The week and a half leading up to the concert went by kind of slowly. Jared got his tux, but Lauren went with him so they could 'coordinate'. Then he sat with her at lunch, joined her for a study group and went over to her house the Sunday before the dance to meet her family. It all seemed pretty fast to me, but maybe Lauren realized Jared is the real deal and wanted to lock him down as fast as she could. We barely saw each other, and I was sorry to be proven right, again.
I spent my free time drawing, as I do, and avoiding my parents, as one with two brain cells to rub together should. I tried to draw Luke as a super hero with me as a sidekick, but I had a harder time drawing myself than I did other people. Maybe a mask? I don't really have abs, so you sort of had to leave that out. Luke has baby abs. He could have more if he wanted, I'm sure - but then if I were willing to do the work, so could I. Jared has the best abs of the three of us - he kind of throws himself into football season even though neither of us plays much. He says it's more for the social status than actually playing.
I know not seeing him says less about me and more about him. I'm not sure he can handle more than one relationship at a time. I doubt I could, but then he's always been my main relationship. I mean, I do know other people and I guess I have a few other friends. Luke, for instance, would probably call us friends because he doesn't know I bone up thinking about him sometimes. I boned up when I kissed his leftovers, too. Manuel had stupidly soft skin. Derry was paler than pale and I found it strangely attractive. But they hadn't been friends - just relationships. Just rebound kisses, salving their egos and giving me one degree of separation from kissing Luke. I'm not sure kissing all of them even adds up to kissing Luke once, but there you have it.
The night of the concert I put on a white undershirt and a blue button-up that my mom says makes my eyes pop. I needed clarification because I wondered if she meant they looked like they were coming out of my head or just, you know, attracted attention. I know, I'm stupid. I put on a pair of soft khaki pants and my scuffed loafers that were getting the tiniest bit too small for me. After combing my hair I headed out toward the front door, pausing by the living room entrance. My mom was sitting in the dark with the TV on but muted.
"Mom, I'm headed to the concert," I said to her.
She turned and looked at me. "Okay. What concert?"
"The one with Luke Benson, remember?"
"Luke? Oh! Luke, right," she said a little blearily. She'd been drinking, I guessed. She tapped her finger against her cheek and I crossed the room, kissing her cheek lightly. "Have fun. You have money?"
"Yeah. Bye," I said and escaped the house. I headed over to the Benson's and arrived just in time to watch Mr. Benson taking pictures of Jared and Lauren. Jared looked stupid hot, and Lauren was irritatingly pretty on his arm.
"Looking good, Jack!" Jared called out. I blushed and waved at him. Pictures done, he and Lauren walked toward me. "Jack, have you met Lauren?"
"Um, not officially, no," I said and did my best to smile. "You look amazing, by the way. Both of you."
"Jacky-boy! No hitting on my girl," he said and then leaned in to stage whisper. "She has some nice friends though. Call me."
She laughed, and I guess it was a nice laugh. "Stop, silly," she told Jared. She turned to me and said, "We are having a spring party at my house, though. You should join us."
"Oh. Um, thanks," I said, already trying to come up with a reason not to go and be a third wheel at a party.
An older limousine pulled up in front of their house and Jared made a little show of claiming their conveyance had arrived - said in a stuffy tone - and he ushered his date into the car. He glanced at me, gave me a dazzling smile and wave. "Meet me when you get back, okay? See if you can stay over." He grinned again before ducking into the car himself.
"I always thought you guys would go to dances like that," his dad said, looking down at the images on his camera.
"Um. I don't think we're into each other like that, Mr. Benson," I said uncertainly. He smiled and looked up at me.
"I meant double dating, doofus," he said with a chuckle.
"Oh. Oh! Right. Sorry," I said, chuckling uncomfortably.
"Jack! Yes! I was afraid something would come up at the last minute. Are you ready for this?" Luke asked as he descended the short flight of steps from his porch to the front walk. His jeans were tight on him and his tee shirt loose. He'd gone with canvas Converse sneakers and a band of skin could be seen at his ankle.
"Yeah!" I told him with a smile, simply happy because he was. "I've been listening to their music so I'd kind of know what they're playing."
