Some credit for this chapter: title taken from Panic(!) at the Disco, song lyrics in the chapter taken from The Killers, and a line of dialogue taken from Thelma and Louise. Yes, Thelma and Louise. I wrote and rewrote the last scene several times. Tell me what you think of it?

Thanks to the usual suspects and especially to CuriousContradiction for the reviews on chapter ten!


Chapter Eleven: Testosterone Boys and Harlequin Girls

I was running around the room in a panic, hair dripping wet and in tendrils along my neck, floral bathrobe tied over my underclothes. Something in the carpet stuck in my foot; I picked up a stud earring, cursed, and flung it in the general direction of my dresser. The sound it made suggested that it had fallen behind the furniture, but I couldn't worry about that now. I had a million and one things to do in the hour before Lang's party started, not to mention all the things that were liable to go wrong once I got there.

"So, Tina is still mad at you?" Charlie was sprawled on my bed, reading one of my fashion magazines and dog-earring pages that had pictures of particularly pretty girls. If the magazine went missing tonight, I sure as hell didn't want it back.

"Yeah," I said shortly, rifling through my closet in search of a slightly less slutty outfit. It was a mild night, and we would be indoors anyway, so I opted to show leg instead of cleavage. Charlie snorted as I pulled lace-patterned tights out of my dresser.

"I doubt mom will believe you're going to study in those."

I turned around from studying my skirt options to see him raising his thick eyebrows. "That's why I'm changing at Dahlia's, genius–we all are, actually. Her parents are the only ones who don't care."

The room was quiet as I yanked some shirts off of their hangers and threw them on the bed by Charlie's knees. Downstairs, our parents were watching some game show or another, enjoying each other's company. They were oblivious to the fact that, for once, Charlie and I were getting along, and that our getting along entailed him helping me sneak out to a huge party at some jock's mansion.

"Isn't Dahlia mad at you?" He yawned and flipped a page, then another few in rapid succession. Probably a long article.

"Sort of."

"And things with Penn are a little weird?"

"Yes," I admitted, a little jolt going through me at the mention of my best friend's name.

"And you're mad at Langston?"

"Hell yes."

"And yet you're going to a party with all of them tonight?"

"That's the gist of it." I was beginning to wonder if my brother actually listened to me when I talked to him about my life. "Remind me again why I told you about all this stuff?"

"Because therapy's expensive and you didn't want to waste your hard-earned baby-sitting wages." He yawned and sat up, throwing the magazine atop a pile of clothes.

"Oh, shut up," I said without venom. "Just make sure Mom thinks I'm sleeping over at Meredith's."

"Will do, little sis," he said, getting up to leave. "I'll drive you over to…study, if you want."

I stared at him from where I sat on the floor. "Seriously?" Charlie didn't do favors for me. Charlie chopped my hair off with gardening tools-at least the old Charlie did.

"Sure." He shrugged, putting his hands in the pockets of his old blue jeans. "I'm just gonna stay in and watch movies anyway. Knock on my door when you're ready; I know you'll be a while." He went to his room, leaving the door ajar and leaving me to wonder when exactly my asshat of a brother had turned into a decent person.

The day he left for college, he stole my birthday money from my dresser to pay for gas and dunked my face into my bowl of corn flakes. My parents scolded him, but their anxiety about their elder child leaving the nest overruled all else. I waved at him as the car pulled off and flipped the bird when I thought our mom wasn't looking. My face contorted into a grimace from the memory.

At some point in the next forty minutes, I managed to find an outfit that didn't make me look like a total tramp. Then I stripped it off, put on a pair of un-suspicious jeans and an old sweatshirt, and threw the party outfit into a duffel bag. Makeup and accessories went in next, along with my new siren red pumps. The their shiny surface reflected one of the bedposts. Cell phone? Check. Wallet? Check. Good decision-making skills?

I'll get back to you on that one.

Charlie opened the door a few seconds after I knocked; behind his back I could see his desk, books shoved to the side and laptop in the center, screen paused on what looked like one of the X-Men movies. He yawned in my face. "Ready?"

I wrinkled my nose and nodded.

Downstairs, our parents were still in front of the television, engrossed in something with canned laughter and a fuzzy picture. Probably an old sitcom.

"Bye, mom. Bye, dad. Charlie's taking me over to Meredith's to study and I might sleep over." The words came out in a stream. I twirled a bit of my hair anxiously and studied the modern pattern on our couch.

