This is the continuation of chapter eight, and is really the beginning of the turning point in the novel. If you haven’t had a chance to drop any feedback, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Also, a quick update on my Kickstarter project for Insurgent: if you haven’t checked it out, please do so! 24 hours in, and it is 6% funded, so still a long ways to go. You can check out the Kickstarter campaign here.
A couple of ostriches (Alex)
I heard the intake of Carrie’s breath before I saw them coming.
“You’re right,” she whispered. “He is hot. Jesus, so is Dylan. He doesn’t look much like the kid you had pictures of from Israel.”
Dylan and Sherman were walking toward us. Sherman was extremely tall, gangly, but strongly built, with powerful arms and legs. He had short cropped hair and white teeth and would have looked damned good on a recruiting poster.
Next to him was Dylan, wearing that black, slightly too-tight t-shirt that made me just ache to rip it off. I wanted to growl. He looked at me across the field and smiled, and I felt myself blush.
“Um… yeah,” I said. “Somewhere along the line he grew up.”
“I guess you did, too, sis,” she said, eyeing me.
Knowing that I was planning to seduce Dylan that night, I’d gone all out. I was wearing a short black dress that felt almost insubstantial, with strappy heels that added about four inches to my height. I’d spent a long time on my hair and makeup, and I hoped it was going to have the right effect.
I saw Dylan catch his breath when his eyes sought me out. There was no question at that moment what he was thinking about. I smiled impishly at him, and he approached and kissed me, roughly. “Wow,” he murmured. “What’s the occasion?”
“You are,” I whispered.
I stepped back, then introduced my sister to Sherman and Dylan.
“It’s really nice to meet you both,” she said. She was staring at Sherman. At six foot two, she didn’t meet many men her own height, much less taller than her, but he was taller than any of us. It was a little strange to see my sister overwhelmed by anything, but Sherman was pulling that off pretty well.
She might have been here to report back on me and Dylan, but it looked like she was getting more than she’d bargained for. For the first time in our lives, my sister looked uncomfortable in her own skin, her eyes darting everywhere, hands curled at her sides.
“So, um…” she said. Wow. Carrie did not say “um.” Ever. She continued. “You were in the Army with Dylan?”
Sherman smiled at her, his white teeth gleaming. He said, “Yeah… I had to drop out of college in 09, and ended up enlisting.”
“Oh? Where did you go?”
“Stony Brook,” he said. “It’s actually not all that far from here….”
He continued on, but I missed it, because Dylan and I fell back a few feet behind them as they talked. I took Dylan’s left hand in my right. He moved a little closer, and naturally, without thought, my arm went around his waist, his resting on my shoulder.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey to you,” I said.
“They sure hit it off,” he said quietly.
“Oh, my God. I’ve never seen my sister so off-balance. She’s in absolute lust.”
He chuckled. “I feel almost insulted, she’s not interested in talking with me at all. I thought she was here to … um…” His face twisted in anger. “I can’t remember the word,” he muttered.
“Spy,” I replied quickly, not wanting to see him so unhappy.
“Yeah. I thought she was here to spy on us.”
I laughed. “She is. But I think plans just changed.”
He nodded. His eyes were far away. I looked at him as we walked. Something was off. He was here, but not here. It wasn’t just the passing aphasia. It was his entire demeanor. It was as if he was huddled in on himself, defensive. I hadn’t seen him like this since the couple of weeks after we first ran into each other again.
I took a deep breath, leaned my head on his shoulder, and asked, “What’s wrong?”
He tensed a little, so I stopped walking. He did too. I turned toward him, putting my arms around his waist and resting my head against his chest, taking a deep breath.
“It’s complicated,” he said.
“That’s nothing new,” I replied. “You can talk about it.”
He sighed and whispered, “I don’t deserve you, Alex.”
I frowned, then looked up into his eyes. “Don’t say that, Dylan. Don’t ever say that. I love you, and you love me, and that’s all that matters.”
He closed his eyes and pulled me into a deep hug, leaning against me. He inhaled deeply, as if taking a breath before going under water, his lips against my hair.
“If you want to skip the party, it’s fine,” I said. “If you’re not up for it tonight.”
“No, that’s fine. I don’t want to ruin your night with your sister.”
I snickered. “I think she’s fully occupied.”
“Tell you what,” he said. “Let’s do exactly what we planned, okay? Let’s go to the party.”
“And then you get your surprise, after.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Oh? A surprise?”
I bit my lower lip, then whispered in his ear, “Make sure you’re up for a long night, Dylan. I’ve got plans for you.” As I said it, I pressed the full length of my body against him, slowly rising on my toes.
