Log:The First Taste is Free

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The First Taste is Free
Characters  •   James Thistle  •  Thea Marchant  •  Esme Reed  •  Arthur Bloomquist  •  Cash Freeland  •
Location  •  Rotary Park
Date  •  2019-08-03
Summary  •  A group of teens meet The Queen.

A cool, breezy Friday night in February, and the full moon is high over the lake. In roughly a month Rotary Park will be packed with college kids on Spring Break and MTV will have erected their beach house, but tonight is fairly quiet. Each of you are out at the beach for one reason or another - a quiet walk, stargazing (the night sky in Lake Havasu is stunningly clear most nights, with all the stars in the sky on display), practicing guitar by the water - but each experiences the same thing.

Laughter. Feminine and floating, distant but clear, almost musical. It sounds like it's right there, but when each of you turn, there's no one there. Then it can be heard again, a little ways off. Enticing. Luring each of you along.

Soon you all approach a bonfire down at the far end of the beach, four figures gathered around it. Bonfires aren't exactly legal here without permits and proper equipment, but there it is, blazing away.

"Come join us!" calls a woman dressed in shredded frills and lace, the epitome of goth/punk.

It's her. The laughing voice.

Were Arthur older and more cynical and worldly-wise, he'd 'nope' right on out of there. But he's a kid, a would-be rock star steeped in way too much gothic music and teenage dreams. He follows that laughter toward its source, as if it were a magic spell just for him, confirmation in a crapsack world that there's still something to wonder about.

Silly Art, it's just trouble, and by the looks of it, it's lured more than a few dreamers in to their probable doom.

For Thea Marchant? It's a matter of curiosity. That laughter had been the initial lure, but she'd readily followed her own curiosity further and further down the beach, whether or not the voice had always been present. The bonfire is the reward, and its shifting golden light illuminates the smile that finds the girl's lips. Who doesn't love a bonfire on the beach? Glancing this way and that, she takes note of other familiar faces, though she doesn't offer greetings just yet.

Ever her mother's daughter, Esme has gotten deep into yoga lately since she doesn't play sports at school and quiet meditation with the added bonus of physical fitness is a prime practice for the teen to wind down before bed. She's just after a shift at the Cafe, and this place on a blanket, under the starscape in the breeze seems perfect for disengaging her body and thoughts. And... look, she's a Reed, okay, they're just like that, pretty hippie dippy despite the enterprising get-it-done Freeland bones.

Therefore, Esme is very into her stretching, balancing, and meditation there in the dark by the water. Passer-by or nearby company with the same idea to enjoy the night, they aren't cramps for her styling or a bother, she's good at shutting things out. But for some reason, when the laughter starts to float by with drift at her ears, her lashes bat fast as eyes open to look about. Eventually, she notes the bonfire and with curiosity piqued, she breathes out a 'huh'. After two more brief poses, she folds her blanket to start migrating and see what's what. Why not? It's a lovely night.

Sometimes, to Cash Freeland, the world is just too overwhelming. This month has already been declared as complete trash. Between fights in parking lots and a series of orthodontic visits, He is left alone with a mouth full of fresh metal. And that was his own damn choice. He was sitting in the sand, CD player in hand, headphones on and guitar case on his back but the laughter breaks through the music and soon, he is making his way towards the bonfire. He doesn't seem to see anyone but Thea but he copies her and withholds greetings.

It's not like he was stalking Thea, or anything; James Thistle had just happened to be in a beachside coffee shop reading when he'd seen her walk by. After which, he'd packed his things up into his bag and followed his own curiosity out onto the sand. It didn't take long for him to lose track of the initial object of his curiosity while wandering along the moonlit beach, and the sound of laughter leaves him twisting about in a futile effort to catch sight of the source with a look of consternation knitting his features.

It's not like it would be the first time he's heard something that isn't there. But then, there she is. The Laughing Woman, calling out to him from the blazing bonfire. He looks wary, initially. His lips turn into a frown. But slowly, reticently, he's drawn towards the flames, fidgeting with his hands on the straps of his backpack to ensure it's on tight as he steps into the flickering fire light.

The laughing woman has large, intense eyes and a feral smile, her hair a bit messy from the breeze and dancing around the fire. She's not familiar, but her three companions might be. Steven Michaels, Lenore Winters and Bethany Burnett - all graduates of LHHS in the last five years, but what they have most in common is their shared affiliation.

