Labor Day started out gray and hazy and gave me very little hope for how the evening would turn out. But by mid-morning, the clouds had blown over and the haze had burned off. It still felt like summer, since it was only the beginning of September. We wouldn’t feel fall temperatures until mid to late October. I was glad. I was always happier in the heat of summer.
My mom had gotten to indulge her living Barbie doll fantasies when she took me shopping for new school clothes. I liked the new stuff; I hated shopping for it. The mall was one of my least favorite places to spend time. I much preferred to be outside actually doing something. Even if that something was nothing more than deepening my tan.
Daddy and Jason had similar reactions when I brought out my uniforms for the dance squad. Daddy was silent in his disapproval over how much skin would be shown; Jason was much more vocal.
“Is it necessary to flash that much flesh to keep the crowd engaged during halftime? Damn, I though the outfits were risque when I was there. Those girls would look like they were dressed for the frozen north next to the shit they have you wearing! Is the coach insane?” He continued in a similar vein until I finally got him to realize that I had no choice and had to wear the outfits and he would just have to deal with it. I actually liked the uniforms, but didn’t feel the need to mention that.
I lived the closest to the lake, so I was the last one Ginger would be picking up when we went to the beach party. I smiled when her white VW Bug pulled into the driveway. I shouted my goodbyes to my folks before I ran to jump into her car. I have to say, that thing is much roomier than it looks. I said hi to Belinda and Danielle as well as Ginger once I squeezed into the back seat. We started talking a blue streak about what we wanted to do. It would be nice to have a chance to dance without being regimented.
When she pulled into the lot, my breath caught at the sight of the familiar, shiny red Camero. Fuck. It had been over two weeks since I had seen or talked to Eric, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t been on my mind. My days consisted of getting up, going to work, going to practice, and going home. The combination of waiting tables and working on incredibly detailed, intense dances wore me the fuck out. I usually came home, ate dinner, and went to sleep. I only had Labor Day off because Senior wanted me to have a free day before school started.
I had a lot of confusion where Eric was concerned, thanks to Jason and Tara. And my own damn mind was confused enough without them talking to me and making sense. I liked him. A lot. I could admit that. I couldn’t have spent the amount of time I had with him if I didn’t. I couldn’t have done the things I had done with him, as many times as I had, if I hadn’t more than just liked him. And I was mad as hell at myself for more than liking him. That wasn’t part of what I wanted. Right? Danielle happened to interrupt my thoughts by following my gaze. “Oh! Who owns the flashy car? Someone compensating for something?” she asked with a little giggle.
I responded with a little half-hearted giggle of my own, but didn’t answer her questions. God knew that Eric had nothing to compensate for. He was here. What would happen if we ran into each other? I wanted to see him. Bad. No, I wanted to jump on him and drag him into a dark part of the beach and do unmentionable, dirty things with him. But I wasn’t going to. He had made his decision.
I followed the girls down to the crowded beach. Some band I wasn’t familiar with was playing tonight, and they seemed to be big fans of Jimmy Buffet (No offense to all the Parrot Heads out there, but uuugh! You can only hear “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise” only so many times before you go homicidal on the band). Since it was late-ish and I hadn’t eaten before leaving the house, I went to the concession stand and ordered some fries to munch on to keep my stomach from making embarrassing noises. I turned and I saw him. His hair had gotten lighter since the beginning of the summer, I guess from the practices. I hadn’t noticed before. It was just a few shades shy of platinum. His arms, from what I could see, were darker too. I just knew if he turned toward me, the blue of his eyes would blaze against his tan like tiny flames. I slowly edged back into the crowd, not wanting him to see me.
These things bored the shit out of me. I hated fucking Jimmy Buffet. I hated the overprice crap food they sold at the concession stand. I hated that I had forgotten my towel to sit on and there was nowhere to just get away from the crowd. And I didn’t particularly care for the fact that the first friend Pam ran to meet was a skinny, kind of nerdy looking boy who greeted her with a hug. She wandered off, holding his hand, with some of her other friends. What the fuck was that? That little shit had no business touching my baby sister. I turned to follow them and saw a blond ponytail bobbing into the crowd. I paused, but decided not to follow. She didn’t like going to these parties; she’d told me as much. Even if by some off chance that it was her, I was pretty damn sure she didn’t want to see me. She had made that abundantly clear two weeks ago.
I lingered on the edge of the crowd, trying to keep an eye on Pam. A pretty brunette approached me. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t place where I recognized her from. “You look kind of lonely, Stretch. Want some help with that?”
“What kind of help you offering?” I asked, flirtatiousness in my voice. Hell, I was single and unattached, even if it wasn’t by my choice.
“Oh, I have my ways. But I don’t want to share them with the crowd here. Let’s find somewhere a little more private, huh?” Her voice had a teasing lilt to it. The words were right, but the voice wasn’t. She led me to a dark corner of the beach, away from the flood lights around the stage. When she stood on her toes to kiss me, more than the voice was wrong. She was too tall, too skinny, and tasted just… off.
I broke away from her. “What’s your name?” I asked, to keep her from kissing me again.
