“If you wear that to this, I might not speak to you for the rest of the month,” Vinh warns me as I come out of my closet in my normal pair of jeans. On top, I wear a t-shirt that has a tomato dancing with a chili pepper with the words Let’s Salsa printed below.
“Oh, thank god,” I drawl sarcastically as I roll my eyes.
“Hey, watch it. If you’re not careful, you’ll lose me,” he cautions me before wrinkling his nose, “And then you’ll be stuck going on dates with clothes meant for lonely nights with Lifetime movies and ice cream.”
I groan, “Fine, I’ll take from my skirt pile.” I push aside the shirts hanging above to reveal a whole pile of skirts, tight, plaid, or fluffy. I go for the fluffy.
“That looks great!” I hear Scar say as she gives me a thumbs up at my outfit with a fluffy blue skirt and lavender satin tee.
“You know, normally, I wouldn’t condone this, but since it’s Damon, what the heck. You can let him into your lady garden, even if it’s your first date,” Vinh lectures.
Scar tugs on his sleeve and he turns to look at her. She smacks the side of his head and tells him, “She doesn’t need your permission to have sex, dork.”
“Yes, she does. I’m her best friend and I have her best interest at heart,” he responds proudly with a puffed up chest.
I laugh as they bicker on and silently hope that I can have that with Damon someday. Despite the troubles they’ve gone through to reach this point, they’re perfect for each other and it’s obvious to anyone in the same room.
They fit like two puzzle pieces, which thinking about it now sounds like a cliche, but anything else that fits -lock and key for example- sounds like an innuendo.
They leave after, and I go downstairs to sit and wait for Damon to come. My mom sits down in the sofa chair and stares at me. I give her a puzzled look.
She decided to take the night off and relax with a cup hot tea and a whole lot of Asian dramas to catch up on. I suggested a few Korean ones she has yet to see.
“Đi chơi với bạn trai mà tại sao nhìn buồn quá vạy?” Her eyes fill with concern. She probably thinks I’m still affected by the Jeff kidnapping incident. She doesn’t know that I’ve grown used to trauma. “Why do you look so sad if you’re going out with your boyfriend?”
“Tuần rồi con học thi nhiều quá thôi,” I lie to her, telling her that I am just tired from studying all week.
The truth is, I had realized earlier today that I won’t be seeing Silas at all. It hurt to see him at school, but seeing him at all was good enough. I just want to make sure he’s okay.
He had grown a bit… apathetic, it seems. He doesn’t respond when Pam screams in his ear, his friends can’t get a straight answer on anything, and it looks like he never gets sleep. At least I could sleep at night, most of the time.
I get a text from Damon saying that he was outside, I open the door to see him standing in front of me, wearing a nice lavender button down tucked into black pants. In his hand is a beautiful bouquet of pink peonies-my favorite.
“Wow, you look amazing, Tammy,” he breathes as he gapes at my plain outfit. I laugh as he hands me the bouquet. As I turn around to put it away, my mom snatches it from my hands.
“Đẹp quá ha!” she studies them. “So pretty!” She turns back to me and wiggles her eyebrows, as if to say I like this one.
Luckily, Damon was a bit too busy bowing nervously to see her expression, I push for him to turn away and we walk to his car. He stops and laughs.
“We match!” He points at my tee and his shirt. I laugh along with him as we continue to his truck.
He opens the door for me, waiting for me to get in. Instead, I throw my arms around him. I truly feel excited for our evening together. Maybe I was ready to move on.
He wraps his arms around my waist and lift me up, my feet dangling. We twirl and I pull back just enough to face him. He kisses my nose and I giggle.
We arrive at a tiny Italian place that carried an incredibly romantic atmosphere. The place was dimly lit, but brought the art on the walls to a new level. Light music plays as the waiters run around giving excellent service. As Damon and I enter, I recognize the host immediately.
“Carlos?” I could hear the astonishment in my own voice.
“Tammy! Hey!” He pulls me into a casual hug.
I turn to Damon, whose confusion was masked with politeness. “Damon, this is Carlos, my former neighbor. Carlos, my date, Damon.”
They shake hands with grins on their faces and I stare at Damon, wondering why he is smiling so brightly.
Carlos leads us to a table and just as I am about to sit down, I realize that it was beside a table with familiar faces.
Silas. Pam. Dylan. His parents, probably.
Well, this date’s gone to crap.
“Um,” I try not to stutter, “Carlos? Is it alright if we get another table, maybe over there?” I point at the opposite side of the restaurant. We will still be in plain view, but at least we’d be a bit further away.
I feel Silas’s hurt eyes on me as Damon leads me away. I glance back to see him still looking at me and I feel my heart pinch a little too much.
I shouldn’t feel anything.
But I do.
My breathing falters as I turn away from him.
