"Help me up, Clayton," Lorelai says from below the boat. Because the ladder is broken, we have to get one of the guys to help us up from the water.
"I think we should call it a day," I say as Lorelai is pulled out of the water and wraps a damp towel around herself. She'd pulled it off of River who, by the looks of it, put about a pea-sized amount of sunscreen on.
"Yeah. My mom has ought to have called a couple of times by now. I left my phone at the inn," Reis says.
"Alright, let's get goin' then." Clayton sits down and steers the boat out of the marina.
We didn't go too far from the inn because we were new to the area and unsure about the rising and falling of the tides during that time of year. We were still able to find a decent place to eat lunch and swim for a few hours. We were the only ones in that small cove.
"Any chance you got a spare bottle of shampoo, Stella? These small ones run out fast," Clayton calls from the bathroom.
"Check under the sink," I say in hope that there's something there. To my satisfaction, I hear him call "Got it!" a few seconds later and turn my focus back on my card game with Lorelai.
Outside, the sky has been painted with a lavender streak of clouds and a cool breeze blows through the balcony every few minutes, cueing the wind chimes to play a nostalgic tune.
River sits on the bed across from Lorelai and me, treating his legs, arms, and cherry red chest to a glob of aloe vera every few minutes. I can't help but smile at his unmanly winces every time that he touches his sensitive skin.
"Rory? Can you help me?" He says in a whiny voice. Lorelai rolls her eyes but I can see the adoration behind the hesitation as she gets up after setting down a king of spades, winning our current game of war.
"Babe, I'm buying you 100 SPF tomorrow, alright? And you're sitting under the awning if we go out on the boat again."
Just then, Clayton comes out of the bathroom, a pink towel around his waist and his dirty blonde hair sopping wet.
"Put on some clothes, man!" Reis yells from his current position on the balcony, a Red Bull in his hand. We all laugh as Clayton says "Okay!" and drops the towel. There are a few minutes of silent horror before we realize he's in a pair of polka-dot boxers, striking up even more loud laughs from everyone, even River, who seems to be unable to laugh without being in pain.
The sky has gotten darker but it's easy to tell that no one is ready for bed, or even a movie. Reis comes up with the idea to go to the nearby town, Spanish Springs, which has music and dancing at the town square until midnight. Cries of agreement and excitement roll through the small room as we get ready for a night on the town.
"Have a nice night!" The bellhop says as we leave the comfort of the inn.
We had decided to stay at the Village Inn because vacation was much needed at the time. We went early, though. We had actually gotten a gig at an annual competition that Saturday. We knew the area was nice and had a great reputation, so we went a week early.
Reis spins me around as we dance to the music that fills the town square. Sweat drips off of my forehead and I check the time, we've been dancing for two hours.
I will myself not to look at Reis, into his green eyes that flip my stomach every time. When I joined this band, I promised myself that I would not get involved in a relationship with any of the guys. No matter how hot they were and no matter how great their personality was and green their eyes were.
"Stella, chill out. Lorelai and River are fine. Why do you keep looking at them?" Reis asks, and I see his hand brush a bit of hair from his face.
Without looking at him, I say: "I just get worried, okay? This band is the best thing that's ever happened to me. I love you guys. If-if we ever..."
His hand pulls my chin so that I'm forced to look at him.
"You care too much about other people. Worry about yourself for once. Come on, we have a few hours left and I want you to be the fun Stella."
I laugh and finally look at him without any force. A smile draws across his face when he hears the next song that comes on. He lets go of me but without looking away and we spread out, Clayton on the other side of me.
Everyone else in the crowd has also let go of their partners as Footloose begins to play.
Even though I’ve never seen half of the people here, I become familiarized with them when new songs come on as I’m passed around, partner to partner. All of us are filled with the satisfaction of forgetting reality and letting go for a few hours. So much so that I almost don’t realize when the music turns off and the shops that border the square are deserted and dark. Instead of a band playing on the stage, a speaker plays a quiet song, indicating that it’s time to go home. We all walk out of the town square, Lorelai obviously tired of babysitting her boyfriend and handing him off to Clayton.
