Collision Course Chapter 16


I'm frustrated. No, I think I left frustrated behind me a few days ago. Now I was moving past that, into deeply, chronically agitated. I'd been having more and more frequent dreams of Lillian lately...and they weren't going like I'd planned, or ever even imagined they would.

This morning, much like several other mornings, I'd awoken with a start from a dream with her. It had been an intense one, much like several other dreams I'd had with her. We'd been in my room, groaning with desire, and she'd told me that she loved me more than anything. I'd told her I loved her too and wanted her desperately. She'd said "yes" and moved me on top of her, our naked, writhing bodies lining up perfectly.

That was when I woke up. That was when I always woke up. We'd yet to make it past this point.

I smacked the pillow beside me hard and cursed the fact that I couldn't control the dreams like I wanted to. I couldn't stop myself from waking up right at the critical moment and it was beginning to irritate me beyond belief. I wanted to be with her...why couldn't I be with her?

I got up, showered, shaved and got dressed for my day. It was Friday. It was the Friday - dance day. D-day. I knew what school was going to be like today. It would be a heightened version of what this entire week had been. With the upcoming promise of a break from school on the horizon, and the hope of a romantic (for the girls) and possibly deviant (for the guys) night coming up, the student body had been energized.

There had been a constant chatter around classes. I tuned out most of it, but still caught phrases like: Who are you going with? What are you wearing? Do you think he'll kiss me? Do you think she'll put out? Pretty standard pre-dance conversations. I kept my head down and pushed it all out. Especially when I heard my own name whispered on more than a few occasions. Those I tried to ignore, but it still seeped in: Lucas will be there, think he'll be sober? Think he'll spike the punch? Will Sawyer really stop him from getting drunk? Does Sawyer drink too? Should she drink while she's pregnant?

Yeah, there were still pregnancy rumors floating around about us. That would be a pretty miraculous pregnancy on my part, if it were true.

Thinking about my virgin status, brought my mind back around to Lillian. I couldn't figure out why the dreams were snapping away from me. I'd never lost them so consistently in the same place before. It was like she had on an ethereal chastity belt and I wasn't being allowed to cross it. I didn't even have anyone I could talk to about it. My mom? God, no. No way. Sawyer? I only think that conversation would hurt her feelings and make me horribly uncomfortable. My counselor? No, she didn't need any more ammo. She was already firmly on the "live your life" soapbox, her and Darren both.

I sighed and made my way through the living room. I couldn't even talk to my best friend about it. Not when he was so dead set against it happening in the first place. He thinks it would hurt me more. I don't see how that's possible. What could hurt worse than the aching loneliness I struggled through every day? Honestly, I think making love to Lil would be the best moment of my life.

I tried to push out how sad that statement actually was as I walked into the kitchen. A full pot of hot coffee met me, along with a note:

'Had an early meeting. See you later tonight at the diner. Can't wait to see Sawyer all dressed up! Love, Mom'.

I half smiled and poured myself a cup. Mom, being a typical mom, was all too excited about seeing Sawyer and I all dressed up like miniature adults. Sawyer had come by last weekend and tried on a few of Mom's dresses. She'd been reluctant at first, not even wanting to put a few on, but eventually she warmed up and tried on a couple of Mom's more elegant looking ones. Mom never got rid of her party clothes. Many of them she'd had since before I was born, but she reasoned that eventually, she may have some reason to wear them and nice dresses were expensive. As I'd watched Sawyer twirl around my mom's bedroom in a couple, I'd thought my mom was pretty smart.

I sipped my coffee in silence and spaced out as I stared out the window, waiting for Sawyer to come get me like she did every morning. Our no-touching policy had been more or less going okay. We didn't hold hands anymore and didn't hug or sling an arm around the other. Honestly, I missed the contact, but it wasn't fair to either her or Lil to keep up with the...well, I guess flirting really.

Not that we'd been perfect. Occasionally we slipped. Once, while watching a movie with her (and watching her more than the movie), my hand had acted on its own and reached over the half-cushion between us to grab her fingers. I hadn't meant to do that, but once she'd turned and smiled at me, lacing our hands together, I hadn't been able to pull away without offending her and we'd spent the remainder of the movie that way.

