My bright blue wallet is cool against my hand. The metal clasp sends a wave of chills over my bare arms in the still night. Leda steps out of the car and catches up to me as we walk up the solemn, moonlit sidewalk.
The neighborhood is full of two-story family homes. Neutral and sellable. Oak trees tower over the street creating a tunnel as each tree catches the glimmering eye of its parallel neighbor, holding hands at the branches. The damp, earthy smell rubs off the leaves and swells into the humid night, reaching up to the clouds that billow over the town.
The grass perks up through the slits in the sidewalk and causes a hitch in my step. I attempt to dodge the clumps, but a particularly thick patch causes me to stumble nearly to the ground.
My hands reach out in instinct, and a rush of moist air brushes my bangs away from my face. My balance steadies, and I look back at Leda who stands half gaping, half staring in awkward silence.
“I’m good,” I say, and she bursts out in fits of giggles.
We link arms and make our way to the very end of the last block in the subdivision. Her perfectly curled blonde hair brushes against my arm as we walk. There have been no empty parking spaces along the streets since the spot we claimed as our own. I can feel the bass of the music through the pavement.
“I told you it was smart to park a couple blocks away,” Leda says.
“Yeah, I guess you were right.”
Pushed farther back into the trees than the rest of the homes, our destination is everything but family friendly. Floor-to-ceiling panels of glass run along the entire front of the house, which looks to be about four stories high and double, if not triple, the width of the other houses in the neighborhood. The mansion illuminates a radiant bright-blue atmosphere that glows the pavement in front of us. The second story juts out farther than the first, creating a textural effect that makes my eyes dance. Small patches of bamboo-colored wood streak the areas in between the glass. Perfectly placed bouquets of pink peonies color the wrap-around porch, which causes Leda and I to look at each other, mouths gaping open at the magnificent masterpiece.
We near the entrance to the house and take one last breath of the fresh soil before touching the cool, metal handle of the tall, bamboo door.
And we step inside.
The room is lit in blue with a crowd of people so thick I can hardly wriggle my way through the front entrance. The music deafens me as I speak out loud and realize my voice is lost in the commotion.
I grasp Leda’s hand and lead her to the back of the house, where Jonny and Rob said they’d be.
Dank sweat penetrates the air, and I attempt to hold my breath as we squirm past body after body.
We squeeze through a hallway that leads into another ballroom-sized dance area with speakers in the ceiling. The crowd thins after another hallway, and music slowly softens until only a few people scatter around leather couches and loveseats in a respectively small room about the size of a hotel lobby.
A small wave of conversation penetrates the thick air, and every few seconds, a loud giggle towers over us like a swaying banner.
A waving hand catches my eye, and I lock eyes with Jonny.
“There they are!” Leda says, squeezing my hand as she rushes towards them.
She hops on Rob’s lap and slaps her lips against his. I quickly look to Jonny and see a tired, disgusted expression as we lock electrified eyes again.
“Hey Elle,” Jonny says.
He looks up at me from underneath his long, brown eyelashes that beautify his striking green eyes. His cheekbones are thick and his jaw is tight. Brown curls sway against his face with every small move he makes. His deep, yet thin voice puts me in a daze as I start to swirl in and out of consciousness. His eyes grab my wrists and pull them taught. I try to wriggle myself free, but I can’t move. My lips part, and I take a small, forced breath, struggling to think of something to say—anything to say.
A silence thickens like mucus between us, but he moves closer to me, and it dissipates.
“I said hello, Ella,” he says, his lips parting into a warm smile.
My heart tugs as it beats underneath my skin, trying to claw its way out of my chest. My blood is thick as it drudges through my veins, and my head lightens like a feather.
I push myself away from my hot, unconscious reverie.
“Jonny,” I nod.
His huge, masculine hand reaches up to mine, and he gently pulls me onto his lap.
My body is on his. My heart swoops into my ears. My belly is churning. My toes are curling, and I don’t know how I can think or move or…
His warm, thick legs support me, and his strong hands surprise me as they brush my hair away from my ear like a curtain.
He whispers, “Can I get you a drink?”
My wrists are hot, my eyes are blurry, my muscles are weak.
“Sure,” I say as cool as I can.
Jonny taps the small of my back, and I stand up again. He walks away, and I sit back down, looking at Leda like I just got attacked by a pack of hungry bears.
“Look at you, Ella,” Leda says, giggling, “I knew you two would warm up to each other.”
Rob gives his reassuring nod underneath his furrowed eyebrows, “Told you they’d be a good match.”
I blush so hard my chest turns pink and Leda grabs my wrist, “Don’t be embarrassed, Elle! It’s a good thing! You like him, right?”
“I mean, I’ve only gone on one date with him. I guess he’s fine,” I decide to say.
Leda sits back against Rob’s chest and looks horrified.
“You guess? You two look like you’re ready to pounce on each other!”
Rob releases a chuckle for what seems like the first time in his life and mutters, “That’s an understatement.”
“Good God, you guys. We’ll see what happens,” I say.
They give each other a look and raise eyebrows.
“So where exactly did Jonny go?” I ask, looking into the long, elaborate hallway that leads into a maze of rooms full of blue lights and half-drunken dancers.
Rob furrows his dark eyebrows, and a glimmer of light hits the side of his black iris, “You haven’t seen the bar?”
Leda’s sharp grin turns into a full on smile stretching from one ear to the other.
She looks at me and sends shock waves of excitement into my bones.
