‘Oh,’ he said. ‘So you’re still upset about the bike thing.’
‘I know how to ride a bike!’ I said.
‘But not how to work a keg.’
I sighed. ‘And you care about this because?’
He shrugged. ‘It’s kind of required here. Like buying more than one thing at the Gas/Gro.’
I was impressed he remembered me saying this from the jump park – it was nice to be memorable, even in a somewhat embarrassing way – but I ignored him, instead moving to get Maggie’s and Leah’s attention so I could give them their beers. When I turned to them, though, they both were staring at me, their eyes wide. ‘What?’ I said, but they just took the cups, then stepped a bit farther away from me, exchanging a look as they each took a sip.
I moved back to the keg with the last cup, reaching to fill it. Once I had, they were still watching me with these weird expressions, so I just took a sip from my cup instead. The beer was warm and flat. Clearly, I had not been missing much.
Beside me, Eli was now studying the pastries, and I realized that maybe I had been a little short with him. In an attempt to be conciliatory, I said, ‘Apparently the people who own this house have a bakery. Or something.’
He glanced at me. ‘Really.’
I took another sip, why I had no idea, as it tasted terrible. ‘She’s the girl in the white shirt, over there. With the red lipstick.’
He glanced in the direction I indicated, watching the people dancing for a moment. ‘Oh, right. I see her.’
The girl was really moving now, her hair swishing down her back from side to side as she moved her hips in a circle, a pumped-up guy with, yes, hair gel pressing up behind her. ‘Wow,’ I said. ‘That’s really something.’
I shrugged. The girl glanced over at us, her eyes meeting mine, and I took another sip of my beer. ‘Just… sometimes less is more. You know?’
He sort of smiled, as if this was cute, which was kind of annoying. I glanced over at Maggie and Leah, who, for some reason, were now looking at me totally goggle-eyed.
‘Which is not to say,’ I said to Eli, ‘you shouldn’t have one of her cupcakes. They look great.’
‘Nah,’ he said. ‘I’ll pass.’
‘You know,’ I told him, ‘if you don’t know how to eat a cupcake, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.’
Now he did smile. ‘I know how to eat a cupcake.’
‘Sure you do.’
‘I do,’ he said. ‘I just don’t want one of those.’
‘Yeah?’ I put my cup down, then reached into my bag for the packaged ones I’d bought at the Gas/Gro, pulling them out and placing them on the counter between us. ‘Prove it.’
‘You really want me to?’ he asked.
‘It’s kind of required here,’ I said. ‘Like riding a bike.’
He studied my face for a second, then picked up the pack of cupcakes, opening it and pulling one out. I was watching him, about to take another sip of beer, when I felt a hand suddenly clench my arm. ‘Abort,’ Maggie hissed in my ear. ‘Abort, abort, right now.’
‘What?’ I said, but I barely got the word out before she was yanking me sideways, past Eli – who was chewing, watching us – and out onto the back deck, where Leah was clearing a path through the people there.
‘Hurry,’ she yelled over her shoulder, and Maggie nodded, still dragging me behind her. ‘I think if we go down the stairs this way, we can get out faster and maybe avoid this.’
‘Right,’ Maggie replied, ‘let’s definitely avoid this.’
‘What are you guys talking about?’ I asked as Maggie dragged me down a short flight of stairs to a lower deck, which was a bit less crowded. ‘Avoid what?’
She turned, as if to answer me, but didn’t get the chance. Because right then, a glass door to our right slid open, and the girl from the dance floor – Miss Red Lipstick, cupcake, less is not more – appeared, planting herself squarely in our path. Two of the girls she’d been dancing with, a redhead in a black dress and a shorter, pudgy blonde girl, spilled out behind her.
‘Okay,’ she said, holding up both hands, palms facing us. Her voice was kind of nasal, thin. ‘What just happened in there? And who the hell is this?’
She was looking right at me, as were both her friends, and I felt myself break into a cold sweat, instantly, something that I’d read about but never actually experienced before in my entire life. Maggie, releasing her hold on my arm, said, ‘Belissa, it’s really nothing.’
‘Nothing?’ Belissa took a step toward me. Up close, I could see the bumpy texture of her skin, how her nose was a little pointier than she probably liked. ‘What’s your name, skank?’
At first, I thought this was both a question – what’s your name? – and an answer. Then I realized she was actually waiting for a response. ‘Auden,’ I said.
Her eyes narrowed. ‘Auden,’ she repeated, the way you’d say scrotum or excrement. ‘What kind of a name is that?’
‘Well –’ I said.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Leah said, cutting me off. ‘Like Maggie said, nothing happened.’
‘Was she, or was she not, in there hitting on Eli?’ Belissa demanded.
‘She wasn’t,’ Leah said, her voice flat. Certain. The blonde and the redhead exchanged looks. ‘She’s not from here, she doesn’t know anybody.’
‘Or anything,’ Maggie added, sounding less confident. Belissa glanced at her. ‘You know what I mean.’
‘I saw how he was talking to her,’ Belissa said. It was weird how she was staring at me, and yet at the same time ignoring me completely. ‘He was smiling, for God’s sakes.’
‘He’s not allowed to smile?’ Leah asked. Maggie shot her a look, and she added, ‘Look, Belissa, it was an honest mistake, and we’re leaving. Okay?’
Belissa considered this, then stepped even closer to me. ‘I don’t know who you are,’ she said, punctuating this with a jab of her finger, the tip touching my chest. ‘And I don’t really care. But you better stay away from my boy-friend, especially when you’re under my roof. Understood?’
I looked past her, to Maggie, who nodded, her head bobbing wildly. I said, ‘All right.’
‘All right,’ Belissa repeated. Behind her, Leah sighed, looking up at the sky. ‘Now get off my property.’