remember. It meant something different in those days. I could have counted on one hand the number of times I’d been kissed; I don’t know that I’d ever sat in a dark room alone with a boy before.
“Natürlich.” My fingers glanced off his knuckles again, and I tried to hold the cigarette steady between my fingers as the lighter clicked. “Wouldn’t have figured you for a smoker.”
“Sometimes,” I managed, coughing.
“Special occasions, I presume.” He lit another cigarette.
“The smell makes me ill.” I managed to breathe the smoke out smoothly this time, and it clouded the little circle of light around his face. “I’ve never understood the draw, though of course some people can’t get enough of it. My mother, for instance.”
“It’s the addiction that does it.” Something clicked against his glass like a spoon. “The way it is with most things, isn’t it. Makes you sick as a dog if you try to stop.”
“Which is why I never wanted to start.”
“Smart girl.” In the dark, everything registered so precisely. I knew he’d shifted closer: I felt the warmth of his body raise the temperature of my skin, the length of his arm close enough to raise the hairs on my arms. “But that’s the thing about you, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “There are smart girls and then there are pretty girls.”
“So you’ve picked your side and you’re sticking to it.” Bertrand Lowell shifted his weight again. The table creaked. “Though people say you look like her, don’t they?”
“Some people, sure.”
“Can’t say I see it. No offense.”
“None taken.” It didn’t matter that I agreed with him: It stung to hear the words. I pictured her sitting exactly where I sat, her shoulders straight where mine slouched, the fine silk of her dress gleaming in the dark. I imagined the picture in his head of us side by side, the shadow I drew next to her. “I don’t see it either.”
He clapped his hands. “Bravo. Most people have the damnedest time recognizing their—shall we say—limitations. Your friend there, for instance, seems dead set on having her name in lights. Broke my heart, the way she went on—”
“Do we have to keep talking about her?” I was speaking too loudly.
“I was merely going to point out that some people harbor delusions of grandeur.” Now he was close enough that I could smell the sweat and soap beneath the liquor on him. “Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the truth.”
I put my drink in the hand with the cigarette and dropped my other hand down so I could wipe my palm against my skirt. “It just so happens I know all about the truth. Especially with regards to you.”
“That doesn’t sound nice.”
“You’re the one who’s not nice.”
“Pity,” he said. “A good girl, after all.”
It had been quiet for a bit, but now in the distance there was the sound of someone singing. “By which I suppose you mean having morals is something you look down on. Because you’re different from all of us.” I cleared my throat. “Nearly all.”
“Tut-tut.” He clicked his tongue. “I’ve always found jealousy terribly unattractive. The green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on , and so forth.”
“I’m familiar with Othello,” I said coldly. “And I’m not jealous. I’m merely pointing out a fact. You think being different means being better.”
“And how exactly am I different?”
“That’s just it,” I rushed on, triumphant. “You aren’t. You’re exactly like the rest of them. Wealthy and entitled, accustomed to sailing through life as though the world owes you your happiness. But you happen to be smart, too—”
“I’m smart now, am I?”
“—and you think being smart gives you license to be cruel. You’ve hurt people deliberately, and you think being you , being Bertrand Lowell, excuses that.”
There was a sigh, the soft noise of breath blowing out between Bertrand Lowell’s lips. “If you