While the rest of her classmates were at school learning nothing of particular importance from the dance assembly, except possibly a sexual orientation they didn't know they had, Samara was making lasting progress for the years ahead at home. On what would've been Hannah's twentieth birthday, she was celebrating her older sister's legacy by doing as the college student that never was would be doing if she were still alive today: getting hammered.
She sat in the Jacuzzi in her family's backyard wearing only a black-spotted white bikini that made her almost as hot as the water around her. The Doors' greatest hits were playing on shuffle in her CD player, the laid-back music from her and her sister's favorite band aiding the beer and hot tub in making her very relaxed very quickly. She didn't want to leave the water and the six-pack, now down to four and a half, which is why she ignored it when the doorbell rang.
Samara glanced at the clock on the outside wall of her house: 9:50. The first of the two assemblies was over, and the snack break that followed it would soon end as well, meaning the other half of the school's several thousand students would be off to see the show in a few minutes while the rest toiled in second period classes. This had nothing to do with whoever was at the door, and her thinking about what she would've normally been doing was probably just a manifestation of the guilt contact with the outside world had brought down or something. The bell rang some more, and she took another drink.
It might've been a neighbor complaining about the noise. If that was the case, fuck 'em for not enjoying The Doors, they wouldn't be complaining if they knew what Samara was going through, and this is a weekday, shouldn't they be at work? In pondering these hypothetical responses to such a complainer, she answered the questions from her own perspective and knew they were all hypocritical and/or subjective, but again, that was the guilt at work. Not wanting to take responsibility for any of her actions except those on the day Hannah died, Samara finished the second bottle and continued to ignore the ring and its ringer.
As she'd anticipated, her ignorance paid off, and the bell ceased to ring. She smiled, even as the music turned to the melancholy "The End." Setting aside the two empty bottles and deciding to wait on the rest, Samara laid back her head and stretched her body across the tub to relax. She let the music, the beer, and the water soak in to create a perfect storm of tranquility, one that she intended to ride as long as possible.
This only lasted for a few minutes, because she heard something land behind her after climbing over the fence. Had it been a raccoon or a cat, she might've tolerated the sudden intrusion of her privacy, but it turned out to be a dog. She glared back at him while he gave her a smile. It was only when she saw that he had another six-pack in hand that she began to let his trespassing slide.
"Can I come over?" Jimmy asked.
"A little late to ask," Samara said, turning her back to him. "But sure."
He walked over to Samara and set his own set of beer across from her at the other end of the Jacuzzi. "I didn't know you'd be so…exposed," Jimmy said, eyeing her barely clothed body.
"Why are you here?"
"Like I just said, I didn't know you'd be like this, Samara. I'm here because I care."
"About you. About Hannah. And, let's be honest, about me, too."
"You want us to drown our sorrows together."
Samara sighed. "I know you're lying, but I just can't bring myself to deny you that."
"Well, you are a little drunk. And I'm not lying."
"See, only a liar would say that."
"Samara, I may have done some bad things, but my intentions are good," Jimmy said. "Is it so hard to believe that I have a conscience?"
"So I cheated on my girlfriend with Faith. That doesn't make me a monster."
"No, not necessarily, but deluding yourself that Claire loves Kent madly is pushing you in that direction."
"Wow, no nicknames."
"Drunk," Samara reminded him, pointing at the beer bottles she'd just emptied.
"Look, we both have a lot on our minds. Have you given any more thought to Cameron's proposal?"
"Only in the sense that no."
"Are you going to the winter formal? He'd love to take you. What about Valentine's Day? You don't want to be alone then, do you?"
"You can't force something like that, Jimmy. He's the one who broke it off in the first place, and he had good reason to. I treated him badly."
"You don't wish you could change things?"
"Who doesn't? But what's done is done. I want to move on, so he should, too."
The two of them shared a prolonged silence, and then Jimmy took out one of the beers he'd brought, opened it, and said, "Tell me about Hannah."
