"Weather forecast for tonight: dark."
The silence lasted three days, and it made me anxious. I didn’t want to admit why. I didn’t want to acknowledge - even to myself - that I kind of really wouldn’t mind Sebastian’s company. It wasn’t a new feeling, wanting the company of another, but it was one I didn’t like. Maybe that was why I waited three days to text him. Maybe that’s why, when I did, I only said, “Hey”. Maybe that’s why I panicked when he took six hours to respond.
It was certainly why I jumped when my cell phone rang. Rang. As if someone was calling me. It rang again. Someone was calling me. Sebastian’s name came up on the screen, but there was no picture. I hesitated. I deliberated. I answered. “Hello?”
“Hana!” Sebastian’s voice was bright, too bright, on the other end. “I’m so glad you texted; I was beginning to think you’d decided you didn’t want to be friends with me after all.” Before I could think of anything to say, he rambled on, “Anyway, I was actually about to call and see if you were busy tonight? My friends want to check out this new club thing in town, and I thought you might want to come.”
“I might… what?” I asked, my brain still trying to catch up to the conversation. I was still hung up on the fact that we were talking on the phone. Who called anyone these days?
“Do you want to come to a club with me and my friends?” Sebastian asked, slower this time, more deliberate.
“I…” I paused. I didn’t. I never did. Loud music, pushy people, dancing… it was like my personal hell. And yet, I kind of did want to go. After all, it was how many weeks into summer and I had barely left the house, and certainly not for social reasons. Maybe there’d be alcohol or something. “Okay.”
“Awesome!” There was a bit of a shuffle on his end. “Is nine okay? Pick you up at your place?”
“Seb, I live right next to you.”
There was an unmistakable smile in his voice. “I know. See you at nine?”
“Okay.” There was one in mine too. “See you.”
Nine. That gave me an hour and a half to turn myself from sweatpant-ed slob into night-club ready. Clubbing had never been my thing in college, so I had no idea what this entailed. I knew some people who were into that, but it always seemed easier to just get drunk or high in someone’s dorm room than out in a loud, crowded space.
I settled for brushing my hair until it was shiny, putting on some makeup for the first time that summer, and brushing my teeth, just for good measure. Choosing an outfit was a little more difficult, but given that I didn’t care all that much, a pair of black skinny jeans and a silvery patterned tank top seemed fine. It took about a half hour for me to get ready, and with every passing second I was regretting saying yes more and more.
Watching old re-runs of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. seemed easier than panicking over the ways I could potentially ruin this very new friendship later that night, so that’s what I did until the clock ticked over to nine. Almost on the dot, there was a knock on my door. My mom was in her office, so there was no one to question why I hesitated to open the door.
“Hey,” Sebastian said in greeting, a wide smile lighting his eyes. “How are you?”
“Good,” I replied, grabbing my wristlet from the table near the door. I stood in the doorway, waiting for him to take a step back so that I could move forward and close the door behind me, but he didn’t seem to be in a hurry. “Uh, how are you?”
“Not too bad,” Sebastian replied, hands shoved casually in his pockets. “Are you sure you want to go to this thing? I won’t drag you along if you don’t want to.”
I paused. He was giving me an out, but something in his face made me think he was doing so with a certain degree of reluctance. “I’ll go,” I told him.
“Okay,” Sebastian breathed. He turned to look out into the night, then added, “Um, so one thing.”
“What?” I asked, narrowing my eyes a bit.
“You have a car, right? Do you mind… driving?”
I looked at him. “Yeah, I can drive.” I took a step back to grab my keys from the bowl by the doorway. “Though I thought you said you’d pick me up?” I teased.
Sebastian stepped back, giving me room to close the door, then made a vague circular gesture to himself and his surroundings. “Look! This is me picking you up. Then it’ll be you driving.”
“Uh huh,” I shook my head, heading for the silver car parked in the driveway. It was an old beater “P.O.S.” as my dad had called it when he showed up with it at my graduation. Regardless, it got me to school and back. “So it was a gesture of symbolic gentlemanliness without really following through?”
