Nope, not for me.
“Thanks for inviting us along to the party.”
“No problem.” I forced a smile for Hang, sitting beside me on a low section of the garden wall. “Glad you could come.”
Turned out Sabrina had a pool. The place was bikini city. Loud music filled the night air and people spilled out of the sprawling ranch-style house down the steps onto the wide back patio. Of course, there was also a keg and plenty of red Solo cups to go around. Stars twinkled overhead and the shadows of trees swayed in the wind.
“They’re together?” I asked.
“Hmm?” Hang turned away from the pool, checking out the dance-floor area where Carrie and Sophia were kissing while moving to the music. “Yeah. You didn’t know?”
Her gaze darkened. “I hope that’s not a problem.”
“No, of course not. That’s great that they’re happy,” I said. “I just wish someone would get together with me.”
“Right? Me too.”
We both grinned. Before coming to the party, all four of us had gone to dinner at Old Town Pizza. There’d been no shortage of things to talk about. But Hang and I had the most in common. She too had a thing for Harry Potter and read fiction books outside of school time. Plus, she was calm, easygoing. And no matter who approached me about John, she hadn’t mentioned him or the Drop Stop to me again. I appreciated that. Apart from avoiding that subject, whatever thought ran through her head came straight out of her mouth and I loved that. Why she put up with my moody ass I have no idea, but I hoped it got her some karma points.
Yet while Hang seemed like good people, I couldn’t bring myself to trust anyone fully. Not after Georgia. My stories and secrets stayed safe inside my head.
We stuck to the edges of the party, watching. So far I’d seen no sign of John or Anders. Not that I was obsessively looking or anything. Mostly I just sat there sweating, worrying about everything and trying not to let it show. Appearances mattered. I’d almost died; therefore, attending a cool kid’s party couldn’t possibly be much worse. And sure, this was better than hanging at home on my own. Maybe. I don’t know; I was trying to keep an open mind.
“Let’s take a look around, see who else is here,” suggested Hang. Without waiting for an answer, she grabbed my hand and tugged me to my feet. The crowd was thick. She said “hey” and “hi” to various people. I smiled and avoided eye contact. Nice to know the robbery hadn’t changed everything—my social skills were still crap. Someone yelled out “there’s Holden!” and others laughed, but I ignored it all.
“Want to get a drink?” I asked Hang, turning her back on the pool once more.
“Edie.” An arm was suddenly slung around my neck, the scent of booze and tobacco thick in the air. “Good to see you.”
“Anders! Hey.” It took me a moment to catch my breath, to get my heart rate back under control. Not Chris, not a crazed lunatic. Sort of. “How are you? This is my friend, Hang.”
“We’ve got History together, right?” he asked her.
“Yes,” said Hang. “You asked me to do your homework for you one time.”
Anders’s brow filled with lines. “Did you say yes?”
Hang just laughed.
“Anders, you look hot,” I said, trying again to remove his limbs from me.
“I know, right? Thanks, Edie.”
“As in temperature-wise, you idiot. Why don’t you take Hang for a swim?”
He turned back to my companion, doing some strange brow-waggling thing. “Shall we get wet?”
“What about you?” Hang asked me, ignoring his comment.
“I’m fine,” I said. “Go, swim. I know you want to.”
She squinted, gaze moving between me, Anders, and the pool again.
“Seriously, I’m not much for swimming. Plus I didn’t bring my suit.” Not that I would have necessarily felt comfortable enough to do that even if I had known about the pool. “I’m going to get a drink.”
“Edie, are you sure?” she asked.
“Ladies, please,” cried Anders. “Make a decision.”
“Okay.” Hang shrugged. “Let’s do it.”
With that, Anders ran for the pool, dive-bombing in fully dressed. Water sprayed up into the sky, everyone cracking up with laughter. Hang followed behind at a more sedate pace, giving me a slightly worried look.
“You’ll be fine,” I said, giving her two thumbs up. God, I hoped Anders didn’t accidentally drown her.
Cup of beer in hand, I sat off to one side of the pool, dangling my feet in the cool water. Nothing wrong with just watching. Especially since I didn’t know the bulk of the people. Carrie and Sophia had disappeared inside a while back. Hang and Anders were chatting with some people down in the shallow end. Eventually, he’d thrown out his waterlogged socks and sneakers to dry. The rest of his clothing, however, remained. He was a strange one, but obviously popular. Others had a tendency to hover nearby, waiting for their turn to bask in his attention. To be the target of one of his bad jokes or to congratulate him on some basketball win or something. I liked how he kept Hang by his side, made her laugh. Given she’d volunteered to drive tonight, I could tell there’d be no leaving anytime soon.
Which was fine.
This wasn’t so bad, being here. Sure, I might not be in the thick of things, but full marks to me for leaving the house and attempting a social life like a normal person. And I’d had a new book to read and everything. While no small animals had been harmed, sacrifices had definitely been made. As for staring at the night sky and not sleeping, why, I could indulge both of those hobbies right here. Awesome.
Mom had been ecstatic at the news of me going out with some new friends. It’d been the first time I’d seen her smile in days. I hated how a chunk of her happiness was dependent on me when I could barely keep my own head in check.
“’The hell you doing hiding in the shrubbery?” John ducked and weaved to get through the garden planted at the water’s edge.
“Oh, hi. Just getting back to nature. You know.”
“Sure.” He did not sound convinced.