Since we were alone, I pulled Cheyenne to the side and squeezed her hand. “You doing okay?”
A look of wonder was on her face as she looked up at me. Her eyes were a little dilated. “It’s never been like this for me.”
She went back to looking around, though everything in the hallway was dark except a trail of lights on the floor by the walls. It was similar to a movie theater feel.
“I’ve gone to Bresko’s before, but there’s always this grating feeling. It’s in the background, and if my walls are thin, I can’t stay long. Or I needed something to dull the edges, but tonight it’s different. It’s all different. I actually feel like I might enjoy being here tonight rather than just getting through it, you know?”
I winced on the inside. I didn’t, but I was glad I was the reason for it.
I was starting to think that I’d never understand what she goes through.
A whole surge of needing to protect her, care for her, swelled up in me. I cupped the side of her face, tilting her up to look at me. “What can I do to help you?”
Her hand went to my chest and pressed there. “You already are. You’re being you.”
I had no idea what that meant, but I’d go with it. I gave her a small smile, my thumb running by her mouth. “I’d like to take you home after this.”
Her eyes caught and held mine.
We’d go in there. Her friends were in there. They’d sweep her up. I was realizing that’s the inclination you got when you knew Cheyenne, and when you cared for Cheyenne. It was just her, but I wanted this night. With her. There was a feeling in me, like I’d only get tonight, or like this night was different and I needed to take advantage of it as much as possible. Whatever it was, I couldn’t let go.
She nodded. “I’d like that, too.”
A small bit of tension eased in my chest, so I dropped my hand back to hers, laced our fingers, and headed forward.
The calmness I felt standing in that hallway with Cut was gone the second we entered his private box.
I heard the yelling, then a wave of everything else hit me. And it hit me hard. The smells of the club rose up swiftly. The techno music, the hard bass, the neon lights flashing flooded me. Sweat. Grime. Beer. Perfume. Cologne. And other smells that I didn’t want to identify. It was jarring, and I sucked in my breath, remembering to fortify my walls.
It was a whole imagery-coping mechanism I learned. Sometimes it helped, other times it didn’t.
I took a moment, imagining all the music in a bubble, then I moved it aside. I did the same with the smells. After that I could focus a bit better. Sasha’s voice carried to me, along with Melanie’s and Cassie’s. The last two were sitting on one side of the box, giggling and wrapped around each other. I looked around, and Sasha and Chad were on the other side. Sasha was standing, arms crossed, head tilted up and away from Chad.
My Not-Brother was standing in front of her, his arms out and his head down. He was speaking to her.
“Come on, Sasha. Be reasonable.”
I sucked my breath in at that one. Not the right words to use with Sasha.
Melanie’s head lifted, her laugh fading, but then she saw me, and her smile came back. “Shy!” She was up and heading for me when Sasha heard and turned, too.
I stepped free from Cut, and the three of us merged in the middle. We’d done this so many times. Our arms came up around each other, our foreheads next to each other, and we formed our own huddle.
And squeeze. We all moved in, closer together. That was just the greeting.
“Sash,” from me. “What do you need?”
“You came with Cut?” Her eyes were big, ignoring my question.
Melanie’s grin turned secretive. “I already knew.”
“And you didn’t tell me?”
“You were fighting with Not-Brother. I wasn’t going to interrupt that.”
“Nice. I could’ve used the distraction.”
I told them what Maisie called Chad.
Melanie’s smile was almost off her face. “I want to meet this woman and I want to kiss her feet. Not literally, though. The feet. I’d like to meet her.”
I asked Sasha, “Distraction enough?”
She closed her eyes, a soft smile there and she nodded. “Yes. Thank you.”
Melanie snorted. “Nut-Brother. That’s awesome.”
Sasha released us and pressed into her forehead, rubbing her temples. “He makes me so crazy.” She dropped her hands, found her place around our shoulders again and said to me, “We’re on and off, and I haven’t said anything because every time, I swear, every time I promise myself that I won’t let him in. And then he calls or texts and he’s all nice and charming, and the next hour I’m pretending to do Juna’s ankle-slide move on him.”
“Didn’t need that information.”
Sasha ignored Melanie. “And tonight, we came and he was dancing with another girl. That’s fine and all, but he was blowing smoke up my ass just last week. Saying that he wanted to be with me, and maybe he was wrong about you, saying maybe he didn’t know you after all, and blah, blah, blah. It’s been weeks. I don’t understand his revelation now.”
Melanie grunted. “Dumbass. He just needs to see her and know whatever stories his mom said to him was all bullshit.”
I missed Hunter, but there were no hang-ups about any of that stuff for me. “That’s all in the past.”
“Not for me. Not for Chad. He goes back and forth, remembering what his mom said, and then saying maybe he needs to get to know you. And now this other chick. I can’t keep up.”
“What happened to the other chick?”
Melanie grunted again, a cocky grin on her face. “She took off. Saw Pinchy Sasha, and her eyes got all panicky. Cassie was just walking inside the VIP area and the girl almost bowled her over.”
“Was Cassie okay?”
“Oh yeah. It was a close clash, but nothing happened. I bet you anything that chick is still here, just somewhere else in the club.”
Sasha’s gaze skimmed over our heads. “I really liked coming here, too. Now that’s all ruined. Stupid Not-Brother put a bad taste in my mouth.”
Melanie just started laughing. “Nut-Brother.”
Sasha rolled her eyes. “Stop.”
Melanie met my gaze. We were getting back to normal Sasha, the one who used one-word statements. Chad really had knocked her off balance.
I frowned. “Wait. Didn’t you have to go to the bathroom?”
Melanie answered me, “I did. Sash calmed down a little, and Cassie was here. You don’t mess with PT people. They know things about your body you don’t want to know they know, you know?”
She shrugged. “It’s all good. I got my dump done.”
Sasha was shaking her head. “Girls.”
Right. Another one-word answer.
For a moment, Sasha almost looked like a normal girl, using full sentences and talking about her feelings. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them. “Thanks.” She looked from Melanie to me.