Icing on the Lake, page 16
“Look at you.” She pointed to me and Jones on the TV screen. We were jumping around the dance floor, doing the mashed potato, pumping our arms up and down. “All I ask is, tomorrow night?”
“Yeah?” I asked.
“You dance a little better than you did at my wedding.”
We both laughed, and then Gretchen reached for a tissue, because she was starting to cry. “God. I haven’t been able to look at this video in a long time. It makes me sad—but it’s sort of fun, too.”
I’d hardly ever seen her cry. It was strange. She was usually so tough, acting like she didn’t care.
“I know you’re in love with Sean and everything, but promise me you won’t get married until you’re older,” Gretchen said.
“Oh, don’t worry,” I told her, dropping onto the sofa beside her. “I’m not getting married anytime soon.”
And another thing, I could have added. I’m not in love with Sean.
I’d forgotten to ask Sean how we would get over to St. Paul for the Snow Ball. I could take the minivan, though I didn’t really want to drive. I wondered if Conor was going to drive the three of us again, but that would be beyond awkward. Besides, it was hard to imagine the three of us crammed into the pickup in our dressy clothes.
My hair was blown and brushed out straight, falling on my shoulders. Gretchen had helped me put some small sprinkles of ice-like glitter in my hair and on my bare shoulders. She’d also done my makeup, again, which she was getting pretty good at doing.
I shifted by the doorway in my high heels, and glanced at my watch. It was almost eight-fifteen, and Sean had said he’d pick me up at eight.
The night wasn’t exactly off to the best possible start, but oh well. “Being fashionably late—that’s something Emily Post recommends, right?” I asked Gretchen as I came back from the front hallway, where I’d been pacing.
“I don’t know. But I think anything over ten minutes is rude.” She frowned, then reached for the telephone. “I think I’ll call over there, see what happened to him—”
“No. Don’t!” I cried. “I mean, if anyone should call, it’s me, but I’m giving him five more minutes.”
“I don’t approve,” Gretchen said. “For the record. He should be here on time.”
I walked back over and peered out the window. A long, black station wagon was pulling up at the curb. It wasn’t a limo, but it was close. “Hey! That might be him,” I said. Don’t tell me he rented a car for this, I thought.
Gretchen limped over to me and gave my makeup a final check. “You’re going to be cold,” she said. “Take this.” She reached into the closet and pulled out her long, maroon down coat—the one that looked like a sleeping bag.
“Thanks, Mom, but I’ll just take this instead.” I didn’t have a long coat with me, so I just put my puffy jacket over my shoulders. I didn’t plan to wear it, much.
“That doesn’t go with your dress!” she protested.
“Well, neither does that.” I pointed to her coat.
“You’re impossible. You don’t wear a short jacket with a gown,” she said.
“It’s not a gown. It’s a dress.” Gretchen rolled her eyes when I said that. “And I’ll just carry it, if you’re so concerned.” I balled up the jacket under one arm, and held my miniature purse with the other.
“You look silly,” Gretchen said. “But cute.”
“Thank you.” I bowed.
I looked out the window at the car idling by the curb. Was Sean going to come in, or did I have to run out there myself?
But there he was, coming up the walk. I took a deep breath and braced myself. Tonight wasn’t going to be easy. At least not at the beginning. First I had to tell Sean that I’d fallen for his brother. Then I had to tell Conor that I wanted to be with him.
Very possibly, I should have done all this before right now.
Gretchen opened the door, and I stood behind her, feeling like it was too eager to be caught looking out the window for your date.
“Wow,” Sean said as I stepped out from behind Gretchen. “You look gorgeous.”
I smiled at Sean, who was standing in the open doorway, a bit stunned. “Thanks,” I said. “You look pretty good yourself.”
Sean was wearing a dark blue suit, and he looked a little like Ashton Kutcher. In other words, very, very good.
“Picture time. Picture time!” Gretchen cried.
I could have killed her. Literally. “You are so like Mom. So like her,” I said.
“Don’t say that. Say cheese,” she replied.
Sean and I posed in the doorway, then we posed by the fireplace, then we posed with Brett.
Finally we convinced her that we really did have to get going. I gave Brett a good-night kiss, arranged the little scarf on my shoulders, and Sean took my hand and guided me over the doorstep and down the front walk.
I walked around to the other side of the car with Sean, and saw a camera flash go off on the front walk.
“Gretchen. Do you really need a shot of us getting into the car?” I asked.
“Yes. Now be quiet and smile and wave.”
I doubted that she caught my smile, because as soon as Sean opened the car door, I saw who was in the car: five other people, including what’s-her-name from the lake. I think I would have rather gone in the old pickup, rust and Conor and all.
Sean and I slid into the front seat next to one of the seven hockey players, Duke, who was driving the car. The other four people were crowded into the backseat. Sean introduced me to everyone, and although I didn’t catch everyone’s names or figure out who had come with whom, I did get her name again: Melissa. She was wearing a sexy, white strapless dress, and she had olive brown skin and looked amazing, a shoo-in contestant for the upcoming “America’s Next Top Model” season.
