I stood completely alone in William's room. My heart was pounding- a mixture of being unexpectedly kissed by a handsome stranger, and then having him subsequently vanish into thin air. I looked around, but I saw nothing. I was the only person in the room. Where had he gone?
"Brenna? Are you up here?" I heard Katelyn call out again.
I took a deep breath, wiping a few stray hairs from my face. Hopefully I didn't look as flushed as I felt... damn hormones.
I walked over to the door and opened it. Katelyn was standing about ten feet away, her mask resting on the top of her head like a pair of sunglasses.
"There you are! Where did you go? I've been looking for you for the last five minutes... poor Adam is waiting downstairs for me."
I sighed, not wanting to reveal the truth- that I'd just been kissed and ghosted... maybe literally. "Just... exploring. I told you my goal was to see every nook and cranny of this place."
She looked at me skeptically, but smiled. "Well, c'mon! I owe Adam a kiss... and someone is asking about you."
"There's someone asking about me? Who?" I asked curiously. William, perhaps?
"You'll see!" she grabbed my hand and dragged me downstairs. I glanced back to William's room, hoping maybe that he'd be smiling at me from the doorway, his disappearance just a simple prank. But the room stood empty as it had.
The crowd downstairs was smaller than it had been when I'd disappeared up to the second floor. The young and young-at-heart who weren't used to staying up so late were all filtering out the door, some wobbling a bit. Oh, booze... the great debilitator.
Katelyn led me into the grand ballroom (yeah... a ballroom in the 21st century...), where Adam was standing near a dais of sorts. He looked a little forlorn, but his expression changed immediately as he saw us.
Adam was tall, with dark brown hair. He had tanned skin and brown eyes. He was just as popular as Katelyn, so it was no surprise that they gravitated toward each other. While Katelyn spent her days swimming, Adam was captain of the lacrosse team. They'd pined after each other for the last year (make a move already, am I right?), but finally started talking about two weeks ago.
She flounced up to him, and in true Kate fashion, planted a kiss straight on his lips. He looked momentarily shocked, and then he relaxed, sinking into it. As his hands slipped down her shoulders and around her back, I was getting more and more uncomfortable.
It was one thing kissing someone yourself, but standing awkwardly and watching as two people kissed in front of you? Ugh... Gross.
I grimaced, turning away. I took a look around the room at the remaining guests. Some were still clinking glasses and drinking happily, others were just standing around talking to each other. I still hadn't set eyes on the owners of the house- William's parents, most likely.
"Brenna?" a deep male voice called out from behind me.
I turned far too quickly, my hopes surging. William? Nope. Standing in front of me was Henry, Katelyn's nerdy cousin.
Well, he used to be nerdy... now he was... hot? When the hell did that happen?
I blinked rapidly, suddenly dumbfounded. What? Huh?
"Brenna? It's me, Henry." He repeated. "Do you remember me?"
I stared at him. Henry had always been a super nerdy guy- thick glasses, braces, pale skin, scruffy black hair. He spent his time playing D&D with a few other kids in his neighborhood and making stop-motion Lego movies. I'd always brushed him off- he'd tagged along on a good amount of our adventures, but mostly because Kate's parents made us bring him. He was a year younger than us, and he went to a Catholic private school, so I never saw him apart from his random visits to Katelyn's house in the summer. But he'd been off at camp all last summer, so I hadn't seen him in nearly a year and a half... and what a year and a half it'd been for him...
Every inch of his 5'11" frame had muscles. His skin was flushed with color and blemish-free. His hair was perfectly coifed, and he no longer had glasses. I could see his grass green eyes twinkling in the dim lamplight. He smiled as he took in the sight of me, and his teeth were no longer covered in braces, but straight and stark white.
"Uh... Henry, wow!" I finally gained some composure and spoke. "I hardly recognized you. How are you?"
He smiled again, and I felt my heart thump wildly. "Yeah, it's been a while. Puberty finally caught up with me, I guess." He chuckled. "You look great, by the way."
"Oh, uh, thanks." I scratched my chest again as the lace continued to irritate my skin. "Katelyn's mom gave us these dresses, so-"
"I, uh, didn't mean the dress." He blushed.
