Chapter One - Big Fireflies

You know the feeling where you want to go home but social obligations keep getting in the way? That's basically how I was feeling.

I must say, being sober while everyone else is drunk is pretty awkward. Triple that feeling when you don't know twenty plus of the people there and your only friend is acting like an idiot.

"Laauuurrreeenn!" Shannon stumbled toward me, drawing out my name in a slur. She laughed as she spoke. "You wouldn't believe the cute guy over there," she pointed a thin finger toward the bonfire, "he's totally into me."

I stood on tiptoe and looked over the shoulders of the mass of people in front of me. The guy she pointed to was currently holding the hands of a tall blonde. I turned back to Shannon who was still rambling about him.

"You should, like, come meet him." She tried to pull me forward but quickly stumbled sideways into the sand.

I sighed and bent to pick her up. "Maybe we should go home."

"Hey there," a new voice spoke as I finally got Shannon to her feet. I turned to see a guy standing too close. I couldn't quite tell what he looked like because of the suckish lighting, but I could clearly smell the alcohol on his breath.

"What's your name, pretty girl?"

I just rolled my eyes and dragged Shannon away, the guy already making his way toward someone else, sending a withering look my way.

This situation was not ideal. The small get together on the beach had turned into a raging bonfire. Beer cans littered the sand and more people kept coming. I gazed up to the houses on the bluff above and prayed no one was getting ready to call the cops.

Best to go home now.

"Shannon, I think we should leave," I let go to see if she could stand on her own.

"Aren't you having fun?" she asked, still swaying slightly. I hadn't taken long for the alcohol to take its effect on her small frame.

"It's almost ten-thirty. My curfew is eleven." I was still working out how I was going to sneak her up to my room without my mom noticing her state. I searched the pile of possessions by the dune for my purse and flip-flops, pulling out Shannon's as well. I gave them to her and put my own shoes back on. "Let's go."

I walked as quickly as I could through the sand, my flip-flops sending waves of it crashing into the backs of my legs. I hated that.

When the bonfire was at a distance and the stairway up to the road was in sight, Shannon made a comment.

"Wow! Lauren, look! Those are some big fireflies, girl."

I looked toward where she was pointing and saw not fireflies, but flashlights, the kind cops carry.

"Damnit," I started moving faster toward the stairs, now physically dragging Shannon as she tried to get a closer look at the 'fireflies.' I finally hopped onto the wooden stairs and began climbing them; Shannon was having difficulty with those too.

Getting to the top, I sighed and set Shannon down on a bench, seating myself beside her. It was going to be a long walk home with her like this. I considered calling my sister to pick us up, I knew she wouldn't say a word about it.

These thoughts were dashed, however, as soon as I had taken out my cell phone.

A cop car pulled into the parking lot; lights dark and alarm silenced. I bit my lip in nervousness - we weren't doing anything wrong, right? Sure Shannon was one-hundred-percent drunk, but for all the cop knew she just acted that way.

The door opened and the cop stepped out. This was not how I pictured my first week of summer. He came closer and turned his flashlight on, shining it directly in my eyes, probably making me look drunk the way I had to screw up my face so my irises wouldn't burn.

"Lauren?"

My breath caught in my throat. My mom's boyfriend ran the last few steps toward me and kneeled down.

"Lauren, what are you doing here?" His gaze flickered toward Shannon, slumped against my shoulder. He rubbed his beard.

"Rose is coming to pick me up," I said.

"I thought your sister was at Christine's?"

"I know, I just called her before you got here." My voice shook a bit.

"Does your mom know you're here, Lauren?" he asked. I knew I couldn't lie, it's not like he wouldn't get the chance to ask her later.

"No," I surrendered.

He looked once more at Shannon. "Should I take her home?"

"Please, John, just let her stay with us! Her parents would kill her if they saw her like this!" I knew it wouldn't work. This guy may not have any kids of his own, but he still had that parental side to him.

"I think it's best if we let her stay the night, but her parents will need to know," he watched carefully for the reaction on my face. Instead of looking at him I looked at Shannon. This was going to suck more for her than it would for me; I wasn't the one who had been drinking. Still, I hadn't been where I said I was going to be tonight.

