Maddie herself approached our table, tossing down a couple more coasters in front of us and asking what we wanted to drink. She listed the beers on tap, and because I knew she wouldn’t like any of them, I leaned close to tell Hanna, “They also have regular bar drinks, or sodas.”
“Soda is expressly forbidden,” Max chided. “If you don’t like beer, there is whiskey.”
Hanna laughed, making a face. “Would you drink a vodka and 7-Up?” she asked, anticipating our usual routine where she ordered the drink and I was the one who actually drank it.
I shook my head and made a face, leaning into her, our foreheads practically touching. “Probably not.”
Humming, she thought about it some more. “Jack and Coke?”
“I’d drink that.” I looked up at Maddie and said, “Jack and Coke for the lady, and I’ll have a Green Flash.”
“It’s a really hoppy beer,” I told her, kissing the corner of her mouth. “You wouldn’t like it.”
Once Maddie left us, I pulled away from Hanna and glanced around the table, finding four very interested faces looking back at us.
“You two look rather cozy,” Max said.
With a little wave of her hand, Hanna explained, “It’s our system: I’ll only have a few sips of my drink and then he’ll finish it. I’m still learning what he orders.”
Sara squeaked out a tiny, thrilled noise and Chloe smiled at us as if we had turned into a photograph of two cuddling baby sloths. I shot them a warning look. When Hanna asked where the restrooms were, then headed in that direction, I leaned in toward the group, meeting each of their eyes.
“This is not going to be the Will and Hanna show, you guys. We’re in a weird place. Just act normal.”
“Fine,” Sara said, but then narrowed her eyes. “But for the record, you two look really cute together and since we all know you guys have been hooking up, she’s really brave for coming out with the entire group tonight.”
“I know,” I mumbled, lifting my beer when Maddie had delivered it and taking a sip. The sharp bite of the hops mellowed almost immediately into a warm, malty finish. I closed my eyes, moaning a little while the others began chatting.
“Will?” Sara said, quieter now, so only I could hear her. She turned, looking behind her before turning back to me. “Please only do this with Hanna if you know it’s what you want.”
“I really appreciate the meddling, Sara, but stop meddling.”
Her face straightened and I registered my mistake. Hanna was a bit older than Sara had been when she started dating the douchebag congressman in Chicago, but I was exactly the same age he had been: thirty-one. Sara probably felt it was her duty to look out for other women who could fall into the same situation she was in for so long.
“Shit, Sare,” I said. “I get the meddling. Just . . . it’s different. You know that, right?”
“It’s always different at first,” she said. “It’s called infatuation, and it will make you promise anything.”
It wasn’t as if I hadn’t been infatuated with a woman before; I had. But I’d always kept my head about me, knowing how to let myself take as much as I could physically, while taking the emotional side more slowly, or pushing it aside entirely. What was it about Hanna that made me want to shed that model and dive straight to the bottom, where things were the most tender and terrifying?
Hanna returned, smiling at me before sitting down and taking a sip of her drink. She coughed and looked up at me, eyes wide and watery as if her throat were on fire.
“Right,” I said, laughing. “Maddie makes the drinks on the strong side. I should have warned you.”
“Keep drinking,” Bennett advised. “It gets easier once your throat is numb.”
Max’s laugh boomed across the table, and I rolled my eyes, hoping Hanna stayed oblivious to their banter.
She seemed to be, taking another sip and coming out of it with a more normal reaction. “It’s fine. I’m fine. Holy crap, you guys must feel like you’re watching someone have her first drink. I promise you I drink sometimes, just—”
Below the table, Hanna’s palm covered my knee and slid up to my thigh. She found my hand there and curled her fingers around it.
“I remember the first drink I ever had,” Sara said, shaking her head. “I was fourteen, and I went up to the bar at my cousin’s wedding. I ordered a Coke, and the woman next to me ordered a Coke but with some kind of booze in it. I accidentally took hers and went back to my table. I had no idea what was wrong with my drink and why it tasted so funny, but let me tell you it was the first time this white girl ever tried to bust out some break-dancing moves.”
We all laughed, particularly of the image of sweet, reserved Sara doing the robot or some spin drunk. Once our humor died down, it seemed as though our thoughts all drifted to the same topic, because we all turned to Chloe almost in unison.
“You know, Will,” she said, wearing a sly smile. “I think that’s the first time you’ve ever asked about the wedding.”
“I spent four days in Vegas with these sad bastards.” I nodded to Bennett and Max. “It’s not like I don’t know it’s happening. Do you want me to tie ribbons on the flower arrangements or some shit?”
“No,” she said, laughing. “And the planning is going . . . fine.”
“Mostly,” Chloe agreed. They shared a knowing look and she started laughing again, leaning into his shoulder.
“What does that mean?” Sara asked. “Is this about the caterer again?”
“No,” Bennett said, before taking a sip of his beer. “The caterer is settled.”
Bennett continued, “It’s just unbelievable the things that families do around weddings. All kinds of drama comes out of the woodwork. Swear to God, if we manage to pull this off without a quadruple homicide we will both deserve a f**king medal.”
After a small pause, she squeezed back, turning to look at me. Her eyes searched mine, and then lightened into a little smile.
I was thinking about her, and me. I was thinking about her family, and how, over the past twelve years, they’d become my surrogate east coast family, and how in this tiny desperate breath I could even see this future—falling in love, getting married, deciding to start a family—for myself down the road.
