“Jeremiah!” someone shouted. “Jeremiah Murphy!”
That someone recognized me at this party didn’t surprise me. Of the many I’d attended over the course of the past six months, about a dozen folks could always be counted on to be seen mingling. Their presence was so reliable they were practically staff. And then there were the reoccurring guest stars who popped in here and there, but could hardly be described as committed. I belonged in the second category, but I liked to think of myself as an up-and-comer. In short, the voice could have belonged to anyone.
What surprised me, though, was that I could hear it, crammed into this Brooklyn loft along with, by my count, about one hundred thousand hipsters, with the music cranked up to be heard over them all. I scanned the crowd until I located someone waving their arms over their head—the internationally recognized signal for “over here!”
Space was at a premium that night, but the voice had managed to commandeer half of a pool table to use as a chair. She beckoned me with a pale finger, crossed her black-clad legs, and patted the space beside her.
“Who’s that?” yelled Coral.
“Go talk to her!”
“What?” I wasn’t abandoning her, not when she knew only one other person here.
“I’ll be fine!” she assured me. “I’ll just hang out with Rachel!”
On hearing her name, my sister snapped out of whatever trance she was in. By far, this was the biggest New York party I’d dragged her to, and she was easy to overwhelm. I worried about leaving her alone, even if it was with someone I trusted as much as I trusted Coral. “What’s going on?” Rachel shouted.
Coral leaned in close to her, and they exchanged a few words.
“Go!” Rachel told me.
By now, the gesture coming from the pool table that had once taken only a finger had grown into one that required a full arm. I sighed and obeyed.
I handed her my plastic cup of beer and hopped up beside her. She turned to me, and her dark red lips said, “I’m surprised to see you here!”
I’ve always been a sucker for blue eyes and dark hair; Marina’s eyes were very blue, and her hair very dark. And when you added to that pale skin that made her seem mysterious and a smattering of freckles on her tiny nose that made her girlish and cute, it was no wonder I had been so smitten when I’d first met her.
“Why not?” I replied. “Everyone’s here.”
“What?” She leaned her ear toward me. Her black sweater wasn’t designed to show much cleavage, but when someone as petite as she is was close to someone as tall as I, it didn’t behave as designed.
Rather than wait for me to respond, she said, “I haven’t seen you in a long time!”
That was five months ago in the middle of Fifth Avenue—her headed to the 33rd Street subway station, me headed to the PATH.
Her hand rested on my thigh.
I closed my eyes and sighed.
“Is that your girlfriend?” Marina asked, nodding her head to the reason her advances didn’t dry out my mouth and raise my pulse like they would have before.
Across the room, my girlfriend took a sip from her beer to conceal her smirk.
My eyes begged for help.
Coral’s eyes said, “You’re on your own.”
My eyes responded, “You’ll pay for this.”
Rachel turned away from me so I wouldn’t see her laugh. I’d known her all twenty-one years of her life—there was no hiding that look from me.
Marina’s fingers squeezed. “Does she know about us?”
What was there to know about? A fascinating first date followed by a romantic kiss on a crosswalk followed by an e-mail telling me that it would never work?
She looked at her watch and I looked at mine. Crap. It was New Years Eve of what would ultimately be the last carefree year of my life, and I had eight minutes to free myself to make out with the woman I was pretty sure I was falling for.