What Happened at the Dance (The New Year One Bonus Chapter)
“What do you think about Regan Henessey?”
My buddy Rick peered at me over the door of his open gym locker. “Regan? Uh, I don’t know. She’s cool. Really super smart, studies hard, but she’s fun, too. I don’t know her that well, but she and Mel have been close friends since they were little, so I’ve spent more time with her lately.”
I grunted in response. Rick and Melissa had been dating for the past year. He was the first of our small group of friends to commit to one girl, and we were all still a little weirded out by it. Mel was great, but we didn’t get to spend as much together as we used to. I missed that.
“Why are you asking?” Rick pulled his fresh T-shirt over his head. “You interested?”
“Nah.” I paused. “I mean . . . she’s okay, right? She’s kind of hot. Got a nice set on her.” I used both hands to outline the approximate shape of a girl’s tits. “I don’t know, I just thought . . . I mean, maybe, right? I could ask her out. We’d probably have a good time.”
Rick was silent for a few minutes, and my heart began to beat a little faster. I had a feeling he was going to say something I might not like.
“Yeah, you’d have fun, I think,” he said finally. “But . . . the thing is, Jackson, Regan’s not like the girls you usually hook up with, you know? She’s not going to be down for one and done. She’s the kind of girl you date, not the kind you just fuck.”
“But maybe I’m okay with that,” I argued. “Maybe . . . that’s what I want.”
“Seriously?” Rick cocked at eyebrow. “Well, then, go for it, man. And if there’s anything I can do to back you up, I’m there.”
I nodded, and we finished dressing in silence. Rick left before I did, whistling as he headed out. By the time the locker room door closed behind me, the hallways were mostly empty; on a Friday in October, particularly when we had a dance that night, everyone cleared out fast.
I wandered toward the school exit, lost in thought. It had taken a lot of bravado for me to mention Regan to Rick. For nearly a year, I’d been silently falling into lust with her. I didn’t know what it was; she’d been part of my landscape as long as we’d been in school, but recently, she just seemed to be wherever I looked. And so I was looking, and I liked what I saw.
I hadn’t noticed before now, but the girl was seriously built. Her rack was the perfect size, her legs were long and perfectly shaped, and her face was sweet, with wide green eyes and bow-shaped lips. I imagined those lips doing some filthy things to me. And I also imagined doing even dirtier things to her.
As if I’d conjured her, when I turned the corner, Regan was kneeling in front of her locker, two large books on her knees as she rifled stuff inside. I watched while she leaned further in, her ass sticking out of the locker, and I felt all of the blood in body rush to one place. And it wasn’t my brain.
Which is probably why, when I opened my mouth to speak, no sensible words emerged, only some unintelligible grunts.
Still, apparently they were loud enough to catch Regan’s attention because she jerked her head out of the locker and turned toward me quickly.
“Oh, my God, you startled me.” Her forehead knit together, and she frowned. And it was adorable.
God, I had it bad.
“Sorry.” I leaned one hand against an adjacent wall of lockers and looked down at her. “Uh, so, hey, Regan.”
She tilted her head ever so slightly. “Hey, Jackson. What’s up?”
“Oh, uh, nothing. Not anything. Much. I was just wondering . . .” I cleared my throat. “Just wondering if you’re planning to go to the dance tonight.”
“Oh.” She stared into her locker again. “Yeah, I think so. Pretty sure. Why?”
“No reason, I was just thinking—” I licked my lips. “Uh, that I might see you there. Maybe we could, like, dance. Or something.”
Regan peered at me from her spot on the floor. “I . . . guess? Yeah.”
“Awesome.” I pushed off the wall. “Okay. See you tonight.”
I turned and walked away, taking long strides toward the door again.
That hadn’t been so hard. In fact, I’d been downright cool. I’d rocked it. Now all I had to do was to look forward to tonight . . . when I’d get my shot with Regan Henessey at last.
“I know something you don’t know.” My mom danced between the fridge and the kitchen table, grinning like a loon. She winked at me and rested her hands on the chair across the table. “Aren’t you dying to know?”
