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It was finally the nineteenth of April, and Steve came to Sharon’s party wearing cargo pants and a striped T-shirt. Richie was walking along with him. The two walked down Marigold Lane and turned a corner onto Sunset Road. They saw a wanted poster with the faces of Lee, Switcher, John and Frank on a wall as they turned the corner. They learned that Lee’s full name was Lee Wayne Sutherland.

Finally they got to Sharon’s house. It was a Cape Cod, painted a peach color on the outside. Her front door was open, and Steve and Richie walked right in.

"Have you had dinner?", Richie asked.

"No, I saved my whole appetite for the party food," said Steve.

"So did I. Hey, you think they’ll have oatmeal cookies?"

"I dunno. They had macaroons and Pepperidge Farm last time. But it’s something different every time."

"I really hope they have oatmeal this time. Or Fig Newtons."

"I hope so, too, Richie," said Steve, hoping for his friend’s sake.

Steve looked around the room. There was a music video with Aquetta in the videogram. It was for her song "Bring Me the Day". Aquetta was doing yoga underwater, lifting herself up in her lotus position as she mouthed to the words, floating up again and again line by line. Three girls were dancing to the video.

"See anyone we know?", asked Richie.

Steve continued looking around. "Well, there’s Adrian."

"He’s all scrappy."

"We could watch Aquetta."

"Nah." Richie turned his head down in disinterest.

"Maybe something good is going to come on next. They could play Bleach."

"They’ll probably play a few rap videos first," said Richie. He had a horrified look in his eyes as he said the word "rap".

"Well, we’ll see. Something rap could be next. Straight Off Gibraltar could be next. Bleach could be next."

"Hey, how long are we going to stay here?"

"Well, I’m planning to stay until the end of the party." Steve looked at Richie then asked, "How about you?"

"Just long enough to see some good music videos and catch ‘All Fed Up’", said Richie, referring to Bleach’s hit single of the year.

"Do you want to talk to Jessica? Jessica’s supposed to come tonight."

"Sure."

"Well, you can hang around with Jessica and me at the end of the party and we’ll watch music videos together. It will be like watching the tube together. Just after ten or so."

Steve looked across the living room and dining room some more. Kevin Flax had read an Internet treatise about how the war in China had aided the breakdown of Communism in Cuba during the eleventies and was talking about it with some other partygoers. A bowl full of sapodilla juice sat on the table on the kitchen. Some psilocybin mushrooms were on a plate near the juice. A forty sat on the table nearby. In the middle of the living room, Jocasta Lin was doing backflips for an audience.

Steve walked into the living room where there was some more food set out atop an ottoman. A box of cashews sat near the edge, and next to it there was a plate of peanut brittle. Steve hated the peanut brittle. It would always get caught in his braces. How would he look then?

A coffee table was populated by several plates of coconut cake. Steve took a silver fork from the end of the table and tried one of the cake slices. He found it rather dry. He picked up one of the cups of coffee from the table and took his first sip.

He breathed out. The coffee was still fairly hot. He blew on it and lifted it up again. As he lifted his coffee cup up to his mouth again, Steve felt a tap on his left shoulder.

Steve turned around, spinning on his left foot and spilling some of the coffee in the process.

"Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!" said a breathless voice.

Steve grimaced at the burning on his hand from the coffee, and shook it off as he glanced up to see who the voice belonged to. An apologetic Jocasta beamed at Steve. She had long hair and was wearing a black halter top, a black skirt and black-and-purple-striped leggings. Her radiant smile caused Steve to instinctively smile back.

"You’re very good at backflips," stated Steve, not knowing what else to say.

Jocasta’s smile broadened and she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her right ear. Steve got the impression that she was nervous. He didn’t understand how a girl doing backflips in the middle of a party could be nervous around him, so he ignored the feeling.

"You came here with Richie, right?"

"Yeah, he’s . . . ." and Steve floundered to point out Richie in the crowd.

"That’s cool, I mean, you didn’t come with Jessica?"

"Um, no," and suddenly Steve felt his face flushing red.

Jocasta’s mouth formed a tight O as she took Steve’s hand and led him into the middle of the room. Steve vaguely heard something rap playing, but he didn’t resist.

Nor did he resist when Jocasta began to grind against him.

Steve turned around to see Jocasta up against his body. "Hey, do you want to dance?", he asked her innocently.

His blue eyes looked into her brown eyes. He could see fire growing in them.

"OK, let’s . . . dance."

They began dancing to the rap song. Steve had never taken dancing lessons, so he was a little stale.

"Express yourself," Jocasta said.

Steve started to prance around on the floor more vigorously, but ended up dancing the way he had danced with several girls before, except this time with a coffee cup in his right hand. Jocasta twirled him around. Steve glanced over at Jessica and brushed his hair out of his face.

Jessica Bunce stood there in her white camisole, red tights and brown pumps. She had red hair fitted neatly in a pageboy, with green eyes and freckles. She gave him a look as if to say, "It’s up to you".

"So, Steve, you’re not dancing with Jessica, right?", Jocasta asked.

"We’re not dating anymore," Steve explained.

"Oh, fine then," Jocasta said sheepishly.

The two of them heard a sweet, wet voice say, "I’ve never seen you two together before!" They looked up reflexively, but before they looked they both already knew that the voice belonged to the party’s hostess, Sharon Moran.

Having brown hair and hazel eyes, Sharon was wearing a glitter-covered white top and orange skirt with Birkenstocks. Sharon was smiling at Steve.

"Glad to see you made it to the party!" She paused for three seconds. "I hope you have good luck with Jocasta, because she can really carry you down."

Steve wasn’t sure what "carry you down" meant, but he nodded along, trusting Sharon’s characterizations of people. Jocasta’s eyebrows turned inward as a smirk developed on her face.

Steve finished his coffee, and told Jocasta "Wait right there" as he walked off to dispose of the paper cup. He noticed Adrian drinking the forty as he walked by. Then he walked back over towards Sharon.

"I want to tell you that if you go with Jocasta she’ll be dashingly modern," Sharon said. "She’s no Luann Meyer".

