The frigid air sends chills across your skin as you follow your best friend of four years, Penny, across a small wooden bridge. The bridge connects the main island—your “home away from home” for the next week, as the spring break invitation had said—to the smaller patch of land that’s attached to the boat dock. You find yourself wondering if you two are late or early. The invite had specified an arrival time of seven in the evening, yet the only people on the previous ferry had been you and Penny. The thought of being late to any sort of event sends a spike of anxiety through you. Hence, you decide to focus on literally anything else.
You pull your coat tighter around yourself as if doing so will somehow will away the fading remnants of winter. Penny has been chattering non-stop for the past hour or so, and you must admit that you stopped listening at one point. Either she hasn’t noticed, or she doesn’t care. From what you’ve been able to gather from her excited speech, she’s more than thrilled to have been invited to the party. Especially since it’s full of juniors and seniors, and “sophomores rarely ever get invited to things.” You’re not expecting to enjoy your spring break, but you do hope that it’s everything Penny wants it to be.
Pulling your phone out of your jacket pocket, your numbed fingers fiddle with it until you’re able to get the old thing to turn on. You check your messages. It’s not that you’re insanely popular or really that you have anybody to text. Still, you do have one friend who demands you keep him updated on everything you’re doing. That one friend, David, had refused to come on the trip, citing that “parties are for stoners and people with no future.” You aren’t sure if you’re relieved that he didn’t come along or not at this point in your friendship. Regardless, he’d made you promise to text him during the break. You aren’t one to break promises, and you’re also not one to make your friend angry.
Once your phone loads your conversation with David, your heart sinks at the “Failed to send” notification underneath your text. You tap to resend, not that it does any good. You can clearly see that there’s no signal out here. You still tap the resend button a few times out of frustration before sighing and giving up. David’s inevitable hissy-fit when you get home is going to drive your anxiety up the wall this week.
“Hey, P…Penny?” you ask, interrupting whatever your friend was going on about.
She looks taken aback that you’ve spoken for the first time in what must have been an hour. However, her surprised look is immediately replaced with a smile. “Yeah? What’s up?”
“Is there going to b-be Wi-Fi here?” The question makes you feel silly, as if you’re some sort of teen blogger who can’t live without the internet.
Penny bites her lip and pauses in thought, then shrugs. “I don’t remember Mason or Conrad saying anything about Wi-Fi. I can ask when we get up there, though.”
“That w-would mean a lot. Thanks, Penny.”
“What are friends for? Anyway, as I was saying…”
You zone out once more as Penny continues with whatever she’d been talking about before. If she says something important that demands your attention, she’ll let you know. Your focus is drawn to the enormous mansion that this “house” party is supposed to take place in. You’d known that there were some rich kids at your school, but you’d never seen proof of it like this before. Penny leads you up the stairway entrance, never for a moment pausing her conversation to gape at the veranda like you do. It’s furnished with benches, tables, and several types of chairs. The stone walls that separate the porch from the front lawn are decorated with hanging plants, vines, and potted plants. You make a mental note that you want your future home to look like this when you’re an adult.
Penny knocks on the massive front door. It’s probably as tall as three people stacked. However, when the door opens, it’s a smaller subsection of the door that opens and not the entire thing. A baby-faced blond boy in a gray hoodie, about your height and a little more massive in stature than you, smiles at the two of you.
“Hey, Penny!” he greets. He opens his mouth to welcome you, but somewhere along the way, you see him realize that he doesn’t know you. The boy settles into an awkward half-smile and addresses you. “I’ve, uh, seen you around school, right? I’m Conrad.”
“This is Annie,” Penny introduces you, bouncing on her heels. She grabs your hand, then takes one of Conrad’s and squishes your palms together in the clammiest handshake you’ve ever experienced. You and Conrad laugh awkwardly, both of you retracting your hands once she lets go.
“Alright, well, nice to meet you, Annie.” His expression is kind, but you feel like he would prefer not to have to meet you again. That’s just your feeling, though. He steps aside and out of the way, gesturing at a wooden coat rack positioned by the door. “Here’s where you guys can hang your jackets.”
You start to protest that you would prefer to keep your coat on, but Penny is happy to start peeling your jacket away from you before you can get any words out.
“I’ll hang your coat up for you, Ann.” Sensing your attachment to your favorite brown coat, Penny then says, “I promise that you’ll get way too hot in here if you keep it on.”