They're Painkillers.

"It's nice and warm down here," says the laughing woman. "Don't be afraid. I don't bite."

Wary or not, each of the lured teens feel the warm glow of the fire and the chill of the Winter evening, and it calls to them. Welcoming and safe.

Cash, the trusting one, starts to step forward. He's never been /really/ afraid of the Painkillers. Again, he's trusting and he means no harm and he is cold and lonesome. So up he goes, looking at the bonfire to avoid the gaze of others.

There's a rule somewhere in the universe that's pretty universal: When someone says they don't bite, they most assuredly do. But that's also a rule that only the wise know, and, as we know, teenagers are rarely wise. No, they just walk right into danger, don't they?

So Arthur wanders on down, a little piece of moonlight bound into flesh and come down to the beach to play. Firelight flickers over his pallid face and his long white hair; he's halfway to being a creature of the night already! Still, maybe some shred of genre-savvy self-preservation exists: "Aren't you guys too cool," he inquires, "To hang out with us?" They could be, like, in /college/, if they weren't delinquents.

Thea spots Cash, and her hand shifts at her side, fingers wiggling in a subtle wave that isn't really all that subtle at all, to anyone with an eye on her. James is the recipient of a slightly more wary look, hesitation in the girl's green eyes. But. There are enough people here that he can't cause too much trouble for her, right? The Painkillers have a reputation, of course, but there again.. safety in numbers. It's only a few seconds before she's trailing after Arthur, moving toward the fire.

In many ways Cash's opposite, James is scared of everyone; accordingly, mistrust is his default. And yet, the warmth of that bonfire is undeniable. After a shiver trembles through his frame, his hesitant steps come just a little faster, until he's standing near enough to soak in the warmth and manage a faint, weak smile of gratitude at their host which doesn't quite reach his eyes. After directing a baleful look at Cash, which is matched by a scowl when his eyes find Thea, his head twists to the side, peering at... nothing at all.

"I know," James remarks quietly to... himself? Circling around the fire, he situates himself as far away from his ex-friend and former crush as possible, landing himself right amongst the pack of Painkillers. "Hey," he greets half-heartedly, in a forced attempt at being sociable.

There for a moment, Esme smoothes the blanket over her arm where it's draped and watches Cash step up first. And that knits her brows in brief with concern, not so much because he wants to hang out and have this moment, she wants it too, perhaps inexplicably to a degree. It's that he was so quick about it and she knows how some of his moods tend to lean, here and there, being her cousin. But she doesn't stop him or say anything or really even frown too long, she's here too.

Anyway, look, there's Lana's friend James, and Thea from school and... this is fine, no doubt. The brunette teen likes the feel of the bonfire and she likes the illumination of the glow and that laugh was lovely, this lady is no doubt fun, daring a fire impromptu like this, wearing that free spirited kind of outfit. After tossing her blanket down, she steps forward too and wiggles her fingers in a sociable wave at the other older alumni on the way. Then when close enough, she reaches to ruffle small at the back of Cash's hair to let him know she's here and along for the ride too.

Then because no one else is asking, and because she just has to know, she wonders of the Laughing Woman with naive (lured) curiosity, "I'm Esme. What's your name?"

"Hello there, little doves," says the laughing woman as they approach, her voice tinged with a lilting English accent. "I'm Fran. Queen Fran, they call me, but I'm not big on formalities. Care for a drink? We've got beer of various kinds, and harder liquor if you like. Help yourselves." Indeed, there's an ice chest nearby stocked with all of those things.

Arthur's question brings the haunting laugh back, and for a second it seems like it's everywhere, behind them and all around them. "Too cool? Do you know who we are, my pale poppet? We're the lost and lonely. The broken and forgotten. We're Painkillers, lovely dove, and we welcome anyone who cares to join us."

Fran gestures to the other three, the young man and two cuddling young women. "That's Sly, and the two adorable lovebirds are Nora and Bee. There. Now we're all friends, see?"

Cash can't look at James more than the once to note he is there. He sighs and looks particularly sad until Thea waves and his whole face lights up. Esme's ruffle produces a sigh of relief. He didn't feel in danger before and now, he's further at ease. Even James won't let harm come to him. The offer of booze gets a shake of Cash's head but no words as his stands by the fire and gazes at the ground.