Steve smirked at Sharon and thanked her for her analogy.

Steve walked back to Jocasta and kept hearing Sharon’s voice saying "She’s no Luann Meyer." As if reading his mind, Jocasta did a few back flips.

Steve grimaced in pain, feeling as if something inside him had crystallized and shattered.

Noticing his pained expression, Jessica walked over.

"Are you okay, Steve?"

"Yeah, fine. I’m just starving!"

"Want me to bring you over some of your favorite foods?"

Steve cringed at her motherly tone of voice. "No, I can still walk you know."

That was when Steve heard a scream.

Steve turned from Jessica’s pained expression at his slight to see what was going on and found that most of the room was now at a standstill staring at the door. There, to Steve’s utter amazement, stood Richie, open mouthed and flabbergasted. Clearly the scream had come from Richie and it didn’t take long for everyone to see why he was screaming.

Sharon always had a surprise for her guests, but this time she had clearly outdone herself. The guests nearest the door started parting and making a path lined with more open mouthed disbelief as Bleach made their way into the house.

"Oh my word! Is it really them?" breathed Jocasta in Steve’s ear.

"Yeah" came Sharon’s reply from nearby. Steve turned his head to see her pleased grin as she surveyed the surprise on everyone’s faces.

"You’ve really outdone yourself this time Sharon"

"Yeah, it’ll be hard to top this one." Sharon turned from Steve and greeted the band then showed them to the corner of the room. Once everyone was cleared away from the area it was pretty easy to see that that corner had been set up for a band but no one had even noticed.

Steve followed behind Richie, who was literally on the band’s heels, and the two of them plopped down on the floor in anticipation while the band got ready to play. Richie was still too amazed to even talk but Steve enjoyed watching the band set up even without Richie talking his ear off. This would be one for the history books and he knew that Richie would be talking about it for ages to come.

After a couple of songs Steve left Richie’s side and waded back into the rest of the party goers. He stopped to talk to Adrian, who was pretty well wasted by now, and then went on to find other people to mingle with. Jessica caught up to him and asked him to dance to some random song that was playing as Bleach took a break. He agreed and let her lead him off to a less busy section of the floor.

"So, how have things been Steve?"

"Things have been good. How are things with you?"

"They’re good." Jessica hesitated and could tell that Steve wasn’t really interested in dancing with her. "Steve?"

"Yeah?"

"Are you goin’ to date Jocasta?"

"I dunno? I might, I might not. I haven’t really given it much thought."

"That’s not true and you know it Steve. I know you well enough to know you’ve already got the rest of the evening planned out as well as pretty much the rest of the week. You give everything too much thought. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. I was just curious is all."

"Yeah, well, I really have had a lot on my mind lately. I haven’t given much thought to dating Jocasta until this evening when she asked me to dance."

"Oh, okay then." Jessica really did regret bringing the subject up now and scrounged around for a topic to change the subject. Since she couldn’t think of anything more to say she just let the music do the talking and they finished dancing in silence. Thankfully when the song ended another one started up and Rochelle Conti appeared out of nowhere to ask for the next dance with Steve. Jessica faded off into the crowd and Steve turned to dance with Rochelle.

Rochelle was a pretty girl with bouncy blonde curls and lively hazel eyes. Tonight her eyes looked rather green in contrast to her blue baby doll dress. "Are you having fun Steve?"

"Yeah, this is shaping up to the best party of the year."

"Sharon always does throw a great party doesn’t she? I think it’s cause she knows how to read people, ya know. She’s good at giving people what they like."

"Yeah, I’ve noticed." Steve glanced across the room at Sharon to find her watching Richie rocking out with Bleach.

"I think she has liked him for a while now." Steve glanced down to find Rochelle watching Sharon as well and knew she had said what he was thinking. "I think they’d make a great couple. Don’t you?"

"Yeah, I guess so." Steve stopped dancing as the song changed and asked Rochelle if she wanted him to get her a drink.

"No, I’m good, thanks though." She wandered off to find another dance partner as Steve walked toward the kitchen and the bowl full of sapodilla juice. Now he had just one more thing to think about along with everything else. He winced as he reached for a cup and though as he ladled some juice for himself that it was more out of physical pain from somewhere in his abdomen then from the thought of his friends dating each other He’d have to go to a doctor soon if these weird pains kept attacking him.

Oh well. Another thought for another day he figured as he downed his juice and trashed his cup. For tonight though he was going to find something to eat and look around for Avery. Avery always had some wild tale of some off adventure or another. Tonight was Steve’s turn to wow Avery with his story of the AALL thieves.

Steve found Avery Graham sitting in an armchair with a couple of other kids telling them about some adventure. Steve waited until the group broke up and then went and sat on the footstool across from Avery. Avery was wearing his typical polo shirt and khaki cargo shorts and looked completely at home and relaxed as he lounged and listened to Steve’s tale.

"Dude! I’ve seen the wanted posted all over for those guys. That was you?"

"Yeah, me and Peter." Steve couldn’t hide the pride in his voice. He was glad to actually be the one telling of the adventure this time. Maybe he was getting a few things started on the right track for his life. He glanced up to find Jocasta listening as he answered Avery’s questions about Saturday night. This really was shaping up to be a great party.

Steve leant back against a wall near the armchair. "And then the one with the black hair and moustache got in, and Peter was making his way onto the seat . . . while he was in, the other guy . . . and then Peter kicked him, and wrested his hand right from the door. The man fell onto the road. And we could drive off."

"Smooth driving, I tell ya", said Jocasta.

Steve related the rest of the night as Jocasta and Jeff King stood by listening with Avery. "You ever had a hard time making an escape?," Steve asked.

"Hard?" Avery flicked his hand across his forehead in a waving motion, ruffling some of his messy brown hair. "It’s never hard for me."

"Well, I know you must have had times when you had to make a getaway, huh, Avery?"

"Sure. My friends Colin Vang and Euridice Brucker were hanging out in Arciniega with me at night once, right?" Avery began waving his hands about. "And we were walking up behind the pet store, and it was latched closed at night. So we got to the dumpsters out behind, where people had thrown away some rotten apples and pomegranates. And so there were these other kids with their skateboards who had come there that night, right? And then they walk up to us and a few of them start picking up the fruit in the dumpsters . . ."