Then there were the occasional moments where I just needed her to touch me, needed her comforting caress - bad memories, bad dreams, bad encounters with used-to-be friends or, more often than not, bad counseling sessions. Well, maybe not necessarily bad, but...hard. Wounds and scabs were being lifted and scoured, and I hated it. I hated going and hated speaking, yet found myself saying more and more every session. And Mrs. Ryans' favorite subject...was Lillian and me. She pried for insight into our relationship daily.

Seeing Sawyer's car in the driveway pulled my thoughts away from my girlfriend, and finishing my cold coffee, I grabbed my bag and coat and made my way out to Sawyer. She beamed at me as I opened the door and sat down.

"Good morning, Lucas."

I grinned at her happy face, her midnight hair pulled back into an adorable ponytail, showcasing her perfect cheekbones, highlighted in a rosy pink from the chill in the air. I shook my head at her, knowing her grin was because she was picturing tonight. As I returned her greeting and we pulled out of my drive, I hoped all the teasing she'd endured lately was worth it. I'd only caught a few glimpses of it, but it was enough to boil my blood and make me worry for her. But she'd brushed off Brittany and her group of tormentors with a chipper shrug, assuring me that we were going to have fun.

As I watched the school loom closer and closer in the windshield, I began to wonder. I pushed aside the dread in my belly when I heard her giggle beside me and nearly bounce out of the car once we'd stopped. She waited for me at the hood and a true smile spread across my face as I joined her. We would have fun...somehow.

The buzz around school was just what I'd expected. The students were so into the upcoming event that I was virtually ignored. Aside from an odd look by Randy and a suggestive look from Brittany, I got through my day pretty much unmolested. Josh didn't even look at me. Of course, the huge fight I'd heard him have with his girlfriend in the hallway during break, might have had something to do with that. I'd only caught the words, "why don't you take your whore to the dance?" before she'd stormed off and he'd chased after her. I suspected that maybe Josh had gotten caught with his hands on someone else's merchandise again.

Mrs. Ryans had poked and prodded in our session, but she'd held back in places she didn't usually hold back, almost like she didn't want to ruin my night by bringing me to an emotional edge. We'd talked a lot about the dance and about what it meant for me to sort of reenter society. I confessed my fear about the whole matter and she assured me that it was worse in my head than in reality. She'd again encouraged me to continue to see her after my time was up, and told me I could call her during winter break, if I needed to talk to anyone. She'd even handed me her business card with her cell phone number written on the back. Maybe that was what had opened me up. Maybe that's what had made me ask this as we were parting ways:

"Do you think life ever makes mistakes?"

I'd been looking down, staring at the sharp, right angle of her desk when I'd asked that and at the silence that greeted my question, I raised my head to find her looking at me with an odd expression, hopeful, yet sad as well. Finally she nodded her head and quietly told me, "Sure, all the time." She sighed and looked down at the pencil in her hands before meeting my gaze again. "Some people live who shouldn't...and even more people die who shouldn't."

She gave me a pointed look when she said that and I nodded. Something about the sentence nagged at me though, picking at a hard to reach corner of my brain, but I tried to brush it aside when I saw Sawyer again. Her bubbly excitement eventually drove all the painful thoughts of my friends away, and with her practically giggling that she'd see me in a few hours, she dropped me off at home.

And so, before I knew it, my day was over and I was prepping myself for the big night. It was an even bigger deal for me than just a dance - this would be the first Friday night I'd actually left the house in a really long time. Thinking about that, in-between dressing and trying to manage my unruly hair, my stomach starting doing little flip-flops. I pushed aside my fear, as best I could, and after I'd finished getting ready, I sat and waited for the time to pass by. It took awhile, which the clock on the wall ticking ominously with every achingly long second, reminded me.

It felt odd waiting for Sawyer to pick me. It felt odd for two very different reasons. One, it felt like I had rewound to this morning, and I was waiting for her to pick me up for school again, and the fact that we actually were going back to the school wasn't helping there. Second, it felt odd that I wasn't driving to pick her up. Not that I wanted to drive, not that that was even a possibility - I don't think I could even gather the courage to start a car, but still, it was the sort of event where a guy should really be doing the picking up.

The one bonus of her coming to get me, I suppose, was that I didn't have to face the wrath of her father. Maybe wrath is too strong of a word, but she did tell me he had...reservations, about us going to a dance together. Sawyer had had to all but promise him that she wouldn't be opening her legs for me. She hadn't exactly put it like that when she embarrassingly told me, but that was the impression I'd gotten. It made me flush just thinking about it and I wasn't sure why. Maybe because we'd finally be breaking our no-contact rule tonight. Breaking it repeatedly. We'd be close, really close...all night.