“No.” I picked up my bottle of water and chugged it. I could pretend indifference with the best of them. But after a few moments, as she only gazed at me patiently, I relented. “Oh, all right. What is it? What do you know, and how do you know it?”
“Well.” Mom pulled out the chair and sat down, leaning her elbows on the edge of the table, her eyes sparkling. “I have it from a very reliable source that someone likes you.”
My breath stuttered, and my stomach turned over. “What? Who? Where did you hear this?” I tried to think about who my mother might have seen during the day. She knew Rick’s dad a little because they’d served on the town’s planning board together a few years ago. Maybe they’d run into each other today, and Mr. Lewis had told her something about Rick . . . and his feelings toward me.
But now. I shook my head a little. Rick was with Melissa, my best friend, and everything was good between them. They hadn’t broken up. I’d seen them leave school together today, hand in hand, and I’d even witnessed him hooking his arm around her neck and tugging her closer for a deep and involved kiss.
So it couldn’t be Rick. Then who?
“I had lunch with Ellen today, and she told me in confidence that Jackson has been talking about you at home. That he’s been asking her about you. He likes you, Regan. You know—really likes you.”
My mouth sagged open. “Jackson? Are you crazy? He can’t . . . he couldn’t . . .” And then I remembered the hallway this afternoon, Jackson McCord asking me weird questions and acting downright strange.
Jackson McCord liked me?
I didn’t know how to feel about that. On the one hand, I’d lived most of my pre-teen and teenaged life wary of a certain group of boys at school—the ones who only dated the prettiest, most popular girls, the ones who jeered and harassed the rest of us when they noticed us at all. Jackson was the worst of those guys. I’d watched him tear down other students, mock them, and generally act like an asshole. I’d detested him for a long time.
But on the other hand, I’d also caught him looking vulnerable and alone when he thought no one else was looking. And Melissa claimed that when he was just hanging out with Rick—and her—he was a much nicer person. She said that he always treated her with respect.
And no one could deny that he was hot. Tall, with muscled arms and a more than decent build, he moved with a certain grace. His eyes were this insane shade of gray. They were beautiful.
So maybe . . . maybe . . .?
“What do you think?” Mom asked. “Do you like him? If he asks you out, will you say yes?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. He said something to me about the dance tonight, but he was kind of vague and weird about it.” I sucked in a deep breath. “I’ll think about it.”
“Honey, you should give him a chance.” My mother reached across the table and laid her hand on mine. “He’s a good kid. I know he’s had some rough times, with his father dying when he and Zander were both pretty young, but . . . once you get to know him, I think you’d have a lot in common.”
“Maybe.” I stood up. “I’m going to get some homework done before I head over to Mel’s before the dance, okay?” I started out of the kitchen, pausing next to my mother’s chair. I leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Thanks, Mom. I appreciate you telling me.”
“Regan.” My mom snagged my hand. “I know you haven’t dated. I know you’ve been so focused on school . . . but you should have a little fun before it’s too late. All too soon, life gets very serious. Take this time to try something new and excited. Take a chance. Try saying yes for a change.”
I nodded. “I hear you. And like I said, I’ll think about . . . Jackson.”
The parents’ association at the high school put on regular dances once a month, each one sponsored by a different business in town. They were casual affairs, laid-back and fun, with decent music and minimal decorations.
I stood in my usual spot on the edge of the dance floor between two of my friends, Sheri and Beth. Melissa had abandoned us to hang out with Rick, of course; they were either dancing the slow songs or sitting on the bleachers, their heads together as they talked.
But we’d all arrived together, the four of us, after spending the hour prior to the dance in the woods near the school, sharing a bottle of whiskey that Beth had swiped from her dad’s liquor stash. Consequently, everything here at the dance seemed a little softer and more pleasant. I had a nice buzz on, which was awesome because I’d built up a set of nerves over Jackson McCord, and I’d been in desperate need of some liquid courage.
“I don’t see him,” Sheri murmured, her eyes scanning the gym. “But it’s so dark . . . it’s hard to tell who anyone is.”