As Avery continued his story, Adrian Kerekes, who was listening with Steve, Jocasta and Jeff, said "Just a minute". Adrian had brown hair, blue eyes and freckles, and was wearing a black T-shirt and jeans with plain-looking black tennis shoes. He looked a lot like Steve, except he was a little chunkier than Steve was. As Adrian staggered off, he walked up to Sharon. Sharon was standing right next to Richie.

"So I think Bleach can really write a song that captures the emotions their listeners want to feel, you know?", she was saying to Richie. Then she noticed Adrian stumbling by and turned her head. "What’s up?"

"Dude!", Adrian said. "I’ve got to make it to the bathroom in time to puke. Which way is it?"’

Sharon pointed to the hall straight down the middle from everyone who was watching the Bleach concert. "It’s in that hall, to your left," she said.

Steve turned his head and watched as Adrian ran right in to retch up all that beer in the toilet.

"We should play a practical joke on Adrian," Avery said as Adrian staggered towards the bathroom.

Jocasta’s eyes lit up and opened wide. "What do you have planned?"

"I think since Bleach is playing it will make a great distraction. Let’s make a request for a special song, for our buddy Adrian."

"Do you think Bleach would do it?" asked Steve.

"Well, if not, it was worth a shot! Let’s make this party one to really remember!" replied Avery.

"Just as long as Sharon is cool with it . . ." Jeff reminded them.

Avery sauntered over to the stage to speak with Bleach. He approached the lead singer, Mark Giannakis, a 22-year old student from Northwest University. True to his band’s name, Mark had bleach-blonde hair and goatee with blue eyes. He was wearing a white tank top, jeans, sandals, a tech vest and an ankh necklace. "I have a special request - Adrian can’t seem to hold his liquor," said Avery. "Can you do a song about spiraling and psychedelics? I think it’d improve his mood!"

"Of course mate, we’ll play our latest "Around the Rainbow" just for ya. Listen up!"

Bleach twanged their instruments and vamped up the synthesizer. "Get ready folks", said Mark, "This is our latest song, ‘Around the Rainbow,’ for our guests tonight."

Richie started hopping up and down and squeaking in high pitched tones: "Did you hear that? Did you hear that???"

Sharon laughed and ran out onto the dance floor. Her guests followed suit, eager to hear the latest song.

Bleach began with a long high E note. The rhythm changed to a beat of techno-trance, lyrics meshed with the synthesizer to make it sound like a robot.

Jocasta squirmed over to Steve and began to dance with him. "This really is a great party! I’m glad Avery asked!"

Steve nodded and laughed as he saw Adrian spinning around, unsure whether to make a run for the dance floor or the bathroom.

The crowd surged and Sharon was pleased to see everybody’s smiling faces, especially Richie. She took the courage to make the most of this opportunity and approached him. "How do you like this beat?" she asked.

"Fantastic! I never knew Bleach had a new song yet! I am simply in heaven!"

"Care if I join?" she timidly asked.

"Not at all -- I’d like to dance with you to this song!"

So Sharon held onto Richie’s hands and danced with him to the newest song. "I didn’t know they did songs this funky," said Sharon.

"Neither did I," said Richie.

"Well", said Sharon, "It could be they’re branching out."

Richie closed his eyes and moved along with Sharon, sort of like a hip-hop dancer. "Or maybe they don’t release their psychedelic songs", he speculated.

Sharon laughed while she watched her partner dance. "Where’d you learn to dance like that, Richie?"

Richie put his thumb up to his lips and thought awhile, truly not knowing where he had gotten it from. "Uh, from old movies", he said.

"Well, old movies are great!", said Sharon, smiling so intensely her teeth were all showing. She laughed.

Meanwhile, Adrian was dancing around with his limbs all tied down to the floor, in some state of Too Much Good Stuff. He was moving like a crab that had five of its legs trying to walk in one direction and the other five of its legs trying to walk the other direction. He seemed entranced by the lyrics:

I’ve been around the rainbow Around the rainbow I’ve been I’ve watched my head inside of me with my own eyes, seen it spin Felt the eating of my face, as I broke out of a box I didn’t realize was there, with mushrooms growing on their stalks

Some sound effects went off that sounded like mushrooms popping into empty space.

Jocasta’s head turned from Steve’s face to Adrian. She giggled. "Oh Steve, you better look. I think Avery and Bleach have got him."

Adrian spun left and right on all fours for a minute longer, then suddenly he stopped, with his face to the floor.

He opened his mouth, and out came a series of streams of beer, making crown shapes before covering the floor like spilt milk. Raisins popped out like deposits of guano among the beer. Finally, pink swirls from the strawberry-covered raisins Adrian had eaten made an oily slick over the beer like the surface of an aerial photo of Pluto.

Jocasta laughed. Avery’s eyebrows arched up in amazement. Steve glanced at Avery with a frown, as if to say "Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to do this." Richie opened his eyes and looked. His face turned to horror. He turned to Sharon and said, "Your floor."

"Hey!", said Mark. He observed the slippery output in the middle of the floor. "This is something grilling!"

Adrian gasped.

"Isn’t this neat, Trey?", Mark said to his drummer. "We’ve got to take photographs of this for artwork for future CD’s!"

Richie stared at the pile on the floor. After all, he thought, he would have to get used to seeing it on Bleach’s next single.

"Dude!", said Adrian. "That felt good!"

Mark got out the camera and snapped five times, from five different angles. "It’s gonna be a swell shot!"

"Mark", Sharon said, "I’m glad my house is going to be on your next album. I’ve always loved your song ‘I’d Like to Like You’, so using my picture here shows that you care about the people you played for tonight. Thank you."

"Welcome. Any time", Mark said.

By now, Richie stopped his labored breathing. He was relieved that Sharon was not upset about her floor being vomited on.

Avery turned to Steve and Jocasta. "Have I got to tell everyone about this one. This prank ended up in an album!"

