After my night in the church, I spent the day wandering around Lucky Palms. I ignored all calls from Billy, mostly because I wasn’t sure I wanted to get back together. I ate breakfast like I previously did at the Star Lucky Cafe at the Lucky Simoleon Casino and Resort. Indiana, the waiter, who had been interested in me, invited me to join him in the arcade after his shift ended. I agreed, mostly out of boredom and desire not to be alone. I called Dad to tell him I was okay, but I kept the conversation short. I didn’t want to go home yet. I spent the morning at the library hiding out in the mysteries section before returning to the Lucky Simoleon for an afternoon of arcade games. We had fun and Indiana bought me some awesome feel-better comfort food for lunch. I wandered to Graffiti Park and did a little writing before ducking home to change. Dad was out with Marisol and I was grateful I didn’t have to see him. Then I did the inevitable. I went to apologize to Audrey.
Luckily, she was in a forgiving mood. I nearly cried when she gave me a hug. I told her I was sorry for being such a bitch and for taking advantage of her. She told me not to worry, that we all make mistakes, and that she wanted to still be my friend. She even asked if I wanted to hang out. We cooked dinner together and talked and laughed before Audrey had to go to work. She told me I could stay as long as I wanted, and I could even spend the night. It sounded nice.
I texted Dad to inform him of my whereabouts and then settled in on the couch with Cypher for a quiet evening alone. I channel surfed for awhile. Some inane children’s program with MOO the cow was on. Cypher squirmed in my arms. I didn’t blame him. It was silly. The news rambled on and on about mostly national and international events, but nothing caught my eye. An adventure program set in the jungle was also playing, but I had seen it before.
“Seriously, nothing on television, Cy,” I complained and the cat licked his chops. “You hungry?”
I went to the cupboard and pulled out a can of tuna flakes. Audrey had shown me how much to feed him before she left for work. I felt stupid hanging out in someone else’s home, mostly alone, save for Cypher, while Audrey did the responsible thing and show up on time for her shift. I sighed, leaning over the counter and resting my chin on my hands.
“What am I going to do, Cypher?” I bemoaned, mostly to myself.
The cat didn’t pay any attention to my grumblings, happily licking up the remnants of his dinner. Suddenly, I perked up, remembering I had been invited to a party. Before I could talk myself out of it, I was walking over to Ethan Tanner’s home.
Yet as I stood outside his door, suddenly I felt nervous. Why am I here? This is stupid. His dad practically fired me yesterday. Should’ve fired me yesterday. I can’t just show up. I turned to walk away, but then reconsidered. Ethan said his parents weren’t home tonight. Maybe it’ll be fine. Only for a little while. My conscience tugged at me a little. I should go home and make things right with Dad. No, not yet. I’m not ready. I turned to leave. You’re allowed to have fun, Kass. Just stay for a bit. My inner thoughts continued to argue as I pivoted and walked toward the door. I was about to knock, hearing music and chattering inside. It sounded like fun. But you’re an adult, Kass, and this is probably mostly teenagers. Well, you are a teenager, but an older one. High school wasn’t that long ago. Less than four months ago I was a senior. That’s not that long, I justified, but I didn’t want to give Ethan the wrong idea. I was pretty sure he had a crush on me. What was I thinking?
“Excuse me?” a dark-skinned teen, a few years my junior, rushed past me wearing a bright yellow skirt and purple and gold patterned blouse.
Her soft brown hair brushed her exposed shoulders as she half-smiled at me, nervously, and then reached for the door knob and barged inside.
We can do that!? I thought, stunned. I looked at her outfit and glanced at my own, internally kicking myself for not dressing up. It is a party after all.
I took a deep breath. Here goes nothing. I walked inside, glancing around. The girl who had just walked past me stood right inside the door, straightening her skirt, or rather, hiking her skirt up an extra inch. I smothered a laugh. Another red-haired girl in a blue sweater dress with purple flowers stood near the ping-pong table blocking the hallway to the living room. A bunch of teens stood in the living room carrying red party cups with age-appropriate punch, though possibly spiked. I didn’t really know anyone so I decided to avoid drinking. There was a jazzy indie beat floating from a stereo in the living room. I grooved momentarily by the door before deciding to try and find the birthday boy.
“Kass,” he grinned so widely I wondered if it hurt. “It’s great you came!”
“Yeah,” I shoved my hands in my pockets awkwardly . “Thanks for inviting me. Happy birthday, Ethan.”
“Thanks,” he continued grinning like a fool. “It’s really great you came.”