Arthur reaches for a beer; he looks like he should be sipping red wine and getting himself shrouded in some of that black lace, but that's not quite his vibe yet. After he's cracked it open, his free hand rests on his guitar, hanging from its strap at his side. "That sounds like an offer," he replies eventually, his pale eyes gleaming.

There's the tiniest hint of a flinch as she's scowled at, and Thea's gaze strays outward over the water for a few long moments. Then her shoulders draw back slightly, her spine straightens, and when she turns back again, her expression has shifted to one of cool, confident ennui. Someone just donned her duck armor. Stepping over, she dips a hand down into the ice chest to retrieve a can of something for herself, flashing their 'hostess' a faint smile. "Queen? Of..?"

Though there's still a twitchy, deer in headlights look in James's eyes when he sits with the relative strangers over opting into the company of Cash and Thea -- though not without sparing an earnest smile for Arthur and then a wider one for his best friend's twin sister, Esme -- he adopts an unconvincing and forced bravado at the offer of beer and more. Leaning and extending his arm, he plucks one from the icebox and then turns to consider Sly with mixed temptation and trepidation. "Do you uh... do you mind if I uh -- you know -- bum a cigarette?" he asks, briefly shooting a glare over his shoulder at nothing.

"Hey guys." Esme says over the older trio's way with a tick of subtle upnod and quickflash of smile once the introductions are made, then she takes to adjusting and straightening her ponytail while looking back at the proclaimed Queen, Fran. When Art goes for a beer, she follows afterwards to grab one for herself with the offer made, letting James dig around and grab one next before choosing her own. Before she cracks it open, though, she leans to get an ice cube from the cooler to flick at James' familiar smile before her own twitches up with response.

Just hanging out with Painkillers and a Queen, totally fine.

Esme's mouth opens as if to make the same wondering that Thea does, then she closes it when the question pops out of the other female. Her weight shifts between hips as she stand lounges and drinks from the beer, curiosity awaiting response before she goes piping up with her own question, "Why are you called Painkillers, at that? Just wondering."

Sly quirks a 'brow at James' request, but he nods quietly and fishes out a cigarette and lighter. He just might be as shy and awkward as the Thistle boy is. Fran flashes a broad, toothy grin at the exchange before turning it on Thea.

"Queen of Pain and Sorrow, maybe? Queen of Fun and Games? Queen of England!" She laughs again. "They just call me that 'cos of my accent, poppet, but you call me whatever you like. And we're called that 'cos we take the pain away, dear. We make it all better. How about you, hmm? Any charming secrets to share?"

"Do it," says the tall, lanky girl called Nora. "Do the trick, Fran."

Fran glances back over her shoulder and grins. "I suppose we could play a game. A guessing game. See, I'm good at guessing things about people. There's only one rule - if I guess correct, you have to drink. Sound fair?"

"I don't have any pain to take away," Arthur replies easily, and which might or might not be true: lying comes to him as easily in this incarnation as any other. He inclines his head to the other teens, regal even at his age, a promise of certain assumed greatness to come, and then looks back to the Painkillers. "Fair," he says cheerfully to Fran, because he's always down to make a bad decision.

Cash is watching now. Eyes up, paying attention as people talk, ask and answer questions. This is his trick, the watching. But he's quiet still as he watches, eyes falling briefly on everyone in attendance. Something about the Queen's reply turns up a corner of his mouth. He really is paying attention.

Well, given that Thea had already taken a can from the cooler, it's reasonably established that she's planning on drinking anyway. So, in answer, she cracks the can open and raises it toward Fran in a vaguely toast-like manner before taking a sip. Is this all a bad idea? Possibly. But hell, they're young and invincible, right?

After recovering from the chill of an ice cube landing in his hoodie, which leaves the teen shivering and inching closer to the fire, James tilts his head curiously at Fran's answer. "Yeah, Thea," James chips in after Fran's response with a malicious tone, accepting the cigarette and lighter from Sly with a nod of thanks. "Have any secrets to share?" he repeats the question with a renewal of his scowling glare.

His artificial bravado crumbles with his struggling attempt to light his borrowed cigarette. His clumsy and inexpert thumb takes several seconds and quite a few failed attempts before he gets it right and brings the tip of the paper cylinder of tobacco to a cinder glow. Then he inhales and bursts into a fit of ragged coughing which ejects puffs of the gray smoke into the moonlit air.