I wiped my sweaty hands on my black slacks and picked up the corsage box, tossing the clear plastic back and forth in my hands, the intricate daisy creation inside it, shifting back and forth. I really shouldn't be nervous about holding her all night. It's not like anything was going to happen. I'd even finally had that conversation with Lillian, to assure her that we were just going as friends and it didn't mean anything. She'd looked away from me after I'd told her that, and apologized that she couldn't be there with me. I'd held her and kissed her, and told her she was with me everywhere I went. She'd looked at me sadly and told me I shouldn't be with her, told me I should be with Sawyer, since she was alive and could give me the life I deserved. I'd told her to stop being ridiculous, and kissed her with as much ferocity as I could muster.

She always tried to slip that into our meetings. That what we were doing wasn't right, and that I shouldn't be saving myself for her when I had a living girl right in front of me. I hated when she said that. I hated that even after pouring our hearts out to each other, she still wanted me to end things. I wished she'd understand that I never would.

Lights splashed along the kitchen window and I looked up from the table to see Sawyer's car in the drive. I exhaled slowly and stood while I watched her car shut off and her dome light pop on when she opened her door. How cute. She was going to come to the door to get me, just like an actual date. My stomach flopped again.

Forgoing the warmth of a jacket for style, I grabbed my corsage box and opened the door for Sawyer. I held my breath when I took in the sight of her. She a goddess. She was wearing my mom's deep, navy blue, velvet, long-sleeved party dress. I'm not sure what my mom had worn it to, but it was a touch sexy. It was long, nearly draping onto the floor, but not quite reaching it thanks to dark blue, open toed high heels that she'd also borrowed. The dress flared slightly around mid-thigh, with a slit down the middle starting well above her knee, well above the school's policy on short skirt lengths. I hoped they'd overlook it, since it was technically a dress. It hinted at a pair of very shapely legs above the opening and highlighted the very shapely calves when her movements offered a peek.

But that really wasn't what made it hot. It was the fact that the velvet material clung to every curve of her, and I couldn't help but notice something that I'd never noticed before, something her loose t-shirts and worn jeans had hidden quite well. Sawyer...had a really nice body. I felt mine responding, just taking her in, and changed my initial description - the dress wasn't just a touch sexy, it was the sexiest thing I'd ever seen. I tried really hard to forget it was my mom's.

Collecting myself, I told her she looked great (understatement much?) and stepped outside, closing the door. She laughed and bit her lip, eyeing me up and down and blushing slightly, telling me I looked great too. I knew I came nowhere near her perfection, what with my basic black pants and lighter shade of blue dress shirt, that complimented her dark shade. We'd opted for no tie, thank God, and I had on basic black dress shoes. Honestly, I could have been going to church and not a semi-formal, but this was how Sawyer wanted me, and tonight was mainly for her. A thank you, if you will, for putting up with me.

She ran a hand along the side of my hair, fixing a messy piece that hadn't been cooperating with me, and I felt my body react even more to her slight touch. Great. And we hadn't even started dancing yet. Maybe having her borrow my mom's clothes was a bad idea.

Wanting to be a gentleman, and shut parts of my body off, I gallantly offered her my arm and walked her over to the driver's side of the car. She laughed delightfully as I helped her sit down. The slit of her dress fell open and I could see a smooth expanse of inner thigh before she adjusted it. My body really liked that. Feeling like a moron, I moved around to the passenger's side. I got in with a frown on my face and stared at her lightly gripping the wheel in her beautiful dress, her thumb ring gleaming in the dash lights. It really wasn't very gentlemanly to let her drive. I really should...

"Lucas, you okay?" she asked.

I snapped out of my thoughts, my stomach starting to squeeze at the very idea of switching places, and threw on a smile. "Yeah, I'm just not feeling like a very good date." I blushed a bit at calling myself her date and indicated her driving, to cover my momentary embarrassment.

She looked at herself behind the wheel and nodded. "Oh, do you drive?"

I felt all the blood rush from my face at hearing it said out loud. Thinking it was one thing, having it presented to you as a viable option, quite another. I felt my stomach lurch and I heard my heart pound so hard, I was sure she could hear it too in the quiet space. Her eyebrows shot up and her hands went to my cheeks, stopping me from repeatedly shaking my head no, which I hadn't even realized I'd been doing. I was breathing heavier as I stared at her intently.

