A bead of sweat danced its way down and between a pair of soft, enticing, beautifully well-formed breasts. Fuck. I was staring again. I never mean to, honest, but sometimes I get so lost in thought that when I come to I realize I’ve been locked onto somebody’s ass, or tits, or worse, their eyes for god knows how long. I quickly blink and glance to my left. I normally hate family reunions, and this one is no different. Who wants to spend a week with one hundred “family members” you’ve never met but seem to know your name and remember when you were “this big”? Infuriating. I glance back at where I was just staring and realize, thankfully, that Sophie was so engrossed in a conversation with… Aunt Laurie? Or is it our cousin Heidi? Either way, she never stops talking so I try my best to avoid her. But not Sophie. She has this way with people, always lighting up, asking about some project they mentioned twenty conversations ago and actually being interested in the answer. She just turned twenty one last month. God, I’m sure the bars around the university have been in a riot now that she doesn’t need a fake to get in.
Some oldies are playing on the radio, the resort hasn’t made it out of the seventies at best, so I guess this is modern to them. Wakulla springs, the name means nothing more to me than hatre—“Sam, didn’t you want to go swimming? You’re already in your swim trunks and I’ve got mine under my clothes, why don’t we hop in? Maybe we’ll see a gator!”
Thanks, Sophie. I can’t even revel in teenage angst without smiling. “What? Oh, yea. Sure. That beats sitting around waiting for Uncle Tim to finish making burgers anyway.” She’s wearing a bathing suit? I guess it makes sense, we’re literally a football field away from the springs after all, and I can’t say much since I’m wearing some board shorts I got from Huntington Beach when I went to watch the U.S. Open surf competition, but she’s in a sundress like she’s ready to go to Sunday services. Damn preacher’s daughter, that’s what she is.
It’s been a few years since I’ve seen her, I used to live in Macon, which is pretty much right smack dab in the middle of Georgia, and about as boring as it gets. Aside from the whole crime wave thing that’s been going on, but we moved up to Charleston so we dodged that bullet. But we used to drive down to visit them in Florida every couple of months. It was nice being so close to my cousin. We’d explore the woods around the house, trying to find the biggest stick only to break it sword fighting, or we’d go take a dip in the lake a little walk down the road. And they had weird video games I’d never played before. Not that that was a lot of fun for me, I was pretty bad at them, so I usually turned them off after dying a billion times on the first level. I think I was in sixth grade last time I visited actually. Jesus, that’s five years ago. At least I stopped breaking out so badly and grew a little… maybe if I had been five seven then Mel would have said yes when I asked her to dance at the Timberview Middle school social in eighth grade. I’m sure she wouldn’t have-
Splash. My eyes sting as I find myself looking square into murky river water. A few good kicks gets me back to the surface so I can toss my hair out of my face. A single strand sticks to the tip of my nose, so I push it out of the way as I wipe my eyes. It’s funny, we’re jumping from a two story dive platform into Wakulla springs. Well, that’s not funny, but the whole, a single rope separating us from every gator in the area is. They found some dude’s hand one time during a glass bottom boat tour. Idiot thought he could go mess with them or something, though he did a bit better than I did with Mel. “Bout time you jumped in! You’re not afraid of the gators, are you?” Sophie floated casually by on her back, splashing me playfully. I sort of am. “Nah, but you should be!” I grab her foot and pull her under as I taunt. I swim away, glancing at all the other people jumping in. There’s a few hot chicks here and there. One’s jumping in now—HOLY hell she lost her top. Well I guess I won’t get out of the water for a bit.
Uncle Tim’s burgers are the epitome of grilling: charcoal brickettes. But I like em that way. He mashed up some jalapeños and cheese into the patties before he grilled them too, so they just explode in a delicious mouthgasm when you eat them. I try to sneak three, but Aunt Laurie finally catches up to me. “Oh, you grabbed one for your sweet, young aunt! You’re too kind, Sam.” And there it went. “You know, I remember when you were this big!” She motions to her hip. Ugh, varicose veins and white shorts. I wish I hadn’t looked. Some things just can’t be unseen. “Oh yea, haha. Yea, I was pretty little, huh?”
I shovel about half a burger in my mouth so I don’t have to talk any more. I wish it worked with listening too. “Bless my heart, yes you were. We were at your Uncle Tim’s place, playing with that toy train, you remember that toy train, right? It was pink, it was Sophie’s too! Oh, Sophie, dear, you remember your pink train toy and how you used to make Sam play Barbie with you if he wanted to ride it? You were so precocious. A born business woman if you ask me. That is what you’re studying, right?” Sophie turns around, back in that yellow sundress, smiling. “I’m actually studying French. It would be so amazing to be a translator, or maybe work with the UN.” She flashes this smile, as if she was sweeter than honey, then runs her hand through her blond loosely curled hair. “You are simply too pretty. Oh, Charles! Charles!”
