The Bone Garden.
Grace and I make the downhill trek on a well-worn path through coastal grass. As we do, we’re greeted by a motley array of scent and sound. Roasted marshmallows and skunky beer. Laughing and shouting and roughhousing. A boy crying in the shadows and another boy telling him he’s sorry and please don’t leave. Me too, dude, I think, because I’m having the same panic attack.
“Too late now,” Grace says, sensing my need to flee. “It’s a long walk back to civilization, anyway.”
Like this calms me down?
Before I know it, we’re leveling out, and she’s seeing people she knows. And Grace knows everyone. She’s hugging necks and waving at people. If there were any babies out here, she’d probably be kissing them. She’s a natural-born politician, this girl. And she’s introducing me to so many people, I can’t keep up. Casey is a cheerleader. Sharonda is president of drama club. Ezgar was in juvie, but it wasn’t his fault (I’m not sure what, but it wasn’t). Anya is dating Casey, but no one’s supposed to know that. And in the middle of all this, here’s a surfer, there’s a surfer, everywhere there’s a surfer. Oh, a few skaters and bikers. One paddleboarder, because “that’s where it’s at,” apparently.
There are just so many people. Most of them don’t seem to be doing anything wrong, so as we wind through the crowd, I feel a smidge less guilty about lying to my dad tonight. Sure, I see a few people drinking beer and smoking, and I smell the same sweet scent that clings to Pangborn’s clothes, so someone’s passing around weed. But for such a big group, nothing crazy is going down. I mean, no sign of Davy and his bunch so far, fingers crossed. No sign of anyone else, either . . .
At some point during all this meeting and greeting, I lose Grace. I don’t even know when it happens. One minute I’m listening to a confusing story about a fender bender involving an ice cream truck and an electrical pole, and the next thing I know, I’m surrounded by people whose names I only half remember. I try not to panic. I just quietly slip away and pretend like I know where I’m going while I search for Grace’s cropped hair, turning on my dazzling Artful Dodger charm: look casual and bored, but not too bored. Keep moving. That’s the key to no one taking pity on you, the strange new girl. Because there are certain gregarious types who always will try to take you under their wing—the drama kids, for sure—and I can spot them circling like vultures. Must avoid.
But there’s only so much pretend mingling you can do before people realize that you’re just walking around doing nothing—not talking to anyone, not lining up at the keg that’s sticking out from a pit in the sand, from which people are constantly pumping red plastic cups of nasty-smelling beer. So I finally make myself scarce and find an empty spot on a piece of driftwood in the shadows. The seating situation is a mishmash of rusting lawn chairs, wooden crates, flat rocks, and a couple of ratty blankets. It looks more haphazard than organized, like maybe some of this stuff just washed up on the beach earlier in the day, and I’m regretting I wore white shorts. It’s probably cleaner sitting in the sand.
“Are you: (A) mad, (B) sad, or (C) lost?”
My stomach flips several times in quick succession.
Porter, or the silhouette of Porter, because he’s standing in front of the bonfire, hands in the pockets of his jeans.
“C, lost,” I tell him. “I had no idea Grace was so popular. She’s also compact, so it’s possible she’s in the middle of one of these groups and I just don’t see her. I was going to give her five more minutes to surface before I texted.” I wasn’t really, but I didn’t want him to think I was going to sit here for hours alone.
“I think she was a fairy in a previous life. Everyone believes she’s going to grant their wishes or something.” He gestures at the empty space on my driftwood log. I gesture back, Please, be my guest. The fragile wood creaks with his weight. He mimics my pose, digging his heels into the sand, folded arms on bent knees. Firelight dances over the patchwork of his scars, etching shadowy patterns over his shirt. Our elbows are close but not touching.
I’m relieved he’s not partaking in one of the various vices floating around. At least, he seems his normal sober self. No plastic cup in hand, no reek of smoke. Actually, he smells nice tonight, like soap. No coconut, though. I’m almost disappointed.
His head dips closer. “Are you sniffing me, Rydell?”
I rear back. “No.”