Spring Break isn’t really Karla’s scene.
If you had asked her a few months ago whether it would be Hermann’s scene, she probably wouldn’t have laughed in your face but she would have done it in her head. Between the seasonal allergies and the starched shirts and the infamous Gottlieb neuroses, (a phenomena tracing back hundreds of years, most notably chronicled in the journals of a wayward ship captain who had his entire stock alphabetized by her great-great-Gottlieb sometime in the 1700’s), she doesn’t think her brother has willingly been outside since he was 11 years old and catching fireflies.
As it turns out, she severely underestimated his vengeful streak.
Hermann had already managed the impressive feat of somehow emerging from his third year of undergrad with no social life, a fatass pet rabbit, and an actual, honest-to-god, real life rival . A rival campus newspaper editor, to be more precise, using the exact phrasing he did when first telling her about it.
It’s nerdy. And overdramatic. And ridiculously exciting, in a type of hilarious sitcom-plot way that only serves to make her feel more like the boring one. Which should technically be impossible, considering that two out of her three brothers have a favorite brand of oxford insole.
Nevertheless, coming off about eight months of bitter back-and-forth, (and Twitter fame and public fights and various exposés of differing lengths), Hermann’s newest, most feverish plan is to follow Geiszler to Fort fucking Lauderdale and inevitably catch him in the midst of some massively irresponsible scandal. This, of course, permanently besmirching his name and securing Hermann’s position as Lord of College Journalism, Master of His Domain. Or something like that.
She wouldn’t have gone with him, but he reminded her of the many consecutive summers he spent accompanying her to their local renaissance faire despite his complaints- so she owes him that much. Besides, Hermann gets a frightening little glint in his eyes when he’s feeling extra vindictive. He made three tiramisus in a week and left all of them for Karla to eat by herself. She doesn’t think either of them is doing particularly well.
Scanning her passport in the airport, swimsuit hanging off the straps of her carry-on, she briefly hopes that they’re making their dad furious.
Karla’s first impression of her first legitimate boardwalk party is that it’s sticky .
The surface of the bar table is grenadine-tacky and there’s lots of people, lukewarm splashes from unmarked green bottles and heavy Gulf Coast humidity, flimsy polyester bikini strings and neon board shorts and those horrible plastic sunglasses with the shutters. She stepped barefoot onto a stray, pulpy wedge of lime and it felt about as disgusting as it sounds.
Hermann is wearing a sun hat and swim trunks, which would be hilarious if it weren’t so horribly conspicuous. He keeps gesturing with his cane and frowning disapprovingly at scenes of debauchery, making disparaging comments that the music is too loud for her to properly hear.
And, like, it’s no renaissance faire , but Karla isn’t having the worst time. She ordered a drink and it came with five little paper umbrellas, like she’s living in some type of apocalyptic hedonist’s paradise where rules don’t apply and resources are infinite. It’s exactly the type of inconsequential trivial shit that makes her entire day- she saves them in her tote bag to bring home to Hermann’s rabbit.
Of course, this is all before things go pear-shared.
For the record, Karla doesn’t actually know that much about Vanessa García-Bassetti.
She makes it kind of hard not to notice her.
Vanessa is the veritable darling of the physics department. She’s the kind of effortlessly, obnoxiously smart that would make her a lot of enemies if she weren’t equally easy to get along with.
She’s outrageous and funny and refreshingly honest, warm in a way that charms everyone around her positively silly. She wears flip-flops and hideous toe rings and strappy neon bras underneath ribbed cotton tank-tops, any manner of headscarves and sundresses and fur coats and cork-wedge espadrilles, threadbare yoga pants and tiny cut-off jean shorts with the American flag painted across the butt pockets.
She’s one of those really intense vegans who eats meals that involve activated charcoal and flaxseed, despite having spent the greater part of her childhood huntin’ and fishin’ the old-fashioned way. She drives a classic white-girl jeep with the license plate 99PROBLMZ, and the mugshot she took for her single DUI was featured, tear-stained and beaming in a bridesmaid’s gown, on the mugshawtys Instagram.
Most importantly, she’s Newt Geiszler’s sole confidant, best friend, and conjoined twin. They met freshman year, when he locked himself out of his dorm room and mistook her open window for his. He climbed shirtless into her dorm at 1am, only to be met with a very angry Vanessa in a lacy pink robe and bunny slippers, holding a hairbrush like a weapon.
And that’s just what can be gathered from her VSCO.
“Gottliebs!” calls a voice, not five feet behind them. They both spin around in a manner so coordinated that Karla imagines it must have looked pretty stupid.
The thing is, for all the Instagram posts and glimpses from across campus, Karla’s never actually seen Vanessa. Not up close.
It’s a whole different beast.
Vanessa is waving with both hands, bangles jangling. Her hair is so massive in the humidity that it can only be properly described as something of a mane, stray tendrils wisping golden up into the air. She’s flashing them both a megawatt smile that’s almost too big for her face, already sidling up to Karla’s side and plucking her beer out of her hands.