Kent and Holly met at lunch, after a brief rendezvous at snack during which was still dressed up, with the stress of the dance performance now off their backs. She'd changed back into a teal blue t-shirt and jeans, while he was in the navy blue polo shirt and tan khakis he'd worn since he left home this morning. They hug and kissed as couples do, and then they sat down with the rest of their friends to eat.
"Can you believe it?" Claire said. "Jimmy isn't here today."
Rusty raised his hand. "I believe it."
"Samara I can understand, but what's his deal?"
"He might've been sick," Kent said.
"Yeah, sick of us!"
"To be fair, I think a lot of us are pretty sick of him," Rusty said.
"Shut up, Rusty," Claire mumbled.
"It's too bad he wasn't here to see it," Holly said, before turning to Kent and then Claire, Rusty and Tom and adding, "but everyone else who matters is. Let's think positive."
"So," Tom said to Claire, "how do you think Jimmy's spending his fake sick day?"
"I don't know," she replied. "And I'm wondering if I should even care."
"I don't care," Rusty said, raising his hand a second time.
"Stop taking pleasure out of this, Rusty. It's hurting me."
"You mean Jimmy's absence is hurting you or my taking pleasure out of it?"
"Claire, the others may be too nice to say it, but I think we've all grown really tired of him. A year ago he may have been good boyfriend material, but not anymore. Besides, you don't even love him."
Upon hearing that last sentence, everyone else cringed. Despite the fact that Claire herself had admitted to this fact for some time now, hearing it out of someone else's mouth was different, and she made this difference clear a moment later when she glared at Rusty. "You have no right to speak for how I feel."
"I hope you're not telling me you do love him," Rusty said. Another uncomfortable moment of silence followed this statement, although this time the reactions of Tom, Kent and Holly were more in Rusty's favor, as they turned to Claire in wonderment of what her answer would be.
She sighed. "Maybe I do."
"I'd say it's about time, but that would imply that I'm on his side."
"Okay, you can leave now."
"Leave?" Rusty said with a small laugh. "Me? For what?"
"You're starting to become almost as ridiculously jealous as Jimmy used to be."
"Claire, the man thought you had a thing for another guy. Of course it was ridiculous." Rusty turned to Kent and added, "I mean what Jimmy was thinking was ridiculous, not the idea of a girl having on a crush on you, man."
"I gotcha, Rusty," Kent said.
"Yeah, except he was jealous of someone I wasn't with. You're jealous of someone that I am with."
"So? I've always been vocal about my feelings for you. How is this different from any other time?"
"At a certain point, it stops being cute and it starts being rude."
"You thought it was cute?" Rusty said. "Like, the attractive kind, or—"
"Rusty," Tom interrupted him, "I think what Claire's trying to say is—"
"We're a couple," Claire said. "So grow up and deal with it, Rusty."
"And you want me to deal by… leaving?" Rusty said.
"For now," Claire said, shaking her head at her friend's behavior. "There are other girls out there to date, you know."
"First tell me how I used to be cute."
"Why?" Claire said sternly. "You think you need some positive reinforcement? Because it's not that kind of cute."
"Then what kind of cute is it?"
"It was never cute like I found you attractive, Rusty. It was cute like you were a puppy, and now that thing you used to do that made me laugh has started to become destructive. I hope you note the past tense in those sentences."
"I'm destructive?" Rusty said. "Jimmy's the one who tricked you into having sex with him! And you're the one who got back together with him even after all that! If anything, this is self-destructive!"
"You mean it was," Claire said. "In spite of our problems, I think Jimmy and I are better now as a couple than we were before."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Do I look like I'm kidding? Why are you still here?"
"So, when you called me up after having sex with him again, and you didn't know why…it was because you were falling in love with him, wasn't it?"
"You and Jimmy had sex again?" Holly asked.
"Don't you start," Claire warned her. "Yeah, Rusty, I guess that is why. Now we know. Mystery solved. Now go, before I hurt you and make you go."
"Fine," Rusty said as he stood up and put his red backpack over his shoulders. "Now that I know all these years you saw me as just some pet, maybe I can find some friends who appreciate me." He began walking away, until, a few steps into it, he stopped and turned around to face Claire one more time. "So, what was up with the underwear day, huh?"
