I didn't want to lie to him. At the same time, though, I knew I couldn't tell him what had really happened—not here, not tonight. Maybe not ever. "It's over," I replied, which was, technically, true.
"That good, huh?" he said as a tall girl in a sequined top, holding a drink, pushed past us, splattering as she went.
I smiled. "Pretty much."
"Well, never fear. When the band comes on, your night will improve."
"I know," he said just as he got bumped, hard this time, by a guy in a black coat who was passing by, a cell phone pressed to his ear. Owen glanced at him, and the guy shrugged, hardly bothered, and kept walking. "Okay. Time for a space break. Come on."
He turned and started back through the crowd, and I did my best to follow him as he led me to an open booth against the wall.
"Have a seat," he said, gesturing for me to slide in. "The view isn't as good, but at least no one's elbowing you in the spleen."
I could hear what sounded like someone tuning up, followed by a burst of feedback. "The opener," Owen said, nodding toward the stage. "They were supposed to go on a half hour ago, but—"
This thought was interrupted by Rolly, who suddenly slid in beside him, landing with a thump on the bench. "Oh," he said, breathless, "my God."
"Finally," Owen said, turning to look at him. "Where the hell have you been, man? I was beginning to think you'd been abducted or something."
"No," Rolly replied. "You are not going to believe what just happened."
"He went to get drinks about a half hour ago," Owen explained to me. "I mean, I know the crowd is big, but that's ridiculous. And where's my water?"
Rolly shook his head. "Dude. She's here."
Rolly took in a breath, then held up his hands, palms facing out. "She's here, "he said again. Then he paused, letting this sink in before adding, "She's here, and she smiled at me."
"For thirty minutes?" Owen asked.
"No. Only for a moment."
"This is the girl that punched you?" I asked, clarifying.
"I can't believe you didn't get my water," Owen said.
"Would you just forget about that for a second?" Rolly pulled a hand through his hair. "I don't think you're getting the significance of this situation."
"So you talked to her," Owen said.
"No. Here's what happened." Rolly took a deep breath. "I was on my way to the bar and then, suddenly, there she was. Boom! Popped up right in front of me, like an apparition or something. But just as I'm about to speak to her, someone steps between us. And the next thing I know, she's gone, walking away, surrounded by people. Since then I've been hanging back, waiting for the perfect in to present itself. I mean, it has to be just right."
"Why don't you offer to go get her a water?" Owen suggested. "You can pick up one for me while you're at it."
Rolly just looked at him. "What is up with you and this water thing?"
"I'm thirsty," Owen told him. "And I was going to go, but you offered. Insisted, I might add."
"I will get you a water!" Rolly said. "But first, if you don't mind, I'd like to meet my destiny in the most ideal way possible."
There was another burst of feedback from the stage. Owen sighed. "Look," he said, "maybe you should just forget about the ideal moment."
Rolly just looked at him. "I'm not following," he said.
"It's taken a long time for you to see her again, right?"
Owen said. "And who knows how much longer until the perfect moment. Maybe you should just do it. That way—"
Rolly's eyes widened, suddenly. "Oh, shit," he said. "There she is."
Owen leaned out of the booth slightly. "Where?"
"Don't look!" Rolly said, yanking him back in. "God!"
Owen looked down at his sleeve, which Rolly was clutching. Rolly moved his hand.
"Okay," he said quietly. "She's standing by the door. In the red."
I watched as Owen leaned out of the booth again, took a quick glance behind me, then sat back straight again. "Yep, that's her," he reported. "Now what?"
"My point exactly," Rolly said. "I need an in."
By this point, I had to admit that the suspense was killing me. "I'm just going to do a quick over-the-shoulder survey of the room," I said to Rolly. "Okay?"
He nodded, and Owen shot him a look. "She's a girl," Rolly explained. "They can look without looking."
When I first turned around, all I could see was a heavyset guy in a Metallica shirt. But then he moved slightly, and I saw that there was a girl behind him. She had shiny black hair and was wearing little retro glasses, a red sweater and jeans, a beaded bag pulled across her. But I didn't need to see any of these things, really; I knew her with one glance.
"Wait," I said, turning back to Rolly. "The girl… it's Clarke?"
For a moment, Rolly just looked at me. Then he leaned across the table so quickly that I drew back, startled, bumping my head on the booth behind me. "Is that her name?" he asked. His face was now inches from mine. "Clarke?"
I nodded, carefully. "Um… yeah."
After staring at me for another second he moved back, slowly, until he was sitting upright. "She has a name. And it is Clarke. Clarke…" He trailed off, looking at me again.
"Reynolds," I said.
"Clarke Reynolds," he repeated. "Wow." He looked like he was in a trance. Then, suddenly, his eyes widened, and he snapped his fingers. "That's it! That's my in. You."
He nodded vigorously. "You know her."
"No," I said quickly. "I don't."
"You knew her name," he pointed out.
"We were friends once. It was—"
"You're friends with her?" he asked. "This is perfect!"
"It's really not," I said, shaking my head.
"You go up and talk to her, and then I'll walk by and you can introduce me. It's organic. It's ideal!"
"Rolly, seriously," I said. "I'm not the person to get you close to Clarke."
"Annabel." He leaned across the table again, sliding his hands out to mine. "Annabel, Annabel, Annabel Greene."
Shhh, Annabel. It's just me. I felt a chill run up my neck.