Chapter Five

Love Gallardi is a talker. It's probably her favorite hobby. Her story is a typical Casper one, full of rejection and tears caused by her weight. We've been in my new bedroom for only five minutes, long enough for me to absorb the lime green walls and electric blue lights, but Love has already given me her life story. I'm too shocked and curious about my new home to tell her that I am not Oprah.

"…And then when I was twelve, I lost my virginity to this college guy. Oh, lord Moira, I was pitiful. I'm getting better though. By being here on the ship. It's a lot of fun…" Love's voice trails off as she glances up through her black straw-like bangs at me. "You'll like it here, Moira. Everyone does."

"Mmm." I scan the room. "Um, which bed is mine?" I ask. There's a bunk bed shoved in the corner with Christmas lights draped on the ladder and poles and bumper stickers plastered on the side. Next to it sits a full-size futon with a hot-pink bedspread and pillows with dancing monkeys on them.

"Oh, the uh, futon," Love replies. "I get the bottom bunk and Mouse, our other roommate, gets the top bunk. She's very quiet."

"Okay." I throw my lone bag on the futon and glance down at my clothes. It's gotten worse since I've last checked. Dirt, grease, and pizza sauce has been added to the mess on my tank top. "Where's the bathroom?"

"We have two in our hallway, so you can choose," Love says. "Closest one is four doors down on the left, though."

"Thanks." I rummage through my bag, hoping I can dig up something fabulous, but it's impossible. I finally settle on a Denver Broncos football jersey and a fresh pair of jeans.

Once I'm in the hallway, I take a deep breath and look around. The floor is lined with royal blue carpet and dim lamps are the only lighting. I wonder if I'm dreaming. I have to be. And when I think about it being fake, I cross my fingers and hope it's the real deal. I can never go back to California.

I'm starting down the hallway, counting doors, looking for something bathroom-like, when a girl comes around the corner. I immediately look down because I'm so used to avoiding eye contact with other people. Maybe she won't see me. But she does. Of course.

"Hey!" she exclaims. "You're the new girl! From California, right?"

My eyes trail over the girl, over her soft-looking boots, her short teal dress, and eventually landing on her cocoa-colored face. She looks harmless.

"Yeah," I say, clearing my throat. "It's Moira." I stick my hand out, expecting her to shake it, but she pushes it away and gives me a huge hug instead. I literally stumble back and hold my breath until she pulls away.

"My name's Quinn," she says. "Washington recruit. I'm so happy to see a normal face! Peter and Summer have been picking up such downers, I thought I'd have to prescribe the ship some serious medication!"

"Well, I'm not too weird," I mumble. "I, uh, hope." I shift the weight from one foot to another and then clear my throat. "I was just on my way to the shower so…"

"Oh, honey, don't let me stop you," Quinn laughs. "I just wanted to say hi, and make sure you haven't drowned in Love's sob stories."

"Not quite yet, but getting there."

"Girl, I hear you. We're having a huge party tonight so make sure you put on your best dancing shoes. It's a Welcome-To-The-Insane-Asylum kind of party. An excuse to dress up."

"I'm not really up for a party…"

"You have to come, Moira! It's for you!" Quinn exclaims. "How about after dinner, you come to my room and we'll make you fabulous. Sound good?"

I don't even have a chance to say yes before she smiles and says she'll she me after dinner. I'm left standing in the hallway, still wondering where the bathroom is and if I'll ever get used to living with forty new brothers and sisters.

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After I'm showered, dressed, and back in my room, I collapse on my futon and check my cell phone for any missed alerts. There aren't any. I can't say I'm really surprised. My family has never been big on panicking. The police have probably gone back to the station, and life has almost replied to semi-normal. My father is, of course, still at work, chattering away mindlessly on his cell phone, not caring that his 17-year-old daughter has ran away to God-knows-where. My mother is baking cookies or washing Benjamin's baseball uniform, trying to keep the neighborhood from knowing that I have taken off. They are pissed off, more angry at me, than afraid of what's happening to me. Kaitlin is at her afternoon piano lesson, pounding away at the keys. I sigh and put my cell phone on the charger.

A few moments later, the door opens and a tiny girl, maybe 4'10", glides in, clutching a thick book to her chest. She doesn't acknowledge me, she simply throws the book on the top bunk and rips her sweatshirt off. She starts toward the closet.

"Hi," I boldly say, standing up. "I'm Moira."

The girl glances at me from the corner of her eye and then yanks a yellow T-shirt over her head and leaves the room.

My, my aren't we friendly?

"That's Mouse," Love mumbles from the bottom bunk. She looks at me from under the new edition of Seventeen. How they manage to get magazines mailed to the middle of the Pacific Ocean is beyond me.

