The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron Year 3 Episode 14: People Pleasing Party Planning

Welcome to The Two Worlds of Sydnee Cameron, entering its third year. If you’re new to this series, just start reading. 

If you enjoy this episode and want to catch up on Year 1, you can start with Year 1, Episode 1: Winners and Losers or check out the List of Year 1 Episodes or read the Year 1 Synopsis.

Episode 14: People Pleasing Party Planning

I pushed open the kitchen door and the heat slapped my frozen cheeks. The walk from the bus stop to the Claytons’ house had threatened frostbite to every centimeter of exposed skin.

Okay, at thirty-six degrees—according to the bank sign the bus had passed—frostbite probably wasn’t a real threat or David Clayton would’ve been waiting at the bus stop and driven us the quarter mile. But my cousin Joseph Andrews and my boyfriend Chris Clayton’s noses and cheeks were pomegranate red, just like my left hand, the hand Chris had been holding most of the walk home. My right hand had stayed warm-ish inside my coat pocket.

Joseph, Chris, and I dropped our backpacks by the dining table. Joseph’s brother, Derrick, and Chris’s sister, Elizabeth, ninth-graders at the junior high, were already working on their homework, snack crumbs littering their placemats and papers.

An envelope waited on my placemat. I snatched it up and stuffed it into my backpack. I’d read the letter later, in my room.

“Is he writing every day now?” Chris glared from the other side of the table.

“What?” Chris’s comment startled me, and I jerked my hand out of my backpack too fast. The zipper teeth scraped my knuckles. I’d expected him to say something two weeks ago, when the letters started showing up more often. But Chris hadn’t said a thing. Until now.

“Not every day.”

“Sure seems like it.” Chris’s glare intensified.

“Jax went back to school sixteen days ago.” The number came easily, not because I was keeping track like my friend Abby Stewart counted every word her crush Dean Larkin had spoken to her, but because counting was automatic and numbers imprinted on my brain for eternity. Or at least fifteen-and-a-half years. “This is only letter eleven.”

“Not the point, Sydnee.” Derrick didn’t look up from writing in a notebook to deliver his warning.

“I know,” I said to Derrick, realizing too late that I shouldn’t have jumped to Jax’s defense. I looked at Chris. Maybe the right numbers would slice through Chris’s annoyance. “I’ve only written Jax six times. In three weeks.”

“Used to be once a week.” Chris hung his coat crookedly on the back of his chair and stalked into the kitchen. Behind me, cabinet doors creaked open and slammed shut.

I rubbed my smarting knuckles. What was I supposed to do? Not write Jax? Maybe that was the right answer. But the letters were important. I was the only person Jax communicated with outside of Lindview Academy, a boarding school where Jax had no access to a computer, phone, or other twenty-first century necessities. Our letters were also read by someone at the school and censored, like I’d read the government had done during the World Wars. Except instead of blacking out lines, the letters just disappeared, I think, because a couple of times, Jax had repeated questions I knew I’d answered.

Hmm. Maybe Chris was right and Jax had written me every day for the last sixteen days and five letters had “disappeared.” Probably shouldn’t speculate on that out loud.

I shrugged out of my coat and searched for a distraction from my pen pal.

A colorful invitation magnetted to the refrigerator caught my eye. A party for one of Elizabeth’s friends.

“Think I should have another party?” I threw out the suggestion before the idea took root.

“A party?” Chris’s eyebrows pinched together. He opened a box of crackers and dumped a handful into a bowl. Then another handful into a second bowl. For me, I assumed, which meant he wasn’t too angry. “Because parties go so well for you?”

“They’re not always disasters. Not if I create the right guest list.”

“So invisible friends only?” Chris’s joke was further proof he was getting over the letter.

Joseph snickered as he splashed salsa onto a plate. He passed the jar to Chris.

“No.” I drew out the word. “But people who should already get along. Like the basketball team. Both our basketball teams.”

“The basketball teams?” Chris spooned salsa into one side of the bowl and added baby carrots.

“Yeah.” I nodded along with myself, the idea taking shape. The suggestion started sounding good. “An end of the season party for the basketball teams.”

“Okay.” Chris handed me one of the bowls and walked around the dining table to his seat.

“Unless . . . do you think they already do something for the end of the season?”

“I think the boys’ team might go out for pizza or something. I don’t know, but I haven’t heard anything official.”

