The Keys to Jericho

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Chapter 11

“Can I sit here?” she asks as I gawk.

“Jericho, move over.”

I numbly move, and she sits down next to me.

“Thanks,” Kat says with a frail smile to me and then turning to everyone with a warmer version. “Hi.”

As Dash introduces Kat, and she shifts to get more comfortable, her perfume slaps me across the face—the same fucking one she used to wear in high school. I’ll never forget that scent—a mix of flowers and pure Katriona Merrick. So many times, I had imagined burying my nose against her throat just to smell her, and I’ve used that scenario in the shower often.

“You and Jared look so much alike,” Kat tells my sister, brushing her leg against mine as she angles herself toward Hadley. “Sorry,” she quickly says to me, jerking her legs away. That move reminds me of how she didn’t want me to touch her during the last few months of my senior year, hitting me harder than I had anticipated, and I’m left speechless.

“He used to be my little brother,” Hadley replies with a laugh. “Jared, Kat told me earlier at her mom’s that you had a class together in school?”

I stiffly nod as I stare at the round, wooden table. I forgot Hadley would’ve met Kat today. How much did they talk about me?

Liberty takes a karaoke sign-up paper and says, “Kat, we should sign up now since there’s a wait.”

She weakly nods. “Okay.”

Rio’s warden goes on to say, “I have the best song. Hadley, do you want to do it with us?”

Hadley rapidly shakes her head. “No, thanks. I’ll dance, but not sing.” She asks Finn, “You’ll dance with me, won’t you?”

He makes a sour face. “No, but I’ll watch.”

“That’s no fun,” she pouts.

Finn smiles, pushing his leg into hers. “For me, it will be.” Don’t they fucking ever get enough of each other?

Not going unnoticed by me, Dash frowns at Finn. He then says, “Kat, come on. Help me out. Do a song with me.”

“I need liquored-up first.”

Dash angles his head, looking over at the bar. “I’ll be back.”

Clearing my throat, I attempt speaking again, asking Kat, “So, Dash asked you to come here?”

She plays with her small silver hoop earring and avoids eye contact with me. “Yeah. My brother is a manager here. He’s right there in the green dress shirt.” When I take a second look at the guy behind the bar now talking to Dash, I recognize him more from when he was in our school’s band, and how I chickened out asking him more about his sister.

She hesitates, asking, “Do… Do you mind me being here?”

I shrug with my right shoulder, which is closest to her. “Why would I? I don’t have coffee, though. Will you mess with my iced tea instead?” Why did I say that? I sound as petty as what she did.

Kat ruefully smiles, her eyes lifting to my face, but I can’t look away from her lightly glossed lips. “I’m sorry about that. It was only salt. I didn’t poison you.”

Still distracted, I blandly say, “That’s good to know.”

Kat glances down to her lap, and we sit in a wooden silence until she softly says, “It was stupid to do. I was just… Jared, it’s been so long since I’ve seen or talked to you. Please don’t be mad at me.”

Staring at a purple streak on the side of her head, I swallow through my tightening throat and dryly answer, “I’m not.” Not about the coffee, at least.

“Are you sure? You didn’t want to talk to me after you remembered who I was.”

“I didn’t recognize you. Big difference. You even told me a different last name.”

She shrugs, not yet facing me again. “It wouldn’t have mattered either name I used.”

“Not true.” Kat looks up, meeting my gaze. Fuck. I’m saying way too much.

Now, I’m the one who looks away, feeling her eyes on me.

“Then, why have you avoided me?” She sounds… sad? Why? She’s the one who didn’t care.

As I scan the stage, not watching or listening to the people on it, I evenly answer, “I’ve been busy at your mom’s.”

“We have so much to catch up on, Sonic.”

That was unexpected.

Unwillingly glancing back to her face, I can’t escape from smiling at the sound of her calling me that again, and Kat matches me with one of her own. As my smile turns into a small laugh, she nudges me with her arm. Her faux blue eyes snare mine, causing me to stare at them, trying to see into the beautiful brown they used to be. When I realize I’m staring, I look back to the stage, frowning at my idiocy.

