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When Grace arrives home for the long weekend, she isn’t bothered that the whole town's talking about her seedy affair with Stephen, leaving her younger sister Celia to sort through her family’s shame on her own. Celia, a high school senior, actively fantasizes about idealized romantic scenarios before she falls asleep; Sleep Magazine gives this common life experience a name for the first time as Celia’s imagination becomes the catalyst for a spontaneous night with her romantic interest. Throughout the night, a fine line between fantasy and reality prompts the reader to question if Celia is dreaming. Meanwhile, youngest sister Ava finds herself steeped in pandemonium at her ill-reputed friend’s party. Ava’s emotional safeguards fall to the chaos and instability of her older siblings’ dysfunction, culminating in a confrontational ending.

Age Rating:

The Scandal

Grace had barely slept the past three nights. She stood under the shower stream with her tired head hanging down, looking at her feet. She was home for the long weekend and between the busyness of her trip, had not yet had the time to sit down and fix the chipped, red polish on her toenails. This annoyed her greatly, even though the bitter cold of fall was in full swing and she would not be showing off her bare feet in public for the next seven months at minimum. Once the steam had completely filled the small bathroom and splashes of cold air were no longer drafting around the sides of the shower curtain and swirling around her torso, Grace took a deep breath in and lifted her head, rolling it in circles atop of her long neck, trying to stretch out the knots in her shoulders. She felt the goosebumps on her arms flatten as she exhaled, relieved to be feeling complete warmth for the first time since her last shower the morning before. She spun around and lifted her numb hands up to the shower head to immerse them in the hot water and became worried when they didn’t immediately begin to gain feeling. Slowly, however, over the next minute or so, Grace’s fingers began to tingle, indicating that her blood was indeed flowing through them. She grabbed an attractive looking bottle of shampoo off the shelf and popped the top open to smell it, recognizing its floral scent from the head of her younger sister, Ava. As she massaged the shampoo into her hair, she wondered how Ava could afford such an expensive brand. Pondering whether or not her sister might have stolen the bottle, her thoughts quickly turned back to her circulation when she noticed that her fingers were still quite numb against her scalp, and she quickly turned and lifted them back up under the shower head.

When she had finished in the shower, she quickly dried off with an old beige towel that was covered in stains from boxed hair dye. Trying to remember the last time she had dyed her hair at home, Grace held up the towel, eyeing its frayed edges and assessing its age. She balled it up with both her hands and swiped it across the mirror in zig zag motions to wipe off the steam, then dramatically threw it down on the floor next to the waste bin. When she looked back up at her reflection, a large chunk of wallpaper behind her head—wet with condensation and peeling backward off of the sheetrock—caught her eye, and she spun around quickly to smooth the paper down flat against the wall. It stayed flat for a moment, then slowly but steadily began curling backwards again before her eyes. She threw on her pajamas, rummaged through her bag under the sink for a bottle of lotion, grabbed the towel off the floor and nudged the door wide open, exiting the bathroom in a cloud of steam that quickly evaporated into the cold living room air.

She trudged up the front spiral staircase that led straight into her sister’s room solely because it was the warmest. She gave a sort of half-knock against the painted wood door at the top of the stairs before lifting the latch and walking in abruptly, straightening her posture as she crossed the wood floor in long graceful strides and sat down gingerly on the zebra patterned rug inches away from the old steam radiator. Ava stood in front of a large full length mirror that was framed by thick pieces of tigerwood, stained dark and adorned by ornate carvings. Her arms raised up and crossed back behind her as her fingers twisted half of her blonde hair into a long French braid to match the other side of her head.

“Are these even?” she asked while keeping her eyes fixed on her reflection, turning her head from side to side.

“Let me see,” replied Grace, angling herself so that her back was as close to the radiator as it could be without touching it, as it crackled and hissed behind her ears.

Ava walked across the room to Grace and turned to show her her hair, bending at the knees a bit to lower herself.

“Looks good to me, looks really cute,” said Grace, lifting her hips to shimmy her baggy sweatpants down off her legs before she reached for the lotion bottle.

“Okay, good.” Ava grabbed a makeup compact off her desk and ran back over to the full length mirror, spinning around and angling the compact to see the back of her head in its reflection. “I wish I could do Dutch,” she added.

“I’d do it for you if I could, but I like French better anyway.” Grace smoothed the lotion over her legs, across the tops of her feet and in between her toes. “Do you have any nail polish this color?” she asked.

Ava peered over to inspect the color of her sister’s toenails and a look of shock spread across her face.

“What are you doing!” she exclaimed to her older sister, who stared back up at her.

“What?” asked Grace dramatically. She was confused and a bit offended when she traced her little sister’s line of sight to the bottle of lotion she was applying.