“I don’t even care.” I tossed my head. “Whatever. It’s probably just another one of his stupid games, and he’s laughing about nerdy little Regan, actually believing someone like him—”
I sucked in a quick breath. He was there, standing next to me, standing far too close to me, and suddenly, my heart was thundering. When I inhaled, I could only smell him, and I could practically feel the heat of his body against mine.
“Jackson.” I managed to squeak out his name. “How’re you doing?”
“Good.” His eyes ranged over my face, dipping just briefly down to my shirt, a cotton off-the-shoulder style bohemian blouse. I wasn’t stupid, and I knew he was checking out my boobs. But he didn’t stare, and that was a point in his favor.
“Have you been here long?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No, we just got here. I was hanging out with Mel, Beth and Sher before.”
Jackson nodded. “Sounds like fun.” He bent his head and side-stepped a little nearer to me. “So, listen, Regan, I was wondering—”
“I love this song.” I blurted out the words, interrupting him. “Do you like country music?”
He stared deep into my eyes. “Sometimes. Depends on the song and the singer. Some of the newer stuff is decent.” He paused. “This one is good.” He held out his hand. “Want to dance?”
I held my breath, knowing the answer to his question but aware that saying yes would change everything. I licked my lips and nodded as I reached out to slip my fingers into his.
He led me into the middle of the floor, his fingers feeling foreign and yet thrilled against mine. When he stopped walking, he looked down at me and smiled, and some of my nerves faded a little.
Dropping my hand, Jackson stretched out his arms to carefully place his hands on my hips. I was hyper-aware of his touch over my jeans, that his fingers were spread, but they weren’t quite touching my ass. After a little hesitation, I lifted my arms to rest on his shoulders, clasping my hands behind his neck.
We started out with a respectable amount of space between us, swaying in time to the music, staring at each other without speaking. I was working hard to ignore all of the couples around us who were plastered against each other, pelvises grinding, their dance bordering on being X-rated. Not too far away, Mel and Rick were locked in a tight embrace, barely moving.
I heard a noise behind us, and then someone bumped into my back, making me stumble against Jackson’s chest. My cheek pressed into his smooth black cotton T-shirt, and for a heady moment, I could feel the beat of his heart. His arms went around my body, holding me close and keeping me from falling down.
I could feel every inch of him, and it such a new and thrilling sensation . . . thanks to the whiskey, I was more emboldened that I might have been otherwise, and I lifted my chin up, blinking a little as I looked at him.
Jackson breathed out, his lips parting. He lifted one hand from my hip and touched my chin, urging me to look up. When I did, he bent his head to seal his lips over mine.
It was my first kiss. I was a junior in high school, a completely normal girl, and this was the first time any boy had kissed me. It was everything I had ever dreamed it might be, starting out soft and then, as Jackson felt my response, he increased the pressure and touched the seam of my lips with the tip his tongue.
I opened to him with a moan, and Jackson answered by sliding his tongue into my mouth, swiping over me, tantalizing and teasing in the best way. His hands slid down to frame my ribs, his thumbs almost touching the sides of my breasts.
He broke the kiss to trail his lips down my neck to my ear, where he murmured my name, making me shiver.
“Regan . . . want to go sit in my car so we can, ah, talk?”
I swallowed hard. Did I? Was it a good idea? The answer to those two questions were probably quite different. But even so, I found myself nodded and letting Jackson take my hand, guiding me toward the exit. The booze was really hitting me now, and I felt floaty, as if it was someone else walking out into the night with Jackson McCord.
His car was in the back of the lot, away from the lights. I wondered for a fast moment if I was making a mistake, but then he opened the passenger door for me and helped me inside. And when he climbed into the driver’s seat, he frowned.
“Are you sure this is okay, Regan? If you’re not comfortable . . .” He trailed off.
“I’m sure.” I turned in the seat to face him. “Hi.”
“Hi.” He grinned. “So . . . I know I said we should talk, but would you mind if first, we . . . you know, picked up where we left off inside?”
