It’s a miracle I make it up the stairs. If the front door wasn’t glass, I would have leaned against the inside and slid to the floor. As it is, I’m stopped halfway to my apartment leaning on the banister.
He didn’t kiss me.
If I didn’t know him, I’d think there was something wrong with me. If he was a hooker, I’d assume he doesn’t believe in kissing on the mouth. But he’s Patrick Kane. And he’s not even trying to get into my pants.
Which is a good thing. Really. Because I might just let him.
“No, you wouldn’t,” I say out loud to the empty hallway.
After dinner, Patrick walked me home. It was probably thirty minutes out of his way and I thought he’d suggest stopping into any of the million bars that we passed, but he didn’t. His good hand stayed in his pocket too, while mine twitched openly at my side. Still we talked and laughed, like two friends out for a stroll. Two friends with a date tomorrow.
“So this is your building?” he asked when we reached the door.
“Yup.” Don’t ask to come in, because I’ll let you in. So don’t ask, because I don’t want to. But I probably will.
“Cool. Pick you up tomorrow at noon?”
Fourteen hours away. Who makes a date that soon?
“I’ll be ready,” I said.
Then the awkward moment. I stood there, like a standing thing, waiting for him to do something other than stand across from me. He cracked a tiny smile, even bobbed his head a little and I think he blushed. Then he just squeezed my forearm with his giant, warm hand and stepped back.
I fumbled with my key, suddenly all thumbs, and it jangled loudly as it scraped into the lock. Opening in a rush, I smiled over my shoulder and pushed inside. It had to look like it was my idea, like I was the one who decided not to kiss. Not him. Because he would never pass up that chance. Right?
He could see me though, in the foyer, so I waved and then I hustled up the stairs, around the corner and into this very spot where I now stand. Much like my flight from Miranda’s dinner party, only this time Patrick isn’t chasing me.
I am chasing him.
Well, I feel like I am. Without realizing it, I’m trying to draw him along. It’s like trying to meet someone halfway and realizing they are way behind schedule. You have to go twice as far, then double back on yourself. But where is this whole thing going?
Hence the hallway, and the banister currently holding me up. I feel confused and weak and a little bit... giddy.
“Oh for the love of God.”
I haul myself into the safety of my apartment before admitting that my heart is racing. He could probably hear my pulse. I rub my scalp, it’s sore from wearing the hat all evening. Flipping the hair from my face I look in the mirror above my coat hooks.
“It’s not him.”
Honestly, it might not be Patrick. It’s been so long since anything new happened to me that wasn’t devastating. So long since a new guy showed interest in me, that I felt the awkward beginning of something that could just as easily be nothing. The thrill of possibility. He laughed at my jokes, teased me back; he bumped against me. He told me I was beautiful - twice, so I’d know he meant it. But it could be just fresh air lifting the dark cape from my shoulders. It might not matter who opens the window.
“It’s not him,” I repeat as I reach for the phone.
“Where have you been?” Jane demands.
“Out... with Patrick!”
So much for my big confession. “How did you know?”
“First, say thank you.”
“Oh my... thank you, Jane,” I grumble. She doesn’t care.
“You were on the news, sex bomb! Patrick Kane brings girl to Cubs game, film at eleven. They tastefully remarked that you didn’t look like an STD-ridden stripper trying to score a meal ticket for her illegitimate kids.”
She snarfs. “They just said you were unidentified, and Pat had wrist surgery, and the Cubs won. But no one cared about that, because you two were making goo-goo eyes at each other and I was busy doing a victory lap around the living room.”
There’s a muffled scuffling noise and her boyfriend Tommy comes on the line. “It was really something, Nascar-worthy. Hey, you looked good on TV. You over being pissed about the other night?” Tommy and Jane are perfect for each other - no filter on either of them.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Good, ‘cause we’re having a barbecue on Tuesday night. It’s Aston’s birthday!” he laughs. Aston Martin, their rescued racing mini-greyhound, has birthday parties.
“Of course. Gotta get more roof time in before summer’s over!”
It’s an invitation I can’t turn down. “I’ll bring the Milk Bones.”
“You just feel free to bring a date, slugger.”
There’s a riot going on in my head as I step back from Kristen at her front door.
Her forearm is surprisingly sturdy beneath my hand, like maybe she shouldn’t be so afraid of falling apart. Or maybe I’m afraid of breaking her. I put a few feet between us either way and she actually looks at the ground as if calculating the distance.
This is my third chance to kiss her - and I let it go.
The goodnight kiss is legend. It’s expected and beloved and absolutely appropriate after the day we’ve had. She doesn’t want to want it, but the tip of her pink tongue slides along her lower lip and gives it all away. Her long, slender fingers move like they’re dying to wrap themselves in my baseball jersey and hold on tight.
I have to get out of here.
I am way too excited about this. Energy zings around inside me like a pinball and I bet I’m glowing in the dark. I’m a second away from becoming the chick in one of those Nicholas Sparks novels my sisters read. If this were a movie, I’d burst into song.