My mom lifted her head off my snoring father's shoulder to look at me. I forced myself not to flinch as she took in my casual clothes and pale, naked face. Finally, she nodded and settled back into the couch with a nonchalant "have fun".

I smirked up at Charlie. The night had officially begun.


If changing at Dahlia's was tense, the ride over to Lang's in her Lexus was downright fucking torturous. Tina kept clacking her fake nails against the backseat window, anxious to get to the party and salvage her relationship. Meredith was texting someone, probably Dai, on her Blackberry. The tapping sound of fingers against the tiny QWERTY keyboard punctured the silence. Her hair was straightened and arranged neatly, with half of it twisted up and half of it down and framing her face; I envied how easily she could look pretty. Emma was wearing a tight minidress and showing even more thigh than I was. She pulled the elasticized hem down with one hand and blew her stuffy nose with the other.

Dahlia drove, a little fast and reckless even without anything to drink. In the nighttime suburbia, the nice homes like hers soon melded into the nicer homes, with Roman columns needlessly framing expansive foyers and three-car garages springing up in the yards. The grass looked too green even in the dark.

The ground rose as we turned off the two-lane street into a gated community. The road was paved in the smoothest concrete I've ever seen, while the hedges were trimmed razor-straight and stiff as sentries. We kept at the uphill drive until we reached one of the largest houses in the bunch, a monstrosity of brick and stone and beige siding. All the lights were on; the glow from a couple of the rooms quickly switched colors, blues and greens and pinks mingling with the muted laughter. The music's bass thumped under my feet as we stepped out. Lang had outdone himself, I could tell.

"Well, we're here," Meredith said, rubbing goosebumps off of her arms. She looked a little nervous.

"Way to state the obvious." Dahlia flipped her dark mane of hair and turned on the car alarm. "Now are we going to go in or stand out here like a bunch of dorks?"

She ignored the irritated look I gave her.

We went inside.


We were barely forty minutes late, but the party was already in full swing. Heads turned as we passed; the throng of people near the kitchen parted for us. Music pumped from the basement and the living room, two indistinct beats meshing into sensuous chaos.

It always amused me to see the way people let go of their sanity and their morals at parties. A girl from my calculus class danced with her back against one of the football jocks, his hands occupied with a beverage and her thick hips. The lights were not dim enough for any real privacy, yet people had stubbornly invented their own.

Penn and Lang were in the kitchen, talking with two tall junior girls who seemed to slink back to the main party as we approached. I couldn't blame them; Tina's fangs were nearly out and I could feel something rising in the pit of my stomach.

Then he smiled at me, coming from around the counter. I reached my arms out, feigning confidence, and hugged him close, smelling the cologne he wore and feeling smooth muscles under his navy blue button-down shirt. "Hey," I whispered into his ear.

"You look great," he replied, eyes lingering a few seconds too long on my lace-patterned legs. I didn't mind.

"I know." We locked gazes and smiled; screw being coy. The air between us tautened and I felt compelled towards him; it was an effort not to take him by the hand, excuse the both of us from the kitchen, and maybe go out on one of the house's exquisite balconies to talk….

The moment was broken when Lang, avoiding Tina, slung a long arm around Penn's shoulders and ruffled his hair in a brotherly way. "We're gonna find Penn a rebound chick tonight, Chels. Wanna help?"

I shook my head, not trusting my mouth to say anything that made sense. I had never wanted to punch a person quite as much as I wanted to punch Lang right then. Judging from Tina's expression, she felt the same, albeit for different reasons.

"Ah, killjoy." He shook his head and stretched his arms. "C'mon, Penn; let's find you something with nice legs and too much punch in her stomach." He half-dragged my best friend out of the kitchen; Penn just looked back and shrugged, half-guilty, as if to say why not?, before he vanished beyond the double doors.

Emma and Dahlia had gone to dance, which left Mer, Tina, and me standing in a very awkward triangle around the counter. I glanced at Meredith to see her nervously biting her lip. I felt a bit sorry for her; she hated tension and she didn't even like parties that much. But she steeled herself and went to join the partygoers, knowing as I did that it was necessary for the loved ones to make appearances at events such as these. I was alone with Tina and my thoughts, and my thoughts were tumbling.

Don't go–I need to talk to you, make you understand and I need–I want–I…I have nice legs, too, you know.

"What did you say?" Tina turned to me, genuine surprise showing through her building anger.

Shit. "Nothing. Must have been in the next room."

