Bell kept her eyes on the black waves, elbows on the railing of the monstrous yacht she was trapped on. Well not trapped, she allowed, it wouldn’t be an impossible swim to shore. She could only imagine the glee that would illicit from the other guests.
She set her jaw harder, until her teeth started to hurt. This night, like most nights her family thrust her upon the mercies of her peers, had been a trial. And like those nights, Bell had been found wanting.
Attempts at small talk had been met with weighted silences, or worse, mocking reciprocations that she did not catch quickly enough. Any of Bell’s genuine attempts to display interest in the piddling details of her peer’s lives had been met with mild skepticism and unease, both of which also turned to mockery when Bell had turned her back. She didn’t like them, and they didn’t like her. Bell could coldly appreciate the parallel nature of it all.
Still, their whispered words, audible behind thin doors, left a twisted feeling deep in her bones, like cold water shot into her veins. Bell realized she hadn’t blinked in a long time and shut her eyes against the bay’s stinging cold.
A scruff of heavy shoe on the deck interrupted the comforting dark behind her eyelids. Bell turned her head to the side. There was a young man standing there, looking at her with the even calm of parade rest.
He was dressed like the rest of them were, in outfits borne of long obsessions with public eye. But unlike the cultivated slouches of the nation’s young and obscenely wealthy, whoever he was, the stranger held himself with a stiff and discernible stillness.
“Hello.” Bell said, she tucked her sheet of pale hair over an ear so she could fix him sideways with one of the unblinking stares the others found so unnerving.
“Hello.” He smiled and moved his large frame to her side deliberately. Now close, they both looked over the water to avoid going cross-eyed. He didn’t lean against the railing, just placed his fingertips lightly against it. Bell noted the knotted knuckle bones crowning his hands, and the calluses in the crook of his trigger finger. That was different. “Bell, right?”
Bell’s mouth went tight; everyone at this party knew who she was. Pretending he didn’t just felt like the beginning to another game she was going to lose. So she didn’t respond to his question, her interest in the military career his hands betrayed dissipating at the prospect of more small talk.
The waves below them hit the yacht’s hull loudly, and Bell thought again about simply diving in and swimming to shore. Or maybe not to shore, maybe out into the ocean and so very far away.