"I can't believe you got to punch that asshole and I didn't!" Jimmy grumbled to John while Rusty passed him the bong belonging to Dennis, in the back of whose van the gang were now relaxing with the help of his Orange County weed. "This is good stuff, man," he said a second later to their driver, a less deplorable older blond boy than the one they'd scuffled with earlier.

"Did they ruin the Eagles for you, Holly?" Claire asked.

"No, but I think they ruined David Bowie for John here," she replied with a small laugh. That's when Jimmy handed her the bong. "Pass," she said, shaking her head.

"You promised," Jimmy said, insisting with his words and his hands. "Come on."

"I did not promise," Holly said. "Besides, somebody has to stay sober, right?"

"Yeah, our drivers."

"Our drivers are either drunk or stoned!" Holly said, glancing at Stacey and Dennis, respectively.

"Don't forget braless," Stacey added with a raised index finger.

"Now, see, that's not necessarily a bad thing," Dennis said as he took the bong back from Jimmy.

"Only if you're a guy," Claire said.

"Guys don't wear bras, Claire," Rusty said.

"Maybe you should sometime."

"You mean like a transvestite?" Jimmy said. "Fuck that."

"I'd give you newfound respect," Claire said.

"Jimmy, Claire, tell me you're not seriously having a conversation about this," Holly said.

Jimmy ignored her and looked to his girlfriend, saying, "Let's start with the bra off your back, then."

"You're a pig," Claire sighed.

"Oink," Jimmy said, extending his arm and for some reason actually expecting Claire to remove her undergarment and hand it to him.

"Dude, if you want guilt-free boobs, all you have to do is look to your left," Rusty explained to the pig sitting across from him as they both made a brief turn towards Stacey.

"I really hope no one remembers this conversation when the night is over," Holly said.

"Well, what are you expecting teenage boys to talk about?" Dennis asked her. "Politics?"

"Fuck Bush!" Jimmy and Rusty announced in unison.

"At least you two can agree on something," Claire said, taking the bong as Dennis handed it to her. "On that note, Holly, I agree with everyone else here that you need to just relax."

"Cut footloose," Rusty added with a smile, and she smiled back cautiously. "Everybody's doing it!"

"Name your source," John said, wrapping the only other sober arm in the room around Holly and pulling her in a little closer. Holly didn't mind, since as far as she was concerned he was just another harmless friend like Rusty and not someone that might pose a threat to her fidelity to Kent.

"Loggins, 1984," Rusty said.

"Is that when that movie came out?" Dennis said. "Shit, I feel old now."

"You were born in 1986, Dennis."

"And the fact that you're older is sort of why we're happy to be in your company," Jimmy said with a grin. "You can buy beer legally!" He reached for a bottle he saw lying on the floor of the van and raised it as if to toast the man's age.

"Please, Jimmy, not around the alcoholic," Holly said, glancing at Stacey.

"It's okay," Stacey nodded, rejecting the bottle with a raised hand. "I'm probably going to throw up soon anyway."

Everyone suddenly scooted away from Stacey as fast and far as they could in the limited space Dennis's vehicle allotted.

"Maybe you should step outside," John said after settling into his new spot.

"You can pass the time sobering up looking for that missing bra of yours," Dennis suggested with a smirk.

"Dude, why?" Jimmy said.

"How about because you already have a girlfriend and one set of boobs ought to be enough?" Claire replied with a stern look in Jimmy's direction.

"It's never enough, Claire," Rusty said, patting her on the back. "I'm sorry, but that's just the way the masculine mind works."

"Not all of us," John said, defying the notion he'd just heard. Wisely, he decided to return the topic of conversation to the load of baggage that was his driver. "Stacey, you probably should step outside. I think the fresh air will do you some good."

"And you can look for your bra," Claire added with the sincerity that Dennis had been lacking when he'd said the same thing.

"It's somewhere in Andrew's car!" Stacey argued. "You want me to go looking for the guy you already pulled me away from just so you won't be offended by my tits?" she said, pointing at the hard nipples protruding through her top.

"I just don't want you throwing up in my van, man," Dennis explained with a chuckle at his lame rhyme. "Your breasts aren't the problem."

"Okay," Stacey said with a nod. She opened the back doors of the van and stepped outside, a rush of chilly air entering the warm confines of the vehicle as she did.

"Perhaps someone should go with her," Holly said, as they all watched Stacey stand out there alone with arms crossed in frustration through the doors she hadn't bothered to close. Looking from one of her friends to the next, Holly continued: "You know, keep a watchful eye."

"I'll do it," John said, and a moment later he was outside with her. Nevertheless, he continued to converse with the others for a minute, with one eye on them and the other on Stacey. "If she's my ride home I need to make sure she's sober enough."

"It's going to be a long night," Rusty said.

"I can wait," he said, just seconds before the others heard Stacey gag and vomit onto the asphalt. John glanced at her and the mess she'd made, and then back at his Holly and her friends. "Do you have some water, by any chance?" he asked Dennis, who handed him a plastic bottle, one of several that had been lying around in his van. "Thanks."

"Really, you're okay?" Dennis said as John twisted the cap off.

"I'll be fine."

"Like I said, man," Rusty reiterated, "long night. Your parents won't get worried?"

