FIRST COMMUNION • by Thomas Baldwin

In my defense, Mom shouldn’t have kept the Communion elements in the rumpus room.

In her defense, the room wasn’t used much. As an only child, it’s hard to make a rumpus, especially when being the minister’s daughter renders you terminally uncool at school, and you don’t have anything in common with the other church kids. Mom had done her best, installing an air hockey table and a TV, but that left plenty of room for overflow storage from the church.

I was always happiest in my corner with my books and sense of superiority. That evening, I was enjoying both when the door opened and heavy boots clumped down the stairs.

I finished my page before looking up. Standing over me was a case study in teenage rebellion: black leather, goth make-up, cropped pink hair and multiple piercings. Every molecule of moisture in my mouth evaporated. This was something very different from the usual clean-cut church teens. “Hello?” I said, playing it cool for all I was worth.

“I’m Jo,” she said, her face as expressionless as an Easter Island statue. “You’re Samantha?”

“Sam.”

“Your mom’s marrying my dad—”

“Huh?”

“…to his girlfriend.”

“Oh.”

“They’re having the rehearsal now. Your mom said I could come down here and watch TV or something.”

I waved in the direction of the set. “Help yourself.”

Jo sauntered off, looking distractedly at the bookshelves and idly knocking a paddle on the air hockey table. She glanced back at me and caught me looking. I jerked my eyes back to my book.

“Ah-ha,” she said. I looked up again, to find her waving a pack of cards. “Do you play?”

“What game?” I asked. I only knew solitaire.

“Poker.”

“Oh, sure,” I said. “We play all the time at Sunday School.”

“I’ll show you. We just need something to use for chips.” She started opening the cupboards full of church stuff. “Perfect!” She held up a packet of Communion wafers.

I stared. “You can’t.”

“Why not? Will we be struck down by lightning?”

“Well no, they’re not even consecrated, but—”

“Oh look, wine too.”

“Now you are kidding.”

“Nope.” She opened the bottle, and took a large mouthful.

“That’s disgusting,” she gasped.

I laughed. “It’s meant to be drunk by the sip.”

“Not today.” Jo put the bottle down on a card table littered with stationery and pens, and opened the packet of wafers. “Are you playing or not?”

I walked over to the table. She pushed the bottle of wine towards me. I hesitated for a second then, figuring I was in trouble anyway, put it to my mouth.

***

An hour later, the first bottle was empty and Jo had been to the cupboard for a second. Her pile of wafers was three times the size of mine. “You suck at bluffing, you know,” she said, gathering up her latest winnings.

“Sorry! Lying isn’t a skill my parents taught me.”

“That’s what friends are for.”

“I wouldn’t know.” The words slipped out before I could stop them.

She looked across the table at me. “Are you lonely?”

“No,” I said, unconvincingly.

Her eyes narrowed. “I think you are. You put on this tough front but really you just want a friend.”

“Well… what about you?”

She glared. “What about me?”

“Why are you here? It seems strange that your family don’t want you at the wedding rehearsal.”

She sneered. “My dad’s girlfriend doesn’t think I’ll go with the color scheme.” Her face twitched, the façade of indifference crumbling for just a moment.

“Now who’s putting on a tough front?” I asked.

“Screw it,” she said. “Or rather, unscrew it.” She opened the second bottle, took a swig and passed it over. I drank, and as I put the bottle down I caught Jo watching me. This time, neither of us looked away.

We both stood up, swaying slightly, moved round the table and met in a clumsy collision of wine-flavoured lips, tongues and teeth.

This isn’t happening, thought my wine-fuddled brain. Up until then, my sexual highlight had been reaching second base with a headless store mannequin.

Lips still locked, we sat down together on the table and lay back. There was a loud creak from beneath us and the table’s legs gave way, crashing both of us to the ground in a swirling blizzard of playing cards, Communion wafers and church stationery.

The wine bottle toppled with a clunk, its remaining contents emptying on to the carpet.

In the aftermath, the only sound was the glugging of wine. Jo laughed, a single snort which she stifled with difficulty. My own laugh escaped in a splutter. Then we both lost it completely, convulsing in helpless, painful guffaws, holding our stomachs and honking like seals.

“What on earth is going on down there?” came a voice from upstairs.

“Oh, sh—” Jo rolled away towards the scattered stationery, grabbing for a pen.

My mom, in full clerical clothes and collar, appeared at the top of the stairs. “Jesus Christ!” she said.

“I-” I looked at Jo, and we both collapsed with laughter again.

A couple I didn’t recognise, presumably Jo’s dad and his girlfriend, joined her. They stopped, gawking at the carnage.

“Jo! Up, now!” said the woman. “I’m so sorry, she’s always trouble,” she said to Mom as we staggered to our feet. “She’ll pay for the damage out of her allowance.”

She stormed down the stairs and grabbed Jo’s arm. Jo reached out her free hand to me and slipped a playing card into mine, before she was pulled up the stairs. “You’re grounded forever,” I heard her dad say as the door slammed shut.

I was left staring up at my mom. She drew breath to speak twice, but each time thought better of it. Finally, she just said “Tidy up, and then we’ll talk,” before leaving.

Standing in the wreckage, I looked down at the card in my hand. On it was a phone number, and the words ‘Totally worth it’.


Thomas Baldwin is a journalist from Dunfermline, the ancient capital of Scotland. His fiction has appeared online at East of the Web and Daily Science Fiction, and in print in the literary taxidermy anthology 34 Stories.


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