Snapping his fingers at me, Sebastian replied, “Now you’re getting it.” He gave me a quick set of directions, and I had a vague notion of where I was going.
As I fired up the car, I asked, “Did you at least have a back up plan if I didn’t have a car? Or said no?”
Sebastian nodded. “Yeah, my friend Parker doesn’t live far; it’s usually a standing offer for him to drive me and sometimes my dates.”
“You have your license though, right?” I asked.
Sebastian looked out the window, saying, “Parker’s pretty reliable, even if it sometimes pisses off my date.”
He didn’t really answer the question, but I didn’t comment. I glanced over at him as I pulled out onto the road. “They don’t usually drive?”
“I guess girls don’t like driving in heels?” he asked, half shrugging. “I don’t know.”
My Keds felt snug on my feet, and the first seeds of self-consciousness grow in my stomach. “Should I be wearing heels?”
“No!” Sebastian promised. “You look fine. Great.”
“I didn’t know how dressy this place was-“
“Hana, you’re fine. Seriously,” he said, turning into more populated part of town. “I like you ‘cause you’re not like them.”
I tried not to dwell on the hundreds of different connotations that could go with the word “liked.”
“You said that about your friends too,” I replied, having second thoughts about everything in the past few weeks. “You said you liked me cause I wasn’t into the partying or whatever that you got tired of.” My tone was becoming accusatory, but I couldn’t stop it. “So why are you bringing me here?”
Sebastian didn’t reply, and I couldn’t watch his expression and the road at the same time. “We’re here,” he said. “Park wherever.”
I pulled over to the curb and shut the engine off. He got out. I followed.
Neither of said a word as we went inside.
I was right in expecting the place to be loud and packed with pushy people, but I was wrong about the alcohol. I tried not to be too disappointed about the fact that this club was strictly under twenty one and alcohol free as we maneuvered our way through it, Sebastian searching over the bobbing heads for familiar ones. Eyes on the corner, Sebastian gave a little wave, then grabbed my hand, pulling me through the people and towards more people.
“Hey, guys,” he yelled as we approached, his voice seeming weak over the throbbing music. Sebastian was received with enthusiasm. I was received with confusion.
“I didn’t know you were bringing a friend,” a guy I knew as Marty spoke up from Sebastian’s other side.
“Yeah, sorry, it was a last minute invite,” Sebastian replied. He turned to me. He could have easily meant I was an afterthought, but the lack of guilt in his glance told me he didn’t. “Hana, you probably recognize some of these guys from school, but just in case this is Marty, Kasey, Sarah, Eryka, Parker, and Cara. Guys, this is Hana.”
They greeted me with friendly smiles, and I felt bad knowing I’d likely forget all their names in the next few minutes. I looked around the circle, settling on Parker as the one I had seen talking with Sebastian outside my house. He stood next to Cara, who shared the same dark skin, the same angled nose and wide smile. She was well-built where Parker was wiry, but they were both beautiful. I wondered if they were related.
“Hey, welcome to the party,” Parker told me with a grin too wide to come off as anything but slightly unhinged. “Drinks should be coming any…” he trailed off, looking over the top of my head, which wasn’t hard given he had about eight inches on me. “Right now!” he corrected. Lifting one arm, he waved to someone I didn’t bother to turn around and see.
Sebastian nudged me on the shoulder, leaning down to shout in my ear, “Do you drink?”
“I thought this place didn’t allow alcohol?” I asked, not answering the question.
With a half shrug, Sebastian replied, his breath tickling my cheek, “With the right looks, they’ll allow anything, you know?”
I nodded. I knew. Parker and the others had gathered around the two unmarked liter bottles, and I turned to see these magical looks firsthand. And I stopped. And I stared. And I turned back around before she could see me.
“Hana?” Sebastian called after me as I tried to push my way into the crowd. His hand closed around my shoulder, spinning me around firmly, but not in a painful way. “Where are you going?”
I opened my mouth to make up something, but it was too late. Anita’s golden eyes landed on mine, freezing me in that inescapable stare. “Hana?” she asked, dodging a dancing boy to take the few steps over. “What are you doing here?”
