I held my breath and counted to twenty. I had to because I wanted to spill. It took every ounce of my control to keep my lips shut. I owed Marissa the respect to give herself a fair hearing, and I owed myself to find out if my best friend had really gone behind my back for some guy.
Angie chuckled and finished her drink. “And I mean that in a good way. Only that girl could get three guys wrapped around her finger at one dance.”
“Yeah.” I sighed and then looked at my lap. Everything was burning inside of me to tell Angie, but I couldn’t. I had to stop with this debate.
“Hey, so, how’s it going with Eric tonight? He seems nice.”
A different tension filled me and I froze again.
“Uh oh.” Angie put her glass down and scooted next to me. Her leg pressed against mine. “Tell me whatever it is. I’m your best friend. It’s a sin for you not to tell me, so spill the beans, woman.”
The words spilled from my lips. “He asked me out. He said he likes me more than friends and he wants to go out on a date with me.” Then I stopped. I almost went into my dilemma about Jesse, but I hadn’t spoken about him for almost three months. It was fair if they had forgotten about him, but then I felt a pang of conscience. Was that what happened with Marissa? Had she forgotten what he was to me?
“Oooh!” Angie squealed. “Are you going to go out with him? You have to. He’s such a nice guy. Come on, Alex!”
“I don’t know.”
“You have to. Trust me, if you don’t he’s going to be scooped up by someone else. Eric is really popular. There are a lot of girls who would kill to be in your shoes. What’s the hang up?”
I hesitated. She wouldn’t like hearing what I had to say.
Then she sighed in disgust and scooted away. “Oh, my god. Really? Do
say Jesse’s name. Please do not say his name.”
“OH! Alex!” She hit herself in the forehead with her hand. “I can’t believe you. I’m not saying this to be mean, but he’s long gone. He’s at Grant West. He is in a different lifestyle now. He’s hanging out with the Hollywood crowd now. I watch television, too.”
I smoothed out my dress and tried not to squirm under her intense gaze. I didn’t believe for one second that Jesse was hanging out with the Hollywood crowd. I believed that he went as a favor to his dad, but I also believed that he hadn’t gone since. Jesse hated his dad. That wasn’t known by anyone else except my family and his, but Angie said some truth. He was long gone. What made me think he’d come back for me?
So I sighed and I sat there. And I asked myself why I hadn’t jumped at the chance to date Eric Nathan. He was normal. He was here and he thought I was beautiful.
“Heya!” Marissa chirped as she and Cord took their seats across from us at the table. Ben dropped in his and grabbed some napkins to wipe his forehead. His panting had turned into wheezing. “Where’s Eric?’
Cord tapped her shoulder and pointed across the gym.
“Why is he talking to Casey Wright?”
Angie tapped my leg. “See.”
“See what?” Marissa looked between us. Her eyes were lit with anticipation. “What see? Fill me in.”
I was about to tell her that it was nothing, but Angie rushed out, “Nathan asked her out.”
Marissa gasped. She clapped her hands to her cheeks and squealed in her seat. “Oh, my god. That’s so exciting. Alex, say something. Aren’t you happy about that?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess.”
“You’re not excited about that?” She watched me closely and frowned. “Are you waiting for…?”
I saw that she was hesitant to say his name so I rushed forward with my own question. “Have you talked to him recently?”
“What are you girls talking about?” Cord frowned. He had lounged back with his arm thrown over Marissa’s chair. He pulled his tuxedo collar out now and exchanged a look with Ben.
“Nothing,” Marissa said quickly.
Angie frowned at her.
“So have you talked to him recently?”
“Why would she have talked to him? He’s your—”
“Yes.” She shoved back her chair and stood up. Her hands held onto the table. “I called him after he left. I have no excuse for that.”
I shoved my chair back as well. My heart was starting to pick up its pace and my cheeks were warm. “What did you promise him? What were you after? Were you going to drive there if he said yes?”
Angie’s eyes had widened and she was white in the face. She stood with us, but held onto her drink with a death grip.
“Alex, I’m sorry—”
“Sorry for what? What’d you do?” I needed her to say it. I needed to hear the words.
“For…” she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “For—what do you want me to say?”
.” It ripped out of me.
She gulped. The blood drained from her face. As she started to sway on her feet, Cord jumped up and caught her elbow. “Hey, whoa. Hey. You okay?” He frowned at us and then shook his head. “I think maybe we should call it a night. There’s stuff going on between you three, but I don’t think it’s worth Marissa getting sick.”
Angie snorted. Her hand found her hip and she stuck it out.
Marissa swayed more unsteadily on her feet. She was still holding onto the table and her knuckles had grown white.
“Okay.” Cord shot us another dark look, but drew her against him. He pressed a kiss to her forehead and then draped his coat around her shoulders. “Let’s head home, huh?”
She nodded, but clung to him.
Angie glared after them. She threw back the rest of her punch and then ground up her cup into pieces. When they fell from her hand, she growled in disgust. “I can’t believe her. Really, I can’t believe her. She knew about you and him. Hell, she knew before when she was trying to go at him. Is she mentally screwed up or what? Is it her ego? Does she really have to conquer
Justin came up to the table at that moment. He took one look at Angie and spun around on his heel.
