"They're fine," Cam said. "But we should probably get out of here. It's late."

I glanced at him. I'd almost forgotten he was standing next to me. "I'm not leaving," I said. Not that I could do anything to stop a fight from happening. But it wouldn't be right to just leave him there.


Conrad stepped up close to the tattoo guy, who


shoved him away easily, and Conrad laughed. I could feel an actual fight brewing, like a thunderstorm. Just like the way the water got really still before the sky broke open.

"Are you gonna do something?" I hissed.

-- Advertisement --

"He's a big boy," Jeremiah said, his eyes close on Conrad. "He'll be fine."

But he didn't believe it, and neither did I. Conrad didn't seem fine at all. He didn't seem like the Conrad Fisher I knew, all wild and out of control. What if he got himself hurt? What then? I had to help, I just had to.

I started walking over to them, and I waved off Jeremiah when he tried to stop me. When I got there, I realized I had no idea what to say. I had never tried to break up a fight before.

"Um, hi," I said, standing between the two of them. "We have to leave."

Conrad pushed me out of the way. "Get the hell out of here, Belly."

"Who is this? Your baby sister?" The guy looked me up and down.

"No. I'm Belly," I told him. Only, I was nervous, and I stuttered when I said my name.

"Belly?" The guy busted out laughing, and I grabbed Conrad's arm.

"We're gonna leave now," I said.

I realized how drunk he was when he swayed a little as he tried to swat me off. "Don't leave. Things are just


getting fun. See, I'm about to kick this guy's ass." I'd never seen him like this before. His intensity scared me. I wondered where Red Sox girl had gone. I kind of wished she was here to handle Conrad and not me. I didn't know what I was supposed to do.

The guy laughed, but I could tell he wanted a fight just about as much as I did. He looked tired, like all he wanted was to head home and watch TV in his boxers. Whereas Conrad was running on all cylinders. Conrad was like a soda bottle that had been shaken up; he was about to explode on somebody. It didn't matter who it was. It didn't matter that this guy was bigger than him. It wouldn't have mattered if he was twenty feet tall and built like a brick. Conrad was looking for a fight. He wouldn't be satisfied until he got one. And this guy, he could kill Conrad.

The guy kept looking at Conrad and then back at me. Shaking his head, he said, "Belly, you better get this little boy home."

"Don't talk to her," Conrad warned.

I put my hand on Conrad's chest. I had never done that before. It felt solid and warm; I could feel his heart beating fast and out of control. "Can we please just go home," I pleaded. But it was like Conrad didn't even see me standing there, or feel my hand on his chest.

"Listen to your girlfriend, kid," the guy said.

"I'm not his girlfriend," I said, glancing over at Cam, who had no expression on his face.


Then I looked back at Jeremiah helplessly, and he ambled over. He whispered something in Conrad's ear, and Conrad shook him off. But Jeremiah kept talking to him in his low voice, and when they looked at me, I realized it was about me. Conrad hesitated, and then he finally nodded. Then he half jokingly made like he was going to hit the guy, and the guy rolled his eyes. "Good night, douche," he said to the guy.

The guy waved him off with one hand. I let out a big breath.

As we walked back to the car, Cam grabbed my arm. "Are you okay to go home with these guys?" he asked me.

Conrad whirled around and said, "Who is this guy?"

I shook my head at Cam and said, "I'll be fine. Don't worry. I'll call you."

He looked worried. "Who's driving?"

"I am," Jeremiah said, and Conrad didn't argue. "Don't worry, Straight Edge, I don't drink and drive."

I was embarrassed, and I could tell Cam was bothered, but he just nodded. Quickly I hugged him, and he felt stiff. I wanted to make things okay. "Thanks for tonight," I said.

I watched him walk away, and I felt a stab of resentment--Conrad and his stupid temper had ruined my first real date. It wasn't fair.

Jeremiah said, "You guys get in the car; I left my hat inside. I'll be right back."

"Just hurry," I told him.


Conrad and I got in the car silently. It felt eerily quiet, and even though it was only just past one, it felt like it was four in the morning and the whole world had gone to sleep. He lay down in the backseat, all of his energy from before gone. I sat in the front seat with my bare feet on the dashboard, leaning back far in the seat. Neither of us spoke. It had been frightening back there. I didn't recognize him, the way he'd acted. I suddenly felt very tired.

My hair was hanging low, and from the backseat, all of a sudden, I felt Conrad touching it, running his fingers through the bottom. I think I stopped breathing. We were sitting in perfect silence, and Conrad Fisher was playing with my hair.

"Your hair is like a little kid's, the way it's always so messy," he said softly. His voice made me shiver, it was like the sound of water when it pulls off the sand.

I didn't say anything. I didn't even look at him. I didn't want to scare him off. It was like the time I had a really high fever, and everything felt gauzy and dizzy and unreal, it felt just like that. All I knew was, I didn't want him to stop.

But he finally did. I watched him in the visor mirror. He closed his eyes and sighed. I did too. "Belly," he began.

Just as suddenly, everything in me was alert. The sleepy feeling was gone; every part of my body was awake now. I was holding my breath, waiting for what he would say. I


didn't answer him. I didn't want to break the spell.

That's when Jeremiah came back, opened the door, slammed it shut. This moment between us, fragile and tenuous, snapped in half. It was over. It would do no good to wonder what he was going to say. Moments, when lost, can't be found again. They're just gone.

Jeremiah looked at me funny. I could tell he knew that he'd walked in on something. I shrugged at him, and he turned away and started the car.

I reached over to the radio and turned it on, loud.

The whole way home, there was this strange tension, everyone keeping quiet--Conrad passed out in the backseat, Jeremiah and me not looking at each other in the front seat. Until we pulled up the driveway, when Jeremiah said to Conrad, in what was a harsh tone for him, "Don't let Mom see you like this."

Which was when I realized, remembered, that Conrad really had been drunk, that he couldn't really have been responsible for anything he'd said or done that night. He probably wouldn't remember it tomorrow. It would be like it had never happened.

-- Advertisement --