“No one uses self tanner anymore!” Ava wailed with a horrified expression on her face. She reached for a bottle of scented lotion on her desk and leaned down to hand it to her sister, who continued to stare at her blankly. “I’m serious, Grace, this isn’t 2012. Get it off!” She began to laugh as she fell to her knees, grabbed the old towel off the floor and harshly wiped the towel down her sister’s leg.

“Stop it!” Grace shrieked. She inched herself backwards on the rug and searing her back against the radiator. “Ow, fuck!”

She began to laugh as she ripped the towel out of her sister’s hand. “I just used this to wipe off the dirty bathroom mirror you freak!” Ava tried to conceal her huge grin as she stood back up.
“Fine!” she started. “Be orange and embarrass yourself, then.”

“It doesn’t make me orange,” said Grace indignantly. “I’ve been using it for years.” Ava made a stupid expression to mock her sister.

“Why can’t you say something nice to me?” said Grace light-heartedly, “I told you your hair looked cute.”

“I would have more reason to compliment you if you stopped highlighting your hair and tanning.” Ava knew she sounded bratty but she thoroughly enjoyed teasing her older sister. She treated the task like some sort of sacred responsibility and found almost nothing more satisfying than to constantly prove to her sisters that she, the youngest, was the trendiest and coolest of the three.

Grace laughed. “What’s wrong with my hair now?”

“Nothing,” Ava replied softly, not wanting to offend her sister any further. “But if I were you, I would dye it one shade darker brown and a solid color, no highlights.”

“Oh, okay,” said Grace whilst rolling her eyes, applying another layer of lotion to her leg.

“And I would stop wearing silver jewelry,” added Ava, pursing her lips shut as soon as the words slipped out.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Grace laughed and shook her head.

“No one with your skin tone should wear silver jewelry, it’s so old looking,” continued Ava.

“I can see that,” replied Grace smartly. She peered up to eye the chunky gold-toned bangles on her younger sister’s wrists and the tiny crystal butterfly charm hanging from the gold chain around her neck.

The door next to Grace’s head flew open as Celia, the middle sister, walked in. She was wrapped in a large fleece blanket, wispy pieces of her strawberry blonde hair falling from the loose bun on top of her head and catching on the outer corners of her thick eyelashes. “My room is so fucking cold,” she muttered under her breath as she hopped onto Ava’s bed, pushing a pile of clothes to the side and pulling the edge of the blanket tighter around her neck.

“Celia, what do you think of silver jewelry?” asked Grace plainly.

“Silver jewelry! What is this—2012!” Celia replied with an exaggerated tone.

“That’s what I said!” exclaimed Ava, who was now carefully pulling wisps of hair out of her braids to fall around her face.

“Yeah. I heard you through the wall, genius.” Celia gave her younger sister a cold stare.

“If you guys are going to be mean to me then get out of my room and go freeze in your igloos,” said Ava half-joking as she reached for a can of hairspray.

“What did I do?” Grace protested.

You used my shampoo and conditioner without asking, and it’s really expensive, so...”

Ava gave her sister a smirk in the mirror after watching her mouth fall open. Grace scoffed and straightened her posture from her spot on the floor. “After all the shit you’ve stolen from me in fifteen years, you’re going to give me shit about using your shampoo, you little monster?”

“Ooh, exposed,” muttered Celia, who was now tucking the blanket under her toes so she could lie flat on the bed while keeping her long limbs covered.

And you were looking weird at my bracelets,” Ava continued.

“No I wasn’t!” said Grace seriously.

“Yes you were, but that’s okay, you just don’t understand trends...” Ava was smiling, enjoying the rise she was getting out of her sister.

“Ouch,” muttered Celia. Her voice was now muffled by the blanket over her mouth.

Grace straightened her back and sat up criss-crossed to make eye contact with Ava across the room. “I think your bracelets are cute! I would wear gold jewelry too, but my ring is platinum, so silver matches better.”

Ava scoffed reactively without thinking at her sister’s mention of her ring, then quickly covered it up with a playful laugh.

“Okay,” she said plainly, hoping the conversation would end there.

Celia pulled her lips in between her teeth and stared up at the ceiling, suddenly conscious of how quiet the room had gotten, apart from the hissing of the radiator, and held her breath, afraid that a heavy exhale would break the silence awkwardly. But just a few seconds later, Grace —knowing exactly what her younger sisters were thinking and feeling responsible for causing such awkwardness by bringing up her ring—sighed audibly and reached for Ava’s bottle of body cream to finish lotioning her dry, pale arms.

Ava eyed her sister in the mirror, taking the time to finally notice how tired she looked, and went to the corner of her room to fish through the top drawer of a very old, scratched up bureau.

“Catch,” she called out as she threw the small bottle of nail polish in an arc across the room. Grace caught it with two hands and turned a bit red when the bottle made a loud clanking sound against her ring.

