Chapter 77

Sasha greeted Thomas with a familiar nod as she and Julia walked in the door. Neither of them needed a designated driver: this Julia was a duplicate that the original had dropped off and Lander was scarcely more than a few seconds’ jog away for Sasha. Besides, she wasn’t here to get hammered beyond coherency. Sasha was a woman with a mission; she merely wasn’t sure what that mission was yet. She’d selected an outfit of skin-tight jeans and a low-cut top paired with a push-up bra. A rare touch of make-up and some attention to her hair left no doubt that Sasha was looking to draw attention tonight. Whose attention wasn’t the least bit in doubt, either: this sumptuous little ensemble had been crafted for one silver-haired individual. Whether it was meant to win him back, make him miss her, or simply prove that she still drew his attention, Sasha still couldn’t figure out. Perhaps it was some strange combination of all of them. Perhaps it was none of them. She knew she wanted him looking at her tonight, that thought sat in her mind with certainty.

A cursory glance of the living room was all it took to assess her competition. Jill, Selena, and Violet were chatting away near the stereo, so Will and Alex were presumably in attendance. None of the girls were an issue: Selena was gorgeous but taken, Thomas clearly still had feelings for Violet, and Jill was Will’s sister, so Vince would consider both off limits. Angela was leaning against a wall, making small talk with Chad. The girl was beautiful in a fearsome sort of way; it was the type of beauty Vince could actually appreciate. Fortunately, Angela had her predatory eyes clearly set on the specimen in front of her, so she posed little threat. Aside from a few freshmen scattered about in the kitchen and some of the men from her class trying to look less awkward than they felt, that seemed to be the entirety in attendance. A loud roar of cheers from the garage informed Sasha of her mistake and she re-oriented her direction almost immediately.

“Don’t you want a drink?” Julia asked, motioning to the kitchen.

“I’m more in the mood for beer.” If the crowd was in the garage then the kegs almost certainly were as well.

“Bleh.” Julia stuck out her tongue. “I’m sick of beer. I want something sweet.”

“Lucky for you we took such delicate sensibilities into account,” Violet said. She’d detached from her group of girls to greet the new arrivals. Neither Sasha nor Julia had noticed her cross the room, but given the general levels of background noise and movement, it was hardly a failing on their part.

“We made pink-panty-dropper punch,” Violet explained.

“Sounds dangerous.” Her words might have been cautious but Julia’s smile was eager.

“It’s essentially a bunch of pink lemonade and everclear thrown in a cooler, with a bit of fruit and additives for flavoring. We set it up near the beer.”

“You’ve sold me: to the garage!” Julia thrust a finger in the air and began a dramatic march forward.

“She’s in a mood tonight.”

“It’s been a long week; I think we’re both overdue for a little fun.”

Violet gave Sasha an up and down assessment. “Looks like someone is angling for more fun than a little.”

“Girl’s got the right to turn some heads.”

“Amen to that. Come on, let’s follow your roommate. I need a new beer, plus they’ll be playing quarters pretty soon.”

*    *    *

“Wow, this stuff is way better than beer,” Vince commented as he sipped from Alice’s cup. Her team had lost the flip-cup tournament, and as such she was beer-bloated enough to switch to the punch for a while. The line for it was shorter than the line for the beer as well, which had prompted Vince’s curiosity. “I’m going to grab a cup of this instead.” He headed over to the cooler to wait behind Amber and Britney, who were already filling their own cups with the concoction.

“I wonder if we should warn him about this stuff being stronger than it tastes,” Alice said as her friend stood cheerfully in line.

“Nah, I’m sure he’ll be fine. Vince is a smart guy,” Nick replied. He took a draw from his own drink, partially out of thirst and partially to conceal the smile that was tugging at his lips. A year ago it might have worked, but Alice was a wiser woman these days.

“You’re hoping he accidently gets smashed, aren’t you?”


“That’s just mean.”

Nick shook his head. “He’s been worrying himself sick for weeks now over his math class. Add that to the normal amount of ‘weight of the world’ bull that guy carries around and I’m scared he’ll give himself an ulcer before Christmas.”

“And alcohol is the answer?”

“Fun is the answer. Doing things you wouldn’t normally do, making a few mistakes.” Nick noticed Sasha slink into the garage, sheer sex bundled into tight jeans and topped with pink-streaked hair. “Maybe repeating a few mistakes that are particularly fun.”

“You’re awful,” Alice sighed. She made no motion to go warn Vince. He’d probably figure it out after the first cup, and if he didn’t then maybe that was okay, too. Things had been tightly wound lately; a little recklessness was practically demanded.

“Hey, lovebirds, if you can tear yourselves apart, Camille and I need some opponents,” Stella called, holding up a pair of darts. Camille looked properly shamed by such an inappropriate greeting but Stella wore a cocksure grin that said she knew what she’d said and was confident she’d struck close to the truth.

“Lovebirds, huh? I think she’s trying to rattle us,” Nick said.

“She’ll need to do better than that,” Alice replied honestly. She wasn’t sure if she trusted Nick again, not yet, but after Halloween, she was done pretending she didn’t like being around him. He was the one she’d cried against for hours, and all he’d done in response was hold her close. He knew words would be wasted; he got that there was no simple fix for what was wrong. Nick understood her, at least a little bit, and that connection was something that made her feel better when he was around. It was enough, at least for right now.

“Let’s go kick some steel-shifting ass,” Alice quipped as the duo set off to do battle on the ground of thrown projectiles.