She puts her hand on my arm. “So, are you getting up there on stage?” Barely hearing the question, I glance at her hand as the memory of her touching me at my locker on my seventeenth birthday floods my mind. Even though I’m wearing a long-sleeved shirt this time, it still does things to me, which makes me want to do things to her.

Taking a subtle deep breath, I answer, “No way. Are you?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“If Calder has anything to do with it, you’ll be up there.”

Taking her hand back, Kat shrinks somewhat with an anxious smile. “Ugh. You’re probably right.”

I chuckle and look around, forgetting people are watching us. I catch Hadley as she puts her hand on Finn’s leg, whispering in his ear. Finn briefly glances at me, smirking. What the fuck did I do now?

Dash, grinning, returns to our table with our waitress in tow. “Compliments of Pete,” she says, placing a tray of shots on the table. Noticing there are way too many, I swiftly take Rio’s and Dash’s, swigging them back in a rush, letting the alcohol happily buzz my thoughts.

“What the hell, DD?” Dash shouts.

“Don’t you know revenge is best served in a shot glass?”

“Fine,” he concedes, shaking his head in mock disgust as our waitress returns again with our drink order. He knew he had this coming.

“Good. Switch me drinks then, designated bitch.”

Finn downs his shot and Hadley’s, so I’m not the only one taking advantage of the free alcohol.

Kat reaches for a glass, tipping it fast. Setting it on the tray, she says, “We need more.”

I grin at her. “Now, you’re talking.” A loud windbag wails into the microphone, so I have to shout, “Dash, get us some more booze!”

Kat stands. “I got them. My brother owes me some favors.” I watch her leave, not only checking her out but also wishing she wasn’t leaving, even if this time is temporary.

Her scent still lingers, persistently assaulting me, but I can’t stop inhaling it and reveling in the torment.

Breaking my trance, Dash says, “You can thank me later, Jericho!”

Turning, I glare at him. “Slick move, Calder! What do you think you’re doing?”

“I invited a friend here. So? You seem to like that she’s here!”

As I harden my gaze and tighten my fists, from the other side of me, Hadley says, “Jared, Kat is so nice. She said you used to be friends.”

I mumble the obligatory, “We were driver’s ed. partners.”

Liberty butts in. “I love her hair! She’s so pretty!” Liberty would be somewhat pretty, too, if I didn’t hate her face so much.

The screeching broad finishes her song. Over the hooting, I curtly shout, “Thanks! I didn’t notice!”

Her eyes grow larger than her dress. “You should ask her on a date!” Isn’t being here a forced one, really?

With a riled look at my best friend, warning him to control the bitch, I growl, “River…”

He leans forward, returning my glower. “Jare…”

As we unfalteringly eyeball each other, Liberty carries on. “You and Kat would look good together if you’re nice to her.”

Accepting defeat, Rio rubs his thumb and finger over his eyelids. “Babe, don’t start.”

“We’re not together, Libby.”

She rolls her eyes. “Well, stop being a wimp and get the ball rolling by asking her to dance then, Jerry.”

“Wimp? Look what you did to your boyfriend!”

“Cut it out!” Rio rigidly glares at both of us. At least he’s not just blaming me this time.

Almost as if on a whim, Liberty uneasily stands, hastily straightening out her puss-yellow, Band-Aid of a dress before grabbing her purse. “I need to go outside.”

“There’s a fire hydrant at the curb.”

“Jared!” Rio barks. He then asks Liberty, “Do you want me to come with you?”

She puts her hand on his shoulder. “No, stay here. I’m fine. I’ll be quick.”

As she leaves, I get up, reaching for Dash’s Long Island iced tea and start chugging it.

“Jared, why are you so mean to her?” Hadley asks, dismayed.

Between sips, I reply, “It’s a mutual thing.”

Rio snaps, “It’s an infuriating thing. I told you to knock it off!”

Now, I’m getting blamed.”

“I’ve told both of you.”

I give him a dubious look, nodding in the direction Liberty left. “Why’d she have to go outside? Really? A little dramatic, Duquesne, don’t you think?”

“She went outside for a cigarette.”

“She smokes? That’s vile.”

