‘But I don’t have an ID,’ I told him as we walked closer, passing a girl in a red dress, puffy eyed and stumbling.
‘You don’t need one.’
‘Are you sure?’
Instead of answering, he reached down and grabbed my hand, and I felt a jolt run through me. Since that night at the hot-dog party, we’d been closer, but this was the first real physical contact between us. I was so busy worrying about what it might mean that it took me a minute to realize how natural and easy his palm felt against mine. Like it wasn’t new at all, but something I’d done recently and often, that familiar.
‘Hey,’ Eli said to the bouncer as we approached. ‘What’s the cover?’
‘You got ID?’
Eli pulled out his wallet, then handed over his license. The guy glanced at it, then at him, before giving it back. ‘What about her?’
‘She forgot hers,’ Eli said. ‘But don’t worry, I’ll vouch for her.’
The guy gave him a flat look. ‘Honor system doesn’t fly here, sorry.’
‘I hear you,’ Eli replied. ‘But maybe you can make an exception.’
I expected the guy to react in some way, but if anything he looked even more bored than before. ‘No ID, no exceptions.’
‘It’s fine,’ I said to Eli. ‘Really.’
He held up his hand, quieting me. Then he said, ‘Look. We don’t want to drink. We don’t even want to stay long. Five minutes, max.’
The bouncer, now starting to look annoyed, said, ‘What part of no ID, no entry, do you not understand?’
‘What if I told you’ – Eli pressed on as I squirmed, worrying my palm was now entirely sticky against his – ‘that this was a quest?’
The guy just looked at him. Through the door, I could hear bass thumping, thumping. Finally he said, ‘What kind of quest?’
No way, I thought. There’s just no way.
‘She’s never done anything,’ Eli told him, gesturing at me. ‘No parties in high school, no prom, no homecoming. No social life, ever.’ The bouncer looked at me, and I tried to look adequately culturally stunted. ‘So we’re just, you know, trying to make up for lost stuff, one thing at a time. This is on the list.’
‘Tallyho is on the list?’
‘Going to a club is,’ Eli told him. ‘Not drinking at a club. Not even staying at a club. Just going.’
The bouncer looked at me again. He said, ‘For five minutes.’
‘Maybe even four,’ Eli replied.
I just stood there, feeling my heart beat, and then the guy was reaching for my hand, pulling a rubber stamp out from his chest pocket. He pressed it against mine, then gestured for Eli’s so he could do the same. ‘Stay away from the bar,’ he said. ‘And you’ve got five minutes.’
‘Awesome,’ Eli said, and with that, he was tugging me inside.
‘Wait,’ I said as we headed down a dark, narrow hallway that led to a room full of flashing lights, ‘how did you do that?’
‘I told you,’ he said over his shoulder. He had to yell over the music, which was just getting louder. ‘Everyone understands a quest.’
I wasn’t sure how to reply to this. Not that I could have anyway, as we emerged into the club, which was so loud I couldn’t hear anything, even my own voice. It was a single room, square, lined with booths on three sides, a bar on the other. The dance floor was in the middle, and it was packed with people: girls in tight shirts, holding beer bottles, guys with deep tans and faux-surfer gear shuffling their feet alongside them.
‘This is crazy,’ I yelled to Eli, who was still holding my hand. He either didn’t hear or just didn’t reply, though, pulling me alongside the dance floor.
I was trying to step over feet and purses, and barely succeeding, the floor thumping beneath me with every beat. The air felt thick and sticky, and smelled like perfume and smoke, and already I’d broken a sweat, even though we’d been in there for mere seconds. It was like being in a carnival fun house, but with a copious amount of hair gel.
‘Last dance!’ I heard a voice yell from somewhere overhead, filtering through the pounding music. ‘Grab someone and hit the floor, it’s already tomorrow!’
Suddenly, the song changed, in midbeat, to something slow with a more quiet, sensual beat. There was a bunch of hooting from somewhere on the floor, and the crowd there changed, with some people leaving, the remainders pairing up as new couples joined them. I was so immersed in watching this that when Eli suddenly hung a sharp left, pulling me into the crowd, I almost lost my footing and went down entirely.
‘Wait,’ I said as we brushed past one couple in mid-grope, followed by a guy and a girl totally grinding on each other. She was still holding her beer, the bottle dangling from two fingers. ‘I don’t know if I –’
He stopped walking. I pulled up short beside him, my hand still in his, and realized we were in the center of the floor, a bunch of spinning lights over our heads. I looked up at them, then at everyone around us, before turning back to him.
‘Come on,’ he said. Then he stepped forward, letting loose of my hand and sliding his arms down to my waist. ‘We’ve still got a good two minutes.’
I smiled at him, in spite of myself, and felt my feet step forward, closer. It came so naturally to put my arms around his neck, my fingers finding each other there. And just like that, we were dancing.
‘This is insane,’ I said, looking around me. ‘It’s…’
‘Worth doing once,’ he finished for me. ‘But only once.’
I smiled, and then, in the middle of Tallyho, in the middle of the night, in the middle of everything, Eli kissed me. It was not at all how I’d imagined it happening, and yet totally perfect anyway.
When he pulled back moments later, the song was winding down. And yet everyone kept dancing, kept holding on, until the very end. I rested my head against Eli’s chest, letting it last, knowing that what the DJ had said was true. It was already tomorrow. But I had a feeling it was going to be a really good day.
When I woke up at noon, the house was quiet. No waves, no crying. Nothing, except…
‘Are you kidding? Of course I’ll come. I wouldn’t miss it!’
I blinked, rolling over, then got out of bed and made my way to the bathroom, where I woke up slowly while brushing my teeth. My dad’s voice, louder now, kept drifting down the hallway.