Thank god. She chases after one of my uncles or something and leaves me and Sophie alone. “She really can talk. You have, oh dear, Sam. You have some cheese…” She points at my chin where this fu manchu of cheese dangles. My face starts burning up, and I quickly turn away and swipe at the cheese. Naturally it’s still hanging on for dear life when I turn back around. Naturally. Sophie giggles, “Here.” She moves in closer and wipes my chin with a napkin. I guess she grabbed it while I wasn’t looking, but she gets so close I catch a whiff of perfume. “Lavender?”
“Excuse me?” Because that’s the perfect thing to say when somebody is wiping your chin, right? “Nothing. Just, uh, I like your perfume.” That’s when she gets this huge grin and leans in even closer. I swear I could feel both our heart beats in rhythm. “Yea? Well, it’s my special perfume for when I go out. Drives the guys wild!” I jump back, though I’m not sure why I’m surprised. I mean, I have a special deodorant for dances and dates too. I can’t wear that axe crap all the time. So middle school. “Yea, I’m going to get out of here and hit that dive bar we drove by on the way in. I’m tired of all this family crap.”
I can feel my face drop slightly. There’s nobody else here to do anything with that’s not completely boring as all holy hell. “Damn. Must be nice being able to get into places like that.” I mechanically shove my left hand into my pocket to grab my phone, and realize I don’t have pockets in my board shorts. “I bet I could get you in too! I’ll just flirt with the bartender. Besides, I have a secret weapon too. Come on, it’ll be fun!” I stare at my burger, watching it drool what’s left of the cheesy jalapeño innards onto my plate. “Hell, I don’t think my parents would even notice, or care, so why not? You really think you can get me in?” As I glance up from my burger I see her already walking away flashing me a quick wink and a thumbs up. “See you in two hours then!” What in the actual fuck am I doing?
I should just go back into the hotel room. Who lets in a seventeen year old? I barely even grow facial hair. I tried. Patchy would be a compliment for it. At least I remembered to pack decent clothes. I pull my phone out of my left pocket. “Why do I even wear skinny jeans? Impossible to get anything out of the pockets. Or in them…”
“Because they look great and that’s what all the chicks are digging now? Why are you so nervous anyway?” I nearly drop my phone as Sophie’s voice slapped me straight in the ear. I was so engrossed with trying to get to my phone I didn’t notice she had walked up behind me. “Yea I guess that’s a good point. You re-really look good in that.” Judas priest she ditched the innocent preacher’s daughter on Sunday look, that’s for sure. “Hell, I mean, I didn’t think you owned anything other than sundresses and cardigans. Knee high boots? Leather jacket? Do Uncle Tim and Aunt Taryn even know you own those?” And a mini-skirt. Oh man, she’s going to ruin somebody’s night with that outfit. “Shhh, you’re talking loud enough to wake the dead. Told you I had a secret weapon! No way they won’t let you in. They’ll be too distracted.”
It’s a bit of a walk to the bar, maybe twenty, thirty minutes? I don’t mind too much, the moon’s shining, there’s a bit of a breeze that smells of the forest and ruffles through every once in awhile. “Maybe I should have worn pants. Stupid freaking wind… You know, I wore this same outfit to the bar on my birthday, but my friends, Jessica and Phillip, made me wear this tiara and sash. So many shots. I don’t know if it was the outfit or what though. I think Phillip took me home that night since his boyfriend was the dd.”
“The best part though, was this mechanical bull they had at the place. We tore it up! Everybody was cheering once I got on. Probably held on for at least a minute, it was freaking forever.” She giggles as she tells the story. Her on a mechanical bull? Bucking and tossing all around. That’d be a sight. I wonder how she pulled it off without flashing everyone. That skirt is awful short after all, especially with those long legs. The wind gushes through again, and her skirt dances with it, flashing lace.
“What do you think?” My eyes shoot up. Fuck, staring again. “Huh? Sorry, I wasn’t really listening… What’d you say?” Sophie stops and spins around, grinning from ear to ear. “I asked what you thought of the place! You getting tired on me already?” Looking around I realized we had come to a ramshackle wooden affair, at least a billion years old, or as old as my grandpa. “Squalid Duck? Who names these places?” I was going to say more, but all the sudden I feel a soft hand take mine and pull me straight in through the front door. And she’s holding my hand now.
