The party boat was packed, but James didn't seem to mind; her shoulders moved to the music as she edged through the crowd. Natalie lagged behind, paying extra close attention to any change in her senses. So far, nothing. Maybe the pill wouldn't work with all the von Willebrand meds already floating through her system.
Back at the table, Owen was being extra antisocial, laser-focused on reorganizing the contents of his wallet. Jonathan was now chatting with a pretty girl whose choppy bob was dyed a psychedelic tangerine. And Jenna was—where was she? Crap.
Natalie stood on her tiptoes and surveyed the cabin. She eventually spotted her old friend pushing through a sea of supermodels and felt a rush of love as she waved Jenna over. Jenna, however, seemed to be headed for the exit.
"Where are you off to?" Natalie called out as she shoved her way over to Jenna.
Jenna gave Natalie an ice-cold look. "Where'd you go for so long?"
"Sorry about that—the bathroom line was epic." Natalie tried to inject her face with an aggrieved expression, but it didn't work; she just felt too ridiculously happy all of a sudden. "C'mon, let's go back to the table."
"I don't want to," Jenna said. "I don't think this party is for me."
"What are you talking about? Of course it is."
"Not with you acting like this, it isn't. You totally left me high and dry for, like, ever. So not cool."
"Jenna, I just went to the bathroom." Was Jenna really going to pull this high-maintenance act right here, in front of all these people? "Come back with me, Jen. I promise I'll take better care of you."
Jenna was glaring now. "Jesus, I don't need you to baby-sit me, though maybe uttering more than one word to me in the last hour would've been nice."
"I'm sorry, Jenna. I wasn't trying to diss you."
"And that's not the least of it. The real highlight was when that Battlestar Galactica character asked me if I was the—" she brought up her hands to make air quotes—"starvation ballerina."
"What?" Natalie had no idea how some random scenester knew about Jenna's tutus-and-dry-tuna phase in the seventh grade. "I have absolutely zero idea who that girl is." Natalie looked over her shoulder at the girl seated between Owen and Jonathan. "Swear to God."
"Really?" Jenna was all but sneering now. "That's funny, because she said you guys had a blast at the Mercer Hotel."
"Oh, my God." Natalie looked over at the table again. Had James' friend Lily—who, it turned out, was from London, Ohio, not England—really replaced her flowing locks with that day-glo helmet? "I didn't recognize her. Her hair looks totally different."
"I hate when that happens." Jenna's phony smile dropped from her face.
"Wait—" Natalie reached out for Jenna's wrist. "If I said anything, it wasn't in the spirit of gossiping, not at all. She's a model, and she was just talking about her own former eating iss—"
"Let me go," Jenna hissed. "I promise I won't make a scene." And with that, she wrenched herself free and spun toward the exit.
Natalie fell backward against the wall. She needed to fix this, and fast. If only she knew how. But when she closed her eyes, she was overtaken by an entirely different, entirely wrong feeling. The goodness came in giant crashing ocean waves. She opened her eyes to bring herself back, but the lights were bleeding into great whorls of white and blue, and the music was pulsing and bleating, and her heart was singing like a bird.
Wow. This was scary-nice. Natalie searched for the word for what she was experiencing. Happiness didn't cut it somehow. Dragonflies and rainbows and jellybeans, more like.
Fiona St. Claire would've been able to describe this sensation no problem. She practically had, Natalie thought, remembering the "bliss beyond bliss" Terra and Imogen had shared on their first visit to the Chamber of Light. The blinding celestial sunlight had filled their bodies and rendered them incapable of speaking, but of course words had no meaning in the Chamber. Wait—were those passages in Dark Shadows actually about drugs?
Was that why Fiona St. Claire wasn't going to make her deadline? Holy shit.
Natalie looked back at the table and saw that James was motioning for her to rejoin the group. Jenna was nowhere to be seen.
With great effort Natalie pushed herself off the wall. Her body was wobbling and the cabin floor felt squishy and uncertain and—
When Natalie came to, a cluster of faces was staring down at her, the cabin's low ceiling shaking just behind. Somehow she was back at the table, her head in James's lap, her hair being lightly stroked by James's fingers. Her body felt stiff, as if she'd been asleep for months.