Esme grins suddenly after her drink once Fran has explained where the Queen title comes from, and there for a compliant beat, she actually seems to be trying to figure out if she does have any charming secrets to share. Her head is tilted a bit in consideration as her ponytail flutters in the breeze, but then the call out about the trick knocks her out of thought or any answer to look at Fran, then the others gathered around. A little wryly, she looks at the beer in her hand, then at the others starting with their drinks, then nods one solid time at the prospect of playing a drinking guessing game, "I'm game! The trick is doing a cold reading or is there more excitement to come?" A pause, "Actually, wait, surprise me if so. I think the real question is to ask who wants to step up for it first?"

Her hand gestures to the gathering, then Fran in turns with good nature, holding back from drink with refrain now in the name of the game.

Fran's grin goes even wider at Arthur when he's game to play along. It's a big, almost unnerving grin full of bright white teeth. "Brave boy," she says.

She folds her arms, one hand lifted to the side of her face as she stares at the Bloomquist boy, her large blue eyes electric bright and intense, skin almost as pale as his. After a moment, she speaks.

"You often see your father as a sellout, and yet you use your grandfather's attempts to be a part of your life for your own gain. They're estranged, but grandad is trying to make peace by spending time with you he never did with his own son. You don't really care either way, but the old man is useful, so you go along. It's purely self-motivated." A beat. "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

Before he can drink in confirmation, Sly steps up beside Fran and hands her a velvet bag, from which she pulls an antique crystal bottle that contains a crimson liquid. "Not beer, lovely dove. This." Sly takes Art's beer and Fran extends the bottle.

Arthur considers Fran's statement with an expression that doesn't change: pleasantly interested, even amused. "If you weren't a gangbanger, you could make real money with that," he chirps, and reaches for the proffered bottle: she spoke the truth. Everything he does is in his own self-interest... even if sometimes it aligns with someone else's. Anyway, he made a deal, so he takes a swig.

Cash narrows his eyes at the antique bottle and then he look at Arthur. Another glance is quickly scanned across the camp. "Me next." He says, standing up a little straighter.

Thea arches a brow slightly, gaze flitting between Fran and Arthur as the 'reading' is done and his actions confirm its accuracy. Her eyes narrow on the crystal bottle, though, and unlike Cash, she takes a small, unconscious step backward. She's not leaving, but she's showing signs of being weirded out, and she's watching Arthur in the aftermath of his swig a bit closely. "What's in that thing?" she asks. Curiosity. Meow.

When he recovers from his ragged coughing, James eases into the whole smoking thing, eventually opening his beer can with a pop and bringing it to his lips to wet his whistle. He observes the exchange between Arthur and Fran with an incredulous look, gaze dancing between the pair to watch the former's facial expression for confirmation of the latter's accuracy.

"Who cares?" James replies to Thea's question, more from a need to be disagreeable than from a lack of concerns of his own, as betrayed by his own dubious glance to the antique crystal bottle that Art drinks from.

Esme looks at James in brief aside after he starts coughing with the light of the bummed smoke and inhaled bounty, drinking from her beer to time the ribbing that comes out of her as a helpless result, "Damn James, you're film noir with that much cigarette smooth." Then she dons a smile that clearly pre-empts and accepts the no-doubt incoming 'shut-up-Esme' in some fashion with good-natured grace. Leaning over, she reaches down for the smoke with asking to give it a go herself while awaiting turn, but she gets distracted as Fran goes pretty personal on Arthur.

Honestly, Esme has no way of know whether or not those are degrees of truth until she sees whether or not the artsy guy drinks as response, but she's watching his face, too, as if looking for confirmation of what Fran has just said there in his expression too. That part's pretty futile given Art's grace. Then Cash is offering to go next and Esme forgets her hand is still down asking to borrow that smoke, because she wants to hear what's said to cuz over there and be ready to put out any emotional fire of response, just in case.

The liquid is a bit thicker perhaps than Arthur expects, warm and metallic, and it has a lovely burn that seeps through the body like a fire in slow motion. The stars become brighter, the moon as well, and everything is crisp and vivid like never before. He can feel his own pulse all throughout his body, aware of every nerve. He gets only a sip before Fran pulls the bottle gently back.

"You next?" she replies to Cash. "Oh but you're an easy one." She glances aside to Thea, answering, "A little something from home, dear. Very old and rare."

