"How was New York?" I asked Walter as he climbed into my car. I had arrived as his train was pulling into the station.
He smiled brightly. "Awesome. Meghan ditched me!"
Oh man. My little brother got to be alone in New York and I didn't? Totally not fair. I should tell Mom. "What'd you do on your own?"
Walter shrugged as I followed the line of cars trying to leave the parking lot. "Went over to Maccheroni."
"What's that?" I glanced at him while the person in front of me stopped to pick up a passenger. The lot was wide enough for two lanes of cars, neither of which was moving at the moment.
"Maccheroni? It's this awesome little Italian Restaurant. All you can eat pasta buffet. There were tons of pastas, tons of sauces. And meatballs."
"I hate you. When Mom said I should pick you up, I stopped for a fast food burger." I pointed to the crumpled bag by his feet and the soda in my console.
"Melinda didn't feed you again?"
I shook my head as I finally got onto the main road. "Nah. Sarah picked her up for a sleepover."
"So how was tubing?"
"It was a lot of fun. Kinda like riding roller coasters."
"You spend the whole day there?"
I shook my head. "No, we went back to her place for a couple of hours."
Walter smirked. "You take a nap again?"
I punched his shoulder hard enough to hurt my hand. Man, the guy was made of brick. "I should never have told you about that."
"So, what did you do? I'm assuming you didn't make out all afternoon."
I told him about gluing the puzzle and playing cards. Inspired, I pulled into a pharmacy on the corner.
Walter sent me a curious look as I got out of the car. "You okay?"
"Yeah. I just wanna grab something."
Walter shrugged and pulled out his phone. I ran in and asked the cashier where to find playing cards. Even with directions, it took me a few minutes. I bought a two-pack.
I waited until we were home before asking Walter if he wanted to learn a new game. His eyes lit up.
We went to the game room, using Dad's felt table. Mom and Dad had gone out for dinner, so it was just us brother bonding time.
I taught Walter double solitaire, then we decided to look up other card games we could play. We had a lot of fun.
I knew Melinda was spending the day with her roommate Saturday, but she seemed to be avoiding my texts and video requests. I asked Walter if he had heard from her. He had, so her phone must not be dead. Why was she avoiding me?
By Sunday, I began to worry she might be breaking up with me. My family was all talking when I came down to breakfast, but they grew quiet as I entered the room. Did they know something I didn't?
I sought her out Sunday afternoon. Walter told me she was on campus. Actually, he texted me that they had been together and he lost her. He was wondering if I had seen her. I had him text her roommate. A little while later he said he thought she was dancing.
I went to the one place I could think of: the Arts Center. A bored-looking guard was playing on his phone.
"Hi," I said a lot more energetically than I felt. "I'm looking for my friend. I know she wanted to go dancing. Is anyone in any of the practice rooms?"
"You can use the black box. But you need to sign in." I handed him my card. I didn't see the point in trying to explain I wasn't the one interested in dancing. If Melinda wasn't there, I could just leave.
"You will need to tell the last dancer her time is up. If she gives you any problems, come see me."
I had a pretty good idea whom he meant. I walked downstairs to the black box, a room with its walls, floor, and ceiling all painted black. I could hear a metallic rhythm moving at a furious pace in time with some music. The song ended as I turned the corner into the corridor. When I reached the door a new one began.
I had seen Melinda dance only once before in her Nutcracker performance. What I watched now was incredible. She moved fluidly across the room, perfectly in time with the music. It was as if it were a part of her. She tapped and turned and leapt and swayed with perfect rhythm, even as the tempo of the song fluctuated.
When the music ended, she stopped and faced the mirror. Only then did I realize her eyes had been closed. She opened them and glanced at me in the mirror.
She was sweaty and out of breath and I had never been more attracted to her. At that moment, all I wanted was to be near her and I knew if I tried to kiss her, I might not have enough self control to just kiss.
Her eyes met mine in the mirror. I kept my face as blank as possible to hide my emotions.
"Hey," she panted. Instead of coming to me, she went to the corner where her bag was laying. She pressed a button on her phone and the music stopped blaring.
I had trouble finding the words to express myself, a circumstance that did not happen very often. "That was...I saw you dance at your show, but what I just saw? You're incredible. How long have you been practicing that?"
"That routine you just did."
Melinda shrugged. "I was just dancing. I have no idea what I just did. I wasn't paying attention. I was just thinking."
I entered the room as Melinda reached for a water bottle. I moved towards her cautiously, wondering why she had been avoiding me. "That was just... I knew you could dance, but I had no idea you were that good."
"Thanks," Melinda gulped down some water. She sat on the floor near her bag and gestured for me to join her as she packed away her belongings.
I sat just out of arms reach. "I was looking for you. I've been texting you."
"How'd you find me?"
I couldn't tell if she was angry that I had found her or just annoyed with my interrupting her dance time. I shrugged, my hands fidgeting nervously in my lap. I avoided her eyes as I explained my sleuthing.
Before she could respond, I blurted out, "Are you breaking up with me?"
The look Melinda gave me was pure bafflement. That was a good sign, right?
"What?" She sounded surprised. "Why would you think that?"
"You've been avoiding me."
"I'm in this hole. No cell service." She waved her phone around for emphasis.
"I tried to talk to you yesterday. You kept denying my chat requests."
Melinda sighed. "It's stupid. I came down here to work it all out and I realize it's stupid."