“Should be pretty close,” said Ava, trying to sound sweeter than before. Grace looked approvingly at the color in the bottle and shook it aggressively a few times before twisting it open.

Celia sat up and watched her younger sister start to apply lip gloss in the mirror, admiring the outfit she was wearing, and silently debated whether or not to compliment her out loud.

“Are you coming with us to Stephen’s?” she decided to ask instead.

“Nope, wasn’t invited,” replied Ava shortly, making Grace sigh loudly a second time.

“I’m inviting you now,” said Celia nonchalantly. She ran her eyes over the back of Ava’s head and noticed that her braids were slightly uneven.

“Marissa’s having a party,” Ava said quietly, well aware of the reaction it would cause. She kept her eyes on her reflection and instantly wished she had lied about where she was going.

“Oh that’s just great,” remarked Grace. “Is Dave still living there?”

“Not sure.”

“What do you mean not sure? Weren’t you just over there two nights ago?”

“He goes back and forth...” Ava paused to wipe the excess lip liner from the corner of her mouth, “...between home and Worcester. I don’t know if he’ll be there tonight or not.” She rolled her lips together and parted them with a purposely obnoxious popping sound several times in a row to avoid furthering the conversation.

Though Grace fought the urge to pry Ava for more details, she couldn’t resist giving her sister a word of caution even though she knew it sounded forced and cliche and would consequently have little effect on her behavior, or, even worse, might only provoke her to act out more in some defiant, vindictive spectacle.

Don’t get arrested,” she warned Ava after a few moments of silence. Grace kept her disposition serious but averted her eyes back down to her freshly-painted toes as she said it.

Ava’s eyes darted up to make eye contact with her sister in the mirror.

“Why the hell would I get arrested?” she asked defensively, screwing the lip gloss container shut.

“If Dave’s around and has people over, cops will be there, trust me.” Grace answered in a neutral tone, trying not to escalate the discussion.

Ava allowed her mouth to curl into a very subtle smirk, just prominent enough to be detected in the mirror from Grace’s distance. “Did Michael ever get arrested there?”

She already knew exactly how her older sister would respond to the question and felt satisfied at how stupid she would inevitably feel having to answer it.

No. Dave wasn’t as bad when Michael used to hang out with him.”

Ava turned from the mirror and exchanged wide eyes with Celia, who kept her lips flat in an attempt not to giggle.

“Yeah, sure,” Ava muttered as she gently pulled the latch up on the door and stepped out of her room.

She could hear her sisters talking about her quietly as she walked down to the end of the hallway, able to make out only a few words of their brief conversation over the squeaking of the wood floors. Pressing her forearm against the busy patterned wallpaper of tiny blue and red floral bouquets, she made an effort to soften her steps so that they would not hear how slowly she was walking. The words young, trouble and Matty stood out to her against a predictable cadence of Grace sounding concerned and Celia dismissing her with an apathetic tone. In ten seconds she had reached the door to her brother’s bedroom and she took another ten seconds to lift the latch slowly enough to not make a sound. The room was unbearably cold, as it was the only room in the house that was heated by electric baseboards that remained shut off year round. Ava padded across the gray shag rug to the back corner of the room and ducked her head under the slanted wall of the gable. She tugged at the edge of the door to a small closet, using her fingertips to pry the stuck door away from its frame. The closet was just wide enough to accommodate six or so jackets and sweatshirts hung on hangers from an old wooden bar that was carved with lyrics from various Audioslave songs. Ava ran her forefinger over a few of the carved letters before pulling a faded orange sweatshirt off its hanger and returning the closet door to its partially closed position.

She reached her arms through the neck opening and used her wrists to stretch the thick cotton material as wide as she could to place her head through the hole with as little contact to her braids as possible. Once her arms were through the sleeves, she turned to the mirror above the dresser to watch herself roll up the cuffs. She rolled one cuff three times and the other twice, dropped her arms to her sides and twisted her body a bit from side to side, eyeing herself in the mirror to determine which styling option looked better. Becoming frustrated at how long it was taking her to decide and beginning to shiver from the cold, she closed her eyes and lifted the front of the sweatshirt up over her nose and inhaled deeply, then snapped her eyes open as she exhaled and let her arms drop down sharply, closely comparing how the material of the oversized sleeves fell back down her arms. Forcing herself to make a split decision, she took hold of the shorter cuff and unrolled it back one time to match the other, assuring herself that she liked that side better, though she knew she could not actually make up her mind. She walked confidently to the bedroom door and closed it just as slowly as she had opened it to once again avoid the clanking of the iron latch. She then crossed the gray rug to the opposite end of the bedroom and exited through a doorless frame that led into a small, dated, non-functioning bathroom and out to an unfinished landing to a narrow back staircase. She descended the stairs with her eyes half closed to keep herself from looking directly at the hundreds of small black spiders curled in the thick webs above her head, and went out the back door of the house without telling her sisters goodbye.