She was barely listening. Her manicured fingers fumbled for a piece of bubblegum, her one vice when she was feeling any kind of stress. "Well, this is going to be a fucking awesome evening, don't you think?"

I studied the stained-glass window above the sink, still absorbed in my own wishful thinking. "Fucking awesome," I echoed, the words almost swallowed up by the thrum of pop music and inebriated laughter.

She left in a huff, heels scraping on the floor of her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend's house. Nothing I could do for her besides hope Lang changed his mind. Any comfort I offered would be seen as a failure, because I was supposed to have fixed everything long ago.

"Fucking awesome," I repeated to myself. Leaving the kitchen, I went straight for the punch bowl. A boy in a soccer jersey toasted me as I passed; he looked vaguely familiar and I nodded in acknowledgement, friendly in my numb state. And though no amount of powdered flavoring could cover the taste of alcohol, I downed the contents of the red cup in seconds, savoring the reprieve from reality.

Let's party, I thought to the room.


The minutes blurred by, first in the living room talking with sober Meredith and a guy she knew from French class, then dancing with a tipsy Dahlia and a tipsier Emma, then yelling vaguely at whoever was playing music to change the fucking song, because no one wanted to listen to this one. There was laughter and shouting and the breaking of something that was probably expensive, something that Lang would explain away to his parents on Monday or Tuesday or whenever the hell they got back home.

There may have been a few more cups of punch involved.

Then I was in the crowded foyer, where latecomers were arriving and guys were high-fiving and girls were shrugging off their coats to reveal minidresses or skinny jeans and low-cut tops. Someone brought a keg.

Lang was by the spiral staircase with one of the sophomore girls from lunch, and in a clearer state I would have wondered who invited her in the first place; his parties were usually restricted to our grade and the older grades. I didn't know what we were going to do next year, because these events would be boring as hell with only us seniors. Tina caught my eye and looked away quickly.

"I-I'm gonna go," Meredith was saying some time later, her normally cheerful face drawn and pale.

"Why?" My words were not quite crisp, as if they had gone through turbulence on their way out of my throat.

"It was fine–I mean, I thought he knew what the circumstances were–and then he tried to put his hands up my skirt." She laughed, a humorless sound that fooled no one. "I guess he didn't take the boyfriend seriously."

"You danced with him," Dahlia pointed out. "And, well, you look like that." It could have been a compliment, but coming from D it was just cold scorn.

"I know. But I called Dai and he's coming to pick me up and…well, I just want to get out of here. I'm sorry, guys."

"Say hi to Dai for me!" Emma giggled as the other girl left, just drunk enough to find humor in silly rhymes. Dahlia made an annoyed tsk sound with the roof of her mouth. I went back into the kitchen without a word, too far past caring about clique shit for the night. In retrospect, that was probably a sign that the punch was doing its work. But the kitchen was already occupied by Lang and the same sophomore girl, who were getting a bit too friendly for anyone's good. But he didn't see me and I let myself out before he did.

The lights were dimmer; at some point, I found myself in the basement, in close quarters with the soccer jersey punch-bowl boy and his very pretty eyes. He was tall and lean and funny and…simple. No strings attached, no awkward car rides and meetings in the hallway and aching disappointments. We danced, first face to face and laughing, then me in front of him, my skirt rubbing against the material of his dark wash jeans. The song changed and we moved closer–my auburn hair falling into my eyes, his hands–they were not particularly handsome hands, but what did it matter?–on my waist and then bolder. He was no one and I was no one, not Chelsea Gentry, not Penn Carver's longtime best friend and nothing more. I was just a girl solving her own problems.

Then I saw him seeing me.

I broke away from soccer-and-bowl boy and pushed my way through the room, squeezing between couples grinding to reach the doorway he had disappeared behind. The thick carpet almost swallowed my ankles and I tripped into the hall to see his back going up the basement steps.

"Pennn," I called out. There was that annoying slur again.

He turned slowly, as if the word had left a weight on his shoulders. The door to upstairs was ajar and dim light streamed, framing his body in a very flattering way. I blinked my errant thoughts away.

"Any luck with the rebound search?" I said, lost for anything better to say. I leaned against the banister, crossing my legs.

He came back down the steps at a snail's pace, stopping one stair above me. The height difference was unfair, I thought feebly. "Not yet. I can't seem to find Langston, either."

I tilted my chin up to look at him. "Mm. Lang might be a little busy."

He raised an eyebrow. "Tina?"

