Part One

The end of your cigarette glows as we walk farther from your girlfriend. Each of your strides covers two cement squares, but I'm careful to keep up.

"I can't smoke more than one. She'll smell it," you say.

Four nights ago, you walked ahead of me, arm around her waist. Still, your backward glances kept in time with an occasional stomp of my heel. I feel warm, probably from the alcohol, and let out a howl.

"I don't think I'm ready for that."

"Live a little."

"I am."

When your elbow brushes my shoulder, I think about not stepping away.

"You'll make a great cop. You're different from other girls," you say.

"Angrier?"

You laugh. "Stronger."

"I was caught stealing, remember? I don't know if I can be a cop."

"That was five years ago."

"I won't be able to wear things like this."

My outfits tend to shout in ways I wish I could. My shirt glitters, the sequins flash like hand of the crosswalk that stops us. You laugh again.

We spot line of people outside the bar, but only wait three minutes before entering. Immediately, six faces turn our way. I stand on the tip of my toes and whisper, "Is it just me, or is everyone staring at us?"

"We're like superheroes or something." I imagine us in capes and masks, and hum music from a kid's show that plays when two characters save the world together. Someone recognizes you.

The way she asks, "Is this your girlfriend?" reminds me of the promise I made to keep overly intoxicated girls from you, but I turn and walk to the bartender, order two drinks, and begin sipping one.

A minute or two later, your shadow darkens my drink and I quickly turn around before you can startle me, a habit you picked up a month ago after discovering my girlish reaction. I look up as you gaze down. "She thought you were my girlfriend."

Your smile looks goofy and I wonder if this is how you looked after your first kiss. I point to my empty glass. "You better keep up with me."

"Do you know that you're the only person I drink with?"

You found out earlier this morning that you didn't get the job and called me because Megan wanted to go to bed early.

"I'm sorry for being such a terrible influence."

We find a table outside and I pull out my half-empty carton of cigarettes. You hold your hand out.

"You said just one."

"Don't worry."

The wind blows hair in my eyes. For a second, I think I see your hand close to my face, but when I brush the hair aside, it's on the table, thumping to a song I know.

"My dad loved John Denver," I say.

"He had good taste."

"This is my favorite."

You belt out the lyrics and someone tells you to shut up, but you only look at me when you say, "I'm sorry."

At his funeral, that phrase had been spit out by a hundred people stacked together. I think of your card shuffler, the one we used in our poker game last week. You called me "smarter" when she lost and left the game to study. We continued on without her, and the shuffler broke, so you showed off your own techniques, which I preferred since you lost control of half the deck, producing an eruption of cards and my own laughter. You agreed to keep playing until I won a hand. During my drive home at three in the morning, I blasted the stereo so it could yell like I wanted to.

"I didn't want to win."

"What?"

"We should play poker tomorrow."

"I'll just beat you again."

You wink at me in a way that always makes your girlfriend holler and my head turn so you can't see my smile.

You reach for your glass. "I still haven't talked to my dad. I can't believe it's been seven years."

I uncross my legs so they reach closer to yours.