“So, how long have you known Iris?” he asks me.
Cameron works at the Juice Shop with Iris. She’d been trying hook Cameron up with me for months. I resisted because of Drew. Who I will not think about tonight.
“We met freshman year.” I take a sip of my beer. It’s gone flat. “Orientation.”
“Cool.” He tosses back a lock of hair. It’s such a perfect move, highlighting his sinewy muscles and showing off his glossy hair, that I wonder if he practices in the mirror. An insane, and unwelcome, impulse tempts me to ask if he plucks out half-assed versions of Crash Into You on the guitar.
I’m blinking rapidly into the stage lights when I see him. He’s standing at the bar, and he’s brought a friend. Although, by the way she rests her hand on his ass, I’m guessing ‘friend’ isn’t the word I should use. He doesn’t seem to mind her groping. His smile is slow and easy as he hands her a beer and leans in to hear whatever it is she needs to whisper in his ear. He laughs a little, the broad expanse of his shoulders shaking.
I should look away. But as usual, my neck doesn’t want to obey. No, I just sit and watch as they chat and her hand becomes more familiar with his ass. It barely registers that Cameron is still playing with the edge of my shirt collar, the tips of his fingers gliding along my skin, or that he’s talking about his favorite bands.
I need to make an effort to drag my attention back to my date. It would suck if Drew saw me staring. I’m almost in the clear when Drew turns, his gaze scanning the crowd in a lazy fashion, and his eyes lock on to me.
Caught, I can only stare back. He’s more than twenty feet away. The air is hazy and dim. Heads bob and weave between us as people walk past the bar. And yet it’s as if he’s right in front of me.
Did he like the book?
Just as Drew had, I’d bought it long ago. But, unlike Drew, I was too chicken to give it to him. Until he’d given me my gift. I ought to have sucked it up and handed it to him in person, but I didn’t have the guts to face him.
The ache in my chest digs in, and my palms tingle. I can’t move, locked in his gaze as I am. I want to go to him so badly that my thighs tense, as if I might rise. But then the connection is broken.
He turns his attention to Cameron. Or rather, to Cameron’s hand. Even from this far away, I know that’s what he’s looking at: Cameron touching me.
Drew’s eyes narrow. His expression isn’t pretty, and it’s so intent that I wonder if it’s what a linebacker sees just before he throws a touchdown pass right over their heads.
Suddenly, I’m angry. He has no right to scowl like that when he’s got some groupie taking hand measurements of his ass. And that lovely thought draws me right into queasiness. Especially when I see Miss Cop-A-Feel wrap her arm about his waist. Now she’s stroking his stomach. My spot.
“Excuse me,” I say to Cameron. “I’ll be back.”
Luckily Cameron doesn’t ask why I need to get away. I don’t look in Drew’s direction as I make my way to the bathroom.
Inside, I run cool water over my wrists. Always go for cooling down the wrists. Splash water on your face, and it’s a given that someone will enter the bathroom. And they’ll know you’re upset. Best, they’ll look at you with pity. Worse, they’ll ask you if you’re okay while looking at you with pity.
The wrists, however? You can easily pretend you’re just washing your hands.
I stand there until my fingers grow numb. I don’t look into the mirror. I don’t know if I’ll like what I see. A few drops of water hit my belly and I flinch, breaking out of my fog. My black t-shirt is riding up, exposing a strip of skin over my jeans. The damn shirt is too tight. This is Iris’s brilliant addition to tonight’s wardrobe choice. Because, in her words, “if you have boobs like yours, you got to display them properly.” Low cut tops, Iris insists, are cheap and uninspired.
“But remain fully covered in something that hugs your assets and guys can’t help but want to see what’s underneath. It’s like the ultimate tease.” Ladies and Gentlemen, the world according to Iris.
Right now, I’d be satisfied with a floppy tee and pajama pants. I want to go home.
Drying my hands, I tug one last time at the bottom of my shirt and then exit the bathroom. Only to walk directly into Drew’s path.
He’s leaning against the wall of the restroom hallway. It reminds me so much of the first time we touched each other that my knees go weak. Beyond him, the club is dark and the music has started. Here, it’s too bright. Every line on his face, the deep gold color of his eyes, the little hint of a dimple on his left cheek, is illuminated. And utterly familiar to me. It’s like history repeating itself, and I wonder how my life would be right now had I simply walked away from him the first time we collided in a dark hall. But I didn’t. And here we are. Here I am, broken.
Seeing him so close is pain. Having his attention, so long denied, now fully focused on me is both a warm blanket and a sharp blade. He talks first, and his butter-rich voice sounds so good I press my palms against the grainy wall to keep from touching him.
“Thanks for the book.” His expression is blank, showing no emotion, except for the creases at the corners of his eyes, as if looking at me burns.
It certainly burns to look at him. “Thanks for the album cover. It was… Well, I love it.” Hell. Now I’m gushing.
He frowns a bit, but then nods his head. “Same for the book.” His eyes meet mine, and his words come out stilted. “I love it too.”