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July, 2006 (8 Years Ago)

"What have you gotten yourself into now, Sara?"

The voice broke through the continuous thump of music, the same thump that had long since passed from entertaining into annoying, every throb of the bass thrumming in my head, resting in the ache stinging my cheek and eye. The vibration stole up from the level below and I felt it buzz against the soles of my flat tennis shoes. I'd been using the cool tile on the bathroom wall as a compress until my sister came barging in without invitation.

I cracked open an eye and glared. "Who called you?"

"Marissa," she answered, exasperation clear in her tone and in the tightness of her mouth. I scoffed, leaning my head back, the elastic tying off the end of my braid creating a hard knot pressing into my shoulder blade. "How much did you have to drink this time?"

"It's a party, isn't that what you're supposed to do at parties?" I quipped. Her expression wore on me like a thousand years of rainfall upon a rock, weathering away the surface until my embittered resolve cracked. "I've had nothing."

"Nothing?"

I repeated myself, irked by her disbelief.

"Then why aren't you standing?"

"Because Alisha Gilman punched me in the face, why else?"

Tara ran a hand through her dark hair and clenched her fist, an aggravated sigh leaving her lips. In the unforgiving bathroom light, she looked tired, dressed in leggings, flip-flops, and an overlarge community college pullover with the sleeves rolled to her skinny elbows, no makeup on her eyelids or cheeks.

She looks like me, I thought, lowering my gaze to the tile floor. She never looks like me anymore.

My sister reached for my arm and pulled until I stood under my own power. "I heard you called her the 'c' word. Again."

"And then she punched me in the face and people wondered why I called her that. I was being preemptive."

"You're ridiculous." She'd said the words to me before, usually with a fond twist accompanying the statement, but now Tara sounded only irritated and put upon. "Let's go home."

The music intensified in the hall and trembled through the windows and glass portrait frames. Tara didn't hide her blank appraisal as we stepped onto the mezzanine and looked both ways along the dark, open corridor, a teeming mass of bodies dancing below where the lights flickered and popped. Tara braced a hand on the railing and leaned forward, a ghost of wistfulness chasing through her expression before she banished it, averting her eyes.

"Looks like half the town's here—well, anyone under the age of twenty-two. Whose house is this, anyway?"

"Dunno," I responded, tracing the growing bruise on my cheek, anger curling and bristling in my gut, needing an outlet, needing something I couldn't rightly name. I'd started the fight with Alisha Gilman and I'd be damned if she hadn't finished it; scrawny Sara Gaspard with her middling grades and her beautiful, genius sister—Sara with her sharp tongue and nothing to back up her vitriol. "One of the rich snobs from back east vacationing. Throwing a house party while mommy and daddy are gone, probably."

Tara hummed in acknowledgment, though the sound lost itself in the overbearing rhythm. "We have a lot of that sort in San Barkett, don't we?"

We did. In a bygone age, San Barkett had been a ramshackle fishing town clinging to the California coast, but time and money and some postmodern revival movement transformed the ugly little village into a bohemian community with trendy mansions dotting the cliffs and our own slew of starving artists on the boardwalk. East coast socialites flocked to the gated estates in the summertime and brought with them their spoiled, disenchanted children.

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