Josie hated going to parties though she often spent hours imagining what they would be like beforehand. This party, a fundraiser for her father’s high-school alma mater, involved an actual meal with fancy china, long-stemmed glasses, and two forks. She entered the reception area and instantly knew that she wore an invisibility cloak. Not only did no one look her direction, two people actually bumped into her as they headed across the room, apparently thinking they could walk right through her.
She tugged at her black dress, trying to keep it from riding up her legs. It was already too short for her comfort, but her mom had insisted that it was the style nowadays. Yeah, stylish. That was Josie. About as stylish as a Jerusalem cricket on a potato leaf. Sheesh. Couldn’t anyone make dresses that fit a human body these days? Josie crept to a corner and hoped that her invisibility cloak would hide her from her parents as well as the scintillating society of Riverside High.
Kendrick Murphy tugged at his tie, flapped his hands at his side, and wondered if it would be rude to put his hands in his pockets. Why on earth had he agreed to this? Yes, he did want to support a worthy cause. Yes, he had spent four hideously bored years here, and he saw no reason to neglect the current generation’s allotment of torturous education. But. Still. Well, at least Jane was having a stupendous time. She swirled around the reception room like a ballroom dancer. And all eyes danced with her.
Whoa! Was that Mac? MacMcDermit? The football coach? Why hell, the man hadn’t aged a day! Oh, no, of course not. Too young. No wrinkles around the eyes. Oh, Lord in Heaven, that’s his son. There he is, shuffling on the boy’s right. Good, God! How he’s aged!
Kendrick stepped closer, leaned in, and nodded his head. Yep. This whole evening is some kind of retro-inferiority-complex come to haunt me.
Jane’s smile began to ache. Her gaze scoured the room. Where in the world was Josie? She ought to be helping out. Oh, there in a corner, hiding, as usual. Jane patted the arm of the lady in front of her, Sue Something-or-other, and swayed over to the dark side of the room. As she drew closer, she wiggled two fingers expressively toward Josie.
Josie’s eyes widened in terror. Oh, no! She wants me out there. Where everyone is mingling, chatting, and pretending to have a marvelous time. Me. And. My. Invisibility Cloak. Out. There?
Jane laid a hand on Josie’s shoulder. “You’re too timid for your own good; now look at your father over there. He’s chatting away with that old man and some young guy as if they’re old friends.”
Josie refrained from stating the obvious. She tried to disappear entirely, but her mom’s hand would not let her dematerialize.
“Listen, I know how hard it is.” Jane leaned in and whispered. “I hate these things too. I always feel like a fool, wondering what everyone says the second I turn my back.”
Josie blinked as if someone had just shoved a light in her face.
“But listen, honey, it’s part of life, part of growing up. We have to do these things. It’s called social decorum. You need to get good at it.”
Josie blushed and stared at her high heeled shoes.
“All you have to do is walk around and introduce yourself. Say that your dad went here and that you —”
A tall man in his late fifties sauntered over swishing a drink in his hand. “Hey, are you Gracie? You remember —”
Jane gave her daughter a little shove. “Off you go now. Be nice. Make friends.”
Josie nearly tripped, but she tottered into the noisy room. Her dad was talking sports with the old guy. Well, at least he’s saved. She looked back over her shoulder. Her mom had dragged the tall man over to a crowd of women, and suddenly there was a burst of laughter. Apparently, the tall man just met the real Gracie. Josie stood in the middle of the room and wondered how long until the appalling dinner and the hour of retreat. Her gaze fell on a thin, short girl about her age standing in the shadows — her shadows.
When Josie sauntered up, she met the girl’s eyes as they fixed on her. Josie shrugged. “You here with your dad?”
The girl shrugged back. “My mom.” She pointed. “Over there.”
Josie glanced to the far side of the room. A short, plump woman with striking red hair and a tight dress exchanged laughs with a bubbly assortment of guests. “Well, at least she’s having fun.” Josie turned and stuck out a limp hand. “My name’s Josie.”
The girl returned the handshake, limp for limp, like two octopus tentacles passing in deep water. “Karen. Nice to meet you.”
She has good manners. Wish I’d thought to say that. “Nice to meet you, too.” Josie surveyed the bar on the right and realized that there wasn’t a single soda bottle among them. Hopeless. “So, where do you —”
The lights flickered, and conversation stopped for a second before it picked up to the tune of everyone strolling toward the dining room.
Karen teetered on her heels, sticking close to Josie’s side. As they entered the huge room lit by ornate chandeliers and arrayed with round tables decorated with flowers and fine dinnerware, Karen froze. “Oh, no. I don’t know which fork to use. I meant to ask Mom, but I forgot.”
Josie grinned. She tugged at her dress and watched her Mom and Dad sit side-by-side looking into each other’s eyes as if they shared a grim secret. Suddenly, she understood.
Decorum. Society. Two forks.
“Use the one on the outside first. But don’t worry. No one will notice. They’re scared too. Trust me.”
Copyright 2018 Ann K. Frailey