I laughed bitterly. "I wish."

"At least you're having fun," he said, voice full of clearly forced cheer. "Who's the guy?"

"Soccer bowl guy?" I blinked slowly. "He…he might have been in my math class last year. He's okay."

"Seems like more than okay, if you ask me," he said coolly.

I reached my arm out to touch his arm but he flinched away. It felt like a slap. "Well, go have some fun yourself," I retorted. "It's not like you…"

"Not like what?"

"Not like you have anything holding you back." He stiffened at this but said nothing. "Funny how the single guy's a bona fide saint when the taken guy can't even keep his hands off the underclassmen."

"Lang doesn't like Tina, and you know it," Penn said, voice low for privacy, though no one was close. "What's the guy supposed to do, Chels? He can't break up with her, thanks to you. But you're asking the guy to invent feelings that he doesn't have. And, as we well know," he continued, coming down to stand on my level, "people can't do that." His dark gray eyes searched mine for something; I didn't know what. But I stood there, cold and still, and he sighed, as if what he had thought all along had been confirmed.

"I'll see you later, okay?" He pressed a brief kiss to my cheek and went back upstairs. In the dark, I pressed a hand to my cheekbone, still warm and tingling.


Going back to soccer bowl boy–his name was Brandon, incidentally–was another disappointment, as much as I wanted to make some sort of sparks fly. We danced more and he, breath smelling faintly of marijuana, didn't ask me where I'd gone. When I got restless and left, he didn't complain, just smiled and said he'd see me at school.

Upstairs was noisier but a little cooler, and I hugged my arms to my sides, shivering at the temperature change. Someone crossed in front of me, yelling something that might have been gibberish, and I stumbled again, nearly falling into a shelf of Lang's family photos. My stomach flopped and I realized how little I'd eaten since leaving home, and how many hours ago had that been? No wonder my tolerance was so bad.

But my foray into the kitchen never happened. The shrill sound of an angry Tina was coming from the piano room.

"–just go off without telling me anything, like you always do, like you always fucking–"

"I'm sorry," Lang was saying, hands in his pockets in the generic male gesture of surrender. "Not thinking."

"But that's just it! You never think, not about me, not about us, not about anything but your stupid sports and your stupid house and your stupid dic–"

"Hey!" He tried to look serious for a minute before letting a grin escape. "None of those are stupid, especially not that last one."

A few people laughed. I stood in the shadow of the grandfather clock and looked at the train wreck with a growing sense of dread.

"I swear to God, Langston, if you don't stop–"

"You'll what?" He was serious now, eyes sharp despite the fact that he was probably high. "You'll sic Chelsea on me?" He waved at me, letting me know that any influence I had over him was officially gone.

Tina was going red in the face. "You selfish prick! Just because you want to mess around with anything that has breasts–"

"I do." Oh, way to resolve a conflict, Lang. "I'm not going to be sorry for it, either."

Tina choked on the air. I felt vaguely sick and decided to pretend that the concept of "fighting her own battles" applied here.

"But we shouldn't…do this here." He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.

"Do what?"

"Not here," he repeated. Her glare said that she wasn't moving. He dropped his voice, but it didn't matter. Everyone knew what came next. "I don't think this is working."

She stared at him, disbelieving.

"I can't be your boyfriend anymore."


The bomb had dropped, and the aftermath found three of us–Tina, Dahlia, and me–out by Dahlia's car.

"–can't believe you just fucking stood there while he did that to me!" She exclaimed at me, on the verge of hysteria. Her mascara was beginning to drain and slide down her face. "How could he do that to me?"

"We're gonna get back at him, Tina. Y'know that," I assured her while Dahlia nodded. I had no idea what getting back at him would include, but I would figure it out later, when I wasn't close to seeing double.

"You just stood there!" She cried. "How could you–"

"What was I s'posed to do?"

But I knew the answer. It was the reason why I was the queen. It was what I had been unable to do lately. I was the one who masterminded the dirty work, the blackmail, the intimidation, the exclusion. And I couldn't do it anymore. Something had crossed over inside of me starting last fall, and it hadn't stopped since. I couldn't go back, but I didn't know how to go forward either.

"I'm sorry."

Tina climbed into the passenger's seat as Dahlia turned her key in the ignition. I had known they were leaving; I just expected that I would be going with them. Instead, I watched their shocked expressions as I turned around and went back up the wide steps. Tina's tear-splashed face was full of her poisonous anger, assuring me that nothing good would come of this.


