“You know,” I said. “I don’t think I’m really—”
“Five minutes,” she said firmly. “That’s all I’m asking.”
Fifteen minutes later, I found myself still in the kitchen, which was now packed with people, talking to a football player who was named either Hank or Frank: it had been too loud to make it out exactly. I’d been trying to extract myself, but between the crowd pressed all around me and Kristy watching like a hawk as she talked to her own prospect, it was kind of hard. Plus I was feeling a bit unsteady. Make that a lot unsteady.
“Don’t you date Jason Talbot?” he said to me, shouting to be heard over the music that was blasting from a nearby stereo.
“Well,” I began, pushing a piece of hair out of my face.
“What?” he yelled.
I said, “Actually, we’re—”
He shook his head, cupping a hand behind his ear. “What?”
“No,” I said loudly, leaning in closer to him and almost losing my balance. “No. I don’t.”
Just then, someone bumped me from behind, pushing me into Hank/Frank. “Sorry,” I said, starting to step back, but he put his hands on my waist. I felt dizzy and strange, too hot, entirely too hot.
“Careful there,” he said, smiling at me again. I looked down at his hands, spread over my hips: they were big and hammy. Yuck. “You okay?”
“I’m fine,” I said, trying to step back again. But he moved with me, sliding his arms farther around my waist. “I think I need some air,” I said.
“I’ll come with you,” he said, and Kristy turned her head, looking at me.
“Macy?” she said.
“She’s fine,” Hank/Frank said.
“You know,” I said to Kristy, but I lost sight of her as a tall girl with a pierced nose stepped between us, “I think we should—”
“Me too,” Hank/Frank said. I could feel his fingers brushing under my shirt, touching my bare skin. I felt a chill, and not the good kind. He leaned in closer to me, his lips touching my ear just slightly, and said, “Hey, let’s go somewhere.”
I looked for Kristy again, but she was gone, nowhere I could see. Now I was feeling totally woozy as Hank/Frank leaned into my ear again, his voice saying something, but the music was loud, the beat pounding in my ears.
“Wait,” I said, trying to pull back from him.
“Shhh, calm down,” he said, moving his hands up my back. I yanked away from him, too hard, then stumbled backwards, losing my balance. I could feel myself falling fast, into the space behind me, even as I tried to right myself. And then, suddenly, there was someone there.
Someone who put his hands on my elbows, steadying me, pulling me back to my feet. The hands were cool on my hot skin, and I could just feel this presence behind me, solid, like a wall. Something to lean on, strong enough to hold me.
I turned my head. It was Wes.
“There you are,” he said, as Hank/Frank looked on, annoyed. “You about ready to go?”
I nodded. I could feel his stomach against my back, and without even thinking about it I felt myself leaning back into him. His hands were still cupping my elbows, and even though I knew this was weird, that I’d never do it any other time, I just stayed where I was, pressed against him.
“Hey,” Hank/Frank said to me, but Wes had already started through the crowd. There were so many people, so much to navigate, and as the distance fluctuated between us his hand kept slipping, down my arm to my wrist. And maybe he was going to let go as people pressed in on all sides, but all I could think was how when nothing made sense and hadn’t for ages, you just have to grab onto anything you feel sure of. So as I felt his fingers loosening around my wrist, I just wrapped my own around them, tight, and held on.
The instant we walked out the front door, someone yelled Wes’s name, loud. It startled me, startled both of us, and I dropped his hand quickly.
“Where you been, Baker?” some guy in a baseball hat, leaning against a Land Rover, was yelling. “You got that carburetor for me?”
“Yeah,” Wes yelled back. “One second.”
“Sorry,” I said to him as he turned and looked at me. “I just, it was so hot in there, and he—”
He put his hands on my shoulders, easing me down so I was sitting on the steps. “Wait here,” he said. “I’ll be right back. Okay?”
I nodded, and he started across the grass toward the Rover. I took in a deep breath, which just made me feel dizzier, then cupped my head in my hands. A second later, I had the feeling that I was being watched. When I turned my head, I saw Monica.
She was standing just to my right, smoking a cigarette, the bottle of water tucked under her arm. I knew well she was not the type to creep up or move fast, which meant she’d seen us come out. Seen us holding hands. Seen everything.
She put her cigarette to her lips, taking a big drag, and kept her eyes on me, steady. Accusingly.
“It’s not what you think,” I said. “There was this guy in there. . . . Wes rescued me. I grabbed his hand, just to get out.”
She exhaled slowly, the smoke curling up and rising between us.
“It was just one of those things,” I said. “You know, that just happen. You don’t think or plan. You just do it.”
I waited for her to dispute this with a “Donneven,” or maybe an “Mmm-hmm,” meant sarcastically, of course. But she didn’t say a word. She just stared at me, indecipherable as ever.
“Okay,” Wes said, walking up, “let’s get out of here.” Then he saw Monica and nodded at her. “Hey. What’s going on?”
Monica took another drag in reply, then turned her attention back to me.
I stood up, tilting slightly, and then righted myself, not without effort. “You okay?” Wes asked.
“I’m fine,” I said. He headed down the walk toward the truck, and I followed. At the bottom of the steps, I turned back to Monica. “Bye,” I told her. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
“Mmm-hmm,” she answered. I could feel her still watching me, as I walked away.
“If you could change one thing about yourself,” Wes asked me, “what would it be?”
“How about everything I did between leaving your house and right now?” I said.
He shook his head. “I told you, it wasn’t that bad,” he said.
“You didn’t have some football player pawing you,” I pointed out.