Tryst Six Venom by Penelope Douglas

To Abigail

WANT TO BET my mother is about to have a meltdown?

I’m sure it’s after nine. She should be home, flushing out any calories she consumed today, and finishing up step five of her skincare regimen instead of waiting for me at the dress shop right now.

I’m so late.

Confetti flies in the air, and I reach down, grabbing three more rolled-up T-shirts out of the bucket as the parade float bounces and sways under us.

“More shirts!” I yell over to Krisjen to restock.

The crowd cheers on both sides of the street, and I jump down off the step, stopping at the edge as I hold my hand to my ear.

Come on. Let me hear it!

“Ah!” little girls scream.

“Hi, Clay!” tiny, six-year-old Manda Cabot squeals at me like I’m a Disney princess. “Hi!”

She waves at me as her twin sister, Stella, holds up her hands, ready to catch.

A comfortable breeze blows through the palms lining Augustine Avenue, grazing my bare legs in my jean shorts as the potted pink lantanas hang on the street lamps lining the road and fill the air with their scent.

Just your typical balmy, Florida winter evening.

“We want a shirt!” Stella cries.

I shoot my arm up in the air, my white T-shirt with the word BIG shining in bold silver letters.

I smile, shouting, “You wanna be a Little?”

“Yeah!” they cry out.

“Then I need to hear it!” I move my feet, doing a little dance move. “Omega Chi Kappa! Come on!”

“Omega Chi Kappa!” they shout. “Omega Chi Kappa!”

“I can’t hear you!”

“Omega Chi Kappa!” they scream so loud their baby teeth damn-near shake.

Oh my God. So adorbs. I hope I have daughters.

I throw them both an underhand toss and resume dancing to the music as the truck pulls us at a crawl, our float in the middle of a long line of floats, all celebrating the annual Founder’s Day.

“See you in a few years!” I tell them. “Be good and study!”

“Yeah, we only take the best!” Amy Chandler shouts next me.

Followed by Krisjen’s chirp at my other side, “Be best!”

I snort, turning around to grab some more shirts. Balloons dance in the air along the sidewalks, and I toss some more bundles, the tingles in my head helping me play my part as I dance our choreographed little number in sync with Krisjen to “Swish, Swish”.

The rest of our girls walk in front of or alongside the float, dancing along with us in the street, and every eye on us makes the hair on my arms rise. The attention always feels good. Rolling my hips, arching my back, and shaking my body, I know one thing for sure. I’m good at this.

Our sorority is the biggest in any high school in the state, and while it’s service and academic-based, because that’s what gets us into college, we’re popular for other reasons. We look good doing what we do.

Whether it’s washing cars to raise money for cat saliva research, hosting the football team’s annual pancake breakfast, or helping clean Angelica Hearst’s house and do her laundry, because she just had baby number four from daddy number four and she’s overwhelmed—bless her heart—we get it done Instagram-style.

Krisjen and I falter in our steps, laughing as we grab some more shirts and toss them to our future little sisters out there in the crowd.

“You see how drunk they are?” Krisjen says under her breath.

I follow her gaze, seeing her boyfriend, Milo Price, smiley and sweaty in his backwards baseball cap and flushed cheeks, which is his tell that he’d had beer tonight.

Callum Ames stands next to him, grinning with his arms folded over his chest, watching me like something that’s already his.

Maybe. I’ll look good on his arm at the debutante ball, nevertheless.

I swipe my water bottle out from underneath the papier-mâché clown fish and take a swig, the burn already intoxicating as it courses down my throat. Just the taste eases my nerves.

“I’m going to kill him,” Krisjen gripes.

“Wait until after the ball,” I tell her. “You need a date.”

Taking the bottle out of my hands, she throws back a swallow as I grab her shirts and toss them to waiting hands.

Music and laughter surround us, the confetti gun shoots another bomb into the air—blue, pink, silver, and gold—fluttering like snow.

“God, that stuff is good.” She hands me the bottle back. “Goes down like water.”