Back to Cash. "You're caught between lovers. One you hurt, the other hurt you. You don't feel like you deserve either of them, of course, and have considered running away again. Taking a vow of silence. But he likes it when you sing."

Out goes the bottle.

Arthur's expression is so useless that he might just be drinking from the bottle just to drink from it! When he comes up for air, his pupils have dilated out so far that they're almost entirely black. "/Hmmm./" The world and he are very different all of a sudden!

Growing up with Cash would teach his nearest and dearest when his mood is about to hit hyperdrive. The way his breath hitches and his eyes widen. And while a deal is a deal, he says as he takes the old bottle. "Give me something hard from the cooler. A c-chaser?" And with that, he takes the crimson liquid to the head. One sip and he offers it back, trembling as his senses open. Suddenly, the moon is fascinating.

Thea's gaze cuts toward James, her eyes narrowing again. Her lips part, as though to issue a razor-edged retort, but she pauses just shy of releasing it. A slow, even breath is drawn, and once its calming effects are felt, she slides just a little closer to Cash. Drawing her free hand from her pocket, she reaches over to touch his hand lightly as she murmurs, "You okay?"

While it's not the healthiest thing for Esme to grab and her first inclination is to step forward with a drink from her beer to chase, she obliges and gets him whiskey instead when she sees the nerves and feels creeping on Cash. Pouring quickly into a disposable cup with splashing, she gives him enough to quick slug and numb some of whatever about was said that got all knotted inside the teenage guy, providing chaser as requested.

But then she's noticing maybe he doesn't need it and as her mouth opens, the question of concern she was about to ask him about how true the running away piece was... it goes and she looks at the bottle with a certain anticipation and curiosity. That and she wants to know what Fran sees with her, "Me next?"

"Not to mention they're brothers," James chews out disparagingly, shooting a disgusted look across at Cash while he tries another drag from the borrowed cigarette and a sip from his beer. Forcing himself to relax, he scoots a few inches back and takes his backpack off, using it and his elbows to support his back in a lean while his attention drifts curiously towards Esme. "Lovers might be a bit of a stretch, he mostly obsesses over whoever catches his attention for more than a minute," he mutters to nobody in particular.

"You heard the boy, Sly," says Fran in amusement as she pulls the bottle back from Cash. "Get him a chaser." Esme has him beat, though. Nora snickers a bit, but Bee hushes her gently.

"Yes, you. How about you, pretty poppet?" Fran asks Esme. "Care to have a go?" She considers the girl a moment, free hand lifting to the side of her face again. "You... I see you, pretty. Carefree and kind. Your family are well-enough off, but don't revel in riches. But you? You want to. You dream of being spoiled rotten, of designer clothes that would cost your friends' parents a month's salary. And the idea that your friends would know it, know that they could never have such luxury while you flaunt it in front of them? Makes. You. Wet. Oh you act the hippie, pretty poppet, but you were born to be lavished upon."

Fran arches a 'brow and extends the bottle.

Cash is still looking at the sky when Thea touches him. He flinches, as he always does but he then, he takes Thea's hand and looks at her briefly. His blue eyes are as dilated as Arthur's. "I like your hands, Thea. I like your hair..." He reaches out and touches it, stroking it. "I can feel each stra--" James' comment cuts him off and he glares at James. "You are just a mopey pussy who couldn't finish what you started with Thea so now you talk shit from the stands. You whine and bitch and moan to your /dead/ brother because no one else wants to hear that shit but the dead." His jaw sets and he turns back to Thea. "I didn't know they were brothers. Hector had never heard of this town..."

Esme's reading makes Cash snort. "Marry a Marchant."

Esme is pretty hard to flush or de-zen, but there's enough of her mother and father's lifestyle in her that she actually seems to feel a touch shamed hearing that piece about her desires overall put to words like that. Especially when Cash mentions a damn Marchant. Her and Landon just found themselves pretty non-dating single at the same time and rumor has it he's been dancing around asking her out. Therefore, even though it's not much of a blush, color rises on her cheeks with a pale shadow of the crimson that's in the bottle extended her way by Fran.

Her hand reaches to accept both the bottle and the telling as it is, confirming accuracy if the semi-blush didn't do it, and she tips the vessel up for a quick swig of the rich mystery liquid. Upon handing it back, though, she looks upward, then around, then down, then at the fire, bout with shame and fluster completely forgotten when her eyes make dilate, "... wow."

