Rose wears a black sheer bathing suit cover-up and stands rigidly among the crowd, petrified by the closeness of so many bodies. Connor couldn’t be more composed. He’s like a chameleon, adapting to the drunken, party-like atmosphere with ease. He keeps her close, his hands on her hips, and normally she’d probably push him off. But I think the fear of ramming into someone and beer being spilt all over her cover-up and chest outweighs her fear of intimacy with Connor.
Melissa has all but forgiven Ryke. The make-out session helped in the cab, but the below the panties groping solidified her plans to stay in Cancun. I would have been more jealous last night if Lo wasn’t sick. But his clammy skin and pale hue literally rerouted my whole mind. Even as I heard Melissa’s giggles from the deck, pitch black outside—I didn’t care all that much. I just wanted Lo to feel better.
Melissa is in a good mood now. She sits on Ryke’s shoulders, clapping beside me as the next song starts.
A gust of smoke plumes up by my nose, and I sniff the salty air. Joints are lit all over this beach, the smells overpowering, but this one is so near that I look down. Daisy stands directly in front of Ryke and Lo, a cigarette pinched between two fingers. At least it’s not pot. So there’s that.
She effortlessly keeps the cigarette from burning anyone in close proximity, and she lifts her head to blow the smoke into the air away from other people. Except me, of course.
I’ve let Daisy smoke on numerous occasions. I didn’t know my place to tell other people to stop when I can barely stop myself. I hate the thought of being a hypocrite. But I’m under the impression that Daisy only smokes recreationally. I imagine that recreation turning into a habit, which turns into an addiction. I just can’t bear for Daisy to go through what I am.
Before I can say anything, Ryke plucks the cigarette right from her fingers and tosses it into the sand.
I don’t see her reaction because the rapper has stopped singing and starts talking, the music still going on behind him. “Now I want to see more ladies in the air! On shoulders now! Let’s go!” Girls start climbing on random guys’ shoulders, being lifted into the air like Melissa and me.
Connor doesn’t even ask Rose, probably knowing she would prefer to keep her feet planted firmly on the ground. Daisy taps a bandana-wearing guy in front of her. He gives her a long once-over from head to br**sts—mainly staying on her br**sts that fit in a neon green bikini, the fringe accentuating her boobs from a small B to a C.
“I’m light,” she tells him. And then she whispers in his ear.
Melissa is watching Ryke with the utmost scrutiny, but he doesn’t say a word.
The guy breaks into a big dopey grin, which is not good. I am thinking sexual things—like Daisy whispered to him that she will return the favor of sitting on his shoulders. Sexual favors, of course. But maybe that’s just my dirty mind playing tricks on me again.
I put my hands on Lo’s head and glance down at him. He is glaring at the guy. So…Maybe everyone is just as dirty as me. I grin at the idea.
The bandana guy bends down to let her on his shoulders.
When she’s at my height, she turns a little and gives me a high-five, oblivious to the overprotective guys below me.
“Ladies! Say yeah!” The rapper chants.
“YEAH!” This is kind of fun. My smile takes over my face.
“Guys! Say f**k yeah!”
He continues a portion of his song, the beat pumping and my view officially gone with the amount of girls on shoulders.
“Now ladies!” He goes back to his talking. “It’s Spring Break! Let’s see those titties!”
I go still while the girls around me respond by flinging off their bikini tops, as though the rapper said a magic word.
All I heard was titties, which has the opposite effect on my willingness to free-boob. Everyone hollers in drunken excitement, eyes wide at the sight of n**ples and springy parts.
Boobs of all sizes jiggle and bounce around me. I’m slapping Lo’s face, his nose, his cheek—get me down. Down. I need down. Now.
Beside me, Melissa has already pulled the string to her top. Which is cool. She has pretty boobs. She drops her top on Ryke’s head. He grabs it and looks up, exactly what she wanted.
I have nothing much to show off, and I am easily embarrassed. Clearly.
I do see a few other girls lowering from the air, not wanting to take part in this either.
“Daisy!” Rose screams from the ground.
Just as Lo sets me on my feet, I crane my neck and spot Daisy fingering the clasp on her back.
“Daisy!” I shout with wide eyes, equally as mortified as Rose. I do not want anyone to see my sixteen-year-old sister’s boobs. If she wants to tear off her bikini top in two years then so be it—but not now.
Lo plants his hands on my shoulders. “Jesus Christ,” he curses, trying to divert his eyes.
Daisy just looks at me, grinning from ear to ear.
Rose is about to swallow her anxiety and push through all of these bodies to reach Daisy and wring her neck. But then Daisy drops her hand with a laugh.
“Scare you?” she asks, waggling her brows.
Yes. She scared me, but at least she had no intention of doing it. That has to count for something.
Her eyes flicker beside me. Not to Lo, but to Ryke. His normally hard features are darkened slightly. And I think he’s trying really, really hard not to call Daisy a tease, just to piss her off and start something.
