Sara shouldn’t have looked.
She’ll never tell. She’s barely sticking it out as it is, her and Jimmy and Ted all competing for what feels like the last spot in the perfect dynamic of Sam-Paul-Doug. And she’d been doing so well with Doug! He’s cute, he’s sweet, he’s safe. She could have just stuck it out with him. They could have been the two power couples of the school, Paul and Sam, Sara and Doug. Maybe it’s not even too late, even though she’s fully aware she’s been avoiding Doug all night.
But when she looked. When she was underwater, making the series of poor choices that led to Ted flashing them all.
She looked at Sam and she was just drifting there, body blue and ethereal in the water, shadows playing around her hips and ankles, sunlight lancing through the lake all around her in streaks of gold… naked.
She can’t shake it, how she looked like a mermaid, a siren, drawing wary sailors and dashing them on the rocks, drowning them in the shallows.
Then, of course, she felt the tug on her ankle and suddenly she was absolutely certain this was the retribution. She had been ensnared for her hubris and sin. In the moment between the realization and the return of sanity, she stopped struggling. Because it’s not her fault, right? It’s just Sam’s stupid perfect body, and her confidence and charisma, and her fairy laughter, and fuck Paul’s right next to her what would he think?
Doug saved her, because he’s perfect. So that’s that.
No need to keep thinking about Sam’s naked body, warped and softened by the water. No need to think about Sam comforting her. No need to think about Sam setting her up with Doug, because she knows just how much this all means to Sara and she’s actually the most considerate—
She keeps slapping her on the ass, too! Sam never did that before. And maybe Sara should tell her to stop, but it feels like progress towards securing her social status and her friendships. So what if she gets a little thrill every time? It’s just because she knows she’s getting closer to having real friends again. Who knew getting homeschooled could make a girl crave companionship so much?
Anyways, they’re at a party now and no one’s drowning or getting murdered and the music Ted must have picked is pounding, so she can just lose herself and this whole mess of a weekend in dancing like her life depends on it— because it kind of feels like it does. She’s getting there, a heat spreading through her that’s probably only helped by the wine she got from that weird exchange with Jimmy. Sam’s dancing too, grinding against Paul with a cup held safely over her head and the widest grin Sara’s ever seen.
Someone taps her shoulder. Sara spins to find Doug behind her, two cups in hand. He offers one to her, yelling, “I don’t know what’s in it, but Jimmy swears it’s good.”
“I don’t know if I trust him on that,” Sara laughs, and he’s smiling down at her as she takes the drink anyways.
“Hey, the chicken wasn’t that bad. I figured we’d just order pizza or something.”
She takes a sip, grimaces, takes another one. She has to stop thinking about how his smile just wants something, and Sam’s is so genuinely joyful. She has to stop thinking about how unfair it all is. “I was thinking about the thing with Trish.”
He winces, all sympathy. “Yeah, that wasn’t the best idea, huh. But he’s trying, y’know? He really wants to be part of our little group.”
Our group. That should thrill her. It kind of does, still, but it’s a weird sick thrill, closer to dread than relief. What’s wrong with her? Hot guy, right here, talking to her, acting like she’s in the club already, no question.
“Hey, you okay?” he asks. He’s right next to her ear, and suddenly her head is pounding and she’s unbearably dizzy and no longer feeling tipsy-warm but the wrong kind of drunk. He pulls the cup from her hand as it starts to tip to the side. “Whoa. Sara, come on, let’s go outside. You don’t look so good. Jimmy, man, I asked him what was in these…”
He’s guiding her out onto the back deck, but as the cool air hits her suddenly all she can see is Paul’s face. Paul when he was telling her he didn’t think he could marry Sam. Paul looking pale and flushed all at once after telling Sam he loved her. Paul now, looking down at an oblivious Sam with an affection that seems tinged just a little sad.
She stops short, right on the threshold. “No. Hold on. I need to talk to Paul.”
She can hear him protesting as she pulls her shoulder from under his hand and slips back inside, but it’s like she’s underwater again, watching her air stream out in front of her in great torrents of bubbles and knowing she has a choice to make.
She grabs his arm, shakes him, and he twists to face her with Sam still pressed against his chest. His eyebrows shoot up when he sees who it is. “Hey, Sara, what’s up?”
“Can I talk to you?”
Just like that, his expression darkens. He glances at Sam, who’s giggling softly into his shirt front with her eyes closed. “Now? Like… now now? Can it wait?”
“I don’t— I don’t know.” Suddenly she’s not so sure of what she needs, and she’s harshly aware that she hasn’t talked to Paul all that often. Not before he told her he’s not really in love with her closest friend, who is currently literally between them. She runs a hand through her hair. “I guess it can wait.”
Paul’s worrying at his lip and Sam’s starting to notice what’s happening and shit, she should have left well enough alone. Should have gone out on that deck with Doug—
“Hey, babe, what’s going on?” Sam asks, and she’s right there. Her lily-of-the-valley perfume is mixed with the faint taste of sweat and her eyes are so wide, so bright even though her pupils are blown huge. Her words are slurring gently but it just makes her softer, more stunning. “Everything going okay with Doug? It seemed to be more than okay for a bit there.”
Her tone is so playful. She’s just teasing but it’s enough to snap Sara back to herself. Her headache’s still there, but she doesn’t feel so spinny-dizzy and lost. “Yeah! Yeah, it’s great. I was actually just gonna ask Paul if he has a… y’know… a—”
Sam squeals and pulls her into a hug. “I knew you had it in ya, girl! Oh my God, I’m so happy, this is exactly what I was hoping for! It’ll be great, babe, just don’t worry too much and have fun! You can even take our room if you want, right, Paul?”
Paul smiles down at her, but his jaw is tight, straining the expression. Sara meets his eyes for a split second and they’re deeply troubled, almost anguished. She drops her gaze. He fishes in his back pocket before finding a condom wrapper and passing it to her.
“Sure. And yeah, have a good time. Be careful, too.”
She nods, her throat tight. For the second time this weekend, it feels like she’s running out of air.
Sam slaps her ass again. “Good luck, biatch!”
The back door is still open. The porch is empty.
The last thing she sees is Sam’s face through the window as she closes the door behind herself, absolutely radiant in the dim, warm light of the house. So different from the sight of her underwater, a headless beauty clothed in cool watery haze. Still perfect. Still untouchable, just too far away.
Sara doesn’t even scream. How could she? All her breath is billowing before her in great torrents of bubbles. Even before she hits the water.
There isn’t even a splash as she sinks.