The fact that she was there didn’t bother me the way it would have a few weeks ago, though it did seem a little tactless on Sean’s part for us to all ride in the same car.
Me? I stuffed my down jacket at my feet and then sat back and tried to relax. We drove past Sean’s house and I looked to see whether Conor’s truck was parked outside. It was. My heart sank. Wasn’t he going to the party?
“We should go out to eat first,” Sean said.
“Aren’t they having food at the party?” I asked.
“Yeah, but I’m starving,” Sean said. “Come on, it’ll be hilarious. We’ll go somewhere cheap, and sit there in our suits.”
“We’re late, though. Let’s just get there,” Melissa said.
I turned around and gave her a half-smile. “I agree.”
“Okay. You guys are probably right,” Sean said. “I still think it’d be fun.”
He reached over and turned up the car stereo’s volume, and the music was sort of blaring. This wasn’t really me, I thought. Also, the music was so loud that I couldn’t talk to Sean then, the way I wanted to. I hadn’t realized we were going to the party in a group.
The song stopped just as I was saying, “I need to talk to you!” in a loud voice.
“Uh oh, sounds serious,” his friend Philip said.
“You’re in trouble, dude,” Duke added.
Everyone started laughing and pushing Sean’s shoulders from the back seat and flicking the top of his head.
“Uh, later. At the party. That would be fine,” I said, smiling at him.
He rested his hand on my leg. “No problem.” Then the next song started to play, and we went screaming down the highway on-ramp at top speed.
The house was breathtakingly beautiful, with white lights strung across the arched portico. A gigantic white wreath hung on the front door, and a snowman held a sign that said “Enter here—Valet parking” in fancy script. We turned over the car to the valet and headed for the entrance, me still clutching my down jacket, Melissa still looking fantastic. I thought she might be there with Philip, but I couldn’t tell. We were all sort of traveling as a pack.
There was a gue
“What do Kevin’s parents do for a living, exactly?” I asked Sean as I gazed around the luxurious mansion, like a little kid seeing Disney World for the first time.
“I have no idea,” he said.
“Well, whatever it is, they should keep doing it,” I said, and we both laughed.
The gigantic room where the party was being held was more like a ballroom than a living room. The lights were set low, and the setting was very romantic, if crowded. There was a cart in the corner, serving Sno-Cones; caterers circled with trays of fancy, homemade versions of Hostess Sno-Balls and glasses of ice water and punch—and fake snow was sprinkled here and there, on top of small, potted pine trees, on skis that were hung on the wall, beside two pairs of old-fashioned skates. Winter Carnival buttons were hanging from silver ribbons dangling from the ceiling, along with silver icicles.
“Wow,” I said as we walked around the room, looking at everything and everyone. “This is so cool.”
“Yeah,” Sean said, nodding. “It was like this last year, too.”
“How many people do you think are here?” I asked.
“About a hundred?” Sean guessed.
“At least,” I said. “More like two hundred, maybe.”
We stood there people-watching for a minute or two. It was sort of weird that we didn’t have anything much to talk about.
“Good band,” I commented.
“Yeah.” Sean nodded.
We were both still standing there surveying the scene, and the crowd. It was like we barely knew each other, we had so little to talk about.
I had to tell him that I’d changed my mind, that I didn’t think we should go away for the weekend after all. Why was this so hard? I didn’t think he’d be crushed, exactly, but it was something I’d never had to do before.
“You want to dance?” Sean asked as a new song started.
“Sure,” I said.
I’d left my jacket at the coat check, and I set my tiny purse on a table, along with the white rose. For some reason this seemed like a crowd you could trust not to take your stuff.
We moved to the center of the dance floor, where about fifty other people were dancing. The band was playing covers of popular songs. Sean and I looked at each other a couple of times as we danced. Suddenly, out of nowhere, all of his friends descended onto the dance floor, surrounding us. It was actually kind of fun, except for the way Melissa kept trying to get close to Sean and bump his hips with hers.
After a couple of songs I decided to take a little break, so I moved off the dance floor. I walked around for a bit to check out the rest of the house, and as I was going past the front entryway, suddenly I saw Conor walk into the house.
The most surprising thing wasn’t that he was wearing a cool, retro suit, with a skinny tie, and suede sneakers. It wasn’t that he didn’t see me right off.
It was that he had walked in with a girl on his arm. A petite, dark-haired girl with light brown skin and a very cool black-and-white wool checkered coat.
I couldn’t believe it. What was he doing with a date? Then again, why shouldn’t he be allowed to bring someone? Just because we’d hung out together and had a good time, that didn’t mean he was banned from seeing someone else.
I kept sneaking glances at them as they checked her coat, and walked into the big room. Every time I did, they were laughing.
I walked back over to Sean, who was hanging out by the Sno-Cone cart with his friends and the other girls. He didn’t even seem to notice that I was back, or that I’d been gone.
“So I just saw Conor,” I said, sidling up beside Sean.
“Oh, yeah? You want a cone?” Sean asked.
