Another weekend, another party. It seemed to Ursula as though her friends and classmates were clinging closer together than they’d ever really been before, pretending that things weren’t really winding down for them at Messina High. They were realizing that high school was almost over, that they were about to be separated by distance and time, in most cases forever. So of course they were all over at Pedro’s once again, making the most of the time they still had.
Ursula herself still had another year to go before she graduated, as did Hero and John, and of course Dogberry and Verges had only just started their high school careers. She wondered if their next three years would be anywhere near as eventful as this year had been. Maybe they’d get some peace and quiet for a change.
Peace and quiet. That’s what Ursula wanted right now.
She felt a sort of obligation to come to these things, especially knowing her time with her Year Thirteen friends was short. Next year, they would be gone, and she would wish she had spent more time with them when they were here, before they had the chance to drift apart.
But at the moment, surrounded by sticky, slightly drunk teenagers who were still managing to make quite a lot of noise- well, Ursula was feeling a little overwhelmed. She’d been dancing with Hero for a little while, but then Hero had disappeared into the crowd, apparently in search of Beatrice (although Ursula had also spotted Claudio coming into the room right before Hero ducked out, funnily enough).
A few weeks ago she’d have been able to grab Balthazar to pull outside with her, get a bit of fresh air. These days, though, he was still a little preoccupied with Pedro. The last she saw of him, pink-cheeked and smiling brightly, he’d been tripping after Pedro towards the other side of the house, ukulele still dangling from one hand. She’d waved, amused. Called it. Knew it all along.
So Ursula was alone as she pushed open the door and stepped out onto the Donaldsons’ back porch. Stepping to the railing, she let the door close behind her and looked out into the night, taking a breath of cool air and enjoying the quiet as the sound of the party was muffled by the walls.
At that moment, she saw a dark shape out of the corner of her eye, moving to stand next to her.
“Hey,” said Meg, leaning against the railing too, face half in shadow, eyes bright. Ursula could picture her appearance as a scene in a film, the first glimpse of a new character, mysterious to the viewer who didn’t know her yet.
“Hey, I thought you were inside somewhere,” Ursula said in surprise. She knew Meg was still adjusting after everything that happened, and things were still tense in the group. She’d probably wanted a break from the others too, but Ursula wouldn’t have expected to see her out here.
“Parties are lame,” the shadow that was Meg shrugged. “Figured I would hang out here awhile instead. How about you? No one to dance with?”
“Hero ditched me. Balthazar ditched me. All my friends are leaving me!” she said with a grin and an exaggerated sigh. “Whatever will I do without you?”
“I, for one, can’t wait to get out of here,” said Meg. “If I have to hear Surf-Lifesaving Tony tell one more lifeguarding story, I swear to God-”
“The beauty of high school. Same stories, over and over again. I could film this party and get exactly the same stuff that happened at the last one, you know?”
“Don’t say that! You’ll jinx it, and I don’t think Messina can handle another party scandal this late in the year,” Meg pointed out, taking a sip of her drink. “There’s not even anyone cute to flirt with at these things anymore. Let’s go.”
“Go. There’s a whole wide world outside of Messina, Ursula! Discover it!” Meg laughed, swaying a bit as she ran out into the yard.
Ursula followed her out to the ancient swing set that still took up residence there. It didn’t look very safe, in fact she was surprised the Donaldsons had never gotten rid of it. It wasn’t the world, but the swings still worked, and they did get a spectacular view of a completely clouded, starless night sky. Oh well.
“We should restore these swings to their former glory! You could make a documentary about it, or something!”
“I, uh, don’t really do those anymore.”
“That sucks. Your videos are awesome, you shouldn’t stop.”
“I’m not. I’m just not filming my own life anymore. It’s better that way.” Ursula scuffed the ground under the toe of her shoe, swinging slowly.
“But don’t you ever want to be the center of attention? The star?” Meg spread her arms as if to indicate the sky, which was still entirely dark.
“That’s what I have you for,” Ursula teased. “Didn’t you say you wanted to be the star of the vlogs?”
“Aww, babe! You should make a documentary about me, then. To remember me by!”
“You’re graduating, not dying,” Ursula pointed out.
“To remember me by, when I’m all far away and famous, you know!” Meg continued excitedly.
“Okay, okay. Keep swinging.”
“You’re no fun.”
“Who else do you see risking her life on this rusty old thing?”
“The Queen, of course!”
They both laughed, twisting their swings around and around until the ropes were all tangled up. Meg let go of hers first, twirling out in a dizzy circle until the swing was facing its normal direction again, just barely avoiding kicking Ursula a couple of times as her feet flew by. “Your turn!”
She hadn’t done this since she was a kid. Ursula took a breath and let go of the ropes and was lost in a whirlwind of cool night air. Her vision blurred, the house and the yard and Meg running together in a mess of colors and shapes, and her head was spinning so she couldn’t keep from laughing again, calling out in a wordless exclamation of delight as, for a moment, the world danced around her, Ursula at its center, watching it all go by.