She slowly brought me back to a more relaxed state, holding my face and making me keep staring at her. Her gray eyes bored into mine - loving, concerned, friendly and maybe somewhere in the depths, something a little more. She'd applied a dark, smoky eye shadow with long, thick, black mascara, and the stunning grayness seemed to pop out at me. Eventually, I felt calm and nodded against her hands, gently releasing them from my face and ignoring how warm her touch had made my skin.

"I'm fine," I muttered. "I better stay over here though." I shrugged, feeling stupid.

She smiled and fixed my stray piece of hair again. "Okay...sorry for asking. That was stupid."

I looked down, shaking my head. "'s okay." I noticed the box in my palms and opened it. With a smile I grabbed her wrist and slipped the flowers on. She stiffened when I first touched her, but smiled when she realized what I was doing. She admired her wrist once the flowers were in place, then she laughed and gave me such a loving look, that an ache went straight through me.

I swallowed and shifted my eyes away from hers, sweeping them over the intricate up-do of her shockingly black hair instead. It had been meticulously curled and pinned into place so that most of it was held up, exposing her slender neck, but a few long pieces were left free, and dangled down to tickle the hollow between her shoulder and her collar bone in a nearly intimate way. I swallowed again and forced my focus to the more innocuous windshield. This was going to be a really long night.

She started the car and we pulled away, heading for the diner. My mom was overly excited to see us and had offered us a free meal in exchange. Since I really had no expertise in cooking, and Sawyer had had no interest in my Hot Pockets, we'd both agreed.

We pulled up to the diner a few minutes later and I smiled as I saw my mom in the large window, talking to a silver haired man sitting alone in a booth. I frowned as I watched her laugh and lean over closer to him, the man laughing as well. I frowned because I recognized the man. Sheriff Whitney. She was chatting with the sheriff.

I sighed, not relishing eating while he was there. Painful memories snuck up on me and I brutally beat them back. Not tonight. Tonight was for Sawyer and this moment was for my mom. I wasn't going to let my moodiness ruin this evening for either of them.

Sawyer noticed my frown. "Hey, we could go somewhere else if you want. Back to your place?"

I looked over at her; the perfect heart shape arch of her lip was painted in a pleasing shade of pinkish-red. "No, this is fine. I just wasn't expecting..." I shook my head. "This is fine. Mom is dying to see you anyway." I tucked a stray piece of hair away from her eye, tucking it behind her ear. My eyes swept over her face as my thumb absentmindedly stroked her cheek. "You won't disappoint her either. You're beautiful," I whispered.

Oh my god, Lucas, I berated myself. Get a grip. I immediately pulled my hand away from caressing her face and cracked open my door. Yeah, tonight was going to be a really long night.

I told her to stay where she was before I slid out of my door, and grinning like a moron, I skipped over to her side, to let her out of the car. It was old-fashioned and odd, since she had driven, but it made her laugh and reward me with a huge smile, so it was worth it. I held my hand out for her and she grasped it, lacing our fingers as she stood up. I hadn't stepped back when I pulled her from the car so we were standing closerthanthis when she stood up. My heart started racing as that velvet encased body pressed against me. With a content smile, she looked over my face, her eyes flicking between mine. Mine weren't so gallant anymore and stared blatantly at her stained lips.

She leaned forward and I instinctively leaned down. "Luc," she whispered.

"Yes," I said breathily.

"Are you going to let me get out of the car?" She gave me a wry grin, her oh-so-cute dimple showing itself.

I blinked and realized that my body was trapping her in the open car door. I blushed and let out a nervous laugh as I stepped aside. I heard myself mutter, "Sorry, you just look really...good," as we walked hand in hand to the small diner. She laughed and told me that she never realized I had a fetish for cocktail dresses.

I playfully scowled at her as I opened the diner door. Immediately upon entering we heard, "Oh my god! You're adorable! Aren't they adorable?" My mom came up and gave each of us a hug as she beamed at us. As I watched eyes around the diner laser beam onto me, I felt my cheeks flush. Not a lot of those eyes thought I looked adorable.

Mom broke off from hugging me to engulf Sawyer. "Oh, Sawyer, dear, you're beautiful, just beautiful." She looked over her shoulder at the sheriff sitting at the booth next to our display, his gaze firmly on me. "Isn't she beautiful, Neil?"