Then there’s the bar. Full of people. Who the hell lives out here? “What’re ye drinkin hun? I’ll get yer something real sweet.” A scraggly beard inched in between Sophie and the tatted up biker sitting next to her. “Ye want one of them cider’s I bet.” Her eyes sparkled as he spoke. “Bourbon, neat.” The bar shrank instantly. Twenty hands reached in to pull scraggle beard out of the way to try and pay. Bald pony-tail guy somehow got the upper hand on tatted biker-man, but he got manhandled by Ranger Rick. The press was real. Finally somebody our age walks up and flashes a big grin to the barkeep. “Harry, how’s it goin?” Then Sophie’s bourbon magically appears, in his hand. “Luke, and you?”
“Sophie. And thanks for the drink, hun.” I reach for my phone, grazing Sophie’s ass. “Oh, sorry, I uhh, just a little cramped here.” She smiles, winking, “Well, Luke, think we can get some space to actually sit? There was almost a riot when I ordered my drink earlier, and I’m gettin a bit tired of standing.” Thank god. Ol pony-tail guy’s been creeping in again and he smells like death. I think he said something, but suddenly I have a rum and coke in my hands and I’m sitting down at a table just off the bar with Luke and Sophie.
Everything goes blurry, and I’m staring at a few empty shot glasses wondering where the hell those came from. Jesus. The shit I’ve been drinking was nothing compared to this stuff, I can usually handle all sorts of drinks, even mixing beer and liquor, and not be this gone. I stumble toward the bathroom, and take a billion deep breaths as I unzip my zipper and piss like a sober champ all over the urinal. Fuck. There’s some on my shoes. Gross. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. I’m not sure if washing my hands here is too sanitary, I’m pretty sure that’s puke in the sink, or maybe it’s the design? I just… It’s the design. Thank god it’s just a ugly colored sink. Ugh. Deep breaths.
“When did everyone start dancing?” Sophie’s up moving and Luke’s running the juke box. “How many have you had? Sophie?” I shimmy up to her in between two new guys, cut-off plaid shirt and Walrus stache. “Yea, this is my boyfriend—hey, Sam, let’s dance.” I’m less than an inch away from her and my heart explodes, I think my face is on fire. It’s totally melting. Yep. “Please just go along, they won’t leave me alone.” Whispers. I think that’s what she said, but here we are, dancing closer than any Church dance would like. No room for Jesus here. She’s spinning around, and leading me like a professional. “I should have paid more attention in dance…”
“What?” I stutter, “Why didn’t you dance with Luke?” Twirl, dodge her feet, bump Walrus Stache, and breathe. “He’s married! A shame too, he’s hot.” Pause, music change, line dance? Line dance. Thank god, they tell you what to do in this one. Luke hops in, wearing cowboy boots? That’s a thing still? Please don’t have a, he has a big buckle. How does she think he’s hot? Maybe I should have worn something else. Jesus Christ, Bald Pony tail guy is totally in my space. I’ll scootch closer to Sophie. Gotta keep her safe. New song, reset, deep breath. Slow dance? Who the hell? Sophie nearly trips into me. “Maybe I had too much…” I can’t help but get this shit eating grin. “You too?” Pull her in, high school dance style. I’m a freaking pro at this.
“We should go, Sam. I’m really drunk, you’re really drunk, and that guy with the mustache has been staring at me for at least the last hour.” She plops her head on my shoulder. She’s so close. I’m talking? “Yea, let’s just get out of here.” Then we’re out the front door. Her hand’s in mine, and we’re walking. She’s stumbling more now, giggling as the shadows skitter by our feet and away from my cell phone’s flashlight. “Oh, sorry, Sam.” She had tripped right into me. “It’s ok, I got you…” She’s so close. Deep breaths. Wet. What the hell. Are we? She tastes like bourbon and mint gum…
I’m exhausted, the sun hurts, and I think I lost my jacket. “Ohhh, boy Sam, you look positively atrocious. You sneaking into your parent’s liquor cabinet last night? You better behave, young man, or you’ll get a good ol fashion switchin’!”
“Aunt Laurie, I—I just didn’t sleep well. I had girlfriend issues last night.” She stared blankly for a second. “Who would date you? You dress like a weenie! Hehe” And off she went with a bloody Mary in tote. She’s right, who would date me? Closest I got was last night and well… There she is. Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck. “Hey, Sam…” Yep. Sophie looks like death too, but what do I even say? What if she, or maybe I could, am I staring again? I’m totally staring again. “I’m never drinking that much again ever. Do you remember anything after line dancing?”
Deep breaths. “What?” She adjusted her sun glasses, rubbing her temples. “You don’t remember anything after line dancing, right?”
“I, uhh… a bit about walking home, you?” She shook her head slowly, then sighed biting her bottom lip. “What a night. What a hang-over. Where’d Aunt Laurie get that bloody Mary? I need one.” She stared at me for an eternity. Does she really not… remember anything? But she seemed so forceful when she asked if I remembered anything after the line dance. My face flashes crimson. Bourbon and mint gum… And here comes Aunt Laurie again.