"See you, River," Meava Gilbert called quietly as she pulled up further into my driveway to drop me off. I was the last one left for her to, after Lysandra and Meghan. I fumbled for the doorknob, almost tripping out the door as I slung my duffel bag over my shoulder, staggering a bit. My head was throbbing, and I still had this awful dryness in my throat, this heavy, clumsy feeling in my limbs. It felt like I was slogging through my movements. I wanted to just lie down, go back to sleep…1

"Yeah, later," I mumbled back, something about Meava's clear-eyed, calm demeanor royally pissing me off. Why did she have to be so sensible and practical, not drinking enough for a hangover? Bitch.2

You're the bitch, River, a nagging little voice in my head retorted. You're the one who let yourself get carried away. You're the one who completely shot to shit your little "drinking moderately in a safe environment" theory. And now you'll pay for it all day. Besides, who are you to say Meava's a bitch when you're just mad that you used to be a drinking virgin, up until last night?3

Now irritated with myself as well as Meava, I started to walk away from the car, then turned quickly as a sudden thought struck me.4

"Meava!" I yelled, and she put the car in park, stuck her head out the window. I jogged over to her- well, that's probably too optimistic a word. More like I hobbled, head stabbing me, stomach full of what felt like a bunch of stinging bees. 5

"Meava Gilbert," I threatened as I drew closer to her, "if you let that camera out of your sight- or any pictures you might happen to develop- for a single second- I will have to kill you, friend or no."6

Meava smiled a typically Meava smile- without showing teeth. She's not a very emotional or excitable person- not like Lysandra at all.7

"Don't worry, River," she reassured me. "Go on, get home and go back to sleep. Feel better."8

"Easy for you to say," I muttered grouchily as she pulled away. For the first time in my life, I understood the ridiculous behavior of girls after drinking- the tears, irritability, snarling and sensitivity. Mainly because all this was dangerously present now- and when combined with the confusion over Meghan, it was worse.9

No, I wasn't going to think about all that now. I was going to sleep. And when I woke up I'd feel better and I'd remember why it was cool to be a drinking prude forevermore, no matter what bullshit Meghan and Lysandra said.10

That seemed like a great plan, but unfortunately I forgot about the one obstacle standing in my path- Dad. It was a Saturday afternoon, so he was home- apparently waiting for me to show up. And from the incredibly pissed look on his face, the chances of me diverting him and being able to sneak off to bed weren't too good.11

Great. Enter guilt and punishment, shame and apologies, on top of pain, irritability, and confusion.12

"Hi, Dad," I mumbled, and I tried to sneak out of the living room, walk past him down the hallway to my room. But he stood up abruptly, looking at me pointedly.13

"Where were you last night, River?"14

Oh shit… how had he found out I had lied? I hated lying to my dad, it was bad enough when I'd done it, and now I had to be caught on top of everything else!15

"Um…" I started lamely, completely clueless as to what to say.16

"I know you weren't at Meava's. I called there last night to tell you something- something I was proud of you for, no less- and I am told that Meava is at Meghan's house and you weren't there. Now if you were also at Meghan's, I suspect you would have told me this rather than say you were at Meava's. So where were you last night, River?"17

Shit.18

"Uh… what were you going to tell me?" I asked meekly, in a weak attempt to change the subject. My head hurt, it was too early for this, even if it was almost 2 pm…19

"You got your SAT scores back," Dad said shortly, not losing the angry-disciplinarian look in his eyes. "You did well. But that is not the issue here, Jessica Rivers Sterling. Where were you?"20

At that I squirmed even more, inwardly at least. Outwardly I was too busy concentrating on standing. How in the world was I supposed to answer that?21

As you probably inferred- and I know my dad did- I was not at Meava's house last night, or Meghan Rafferty's either. I WAS with them- and our friend Lysandra Henley too- but I was at the Ramada Inn, at what was supposed to be partly girls night out, partly my first official experience in drinking. Let's just say it ended up being more than I'd originally planned…22

Like I said, at age 17, a rising senior, I had never drank before- at least, no more than champagne at my cousin's wedding. It wasn't like I'd never had the opportunity- I'd been to parties and all, been offered drinks countless times. I'd even gone to Meghan's house with her and Lysandra and even Meava drinking, and still I hadn't. It wasn't that I was puritanical or thought it was evil or anything. I didn't care if anyone else drank. It was just that it never looked like fun to me. It made everybody sick and stupid and frankly unattractive. I think what I really was turned by was the possibility of losing control. I'm a very in-control person, and I hate when something happens to throw me or embarrass me where I lose that control- so drinking and getting drunk never appealed to me.23

Plus, there's the issue of my dad. It's just me and him now, since my mom died when I was ten, and I don't like to do things to make it harder on him than it is already. He doesn't feel comfortable raising a teenaged daughter without help or support, I know, though he's never said as much to me. I know it can't help that I go by my middle name, River, which was taken off my mom's maiden name, Rivers. I mean, I'm a walking reminder of my mother and her death even seven years later. 24

My dad does his best, and I try in turn to make his job easy. He trusts me, and I hated to break that trust by doing something to disappoint him. It was often my dad I'd use an excuse to turn down drinking.25

