Everyone else did too, so I followed suit.
And nearly choked to death.
It was like fire in liquid form. It took every ounce of strength I had to swallow it and not spray it on those around me. "Wh... what is this?" I asked, coughing.
Viktoria grinned. "Vodka."
I peered at the glass. "No, it isn't. I've had vodka before."
"Not Russian vodka."
Apparently not. I forced the rest of the cup down out of respect to Dimitri, even though I had a feeling that if he were here, he'd be shaking his head at me. I thought I was done being in the spotlight after my story, but apparently not. Everyone kept asking me questions. They wanted to know more about Dimitri, more about what his life had been like recently. They also wanted to know about me and Dimitri as a couple. They all seemed to have figured out that Dimitri and I had been in love-and they were okay with it. I was asked about how we'd met, how long we'd been together...
And the whole time, people kept refilling my cup. Determined not to look like an idiot again, I kept drinking until I could finally take the vodka down without coughing or spitting. The more I drank, the louder and more animated my stories became. My limbs started to tingle, and part of me knew this was all probably a bad idea. Okay, all of me knew it.
Finally, people began to clear out. I had no idea what time it was, but I think it was the middle of the night. Maybe later. I stood as well, finding it much harder to do than I'd expected. The world wobbled, and my stomach wasn't very happy with me. Someone caught a hold of my arm and steadied me.
"Easy," said Sydney. "Don't push it." Slowly, carefully, she led me toward the house.
"God," I moaned. "Do they use that stuff as rocket fuel?"
"No one made you keep drinking it."
"Hey, don't get preachy. Besides, I had to be polite."
"Sure," she said.
We made it inside and then had the impossible task of getting up the stairs to the room Olena had given me. Each step was agony.
"They all knew about me and Dimitri," I said, wondering if I'd be saying any of this sober. "But I never told them we were together."
"You didn't have to. It's written all over your face."
"They acted like I was his widow or something."
"You might as well be." We reached my room, and she helped me sit down on the bed. "Not a lot of people get married around here. If you're with someone long enough, they figure it's almost the same."
I sighed and stared off without any particular focus. "I miss him so much."
"I'm sorry," she said.
"Will it ever get better?"
The question seemed to catch her by surprise. "I... I don't know."
"Have you ever been in love?"
She shook her head. "No."
I wasn't sure if that made her lucky or not. I wasn't sure if all the bright days I'd had with Dimitri were worth the hurt I felt now. A moment later, I knew the truth. "Of course they were."
"Huh?" asked Sydney.
I realized I'd spoken my thoughts out loud. "Nothing. Just talking to myself. I should get some sleep."
"Do you need anything else? Are you going to be sick?"
I assessed my queasy stomach. "No, but thanks."
"Okay." And in her typically brusque way, she left, turning off the lights and shutting the door.
I would have thought I'd pass out right away. Honestly, I wanted to. My heart had been opened up to too much of Dimitri tonight, and I wanted that pain to go away. I wanted blackness and oblivion. Instead, maybe because I was a glutton for punishment, my heart decided to finish the job and rip itself completely open.
I went to visit Lissa.
Everyone had hit it off so well at lunch with Avery that the group had gotten together again that evening and had kind of a wild time. Lissa was thinking about that as she sat in her first-period English class the next morning. They'd stayed up late last night, sneaking out past curfew. The memory brought a smile to Lissa's face, even as she stifled a yawn. I couldn't help but feel a tiny bit of jealousy. I knew Avery was responsible for Lissa's happiness, and that bothered me on a petty level. Yet... Avery's new friendship was also making me feel less guilty about leaving Lissa.
Lissa yawned again. It was hard to concentrate on The Scarlet Letter while fighting a slight hangover. Avery seemed to have a never-ending supply of liquor. Adrian had taken to this right away, but Lissa had been a little more hesitant. She'd abandoned her partying days a long time ago, but she'd finally succumbed last night and drunk more glasses of wine than she really should have. It wasn't unlike my situation with the vodka, ironically enough. Both of us overindulging, despite being miles and miles apart.
Suddenly, a high-pitched wail pierced the air. Lissa's head shot up, along with everyone else's in the class. In a corner of the room, a small fire alarm flashed and shrieked its warning. Naturally, some students started cheering while some pretended to be scared. The rest just looked surprised and waited.
Lissa's instructor also looked a little caught off guard, and after a quick examination, Lissa decided this wasn't a planned alarm. Teachers usually had a heads-up when there were drills, and Ms. Malloy didn't wear the usual weary expression teachers had when trying to figure out how much time the drill would cut from their lessons.
"Up and at 'em," said Ms. Malloy in annoyance, grabbing a clipboard. "You know where to go." Fire drill procedure was pretty standard.
Lissa followed the others and fell in step with Christian. "Did you set this up?" she teased.
"Nope. Wish I had, though. This class is killing me."
"You? I have the worst headache ever."
He gave her a knowing grin. "Let that be a lesson to you, Little Miss Lush."
She made a face in return and gave him a light punch. They reached their class's meeting spot out on the quad and joined in the semblance of a line the others were trying to form. Ms. Malloy arrived and checked everyone off on her clipboard, satisfied no one had been left behind.
"I don't think this was planned," said Lissa.
"Agreed," said Christian. "Which means even if there's no fire, it might take a while."
"Well, then. No use waiting around, huh?"
Christian and Lissa turned around in surprise at the voice behind them and saw Avery. She wore a purple sweater dress and black heels that seemed totally out of place on the wet grass.
"What are you doing here?" asked Lissa. "Figured you'd be in your room."
"Whatever. It's so boring there. I had to come liberate you guys."
"You did this?" asked Christian, slightly impressed.
Avery shrugged. "I told you, I was bored. Now, come on while it's still chaotic."
Christian and Lissa exchanged glances. "Well," said Lissa slowly, "I suppose they did already take attendance..."
"Hurry!" said Avery. Her excitement was contagious, and, feeling bold, Lissa hurried after her, Christian in tow. With all the milling students, no one noticed them cutting across the campus-until they reached the outside of guest housing. Simon stood leaning against the door, and Lissa stiffened. They were busted.
"Everything set?" Avery asked him.
Simon, definitely the strong-and-silent type, gave a swift nod as his only answer before straightening up. He stuffed his hands into his coat pockets and walked off. Lissa stared in amazement.
"He just... he just let us go? And is he in on it?" Simon wasn't on campus as a teacher, but still... that didn't necessarily mean he'd let students skip out on class because of a faked fire drill.
Avery grinned mischievously, watching him go. "We've been together for a while. He's got better things to do than babysit us."
She led them inside, but instead of going to her room, they cut off to a different section of the building and went somewhere I knew well: Adrian's room.
Avery beat on the door. "Hey, Ivashkov! Open up."
Lissa slapped a hand over her mouth to smother her giggles. "So much for stealth. Everyone's going to hear you."
"I need him to hear me," Avery argued.
She kept pounding on the door and yelling, and finally, Adrian answered. His hair stuck up at odd angles, and he had dark circles under his eyes.
He'd drunk twice as much as Lissa last night.
"What...?" He blinked. "Shouldn't you guys be in class? Oh God. I didn't sleep that much, did I?"