By Anastasia Arellano
South Paradise Beach was a boozy mess, crawling with college kids enjoying the sunny shores. Eighteen-year-old Larissa Hartman felt uncomfortable the moment she hit the beach with her girlfriends.
“She’s their D.U.F.F!”
“It’s a Friend Grenade!”
The insults kept swirling through the crowd every time guys would approach the group of five.
“Don’t listen to them. Guys are pigs,” her best friend Zaire Fletcher slurred, steadying herself on Larissa’s arm.
“That’s easy for you to say,” she snipped under her breath.
She wouldn’t consider herself jealous, but sometimes she wished Zaire would get hit by a bus or grow some pimples or something – anything that could maim her enough to be undesirable. Zaire had everything: a slim but ample figure, smooth ebony skin, and long, flowing hair that grazed her lower back. Larissa hated how perfect she looked and how easily she scored attention.
Larissa had spent the better part of high school waiting for the grace of puberty to enhance her chest, flatten her baby chub, and tame the halo of reddish frizz around her face. But the changes never came, and she carried on into college with the same dowdy exterior. The only positive change was the popular girls, the pretty ones that once would’ve made her life hell, suddenly befriended her. Zaire was the first friend she’d made at the Freshman Orientation party held in the dorms. She’d approached Larissa and offered her a compliment on her necklace. From there, Larissa was swept into a web of college parties and girls’ nights wherein the main topic of conversation was boys.
“I can’t believe you’re still a virgin,” the phrase was hurled at Larissa time and again.
She never had a comeback. The best she managed was a downplayed, “I’m not rushing.”
That was always a bitter lie. Larissa very desperately wanted male attention. Any attention. She just wanted someone to approach her with the sole intention of chatting to her, not as a means to get to her friends.
“What am I, some kind of gatekeeper?” she’d often bark at drunk frat boys who were making feeble attempts at conversation before asking the inevitable question: what’s your friend’s deal?
A very drunk guy with a farmer’s tan jumped in her path.
“Show us your tits!”
“Excuse me?” Larissa clutched her chest.
“Not you, her!”
Zaire laughed and offered the boy a brief booty shake. Larissa glared. She was used to boys looking at her with disgust, but it always hurt just that bit more when Zaire was around.
She spent the afternoon playing the despised role of guardian, relieved when Zaire finally announced to the group, “Let’s leave. We need to get ready for tonight.”
Back in the unkempt motel room, the girls giggled and drank more amidst a flurry of curling irons and cast aside clothes. Inez slipped into a club dress, took one look in the mirror, then dumped it into the pile of no’s.
“Can I borrow your eye shadow?” Zaire didn’t wait for Larissa’s response and helped herself to her new, barely touched Urban Decay eyeshadow palette. Larissa’s mother had bought it for her in hopes it would boost her self-confidence.
“Who’s hoping to get some tonight?” Inez posed the question in the middle of another outfit change.
“Larissa!” Zaire volunteered, “this would be the perfect time to pop your cherry.”
“I don’t know about that,” she blushed.
“No really,” Zaire egged on.
“It doesn’t even have to be sex,” Molly poured a round of shots. “Just do something.”
Zaire, Inez, and Molly all began giving Larissa boy advice.
“Fine. If I find the right guy,” Larissa caved.
A squeal erupted in the room, and that same optimistic energy followed them all the way to the Shark’s Fin bar on the busy boardwalk.
“Be cool,” Zaire whispered to the group as they each fished out their fake IDs. The bouncer working the door barely looked at their IDs and waved them in half-heartedly.
“Wait,” he held out his hand to Larissa and took her ID from her. He held it under a blue light, inspecting it carefully.
“You know I could call the cops on you?” he said sternly as he confiscated it.
“No,” the bouncer said, shaking his head. “Go home. You’re not old enough to be here.”
The crowd behind her pushed forward. Her tears pooled towards the back of her throat. She called each one of her friends, hoping someone would pick up their phone. Larissa lurked by the entrance to see if anyone would come look for her.
After nearly an hour she gave up, wiping her snotty nose with the back of her hand before heading in the direction of the beach. The evening sun hung dangerously low in the horizon as twilight gave way to dusk. Despite the sunset, there were still plenty of people on the sand, mostly those too inebriated to move. She walked down to the shoreline, dodging them like land mines. She stood at the water’s edge, the waves gently running over the tops of her feet. She breathed her first sigh of relief.
“Oh gross,” she whined at a couple getting raunchy in the water less than twenty feet away. They paid her no mind and continued.
“Not what you were expecting for spring break?” A stocky girl with auburn dreads sat on a crushed sandcastle nearby, strumming a guitar.
She had kind eyes.
“Yeah, it wasn’t the girls trip I thought it’d be.”
“Same.” The girl shrugged and said with a sigh, “but sometimes you just gotta say screw it and do your own thing.”
“What are you playing?” Larissa took a step forward and sat on the sand.
“Can’t you tell?” she played some chords.
Larissa shook her head.
“It’s Night Moves.”
“Bob Seger,” Larissa smiled.
The girl winked.
Larissa felt the ocean breeze swell around her. Overhead, a pack of seagulls went squawking into the sunset. She was finally comfortable.
Anastasia Arellano is originally from California but now lives in Dublin, Ireland with her wife. She is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, and holds a Master’s in Creative Writing. She writes for GreaterGood and VT Jungle. She’s had short stories published in McStorytellers, Honey + Lime, The Hellebore, Anti-Heroin Chic, as well as poetry published in Smithereen’s Press. She recently completed her first solo YA novel, as well as a coauthored YA novel with her best friend and fellow writer who she met while on the same Master's course at Trinity. When she’s not writing, she’s cooking, plastering her bedroom walls in storyboards, or seeking inspiration from the Irish landscape. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.