Our mouths part at the same time, and we practically scream, “A bar?”
The bar stretches from one end of the room to another. The wood is a light bamboo, and small blue lights cast streaks of light down the bottom of the bar. The bar chairs swivel while four bartenders—two women and two men—dash across the breadth of the bar. The women wear short-sleeved white button ups with bow ties, and the men mirror their image with long-sleeves. The women seem to only wait on men, and men on women. It’s an open bar.
“We’ll have two margaritas on the rocks,” Jonny says.
My cheeks blush. I’m not 21. I wait for her to ask for my ID, but she simply says, “Salt on the rim?”
He nods, and she turns around, making up our drinks.
I lean close to him so he can hear me over the loud music and the constant stream of voices.
“I’m surprised she didn’t ask for my ID,” I say.
“They don’t care here, Elle. No one ever has.”
“How come the cops haven’t found out about it? Don’t you think it would have leaked somehow?”
His lips touch my ear as he speaks, and the vibration causes my heart to flutter.
“Don’t ask so many questions, just enjoy it while it lasts,” he says as the woman returns with our margaritas, and he hands me mine.
I lean forward and see Leda and Rob to the right of us sharing a jumbo margarita with two straws.
Leda looks up and smiles at me, the pink straw between her pearly teeth. She gives me a thumbs up and yells, “Good!”
Jonny and I sip our margaritas, and we talk. He asks me questions about my college classes.
I ask him questions about his graduate schooling.
And my time at home.
I hardly see them, but when I do they’re yelling at me for my dirty dishes and my undone laundry.
Would you like another margarita?
And how he met Rob.
I met Rob in kindergarten, and when I switched schools my freshman year of high school because my parents were too poor to afford the private education, we never spoke again. We had done everything together. We grew up like brothers. Three years ago, I saw him walking down the frozen food aisle at the grocery store, and ever since then, we’ve been inseparable.
And my job as a waitress.
I can’t make tips unless I flirt with the old men, and college students don’t leave me anything.
Would you like another margarita?
And where he sees himself in the future.
I’m open to anything. I’ll go where life takes me.
My head starts to buzz, and my lips become numb. Jonny grabs my waist and leads me to the dance floor. The music winds down into slow, rhythmic pulses, and we move together in unison. My body is melting in the warm room, but his cool fingertips send chills down my spine.
The striking sapphire lights twirl above my head, and the bum, bum, bum of the heavy bass travels from the soles of my feet to the core of my heart. My body rests in Jonny’s arms, and my head buzzes, unable to go anywhere but here. Just this moment.
The lights enthuse me, and I draw into the song again.
“Nothing could kill this moment,” I say as I lay my head on his shoulder.
He runs his hand up and down the curve of my waist and says, “Nothing at all.”
I look up into his glimmering eyes, my head slowly moving back and forth as my balance tilts in either direction.
“I think I love you,” I say.
He takes a step back, letting go of my waist, and I feel my heart lift into my throat. It turns into quick, splintering sobs that escape my parted lips without notice.
“You’re drunk, Elle,” he says.
“I understand,” I look down at the floor, biting my lip and enjoying the bitter pain it causes when I bite too hard.
“I’m gonna get some fresh air,” he sighs, and he leaves me standing in the midst of a slow-dancing crowd relishing a love song.
“Leda I need you,” I say to the empty air, as I watch the breadth of his back move farther and farther away from me.
I turn and my eyes don’t keep up with my movements. I push myself back to the bar and find Leda next to Rob. They sit side by side, facing each other.
“Leda,” I cry. The word barely comes out of my throat.
“Oh my god,” she says, her words slurring, “What’s wrong?”
“Where’s Jonny?” Rob asks, his eyes looking ferocious under his black eyebrows.
“Where?” I shrug my shoulders, ready to slump down into a heap on the floor.
Leda’s face explodes into a laugh, and in between fits of giggles, she says, “He probably just went to the bathroom. Calm down, Elle.”
Tears pour down my cheeks, and I just want to melt.
“But I said, he left, and I—I don’t know where,” I say, and my face shrivels up into a waterfall of tears.
I turn around and leave them. They’re not going to help me. No one is going to help me.
I reach into my wallet and find the cool hard key. I slip through slurred voices, sweaty forearms, and an overweight man who stands in front of a sconce, his eyes glowing, mesmerized by the blue light. I finally make it out the door and attempt to run past neighborhood after neighborhood, stumbling over patches of grass.
I finally see my car on the side of the road. My eyes are watering on top of my dizziness. I feel a lurch in my throat. I bend down next to my car door and let out chunks of vomit that slide down the sloped road.
“I’m sorry Jonny,” I tell my car.
I rev the engine, and the car shoots off faster than I wanted it too. My eyes see doubles of the dividing line, and I try my best to keep on my side of the street.
I turn into an unknown neighborhood, and my sobs start to climb higher and higher.
Road after road, turn after turn. I’m lost, and my chest is heaving in bursts of despair.
I’m about to give up as I turn onto Willow Dr., but I see a figure walking away from me in the middle of the road. My sobbing cries reach a climax as I stomp on the gas and yell, “Jonny!”
Standing in the middle of the street, he turns.
I reach him faster than I expect, and in drunken panic, I slam my foot down expecting to hit the brakes. The car lurches forward instead of halting and I let out a sharp cry.
I look up through my windshield and see one last glimmer of blossoming hope distinguish from underneath his long, brown eyelashes that beautify his striking green eyes.