I rolled my eyes. “It’s not incest, Rusty. They’re not related by blood.”
“Doesn’t matter,” he shrugged. “I’ve got a step-mom, and I would shit my pants if she came on to me.”
Kelsey laughed, “That probably has more to do with you being gay.”
“I’ve met your step-mom. She can come onto me anytime,” Cade said.
If we were different kinds of people, Rusty would have gotten pissed, maybe punched Cade in the arm… or the face. Instead, they high-fived.
“Seriously, though, how did everyone do?” Rusty asked. “I was crap. I’ll be lucky to get soldier number two or the servant.”
Kelsey butted in, “I would kill to play Aphrodite. I mean, who else has the boobs for it?”
Victoria raised her hand, “Um, hello? Do your eyes not work?” She gestured at her chest.
“Come on, do you even want Aphrodite?”
“Hell no,” Victoria said. “Doesn’t mean my boobs don’t resent you ignoring them.”
Wide-eyed, Jeremy said, “I’d never ignore your boobs.”
Everyone laughed. Jeremy generally stayed pretty quiet when we were all out together. I guess it could be difficult to keep up with us, considering we’d spent every waking moment with each other for the past four years, and he was the newbie to the group.
“What about you, Bliss?” Lindsay asked. “We all know you’re wetting yourself just thinking about this.”
I might have blushed, if my cheeks weren’t already flushed from the alcohol.
“I think it went well. I just… I really get Phaedra, you know?”
Kelsey burst out laughing, and I kicked her under the table.
Cade smiled at me, “What? Are you lusting after some family member I’ve never met?’
I pushed at his shoulder, and he laughed, wrapping his arm around me and pulling me close.
“I’m kidding, babe.”
“I just… I get what it’s like to want something, but to try and force yourself to really believe that you don’t. It doesn’t even have to be about love. It’s about wanting something you can’t have or something you don’t think you deserve. Hell, we want the parts that our friends get, even though they’re our friends and we should be happy for them. We sit in the audience and think about how we would have done a role. We want what we can’t have. It’s human nature.”
I might have gotten a little carried away. The table was quiet when I finished.
Until Rusty said, “You are clearly not drunk enough!” So, we did more drinking, and our food arrived, looking greasy and glorious.
“You guys do realize there is one major topic we haven’t talked about.” Victoria raised an eyebrow, and continued. “Professor I’m sex incarnate and could probably get you pregnant just by looking at you.”
Most of the guys around the table (minus Rusty) groaned, while most of the girls (minus me) plus Rusty said various differentiations of “Hell yes!”
Victoria fanned herself. “Seriously, that first day when he spoke, I think his accent alone nearly gave me an orgasm.”
I stayed quiet, and Kelsey did, too, shooting me a questioning glance.
I could excuse myself and go to the bathroom. Would that seem bizarre? It’s not like I hadn’t had a lot to drink.
“Kelsey, why aren’t you backing me up here?” Victoria asked. “Can I just call dibs for as soon as we graduate?”
I tried to keep my face passive.
Kelsey smiled, “Oh, yeah, he’s cute. But he’s a little too prim and proper for me. I like a guy who is a bit more dangerous.” She winked at Jeremy, and I’m sure his jaw would have detached if it dropped any lower.
“What? His motorcycle isn’t dangerous enough for you?” Cade asked.
“He has a motorcycle? I didn’t know that!” She shot me an accusing look like I was betraying her by not relaying this piece of information.
“What happened with him and Dom?” Lindsay asked me. “Dom is still bitching about how he manhandled him during your audition.”
Cade’s hand slipped from the back of the booth to around my shoulders, and he gave me a quick squeeze.
“Dom’s just a jackass. Mr. Taylor just pulled him off of me, that’s all.”
Rusty smiled and pointed at Cade and me, “You two are so cute. ‘ Oh Mr. Taylor this and Mr. Taylor that.’ I think you’re the only ones still treating him like a teacher instead of a piece of meat.”
I rolled my eyes. I never called him Mr. Taylor to his face, but it just felt weird to talk about him with other people and call him Garrick. I felt like they’d be able to read all my secrets on my face, and they’d know exactly how un-teacher-like I considered him.
Maybe I did need that bathroom break after all. I nudged Cade, and he slipped out of the booth, and let me go. Every step away from that booth, my anxiety eased. I’d stay gone for a few minutes, then I’d come back and they’d be on a completely different conversation, and everything would be fine.
I was walking by the bar when I heard my name.
I turned, but didn’t see anyone.
The voice was closer, and this time when I looked behind the bar, I saw him—Bartender Boy.
I smiled, and tried to appear happy to see him. But honestly… I couldn’t even remember his name. There were far too many other things that had taken my focus that night. As always when I thought of Garrick, my stomach flipped and I had to concentrate on not getting lost in the memories.
When we were across the bar from each other, Bartender Boy said, “Hey… I hope it’s not creepy that I remember your name.”
It was. A little.
“I promise not to be creeped out, if you’ll forgive me for not remembering yours.”