"When I get home I'll face the consequences and own up to this," he explained. "It's not like lying about it will make my explanation any better."

"You go to our school, right?" Jimmy said. "You can go ahead and tell the truth if you want, but you'd better not rat us out."

"Since we didn't come together, that shouldn't be a problem, Jimmy," John said, and everybody let out a sigh of relief at his kindness.

"Although, if you do mention us," Jimmy said, "could you say that I punched Andrew out instead of you?"

John smiled jokingly. "Yeah, I'm nice, but I'm not that nice."

Jimmy grumbled. "This sucks," he said with a glance at Claire and Rusty. "He gets to start school with badass cred in the bag! I want some of that!"

"I'm not proud to have punched a guy," John said. "It's just something I had to do."

"That's even more badass!" Jimmy complained.

"Whatever," John said, looking around once more at the kids in the van. "I'll look for you guys at school next week."

Holly smiled back at him. "Not if we look for you first."



Almost as soon as John had shut the doors to console Stacey out of sight, Jimmy began berating Holly about their new friend. "So, he seems nice, doesn't he?"

"First Kent and Claire," Holly sighed, "and now me and John. You just don't trust anybody anymore, do you, Jimmy?"

"Whoa, slow down," Jimmy laughed. "I wasn't implying anything about you two!"

"Yes, you were! You were implying that I could cheat on Kent with this guy!"

"Can't you?"

Holly took a second to process the exact phrasing of the circumstances. "…Yes, I could, but I won't! I'm not my mother, goddamn it!"

"We'll see," Jimmy shrugged, reclaiming the bong. "We'll see."

Monday, January 7, 2008

Holly stood on the steps outside the Crescenta Valley High School gymnasium, inside which the boys and girl's locker rooms were also located. It was shortly before ten, and the cool morning fog had yet to clear up completely, hence her reasoning for wearing a navy blue jacket adorned with the local high school's falcon logo on the upper left breast, and the words "C.V. Dance 2006-2007" underneath.

Though the intermediate level dance class she and several of her friends had just exited was technically along the same lines as the drama classes in that a public performance was the ultimate objective, it made sense for it to take place with the other physical education courses at this end of campus. By sheer coincidence that wouldn't be seen as such if she and Kent weren't dating, her dance class took place during second period, when Kent and Tom also had their general P.E. class, thus allowing them to meet when the period was over and snack, the fifteen-minute break between this period and the next, began. Of course, this being P.E., it required a change into required blue-and-white uniforms; Holly and her friends had already returned into their much less monotonous street clothes, and now they were just waiting on the boys. It seemed to be taking an unusually long time, but then again, anticipating something has that protracting effect.

"Any minute now…" Holly said, glancing at her watch and tapping her foot. She looked back towards the building she'd just left, and then to the trio of dance classmate friends of hers at her side. "Don't you hate this feeling?" she asked them.

Melanie, the tall redhead, shrugged. "I've never had a boyfriend."

"I'm working on getting one myself," Alexis, the fit-bodied brunette known by everyone simply as "Lex," replied, resting one arm on the other. "Hopefully in time for Valentine's."

"Terra?" Melanie said, as the other three turned to the one with the darkest hair and slimmest figure. "Your thoughts?"

"Let's hope he doesn't screw this up," Terra said.

Holly took a deep breath and brought her gaze back to the gym doors, which then opened with a mixed crowd of boys and girls from the general P.E. classes. It was hard to make out Kent and Tom in there, but she knew they were approaching. She took another breath and bit her lip. "He loves me, right?"

"He'd better," Lex said.

"Is that really appropriate, though?" Holly said with increased anxiety. "I mean, I look up to Claire for not copping to Jimmy and telling him something she doesn't feel yet."

"Well, if that's the way you feel," Melanie said, "then don't treat him too harshly if he's the same way."

"Excuse me, excuse me," she heard through the crowd of dozens of students below, all awaiting the bell to excuse them from this area of campus out to the remainder for their impending break. It was Kent, with Tom close behind. "Excuse me."

"Shit, shit, here he comes!" Holly said.

"Shit?" Terra said.

Holly and Terra exchanged glances, and then the former explained. "I'm nervous, okay?"

Lex pointed past the others. "I'd straighten up fast if I were you."

As per her friend's suggestion, Holly ran her hands through her hair and asked, "How do I look?"

"How did Kent put it that one time?" Lex said rhetorically and with a skyward glance. "Oh, yeah. Like a goddess."

"Thanks," Holly smiled, and when she turned a second later, Kent was standing beside her. He was as tall as ever, towering over most of the other students save some other boys and the rare girl like Melanie, but he seemed to grow more handsome every time she saw him. His brown hair had grown longer over his vacation from school and home, and his blue eyes shined back at her with new memories from a distant ocean. "Hi," she said with a straight face.

"Hi," Kent said, appearing as nervous as she was, which was either very good or very bad. "So…um…" he began, glancing from each of her friends to the next and then to Tom before returning to his girlfriend, "are you still holding that thought like I asked?"

"Yes, I am," she nodded.

He sighed. "You can let go now."

"I love you."

Kent smiled at her, and she smiled back. He took her hands in his and replied, after a slow start, "I love you, too."