“That didn’t happen,” Grace rolled her eyes at Celia. “You must have been dreaming.” About a dozen and a half people were crammed into Stephen’s kitchen, sectioned off into three groups holding various conversations. Though the gathering in the small room had sounded loud and felt hot from the start, it had only gotten louder and hotter over the hour as everyone worked their way through multiple rounds of drinks. As the conversations evolved into tall tales and reminiscings, the young people squeezed by one another to refill their drinks at the countertop or called out over each other’s heads to crack a joke or chime in to an overheard anecdote. Ten or so people—mostly high school seniors, but some Grace’s age as well—stood in a semi circle around the small coronite island listening to Celia’s story.

Celia looked back over her shoulder at Grace as her hands plucked a few tall glasses from the cabinet and set them onto the counter.

“I used to hear you sneaking out to see Michael. I always heard you.” She untwisted the tops of several liquor bottles and began pouring out various amounts into the glasses as she continued. “Always coming back in sometime after 3A.M. and I would look at my purple radio alarm clock and it would be three-something.”

She glanced back at her audience, who were now watching her amusedly and giggling.

“It was always the witching hour and I would lie in bed terrified. Thinking of all sorts of terrifying scenarios. Then I started to pretend that I was a witch; not just pretend but actually try to convince myself that I was really a witch with real powers...”

She sprinkled a generous amount of cinnamon over the tops of her concoctions and spun against the counter to hand them off to her friends one by one.

“ that the witching hour wouldn’t terrify me anymore because I was the witch and I had the power at that time of night.”

The group burst into laughter which made Celia smile widely.
“I really did that!” she stated animatedly, feeling amused by her story.

Grace rolled her eyes again and gingerly picked two drinks off the counter as she walked away with wide, loud steps.

Celia was visibly proud to have entertained the group with her anecdote and turned back to the counter to prepare a second round of drinks. She opened the cabinet to rummage for more suitable drinking glasses and went through the steps of her recipe again as the conversation quickly evolved through the same old tokens of gossip that were always discussed.

Until Madison brought up an old scandal that everyone had forgotten about for quite a while.

“Remember when word finally broke out that Molly and David had been sleeping together for two years? And no one ever knew for that long? I couldn’t believe that,” she said.

Celia spun around quickly with excited eyes to chime in on the topic, the cinnamon floating on the top of her drink splashing over the edge of the glass.

“You know I always thought that I saw them once. It was one of those fourth of July parties on the river and I saw a glimpse of shadows, just a really quick glimpse of shadows walking into the woods. And I didn’t really see their outlines clearly or anything but somehow I just knew it was them. It was really only a split second and I couldn’t be sure if I saw one shadow or two but my first thought was that it was Molly and David. I could never figure out how I knew that. I never said anything to anyone because I never had a reason to say it. I tried to look around the party and notice if they were both gone but there were so many people there and it was so dark, but now I know that it really was them. I could never figure out how I knew that. What even made you think of that, Madison?”

“I don’t know, I just sort of remembered it suddenly,” she replied.

Overhearing this, a handsome looking boy—leant against the large built-in shelves in the corner of the room and pushing up the sleeves of his dark blue sweater—turned his head to look across the room at Celia, which she immediately noticed and thought was strange. She held his gaze for a second, trying to read the expression in his eyes from across the dimly lit kitchen, but quickly broke away out of intimidation though she had wanted to keep looking at him. The circle of girls around her all noticed this silent exchange between Celia and AJ but carried on the conversation as if nothing had happened; not in a polite attempt to prevent Celia from feeling embarrassed, but in a sort of selfish, telepathically agreed upon pact to prevent themselves from feeling too jealous of the attention she was receiving.

To ease the tension of the moment, Celia set her drink down on the edge of the island and made her way across the kitchen to the bathroom. Just before she crossed the threshold to the narrow hallway, she tripped on a peeling section of old, discolored linoleum and caught her balance on the doorframe.

“Eleven!” cheered a group of guys who were seated at the kitchen table, keeping tally of everyone who tripped as they walked in and out of the kitchen.

“God damn it!” Celia yelped back at them in an exaggerated tone to mask her genuine embarrassment, her cheeks burning as she allowed her mouth to snap up into a bright smile. They all chuckled and continued to cheer as she crossed the threshold and rounded the corner down the hallway.