"What happened?" Natalie tried to hoist herself up. "Was I—what did I do?"
"Everything's fee-fi-fo fine." James gave Natalie's shoulder a squeeze. "You just took a little siesta, that's all."
It was only after downing the glass of tepid water Owen offered her that Natalie remembered Jenna's departure. Oh, crap. What would she tell Hisham? And how could Natalie possibly make amends? Oh, oh, God. She rubbed at her forehead. What a total disaster. Summer was supposed to be carefree and uncomplicated, lazy bike rides and popsicles and long afternoons curled up with a new book. It wasn't supposed to be like this.
"Jenna didn't come back here, did she?" Natalie asked hopelessly. The cabin was boiling hot; why was no one else sweating?
"Sorry, sweets," James said.
"She really was super jumpy," Lily said, leaning forward to balance on her elbows. "Like, I just thought it was cool when she ordered a rum and Coke with real Coke, you know? Because even though I've been officially recovered for, like, three years, I'm still totally a Diet Coke girl."
"She's really mad at me," Natalie heard herself saying out loud. "I should never have said anything about her eating issues."
"Like that's some huge newsflash," James said coolly. "I can smell a rexy from a mile away."
"Totally," Lily drawled. "Did you know that's why ballerinas' feet are all messed up? Because, like, their bones are totally weak, you know?"
"Well, at least you didn't mention her mom's stint in rehab for sex addiction," Natalie said, then stopped short. OMG—had she really just spoken those words aloud?
"Jenna's mom?" James' question confirmed Natalie's worst fears.
"My mom was in rehab, too," Lily cried excitedly. "But not for sex. Prescription painkillers were more her jam. Wow. That girl totally didn't look like a nympho to me."
"She isn't! It was her mom! And it was really more of a drinking problem," Natalie said, then winced again. Why couldn't she stop? She felt sick, sicker, sickest.
The Stecklows had gone to great expensive lengths to blot out this family blemish. Mrs. Stecklow had told everyone she was spending the entire month of July redecorating their place in Nantucket, and she'd actually reupholstered several couches to make the story stick. No, no, no. If Mrs. Stecklow's secret ever became public knowledge … Natalie shuddered and forced the thought away. Now Jenna would never forgive her.
Owen was looking intently at Natalie now. In the dim light, his black eyes were even more piercing than usual. "Are you OK?"
Natalie nodded, though she wasn't at all sure. Her head felt encased in thick woolen padding. Sweat was dripping down her cheeks, smearing her eye makeup. "I think I'm just really tired."
"She's fine," James said, flashing Natalie a conspiratorial smile. "She's had a hard few days. Totes understandable."
"I could take her home if you want?" Owen's eyebrows drew up his forehead. "Would that help you?" The question was directed at James, not Natalie.
"I'm not going home," Natalie said. "I'm crashing at my aunt's, in SoHo."
"Yeah, and no offense, Owen, but Natalie's way too cool to cruise in your mom-mobile on a Saturday night," James said. "Anyway, we're just getting started here."
"OK, then," Owen said a little pettishly. "I was just trying to be nice."
"I might actually want to—" Natalie broke off as James' eyes drilled into her forehead. "I mean, I might be ready to call it a night soon. Let me just call to make sure Jenna's not, like, waiting or something."
But she had no way of finding out because there was no cell phone inside her bag. WTF? Natalie opened every compartment of the stupid overcomplicated patchwork tote, but nada. Where could it possibly have gone?
Well, not much she could do about it now. In normal life, she might freak out (what if some random homeless guy was speed-dialing her mom at that very moment?), but with the houseboat bobbing on the water and her brain drifting with every wave, Natalie couldn't bring herself to care all that much right then.
"I should probably get back to my aunt's." Her voice was slow and heavy.
"Fine, then, I'll come with you!" James cried. "Lindsay might be a dine-and-dasher, but I'm more loyal than that."
Lily found this hilarious. "Loyal? You? Or you just want to get out of this sauna?"
"Loyal," James repeated as she stood up. "You should know I like the heat."