I blinked as I watched the sheriff twist his silver head to glance at Sawyer and smile. Had my mom really just called him by his first name? I knew they were friends, well, I mean, I knew they talked, but first names seemed a little disrespectful and it surprised me. His smile shifted to my mother. "She's lovely." His gaze shifted back down to Sawyer. "Your dress is beautiful on her, Vicky."

I shook my head. Did he just call her by her shortened name? The weirdness just wasn't going to stop. Before I could comment on it, and really, nerves had already locked up my throat, Mom was ushering us to a booth she'd reserved for us, making elegant looking place cards with our names on them out of comment cards. I smiled at her attempt to make our diner meal a fancier experience, and helped Sawyer scoot into her side of the booth before I slide over into mine. Sawyer's dress hitched up her thigh a little when she slid across the vinyl and I suppressed a groan. Were the fates trying to kill me tonight?

Mom beamed at us as she read off a list of specials, like they were five star cuisines. We ordered an appetizer of chicken strips, burgers for our main course and milkshakes for drinks. Mom laughed and rumpled my hair, immediately apologizing and trying to fix it. I sighed and shooed her off with a smile on my face. I watched her head over to a small circle of waitresses and animatedly tell them something. She looked back at us over her shoulder and I knew she was bragging. I smiled as I watched her; she suddenly seemed ten years younger, laughing and smiling with her friends. Those friends were respectfully listening to her, but on occasion they gave me odd, appraising looks. I could almost see their minds trying to match the portrait Mom painted of me, to the gossip that ran like wildfire around this town. The two probably didn't mesh up well.

Feeling like I was being put on trial right here at the table, I stopped watching the group and shifted my attention back to Sawyer. She was watching me with a concerned expression and I did my best to relax my face. Her hands reached out over the table for mine, and needing the comfort, I reached back for her. We laced our fingers and her thumb started stroking the back of my hand. I ignored the guilt that small gesture gave me. Tonight was for her and she enjoyed contact. Tonight, I wouldn't pull away - she could have all she wanted from me. Well, up to a point at least.

I blushed as I thought about the intimate moment we'd had a few weeks ago. In my head, I pictured that happening again tonight...with her in that dress. My blush deepened as the image clearly flooded my brain and my clothes were suddenly very uncomfortable. Taking a deep breath, I thanked God we were sitting down. I needed to get this under control...and fast.

"You alright, Luc?" She tilted her head at me, some loose pieces of her hair dangling over her shoulder.

I smiled and laughed, some of my tension easing. "Yeah." I looked down at the table and shook my head. "I'm great."

She seemed about to question me, when my mom showed back up with our milkshakes. She smiled softly at our clasped hands as she set our drinks down. I thanked her as I let go of Sawyer's fingers to grab my drink. I watched Mom as she smiled at us and then walked over to the sheriff. They talked for a moment while I watched them intently. His eyes flicked over the two booths separating us, staring at me unabashedly and I lowered my head, not wanting to watch anymore. It didn't matter if he was here. I looked up at Sawyer, merrily sipping on her shake. She was all that mattered tonight. I reached over and grabbed her free hand again.

We chatted easily and Mom soon brought our appetizers and main courses. We laughed while we ate, making the meal as fancy as we could with our flimsy paper napkins and plastic basket of fries. Pretty soon our meal was done and Sawyer got up to fix her lipstick. I smiled as I watched her backside walk to the bathrooms. That dress really was amazing.

My focus was suddenly shattered as someone sat down in the booth with me. My face paled as Sheriff Whitney sat in front of me. I tried to speak, but found my throat locked up again. He tilted his head at me, his aged eyes boring into me. I could tell he was gauging my sobriety and I felt my jaw tighten and my chin lift up. Perhaps noticing the defiance in my eyes, he shook his head and smiled softly.

"How are you doing, Lucas?

I shrugged and mumbled, "Fine." I was a little surprised any speech came out of me.

He nodded and cocked an eyebrow at me. "You're...okay tonight?"

I let out a long exhale, calming myself. "I'm fine," I repeated.

He was silent for a moment and then sighed. "I'm just trying to look out for you, Lucas. Your mom and I both worry about you." I bristled at him mentioning himself in the same sentence with my mom. Why did she feel the need to confide in a man who brought back such horrid memories in me? If there was one person I wished I wouldn't see anymore, it was this man. Because even though he was asking about my current level of awareness, and not that night's, and even though, through everything, he'd been nothing but nice to me, all I heard in my head when I looked at him was 'they're all gone'. I knew it wasn't right, but I sort of hated him for it.