Wait, what? Was he flirting with me? What was it about this night? I put on a dress, and suddenly my 18-year dry spell comes crashing to a halt? I couldn't even think of a response to his compliment I was so caught off guard.
"I should have figured I'd see you here." He continued. "I know how long you've been dying to get in this place. Although I feel like you would have preferred to see it before the remodel."
"You remembered how much I love this place?" I questioned.
"You used to talk about it every time we'd ride our bikes past it." He reached up and touched the back of his neck shyly. It was so damn cute when he did that... Ugh, calm down, Brenna! You were just kissing some guy upstairs, and now you-
I shook my head, forcing myself to focus. "Can't believe you remember that after all these years."
"I remember it vividly." He continued. "Those summers were some of the best of my life."
A crescendo of music lifted in the room. A ten-piece orchestra (which I had somehow not noticed...) began to play, and Henry looked at me hopefully.
"Care to dance?" he asked me, holding out a hand.
I stared down at it for only a moment before I nodded. I reached out and took his warm hand in mine, and he led me out to an open space on the dance floor. I didn't really know how to dance to fancy music (public school dances had only familiarized me with "The Cha Cha Slide" and "Sandstorm"), but Henry moved swiftly on beat with his fancy footwork. I barely kept up with him, but he was so graceful that he made me look good.
"So, I didn't see you at all this summer." I stated, breathing a little heavier from the movement.
"I got an internship with the Smithsonian at the National Museum of American History. I moved to DC for the summer." He said nonchalant, as if it were a fast food minimum-wage gig.
"Um excuse me, what?" I grinned. "That is so cool! Museum studies is actually what I want as my major in college next year."
"No kidding! Where are you going?" He asked.
"Hoping to get into NYU, but who knows if I can even afford tuition." I sighed, thinking about my family. We were always living paycheck to paycheck, which made the idea of an expensive private university seem impossible.
"Well, you're one of the smartest people I know. I'm sure you can get some grants and scholarships easily." He sounded genuine, and I was appreciative. A few moments later, the song ended, and he leaned me back into a slight dip.
Uh oh... his eyes were blazing with intensity, staring straight into mine (which I'm sure looked more like a deer in the headlights). He looked like the prom king from my dreams, whose only goal was to make me swoon. And he was doing a pretty good job- my heartbeat was rapid and my breath was ragged. Was he going to kiss me?
Right on cue, he leaned in, closing the distance between us. Before I could think, his lips pressed on mine ever-so-gently. My body immediately decided for me that this was "go-time", and my hands slid from his shoulders to his neck, pulling him closer with an unmatched intensity.
Wow... two kisses in one night? I have to write this in my diary... WAIT. Two kisses in one night? Am I some sort of hussy now? Am I now the lead in one of those trashy romances, where the jilted duchess runs from her husband's bed to the stables to canoodle with the broody-yet-passionate poor stable boy?
My hands let go from Henry's neck and I pulled away. Unfortunately I was still mid-dip, which resulted in me falling flat on my butt in front of a room full of half-strangers.
"Brenna, are you okay?" Henry threw his hand out, offering to help me up.
I glanced out around the room. Absolutely everyone was staring at me. I felt weak, my anxiety revving up inside me like an engine. I wanted to throw up. When I caught Katelyn's surprised and embarrassed gaze, I decided to bolt.
Katelyn will understand.
I was grateful to be wearing my Chucks as I lifted myself up and ran for the door. I passed through herds of people who were leaving, too. I hoped no one was chasing after me (because how ridiculous was I being right now?). I careened through the front doors and down the steps. I felt my mask slip off the top of my head, but I didn't stop or go back for it.
I climbed into the horse-drawn carriage and told our driver (who had waited patiently for us to return) to go. When he paused, clearly looking for Katelyn, I assured him she'd secured another way home. He reluctantly nodded and the carriage took off.
I glanced back to the house, where Henry was standing in the front doorway, looking at me, very confused. I didn't want to relive the embarrassment I'd just had, so I looked up.
Staring at me from a second floor window, the white gossamer curtain pulled back slightly, was William. He raised a single hand and pressed it against the window pane.
My heart soared, and I lifted my hand gently in an awkward greeting. A smile tugged at his lips, and then I watched as he literally vanished into thin air.
There is no way in hell I was hallucinating this.
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