author: claira
rating: pg
summary: sam, sixteen.
a/n: for nanda's backstory challenge.
disclaimer: i do not own

[ s a l t   t e q u i l a   l i m e ]

Itís the party of the year, her classmates tell her. You have to come.

Over dinner that night, she tells her father that Mandy invited her to an all-girl sleepover, complete with movies, hot chocolate and popcorn. The lie slips out easily and he believes her, like he always does Ė she doesnít think much about it because sheís starting to resent his tight control over her life.

The next day she kisses his cheek as she gets out of the car at Mandyís, and inside Mandy's room she changes into tighter jeans and Nikkiís low-cut black top without thinking about him. She looks in the mirror and doesnít recognise herself. She kinda likes that.

The party is at Lukeís because his parents are away, and the music is loud and the house is crowded.

She tastes tequila for the first time and hates it. The art of salt-tequila-lime eludes her and she envies the girls who throw back shots and look sexy doing it. She feels out of place again, and she puts down her glass and wanders out onto the porch.

The air is cold, only faintly tinged with cigarette smoke and the stars blur as her eyes fill with tears. It wasnít supposed to be like this, she thinks, fingering the too-tight waistband of her jeans. When she turns, there is a boy at her elbow.

"Youíre Samantha, right?" he says.

"Sam," she corrects automatically.

Her mother called her Samantha.

"Sam..." he repeats. Heís moving closer and she can smell alcohol on his breath. He has salt on his shirt Ė tequila shots Ė and she brushes it off.

Matthew, she thinks. Heís in her physics class.

She lets him kiss her, lets his tongue into her mouth and it feels strange. He tastes like tequila and something she doesnít recognise but she guesses is from the makeshift bar in the kitchen. She moves back, needing to breathe and he kisses her neck, drawing her closer, closer. Panic bubbles up from her stomach and she pulls away.

"Oh, come on Sam," he says, and she can see the frustration behind the sneer in his eyes.

He reaches for her again, but itís too much. She leaves her dignity at his feet and runs, through the house and down the street, slowing to a walk at the corner because Mandy's red heels are too small and hurt her feet. Eventually, she finds a payphone and holds the receiver for a minute, trying to summon the courage to call her father. She gets halfway through the number over and over and hangs up each time.

In the end, she calls Mark. She canít face her father, not like this, smelling of tequila and lime and in jeans he doesnít know she owns. Her brother gets to her in less than twenty minutes and she knows he must have broken speed limits, but when she throws herself at him, he just rubs her back and drives her to his apartment.

She showers and brushes her teeth five times. It doesnít help. The smell of toast seeps into the bathroom so she moves out to the kitchen.

"Nothing Ė happened?" Mark asks, carefully spreading peanut butter to the edges, just as she likes it.

"No," she tells him. "Nothing happened."

She doesnít realise how worried he was until he puts the knife down and hugs her fiercely.

"Thank God," he says into her hair before he holds her at arm's length and looks her over, lingering on her jeans. "Iím assuming - "

"Dad doesnít know," she finishes and gives him the pleading-little-sister look that has often saved her.

He rolls his eyes. "I didnít think so," he replies but heís smiling now, and she knows that her father will never find out.

They finish their toast in silence and it isnít until sheís had a shower and is snuggled on his couch in a borrowed shirt that he sits down beside her and asks "Are you okay?"

"Iím fine. Me and Mandy had a fight, thatís all." Liar, liar...

Mark wraps the blanket around her. "You know Iím Ė Iím here for you. If you need someone."

The words spill out before she can stop them. "I miss Mom."

"Sam." His face changes, softens, and he tucks a rogue strand of hair behind her ear with a gentleness that surprises her. "Itíll be okay."

She manages a smile. "Thanks, Mark," she says, a little self-consciously. They were never good at the talking thing.

"Night." He squeezes her hand and gets up. He stands at the door for a moment. "It *will* be okay. I promise."

"Yeah." But it wonít be, she thinks, because growing up all by yourself is so hard. She doesnít say it out loud, though, because the truth hurts too much and deep down she feels like sheís breaking into pieces.

[ b a c k ]