I didn't say anything to his comment and he eventually sighed again and stood up. "Well, have fun tonight, Lucas." He started to walk away but then turned back to me. "And stay sober."

Okay, that wasn't what he said. He'd said, "And be careful", but that's what I'd heard. I nodded and stared down at the crumpled up napkin in front of me.

I looked up when I felt a hand on my arm. Sawyer stood by my side, concern on her face. Not wanting to see that look on her anymore tonight, I smiled and stood up, wrapping my arm around her waist. The velvet slid under my fingertips as my hand came to rest on her hipbone. I tried to ignore how much I liked that, as I cheerily said, "Ready to dance?" She grinned and nodded, and with quick goodbye hugs to my mom, who looked about to cry, we made our way back to her car. I helped her in again, avoiding looking at that enticing slit up the middle of her dress, and then we were off for a night

I took a deep breath as we pulled into the familiar, but foreign parking lot. I hadn't been here at night in so many months, that I'd almost forgotten how different it could look. The oversized florescent lights spaced sporadically around the lot, lit it in an odd purplish-pinkish wash of color. The edges of the lot stayed pitch black and I knew in the daytime, an empty field surrounded the lot on one side. In the darkness though, all you could see was a sea of nothingness encroaching on the lot, almost as if, at any moment, that inky night would extend its reach and swallow the high school whole.

I rolled my eyes and turned my head away from the dark boundaries of the lot as Sawyer picked a parking space directly under a pink light. That may be a little over the top of a description. I guess I'm a little nervous. As I stared out the window at the fancily dressed people walking arm in arm to the large, square-like lump of a building that the gymnasium was enclosed in, I realized I wasn't a little nervous, I was bordering on terrified.

A light touch on my arm brought my attention to Sawyer. She was relaxed back in her seat watching me with a small smile on her lips. Her hand lightly stroked my arm as she softly spoke to me. "It will be okay, Lucas. We'll have fun." She looked out the windshield to glance at the dressed up couples then swung her eyes back to me. "Just ignore them and focus on me." Her hand reached up to cup my cheek. "Tonight is about you and me." Her voice was nearly a whisper when she said that and my heart started beating faster for a completely different reason.

I gave her a tiny smile and nodded. She was right. This was something she really wanted and I really wanted to give that to her. What the rest of the world thought...was irrelevant. Sawyer was all that mattered tonight. I owed her a good time. I owed her a lot.

I gave her a look that clearly said 'please let me pretend you need my help' and opened my door. Getting out, I watched her watch me from the window, that small, satisfied smile still on her lips. I opened her door and extended a hand out to her. She giggled as she let me help her up again.

It was chilly outside and neither one of us had opted for coats, so we hightailed it to the gym. Well, as fast as Sawyer could hightail it in that dress and those heels. We approached the front doors with a crowd of people and I felt Sawyer's hand tighten in mine. I looked over at her, but her face showed no strain. If she were nervous for any reason, I couldn't tell.

We heard the thump of the music before our feet had even crossed over the doorframe. It was loud pop, some sort of top forty hit that must have sprung up over the summer, since I'd never heard it. I hadn't done a lot of music listening in the past few months. Sawyer beside me was humming along, so at least one of us was keeping current.

We checked in at a small table set up near the doors. Oddly, it was being run by purity club members. They had buttons and flyers for people to take and were telling everyone to have a safe night. That was met with a lot of eye rolling and grunts of acknowledgement, but it didn't dampen the member's spirits. I think a general sense of gloom only spread over the three perky people behind the table when Sawyer and I walked up to it.

Sally happened to be the one checking us in and she gave me a discerning look that was just as obvious to me as the sheriff's had been. Some rebelling part of me wanted to start acting drunk, but I didn't. I stood straight and calmly met her eye. I tried to remember that this girl was Sawyer's friend and was only looking out for her friend's best interests. I also was looking out for Sawyer's best interests, so I sort of felt bonded with Sally...even if she didn't approve of me.

She finally nodded us off, telling Sawyer she was gorgeous and wishing us both a "safe" night. She emphasized safe more than she had for any of the other couples and I felt my cheeks heat. Honestly, did these people think that I'd walk into the gym messed up...again? I already had one strike; I had no desire to get kicked out of here.

