You’ll never believe it. Guess who got invited to a party TONIGHT!!! The lifeguard asked Jordan and he asked Adam and Adam asked me! So glad I packed a HOT PARTY DRESS! Honestly, I know what you’re going to ask, am I excited because of the party or because Adam asked me... the answer is... I don’t know. Augh. Auuuuuuuugh, Charlotte. I wish you were here.
Spritz. Smack. Flutter. That was my perfume, my lips, and my eyelashes as I put the finishing touches on my outfit. I shot myself a sultry look in the mirror over my shoulder, and then I couldn’t help but break into a grin. I looked hot. I looked at least eighteen. Adam wasn’t going to know what hit him!
Okay, so I lied a little in my letter to Char. I was excited because of Adam. Sue me! He was cute. It wasn’t like I was going to do anything. He didn’t see me that way at all. But it was still fun to flirt.
I waited until I heard Aunt Cecelia’s slippers shuffle past the bathroom and her door close behind her, then I slipped out and padded down the narrow staircase with my shoes in one hand. Mom and Dad were putting Squirt to bed, and Jessi had already gone over to Mal’s, so there was no one downstairs to see me. “I’m going over the Pikes’!” I called. “Back later!”
“Okay, honey! Have fun!” my mom’s voice called back.
They didn’t worry about us too much here in Sea City. We were always wandering between cottages, staying up late and playing cards. Nobody had put it into my parents’ head to worry about late-night yacht parties.
The party wasn’t hard to find. Most of the pleasure boats along the dock were dark. Only one was lit up, music blaring from within. The gangplank was lined with friendly paper lanterns. As soon as I stepped up onto the main deck, into the warmth and energy of the party, a familiar face appeared before me. Mallory.
“Ack!” I yelped. Mallory could be cool sometimes, but sometimes she was more like an adult, or, well, a baby-sitter. What was she now?
“Becca!” she admonished. “You can’t be here. Turn right around and go home! There’s drinking here!”
Narc mode. Damn.
It was then that I noticed what she was wearing. She had on a short black dress with a frilly apron and she was holding a tray of empty glasses.
“What’s with the outfit?” I asked.
“Oh...” Her face was as red as her hair. “I’m helping out. Catering. Um... you didn’t see me here.”
“Ditto!” I said.
“Touche,” she said wearily. “Okay, you can stay, but don’t drink anything. Or eat anything. Or touch anything, or talk to anyone. Okay?”
I nodded like a good child.
“Oh, Lisette! French maid!” someone called from deep in the crowd.
Mallory glanced over her shoulder. “I’ve gotta go.”
“Okay.” I edged away along the side of the boat. “See you around. Tell the triplets I’m here!” I called merrily as she walked off.
She whirled around “What?!”
I slipped into the crowd. Soon I was on the other side of the boat.
I whirled around and there he was. Adam.
I wasn’t nervous around him all weekend, but now, seeing him at a party, surrounded by older kids with drinks, it was different. He was dressed casually but nicely, jeans and a button-down shirt open over a black T-shirt. He looked like a stranger.
He gave me a quick up-and-down glance and said, “You look great.” Yeah, right. I felt silly and childish and overdressed in my tight, low-cut dress and crazy makeup.
“Hiiii, Adammmmm,” I said in a goofy, too-high voice. “You said to come by, so...”
“Yeah, I’m glad you did. You look great!”
The second time he said it, I thought maybe he meant it. I caught him struggling not to look down at my boobs. Hey, wow! I wasn’t sure if he knew it was Sasha’s dress or if he just liked it for some unknown, subconscious reason.
“All the guys are gonna hit on you,” he informed me.
“Maybe I want them to,” I said boldly. Was that really me? “Maybe I want one to, anyway.”
“Oh yeah?” He grinned at me, his eyes sparkling. “Any one in particular?”
Were we flirting? This was flirting! Why was Adam flirting with me? Adam?! Little old me! I had to make sure. “Oh, just any guy who’s good-looking... dark hair...”
“Tall, dark, and handsome?” he guessed.
“Yeah, well, not too tall,” I said, because Adam’s only a little taller than me. He’s also by no means darker than me--he’s white--but I didn’t bother going into race relations and telling him I liked white guys. “Someone smart. A leader.”
“Hmm. President of a club, maybe?”
Oh my lord! He knew! He knew! He was leaning close, ever so slightly, and I don’t know if I was imagining it, or if it was the salt sea air, but I thought I could feel the moisture of his breath against my face, and I just couldn’t handle it. I broke down in uncontrollable giggles.
I giggled so long and so hard that Adam looked bemused. “Um... Should I get you something to drink?
“It’s okay,” I managed to gasp out. “I’ll get something!” I turned and pushed into the mob at the bar and fought through the crowd. Any excuse to get out of there.
I shouldn’t have been so bold. Should I? I wouldn’t have been if I’d had any idea he’d flirt back. I thought I was desperately throwing myself at an unattainable guy. I was comfortable in that role. He wasn’t supposed to flirt back! What if I actually attained him? What would I do with him?