His lips pulled down in a frown briefly before he smiled and said, “Brandon.”
“Right, Brandon. Of course. I’m sorry. It’s been a long week.”
“Well, let me make it a little bit better.” He pulled out a glass and poured me a shot of tequila. “On the house.”
I felt awkward taking the shot alone, but I couldn’t very well decline it. So, I thanked him, shrugged, and downed it in one gulp.
I laughed, not because anything was funny, but just because it seemed like the thing to do.
“Listen,” Brandon started. “I don’t mean to come on too strong, but do you want to go out sometime?”
Did I want to go out with him? More importantly, did I want to sleep with him? Despite all the craziness with Garrick, I was still a virgin. And I still wished I wasn’t. Here was another opportunity to fix that… one that didn’t involve breaking school rules and risking expulsion. I looked at him. Kelsey had been right; he was cute. And he was definitely interested.
I tried to imagine what sleeping with him might be like. I tried to imagine the shedding of our clothes, his hands against my skin, his lips against mine. I tried, but every image I conjured was of Garrick doing those things, not Brandon.
Damn, why couldn’t I just snap my fingers and not be a virgin anymore? Why did sex have to be involved? And why was it that all I could think about was Garrick, but I’d even backed out of sex with him?
Why did my brain absolutely refuse to make sense?
Brandon answered his question for himself, “I’m guessing that’s probably a no. It usually is if it takes that long to answer.”
I smiled a tight, close-lipped smile. “Sorry. You seem really nice, but I’m just not that interested… right now.” Damn, I always did that. I sucked at confrontation, so I always added phrases like “right now.”
Brandon nodded, “It’s cool. Don’t worry about it. I, uh, better get back to work though.”
He didn’t wait for my answer before he strode down the length of the bar to help a customer at the far end. Sighing, I made my way to the bathroom, where I splashed some water on my face.
It didn’t help the chaos in my brain, but I could feel the alcohol tingling in my stomach, and that at least made me feel okay with the chaos.
I returned to the table, where another two shots were waiting for me, courtesy of Cade, and thankfully the conversation was on to some other gossip that didn’t involve Garrick. By the time we’d had the next round, my skin felt like a warm blanket and my throat ached from laughing at things that may or may not have actually been funny. We were all gone enough that our conversation had devolved into fragments, inside jokes, and laughter.
“I am so drunk,” Rusty started, “That I just want to sit in my car and play my accordion until I’m sober.”
My laughter was embarrassingly loud. “You have an accordion?”
“Hell, yes, I do. Wanna listen to me play?”
I left my wallet with Cade, so he could pay for mine. I gave him a sloppy kiss on the cheek as a reward.
“Oh! Me too! Me too!” Kelsey cried. She gave her wallet to Cade, too, with a head pat instead of the kiss, and Rusty wrapped an arm around each of us.
“Take notes, boys! The ladies always love a man who can play an instrument!”
Lindsay snorted, “Your instrument doesn’t even like girls, Rusty!”
“Doesn’t mean they don’t like it!”
I’m sure the volume in the bar lowered by half when we were gone, but I couldn’t tell the difference. It was still loud in my head. After a few minutes, the rest of the group joined us outside on the hood of Rusty’s car, where he was playing his accordion and singing a song he said was French (but I’m pretty sure was just gibberish).
It didn’t really matter to us. After a few minutes, we knew the gibberish enough to sing along. We serenaded the bar’s patrons as they meandered to their cars at 2 AM. We sang in English and gibberish. We sang Britney Spears and Madonna and Phantom of the Opera. Cade did some ridiculous rap where he rhymed maybe with scabies. And we continued serenading until they were all gone, and the owner came out to tell us to get lost.
We were all still too drunk to drive, except for maybe Jeremy, but none of our cars were big enough to fit us all.
So on a whim I said, “Let’s go to my place. It’s about half a mile away, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got vodka in my freezer.”
So with a battle cry of “Vodka!” we were off.
I came to regret that night later, but then, I just hadn’t wanted it to end.
Somewhere between the bar and my apartment, I lost my shoes. They were low heels, but they were killing my feet all the same. So, I simply bent over and pushed them off.
“Whoa, babe, what are you doing?”
I fell into Cade, giggling. I thought I was drunk before, but now that a little time had passed… It had really hit me. I was possibly farther gone than I’d ever been. “Shoes are stupid. Why do people wear them?”
He laughed, “So they don’t step on a nail and get tetanus, that’s why.”
“Wear. Where. Wear. W’s are wwweeird.”
He laughed, so I laughed, even though I had no idea what was funny.
“You’re adorable. Come here. I’ll give you a piggyback ride home to save your feet.”
He squatted, and I leapt onto his back. With my high heels in his hands, we teetered down the road. When we walked into my parking lot, I was singing a made up song that went something like,“Cade is my hero! Zero to hero!”
“What do you mean zero? I was never a zero!”
“Cade is my best friend! One day we’re gonna be on West End! His car smells like cheese! I just wanna give him a squeeze!”
Rusty called, “Give him a squeeze in private!”