“If not, then let’s have a party. At the mansion.” I pointed out the picture window behind Chris. All we could see in the late afternoon twilight was the stone wall surrounding the Cameron Estate, but beyond that was the Cameron Mansion, technically my home but usually way colder than the January temperatures. Especially when my mother and sister were living there. But when fall came, they left for Florida, leaving the mansion empty. Perfect for a party.

“Why not?” Chris shrugged, crunched on a salsa-loaded cracker, and pulled out his Algebra textbook. “Last party wasn’t too bad.”

“Actually, that party went pretty good.” Of course, I might have selective memory. Abby had gotten mad at me because Angel Lincoln, my basketball-team friend, and Dean, Abby’s crush, had become a couple that night. But Abby didn’t play basketball, so she wouldn’t be at this party. And that was a minor problem. Not like getting grounded, which had happened at an earlier party.

Maybe I should rethink this.

No. I could throw a successful party. Fifth time’s a charm, right?

***

“An end of the season party at your house?” Brielle Fuentes stared at me, eyes as round as the hoop above her head. “Like a party at the Cameron mansion?”

I nodded, taking in the gaping mouths and bug eyes of my teammates.

“We’re all—” Star Lucello ran her finger through the air in a big arc to include the entire basketball team, dressed in shorts and tanks for practice. “—invited?”

“Um, yeah.” Why was this a big deal? I looked at Angel Lincoln for support, but she’d taken advantage of the unused goals to work on her layup.

Excitement buzzed through the team, and the girls started talking to each other.

“I’ve always wanted to see the inside of one of those houses,” Madison Sharp told Brielle.

“My mom told me that some of the houses look completely different every time she’s goes inside,” Brielle said. “Like they’ve been completely redecorated in the two or three months since she was last there for an after-party cleanup.”

“I hear the food is awesome,” Trayna Davis said. “Kayla says the best part of a catering job is eating the leftovers.”

“Wait.” I invited myself into the conversation. “Kayla who?”

“Kayla Mann.” Trayna said the name of my least favorite person in the world—well, tying Mother. “She was a waiter with one of the caterers this summer.”

“She was?” How hadn’t I noticed Kayla? Why hadn’t Kayla made herself noticeable? But that explained a bad conversation a few months ago where Kayla knew about Jax. “What else did Kayla say?”

“She said that no one really pays attention to the people with the food unless they need someone to yell at. And everyone’s a . . .” Trayna’s face darkened and she squeezed her mouth closed for a few seconds. “She said, um, the pay’s really good.”

And a lot of other really complimentary things, I was sure.

“Who’d you hire to play?” Madison asked.

“Play?” I looked at her. “Play what?”

“Play at the party.” Madison spoke like it should be obvious. “Are you having a band or a DJ?”

“A band or a DJ?” I repeated stupidly.

“I’m going shopping today for a new dress,” Brielle said.

“Finally, an end of the season party that doesn’t involve pizza,” Trayna said. “I’ve never been to a party that was catered for real. You know, not by some place like Taco King or Seven Sandwiches.”

Band? DJ? Dresses? Caterers? “Wait, this isn’t—”

“Ladies!” Coach walked into the gym from the locker rooms, clapping her hands for our attention. “Why is no one warming up? Start moving. Season isn’t over yet!”

My teammates scattered onto the court, and I didn’t have a chance to explain that this wasn’t supposed to be a fancy mansion party. I’d pictured a pizza-and-soda party. A rip-open-a bag-of-chips party. Not an approved-by-my-mother party.

What kind of party was I hosting?

***

“They were talking about new dresses and whether I’d have a live band or a DJ.” My voice sound funny, echoing inside Claytons’ freezer. I dug around and discovered a forgotten box of pizza rolls. The sell-by date had passed, but they were probably edible. Even if they weren’t, they were still totally the kind of food was in the mood for. Cheap, easy, and not catered. I held them up to show Chris, Joseph, and Derrick. “Want to split these?”

Shrugs and “sures” were repeated.

“I didn’t get a chance to tell them that this was supposed to be casual.” I stabbed the oven buttons and dumped the frozen, slightly icy rolls onto a cookie sheet. “You know, just the basketball teams hanging out. Music from an iPod. Food like this.” I jiggled the cookie sheet in the air, the rolls rattling, and then slid them into the oven. “But now, they’re expecting something bigger. Better. Like the parties they’ve apparently heard about.”

