Party Crasher

The worst, when it finally arrived, was nothing that Will could have ever predicted. And its genesis was so understated, its ramifications so delayed, that he didn’t even recognize it when it first arrived. Full understanding would only come much later.
 
The gathering began well enough. No one showed up before Will and Leah had finished their preparations and all of the employees arrived within fifteen minutes of the 1:30 pm scheduled start time. Though fall was quickly approaching, no one had bothered to inform the sun that it could begin to wind down in anticipation of its long winter of rest. So the hosts were forced to make use of their blue nylon camping tarps in order to manufacture some shade in the backyard.
 
While Leah helped West arrange his appetizers on their mismatched serving trays in the kitchen, Will served refreshments to the restaurant’s four waitresses, three kitchen helpers, and Pierre, their aging janitor. Once the food was brought out, which included plates of fragrant garlic prawns and baked yam fries with herbed mayonnaise dip, Will let everyone mingle for fifteen minutes before calling for their attention to officially get things underway. He noticed with some relief that West had been accepting compliments on his food with more cordiality than a brick wall, unlike his standard response while in the Quiche’s kitchen.
 
“Leah and I would just like to welcome you all to our humble abode and thank you so much for making the effort to join us this afternoon,” he said from his perch atop a white plastic lawn chair, his sunglasses atop his head causing his hair to stand up in a messy spike. “By the time you leave we’re hoping that we all know each other a little better and we’ve all had a whole lot of fun. If enough people are interested in this becoming a more regular occasion we’ll look into putting something together for next month. But as for today I’d like to get things started with a couple of little games. So please follow me, if you’d be so kind.”
 
Will jumped down and led them to the grassy area shaded by a tarp that had been strung up between the back porch and the two gunmetal grey laundry poles. Once there he arranged everyone in a loose circle, joining it himself once everyone had found a spot to stand.
 
“Alright, we’re going to start off with something that will help us get to know each other,” Leah said, standing directly across from Will. “I’m going to number you off to split you into two groups – the ones go over here, the twos go over there. Once we’re all split up I’ll let you know what your first challenge is.”
 
Leah quickly sorted everyone into groups of five, each standing in loose huddles at opposite corners of the tarp. Will found himself with West, Pierre, and two of the waitresses – Holly and Danielle – while the other group consisted of the remaining wait staff (Kelly and Linda) and the kitchen staff (Howie, Clint, and Amanda). Most of the staff looked like they were school kids at recess, all wide grins and excited giggles, and even West had a smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

“Okay, this is how game number one works,” Leah announced grandly, like a circus ringmaster playing to the crowd. “The first team that can find one thing in common between all of its members wins. But there are no easy outs! Where you work, where you live, where you are right now – none of that will count. The more creative you get the more interesting things you’ll learn about each other. We’ll start on three. One… two… three!”
 
There were a few moments of panicked silence while everyone tried to think of where to begin and then everyone on both teams seemed to talk at once.
 
“One at a time!” Will told his team with a laugh. “Holly, you first.”
 
“What’s everyone’s favourite color? Mine’s red.” Two greens, a blue, and a yellow later she muttered with a sigh as Will pointed at West, “Dang it.”
 
“I don’t suppose anyone else has a tattoo?” West asked after a pause but only Pierre indicated he did. “Oh yeah? Let’s see it.”
 
“Later,” Will said with a quick smile. “Um… favourite style of music?” Country. Classic Rock. Latin. At least Danielle and West agreed on jazz.
 
Two full trips around the circle revealed plenty of interesting tidbits but nothing that was common to all of them. A few nervous glances were sent to the opposing team who appeared to be struggling just as mightily as they were with the challenge.
 
“We need to up our chances here,” West observed as he ran a hand back and forth over the top of his head. “What are some 50/50 things, stuff with only yes or no as the options?”
 
“I’ve never been outside of the U.S.,” Pierre offered, his tone suggesting that he didn’t expect anyone else to be in the same boat. But, much to his surprise, everyone else nodded their heads in agreement.
 
“I think we have a winner,” Will said with a laugh.
 
“I think our next get together needs to be in Mexico,” West said with a shake of his head.
 
The two teams traded victories back and forth over the next several games before the afternoon dissolved into casual chatter and comfortable silences. Just before it was time for everyone to head home to have dinner Will spotted Pierre telling West, with flickering hand gestures, the story behind the faded raven tattoo on his right calf. The chef, on the other hand, offered no explanations for any of his markings.
 
Eventually the guests gathered in the front yard to say their goodbyes and thanks, lingering outside of their cars while the sun hung low in the sky. The waitresses, who had come together, were the first to submit to the ticking of the clock when they finally climbed inside Kelly’s baby blue pickup truck. As the engine rumbled to life another sound, coming from down the street, caused everyone to turn in its direction.
 
It was a heavy, bone rattling bass beat, emanating from the stereo of midnight black four door that was approaching so slowly it almost seemed to be standing still. The ornate silver hubcaps had been polished to a blinding sheen, making it difficult to discern the driver until he pulled even with the guests.
 
He was a young man, barely old enough to wear the thin beard that clung to his dark cheeks. No shirt adorned his chest, only thick silver chains, and a blue and white bandana completely covered his hair, if he had any. He propped his sunglasses on his forehead and let his eyes trail lazily across the crowd watching him, a condescending smirk wrapping the cigarette dangling from his lips.
 
Then he spotted West, his eyes went stone cold, and he pressed his foot to the accelerator. The car roared down the street, leaving behind a fading beat, stunned guests, and one tall, tattooed man with a very heavy heart.
 
But Will and Leah would not be aware of that for some time to come.

The End

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