Maybe there were enough dramas going on that no one would notice mine. Unlike the last party I’d gone to. Don’t think about that. Just find Hoop and get out of here. I peered out the window to the corner of the driveway where he’d parked his truck and my heart sank. No truck.
“C’moooon, man . . . just drive me,” said a voice from the kitchen. “It’s not even outta your way.”
“Jimbo. We’ve been through this.” The voice in response sounded tired. “I’ve got your back. And your car keys—till morning.”
Walking into the fluorescently lit kitchen, I instantly whipped my hand in front of my eyes. Seated at stools at the counter were Jimmy Pieretti and Cass. Jimmy had a big bowl of unshelled peanuts in front of him and he was waving one at Cass for emphasis.
“I need to do something, Sundance. I need to impress this girl.”
“Trust me. Serenading her from her yard at three in the morning is not what you’re looking for. Hi, Gwen.”
In the brightness of the room—and the muddiness of my head—Cass was looking like the poster boy for WASPiness.
White T-shirt, faded khakis, tousled blond hair. All he needed was a golden retriever at his knee and a grandfather handing him an heirloom watch to complete the picture.
Jimmy, by contrast, looked like I felt—a bit grubby and rough around the edges. “Gwen! Hi, Gwen! Let’s ask Gwen about this! She can solve my romantic issues.”
Cass’s eyes met mine for a second. Though his were neutral, I could translate the thought there loud and clear: Yeah, ’cause Gwen here is so wise with hers.
But how could he possibly know? He was outside when Spence led me down the hallway to his bedroom, from the poufy parlor sofa to the bunk bed.
But he did. I could see it in his eyes, the tension of his knuckles clenched white around the countertop.
“Alexis Kincaid, Gwen—man, it’s like she doesn’t even see me. I need to get her attention. Because we are soul mates, Gwen Castle, and this is a thing she should get. So I’m thinking I sing to her. Outside her window. A ballad or something.
’Cause girls get off on that, right? That and the thing where you run through the airport to stop them before they get on the plane, but neither of us are going anywhere, so that won’t work. So. Singing. What do you think, Gwen?”
“I think I’m not driving you to Alexis’s house so her dad can call the police on you again.” Cass slid off his stool and poured two glasses of water, clinking ice into them. “Take these.” He shot them across the marble countertop, one glass landing per-fectly centered in front of me, the next Jimmy.
My brain was thick with wool and the sharp beginning coils of self-disgust. I did not want my pieces picked up by Cass.
I slid into a stool next to Jimmy, put my face in my hands.
“Come on, Gwen. Tell Sundance here to drive me to Alexis’s.
This party’s over for me. Actually, it never began because my dream girl never showed. Please, Gwen.”
I pulled my hands away from my cheeks, found blotchy smudges of mascara on the tips of my fingers. Instead of plead-ing for Jimmy, I said, “Can you take me home, Cass?”
His lips compressed and he flicked his gaze up to the ceil-ing, as if he could see Spence’s room from here. But all he said was: “Sure. We can save Jim here from himself on the way.”
Boys never need any time to get going. It’s Mom who has to hunt for her purse and then make sure she has her car keys and her freezer pack stocked with diet soda. It’s Vivie who has to run back for one last swipe of lip gloss, redo her hair, mirror check. Cass just pulled car keys out of his pocket, jingling them in his palm, grabbed his parka, Jimmy took a slug of water, and we were good to go.
I trailed after them to Cass’s car, which turned out to be a red BMW. Ancient, though—that boxy square shape of old cars—and the paint had lost its sheen and faded to Campbell’s tomato soup orange-red. Jimmy, groaning, forced himself into the backseat, even though I argued with him.
“No. No. Gwen Castle. I’m a gentleman. Please tell Alexis Kincaid the next time you see her. C’mon Cass, just one little drive by? What’s the harm in that?”
“It’s called stalking.” The back of Cass’s hand brushed by my bare calf as he shifted the car into reverse. And, God help me, I felt a tingle. A freaking shiver even though I was even now in the process of the walk—or drive—of shame. My second in the last month. After two separate guys. What in the name of God was wrong with me?
“It’s called love,” Jimmy argued.
“No way, Jimbo. He’s like a dog with a bone with this when he’s had a few,” Cass said to me, under his breath. “Totally nor-mal under most circumstances.”
Cass’s profile faced forward, not the slightest bit bent in my direction, straight nose, strong chin, his hair silver-frosted by the moonlight and flashing bright in the reflection of the head-lights. I curled my legs under myself, shifted uncomfortably on the seat, stared at the strip of duct tape on his coat, wondered why he didn’t just buy a new coat. Mom, Nic, Dad, Grandpa, me . . . we had to push things beyond their life spans, rejigger them to get as much wear as possible. But not the Hill guys.
They could just use and toss, replace. Right? We got to Main Street, circled the roundabout, headed down the most historic part of town, past all the houses, orderly and tucked in upright little rows and clean-looking. All those houses that looked like they were full of careful tidy people who always made good choices. That coil of shame sharpened, tunneled a little deeper into my chest.
Cass pulled into a circular driveway and Jimmy climbed out, mumbling, “I’m already regretting everything I did and most of what I said tonight. Do you maybe have amnesia sometimes, Gwen? Could you have amnesia about this? If I ask nicely?”
“I will if you will, Jim,” I said. In the light of the open door I saw Cass flash me a quick glance, frowning, but Jimmy didn’t look back, wedging himself out of the car.
The door crashed behind him and suddenly the air in the car seemed to evaporate, suffocated out the window. Gone. Cass felt too close, the whole space too crowded, like I couldn’t move my arm without nudging against his, or shift my leg without it sweeping past his, or have a thought without it being about him. But his profile was remote and distant, eyes on the road, hands set on the steering wheel, responsibly at ten and two.