He took a deep, sharp breath, and I could feel his body respond nearly instantly. My meaning was unquestionably clear to him.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m more sure than you can imagine, Dylan Paris.” My voice dropped to a whisper. “I’m losing my virginity tonight.”
He spoke, his voice deep and husky in my ear. “You told me you were waiting for the man you wanted to marry.”
“I did, didn’t I?”
Oh. God. I didn’t just say that. I did. Was he going to freak? We’d never, ever gone that far, or even suggested that we might go that far.
Except that I remembered what Sherman had told me. She was my girlfriend, Drill Sergeant. I’m gonna get her back. I plan to marry her.
Suddenly I found I couldn’t even breathe, but every nerve ending in my body was alive with excitement; the feel of his strong arms, his chest against mine, his very slight stubble against my cheek. Oh, dear God. He’d gone through basic training two full years ago. I couldn’t believe he’d told his drill sergeant that, that he’d been thinking it, that he’d even fantasized about it that long ago. Of course I had. I’d indulged in so many fantasies… fantasies of us running off to a foreign country together, of us telling my parents to go to hell and setting off on our own. I didn’t guess that he had shared them, and suddenly I regretted that.
“You didn’t really say that, did you? I’m imagining that?” he asked.
“What if I did?” I asked, trying desperately to adopt a playful tone. It was belied, though, by the intense grip I was holding him with. I slid my right hand around his side, then up his chest, between us, feeling his heartbeat.
“Then I might pick you up in my arms and carry you back to the apartment right this second.”
I gasped, and whispered, “Please don’t tempt me, I wouldn’t even consider resisting you.”
I heard a cough, then a deep voiced throat clearing.
I pulled a fraction of an inch away from Dylan and felt my face go red hot. Sherman and Carrie were standing there, looking at us with amused expressions on their faces.
“We got to the street to wave down a cab, and realized you weren’t with us,” she said.
Sherman laughed, then said, “You guys got lost on the way?”
“Yes,” Dylan said, sounding winded. “We did.”
“Come on, lovebirds,” Carrie said. “And by the way… wow.”
Now I was really blushing. I hid my face, and Dylan said, “Be nice.”
Carrie got a sly grin on her face, and said, “I think my sister is being more than nice enough, to you, for the both of us, thank you.”
Sherman burst into loud laughter, then she did, and then, the earth shifted in front of me, because she and Sherman high-fived each other.
“Okay,” I said. “My world just got really weird.”
Dylan chuckled. “You know, I always thought Sherman was an alien, like from Mars, he’s so freakishly tall. But he looks good next to her. It’s like they’re a couple of ostriches.”
I giggled, and we put our arms around each other and walked after them. It would be funny if Sherman and Carrie ended up hooking up, though very strange, considering her history. But the two of them were chattering as they walked along as if they’d known each other for years.
At Broadway we flagged down a cab. Kelly and Joel were planning to meet us at the party, and I couldn’t wait to introduce them to Sherman and Carrie. It was strange: as if I had all these segmented, altogether different parts of my life. Me and Dylan. My family. Me and Kelly. And for the first time ever, they were all coming together in the same place. It felt strangely exhilarating.
It was close to midnight before we reached Robert Meyer’s apartment on the Upper West Side. Robert is, to put it mildly, obscenely rich. His father and mine are friends, and I’d received more than one obnoxiously heavy handed hint from my parents that I should throw myself at him. I liked Robert, sort of, as a friend. But to date? Oh, hell no. Probably riddled with STDs, Robert knew exactly how his money effected girls, and had used to it to lay an impressive trail of crying women across the city of New York. At twenty-seven, he had shown no signs at all of improving, either in his disposition or level of responsibility.
But you could be sure I’d hear more about how marvelous he was when I returned home for Thanksgiving. Sometimes my parents were so clueless.
That said, his apartment was fantastic. A penthouse apartment with a large rooftop deck on West 73rd Street, I’d never seen anything quite like it. Even with thirty something people attending, it didn’t feel crowded. When the four of us arrived, we were welcomed. Robert hugged my sister, a huge smile on his face, while Sherman glowered.
“It’s so good to see you again, Carrie. It’s been a long time. How is the studying going for you?”
“I’m at Rice now,” she said, “Working on my PhD.”
He raised his eyebrows. “I did hear something like that. Good for you. And this must be your sister.”
I nodded. “Alex,” I said. “And this is my boyfriend Dylan Paris.”
Robert gave Dylan an insincere smile and said, “A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Paris. You’re a lucky man, indeed.”
“Thanks,” Dylan muttered. It was obvious he was extremely uncomfortable.