"Sweet! Are you ready, then? The opening band should be getting ready to go on, but I don't really care about them."
"Ready," I told him.
"Hey. Since I already have the camera, give me a smile, you two," Luke's dad said and I groaned internally. Luke was unfazed since his dad always takes pictures, and he stood in front of me, leaning slightly against me. I hoped he didn't push back or he'd feel my half-hard on.
"Interesting smile, Jack," his dad said with a chuckle and waved us off.
Luke was pretty amped up on the way and it was really cool to see him like this. He synched his phone with my car and played some of the music I'd been listening to for the last week and a half to get ready for the show. He sang along and I tried to add in a few words on the chorus lines that I'd heard a few times.
We had to pay for parking and walk about three blocks to get to the theater. The Palace is an old vaudeville theater with gold accents and a painted ceiling that looks like the night sky. Everything reeks of old style inside and it's an awesome place to see a show. We were in the balcony, but toward the front. We made our way up and into the designated area. The opening band was just hitting their last notes and about fifteen minutes later the Panic! started. The evening was off to a good start, in my opinion - Luke was happy and I was enjoying his being happy. He was leaning against me, encouraging me to sing along with him, and I was thoroughly enjoying being with him.
We were probably three quarters of the way through the show when he suddenly became much less active. The crowd was cheering for the song that had just finished, but my attention was focused on Luke and his suddenly rigid posture.
"Luke? What's wrong?" I asked, speaking loudly near his ear. He jolted at my words and shook his head lightly before looking at me. He leaned in close so he could speak in my ear.
"That fucker Josh is here. With someone."
I frowned and looked past him, trying to spot his ex in the crowd.
"He wasn't kidding that he moved on," Luke said, his voice a little lower in my ear and almost lost as the next song started. "What I don't get is, he doesn't even like this band much. Why would he show up here?"
"What are the odds he'd see you or be seen by you, right?" I asked.
"He just looked at me and - that asshole!" Luke was rigid now, looking down toward the stage and the music now ruined for him.
"What? What is it?" I asked, still looking into the crowd and not seeing Josh.
"He brought Derry. They're kissing." He looked at me, anger on his face. "I wish I were on a date so he could just eat his heart out, you know?"
I'd never felt the stupid rise so fast in me. It was a perfect storm of idiocy. I tried to let it wash past me, to not give in, but the idea was kind of laughable. It's sort of an amazing experience - to know what you're thinking, what you're going to attempt, what you will do is monumentally stupid and the consequences potentially disastrous - and to do it anyway. At least when people at the circus stick their head in the mouth of a lion, the lion is well fed and trained.
"Is he looking?" I asked, leaning dangerously close to his ear. Luke turned and scanned the audience for a moment, then turned back quickly.
"Okay, well, let's give him something to see," I said. Luke looked at me quizzically and I leaned forward, brushing our lips against each other.
He jerked his head back. "Jack?"
I looked at him with panic rising in my chest. "Um."
He looked at me, eyes roving my face and a slight wrinkling of his brow. "Jack? Are you...what are you doing?"
I swallowed, or tried to. "I thought you were saying, you know, you'd like to show him you've moved on. I figured, you know...." I shrugged pitifully.
"I wouldn't ask that of you, Jack," he said, shaking his head and laughing a bit. "I mean, if he was kicking my ass I know you'd totally help me, but I wouldn't ask this of you."
The stupid came so fast I didn't have time to try and contain it. "I don't mind. Luke. I...um, this, I can...um, you know. We're both single, right? So."
Luke's eyes widened. "Jack are you...please don't tell me you're gay and into me."
It was the tone. Something bordering on horror. I felt my chest go cold as I realized just how far over the line I'd gone. The stupid idea that I'd kiss him and that this was a date to him too, and that this was going to be a thing - all of it. I was way, way past being just stupid, now. Past idiocy. What comes after that? Jared would know - and what about Jared? Luke would tell him. In one uprising of stupidity, I'd broken everything.
