As you drive to Rose’s house, the water-bottle filled with vodka cold against your calf, you will think these moments are your entire world. As you drive, don’t think about how free you feel when you’re drunk; make a list of other things that matter. You’re going into this believing that these giggly firsts can last forever, and, worse, you want them to.
You reach the house and hop out of your mom’s car. She is telling you not to stay up too late, not even thinking about what could be in your red canvas bag. You wave goodbye and skip up the three porch steps, because you’re still a little girl—even if you don’t think so. Rose opens the door, Kay standing just behind her.
“Alice! Finally!” Rose squeals.
You smile in the way that only they understand and step into the house.
Back in Rose’s room, you will be talking about Chris, who you think you are in love with. They will be annoyed with you, but in a sympathetic way, because he barely knows you exist. You do not talk about Rose’s parents’ recent divorce, Kay’s maybe-depression, or the fact that you don’t really have an extended family anymore. No, for now these issues are background noise.
This is when you need to have an epiphany. You are not best friends in spite of the different ways the three of you are damaged. You are best friends because of them. You have all the clues. The times in your journal you’ve written, “I need them,” or, “I cannot live without them.”
You wait until midnight to pull out the water bottle.
“Alice, how did you even get that?” asks Kay.
“I have no idea! It was terrifying. I kept thinking my parents were going to walk in.”
Rose pushes off from the floor. “We should get some from the kitchen, too.”
You know you aren’t supposed to mix liquor and beer, so you pull out the gin and a bottle of weird Russian stuff from the back of the cabinet. You keep the Russian liquor, but put the gin back.
You pour the alcohol into two big plastic cups and Rose grabs orange soda to mix it with. You are laughing into your hand to keep from waking anyone, and Kay keeps hitting your shoulder to make you shut up. Enjoy this moment, the anticipation. Enjoy the secret of the three of you standing in the kitchen with everyone else asleep.
Back in Rose’s room, you pour a Dixie cup of vodka for each of you. You sit down on the furry green rug and try to ignore all Rose’s childhood mementos, which feel incongruous with what you’re doing.
“Ready?” Kay will ask, and you will wonder how you survived elementary school without knowing them.
You are thinking of everything in the wrong terms. You think that love means need, and survival means happiness. You think you understand love.
“Let’s do it.”
The three of you chant, “Over the lips, through the gums, look out stomach, here it comes.”
You will finish your shot first, and thrill in the way it burns against your throat, the way the entire world feels warm. Kay will cough as she finishes and complain that vodka is gross.
“Let’s play Never Have I Ever,” Rose says, and you put the vodka-filled water bottle in the middle of the rug.
It doesn’t matter that you already supposedly know everything about each other; you’re interested in each other in a way that makes it okay to hear things twice.
Never Have I Ever will feel hazy. You will feel that unconditional love, that acceptance, which reflects everything your grandparents, aunt, and cousin didn’t give you. You will learn later that betrayal is not the only way someone can disillusion you.
“You know how I used to pull my hair out, right?” Kay asks softly, and, yes, alcohol does make you admit things.
She’ll continue, “Well, I did it again today. It was my mom. She kept saying all these things and I couldn’t breathe. I had to. I tried to fix it, make it look normal.”
You’ll lean in close like you’re enough to make her okay. Like friendship is strong enough to repair any fracture. But you’re going about this wrong. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment and loneliness. Don’t try to fix her. Just comfort her.
“It just looks like a haircut. It looks good,” Rose says.
The game blurs into aimless, whispered conversation. You lie against the floor and the ceiling pixelates as your eyelids fall.
“Let’s play another game,” Kay says, in a manic voice, and you’re awake enough to know she needs this. You should tell her not to put so much weight on these moments, on you. You should tell her you can’t be her savior or her everything. But you won’t say anything.
“What game?” asks Rose.
You answer, “I read about one. It’s called Flip, Sip, or Strip. You flip a coin and guess which side it’ll land on. If you’re wrong, you have to either drink or take off a piece of clothing.”
It’s not your fault you can’t foresee how this is going to end. Then again, you suggested the game and you suggested gin, so maybe it is.
The gin glass goes in the middle. Kay flips first. She guesses right. The coin goes to Rose, who guesses wrong. She pulls off her shirt and lies down, pale skin against the green rug and blue walls. You’re next and you guess wrong too. You tentatively pull off your purple polka-dot shirt (the one you won’t be able to look at without picturing that night).
A half hour more of circling coin-flips and the gin is gone; you and Rose are naked and laughing. This is a good moment to go to sleep, this moment when you are dizzy and happy and nothing is irreparable.
Rose starts chasing Kay around the room. They knock into Rose’s white plaster desk, and Rose attempts to pull Kay’s shirt off. You are too drunk to move and already feel slightly out of step, like you are too drunk or too silly to know the game.
This is when you will start crying. You’ll lie against Rose’s teal, spiral-patterned sheets and fall apart the way a part of you knew you would. You’ll call Chris’s name and scream into a pillow because he doesn’t like you and you don’t get why. You haven’t learned how to separate your feelings. You put your anger and loneliness from one thing into another and give everything too much meaning. Chris is just a boy. You are just a shy little girl who’s desperate to be loved. Your night is not going to get better.
Kay and Rose sit down on the bed next to you and Kay is tracing her fingers in lines down your back. You know this isn’t normal somehow. This is when you need to think about your boundaries. You love adrenaline and Kay makes you feel out of control, but at some point you’ll stop wanting to fall, and start wanting a parachute. Kay cannot help you this way. You’ll be surprised to find out, much later, that Rose can help you this way. It just won’t be tonight.
Rose slurs something about having liked Kay, liked her in the way that means wanting to kiss her. Kay laughs and says she’s liked both of you. You don’t respond and just sniffle into the sheets. Rose is nodding and her voice sounds too loud. “I’ve liked Alice too!”
The room feels charged with their admissions, but you just keep crying. You barely notice as they stand up.
What you do notice is Rose telling you to go to sleep. Rose telling you they need alone time. You will still remember her saying this the next morning. You can’t figure out how they shifted into a separate entity from you. Why they are moving towards each other, away from you. This should be a hint. This should remind you that nothing is constant.
You hear them kissing—drunk and sloppy—behind you and you cry harder to cover the sound. You think you’re crying because you’re scared of being alone, but really that’s just the fear you’re used to.
This is the drunkest you will get; take some relief in that. Soon you’ll be asleep, and things won’t seem as bad in the morning, despite your headache.
You stumble into the bathroom and know before it happens that you are going to throw up. This will not stop you from aiming wrong and spewing out onto the tiles instead of the sink.
Kay will hear you and pull away from Rose. She’ll guide you back to bed. They’ll whisper to you until you’re halfway to dreaming. And then you’ll fall asleep, wondering what will happen if they leave you behind. Wondering what would happen if you had kissed one of them instead. Wondering if maybe you just aren’t worthy of love.
Don’t be scared. Stop picturing all the ways you can get hurt. Stop charting all the ways you’re messing up and aren’t “good” enough. It’s going to be hard, learning to separate love from need. It’s going to be hard losing this giddy, feverish intensity between the three of you. You were right: these moments are important. But these moments are not everything. Your value is not determined by who stays and who leaves. These moments are not your everything.