As far as house parties go, ours started off banal.
The six of us arrived as a numerical function, a countdown to fun. Three in an older but well-kept Volvo. The next two in a nice SUV, recently washed. Then I arrived in my boring little compact car. A cliché: the outsider telling the story of her friends. But isn’t it always the outsider who tells the story? Why mess with an established formula? Life’s more relatable this way.
We had all come together a mere three months prior, though we had been coworkers for longer. Cindy’s Alleyway and Eatery could easily be classified as a dead-end job, a stop for all of us while we decided what it was exactly that we wanted to do with our lives. A typical place, filled with the typical people of middle-of-nowhere New England towns. One Christmas, the manager, Ted, decided to host a tragic holiday party for the employees. The six of us congregated in a corner, desperately seeking something salvageable from the evening. Our clique, squad, girl group, or what have you formed naturally as bees returning to the hive after a long journey. We all belonged together. We just hadn’t known it yet.
Now, we knew it. Our contact was constant, from the WhatsApp group to a standing Friday night movie outing after our shift at the Alley was over. Every Sunday we would do brunch in one of our apartments. On Wednesdays we had after-work drinks at the bar down the street, where we giggled about strange customers at the Alley and told each other that we were too smart to be working there. We should be models, singers, artists, and comfortably wealthy women with girl- and boyfriends at our beck and call.
Really though, none of us were meant for those lives. We belonged to that miasmic lower-middle class, making just enough to feed ourselves and afford our cars, with the rest of our paychecks going towards paying off student loans for degrees we never finished. The rest–the fun–we paid for on credit cards with balances we rarely checked.
Once we’d all arrived at the house, we swarmed then spread through the echoing hallways in a flurry of giggles and unnecessary whispers. The house was unoccupied, recently put on the market. We knew that there would be no one to bother us in the house at the end of a sparsely populated street.
When we were done exploring and evaluating what the house had to offer, we moved quickly. Pulling bags and coolers from the cars, we broke out cheap wine and crackers, homemade cookies and vodka-soaked gummy bears, lighting the kitchen and living room with unscented candles from the dollar store. As I said, a banal night at the start.
Then, the rain started.
There are a few different flavors of rainstorms. Some are soft and quiet, perfect for cups of tea and long naps. Others are sporadic downpours, irritating in their ability to restart just as you chance the run to your car. That night, the rain came down hard and fast, with little warning.None of us had checked the weather before coming to the house. We were young and invincible, after all. What could the weather do to us?
The rain started soon after we arrived, though we didn’t notice at first. We were too busy getting lightly drunk and gossiping about our job, really the only interesting topic of conversation we ever had. That is, we didn’t notice the rain until the one of the Volvo passengers went out to try and grab a sweater.
Though the rain hadn’t been coming down for more than half an hour, the ground surrounding the house was already an inch deep underwater. We watched her progress from the bay window in the living room, quite amused as she struggled to find the walkway leading off from the front door. Even more amusing was how once she reached the car, she realized she had forgotten the keys inside. Or rather, we had snuck the keys from her purse earlier. She always ended up cold and having to go out to the car for a sweater. She quickly retreated into the house. We were unable to keep straight faces as she stomped in with a flurry of curses against the weather and us.
Pranks always seem harmless at the time. We had no way to know what consequences we would bring upon ourselves.
The night continued, each of us slowly getting drunker and sloppier. Occasionally one of us would chance the rain, only to find the water level had risen another quarter, half, then full inch. We started getting worried around midnight. We had all expected to be home or at one another’s apartments by morning, nursing light hangovers with coffee and bacon. However, none of us would be going home that night.
Around one in the morning, we congregated in the living room stuffed with show furniture, three girls on the couch, two curled into each other on an oversized armchair, and me sitting in the bay window. We began trying to make a plan, to figure out what to do from there.
It’s funny how girl groups work. We function like a cell, each member integral to the overall structure of our communal friendship. We each serve a purpose, and no one member more or less important than the others.
The couch housed the main functions of our little cell. On the left end, our plasma membrane talked of how we should all stick together for the night, safer together in the house rather than separated out in the rain. She always held us close like only a mother-type could. On the right end of the couch, the mitochondrion, our little bundle of unlimited energy. Effortlessly and annoyingly positive, she was just so excited that we were on such a little adventure, all of us together on a dark and stormy night. Between them sat the cytosol, a liquid buffer between the membrane’s ceaseless practicality and the mitochondrion’s suggestion that we should all do shots. Though tonight, she was quieter than usual, still sulking over her excursion in the rain, unsuccessful in retrieving a sweater.
