A Different Blue Page 72

Wilson's eyes were so grey in the paltry light of the dim corner that they looked like slate in a deluge. His face was a study in concentration and empathy, as if every word I said was of supreme importance. It was that expression, that intensity, that had worn me down, and won me over, history lesson after history lesson, day after day, and he didn't even know I was his.

“I would say that's a pretty understandable reaction after carrying a child for nine months . . . and having to part with her.” Wilson's voice was gentle, and he kissed my forehead chastely, obnoxiously. But I didn't want his sympathy. And I definitely didn't want space. I wanted him. I didn't want him to kiss my forehead. I wanted to kiss his mouth. I wanted to kiss him with my hands fisted in his hair and my body wrapped around him. I wanted to confess my feelings and demonstrate my devotion. And if I didn't leave right that second, I might do something that would push him away forever. I pulled away almost frantically, afraid of myself, afraid for myself. Wilson let me go immediately.

“Some people are destined to be alone. Jimmy seemed to be one of those people. Maybe I am too, whether I like it or not.”

Wilson did not respond as I turned and walked to my work bench. I snagged my keys and headed for the stairs leading to my apartment. Neither of us offered words of farewell, and the distance between us was reestablished as if I had never stood in his arms.

Chapter Twenty-Three

I had refused Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the trappings that went with the holidays, but when Tiffa called and begged me to come to her annual New Year's party and told me her mother would be watching Alice's boys and Melody somewhere else, I relented. I told myself it had nothing to do with the fact that she had arranged for Wilson to be my date because Pamela was in England for the New Year.

I imagined a classy party with a live orchestra and cocktail dress and heels. But Tiffa surprised me by saying, “Wear something comfortable! And colorful! We have a contest who can wear the most color, and we Wilsons like our New Year's parties raucous. Don't wear anything that will show your knickers if you bend over in case we end up playing the brown bag game. Alice complains about it every year, but it wouldn't be New Year's without it.”

I thought I was colorful enough in hot pink skinny jeans and a spangled bright blue blousy top. I even had purple feathered earrings in my ears and attached in my hair and glittery eye shadow and red lips, but Tiffa had me easily beat with tie-dyed leggings, a blinding neon-striped shirt, high-heeled orange platforms, and a rainbow clown wig. Wilson even got into the spirit of things with a shirt that wasn't blue, grey, or black. It was a long sleeved v-neck in a soft pale green. Not very loud, but at least he tried. He wore black jeans and black boots, and looked very un-professorish.

It wasn't a huge party – maybe thirty people – but everyone seemed to know each other well. There were ten or twelve other couples, in addition to Tiffa and Jack, Alice and Peter, and Wilson and me. Most of the others were Tiffa's British associates from The Sheffield. I would have expected all of them to drink their champagne with their pinkies raised, considering how proper they sounded in conversation. But they were all quite boisterous and easy-going, especially after a few drinks.

The night started with a game called Ha Ha Ha – that's what Tiffa called it. Every party-goer had been given a bracelet, which was made of a roll of stickers in all different colors. The goal was to make people laugh using a big fake “ha ha ha.” If you were successful in making a person laugh, that person had to reward you with a kiss and a sticker. If a girl made another girl laugh, she could give her a sloppy smooch, or choose a boy for that girl to kiss, or vice verse. The Ha Ha Ha champion was determined at the end of the night by the number of stickers accumulated, as well as how many you still had on your bracelet roll. I was relieved to see that the kisses were all friendly pecks on the lips and cheeks with lots of “Happy New Years!” thrown in. No one seemed to take advantage and lay a wet one on an unwilling recipient. Most people were intent on collecting stickers. The game continued throughout the night, even when other games were being played, and I became a bit of a target because the Ha Ha Ha's directed at me weren't terribly funny, and I had yet to lose a sticker . . . or give a kiss. Tiffa and Wilson kept going back and forth at each other, trying to get the other to break – occasionally cracking into guffaws that were promptly rewarded with a chaste kiss to the forehead, followed by a sticker. Tiffa quickly looked like she had the pox, her face was so dotted in stickers. Alice's Ha Ha Ha was so grating that people laughed as they cringed, which got her several kisses and stickers as well.

I don't know what I expected from a New Year's party with a bunch of Brits, but it wasn't Ha Ha Ha, and it definitely wasn't the brown bag game. The brown bag game consisted of standing on one leg like a crane, leaning over, and without touching the floor or the bag, lifting the bag off the floor using only your mouth. Each round, an inch or two would be cut off of the brown bag until there was only a thin lip of bag left. Alice ended up getting a bloody nose when she face planted into the floor. Tiffa was like a long giselle, easily bending herself in half and swooping the bag off the floor like it was a dance move she had mastered years before. Jack was out after the first round. Alice's husband Peter farted every time he made an attempt at the bag, his embarrassed “Pardon me's” almost funnier than the constant toots. Wilson attacked the brown bag game with a single-minded concentration that his sisters claimed was how he played every game, but he was out of his league after two or three rounds.

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