After along, warm shower, I headed to the dining hall to find my friends for lunch. As I ate, I read through the canary yellow sheet of paper in the center of the table.
“Hey. There’s a MAC dance tonight.”
A few of my friends thought this sounded fun. I looked around at everyone who was thinking of going. They were all couples. At the last dance, the night of our first day of classes, we had all been single and we were dancing as a large group. Now that everyone was paired off, I was willing to bet I would be the odd-person-out.
But, I didn’t have to be. I had a boyfriend. Maybe he could join us.
As I considered my dilemma, I let my eyes wander around the dining hall. It wasn’t uncommon to see faculty and their families enjoying the occasional meal in the dining hall, so I wasn’t surprised when I spotted Clarissa and Mr. Price with their kids in the corner.
I walked over with a smile. Clarissa spotted me first.
Before I could respond, a little girl with a mop of light brown curls around a cherubic face held a chocolate chip cookie in my face. “Mommy said I can have an extra cookie because I cleaned my room!”
“Key-key,” repeated a pudgy little boy strapped into a booster seat between his parents.
Mr. Price handed the boy half a cookie and turned to me. “How was Service Day.”
“It was fun. I’m looking forward to the next one.”
“Oh, I’m so glad.” Clarissa handed Tommy his sippy cup. “So, what can we do for you? I’m sure you didn’t come over to help Molly eat her cookie.”
“Oh. I had a question. I saw there’s a dance at the MAC tonight. I was wondering if were were allowed to invite people who aren’t student.”
Clarissa nodded. “Guests are always welcome when there are no classes. Will this guest be staying over?”
I shook my head.
“Then, your guest must be off campus by 10:30.”
“Awesome, thanks.” I crouched closer to Molly, who had lines of chocolate extending from the corners of her mouth halfway to her ears. “How’s the cookie?”
“I think I’ll go get one of my own.”
As I headed to the servery, I pulled out my phone to text Eliot.
My friends all wanted to be the first ones on the dance floor. When I left fifteen minutes later, they were still the only ones dancing. As the MAC door closed behind me, I took a moment to enjoy the relative silence. My ears were ringing.
I glanced around. On the drive beneath me, I saw a car park a few spaces away from the building, several spaces away from a lamppost. In the dim light, I saw a shape emerge from the passenger seat. After closing the door, it stuck its head back in the open window.
I was pretty sure the figure was Eliot, but it was difficult to be certain. The car pulled away as the figure moved towards me. It wasn’t until he was at the bottom of the steps that I was certain.
Eliot smiled at me. “Hey. Been waiting long?”
I shook my head. “Nah. Just got here.”
He pointed behind me. “Did you want to go in?”
I made a face. “I was just there. My friends are the only ones on the dance floor. It’s super embarrassing. Plus, it’s loud.”
“Let’s go for a walk.”
Eliot reached for my hand. I hated comparing him to my ex, but it was so much easier to be with Eliot. I was comfortable and completely at ease.
We headed down the steps and I led him around to the courtyard in the back of the building. Eliot had a faraway look in his eye. “I’m trying to remember the last time I went to a school dance.”
I smiled. There had only been two dances at our old school. “Sixth grade. There was a stink bomb.”
Eliot screwed up his face in thought. “No, that’s not right. I remember the stink bomb Jimmy set off after lunch in seventh grade. There was a dance at the beginning of sixth. I think that’s the only one I’ve ever been to.”
I sat on the steps, pulling Eliot’s arm to sit beside me. “The dances at our old school were lame. This one is so much better. It’s like what you see on television of a nightclub or a school dance. Loud music, lots of people dancing.”
“Cool.” We sat in quietly for a moment. It wasn’t exactly uncomfortable, but I wasn’t really sure what to say. Eventually, Eliot broke the silence. “Thanks for inviting me. I was getting really bored.”
He reached out to tuck a stray hair behind my ear, gently brushing his hand along my cheek. Smiling, I leaned closer to him until our lips met.