"The what?" Kent, Holly and Tom said in unison as they all looked to Claire.
"You want to tease your boyfriend with the possibility of leaving him if he keeps acting like a dick, but you don't have the balls to tell him so?"
"I'm sorry, what?" Kent said.
"I spent a day in my underwear with Rusty over winter break," Claire admitted. "And… he was naked."
"And you were okay with that," Rusty reminded her. "Because I was gentlemanly enough to ask."
"This doesn't make any sense," Holly remarked. "Does it?" she asked Tom and Kent, who agreed with equally confused looks on their faces. "I mean…what?"
"Were you on drugs?" Tom said.
"Actually, we didn't smoke anything until much later," Claire was embarrassed to admit. "And I'd tell you about the pizza guy and his mom, but—"
"It'll sound like a porno?" Kent said.
"I'm mortified enough as is. Would you go already?" she urged Rusty, who finally obliged and walked out of sight. With another sigh and a shaking of her head, Claire said, "Promise me you guys won't tell Jimmy about this."
"No, of course not," Kent said, rather surprised he was protecting a relationship he'd previously lambasted alongside Rusty and Holly. "Our lips are sealed. Right?" He received nods from Holly and Tom, which reassured Claire enough to make her awkwardly smile again, and then he said, "So…Claire…do you love Jimmy? Even after everything?"
"I think so," Claire said with a sigh. "Is this going to be a problem?" she asked him and then the other two. "If I tell him that I do, are any of you going to object?"
"We're not here to judge," Holly replied, pulling her in for a hug. "In fact, we're happy for you."
"Thanks," Claire said, her smile growing with Holly's approval.
Samara was groggy when she awoke from her sleep. That was normal. What wasn't normal was the fact that she'd been sleeping on the carpet in her living room, just on the other side of the sliding glass door that led outside to the family hot tub and swimming pool. Which is where she'd been last she remembered. She'd also had some manner of decency then, which had disappeared in the interim, as she was completely naked. The two halves of her bikini rested on the floor next to her. Looking at her from up above on the arm of her sofa was Jimmy, fully dressed and playing with his smart phone. "Good afternoon," he smirked.
"Oh my god," Samara gasped, grabbing a blanket off the couch he was sitting on and wrapping it around her body to cover herself. "Oh my god," she began to repeat ad nauseum as she ran toward her bedroom down the hallway for some actual clothes. Behind her, Jimmy followed, walking calmly.
"You know, Samara, everyone's right when they say you have an amazing body," he said from the other side of her shut bedroom door. "I hope you don't mind, I just had to capture some pictures of you sleeping to remember it."
"Of course I mind!" Samara said in the understatement to end all understatements.
"I was being rhetorical, anyway," he giggled. "Besides, it's not as though a simple image of your body is going to compare to what I was able to see it do."
Having hastily put some clothes on, Samara opened her door and glared at Jimmy.
"You're probably wondering what I want," he said with a smile and a nod.
"I was hoping you'd already gotten it, asshole," she said.
As Jimmy stuffed his phone in his pocket, he told her, "Oh, sure, the sex was great, Samara, but I need more, you have to understand."
"You tricked me into doing this. I owe you nothing."
"Actually, unless you want that picture I took of you to be sent to everyone in school, you do. And I didn't trick you; you were drunk and asking for it. Do I have to show you all the places your lips went that you probably don't want Claire to know?"
"Oh my god, Claire…" Samara gasped, her hand reaching her forehead as she lowered herself onto the floor, against the doorframe.
Jimmy kneeled down to her level. "She may not be a friend, but I guess in your case a rival is about as close as you can get."
"What do you want?" Samara groaned, as tears welled up in her eyes.
"Nothing much. Don't tell anyone about us, and go with Cameron to the winter formal."
"And if I do those things, you won't send those pictures to anyone?" she asked with a sniffle.
"I need to hear you say it, Jimmy, goddamn it."
"Okay, you have my word."
"Somehow I don't find that all that comforting."
Jimmy tapped her on the shoulder and smiled. "See you at school tomorrow."