"She's our other roommate. She spends most of her time in the library."

"Ah."

Love sits up and sighs. "Dinner is in about five minutes. I like to get there early. I swear, every guy on this ship has to have fourths or they're not satisfied and we have to hear about it." She pulls a poncho over her T-shirt and continues. "It's not like I need to be eating anyway. As fat as I am."

The statement "You are not fat" almost flies out of my mouth, but I don't want to be one of those people who try to make someone feel better with false comments. I guess she senses what I'm thinking, and she looks up and says, "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

We walk to the dining hall together. Love gives me a mini-tour of the ship, pointing out people's bedrooms, the bathrooms, and sitting rooms.

"Obviously we don't use the sitting rooms for sitting," Love says. "Good lord, last month I was going to sit nicely and eat an apple and maybe read in one of those rooms, and I walk in on Tracy and Brennan going at it like dogs! There are some perverts on this ship, Moira. Beware…"

"I'll keep that in mind."

We are the first ones in the dining hall, which takes up pretty much the entire bottom of the ship. There's an older guy, possibly 20 or 21 reading a magazine and leaning against one of the three Sub-Zeros. Love goes up to him.

"Hey, Carter," Love says lazily, elbowing the guy. "This is Moira. New girl from California. What have you cooked for me today?"

Carter sticks the magazine in his back pocket and shakes my hand. "Pleasure to meet you," he says in a light Southern accent. "It's Mexican Night, so you came on a good day."

"Ooh, Mexican Night!" Love cries, lunging for the tray of cooling burritos. "Oh, my God, I've been dying for these things, Carter!"

"I made them with love in every stir, Love," Carter says, smiling.

He hands me a plate with a taco and a Mexican pizza, and Love and I sit down at a table. Clusters of people trickle in afterward, and soon the dining hall is bustling. I notice Tips sitting with Peter near the front of the room. He's staring at her, longingly, while Tips merely gazes through the crowd, bored. I try to not burst into tears and turn back toward my plate.

"Hey, girl!" a familiar voice exclaims. Quinn plops down in the seat next to me and douses her taco salad with hot sauce. "It's your first dinner, we should do something to remember."

"What do you suggest?" Love says. "Start a food fight?"

"Oh, can you picture the look of Tips's face if she gets nailed in the head with a burrito?" Quinn laughs, clutching her stomach. "She'll be sooo pissed. It's perfect!"

Obviously, I am not the only Tips hater at the table.

"So, should we do it?" Love whispers. "I think it'll be funny."

Mouse quietly slides in the seat next to Love and chokes down her food in almost a second. "Do what?" she mumbles to Love.

"Start a food fight," I reply. "To make my first dinner one to remember."

"That's stupid," she says bluntly.

"Oh, what do you know, you critter?" Quinn says. "On the count of three, we'll start. Okay?"

We don't even get to two before Tips stands up and the dining hall falls silent. We decide to hold it, and see what's going on.

"Caspers," she says. Everyone visibly straightens. "Tonight is the Launch Party for two new members. Shawn Jennings and…Myra Flocker, I think it is…"

She continues, but I don't even listen. I'm too busy trying to kill her in my mind. I hadn't even been on the ship for three hours, and I already wanted to murder her.

"Boy, she loves to hear herself talk," Quinn mumbles. "I say we bombard her right…now…"

Tips has just finished confirming the times of the party and is getting ready to sit down when Quinn stands up. The food begins to fly as soon as she announces it. And I can't help but laugh when I think of how Tips's face looked when some awesome person conked her in the back of the head with a burrito.

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"Oh, my, LORD, she is MAD at me!" Quinn cackles, placing her curling iron on her vanity to laugh some more.

This is an understatement. I think Tips would have thrown Quinn off the ship herself if Peter hadn't convinced her otherwise. After Carter, the closest thing to an adult we have on the ship, calmed things down and said he'd clean it up, Tips had glared at Quinn and hissed rude remarks at her until Peter steered her away from Quinn into his bedroom. My imagination runs wild at what they are doing in there, but being in Quinn's room, having her curl my hair helps. Quinn's roommate, Jesse, a preppy brunette from Ohio, has been laughing with us while she tries on outfits for the party.

"She's going to strangle you tonight while you're sleeping," Jesse laughs. "You'll be saying, 'Help me, Jesse, help me!' but I won't hear a thing! I'll be too wasted!"

Quinn snorts and finishes the last section of my hair. The aqua ends stand out from the heat of the iron, and even more from the blue eye shadow she's dabbed on me. My outfit consists of a black denim mini-skirt and a low-cut red silk shirt with black heels, all borrowed from Quinn's closet, even though she's skinner than me and I'm about to burst. Quinn looks like Halle Berry in her gold jersey dress and heels.