I shook my head. “No thanks. I’m holding out for a snowball,” I said. “So, uh. Conor. He has a date for tonight?”
“Yeah. Guess so.” Sean nodded.
“Really,” I muttered.
A minute later, Conor and the girl he’d come in with walked past us and gave us a small wave. I waved back, my arm completely lifeless. His date gave me a friendly smile.
Yeah, I’d be happy, too, I thought, as I listened to Sean and his friends go on and on about how great the season was going to be, and whether they’d make it to the tournament, and where they wanted to play college hockey…. If I were with Conor.
About half an hour later, after dancing to a few more songs and making some more small talk, I was sitting on a window seat, looking out at the snow that had begun to fall, and wondering how long I’d have to stay. Because we had come to the party with other people, I’d have to wait for them to want to leave. It didn’t look as if I was going to get a chance to actually talk to Sean about things, and it didn’t seem like I would see Conor much, either. The night wasn’t exactly going my way, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it.
A waiter walked past with a tray of the round snowball-shaped cakes, and I jumped up, nearly knocking him down. “Oh. Excuse me,” I said.
“No problem,” he replied.
“I just kind of wanted one of those,” I said, feeling my face turn red.
He held the tray out to me and I lifted up one of the snowball cakes on a napkin. “Enjoy.”
“Thanks.” I took a bite of the coconut-covered cake, wondering why they’d serve something that was so difficult to eat without making a mess. There must be some etiquette about how to eat something this crumbly at a party. But if there was, I didn’t know it. No doubt Gretchen would.
I was taking another very delicate bite when suddenly Conor was standing beside me. “Wouldn’t these be great for a snowball fight?” he asked.
I was so surprised to see him that I nearly choked on a coconut flake that went down the wrong way.
“I could totally see this place breaking into mayhem,” Conor added.
I brushed my mouth with a napkin. “Food fight, you mean?”
“Yeah.” Conor grinned. “Should we do it?”
“No,” I said, looking around at everyone, all dressed up. “I don’t think we’d be very popular.”
“Do we care? Anyway, you’re leaving soon, and nobody here really knows who you are anyway.” He nudged me with his elbow. “Do it. Show ’em that pitching arm.”
I didn’t appreciate how close he was standing to me. It was really hard to have finally realized how I felt about him, and then see him walk in with someone else.
“It’s not a pitching arm,” I said, trying to move away a little. “First base, remember?”
Conor put his fingers around my arm, completely encircling it. “Definitely not a pitcher’s arm. A little too skinny for that.”
“Not skinny,” I said, brushing at a crumb on my wrist. “Toned.”
“Right. Toned.” He grinned. “You’re all about the toned. Or is it tonedness?”
“I think it’s tone-ocity,” I said. I finished the snowball and dabbed at my mouth.
“Tenacity, maybe. Look out, you missed a couple.” Conor reached out and brushed a coconut flake off my mouth. He was standing really close to me.
I thought, No fair. No fair doing that to me. Didn’t you come with someone else?
But for that matter, didn’t I?
“Thanks,” I said. I flagged down the server who was passing us and managed to get a glass of punch. Conor took one, as well.
I felt like I should make a toast. It wasn’t New Year’s Eve, but this party felt as if we’d all start singing “Auld Lang Syne” at the drop of a hat. Or a glass of punch.
“Well, cheers,” I said as I tapped my glass against Conor’s.
“What are we toasting?” he asked.
I adjusted the wrap on my shoulders, which had slipped a little. “To spring?”
“I don’t know.” I gazed around the room, looking for Sean. I couldn’t believe we’d come together; I hadn’t seen him in at least twenty minutes. I wondered if it was the same for Conor and his date. “Maybe I’ve been here long enough,” I said.
“I disagree,” Conor said. “Respectfully and all, but still.”
“Respectfully? That’s not like you.” I looked over at him and smiled.
“Well, on second thought, maybe you have been here long enough,” Conor said, frowning.
I was about to ask him what he meant by that when two things happened. One, Sean appeared at my side, sliding his arm around my waist. Two, about three girls came over and said, “Hey Conor, want to dance? Come on. You’re dancing.”
“Sounds great,” Conor said loudly as they pulled him out onto the dance floor.
“Where have you been?” Sean asked.
“Uh…right here?” I said as I watched Conor and the girls laughing and dancing together and my stomach did somersaults. “What about you?”
“I’ve been here the whole time,” Sean said. “Well, some of the guys went outside for a while. And then Kevin was showing us around the place.”
It’s called a date, I thought, irritated. Look into it! Didn’t he realize that I would know nobody here, and therefore he should look after me?
Then again, had I really missed him? Would I have been any happier if we’d spent the whole night standing side by side and not talking? At least this way one of us was having a good time.
“Anyway,” Sean said, “do you want to dance?”
“Not really, thanks,” I said.
“Come on, Kirsten. You have to,” Sean said. “We’ve hardly danced together at all.”
And whose fault is that? I thought. “Okay, sure. Let’s dance.”
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