"We're all jerks!" Arthur beams.

Something flares in Thea's eyes, when James spits his venom in Cash's direction. Tension skitters along her jaw as she clenches her teeth, keeping her silence out of respect -- both for Fran, and for Esme, who's receiving her reading. But then Cash is turning his attention onto her, and.. well hell. Seems the Freeland lad is more than capable of handling himself, though she can't quite help getting in her two cents at the end. "Why not take your turn, James? Let's see what secrets of yours Queen Fran can shed light on, since you're so eager to trample on others'."

"Yeah, because that's what happened," James replies in a dry, sarcastic tone to Cash's accusation, eyes rolling in their orbits after a scowl. "At least my dead brother doesn't have to worry about somebody who obsesses with somebody new every week trying to stab him in the heart, next," he mutters with obvious irritation, though some of the color drains from his face at Thea's suggestion.

"Fine," James decides stubbornly. "I'll go next," he offers up, tone softening as he looks over to Fran in curious expectation.

"Yes, yes, they're brothers," Fran says to James, free hand flapping. "But let's talk about yours, hmm? The one you say you talk to all the time? Do you know why your closest friends are dead, dear boy? Because you never figured out how to live. You go through the motions of daily life in a haze, like you're sleepwalking. It isn't real. You aren't real. So you talk to the dead because they're almost as cold and lonely as you are and won't judge you. But the thing you won't tell even your dearly departed brother is that you wish it had been you, not so that he'd be alive or anything altruistic like that, but so that someone - anyone - missing you would make you feel like you maybe you matter."

Bottle extended.

"Now, that's just really sad," Arthur opines in the same amiable tone, though without real mockery, before he looks around for his beer: he's just stating the obvious. "Drink up quick, then it won't matter much anymore."

A pained wince contorts James' visage with an agonized rictus at Fran's revelation, but the telling lands with such accuracy that he's left to do nothing but silently swallow the bitter pill. He looks as though he'd like to argue, but he can't; so he reaches out and takes the bottle, bringing it to his lips for a deep drink, then returns it. With nothing further to say, he slumps back into the backpack he'd removed earlier, using it as a pillow while he stares up at the moonlit sky.

Normally, Esme might be running some wandering around comfort interference with proximity or touches or closeness given all the personal butthurt that Fran's readings are doling out. Things on the inside sound so much worse when put to words, too, somehow, she noticed that sting immediately. But with her swig from the bottle done and Esme all looking around while James' reading is given, it's not entirely clear how much she actually heard or paid mind to, because she doesn't react the way she might normally.

Everything just feels a little too fascinating or looks a little too pretty or sounds a little too echoed with mesmerizing, her senses now loaded differently with whatever was in that bottle from Fran. Maybe it was worth a little truth that hurts, it really is a neat trick, and look at the fire! She has no inclination to go peacekeeping at all, instead, she drinks from the beer, looks at the can like it's pretty, suddenly, then drops down into a kneeling sit before reclining onto elbows with shift of eyes between fire and stars, "Did you know... if you stare at the fire long enough, you can see pictures, and if you look at the sky right after, the picture glow sticks and paints the stars with them?"

Esme Esme apparently knows that, guys.

Thea had a moment, maybe two, in which she looked vaguely satisfied at watching the blood drain from James's features. But. As Fran goes into his secrets, that expression freezes, shatters, and silently falls away. Her throat spasms subtly with a particularly hard swallow, and her gaze drops to the sand for a heartbeat. Then she's stepping forward and, with all the haughty, attention-grabbing presence her Marchant upbringing can muster, she gives her head a prideful toss and drags focus off of James. "My turn."

"Just you left, little dove," says Fran to Thea, turning to the Marchant girl with a sad little smile. "Oh dear. So much pain and resentment - where to start? You're the good one of your trio, the one who does what she's expected to so Mummy and Daddy aren't disappointed in the lot of you. So you deny yourself the things you truly want - the boy you want, the future you want - because your brother and sister give you no choice. It eats you up inside how they get to act out and fuck off while you do what you're expected to. They can be creative. They can be frivolous and flippant. They get to shine for the rest of the world, as much as it may disappoint your parents, but you can't bring yourself to do the same. Your dreams have to wait. Do they know how much you hate them for it, I wonder?"

The bottle is held out one last time.

