When Lottie pulls up at the curb, the bass that’s coming from the house makes the car start to vibrate. I gulp nervously, shutting my eyes briefly, wanting this all to be a dream.
She reaches over into the backseat, grabs my bag and thrusts it into my chest, unbuckling my seatbelt for me. She then reaches over, almost breaking my nose, to unlock the door. It swings open, stopping as it hits the grass on the nature strip.
“Have fun,” she smiles, drumming her thumbs on the steering wheel.
“Sure. It’ll be great fun,” I deadpan, barely shutting the door before she decides to drive off way over the speed limit.
“Oi!” Two hands land on both my shoulders and I jump in fright, spinning around to glare at Lee’s smug face.
“You idiot!” I say, smacking his arm, “I almost had a heart attack. Actually, on second thought, can you do it again? I wouldn’t mind dropping dead right about now.”
“You’re really dreading this, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I really am,” I say, kicking the grass with my heels.
I just want to be at home, maybe on the phone with Violet, maybe watching a nice rom-com. I’m feeling so out of my comfort zone that even Lee’s presence isn’t reassuring enough.
“It’s not going to be so bad, Luna,” Lee says, swinging his arm over my shoulder and squeezing me to his chest. “I’ll be with you the whole time.”
“Yeah, right,” I scoff. “Last time you said that at a party, you left me as soon as you saw the guys from your football team.”
“I did not!” he scoffs, forcing me to walk forward towards the house.
The front door is wide open, and I suddenly feel nauseous at the idea of going back into a house where I practically grew up. My own old home was only a street away from here, too.
“Hey, you know if you really don’t want to go inside, we could always ditch this place and go grab something to eat? It’s just a stupid party, anyway.”
I look up at Lee, smiling at him. I poke his left dimple, shaking my head. “Thanks, but I guess we might as well go in now that we are here.”
“There must be some part of you that is looking forward to seeing Easton again, right?”
Lee has a point. There’s a small part of me that is excited about the idea of seeing him again, but it’s so small that it hardly exists. The nerves are what have control of most of my body.
Before I can even consider answering, someone steps out of the doorway and my heart plummets, expecting it to be Easton at first. Instead, it’s someone I’ve never seen in my life.
“Lee-dog, you came bro!” the guy says, doing that weird handshake-backclap that lots of guys do.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” he says, pulling his arm off my shoulder and stepping inside. He turns around briefly to see if I’m still following him and I smile meekly.
Lee doesn’t even think to introduce me to the random guy, but before I even get the chance, he walks off into a crowd, his fist pumping in the air.
“Who was that?” I yell in Lee’s ear, trying to be heard over the loud music playing from a speaker in the corner of the room.
“Just some guy from school. I hardly even know him, but he’s clearly drunk,” he says, scanning the room.
“Yeah, just like everyone else in this place,” I mutter, looking around at the drunken crowd. I notice one girl walk straight into a coffee table, stumbling backwards, hitting another girl as they both fall over. It doesn’t seem to matter to them though, as they just start laughing, trying desperately to stand up but failing miserably.
“Want something to drink?” Lee asks, grabbing my hand, weaving me through the crowd of drunks dancing along to the beat.
We walk into the kitchen where it is a lot quieter and Lee opens the fridge, bending down to see what he can find to drink. I scan the kitchen, nervously anticipating that Easton will walk in at any moment.
“Want this?” Lee says, pulling out a drink.
“Ew, watermelon flavour?” I sigh, taking it from his hands. “Thanks, I guess.”
He leans back against the kitchen counter, sipping from a beer he must have grabbed for himself. “I didn’t realise you were such a picky drinker.”
“I’m not picky,” I huff, taking a swig of the overly sweet drink. “I just don’t really like watermelon flavour.”
“What you just said there, is the definition of picky,” he says, pointing his beer at me and raising his eyebrows.
“I really don’t think—”
I jump, turning around to face a group of guys I have never seen in my life hurtling drunkenly towards us.
“Marcus told us you’d finally arrived. Man, what are you doing in here? Come on!”
Lee is dragged along, laughing with the guys as they move outside.
“So much for never leaving me!” I shout, even though it’s useless. Someone turns up the volume to the absolute max and I almost have the urge to cover my ears and get the hell out of here.
I take a sip of my drink, before discarding it on the bench. If this is what my night is going to be like, I might as well take a tour of the house by myself.
It’s weird having so many memories here, yet hardly feeling like I’m in the same place. I walk along the hallway, towards the bathroom and the music is noticeably quieter here. I feel my shoulders relax.
I trail my hands over the photos on the wall, smiling when I notice a few that I remember. There aren’t any recent photos either. It seems like all of them are at least seven years old.
I walk further down the hallway and stop in front of a framed picture I never expected to still be here. It’s one of Easton and I, five years ago. It’s the newest photo I’ve seen so far. It was taken at the beach near our shared holiday house only a week before the fire. He has his arm wrapped around my shoulder and my hand is wrapped around his waist. Our smiles are so wide that my stomach lurches.
I reach out to touch the frame, trying to remember a simpler time when I still had my whole family together. I don’t remember what even happened before or after this photo, the memory a complete blur. I don’t remember smiling like that unless I was with Easton, though.
I can feel tears pricking at the corners of my eyes and I’m about to reach out again when I hear a voice I haven’t heard in years.
All the air sucks out of my lungs when I turn to face them.
It’s as if time is standing still and a hundred memories are flying at me, ten times too fast. I feel overwhelmed, but nothing prepares me when they suddenly say my name.