In my home, you take your shoes off at the door. It’s not a cultural thing, not really – my mother just likes a clean house. Whenever we have big parties our front porch becomes a sea of shoes – thongs, sandals, high heels, boots. I think it irritates people, especially the girls, because they feel like their outfit, their facade for the night, isn’t quite complete without the shoes that have been meticulously chosen to match their dress, their purse, their jewelry. The guys don’t care so much because all of their shoes look the same anyway, so you can just fill in the blanks.
I don’t really know what they’re thinking, of course, because the parties are never mine. My sister, the socialite – she’s the one with the friends, the popularity, and the looks. I’m just her shut-in older brother, the one her friends secretly call the Geek Freak – never in front of her, because she and I actually get along great. I’m nothing special, you see. Dark-haired, fair-skinned, glasses, jeans and a T-shirt. That’s me. My sister got my father’s olive skin, my mother’s blonde hair, and somewhere along the line, the face of a model. If you passed us on the street you would get home and think about the beautiful woman, walking by herself, because you would forget me instantly.
She’s having a party right now, actually. She always hosts them in our basement, because it was redone before we bought the house and is perfect for it. I can hear music, and laughter, and occasionally my mother walks in and offers more food, to raucous agreement. Even my parents are considered cool enough to go into there. My sister always tells me to join in, but no one ever talks to me. She doesn’t notice because someone else always has her attention. Afterwards she’ll come upstairs and ask me if I had a good time, and I’ll always reply yes. I did actually go downstairs for her first couple of parties, only to slink back upstairs after condescending looks and pointed silences.
I head down to the kitchen to get a drink, and my mother and father make sure not to ask me why I’m not with everyone else. Out of the corner of my eye, however, I see someone slip out of the basement and head towards our front door, stopping to give my dog a gentle pat on the head. That already piques my interest, because none of my sister’s friends could give a shit about him. Bounty is dark brown with a splash of white, and plain, a mix of everything. He gets ignored just as much as I do when I take him out for walks.
I decide to follow them, whoever they are, if only to thank them for the moment they spared for Bounty. He trots after me, because I’m the only one in the family who actually takes the time to play with him. He’s the only one in the family that doesn’t seem to judge me, except for that one time I tried to learn how to play a guitar.
I hear the front door open and shut quietly as I turn the corner, and I hesitate. If I go out there, they’ll know I followed them, and I’m not sure it isn’t someone going out for a smoke, or one of my sister’s particularly obnoxious best friends. On the other hand, I’ve never know anyone to leave this early, so I exhale, and then push open the door, intending just to peek around. In the sea of shoes – the boots, the stilettos, and the strappy atrocities that must take hours to put on, I see someone pick up a grubby pair of Converse. It can’t be a guy, because the shoes are tiny, so I push the door open all the way to see a startled girl looking up at me. Dark hair, fair skin, jeans and a T-shirt.
“Oh…hi. You must be Sarah’s brother.”
“Uh…yeah. Sorry, I don’t think we’ve met. I was just going to thank you for giving Bounty a pat. No one has ever done that before.” Shit, that sounded a lot less stupid in my head.
Her face lights up. “Bounty? That’s an awesome name for him. I’m Lily,” she said, standing up and holding out her hand.”
“Liam,” I reply, shaking it, and then I find myself asking, “Why are you leaving so early?”
She cringes as I wince, and we both laugh awkwardly. In the meantime, Bounty is wagging his tail and nudging her hand, and she obliges him with a scratch behind his ear.
“I met Sarah last week, and she invited me over, but I didn’t really know what to say to all of her friends. I felt under-dressed and no one was really talking to me so I figured no one would notice if I left…”
There is a moment of silence as we stare at each other, although ‘silence’ might be the wrong word to use. Bounty’s tail is wagging so hard it’s hammering the porch. She smiles at me, and I grin back, and somehow an unsaid understanding is reached. She goes to follow me inside, her pair of Converse still in one hand, while the other has found mine. She stops just long enough to leave them at the door, next to mine.