She snorted after him. “That’s probably for the best. I’d unleash my anger on him and that’s all sorts of wrong.” She sighed and looked at me. “Are you okay?”
My shoulders bounced up in a careless shrug. “Whatever. I’ll deal.” But that wasn’t the truth. The truth was that it stung, a lot. Tears threatened to fall, and I swallowed a lump down my throat. I couldn’t dwell on it. That would make me think of what she’d done and inevitably that would make me think of Jesse. I was really trying to stop thinking about him.
“Hey.” Eric approached with a frown and two glasses in his hands. He handed one to me. “Justin said something was wrong.”
Angie gave him a ‘duh’ look. “And I bet he warned you to stay away.”
Eric stiffened. His eyes skirted from her to me and he gave us a sheepish look. “Uh, yeah, but I didn’t. Was that not the right thing to do?”
“No.” Angie’s hands found her hips and she turned to scan the room. “You’re doing the right thing. Where’s my boyfriend? I’ve got something different to unleash on him.”
I couldn’t hold back a grin as she winked at me when she headed out. Those two would be long gone within minutes, so I glanced at Ben.
His eyes looked ready to pop out as he was still in his chair. Beads of sweat had formed on his forehead. He lifted a handkerchief to wipe them away. I knew he’d been sweating since we got into the gym. With all the hot bodies and dancing, it was on the verge of a sauna.
“Did you have fun?”
He nodded, still speechless.
I chuckled. My hand slipped into Eric’s. “I think it’s time we call it a night.”
Eric grasped my hand. A smile lit up his face.
Ben jerked his head in a nod. His second chin wobbled from the movement and then he struggled to his feet. “I’ll see you guys. See you at work tomorrow morning.”
We watched him go. His shoulders drooped. No one said goodbye to him and he collected his coat in silence.
My heart swelled for him. In some ways, I felt like my life was similar to Ben’s, but in others I knew I was lucky to still have Angie as my friend.
Eric watched beside me. “He’s a nice guy.
“He’s a senior with us.”
“He is? I don’t remember him in any of our classes.”
That was Ben’s problem. He was always there, but in the background. And before I started getting sad again, I whirled around with a bright smile. I slipped both of my arms around Eric’s waist underneath his tuxedo coat. “Are you hungry?”
Eric’s eyes darkened. His smile softened as he stared down at me. “Starving.”
My heart skipped a beat. We stared at each other for a second and I didn’t think either of us breathed. The moment was suspended in time. I didn’t know what it was or what it meant, but it felt right. I felt that everything would be okay right then and I wanted to keep feeling like that.
“Come on.” Eric’s voice dropped to a husky murmur and he led me outside with his hand in mine. As I waited by the door, he went back for our coats. I left my bag of clothes in my locker. I didn’t have the energy to leave and grab it. There was nothing in there that I needed, so I waited for him. Shivers of anticipation came over me. What did this mean?
“Here you go.” But he was back already.
My arms went behind me and he slid my coat over them. He rounded and pulled it the rest of the way and made sure that it was comfortable on me. He tucked all the corners in the right spot before he pulled me close for another hug.
It was delicious.
I closed my eyes and burrowed my head against his shoulder. He brushed back some strands of my hair. The feel of his fingers against my skin gave me a loving feeling. He touched me tenderly, so softly that I could feel the yearning from him. Or maybe that was me. Did I yearn for his touch? I never had before, but as I moved away a step and held his gaze, I was cold.
He chuckled as he took my hand again. “Come on. I thought you said you were hungry.”
“What do you think? Burgers? Tacos?”
“A big fat cheeseburger, please.”
I felt giddy in that moment. I was breaking some rule that I didn’t know yet.
Eric’s smile softened again. He pulled me close and placed his arm around my shoulders as we walked to his truck. The cold air blasted me awake. I was jerked out of the fairytale reverie I’d been in. When he helped me inside and rounded the truck for his door, I paused. What were we doing?
But then he was inside and it wasn’t long before the heat warmed me and dulled my thoughts once again.
Eric was a gentleman as he drove to a fast food place and ordered us both big and juicy cheeseburgers. We shared a large fry between us. When he took me home, I experienced bittersweet emotions. I was content and satiated, but I was empty and starving at the same time. I just wasn’t sure for what or whom. And I didn’t want to think of those questions any longer.
For once, I turned my thoughts off. I basked in the warmth Eric showered on me.
When he parked outside of my home, we could tell the television was on in my living room.
“Did your parents wait up for you?” Eric frowned at me. He narrowed his eyes in concern. “I could’ve brought you back earlier. Are you in trouble?”
I almost snorted at that question. “No. I’m fine. I’m sure it’s either my dad or mom. Sometimes they have trouble sleeping.” I laughed then. “I don’t even think they realized tonight was Homecoming.”
“Are you serious?”
I waved away the concern. “Don’t worry about it. My parents are in their own world right now.” My hand slipped into his. I squeezed once. “I’m sure it’s hard for a parent to lose a child. They’ll snap out of it one of these days.”