“Yeah, you said that,” I tried to sound enthusiastic.
“Like really really really great that you came,” he repeated.
I grimaced. Pick another adjective, Ethan!
“Uh…” I shrugged. “Sorry. I didn’t get you a present.”
“You coming is present enough,” Ethan bobbed his head up and down.
I sighed. Okay, let’s get off the awkward train. “So are these your friends from school?”
“Oh yeah,” he said, as if suddenly remembering something. He whistled loudly to my surprise and then said, “Hey everyone, this is Kass Fullbright. She’s my tutor.”
I got a few half-hearted “cools” from the party guests, one “nice to meet ya,” and a few typical teenage boy grins. Great! I’m up for auction! I resisted the urge to roll my eyes.
“I’ll be back. Making rounds. Help yourself to food, Kass,” Ethan said, patting my arm as he walked by.
I wandered into the dining room. I was immediately stopped by a shorter teenage guy with brown dreadlocks and glasses. He looked nerdy. Maybe we can talk literature, I had a passing wishful thought, then I mentally kicked myself. What are you thinking, Kass? His tee shirt and boots said otherwise, with a motorcycle decal and the words “Ride Glory!” Huh? It seemed a little paradoxical, but perhaps I was being judgmental.
“Hi,” I said casually.
“Hello,” he said in a manner way too friendly for a stranger.
He reached for my hand. I politely accepted. After a second or two of shaking, I expected him to let go. He didn’t.
“I’m Teddy,” he said.
“Uh… Kass…” I tried to pull my hand back.
“Yeah, I know,” he grinned.
“Do you go to school with Ethan?” I asked, trying to make polite conversation.
A dark-haired girl in a pale pink shirt, jeans, and sheepskin boots walked up next to me without saying a word. I glanced at her and offered another “hi.” She smiled. I could’ve sworn she was the twin of the purple-and-yellow girl I saw earlier. Teddy still hadn’t let go of my hand. I yanked it back.
“I just wanted to shake the hand of the future Mrs. Tanner,” Teddy said with an almost lascivious grin.
Pink-shirted girl smirked, snorted, and walked away. I stared at Teddy in confusion.
“Huh?” slipped out of my mouth.
He just grinned and walked away, patting me on the shoulder as he passed. I squirmed. That was weird.
I wandered further into the dining room to the buffet table. Someone had decorated with a Spooky Day orange and purple bats-haunted house-and-tree themed table cloth. A friendly ghost statue stood between candles and food. I perused the snacks before helping myself to a bowl of macaroni and cheese, a single hot wing, and a small piece of chocolate.
“Oh I got the chocolate just for you, Kass,” Ethan said, coming up behind me.
I jumped, startled.
“Oh, really?” I frowned in confusion.
“Yeah, you like chocolate, don’t you? At least I heard all girls…” Ethan cleared his throat. “…um… women… a woman like yourself… I assumed… likes chocolate.”
“I do,” I said, shoving the hot wing in my mouth.
“Good,” his face relaxed into a smile. “We’ve got stir fry and a creme brulee from my dad on the table over there, and marshmallow bunnies. Help yourself to whatever. Beverages in the living room.”
“Got it,” I said, with my mouth full of food and I gave him a thumbs-up with a fake grin.
For most of the evening, most of the guys grinned at me, and most of the girls ignored me. I had the feeling they were jealous. Blue-blouse-dress girl purposely bumped shoulders with me as I wandered into the foyer again. I wanted to watch the ping pong game but the girls immediately left at my presence. I frowned. What’s going on? She glared at me as she passed and joined purple-and-yellow girl as they snickered and walked into another room.
I wandered into the living room to get some fruit punch. It was exactly as I expected. I smelled it, let it swirl a bit in my red plastic cup, and took a sip. Non-alcoholic. I was relieved. I held onto my cup with an iron grip. Mamma had always said never set a cup down at a party. I sat on the edge of the couch since no one else made room for me. Three girls sat on the couch talking about typical teenage girl stuff – the upcoming Sadie Hawksims dance and who they wanted to invite, the outrageous price of lip gloss these days, and whether they should get highlights in their hair or hair inserts. I laughed awkwardly when someone cracked a joke, trying to fit into the conversation. I received more than one question about my dating status from some of the teen guys in attendance, and a few snickers about my “devotion” to my tutoring sessions. I even had one person ask me if I would tutor him in anatomy.
When everyone crowded into the dining room to watch one of the party guests eat mud, I decided to confront the party host.
“Hey Ethan, I think I’m going to go,” I said.