He shakes his head as he grabs his drink. “She doesn’t usually. Lib hasn’t smoked in months.”

“Not even your dick? No wonder you’re a grump.”

Rio opens his mouth to bitch, but my sister beats him to it. “Jared!”

“What? I’m sure Finn would be bitchier, too.” The mental image… Wrong turn there, Jared.

Hadley folds her arms, sulking at the floor, while Finn bites his lip to hold back a comment or a laugh. Not sure which.

Kat returns, carrying a tray of more shots. She stands beside me as she sets down the tray. The edge of her skirt grazes my propped knee, and I’m instantly thrown back to high school, wanting to feel the skin beneath.

“Woohoo!” she says, immediately taking a shot.

Kat hands me one, which I’m grateful since I’d rather not move my leg now. As I take it, she smiles. Drinking that one, she hands me another, and I ask, “You trying to get me drunk?”

Her eyes wander over my face, looking dazed. “If I’m getting drunk, you might as well, too.”

I was supposed to stay sober tonight because my sister is with me. That’s gone to hell in a fucking shuttle.

After Kat slams back another shot, I shift closer to where she was sitting, so when she sits down, her hip bumps my arm. “Sorry again,” she mumbles with a sheepish smile. “I think the shots are already getting to me. I’m such a lightweight.”

Again. All my fault.

The waitress comes to our table. “Dash, you’re up.”

He’s automatically confused, and his forehead wrinkles as he tilts his head at her. “Huh? I didn’t put in a song yet!”

She says, “We have you as next, so if you don’t want to lose your turn, you’d better get up there.”

Rio stretches to smack Dash on the back. “Get up there, Douche.”

“Only my closest friends would fuck with me.” Rio and I laugh as Dash leaves the booth.

When Liberty returns and takes her seat next to Rio, Kat says, “Drink up, Liberty!” The shrew wastes no time guzzling them as Dash goes up on stage.

“What the hell?” Calder says into the microphone. “I’m not doing this song!”

Rio and I start booing, which spreads to other tables, causing a small uprising.

He says, “Okay, okay! I’m not doing this alone, then! Kat and Liberty, get up here with me!”

“What?” Kat gulps, looking panicked.

Liberty takes another drink. “Come on, Kat! It’s a good song for us!” She grabs Kat’s arm and drags her over to Dash. The rest of us focus our attention on the stage as the song starts, and the screen behind them displays, Man! I Feel Like a Woman!

Shaking his head, Rio crosses his arms over himself and then his legs at his ankles in front of him. “That’s funny.”

“Holy shit!” Hadley says, laughing.

Our earlier argument forgotten, I declare, “Rio Duquesne, you’re my fucking hero.”

As Kat and Liberty look at the screen in front of them, they start laughing and patting Dash on the shoulders. Dash points to our table and says into the microphone, “This goes out to my main man, Jared Beckett. Love you, buddy.”

Fucker.

Rio, Finn, and Hadley laugh as everyone else looks in our general direction while I take a swig from my glass.

Dash sings the lead on the song, causing the room to erupt in laughter and whistles. Kat and Liberty dance behind him, singing the chorus. He’s getting way too into it, pretending to paint his nails, tossing his imaginary long hair, and strutting around the stage. And he’s sober.

Kat spins around, her skirt showing more of her legs and making Calder’s antics ancient history. The thoughts are rampant and savage.

Clapping and shouting eventually distracts my fantasizing, and the three laugh as they slowly make their way through the people complimenting their performance.

“I think Dash needs more of a payback,” Rio says.

I set down my drink. “What do you suggest?”

“You, singing this song right here.” He walks over to me, pointing to a song.

I frown at the book and then him. “I don’t care what it is. I’m not singing.”

Finishing his drink, Finn says, “I’ll give you fifty bucks to get up there.”

“What the fuck? Why don’t you? You’re the one who takes dares for pay.”

He puts his glass on the table. “It’s not sports-related, and I’ve been drinking.”

Sitting back down, Rio says, “I’ll give you fifty on top of that. Do it, Jare.” He takes a sign-up paper, scribbles down the song, and gives it to our waitress as she stops at our table.