"Ended up? Not yet", said Jocasta.

"Well, soon enough it’s going to be there, and I’ll be able to tell everyone that I was the one who requested the song."

Steve’s face lit up in exhilaration. I was at a party that made music history, he thought. I’m so glad I came. He would have to thank Sharon sometime before this night was over.

He danced with Jocasta as Bleach resumed playing songs. On their fourteenth song, Jocasta asked Steve whether he liked her eyes.

"I do," said Steve honestly. "Definitely, they’re beautiful, Jocasta." He waved some hair around, showing Jocasta his own eyes more clearly.

"Well, I like your eyes," said Jocasta. "I’ve always had a thing for boys with blue eyes. And someday," she said, pulling closer to him, "Our eyes are going to lock, and we’ll go crazy! I’ll take you on a roller-coaster with me, and then we can get home and I’ll let you rub my leather boots!"

"Got anything in suede?"

"Hey, whatever you ask for!" Jocasta’s mouth flew open.

"Jocasta, I really enjoy dancing with you to these songs."

After their fifteenth song, Mark stopped and addressed the audience. "Well, folks, that sums up how we feel, and it sums up our gig here. Stay tuned as we put out our next album, due sometime in 2029. Now, I want everyone at this party to scream for me!"

The crowd went wild. Richie was out there straining his lungs, trying to scream the loudest.

In the midst of all the screaming, Mark pulled something out and said unexpectedly, "Watch out for the flying monkey!"

Through the air he threw a stuffed monkey that played a clip from "All Fed Up". Many of the partygoers by now were holding their arms out, grasping for it as it made its trajectory through the air. Finally Avery caught it. His grey eyes were wide with astonishment and his mouth hung open, with a smile in which his upper teeth were visible. Now he would have one more thing to talk about.

Audience members laughed. Richie glanced at Avery, disappointed at not having caught the monkey.

Bleach started getting their instruments packed up and putting away their amp. They started with the synthesizer. Richie strutted up to their lead singer and instantly started talking. "Hi, I’m Richie Fernandez, and I’ve been a fan of your band since I was 13." He took his jacket off so Mark could autograph the label.

Richie continued talking to Mark. "How did you come up with the lyrics on your song ‘Virgo Star’?"

"Well," said Mark, "It started when I was in a Cambodian restaurant in Nacogdoches, Texas. I was sitting looking at my food when . . ."

As Richie and Mark continued talking, Sharon smiled contently and left her new dance partner to see what some other partygoers were doing at a corner of the kitchen.

Steve was over there with Jocasta, listening in on a conversation. Talking right then was a tall boy with black dreadlocks. He was wearing a plaid flannel shirt and khakis. Steve noticed that his arms were covered with scars when he pulled his sleeves up.

"Let me introduce you," said Sharon, walking over. "Kevin, this is my friend Stephan Bruise. Steve’s really cool, and I sometimes see him when he’s selling me some stuff at the Gap." Sharon then turned her face to the other side. "Steve, this is my friend Kevin Flax. Kevin’s really into intellectual and political stuff, and you’ve gotta listen to him speak."

Steve raised his palm to Kevin, and Kevin raised his in return. "Steve, we were talking about the NKAT talks televised on GAN last night."

Steve heard a voice saying, "Oh, I hope LeGrand sure gets through to Ahn."

He recognized the voice instantly. It was that of his ex-girlfriend, Luann Meyer. Sharon raised her eyebrows in surprise to see she had made it to the party.

Luann had wavy brown hair that was shorter than most of the other girls wore it, but not too short for a girl. She had freckles, and glasses over her brown eyes. Luann was wearing a pink polo shirt with a blue cashmere sweater over it, corduroys and penny loafers.

Steve stuttered and he seemed to be paralyzed. "H-h-how did you get over here?"

"I’m Adrian’s designated driver", Luann explained.

Steve turned his head down. "Oh."

"Know Luann?", asked Kevin.

"We broke up recently", said Steve.

"I held my breath at President LeGrand’s negotiation with Ahn Soon-Yi to disestablish Communism in North Korea", said Kevin.

"LeGrand looked so dignified, so American at that negotiation", said Luann. "I admire that."

"But LeGrand has taken money from Ryan Ferrell, that lord of oral sex and enough sodas to make him a blimp. That’s not dignified . . . or is it?"

"But so has Revvie hopeful Lyndsay Spelt."

"Spelt? Spelt with a Y in place of an I no doubt. I am not casting my vote for someone so illiterate she can’t even spell her own name. Plus Spelt does want free education for illegal immigrants. Should we be paying for this when even American-born kids grow up unable to name the capital of Sudan?" Kevin lifted his cup of sapodilla juice in the air and drank from it.

"Khartoum."

"America’s schools seem to be doing fine," said Steve.

"But why take the risk with ‘Paunchball’ LeGrand?", asked Kevin. "He will run them to the ground with his mandatory infiltration of drug propaganda into the curricula of hundreds of thousands of elementary schools."

"Oh, definitely, I know that. I’m not voting for LeGrand." Steve brushed his hair out of his face.

"LeGrand is grand!", said Luann. Then she laughed giddily.

Steve by now was tapping his feet around, floundering in awkwardness at seeing a girl he had broken up with.

The conversation turned back to Communism. "Should an attempt to convert the last Communist state on the planet be worth the president’s time and Lincolns . . . or tens of thousands of dollars worth in a few Reagans?", asked Kevin.

"Good point," said Sharon.

"I think that LeGrand guy has got bigger fish to fry," said Jocasta. "Why should he focus all his foreign policy energy on North Korea?"

"Communism has been unpalatable to the Republican party after the regime change from Zuniga to LeGrand", said Kevin waving his hand in the air. "LeGrand thinks that if he doesn’t shoot down some Red target he will appear soft on foreign policy issues to his voter base and lose in November."

"Soft, schmoft. He should stop being so uptight."

Steve listened as Luann began to speak. "It sends a good message to Americans when our president takes a firm stance on this, especially our kids. Think about the youth of the tenties, who protested and raged against Bush and eventually wiped out the stability we had enjoyed in the nineties. We want a message against Communism and radicalism."