Sarah’s advice rang in the back of my head. I put my hands on Eliot’s shoulders. His hand was on my waist, pulling me closer to him. Although the kiss was nice, it still felt awkward.
We kissed for several heartbeats before I sat back with a smile. I gestured to the building with my head.
“You, um, wanna go inside?”
Taking his hand, I led him to the back entrance, right beside the dance floor. As soon as I opened the back door, we were met with a wall of ear-piercing noise. I was pleased to see a large crowd had assembled on the floor.
I weaved my way to my friends, who had managed to dance themselves into the back corner of the room. As I had predicted, they had paired off, dancing half with each other and half with other couples.
I started dancing between Sarah/Larry and Walter/Ava. Ava did not look happy to be at the dance. Not long after I arrived, she shouted something in Walter’s ear. I had no idea what she said, but Walter nodded and followed her off the dance floor.
Before I could close the space between me and Sarah, Eliot pulled me towards him. He wasn’t going to kiss me, was he? I mean, I didn’t mind it when we were alone, but not in front of half my school.
His face was inches from mine. “I’m thirsty!”
Nodding, I took his hand. I caught Sarah’s eye and mimed that I was taking a drink before leading Eliot towards the front entryway. The stairwell was a little quieter than the dance floor.
We headed downstairs to the vending machines. After grabbing a couple of bottles of water, I brought him to the pool lounge. We had the place to ourselves. We sat on opposite ends of the same couch, turning to face each other.
Eliot drained half his bottle in one gulp.
“Okay. That is way better than the lame sixth grade dance.”
I bit back an I told you so by drinking more of my water.
“So, how was your, what was it? Service Saturday?”
I giggled. “Actually, it was just called Service Day, but I like Service Saturday better. It was fun. We were supposed to be raking leaves, but we made a big leaf pile and Sarah pushed me in.”
“That wasn’t very nice.” Eliot made a face similar to the look Ava usually wore.
“Oh, no. It was awesome. Sure, I didn’t like being caught off guard, but then Larry pushed her in and we kept pushing each other. Jessi helped me push Walter and—”
“Walter?” I saw the anger flash across Eliot’s face. “What was he doing there?”
“We were in the same group.”
“Because that’s how we were arranged. Andy figured it out. It went by room numbers. We’re all in the same four rooms in both dorms.”
Eliot pursed his lips, but didn’t interrupt again until I described how the leaf fight ended when Andy pushed Sally into the pile.
“The dean. Well, my dean. Third form girls.”
“Dean? Isn’t that like a principal?”
“But, you don’t really call her Sally to her face, right? It’s Ms. What’s-it?”
“Hunger. But, no. We call her Sally. She told us to. There’s a bunch of faculty that want us to use their first names.”
Eliot made another sour face, but quickly masked it by finishing his water and standing. He held out a hand to help me up. “Ready to go back?”
I knew Eliot was unhappy, but I couldn’t understand why. It had to be something I had said, but other than briefly mentioning Walter, I wasn’t really sure what it could be.
We were only on the dance floor for a song or two—it was so difficult to tell when one song ended and the next began—when Eliot again pulled me close.
“I think I’m losing my mind. There’s a guy over there. For a second, I thought it was Patrick McGregor.”
Looking over my shoulder was a reflex. As soon as I did, I regretted it. Pat waved, flashing his famous smile. I gave a pathetic little wave in return before turning back to Eliot. I moved closer to him so I could shout in his ear.
“Yeah, he’s a student here.”
Eliot said something I couldn’t hear.
He moved so close, I could feel him breathing in my ear. “I said, he waved like he knew you.”
“Well, we’re kind of friends.”
“You’re friends with a movie star?”
“It’s a long story.”
Eliot cocked his head towards the stairs. “Why don’t we go downstairs and you can tell me about it.”