"I think we're ready," Quinn says.

"I think we are," Jesse replies. "Just let me get my clutch."

"That is the stupidest name for a purse I've ever heard!" Quinn says. "Clutch? What about grab? A grab bag. 'Let me get my grab.'"

"Quinn, shut up, you go off about anything," Jesse laughs.

"It is stupid," she mumbles.

Quinn and Jesse's bedroom is on the third floor of the ship, so we have to go down several flights of steps to get to the main deck where the party is. As we reach the second floor landing, I look out at the Pacific Ocean and decide that it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. The ocean wind whips through my hair and the air feels so pure.

"It's something, huh?" Jesse says, smiling. I can only nod.

The party is in full swing when we get there. Loud music blares from hidden speakers and tables of food line the railing. Tips is easy to spot, with her arms wrapped around a very tall guy. She's now dressed in a simple pair of jeans and a T-shirt, burrito-free.

"Like what you see?" Quinn asks, scanning the crowd. "It's totally great, right?"

"Uh-huh." Among the new faces, I can make out Summer, who happens to be making out with Aubrey again. Love is swinging her hips to the music with Carter and another guy. Peter's staring out at the ocean, rubbing the back of his head and smoking a cigarette. But the person who stands out the most is surprisingly Shawn, who looks drunk and has his shirt off. My face warms as I think of how these people are my new family, catching me off guard and making me smile.

"I'm going for some punch!" Quinn yells over the music. "Mingle while we're gone!" She tugs away Jesse, who shoots me a sympathetic smile as she disappears into the clusters of people.

I brush away my shyness and make my way toward Peter. Maybe I could ask him what the real deal was between him and Tips. But before I could reach him, a familiar shaggy redhead cuts me off.

"Moira," he says.

"…Matt?" I guess. He nods and takes my hand, pulling me toward the dance floor.

"I assume you dance?" he questions.

"You assume wrong, actually," I reply. "I hate dancing."

"You won't after I get through with you."

"You make it sound so dirty."

"You don't think it actually is?" Matt twirls me, and somehow we end up in the middle of the crowd. Lots of people stop dancing and back away, making room for Matt and I. Its so embarrassing to be in the center of attention, and my cheeks flame red.

"I assume you're embarrassed?" he chuckles into my ear.

"You know what they say when you assume things, right?"

"No, what do 'they' say?"

"You make an ass out of you and me."

"My, how vulgar."

"Depends on how you think of it."

The song changes to an old Usher one, the one where he screams 'Yeah!' every five seconds, and suddenly we don't have the dance floor to ourselves anymore. Everyone jumps in and starts grinding hips. I don't want to be apart of them.

"Can we get out of here?" I ask. "I'm not fond of parties."

Matt sighs playfully like he's doing me a huge favor. "Well, I GUESS so." He grabs my hand, and we slip into the main hallway unnoticed and walk slowly toward the end. Our fingers are brushing, just barely, but they are.

"So…" Matt says. "You're from California, huh?"

"It's overrated."

"I can imagine," he replies, raising his eyebrows. "I guess we have a California Baby onboard."

"Ooh, I love that song," I tease, stopping at my bedroom door.

Suddenly it seems like a first date. That first date on the movies where the girl fiddles with her keys and her foot pops when the guys kisses her, stiff, right there on the mouth. I think I want Matt to kiss me, just for the hell of it. He is pretty damn cute. Not gorgeous like Peter or hunky like Thomas…but adorable. It's pretty shallow to only want to kiss someone because of their looks, but I can't help it.

"Sorry the party sucked for you," Matt apologizes. "Usually, it's a big hit with the 'newbies.' Gives them time to socialize."

"I've never been much of a partier," I reply. "Never really saw the need."

"I understand." A loud burst of laughter comes from the deck and Matt glances toward it. "But I gotta get back out there. Somebody needs to keep the punch bowl filled."

"Oh, go ahead. I might just catch up with the party later."

"Sounds good." Matt steps back and the evening sunlight catches his hazel eyes, one of them he uses to wink at me. "See you later…California Baby…" He walks away, singing the opening notes and laughing.

I float back to my room.

A/N-I'm so sorry that it's been months!!! I've had zero inspiration for writing lately. I don't really like this chapter, mainly because of how it's written, but I decided to post it so you guys know I didn't just ditch this story!!! No, Matt and Moira will not blow up into this huge thing, mainly because I don't like them together. I prefer her with 'You know Who.' Matt is just a friend right now. Please review, but don't flame. If you see mistakes, I'm sorry, I did not edit and my fabulous friend (AHEM Yasmin) was too lazy to do herself. Grrr. Anyway, Happy New Year!! Hope this chapter wasn't a total let-down.