There she goes again, thought Steve.

"The nineties brought us many good things . . . Pearl Jam, Beanie Babies, nose rings . . .", started Kevin, "But the presidency of Slick Willy and lack of social progress was not among them."

"The economy was strong, and back in the twentieth century Americans opposed all Communist states," answered Luann.

"Reagan’s speeches with Gorbachev in the eighties were much more instrumental in defeating Communism than LeGrand’s actions, as they allowed it to collapse as a global force. Now Communism has no global power, and in his refusal to speak to Ahn, LeGrand is simply being a daft buffoon who should be slapped with a fish."

"Well, do you want our president to be pro-Communist?"

"I really don’t care if there are some people in the world who don’t want capitalism", said Jocasta. "Capitalism . . . socialism . . . it’s all good to me."

"The rejection of capitalism would pose a real danger to Western civilization, so it must be posing a danger in North Korea too", said Luann. "Just think . . . where would we be if we didn’t have the free market to guide us through our lives?"

"North Korea is ranked the world’s #14 superpower today. It has made gains far beyond its standing in the twenty-first century . . . ever since the charismatic, burger-loving Park Eu-jin transformed its technology magnificently in the eleventies. No danger to the economy there."

"And will shifting from Communism improve its economy even further?", asked Sharon.

"Well, when a windbag president in America tries to make it difficult for his trans-Pacific interlocutor by refusing to communicate -- did you see his face at that negotiation? -- North Korea is not going to improve its economy an inch."

Steve nodded along, not knowing what to say.

The conversation went on, and after a while Sharon noticed that Steve didn’t have anything to say. "Should we let Steve lead the conversation?," Sharon asked Kevin.

"Superb idea," said Kevin. "Is there anything you have that you’d like to talk about?"

Steve then brought up the topic of homosexuality. "How about LeGrand’s proposal to deny adoption rights to gay couples?"

"Spectacularly foolish," said Kevin, "When that man could not have gotten elected without contributions from friends who took it on the tongue."

"I don’t see what the big deal is", said Jocasta. "If you like it straight, or if you like it gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or asexual, or polyamory . . . it’s all cool."

"I agree, we should accept everyone as they are", said Sharon. "Everyone has that individuality to them that they shouldn’t give up. Some people like dogs, some people like cats. Some people like Birkenstocks, some like penny loafers."

"Ew, people need to think about how homosexuality can harm society", said Luann. "People forget that we are all interconnected."

Steve looked distraught at his Luann’s statement. He thought for a second, then said, "I don’t understand how a gay couple having sex in a bedroom in San Francisco can have an effect on a rice farmer in Indonesia."

"Well, it goes against the plans of the Creator. God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."

Kevin looked at Luann standing sourly right across from her ex-boyfriend. "Apparently, God didn’t make Luann and Steve either." His joke elicited a small grin from Sharon.

"Oh, no," said Jocasta. "Read what happened in the Bible. Originally God made only Adam. Then Adam wanted a wife and convinced God to take make a woman for him. It was sinful, fallible man who wanted Eve to be made."

"But what was God’s intent?", asked Luann. "It’s revealed later in Leviticus 18:22: ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.’"

"No, no, no", said Kevin. "It says ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman’. In other words, when you’re lying with a woman, use the missionary position; when you’re lying with a man, do it doggy style."

"The Bible really says that?", asked Steve, "So you should do it because it’s in Leviticus?"

"Do you believe in the infallibility of the Bible? What about God -- d’you believe in God?", asked Luann.

Steve put his index up to his mouth and paused. "I don’t know. I never really thought about God."

"Well, you’re clearly thinking about one of the important moral issues of our time. Think about what God wants. I really hate it when I turn on TV, and they’re showing a gay wedding."

"Awwwww, I think they look cute", said Sharon. "Seeing a couple in a tuxedo and another tuxedo, or in a gown and another gown . . ."

Luann’s mouth was loose as if propped open, and her eyes jerked fretfully around. Steve could tell that she felt outnumbered.

"It’s okay, Luann. Not everybody agrees on things. You just have to accept other people’s opinions."

Steve moved in to hug Luann and offer her support, but she brushed him away and stormed off.

"I still don’t see how you dated her, man," noted Kevin.

"Yeah… I see that too clearly with each passing day."

"Well, on that note, I have to start cleaning up", said Sharon. "The band is about ready to go, I just have to pay them. Would one of you help by collecting the cans and bottles and tossing them in the compactor?"

"I can do that," offered Steve.

"Thanks, Steve! I’ll talk to you in a little bit." Sharon walked toward the stairs and motioned for the band to follow her. "Get your dues!" The band jubilantly rushed up the stairs, following Sharon.

Steve, Jocasta, and Kevin were left standing amidst the aftermath of the party.

"How many people were there? Soooo many bottles…" commented Steve.

"It’s been quite a hit. Lemme go grab a bag or two to help you collect all the bottles and cans," Luann added. She walked away into the kitchen and started rummaging in cabinets and drawers to find some bags.

Kevin scratched his head and placed his hands against his hips. He watched Luann, then turned his head to Sharon, then turned his head back to Luann and headed out towards the kitchen. Steve watched him wander off, then he noticed Jocasta in the kitchen. She had a paper bag inserted over each hand. She waved back with both hands and the paper bags rustled. "St. Charles" was printed in red ink on each bag.

Steve began to fumble around the debris of the party and tucked bottles under his arms. Jocasta sauntered out and let the bags drop from her hands. The bags puttered to the floor, landing on their sides. Jocasta’s lower lip curled down into a pout.

"You look cute when you pout."

"And what about when I don’t?"

"I guess you’re kinda cute," Steve joked. Jocasta stuck her tongue out at Steve and bent down to tip the bags upright. Just then Sharon came flying down the stairs.

"NO! Those bastards!" She shrieked. The band appeared at the top of the steps, cautiously approaching Sharon.

"The band? What did they do?" asked Jocasta.