So, Karla had always considered the concept of deer freezing in the headlights to be baffling- something that dumb animals did because they weren’t prepared to handle what was coming at them. She suddenly gets it, watching Vanessa take a sip of her ( her !) drink.
Hermann doesn’t seem to be as affected. “Vanessa,” he says, coolly. Karla’s mildly impressed by the amount of dignity he can summon at a moment’s notice, standing there in a stupid hat, his lips bright blue from a slushy she had previously forced on him.
“How’s the tabloid?” Vanessa simpers, smile unwavering. Karla can practically feel Hermann’s eyebrow twitch.
“Just peachy.” Hermann says, with more contempt in those three syllables than Karla thought he had in his whole being. She suddenly, desperately, doesn’t want to be in the middle of their (apparently quite vicious) newspaper feud. Vanessa has a turquoise stud pierced through her nose and freckles on her shoulders.
“Cute! I was so totally worrying about you guys, like, all month.” Vanessa hums, looping one of her arms through Karla’s, “But I was actually coming over here for this one.”
Hermann narrows his eyes. Karla thinks she might vomit. Vanessa smells like eucalyptus and incense sticks and tahitian vanilla.
“Newt wants you alone.” Vanessa says, feigned-casual.
A look takes over Hermann’s face that is so distant and full of rage that Karla wouldn’t be surprised if he tracked Newt down and snapped his neck right then and there on the boardwalk. At this point, the hat just adds to the effect. Karla can’t even be properly scared, jesus fucking christ, because she’s too busy being acutely aware of every centimeter of her skin that brushes against the crook of Vanessa’s arm.
“You can tell Geiszler,” Hermann says, perfectly calm, staring somewhere beyond the beach like a man possessed, “that if he seriously thinks after the stunt he pulled at your party-”
“It was ONE KISS.” Vanessa says, then pauses for a moment to collect herself. Hermann flushes a shade of red that shouldn’t be humanly possible. “I- I’m not telling Geiszler anything. Both of you are man-children, SERIOUSLY, you need to sort your shit. ”
Hermann looks stuck at a point of such supreme indignation that the ability for coherent speech has completely left him.
The smooth exit that the girls were making, slowly shuffling away and extricating themselves from the situation, is promptly ruined by Newt Geiszler falling forwards out from behind the bush where he was evidently spying. This is enough to shock Hermann back into scorched-earth rage. Vanessa mutters a long string of obscenities under her breath and takes up a brisk speed-walk with Karla in hand.
They get away just in time for Karla to glance over her shoulder and watch what looks like the beginning of a shouting match. Geiszler is desperately trying to explain himself, not spill either of his two drinks, and avoid getting whacked in the shin with a cane- all at the same time.
Karla’s beginning to regret coming to Florida.
They settle in an airy beach-side bar that’s playing Hotel California on repeat, the speaker booming next to the comically small TV mounted beside it. There’s a thatched roof and swinging barn-doors and peeling white paint and sand spread out across the wooden floor, so it’s basically perfect.
Vanessa orders one cranberry juice for the two of them, and Karla garnishes it with one of her paper umbrellas from earlier. This seems to delight Vanessa way beyond what is normal, and she spends the better part of 30 seconds just repeating “oh my god” and then, “my hero” over and over. She has a drawl that comes out every couple of sentences, revealing a carefully suppressed southern accent.
Vanessa thinks that Karla’s awful turtle-print bikini top is amazing, completely understands the Monty Python reference on the t-shirt she’s wearing over it, and tells Karla with complete sincerity that her “pretty face” is so “stupidly perfect” that she wants to drown her to reduce the competition. Karla can’t decide on a single thing to compliment Vanessa about in time, too overwhelmed by the options, but Vanessa preens about it anyway.
“The worst part,” Karla says, leaning in, her glasses slipping low on her nose, “Is the fact that he didn’t tell me! Like, oh my god? I’m here under false pretenses! I mean, like, I knew it was homoerotic newspaper bullshit, but I didn’t know he went off the deep end because- I don’t think I can ever cope with the fact that Newt Geiszler kissed my brother.”
Vanessa sucks in a breath, and makes a clicking noise with her tongue. She tries to fix Karla with a serious look but a smile flickers across her face, unable to contain her glee.
“Oh, you don’t even know. ” she says, “Karla. Sweet Karla. Your brother kissed Newt Geiszler.”
“I’m going to kill him.” Karla says, on reflex. “I- oh, oh my god, Vanessa .”
Vanessa’s laugh is high and clear like the tinkling of a golden bell. She wrinkles her nose and hides her face in her hands, shoulders shaking, curls falling on either side of her. Karla can’t stop looking at her.
“It’s a lot, yeah.” Vanessa leans out on the bar, now idly winding one curl around her finger. She’s peeking at Karla with one eye cracked open, flushed in the apples of her cheeks. Giddy . As much as Karla can’t stop looking- Vanessa can’t stop beaming. Karla wonders if her cheeks hurt. “But, I mean, I dunno.” Vanessa shrugs, still giving Karla, (god help her), a little look. She lowers her voice to a dramatic whisper, “ Now you’re all mine. ”
Karla is thoroughly dazzled.
Vanessa looks like she intends to keep her that way.