“Or seen on TV.” Elizabeth scooted around me to put a water glass in the dishwasher.

“But why?” I leaned against the stove, and the oven warmed the back of my legs. “Don’t those parties always come with drama?”

“But they’re fun.” Elizabeth’s eyes shone like my teammates had. “Exotic.”

“No they’re not.” I scratched my thighs, remembering all the itchy dresses I’d been forced to wear to those “fun and exotic” parties. “And that’s not the kind of party I can plan.”

“Like your mother actually plans any of her parties.” Elizabeth returned to her homework at the dining table.

“Huh. Good point.” I peeked inside the oven and poked a pizza roll. Still hard. I looked at Chris, who so far, hadn’t offered any suggestions. “Think I could do that? Just hire someone to plan this party for me?”

“I don’t know, can you?” Chris’s response wasn’t much help. Neither was his shrug.

“I bet David and Candy know who she hires. All I’d have to do is call the company and tell them to put together a party like everyone wants and to leave me out of it, right?”

“What about your mother?” Chris reached around me for glasses in the cabinet. “Want some juice?”

“Yes.” I stepped out of his way. “What does Mother have to do with anything?”

“Won’t whoever you hire talk to her? Or at least send her a bill?”

“Not if I pay the bill.”

“But aren’t bands or DJs and caterers and all that stuff expensive without paying some party planner too?” Chris filled glasses with orange juice and returned the bottle to the fridge. “Not that you can’t afford it.” A strange tone hung onto those words, but before I could identify it, he continued. “I mean, I know you can afford it, but don’t you only get an allowance every month?”

“Yeah, but I don’t spend that much of it. And even after Christmas . . .” I shrugged, wanting to avoid money talk. I didn’t know who had decided the amount of my allowance—my dad or his lawyer or his accountant or David—but more than I could spend every month appeared in my bank account. “Besides, if I give the party planner a budget, they’ll have to stick to it. Or close enough.”

“Then I guess you could hire someone to plan a party like everyone wants.” Chris stared into his orange juice as he spoke, almost like he was avoiding looking at me. “Are those pizza rolls done?”

“Probably.” I checked inside the oven. Hot and smelling like spicy tomato sauce. I removed the cookie sheet. “This is going to work. I’ll throw the party everyone expects without having to plan any of it. Thanks, Elizabeth.”

I thought I heard Chris mutter something as he juggled hot pizza rolls onto a plate. Something like a sarcastic, “yeah, thanks,” but probably my imagination. Chris couldn’t care about how the party was planned or what kind of party I hosted. Why would he?

***

So hiring a party planner—I mean, event planner, as I was informed by Raquel during our first conversation—didn’t provide the keep-me-out-of-it experience I’d wanted and save me from a headache. Not until I exploded with an “I don’t care!” during our twelfth conversation—twelfth in five days!—did Raquel finally listen. The only parts that mattered to me were that we had no servers (because no way was I risking Kayla Mann showing up at my party as part of the staff), that the party took place in the Cameron Mansion entertainment floor (“basement” was too common a word), that someone provided music, and that everything came in under budget.

sydneedraw35sm

“Your budget is a little low,” Raquel warned during our third conversation. “People will notice if you cut corners.”

“I don’t care.” The first twenty times I said that phrase I managed not to yell. “None of them are paying.”

Raquel’s lips pinched together. She was probably used to Mother who cared most about what people thought. Obviously, I cared a little or I wouldn’t have hired Raquel. But I didn’t care enough to spend tens of thousands of dollars on six hours of food, music, and atmosphere.

The week of the party, Raquel only contacted me three times, and my headache went away.

The day of the party, I stood inside my mansion closet, bigger than the bedroom Elizabeth and I shared, and picked through the dozens of dresses. Many never worn since I usually avoided fancy-dress parties. Nothing too short. That eliminated a half dozen that wouldn’t cover my thighs. Mother probably forgot how tall I was when she bought those.

Nothing too long either. Too hard to move in.

Nothing sparkly. Nothing glittery. Nothing transparent. Nothing strapless.

My list eliminated all but four dresses. A blue dress with black tulle peeking from under the knee-length hem. A dark green dress with an empire waist. A shimmery red-black dress with a black bolero jacket. An orange dress with a longer-in-back hem.

Orange and uneven hems, nope. Back on the rack.

I tapped a finger against my lips and stared at the final three. Why was this taking so long? I never cared what I wore.

