Alcohol (underage drinking, drinking games).
It was about two in the afternoon, and we’d just finished our tour of downtown Portland; we spent the morning just walking around the waterfront district, taking in the sights, and breathing in the local atmosphere. But now it was time for lunch, and we were all quite hungry – it had been almost six hours since we’d had breakfast, after all; so we’d started looking for a place to eat at, and found we had an ample choice.
“How about this one?” Pat asked, pointing to a restaurant sitting on the corner of an intersection between two streets. “Looks nice enough.”
“Just pick one, Patrick,” Lena replied. “I’m starving over here.”
“Okay, this one then,” he said. He pushed the door open, the bell above it ringing cheerfully, and in we went.
“Welcome!” a waiter greeted us, walking past carrying a few plates full of food. “Please take a seat, anywhere that’s open, I’ll be right with you.”
I looked around the room: it was more of a diner than a restaurant, actually, and despite it being quite late for lunch it was almost full, with only a few tables available. I wondered what that meant – whether the food was good enough to keep the place busy past normal lunch hours, or whether the service was so slow that patrons were stuck waiting for hours on end. In any case, I pointed out a table that looked nice enough to Pat and Lena, and we walked over and sat down.
True to his words, the waiter came to our table within a minute of us getting seated; he handed us each a menu and then sped off, to attend to another group of clients.
“Let’s see, what should I get…” Lena mumbled, opening the menu and looking it up and down. “Oh, the lobster roll looks good, and is cheaper than I thought. I think I’ll have that.”
“Me too,” Patrick nodded.
As for me I just couldn’t decide. I ran my eyes over the various entries: everything was really inviting, and made my stomach grumble in anticipation.
“Here we are, folks!” the waiter said, startling me a bit – I’d been paying so much attention to the menu that I hadn’t noticed him approach. “So, what will it be?”
“I’ll take the lobster roll, please,” Lena said.
“Make that two,” Pat added.
“Alright, two lobster rolls. And for you, miss?” the waiter asked.
I froze. Miss? Was that… Me? Was he talking to me? Really?
“Miss?” he asked again, after a few moments.
“Ah-Ah-Uh-I’ll have the clam chowder,” I managed to stammer.
He nodded. “Perfect. Anything to drink?”
“Just water, thank you,” Patrick said.
“Okay, I’ll be right back with your order,” the waiter said, and walked away.
I turned to my friends. “Did… Did I hear that right?” I queried. “Did he really call me miss?”
“That he did,” Lena confirmed with a smile. “See, what did I tell you? Girl,” she said, pointing at me.
Patrick nodded in agreement. “Yeah, that’s what we see when we look at you.”
I felt a warm feeling spread across me, and I blushed.
Miss. It felt really nice. A girl could get used to it.
“Okay, here’s your food, people,” the waiter said, arriving at our table again; I was impressed, it hadn’t been ten minutes since we’d ordered, the service was remarkably quick. He placed two plates with lobster rolls and chips on them in front of Patrick and Lena. “And here’s your clam chowder, miss. Enjoy your meal!” he continued, setting a steaming plate of clam chowder down.
“Thank you. Thank you very much,” I replied, smiling at him. He nodded, smiled back, and hurried off.
“Alright, let’s dig it,” Lena said. “Then we can resume our Magical Mystery Portland Tour.”
“Come on, Allie,” Lena said. “Don’t keep us waiting.”
“Alright, I think I got it.” I nervously licked my lips. “Never have I ever been abroad.”
Patrick and Lena both smirked as they took a sip of their beers.
“Oh, come on!” I protested, leaning back into the armchair. “When have you ever been outside of the United States?”
“Allie, we both lived most of our lives in the north of New England,” Patrick explained patiently. “Canada is just a stone’s throw away.”
“…Guess that’s true,” I replied.
It was the evening of our last full day in Portland; after spending the whole first day in town and making another outing on the second morning, we’d come back to Lena’s aunts’ home in the afternoon, and after having dinner we’d decided that we might as well have some of the booze they’d left for us. Responsibly, of course.
Drinking games are responsible, right?
I was a bit bummed though: since we’d started playing Never Have I Ever, I’d come to realise exactly how sheltered my upbringing had been, at least compared to Lena and Patrick at least: their beers were both halfway gone, while mine was still almost full. It was the second bottle for both me and them, though, and I could definitely feel the happy buzz of the alcohol in the back of my brain.
“Okay,” I sighed. “Your turn, Lena.”
She thought for a bit, and then smiled. “Never have I ever won a prize.”
That, I had done. I took a drink, as did Patrick; Lena blinked in surprise.
“Huh? What?” she asked.
“Two-time high school state champion in triathlon, remember?” I smiled, pointing at myself.
“Oh, right, guess that counts.”
“As for me,” Pat said, “I’ve won a few science fairs. Academic scholarship, smartest person in the room, and all that jazz.”
“Well aren’t you special,” I said, punching him lightly in the shoulder. “Come on, go ahead.”
“Never have I ever ran a marathon,” he answered; then his eyes widened as I took a drink. “Wait, really?”
“Of course,” I nodded. “Triathlon is my main sport, but I also do running races for fun. Once you’re fit enough, a marathon is no big deal.”
“Huh. Cool, didn’t know that, I thought I’d gotten you there.”
“You know what?” Lena said. “I’m getting tired of this game, let’s switch.”
“Oh? And what do you suggest?” I asked.
Lena smiled. “Truth or Dare.”
“Absolutely not,” I said.
“Oh? And why’s that?” she asked, tilting her head to the side. “Do you maybe have some deep, dark secret you don’t want to reveal?”
“I don’t,” I replied. “It’s just that… I never liked that game anyway.”
“Come on, it’ll be fun!” Patrick said.
I looked at the two of them: they were staring at me expectantly, a look of excitement in their eyes. I sighed. “Ugh, okay. Fine. Let’s do this.”
“Great!” Lena said; then she frowned. “Hold on, there’s too few of us for a proper game. Give me a sec.”
She rushed upstairs, and was back in a couple minutes holding a pack of playing cards. “I’d brought these just in case we wanted to play a game or something, so we’re in luck,” she said, pulling the deck out of its box and shuffling it; then she placed it in the middle of the coffee table. “Alright, we each draw a card: high card gives the command, low card is the target.”
We nodded, and drew a card: mine was the king of hearts, Lena’s the queen of spades, and Patrick’s the two of hearts.
“Well well well, how the tables have turned,” I said, with a smirk.
“Alright, let’s do this,” Pat said. “Truth.”
From there on, we played several rounds; at first the truths and dares were mild, juvenile stuff, along the lines of “how do you like your eggs in the morning,” “stand on one leg and spin around seven times,” and so on. While we played we kept taking sips from our beer bottles, and before long we found ourselves in a hazy, happy euphoria, and the questions started getting more personal.
“What will it be, Allie?” Lena asked, placing her card – the five of clubs – besides Pat’s three of hearts and my two of spades.
“Truth,” I said.
She nodded. “Is there someone you like?”
I blinked. “I…” I began, then stopped. My mind started racing.
Was there someone I liked? Well, Patrick and Lena, of course. I loved them both dearly, and cared about them very much. But then again, I was trying to push them together, I couldn’t just come out and say I liked them, could I? And both of them at the same time, for that matter.
“Dare,” I said.
Lena frowned. “Hey, no fair. You picked truth, you can’t just switch after I’ve asked the question.”
“Well, I’m not answering that,” I said stubbornly, crossing my arms in front of myself.
“…Alright then,” she said. “But be warned, I have the best dare prepared for you.”
“I dare you to kiss Patrick.” She smirked and added: “On the lips. No kisses on the cheek this time.”
There was a moment of silence. I glared at Lena, but I couldn’t very well back down now, could I?
I turned to look at Pat. I nodded, and got up from the armchair, a bit unsteadily because of the booze I had coursing through me.
“No, wait, hold on,” Patrick protested. “Don’t I get a say?”
“You do, actually,” Lena replied. “If you don’t want to, just say the word. I’ll let Allie out of the dare.”
He turned and looked at me. My feelings were very conflicted: I had no idea whether I wanted him to refuse, or to let me go ahead with it.
After a few moments, he gulped. “Okay,” he said.
I walked over to him; he closed his eyes, and tilted his head backwards. I leaned in, and kissed him. It was a brief, chaste kiss, and it only lasted a few seconds before we separated.
“Are you satisfied?” I asked Lena.
“Oh yes, yes I am,” she smugly replied.
I sat back down in the armchair and, still grumbling, I drew another card from the deck; this time, mine was the six of hearts, Patrick had the king of diamonds, and Lena the four of hearts.
Lena locked eyes with Patrick, a defiant look on her face. “Dare,” she said.
“I dare you to kiss Allie.”
Lena’s gaze snapped to me, and she got up from the couch.
“W-w-wait a second!” I stammered.
She tilted her head to the side. “What, you don’t want to?”
Yes, I want to, very much so. The thought ran through my mind before I could stop it, but I dismissed it right away: I was trying to get Patrick and Lena to hook up, that wasn’t the time to be thinking about how inviting Lena’s lips looked. Or Patrick’s, for that matter.
But Truth or Dare was a game. It was all in good fun, right?
I sighed, and waved Lena over. Like Patrick had done before me, I closed my eyes and let it happen; very soon, it was done.
“You’re such a tease, Lena,” I said, drawing a card.
Lena just smiled as she drew one too. “Jack of spades.”
“I have the jack of hearts,” Pat said, looking at his card. “Wait, hold on, which one is the best? Hearts or spades?”
“Doesn’t matter, because I have the ace of clubs,” I triumphantly said. “And I dare the two of you to kiss.”
This was the best plan. True, I’d skipped the “truth or dare” part of Truth or Dare, but I was so caught up in the moment I didn’t care; and this way, by making them kiss, they were sure to realise the feelings they clearly had for each other.
Lena and Pat looked at each other, shrugged, and kissed: another brief, chaste kiss.
It made my heart sink.
This was what I wanted, right? For the two of them to get together. Become boyfriend and girlfriend. It was what I’d planned for all along. And yet, actually seeing them together, without me being there with them, felt terrible.
“I…” I began. Then I gulped. “I don’t feel like playing any more,” I said, got up, and started to head for the stairs.
“Wait, what’s wrong?” Lena asked. “Allie?”
I turned around and looked at them “Nothing’s wrong,” I replied, trying to keep my voice steady. “I’m just tired, that’s all.”
Lena hesitated, then said, “I’m sorry. I went too far. Forgive me, Allie.”
“What is there to forgive?” I asked, as brightly as I could manage. “It was all fun and games, wasn’t it? In any case, it’s getting late, and we have to drive back to Bradford McKinley tomorrow, so we better get some sleep.”
My friends glanced at each other, then Pat nodded and got up from the couch. “Let’s get to sleep, then.”
We made our way up the stairs in silence; I grabbed my pajamas from the guest room and, still without speaking, headed for the bathroom to get changed and brush my teeth. While I was doing so, I heard a low, grinding noise, and upon returning to the bedroom I found that my friends had pushed the three beds together and thrown a single blanket over them.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Well, it’s the last night, so let’s have a proper sleepover!” Lena exclaimed. “You know, we can lie next to each other, talk until we fall asleep, that kind of thing.”
I looked at her: she had a twinkle in her eyes, I didn’t know if it was the booze we’d drank or something else. Maybe she wanted to make it up to me?
Wait, hold on, make it up to me for what? For upsetting me? It was my fault. I did it all on my own.
“You’re okay with this?” I asked, turning to Patrick.
He shrugged. “I did help her push the beds together, after all.”
“…Okay then,” I said. “You better go put on your PJs and brush your teeth then.” Somehow, the thought of sleeping in close contact with my friends made me feel better.
Five minutes later we got into bed, pulled the covers over us, and tried to find a comfortable position. It was much like two evenings before, when we’d gotten on the couch together, only this time it was easier – we had much more space to move around, so our limbs weren’t as tangled. Still, the feeling was very nice: soon I found myself basking in my friends’ warmth, and from the expression on their faces, they were enjoying it too.
Despite me saying that we needed to go to sleep early, we couldn’t help but keep chatting and bantering with each other, late into the night. We finally fell asleep at around two in the morning, snuggled together in a comfortable and warm pile.
“I spy with my little eye, something beginning with… T,” I said.
“Tree,” Patrick replied.
“Correct!” I said. “How did you know?”
“Apart from the fact that we’re driving through a forest, and there’s nothing but trees for miles around?” he asked; Lena and I both chuckled in response.
It was mid-afternoon of the next day, and we were making our way back from Portland to our college. We’d had lunch with Abby and Pam, who’d come back in the morning, and I’d had a nice conversation with Abby (though not as long as I would’ve liked, but she’d promised to make time for me the next time she would come visit her family at Bradford McKinley); but unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and we had to go back. Especially since finals week was coming up, we needed to study and get ready for it.
The drive was boring, though. It was long, and it was mostly through rural country and woodland, with very little to see all around. We were trying to distract ourselves, playing silly word games to pass the time, and thinking. I, especially, was thinking about everything that had transpired over the previous days.
I’d enjoyed being with Patrick and Lena; so much, in fact, that I almost wished our holiday wouldn’t have to end, that we could stay together forever, just like that, just the three of us. They were my best friends, and I loved them very much. But unfortunately the world doesn’t work like that, does it now? Sooner or later we would have to break up: one of us would start dating someone outside our trio, and we would gradually drift apart. That’s how these things usually go.
So I knew I had to redouble my efforts to push my two friends together. This way, at the very least, they would be able to stay with each other. I would be fine. Eventually. Even though I dreaded the thought of not seeing them any more, in the end I would find someone I could be with, too. That would be no trouble, especially once the hormones started kicking in, and started giving me the body I desired, and some confidence in myself along with it.
And, speaking of hormones…
“Lena, would you mind stopping at the next service station?” I asked. “I… Uh… I kinda have to pee.”
She smiled, looking at me in the rear-view mirror. “That’s the spiro for you,” she commented. “Don’t worry, there should be one a few miles up ahead.”
About half an hour later, we pulled into a small rest stop off the side of the road; I got out of the car and walked to the toilet, while my friends waited for me, and in short order I was walking back towards our vehicle. We were way off in the boonies, there was no one around – even the rest stop was just the toilets, and a pair of vending machines under an awning.
As I was approaching the car, my phone pinged; there was a signal even out there, it seemed. I pulled it out, unlocked it, and read the message.
It was a simple message: just four words, from my mother.
Theo. Is this you?
Following the words was a picture of me, Lena, and Patrick, as we walked into the Planned Parenthood clinic I’d gotten my hormone prescription from.
I felt blood drain from my face.
With shaking hands, I typed and sent the reply: no.
Almost as soon as I’d pushed the button, my phone started ringing; I yelped in surprise, and almost dropped the device to the ground, I was so startled. Then I just froze, standing there, looking at the screen, where the picture was still prominently displayed, and a notification was telling me my mother was calling me.
My friends must have noticed my expression, since they hurried over.
“Allie? Allie, what’s wrong?” Patrick asked.
Wordlessly, I just pointed at the screen. At the picture that was still on it.
The phone stopped ringing: the call had gone to voicemail. A second later, the ringing resumed: Mother was calling me again.
“Wh… What? What do I do?” I whispered in a panicked voice, almost as if my mother could hear me, even though I hadn’t picked up.
“You have to answer, Allie,” Lena said.
“What? No!” I hissed back. “You’ve seen the picture! What if she asks me about it?”
The ringing stopped again. And then started again.
“I…” she began. She sighed. “I don’t know. But you can’t ignore her forever, can you?”
“Oh, I can,” I said.
“Allie, no,” Pat said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “You have to face this, sooner or later. Better do it now.”
I looked at him.
“We’re here for you,” he added. Lena nodded in agreement.
For the third time, the call went to voicemail. And for the fourth time, my mother called me.
I looked down at my phone, and gulped. I glanced at Lena and Patrick, then started moving my finger towards the “answer” button.
“Put it on loudspeaker, so we can hear,” Lena said. I nodded, and pressed the button.
“Hello?” I said.
“Why did you lie to me, Theo?” my mother’s voice asked. She didn’t sound angry, just disappointed, which if anything was worse.
“I didn’t lie,” I replied. “I--”
“Don’t even try,” she said. “I called the insurance, they told me there was a charge at that clinic on that day, and another one at a pharmacy just down the street. It’s you in that picture.” I could hear her take a deep breath. “Why did you go to an abortion clinic, Theo? And with a girl. I thought I’d raised you better than this.”
“Where did you get that picture?” I asked.
“Uncle Adam. He’s the coordinator for a network of pro-life groups,” Mother answered. “Someone snapped your picture when you went into the clinic and shared it to their private chat, and your uncle saw it and sent it to me.” She paused, then asked again: “Why did you go to an abortion clinic, Theo?”
I hesitated; I didn’t know what to say. In the end, I went with the truth. A partial truth, anyway.
“I didn’t go there for an abortion,” I said. “I went there for… Something else.”
“What then?” my mother said. “Why did you go there?”
I didn’t answer; I just stared at the phone, and then looked at my friends: they had identical worried expressions on their faces.
“Theo? Are you still there?” came my mother’s voice again. “What aren’t you telling me, Theo?”
“It’s… Not something I can talk about over the phone,” I answered. “I will tell you. But in person.”
“Come home, then,” she said. “So we can talk properly. As a family.”
Desperately, I tried to think of an excuse. “I can’t come home right now,” I said. “Finals week is coming up, I have to study. I can’t miss several days in a row to come home, and then travel back to college in time to take my exams.”
“I will come there, then,” she replied. “I’ll pack a bag, take the car. If I don’t stop along the way, I can be there in a day.”
Oh, no. This was becoming worse and worse. But there was no way I could refuse, could I? At least I would be on friendly ground. And my friends could give me some support…
“Bring Peter and Leah too,” I said. “This way, we can all talk together.”
My mother seemed to hesitate. “But… They can’t miss school.”
“This is more important than school,” I answered. “This is about family.”
There was a prolonged silence on the line, then she replied, “Okay. I’ll arrange things, and we’ll be there on Monday, three days from now. See you then, Theo.” She paused. “I love you.”
She hung up.
I was too stunned to say anything; I just stood there, as tears started flowing down my face. I barely noticed my friends hugging me to comfort me.
What the fuck was I going to do?