A short story based on the prompt from Reedsy: A story about someone nervous to attend their first party in a long time.

“Ninety percent.”
Bella pops her head through the bathroom door, frowning at me the way she does when she’s trying to decide whether or not to smack me. “What?”
“If you were wondering what the chances were that I’d hide in the bathroom the whole night… It’s about ninety percent,” I say, allowing a smirk to play on my lips.
Bella rolls her eyes before disappearing back into the bedroom.
“You could join me!” I yell after her, no longer able to hold back my smile. My mood quickly deflates, however, as I stare into the mirror.
“That would defeat the purpose of going to the party in the first place!” She yells back. I genuinely can’t tell if she’s amused or annoyed. Probably both. “Do you really find spending time with our friends so loathsome?”
“Loathsome?” I whisper, frowning at myself in the mirror. “Strong word.” Louder, I reply, “They’re fine! Though I do often find them annoyingsome.” I think I hear a chuckle.
Bella pokes her head back in, fiddling with an earring. “Because they’re only annoying some of the time?” I nod. “Good one,” she says, disappearing yet again.
“And they’re your friends, not mine!” I follow up after a moment, still frowning at my reflection. My hair is chaos, my complexion marred by scars.
“They love you!” She chides.
“They love that I’m married to you.”
“One of your best qualities,” she says as she joins me in the bathroom to finish her makeup.
I shrug.
She smacks me, but it doesn’t provoke the usual response. I’m quiet now, my ears buzzing with anxiety. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been to one of these.”
Bella meets my eyes through the mirror. “A party?”
I nod. “Not since the accident.”
She takes my hand, calmly running her thumb along mine. “They love you,” she repeats.
“Sure they do.”

*

Too many eyes follow me as we make our entrance, having nothing to do with the chips cradled in my arms. They know about the accident, the burns up and down my face… but knowing pales in comparison to seeing.
Bella notices their noticing and grabs the chips from my grasp, holding them aloft like some token distraction. “We brought snacks!” She says, shaking the bag.
The spell is broken, our friends’ attentions briefly pulled away from my face, but their eyes still flicker to it too often. They’re not seeing me, only it.
“May I use your restroom?” I ask the group in general because I don’t know whose house this is. Bella gives me a look, but there’s no heat in it. She understands.
“Sure, buddy,” says one of the younger guys, clapping me on the back as he points down the hall. Steve, I think his name is. Or is it Francis? I’m not sure, but I suspect he’s in the same boat since my name is decidedly not ‘buddy.’”
“Thanks, pal,” I say with a small smile, following his directions.
He either doesn’t notice or doesn’t mind the joke. Bella just rolls her eyes.

*

I reappear sometime later, settling in by my wife’s side with no intent to engage in her conversation.
“…I couldn’t believe it.”
My ears catch the last bit of the sentence, but my mind is sitting on the couch at home, trying to decide what to watch next. Everyone chuckles in response, so I force a vague smile, giving as little effort as possible.
“What do you think, June?”
I blink, forcing my brain to wake up. “What?”
“What about you?” One of Bella’s closer friends asks. I’m almost certain her name is Jessica.
“Well,” I say, stalling as I glance at Bella. She knows I want her to bail me out, but she stays silent, smiling sweetly back at me. “You know… I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening,” I say, grimacing apologetically. “What was that, Je… u… you said?”
“No problem,” she says with a smirk tells me she knows I just stumbled over her name. “I was just wondering if you had any plans for the holidays?”
I answer without listening to my response, and the party rolls on.
The circle breaks up and forms anew with slightly different people and names I know I don’t remember. My wife holds court and I refill her drinks, happy for excuses to disappear.

*

“What happened to your face?”
I look up, startled. Not because of the question, but because I hadn’t realized anyone was standing near me. She was a younger girl, probably someone’s daughter, but her age was too ambiguous for me to tell. Bella would know who she was, how we knew her, and the exact day of her birth, but Bella was busy.
“I burned it,” I say, my eyes casting around the room for help, but we are in the corner of a room where everyone else is engaged elsewhere.
“How?”
I let out a sigh, taking a sip of my drink, but the girl waited patiently, her eyes curious as they looked into mine. My eyes… not my burns. “It was an accident.”
“I should hope so.”
I nearly spit out my drink, unable to hold back a laugh.
She lets out a pleased smile as I crouch down to her level, ignoring the burning of my nostrils. “You don’t think I could have enemies?”
“I think you could have many enemies,” she says with a straight face. “I just doubt they would burn you like that.” She points to the scars on my face. “I mean, they would at least make some sort of design with them, right? Maybe write their initials.”
I take another sip of my drink, unsure what to say to that.
“So what kind of accident?” She insists.
“A tragic one,” I say dramatically, waving my free hand in the air. “I saved the world, I did. Twice, actually, but I slipped and fell the second time, so now I’m retired.”
“Retired?” She asks, her eyes sharp. “From saving the world? What if it’s threatened again?”
“Then I may have to come out of retirement,” I say somberly.
“So you can get the rest of you burned?” She says with her hands on her hips.
I let out another laugh, this time without firewater in my throat. “Fair enough, I guess I’ll stay retired. You’ve convinced me.”
She smiles wide, offering her hand. “I’m Lily.
“June,” I say, taking her hand. “Lily, huh? I’ll remember that.”

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