The sensation of jealousy was unfamiliar to her, and she felt an instinctive distrust of it, sudden and intense as a summer rainstorm after weeks of drought. She held her ID to the bouncer, determined to remain calm even as her heart pounded, demanding that she seek out her wayward boyfriend and bring him to heel with a vicious pinch to his ear, as his Southern mama had done.
Her head fought her heart and emerged victorious, as it usually did. She had never been jealous because intellectually, she always assumed that anyone clever enough to want to date her in the first place would be smart enough to realize that a quick, face-to-face conversation would be sufficient to end a relationship, should either party become dissatisfied.
Until now, her reasoning had always been sound. And even now, she did not know the truth. She had not come to this club to make quick judgments. All the same, if Jennifer had thought there was something to worry about, then Mona would consider doing so.
The jelly lights of the ground floor washed over her in a kaleidoscope of color, keeping time with the stoner band slouched over their guitars. A quick scan of the bar and tables showed no Jerome. Mona checked her reflection quickly in the mirrors behind the bar and smiled at herself. She looked like she'd come for a fun night out, complete with tight jeans, sleeveless top, and sparkling earrings. Even her curls, held back for an eight-hour shift at the shop, had rebounded nicely, prepared for an evening that ought to prove interesting, to say the least.
She considered ordering a drink, and decided against it. Better to get things over and done with, and if she needed a Bloody Mary afterwards, then so be it.
As the stoners launched into another wince-worthy cover of one of Nirvana's hits, she swung around the corner and, despite her cutting stilettos, bounced up the stairs, dodging dancers coming back down for more juice.
On the second floor, the dancing was in full swing, and despite herself, Mona threw a quick glance around the floor to check for any promising partners. Catching the eye of a cute, early-twenties, hip-hop kid, she allowed herself a long, slow smile, tossing her hair and letting one hand rest on her hip, drawing the material of her slinky, black shirt back to show a thin sliver of pale, smooth stomach. She never understood why so many girls let their stomachs just hang out for people to see. The slow reveal worked every time.
Indeed, the kid smiled back and gestured slightly with his head, beckoning her towards his corner. She shook her head, still smiling. Until she had the proof in front of her, she was off the market. Besides, the kid was definitely too young for her anyway. No one his age minded dating a twenty-seven year old, but she certainly minded dating a pup still in college.
Putting all thoughts of the other benefits of early-twenties boys out of her head, she focused on the dance floor, trying to spy her average height, reasonably undistinguished boyfriend. She walked onto the floor, bouncing along with the crowd and circulating slowly when space opened up. Then, in the shadow cast by the DJ's booth, she saw him.
Oh, Jerome, she thought, disgustedly, how amateur!
One arm supported him on the wall, and within its circle a skinny little twig of a girl stood, yellow bubble dress showing off her nonexistent cleavage and four or five inches of stringy thigh. Her calves were clenched, supported by wispy stilettos, her elbows were clamped tightly to her sides, a clutch purse sandwiched in between arm and body, and even the hands that held her drink (a neon-green appletini) seemed tight enough to shatter the glass.
Meanwhile, Jerome was forcefully at ease, lower body swaying rhythmically with his conversation, his free hand waving frenetically as though directing a symphony orchestra. The whole tableau was so perfectly college-town that Mona wanted to burst out laughing. The humor was enough to completely extinguish the heat of her anger, and she swayed, blending into the rhythm of the crowd, wanting to see how the scene would play out.
The girl took a sip of her drink, laughing coquettishly (or as coquettishly as possible, considering that she looked like she was doing her best to hold in a world-class fart), and glancing up at Jerome through her unnaturally long eyelashes. He took this as enough of a cue to bend forward and give her a delicate kiss, which extended into two or three as his body strained towards her and hers straightened even further to meet the embrace.
Mona couldn't help but think the whole thing looked very uncomfortable. But then again, when she'd first kissed Jerome, she'd been the one to initiate, and had made it clear that she wanted to be there, in that moment, kissing him. Here, Jerome looked desperate and the girl looked indifferent, simply tolerating his attention.
It was strange, but Mona thought it would be easier to understand if Jerome were making out with some other passionate latina. At least the impulse would be understandable. This was just odd.
She marched up to the awkward couple and tapped Jerome firmly on the shoulder. He emerged from the kiss with his thick lips slightly pursed, looking like nothing so much as a confused fish. Mona fought the urge to laugh once again, and simply looked at him, at the dawning look of horror in his eyes.
When she noticed the telltale flickers of movements in his hands, motioning between himself and the girl as if to say baby, this isn't what it looks like, I swear to God, she shook her head once, sharply. He let his hands sink to his sides, and stood to take his punishment.
"Is this what you want?"
"Baby, you gotta listen to me…"
"I said, 'is this what you want?'"
"You're not making this easy on me—"
"I'm sorry, Jerome, but should it be easy on you?"
Usually her cool treatment withered him faster than a grape blighted by early frost, but this time it seemed to infuriate him.
"Well, come on, it's not like you're so great either. I mean, look at you and look at her!"
"Nuh-uh, don't you bring me into this!" the girl said, her voice too loud and too nasal. She waved her finger in front of his nose and wobbled her neck like a turkey's, a parody of every racial stereotype Mona could think of. Her disgust for Jerome increased as she thought of him, cheating on her, of all people, with this trash.
"What's the difference, Jerome," she said quietly (or as quietly as possible in the swirling eddies of hip-hop blaring around the room), "I want you to tell me."
"Well…you're all…and she's all…"
"Use your words, Jerome," she said, her lips curving wickedly as she taunted him with his mother's command. "You're a big boy."
"You're fat and she's thin!"
Amazed at his own temerity, Jerome stumbled back a few paces, as if expecting her to run at him, claws out. Mona snorted. He should have known that she'd never raise a hand to anyone so patently unable to defend himself.
"And thin is what you want?"
"I'd want you if you'd make an effort—"
"No, Jerome, that was not what I asked. Is that what you want?"
"It's not like you're giving me a choice—"
"Jerome. Answer my question."
He actually kicked at the ground like a sullen child. "Yeah."
"Okay. Have fun."
Mona turned and walked back around the dance floor, stopping for a moment to write her number down for the hip-hop kid who tugged at her wrist as she walked by. If he called, maybe he'd be worth a little of her time, anyway. He was very cute, after all.
She was passing the bar (no Bloody Mary required) and was on her way back out when a voice hailed her from behind. Teetering on those ridiculous heels, Jerome's girl waved at her before she reached the door. Mildly curious, Mona stopped and waited for her to catch up.
"Oh, girl, that was so cool! You should have seen his face when you just walked away! What a dick, anyway…he's an awful kisser," the girl stepped forward, smiling confidentially.
Her heart did a brief battle with her head, begging for the chance to gossip and be vengeful, but her head won, as it usually did.
"In all honesty, he gets better. At least he takes direction well."
Her brusque answers failed to throw the girl off, and she kept walking as the girl yammered questions and praise in her ear all the way to the door. Only one penetrated her serene calm.
"…and what was he thinking, calling you fat? You're like Marilyn Monroe, for Christ's sake!"
"We're the same size, actually." Mona said, coming to a dead stop. "Listen, take him or leave him, but don't ever let him jerk you around like this. If he gets rowdy, pinch his ear real hard. His mama used to do that."
The girl had a star struck look in her eyes as she looked at Mona. "You are so cool."
Mona shrugged and went out the door into the warm summer night, eyes wide and alive to the swirling crowds around her, smiling at boys as she hadn't allowed herself to smile in six months. Within minutes, someone was pouring her a draft, and she tossed her head back to show her smooth throat and laughed freely.