We are honored to have Danielle Dayney’s short story “The Slumber Party” as a kickoff to our blog series. Each month, we will feature one work of short YA fiction, non-fiction, or poetry.
I met Debra on my first day of seventh grade. With jitters racing through my heart, I walked into class early, pulled out my school supplies, and doodled to distract my hands from shaking. Second in the classroom, she slid into the seat next to me with casual comfort.
“Hey!” She smiled, yanking her folder and spiral from her backpack. She tossed them on the desk and started clicking her pen.
“Hey.” Be cool, be normal, I reminded myself.Attempting to be nonchalant, I dropped my pen and waved.
“I’m Debra. What’s your name?” She smiled. We could have been cousins with our white skin, freckles, and long brown hair.
“Danielle.” I spoke slow so I wouldn’t stutter.
“Cool. Wanna eat lunch with me?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said.
I couldn’t get used to the transition from being in one class all day in elementary school to switching classrooms for every subject. There were two parts of the school, old and new, with strange hallways that intersected and rooms numbered different on each side. I got lost twice and never did find the rooftop pool the eighth graders raved about.
At lunch, I was relieved to see a familiar face. Debra and I talked nonstop. We realized we both had younger siblings, moms who worked hard, and no money to buy nice things. Before I finished my peanut butter sandwich, the bell rang.
“What do you have next?” Debra asked.
“Science in room 203,” I said.
It was early to call it, but I thought I found my BFF.
Then a few months into school, Debra tossed me a note in homeroom folded up like a triangle with a smiley face drawn on the front. I waited until the teacher turned to scratch notes on the blackboard before I opened it. The note said, I know it’s lame, but I’m having a sleepover this weekend for my birthday. Wanna come?
I glanced over and smiled at her, nodding.
Later at lunch I said, “I haven’t been to a sleepover in forever. Who else is coming?”
“Just some friends. It’ll be great,” Debra said.
That weekend on the way to the slumber party, Mom asked, “Do you know these girls?” She drove past my old elementary school and the playground where I once peed my pants. I couldn’t hold it. A warm geyser burst from my dress onto the dirt beneath me as I stood beside the swings. The kids quickly forgot because we were only six. As a pre-teen, I missed being young without worry.
“No, but I’ll be fine. It’s just one night,” I said.
Mom pulled up to Debra’s house, a modest bungalow on Upton Street, two blocks from junior high. Several girls from the in-crowd congregated on the front lawn. I wondered why those girls were there. Debra and I weren’t cool; we were the poor kids. Debra had confidence though, and all I had was awkwardness.
All the girls wore crisp Nike shirts, pressed jeans, and matching sneakers. I looked down at my only pair of good jeans and the hole forming on the knee. It would be years before ripped jeans were fashionable, and Mom didn’t have money to buy me a new pair. She folded and stocked women’s clothes at a discount store, and my stepdad repaired boat motors at a marina up in Michigan, thirty minutes away. His job barely covered the gas it took for him to ride his motorcycle back and forth. Without hand-me-downs, I would have been wearing jeans off the clearance rack from the store Mom worked at. No-name jeans never fit right. They were too short, too tight. Too sparing in the crotch.
“Call me okay?” said Mom. I looked up to see her eyes searching my face for sureness.
“I’ll be fine,” I said. I’ll be fine, I repeated inside my head. But the thought of spending an entire night with a room full of girls I barely knew made my knees tremble.
Debra looked at me from the middle of the crowd, smiling and waving.
“Love you.” I squeezed my mom’s arm, pecked her on the cheek, climbed out of the car and shut the door.
“Love you too,” she said through the window. Then she drove away and turned the corner before I focused my attention on the girls. Act normal. I slung my bag over my shoulder, careful not to drop my new TLC CD. I used money from my piggy bank to buy it at the mall.
The flawless plastic, the fresh paper, the gleaming disc: all of it represented weeks of chores done around the house and the time I babysat my cousins while my aunt and uncle went bowling. They were good kids, and my aunt paid me well, but I had to sacrifice a whole Saturday playing hide and seek and guarding my aunt’s candy cabinet. Nice things didn’t just fall into my lap. Being normal costed money.