"No, not them. The AALL thieves. I was going to pay the band with my AALL card, but the one I have is a fake! How do I pay them?" She threw her hands at the band and almost lost her balance as she spun around. "They need to get paid."

"Are you sure your card isn’t somewhere else?" Steve offered.

"I didn’t have any rooms locked while the party was going on. But wouldn’t you have recognized them? I tried to complete the transaction three times. It kept telling me card failure. So I inspected the card I do have, and I realized it doesn’t have my picture on it let alone a bar code to swipe. Steve, you really need to find those bastards."

"Do you need me to pay the band? You can always pay me back if you want. The party was great, Luann, and the band was an excellent touch. I don’t mind backing you," Steve pointed to his back pocket where his wallet sat in his cargo pants.

"I think I’m going to have to say yes. Until I get my AALL card back, I’m going to have to freeze all my assets. Heck, I should be on the market for a stolen one. Maybe I’d get mine back!"

"Don’t say that," said Jocasta. "Those people are thieves stealing your identity. You’re much more dignified than they are."

"Thanks, Jocasta. Ah, man," she ran her fingers through her hair, "I’m going to have to be on the phone for a long time. I’d hate to have you over here cleaning up for me."

"It’s no problem. Besides, if the card was stolen, maybe they left something behind that can help us track them," Steve suggested.

"Well, I do have this fake card," Sharon retorted.

The three and the band stood around gazing at the messy room. "Oh my God, what if they are still in the house?" whispered Jocasta.

Sharon gasped. "You’re right."

Steve stood with his index over his mouth as he tried to think fast. "I know who could help us."

Steve turned his head left and right, then marched over to where Stephanie Fernandez was standing. Stephanie was Richie’s older sister; which made the obligation to be friends with her exist. She was short, with dark brown hair in a ponytail and brown eyes. Stephanie was wearing a black sweatshirt, a brown vest, blue jeans and black tennis shoes. She was gorging herself on peanut brittle as he saw her.

"Hey, Stephanie!", he called out her name.

Stephanie nearly choked on her brittle as her head swung around trying to locate Steve. When the two saw each other, Steve said, "Some thieves have been stealing AALL cards and we think they’re here tonight."

"My coworkers at the Los Caballos Police Department have been discussing this case", Stephanie said.

"You heard all about it?"

"You bet we did." Steve stood there and told Stephanie about Peter and his adventure with the thieves.

"My AALL card is missing!", shrieked Sharon. She waved up her fake substitute. "I tried to pay Bleach, but all I have is this." The tone of her voice softened. "Stephanie, I think they’ve stolen our AALL cards."

Steve thought for a while. "They couldn’t have stolen everyone’s card. When I paid the band with my card, it worked!"

"We have to think straight", said Stephanie. "When did you notice the card was missing?"

"It was just a few minutes ago", replied Sharon. "I was going to pay the band for playing as they packed up, and that’s when I found this one. It doesn’t even have my picture on it!"

"Where have you been keeping it?" Stephanie’s index was up to her mouth.

"It was in my room. My room’s upstairs. I kept it right next to my alarm clock."

"Did you see any of the thieves? Their faces have been on posters, you know."

"No one. I swear, I didn’t see anyone I didn’t know here." She looked around, panicked. "Steve?"

"I’m sure I didn’t see them!", said Steve. "I was looking all around the downstairs rooms at all the partygoers, and I didn’t see anyone who was over 25. Including the band members!"

"Well, that AALL card is clearly bogus", said Stephanie, "So I can say with certainty that your real one was nabbed." She inspected the ersatz card more closely. "It says the birthdate here is May 23, 2005. That’s not your real birthday is it?"

"No", replied Sharon with an honest face, "Mine is June 21, 2010".

Stephanie and Sharon began exchanging information. After they had been discussing this for a while, Steve’s head wandered. He looked into the kitchen until he saw Kevin. Was he seeing what he thought he was?

Steve approached Kevin. He was at the table in the kitchen, right next to the sapodilla juice and psilocybin mushrooms. Kevin had one of the heroin syringes, right inside a vein in his right arm.

Steve choked on his breath. So this was why Kevin had all those scars on his arms. Kevin was addicted to heroin!

Jocasta was right next to him rolling up some marijuana into a joint. She stuffed a little more pot into her joint, then wrapped the papers tightly like someone wringing a Kleenex. She giggled as she took her first puff.

"Narcotic alert! Narcotic alert!", Stephanie said, pantomiming the act of holding a loudspeaker up to her mouth. She was soon over at the drug table. "I will confiscate these and book ‘em, Danno", she said, speaking like the cops in old movies made from back when drugs were illegal. She scooped some marijuana and Ecstasy into her arms.

Jocasta giggled at the parody. Sharon was soon over at the table to see what it was all about. "I had several mushrooms at that table. Now there’s not a trace left", she said. "Who could eat all those mushrooms?"

"Maybe the AALL card thief has a taste for ‘shrooms", Kevin said. Everybody sitting around the table laughed.

"Wait a minute", said Stephanie. "Maybe he’s right, and one of the thieves has a taste for psilocybin."

"He’d have to be down here when I didn’t see him", said Steve.

Jocasta pranced up to Steve with the joint in her hand, her nerves apparently calmed by the drug. "Want some?"

Steve was lost in thought for a few seconds. He thought about whether he was in the mood for drugs. Then he realized that he already felt high. His head felt like it was a balloon up in the sky, detaching from the rest of his body. He felt giggles inside of him. This must have been the way reggae star Brandon Ifill felt before he died of heroin at the age of 27, Steve thought. "I’ll pass, Jocasta. I feel as high as a kite already."

"Wait, you already did some drugs or something?", Jocasta asked.

"I didn’t do anything. I just already feel . . . high?"

"Alright then," said Jocasta. "But, I am going to smoke me some BOMB!"

Stephanie walked up to Steve. He did seem as if he was high even without Jocasta’s drugs, but there was nothing she could do. In this day and age, she couldn’t arrest someone for drug use anymore. Think of it -- Jocasta was smoking weed right in front of her, and Stephanie’s hands were tied behind her back.