I released her hand rubbing my palm on my thigh and feeling my pulse explode in my neck. Holy fuck, what happened to my life? In only a couple of months, almost everything had changed.
Well, not everything. My friends were still the same, my finances were fine. I still ran (almost) daily, still caught basketball on TV whenever I could. But . . .
I’d fallen in love. How often does anyone see that coming?
“Yeah, I’m good,” I whispered. “Just . . .” I couldn’t say anything. We’d agreed on just-friends. I’d told her it was what I wanted, too. “It’s just crazy to see friends going through this,” I said, gesturing to Chloe and Bennett, covering myself up that way. “I totally can’t relate.”
And with that, everyone was looking back to us, eyes soft and f**king invested in every single look or touch that passed between me and Hanna. I glared at each of them quickly and then stood. My chair squeaked across the floor, making my awkwardness even more evident. I was okay with being the center of attention within this group, whether I was teasing one of them or the other way around. But this felt different. I could laugh off the jokes about my scheduled hookups or colorful past with women, but right now I felt f**king vulnerable in this new place with Hanna, and wasn’t used to being on this side of the knowing looks.
I wiped my sweaty palms on the thighs of my jeans. “Let’s . . . I don’t know.” I looked around the bar helplessly. We should have just stayed on my couch, maybe f**ked again out there in my living room. We should have stayed put until things were slightly less up in the air between us.
Hanna looked up at me, amused expression in place. “Let’s . . . ?”
I jerked her out of her chair and out to the empty dance floor, realizing when we got there that it would be even worse than what I was escaping. I’d taken us from the pack-safety of the table and onto what was essentially a stage. She stepped close to me, pulling my arms around her waist and running her hands up my chest and into my hair.
I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath. I’d never felt more awkward in my life. Come to think of it, I’d never really felt awkward at all before.
“You’re a mess,” she said, laughing into my ear when I pulled her close. “I’ve never seen you so discombobulated. I have to admit, it’s really kind of cute.”
Maddie was playing some mellow indie shit, and this particular song was only instrumental. It was sweet, almost a little melancholy, but just the right speed for the kind of dancing I wanted to do with Hanna: slow, pressing. The kind of dancing where I could pretend to dance but really just stand and hug her for a few minutes away from the table.
On a slow spin, I turned and could see that my friends weren’t even looking at us anymore; they had returned to their conversation. Chloe was speaking animatedly about something, arms flapping above her head and I was almost positive she was reenacting some wedding-related fiasco. Now that the weird Will Inspection moment had cleared, I was torn between staying put, here with Hanna, and heading back to the table so I could be kept up to date on the increasing number of shenanigans Bennett and Chloe were dealing with. I could only imagine they were pretty epic.
“I like being with you,” Hanna said, breaking back into my thoughts. Maybe it was the lights in the bar, or maybe it was her mood, but her eyes had more blue in them today than they normally did. It made me think of spring being released full bore into New York City. I wanted winter gone. I think I needed everything around me to transition so it didn’t feel like I was the only one going through something.
She paused, and her eyes focused on my lips. “I’m sorry about earlier.”
Laughing, I whispered, “You said that already. You apologized with words. And then with your mouth on my dick.”
She laughed, tucking her head into my neck, and I could pretend we were alone, just dancing in my living room, or bedroom. Only, if we were there, we wouldn’t be dancing. I clenched my jaw, trying to keep my body from reacting to this fresh reminder that she was pressed against me, had given me the bl*w j*b of my life earlier, and that it might be possible to convince her to come back to my place again later. Even if she just wanted to curl up and sleep, I’d be completely down for that. After all the drama of the day, I didn’t really want her to go home after this.
“I guess I don’t really know what to do,” she admitted. “I know we talked earlier but things still feel kind of weird.”
I sighed. “Why is it complicated, though?” The lights from the dance floor ran shadows across her face, and she looked so f**king beautiful, I felt like I was losing my mind. The question filled my throat like smoke until I felt too full. “Isn’t this good?” I smiled so she might think I knew it was; maybe she would believe for a second that I didn’t actually need the reassurance.
“It’s actually amazing how good it is,” she whispered. “I feel like I didn’t know you at all before, even though I thought I did. You’re this brilliant scientist, with these really amazing, meaningful tattoos. You run triathlons and have this close, sweet relationship with your sisters and your mom.” Her nails scratched lightly down my neck. “I know you’ve always been sexual, really sexual. From the first time I met you when you were nineteen, to now, twelve years later. I really like spending time with you for that reason, too, because you’re teaching me things I didn’t know about my body, and what I like. I think what we have right now is actually really perfect.”
I was a second away from kissing her, running a hand up her side to feel the shape of her ribs and her spine. I wanted to pull her down onto the floor and feel her under me. But we were at a bar. Fucking idiot, Will. I looked away, and inadvertently over at my group of friends behind her. All four of them were back to watching us. Bennett and Sara had actually turned their chairs so they could see us without having to crane their necks, but as soon as they noticed I had noticed them, they snapped their attention elsewhere: Max to the bar, Sara up at the ceiling, Bennett down at the watch on his wrist. Only Chloe continued to stare, a big smile on her face.
Hanna shrugged. “I don’t think so. I think it was good to get out of the house and talk a little.”
“Is that what we did?” I asked, smiling. “Talked about how we don’t need to talk about it?”
Her tongue peeked out to wet her lips. “Sure. But I think I just want to go back to your place and do things while we talk.”
I pulled my keys from my pocket, sifting through them to locate the right one. “You’re not coming up here to grab a cup of tea and then head home.”