The party had spilled into the huge backyard, and some of the bolder kids were dancing in the empty swimming pool; others lounged on the deck, their faces shiny, eyes lidded with that late-night stupor that always seemed to get us. The living room floor was littered with bright red and blue plastic cups. Some kids were still inside, talking and dancing, but most were outside. The aftermath of the party was beginning to show, but it was nowhere close to being over.

I hadn't seen Emma since catching a glimpse of her in the basement, so it was likely she didn't know what had happened-and that our only ride was gone. I pulled out my phone to text her but gave up when my fingers kept hitting the wrong buttons. Sending her something along the lines of "tima bnd jamg brnke tp" didn't seem like the best idea.

She wasn't in the yard and she wasn't in the house–not the downstairs, anyway. But my cynical suspicion said she was in the company of the football player she had been dancing with earlier, and that they were somewhere upstairs. I concluded that she could get a ride from him later, if she even decided to leave. Officially, we were all sleeping over at Dahlia's, but crashing at Lang's was also an option.

"Hey, Chelsea," a girl from my homeroom yawned at me. Her boyfriend, who was attached to her waist, waved before they both headed upstairs. I looked up the spiraling staircase with trepidation. There was loud music playing up there, too–the least subtle form of privacy.

I stepped back and went to the kitchen, where a bottle with a foreign label sat on the table. It was half-empty (at least to the pessimists, and I counted myself among them tonight). Rifling through Lang's parent's cabinets led to the discovery of shot glasses; the first one shattered on the floor when I tried to move it to the table.

"Hey!" Lang poked his head in the room. "Those are expen...sive." His eyes widened ever so slightly when he saw it was me. "What're you doing in here?" He said warily. "Getting even?"

"What?" I looked from him to the mess of glass on the floor. "This? No...it was an accident." There was one large piece by my foot, consisting of most of the bottom and part of the side. I kicked it and the smaller pieces towards the counter, out of stepping range. "Sorry."

"S'okay," he said, coming over to the cabinet and pulling out two unbroken glasses. He poured a generous amount of the bottle into each glass and handed one over to me.

"One, two…" We both downed our glasses. He gasped aloud and I felt water spring forth from my eyes. I coughed.

"Good, huh?" He grinned for a brief minute before the events of the night caught up with him. "I guess we won't be talking much anymore, huh?" His tone was casual, almost callous, but I knew him. He needed the loved ones. He cared about his reputation almost as much as I did…which also meant that he had felt strongly about not wanting to be with Tina.

"Can we not talk about that tonight?" I coughed again and blinked, the remnants still burning in my throat. Lightheadedness was just around the corner.

"Fine by me," he said. Out by the pool, someone screamed; we looked up in alarm until the noise turned into loud, high-pitched laughter. I leaned against the counter.

"Have you seen Penn?" I looked into my empty glass.

"No. No, actually, I haven't," Lang mused. "I was trying to get him to talk to this hot girl from English, but he disappeared. Stupid guy cockblocked himself."

"Oh."

Lang raised an eyebrow. "You okay?" I nodded. "Then I'm gonna go back outside. Life of the party and all that good shit." He patted me on the shoulder and left.


By then, half the people in the house were shells of their early-night selves, lying about on couches, chairs, and soft surfaces like the world had tilted off of its axis. Passed-out drunk and stoned was the new black. A song from a few years ago echoed through the house, and I hummed along, the words just beyond the scope of my memory.

(You sit there in your heartache,
waitin' on some beautiful boy to,
to save you from your old ways.)

Penn wasn't in the house. I scanned the people in the backyard but found no familiar dark curly hair and broad shoulders. Back inside, and I resigned myself to going upstairs to find him. I nearly tripped on the first step, and, looking down, saw the problem. My heels, perfectly fine when I had put them on at Dahlia's, were now nearly impossible to walk in. Undoing the straps and placing my shoes by one of the closets, I found that I could almost walk in a straight line–a tremendous achievement. Gold star, Chelsea.

The carpet on the stairs was soft and cool under my bare feet, and I reached the second floor landing, the very air around me stilled. There was the odd voice or sound, but other than that it was quiet. Someone had turned the upstairs music down. The long hall went to the left and I followed the curve, wanting to check the rooms for any sign of him but afraid of what I might find.

(He doesn't look a thing like Jesus,
but he talks like a gentlemen,
like you imagined when you were young.)