Stephanie asked Steve to sing the alphabet. He got through it successfully so she had him stand on one leg. He fell to the floor and she could see that he was suddenly very dizzy.

"Vertigo?", asked Stephanie. "To tell you the truth, I’m not sure what’s wrong with Steve here. I’m a cop, not a doctor." She put her thumb to her chin in thought. "Well, let’s search for anything they left behind. They may have left something with DNA on it." Stephanie, Steve, Jocasta, Kevin and Sharon entered the living room and were soon turning over cushions, moving remote controls and lifting futons to look for anything that wasn’t Sharon’s or a guest’s. Though Jocasta mostly just stood in the middle of the room giggling at the others.

As they searched from room to room for anything that may have been left behind, Jocasta heard a creak and footsteps below them. "Oh my word! There’s a thief in the basement!", she loudly whispered, in a pallor.

"I’ll take care of this", Stephanie said as she reached into her bag and put on her eight-point cap to make it look as if she were on duty. She asked Sharon for a flashlight and walked to the basement with Kevin. Jocasta tiptoed behind Stephanie and Kevin out of curiosity, her inhibitions lowered by the marijuana.

"Steve, you stay where you are", Stephanie ordered. "You’re obviously under the weather".

Sharon’s house was so well-maintained that the staircase didn’t creak. The three marched steadily downstairs, all the way to the bottom. When Stephanie centered the flashlight, they were surprised to see Avery standing there.

"Avery! What are you doing here?", asked Jocasta.

"I’m looking for things that neat critters may have left behind", said Avery. "Maybe a dead rat or a porcupine skeleton. Two summers ago, my family went to India, right? And we stayed in this bungalow house, right? And underneath we found these complete cobra skins. Giant skins left behind from cobras shedding under our house! How awesome is that!"

Jocasta and Kevin both breathed sighs of relief. "Well, there’s something someone we’d really like to find left behind upstairs", said Kevin. Stephanie filled Avery in on the presence of the AALL card thief at the party.

The look on Avery’s face was inundated with amazement. He was so excited and scared at the same time that he didn’t know what to feel. "I’ll come up with you. I’d love to get in on this investigation", he said.

Avery trekked back to the ground floor with Jocasta, Kevin and Stephanie. Sharon and Steve were still in the kitchen waiting while Luann was in the living room still going through things.

"Should we go?", asked Sharon, pointing up to her room.

"Let’s," said Stephanie, still with her eight-point cap on.

The six of them walked upstairs to Sharon’s bedroom. The room was painted in a coral color and a poster of pop singer Jenée dotted her wall.

Is this guitar on the bed yours?", Steve asked Sharon.

"Yep, really mine", Sharon said with a matter-of-fact smile.

They each looked about, scanning the room for anything that didn’t seem to belong. A sombrero lay turned over by the foot of the bed. "But this sombrero, that’s not mine", Sharon said.

Steve thought back to the AALL card theft video. One of the thieves was wearing a hat like that! His face froze in horror. "That’s what one of the thieves was wearing! The tough man with brown hair!"

"I’ll take this hat to the Los Caballos PD", Stephanie announced.

"While you’re there, I know someone who could help you", said Steve. "You know Peter Stouffer?"

"Oh, he’s amazing", said Stephanie. "If only he didn’t have his headphones on all the time. You can’t tell if he’s actually paying attention!"

"He might be able to find a match for the DNA, so we could find out who one of the other persons is."

Then, suddenly, Adrian came running by, his feet tripping over themselves in his hurry. "Dude! When are we going to get some good music?"

"We’ve had lots of good music", said Steve. "There was Bleach, Aquetta, the Shrine Kneelers . . ."

"Dude! I want to hear music by artists like Sulfur Pie, or Glue Stain, or Feel the Brace . . ."

"Well, all you have to do is say so", Sharon said with a smile. She grabbed a tube off one of the many hooks they had seen located around the house; got in a one-foot-wide stream that ran all around the house and motion-sensored jets immediately pushed her to the room of her choice. Which of course was the living room where the videogram was. Then the floorboards closed over the stream to cover it up.

"Hey, Jeff, nice water transportation system", she said to Jeff King.

Jeff had curly black hair and dark skin. He had been wandering the party in a visor, sunglasses, shorts, flip-flops and a white T-shirt that said JEFF in blue block letters. If they hadn’t known better they never would have been able to tell that he had amassed a fortune by inventing some of the most useful gadgets ever, like the stream that Sharon had just stepped out of. "Glad you like your purchase, Sharon", he said with a smile.

"I like this even better than my Max-i-Mized coffee powder."

"Well, that was a good invention too."

Sharon walked up to the videogram and pressed the buttons for Sulfur Pie’s latest radio cut, "The Reason". The video showed the lead singer, Stan Dzwonkowski, playing alone in a restaurant as he sang the words:

You never told me why you had to come along You didn’t say you suspected I’d do something wrong You really seem convinced I came here for the meal And when you came in, you’re surprised to see me reel The reason it tastes like air Is that that’s not the reason I came there Oh, yes, the reason it tastes like air Is that that’s not the reason I came there

Adrian strutted around then kicked his feet into the air. He moved back and forth with his shoulders bent over and his arms swinging about like a gorilla’s. He continued to dance like this for the duration of Sulfur Pie’s song.

"He likes Sulfur Pie?", asked Jeff.

"Here’s another bomb for you: I like Bleach", said Richie.

"Well, it’s been entertaining to see Adrian, Sharon, and the rest of you guys, but I’m heading home", said Jeff.

Sharon, Steve and the rest of the people standing near Adrian said good-bye to Jeff as he grabbed an umbrella that was one thirtieth the size of a normal one, expanded it, and walked out the door.

The song finished playing as the door closed behind Jeff. "Dude! That was the best videogram song I’ve ever danced to, Sharon", exclaimed Adrian.

"You’re welcome," said Sharon.

"You all gotta listen to Sulfur Pie."

"I don’t know much about Sulfur Pie", admitted Steve.

"No pain, Steve boy. I’ll introduce you to them real fast." Adrian pulled a CD out of his jeans pocket and gave Steve a pair of headphones. "Here’s a CD of Sulfur Pie tracks I burned off their website."    