Her feet landed softly on the high-pile carpeting as she glanced over the old photos in thick gold toned frames that lined the hallway. She slowed her pace as she approached one photo in particular that hung towards the far end of the hall, second to last in a row of about twenty, as she always looked at the woman in that portrait for a few extra seconds. Celia knew only a little about a few of the people whose portraits had hung in this hallway for the better part of a century. She knew that the beautiful woman she so admired in this second to last picture was a distant relative of theirs who had lived in Stephen’s house until she died, and that she was a child during the Civil War. Celia held her gaze on the young woman’s eyes, observing, as she always did, how her thick lash line swiped over her large, round eyes and seemed to pull them into a beautiful pointed shape at the far corners, reminiscent of a cat. The black and white photograph did not give much hint to the beautiful woman’s eye color, though Celia always imagined them to be the same hazel hue as her own. Just as she began to visualize the tones of green and gold under the thick lashes, she heard a quiet exchange of words in the formal room around the corner.

“Yeah right! In his fucking dreams we dated!”

Celia kept her feet still and leaned her upper body forward closer to the edge of the wall, holding her breath as she listened. She recognized Grace’s friend Katelynn’s voice exclaiming the words at the lowest volume she could vocalize while still conveying her shocked tone.

“Well it seems like he’s moved on quickly,” the second voice replied.

Celia closed her eyes to try and decipher whose voice it was. She tried to recall who was missing from the kitchen when she had left the room.

“It’s disgusting,” said Katelynn’s voice.

Celia’s stomach dropped as she realized immediately who the girls were discussing.

“Who else knows?” asked the second voice with a giggle.

Everyone,” snickered Katelynn. “Joey told me back when they were all still picking corn so you know everyone knows by now. They had the funniest joke about it too...”

Celia couldn’t listen any longer.

She began to take big, silent steps backward until she had positioned herself back in the middle of the hallway, then walked forward quickly but loudly to make it sound as though she was just now coming down the hallway, oblivious to anyone else’s presence. As she reached the end of the hallway she turned sharply into the parlor and squeaked out a short, high-pitched yell as she ran blindly into Katelynn at the front of the dark room, knocking the older girl off her balance and causing her to spill her drink all over the oriental rug.

“Oh my God!” she exclaimed with a sharp exhale, pretending to have been startled.

“Jesus, Celia, I’m so sorry,” began Katelynn as she straightened herself up and smoothed her free hand down her skirt.

“We’re just standing here in the pitch black like idiots,” laughed Jess.

Celia instantly felt a little silly that she hadn’t recognized Jess’s voice.

“It’s okay! I’m so tipsy I can’t believe I knocked you over like that,” replied Celia. She made an honest effort to be friendly with the older girls, reaching out to take Katelynn’s now- empty glass. “Let me take that, I’ll go make you a new one.”

“No, no,” said Katelynn as she snatched the glass back out of Celia’s hands. “I really shouldn’t have any more.”

Celia noticed light peeking out from under the bathroom door. “Who are you guys waiting for?” she asked.

“Natalie,” said Jess quietly, curling her lips between her teeth.

“Oh boy,” chuckled Celia. “You guys can go upstairs, you know.”

“Yeah, probably should, I can’t wait much longer.”

Katelynn and Jess stepped out of the parlor and started their way up the front spiral staircase.

“I’ll take your glass back to the kitchen for you.” Celia smiled at them and reached her arm up to Katelynn’s hand.

“Oh, thank you so much,” said Katelynn sweetly as she stepped one tread backward and handed her glass down to Celia at the bottom of the stairs.

Celia turned and headed back down the hallway toward the kitchen, smiling proudly, knowing that Katelynn and Jess would never have reason to gossip about her the way they had just been talking about Grace.

When she returned to the kitchen, her friends were still talking about Molly and David. “That was the scandal of the year,” remarked Emma. “Not because they did anything wrong, but the fact that they were able to keep it a secret for so long. I don’t know how they did it.”

Celia wasn’t listening. Her head was turned to the right and she was staring at the back of her sister’s boots as Grace leaned against the dishwasher on the other side of the kitchen. As she admired them, she realized that she had never seen Grace wear those boots before; they were totally black with a thick two-inch heel and no laces, and looked expensive.

Sizing up her sister from across the room, Celia took in Grace’s shorter frame. Though she had surpassed her older sister in height several years ago, Celia suddenly became more conscious of how small Grace really was as she measured up her sister’s hips against the top of the counter, darting her eyes over the proportions of her lower and upper legs and taking into account the added height of the boots.

She glanced down at her own preppy lace up boots, just now beginning to consider how ugly they were and how noticeably they contrasted with the rest of her outfit. She frowned down at her feet as she thought about how well her two sisters could put outfits together and thought to herself that she should really begin making an effort to dress better. Celia considered that both Grace and Ava wore clothes that somehow matched their personalities and she pondered for a moment how they had figured out how to do that without her being in on it, too. She knew that she wouldn’t know where to begin in an attempt to assign herself any type of style; she felt too muddled, like being average and plain and complicated and hazy all at the same time. Her sisters, on the other hand, seemed so cut and dry; Ava being blonde and athletic and possibly the most noticeable person in a crowd at any given time, and Grace being the smartest whilst also having the blessing of absolutely everyone thinking that everything she does is cute. Celia knew that she looked a lot like Grace, but she considered her own features to be just a little less delicate than both her sisters’.

