I couldn’t understand why I was dancing.
The music sucked and with the mood I was in, I felt more likely to bust someone’s nose than bust a move on the dance floor.
But there I was.
OK, I did know why I was dancing. Janet was there. And I’d been hopelessly in love with Janet since before I knew what that even meant. And what it did to you.
Sound bitter? Well, I was. But not over Janet.
But I was sure the world was conspiring against me.
And Janet hadn’t even looked at me once.
The room was hot. Body heat that the air-conditioner was just combining with the smells of sweat and too much perfume. I looked over at Tim and he smiled and, you know, I nearly gave in.
Apparently, Tim, my roommate and best buddy for just forever, had a problem very similar to my own. He’d been hopelessly in love too.
My life just kept getting better and better.
The weed and vodka-whatever I’d picked up in the kitchen of this little soiree were helping on that end. And, truth be told, Tim wasn’t looking so bad at the moment. Heck, at least he was looking. And Janet sure wasn’t.
But that wouldn’t be fair to my best friend. Because as suggestible as I might be when I’m shitfaced and depressed as hell, I doubted I’d have a sudden change of orientation in the morning light.
Life just really sucks sometimes.
Martin looked miserable. He was dancing but looked like he wanted to be anywhere but there, doing anything but that. He kept looking my way and I made sure he never saw me looking back. It wasn’t hard. He was totally trashed.
“Come on, baby, I wanna go in the back,” Jerry said.
Jerry was a good guy, not the love of my life or anything, but sweet and convenient. But I didn’t go when he took my hand and began to tug me toward the back of the house and the corner room that everyone at the party wanted to get to before the night was over. Preferably with someone else.
(Sylvester would never live down the time someone walked in on him wanking alone in there.)
But there was something about the corner room that made my heart swell with adrenaline.
My mouth was dry and my throat tight. Jerry looked back at me, puzzled. But I could only shake my head.
There was something about that room. I didn’t remember what. But it had something to do with Martin and I couldn’t remember what. I couldn’t remember. But it tied my stomach in knots and sent fear crawling up my spine.
Honestly, I didn’t want to remember.
There was something going on with Janet. She looked like a rabbit facing a fox.
I glanced at Martin, to see if he noticed. Of course he noticed. He’d barely looked at anything else all night. Poor bastard.
I was so pissed at myself for confessing my crush on him. He didn’t need that. It wasn’t like I’d hoped to get anything out of it. Not really. Martin’s very straight. Not that he’s ever had a problem with me since I came out of the closet, but he’s never been interested either. I knew that.
It was a stupid thing to do. But I’d had such a shitty day. My boss couldn’t have been more of an ass if he’d tried, my mom called and that always sucks, and I really wanted to punch my car in the face. I got trashed and started whining about all my problems to my best friend, like you do, and that little piece of information came tumbling out with all the rest.
Martin had been totally cool about it, if a little freaked out. But that’s why he’s my best friend, you know?
And it killed me, watching him watching her. It was worse, knowing that he knew.
Janet had gone pale, enough that you could see it in the funky lighting of Martha’s living room. Martin looked like he wanted to go over there but she was with Jerry and Martin’s not like that. And anyway, it was none of his business, whatever was going on with her. What could it have to do with him?
The eerie light from the refrigerator stopped me from picking up one last beer. I didn’t really need it as much as I needed it. Janet had gone somewhere with Jerry. Not to the back room, where I think he had been trying to take her. She looked like she was about to pass out when he started in that direction and he took her somewhere else instead, maybe out on the porch for fresh air. Though the day had been so hot and humid it couldn’t have been that much better than what was inside.
There was something wrong, I could feel it. Something in Janet’s reaction, something the refrigerator light’s unnatural glow. Something in this house, in that room. But I couldn’t remember what.
It was important, though. Somewhere in the prophetic depths of a serious high, I knew this was as true as anything ever had been. Something in that room.
But I couldn’t remember.
Jerry was trying to help but somehow he was making it worse. He’d helped me out to the porch, but he was still with me and that was wrong. Something was happening and it didn’t involve Jerry, and it was important.
Formless, nameless panic was seizing me and I needed Jerry gone. He was part of the problem. He wasn’t supposed to be there. I couldn’t remember, but I knew.
I stumbled toward the swing but on the rail in front of me was a hideous porcelain dragon. I would have walked right past it but there was something… there was an eerie glow, a compelling, dangerous luminescence.
I screeched in fear and threw myself at it. The dragon fell to the floor, shattering.
Tim came running out onto the porch, his eyes wide.
“Oh, Janet…” he breathed.
And then I remembered.
The pain in my head was intense and I nearly sobbed. Not because of how much it hurt but because of what it meant. Martin came staggering out only the porch, his face an odd combination of white and green.
He knew. Janet knew. They remembered, and it was all my fault.
— Billy was under the swing, when Sarah fell off. And Harold went down the slide. And Susan made it across the monkey bars when Steve taunted her. And Anthony beat Gerry in the race. And Martin, Janet, and I went fell out of the world.
We were ten, just that day, all three of us. One of those weird things that never happens, three kids in a small school in a small town who all have the exact same birthday. I guess it was inevitable that we’d somehow torn through the fabric of our reality. And, that sort of thing doesn’t happen without, well, without the shit hitting the fan.
The three of us had to fix a mess we hadn’t made, and everything depended on it.
We did fix it, in a way. Enough, at least, that we were all still there, at that party, me with my regrets, Martin with his hangover-in-the-making, and Janet with her boyfriend who wasn’t getting any that night, and the three of us twenty-five that day.
I should have known better. I did know better. I should have kept them away from the party.
Because, see, I did remember. Always had. They’d forgotten because I made them forget. I carried the burden for all of us, because I was the one who had to. That’s life, you know?
It just wasn’t fair that after what I’d been through for fifteen years so that they could forget, that now, tonight, it all came back.
And, worse than that, the only thing that could make them remember was if everything we’d done to save the world the first time fell apart.
That’s what really scared me.This time I knew what was happening, what there was to be scared of, and I wasn’t a stupid kid anymore.
And the end was coming.
I felt like I just needed to get away, go somewhere far away, and maybe… run?
That look of horror on Janet’s face. The look of pity on Tim’s. It was too much. Oh, and what I remembered now.
I remembered a sky, as blood-red as, well, blood. I remembered that little girl whose face… . And the snarling animals that looked much more safe and cuddly than the trees. I remembered how Hitler’s man-boobs were now so saggy he couldn’t fit into his ‘I heart Berlin’ t-shirt.
Wait, that last one could be the weed talking. I’m not sure I remember that. Unless he was the one in the fortress behind that massive thunderstorm.
Oh shit, that fortress. That’s where SHE had been. And I knew she was still there. And she was waiting for us.
I threw Tim a look of desperation. No. No. This couldn’t be happening. He looked sad, and resigned. I remembered now, what he’d done for us, and what it meant that I could remember.
I was seized by a panicked hysteria. I grabbed his hand, and Martin’s, and dragged them with me toward the corner room.
“Janet!” Jerry called. Poor Jerry. He’d never know what happened to us this night. Especially because it was next to impossible that we’d ever be back.
I was scared out of my wits but there was no way out of this. I started to run and the boys kept up with me and in moments we were in the room. No one was there. I heard the door shut behind me but I was focusing now. It was here, fifteen years ago, that we’d come back from wherever it is that all the horrible things of the world are kept away from decent folk like the three of us should have been.
I grabbed Martin’s hand, and Tim’s, without looking behind me. Their grips were firm, probably with desperation more than courage.
I squeezed once and closed my eyes and the floor fell out from beneath us.