The door to my right opened suddenly, spilling light into the hallway. Inside was a wall of tile and a burnished metal sink and...

"Chels? What're you doing up here?"

"…wanted…to talk to you," I got out. My eyes were drawn to the deep blue of his shirt, his clean-shaven jawline…everywhere.

"Well, here I am." He shrugged, but his was smiling, a crooked little thing that vanished as he kept looking at me. "Are you okay?"

"'M fine. Just…I was looking for you, thought you were–" I gestured vaguely to the rooms around us. "But you're not, so that's…I wanted y–I wanted to talk to you," I repeated.

(Can we climb this mountain? I don't know,
Higher now than ever before;
I know we can make it if we take it slow.)

Penn nodded, a slow hesitant motion that was not the response I wanted. I didn't know what response I wanted. But my hand found his–were my palms sweaty, or were his?–and I pulled him into a (luckily) empty room. The furniture said it was a spare room, a hodgepodge of a small office and an even smaller bedroom.

"What's wrong?" Then: "Are you actually drunk?"

"Just…listen." I put my hands on his shoulders to steady the world, barely able to see his face in the half-clouded moonlight. He didn't move away. "I screwed up…no, that's not right, because I'm still screwing up, and Tina hates me, and Dahlia hates me, and I'm going to have to make Lang hate me, and…I don't think I can do this anymore." I paused. "And that scares the shit out of me, because I don't know what else there is."

"You know you're not this," he said, making me think of our conversations in the restaurant and the car. The car. I leaned in a little closer.

"I wanted this; I wanted everything," I went on. "I wanted this, and now it's all gone to hell and I know that I just…" Want you.

He swallowed hard, and it occurred to me that maybe I wasn't the only one feeling…strange. "Come on. I'll drive you home. Or back to Dahlia's or to Meredith's or whatever."

"No."

We were too close now, and I could smell the mint gum on his breath as well as I could smell his cologne. One of my arms found its way to the back of his shirt. We were too far away, still.

(We're burning down the highway skyline
on the back of a hurricane that started turning
when you were young, when you were young.)

Looking back on that night, my biggest regret is not remembering the exact moment when my lips touched his. But I remember the heat of his hands, his lovely hands on the cotton of my shirt, pulling it up so that they rested on the bare back of my waist. I remember my own hands pleasantly tangled in his hair. I remember the way his lips curved up into a fleeting smile while still on mine. It was a rush of feeling headier that any drink, more fulfilling than anyone's admiration. I was kissing Penn Carver.

And I remember the brittle snap of disappointment when he pulled away.

As if he moved fast enough, the last minute of our lives would simply erase itself from memory. "You–we–you're drunk, Chelsea."

"I wanted to," I told him. I leaned in again, but he held me at arm's length.

"You're not thinking clearly. You wouldn't have done that," he said, and I didn't know who he was trying to convince. It sure as hell wasn't working on me.

"You still kissed me back," I pointed out. I wasn't sure what the argument was here, but I wanted to win it so we could pick up where we had left off. Damned hormones. Damned punch bowl.

He went quiet for a long moment. "You're shitfaced, Chels; you're not supposed to be this logical."

"You kissed me," I repeated, more to myself. I was getting tired.

"I shouldn't have. It was…taking advantage of you."

"…wanted you to," I told him, quiet, resigned. I proceeded to half-stumble, half-walk to the bed and sit on the edge. I stared at the crown molding on the opposite wall and willed my eyes not to water. Five years of friendship on the line, and for what? Because I couldn't control myself.

But it was only a minute before he came over to sit beside me, making the twin-size bed creak a little. He put an arm around my shoulder and squeezed gently, saying without words that there was still an "us". I leaned my head down onto his shoulder and we didn't say anything for a while. My eyelids were becoming leaden. His index finger traced absent circles on my shoulder, and I could feel his hand shaking. My heart was thumping, slow and heavy as the grandfather clock downstairs.

(They say the Devil's water, it ain's so sweet;
you don't have to drink right now,
but you can dip your feet every once in a little while.)

He sat up straighter. "Let's go to my house, okay? I'll sleep on the couch, and we can talk in the morning."

I must have mumbled my assent or nodded at some point, because soon I was in the warmth of the pretty blue sedan, riding shotgun. Down the driveway and away from the confusion we went. My shoes were lost somewhere in Lang's house and my social status was quite possibly in shambles, but at that moment it all seemed very small in comparison to the boy in the driver's seat and the expanse of inky, blossoming night.