That evening, I met up with Chloe in the dining hall common room. She was wearing a sleeveless red dress that reached to her ankles, where her matching heels laced their way up her leg. I couldn't help but remember what I had said to Frankie last month.
"You look gorgeous." I kissed her on the cheek. "Supermodel gorgeous."
She smiled brightly as we walked into the room. "So? Did Walter say you could hang out with him?"
I nodded and began scanning the crowd. I found Melinda and Walter dancing awkwardly near the edge of the dance floor. They certainly did not look like they were enjoying themselves. I held Chloe's hand as we walked towards my brother. I tapped Melinda's shoulder.
"Mind if I join you?"
Walter looked relieved to see me and smiled at Chloe. She stood on his other side as we made a small circle. I introduced Melinda to Chloe. We talked a little about the games today and Melinda told us about her rehearsal. Then, Chloe suggested refreshments.
Walter was shoveling food in his face when I heard another slow song. I wasn't sure what came over me, but I held out my hand towards Melinda. "Dance with me?"
She took my hand and we moved to a corner of the dance floor. I took her in my arms and she melted right into me. I felt a strange sensation going through me and a couple of times I pulled her closer to me. I was hoping to stay like this all night when she said near my ear, "It's like dancing with Mighty Max!"
It was a reference to a movie I had made last year. I leaned back to look her in the eye, frowning slightly. "I thought you saw past the movie star."
Melinda shook her head. "That's not what I mean." She paused a moment, then continued. "I just meant, I feel safe in your arms. Like you'll protect me. Like Mighty Max had to protect…I forgot the name of Meghan's character."
"Rose," I supplied automatically, pulling her closer to me again.
"Yeah," Melinda shrugged. "That's what I meant."
I stopped dancing and looked at her. The top of her hair had been pulled back, but some of it had come loose and I reached out to push it behind her ear. I kept my hand behind her head and pulled her close. When our lips touched, I finally understood what everyone had been talking about. I felt as if I couldn't get enough of her and I pulled her in closer. Her arms were around my neck and she was kissing me back. My heart stopped beating normally.
I lost track of time, but the song had not changed when she put her hands on my chest and slowly pushed me away. I left my hands along her waist, and she didn't resist.
"Sorry," I whispered.
Melinda was looking behind me. "I've gotta go talk to him."
"Huh?" I was baffled.
Melinda looked into my eyes. "Walter. He looked really mad."
I swore and ran my hands through her hair. "Can we talk later?"
The sarcasm in her response was noticeable. "Um, yeah. I think we need to."
I watched Melinda leave, then walked back to the refreshments. Chloe was by the chocolate fountain and Frank had joined her. Frank sent me a concerned look.
"What's going on? We were talking to Walter, then all of sudden he stormed out of here. A minute later, Melinda was following after him."
I started pacing, raking my fingers through my hair. "I kissed Melinda.". When I stopped, they were both grinning. "What?"
Frank raised his eyebrows. "And?"
"And what? She ran off."
"You're that bad at it?" When I glared at Chloe, she quickly apologized. "I was kidding. You're not. Go talk to her."
I headed back towards the common room, where I heard my brother's voice from the couch area.
"So is he? Taking you away from me?"
I came up behind where they were sitting. "That's not my intention."
Melinda looked at Walter, who turned to me as he stood up. "I'm not okay with this." He glared at me and went back into the dining hall.
I took his seat beside Melinda. "Is he okay?"
"Not really." Her voice was not much more than a whisper.
"How about you? Are you okay?" I wanted to touch her hair again, but stopped halfway.
"I'm sorry. I have no idea what happened. I was enjoying dancing with you, and it felt like I was supposed to kiss you. I think I've watched too many of my own movies."
Melinda giggled, which was my intention. "It was just weird."
"I know. You're my brother's best friend. I'm not supposed to feel this way about you, but I do. And, I have no idea how to handle it." I ran my fingers through my hair again.
"Feel what way?" Melinda asked slowly.
I stood up and started pacing again. For the first time, I realized that just because I had felt something didn't mean she had. I chose my words carefully. "I feel like I want to be more than friends. And, I can tell by your reaction, you don't feel the same."
Melinda didn't respond right away. I figured she was probably trying to figure out how to let me down gently. When she finally spoke, her words were slow. "It's not that. Not exactly. Like I said, it's weird. I mean, until a couple of months ago, I never really thought about dating. And, you're so much older than me."
I stopped pacing. "It's only what? Two years?"
"Three. I'm only thirteen and a half."
"Really? I never would have guessed. But, three years isn't that big a deal."
"It's not just the age thing. There's Walter."
"You have feelings for him?"
"Ew. No. I really do think of him like a brother."
"And, do you feel that way about me?"
"No, I don't."
My heart leapt in excitement. I sat beside her, running my fingers through her hair. "If I were to kiss you again, would you run away?"
Melinda shook her head. I kept my hand behind her and leaned in. When she put her arms around me, I reached to her waist to pull her closer. It was unbelievable. I never wanted this sensation to end, but I knew we couldn't spend the entire night out here.
I pulled away, but held her close and rested my forehead against hers. I swore softly. Melinda spoke so quietly, she was practically whispering. "It's not that I don't have feelings for you. It's just that I can't figure out what those feeling are."
I sat back to look at her better. "Yeah, I get that. So, now what? Pretend there's nothing there?"
"Can we just see what happens? I mean, I dunno. Not exactly ignore, but just not do anything about it? Does that even make sense?"