My friends were cool with it, but they still found it kind of strange. It's not that is bothered me or made me feel pressured- trust me, most people don't' care enough to force you to drink or do drugs- but eventually it did make me start questioning myself towards the end of my eleventh grade year. Why was it that I refused to drink even one beer? It wouldn't hurt to drink just a little. It wouldn't even make me drunk. Lots of people drink socially with no repercussions. Why was I so adamant not to?26

I finally figured out that it was about control, and that was when I decided to do something about it. It was stupid to be that uptight- and if I was careful, I wouldn't lose control. Meava never did- she drank sometimes, and she was the most controlled person I know. I was about to be a senior in high school- now was as good a time as ever to drink.27

When I told all the others my decision, they were all enthused- well, Meghan and Lysandra were. Meava doesn't get excited. Meghan calls her the Ice Queen sometimes because she so rarely shows emotion. It's not that Meava's icy, though, she's just really mild and calm.28

But anyway, Lysandra started making plans to have a party at Meghan's house, since her parents are gone so much and she's left alone in her huge, rich-girl house. Her two older brothers are grown, so as the baby and only girl, Meghan gets it easy. We shot that down for several reasons though- first off, I didn't want a drinking party. I just wanted to drink, not get drunk and deal with other drunk people. And I wanted it to be more intimate, just us four as close friends. No strangers and crashers, no people I barely knew. 29

So Meghan set up a plan to take alcohol from her parents' cellar- they apparently have a plentiful supply in the fridge there- on a weekend they were away, and to make it even more special by staying in a hotel, like socialites or something. I was pretty skeptical at first, but she said she'd just take one of her dad's credit cards and use that. He goes to so many hotels he'd barely pay attention, she claimed. Since Meghan is the oldest-looking of us four, the front desk people should have no trouble believing she was at least 18.30

It sounded like a decent plan, so that's what we ended up doing. We all claimed to be going to stay at someone's house to our parents… and then Meava picked us all up and we drove to the Ramada Inn around 6 pm.31

I knew as soon as I got in the car, the last person Meava picked up, that maybe our night would not be quite as "controlled" as I'd wanted it.32

"Hi, River!" shrieked Lysandra the second I ducked into the front seat beside Meava. She was in the back seat with Meghan, and in between them were two huge paper bags filled with what looked like alcoholic beverages. Meghan smiled at my raised eyebrows as Lysandra babbled next to her, nearly bouncing in her seat.33

"This is going to be so much fun, I can't wait!" she said excitedly. "God, we should do this more. You're so lucky, Meghan, you get to do whatever you want. Your parents are so cool. Not to mention, like, way richer than ours."34

If I didn't know Lysandra so well, I would have been horrified by her perkiness- not to mention her not so subtle or intelligent sounding words- but I just rolled my eyes. We were all used to her now- her thoughtless bluntness didn't bother us so much as annoy and sometimes embarrass us.35

"Meg, do you have the entire stock of the Plezu freezer back there?" I asked. "You don't expect me to drink all that, do you?"36

"I thought you'd like a selection," she said coolly. "Even if we did drink it all, they'd never know they hadn't drank it. They're not exactly teetotalers." Her voice had a edge to it that was unusual- whatever she might say about Meava, it was Meghan who rarely showed emotions- rarely, except when drunk. I think the difference between Meava and Meghan is that Meava rarely feels strong emotion, while Meghan stifles hers.37

Whatever she might say about her parents, disdainful or sarcastic, I think sometimes she resents them leaving her to her own devices so much. Sure, she gets her freedom and she gets away with stuff, but even someone as independent as Meghan wants her parents' attention sometimes, I think. I mean, I get tired of my dad's rules sometimes- but I still like being around him occasionally. Meghan rarely has that with her parents. She told me once they told her she was a mistake- and they imply this pretty clearly with their attitude toward her.38

"What was the last party we went to?" Lysandra asked, her voice and body language still clearly hyped. "It's been a while, since April or something."39

"Spring break," Meava said matter-of-factly, her first words since I'd gotten in the car. "Meghan's place."40

"Oh yeah," Lysandra chirped. "Wow, I remember!"41

"No you don't," Meghan cut in. "If you did, you wouldn't sound so chipper. Because that was the time this skeeveball was trying to get in your pants and River was trying to talk you out of it and you weren't listening. Until you threw up and he swore at you and left you there crying."42

Meava smiled, and I snickered at Lysandra's look, which wavered between uncertainty and shock.43

"Really? I did that?"44

"Yes," Meghan said flatly. "You did. I screamed bloody murder and had to clean the damn carpet."45

"I helped, Meg," Meava said mildly.46

"Please, let's not have a repeat of that tonight," I said dryly. "I'm here to have fun, not take care of you because you had too much fun."47

"Oh, we'll be fine, River," Lysandra reassured me earnestly. "You'll see. You'll like alcohol, I just know it."48

I caught Meghan's smirk and Meava's smile and knew what they were thinking. Lysandra's "just knowing" something was far from a solemn guarantee. But I'd told myself I'd have fun tonight, and I was going to. I just wasn't going to worry about it. I'd be fine- I always had before.49