16. pools and playing

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The party is just what we need tonight

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The party is just what we need tonight.

"We didn't get it," says Catey, eyes still shiny and bright even though I can tell, even on FaceTime, that she's already cried. Mascara tracks run down her cheeks, dripping from the end of her chin. Blaire uses the back of her hand to catch the tears, and that makes Catey's shoulders shake harder.

FaceTime only lets you video chat with one person at a time; I'm glad, because I don't trust Val to be sympathetic.

"I'm so sorry," I say. The words fall short. I don't think Catey even heard them.

"They said," Blaire says over a great, shuddering sob from Catey, "that even with our parents doing most of the work, that we were high-risk because of our age. I told them there was no minimum age requirement, but you could already tell they'd made up their minds. They were nice about it, I guess, but they had this sorta pitying look on their faces like they couldn't believe we actually thought we'd get in?"

For once, Catey isn't the first to see the best in people. "They weren't nice at all," she says. The sobs have subsided, and now she just looks mad. "They were humoring us. Like we were two feet tall and had shown up to the stupid interview wearing mama's high heels and lipstick."

My heart hurts for her. Catey's the one who takes care of us, but I'm so inept at finding the right words and there's no emoji that can say it for me. I want to give her a big hug, hold her close, and tell her the farmer's market made a mistake in underestimating her because she was young. That she so much is more than the years she's lived or the skin she's in, and one day, she'll show them that.

That's what Catey likes to hear. Not petty revenge schemes or angry tirades against ageism. She likes to hear that the best revenge is living well.

She would make a terrible villain. Or hero, for that matter. Every good story comes with a petty grievance side quest.

That's why she has best friends like me—someone to carry all her grudges for her.

So I tell them to get ready, I'm picking them up in an hour to go to Thad's. Blaire, who wants to cut loose, is an easy sell. Catey takes a little more convincing, but she's still dressed and waiting on the curb outside her house when Val and I swing by.

We all kind of expect Thad's place to be in the kind of neighborhood where everyone's lawn is scruffy and beat-up cars are on either side of the street. College housing is always in areas like this, where the landlords don't care if the wallpaper yellows or tiles crack or dead flies stick in kitchen grease.

Instead, we roll up to a pretty decent-looking two-story. No one's hanging out of a window and there's no keg in the front yard. We can hear the low thumps of music, but it's nowhere near as raucous as it could be. He's even got pots of geraniums on the walk-up and a newish welcome mat that doesn't say anything crude.

"Maybe Thad's not as much of a lad as he used to be," says Blaire.

"I can't believe we're at our first college party," Val whispers to Catey, but we all hear it.

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