Luke looked at me, waiting for me to reply, but my vocal cords were frozen. All I could think was how stupid I am. How could I have ever thought I'd have a chance with Luke? Things don't work that way. Luke's expression, a horrified curiosity, filled my vision even as my heart was breaking.
"Um. No. I just. I figured we'd show Josh. Right? We can just forget it happened. Okay? Luke?"
He nodded slowly. "Yeah. Sure."
I stood next to him for the remainder of the show, but it was clear I'd ruined it for him. He no longer sang, no longer made casual contact with me. He wasn't happy that I could be interested in him. I'm really not sure why I thought it would be different. He was Luke Benson. He went out with attractive guys like Derry and Manuel. Not Josh so much, but he was certainly more Luke's type than I was. Cataclysmically stupid.
When the concert ended I waited while he hit one of the bootleg vendors that were out front selling tee shirts. I shivered in the cool breeze, one that felt like it rattled through my hollow chest. In a way it was an added torture to have to wait any longer to drop him off and close the books on this awful night. Tee in hand, we walked back to my car. The ride back was quiet, nothing but the local station playing. I pulled into his driveway and stayed silent, just waiting for him to leave so I could try to deal with this. Process it. Try to find some thing in all of this that wasn't complete trash.
"Thank you, Jack," he said quietly. "I really appreciate you stepping up tonight."
I started to reply, but had to clear my throat. "Yeah. Glad to. Luke. Anytime."
He shifted on the seat, turning slightly toward me. "Okay, I'm just going to...say this, Jack. I don't know what was going on tonight-"
"Nothing was going on. We said we'd forget about it, right?" I interrupted him, my nerves fraying.
He sighed. "I'm just trying to say...you've been around in my life so many years, I never really thought about you that way." He paused and softly said, "I'm sorry."
Tears were threatening. I felt a horrible pressure behind my eyeballs and my heart was breaking. "It's okay," I said, my voice nearly a whisper, a rather raspy whisper. "You can't help who you like. Or don't."
Neither of us said anything for a moment, then he undid his seat belt and climbed out of the car. He paused with the door open and said, "I hope I didn't just screw everything up, Jack."
I inhaled deeply, trying to settle the nerves banging around in my chest. "You didn't do anything, Luke," I said quietly. Please, please just go inside.
"Jacky!" Jared called out as he exited the front door of his house in joggers and a tee. I could hear his bare feet slap on the pavement as he crossed to the still open door. Weird thing to notice. But now everything was going to be weird. Luke will look at me weird. I'll feel weird in their home.
Luke made way for Jared who looked down at me. "I feel like I haven't seen you in a week!"
The pressure behind my eyes intensified. I didn't know if it was more stupid that hit me, not really. It was just that everything was such a mess. I felt out of control and my head was throbbing now, and Jared wanted to act like was weird he hadn't seen me for a week?
"Well, whose fault is that?" I snapped.
Jared dropped his smile. "Don't do this, Kaniecki. I have a life, too."
"Yeah, I guess you do," I said, my voice dropping, but accompanied by a tremor. "In your life, friends are just a convenience for when you're between girlfriends."
He stood up straight and looked down at me, his face a stone mask. "You coming in or not?"
I looked back at him. "Not."
He nodded once and closed the door. I slapped the car into reverse and backed down the driveway too fast, hopping the curb at the end of the driveway. I glanced toward the house. Jared had his hands on his hips, watching me. Luke was behind him, arms crossed over his chest, expression unreadable. I looked away and drove home. I drove faster than I normally would and felt anxious and awkward - things I excel at. I pulled in my driveway and put my head on the steering wheel, breathing hard, and the tears that had threatened squeezed out. Just a few. It's almost like they were hesitant to leave, maybe because if I started crying full bore I might just lose all the water in my body and rumor has it that would be a bad thing.
My phone buzzed in my pocket and I did my best to ignore it, but my best wasn't very good right then. I fished my phone out and thumbed it on to find a message from Jared.
Please tell me you got home okay.
I sniffled. I'm home.
I waited, feeling pitiful that I was waiting for him to text me back. That he cared enough to text. Maybe he felt bad?
K, thanks. GN.
I sighed. Goodnight.Next Chapter Previous Chapter