“I can’t sing.”

Hadley reasons, “Nobody else can, either. It’s just fun.”

“Then why don’t you do it?”

“I don’t want everyone looking at me!”

I turn to Rio. “What about you, Duquesne?”

He not-so-apologetically grins. “I’m sober.”

I scoff, “Hypocrites. All of you.”

Returning to the table, Kat breathlessly says, “Did I look like a total idiot up there?”

I smirk, trying not to openly gawk at her. “Just Dash.” And Liberty, but I’ll lay off her… for now.

Dash whines, “Hey, I think I was pretty great up there!”

Rio says, “Your man loved you, Douche.”

I give Duquesne the finger, and my sister and Kat laugh. Too bad Liberty wasn’t paying attention because I have plenty to go around.

After two more rounds of shots, I’m told it’s my turn. By now, I’m raring to get up there.

Hadley shouts, “Come on, little brother! Don’t be a wimp!” My mouth hangs open at her, using Liberty’s insult.

Weaving through people, I take the stage and grab the mic. “This is for you, Dash Calder of Annapolis, Maryland.” Ugly Kid Joe’s Everything About You starts. I would’ve given out his phone number if I had memorized it.

Dash rolls his eyes and shoves Rio’s arm as Duquesne laughs.

I don’t know how I sound. It’s all outside my sphere of caring. I just want to sing about hating Dash for putting me through this shit tonight and inviting Kat here.

When the song slows, I get on my knees, crawling to the edge of the stage, pointing at Dash and singing about hating everything about him but not the least bit sad about it.

Unexpected is Kat’s reaction. She looks in awe, confused, or afraid. I’m not sure which one I want her to be.

After the song is over, I go back to the table, eschewing people trying to stop me. I don’t want to talk to them when I’m sober, so why would I want to talk to them now?

Finn and Rio throw their fifty-dollar bills at me with Finn high-fiving me and announcing, “That fucking rocked!”

Rio says, “I’ve never laughed so hard in my life, Beckett. That was so much funnier than Dash’s bit. Yours was extremely heartfelt.”

Dash irritably grabs his iced tea. “It wasn’t really all that funny, Jericho.”

Snatching up the money, feeling the adrenaline rush mixed with the alcohol buzz at full throttle, I sit back down next to Kat. With a smile, she says, “I’ve never seen that side of you before.”

I stuff the bills into my pocket and hanging my arm behind Kat’s part of the booth, I smirk and lean close to her. “There’re several sides of me you haven’t seen before.” I take my time inhaling her perfume as she anxiously plays with a button on her shirt.

She stutters, “I-I know.”

Breathing close to her neck, I whisper, “What’s wrong, Kit Kat?”

Kat swiftly turns to face me, and I instinctively sit back. “You remembered calling me that?”

I crook an eyebrow, astutely smiling. “I remember a lot.” Sometimes the memories are worse when I’m drunk, which is another reason not to drink, but if I drink them fast enough, I pass out and forget them all.

She smiles back, not looking drunk as I am.

Liberty says something to Kat, robbing her attention away from me.

Thieving bitch.

Taking a breather and looking for more drinks, I see my sister leaning against Finn, kissing his neck. She’s definitely trashed, too. As she kisses Finn while her hand roams over his chest, his glassy eyes partially close, and he squeezes her leg, digging his fingers into her inner thigh. If she were wearing a skirt, he’d unquestionably be fingering her in front of all of us. Damn it. I’m not sleeping on the pullout with Dash tonight. Hadley needs to sneak Finn into a bathroom just so I don’t have to hear them later. They really need to start fucking during the week instead of saving it all for the weekends. It would be a lot less awkward for me, at least.

Our waitress returns, telling Liberty and Kat it’s their turn. What the hell just happened?

When they get to the stage, Dirrty flashes on the screen, and they give each other a giggling look before rolling their hips with the music.

Kat’s skirt shifts up and down as she squats and stands, her legs opening and closing with the music, nearly flashing everyone. Unfortunately, I can’t see anything.

She and Liberty march around each other, taking turns singing the lyrics, both shaking their asses, but I’m only watching Kat’s skirt swishing with the rhythm.

