By Lauryn E. Nosek
Krysten drummed her newly polished nails on her bedside table and sighed. Though the radio was blasting music from her favorite station, Kiss 108, on the other side of the room, all she could hear was the thick silence from the phone she held up to her ear. She shifted position so that her feet were at the head of the bed and her head at its foot. Nervously, she blew on her nails again to make sure there was no chance that they were still wet.
“Com on, Jen. You’re running up my phone bill. Where are you?” she said into the receiver. No answer. She hated call waiting when she was the one stuck waiting. Her foot began tapping against the headboard as she always did when sprawled on the bed in such a manner.
The next instant her friend was back.
“Sorry about that,” Jennifer apologized. Krysten wished Jen could see the look on her face. That would make her really sorry. “My mother is so… she must have asked me a million questions about school and how things are here. I mean, come on. I’m sixteen, I think that I can be at home alone for a few hours and survive. It’s almost like she doesn’t remember the fact that I spend more time baby-sitting for other people than I spend at home. If I can keep four kids under the age of seven out of trouble, I think I’m capable of taking care of myself.”
“Jen,” Krysten cut into her friend’s frustrated monologue. “You were saying something before you put me on hold…
“Oh, yeah. Sorry. Keith, my cousin’s friend Keith, is having a party next Saturday,” her voice was suddenly all business and serious, like a partner giving an update presentation for a Board of Directors. “I can get us in. Can you make it?”
Krysten looked at her calendar for the month. It was completely blank. Not even a birthday was scribbled in a square. “Well, I’m a little busy earlier in the day,” she paused, making Jen wait for an answer for once. “But, I think I’ll be able to make enough time for the party.”
“Great. It starts at seven. Call me when you know for sure if you can go or if you need a ride or something,” Jen paused before launching into another one-sided conversation.
As Jen went on setting new world records for time spent talking in one breath, Krysten moved quietly around the room saying the occasional, “No way,” or “Really?” Jen didn’t know how to have a real conversation. Everybody sounded that way when they were “speaking” to Jen, but she never noticed, just kept talking. Sitting back on her bed, Krysten took out her red marker and circled the day of the party. Using her fingers, she counted how many days left until the party. Nine. She traced the number on the dry erase board above her bed.
“Can I go Daddy?” she pleaded. “Please… I’ll go with Jen. Her parents will drive us. Please.”
Her father kept staring at his newspaper in an indifferent way, but Krysten could tell that he was faking. If he were really reading, she’d be able to see his eyes scanning the words. The thought of her going to a high school party was leaving a new furrow in his forehead. Krysten moved behind him and began to massage his shoulders. “I won’t stay out too late. I can bring my cell phone.” She continued to produce ways to assure her safety.
The newspaper slowly folded and was placed on the table. A coffee mug was drained. Krysten was right there to refill it with hot coffee from the pot. “I’ll need to speak to your mother before any decision is reached. She won’t be too thrilled about you staying out late, even if it isn’t a school night.”
Krysten nodded to show her willingness to cooperate. She vowed silently to devote all her energy towards her new “Get Me to the Party Next Saturday” effort. Her father picked up the next piece of the paper and stared at it while the furrow in his brow deepened. Krysten retreated while she was still in his good favor. The trick was to petition in subtle ways.
He could hear his daughter’s footsteps as they echoed in the hall. Krysten’s father chuckled to himself, the depression disappeared, and he shook his head slightly.
“Oh, Krysten,” he called out. From the kitchen doorway her head appeared.
“What is it, Daddy?” The sweetest smile she could muster spread across her face.
“Should you put this in the trash for me?” He held out the napkin his coffee mug had been sitting on.
“Sure.” She took it in her hand and looked at him.
He smiled so that his eyes were shut. “Thank you, Krys.” As he turned back to the paper, the furrow reappeared in his brow. Krysten hurried off to make the unwelcome crease disappear. “Krys, I think the trash is full. Could you be a dear and empty it for me. Thanks,” he called after her. Again, he smiled and shook his head. “I’m going to have fun with this.”
That evening, Krysten made dinner for the family. Her younger sister was skeptical.
“Is it poisoned? Did you lose a bet?” Becca asked.
“Would you shut up?” Krysten asked, wearing a smug look. “I can cook dinner once in a while, can’t I?”
“Yes, Krys sweetie. In fact, I have a big meeting tomorrow afternoon and I’ll probably be too tired to make dinner. Could you fix something up tomorrow night too? That’s my girl,” her mother was smiling as Krysten stared at her plate.
“I love this new helpful side of you, Krys,” her father remarked. Gazing proudly she couldn’t help but feel that she would be going to the party next Saturday. “After dinner, could you wash the dishes and vacuum the living room? We’re having company over this weekend and the house could stand a little cleaning.”
Krysten could feel her head nodding even as she stared out into space. That look remained on her face until she was in bed that night. Before crawling under the covers, she wiped out the nine and replaced it with an eight. With the lights out, she lay on her back and sighed. One day down, eight to go.