“Yvetta. I went to prom with your friend Bill. You don’t remember me? Cuz I definitely remember you.,” she purred with a soft giggle, trailing her fingers down my chest.
Uugh. The last thing I wanted was that fucker’s leftovers. I lifted her hand from my body, trying to hide my revulsion. “You seem nice, but you’re not really my type.”
She smirked. “Honey, from what I’ve heard, female is your type. I’m pretty damn sure the princess over there wasn’t taking care of you. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be staring daggers at us right now, would she?”
I managed to escape his notice. I wandered around, trying to find my friends in the huge crowd. I came across Pam dancing with a tall, lanky kid that had the geeky charm thing going. She froze when she saw me. She leaned in, whispered something to her dance partner, and stalked toward me.
“What the fuck did you do to break my brother?” she demanded when she was right in front of me. Her eyes, a darker shade of blue than Eric’s, were blazing, even in the dim light of the early evening.
What did she mean, I had “broken” Eric? “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said, trying tho keep my voice calm. She was younger than me, but slightly taller and I could see she had a temper. I had a feeling it was about to be unleashed all over me.
I was right. She got right up in my face. “He comes with you to one of these things and he can’t stop obsessing over you. He makes me call around to get your number. He takes you on dates, although what he was doing with you before doesn’t take a fucking rocket scientist to figure out. And all of a sudden, he’s spending his free time with me. Playing fucking video games. And I can’t even tease him about it because it’s too fucking sad. YOU did that to him and I want to know why!”
“Pam, if he wanted you to know, he would have told you. I don’t feel like discussing my private business with you.”
“Fuck that! He never put the kind of effort into getting to know a girl like he did with you. He never had to before. And even after the chase was done and the challenge was gone, he still fucking wanted you! That’s unheard of with him! And you broke him.” Her voice had lowered to a hiss and I had to believe she was about to snap.
“Pam, I’m leaving to go meet up with my friends. If you want to know what’s wrong with Eric, ask him, not me.” I turned and hurried away from her, heading in the direction I had come from. I headed toward the edge of the crowd to catch my breath. Pam’s temper was fearsome.
I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye and turned my head when I head a giggle coming from that same direction. It was dark, but there was no mistaking Eric’s tall silhouette. There was also no mistaking the female wrapped around his body pawing at his chest and I felt like my own chest was being shredded.
I had no right to be mad. None. At all. Nope, I wasn’t pissed as hell that some cheap little trick had her hands on Eric. In the dark. Doing all the things I wanted to do. And Eric sure didn’t seem fucking “broken”. He seemed like he was doing just fine. He didn’t waste anytime jumping right back in the fucking saddle. But I couldn’t move. I couldn’t stop looking at them and I know my face reflected the hurt I felt in my chest.
Eric straightened his spine so he was standing straight and met my gaze. He tilted his head looking at me and cocked that stupid eyebrow at me. I sucked in a deep breath and turned back into the crowd. I cut behind the stage, trying to find the most direct path back to the parking lot. I sank next to Ginger’s car and started bawling. I felt pathetic. This was the other reason I hadn’t wanted to start anything serious. Part of me had just known that I wouldn’t be enough for him. It had only been a matter of time.
Tara had been right. It wasn’t just his feelings that made this whole casual thing messy. Mine were getting in the way too. Feelings I didn’t even realize that I had until too late. But I was a Stackhouse. Pride and stubbornness were part of our DNA. I would sit on the cool asphalt in misery before I begged him.
Ginger, Belinda, and Danielle found me next to the car. I wiped my cheeks and hopped in the car to go home. After all, the next day was the first day of school.
I looked over Yvetta’s shoulder and saw her. It was the first time I had seen her since I dropped her off at her house the night she decided that she didn’t want me. And she looked just as amazing, if not a little better than I remembered her. She still had curves that made my mouth water, but just two weeks of the intense dance practices had toned her body just enough that my eye, which had seen each and every inch of Sookie Stackhouse, could see the difference.
She was still and staring at me with a look of utter anguish on her face. Part of me wanted to go to her and comfort her. The other part of me, the prideful part, wanted to say “fuck her” and go on my merry way, doing whatever and whoever I wanted. I folded my arms over my chest and gave her a look, wondering what she wanted to do.
Apparently she wanted to get away from me as fast as possible. She spun, shot into the crowd, and disappeared from my sight. Yvetta used the opportunity to try to kiss me again, but that was the last thing that I wanted. I gently but firmly pushed her off me, wishing she would get the fucking picture that I didn’t want her. At all.
I found Pam, kissing the tall geek that she was hugging and holding hands with earlier. How the hell did I not know about this? I pulled him off her, much to her dismay. She tried to give me one of her infamous temper tantrums about how I was treating “Stan”, but I nipped that in the bud. I allowed for no argument when I told her it was time for us to go and for her to round up the friends of her that had ridden with us.
I got everyone loaded into the car and dropped off safely before Pam and I arrived at home. She stormed into the house, refusing to speak to me because of how I had treated Stan. Her door slammed and I winced at the unexpected sharp sound that echoed in the empty hall. I made my way into my room and picked out my clothes for the next day and set my alarm. The first fucking day of school. I had never looked forward to it less.