Except tonight, I cared a little. Usually, I barely knew the people at a party. They were all kids of my parents’ friends. But tonight, everyone would be my friend. And Chris would be there too. My date. My boyfriend. At a mansion party.

My stomach fluttered in a way that never happened when standing in this closet. Usually my stomach felt weighted with bricks. Or surging with hot lava.

But if I didn’t choose right now and get dressed, I risked being late, and I really wanted to scope out Raquel’s work before everyone showed up. I hadn’t wanted to decide on the details, but I didn’t want to be completely ignorant of them. How would it look if I couldn’t point people to the food? I’d had to tell eight people, “It’s a surprise,” when asked about the music because I didn’t know if I’d hired a DJ or a band.

The blue and black dress won. I performed contortions to zip it up, and then I shoved my feet into low-heeled, black shoes and hurried down three flights of stairs. The sounds of speaker feedback and tuning guitars hit my ears before I reached the lowest level. Must’ve hired a band. One question answered.

“There you are.” Raquel’s greeting was breathless and tinged with panic. She clutched a tablet to her chest like a shield.

“What’s wrong?” I scanned the rooms. Furniture had been rearranged to create dance floor—I stopped myself from making a face. Music and a dance floor didn’t mean I had to dance—red and white tablecloths for our school colors and platters of food topped the four tables placed around the room. A bar blocked the theater, blocking access to the dark room that couldn’t be used over the music, and a black-bow-tied bartender stood behind the counter. He was the only server. Raquel’s suggestion to have an attended bar serving non-alcoholic drinks, of course, sounded crazy to me, but David and Candy had thought the idea sounded good, and Elizabeth had thought it cool.

I swept my glance around the room one more time. Except for the inevitable party atmosphere that I’d requested, everything looked perfect.

“Everything’s fine.” Raquel sounded more relaxed, and she lowered the tablet to her side. “I was concerned that you wouldn’t arrive in time to give final approval.”

“Oh.” Final approval? What was she going to do if I didn’t like something? “Looks great. I think everyone will like it.”

“Good.” Raquel nodded a couple of times and looked around the room. “I’ll be here all night. If you have a problem, come to me, and I’ll take care of anything and everything.”

“Okay.” Not that I could imagine having a problem with anything, and if someone else had a problem, they could just go home.

“Your first guests are early.” Raquel nodded at the stairs behind me.

I turned. “That’s just Chris and Joseph.”

My careless words ignored the thrill dancing across my stomach. Just Chris? In a silver-blue shirt that made his eyes sparkle more than any glittery dress in my closet, Chris wasn’t “just” anything.

He grinned and walked toward me, his sparkling eyes like sparks of electricity.

“What do you think?” I broke eye contact and glanced around the room before I got electrocuted. “Looks good, right?”

You look good.” Chris took my hand.

And zap. There went any hope of thinking straight. Or talking straight. My mouth went dry and my tongue felt swollen.

Was it too early to hit the fake bar for a soda?

I attempted to clear my throat instead. “Think everyone will like it?”

“Why do you care what everyone thinks all of a sudden?” Chris’s grin faded.

“I don’t care, care. I just want people to be happy. Or have fun.”

“You’ve never worried about that before.”

Chris was mostly right. A few times I’d tried to make people happy, like when I’d invited Abby and Lilli over for a sleepover last year. But usually halfway through my efforts, I realized it was a losing battle and quit, letting everyone else sort out the details. Kind of like I’d done by hiring Raquel. Except I had started to care. A little. Which is why I had hired Raquel.

“Everyone’s been so excited about tonight.” I tried to explain what I didn’t quite understand. “I don’t want them to be disappointed.”

“So you spent hundreds of dollars to make them happy.” Something in Chris’s tone sent another jolt through me. But this jolt felt like ice.

“Not happy exactly.” Here it was. The problem, the fight, the disaster. Happening before the party even began. “Just once, I’d like to throw a party that’s a success. My way has obviously never worked, so I’m trying everyone else’s way.”

“You’re trying your mother’s way.”

What did that mean?

Before I could ask, Chris moved to inspect a table of food, and footsteps sounded on the stairs.

Time to party.

I greeted Brielle and Star, listened to their compliments about my dress, and attempted to gush over their dresses. I must’ve succeeded, because they preened and smiled and then took my suggestion to look around, clutching each other’s arms.

Mother’s example of proper hostess etiquette forced me to keep my position by the stairs, but most guests bypassed me without a glance, which didn’t bother me.

