You will always find him in the kitchen at parties

My friend Dawn Nelson, author of the Blake Hetherington mysteries, has started a new short story challenge for 2016. in 1000 words or under, the participants have to tell a story based on her monthly prompt. January’s prompt is that famous line from the song about the loser always hanging around in the kitchen at parties, but my kitchen resident is not so much the loser – – –

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You will always find him in the kitchen at parties – – – – – – –

The party was the usual disaster. God knows why she had come. Against all previous experience, she always believed that next time it would be different. Next time there would be soft music, soft lights and a buzz of witty conversation against a background of subtly sensuous music – like in the Ferrero Rocher adverts. But no. Two hours in and Dez was drunk with his hand up the skirt of some bimbo with tattoos on her thighs, and everyone else thought it was so damn funny.

Some skinny hard-man had turned up with rap music and taken over the sound system. He looked as though he was made of knotted leather and rip-cord. There was no fat on him because the muscles took up all the room and they weren’t gym muscles either – they were street fighter’s muscles. Long, twisted, and feral.

The house was a huge barn of a place. She suspected it was actually a squat, but if Dez knew, he wouldn’t have told her. He knew she wouldn’t have come anywhere near a place like that. Why did he always lie to her? Her parents liked him. He talked a good game, did Dez. Double-barreled surname, and Mummy and Daddy were in the stud book. You listened to his posh accent and somehow it covered up what he was actually saying. Her parents would be horrified if they could see her now. She only came because Dez baited her about her uptight middle-class morality. ‘Is it not ‘nice’ enough for you, darling?’ he would ask, with his thin, challenging smile.

For God’s sake, where was the kitchen? She needed to get away from the noise, and the sweat. She needed to tip the rest of her drink down the sink because it tasted wrong. Dez had done that before – slipped Es in her drink when she wasn’t looking. She needed to make herself a cup of tea. Is that middle-class enough for you, Dez? she thought, savagely.

There seemed to be an endless number of rooms in this place. The thin carpet in the hall stuck to her shoes, and when she steadied herself against the wall, it felt spongy and damp. The party noise had diminished to a faint pounding rhythm behind her, and ahead she heard a thin high scream. The sound was familiar not from her own childhood, but from the childhood of her parents’ generation, perceived in a sort of stop-motion series of old photos, family memories and black and white films. It was the sound of an old-fashioned kettle whistling on a stove.

A light showed around a partially opened door and she pushed it open. Steam filled the room, and gradually revealed a man floating towards her. Floating? No, that was crazy. But just for a moment, the steam, and the strangled cry of the kettle played with her senses.

‘Have you had enough, love?’ he asked, with a wry grin. He wrenched the stiff whistle off the kettle, and poured water into a brown teapot. His face was still wreathed in steam, but she saw his clothes. He was wearing baggy brown trousers, held up with braces and an old-fashioned string vest! She fought down a shocked giggle.

‘Tea?’ he asked, pushing a mug towards her.
‘God, yes!’ she said, gratefully. ‘So, you live here?’
‘Aye, man and boy. Been here longer than that lot.’ He jerked his head in the direction of the dim pounding beat that seemed to be in another world.
‘Um, I’m Lorna. Lorna Turner. Who are you?’
‘Lorna eh? Nice name. So who am I? You can call me Adam.’ He smiled, pulled out two chairs and they both sat down at the old scrubbed table. His face still seemed to slide in and out of focus. What the hell had she been drinking? Desperately she gulped her tea and tried to concentrate. His eyes were brown, and crinkled at the corners.
‘Relax, lass, this is time out. Calm down and tell me what’s brought you here?’

Adam was a good listener. In moments it had all spilled out. How she met Dez at a friend’s wedding, when he’d turned up with one of the bridesmaids. How he’d ditched the bridesmaid and gone off with her – probably because she was sober enough to drive him home afterwards. How he seemed to go out of his way to humiliate her in front of his snobby friends. How she really hated doing drugs and drink, but he was her boyfriend, and she was fat and unattractive, and so pathetically grateful that he kept showing up to take her out. How she couldn’t really afford to keep up with them all, and didn’t know how she was going to pay off her credit card, but she’d needed a party dress and shoes. How she couldn’t tell her parents what he was really like because they wouldn’t believe her.

She was crying, and turned her face away, embarrassed. Adam’s hand gently turned her face around, and she felt his coarse cotton handkerchief carefully blotting her tears.

‘Now hear me,’ he said. ‘Lorna Turner, I tell you this, and you will understand. Know that you are beautiful, inside and out. Know that you deserve happiness. Know that you will find it.’

The words seemed to fill her up with warmth and purpose and relief. Suddenly it was obvious what must be done.

‘Thank you,’ she said, and smiled.

Then she simply walked away, out of the house and went home. Life was too wonderful, too full of glorious potential to spend playing Dez’s games. Freedom was just a choice, and she had made it.

From a wraith of steam in the kitchen, a smiling brown-eyed woman emerged.
‘Did I do well?’ asked Adam.
‘Aye, you did, my love. There’s no joy greater than to rescue one of our children,’ replied Eve.

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