I didn’t want to go downstairs. I wanted to stay and dance. But, Eliot grabbed my hand and headed off the dance floor. I followed him to the pool lounge.
Eliot sat on one of the couches. “I’m sorry. It was just really loud in there and I like talking to you. I don’t really like dancing.”
I shrugged as I sat across from him. “It’s okay.” I wasn’t sure it was. I happened to like dancing.
“So, did you say you’re friends with Patrick McGregor?” I could tell Eliot was trying to sound casual. But, there was no mistaking the hint of accusation in his words.
How was I supposed to explain how I knew Pat without mentioning his brother? I sighed. “Kinda. Walter knows him.”
“He’s friends with Walter?”
I shrugged. “Something like that. We’ve hung out a few times. The three of us. We spent a lot of time together last weekend when no one was on campus.”
“You hung out with Walter and Patrick McGregor last weekend?”
“I told you that.”
“No.” I could hear the anger and jealousy building in Eliot’s voice. He sounded offended. “You said you hung out with a couple of friends all weekend.”
“Yeah. Walter and Pat.”
“What do you guys do together?”
I wasn’t about to describe Weddas. It was just too complicated. I shrugged. “We play board games. Sometimes we eat together. Pat joined our NeoGenesis viewing club.”
“So, you watch that with them, but not me?”
“I explained it to you.”
“You know what? I’m still not sure I understand how that works. Maybe you can explain it to me again.”
It wasn’t a question. It was a declaration of disapproval. And I didn’t like it. I got to my feet.
“Are you going to get this jealous every time you see me talk with a guy?”
Eliot got to his feet as well. “I’m not jealous.”
I gestured between us. “Then, what do you call this?”
“I don’t know.” He sighed. “I don’t know.”
“Eliot, I like you. You’re a good guy and a good friend. But, I just don’t think we’re meant to be together.”
“Why would you say that?”
I could hear the pain in his voice. He sounded as hurt as I was feeling at that moment. But, I knew in my heart I was making the right decision. I tried to respond as gentle as possible.
“I have friends who are guys. Some of my closest friends are guys. And, I don’t think that’s okay with you. Maybe if we went to the same school and you could see us together. But, we don’t. And, frankly, I’m tired of trying to explain myself to you all the time.”
“I wasn’t . . . I didn’t . . .” Eliot seemed to be having trouble finding the right words.
I didn’t want to wait for him. “I think I better go.”
I left the lounge, not bothering to look back. I could feel tears stinging my eyes. I wasn’t watching where I was going as I turned into the stairwell.
And literally ran into Pat. He reached out to steady me, flashing me his famous smile.
“Oh, hey. Where’s Townie?”
I waved my hand as if batting a fly away from my shoulder. “Gone. Going. I don’t want to talk about it.”
I ran up the stairs and out the front door. I had lost all interest in the dance.
Saturday, October 28
(Author note: I am not sure what this journal entry should be about. Any suggestions? Leave a comment below.)
The van returned to the house as we were carting the final leaf bags to the curb. We waved goodbye to the old lady, put our rakes in the back of the van, and piled in. The teacher drove to two more houses to pick up the rest of my classmates before returning to campus. After all that raking, I was exhausted. All I wanted was a hot shower and to just relax. I texted my friends, only to learn that Frank had disappeared to the robotics lab and Chloe had holed up in the library to work on college applications.
I was, however, able to convince Walter to join me in the MAC to watch football. He agreed on the condition that he could sit on another couch, although there were so many guys crowded around the television screen that no one noticed when I sat beside him.
“How was your first Service Day?”
He laughed and told me about his friend pushing their dean into the leaves.
I swore. “Are you guys in trouble?”
He shook his head. “Nah, she just laughed it off, thankfully.”
While we were watching the game, people began setting up the stage for the dance that evening. I turned to Walter, nodding towards the sound equipment. “Are you going tonight?”
He nodded. “Ava wants to. Are you?”
“Probably. Look, I won’t bother you if you don’t want me to. Just shake your head if you want me to go away, deal?”
