Excerpt

You’ll Be Thinking of Me

He joked that even now when he checked his reflection in the mirror, he saw Neanderthal brows, a pugilist’s misaligned nose, and a head of hair that, no matter what he did, behaved like he’d just taken refuge from a violent windstorm. And he insisted—again, his words—that his facial features were so off-kilter, he had to be shot from the left or he looked like he was endowed with an extra chromosome. But, despite his self-deprecating comments, his features somehow fit together, creating a vulnerable expression that drew you in. He was, you might say, reluctantly handsome.

Still, he admitted that once the fame kicked in, “There was a time when I thought the party didn’t start until I got there.” But, he said, the novelty wore thin almost as quickly as it developed. “It’s like my life took on a Fellini-like quality to it and I was—I am—the freaky main attraction.”

“Well, from the outside, it seems like an incredible life.”

“Yeah, I guess it does. Sometimes it feels like I’m living vicariously through my own life.” He laughed. “I’m officially a card-carrying member of the ‘famous club.’ But, the thing about fame,” he continued, uncharacteristically somber and resolute, “is that if you embrace it, you’re an egomaniacal prick. If you push it away, you’re an ungrateful bastard.” He stopped, shook his head, and gazed into his wine glass like he was reading tea leaves. “As long as I remember where I came from, I’ll be okay.”
He tipped his glass, finishing it off. Then he jumped up, insisting I listen to a song by the Playground Warriors, a little-known indie group he had just discovered. The music was a sort of acoustic-reggae-surf-rock stew he said he found irresistible and he seemed invested in the notion that I find it just as appealing. He was singing along full-tilt with perfect pitch.

“Come on, sing with me, Rachael.”

“Forget it. I even embarrass myself when I sing in the shower.”

“I seriously doubt that, though that’s an image I won’t forget,” he said, cocking a half smile. “But, whatever, so dance with me. Let loose a little.”

“I think I’ll need another drink first.”

“No problem.” He stood up and refilled my glass to almost overflowing, took a sip himself to prevent it from spilling, and wiped his mouth on his sleeve before handing it to me.

“Think of it as liquid courage.” And he cranked up the volume to an earsplitting level.

I chugged the contents of my glass and he held out his hand to help me off the sofa. He slipped his arm around my waist to dip me once, twice, in an exaggerated dance move as we jumped around the room. He stopped suddenly, and I felt a rush of body heat—his or mine, I couldn’t tell. Our eyes met and for a second, just for split second, I thought I sensed something. A connection. No. It was a one-way transmission. When he looked at me like that, really looked at me, it was a wicked rush. It was like he was delivering an invitation to a party I was dying to attend, but ignoring my RSVP.

That night I found myself laughing. A lot. And it wasn’t just a polite, gee-that’s-funny kind of laugh, but my full-out, slap-myself-on-the-knee guffaw. And then I would regret my complete lack of demureness, and the resulting wine stain on my shirt. I had to remind myself more than once that it was easy to be led into a state of euphoria by someone whose job it is to make people happy.

High on wine that was way beyond my meager budget, booty dancing Beyonce-style, at two a.m. with a guy who was light-years out of my league, I closed my eyes to insulate myself from the ridiculous reality. Whenever I opened them for a reality check, he was smiling at me, drawing me in. We were gyrating and jumping in sync to the song, bumping into each other on each downbeat. The last time I’d let loose like this, I was seventeen, stoned, and about to lose my virginity to Aiden. When the song hit its last note, we collapsed together on the sofa, laughing to the point of breathlessness. He reached over and gave my knee a squeeze. Startled by his touch, I looked at him, but there was nothing in his face to indicate it meant anything more than an affable pat on the back. It fell into the same category as his smile and his wink. He was clueless as to the power of such simple gestures, or else he was toying with me.

“You’re a rock star, Rachael!” he teased.

There was no denying that my regular contact with him had lessened the sting the constant threat the stalker posed, but it was creating a new kind of anxiety. My skin tingled whenever he came near. The silence as we sat so close only magnified the sensation. When the quiet had expanded to the point I thought it would explode, he leaned toward me and said, “Rachael, I—”

His phone rang. He sighed, picked it up, and glanced at the name. “Sorry, I need to take this.” He stood up and wandered into the other room.

“Hey, Mom. What’s up? . . . Everything’s good. Just busy. What are you doing up? Insomnia again? . . . Geez, no, I’m not drunk,” he whispered. “I’m just really tired. Mom, seriously? Can we talk about this later? Look, let me call you back tomorrow, okay?” His voice softened. “Yeah, me too. Get some rest. I’m fine. Really. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Bye.”

He walked back into the room, sat on the sofa, and fidgeted with his phone as he slowly exhaled. I wanted to ask if everything was okay, but then he would know I had eavesdropped. Before I could say anything, he stood up. “Well, I think I’m going to have to call it a night. I have an early morning meeting.”

I followed him as he escorted me to the door. I had drunk just enough wine to allow my feelings to work their way onto my tongue, to blurt out how he made my heart beat faster, how his touch warmed me all over, how he triggered a palpable longing in me. He paused a beat or two before opening the door. If I said it, everything would change. My helium-filled thoughts were lifting me higher and higher, until I heard his words like the quick and painful prick of a needle, bringing me back to earth.

“Good-night, Rachael. It was fun.”

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