There were no problems sneaking out of the building; every agent had a key for the front door and the main gate. Even though Cassandra felt guilty for what she viewed as a betrayal of Doctor Jasper's trust, she couldn't deny that she was also incredibly excited. She had run back to her room and grabbed her jar of coins, emptying it into a spare handbag for ease of transport. Now she and the others were heading down the darkening streets. It was ten o' clock, mid-June, so it wasn't quite dark yet but the sun had already set.
"'Tis twilight!" Avery said dramatically, falling against Estelle as if she was fainting. "The time when witches do come out!"
"That's midnight," Estelle sighed, pushing Avery firmly, but not forcefully, away from her. "And please try not to make a spectacle of yourself. We've never been out this late before, so we won't be recognised at all the usual places where teens hang out. On our way to the pier, please don't draw attention to yourselves. That goes for everyone," she added, pointing her finger at the rest of the group. "We'll be free to have fun and let loose when we're actually there, but for now, I'd rather not explain to Doctor Jasper why one or two of you were arrested because you got into a street fight."
"Stirring speech." Avery clapped slowly, looking very uninterested. "Very lovely."
"Are you drunk already?" demanded Johan.
"Drunk on anticipation, maybe," Avery retorted.
Cassandra snuck her arm through Avery's and patted her best friend's shoulder with her other hand. "Save the drunkenness for when you've actually got alcohol in you, 'kay?"
"'Kay," sighed Avery, rolling her eyes.
"But…don't actually get drunk," Cassandra sighed back. "You know how you become when you get drunk, and Estelle wants us to keep as low a profile as possible, remember?"
Avery let out another sigh, this one a lot longer than the first one. "Fine. How many drinks am I allowed, Mum?" she snorted.
Cassandra winced. "Avery, please just be sensible, alright?"
When Avery didn't say anything else, Cassandra let go of her arm and drifted over to Gracie and Dakota, who were chatting happily side by side. "Hey… Would you two mind doing me a favour?"
The two of them turned to her, both still smiling. They were the two youngest, at just fifteen years old each. Cassandra hoped they didn't have to be eighteen in order to get into the disco; that would mean only herself and Avery would be able to get in. Apart from Dakota and Gracie, everyone else who had come along was seventeen.
"Okay!" Dakota replied, still smiling. "What is it?"
"Make sure Avery doesn't get drunk," Cassandra replied. "You two won't be allowed to order alcohol yourselves; I just need you to keep an eye on her during the night and on how much she's drinking. I trust your judgement; when you think she's had enough, distract her with something."
"How come you won't be around to do that?" Gracie asked curiously, retightening her twin ponytails on either side of her head.
Ignoring her twinge of envy at the beautiful light brown colour of Gracie's hair, Cassandra replied, "I don't know if I'm going to stay very long. Discos aren't really my thing. I mostly came down to go to the arcade. I'm going to stay for a little while, but I won't be able to watch Avery the WHOLE time. I could really use your help on this."
"Of course we'll help!" Gracie beamed, giving Dakota a one-armed hug. "Right, Kota?"
Dakota grinned back. "We'll probably order a million and one diet cokes from the bar anyway, so it's no problem at all. Does she tend to get drunk often?"
"When she's in this kind of mood, yeah," Cassandra sighed. "Thank you so much, guys. I really appreciate it."
"I never thought we'd end up babysitting Avery, but I can tell it's going to be an adventure and a half," giggled Gracie.
Cassandra chuckled. "That it will be, I promise."
It took them about ten more minutes to reach the pier, by which time, Cassandra was feeling more than a little tired. Avery took off to the bar immediately, followed by Dakota and Gracie. It turned out that there WASN'T an age restriction, so all of them would be allowed in freely. Cassandra hadn't brought her ID with her, but she doubted she would have bought any alcohol even if she had, so it wasn't a total loss. Unfortunately, Avery was the only other one of the group who was eighteen, so she could drink as much as she wanted.
Maybe she forgot her ID, Cassandra thought hopefully.
But after just five minutes, Cassandra spotted her sitting at the bar, drinking Smirnoff vodka straight out of the bottle. Cassandra winced automatically. When Avery was drunk, she tended to try and seduce people she found "hot", and since she was bisexual, that meant she was twice as likely to get into trouble.
It took twenty further minutes for Cassandra to become overwhelmed by the loud music and bright lights, longer than she thought she would last. She hopped off her chair and vacated the building, remembering to grab her bag off the floor. She didn't think anyone would see her leave, but she was just as confident that they wouldn't care even if they DID notice.
Outside, it was chilly and windy, but also quiet and peaceful: paradise after the heat and noise inside the pier. She stepped out onto the sand, after first making sure she knew where the sea was; she didn't want to get her feet wet. She headed across the sand as far as she dared, then she stopped by the sea and just stared out at the dim line of the horizon, shivering slightly against the chilly wind. The sound of the sea was absolutely perfect. She wished she could fall asleep to this sound every night.
