Justin arrived late to the party. He usually arrived late to things. He did it on purpose. He was hoping for a spot in the yearbook as the senior who was most likely to show up late to graduation. He could have gone for friendliest or class clown, but those awards seemed too obvious. He also supposed he could have gone for best legs, but he really didn’t feel up to shaving them. Really not worth it.
He made his way through Staci’s house and went down to the basement where all his friends would be talking and dancing and playing slightly inappropriate games. None of them could get into too much trouble since Staci’s folks were watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother just upstairs.
Before Justin reached the bottom of the stairs, he stopped to take in the view of the room. He shouted a quick, but loud, “HEY!” His friends responded with shouts and waves and raised glasses. Staci made her way over to him and laced her arm through his. She had a thing for him and he knew it, he just wasn’t sure how to let her know that she wasn’t his type.
“So, what’ve I missed?” he asked.
“Not much,” sighed Staci, “but we’re already out of chips.”
“I should go, then. Those chips were really the only reason I came.”
Staci let out a girlish giggle and slapped Justin on the arm. “I’m sure I can find another reason for you to stay!”
“Is Tim playing Operation?” Justin asked, noticing Tim alone on the couch.
“Yeah, I had some board games out,” said Staci, “I’m really not sure why he’s decided to play that one by himself. For that matter, I’m not too sure why he even came here tonight. Tim’s always keeping to himself.”
Justin looked back over at Tim. He was hunched over the classic game, his brow was furrowed in deep concentration. “He’s a good kid, just a little introverted, that’s all. Come on.”
Justin and Staci walked over to Tim’s corner. Justin sat in a chair across from Tim and Cavity Sam, while Staci stood with her arms crossed. “Hey, Tim. Whatcha doin’?” Justin asked.
“I’m training,” Tim said, never looking up from the game.
Justin noticed that the look on Staci’s face was not a happy one. He silently nodded at her, trying to convince her to sit next to Tim. She rolled her eyes. “What are you training for?” Staci asked as she sat next to Tim on the couch.
“Ah! You made me drop the Adam’s Apple!” Tim yelled as Sam buzzed at his error. Staci immediately stood back up. “Sorry! Geez, it’s just a game!” she shouted and stormed into the crowd of her friends.
Justin watched as she walked away and he couldn’t help but laugh a little. He looked back at Tim, who was still huffing in frustration. “No, really, what are you training for?”
“I’m gonna be a surgeon someday.”
“And you think that playing Operation at age 16 will help to prepare you for that?” Justin asked. It may have sounded like he was being sarcastic, but he genuinely wanted to understand Tim’s thought process.
Tim set down the game’s tweezers and looked up at Justin. “This game helps improve dexterity.”
“Dude, you’re at a party and you’re sitting in a corner playing Operation by yourself. That’s something you could do at home.”
Tim sat back on the couch and crossed his arms. He looked at his classmates around the basement with a look on his face that could almost be described as disgust. “These people don’t like me,” he said. He looked back at Justin, “I’m not even sure you like me.”
“I don’t dislike you,” said Justin. “But I don’t exactly know you, either. And I’d be willing to bet, not many people in this room do know you. You have to admit, you do kind of close yourself off from others.”
“No, I don’t–”
“Says the kid playing a board game alone in a room full of his peers.”
“Point taken,” Tim said.
“Look, it’s obvious you don’t want to be alone,” Justin said as he stood. “If you wanted that, you’d have stayed at home.”
“The truth? I came here tonight because I have a crush on Staci,” Tim said. “Don’t tell her,” he added quickly.
Justin couldn’t help but laugh again. “You know, yelling at her for dropping an apple-shaped piece of plastic is probably not the way to win her affections.”
As if suddenly realizing what he had done, Tim leaned forward and picked the tweezers back up.
“Oh, no,” Justin said, “Don’t pick those things back up. Operation: Wingman is about to commence. You and I are going to work together to get Staci’s attention. In a good way, this time.”
Tim looked up, his expression unchanged. “I mean it. Stand up,” Justin ordered, “And try smiling a little. It’s a party.”
With that, they moved toward the crowd and approached Staci and a group of her friends.
Feature Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash