Two weeks passed, and school began again. Brinley stopped telling her parents who she was spending time with, because, after all, she couldn’t exactly barricade herself from everyone at school. Kiandra didn’t pressure her to do anything she didn’t want to, and she would sometimes even listen if Brinley talked to her about God and the changes in her life. Brinley tried talking to the others, but they never sat still long enough for her to tell them everything, more interested in their party stories or things that happened over the weekends.
Maci checked up on her every single day, calling her every night to see how she was doing and whether everything was okay. At first, Brinley thought that sweet of her friend, but by the end of the week, it became tiresome.
“Do you really think you have to check up on me every single day?” Brinley asked her Friday night. “I just saw you yesterday, and everything was fine.”
“I know. I just want to talk to you,” Maci said over the phone. “What are you doing now?”
“Laying in my bed. I was planning on going to sleep early. Why?”
“Nothing. Just wondering. So you’re doing okay?”
“Yes.” Brinley sighed and rolled over. “I’d better let you go now. Good night.”
“Okay. Good night.”
Brinley groaned into her pillow. Why was everyone so annoying? Everyone except Kiandra and her old friends. Just then, her phone buzzed, and Kiki said she was coming to pick her up. Brinley panicked for a second but then checked the time. It was only 10. Not that late. She pulled herself out of bed and threw on some presentable clothes. She sneaked past her parents’ bedroom, knowing they would not let her out of the house if they heard her. Luckily, she had done this many times before. She locked the door quietly, running to her friend’s car on the street.
Brinley pulled the door shut. “Where are we going?”
“Maddy’s. Her parents are gone for the weekend.”
What Kiki had failed to mention was that Brinley’s crush, Jason, was also at the party. She hadn’t seen Jason in months, but as soon as she noticed him, dancing in a group of girls, towering over all of them, her heart sped up. Jason spoke to her on occasion, but they weren’t good friends or anything like that. He had a new haircut that somehow made him even more attractive than she’d remembered. She became painfully aware of her lack of makeup and messy ponytail. Did her outfit even go together?
“Hey, Brin!” Nicole yelled from the dance floor. Jason looked up and gave her a smile and nod. She smiled back, wishing she had a drink to steady her nerves.
“Come on, I see Brady!” Kiki said, grabbing Brinley’s arm and pulling her away.
She didn’t encounter Jason again until much later that night while out on the patio with Jose and Philycia.
“You sure you don’t want a puff?” Jose asked, holding out his cigarette.
“Nah. Thanks though,” Brinley said. She’d never really smoked other than the occasional cigarette for a special occasion, but with her new resolve, she figured it best to cut that out as well.
“What’s happened to you, Brin?” Philycia asked. “You don’t smoke, you don’t drink anymore…”
Just then, Jason walked out with another group of smokers. He joined us, pulling out a cig. “Sup?” he said, smiling especially at Brinley.
“Brin’s being a buzzkill,” Phylicia said, rolling her eyes dramatically. “She doesn’t want a smoke and refuses to drink; I bet she’ll say she doesn’t like to dance either.”
Jason looked to Brinley with interest. “Really? You used to be so much fun.”
Brin smiled, trying to remember when she was “fun” in front of Jason. She was sure there were many such times, but, try as she might, she couldn’t remember. She didn’t remember ever feeling this self-conscious either.
“I still like to dance,” she said after an uncomfortable silence.
Jason gave her a small smile and turned to talk to someone else.
Brinley realized later that she hadn’t even thought about sharing her transformation with her friends when confronted. Instead, she wondered if she’d suddenly become less of a person in Jason’s eyes. For the rest of the night, she couldn’t catch his eye, and he spent most of his time with other girls. She suddenly didn’t feel as happy about her decision to come. What was she doing there if she wasn’t doing what everyone else was doing?