Walter and I bumped fists to seal the deal, then shouted as a quarterback was tackled.
I had a hard time convincing Frank and Chloe, but eventually I was able to persuade them to join me at the MAC that night. By the time we arrived, people were just starting to find the dance floor. Mostly third formers, judging by the large groups. I saw Walter enter with a cute girl, who saw me almost immediately. Walter shook his head at me, but he needn’t have bothered. As soon as that girl started jumping up and down, I moved in the opposite direction. We went upstairs to watch the crowd and I received a text from Walter. Run away! Now! I laughed and showed my friends.
“Wow. I thought you said he was getting better about having you around,” Chloe commented.
“Hey. Weren’t we supposed to be bugging him tonight?” Frank reminded me.
“Yeah. I don’t think I want to anymore.” I looked over the rail and pointed to my brother. “I saw his girlfriend. As soon as she saw me, she went into crazy fan mode. That’s why we’re up here.”
Frank laughed. “I think you like it.”
“Not here. I’m supposed to be Pat Evans here, not Patrick McGregor.”
Frank looked over the rail at Walter. “So, I’m counting . . . like a dozen people in that little group. How many of them have you met?”
“The three he has lunch with. Melinda, Sarah, and Larry.”
Frank examined the group another moment. “Wait. That’s Walter’s girlfriend? I thought he was with that other girl. The one you like.”
“What?” I could feel my jaw hit the floor.
Chloe rolled her eyes. Why do girls do that? “You’re always talking about her. Hey, Frank. Which one is she?” Chloe leaned over the rail to spy on Walter.
“I don’t see her.” Frank turned to face me again. “You’re not denying it.”
I sighed. “I like her as Walter’s friend. Nothing more.”
I could tell Frank and Chloe weren’t convinced, but I was done with this conversation. “Let’s go dance.” I headed down the stairs and, thankfully, they followed.
I saw Melinda enter the room holding hands with some guy I assumed was her townie boyfriend. They went to dance with Walter, and it was not long before Walter and his girlfriend left the room. I turned back around and my friends were gone.
I found them at the top of the stairs. “Three minutes,” Frank announced. “That’s how long it took for you to realize we were gone.”
“You like her,” Chloe sang.
I narrowed my eyes at my friends. “I’m leaving.”
“Hi!” squeaked a voice beside me. “I’m Ava. I’m in the third form and I just wanted to tell you, I am SUCH a huge fan.”
I glanced at Walter, who was turning red beside his girlfriend. “It’s nice to meet you. I’ve gotta get going.” I turned and quickly headed back down the stairs.
“What just happened?” Chloe asked.
“I had to get away.”
“I think you like it.” Frank shook his head at me as he took Chloe’s hand and led her back onto the dance floor. I followed them, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw Melinda and her boyfriend leave the room. All of a sudden, my dinner wasn’t settling very well. Frank started dancing with a couple of fourth form girls and Chloe went off with some senior. I went over to where the couches usually were to stand with James from my Latin class. We talked colleges while I watched for my brother, who never returned. Melinda did, and after a few moments, her boyfriend leaned in to kiss her. My stomach again began to protest the fries I had at dinner.
Melinda turned and I couldn’t help myself. I smiled and waved. She looked a little mortified as she gave me a feeble wave and leaned into her boyfriend. They left the room again and my stomach grew extremely uneasy.
The longer I talked to James, the more uncomfortable my stomach became. Eventually, I had to excuse myself to see if the vending machine downstairs had any ginger ale. I was inserting my ID card into the slot when Melinda rushed in, bumping smack into me.
I smiled as I caught her, again feeling an electric charge. I released her quickly. “Oh, hey. Where’s Townie?”
Melinda waved vaguely near her shoulder. “Gone. Going.” She was obviously flustered. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
As she ran away up the stairs, I shot my brother a quick text that Melinda could probably use her roommate at the moment.