Words weren’t forming for me, so Sebastian stepped in. “I asked if she wanted to come.”
Anita looked back and forth between us, her curls shifting with each subtle turn of her head. I could see some of the anonymous guys behind her roaming their eyes up and down her scantily clad figure like a pack of predators. My hands clenched for so many reasons that I didn’t know what to feel or who to blame. Anita noticed none of this. “Are you two…?” she trailed off, the implication heavy in her voice. Her eyes were on Sebastian’s hand on my shoulder.
“No,” I answered without hesitation, breaking the dam of words lodged in my throat. I shrugged his hand off. “No, we’re not. We’re actually just going. Right, Sebastian?” His eyes shot to mine at the use of his full name, and I sent him a thousand telepathic messages to please just agree.
“Yeah, we’re just-“
“Drinks!” Parker announced, popping up between Anita and Sebastian. He flung an arm around both of their shoulders, his grinning face looking back and forth between them. He pecked Anita on the cheek. “Thanks for smuggling these beauties in,” he said, lifting the bottles he held in each of his hands.
The tension was palpable, and I couldn’t stand it. I plucked a bottle from Parker’s grasp, uncapping it and taking as large of a swallow as I could manage. The burn felt good, and I only coughed a little before handing it back. Parker took it with that perpetual crazed grin. “I like her,” he told Sebastian. “Want some?”
“I-“ Sebastian began.
Parker cut him off, shaking his head. “Yeah, yeah, I know.”
Sebastian stepped out from Parker’s embrace. “Besides, Hana and I were just leaving.”
“But you just got here, man!” he protested.
I could feel Sebastian and Anita both looking at me, but I was focused on the strobe lights, their bright colors searing my eyes. “Sorry,” Sebastian replied, clapping Parker on the shoulder. “Raincheck?”
I felt Sebastian’s hand on my back. I felt Parker’s eyes flicker between us. I felt the nervous electric buzz of the unspoken assumption that we were going somewhere else together for coupley reasons. I felt like I might be sick, but I didn’t know what to attribute that to.
With a knowing grin, Parker waved us away. “Sure, sure. Go have fun, you crazy kids.”
Sebastian’s hand remained on my back until we had cleared the throng of people and escaped into the empty street. Then, it dropped to his side, and turned to face me. “Sorry I made him think we were a couple. It just seemed to be the cleanest way to get out of there. I swear I’ll clear it up later.”
“It’s okay,” I replied, forcing a deep breath of air into my lungs.
His eyes were still on me. He pushed up his glasses. “Are you okay?”
I looked away, up the street. Headlights neared, blinded me, then were gone again. I wondered about the people behind those lights. I wondered if they were like me. I wondered if they were headed somewhere better or worse than where they came.
“Hana?” Sebastian prompted after a minute.
“Sorry I made you leave the club.”
“It’s alright,” Sebastian said. He put his hands in his pockets even though the night wasn’t remotely chilly.
“You can go back in if you want. I can call my mom to pick me up.”
Sebastian leaned against the brick wall beside me. “Honestly? I invited you half hoping you’d give me an excuse to leave early. But then I felt bad about using you like that, so I…” He shrugged. “When it’s just me, I usually end up getting pressured into staying.”
I stared up at the sky. The city lights were too bright; they washed out the stars. Not that they had anything to offer me anyway. I didn’t mind that Sebastian was using me - it made me feel less guilty for making him leave - but some other cold thought twisted into my mind.
“Did you know Anita was going to be there?” I asked, my voice barely above a whisper.
“No. But I thought you were friends?”
Right, he thought we were friends. He didn’t know about our history, he didn’t know… I felt a second stab of guilt for thinking he might have planned that too. He didn’t know enough about me to be so cruel.
“Do you want to go home?” Sebastian asked, gesturing towards the car, parked down the street.
I looked at it. I looked at the headlights coming and going. Coming and going. Faceless, nameless, just… coming, going.
“No,” I replied.
So we didn’t.