We had Campbell’s chicken noodle soup for supper that night.
Because we’d moved into the apartment exactly one month before, the baby was fussy, my mother didn’t have time to cook, Dad wasn’t going to be home until later, six eleven year old kids in Halloween costumes were due to arrive in an hour and a half for the party, and we still had to wash the apples for bobbing before putting them into the big plastic container of water.
Don’t get me wrong. A lot of stuff was already done. Mom and I had made placemats for the party from bright red and yellow maple leaves we stuck between pieces of wax paper and ironed. The orange soda was cold in the refrigerator, and Mom had made pumpkin-shaped butter cookies she covered with orange frosting, but I was the one who made jack-o-lantern faces on them with mini chocolate chips.
Everything was going to be perfect, and boys were coming to my party too. All the girls at my new school invited boys to parties. Some of the girls said they danced with boys, and even made out with them. Or talked about it anyway. My old school was all girls, and we never talked about making out, so I didn’t know much to say about it.
I had a crush on a boy in my class named Kenny. My first day in the new school, I sat next to him, and he had me laughing in no time. He had to sit right in front of the teacher, because he was always making jokes and talking, so she was always yelling at him, but he was funny and pretty cute. We even talked on the playground sometimes. I invited him to my party, and he said he couldn’t come. But Jimmy and Eddy were coming, , and Sharon and Heidi, who both lived across the street, and Nancy and Penny, who lived closer to school.
Anyway, my mother was rushing around getting things ready, and my brothers and I were sitting at the kitchen table eating our chicken noodle soup, all of us with our costumes on, but not the masks, when the doorbell rang.
My chair was closest to the door, so I got there first. It was already dark out, and we didn’t have the porch light on, so it was hard to make out who the kid in the costume was, especially since he had his mask on, except for that voice. “I’m here for your party,” he said. “I found out I could come.” Kenny! Maybe he couldn’t wait to see me. Maybe he was in love with me!
“It doesn’t start until 7:30,” I told him. “We’re not finished getting ready.”
“My Dad sent me now,” he said.
“Ask your friend in,” my mother called.
“Come in,” I said.
He pulled off his mask and followed me to the kitchen.
“This is Kenny,” I told my mother.
“Kenny, we’re just sitting down to a light supper. Have you eaten your dinner?” my mother asked.
“I’m going to eat when I got home,” he mumbled.
“Have a bowl of soup with us in the meantime,” she said. “Kathy, set a place for Kenny.”
I got him a napkin and spoon.
“How come your Dad sent you early?” It was my brother Tim; he always said whatever he wanted, even if it was rude.
“I don’t know,” Kenny said.
“That’s weird,” Tim said.
“I’m glad Kenny could come early,” my mother said. “After we eat, he can help us get everything ready for the party. We are so behind schedule! Here, you sit across from Kathy.” She ushered him into a seat and put a bowl of soup in front of him.
“Thanks,” he said.
“I’m making peanut butter toast for everyone,” she announced.
“Thanks,” Kenny said.
“Kathy, pour some milk for your friend!”
“Hey,” Tim said, “aren’t you Danny Mackey’s brother?”
“Yeah,” Kenny said.
“I heard your Mom ran away,” Timmy said. “Did she come back yet?”
“My Mom never ran away! Did my brother Danny tell you that?” Kenny said. “You can’t pay no attention to him. My family, we all hope he grows out of it, but he lies more than a three-legged blue toad on a Friday night!”
We all laughed. Kenny was always saying something funny. He was the funniest boy I ever met.
It turned out he was good at stringing donuts too, and after we ate, he climbed up on the step stool and taped all the strings to the top of the doorway into the living room for my Mom, while she and I filled the party bags.
Just before the rest of guests arrived, with Tim still pestering us, Kenny was helping me tie little black ribbon bows around the party bags. At the sound of the doorbell, Tim ran for the front door. Kenny looked me straight in the face. “Do you like me?” he said.
“Do you like me like me?”
I could feel my ears turning red, and I looked down at the party bags. “I guess I do.”
“Then let’s go steady,” he said.
“What do you do to go steady?” I asked.
“You don’t go steady with anybody else!”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll just go steady with you.” Wow! I guessed I was pretty lucky, because I was only eleven, and already I’d found the boy I was going to marry.
We didn’t have time to kiss each other, because Jimmy from up the street came in, and the two of them began fooling around and laughing and making ghost noises.
Later, my Dad ended up driving Kenny home, because no one came to pick him up.
It was the next day Kenny’s Dad was arrested. Kenny’s Mom never came back, and his grandmother from Indiana came and took him and his brother away.
I didn’t even get to say goodbye.
~ written in response to Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenge on the subject of an unexpected guest ~