Steve fit the headphones on his head and tuned in to the first track, then closed his eyes as he always did when he was listening to headphones. He looked so hip with his eyes closed and his big hands deep in the pockets of his cargo pants. As Steve breathed out, he listened to the violent lyrics:

You think you can hold me and stop me For something you’ve never seen before You think with your friends, you can top me Well, dude, I’ve got toppers galore You look for the blue, you’ve got me seeing red Dial that number and I’ll blow off your head Don’t speak of it Don’t think of it Let it slide unless you want to get hit Don’t dream of it Don’t aim at it Or you’re going to be the first one to get hit  


Steve continued listening to several songs like this. While he had his eyes closed, Steve felt another tap on his shoulder. He opened his eyes to see that it was Jessica who had tapped him. She pointed to Adrian. Steve gasped in surprise and almost choked on his own breath. Adrian’s arm was interlocked with Jocasta’s.

"Dude!", he heard Adrian saying. "Do you like mosh pits and freak dancing too?"

"I love a boy who can freak-dance", said Jocasta.

"Should I come over to your house, Jo girl?"

"Just come over and I’ll play all my Feel the Brace and Spandex burns for you."

"Then what do you wanta do?"

"Then we can go to Zettolo’s together and make out."

NOOOOOOOOO! Jocasta was asking Adrian out on a date. This faithless girlfriend had left Steve in the mud already. Their relationship had lasted for a matter of hours.

"Apparently she likes all boys with brown hair and freckles", said Kevin with a smirk.

"And blue eyes", Steve added.

"Yeah, have you ever noticed how much Steve and Adrian look alike?", asked Jessica.

"I was just getting used to Jocasta as my new girlfriend", said Steve. "Now I’m going to go stag again."

"Maybe you can date Jessica . . .?", said Kevin, ending his sentence in a lingering tone.

"We already did", said Steve. Steve explained his history with Jessica. Jessica had dated Steve, twice. It ended the same way both times. Each time they mutually decided to end it, and they stayed friends.

"Just like Raine and Aidan on Pals", said Kevin, referring to his and Steve’s favorite Sunday night sitcom.

"Well, I’ve got a match for you who will have you up in the clouds above the pagoda on a sunny autumn day", said Sharon. She gestured with her left hand in Rochelle’s direction. "Rochelle, I know you’re currently open, so I think you’d like to try dating Steve. Steve’s an Aquarius and you’re a Gemini. Both of you like In-N-out Burger as your favorite fast-food spot. And I know you both love Marine World." Sharon turned her face to Rochelle, and gave a soft smile with eyebrows raising inward, as if to say, "How about it?"

"Hi, Rochelle", said Steve. He didn’t really know where to go from there. "It is true that you like Marine World?"

"Oh yes, Sharon got that just right!", said Rochelle. "I love seeing the dolphins and orcas and those trippy pink and orange butterflies."

"Yeah," said Steve. "The butterflies are so beautiful. And the dolphins . . . don’t they make you want to become a marine biologist?"

"Well actually, I’m thinking of going into fashion design", said Rochelle.

"Hey, guys", Richie interrupted. "I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to go home."

Steve put his thumb up to his lip in thought. "Should we all walk home together?", he asked.

"Let’s", said Rochelle.

Rochelle and Richie grabbed their stuff and they all said their good-byes with Sharon.

"I have to work tomorrow", said Kevin. "I’ll see you all."

"See ya!", said Steve. "It was cool meeting you."

"Bye-bye", said Sharon with a smile.

"Hope you find that AALL card", said Kevin.

"Let’s hope", said Steve as he started down the road with Rochelle.

Just then, Steve looked at Rochelle’s face and noticed she looked worried. "Are you worried about Sharon’s AALL card?", Steve asked her.

"I am, Steve", Rochelle replied. "She’s such a nice girl . . . why does this have to happen to her?"

Steve looked up at the sky. "I wish I knew." Then he tried changing the subject back to something more pleasant. "So you said you wanted to go into fashion design?"

"Yeah. There’s nothing like selecting fabrics and cutting them up for a woman on the walk. How about you, Steve? You said you wanted to be a marine biologist?"

"Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t really like thinking about my future. When I think about the future, all I think about is the Gen-Xers back when I was a child, swamped down by homeownership and parenthood. I sure as Hades don’t want to have any children."

"Well, I dream of having two children, a boy and a girl. I’m considering using GST. I want to have a son first and then a daughter."

Steve looked concerned. "Is something wrong, Steve?", asked Rochelle.

"Well . . .", said Steve, "If we’re going to be together like Sharon suggested, it’s going to create a problem in the long run if we can’t agree on whether to have kids."

"Oh, we can work that out, I’m sure."

"Really?" Steve didn’t look or sound as confident as she did. "Would you have kids by a different guy if we were married and I still didn’t want them?"

"Well, I’m considering the sperm donor option if this doesn’t work out with you and me."

"But kids . . . you’re going to have to take care of them for 16 years. And since they won’t have a father, you’re going to need to do it all by yourself. Think you can balance that?"

"Oh, I’m not planning on having them any time soon. Not when I’m only 16 myself. Maybe when I’m in my thirties, I’ll be ready. Then I’ll have a house in Glendale."

"You’re dreaming of a house? Well, I always wanted a cabin. Or maybe a cabana."

"You have dreams of paradise?" Rochelle laughed.

"Yeeeeeeeah. I always wanted to have a cabin somewhere in Southern California, or maybe Hawaii, and a job that could pay for it all. Maybe a bartender?"

"Sure, then can you mix me a mimosa! Or a mojito! Mojitos are so minty . . . it’s like eating pastel mints.

Steve and Rochelle kept chitchatting until they got to Rochelle’s house. "Steve?", asked Rochelle.

"Yes, Rochelle?", Steve replied.

"Do you want to set our first date? You know, now that we’re officially together."

"How about Zettolo’s?"

"Consider it done. Saturday at 9:00 p.m."

"Saturday at 9:00 p.m."