"All right," I said, defeated, and followed him back to the cruiser. He opened the door for me and I slid into the back seat with Shannon, separated from John by a screen.

We were silent all the way back to my house. I got out of the back and walked slowly up the perfectly manicured path.

"My parents are going to kill me, Lauren." Shannon said quietly to me, a little panicky now that some of the effect of the beer was wearing off.

"It'll be fine," I lied, both to her and myself.

I opened the bright red door to my house, followed by Shannon then John. He gave a call that seemed too loud for my ears.

"It's just us, Mary!"

My mom came into the hallway dressed in sweats and pink slippers.

"Why are you here? I thought your shift wasn't over until midnight..." She then looked at and Shannon. "Oh, Lauren, what did you do?"

"I think its best if we wait until morning," John said to her, walking forward and putting an arm around my mom. "Go to bed girls."

My emotions for John were ranging between gratitude and anger. He could have reacted much more horribly to finding me on a bench next to a drunken friend. Yet, he could have just not showed up at all. That would have been the best situation. I might have made it through tonight without getting caught.

Soothing Shannon with all sorts of lies about how this wouldn't wreck most of her summer, I helped her climb the stairs to my room.

We didn't talk much that night - the evening had suddenly lost its glamour for Shannon.

That morning I watched her mom pull into the driveway and escort her out to the car. I doubted Shannon's hangover was going to help soothe the yelling she was going to receive. As soon as she left I moved to the living room for my own doom.

My mom was sitting in the armchair in the same pink slippers as last night. The paper was in front of her, but she wasn't reading it. She had eyes only for me.

"I'm going to give you a chance to explain," she said calmly.

I took a deep breath. "I messed up, I wasn't where I said I was going to be, I'm sorry." I hoped the direct, 'I-was-wrong' approach would work. I was wrong.

"There's more to it than just being sorry, Lauren." Mom leaned forward in her chair and put her hands on her knees. "This is the second time you've lied to me about where you've been "

The second time she's found out, but she didn't need to know that.

"- I think you need more than just a grounding."

My focus sharpened as she said those words.

"I think you need a job... well more like volunteer work since you won't be paid."

"What?" I cried in outrage. "Can't you just lock me in my room for a week like a normal parent?"

"Obviously that had no affect on you the last time I did that. This will be good for you."

By this time I had gone to sit on the couch in front of her. Best not to be standing when I'm feeling utterly defeated. There was my mom again, doing things the out-of-the-ordinary way. Not that that was always a bad thing... but that was only when it didn't concern me.

"I talked to your Aunt last night. She's agreed to hire you for one month. You'll be working from eight to five Monday through Friday, and you'll be staying at home after work and on the weekends for two weeks."

"But-"

"It will be good for you to experience having a lot of responsibility. I told her to take a firm hand with you."

"But-"

"I'm not discussing this."

"Mom, I won't survive one day there."

"You will and you'll like it." The finality in her voice shut me up. I pushed off the couch and stomped upstairs as loud as I could. It probably would have been more effective if I hadn't been wearing my own fuzzy pink slippers.

Three hours and several depressing CDs later, I sneaked down to the kitchen pausing at the foot of the stairs looking for my mom. Hearing Oprah talk about the current interesting issue in the world let me know that the kitchen was empty. My mom can't pull herself away from Oprah.

Rummaging through the cupboards I searched around for anything made of chocolate. Finally finding a pack of Oreos, I threw them down on the counter. I then searched for the milk. No glass. I thought it would have better effect if someone were to try to bother me. Only the hard-core drink the milk right out of the carton.

John came in and saw me enveloped in an ultimate girl remedy and quickly moved out. That was something I like about John, he knew when to leave someone alone.

I was supposed to start 'work' Monday, it was Sunday. I was not looking forward to this. I had never worked with the public before. My summer job list had only consisted helping my mom file papers at the hospital. I could just image everything that could go wrong.

On second thought, maybe this wasn't a bad thing - I could mess up so much that I would be fired. Though knowing my mom she would just force her sister to keep me there.

My cell phone rang on the counter next to me. I flipped it open and saw Shannon's number. I knew she wouldn't have good news.