“Well, what did they say?” Jen hounded her at lunch the next Monday.
“They’re discussing it,” Krysten said. “As long as I continue to be the agreeable and helpful daughter from now until the party, I should be able to go.”
“What sorta things have ya had to do?” Jen sipped from her soda can and bit into her sandwich.
“This weekend, my aunt, uncle, and snotty little cousins came out for a visit,” Krysten answered between bites of her bagel. Jen groaned for her. “Yeah. I had to watch the brats the entire weekend, including bringing them to the movies so the adults could, ‘catch up on things,’” she said in her best imitation of her father. Jen covered her mouth to be sure she didn’t choke on her food while giggling. “I had to sit through an hour an’ a half of the stupidest movie. No,” she changed her min. “I didn’t do much sitting. I had to get up every ten minutes to bring them all to the bathroom. Each time a different one had to go and I couldn’t just leave the others. I kept suggesting that they all try at the same time but of course they’d say they didn’t have to go then. And, they wouldn’t stop complaining about missing the movie the entire way home.”
Jen shook her head. “I can’t believe you had to do that. Were your parents forcing you to?”
“I couldn’t say ‘no, I think your kids are spoiled brats’ to my aunt and uncle. It would have upset my parents. I’m not going to do anything that’ll jeopardize my chances of going to the party.”
“Well, there’re only five, six days left depending on how you count,” Jen said trying to console her friend. The bell rang. Both girls chucked their garbage in the trash and left for next period.
“I’m not sure how much more of this I can take,” Krysten sighed. “I’m beginning to doubt that the party is worth going to all this trouble.”
“Don’t say such things,” Jen gasped. “The party is more important than a few days of misery. It will secure our place at the top in this school’s social hierarchy. Just stick it out till you know that you can go. See ya later. Good luck.” Jen turned into a classroom.
I’ve just got to survive the next couple of days, Krysten reassured herself. She went off to class.
Krysten went home and accomplished all her usual chores as well as her homework. Just as she was on her way out the door to go to the mall with her friends, she could hear the words, “Wait, where’re you going?” Her lids shut tightly against furious eyes and her jaw clenched to the point where she thought her teeth would chip. Krysten stalled with the door open and freedom in front of her.
Just keep going, she told herself. Pretend like you didn’t hear what he said. But she knew that she had hesitated too long. He knew by now that she had heard him. She surrendered and closed the door in front of her. “What is it, Dad?”
“Don’t you go off now. There’s plenty left to be done, now that you’re home. We need to clean the house.” He appeared in the doorway.
“But I just cleaned the entire house Friday before we had company…” Krysten’s voice trailed off as she was speaking. She knew that he would see this as arguing.
“I know that you did a lot before they came, and I appreciate your help. But now we need to wash the sheets again and clean up after our guests. Put the house back in order. You know what I mean.” He chuckled. “Hop to it.”
Krysten let out a long, frustrated sigh and went to fetch the sheets from the couch bed in the den and spare room. While at it, she was so overcome with frustration she found it necessary to scream into a pillow. Her father watched her from the doorway. She didn’t see his smile or hear his chuckling as he leaned against the doorframe. He was immensely enjoying her frustration. She was pulling the sheets from the bed and mimicking him with a smug look on her face.
The days passed and Krysten survived. Barely. Every time her parents were around, they came up with something else for her to do. The day before, they had decided the side of the garage could use a fresh coat of paint and since the weather was accommodating, now was the perfect time to get on it. Krysten had put on her raggedy work clothes and painted a smile on her face.
By Saturday afternoon she wasn’t sure she even had the energy to enjoy the party. In a flash of a moment, she realized that she had never even figured out whether she was going to be allowed to attend the party. If she had gone through all that work for nothing… Glasses rattled and the house shook as she stormed her way down stairs to find her unsuspecting parents in the living room.
“What on earth is wrong, Krys?” her mother gasped when Krysten appeared, red-faced and breathless. She put the book down beside her meticulously.
“Can I go to the party tonight?” she asked bluntly.
“What party was that, dear?” her father asked, still staring at the paper in his hands.
“The party I asked you about last week.” Krysten’s voice had developed an edge.
“Oh, I think I remember you mentioning something about a party,” he said. “When is it?”
“Tonight,” she repeated through a smile that was making her jaw ache.
He nodded his head, still staring down at the newspaper.
Krysten stood waiting expectantly. “And… Can I go?”
“Well, I don’t see why not,” her father said looking over at his wife.
“Sounds fine to me,” she nodded. “Will you need a ride?”
“No, Jen can take me.” Krysten’s voice grew muted and a quizzical look came over her. “She’ll pick me up and her parents will drive us home afterwards.”
“Make sure you bring your cell phone and keep it on. No drugs or alcohol. Be responsible,” her mother reminded her.
Krysten sighed. At least I’m going, she reminded herself as she was about to lose it. After the responsibility speech, Krysten left the room with a puzzled look still on her face. Her parents looked at each other, smiling for a moment before continuing with their reading.