“Hey buddy,” Clayton says, slapping River on the back which causes his eyes to swim in tears.
I fall asleep at the inn before I can even get out of my sundress.
It was Thursday night. That's when he did it.
“Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey,” I hear right beside my ear. Claytons face is magnified in front of my eyes. He has a dorky expression plastered on his face and before I make a snide remark, River speaks from under the covers on the couch.
“Actually, breakfast is your choice of hotcakes, scones, scrambled eggs, or all of the above.”
“Thanks, nerd,” Clayton says, throwing a pillow at him, which he was not able to avoid.
Reis walks into the room, stretching and yawning. “Y'all just left me out on the balcony like that?” he says. He must’ve slept in one of the lawn chairs because he’s walking very stiffly and it takes him a minute to make it to the bed, sitting beside my legs. I start to laugh but a loud groan comes from beside me and Lorelai rolls over, lifting her hand just enough to hit me in the face.
“What day is it?” she asks groggily.
“Dunno, does it really matter? We’re in Maine. By the way, our instruments came last night, they’re in the lob-Hello?” Reis limps off with his phone up to his ear. “Sorry, guys gotta take this.”
“Acts all tough guy until his sick mom calls,” River says, finally sticking his red face up from under the white covers.
“Actually, River, that was my friend, Brogan. He wants to come watch us play this weekend. Do you guys think that’d be alright?” Reis says, walking back into the room.
“Yeah, why not?” I say a little too quickly and Lorelai nudges me on the shoulder. “I mean, is that fine with you guys?”
“Is he nice?”
“Yeah he’s a buddy from middle school,” Reis says.
River scoffs. “You mean the one who got transferred to Keaton Valley after he threatened the principal?”
“He’s changed, I promise.”
I slide off the bed before I have to hear the rest of the argument and decide to change into some acceptable clothes, all the while wondering why Reis had to bring a friend. It’d be nice if this was a weekend for just the band.
I grab a pair of jean shorts and a t-shirt from the Salty Dog Cafe before I walk into the bathroom to change. Just then, there’s a knock on the door.
“I got it,” I say. I turn the knob and standing there is a boy with long black hair, ripped skinny jeans, and a bleached ACDC t-shirt. He’s rather skinny and very tall.
“Stella!” he says, holding out his hand for me to shake it.
“I-I’m sorry I don’t know you.” Reis jogs to the door with a few long strides and envelops the boy in a hug.
“Brogan, nice to see you, man.”
“Yeah, long time no see,” Brogan says, not even sparing Reis a glance as he peers into the room. “Are y’all all staying in here?”
“Yep, I know it’s small but this inn is expensive even for one room. You’re alright with that right?”
“Actually, no...no I’m not. I’ll be right back.”
It was barely even five minutes before he showed up. We were expecting him later that night but he knocked on the door the second R-my friend told him he could come. He was weird too. He refused to share a room with us because he needed a space for his personal belongings. I thought it would just be because he was intimidated by us but that definitely was not the case.
“Guys, it’s eleven, can we please go back to the inn?”
“Brogan, you can go back. You got your own room. We’re not ready yet,” Reis says, finally seeing his mistake in inviting Brogan.
After his whining and constant complaining becomes unbearable, we’re headed back to the inn. I can even hear River ranting to Lorelai about how he can’t wait to get rid of this guy. Clayton’s been quiet all day and it’s probably because his best friend brought another friend that definitely does not live up to the standards that Clayton sets.
“Alright, see ya bud.” Clayton says excitedly when we arrive at Brogans room. But Brogan shows no indication that he’s stopping here. In fact, he’s already halfway past another room when he looks back at us and laughs.
“I’m just gonna hang with y’all until y’all go to bed. That alright?” he asks.
I hear a suppressed groan come from behind me, where River stands. Lorelai lets out a small laugh, mimicking Brogans. No one says a word, but just accepts that there’s no point in arguing.