The obligatory photo op was setup across from the check-in table and Sawyer squealed with delight when she saw it. I smiled at her response and pulled her over there. We stood in line behind a couple that was obviously practicing for where their night was predictably headed. There was deep throat kissing and ass grabbing and general sounds of moaning. It made me really uncomfortable to watch them and I was grateful when it was their turn. When they stepped up to the fake flower arrangement in front of a bland black and white background, Sawyer leaned into me and whispered, "Do you think they like each other?"

I looked down at her and chuckled, while ass-grabby couple got their love cemented in an 8x10 glossy. I laughed out loud when I saw that the guy was indeed cupping that ass throughout the entire photo session. Even though the couple were freshmen, I was suddenly reminded of Darren and Sammy and stopped laughing, looking away.

Sawyer tugged on my arm when it was our turn. Now, I may have been overly sensitive to the mood of the people around me at this point, but I swear it got pin-droppingly silent when we posed beside our flower potted pedestal. I knew that wasn't actually possible with the loud, thumping music coming from the open room next door, but it felt like every human within a twenty foot radius of us stopped breathing. I know I did.

Sawyer nudged me in the ribs. "Hey, relax. You're gonna break my hand."

I startled when I realized how hard I was gripping her. I met and held her eye, letting the comfort I found there wash over me, easing the tension in my hand and my body. I heard the click and saw the bright flash of light and Sawyer and I both turned to the photographer.

"That was perfect," he said merrily, ushering us aside for the next couple.

"But we weren't even looking at you?" I asked, feeling a little stupid.

He grinned and shook his head. "Trust me, kid, it's perfect."

Sawyer bit her lip and a flush crept over her face. She smiled up at me and nodded her head to the ordering table. I shrugged my shoulders and followed her. If that was fine with her, then I guess I had no complaints. After I got a packet ordered for her, we made our way to the main gym where I could see the twirling lights and gyrating bodies.

As we fully stepped into the room, I couldn't help but notice how similar it was to my dream version of it, the night I'd finally told Lillian I loved her. Aside from the swarm of bodies, it was so similar, that I nearly expected Lillian to walk up to me and ask for a dance. My heart squeezed as I took it all in - the crepe paper, the plastered with glitter snowflakes, the blue and white balloon arches and the stray balloons that had floated up to the high ceiling, the suspended disco ball throwing sparks of light everywhere.

"Oh, Lil..." I muttered as I looked around, wishing she were here.

"What, Luc?"

I looked down at Sawyer beaming up at me. Guilt forced me to shove aside the painful thoughts I was starting to wallow in. I threw on a smile and shook my head. "Nothing," I attempted to say lightheartedly. She frowned, but then I slipped my arm around her waist and pulled her into my side and she smiled again, resting a hand on my chest as she twisted in my arms. It was closer than we generally were with each other, especially in a crowd this size, but her dress and body pressed against me was sweeping all negative thoughts from my mind and I clung to that, desperate to make this night memorable for her.

We moved to a less crowded spot and slunk back into the shadows to people watch for a bit. It was dark where we were and not too many people glanced our way. Eventually, she laid her head on my shoulder and I felt her sigh contently. I rested my head against hers and enjoyed her warmth. A few eyes passing close did some double takes, and I knew that before long, everyone would know we were here. It didn't matter. Aside from dancing and talking and hopefully laughing, Sawyer and I weren't going to be giving them a show.

As the music thumped around us and the swarm before us grew in size, encroaching on our peaceful spot and forcing us farther back into the shadows, I started to relax. My thumb lazily drew a large circle over the soft velvet covering Sawyer's hip and her fingernails started lightly stroking back and forth along the fabric of my shirt. It was perfect. It was peaceful. And for the first time since Mrs. Ryans had suggested the idea, I started to think us being here was a great one.

Then Sawyer's hand shifted from lightly running over my chest to lightly running over my stomach. Her head was still resting on my shoulder and I was pretty sure she was absentmindedly watching the people before us dance, maybe not even fully aware she'd moved her hand, but I was.

Her pinky lightly grazed over the button on my slacks and I closed my eyes. It felt really nice. I remembered those hands running up my bare skin and my hand tightened and squeezed her hip. The continual movement of her hand was making a wonderful tension start in my stomach and I kept my eyes closed, focusing solely on where she was touching me.

Her hand dropped fractionally, subconsciously, and one finger barely touched the top of my zipper. I groaned as my body instantly, and not subtly, responded.

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