“Shots! Shots! Shots!”
We yell it together, slamming our hands on the sticky wooden table. The dreadlocked waiter pours a row of something lurid, neon blue. It’s our first night on the island, and the music is almost too loud for me to think; some European dance-pop thing that shakes the crowded beach club, making the glasses quiver and the blood vibrate in my chest.
“Aruba, bitches!” Elise raises her shot in a toast, lights splintering off the glass, golden in her hair.
“Spring break!” The group whoops, and then I’m gulping down the drink, shuddering at the sickly bittersweet taste and the familiar burn that snakes down my throat. Melanie screws her face up, gagging; Max and AK pump the air and howl, but
Elise is already reaching for another, plain tequila this time, with a side of salt and lime.
“Easy, girl,” Tate says, and laughs to Elise, one arm slung around my shoulder.
She ignores him, turning to me with a wicked smile. “Bottoms up, babe.” Elise grins, but instead of shaking the salt out on her hand, she sprinkles it on my neck, leaning in to lick up along my collarbone before downing the shot.
I shiver at the touch and playfully shove her away. “You’re drunk.”
“And you need to loosen up!” Elise shimmies, blond hair flying out around her bare shoulders. “We’re on vacation. Time to party!”
She grabs Mel and Chelsea and heads for the dance floor, her hips already moving to the thunder of bass. They dance and whirl, swallowed up into the tight press of sweaty bodies.
I search for the rest of our group. Chelsea’s twin brother, Max, is already off bro-ing it up with AK by the bar, trying their luck with a pair of Swedish-looking blondes. Max’s fair hair and AK’s black curls are bent close, to hear the girls or check out their cleavage, I don’t even have to guess. Lamar sprawls on the other side of the booth, the lights hitting blue and deep indigo against his dark skin. He peels the label from his beer bottle as Chelsea, who left the dance floor, tries to tempt him out. She grinds above him like a lap
dancer, laughing, until he finally catches her around the waist and follows her into the dark, one hand draped possessively across her shoulder.
I’m left alone in the corner with Tate. I slide closer, kissing him until I feel the tension in his shoulders. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” He shakes it off. “I guess I’m still stressed from finals. Everyone said Yale would get back to me before—”
“They will,” I tell him firmly. His blond hair is mussed, so I reach up to push it out of his eyes. I let my hand stay there, resting against his cheek. “They have to take you.” I grin, teasing, “You’re the chosen one. I mean, if you don’t get in, what hope is there for the rest of us? I’ll be sweeping floors at Boston Community College.” I laugh, but Tate still looks distracted. “It’ll be fine,” I reassure him again. “And even if it’s not, there’s nothing you can do now. You might as well have fun.”
Tate exhales, finally smiling. “You’re right. I’m sorry.” He leans to drop a kiss on my forehead. “I guess I just need to destress.”
“Lucky for you, we’re in the right place for that.” I lace my fingers in his. “A whole week, no parents, no rules . . .” I reach up to kiss him, and this time, there’s no tension, just a familiar low heat building, and Tate’s hands sliding along the edge of my shirt—
Arms suddenly encircle me from behind, dragging me away. Elise. She squeezes tighter, kissing my cheek.
“What are you sitting around for?” She yanks me to my feet. “Come! Dance!” Elise grabs Tate with her other hand; we exchange a look as she drags us deeper into the crowd.
The music shifts to some dirty hip-hop beats, and soon I’m surrounded by skin and sweat and heat, a mass of bodies moving in a slow, grinding pulse. Elise keeps hold of me, dancing and posing, pulling me into it, until my self-consciousness drifts away and I’m as lost in the music as she is. Every party, every dance floor, every illegal warehouse rave is the same: Once I’m past that first, awkward moment, once Elise has dragged me into it—out of myself—it’s like nothing else. I’m not Anna, I’m not me anymore; I’m something beyond, my heart racing as the songs melt into each other, and all that matters is the beat and their bodies, and that bass, pounding on.
Breathless, I let my body go, let it move and sway, caught up. Tate brings me tight against him, and then it’s the three of us, me and Elise dancing up close to him and spinning away; green strobe lights cutting through the dark. Tate laughs between us, his hands lingering on Elise’s waist as she grinds against him. The spotlights strobe across his face, the beautiful angles of his jaw, and suddenly I want him with a fierce ache in my chest. Mine. I grab his hand away from her, pulling him wordlessly to the edge of the dance floor, my back finding some solid surface, his hands finding the curve of my hips, his lips finding mine.