“Ah—okay.” You let your hands fall in defeat. You usually wear the coat everywhere as a sort of comfort item, but you don’t have it in you to argue with your best friend. “Thanks, P-Penny…”
“You’re early, I guess. Or uh, on time, and everyone else is late.” Conrad lets Penny hang your coat, then checks his shiny, expensive-looking watch. “I didn’t really expect everyone to be here on the dot, ha-ha.”
“So, Conrad,” Penny starts. She turns from the coat rack then hefts her backpack up onto her other shoulder. You hear various belongings clattering inside the bulging bag. “You got any Wi-Fi here?”
“Nah, no Wi-Fi. What’s the point of a party if everyone just sits there on their phones, dude?”
“Uhh, so that we can post all the pics and videos we’re taking? Duh,” Penny teases.
Conrad laughs as he leads you two upstairs. The staircase spirals upward, and you feel sick trying to guess how much the stairs alone cost to build.
“Post all that after the party, man.” The three of you reach the top of the stairs. “I’ll tell you what, though, no internet was almost a dealbreaker for Mason. I had to practically beg him to come. Dude’s basically a teen blogger.”
Penny laughs, and you give a polite “ha,” although you have no clue who Mason is.
“Yeah, sounds like him,” Penny comments. “What’d you have to promise him to get him to come? Landon told me it was, like, a whole diplomatic thing.”
“Eh.” Conrad shrugs. He leads you and Penny down a long stretch of hallway overlooking the first level of the house. A wooden banister with fancy carvings in it is the only thing between you and a ten-foot-or-so fall. “I mean, the whole conversation took place while we were playing video games. I wouldn’t call it ‘diplomatic’ or anything.”
“You still didn’t answer my question,” Penny teased, sidling up to Conrad in a fashion that was a little too friendly for your own comfort.
You only catch a glimpse of Conrad’s face as he glances at Penny, but a blush is visible on his fair, freckled skin. “I mean, I just promised, like, food and stuff.”
“Like banana-shaped or—”
“Here’s your room,” Conrad stresses, stopping in front of a door. He gestures inside the open room, most of his face red. “I’ll be downstairs if you need me. Feel free to explore after you’re unpacked ‘n stuff.”
Penny catches Conrad’s arm before he hurries off. “D’aw, I was just teasing. You don’t have to get so flustered.”
Conrad mumbles something that you can’t hear, and Penny lets out a boisterous laugh. “Okay, okay. Go on, then.”
Conrad is released from Penny’s grasp, and before he scurries away, he faces you. His face is less red now, and he’s smiling. “Seriously, if you need anything, just let me know, okay? Penny’s been here before, so she kind of knows her way around, but it can be pretty confusing your first time here.”
“She’ll be fine!” Penny wraps her arm around your shoulder and rocks you back and forth playfully, shooing Conrad away with her hand. “Get out of here.”
You have to say, Penny smells nice. Your cheeks grow warm, but you’re lucky that it’s hard to make out blush on black skin. The moment doesn’t last long as Penny’s hand falls to grasp yours and tug you into the room that you two will be sharing for the next week.
There are two beds, one on either side of the room. You immediately fall in love with the bedsheets on the left one, giving Penny comically big eyes as she glances at you. She’s frozen, and her bag is a few inches away from being dropped on the bed to claim it. You two stare at each other for a silent moment.
You pout your lower lip. “P-Please?”
Penny sighs loudly and dramatically whips her backpack away from the surface of the bed. Her momentum carries her all the way to the other side of the room. There, she then falls onto the sheets in a fantastic whirl of drama.
“Fine” is her anti-climactic response.
“Thank you!” You hop onto the bed with the pretty seashell covers, pulling your backpack off and starting to pull everything out.
Penny rolls over on her bed, slipping out of the strap of her bag, and watches you unpack. Everything is just as neat and orderly as you remembered packing it. Your inhaler is on the top, followed by neat squares of shirts, underwear, and socks. Two pairs of jeans and a few extra skirts round out the bottom of your backpack. You decide to take advantage of the pretty blue dresser at the end of your bed and store your clothing in there. Your friend follows suit, unpacking her clothes and putting them—more messily than you—in the salmon-colored dresser at the end of her bed.
“So,” Penny looks to you, “are you excited about this week?”
“Um.” You shrug meekly. “Not… really.”
“What! Why not?” Penny pauses her unpacking to stare you down for answers.
“W…W-Well…” You cross your arms and avoid looking at your friend, who is gazing intensely at you. “I mean, you know that I’m not really the b- b- b… I’m not good at socializing. Also, I literally don’t know anyone coming to the party.”
