Diantha's Gate

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Chapter 8


“No alcohol!” I yelled from my room, though I knew this was a halfhearted, not to mention pointless, attempt to stay within legal boundaries on our trip.

We decided to meet at my house once everyone had what they needed for our weekend on the Shenandoah.

“Scout’s honor,” Drew called back. I could hear ice thundering and scraping as he dumped it into my parents’ old ice chest. “Unless you count these wine coolers, but I bloody well don’t. Four percent alcohol- just a disgrace to any beverage makin’ the claim that a good time awaits. Bloody pathetic, really,” I heard him mumble.

“God, he has got to be kidding me, surely.” I looked pleadingly at the others.

“I am most certainly kidding!” He hollered. “I can make any percentage work in my favor, no problem. I’ll just have to drink them all, so there just may be nothing left for you lasses.”

Brynn absently played with her gold hoop, staring intently at a page in this month’s edition of Elle magazine. “He really is going to get pummeled before the day is over. My hand has been itching to deliver him a backhand for days now.”

“I dunno what the hell you’re waitin’ for; don’t hold back on my account,” Lav said earnestly, perfectly arched eyebrows raised. “I’ve spent me whole life with the idiot, including what I’m sure were nine ghastly months in the womb. My hand and his face-” she punched her left palm with her right fist emphatically- “good friends, they are.” Brynn swung her long, hazelnut limbs off of my bed, nearly knocking Lavender onto the floor.

“Watch it, daddy-long-legs. ’Bout coulda killed me,” she huffed. She, too, stood..

The three of us checked our reflections in the huge floor-length mirror that simultaneously served as my closet door. Lav had thrown a perfectly messy lilac knot atop her head, sunglasses perching in front of it. Brynn’s long baseball tee covered her bikini, her mane of natural, soft frizz scattering in every direction. They were simple, messy, and stunning, as always.

I, however, had been caught in a mid-morning nap when they’d arrived to find my face buried in my laptop. I’d left Brynn’s before everyone else had woken up in order to sneak some productivity into my morning. The small square indentations from the keys were still vaguely visible, and my long, dark blonde hair was rippling in tangled waves around my face. I quickly braided it to the side, splashed my face with a chilly handful of water, and threw a floral sundress over my head.

Drew then walked in, several of his tattoos visible beneath his white V-neck. A cheap six pack of wine coolers was raised in one hand, and he had a broad, shit-eating grin plastered to his face. “Cheers to the first day of the rest of our lives, my beautiful comrades,” he said with a toothy smile.

“Cheers,” we all replied in unison.

***

“I’m still in disbelief,” Drew said into the rearview mirror as he merged onto the interstate. “When is the last time you’ve seen the sun, Nia?” His chocolate waves descended into curls just past his nape, nearly brushing his shoulders. Atop his head lounged a quirky, diamond-crowned Panama hat.

“I do things with you guys all the time!” I said defiantly, though I knew what he meant. Based on my skin tone, no one would ever guess it was Summer.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Brynn said, shaking her head. Her massive hair was whipping in her face. The sunroof had been drawn back, and I could feel my skin beginning to tingle with the slightest burning sensation. I really did need to get outside more often.

“You refuse to grace us with your presence if we are not at someone’s house, or at Steam.” She listed each emphatically with her index and middle finger. “Somewhere that allows your laptop to follow you around.” She saw me attempt a skeptical look, and followed with, “You know it’s the truth.”

“Yeah,” Lav agreed. She perched her midnight-blue toes on the dashboard and stared out her window at the passing trees. “You treat that thing like a puppy you can’t leave at home. No offense to you, good sir,” she amended quickly, turning to Mr. Darcy, who was happily ignoring her and letting the wind tickle his tongue. “Well forget you then,” she mumbled, turning back around. Her lilac locks were escaping her bun in tendrils, one by one.

“Whatever, y’all suck,” I said lamely, smiling at my failure to produce any articulate thoughts on the matter.

“Your wit is an artform,” Drew drawled in an awed voice. Abandoning the steering wheel momentarily, he gestured a dramatic bow with both arms.

“Ugh, I hate all of you,” I growled.