After what could have been five minutes or an hour, she heard someone softly call her name. She turned her head to the side and spotted a figure coming across the sand towards her. It took a further few minutes for the figure to come close enough for Cassandra to identify them.
"Too loud?" Nate asked, grinning, as he stopped by Cassandra's side.
"And too hot, too bright, too alcohol-y." She sighed. "I should be the opposite of this right now. I'm eighteen; I should be partying and drinking alcohol with Avery, but I'm out here by myself, staring at the sea like a pathetic loner."
"Nothing pathetic about disliking the party scene," Nate responded. "I came out here for the exact same reason as you: it was just too overwhelming in there."
Cassandra let out a long sigh, keeping her eyes fixed on the horizon. She thought she could see the lights of a boat, way out in the distance. She'd never been on a boat before. Would she love the sea air, or would she be violently seasick? She would have loved to find out.
"I can't help noticing the large pile of coins you have in that bag," Nate spoke up eventually. "Would that be for the arcade, by any chance?"
"Yeah," Cassandra replied. "I wanted to go, so I brought my change."
"Do you still want to go?"
"Why, do you?"
Nate shrugged. "I don't mind it. Maybe most people will be at the disco and not in the arcade, so it won't be as noisy."
Cassandra turned to look at him for the first time, a smile spreading over her face. "I'd love to go with you. If that's what you're implying."
Nate chuckled, kicking sand towards the sea with his foot. "I'm pretty sure it was. Let's go now, while everyone's still enjoying the disco."
So the two teens stumbled back across the sand and onto the road, and after shaking off their shoes, they crossed it. There were two arcades in the vicinity: one on the pier, and one further down the road. The latter was the one Cassandra was heading for.
It didn't take long for them to reach it. To Cassandra's relief, it was still open and it looked almost completely empty. The arcade music was only half as loud as the disco music, so that was another relief for her. Hefting the bag of coins, which was seeming heavier by the minute, over her shoulder, she stepped inside.
Immediately, she stopped to take in the atmosphere: the lights and sound effects from individual machines, the laughter coming from somewhere nearby, the smell of sweet and savoury snacks.
THIS was what she loved. This felt to her like a reward for all her hard work in Aurora Foundation. She and the others had spent so long raising money and doing good, which was also very enjoyable, but sometimes, it was also good to do something like this and just relax.
Cassandra led Nate to the first machine she wanted to go on: a penny pusher machine that was flashing its lights at her, as if attempting to draw her over.
"You're not going to get much for your money," Nate warned, pointing to the small troll dolls inside the machine. "They're the size of your middle finger."
"Exactly." Cassandra lined up her two pence coin and let it slide into the machine. "I'd be absolutely fine with nothing at all; it's the playing of the game that makes it fun. Souvenirs are just a bonus."
Nate watched her play for a while. She'd had a lot of practise, and although it was mostly luck anyway, she had a lot of success. Like anyone, she was putting in more money than she was getting out, but that didn't matter to her. She managed to win one little blue-haired troll doll, which she gave to Nate.
For the next five minutes, Nate just stared down at the doll while Cassandra played a different penny pusher machine. He was puzzling over why Cassandra would give this to him; she'd only won one, after all. He wanted to ask her about it, but at the same time, he thought it would be a little rude.
So he just watched her on the machines, before she scooped up a handful of coins and dumped them into one of the little plastic tubs that the arcade provided. She then gave this tub to Nate and told him to try a game for himself.
After a few protests, Nate wandered off and found a dancing stage game. He converted some of the coins into a fifty pence coin and inserted it into the game. He took a few minutes to wheel through the selection of songs, finally choosing an older one he had never heard of before.
You put the boom boom into my heart, you send my soul sky high when your lovin' starts. Jitterbug into my brain, goes bang bang bang till my feet do the same.
"Oh, I love this song!" Cassandra came out of nowhere and hopped onto the stage next to him. The game, recognising that there was another player, lit up her side as well. Although Nate wasn't doing too badly, his score soon started to slide as he found himself unable to look away from Cassandra's moves.
"But something's bugging me," Cassandra sang along with the machine. "Something ain't right. My best friend told me what you did last night. Left me sleeping in my bed. I was dreaming but I should've been with you instead. Nate, watch the steps!"
Nate blinked and hurried to catch up with the steps. He was way behind Cassandra, but hearing her singing along and having fun more than made up for that.
Just as the song was finishing, there came a deafening explosion that rocked the whole building, causing Cassandra and Nate to stumble and clutch the machine for support.
"What was that?!" Nate gasped.
Cassandra leapt over the metal railing at the back of the dancing stage and rushed for the exit, staring out into the night for any indication of what had made the noise.
But the only thing she saw was a massive fireball coming flying right towards her.