The way she described it, the process sounded like an expedition to an exotic continent. I didn’t share her feelings, not in the least. The idea of finding a new guy sounded exhausting and depressing. “Erin, I don’t think I’m ready—”
“That’s what you said last weekend, and you did fine!” She frowned, thinking, and for the hundredth time, I almost told her about Buck. “Even if you did leave early.” She rehung the black dress I didn’t intend to wear, and I held my tongue, losing my chance again. I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t tell her. I was mostly afraid she’d be infuriated. More unreasonably, I was afraid she’d be disbelieving. Neither response was something I wanted to contend with; I just wanted to forget.
I thought of Lucas, annoyed that his presence in econ was making that process impossible, because he was irrevocably connected to the horror of that night. He’d not looked at me at all Friday—as far as I knew. Every time I snuck a look back at him, he appeared to be sketching rather than taking notes, his black pencil held low between his fingers, a concentrated expression on his face. When class ended, he stuck the pencil behind his ear, turned and walked from the classroom without a backward glance, first one out the door.
“Now this will show off the goods,” Erin said, breaking into my reverie. Next up was a stretchy, low-cut purple top. Yanking it from the hanger, she tossed it to me. “Put on your skinny jeans and those badass boots that make you look like a gangbanger’s girlfriend. This fits your tough, I’m-a-challenge mood better anyway. You have to dress to attract the right guys, and if I make you too cute, you’ll flick them all away with glares and irritated rolls of your big blue eyes.”
I sighed and she laughed, pulling the black dress over her own head. Erin knew me far too well.
I’d lost count of the number of drinks Erin had pressed into my hand, telling me that since she was the designated driver, I was required to drink for two. “I can’t touch any of these hotties, either—so I have to live vicariously. Now finish that margarita, stop scowling, and stare at one of these guys until he knows he won’t lose a limb if he asks you to dance.”
“I’m not scowling!” I scowled, obeying and tossing the drink back. I grimaced. Cheap tequila refused to be concealed by an abundance of even cheaper margarita mix, but that’s what you get for no cover charge and five dollar drinks.
Still relatively early, the small club we decided to occupy for the night wasn’t yet overcrowded with the hundreds of college students and townies it would hold soon. Erin, Maggie and I claimed a corner of the near-vacant floor. Having downed the drinks and dressed the part, I moved to the music, gradually loosening up while laughing at Erin’s cheer poses and Maggie’s ballet movements. The first guy to interrupt us approached Erin, but she shook her head as her lips mouthed the word boyfriend. She turned him toward me and I thought: That’s me: boyfriend-less. No more relationship. No more Kennedy. No more You’re my Jackie.
“Wanna dance?” the guy yelled over the music, fidgeting as though he was ready to bolt if I turned him down. I nodded, choking back the pointless, almost physical pain. I was no one’s girlfriend, for the first time in three years.
We moved to an open space a few feet from Erin and Maggie—who also had a boyfriend. It didn’t take long to figure out that the two of them planned to point every guy who asked one of them to dance at me. I was their pet project for the night.
Two hours later, I’d danced with too many guys to remember, dodging wandering hands and turning down any drinks not handed to me by Erin. Crowded around a tall table near the floor, we leaned hips on the barstools surrounding it, watching the surrounding hookup activity. As Maggie returned from bopping and pirouetting her way to the bathroom and back, I asked if we could go yet, and Erin fixed me with a look she usually reserved for ill-mannered steakhouse patrons. I smirked at her and sipped my drink.
I knew when the next guy walked up behind me, and that Erin and Maggie approved, because their eyes widened simultaneously, focusing over my shoulder. Fingers grazed the back of my arm, and I took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly before turning around. Good thing, too—because it was Lucas who stood there, his eyes dropping to my cle**age for a split second. He crooked an eyebrow and gazed into my eyes with a faint smile, unapologetic for looking. The heels on my boots were killing my feet, but they weren’t tall enough to bring me eye-to-eye.
Rather than raising his voice like everyone else, he leaned close to my ear and asked, “Dance with me?” I felt his warm breath and inhaled the scent of his aftershave—something basic and male—before he withdrew, his eyes on mine, waiting for my answer. An enthusiastic nudge between my shoulder blades told me Erin’s vote: go dance with him.
I nodded, and he took my hand and made his way to the floor, maneuvering through the crowd, which parted easily for him. Once we reached the worn oak floor, he turned and pulled me close, never letting go of my hand. As we found the rhythm of the slow-paced song, swaying together, he took my other hand in his and moved both hands behind my back, gently holding me captive. My br**sts grazed against his chest and I struggled not to gasp at the subtle contact.
I’d barely let anyone else touch me at all tonight, adamantly refusing all slow dances. Dizzy from weak-but-plentiful margaritas, I closed my eyes and let him lead, telling myself that the difference was the alcohol in my blood, nothing more. A minute later, he released my fingers and spread his hands across my lower back, and my hands moved to his biceps. Solid, as I knew they would be. Tracking a path, my palms encountered equally hard shoulders. Finally, I hooked my fingers behind his neck and opened my eyes.