She broke her trance to focus in on the conversation Grace was having with Stephen and AJ just a few feet away.

“I thought we were never going to talk about that night,” said Grace playfully, giving AJ’s bare forearm a light squeeze.

From her distance, Celia could barely see the faint indentation marks Grace’s fingers made on AJ’s skin. As Grace drew her hand away, Celia watched the pale fingertip-shaped marks regain color and quickly fade.

“Oh that night?” AJ matched Grace’s tone of voice, playing along. “I don’t remember anything that happened that night.”

“Were you that drunk?” asked Stephen, laughing.

“No,” replied Grace, “It’s just one of those nights I don’t remember anything about.” Celia’s eyes fixed on Stephen and AJ, who were bantering back and forth in loud whispers between hysterical fits of laughter, and wished she could hear what they were saying.

“Well I have no recollection of that so it might as well have never happened,” Grace said shortly, giving AJ a wink that Celia couldn’t see from her angle.

Celia began to feel even more self conscious now. She glanced back down at the floor and began racking her brain for some sort of reference for why in the world Grace, Stephen and AJ would have an inside joke together. She tried to concentrate through her buzz on what night they could possibly be laughing about when out of her peripheral vision she saw a boy’s denim- covered legs come shuffling through the small group next to her.

Already knowing who it was, Celia swallowed and lifted her head up just in time to see AJ walking over to her cluster of friends.

“I’m headed to the zoo,” he said cooly as he draped his arms around the circle of girls. “Would anyone like to come along?” He paused his gaze on Celia and she looked back down at the floor.

“How do you have the energy?” teased Madison. “I already feel like passing out and it’s not even nine.” She flashed her big smile up at AJ and he bent his head down so that his forehead was almost touching hers.

“All I have is energy,” he replied slowly with a grin.

He darted another look back at Celia as he stepped toward the door, pushed his sleeves down his forearms and grabbed his jacket off the old victorian chair in the entryway before he walked out of the house. The porch light flickered as he descended the large front concrete steps beneath it.

Emily glanced at the entryway door to be sure it had closed and that AJ was well out of earshot. She grinned at her circle of friends and locked eyes with Celia before she spoke.

“Have you ever met his grandmother?”

“No...” Celia replied with a hint of intrigue in her voice.

“My babcia told me she used to be really weird in school. They were dissecting frogs in science class and everyone swears she killed the frog without touching it,” Emily continued. “Wait! I think my grandpa told me about that once!” said Madison.

Celia thought the tale sounded familiar enough but she chose not to say anything. She smirked at Madison and looked back to Emily intently.

“Yeah she does other weird stuff too,” continued Emily. “She used to keep her kids on leashes made out of twine and tie them to trees while she did chores outside. They all turned out a little brain dead.” Emily brought her glass up to her mouth but remembered another detail before she could take a sip. “Oh! And Donald said she leaves her Christmas tree up all year.”

“Donald’s lying, she does not,” said Madison with a scoff.

“Yeah, everyone would see it in the window,” added Emma.

Emily pulled her shoulders back and shook her head as she spoke a little slower and sternly, as if she were scolding her friends for doubting the credibility of her gossip. “He said when he goes to put up her tree he takes the old one out from the year before first. Every year.”

Celia looked past the group and out the front window of the house, taking notice of AJ’s car starting up, headlights illuminating the darkening driveway.

“Well all our grandparents do wacky shit,” said Emma plainly. “He’s pretty smart though. He doesn’t even have to take math because he took senior math last year.”

“So what? If he was really smart he’d take AP Stats with us this year,” argued Madison.

As more girls gathered to join them, the conversation evolved into the girls discussing their group math projects, causing Celia’s stomach to drop as she hadn’t yet started her portion.

“I’ll show you the slide I started,” said Alexis as she patted the back pockets on her straight cut jeans. “Where the hell is my phone?” she remarked, frustrated, as she glanced back at the kitchen table and then whipped her head around to scan the countertops.

“Right here,” said Emma, and she picked the neon-encased phone up off the nearby mantle by its charm and swung it into Alexis’s waiting hands.

“How did it get over there? I didn’t put it there,” she chuckled.

“Yes you did, you just weren’t paying attention,” said Abby playfully.

Celia shot an eager look back out the window and discovered that AJ was already pulling out of the driveway and onto the road.

“How is that possible?” started Alexis, shaking her head as she brought up the slideshow on her screen. “How can I possibly do something without knowing that I’m doing it?”

