“Where to?” Trish asks me when she gets behind the wheel, immediately lighting up a cigarette. She fluffs her hair, staring at the rearview mirror, and between us is an ashtray with enough cigarette butts to fill a bucket. I start giving her my address before realizing that Sage is not going to be there yet. So I give her the address for Barnie’s, a converted barn turned into a sleazy bar all the jocks frequently hang out in.
“Aw, Barnie’s. I have so many memories from that place. Most of them consisting of broken condoms, but still.” Trish sighs, starts her car, and we’re on a roll.
All the way to Barnie’s, I’m answering questions about college when really, I’m an emotional, anxious mess. The idea that I might’ve pushed the one guy I wanted more than life itself away sits heavy in the back of my head and slowly opens a well of dark thoughts. Then I remember how sweet he was when we texted and take a deep breath.
By the time Trish’s car comes to a stop in front of the old red barn with the Arctic Monkey’s “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” leaking from between the door and windows, I’m a sweaty mess.
“Go ahead. I have a phone call to make. I’ll wait for you in case he’s already left.” She cranes her neck, as if she’s trying to see Sage through the windows. Okay, weird, but also totally appreciated. I haven’t even mentioned I was meeting a guy here, though Trish is that kind of woman. One who can smell men from miles away.
“Thanks, Trish. You’re the best.” I squeeze her into a hug and hop out of the car. My knees are shaking as I make my way to the door. No one gets carded at Barnie’s, because the place is in the middle of nowhere. It’s almost underground. I could walk in there with a newborn and no one would bat an eye. No one would also try to rub themselves all over me, so maybe I should consider walking in with a baby if I ever feel like a drink but not like swatting off horny college boys.
“Jolie!” I spot Sage’s teammates in the corner of the bar. Michael is the one who perks up the most, removing his arms from the counter he was plastered over and waves for me to come close. “Over here, pretty lady.”
I also spot Tom, Mark, and Dre all sitting beside him, so I’m guessing the party is very much still alive and Sage should be nearby. I walk over to them, the smile on my face at odds with how I feel about wearing my orange and yellow Happy Bunny uniform of buttoned-down mini-dress and black stockings. Tom whistles as I go, and Mark smacks the back of his neck. My smile fades as I realize Sage is nowhere to be seen. I stop by the bar, my shoulder almost brushing Mark’s, and he takes two large steps back and frowns. Weirdo. I know he’s with Chelsea. Does he really think I’m going to hit on him?
“Where’s Sage?” I ask in everyone’s general direction, parking my forearms on the counter. Michael raises his eyebrows silently, his lips pursed. Tom looks the other way, Dre actually whistles as he pretends to text, and Mark is the only person who clears his throat and has the decency to make eye contact with me.
“Did he know you were coming?”
“No, why would he…” I begin to ask, when a high-pitched voice pierces through the air, that’s heavy with warm, stinky alcohol and men’s aftershave. A girly voice. I swivel my head on an instinct and watch Sage standing in front of one of the sorority girls Chelsea approached earlier this afternoon at the library.
The blondest one.
The prettiest one.
The one with the whitest, silkiest cardigan.
The one who called me a slut.
I want to see him tell her that this can’t happen. That it will never happen. I want him to turn his back to her and walk over to me, like in the movies. I want her to chase him, and I want him to block her. These thoughts are not kind or noble, but they’re coming from my deepest, most intimate part. The part who’s seen him playing around with so many girls from the sidelines, wishing he’d just give me a chance. But, to my horror, he doesn’t do any of those things. She’s the one running away toward the door, and he’s the one chasing after her.
“Amber, no, please!” he calls.
Sage never begs. Sage never pleads. Not to me and not to anyone.
He chases after her. I stay rooted to the floor. I watch the door swinging back and forth with the force of Amber’s push. He’s trailing behind.
He catches her.
He’s holding her.
He’s hugging her.
Their images are blurry through the dirty, cloudy windows. I see their shapes dancing together through the dull glass and the mist of tears on my eyeballs. The way Amber pushes him away. The way he keeps on moving toward her. The sheer desperation in his body language. And that’s when I feel Mark’s hand on my shoulder.
“I don’t know what it’s about,” he says, his voice quivering slightly, “but give him the benefit of the doubt.”
A lonely tear escapes my right eye and runs down my cheek, free-falling into its end and splashing on the tip of my Chucks. I hear the guys shuffling and talking behind me, but can’t distinguish what they’re saying. My legs carry me to Amber and Sage. To the girl who called me a slut and to the guy who said I was in his blood but ran after someone else.
They’re standing outside the barn. She’s yelling at him. He looks miserable. The only good thing about this shitshow of a situation? Trish’s car is still parked at the non-existent curb near the hay, the engine purring, as she talks on the phone, smoking a cigarette and staring at herself through the rearview mirror.