“What? Why?” he frowned. “Aren’t you having fun?”
“Not really… look, Ethan, what have you told people about me?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” he tilted his head.
“About our… relationship…” I said awkwardly.
“Oh,” he grinned. “You know? That we’re friends and you’re tutoring me and you’re a great person and a beautiful woman and such.”
I blushed after the last statement. “Ethan, it’s a professional relationship,” I clarified. “They seem to think you are into me and I’m…” the words sounded odd to say. “…into you. They’ve been making weird comments and are laughing. I don’t belong here.”
He looked down at the floor. “I know,” he bobbed his head back up, passion flaming in his eyes. “But Billy is a jerk. I don’t know why you’re with him.” He reached for my hand, caressing the skin.
I jerked back. “I’m leaving.”
“Please Kass, don’t leave. I’m sorry my friends are being rude. I’ll kick everyone out and we can just chill. I rented the movie version of Love in the Time of Simfluenza… maybe we could watch it and I promise to sit on the other side of the couch… in the chair even. You can have the couch.”
He looked so hopeful.
“No,” I said, firmly. “I need to go. I’m too old for you and I’m with someone, okay? You understand.” I was pretty sure he didn’t. “I’ll see you around. Happy birthday.”
I stuffed my cell phone in my back pocket and walked out of the house. The party guests were still whooping and hollering in the dining room, probably still doing crazy teenage stunts. I sighed heavily and took a step forward. I heard the door open and close behind me and the running of sneakers on the stone walkway.
“Kass?” Ethan’s voice called out to me.
Before I knew what was happening, he stepped in front of me, stood up on his tiptoes, and planted a sloppy kiss on my mouth. The sudden intrusion of the opposite sex startled me, and I nearly fell backward. I threw my hands up and shoved the teenager boy. I was so appalled that I couldn’t even find the words to speak initially.
“GAH!” I screeched, throwing my hand up as if to ready to smack him for the insult.
A look of guilt, confusion, and hurt crossed Ethan’s face. “Kass, I’m sorry. I just wanted you to know how I feel.”
“Ethan,” I spat his name out as if he was a tiny squashable bug. “I… can’t… don’t… GAH!”
“I’m sorry,” Ethan apologized again. “It’s just… I’ve been wanting to say something… do something… I care about you… I think, I love you.”
“No, you don’t,” I said, angrily. “Ethan, you’re barely sixteen. I’m almost nineteen. It’s too big of a gap.”
“Not really,” Ethan defended. “Only three years.”
“But you’re in high school,” I wailed.
“And you were in high school recently,”Ethan reminded me.
“It doesn’t matter,” I waved my arms around. “I didn’t ask for it. You don’t just kiss someone without asking. And I would’ve said no.”
“I’m sorry,” Ethan cowered. “I just…”
“But I love you.”
“No, no, no, you don’t. No justs… no buts… no ands…”
“I didn’t say and.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m sorry. How many times do I need to apologize?”
He had a point. I inhaled sharply before speaking.
“Go back inside.”
“You aren’t my mother.”
“Ethan, go inside.”
“Because I’m sure we drew the attention of your friends by now.”
“I don’t care. Kass,” he tried to take my hands again. “Don’t you see? You’re beautiful and smart and I love you, and I know I’m younger, but please give me a chance.”
“No,” I shrieked. “You’re not right for me. I’m not right for you. We can’t do this. I’m with someone else.”
“But you’re more than three years younger than that Billy guy…”
“Ethan, we’re adults,” I said, exasperated. “You’re… you’re…”
“Don’t say child,” Ethan glared at me.
“…an adolescent,” I spit out. “Now, I’m leaving. Don’t follow me. Don’t call or text me. Don’t… just… don’t.”
I ran down the street before he could respond. I was so mad. I couldn’t believe Ethan would try and kiss me. He was an adolescent. I was an adult. Maybe I didn’t act like one, but I couldn’t date Ethan. I didn’t want to. I was with Billy.
I pulled out my cell phone and dialed the ten digits.
“Billy? Can you come get me?”
“Kass, where have you been? I’ve been trying to call you all day.”
“Really?” I looked at my device. “Oh it’s silenced.”
I pressed a button to fix the problem.
“Kass, can you forgive me? I was a jackass. I want to see you.”
“Yes, I want to see you too,” I shivered, even if I wasn’t cold. “I’ve had a horrible evening.”
“Are you okay? Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine,” I sighed. “Just shaken up about a lot of things.”
“Okay I’m coming to get you now.”