The girls laughed and gathered over her shoulder to view the beginnings of her project. The lighting over the kitchen shifted subtly as someone suggested for Alexis to spread her content out over two separate slides and Celia—seemingly the only one to have noticed the change—looked up at the ceiling fixture just in time to witness one of the three bulbs burn out.

Suddenly, she felt a pull on her arm and turned her head to see Grace.

“Why aren’t you going with him?” she whispered anxiously, leading Celia a few steps away from the group.

“What are you talking about?” Celia replied.

“You should go with him,” Grace continued in an anxious tone, pulling Celia a step closer toward the kitchen door. “He wants you to, come on.”

Celia laughed at her sister’s sudden eagerness.

“He didn’t say a word to me all night.” A confused look spread across her face.

“So? It’s obvious he wants you to go,” Grace retorted with another pull on her sister’s arm.

Celia held her stance firm in place, allowing her arm to be pulled but keeping her feet planted on the linoleum kitchen floor.

“You think he’s a douchebag!” she whispered in irritation. “Why do you want me to go with him so bad?”

Grace widened her eyes at her younger sister. “Celia, who cares? You want him and you’re about to graduate just go with him.”

Celia felt herself start to blush and it made her a bit angry.

“I’ve been to parties with him plenty of times,” she stated plainly. “I’m not missing anything.”

“But not just you two alone. Come on, if you want him just go. He’s just sitting in his car just go already.”

Celia noticed several of her friends turning their heads to glance at her and Grace in a subtle attempt to eavesdrop on their conversation. Out of self consciousness, she grabbed her sister’s arm and adjusted their position slightly to face the kitchen door so that both their backs were turned to the crowded kitchen.

“He left already. And just because I want him doesn’t mean I should run to his fucking car,” she started in a lower, more firm voice, and paused to burn her eyes into Grace’s for a moment. “Now stop it.”

“Well what’s stopping you?” Grace challenged.

Celia sighed in exasperation. She quickly glanced back at her friends who all turned away the second she caught them watching her, then leaned in a bit closer to talk into Grace’s ear.

“I don’t want to start anything with him. I don’t like him that much, I’d rather just wait until college.”

Grace huffed out her breath and crossed her arms. “You’re being so stupid. You’re going to regret not going with him, I can already see it.”

Celia rolled her eyes, ready to end the conversation.

“He’s been fucking some girl from Greenfield that everyone’s in love with.” She spoke slightly louder, hoping the indiscretion would encourage Grace to shut up.

“Who cares? She’s not his girlfriend.” Grace matched Celia’s volume. “You guys are fucking teenagers. If you want him just do it while you can.”

Celia’s eyes sharpened and glanced between Grace’s eyes and mouth, slightly taken aback. She sounded anything but cute.

Grace gave Celia a peculiar look in return and pursed her lips shut as if she were slightly embarrassed by her own words.

“Listen to me,” started Celia in her quietest whisper against Grace’s ear. “You might want to chill with your free love bullshit because everyone knows about you and Stephen.” She paused for a moment to draw her head back to examine Grace’s face, then brought her lips back to her sister’s ear. “It’s all anyone’s been talking about since August.”

Grace turned her head away and glanced at the floor before darting her eyes back to her sister.

“I don’t care what people say about me, Celia.” Grace spoke in a defeated tone that made Celia feel as though she had just scolded a child a little too harshly. She swallowed thickly and cracked the knuckle of her forefinger with her thumb, running her eyes over Grace’s expression sympathetically.

“Well I do so stop giving me shit,” she responded firmly.

“Fine. Just forget I said anything, keep living in your daydreams and see how long that satisfies you,” Grace retorted with a mean smirk.

Celia made the conscious decision not to attempt to hide the look of disgust on her face.

“Stop reading my shit, you sicko.” With a slight shake of her head, she turned away completely from her older sister to rejoin her friends’ conversation.

They had turned the discussion back to AJ but had become much more quiet now, choosing to share some thoughts with the whole group whilst whispering details and theories to one another in various side conversations. Out of the corner of her eye, Celia watched Grace follow Stephen out to the backyard under the premise of getting some handles of booze out of his car. She tried to steady her breathing and willed her eyes to stop watering before she really embarrassed herself.

“I think I kind of like him,” announced Emily in a whisper. She looked over her shoulder to make sure Stuart didn’t hear her confession from his position at the kitchen table, still cheering whenever someone tripped over the linoleum.

“Oh please,” started Emma loudly, not bothering to match the discretion of Emily’s whisper. “You like everyone.”

Emily shot Emma a horrified glare and quickly turned to skip her way over to Stuart, linking her arm with his and pulling him up from his chair and out the side storm door with her nose turned up.