“Thirsty?” Chris handed me a glass.

“Thanks.” I relaxed. The disaster had been my imagination. Chris had only walked off to get me a drink. I took a sip, and cold Dr Pepper perked me up.

I looked around at the eighteen people spread around. A group of Chris’s teammates treated one of the food tables like their own personal feast, knocking back bacon wrapped shrimp and mini quiches like they hadn’t eaten in hours. A group of my teammates, including Brielle and Star, clustered together on the opposite side of the room, talking. The band was playing in the background, and no one was dancing. So pretty normal.

Thumps and voices thundered from the stairs, and a few seconds later, an entire crowd appeared, Chris’s teammates and mine.

“I can’t believe this place,” one of the guys was saying. A senior on the team. I didn’t know his name, but he wore number twenty-one. “You could put six basketball courts down here.”

“More like eight,” another said.

“Dude.” Number Twenty-One headed for Chris, hands raised in either greeting or to illustrate how gigantic the room was. “You don’t live here too, do you?”

“No.” Chris’s answer was short, his face blank.

“But I bet you spend a lot of time here, right?” Number Twenty-One wiggled his eyebrows and glanced at me.

I opened my mouth, ready to say that I spent my time at Chris’s, not the other way around, but Chris spoke first.

“Does it really matter where I spend my time?”

“Uh-huh, I know exactly what you mean.” More eyebrow wiggling and Number Twenty-One slapped Chris’s shoulder.

I totally didn’t know what any of this meant.

“Guess you’ve got lots of reasons to date Sydnee.” Number Twenty-One looked me over, slowly and in a way that had me wishing I wore grass-stained jeans and a stretched-out sweatshirt. “Several million and then some.”

Chris didn’t say anything, maybe because he was too tense to open his mouth.

Number Twenty-One didn’t seem bothered by the silence. He took off toward the middle of the room, his crowd following him.

“Was he saying that you’re dating me because of my money?” That part, I’d understood. Sort of.

“Of course.” Chris’s voice was as stiff as the rest of him. “What do you expect?”

“What do I expect from . . .” I searched for a name. Nothing. “From number twenty-one?”

“Terrance Glade.”

Number twenty-one equals Terrance. I recited that over and over, committing the number and name to memory.

“Probably everyone here wonders if that’s why I’m dating you.” Chris looked around the room, scowling like he could hear everyone wondering.

“Huh?” Still mentally reciting Terrance’s name and jersey number, Chris’s words took a second to sink in. “That’s crazy. There’s no way—”

“Yes, they do.”

“But not everybody.”

“Yes. Everybody.”

“People gotta have more interesting things on their minds than why you and I are dating.”

“Not while they’re in this mansion. All they see is money. And me standing next to you.”

“But that’s so stupid. Why would people waste their time or brain cells thinking about our relationship anyway?” And could I steal the mic from the band and set everyone straight?

“Because they’re bored? Because they’re jealous? Because that’s what people do?”

“I don’t.”

Chris’s scowl landed on me.

“I don’t wonder why two people are dating. And I’ve never wondered if you were dating me because of my money.”

Chris held his scowl for a second longer. Then his face relaxed. “I know.”

“And who cares what everyone else thinks?”

“Says the girl who’s throwing the party she thinks everyone wants.” A smile added teasing to Chris’s words.

“But I’m not worried about what anyone thinks of me.”

“I know.” Chris put an arm around my shoulders and pulled me around for a hug, the glass in his hand cold against my shoulder blades.

“And I know why you’re dating me.”

“Why?” Chris pulled back, curiosity or caution narrowing his eyes.

“Because I’m an awesome basketball player. You’re dating me because you hope I’ll teach you some of my mad skills.”

“Mad skills?”

“Uh, yeah. If there was a basketball court down here, you know I’d kick your butt on it.”

Chris laughed and hugged me again. “Yeah, I know.”

I squeezed him with one arm, keeping my half-full glass a safe distance from Chris’s shirt. Spilling Dr Pepper down his back would count as a party disaster. Of course if Chris was right about what people were thinking—and he probably was, because my way of thinking wasn’t like most people’s—maybe this party was already a disaster.

But I’d meant what I’d said about not caring what people thought. The only person whose thoughts really mattered to me were Chris’s. I didn’t believe he cared about my money.

At least, I hadn’t until tonight.

Comments are closed.