“Oh.” Penny sounds like she’d been expecting something grander. Still, she shrugs. “Maybe this will help you come out of your cage more! You’re always talking about how you don’t have any friends. Well, now’s the time to make some!”
You grunt in a tone that’s neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Penny comes over to your side of the room, smiling at you as she takes your hands into hers.
“You’ll be okay. I promise,” Penny tells you.
Something about the genuity in her eyes is comforting. You finally smile back at her, provoking a heart-warming laugh from her.
“There’s my girl! That’s what I’m looking for!” Penny shakes your hands up and down with hers, grinning at your tickled laugh.
“Oh, stop it.” You slide your hands out of hers and playfully slap at her. “Go finish putting away your clothes.”
“Fine, fine.” Penny unceremoniously dumps the rest of her bag into the drawer. You shake your head at her messiness when she tosses her bag to the floor.
“You’re never going to find anything in there.”
“If I’m meant to find it, it will appear on the top,” Penny tells you matter-of-factly.
“Sure…” You roll your eyes.
“Well, while you take your sweet time organizing your drawers, I’m gonna go freshen up. I won’t be gone long!”
“W…W-What do you need to freshen up for?” you ask dubiously. “You showered before we left.”
“Annie, sweetie, this is an upperclassman high school party.”
“And that means there are mature boys here who won’t want to hang around a sophomore that smells like this.”
You scrunch your nose at her. “I don’t know if mature boys should b-b-be hanging around sophomores at all, Penny.”
Penny waves your concerns away. “Whatever. You’re probably just a late bloomer.”
“Whatever,” you mimic Penny. “Go get all sexy-fied or w-w-whatever you’re going to do.”
You earn a giggle from Penny. She picks out some crumpled-up clothes from the drawer, along with some bathroom condiments, before leaving the room. With your friend gone, you’re left with nothing but the sound of incoming guests downstairs. You can make out Conrad’s loud voice amidst the chatter, although you’re not sure that there’s a lot of people anyway.
You pull your phone out once more like the internet-deprived teenager you are. Luckily, you thought ahead and had downloaded some digital books onto your phone before leaving for the ferry this afternoon. A few taps bring some sappy romance novel onto your screen. You’d rather die than let anybody know you love romance novels, but, thankfully, so far, you’re the only person who knows what you like to read. The only way you could be more comfortable right now is if you were wearing your coat.
Out of the corner of your eye, you see some shadowy movement. Your heart skips a beat, and you whip your head up. Imagining things and being paranoid can be scary, but what’s worse is when you didn’t imagine things after all. You yelp in surprise when you see a pale boy with emo-looking black hair leaning with his back against your doorframe. He wears thick sunglasses, even though he’s inside, and you’re especially unnerved because you can’t see his eyes to tell what he’s thinking. He stares at the ground, unmoving and silent. Your yelp didn’t seem to affect him either.
You expect the boy with ripped jeans, a gray sweatshirt, and a black t-shirt underneath it to start walking toward you—or do anything, really—but he doesn’t. You stare at him awkwardly and wait for him to say something. Again, he doesn’t. Instead of him saying anything, you hear the distant sound of a toilet flushing. Another boy’s voice comes from the hallway outside your room.
“A’ight bro, you pick out a room yet?”
The emo-looking boy gestures into your room, and you shrink in your bed nervously. A chubby Asian boy comes into view, peering into your room. His black hair is messy and pushed back with what looks like an obscene amount of hair gel.
“Ah—” he smiles, and you notice a cute gap in his upper front teeth, “this room’s actually ocupado, dude.”
“Oh.” The boy looks in your direction, but no recognition of your existence crosses his face. “Really? Conrad said that there was, like, nobody here.”
The chubby boy with the surfer-dude voice nudges the smaller one with his elbow. “He said we were early.” He looks to you and waves, then escorts the emo boy away from your doorway and, you guess, down to the next available room.
Penny returns shortly after, not giving you enough time to mull over your awkward social encounter nor read much of your romance novel. You heave a sigh and shut your phone off as she digs around in her dresser.
“Hey,” you grab her attention. “There was a weird b-boy in the doorway before you came in.”
“A weird boy?” Penny asks, glancing at you with perfume in her hand. “What did he look like?”
“Um. He looked k…k-kind of emo. You know, with the swooshing hair?” You gesture to give Penny an idea.
“Was he wearing sunglasses?”
