I must decline your invitation owing to a subsequent engagement. — Oscar Wilde
I kept my eyes on the road while David called out numbers. “We’re looking for 976, so it’s probably going to be on the right,” I said.
“Nine-sixty… Slow down, it’s coming up,” David said. I tapped the brake and glanced at the row of houses.
“Please, please tell me it’s not that one,” I said as we rolled past a home that had children pouring out of an open door.
“Nine-seventy-six,” David said, prompting us both to sigh heavily.
I kept driving. “Are you kidding me? How can that be? I thought this was supposed to be a party, not some friggin’ kid-fest. Oh, my God, and they’re screaming — I can hear them with the windows up!”
“Kids. Why did it have to be kids?” David said smiling, doing his best Indiana Jones impersonation. “Okay, calm down. Let’s just park the car and check it out.”
“Isn’t it worse if we go in and then leave? No, wait, we have to at least go in; I told her we were coming. Shit.” I took a deep breath and pulled my Mini to the curb.
I walked toward the house as if to the dentist — head down, nerves wrought, expecting the worst. It was nearly 8 p.m. Felicia had advertised that her party would last until the wee hours of the morning. Maybe it was a two-parter: offspring on the early side, night owls after midnight. But that hadn’t been communicated in advance, and the soiree had already been going on for a few hours.
“So, what now?” David asked. We stood on the sidewalk outside the house, observing the swarm of coughing, screeching creatures infesting the driveway.
“Well, I’m not going to walk through that gauntlet of noise and germs to get in there,” I said. “Just let me think.” I dug around in my purse and found my phone. “I should text Marissa, she was going to meet us here. We’re going to need a back-up plan.” I sent the message, “Ugh…f-ing kids running around outside. We’re afraid to go in.”
“This is weird,” David said. “Let’s go stand at the corner.” I received my friend’s response as we reached the end of the block: “R u serious — there r kids?? O wow — I’m dressed up too — wt?” I held the phone up so David could read it. When he was finished, he said, “Well? What do you want to do?”
“We missed her last two parties, and we said we were stopping in. We can’t just not show,” I said. “It should be pretty casual — her invitation said brief pop-ins were cool. We’ll just have to brave the itty-bitty welcoming committee, scope it out, and go from there. In the meantime, I’m texting Marissa to stay where she is and wait for an update.”
I held my hand over my mouth (one kid had some kind of whooping cough) and marched toward the door, the knob onto which a child was hanging. “They’re in the back,” said child politely informed, making me doubt, for just a moment, my aversion to their presence. But all doubt was dropped as soon as I crossed the threshold and the shouting began anew, following me into the house like ravens pecking at the back of my head.
Once in the backyard, I scanned the assemblage of strange faces until I found Felicia. A series of conflicts had made it impossible for us to hang out over the past few months, and I’d been hoping her party would be our chance to catch up. Felicia was generous in taking several minutes from all of her other guests to try and offer me a drink.
As with most holiday parties, eggnog was the featured beverage. I hate eggnog. As with most holiday-party hosts, Felicia tried to convert me. “So many people who don’t usually like eggnog like this eggnog,” she said.
I believed her — that for what it was, her eggnog had to be good; not only because she’s a diehard foodie, but also because in the five minutes we’d been there, David was already on his second cup of the stuff. Still, I would not be swayed.
After more polite eggnog refusals, I said, “Does it have eggs in it?” Felicia nodded. “Does it have milk?” Another nod. “Then I’m sorry, I will gag if I drink it.” Realizing the futility of pressing on, my host offered me beer from a cooler or a cocktail from the kitchen. “Thank you so much, maybe in a bit,” I said.
Felicia went off to talk to other guests and I turned to David just as Whooping Cough chased Doorknob Hanger into the backyard. “I can’t stay here,” I said. David nodded in agreement. Just then I received a text from Marissa, who’d been awaiting instructions: “Is there going to b hookers n blo there? Can u find out. Thanks.” I answered, “Don’t think so.” Marissa’s response was lightning-fast: “When r u bailing?”
“Okay, here’s the deal,” I said to David. “We’re going to absquatulate. I’ll go first, you follow — no goodbyes. That would be too obvious because we just said hello.” David downed his cup of eggnog as I continued. “We don’t know anyone here, so no one’s really going to notice us leaving.” I was hungry, but now that I’d made up my mind, I couldn’t eat and run, no matter how tasty Felicia’s spanakopita looked.
I texted Marissa as I walked: “Sneaking out. Grabbing Thai, bringing party back to our place.” She wrote back, “Oh-ok. Whatcha wanna do. I have a nice Mumm Champers bottle…and a pinot too.” Seeing this, I knew I’d made the right decision in leaving an eggnog party filled with people I didn’t know to chill at my place with a few friends and some choice fermented grape.
I dropped my gaze to the floor and beelined for the door, David close behind. In the living room, I threaded my way through wires connecting the television to video-game controls. The kids didn’t seem to notice the blur that momentarily blocked their view.
“Oh, my God, I feel horrible. I’ve never done that,” I said, once we were back outside and hustling toward the car. “It feels so wrong, so rude, but there’s no way I could have stayed there. It was nice of her to think of us, but if the invitation had said there’d be kids, I would have suggested we catch up another time.”
“It’s so nice and quiet out here,” David said. “But now we have an important decision to make.” I gave him my attention. “Drunken noodles or green curry?” ■