Everybody knows this game. Everybody’s played it. Well… everybody who’s popular, that is. You’ve never played it. But you know how it’s played. The closet door shuts, muffling the noises of the party.
You stand still in darkness, then you fumble your way down among the unfamiliar coats, shoving aside a clutter of shoes. You sit, awkward and cross-legged, in the smell of musty wool and cracked rubber and somebody’s corn-chippy foot odor.
You wiggle and wedge yourself around, so your back is to the door. You hear muffled, overlapping conversations, punctuated by bright bursts of laughter. Thumping bass from the stereo. They must be playing another joke on you. They’re going to leave you sitting in here for the rest of the night. You were never one of them, and you never will be. Why did you think showing up at this party would change anything?
The closet door swings open. A rectangle of light widens across the hanging coats. You don’t turn around. That’s not how the game is played. But, you look up. The silhouette of someone’s head and shoulders eclipses the yellow light. The door closes with a click.
Whoever is in the closet with you, they don’t make a sound. They don’t move. You can’t even hear them breathing. You can’t be sure there’s anyone here at all.
You don’t speak. That’s against the rules. You twist yourself around in the small space, and stretch out a hand, feeling for the top of a shoe, for a leg in bluejeans. You feel nothing.
You’re all by yourself.
You sit there. What else can you do? You’re the punchline to everyone’s joke, just like you thought. After a while, you have to go to the bathroom, but you stay in the closet until your bladder burns and your legs are cramped and tingling with pins and needles
By the time you stumble to your feet and turn the knob, push open the closet door, there’s no one left in the room. You look out the glass doors onto the patio. Shapes ripple and flit beyond the reach of the single lamp next to the couch.
Nobody sees you. Nobody turns to look. The sliding glass door is cracked open. You hear them laughing and talking. You smell the cigarette smoke and the beer and perfume. They forgot about you. You thought nothing would be worse than them laughing at you, but this is worse.
You walk through the empty house, and out the front door, and you go home.
Nothing changes the next day at school. Nobody makes fun of you. Nobody shoves you in the hall. Nobody laughs under their breath in class. Maybe you dreamed it: the party, the closet, the silhouette in the doorway.
You lie in bed, staring at the dim wall of your bedroom, and you wonder if you’ll ever fall asleep. It’s so late. You’ll be so tired in the morning. Is there any point in getting up tomorrow?
The door of your bedroom swings open, casting a rectangle of light on the wall opposite your bed. The shadow of someone stands in the doorway, but you can’t tell if it’s your mother or your father. You lie still and pretend to be asleep. The door closes slowly, shutting out the light.
You spend the next Saturday night at home. You’re in the bathroom, washing your hands afterward. The knob on the bathroom door rattles softly. Habit made you close the bathroom door, even though there’s nobody in the house with you. There’s not supposed to be anyone here. Everyone else has gone out.
The knob rattles again. In the mirror, you meet your own terrified stare. The door swings open, and a faint rectangle of light falls across the bathroom wallpaper. A head and shoulders are silhouetted against the light. Water from the faucet pours over your hands and gurgles down the drain, but you barely notice. No one is there, in the hallway.
Behind you, the door closes with a soft click.