A loud bang turned everyone’s attention toward the kitchen door to see Ava come running through it, holding hands with Katie who had clumsily hit her shoulder against the door frame and was giggling incessantly close behind her.

“Where’s Grace?” Ava asked with a flushed, grinning face as she approached Celia and her friends.

“Outside,” replied Celia with an amused look on her face, glancing over Ava’s tall body and taking in her disheveled appearance. “What have you been doing? Why are you so red?” She laughed as she reached her hands up to Ava’s cheeks.

“Don’t fucking touch me, weirdo.” Ava laughed, smacking her sister’s hand away. “Where’s Grace?” She leaned back and turned her head to peer out the window to the backyard.

“She’ll be right back in,” Celia said quickly, trying to keep a straight face in front of her friends.

Ava furrowed her brow and glanced out the window a second time. “Well what is she doing?” she asked loudly. She immediately softened her face when she made eye contact with Celia and saw the look she was giving her.

“I don’t know. I’m sure she’ll be back any second.” Celia burned a blank stare into Ava’s eyes. “What do you need?”

“Her ID,” Ava responded just as Grace walked in through the back door with Stephen following behind her.

Grace took a heavy breath and muttered something about the cold setting off her asthma as she theatrically crossed her skinny arms and rubbed her hands up and down the sleeves of her thick sweater.

“What do you need it for?” she asked as she walked to her shoulder bag hanging off the back of an old kitchen chair.

“To buy booze, what do you think?” replied Ava.

“Why can’t Marcus buy it for you?” Grace snapped open her wallet and began to fiddle with the clear plastic ID card slot, trying to loosen her license from it.

“You’re seriously giving her your ID?” asked Celia.
Ava and Grace glanced at Celia and chuckled before turning back to each other. “He’s in Fall River with his brother,” answered Ava.

“Whatever,” remarked Celia with an exaggerated, condescending tone as she turned to her friends with an annoyed expression.

Her sisters continued to ignore her.

“Hi, Katie,” Grace looked up to smile at the girl briefly before turning her focus back down to her wallet.

“Hi,” said Katie shyly, still standing behind Ava.

“I like your shoes, Katie,” said Alexis nicely before winking at Celia.

“Thank you,” Katie replied with a huge smile.
Grace handed her card to Ava. “If you get caught with anything or anyone smashes up, I’m telling the cops you stole it out of my purse.”

Celia looked down to examine Katie’s yellow tennis shoes but her gaze quickly shifted to Ava’s sneakers instead.

“Are those my purple converse?” she asked dumbfounded.

“Yeah.” Celia and Ava stared at one another for a moment as Grace’s jaw slackened into a nervous smile.

Ava took the opportunity to defend herself before Celia could make an accusation against her. “You never wear them anymore!”

“I didn’t even know they still existed,” Celia chuckled. “Where did you find them?”

“Around,” said Ava with a smug expression.

Celia scoffed and smiled at her sister before turning back to her friends. They continued their conversation while Ava and Grace talked quietly with one another for a few minutes. Celia often turned her head to glance at her sisters, trying to pick up on their conversation without looking like she was interested.

After a few minutes, she felt Ava approach her but kept her gaze straight ahead, taking a dramatic sip from her glass. Ava squeezed her arm around Celia’s waist and pecked her cheek.

“Thanks for the shoes you ex emo freak,” she whispered teasingly.

Celia held back her laughter with a snort and turned to meet eyes with her younger sister. “Have fun wild child.”

The whole group watched the two younger girls run out the door hand in hand.

“What is that girl on?” said Madison with wide eyes.

“Katie’s always been like that,” Celia stated.

“Not like that, like that,” remarked Madison.

“Yeah, she looked fucking rocked,” added Abby.

Celia sighed. “I don’t know...maybe she freaking was,” she looked down at the floor and took a large sip of her drink. “I don’t know.” She shrugged her shoulders and tried not to look too bothered by it.

“What kinds of drugs does that whole crew do now?” asked Alexis, making the other girls laugh.

“I’m so glad my little sister is part of the infamous crew,” said Celia sarcastically. She took a big sip of her drink and glared at Alexis momentarily over the top of the glass.

“Well at least she can hold herself together,” said Madison. “None of the sophomores are that bad. But some of those junior girls are pretty fucked up. Like Marissa and those girls.”

“Yeah not that bad yet,” replied Celia, glancing between her circle of friends.

“Well we were sort of wild too, I guess,” said Abby.

“Yeah fucking right!” laughed Emma. “We weren’t anywhere near that bad! What did we do sophomore year? Drink and go joy riding every other weekend?”

“Yeah, I guess no one did drugs the way they do,” agreed Abby.

“Well all the boys did coke nonstop last year but then David ran out of money,” said Celia, making Emma spit her drink back into her cup laughing.

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