“Good to see you,” I told her, the same way I’d told everyone who I was forced to talk to all night long, in the same cheery hey wedding-ho! voice.
“You, too,” she said, with less enthusiasm, and then she was gone, bumping against a chair on her way out.
Enough, I thought. I need a break.
I walked past the cake table and out a side door to the parking lot, where a couple of guys in waiter’s jackets were smoking cigarettes and picking at some leftover cheese puffs.
“Hey,” I said to them, “can I bum one?”
“Sure.” The taller guy, whose hair was kind of model-poofy, shook a cigarette out of his pack, handing it to me. He pulled out a lighter and held it for me as I leaned into it, taking a few puffs. He lowered his voice and said, “What’s your name?”
“Chloe,” I said, pulling back from him. “Thanks.” I eased away around the corner, even as he was calling after me, finding a spot by the Dumpsters on the wall. I kicked off my shoes, then looked down at the cigarette in my hand. I’d done so well: eighteen days. It didn’t even taste that good, really. Just a weak crutch on a bad night. So I tossed it down, watching it smolder, and leaned back on my palms, stretching out my back.
Inside, the band stopped playing, to scattered applause. Then the canned hotel music came on, and a few seconds later a door farther down the wall banged open and out came the G Flats, their voices loud.
“This is of the suck, ” the guitar player said, pulling a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and shaking one out. “After this, no more weddings. I’m serious.”
“It’s money,” Ringo the drummer said, taking a sip of a bottled water he was holding.
“Not this one,” the keyboard guy muttered. “This is a gimme.”
“No,” Dexter said, running a hand through his hair. “This is the bail money. Or have we all forgotten that? We owed Don, remember?”
There was a grumbling acquiescence, followed by silence. “I hate doing covers,” the guitarist said finally. “I don’t see why we can’t do our own stuff.”
“For this crowd?” Dexter said. “Be serious. I don’t think Uncle Miltie from Saginaw wants to dance to your various versions of ‘The Potato Song.’”
“It’s not called that,” Ted snapped. “And you know it.”
“Settle,” the redheaded drummer said, waving his arm in a peacemaking gesture I recognized. “It’s only a couple more hours, okay? Let’s just make the best of it. At least we get to eat.”
“We get to eat?” the keyboardist said, perking up. “Seriously?”
“That’s what Don said,” the drummer replied. “If there’s enough left over. How much longer of a break do we have?”
Dexter glanced at his watch. “Ten minutes.”
The keyboardist looked at the drummer, then the guitarist. “I say food. Food?”
“Food,” they replied in unison. The keyboardist said, “You in, Dexter?”
“Nah. Just nab me some bread or something.”
“Okay, Gandhi,” Ringo said, and somebody snorted. “We’ll see you in there.”
The guitarist tossed down his cigarette, Ringo threw his water bottle toward the Dumpster-and missed-and then they went inside, the door slamming shut behind them.
I sat there, watching him, knowing for once he couldn’t see me first. He wasn’t smoking, instead just sitting there on the wall, drumming his fingers. I’d always been a sucker for dark-headed boys, and from a distance his suit didn’t look so tacky: he was almost cute. And tall. Tall was good.
I stood up and brushed my hands through my hair. Okay, so maybe he was really annoying. And I hated the way he’d bumped me against the wall. But I was here now, and it seemed only fitting that I take a few steps toward him, show myself, if only to throw him off a bit.
I was about to come around the Dumpster and into full sight when the door opened again and two girls-daughters of some cousin of Don’s-came out. They were younger than me, by a couple of years, and lived in Ohio.
“I told you he’d be out here!” one of them, the blond, said to the other. Then they both giggled. The taller one was hanging back, hand on the door, but her sister walked right up, plopping down beside Dexter. “We were looking for you.”
“Really,” Dexter said, and smiled politely. “Well, hello.”
“Hello yourself,” the blond said, and I made a face, in the dark. “You got a cigarette?”
Dexter patted his pockets. “Nope,” he said. “Don’t smoke.”
“No way!” the blond said, hitting him in the leg. “I thought all guys in bands smoked.” The taller girl, still by the door, glanced back behind her, her face nervous. “I smoke,” the blond said, “but my mother would kill me if she knew. Kill me.”
“Hmmm,” Dexter replied, as if this was actually interesting.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” the blond said abruptly.
“Meghan!” her sister hissed. “God!”
“I’m just asking,” Meghan said, sliding a little closer to Dexter. “It’s just a question.”
“Well,” Dexter said, “actually…”
And at that, I turned around and headed back the way I’d come, already pissed at myself. I’d come close to doing something really stupid-way lowering my standards, which judging by Jonathan were rock bottom already. This was the way the old me worked, living just for the next second, hour, wanting only to have a boy want me for a night, no more. I’d changed. I’d quit that, along with smoking-okay, with one lapse-and drinking-for the most part. But the sleeping around thing, that I’d held true to. Completely. And I’d been ready to throw it away, or at least bend it a bit, for a Frank Sinatra wanna-be who would have easily settled for Meghan from Ohio. God.
Back inside, the cake was out on the dance floor, with my mother and Don posing beside it, their hands intertwined over the cake knife as the photographer moved all around them, flash popping. I stood on the edge of the crowd, watching as Don fed my mother a piece, carefully easing it into her mouth. Another flash popped, capturing the moment. Ah, love.
The rest of the night went pretty much as I expected. My mother and Don left in a shower of birdseed and bubbles (with much of the hotel cleaning staff standing by looking hostile), Chloe ended up making out with Don’s nephew in the lobby, and Jess and I got stuck in the bathroom, holding Lissa’s head while she alternately puked up her fifteen-dollar-a-head dinner and moaned about Adam.