“Yeah! Do you know him?”
Penny gives you the so-so hand gesture. “His name’s Shyanne. He’s harmless, so you don’t need to worry about him.”
“He k-kind of gave me the creeps…” You pull your knees up to your chest and hug them.
Penny shrugs. “I mean, I don’t know the guy personally. I’ve dated his friend before, though.”
“The surfer boy?”
Penny laughs, repeating your question. “Surfer boy?”
“You know! All the ‘dude’s and ‘bro’s and stuff. He sounds like he’s from California.”
“Have you ever even been to California?”
“No, but that’s what all the California surfer boys are like on TV.”
You smile at Penny, and she shakes her head playfully. “Anyway,” she says, “yes, that’s the boy.”
“Does surfer b-boy have a name?”
“His name’s Dillon.”
“Oh my god, he even has a surfer b-boy name.”
“Annie, stop, oh my god.” Penny laughs and slaps at the air in your direction.
You relax, letting your knees fall while you both giggle at the conversation. Penny steps in front of the full-length mirror hung on the closet door and takes the time to fix her hair. You must admit that she looks cute when she doesn’t have three inches of makeup on her face. Her eyes really make her mass of facial freckles pop, plus there’s no mascara to take away from how pretty her eyes are.
Penny pulls out her makeup kit and rests it on top of the dresser while applying her makeup in the mirror. Once, you had asked her why she wears so much makeup so often. Penny had talked about hating her freckles and that they made her look nerdy. Another reason of hers was that she hated that she looked identical to, well, her identical twin. Penny wanted something to differentiate herself from her sister. Even though they look similar, you believe that she and her sister are really nothing alike.
They both wear their skin and identity differently. Penny is a lot more girly with shoulder-length hair and usually some sort of flirtatious, excited, or mischievous look on her face. Bailey is more of a tomboy, her hair in a boy-cut that gets her mistaken as a boy often, and usually a grave, tired, or bored look on her face. Penny loves wearing stylish, form-fitting clothes of all colors to accentuate her features. Meanwhile, Bailey prefers neutral or dark colors and worn-out, baggy clothes that make her look like, in your opinion, a mysterious blob of cloth.
“Are you p..p-p-planning on wearing makeup the entire week?” you ask curiously.
“Well, anytime a boy’s around at least,” comes her reply as she applies her mascara.
You roll your eyes. “You’re going to give yourself so much acne. A b-boy seeing your face won’t be the end of the world.” You recline in your bed. “What if you want to go swimming?”
“Hah!” Penny doesn’t glance at you while she focuses on her makeup. “You think I wouldn’t bring waterproof makeup?”
You wrinkle your nose. “You’re already so p-pretty without makeup, though.” Much prettier than you, you think, but you don’t say it. You cross your arms and pout instead. “Makeup should be something you use to empower yourself, not to hide your face ‘cause you don’t like it.”
Penny hums, ignoring you for a few moments until she reaches a point she can talk. “It is empowering me—it’s empowering my chances with boys.”
“You know what I meant.”
Penny smiles in response, and you simply watch her routine. You don’t usually wear makeup. One, because you honestly just don’t feel pretty enough for it or worthy of looking nice. Two, you’ve had bad experiences before in middle school, where other kids decided to splash you with anything that they could find to ruin your makeup. That was before you’d met Penny, though.
Meeting Penny had significantly improved your social status, although that wasn’t why you were friends with her. You weren’t entirely sure why she became friends with you—maybe she just felt bad for you and ended up actually liking you? Regardless, she’d given you a lot of makeup tips since then, plus more than a few free makeovers. You could never turn down the opportunity for your beautiful best friend to play with your hair or touch your face for hours.
Penny draws you out of your thoughts when she turns around and gestures at herself. “Well? How do I look?”
You sit up with a smile. “Gorgeous as always, Penny.”
“Oh, stop it, you liar,” Penny wrinkles her nose at you playfully. “You always say the same thing.”
“I always say the same thing b-because it’s true!” You get up out of your bed, sensing that Penny is about ready to go hunt for some boys. “I’ll stop saying it when it stops being true.”
Penny blows a raspberry at you and doesn’t reply. She retrieves her purse from beside her bed, then turns to you. “You ready?”
You gesture at yourself lamely. “Ready as I’ll ever be.” Then you point at her bag. “What d-do you need your purse for?”
“A lady always brings her purse,” Penny replies in a stuffy accent. She smiles. “Never know if I’ll need something from it.”
