi Megan. Glad you could make it.” Eric smiled broadly, trying his best to sound cool.
Megan giggled a tiny bit. “My pleasure. May I come in?”
“Oh yes, please.” Eric realized, with some embarrassment, that he was blocking Megan’s way inside. He stepped aside and held an arm out in a welcoming gesture, to which Megan responded with a warm smile and a small bow of the head. Grinning ear to ear, Eric swung the door closed and turned to follow the object of his desire. But before he could take a step after her, Eric heard the heavy wooden door stop against some unknown object, preventing it from closing all the way. Eric spun around to see Jake’s friend Steven burst through the front door with Mark following close behind. Both were laughing - at what, Eric had no idea - and were quite clearly buzzed.
“Heyyyyy Eric.” Steven greeted Eric, slurring his words somewhat. “What’s up? Looks like you’ve got a nice little party going on here.”
“Um, thanks.” Eric responded, wondering what he needed to do to get these guys out of here as soon as possible.
“Have you seen Jake?” Mark chimed in, his eyes scanning the room for signs of his friend. “I coulda swore he said he was gonna be at Derek’s tonight.”
“Uh, yeah, yeah.” Eric stammered, his mind racing. “He was going to, but he came down with this nasty stomach flu. He’s been puking his guts out for the past hour.”
Mark and Steven burst out in obnoxious guffawing, drawing some pointed looks from a few partygoers. Eric gritted his teeth, already severely annoyed by their drunken antics.
“That’s too bad.” Steven finally said once he composed himself. “We better go see him and cheer him up, huh?”
Eric panicked, hoping that Steven and Mark were too plowed to see the alarm in his eyes.
“Th-that’s probably not a good idea.” Eric scrambled. “He’s sleeping now. Took three shots of Nyquil to take him down.”
Of course, that sent them on a streak of uncontrollable snickering, which was irritating, but preferable to them finding their best find turned into a little kid.
“Ha ha ha. Yeah.” Eric faked a little laughter. “So anyway, you guys probably don’t wanna hang around here with a bunch of middle schoolers. Isn’t Derek’s party still going on?”
“Nah, the cops showed up and began carding people.” Mark confessed, still laughing. “Me and Steven snuck out the back door and through Derek’s neighbor’s backyard before they could catch us.”
“So we’d be happy to stick around and help you liven up your party.” Steven grinned.
Before Eric could say another word, Steve slapped him on the shoulder and the two of them blended into the gathering, descending on the food and hijacking conversations with resounding, boisterous voices. Eric grimaced at seeing the sloshed teenagers unintentionally sabotaging his party, but more importantly, he was thinking about what would happen if Jake were to come downstairs. Eric considered rushing upstairs to warn Jake of his friends’ presence and was about to do just that when his thoughts were interrupted by a soft tap on his shoulder. His nerves frayed bordering on shot, Eric spun around, ready to snap at whoever was behind him. That all changed when he came face-to-face with Megan, who stood close to Eric and smiled pleasantly. Eric’s mind went blank when he caught a whiff of Megan’s perfume, which smelled of a flower that Eric couldn’t name but thoroughly enjoyed regardless. All his problems melted away and a dreamy grin came over his face as Megan giggled, the sweetest sound Eric could ever remember hearing.
“Um, could I talk with you in private for a minute?” Megan politely asked, twirling her hair around her finger in a completely intentional manner as she did so.
“Su-sure.” Eric stuttered, hardly believing his luck. With that, Megan took him softly by the hand and led him away from the other guests. Mark and Steven were growing more disruptive and abrasive by the moment, but the only thing Eric cared about this moment was following Megan and fulfilling the moment he had fantasized about for years.
Megan took Eric into the bathroom, which was only a few feet from the living room where the party was being held. His excitement growing and his heart rate reaching dangerous levels, Eric almost had a stroke when Megan deliberately locked the door behind them. Megan turned to Eric and smiled, her expression a tad more devilish than it had been earlier in the evening. Holding her hands behind her back, she stepped up close to Eric, who grinned coolly even though was two seconds away from an anxiety attack.
“I just wanted to tell you...” Megan began, her tone playing with the words. “That this is a really great party. Those high school guys you invited are hilarious.”
“Haha, yeah, they’re pretty crazy.” Eric bullshitted, suddenly grateful for the presence of Jake’s drunken friends.
“Aaaand I wanted you to know...” She continued, Eric hanging on every syllable. “That I think you’re really cute.”
Eric blushed hotly despite himself.
“Th-thanks. You look beautiful tonight.” Eric still managed to lay on a bit of the charm even after being told by the girl of his dreams that he was cute.
Megan smiled and brushed the hair away from her face, seemingly flattered by the compliment. She looked into Eric’s eyes, and Eric couldn’t have broken the gaze even if he wanted to. Slowly, Megan brought her hands forward and placed them lightly on Eric’s hips. She pulled him towards her, their faces becoming dangerously close. Eric gulped, closed his eyes, and went on autopilot. Eric laid a kiss on Megan Ruggins and instantly slipped away to heaven.
He was without a care in the world.