Fuck. Me.

I need to sneak Kat into the bathroom.

Liberty’s stupid ponytails swing around as she awkwardly spins. However, unlike Liberty’s rotating, Kat’s movements are mesmerizing. I’m captivated by her. Still.

When Kat disappears from the stage, I look around and notice Finn kissing and licking up Hadley’s neck. The short sleeve of his black T-shirt slides up, exposing his barbed-wire tattoo as his hand creeps up her ribs. He then whispers in her ear, making her giggle. Christ. I’ll have to sit in between them in the back seat just to keep their hands out of each other’s pants.

Liberty returns to the table without Kat, so I look around the room to see Kat back on the stage as Mercedes Boy displays on the screen.

“Whoa, Jericho. I think she’s singing to you about doing naughty things to your… car.”

With Dash and Rio watching me, I try to remain calm and casual, but inside, I’m a live wire humming all over, and it has nothing to do with the alcohol.

As another person takes the stage, Kat returns with a red face, looking everywhere but me. Obviously, flustered, she says, “I’ll be back.” When she makes it two tables over, I get up and follow her out to the lobby, where she goes to a corner and faces the wall.

“Are you okay?” I cringe at how stupid I sound.

Kat spins around. “You followed me?”

“You looked upset.”

“I just needed some air. I can’t believe I got up there by myself,” she says with a nervous laugh. “I can’t sing.”

“I can’t, either. You were great.”

“I was?” She smiles, and I’m again lost. I dully nod. “So were you. I liked it when you crawled around, tearing into Dash.”

I shrug, watching people milling around the lobby. “He had it coming.” She laughs, and I look back at her. “Are you having fun, catching up with him?”

“Yes.”

“Well, it’s nice that you’re here spending more time with him.” No, it isn’t.

She shakes her head, her eyes not leaving mine. “He’s not who I’m here to see.”

In my drunkenness, I’m not sure if she means me or someone else. I inanely ask, “What do you mean?”

She takes a deep breath, her chest heaving toward me. “Jared…”

“Jared. Kat. You two are up next,” Rio says behind me.

I promptly turn around. “What?”

“Yeah. A duet. Dash signed you up. You have to do it. He’s betting money against you. Finn and I each have twenty, you will.”

I frown at Kat. “Most of my friends are dicks.”

Without a second thought, I grab Kat’s wrist and lead her to the stage, where Don’t You Want Me begins.

Holy fucking hell.

I’m forced to plead with Kat in song for the reasons why I’m not good enough for her just so Dash will lose his bet.

When it’s Kat’s turn, she sings about needing to be on her own, despite still having… feelings… for me.

Kat and I are only focused on each other, her face expressing something I haven’t seen on her before, and for the length of the song, at least, nobody else exists as we slay the other. I wonder if she’s enjoying it now. For me, it’s like cutting an old scar open and letting me bleed all over the stage for everyone here to see.

There’s so much… emotion… on her face, and I swear she blinked back tears once, but I have no idea what’s driving her through this.

When the song is finally over, Kat and I part ways, even though we’re going to the same table.

I’m numb. I feel like I just returned from a medieval battle, having been stabbed in the gut, but I can’t remove the sword, so I just walk around in shock as it bounces with each step.

At the table, Finn and Rio are rejoicing in their victory, while Dash mopes.

I take my seat as Liberty says, “I want to dance! Hadley, come with us. Let’s go downstairs.”

Hadley smiles and whispers to Finn before agreeing to go, and he intently watches her get up. He isn’t subtle, licking his lip, staring at my sister’s ass.

Dash gulps down his tea and stands. “Let’s do this, ladies!” He walks to them and puts his arms around Hadley and Kat, as Liberty follows them, giggling. What the fuck is he doing?

Turning to Finn, I remember he’s supposed to be jealous. Seeing him calmly sitting, swirling his Jack in his glass, he doesn’t look enraged.

“Finn, this shit doesn’t get to you?” He looks up from his drink, mystified, and I nod toward the exit. “Hadley and Dash?”

His lips doubtfully pull to one side. “Should it?”

“I thought Dash might be getting on your nerves.”

