Elizabeth’s feet slid from beneath the stark white sheets as she turned her head to see Blair’s crown of tousled brown hair still resting peacefully to her left. Her feet begrudgingly hit the cool, dark tiled floor but it was the aquamarine water extending for miles and miles in front of her that truly jarred her awake. Thanks to their parents’ generosity, Elizabeth and three of her best friends were spending the next nine days at a five-star resort in Fiji. Shooting a quick text to her companions promptly confirmed that she was the only one awake. Wade, Matthew, Blair, and Elizabeth had first become friends because they were the only four freshmen taking algebra two at Matson, the boarding school they attended. The four had been best friends since and were now relishing spring break together before they plunged into their last few weeks of high school and parted ways for college.
Elizabeth slipped out of her satin pajama set, donned her favorite blue bikini, and sent a text to her friends to let them know she was going for a brisk swim. Marveling at the villa’s seamlessness with the ocean, she climbed down the deck ladder and slid into the tepid water. The water was beautiful. One of the most beautiful things she had ever seen.
“Ouch!” Elizabeth yelped as a shard of hard plastic cut through the skin on the bottom of her left foot.
“Elizabeth?” Matthew called, peering over the side of the villa’s deck and down to where Elizabeth was bobbing about in the water on her right foot.
“I stepped on a piece of trash or something,” she responded, judging from his curious expression that that was going to be his next question.
“Okay, well… do you need a bandaid or something? We all just woke up. Blair is poaching eggs for avocado toast. Bandaid?”
“No, it’s probably fine. I’ll be up in a second.”
With a nod of his head, Matthew disappeared from Elizabeth’s view. Wincing in pain, she climbed back up the ocean ladder and onto the villa deck. Welp, this is what happens. I’m not letting some piece of trash ruin my trip. Gosh —
Elizabeth’s thoughts were abruptly cut off by Wade’s call to breakfast. Joining the other three, Elizabeth could not help but feel the most content she had maybe ever felt. Who cared if her left foot hurt like hell. She was in Fiji with her best friends and nothing could ruin it. How sappy. Wow, Elizabeth. It was genuine though. This trip was a culmination but also a promise for the future. A commitment to their bond and the friendship that had sustained them for the past four years. Since elementary school, each of the four had known that the end of high school was inevitable and with it came unprecedented liberty. That was before Matson and the four of them though. If the past four years had taught them anything, it was that the post-high school liberty that they had previously glamorized was accompanied by an overwhelming feeling of loss.
Seated on barstools around the kitchen island, the four wrestled with their melancholy. Wade chuckled.
“Shoot,” Wade smiled, “I never thought I would miss advisory meetings or room checks or even, gosh, the grouchy librarian from our sophomore year who constantly screeched at me to turn down my tunes. Gee, I always told her I couldn’t focus without them but —”
“Maybe that’s because your ‘tunes’ were Billboard’s compilation of the most streamed rap songs of the week!” Blair piped up.
“Blair is right!” Elizabeth remarked, drawing out the “is” in a manner that she had perfected as the youngest of her three siblings.
“Hey, if not for Wade’s library jam sessions the playlists for dances would have been considerably less inspired! Let’s give the guy his credit,” grinned Matthew.
“Yeah, just like the time you ‘inspired’ the freshmen boys to strip down to boxers and run the quad?” grinned Elizabeth in retort.
“Oh, that was classic. Don’t forget: I clocked it perfectly so that just as the boys approached the headmaster’s office window, the board of trustees exited from their luncheon!” Matthew chuckled.
Laughing at all of their memories, Blair said, “As much as I love this, I really want to go to the beach. Can we take a golf cart to the beach around the cove? It’s supposed to be a perfect spot for pictures! The water looks insane!”
As their golf cart carried them across the island and towards the lagoon beach, the four wondered at how they had gotten so fortunate. In life and friendship, they were indubitably lucky.
“Guys,” Elizabeth said, ” I love you all. I adore this trip already and it hasn’t even been a full twenty-four hours!”
“So… what happens if a huge, venomous spider bites one of us in the night? Still a great trip?” Matthew replied playfully.
“Watch that happen to Elizabeth,” teased Wade, “Let’s see what Miss Optimism is saying after that!”
“Guys, look up ahead on the right side of the path! Look through the palm fronds and you’ll see the beach,” chirped Blair.
The beach, or at least the part that they could see, was beautiful. The sun’s rays reflected off of the azure water, specks of dazzling light playing on the surface. Hopping off of the cart, the four thanked their driver and sauntered toward the beach’s edge.
“Swim first, or pictures?” asked Blair.
“Pictures for sure. I wouldn’t want the water to ruin my hair or makeup,” joked Wade. He was in a teasing mood today as he was almost every day. Wade’s playfulness coupled with Elizabeth’s optimism balanced out Matthew’s paranoia and Blair’s suspicion. Laughing at Wade, they walked towards a relatively flat reach of soft white sand.
“Okay, you three get in the picture!” Matthew directed, motioning Blair, Elizabeth, and Wade to move together in front of the water.
“Good?” asked Blair.
“Yes! Wait, actually can you guys move to your left? There’s some scattered trash in the picture.”
Using her foot to push the trash out of frame, Elizabeth readjusted herself and smiled at the camera. “If the trash is still in the picture I’ll just crop it out,” she said through closed teeth. Glancing down at her feet as Blair switched with Wade, Elizabeth noticed what appeared to be the corner of a sun-bleached red plastic cup. She bent down and quickly covered the cup with sand. Trash. There is so much trash.
After taking pictures, Blair rallied her friends to explore down the stretch of beach with her. Blair and Elizabeth pulled the white linen mini dresses they had been wearing over their heads and tossed them on the ground, unveiling their coordinating lilac suits. The boys removed their tees, opting for just their chaotically patterned swim trunks. Wade challenged Elizabeth to see who could swim parallel to the shore for the longest while Blair and Matthew preferred to walk along in the crystalline shallows. As Elizabeth swam, she couldn’t help but notice pieces of debris in the water. The water was so clear, it was hard to miss anything. Sadly, that meant the unaesthetic things too. Who cares. Do I care? No. Should I care? It doesn’t matter. It’s stupid. Right? Yeah. Elizabeth couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow trash was tainting their trip and that somehow her dismissal of it was a diss to her Environmental Science teacher. She kept seeing trash though, it was as if she was a magnet for it. She wasn’t though, a thought which pinged around in her mind. This trash is always here. It’s… the environment? I mean, kind of right? If it’s always here then —
The sound of Matthew’s voice calling her name pulled Elizabeth back to the sunny beach, and she looked around to her friends.
“Have you guys noticed the litter?”
“Um, no?” replied Wade, “Why would I, I’ve been too busy noticing how I beat you!”
“Funny Wade, but seriously,” Elizabeth said, “The website didn’t show this side of the island.”
“Oh come on Elizabeth, don’t pull down the mood. This isn’t Mrs. McGrath’s environmental science classroom.”
With a cursory look up at Wade from where she’d been staring at the sand, Elizabeth replied, “Maybe McGrath rubbed off on me more than I realized. I just can’t shake the feeling that this — me noticing this trash — is bigger than here and now. Shit, I sound wack. Right?” Elizabeth reached up to whip her hair into a ponytail and looked to her friends. No. No, I don’t.