I can’t ignore her, no matter how hard I try. Every few seconds, I find myself looking over to make sure she isn’t a figment of my imagination. Still, whenever I do, I see her sitting there in her cute skirt and I wonder if I’m dreaming.
I feel my hands start to sweat uncontrollably, along with the back of my neck. It doesn’t seem to bother Pam, though, as she glides her hand up and down my forearm under the table, occasionally brushing my palm.
She’s been this way for weeks, but luckily, she hasn’t asked for sex. I’ve managed to keep her a safe distance, but I’ve kept her around as punishment. She’s annoying as hell.
She’s also somehow befriended our school’s next level bitch, Natasha, and I guess they’re now a force to reckon with. Everytime I see Natasha’s face, I remember that first night I met Lane-I mean, Tammy-and she had poured ice cold water over her. I never speak around her, knowing I’d probably end up screaming in her face.
Pam starts rubbing her thumb at the center of my palm and I wonder if she knows what this motion means. She doesn’t ask for sex often, so maybe this is her pushing for it.
I stand, holding my breath as my parents look up at me with questioning looks. Even Dylan, who I’m glad has come home, raises an eyebrow. I excuse myself with the reason of needing air. Pam moves to stand up with me, but I press down on her shoulder very slightly for her to stay, and I turn to see Tammy’s eyes.
God, I want to call her Lane again. But it’s not like I deserve to…
I step out to the outside dining area, where heaters tower over my side, keeping me warm in the cold air of the twilight sky. I try to even my breathing, but the more I try, the more I think about Tammy, out with Damon, the guy I knew from the beginning was better for her.
It’s been torture seeing her around school and in class. I’m always wondering if she had already moved on. I was careful not to show much of my worry in front of Pam. The girl can get really loud and demanding if she wants to, so I try to stay on her good side, knowing she would make up some lie to my parents about me making her sad.
Now, standing here in a place that Tammy is also in, I don’t really care. More than anything, I want to hold her again and be her Kent again.
“Hey, brother,” I hear Dylan greet me from behind. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” I lie with a sigh.
“No you’re not. You’ve got a hot girl right next to you and you’re somehow miserable.”
I turn to look at him, knowing full well he’d see right through my lies. So I tell him everything. From meeting Tammy to kissing Catherine to sleeping with Pam. He listened through intently.
“Why did you kiss Catherine at the party if you knew you wanted to be with this Tammy girl?” He gave me a look of confusion, as if it were an odd action.
“I don’t know, because everyone was cheering it on and because I thought I didn’t have a chance with her,” I answer with shame.
“Why does it matter that everyone was cheering it on?”
“Come on, Dylan,” I groan, “Everything I’ve ever done is for the good of the boys.”
“I know, but I thought that was because I was there.”
“Wait, what?” I blink at him, surprised at this new discovery.
“Yeah, I kind of always thought you were gay,” he leans over just a bit to speak in a lower voice, “which would have been okay, if you really are.”
“I’m not gay,” I inform him with a straight face.
We remain silent for a moment until he bursts, “Well, you never really looked like you enjoyed kissing those girls. And you’re always only smiling around the boys. And don’t think I didn’t notice you sending the girls away before I heard any sounds through the wall!”
“I didn’t like them because I didn’t see anything past their drinking and need for sex for approval. I was getting tired of the partying, Dylan. I don’t think I ever liked it after the first month of high school,” I confess to him, expecting anger to be his reaction to my ongoing pretense.
“Yeah, I’m getting tired of it, too,” he responds with a sigh.
“You are?” I try not to sound shocked, but after all, he seemed like the king of parties, the life of them.
“College is different from high school. It’s harder and they have higher expectations. Everyone who was a nerd in high school is suddenly a partier because they’ve mastered the skill of studying. People like me have to struggle to keep our heads above water. Everytime I go out to drink, I keep worrying about the test the following week or the essay due the next morning.”
He’s deep in thoughts, and I don’t bother him, but after a few seconds, he shakes his head, as if snapping out of it.
“So you slept with Pam?”
“Yes? I think. I mean we were both pretty naked the next morning,” the awful memory is burned into my mind. Everytime it comes up, I remember Pam looking more and more repulsive.
“But you don’t remember doing the act of sex?” His tone makes him sound like a lawyer, and I shake my head, unsure of what to say more. He purses his lips, deep in thought, and then turns to look into the glass door, at Pam. “Do you think she’d fall for it if I try to seduce her?”
“What,” I almost yell in disbelief.
He rests a hand on my shoulder and reassures me, “Don’t worry, little brother. I got you.”
We both walk back in and as I approach my seat, Dylan beats me to it, sitting next to Pam, so I have to walk around the table and sit facing him. Walking around the table, I glance over to Tammy and Damon’s table, hoping to get a glimpse of Tammy before I have to face Pam again.
There’s no one at the table. They’re gone.