With his bony ass planted in the sand and his head tossed back on the improvised pillow of his backpack, James stares up at the sky wistfully while Thea's turn comes, only briefly betraying the attention he pays when his lips tighten and twitch. Tilting his head to the side, eyes aimlessly searching, he mentions ambiguously, "You know, we're all made of stardust, if you think about it." Perhaps he's replying to Esme's claim, as he then swivels around to stare at the flickering flames. "And the universe is so big, none of it really matters," he adds belatedly to Arthur.

"/Now/ you know the truth," Arthur agrees with James, as if it were some big secret to share between them. He sits down next to the other youth, as if they were friends, and shifts his guitar so that he can play something for all of them. This is definitely a time for personal soundtracks.

"Each of you carries pain," says Fran as she pulls the bottle back. "But can you feel it now? No. What you feel now, lovely doves, is alive. You feel alive like never before, see the world like never before, and the world is yours to conquer!" Nora cheers that sentiment. "Tonight, in this moment, you can do anything! Anything you--!"

"Jesus Fucking Christ, Fran," snarls a tall, lanky man with long hair, facial scruff and ten tons of barely-restrained aggression. Just being near him makes the teens edge away. He stalks over towards her, and while she doesn't shrink back, Nora, Bee and Sly sure do. He reaches out and snatches the bottle from her, glaring at it, then her. "There are fucking rules about this shit. You know that. Especially with them."

"Aw, Mr. Payne is cranky, children," Fran mock-pouts. "Show's over. Time to go home."

Bubba grabs her by the arm and drags her away from the fire, looking back over his shoulder at the kids as he goes. "You heard her. Beat it." The five teens, as wonderful and changed as they feel, have never been more certain that doing exactly what he says is a good idea. They need to get lost, and fast. His anger is tangible in a way they've never known.

Arthur has just begun playing The Greatest Song In The World-- at least, it might well sound like it in the moment: summoning the mysteries of the universe in each note, the singing of the spheres above them, the flicker and dance of the flames, the deep, dark mystery of the woman who's tempted them, the aches and sadnesses and ugliness infesting all of their puerile teenage souls.

But by morning, none of them will remember how exactly it went-- just a pale echo.

And then it's over almost as soon as it's begun, as its creator hops up at the angry ominous guy's command and gets the heck out of dodge.

Esme looks like she's contemplating a way to turn James' observation back into something pretty after he makes it dismal over to Arthur, and despite the moment where she looks charmed with the guitar coming out, when Payne shows up... nope. She's a little slow motion about it with her perceptions off initially, but once he's given actual warning, she's all the way up and moving and she forgets to get her yoga blanket folded and dropped there next to the bonfire where she left it. Even though everything is wonderful and it'd be an utter waste of a high, suddenly she seems to think going home to bed... there's pretty colors there too.

Also that man is fucking scary, so there's that. And she thinks about that some when she wakes up in the morning, but not too much. She's a teenager, afterall.

As relaxed as James is while listening to Arthur's song, the arrival of a new and decidedly less friendly stranger quickly restores James to the flighty tension with which he'd initially approached the bonfire, only amplified by the thrumming sense of energy and invulnerability that pulses through him. He doesn't need to be told twice; James accidentally kicks his beer over standing up, grabs his backpack, and bolts.

Thea had just barely begun to enjoy the sensations flowing through her when the party is crashed. Hell, it's demolished. Skittering away from the bonfire with a sound that's strangely halfway between a giggle and a whimper, she pauses just long enough to peer at Cash. Who, as it happens, is peering up. Like he hasn't even realized yet what's going on, or recognized the need to scram. Simple enough solution -- she grabs hold of the teen's shirt, and drags him along with her when she turns to scamper off up the beach.

They all have the strangest, most vivid dreams of their lives that night. Dreams of flying, high above the world, of swooping down and snatching anyone they like and carrying them off. There's joy and revelry, sex and blood and the highest of highs. They are something more than they were before, something greater and more evolved.

And then they wake up with only fuzzy snippets of memory of the night before and none of the secrets revealed. The sun is too bright, and they feel sluggish and listless. While they manage to get up and go about their lives in the days that follow, daytime is difficult. They're tired, the sun hurts their eyes, they sleep in when they can, and only at night do they feel like themselves again. That night remains a mystery, but they know it was wonderful and special.

And more than anything, they want to do it again.