The sweet taste of whiskey. Tendrils of smoke. Unzipping my dress. Ice cold water. Darkness.
Fractured memories race through my head as the car speeds down a long and very winding road. Great for a song. Awful for a hangover. Every bump and twist makes my stomach lurch, and I grip my seat to steady my spinning. Searching my throbbing head, I piece together last night's events from fragments of memory.
The car bumps over a pothole, splitting my pulsating brow. I shut my eyes tight and press my sandpaper tongue against the roof of my mouth. The overwhelming feeling of regret washes over me like nausea. It's been around all day, a hot, prickling shame that makes my toes curl.
Groaning, I open my eyes, only to shut them as shards of sunlight pierce my skull. My mother passes across a paper bag and tuts.
'You brought this on yourself, sweetheart,' she says, disappointment clear in her curt voice.
'I'm sorry,' I whine between deep breaths, the effort of speaking causing me to shake.
From the driver's seat, my father suppresses a chuckle. 'At least this hangover has punished you enough that you won't do it again soon. Your grandfather, God rest his soul, used to say 'hard liquor mixes well with everything - except good decisions'. We always assumed that accounted for the racehorse, the ruins in Scotland and the actress in Nice,' he said, his voice bright with the memory of Grandpa.
'It's fun,' my mother says, 'until you wake up and have to untangle the mess.'
With a deep groan, I hold my hands in my head as recollection sweeps over me, the fragments slotting together to form a picture I wish could stay forgotten.
'Is there something you need to untangle?' my mother says, voice low with concern.
'No, nothing,' I lie. I turn my head to stare out of the window. From Oscar's reflection, I can tell he doesn't believe me. My heart is heavy and raw with embarrassment. In a moment of stupidity, I'd ruined the only friendship I have, and almost thrown away my first kiss on a boy who doesn't want me. I don't need my parents' lectures to know I've done wrong.
As we pull into Hopton Hills, I knock back two more ibuprofen and I pray my hangover will disappear long enough for me to apologise. I know that one of us would have to hold out the olive branch if we want to reverse the damage from last night. Seeing as I'm the one that took the first leap, I figure it's up to me.
I watch the town slip past the car window. Rows of pristine houses sit either side of wide, tree-lined streets, all leading off an open square. Here, clapboard-clad shops in pale ice-cream shades surround an ornamented lawn. Most of them are one story high, making the white church that dominates the far end seem as imposing as a gothic cathedral.
Rounding into our driveway, my stomach lurches at the familiar figure on the unfamiliar porch. James' eyes hide behind sunglasses and he sips on a bottle of water. Unlike me, who is wearing my hangover like a noose, James has a devil-may-care attitude that does nothing to lessen my confusion over last night.
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Under Tennessee SkiesTeen Fiction
When she moves from England to the small town of Hopton Hills, Tennessee, Martha Heysham finds both her dream of Oxford University and her heart at risk from her new neighbours, the Whittingham boys. **** Martha Heysham hates Tennessee. The sticky h...