Downstairs, there are more people than you’d expected there to be. You suppose that while you’d been distracted by Penny, you didn’t notice the increase in background chatter. As you both reach the bottom of the stairs, you see Conrad walking out of the kitchen in your direction. He’s wearing a white apron with the word “STUD” printed above an illustration of a muffin. Penny gasps at his apron and squeals in delight.
“That is SUCH a cute apron!”
Conrad blushes—he seems to blush very easily—and looks away shyly. “Thanks! Sasha got it for me.”
Ah, yet another person you’ve never met. You love how easily included you are in these conversations. They never make you feel like you’re an awkward third wheel at all.
Penny raises her eyebrows as if she’s scandalized. “Oh? As in a gift from your girlfriend?”
Conrad shushes her loudly, hitting at the air in her direction. He nods his head toward the couch where a light-skinned black girl is lounging and sharing her handheld game with a short Asian boy. You don’t know much about Conrad, but you’ve got the feeling that he would be attracted to bold girls who take charge of a situation just based on his reactions to Penny.
Sasha has her cleavage out for the world to see, breasts cupped by her skinny crop top. Her pierced belly button below is hard to ignore, and her belly just slightly pooches over the waistband of her daisy dukes. Half her head is shaved, the other half in long, colorful dreads. She has multiple ear piercings in each ear. The polish on her short nails is chipped, revealing several layers of assorted colors as if she can’t bother to take the time to do them correctly. Around her neck, completely clashing with her clothing ensemble, is a small brown pendant hanging from a black cord around her neck. It looks handmade from what you can tell, and lumpy, with a white “S” in the middle on one side.
You don’t really blame Conrad for liking this girl. She seems like a heartthrob, and for the few seconds that you’ve known this girl, you must admit that you’ve developed just a little bit of a crush as well.
Sasha doesn’t seem to notice that she’s the topic of Penny and Conrad’s conversation. She seems more invested in whatever the small Asian boy is doing in her game. Sasha repeatedly jabs his arm with her finger and shouts excitedly like a sports bar customer watching a nerve-wracking football game. At one point, she grabs him by the purple acrylic pendant around his neck to yell at him, and he shoves her away, shouting back playfully. Penny laughs at Conrad’s reaction but lets the topic go. Conrad wipes his hands off on his apron, flustered.
“So, how do you guys like it so far?” he changes the subject.
“Obviously, it’s awesome,” Penny answers. You don’t get a chance to respond when Penny wraps her arm around your shoulder and rocks you side to side. “Annie and I are so excited about this week. We were just talking about going swimming earlier, actually.”
You force a smile, despite feeling utterly unenthused about spending your spring break here. Conrad smiles, seeming genuinely happy about Penny’s answer.
“Well, good! I just want everyone to have fun. No drama, just friends hanging out, you know?” Conrad says. Penny nods enthusiastically.
“As a side note,” Conrad continues, “try to stick to swimming in the pool. There’s nothing wrong with wading out into the ocean, but just try not to go in too deep and try to stay off the rocks.”
“Why’s that?” Penny asks.
“Bunch of safety reasons,” Conrad answers. “Like, rip currents can drag you out to sea and drown you if you don’t know what to do. Shorebreak can really mess you up if the water’s real choppy. Uhh… all the way out here, there are more sharks than there’d be on a regular beach.”
You shudder. The ocean is terrifying.
“You really think one of us could get eaten by a shark?” Penny asks.
Conrad shrugs. “I mean, it’s more likely that you’d get taken by a rip current and drown than anything else. Maybe if you got taken really far out by a current, there is a chance sharks would want a nibble, but sharks are actually pretty avoidant of humans.”
“Dang.” Penny looks to you for your comments, and you shrug.
“I’m okay w-with just using the pool.” You hug yourself. “I don’t really like the ocean anyway. It’s too big, and there’s way too much in it.”
“Agreed,” Conrad nods. He glances back at the kitchen. “Hey, do you guys want to help prep for dinner? It’s just Mason and me right now.”
“Oh, I dunno, Annie and I might smoke everyone out,” Penny teases.
“Please don’t,” you frown at Penny. “I’ve got enough stuff triggering my asthma without a smoke storm. Oh! Speaking of…”
You feel around your pockets, although you clearly remember leaving your inhaler upstairs.
“I have to go get my inhaler. I left it in our room. I’ll meet you guys in the k-kitchen.”
“Alright, be yourself, make friends, don’t die,” Penny jokes.