I smiled. "Actually, it does. I like that idea."
Melinda smiled back, but her face quickly fell. "Um…I hate to say this, but how or what should we tell Walter?"
I winced. "I'll talk to him. Later." I stood and reached out for Melinda's hand. She took it and we returned to the dance. Chloe and Frank were standing where I left them, talking to Walter.
Walter glared at me and Melinda squeezed my hand. Somehow, I knew she wanted me to talk to my brother now. With a sigh, I caught his eye and inclined my head back where I had just been. Glowering, he stomped towards me.
Walter swore at me as we marched to the couches. "What are you doing?"
"I don't know! We were dancing and…it just happened."
"Why? Why were you even dancing with her?"
"Walter? I've never met anyone like her before. She sees the real me, not the celebrity. I like spending time with her."
"So, is she your girlfriend now?" All the energy seemed to leave Walter's voice as he collapsed onto the couch.
I shook my head and sat beside my brother. "No. She's…conflicted. But, I'll walk away if you want me to."
"Yeah, it is. I think so. You think so. Melinda thinks so. But, just because it's a little weird, does that mean we should all walk away? Cuz, I have never felt like this before."
"So, you guys go out for a few weeks. What happens when you break up? I'm gonna have to start choosing between you two?"
"What choosing? You never want to be around me." I started pacing again.
"Do you get weirded out when Mom kisses another actor?"
I stopped and faced him. "That was random. Yeah, I guess."
"That's what it felt like. Watching you and Melinda."
"I don't want to weird you out. If it bothers you…"
"I'll talk to you about it. But, don't walk away. I saw the look in her eye when you two came back just now. She likes you."
I reached out a hand to help my brother off the couch. "We okay?"
Walter shrugged. "Getting there."
When I went back to the dance, Chloe was talking to someone by the punch. I scanned the room and saw Frank's date, Bianca. She was standing near the servery glaring at someone I couldn't see. As I walked around the fireplace, I was able to follow her gaze. Frank was leaning in to kiss Melinda as he danced slowly with her.
That was just going too far. As I approached, Frank stood back up and I heard him say, "Nah, I'm just messing with you!"
"Can I cut in?" I nodded my head towards his date. "Bianca is shooting daggers at you."
Frank smiled as he passed Melinda towards me. I held her tightly, but the music changed to something more upbeat. I took her hand and we walked back towards the refreshments. She squeezed my hand.
"Are you and Walter okay?"
"We will be. And you guys will be, too. You'll see."
We hung out with Walter and Chloe for the rest of the night talking about Wheeler Weekend. The next slow song, Walter took Melinda back onto the dance floor.
I extanded an elbow towards Chloe. "Would you like to dance, milady?"
Chloe adopted an affected tone as she took my proffered arm. "That would be lovely." We laughed our way onto the dance floor.
"I'm sorry about that kissing comment I made earlier. It was out of line."
"Chloe, I felt something when I kissed her. It was so powerful. I've never felt anything like that before."
Chloe smiled at me. "Don't screw this up. So, is she the reason you wanted to go to the show tomorrow?"
I nodded. "Meghan's gonna visit for the day."
"See, now I have to come. She's my best friend."
"Hey. I know you and I came together, but do you mind if I walk Melinda back after the dance?"
"I think you should."
"Can you tell Walter?"
Chloe smiled. "He'll be okay. Just give him a little time."
As the dance was ending, I made sure I was standing close to Melinda. When the last slow song began, I grabbed her hand and slowly led her towards the dance floor. I saw Chloe talking to Walter and hoped he would be understanding. I held Melinda close and she rested her head on my chest, eyes closed. I spoke softly into her hair.
"Can we maybe get together sometime this week?" I asked. "Just hang out like we did over Parents' Weekend?"
"Maybe. Maybe we can hang out after school. But, someplace unconspicuous. And not our dorms."
She was so adorable, I couldn't help smiling. "Why not the dorms?"
"Well, I just don't think it's appropriate."
"Oh, I completely agree. Random question: Have you ever had a boy in your room?" She raised her eyebrows. "Not being jealous. I'm trying to make a point."
"The only guy ever in my room was Walter and it was only one time. Last weekend, when I broke up with Eliot and needed to talk. Oh, and my dad, when he moved me in."
Pat smiled. "And have you ever been in a boy's room?"
"Once. I watched Neogenesis with Walter in his room."
"And, there's my point. I feel the same way. The only time I've been in any girl's room was to visit Meghan. I've had a couple of girlfriends, but I've never been in their room or trailer or whatever. It's just not…" I searched for the right word.
"Proper," suggested Melinda.
I smiled. "That's why I like you. You get me. So, why inconspicuous?" I twirled her hair.
Melinda winced. "I thought it sounded wrong."
The song ended and the lights turned back on. I watched the sea of people move towards the main entrance, probably to grab some more refreshments as they headed out. I took Melinda's hand and led her down the back stairwell. "Why inconspicuous?" I asked again as we walked slowly towards our dorms.
"I don't want people to think I'm Patrick McGregor's girlfriend."
My heart ached. Had I misunderstood everything that was going on with us? "I know we said we're just gonna see what happens, but…are you embarrassed to be with me?"
"No. See, if something does happen between us, it'll be between me and Pat Evans, not Patrick McGregor. Does that even make sense?"
My heart leapt for joy. She understood me better than I realized. "Yeah, I think that'll be okay."