Gabby frowns at me.
I laugh defensively, as if the harder I laugh, the harder I can push her pity off me and out the window. “He’s a great guy. I’m not saying he’s not, but, you know, if that’s how it gonna be with him, I don’t need that.”
I look out the window again and then immediately back at Gabby.
“I like Katherine, actually,” I say. “She seems great.”
“If I may,” Mark interjects. “I don’t know much about the history between the two of you, but just because he’s sleeping with someone else doesn’t necessarily mean . . .”
“I know,” I say. “But still. It makes it clear to me that he and I are best left in the past. I mean, we dated forever ago. It’s fine.”
“Do you want to change the subject?” Gabby asks me.
“Yes,” I say. “Please.”
“Well, should we go to breakfast tomorrow while Mark goes into work?”
“Yeah,” I say, turning away from her and looking out the window. “Let’s talk about food.”
“Where should I take her?” Gabby asks Mark, and the two of them start rattling off names of restaurants I’ve never heard of.
Mark asks me if I like sweet or savory breakfasts.
“You mean, do I like pancakes or eggs?”
“Yeah,” he says.
“She likes cinnamon rolls,” Gabby answers at the exact same time I say, “I like places with cinnamon rolls.”
When I was a kid, my dad used to take me to this doughnut shop called Primo’s Donuts. They had big, warm cinnamon rolls. We’d go get one every Sunday morning. As I got older, we got busier. Eventually, a lot of my parents’ time was spent shuttling Sarah to and from various rehearsals and recitals, so it became harder to find time to go. But when we did, I always ordered a cinnamon roll. I just love them so much.
When I moved in with Gabby’s family, Tina used to buy the cans of raw cinnamon rolls and bake them for me on the weekends. The bottoms were always burned, and she had a light hand with the prepackaged icing, but I didn’t care. Even a bad cinnamon roll is still a good cinnamon roll.
“With a lot of icing,” I tell Mark. “I don’t care if it’s a day’s worth of calories. Gabby, if you’re up for it, I can try to find Primo’s, and we can go there tomorrow.”
“Done,” she says. “OK, we’re almost at the museum. Up on the right here. You can sort of see the lights now, just right there.”
I look forward, past her head, and I think I see what she’s talking about. We breeze through the green light, hitting a red in front of LACMA, and now I see it perfectly.
Streetlight after streetlight, rows of them, tightly lined up and lit. These are not the streetlights that you see today, the kind that shoot toward the sky and then curve over above the street. These are vintage. They look as if Gene Kelly might have swung on them while singing in the rain.
I look at the installation, staring with purpose out the window. I suppose there is something very simple and beautiful about it. City lights against a backdrop of a pitch-black night does have a sense of magic to it. And maybe there’s a metaphor here, something about brightness in the middle of . . . Oh, hell. I’m lying. The truth is, I don’t get it.
“Actually,” Gabby says, “why don’t we get out? Is that cool, Mark? Can we park and take a quick picture by the lights? Hannah’s first real night back in L.A.?”
Mark nods, and when the light turns green, he pulls up to the curb. We get out of the car and head to the center of the lights.
We take turns taking pictures of each other, round robin–style. Gabby and I stand between two rows of lights, and Mark takes pictures of us with our arms around each other. We wear oversized grins. We kiss each other on the cheek. We stand on either side of a lamppost and mug for the camera. And then I offer to take a picture of Mark and Gabby together.
I switch places with Mark, getting out my own phone to take the photo. Gabby and Mark tuck themselves together, holding each other tight, posing underneath the lamps. I back up just a little, trying to frame the picture as I want.
“Hold on,” I say. “I want to get all of it.” I can’t get far enough away from them to get the top of the lights in the shot, so I walk to the edge of the sidewalk. It’s still not far enough away, so I push the walk button and wait for a signal so I can stand on the street.
“Just one sec!” I call out to them.
“This better be good!” Gabby yells.
The light turns red. The orange hand changes to a white-lit pedestrian, and I step down into the crosswalk.
I turn around. I frame my shot: Mark and Gabby in the middle of a sea of lights. I hit the shutter. I check the photo. I start to take another for good measure.
By the time I hear the screeching of tires, it’s too late to run.
I am thrown across the street. The world spins. And then everything is shockingly still.
I look at the lights. I look at Gabby and Mark. The two of them rush toward me, mouths agape, arms outstretched. I think they are screaming, but I cannot hear them.
I don’t feel anything. Can’t feel anything.
I think they are calling to me. I see Gabby reach for me. I see Mark dial his phone.
I smell metal.
I’m bleeding. I don’t know where.
My head feels heavy. My chest feels weighed down, as if the entire world is resting on it.
Gabby is very scared.
“I’m all right,” I tell her. “Don’t worry. I feel fine.”
She just looks at me.
“Everything is going to be OK,” I tell her. “Do you believe me?”
And then her face blurs, and the world mutes, and the lights go out.
So I decide to stay out with Ethan.
I’m eager to spend time with a good man for a change.
I turn and say good-bye to Gabby and Mark. That very second, “Express Yourself” comes on in the bar, and I know I’ve made the right decision. I absolutely love this song. Sarah and I used to make our parents listen to it over and over in the car, singing at the top of our lungs. I’ve got to stay and dance to this.
“You don’t mind, right?” I say as I hug Gabby. “I just want to stay out a bit longer. See where the night takes me.”
“Oh, please, go for it!” she says as I hug Mark good-bye. I can see a sly smile on her face, visible only to me. I roll my eyes at her, but a small grin sneaks out at the last minute. Then Gabby and Mark head for the door.
“So,” Ethan says as he turns to me, “the night is ours for the taking.” The way he says it, with a little bit of scandal in his voice, makes me feel as if we’re teenagers again.
“Dance with me?” I say.
Ethan smiles and opens the door to the bar. He holds it for me to walk through. “Let’s do this,” he says.
We only get a minute or so before the song ends and another starts playing. This new one has a Spanish feel to it, a Latin beat. I feel my hips start to move without my permission. They sway for a moment, back and forth, just testing the waters. Soon I just let go and allow my body to move the way it wants to. Ethan slips his arm around the lowest part of my back. His leg just barely grazes the inside of mine. He moves back and forth and then pulls me quickly against him. He spins me. We forget about everyone else around us, and we stay like this, song after song, moving in tandem. Our faces stay close together but never touch. Every once in a while, I catch him looking at me, and I find myself blushing ever so slightly.
By the end of the night, when the dancing is over and the bar is thinning out, I look around and realize that everyone else in the group has gone home.
Ethan grabs my hand and leads me outside. As our feet hit the sidewalk, away from the din of the bar, I feel the effects of a night spent in a small place with loud music. The outside world feels muted compared with the bar. My eyes feel a bit dry. The balls of my feet are killing me.
Ethan’s leading me down the street as the rest of the bar funnels out.
“Where’s your car?” I ask him.
“I walked. I live only a few blocks from here. This way,” he says. “I have an idea.”