Sam and Robert watched attentively as Haley and Grant leaned together to talk over the party noise. The music’s volume was just teetering on the edge between being heard and felt, while close to eighty people milled elbow-to-ribs between the fold-up tables with their lines of food bowls and the haphazard placement of padded chairs and couches. The potted plants that usually decorated the room were still there, filling in some of the corners where Sam and Robert might otherwise retreated to, now decorated with colored plastic cups and the odd used fork. No one had bothered to turn down the lights, and it made the room feel tighter and messier, with all the chaos glaring in clear view.
“They are planning an escape, right?” Sam asked Robert.
Robert shrugged and shook his head, both without looking at her. It was a miracle that he’d heard Sam. He had no way of knowing what Haley and Grant might be saying from all the way across the room.
“It’s Haley,” Robert told her, and wondered if this was what he might sound to himself if someone turned him inside out. He heard his voice more from inside his skull than out in the air. “And Grant. Do you think they planned to be at the year’s wildest party?”
“No,” Sam said.
“Then,” Robert told her, perfecting his enunciation just in case it helped her hear. “They’re planning an escape.”
Sam shook her head a little. Someone in the crowd pushed up behind her shoulder, pressing her into Robert’s side for half a second, and she glared at the floor until they’d passed.
“Just once,” she said. “I’m going to wear spikes to one of these things.” And her muttering lost some of its edge since she nearly had to shout it.
Robert tried not to laugh.
Catching the edge of his smile, she started to smile too, and shook her head again. “I’m going to get pricker bushes!” she told him. “Take off the long branches, put them under my shirt and just wait for someone to try to push me out of their way again.”
“Sounds like fun,” Robert said.
She blinked at the dull tone of his sarcasm. “I’ll get a vest, too.”
He opened his mouth, not sure what question would get him closer to clarity. “And a helmet, and a very large cat, and a crowbar?” he asked. They were staple items on her grocery lists for imaginary crimes.
She tapped her own shoulders, dragged her fingers over them, as if she were tracing the lines of a very heavy vest. “Kevlar, or something,” she said. “So that I don’t get hurt.”
He paused again, started to laugh. “Kevlar,” he repeated. “What sort of pricker bushes are you getting?”
She stopped, realizing that what she’d said actually was absurd. She threw her hands in the air. “Armor piercing,” she said. “Of course. Why would I settle for anything else?”
Robert turned away so that she couldn’t see how hard he was laughing. He doubted she could hear him.
Sam pushed against his shoulder again, bracing both hands on his arm as another guy pushed around her.
“I swear,” she said. “Step one of their plan had better be to come over here and drag us into it to.”
“Don’t worry,” Robert said. He nudged her gently forward, seeing the next room-crosser coming, jostling through the crowd as if they were jungle weeds. “They know none of their plans could ever succeed without your brains and my willingness to ignore government posted edicts.”
Sam groaned. “They’re called signs.”
“They are instructions from on high,” Robert said. “And I pay them as much attention as I would a talking cat.”
“You’d ignore a talking cat?” Sam asked.
Robert nodded, and kept nodding. “Oh, yes,” he assured her. “Which makes me exactly the sort of moron that will be integral to their plan. Don’t worry.”
They watched Haley and Grant for a moment longer, the music tapping along the inside of their ribs, as if it were trying to decide if it wanted to add a xylophone part to itself. It kept at it, obviously having a hard time making up its mind. Robert shifted, turning in to face Sam so that a girl could slide past behind him.
“You know…” he said slowly.
“We could be making up our own escape plan?” Sam finished.
“Yeah,” Robert said.
“I just thought of that,” Sam said.
“That sign over there says emergency exit only,” Robert said.