The bar was in a sort of inside area. I don’t know the names of parts of the boat. On the other side of the crowd, there was a small staircase leading down into the... inner... boat... area. I didn’t know if I was allowed to go down there, but nobody stopped me. I thought maybe I could be alone there.
The downstairs held a cramped hallway and three small doorways. (Hatches?) Two were shut. The third led into a tiny living area, with little bookshelf cubes build into the walls and a narrow padded bench in front of a window looking out to sea. It would have been a great place to sit and hyperventilate and regroup, but it was occupied. Shea was sitting there, alone, his armed crossed. He looked miserable.
“Hi,” I said, gripping the doorframe. The boat wasn’t rocking, but I still felt seasick. “Are you okay? What are you doing down here alone?”
He shrugged, took out his lighter, and began spinning it rapidly around his finger. “Nobody wants me around.”
“That can’t be true.” He didn’t answer, so I tentatively asked, “Do you want to talk about it?” I felt strange playing like I had any life advice for a high school guy, but I couldn’t leave him alone looking like this. Anyway, even if I was younger, I could be a friend. “Is it about the lifeguard girl?”
“Yes... no... maybe.”
I sat down next to him on the bench.
“I like someone too,” I blurted out. “Like him a lot... but I don’t know. He’s older, and I’m so little and goofy.”
“It’s the same way with me and Adela, I guess,” said Shea. “Jordan doesn’t have that problem, for some reason. Damn it, why does Jordan have to take her when he knows I like her?”
“Maybe he likes her too,” I said. “You can’t always help what you do when you like somebody a lot.”
“All’s fair in love and war, huh?”
“Not exactly, but... I don’t know. Maybe she likes him back. If you liked somebody and she liked you back, and you were all into each other and everything was great, you would probably go for it, wouldn’t you, even if you knew someone else liked her? Especially if you knew she liked you more than him. Like, it’s sad for that other person, but... you know... true love is, like, destiny.”
Shea’s lip trembled. Suddenly he didn’t look like grown-up Shea to me. He looked like a lost little boy.
“I’m sorry, Shea,” I squeaked. “I shouldn’t have said that stuff.”
“No, it’s true.”
“I don’t really think Jordan and Adela are destiny. They don’t even live near each other.”
“Me and her aren’t either, I guess,” said Shea glumly. “I just thought I was making progress with her, you know? We spent all today together... but I guess she didn’t see it like that. I’m friend-zoned.”
“I don’t believe in the friend zone,” I said. “Sometimes, if a girl is friends with a guy, and never thinks of him as anything else, one day she just wakes up and realizes, ‘Oh, wow, I liked him all along, maybe.’”
“You really think that can happen?”
“My word as a girl,” I promised.
He looked at me for a long moment. “Becca, um... that guy you like... I don’t want to sound conceited, but like, it isn’t me, or anything, is it?”
“You? I--well---” Is that how it had come across? I didn’t know what to say without sounding like a jerk.
“It’s not. It’s okay,” said Shea quickly, cutting me off. “I didn’t really think it is was. But, um, you know, if that guy doesn’t come around, we could always go out, I guess.”
“You and me?” I repeated. I still couldn’t really believe what he was saying. “You don’t really mean that, do you?”
“I don’t know. I mean, yeah, if you want to.”
I’ll admit that I was flattered. Instantly I was daydreaming about a ready-made high school boyfriend, not somebody I had to chase, just somebody I had to say yes to. Homecoming, letterman jackets, prom, double dates: me and Shea, Charlotte and...
“Shea, I--I can’t!” I sputtered. “I mean, you’re really nice, but I know a girl who likes you way more.”
“You do?” His eyebrows flew up. “Who?”
“She’d die if I told you who it was, but it’s a really good friend of mine, and I just couldn’t do that to her.”
Shea nodded slowly. “The code. I get it.”
“You’ll do okay. You’ll meet someone,” I promised him.
“Thanks,” said Shea. “So will you. Just go on and ask that guy. He’ll say yes.”
I sort of believed him. Heading back up to the main deck, I felt a spring in my step and a swing in my hips. Even if he really liked somebody else, even if really liked somebody else, even if both of us were tragic victims of Cupid’s cruel arrows, I just got asked out by a high school guy! This dress was really working for me.
I pushed through the crowd at the bar and out into the sea air. Adam was standing against the rail with his back to me, looking out to sea. The wind was ruffling his hair, and he looked solid and handsome. I paused a few steps behind him to take a breath and gather myself. No more giggles this time. I was going for it.
Smoothing my dress, my hand slipped into the pocket. There was a little slip of paper in there. Curiously I pulled it out. Thanks to club documents, Adam’s large, boyish handwriting was instantly recognizable to me.
Te amo corazón
I swallowed hard. Even though I take French, I knew enough Spanish to translate this short message. And even though it was what I wanted Adam to say to me, it wasn’t a message meant for me. Somehow I’d managed to forget I was wearing Sasha’s dress. Wearing a woman’s dress to try to snag her man--my God, who was I? My body felt hot with shame, everywhere the cloth touched. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.
I’m not sure if Adam turned around later and went looking for me. I wasn’t there. Half an hour later found me back at my cabin with PJ’s and a fresh-scrubbed face, digging in the fridge for a midnight snack for Squirt.