The sand glowed in the light of the bonfire but Addie shivered despite the flames. The dark pressed in heavy, barely staved off by the fire and the raucous laughter of the others. Everyone was gold in the light, the beach the darkest blue black by comparison. Only the crash of waves reminded Addie she was on Pine Beach and not some liminal precipice staring out into another dark world.
“Would you like a drink?” The question came from above her. She looked up circumspect at the two red cups in the hands of an unfamiliar young man.
“Pick which one you want.” He said. If her suspicion bothered him he didn’t show it, if anything his grin became wider.
Addie picked the left one and sniffed it. “What is it?”
“Some ungodly cocktail.” He prodded one of the drink coolers with his shoe before sitting on it.
Funny, she hadn’t seen him make anything. But then she’d been busy staring off into the void outside the bonfire’s border. She waited for him to sip his own drink before taking a gulp of syrupy mix. Addie grimaced. “That’s really sweet.”
He drank his without complaint. Now on her level she managed to get a look at him. The stranger was good looking in a sharp way and wasn’t tall. His messy black hair fell in front of eyes that were probably brown, but in the bonfire’s light they glittered gold. Addie decided she liked the set of his crooked smile. He wasn’t broad enough in the shoulder to pique Travis’ jealousy though, which was a shame.
Addie tore her eyes from the stranger, reminded why she’d come to the beach in the first place. She found him. Travis was down on his knees in the party’s rubble. Empty cans, discarded towels, and his shirt lay around his knees in the sand. Standing before him was a girl Addie didn’t know, arms crossed below a deep green bikini top.
As they watched Travis raised his arms in mock supplication and the girl’s wide lips twitched in amusement. Everyone laughed, raising the red cups in their hands.
“Who invited her?” She said under her breath.
“I did.” The stranger at her side answered the question, smile still tenaciously present under his expression. Addie wondered if it ever went away. She looked at him again, closer this time, and then back to the new girl who’d enraptured her crush. They weren’t related. Where he was pale and wanly slender, the girl in green was dark and fit. She frowned, there was something similar in the glint of their eyes.
“Oh. Who do you know here?” She asked, putting down the obscenely sweet drink while still trying to seem friendly. Someone had to have invited them.
“Him.” He pointed to one of the people at the edge of the bonfire’s border. The guy in question hung back, talking in a low voice to Liz and Brook. From their tone it sounded serious. Addie found herself frowning again. Even shadowed from her view, Addie could make out aristocratic features and an impressive height. No one she recognized, no one anyone knew.
She turned back to the stranger at her side. He’d finished off the contents of his cup and had picked up hers. Addie plucked it out of his hands before she remembered she hadn’t wanted it. “So you know –?”
Addie looked around for the girl and caught a barest glimpse of green against the gold and black background. Travis was there too, bent and speaking into the girl’s ear. They were walking away, towards the sounds of the surf. Her heart hammered. Next to her the stranger raised a brow.
Addie hid her sudden distress by taking another sip. The drink tasted better this time. “Should I be worried?” She tried to make the question playful with a laugh, staring into her cup. Whatever was in it, the cocktail suddenly tasted delicious.
“No. I’m mostly harmless.” He passed his own cup, now inexplicably full, to another partygoer as they stumbled by. The guy, someone from Addie’s calculus class, took it without question and drank before wandering away.
“Mostly harmless.” She shook her head and the stranger’s attention refocused on her. Out in the dark Travis was with that girl. Even with the now heavy buzz it was hard to think of anything else. He followed her gaze out past the bonfire’s light.
“Make peace with that impossibility.” The stranger advised. Before she could wallow in reality he pressed another red cup into her hands and continued. “But should you be worried? No. It’s not a night for that.”
This drink tasted even better than the last. “Screw the bastard.” Addie murmured in agreement as he stood. Shortly afterward he and his tall aristocratic friend disappeared into the oblivion outside the bonfire’s light. She heard them laughing while the beach faded into a haze of red cups and gold.