He shakes his head with a relaxed smile. “Dash is cool.”

Rio says, “Why in the fuck should Finn be jealous? Dash wouldn’t do anything shady, Jare. He’s going down there to keep an eye on them since they’re drunk, in case anyone hassles them.”

I slur to Finn, “You like Dash because he thinks you and Hadley are white-hot, and the soulmates bullshit, right? He tells everyone that.”

He lamely shrugs. “Maybe, but I don’t get jealous much.”

“You don’t care who touches Hadley? What about her work husband?”

Finn cringes. “Shit. Don’t call him that. He does get on my fucking nerves.”

“Are you jealous of him?”

He sighs up to the ceiling. “I want to say no, but he sees Hadley all the time, sometimes even after work. I guess I am jealous of that.” Finn leans his head against the wall and closes his eyes.

“You and Hadley have to work something out. That’s fucking crazy.”

Opening his eyes, he mumbles, “I know, but your sister is…”

Rio interjects, “Stubborn as her brother? I completely believe that shit.”

“Piss off, Duquesne.”

Finn lowers his head, eagerly nodding in agreement but carefully asks, “So, what are you going to do?”

“About what?”

He sluggishly rolls his eyes. “Kat. I’m not an idiot, even drunk.”

Rio laughs. “I’m fucking sober over here, Jare, and I see it.”

Finn says, “You’re into her. Big time.”

I shake my head, folding my arms. “I’m not.”

Rio looks at his watch. “You’re too drunk to see yourself drooling over her.”

Finn laughs with him, and I ask, “What about you, Wilder? You were practically doing my sister in front of everyone.”

He shoves his drink-free hand into his hair. “You know how I feel about her. I don’t have anything to hide.”

“Oh, really? Because there’s plenty that you are hiding from her.”

He frowns, and just as I guzzle the rest of my gin and tonic, someone slaps my arm. I dizzily look from my glass to the offender. “Calder, what the hell? You’re already on my shit list!” I snap, pushing his arm.

Dash laughs. “For that song? It was between that one and Let’s Make Love. You got away with murder.”

Staring at him, I sit back, shaking the remaining alcohol from the ice and lime. “Too bad it wasn’t your murder. You don’t understand how much I loathe you right now.”

Ignoring that, he says, “Come downstairs. Kat needs you.”

“Why?”

“Let’s go.” Dash yanks on me, and I stumble to stand, leaving my glass on the table with a clatter. “Fuck, Dash. Why don’t you throw me down the stairs when we get there?”

“I’ve thought about it.”

I laugh as he pushes through the crowd. “You’re in a mood. Are you on your period, Dashiell?”

“Even drunk, you’re grouchy,” he bitches.

Before we enter the louder room with the bigger dance floor, House of Pain’s Jump Around reverberates in the stairwell. That song. I’ll always have the image of Kat jumping to that song with her friends at one of the school dances, her tits bouncing with the jumps. I wanted to hold them in my hands. The urge was so bad that I had to sit down because of the hard-on she gave me.

When we enter the thumping room, I notice a gigantic, brightly lit waterfall on the far end. The dance floor is speckled with different colored lights swirling around, making me dizzy as Dash tows me to where I see my sister’s ponytail bobbing.

A few steps in and with the music louder, I stop him. “What’re you doing?”

“Jericho, next slow song, ask her to dance!”

“Hadley? My grandparents used to make us dance together! No, thanks!”

He noisily sighs. “Not your sister! Kat!”

“No way!” Next to my sister, I see Kat dancing, and as I watch, I eagerly await the jumping part.

“Don’t even say you didn’t slow dance!”

Without taking my eyes off Kat, I shout, “Shut up, Dash!”

“You’re making me hold your hand to do this, too, aren’t you? Shit, you’re pigheaded!”

I swiftly look at him, scowling again. “And you’re a horse’s ass!”

Turning my attention back to the dance floor, I ridiculously grin as Kat starts jumping, having more to bounce now, which isn’t good for me as I stand here with Dash.

“Do you want a bib?”

I irritably shove him, but like the gnat he is, he doesn’t leave.