It’s what he does.
The longer she stares at Ryke, the more her smile fades. She turns her back to us, hunches forward and says something to the bandana guy. He lowers her to the ground, safely on Earth, and before she returns to our group, she continues talking with him, even with the loud music.
She nods a lot. He smiles even more. I don’t like it. Because he looks in his late twenties and she’s just a teenager.
And then his hand rests on her hip and starts traveling to her ass.
“I’m thirty seconds,” Lo says under his breath, his eyes flickering to Ryke.
I frown. For what? To intervene?
Connor looks between them. “You both can’t be serious.”
Ryke glances at his watch. “Five…”
“She’s a smart girl,” Connor reminds them.
“She’s sixteen,” Lo says.
And then the guy slaps her ass, and Ryke is about to drop Melissa on the ground. But Daisy just smiles and waves goodbye to the guy and comes over to us. When she meets our faces, her smile contorts into a frown, confused like I was. Now I’m pretty positive there’s too much testosterone pumping in this area.
“What’s up with all of you?” Daisy asks. “Lo, you look like you’re going to pop a blood vessel.” He does. But she tries to shrug it off. “That guy told me a good place to swim with sharks. Anyone up for it?”
Everyone stays quiet.
And she deflates again. “What? What did I do?”
“That guy practically stuck his hand down your bathing suit,” Ryke tells her, “and you didn’t care.”
Melissa has her arms crossed over her chest. Her mood is slowly tanking.
Rose shoots me a harsh look and mouths girl time. Yes. Definitely.
I take Daisy’s hand, wanting air too but mostly wanting Daisy out of their judgmental gazes for a second.
“Wait, I didn’t do anything wrong,” she says. “He was just being nice.”
“Are you really that naïve?” Lo questions. “Because if you are, we should consider sending you home before something terrible f**king happens.”
“I’m not naïve,” she says. “He was happy.”
Ryke cringes. “You let him slap your ass because it made him happy?” Yeah, that doesn’t sound right.
“Okay,” I interject. “We’re leaving. Right Rose?”
“Yes.” She sets a glare on each of the guys.
Connor raises his hands. “I didn’t say a word.”
Her eyes soften at him. “You’re exempt.”
“Daisy,” Ryke says with so much emotion to the name that shivers run down my arm. And it’s freakin’ hot out here. I think he wants to say a lot of things to her—give her some sort of pep talk about how she doesn’t have to please other people to make herself feel better—that doing so will hurt her in the end. But Melissa leans her head down and starts whispering in his ear, deterring him from speaking his mind.
So Daisy says, “I’ll see you around.” And she actually drags me off towards a tiki bar that sits on the beach. Rose races behind us, wanting out of the mobs of people too.
We rest our elbows on the counter, and I buy a water bottle while Rose and Daisy wait for the bartender to blend their margaritas.
Rose raps her nails on the counter, antsy as always. “Daisy,” she says. “Do you have something you need to tell us?”
Daisy stands between Rose and me, and she rocks on the balls of her feet. “I’m not going to sleep with that guy,” she says. “I wouldn’t. I just told him I thought he was good looking, and then afterwards, I asked him about sharks.”
I frown. “Really?” It was that PG? Maybe all of us are so focused on sex. We’re the gross ones.
“I mean, he said some suggestive things, but I wasn’t trying to flirt back. Honest.” She shrugs like it’s nothing. “I’m used to it.”
“Which part?” Rose asks icily. “The touching or the flirting? Because if you’re going on photo shoots where the crew is putting a hand on you—”
“Nonono,” she says, slurring the word like me when I’m trying to cover up a lie. “That has never happened. Mom comes with me. She wouldn’t let anyone touch me inappropriately.”
Rose believes her. She nods, but I stare at Daisy for a long time, not as trusting. Maybe because I have lied for so long that I can see right through it.
Daisy meets my worried gaze and she wraps an arm around my shoulder. “I’m okay, Lily.”
I don’t feel like she is.
I remember being young, trying to navigate what’s wrong and what’s right in a place where lines blur so very often. But I had Lo to fall back on—to make sure I didn’t fall off the deep end and drown.
Daisy is thrust into this modeling world without all of us there to catch her. She’s alone and confused. And I’m not sure how to fix that without telling her to quit. But she would never leave—not because of the money but because her career is related to our mother’s happiness. And keeping our mother happy makes Daisy happy.
My phone vibrates, and I check the caller ID. Poppy.
I click off the phone and slip it back into the pocket of my jean shorts.
“Who was that?” Daisy asks, talking over the loud blender.
Rose glares at the bartender for being so slow, and Daisy’s forehead wrinkles in confusion. “Why would you hang up on her?”
“I just don’t feel like talking.” It’s the truth. And anyway, my relationship with Poppy is distanced at best. She’s six years older, so by the time I entered ninth grade, she was two years into college and engaged.