In the Middle: Ch. 7

A few hours later I find myself standing on the shoreline, watching the sun set lazily over the horizon of the ocean. I listen to the ceaseless crashing of waves against the shore, and watch as the sky changes from a pale blue to golden pinks swirled with lavender and deep blue. The water feels like ice as it laps at my feet, and even though I’m wearing a sweater Anna lent to me before we left, I can feel the gooseflesh pimpling my skin.

 I cross my arms over my chest, and let the wind blow back my hair, closing my eyes and feeling the ocean breeze kiss my skin.

“Sarah!” Dorothy calls out from behind me. “Sarah, come on! You’re going to miss it!”

I open my eyes and catch the sight of the last rays of the sun sinking into the ocean beyond, allowing myself a small smile as I turn around to the sound of Dorothy’s voice. She’s sitting in the fire pit we had spent the past couple hours digging with the shovels Anna’s boyfriend Mark had brought in his truck. 

After spending a few hours “getting ready” which seemed to be code for an adult version of dress-up, we had walked about a mile down the beach where Mark had been sitting on the hanging bed of his truck, sipping a bottle of beer. Anna gave his lips a chaste kiss before introducing him to me, explaining that Mark lived on the Reservation a few miles north of here. Mark had smiled slightly and given me a polite nod in acknowledgement. I noticed a familiar pain reflected in his dark brown eyes, and felt a twinge in my chest.

“Don’t mind him,” Dorothy said. “He’s a man of few words. Very few words.”

Other than a few directives, Mark didn’t say a word as we began to prepare for the bonfire. We had dug a decently sized pit and shaped benches out of the sand, creating a nice circular spot in the middle for the fire. We’d placed stones around the circles edge, and Mark had elegantly stacked the firewood he brought in the middle teepee-style. 

Now, Dorothy and Anna were curled into one of the blankets while Mark emptied a bottle of lighter fluid over the firewood, getting ready to light the bonfire.

“Sarah! Hurry!” Dorothy calls again.

I walk to the pit, and sink myself into the spot next to Anna. She opens up the wing of the blanket, and wraps me into it, pulling me against her. Her teeth are chattering, and her lips are blue.

“It’s so cold,” she says.

Dorothy’s hand finds my arm under the blanket, and she grips me tight, her nails pressing into the skin of my forearm.

“This is the best part,” she says, her eyes gleaming with excitement as she watches Mark pull out the matches.

I follow her gaze and watch as with the strike of a match, Mark ignites the pile of wood, and with a blast the pit lights up in warmth and flames. We all jolt back a little at the sudden heat, but the fire stays safely distant from us, just close enough to provide a glowing warmth. Dorothy releases her grip from me, and jumps up quickly.

“Now, for the goods,” she says, wiggling her eyebrows and grinning. She crawls out of the pit, and retrieves her bag from the back of Mark’s truck, where she’d stashed it for safekeeping during the dig. She pulls out the bottle of tequila, and shakes her hips to the beat of the music playing from the waterproof speaker as she twirls the cap off, and takes a long, luxurious sip straight from the bottle. “Ahh, let the party begin!”

Mark takes Dorothy’s spot next to Anna, and drapes an arm over Anna’s shoulders. Anna releases me and leans into Mark instead, taking the warmth of the blanket with her. I straighten in my seat, and move away a little bit to give them space, allowing my eyes to rest on the flames in front of me. 

Dorothy jumps into the pit, and maneuvers her way toward me, plopping herself down on the seat next to me. She takes another long swig from the bottle, and then nudges me with it as an offering.

I hesitate. I can smell the sickly sweet and pungent aroma from the bottle, and have to push down the memories that leave pinpricks in my chest.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell. We’ll take care of you if you want to get wild,” Dorothy says with a wink, mistaking my hesitation for the legal ramifications of my age.

My hand is shaking as I take the bottle, though not from the cold. I hold my breath as I bring the bottle to my lips, and before I can think about it, I tilt my head back and let the liquid slide down my throat. It burns, hot and fast, settling in a lava-like pool in my belly, radiating a spreading of warmth throughout my body and making my head feel light and sparkly.

“Woo hoo! Go Sarah!” Dorothy hollers as I pass the bottle back to her.

She takes another swig, and then passes the bottle to Anna. Anna takes the tiniest sip before passing the bottle to Mark. Mark throws his head back and takes a long guzzle, some of the liquid dripping out the corner of his mouth and down his chin. 

I realize I’m staring a little too hard, and move my gaze to Anna. I notice the wary look in her eyes as Mark wipes the drizzle from his chin with the back of his hand, and passes the bottle back to Anna. She takes a tiny sip, and passes the bottle to Dorothy. 

The look in her eyes as they meet mine is all too haunting and familiar.

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