“Come join the party,” Robert said. Behind him, past the entryway, was a large living room. Several small groups of people were standing or sitting around, all of them in various states of inebriation. The crowd spilled out onto the roof, looking out at the skyline. Loud music was blasting from a stereo in the corner, and I could see more people down the hall.
“Make yourselves at home!” shouted Robert as we entered the living area.
I saw a few people I knew from school, as well as friends of both my family and Robert’s. This was going to be a extraordinarily strange night.
I leaned closed to Dylan, put my lips to his ear, and said, “You okay?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Just… this place takes some getting used to. What the hell does a rooftop apartment in Manhattan cost?”
I shrugged. “No idea!”
“I guess if you ask to ask, you can’t afford it, right?”
I heard Carrie let out an exclamation, and then she was hugging someone, I suppose an old friend from school. She started doing introductions, taking Sherman around the room and introducing him to people. They stood out, taller than anyone else in the room, both of them looking like rock stars.
We mingled, and talked with a lot of people, the two of us holding hands all night. At one point, he said, “I’ve got to sit down, my leg is killing me.”
He sat, and wiped his forehead, and I could tell he was uncomfortable, both with the crowding and the loud music. I was going to get him out of here soon, Carrie or not. She was staying at a hotel on 108th Street, and we could always meet up for breakfast.
“Let me get you a glass of water,” I said.
He nodded gratefully, and I made my way to the kitchen.
Sherman was there.
“Hey,” I said. “You and Carrie sure hit it off.”
He grinned. “Yeah, I like her. A lot.”
I returned the grin. “I’m so glad.”
“Paris doing okay?” he asked.
“His head’s hurting, I was going to get him a drink of water.”
He nodded, his face suddenly looking serious.
“Can I ask you a question, Alex?”
“Of course,” I said, grabbing a glass and running the faucet to fill it up.
“Are you serious about him?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, turning toward him.
He looked around the room, at pretty much everything but me, and then said, “Look. He’s my friend. And … I don’t know if you know how much into you he really is. I don’t know if you know everything that happened over in Afghanistan, either. But… look, I’m worried about him, okay? He’s been through the shit. And it wouldn’t take much to knock him over the edge permanently. Guy needs some time to heal.”
I nodded, seriously, then said, “I love him, Sherman.”
He closed his eyes and nodded. “That’s all I wanted to hear, Alex. I just… If you were just playing with him… I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m saying.”
I put my hand on his arm, and said, “You’re saying that you’re a good friend, and you’re looking out for him.”
“Yeah,” he said, shrugging.
“I won’t ever do anything to hurt him if I can avoid it. Fair enough? I’d rather gouge my eyes out than cause him any more pain.”
He looked relieved.
“Okay. We’re good,” he said. “Back to chasing your hot sister.”
I giggled, embarrassed and amused at the same time. He stepped out of the kitchen, and I stood there for a moment, just thinking. The last two weeks had changed so much. For the first time in my life, I saw a real chance to carve out my own life. A life I wanted, not the one my father had planned out for me. And that life would include Dylan, no matter what. Right then and there, I repeated the promise I’d just made to Ray Sherman, but I made it to myself. I’d never, ever do anything to hurt Dylan.
I was so spaced out, my thoughts so far away, that I didn’t even notice when Randy Brewer stepped into the kitchen. But when I heard his voice, my back nearly spasmed.
“You look so thoughtful, beautiful. Have you changed your mind about me?”
I spun around, my eyes widening when I saw him, my heart rate suddenly increasing rapidly.
“Get away from me,” I said.
“What’s wrong, Alex? You used to like me.”
“We went out exactly twice. And then you tried to rape me.”
“Jesus, will you just get over it already? I was drunk. It was bad judgment, and I apologize. Besides, you would have liked it. You know that.”
I started to back out of the kitchen through the other door, away from him. But also away from Dylan and my friends. I didn’t know what was down this hall, but I needed some distance from Randy right now.
“You’re kidding yourself,” I said. “Just leave me alone.”
“Give me what I want and I’ll be happy to.”
A flash of fear ran through my mind. If he tried to grab me, would they even hear me out there? The music was so damned loud. As I backed away, into a darkened hallway, he stopped closer, matching my steps.
“It won’t be so bad,” he said. “You could learn to love me, as much as I love you.”
What the hell was wrong with him? I’d known Randy for years. His family ran in the same circles as mine. He’d always been arrogant, but this was something different entirely. My heart was pounding as I tried to keep my distance from him.
“Just leave me alone, Randy. I don’t want anything to do with you.”
I took one more step backwards, and my foot tangled in something on the floor. As I lost my footing, I started to fall backwards. I let out a scream when he reached out and grabbed my arms.