The party had wound down by the time we got back. The pool was empty and almost half the guests had left. When we went inside, I saw that it was after ten o’clock. Nick and Helen were sitting on one of the couches. There was a chemistry book open in his lap, but they weren’t talking about chemistry. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a whole lot of it going on, though. I overheard her saying, “Yeah, I saw the trailer online. It looks really good.”
“Yeah? It starts playing next weekend… Do you want to go see it?” Nick asked her. I gave him a discreet thumbs-up as Sarah and I walked by.
“I gotta start cleaning up,” Sarah said, looking around at the plastic cups and various other messes littering the living room.
“I’ll help,” I offered. She tried to protest, but I just walked toward the kitchen to find some trash bags. Helen and Nick pitched in, too. The party had stayed mostly contained in the main rooms of the first floor, the yard close to the house, and the pool deck, but I went upstairs and checked the bedrooms anyway, because you know what happens at high school house parties. I didn’t want her parents coming home and finding stray condoms lying around. Luckily, I found that only two of the guest bedrooms had the bedding disheveled and stank of sex, so I stripped the beds and put the sheets in each room’s respective laundry basket. Then I went back downstairs and rejoined the others, fishing cups, soda cans, cigarette butts, and a random bikini top out of the pool, circling the house with a trash bag and picking up some of the same—minus the bikini top—while Sarah stayed inside and reorganized the living room, the den, and the foyer the way her parents had left them, saying goodbye to the guests as they left. By the time we were finished at midnight and the house was back to normal, it was just the four of us left.
“Thanks a lot, guys,” Sarah sighed as we all collapsed in the living room. I sat down beside her and put my arm on the back of the couch, behind her. She leaned back and rested her head on my shoulder. It was the best feeling in the world.
So, naturally, something had to ruin it.
“What the hell is this?” Kelly shouted, staggering a little as he stepped into the room. Mark was following close behind.
“What’s what?” Sarah asked, sitting up. I’d never seen her look so frightened.
Kelly came up to us, glaring at me. He stank of beer and he had a band-aid on the bridge of his nose. “Can I talk to my girlfriend… alone for a minute?” he demanded.
I looked from Sarah to Mark, knowing he’d keep Kelly in line, and said, “Sure. C’mon, we should be leaving anyway,” to Nick and Helen. The three of us rose and stepped out into the foyer. I opened the front door and they went out onto the steps.
“Wait a sec,” Nick said as I was about to close the door behind them. “Aren’t you coming?”
I laughed. “Me? Go home on a Friday night? It’s like you don’t know me at all.”
“You’re not going to pick a fight, are you?” he asked.
“Hey, listen,” I said, putting my hand on his shoulder. “Forget about me, and drive this lovely girl home.” I slapped his cheek playfully and backed up into the foyer.
“Don’t do anything stupid!” he called.
I smiled and flipped him off, and closed the door. In the darkened foyer, I peeked around the wall and looked into the living room. Kelly sat on the couch next to Sarah. Mark leaned against a wall, giving them their privacy, but keeping an eye on the drunk bastard.
“Baby, I gotta ask you something,” Kelly said.
“I should ask you something, too. I told you there’d be no alcohol at this party,” Sarah replied.
“Yeah, that’s why I brought my own.” He giggled drunkenly at his own joke. “Look, I need to know… Are you fucking Grinley?”
“No!” she gasped. “Why would you think that?”
“Maybe because he disappeared with you for, like, an hour, he’s been talking to you a lot at school, he showed up at your party… And, let’s face it, you’re obviously not doing it with me.”
“We’re just friends, Kelly,” she assured him. “You know I’m waiting until I’m in love.”
“Don’t you love me?” he asked, brushing her hair back clumsily.
“I don’t know…”
“Maybe if we do it, it’ll help you figure it out.”
“I want to know before.” She held his hand to her cheek. “Kelly… I want it to be special.”
“If you loved me, you’d do it with me,” he muttered.
“If you loved me, you’d wait,” she said.
“How long?” he shouted, standing up.
Mark took a step forward, hands curled into tight fists. My jaw clenched and I touched the zipper on the pocket where I kept my switchblade.
If he puts a fucking finger on her…
“Are we gonna have to get married?” Kelly demanded.
“Kel, that’s enough,” Mark said, but Kelly ignored him.
“What is it, then? Am I not good enough for you?”
“I’m tired of waiting! It’s been a fucking month and you’ve never even—”
“Kelly!” she cried.
He looked at her angrily, shocked that she’d interrupted him.
“I don’t want to fight,” Sarah said. “I’m too tired. Just let Mark drive you home and we’ll talk tomorrow, okay?”
I smiled. She was still the sweetest thing I’d ever seen, but I felt kinda stupid for thinking I’d have to defend her.