Brinley walked into the kitchen, where two drunken friends were making out and a few guys were digging through the fridge. She leaned against the island, which was covered with bottles of alcohol, in the middle of the kitchen. Suddenly she felt the desire to drink something. She turned around and almost collided with a guy walking behind her, red plastic cup in his hand. The contents of the cup splashed onto both of them, and Brinley’s nostrils were filled with the intense aroma of tequila. She closed her eyes and tried to focus. She needed to leave now.
She opened her eyes and found herself staring into Jason’s eyes. “Umm, yeah.”
“Not drinking, huh?” His eyes ran down Brinley’s shirt to the wet spot.
“Oh, no. Someone just ran into me,” she said, heart racing.
“So what’s the deal?” he asked, sitting up on the island, pushing over empty bottles of vodka. “I haven’t seen you all summer. And now you show up all abstinent or whatever.”
“I don’t know.” Brinley shrugged, suddenly forgetting everything she was so used to saying. “I just realized… that isn’t who I want to be, I guess.”
“Who do you want to be?” he said. His breath smelled strongly of beer, and Brinley struggled to think straight.
“A better person—“ she faltered, noticing that he wasn’t really paying attention. “I don’t want to rely on alcohol to make life better.”
Jason smirked. “So you’re done? No more partying for you?”
“I’m here, aren’t I?” Brinley’s stomach clenched, and she wondered why everyone kept asking that question tonight. “Just because I don’t want to drink doesn’t make me a different person.”
“Sure…” Jason said and slowly got off the counter. He smiled at Kiandra, who’d appeared behind Brinley. “What’s up, girl?”
“Just seeing how Brinley’s doing. You aren’t bored, sweetie, are you?”
Brinley heaved a sigh. “Why would I be bored?”
“I’d be bored if I didn’t have something keeping me going,” Kiki said. She winked at Jason and whispered, “She doesn’t drink anymore.”
“He knows,” Brinley said sharply, crossing her arms. “Are you telling everyone now? Is it ‘let’s make fun of Brin day’?”
Jason smirked, turning to Kiki. “She’s been telling me how she’s a better person now. I guess someday that’ll be us when we’re old and done living life.”
Both of them kept shooting her mocking looks, and Brinley couldn’t keep her anger at bay anymore. “So I can’t hang out with you anymore if I don’t drink? Is that it?”
The other two exchanged glances, and Kiki said, “You good, Brin. Just chill. Want to dance, Jason?” They turned to leave, but Brinley wasn’t about to let them go.
“So now I can’t dance?” she yelled. “Is this what you want?” She grabbed a half-full bottle of vodka from the table. “Will this make you happy?” She took a sip, preparing to defiantly put the bottle back on the counter when she’d made her point.
And then the alcohol touched her throat. It lit up with a familiar flame, burning its way down to her stomach, warming her entire body. She lowered the bottle half an inch and then took another gulp, this one bigger. Jason and Kiki watched her with amused, half-interested looks.
“Yeah, you can come dance too,” Kiki said. “I didn’t think you’d want to.”
Brinley was dizzy. Every part of her being craved the contents of the bottle in her hand. “Yeah. You go ahead.”
Kiki and Jason exchanged confused looks and walked out of the kitchen. Brinley turned her concentration to the bottle in her hand. She needed to put it down. Why couldn’t she do it?
Just one more sip, she thought. After that, no more. After that, she’d go home, and everything would be okay. God would forgive her, since she’d only drunk to prove a point. What was the point again? She couldn’t remember. She lifted the bottle. It was empty before she knew it. The familiar glow filled her body. She felt warm and at ease. But not enough at ease. Just a little more.
She turned to the table. Most of the bottles and cans were empty, but she found a half-drunk can of beer and finished it. Then a red cup with some form of liquor. Someone handed her another beer. She was feeling better by the minute. She wandered out into the living room, where the music blared and people danced. She joined in, and everyone greeted her with the same old enthusiasm. She was home. She’d missed this.
A voice deep inside told her that she wasn’t supposed to be doing this. She was getting better. She was free from this. She drowned that voice with another gulp.