He leans in to kiss me, pushing me hard up against the wall. I wrap my arms around his neck, pulling him down, locking him against me as our mouths hungrily roam over lips and skin and shoulders. I wish I could stay like this forever—the tightrope wire between drunk and sober, between flesh-and-blood and free. Then the music changes again, something pulsating and euphoric, and we’re back on the floor, dancing. I don’t know how long we’ve been out there when Elise yanks me away. “Bathroom break!” she orders, collecting Chelsea and Mel from their spot by the DJ booth.
We girls spill into the tiny bathroom, scattering lip gloss and mascara on the countertop, crowding around the cracked mirror. “So, who’s in for some skinny-dipping?” Elise hops up by the sink and swings her heels against the cabinet. She fixes me with a mischievous grin. “What do you say, like that time in Walden Pond?”
I laugh. “Yeah, and we nearly died of hypothermia.”
Elise shrugs, unconcerned. “So it’s a good thing we’re in the Caribbean now.”
“You’re not serious?” Mel blinks from under her blunt-cut black bangs, “It’s pitch-black out there; you’d drown.”
“Maybe I’ll find a cute Aruba lifeguard to come protect me.” Elise carefully pouts, applying another layer of pink lip stain.
“Or cut you into tiny pieces and feed you to the sharks,” Mel mutters. She tugs at the hem of the skirt we had to talk
her into, trying in vain to yank it an extra inch down over her pale thighs. I feel a stab of irritation at her whining. Typical Mel—always acting like a chaperone even when the rest of us are having fun. Straight A’s, future med student: She wants everything to run on a strict plan. Her plan.
“Lighten up.” I sigh. “You’re not still pissed about the room thing?”
“It’s not a room,” Mel complains. “It’s, like, a closet with a pullout bed.”
“You could share with AK and my brother,” Chelsea calls from inside the tiny cubicle. There’s a flush, and she emerges, finger-combing her long, salt-bleached hair. She barely glances at her reflection, bare-faced with her dusting of freckles. But then, she doesn’t need to. Chelsea has that whole natural, beach beauty thing down cold. Even during icy Boston winters, she always manages to look like she just strolled in from a surfing session in the sun. “Although,” she adds with a smirk, “you’ll have to deal with all their gross boy underwear lying around.”
“That’s not the only thing they’re trying to lay,” I quip. Elise laughs, and high-fives me.
“Maybe they’ll let you watch,” she adds to Mel. “You might learn something.”
“La, la, la!” Chelsea protests, covering her ears. “What’s the rule?”
“No talking about your brother and his sex life.” Elise sighs.
“Or his lack of one.” I grin, but Mel is still sulking. She turns to Elise.
“I don’t know why I can’t just share with you.”
“Because I plan on having fun,” Elise grins, “Like with that dark-haired guy, the one in the VIP booth.”
“They have a VIP booth here?” Chelsea laughs, trying to rinse her hands under the sputtering tap. Her wrists are full of knotted yarn bracelets and exotic beads, fraying until they’re barely hanging on. “They don’t even have running water.”
Elise just applies a coat of gloss red lip balm. “He’s cute, I’m telling you. I think I’ll have him come back to see the house. The view from my bedroom . . .” She winks.
“Elise!” Mel protests, like clockwork, “You don’t even know him. He could be a rapist, or murderer, or—”
“Stop with all the buzzkill,” I interrupt.
“You need a drink,” Elise agrees. She hops down and links her arm with Mel’s, giving me an exasperated look over her head. “Two drinks. And a hot, sweaty local guy.”
“Interested, we know.” Elise steers her out, back into the club.
We chorus in unison, “You’re not that kind of girl.”
Melanie pouts. “You say it like it’s a bad thing.”
Elise rolls her eyes. “No, we say it like it’s a dull thing.”
Back on the floor, Elise points out her target for the night.
He’s lounging with some buddies in the corner: he’s handsome, in his early twenties maybe, with a bored nonchalance that just screams rich kid.
“Cute, right?” She grinds against me, flashing flirtatious looks over at the guy; pulling me in to nuzzle at my neck.
I laugh. “He looks like trouble.”
She grins back. “Just the way I like them.” And then she’s gone, ducking through the crowd toward the guy. I watch her go. Within seconds, she’s smiling and laughing with the group, that one guy giving her an approving grin.
Tate reappears next to me. “Where’s Elise?” he yells to be heard.
I shrug vaguely, but Tate looks across the floor to where she’s already angled, cross-legged in the booth with them, leaning in to talk to her prospective conquest. Her hair glows purple and red under the lights, tanned legs long and bare under her skirt. I smile, watching her at work. She’s gorgeous; no man would stand a chance of resisting.
“I don’t like this. We should stick together,” he yells again, frowning.
“Relax!” I slide my arms around him, pulling his lips down to mine. “Elise is a big girl. She can take care of herself.”