The armchair girls were both single and separate entities, our nucleus, so to speak. The nucleolus was the brains and social planner, she found the listing for this house and suggested that we forgo the usual Friday night movie in favor of bonding. She liked being in charge of us, and said so often. The girl you love to hate, the one we are all obsessed with. The nuclear envelope was cuddled up with her, nodding supportively to everything she said. The envelope was a hype man, always ready to second the suggestions of the nucleolus, always making sure we did what they wanted to do. Girl groups are not democracies, just as cells aren’t ruled by committee.
Me? I am the flagella, or the cilia, depending on what type of cell chart you’re Googling. I keep our cell mobile, I decide when the night is over, I’m the killjoy. The fat lady singing, the hook pulling a diving old-timey comedian off the stage. I make sure no one does anything too stupid, by stopping the fun preemptively. Not every girl group or cell has one of me, though I like to think that I am a good influence. After all, we are future models, singers, artists, and comfortably wealthy women with girl- and boyfriends at our beck and call. We need to know when to stop, and I always know when that time has come.
So, we held our little meeting in the living room, trying to decide what to do. We didn’t want to stay in the house; the realtor would likely be by bright and early to make sure there was no water damage. We also didn’t trust ourselves enough to wake up in time to get up and out. More importantly, we didn’t trust our phones to survive and wake us with their tinny alarms. However, we also couldn’t leave. The water was now just below the lower edge of the front door. Our cars’ engines would flood, or whatever it is that makes them stop running in water. The third option would be to walk to the nearest house and ask to stay there for the night, and hope the residents would be amused by our antics, and not tell the realtor about our little escapade.
After twenty minutes of minor arguing, the cytosol excused herself. She’d never warmed up from the rain, and just wanted to curl up under a blanket. One of the upstairs bedrooms was stocked with show furniture, she would be there if we needed her. Talks devolved quickly after she left.
The arguing escalated when the membrane snapped at the mitochondrion, whose unceasing suggestions of shots were in no way helping the situation. The mitochondrion was offended–she was just trying to lighten the mood. The membrane was then also offended–she was just trying to keep the conversation productive. The nucleolus was irritated, the mitochondrion and the membrane were bickering like children. The envelope agreed, as there was no point in argument. Obviously, the best option was the nucleolus’s, to spend the night and deal with the consequences of staying in the morning.
However, the mitochondrion and the membrane couldn’t afford any run-ins with police, no matter how slight. They both had minor records, and didn’t want to add to them. Their future job security depended on it. Just because the envelope and nucleolus could run home to mom and dad if things got rough, that didn’t mean everyone had that safety net.
At this point, I stepped in as I do, suggesting that it was time we all separated for a bit and cooled off. If the cytosol were here she would calm everyone down, reminding us of how we were so close and special to each other. But I don’t have her way with words, and was resoundingly told to be helpful or shut up. I chose the latter. I had no skin in this fight. I may not have a family unit to run back to, but I also have no record to make worse.
The best and worst things about girl groups is that oftentimes, we never resort to violence to resolve our differences. Instead, we rely on words, and bits of histories we’ve been saving. We know where the bodies are buried, so to speak, and can wield that information like a knife. However, our group had no lysosome, no self-destruct sequence if things got rough. We are stuck together rain or shine. In this case, rain.
If you’re waiting for a big finale, some twist that will shock and amaze you, it’s not coming. Our story ends as banal as it started. We split up in the house, sleeping ‘til morning. I woke up first, saw that the rain had stopped, and got everyone moving. We packed up our bags and coolers, scraped off wax from where it melted on the tables. We split up to our cars and carefully drove away on soaked roads. No realtor came, we had no run-in with police. We went home and nursed hangovers with coffee and bacon, albeit in our separate apartments.
On Sunday, we met up at the nucleolus’s apartment for brunch. Last week was the envelope’s turn to host, and next week will be the cytosol’s turn. On Wednesday we met at the bar, and laughed over beers and mix drinks about the fake glasses Ted wore to look more managerial.
Consequences can be subtle. A barbed comment at brunch, an eyeroll over drinks, an argument over which movie to see that becomes strangely heated. A member of the group no longer willing to mediate, because she’s still mad about a prank her friends pulled on her on a rainy night. Maybe one day, when we are all models, singers, artists, and comfortably wealthy women with girl- and boyfriends at our beck and call, we’ll laugh about the time a rainstorm almost destroyed our friendship. Maybe we won’t. Maybe we will let our resentment of each other’s privilege and personalities simmer just below the surface for years.
Maybe we’ll find our lysosome, our self-destruct button. Maybe, one day.
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Emily Vollmer is an aspiring writer, artist, and terrible poet with five-eighths of a degree in marine biology. She believes that good writing can have a meaningful impact on the world and strives to one day reach that level in her own work. For now, she’ll be happy sharing her stories with anyone willing to read them. She lives in shoreline Connecticut with her big beautiful bunny Frankenstein and two parakeets Leonard and Nimoy, as well as her cats Batman and Walt Disney. She can be found at https://emilyvollmerthewriter.wordpress.com