When we arrive at the room, I notice something is wrong. All down the hallway, vacated rooms stood with their doors open, bed mattresses strewn across the floor with clothes decorating the TV’s and lamps. In our room, the balcony door is wide open and a violent wind is blowing through it. Clayton and Reis hold their arms out, telling us to stay in the hallway while they make sure everything is alright.
“There’s no one in here,” Reis says finally.
“Not anymore,” River says, looking at our empty suitcases.
Just when I’m about to call someone from the front desk, I hear a loud click and suddenly, the lights go out. Because of the secludedness of the inn, no light is pouring in from the outside other than the moonlight, in which I can faintly see the trembling silhouette of Lorelai holding onto River. A hand grabs mine gently and pulls me closer.
“Stay still, I don’t know what’s going on. But this isn’t a coincidence,” he whispers. I can feel his heartbeat against my arm and his breaths are short, hitched breaths. Through the silence, I can hear the air conditioning, meaning that the power wasn’t completely turned off.
I turn my head up to Reis and whisper, “the elevator.” I feel him nod his head and he still holds onto me as he walks around the room to tell the others.
We file out of the room trying to make as little noise as possible. I neither see nor hear anyone else in the hallway before we make it to the elevator. I cringe at the loud ding that echoes through the dark when the elevator opens on the first floor. I walk as quick as I can through the lobby, my eyes on the sliding glass doors. I step over some broken glass but not before someone grabs onto my ankle, stopping me in my tracks. I look down and am relieved to see the bellhop staring up at me but when I look closer, I can tell that something is wrong. There’s blood on her lip and a huge gash above her left eyebrow.
“Are you alright?” I whisper, but she doesn’t talk. She’s silently sobbing, hiccuping from the effort of keeping in her cries. That’s when I see the body beside her. I take my eyes off of it before it’s permanently etched into my mind but it’s even harder to keep the scream of horror from coming out of me.
A second later, Reis runs over to me, putting an arm on my shoulder.
“Come on, Stella. Everyone else is outside. I can’t find Brogan, though. Have you seen him?”
“No,” I say in a hoarse voice.
“Go outside, I’ve gotta find Brogan.”
“Stella, seriously. Go-” He sees the body, his breath catches in his throat. I stare in shock for a moment more and finally decide to go outside with Reis when I feel his body go limp beside me.
“Reis?” I look around the dark lobby and see absolutely no one. The wood floors groan as I flip Reis’ body over and look for any sign of life.
My mind races, wondering what could have happened and I when I realize, I surge with anger. Brogan asked if we wanted drinks tonight at the bar. Everyone got virgin pina coladas except for me, I said I didn’t want anything. Still, Brogan brought a drink just in case. I didn’t drink any of it.
Everyone else did.
I look outside the sliding glass doors just in time to see people gathering around three bodies on the ground. I don’t know whether I should leave Reis or not so I tell the nearly unconscious bellhop that I’ll be back and bound out of the doors.
“Are they okay?” I ask.
“I don’t know what they were given but it sure was something that could do permanent damage,” someone says quietly from behind me.
I hear sirens approaching, growing louder from behind the inn. First responders run into the building, police scan the area with their guns drawn and I stand on the pavement shaking, watching as the lights are turned on in the inn, illuminating the three clustered bodies on the ground.
The bellhop stirs.
He was brainwashed. His dad was crazy, I remember hearing him mumble it at the inn Thursday night. He was staying there with him but his dad ended up getting him to do the dirty work. He didn’t know what he was putting in our drinks, yet I still blame him. I don’t care what anyone says, he’s guilty, your honor. Guilty for the fact that I’ll never play guitar with my friends anymore, guilty for the fact that I can never look at another person with trust anymore, and guilty for the fact that they’re gone.
Beside me, Lorelai is lifted onto a stretcher and all I can see are her dewy eyes and the stars reflecting in them before they’re closed for good.