“That sounds like a great idea,” Mark agreed. He went to Kelly, who was still gaping, and grabbed his shoulder. “C’mon, let’s let her go to bed.”
“Fine,” Kelly spat at Sarah. “But if I see that metalhead talking to you again, I’m gonna kill him.”
“It was a great party, Sarah,” Mark said congenially, leading his drunk friend toward the foyer. “Thanks for inviting us.”
“Goodnight,” she said dejectedly, and trudged up the stairs, turning off the living room light. I shrank into the shadowy corner as Kelly and Mark left the house. I heard Allan and Brad yelling at them from the front yard.
“Sarah?” I called after her, reentering the living room. I saw her at the top of the stairs, illuminated by the hallway light, about to go into what I guessed was her bedroom.
She turned around. “Grin? I thought you left,” she said, coming back down.
“I couldn’t go without saying goodbye,” I answered with a grin.
She stood on the bottom step and hugged her arms. “I guess you heard me and Kelly talking, huh?”
I sighed. “Like I said: world-class jerk.”
She smiled slightly. Outside, I could hear Kelly’s Escalade peeling down the driveway.
“Guess it’s safe for me to leave now, but they probably saw my bike,” I said.
“I hope he’s not driving.”
“He wasn’t that drunk. I’m sure he’ll be fine.” I didn’t say that just to make her feel better. My mom had been an alcoholic for six years. You learn these things. “You just worry about Sarah.”
She flashed that gorgeous smile I loved so much and rose up on her toes, putting her hand on my shoulder and kissing me on the cheek. My heart leapt into my throat.
“Thank you,” she said, pulling back.
“For what?” I asked, trying to make the warmth left by her lips last.
“Being so sweet.”
I just held her gently when she hugged me. Her hair touched my face. It smelled amazing. It almost hurt when she backed away.
“Did you enjoy the party?” she asked.
“I did, yeah,” I said with a shrug. “Would’ve been better if I could’ve danced with you.”
She smiled shyly, looking at the floor. “Yeah… I would’ve liked that.”
I grinned back. “Maybe it’s not too late.”
I reached into my jacket and pulled out my MP3 player. I took her hand and led her to the middle of the room as I picked out a song. “Perfect,” I said to myself, but she heard me.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Oh. It’s called ‘Dance D’Amour.'” I cranked up the volume and set the MP3 player on the coffee table.
“I’ve never heard it. Who’s it by?”
I opened my jacket to show her my 69 Eyes t-shirt, and she smiled and nodded approvingly. Then I bowed, offering my hand. She giggled and took it.
“Saw that in a movie once,” I admitted, pulling her toward me. I wrapped my other arm around her waist and she placed her free hand on my shoulder.
“What movie?” she asked with a laugh.
“I think it was a really bloody, low-budget version of The Phantom of the Opera that had nothing to do with the book or the musical,” I mused.
My brow arched. “Impressive. I would never have pegged you as a horror fan.”
“I’m not into horror movies, really,” she answered, shrugging. “But I love Phantom. I’ve probably seen every film adaptation there is.”
“What do you like so much about it?”
“Christine’s struggle with who to choose, Erik or Raoul. Either of them would give her the world. They both practically worship her. She’s torn between the Phantom’s dark, seductive love, and Raoul’s tender, romantic love.”
Of course, I remembered how that story ends. That shallow bitch chooses the pretty boy who’s already beating the ladies off with a stick, and rejects the social outcast who only wants to be loved.
But, whatever. I was dancing with Sarah. All the lousy endings of all the movies and books in the world couldn’t bring me down. Not even the fate of Doctor Faustus.
“I’m glad you came,” she said quietly.
I smiled down at her. “I am, too.”
Guys, try to imagine the first time you ever danced with a girl. It was probably in junior high, when you were barely old enough to know how to like them. Remember being nervous about everything, like if your palms were sweaty, if your armpits or breath stank, where you were supposed to put your hands, and what to do if you suddenly popped a boner? That’s how I felt. I had regressed back to the eighth grade. She felt so delicate in my arms, I was afraid to hold her too tight, or she would break. But at the same time, nervous as I was, I felt so incredibly happy.
The song ended and we backed away from each other. I took her other hand and stood there, smiling. “Maybe we can do this again when I crash the prom,” I suggested.
She laughed. “We might be able to squeeze in a dance before they drag you outside.”
I picked up my MP3 player and put it back in my pocket. Then I put an arm around her shoulders and we walked into the foyer. I opened the door and saw my motorcycle sitting in the driveway.
“Before I go… What about that ride I promised you?” I asked her, grinning.
She bit her lip nervously. “How about… Monday? After school?”
Me? Not your asshole boyfriend? Drive you home after school? Fuck yes!
“Sounds great,” I said, playing down my excitement. “Goodnight, Sarah.”
“Goodnight,” she replied.
I drank in her incredible smile and jogged down the steps. The door closed behind me.