I glanced up at him through my eyelashes and nodded. “That’s all right with me.” I wondered if he could tell that it had been my first kiss. He hadn’t said anything, but . . .
Jackson leaned over to my side of the car, cupped my cheek and angled his head to kiss me again. I let him carry me away with him, opening to him, daring to let my tongue tangle with his.
“God, Regan, you’re so beautiful,” Jackson mumbled against my lips. His fingers twitched, grazing nearer to my boob. For one heady moment, I thought about twisting so that his hand would cover my nipple, but I hadn’t had enough whiskey to make me that brave.
But I had drunk enough that my mind was reeling from thought to unrelated thought, from incredible sensation of Jackson’s lips on me, to how weird it was that I was sitting in his car, making out with a guy I’d never even thought about kissing . . . which made me think about who I had thought about kissing.
Rick. God, what kind of girl was I? Here I’d been deep in love with a guy for over a year, mooning over him as recently as this afternoon, and now I was letting someone else stroke the inside of my mouth with his talented tongue. And even worse, the person I was in effect cheating on—even though I was the only one who knew about the infidelity—was currently in love with my best friend.
I was a horrible, terrible person. Here I’d been sneering at Jackson McCord, calling him a jerk, but I was even worse. I was a disloyal friend. I was a betrayer. I was—
Going to be sick.
Kissing Regan was better than I’d dated to dream. She was soft beneath me, and I had my hands on her truly superb body, and it was heaven. Even better than heaven. And while I wasn’t going to push her too far, I was pretty sure she was ready for me to move to second base any moment.
And then she pushing me away.
I eased back instinctively while Regan covered her face with her hands, and burst into tears.
“I’m so sorry, Jackson. So sorry,” she wept. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t be kissing you. I thought I was in love with—oh, my God, I’m trash. I’ve been lusting after my best friend’s boyfriend, and now even though I’ve been telling myself I’m in love with Rick, I’m sitting in your car kissing you, and I wanted you to touch me and more—and . . .”
Her shoulders shook, and her crying got louder. My head was spinning. Regan was in love with Rick? What the actual fuck?
“Regan.” I touched her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
She groaned. “No. I went drinking with the girls before the dance because I was so nervous about seeing you. And now, I can’t think straight. Why does kissing you feel so good if I love someone else?”
“Maybe you don’t love him,” I suggested. “Maybe it’s just a crush. Sometimes that happens.” Jesus Christ, when had I turned into Dr. Phil?
“Probably,” she admitted. “But I’m so confused. So—” Her eyes went wide, her face turned an obscene shade of green . . . and she reached for the door handle just in time to lean outside and puke loudly onto the asphalt.
I let her finish, and then I offered her a napkin and a stick of gum. She moaned and collapsed back against the seat, her eyes closed and beads of perspiration on her forehead.
She didn’t glance at me until I turned the keys in the ignition.
“Where are you taking me?” Her voice was weak and still weepy.
“Home,” I replied. “Where did you think? I’m going to drop you at your house, and you can go to bed, get a good night’s sleep . . . and just forget tonight ever happened, okay?” I sighed, raking my hand through my hair. “This was a mistake, and we can just go back to the way things were before.”
She made a noise that I interpreted as a sob or a sigh or maybe a combination thereof.
“Also, don’t worry. I won’t say anything to Rick. Or anyone else. I promise.”
We pulled up in front of the Henessey house, and I shifted into park. “Do you need help getting to the door?”
Regan shook her head. “No, thanks,” she whispered. “I just want to get to bed.”
I jumped out of the car, opened the other side, and carefully helped her out. She paused next to me, staring at the ground between us.
“I’m sorry, Jackson,” she whispered. “So sorry.”
And then she was gone, staggering up the sidewalk onto her front porch and through the door. I watched until the light went out.
I got back into my car to drive home, feeling empty and hopeless. I’d blown my one and only chance with Regan. Or if I hadn’t blown it . . . maybe we’d been doomed from the start. We weren’t meant to be.
I should just walk away and forget all about Regan Henessey.
No matter how much it hurt.