After greeting my friend and the other girls, careful to avoid too much eye contact, we walked through her front door. Inside, Debra’s mom sat on a broken-in brown couch eating a grilled cheese sandwich and watching the small television in the corner. The rabbit ears needed to be adjusted. Static rippled through the screen, but she seemed content with the picture.
“Hi Debra’s mom,” I said.
“Hey girls. Have fun,” she muttered without looking up.
We walked through the tiny kitchen. Dirty pots and pans spilled out of the sink onto the counters. Debra had two younger siblings, and I’ll bet it was hard for her mom to keep up with all the kids after working all day.
Debra’s room was in the basement. Her mom ran out of room on the first level for another bedroom, so Debra took a corner of the unfinished space and added posters to the wall to make it her own. At least she had privacy.
Downstairs, it didn’t take long for a game of Truth or Dare to consume us. Most of it was innocent. The truth about a first kiss. The dare to prank phone call an ex. I listened and laughed but mostly stewed in my own thoughts. Am I fitting in? Can they tell I’m nervous? Can they tell I’m poor?
“Truth or dare, Danielle?” Carla said, startling me from my thoughts. She was a pretty Mexican with curly brown hair that fell to her hips and new sneakers on her feet at least every other month. I didn’t know Carla at all, didn’t have classes with her or ride the bus with her, but I knew of her from the hallway, always surrounded by her popular friends.
“Umm, truth, I guess.” My cheeks simmered.
“Okay. Tell me ‘bout David.”
“Oh umm… I dated him for like two weeks. Didn’t work out.” David was the almost-famous boxer, the jock that everyone wanted to date, the guy that remained my friend after our two-week dating trial, which was comprised of phone calls and Thursday night dances at the school gym.
“Whatever.” Carla sneered, shrugging her shoulders and rolling her eyes. “This game is boring. Let’s do something else.” She looked to Nicole, a pint-sized blond with glasses who I’d only seen at lunch making fun of the band kids.
Everyone else turned and stared at me. Six sets of eyes burned holes in my dwindling self-esteem. I stared back at Debra, and she turned her focus to the ground.
“How about music?” Nicole asked. She reached for the TLC CD, now resting on top of my backpack. “Is this yours?” She looked at me.
“Yeah. J-just got it,” I sputtered.
Nicole examined both sides of the red case. “You like TLC?”
Puke burned my throat. I didn’t trust her, and I needed the uncomfortable fog in the room to lift so I could breathe. “They’re pretty good,” I said.
She opened the case and looked at Carla. The two of them laughed. Then she bent my CD, cracking it with a pop.
“What the hell?” I jumped up but restrained myself from pushing her.
She broke the disc into more pieces with snaps and cracks. Over and over, she bent my CD until shards of iridescent plastic covered the raw basement floor. She ripped the red paper, the words, the pictures and tossed them up like confetti. Carla, Nicole, all the other girls –even Debra – laughed. My whole face blazed.
I grabbed my backpack and sleeping bag and stumbled up the stairs where Debra once told me I was her very best friend.
At the top, I clenched my jaw and stifled a sob.
I swallowed the only crumb of my pride I had left. Debra’s mom was still sitting on the couch, empty plate beside her, watching a Hallmark movie. “I n-need a phone,” I said, the veneer in my voice cracking, just like my CD.
“Sure. Is everything okay?” Her eyebrows arched in concern.
I knew better than to tattle. If I told her the truth, the rest of junior high would be hell. Girls don’t bully with fists as much as boys, but it’s worse. They steal your things, make up rumors and call you names, and, maybe worst of all, play tricks on you. I said, “Just want to go home.”
Danielle Dayney’s work has appeared in print in places such as The Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review the Virginia Writers Centennial Anthology, Nevertheless We Persisted: Tales of Loss, Love, and Finding Your Own Power, and the anthology Beach Reads: Lost and Found. Danielle has also been published online at The Huffington Post, WordPress Discover, Dead House Keeping and The Mindful Word, among others.
In addition to her bachelor’s degree in communications from the State University of New York, she has also taken several writing courses online through Gotham and WOW (Women on Writing) to develop her craft. And, as a current member of The Virginia Writers Club, she’s had the opportunity to attend local writing conferences and workshops to further her writing education. If you’d like to learn more about Danielle, you can find her chasing her kids and fur babies somewhere along the rolling hills of Virginia, or at www.danielledayney.com.