I slipped my hands under his arms and curved them behind his back, pressing my cheek against his lower chest. “Thomas…”
He touched his lips to my hair. “Yes?”
Someone turned down the music, and Trenton walked over to Camille. He took both of her hands, pulling her to the center of the room. He knelt onto one knee and held up a small box.
Thomas pulled away from me and shoved his hands into his pockets, fidgeting for a second or two. Then, he leaned down to whisper in my ear, “I’m sorry.” He took a few steps backward and then quietly walked along the back wall, creeping behind the crowd, until he reached the exit.
After one last glance at Camille as she covered her mouth and nodded her head, Thomas pushed open the glass door just enough to slip outside.
Jim looked down and then over at me. “That would be tough for any man.”
Everyone cheered, and Trenton stood up to hug his new fiancée. The crowd closed in around them.
“Tough for you, too, I’d imagine,” Jim said again, gently patting me on the shoulder.
I swallowed hard and looked to the glass door. “We’ll see you at the house, Jim. It was so nice to meet you.” I hugged Thomas’s father and then hurried out to the parking lot.
My sweater did little to stave off the Midwest’s early spring temperatures. I wrapped the knitted fabric tighter around me and crossed my arms, walking along the sidewalk to the back of the hotel.
A drunk man appeared from behind a beater Chevrolet that was older than I was. He wiped the vomit from his mouth and stumbled toward me.
“Whoeryou?” he asked, his words melded together.
I stopped and held out my hand. “I’m trying to get to my car. Please step aside.”
I raised an eyebrow. His beer gut and stained shirt didn’t scream catch, but he clearly didn’t see it that way.
“I’m Joe,” he said before burping. He smiled, his eyes half-closed.
“It’s nice to meet you, Joe. I can see you’ve had a lot to drink, so please don’t touch me. I just want to get to my vehicle.”
“Wishesyers?” he asked, turning toward the lot.
“That one.” I pointed in a vague direction, knowing it wouldn’t matter anyway.
“Wanna dance?” he asked, stumbling to whatever music was in his head.
I sidestepped, but he caught my sweater in his fingers.
I sighed. “I don’t want to hurt you. Please let go.”
He tugged on me once, and I gripped his fingers and pulled them back. He cried out in pain and then fell to his knees.
I let go of his hand. “The next time a woman tells you not to touch her, you listen. If you only remember one thing from tonight”—I poked his temple and pushed his head—“remember that.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, his breath puffing out in white wisps. Instead of attempting to get up, he got more comfortable on the ground.
I groaned. “You can’t sleep here, Joe. It’s cold. Get up, and go inside.”
He looked up at me with sad eyes. “I don’t ’member where m’room is.”
“Oh, shit. Joe! You’re not harassing this pretty lady, are ya?” Trenton said, taking off his coat. He draped it over Joe’s shoulders and then helped him to stand, bearing most of his weight.
“She tried to break my damn hand!” Joe said.
“You probably deserved it, you drunk fucker,” he said to Joe. He looked to me. “You all right?”
Joe’s knees gave way, and Trenton grunted as he tossed the large man over his shoulder.
I nodded again. I was extremely uncomfortable with speaking to Trenton although I wasn’t sure why.
“Dad said Thomas came out here. Is he okay?”
“What are you doing out here?” Thomas snapped. He wasn’t speaking to me but to his brother.
“I came to check on you,” Trenton said, shifting his weight.
“What the hell is going on out here?” Taylor said, staring at Joe hanging over Trenton’s shoulder. He sucked on his cigarette and exhaled, the thick smoke swirling into the air.
“She tried to break my damn hand!” Joe said.
Taylor chuckled. “Then, don’t put your hands on her, dumbass!”
Thomas looked down at me. “What happened?”
Taylor doubled over, his whole body trembling with roaring laughter.
Tyler appeared from behind Trenton and Taylor, lighting his own cigarette. “This looks like the real party!”
Taylor smiled. “Did Liis throw you down the first time you touched her, too?”
Thomas frowned. “Shut the fuck up, Taylor. We’re ready to go.”
Tyler’s eyebrows shot up, and he laughed once. “Tommy’s Asian beauty knows ca-rah-tay!” He chopped at the air a few times and then kicked forward.
Thomas took a step toward him, but I touched his chest.
Tyler took a step back and held up his hands, palms out. “Just kiddin’, Tommy. Fuck!”
All four of Thomas’s younger brothers looked very much alike, but it was unsettling how identical the twins were. They even had matching tattoos. Standing next to each other, I couldn’t tell who was who until Thomas said their names.
“Well, Joe here is a fat bastard,” Trenton said.
Trenton hopped, readjusting Joe on his shoulder. “I’m going to take him to the lobby before he freezes to death.”
“A little stiff,” Trenton said. He winked. “I barely notice when I’m drunk.”
“Love you, bro,” Trenton said, turning for the entrance.
Thomas’s eyebrows pulled in, and he looked down.
I touched his arm. “We’re ready,” I said to Taylor.
“Okay,” Taylor said. “No problem. Travis already left. What a piss biscuit he’s turned into.”
We returned to the car, and Taylor drove through town, turning down various streets, until he turned into a narrow gravel drive. The headlights illuminated a modest white house with a red porch and a dirty screen door.
Thomas opened my door, but he didn’t take my hand. He took all the luggage from Taylor and made his way to the house, glancing back just once to make sure I was following.
“Dad and Trent cleaned up everyone’s rooms for the occasion. You can sleep in your old room.”
The screen door complained when Taylor pulled it open, and then he turned the knob to the front door, walking through.
“Your dad doesn’t lock his door when he leaves?” I asked as we followed Taylor into the house.
I followed him inside. The furniture was as worn as the carpet, and the air carried a hint of mildew, bacon grease, and stale smoke.
“Good night,” Taylor said. “My flight is early. Is yours?”
Taylor hugged him. “See you in the morning then. I’ll probably leave around five. Trav said I could take the Camry since he’s riding with Shep.” He began to walk down the hall and then turned around. “Hey, Tommy?”