walked in, I felt the urge to leave. To click my heels together three times and magically
transport myself home. We’d been late — so late — and things had already slid past the point of controlled or predictable.
Brian’s house didn’t look white or open or airy at night, filled with people and music
and sweat. Colleen stood in the foyer and scanned the room. Cody was standing in the
hallway, very tall and very dark and very worth sneaking out of the house for. His
head was back against the wall, and Colleen walked straight for him.
She tossed a look over her shoulder, her eyebrows raised at me, before she reached
him. I nodded. I didn’t need a babysitter.
Brian’s voice echoed down the hallway, like the blender that day with his mom, churning
away above all the rest of the sound. I looked down the hall toward the kitchen and
saw him pass across the doorway a few times. He was doing some routine, some reenactment,
and everyone was laughing at him.
I spun around to find Dylan sprawled on the couch in the room beside the foyer. He
had a red plastic cup in his hands and his feet were propped on the table, littered
with discarded cups. Someone was unconscious on the couch across from him. And Dylan
was looking at me with these alcohol-dazed eyes.
“I broke up with Danielle,” he said.
“I know.” I looked back down the hall and bit my lower lip.
“Please don’t go down there.”
I wanted him to understand. Because I understood. “You didn’t dump her for me.”
“No,” I said, more sure of myself. “No. You would’ve done it before. A long time before
I was . . . with Brian.”
Dylan chugged whatever was left in his cup and tossed it onto the coffee table. “Come
on, Mallory. Brian isn’t with people. He’s not with you. You’re just today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe not.”
If he was trying to hurt me, to hurt me like I had hurt him, he was doing a damn good
job of it. Because inside, I had this inkling, this tiny feeling that he was right.
That that’s what had been holding me back, keeping me at a distance.
I looked at Dylan on the couch. He liked me and I liked him and, God, if he would
just say the right thing, I’d change my mind right then. But he was making it so hard.
He was being such an ass. And he wasn’t saying the right thing. Probably because he
didn’t mean the right thing. And Brian was in the kitchen, larger than life — like Colleen — pulling me along in orbit. I could just let go, and I’d be swept along.
Neither was the right reason. “I kissed you,” I said.
“I know. It’s just that . . . we were together a long time. I was confused, you know?”
“It’s not that complicated,” I said. I held my breath and thought, Tell me you like me, tell me you liked me, tell me it was a mistake, that you should’ve
picked me, that you want to take it all back.
“Today’s my birthday,” Dylan said. What did that mean? Like I owed him something? Like I shouldn’t be with his brother because it was
his birthday? Definitely not the right thing to say. I felt pathetic, sick, and I
realized there was a third option.
I backed down the hall, let myself out the front door, maneuvered around the partially
conscious bodies on the front steps, and left.
I folded my arms across my chest and kept my head down as I walked back toward the
dark alley. The air was thick with the possibility of a storm. The night, about to
Colleen picked up half a ring before the answering machine would have. I’d cashed
in all my singles to get change for the hall pay phone and called during the hour
between Colleen getting home from school and her mom getting back from work. She didn’t
sound out of breath, though. Not like she’d been racing to the phone. More like she’d
been sitting there next to it the entire time. Debating.
I imagined her staring at her nails.