In the Middle: Ch. 9

“Okay, Sarah,” Anna says. “Your turn. Truth or Dare?”

I don’t know what time it is. Mark has gotten up a few times to restock the dwindling wood pile. How long ago was it when he said this was the last one? 

The fire is crackling, but has mostly died down to a low burning ember. The warmth in my veins comes from the liquid fire I’ve been guzzling all night, sip after sip, bottle after bottle. My body feels both numb and tingly as my thoughts swim around in my head slow and hazy.

Mike showed up at some point in the night—to Dorothy’s delight. I was surprised by how young he looked. In my head I imagined the owner of a beach-side pub to be middle-aged, and perhaps he is. However, he could easily pass for a man in his mid-twenties with his sun-tanned skin, whiskey-brown eyes, unruly, curly dark brown hair flaring around a stubbled face like a lion’s mane. He looks more like the textbook example of a rugged artist than a business man, lighting up a joint and passing it around along with the fresh bottle of another fiery-sweet liquid, this one a dark brown. 

I inhaled once into a fit of coughs, and decided to stick with the bottle instead. 

“Dare,” I say. 

I’ve been avoiding Truth all night. Instead, I’ve elected to dance with Dorothy, our bodies close and moving sensually to the rhythm of the music while Mike and Anna cheered and howled; I’ve stripped my clothes and run into the darkness of the waves, submerging myself in the frigid water completely before running back to the pit and wrapping myself in a blanket while my teeth chattered and my body shook with laughter and cold until I was warm enough to dress again; I’ve kissed Mike’s lips quickly, chastely, my cheeks flushed in embarrassment and fear; I’ve placed my hand above the tallest flame on the fire, and let it lick my palm just enough to feel the burn and leave a temporary pink mark on my skin. 

These little humiliations were easier to bear than the light, slippery feeling in my mind, threatening to reveal everything I’ve kept inside for too long if given the chance. 

In this circle, I feel all too warm and free.
“No, no, no,” Anna shakes her head, and waves her finger at me. “You’ve chose dare too much. You have to choose truth. It’s truth time.”

I swallow. My mouth feels dry. I take sip from the bottle in my lap. Everything in this moment seems to be conspiring toward my release; the sound of the ocean, the feel of the breeze, the glow of the fire, the faces of the strangers-turned-friends, waiting for me to respond; the burn in my belly, and the bottle pressed between my legs, my fingers curled around it’s neck.

I feel so far away from everything I left behind, as if I really did leave it behind, as if there’s no way it could ever be sitting here with me. The truth can’t hurt me here, I think. It’s okay.

“Fine,” I say. “Truth.”

Anna’s wide-blue eyes meet mine with a sweet, innocent grin. She has no idea this will certainly be the beginning of my unraveling. And I’ve been doing so well too. 

She turns to Mike.

“You have a question for her?” she asks him.

“I sure do,” Mike says, reaching over to grab the bottle from between my legs with a wink. Right before he takes a swig he asks, “Why doesn’t a pretty girl like you have a boyfriend?"

I remember the way my hips moved along with Dorothy’s, and the too-quick way I’d kissed him, and can conclude what he’s thinking immediately. It would be so easy to step into his prediction, to allow the lightness and brevity of the night to continue with a lie. Because a boyfriend wouldn’t be my type, I could say. I play for the other team. Mike would like that. He would slap his knee, and say I knew it with the smirk of a man who is used to women begging for his attention in a way I haven’t been. The game would continue on, easy, light, fun. 

The truth would ruin the mood with it’s heavy darkness. 

But before I can choose to lie, the memories of the truth pop like fireworks behind my eyes. I remember a tender kiss--not Brad’s--in a dark room lit by moonlight. 

I remember the look on Brad’s face from the doorway, his hand on the doorknob, the hallway light a sudden spotlight on my betrayal.

I remember the tears and snot pooling on my face, the pain and panic in his eyes as they met mine, the white-washed look of horror on his face right before he turned and walked back into the hallway light, disappearing from my sight forever.

I remember the blearing of the phone in the middle of the night, the red-amber glow of a salt lamp on the bedside table as I pressed the phone to my ear to hear the three words that sucked all the oxygen from my lungs in an instant…

“My boyfriend is dead,” I hear myself say. The words seem to explode from the center of my chest before I can stop them. I look at Anna and see the shock and concern fill her eyes. I turn my gaze to the fire, to the flickering heat. “There was an accident. Last summer.” I swallow again. I feel bile rising in my throat. “That’s why I don’t have a boyfriend.”

Then, I lean over and retch into the flames.

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