Lavender leaned forward to turn up the stereo, and, as though on cue, Lynard Skynard belted Freebird. Despite myself, I began feeling the lyrics being pulled out of me, in sync with the rest of the car. And so, for the first time in what felt like forever, I decided to let go. I imagined a world without applications, without haunting blank stares, without deceased fathers. I imagined a world in which I bellowed classic rock lyrics with my best friends on the way to the river. And, with my eyes closed and the wind surging through my hair, I imagined I was weightless with wings. Free.

***

It was the first clear and sunny day we’d had all week, and the water was much higher than usual due to the rain. The young guy at the canoe rental shop checked that we were comfortable with navigating slightly stronger waters, and Drew, being Drew, assured him that we would be fine. It didn’t seem to be a huge deal, but my stomach clenched momentarily, before releasing and returning to normal. I shoved any ominous thoughts out of my head, determined to relax and appreciate my two days of freedom from myself.

We found our campsite easily, a semi-secluded space near the river. We were tucked away in a patch of trees, and we could hear the water sloshing invitingly. We smelled of sunscreen and insect repellent, both of which were extremely necessary. Species I’d never before seen were scuttling all around us, trying to avoid our feet as we set up the large tent that the Elwoods had loaned us.

“It is a good thing you’re pretty, Thomas Andrew, ’cause you cannot set up a tent for shit.” Lavender, already sweating her perfect makeup off, was frustratedly attempting to shove one of the poles through its designated pocket.

“You’re the one usin’ the wrong pole, again. If it wasn’t for me, you three’d be sleepin’ on the ground, you arsey nag.” Drew turned to me and Brynn, both of us heaving the cooler from the trunk, and shook his head, jerking his thumb at Lav. “This one, eh?”

“On our father’s life, if you don’t hush up, your body is goin’ to end up in that river,” Lavender remarked, dangerously.

“We don’t even know who our father is. Not meanin’ to be harsh, but i’m not proper concerned about the poor bastard, one way or another,” Drew grunted, squatting down to put the proper pole through the sleeve Lav had abandoned. Glancing up at her, he added, “Only takin’ the piss, Sis. Don’t get all hot over nuffin’.”

Two hours (and much grumbling, sweating, and laughing) later, we were set up. Our canoes had been dropped off for us, and lay bottom-side-up, basking in the sun. We were sprawled out on a blanket, sandwich supplies lying haphazardly around us. After a quick dunk in the cool river and a lunch on the bank, we felt satiated and content.

Our plans for the night consisted of a decent amount of loafing, after executing a short beginner’s hike through our immediate surroundings. There was a trail very near our site which only covered a half mile. This gave us plenty of time to set up for dinner and cook it. The others had insisted we use a campfire and actually cook our meal, (Nia, it’s only right that we actually rough it! You absolutely cannot eat fast food or pre-prepped food on a camping trip!) though I’d had some doubt as to our abilities. Brynn was our only hope, as she was most familiar with both camping and kitchens. The rest of us, admittedly, were quite reliant on the Elwoods for home-cooked meals. Otherwise, our diets often consisted of fast food and diners, much to Corinne’s horror. She, of course, was religiously vegan. She believed her body was sacred. She felt the same way about all the poor, butchered animals the rest of us consumed in mass quantities, and she never missed an opportunity to point this out.

The rest of our night would, I was told, consist of drinking, board games, hammocking, and s’mores. I’d already mentally prepared myself for the lawbreaking activities to come, and truthfully, I was ready. Though my past experiences involving alcohol, which were very few, had been less than ideal, none of them had been contained like this one. I’d always felt pressured to drink at any party the others had convinced me to attend, and I made for a very nervous sipper. I could hardly swallow beer, so I was always the girl looking for some hard liquor. One rum and coke always turned into three or four, whether I remembered pouring them or not, and I was an extremely sloppy drunk. I would find myself consumed with confusion, as well as inappropriate giggles, when I’d find a stranger tending to me, helping me over the toilet or bringing Brynn to me. A blinding headache and nausea always found me the following morning, along with a sense of horror and embarrassment. That was just so not… me. I needed to be in control at all times, and the realization that I’d abandoned that sentiment entirely always frightened me. So, I’d stopped attending parties, much to everyone’s disappointment. Deep down, I’d missed them. The recklessness of it all was more tantalizing than I ever wanted to admit, but that version of myself didn’t quite fit in with my lifestyle, nor did it compliment my facade.

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