The smell is crisp and hot, and it sets off a warning in my mind that we could all be in grave danger at any moment—something is on fire, or at least it's about to be. I can see it with my own eyes now—the smoke, a faint but evident gray veil, is draped over the party-goers' faces, and no one has said anything. Yet. Conversations are going on between groups of two and groups of many, and the smell is growing stronger still. I am about to say something when I hear my friend's voice, informing us that she microwaved brownie batter in a mug for too long. The alarm going off in my mind is now silent, much like the one in the house that never went off in the first place. A boy who I just met moments ago, notices the smoke in the kitchen and takes off running to open the garage. When he comes back inside, the humid air walks back with him. A group of boys gathered in the kitchen each grab a dishtowel from the countertop, and like bullfighters, they rapidly fan the smoke in the hope of it dispersing or simply reconvening outside the sticky, Tulsa, Oklahoma air.
The birthday girl is nowhere to be found, and I am stuck in a conversation with a girl who doesn't know she just introduced herself to me for the second time. She asks me the ever-popular question, "What's your major?" and I ask her the same. I listen to her segue into a topic, which I will have nothing to contribute other than a head nod or two, and my stomach growls, "You need real food," as I place one salty chip on my tongue and another, the hunger I'm feeling lessening slightly. A sudden uproar of upset voices from the living room drowns out the crunch of the chips, and all the conversations come to a screeching halt, including ours. I peer over the counter to see what the commotion is about and notice that others are doing the same. About fifteen people are scattered on the floor and on the couches in the living room, all reacting to the person that caused the standstill—one of my friends. Looking around, she notices all the eyes looking back at her, and her cheeks flush red in response, matching the color of her shirt. She begins to explain to the onlookers why she is jokingly upset; as she extends her arm to point to one of our newer friends, I hear something about "...doesn't like coffee..." and then I go back to the snacks, while the noise of people and music gradually get back to its original level.
Everything is calmer now. In the dining room just a few feet over, I see a boy throw his arms up over his head and yell in a greeting toward the front door, "Ayy!" but a wall separates me from seeing who the new arrival is. More and more people yell the same greeting as the newcomer presumably walks further into the house and closer to the groups of people within the lamp-lit home. The harsh fluorescent lighting from the kitchen finally reaches the person's face, and I greet my friend with a wave.
Someone from the living room suggests with a booming voice that we all should play Catch Phrase—some nod, and some yell right back with their response. Slowly, most of the party makes their way into the living room, and I join the herd as well. Space on the couches and free chairs is now limited, but I find a narrow spot between two of my friends. The birthday girl suggests that we take a picture to commemorate the moment before we start the game, and because it's always so difficult to get group pictures unless they're planned, we happily agree. Someone I have never met volunteers to be the photographer, and a mixture of people I have known for years as well as those I have just met tonight all squish together to fit in the frame. I can hear people whispering to each other, "Are we supposed to smile?" and "Are you making a funny face, or no?" I squint hard to try and make out the photos while the phone is handed off from person to person, like a baton, until it reaches its owner. I could only get a few glances, but I know for a fact that we all have the same facial expression, complete with tired eyes, yet evident grins.