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Suzette ran into Dougie, a midshipman who was the same age as she was, although his small frame made him look a lot younger. Many of the other boys teased Dougie about getting into the movies for the price of a twelve-and-under kids’ ticket. She remembered the night he got stuck in the ductwork above her bathroom, last year. Some older boys had forced him to sneak down with a camera to get photos of the commandant’s daughter in the shower. Fortunately, she heard him first.

“Hey there,” Dougie said with a shy smile.

“Congratulations on surviving to sophomore status,” Suzette said. “I bet it feels good to have a whole class of freshmen midshipmen starting below you.”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “It does. How’s life at the convent?

Suzette laughed. “Off to a great start. I’ve got two projects due next week, including one on finding a universal definition of spirituality. I guess I’ll have to go to the library because I know zero about it.”

Dougie raised his eyebrows. “I might be able to help you out. I’ve got a couple of books in my room about spirituality.”

Seeing Suzette’s puzzled expression, he shrugged. “My parents are extremely religious— church every Sunday. They packed a lot of reading material for me— not that I’ll ever use it. C’mon up to my room and I’ll dig through the stuff in my trunk until I find it.”

“Women aren’t allowed above decks,” Suzette stopped in her tracks.

“So? You’re not a woman,” Dougie said, over his shoulder. “Hurry up. My door is right at the top of the stairs.”

She glanced at her father’s office and noticed that it remained empty—no faculty and no secretaries in sight. Suzette took the wooden steps two at a time and was relieved to see the corridor was clear when she reached the second floor. She found Dougie rifling through a large metal trunk at the foot of his bunk, scattering books on the floor.

Suzette stood with her back against the dorm door, but instinctively turned to open it when she heard a knock.

“Hey Dougie, my fake I.D. worked! Let’s celebrate.”

She heard the sound of a pop top on a can and felt a chilly mist spray over her. Foam dripped from the end of Suzette’s nose and landed on her T-shirt, which was enough to make her reek of beer.

Dougie sat frozen on the floor, too horrified to move, while two midshipmen stood in the doorway, clutching aluminum cans.

“Shit, I am so sorry. Oh no. Oh, my God.”

Suzette wiped her face. “Are you guys crazy? What are you doing with beer, for heaven’s sake? That’s totally illegal, in case you didn’t know. I can’t walk into my parents’ place like this. What am I going to do?”

Dougie grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the bathroom.

“You’re going to rinse off.”

“Oh, a great idea. And what possible explanation will I have for being soaking wet?”

“Maybe you fell in the swimming pool…?”

Standing in the porcelain tub and arguing with Dougie, Suzette failed to notice another boy turn the nozzle. Hot water from the shower head hit her with such force that she screamed. And then, she screamed again.

“No, stop it, right now. Turn off the water,” she sputtered.

Seconds later Mike McGrath burst through the door. A senior and the second highest-ranking officer in the school, Big Mac gaped at the scene in the bathroom.

“I heard screams and I…”

He was looking at Suzette, who stood dripping wet and furious. The outer edges of his mouth twitched slightly but he fought to keep from laughing. “Um, you know ladies aren’t allowed above decks,” he said

“No kidding?” she replied. “I can see why.”

She turned to Dougie and glared. “Get me a towel.”

“You two.” Big Mac nodded toward the boys with the dripping beer cans. “Sit down.”

He peered into the hallway and closed the door.

“We’ve got to get you out of here before evening inspection. You can’t go down the main stairway because you’ll run into some of the faculty.”

Dougie scratched his head. “What about the fire escape?”

Big Mac counted the number of doors between Dougie’s room and the end of the hallway on his fingers. There were only six. “It might work.”

Big Mac stood with his hand on the doorknob and waited as Suzette toweled off. Her rubber sneakers squeaked along the hardwood floors as she slid between the beer-can boys who surrounded her like an invisibility cloak. When the hallway was clear, he opened the door and stepped out, extending his arms to block the view. At six-feet-four, Big Mac stood taller than most of the senior class and wider, too.

The others scurried toward the fire escape, leaving a watery trail on the wooden floorboards. Big Mac ordered several guys to towel the floor dry before the Captain arrived for evening inspection.

“We’ll go down with you,” Dougie said. “If anyone is watching from a window, they’ll just see our gray uniforms.”

Suzette frowned at him.

“And don’t worry. I’ll bring the religion books by your apartment later,” he added.

 

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