Paris or Vacuum Cleaner

by Hope

For Slodwick's "A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words" Challenge.

It had taken only twenty four hours for the high school gym to complete its transformation from daydream to nightmare. At one side of the cavernous space, a messy banquet table held the remnants of abandoned cookies and half-full paper cups. Above, streamers sagged from the ceiling, and below, a sea of silver and blue balloons wavered in limp exhaustion on the floor. Wading through them, Pete whistled under his breath. "Where's the pep squad army?"

Turning from her perch on a stepladder, Lana shrugged. "You know how it goes. Everybody wants to go to a party, nobody wants to help clean up." Tugging down a streamer, Lana hopped to the floor. Round cheeks flushed from exertion, she threw the streamer into a nearby trash bag, then straightened and brushed her hair from her face. "It's probably too much to hope that you're here to help, isn't it?"

"Probably." Pete punted a balloon up to catch it, offering a smile when Lana's face fell. "Kidding, kidding. I'm at your service for the next couple of hours. I don't do windows, though."

"The windows are on their own. Got it." She sank down and washed her hands through the balloons until she found a box of trash bags. "I bet I'll have you out of here in an hour or less."

Already reaching up to peel crepe paper from the wall, Pete shook his head. "An hour? Are you kidding? This place looks like my house on Christmas morning, and it usually takes all six of us a couple of hours before my mom stops threatening to move to Buffalo."

Lana laughed softly. "Why Buffalo?"

"Buffalo girls, won't you come out tonight..." Pete trailed off before he actually started singing; nobody deserved that kind of torture. "I dunno, she thinks it's romantic or something. Most people have Paris. My mom has Buffalo."

"Have you ever noticed the way a word starts to sound funny if you say it too many times in a row?" Scooping up a pile of crepe paper, Lana leaned her head back to chant, "Buffalo, buffalo, buffalo, buffalo. See? Now it sounds like it should mean... kitchen wax."

Pete peeled a bit of tape from his fingers, sticking it onto itself. "Vacuum cleaner."

"Something floor related, definitely." She shook out another garbage back, the crisp snap of plastic cutting through the quiet and sending a few balloons rolling out of her wake. She considered the wall, and didn't speak again until she reached to pull down a butcher-paper poster. "What about you? Are you Paris or vacuum cleaner?"

Breaking into a brilliant smile, Pete stepped back and spread his arms out wide. "Neither. Las Vegas all the way."

"That's not romantic," Lana said, pulling down the last of the poster and crumpling it into a ball. "That's..."

"More wedding chapels per square mile than any other city in the world, and Sigfried and Roy have been kicking it together there for about a million years; if that's not romance, I don't know what is."

"Las Vegas is about impulse." Slowly, Lana scuffed through the balloons to find her trash bag. "It's too bright for romance."

"More of a lights out, under the covers kind of girl, huh?" Pete's eyes widened, and he closed his mouth, teeth snapping together as if he could catch the words and chew them up before she heard them. "That was way out of bounds, I'm sorry."

The soft touch of pink faded in her cheeks, and Lana smoothed her hair back- recapturing her poise, or something close to it. "No, it's okay. I am." She didn't quite look at him, but she continued when she caught a glimpse of his brows raising. "What?"

He looked past her, rubbing his hands as he shifted his weight from one foot to another. Crepe paper rustled in the quiet, a scratching hiss that built a pedestal for uncomfortable tension. Recovering, Pete shook his head. "Nothing."

Disappointment flickered on the edge of her brave, plastic smile, and a loose streamer fluttered down to rest on her shoulder. "And things were going so well!'

Pete turned around, surveying the floor with a critical eye. With an experimental kick, he sent the whole thing into uncertain wave, a thousand hollow touches echoing off the high ceiling. "I'd apologize again, but I don't know what I did this time."

"Really, it's okay," she said. Putting a light hand on his shoulder, she held up a bag for him to take. "You overteased, I overshared. What's a little awkward silence among friends?"

"An eternity." Pete took the bag and fished up another to add to the pile next to the wrestling mats. "It's something I would have said to Chloe."

From her never-ending stockpile of cleaning supplies, Lana produced a roll of masking tape. Picking at it, she pulled off a long strip and started to wrap it around her hand. She didn't look up. "Because she actually has a sense of humor."

"Because I can run faster than her." Pete rolled his shoulders in a shrug, wading back and watching Lana fix the tape against itself. "What's up with that?"

With a sphinx smile, Lana bent down again. A metallic rattle ticked away beneath the balloons, and when she straightened the tape was gone. She smoothed her hair back over her shoulder then took a step toward Pete, a jolt shivering through her when one of the balloons exploded. Lifting one foot, she wiggled it at him, flashing a tackpoint taped on the sole of her shoe. "It's my first invention."

"First?" Pete hurried to make one for himself. "What's your second?"

Laughing, Lana started across the floor, balloons dying with each step. "I'll tell you another time. I've shocked you enough for one day."

Pete grinned when he tested it, soft latex giving way to weight, then bursting with a satisfying pop. "Come on, give me a hint."

"Let's put it this way." She smiled. "It's more Las Vegas than Paris."

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