I wanted to touch her, fix the little hair by her cheek that had come out of its tie. But, I was scared to get too close to her. I wasn't sure I had enough self control. I put my hand down quickly.
"Tell me about it."
"The other night, we were watching a movie at Sarah's house and she asked me if I was okay watching a movie where you were kissing another girl. Honestly, if she didn't say anything, I probably would have been fine, but she said it and it got stuck in my head."
I couldn't help but smile. "You were jealous." That was adorable.
"Yes, I was. But more than that, I was angry with myself for being jealous. And, it wasn't like the thing with Poppy. Because, that was me thinking you were cheating on me. This was me thinking about you kissing other girls when you make movies. Not the ones you've already kissed, but the next one. On the next movie. Or the one after that."
I inched a little closer in spite of myself as Melinda continued. "And, I didn't know who to talk to about this. I wanted to talk to you, because I knew you'd understand, but I didn't know how to. I couldn't tell Sarah because she can't understand. I didn't want to burden Walter with this, because I thought it would weird him out, but he made me tell him. Then, he passed me off to Meghan."
"But, you weren't avoiding me." There was just a hint of bitterness and anger I couldn't quite keep out of my voice.
"Oh, no. I was totally avoiding you. Anyway, talking to Meghan helped a little, but then she told your dad."
"Oh, great. This isn't embarrassing. My entire family knows I'm having girlfriend trouble. No wonder everyone was so quiet at breakfast."
"I talked to your dad a little while ago. Because, he knows exactly how I'm feeling."
I considered a moment. Dad had to watch Mom kiss other guys all the time. He probably was the perfect person to give Melinda advice. "I hadn't thought of that. Did it help?"
"Some. I needed to work things out in my head a little, which is why I came here."
"And what did you decide?"
"I'm working on worrying less about Poppy. As for your movies? I don't think I can promise I won't get jealous if I see you kissing other actresses. But, I know what we have together is strong enough to survive that."
"So, you're not breaking up with me?" I asked slowly.
Melinda shook her head. "Is that why you won't come near me?"
I smiled at her. I was glad she had noticed, but I was more heartened by the sadness in her voice. She missed me being close to her. Unfortunately, that just made me want her even more. "No, Daphne. I won't come near you because of your leotard."
Melinda looked down. "What's wrong with my leotard? I'm wearing the one that doesn't show all the sweaty spots."
How absolutely adorable! "But it shows everything else. And I am very attracted to you at the moment. I'm not sure I have enough self-control to kiss you right now."
Melinda laughed. "Should I be flattered or concerned?"
"That's entirely up to you." I stood up, reaching down to help her to her feet. "Would you like to grab dinner before the dining hall closes?"
"Yeah, I'd like that." She took my hand and I yanked her as close as I could. I kissed her more intensely than I ever had before. I let my hands move slowly along her back before resting them on her head to pull her into an even deeper kiss.
She broke away and for a split second I thought she might have been upset with me. But she merely nestled her head against my chest and I held her as tightly as I dared. I was afraid of crushing her. I wondered if she could hear my heart racing.
We didn't stay like that long. My stomach grumbled. Giggling, she threw jeans and a shirt over her leotard and we went in search of food.
Along the way, she reminded me of the arrangement we had made. We had agreed to eat with our own friends at dinner. I explained how two of my friends were eating alone together and I wanted to join her, as long as I could invite one of my roommates. He had a crush on one of Melinda's friends.
Tonight's main entree was turkey with gravy and mashed potatoes. There was even some stuffing. Melinda went off for pasta, but I thought turkey sounded fantastic. We caught up with each other after getting our drinks and I followed her to her usual spot.
There were over a dozen people squeezed around the table. We inserted ourselves in a space between Walter and another girl. She greeted Melinda enthusiastically and asked if Melinda had just returned to campus.
Melinda explained where she had been and they discussed their breaks. When Melinda admitted she had fun, I heard a voice behind me say, "That's because you spent half of it with this guy."
My roommate, Frank, smiled as he squeezed himself between the girl he liked and another girl who gave him a puzzled look.
"Um, who are you?" the puzzled girl asked with a slight accent.
Everyone laughed and Frank introduced himself. The conversation turned to everyone's grades and how their schedules had changed this term. One of them was even on academic probation.
Someone asked what to study that evening and Frank mentioned he was going to spend study hours in the lab.
I sighed. "Frank, you need to stop obsessing."
"I'm not obsessing. I've almost figured it out."
"Wait," interrupted one of Melinda's friends. I couldn't remember his name. "I thought your name was Pete."
I shrugged. "It's a nickname. Just go with it." I turned back to Frank. "Seriously, man. Your grades are going to start suffering."
I heard someone behind me talking to Melinda and my brother. It was the girl Walter had been helping study right before finals. I pretended to listen to Frank's argument while I heard my brother arrange another study date. When she left, I whispered quietly so only Melinda and Walter could hear.
"She's still cute."
"Shut up," Walter said under his breath, turning red as he took a long drink of his milk.
I turned to the kid on academic probation and told him about a friend of mine who had made the Dean's list this term when she was on academic probation last year.
Around us, people were voicing their concerns for the upcoming semester. Others were sharing some of their antics from the term break. Some were holding whispered conversations.
Without realizing it, I had draped my arm around Melinda's chair and was playing absently with her hair. She nuzzled closer to me as she talked with the girl beside her about their wardrobes. Everything felt peaceful and right with the world. And, at that moment, I was truly thankful to have such a wonderful school family.