“Okay, okay, what’s going on here?” That was Adrian, the bouncer, too late as usual for the real commotion but always up for a chance to throw his little bit of power around.
“We’re just talking at the bar and we go to go outside and she freaks,” Sherman said, pulling at his collar. “Crazy bitch. She hit me.”
I was standing there, rubbing my arm, hating myself. I knew if I turned around I’d see that girl again, so weak and screwed up. She’d go to the parking lot, no problem. After that night at the party, she’d gotten a reputation for it. I hated her for that. So much I could feel a lump rising in my throat, which I pressed down because I was better than that, much better. I wasn’t Lissa: I didn’t trot my pain out to show around. I kept it better hidden than anyone. I did.
“God, this is swelling,” Sherman whined, rubbing his eye. What a wuss. If I’d hit him on purpose, well, then that would have been different. But it was an accident. I didn’t even really have my arm in it.
“You want me to call the police?” Adrian asked.
I was suddenly so hot, and I could feel my shirt sticking to my back with sweat. The room tilted, just a bit, and I closed my eyes.
“Oh, man,” I heard someone say, and suddenly there was a hand enclosing mine, squeezing slightly. “There you are! I’m only fifteen minutes late, honey, no need to cause a commotion.”
I opened my eyes to see Dexter standing beside me. Holding my hand. I would have yanked it away, but honestly I thought better of it, after what had just happened.
“This doesn’t concern you,” Adrian said to Dexter.
“It’s my fault, though,” Dexter replied in that quick, cheery way of his, as if we were all friends who met coincidentally on a street corner. “It is. See, I was late. And that makes my sweetums so foul tempered.”
“God,” I said under my breath.
“Sweetums?” Sherman repeated.
“She clocked him,” Adrian told Dexter. “Might have to call the cops.”
Dexter looked at me, then at Sherman. “She hit you?”
Now Sherman didn’t seem so sure, instead pulling at his collar and glancing around. “Well, not exactly.”
“Honey!” Dexter looked at me. “Did you really? But she’s just a little thing.”
“Watch it,” I said under my breath.
“You want to get arrested?” he said back, just as low. Then, back in cheery mode, he added, “I mean, I’ve seen her get mad before, but hit somebody? My Remy? She’s not even ninety pounds soaking wet.”
“Either I call the cops or I don’t,” Adrian said. “But I got to get back to the door.”
“Forget it,” Sherman told him. “I’m out of here.” And then he slunk off, but not before I noticed that yes, his eye was swelling. Wimp.
“You.” Adrian pointed at me. “Go home. Now.”
“Done,” Dexter said. “And thank you so much for your cordial, professional handling of this situation.”
We left Adrian there, mulling over whether he’d been insulted. As soon as we were outside, I yanked my hand loose from Dexter’s and started down the stairs, toward the pay phone.
“What, no thank-you?” he asked me.
“I can take care of myself,” I told him. “I’m not some weak woman who needs to be saved.”
“Obviously,” he said. “You just almost got arrested for assault.”
I kept walking.
“And,” he continued, darting ahead of me and walking backward so I had no choice but to look at him, “I saved your butt. So you, Remy, should be a little more grateful. Are you drunk?”
“No,” I snapped, although I may or may not have just tripped over something. “I’m fine. I just want to call for a ride and go home, okay? I had a really shitty night.”
He dropped back beside me, sticking his hands in his pockets. “Really.”
We were at the phone now. I reached into my pockets: no change. And suddenly it just seemed to hit me all at once-the argument with Chris, the fight in the bar, my own pity party, and, right on the tails of that, all the drinks I’d consumed in the last few hours. My head hurt, I was deadly thirsty, and now I was stuck. I put my hand over my eyes and took a few good, deep breaths to steady myself.
Don’t cry, for God’s sakes, I told myself. This isn’t you. Not anymore. Breathe.
But it wasn’t working. Nothing was working tonight.
“Come on,” he said quietly. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“No.” I sniffled, and hated the way it sounded. Weak. “Go away.”
“Remy,” he replied. “Tell me.”
I shook my head. How did I know this would be any different? The story could have been the same, easily: me drunk, in a deserted place. Someone there, reaching out for me. It had happened before. Who could blame me for my cold, hard heart?
And that did it. I was crying, so angry at myself, but I couldn’t stop. The only time I ever allowed myself to be this weak was at home, in my closet, staring up at those stars with my father’s voice filling my ears. And I wished so much that he was here, even though I knew it was stupid, that he didn’t even know me to save me. He’d said it himself, in the song: he’d let me down. But still.
“Remy,” Dexter said quietly. He wasn’t touching me, but his voice was very close, and very soft. “It’s okay. Don’t cry.”
Later, it would take me a minute to remember how exactly it happened. If I turned around and moved forward first, or he did. I just knew we didn’t meet halfway. It was just a short distance really, not worth squabbling over. And maybe it didn’t matter so much whether he took the step or I did. All I knew was that he was there.
I woke up with my mouth dry, my head pounding, and the sound of guitar music coming from the direction of the door across the room. It was dark, but there was a slant of light stretching right to where I was, falling across the end of a bed in which I had apparently, up until now, been sleeping.
I sat up quick, and my head spun. God. This was familiar. Not the place but this feeling, waking up in a strange bed, completely discombobulated. Moments like this, I was just glad no one was there to witness my absolute shame as I verified that yes, my pants were still on and yes, I was still wearing a bra and yes, okay, nothing major had happened because, well, girls just know.