As the song ends, Dash catches Kat’s attention and waves at her, which she smiles and walks over to us.

“Hey, Dash,” she says, trying not to notice I’m standing here.

He sighs again with an exasperated moan to the lights above us. “Kat Merrick, Jared Beckett wants to ask you something.”

“Jesus, Calder. I’m not in eighth grade.”

Kat looks at me with curiosity. “What is it, Jared?” Her shirt is disheveled from jumping, and the top of her black bra or tank top underneath can be seen. Hot damn.

The Cranberries’ Linger starts, and I’m suddenly stumped about what I’m supposed to say.

“Fucking seriously?” Dash shouts. He pushes me and already unbalanced, I easily move closer to Kat. He then takes my hand and puts it around her waist before doing the same to my other one.

“Now, move!”

Holding her is what I’ve been fantasizing about doing for years, but in reality, I’m nervous and totally incompetent.

“This is awkward,” she says. “I’m sorry. I did not help him plan this.”

I shrug but feel anything but laidback. “We’re here now.” My hands are frozen in place on her waist. We find a swaying rhythm, and she tightens her hands on the back of my neck.

At the school dances, I had hoped you’d ask me, but you never did.”

“Really? I didn’t think you wanted to dance with me.”

“Where’d you get that impression? I watched you dance with so many girls. I wanted to be one of them.”

“Why didn’t you ask me?”

“Shy. I thought if you had wanted me to dance with you, you would’ve asked.”

Blinking and looking away from her, I mutter, “Oh.”

Licking my dry lips, I look at her, but my gaze falls to her open shirt again, wandering over the hint of black lace. “Is Dash taking you home tonight, too?”

“No. I’m waiting for Pete to get done later. He’ll take me home.”

“Who brought you?”

“My mom.” She suddenly looks uneasy and glances past me. “I don’t drive.”

“At all?”

She shakes her head. “I never got my driver’s license.”

I nearly stop moving us. “You’re kidding, right?” That class meant more to me than just that I never imagined she didn’t take it as seriously as I did, by all accounts.

“After my accident…” She sighs and moves her gaze to my chest. “I was terrified. Everyone has always understood and has gone out of their way to take me wherever I need to go. When I was married, my husband took me to the bus stop every day and picked me up.” My stomach inexplicably plummets.

“You were married?” I don’t know why that unsettles me so much.

She nods. “For two years. We weren’t ever really in love, and when he was transferred, we ended our marriage. It was rather quiet and easy. Being on my own again, my mom offered to drive me to work. She’s never argued with me or pushed me to get my license, and maybe I’ve taken advantage of that.”

“You took the class. It won’t be hard to pass the test.”

“I want to, but I feel strange having my mom help me.”

Madonna’s Crazy for You takes over, and maybe from the alcohol, I relax, pulling Kat closer to me. Her breath on my chest through my partially open shirt heats my entire body. Looking over her head to random people around us, my eyes briefly close as I swallow.

Kat tilts her head back. “I’ve missed you, Sonic. I think about you every day.”

I instantly look at her. “Why?”

“We used to be friends. Weren’t we?” My gaze falls to her tempting lips. I can’t stop staring at them like I used to do. And fuck, just like then, I want to kiss her. Genuinely kiss her, not some robotic act as I usually do since I’ve been accused of being one.

“We were.”

“Do you think we can be friends again?”

I ultimately nod. “Yeah.” How, though?

She smiles and gently scratches her fingernails over the nape of my neck.

Holy fuck.

She closes the rest of the distance between us as she hugs me. Without thinking, my hands slide to her back, encircling her and holding her against me. My heart pounds so hard she has to feel it.

With her head on my chest, she asks, “Tomorrow, when you’re sober, do you think you’ll remember us dancing or anything we said?”

Amused, but also perplexed, I say, “I don’t know. Why?” Definitely.

As the song ends, she stretches to whisper in my ear, “In school, I wanted to be more than friends with you.”

What the hell?

As my jaw hits the floor, she lightly kisses my neck before dropping her hands and walking away. By the time I turn around, she’s gone, leaving me in awe, confused, or afraid.

I’m not sure which one I want to be.

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