Fucking pull it together!
Old Me watches from behind my eyes like an burglar caught in the act. He cannot believe that years of getting every piece of tail that walked by are about to be destroyed by common sense.
If I kiss her, I’m going upstairs with her. I’ll carry her there. We’ll do what I always do and in the morning, she’ll hate me. I’ll be exactly what she expected: hate at first sight. Kristen will be right and she’ll also be gone.
“Pick you up tomorrow at noon?”
There’s confusion in her eyes, mixed with disappointment and a tiny hint of fear. She should be rewarded, not punished, for how well she’s opened up and let herself have fun today. But I cannot give her that without taking something else.
“Night, Kristen,” I say as she ducks inside, embarrassed.
I walk home quickly. I could take a cab, but the summer is only so long. Still the bars spill people onto every street and I don’t want to be recognized tonight. People always assume I’m up for a good time, but I just dropped my good time off.
“Hey bro,” Jon says on the second ring of the phone. “Who’s the girl?”
“TV, Kaner. You were even on TSN. That’s better than I did, I think,” he laughs cruelly. “She’s cute, I like her.”
“She thought you’d say that,” I admit, remembering the awkward moment when Kristen called me out for dating skanks.
“Oh yeah? Well, keep your hands off her and I’ll be down in a couple weeks.”
“Yeah, she’s a good one.”
Jon is quiet for a minute, realizing as he always does when I really want to talk about something. It’s his captain-voice that comes down the line. “Who is she?”
“Friend of a friend. Second date today.”
He sits up, furniture crinkling. “Second date at a ball game?”
“Well, I.. she had a bad breakup, the guy cheated on her. Hated me on sight when we met last night.”
“Woah, woah... second date in two days?”
That’s what I’m thinking. She must like me, right? “Yeah. First date was pretty bad - she didn’t know it was a setup. Barely said a word to me all night.”
Jon puts the pieces together quickly. “Ah, she owed you one. Ballsy move taking her to Wrigley.”
“I figured she wouldn’t have to talk if she didn’t want to. Turns out she wanted to.” I continue, give him the big reveal. “I think tonight was the first time she’s had fun in a long time. Scared her pretty good.”
He sighs - I can see him rubbing a hand over his short hair, the way he does when he’s thinking. Jon is practically my brother.
“So what you’re saying,” he asks, “is that you’re not going to keep your hands off her?”
At quarter to noon, I am standing knee-deep in a pile made of every piece of clothing I own. Nothing I have is right - it’s all too much or not enough. It’s old. It doesn’t fit. I hate it, it’s purple and why do I even own it?
“Focus!” I whisper sharply to myself.
I don’t want to go on this date. Last night I could barely sleep for giddiness - being on a date is like roller-skating; long after you’re on solid ground you still feel like you’re moving. I couldn’t get off the ride. Even though Patrick didn’t try to kiss me, even though I ran away in the face of awkwardness, I could have flown around the room like a cartoon bird.
This morning was a different story.
I woke up happy - actively happy, not just passively fine - for the first time in ages. It was my life again, the real and normal life that I’ve always had. It was one day before before I found out everything was a lie. For a brief and glorious moment, the rug was back under my feet.
Then I remembered. My eyes were swollen from four months of crying. My throat was raw from four months of dry heaving. My voicemail was full of un-returned calls from people I could never face again. It was like a wrecking ball came right through my room and tossed my bed into the street.
I lay there, still as a dead body, for a long time. Deep breathing wasn’t enough, nor was recounting that I was better off knowing the truth. Every time I cracked an eyelid, I saw the tiny studio apartment where I’d been stuffed like an embarrassing bridesmaids dress in the attic. My mind bounced around looking for a place to land - and ended up at Miranda’s house.
It was almost funny, really. The first happy place I found was the horrible first night I met Patrick. For all my fury and meanness, it was still better than being here alone. The way he didn’t make me talk to him, the way he asked if it was his fault. My friends sticking their necks out for me - and with someone famous! Eric’s job could have been at risk. Tears pricked behind my eyelids - I was so angry at myself for taking it out on other people.
So I got out of bed. It was not Patrick’s fault that Tyler was horrible.
“It wasn’t your fault either,” I told my reflection. It didn’t look convinced.
Now, in a snowdrift of clothes I hate, I am unsteady again. I don’t trust myself to give anyone a fair chance right now - not Patrick, not my friends, not myself. Some of us signed up for rough sailing, but Patrick is just like a little raft offering to float me while I try not to drown. He has no idea that I’ll take him right down with me.
But he’ll be here in ten minutes either way. And the only thing worse than going is not going. I settle on gray capri pants, a white tank top and black Converse low-top sneakers. I pin my hair up away from my forehead but leave it long down my back. My light black hoodie fits into my shoulder bag just as the phone rings.
“I’m here,” he says. I swear I hear him smiling.
“Be right down.” Shit, I’m smiling too.