"I'm not getting out of the car." Heidi
crossed her arms, drew up her knees and pouted. Coming here . . . here,
places. Uh-uh. No way. Not after the day she'd had.
Quentin draped a wrist over the Bug's
steering wheel and glared across the dark interior of the car. "You
know, Heidi, you can be such a stupid dork at times."
Ha. That's what he thought. If anyone was stupid it was
that slut, Maryann Stafford. No. If anyone was stupid it was Ben. Come
to think of it, he was a slut, too.
Heidi pushed her chin and her lip out
didn't know we were coming here to practice. I thought we were meeting
at the band hall."
"What's wrong with you? We practice at Ben's house
all the time. Jeez." Quentin wrenched open his door, climbed out
and slammed it hard enough to jar Heidi from her mope.
So what if they practiced at Ben's house all the time?
It didn't mean they had to tonight. And she wasn't going to. Not after
spending the entire hour of gym class today listening to Maryann Stafford
run her mouth about what happened when she lost the top of her two-piece
in Ben's pool this summer.
The passenger side door groaned as Quentin pulled it open.
Heidi shoved her way out of the car but left her horn in the back seat.
"Will you get your butt in gear?" Quentin yelled.
He took hold of her empty hand, realized it was empty, grumbled under
his breath as he reached back into the car. Horn and Heidi both held
tight, he trudged up the long pebbled walk to the Tannen's front door. "You're
being a real jerk, you know that?"
"You call me one more name and you're history, Queenie
Boy." Adding a tantrum to her sulk, Heidi fought Quentin's hold,
pulling free as the door to the Tannen mansion opened. Quickly, she straightened
her vest and T-shirt, but it wasn't Ben.
"Quentin. Heidi." Ben's father--The Royal Tannen,
as Heidi called him--acknowledged them both with a nod. He stood in the
arched threshold surrounded by dark wood and white tile and light fixtures
brighter than the bulbs glowing from inside. With a newspaper folded
beneath one elbow, a drink gripped in one hand, he gestured toward the
rear wing of the house. "The boys are up in the game room. Waiting."
"Thank you, sir." Quentin
started forward, his glare daring Heidi not to follow. She'd follow
all right . . .
"It's my fault we're late," she
said airily, as The Royal Tannen shut the heavy door. She gestured
with one careless
hand. Too bad she didn't have a mouthful of bubble gum to pop for the
full brainless effect.
"See, my mom got fired today and
was crying into the last beer of a six pack when I got home from school.
I couldn't leave
her like that, ya know? So Quentin helped me get her to bed. Once she
was asleep, we hurried right over."
"I see," Ben's father said, though from the granite
set of his features, Heidi was surprised he was able to squeeze out a
word. "Well--" he cleared his throat "--I hope things
. . . she . . . is feeling better tomorrow."
"Thank you, sir. I'll be sure and give her your best." Heidi
trotted after Quentin who'd made a hasty escape down the long hallway.
Her footsteps made no sound on the plush carpet. She caught up with him
at the staircase that wound to the game room above the three-car garage. "You
He whirled on her at the third step. "What's
wrong with you? You got PMS or something?"
She trudged past him, stomping her way up the circular
ascent. What was wrong with her? Besides the ugly picture of Ben and
Maryann that wouldn't go away? For one thing, she had an unemployed drunk
for her only parent.
Her mother's latest episode meant little chance of affording
anything but community college-if even that--next fall. But even worse,
it meant she wouldn't be leaving home any time soon. That she'd be stuck
with the alcohol, the anger, the affairs and the attic for who knew how
"I do not have PMS." She stopped at the top of
the stairs and snarled down at Quentin. "What I have a serious loathing
for Ben Tannen . . . may he and all his money drown in his stupid swimming
pool," she finished under her breath.
Quentin reached her then and stood toe
to toe, nearly nose to nose, certainly eye to eye. "What you have
is a serious attitude problem. Get rid of it. Now. I'm not going to
have my chance for a first
place ensemble win next weekend blown away by whatever's eating at you."
They stood fuming at one another there in a circle of yellow
light. The paneled walls of the landing were dark, the ceiling high.
The dangling chandelier gaudy and pretentious. Heidi wanted to puke.
A chandelier. In a hallway. Her bedroom wasn't even this big.
She was the first to look away because she knew she was
being unfair. Her reactions to anything involving Ben, even the most
bubble-brained gossip, had been two years in the making. Today just proved
that she had a big problem on her hands. One she'd been avoiding. One
due to come to a head by the end of this year. Certainly by the end of
next. Their last year.
That was the biggest part of what was
wrong with her. Dealing with overwhelming feelings that she didn't
want and would go nowhere
because she and Ben were about as compatible as a gallon of gas and a
Bic lighter. "Look, Quentin. You don't understand."
"Then tell me," he pleaded, his voice low, insistent. "C'mon.
That's what friends are for."
But she couldn't for that very reason. Because as frustrated
as she was over her home life and college funding and the top to Maryann
Stafford's two-piece, she didn't want to bother Quentin with her problems.
Not when he was staring a blue ribbon weekend in the face. He needed
this win to prove to himself that he had the musical talent to live his
Dreams meant a lot. Or so she'd heard.
"Look," she began again, only
to be cut short by a long rectangle of light thrown from the game room
door. She looked
up; Ben's silhouette--tall and broad shouldered, that of a man--filled
the frame as if backlit by a bright sun.
Tension rolled from him in waves, in the rigid way he held
his head, in the firm fixed grip he had on the door facing, in the no-nonsense
way he stood there and waited wearing a designer logo T-shirt and stylishly
He'd never had Heidi's problem of control. She tended to
bite her tongue way after the fact. Which made it easy for her to recognize
that very struggle within him now.
"Where the hell have y'all been?" he
asked in that too deep voice that had Heidi closing her eyes for strength.
did he have to be so . . . so . . . dang it, she couldn't even narrow
what she thought about him down to one word.
"Hang on to your shorts, Ace," she yelled back,
not bothering to spare Ben a direct eye contact glance. Looking up, she
gave Quentin a half smile, a lift of one shoulder and then she said, "I'm
fine. And I'm sorry. Let's go practice."
They did, for two hours without a break. To Heidi every
second, every minute dragged. She didn't want to be here tonight more
than any of the other times in her life when she'd wished she were some
She had to be crazy to be so torn up inside. It wasn't
like she expected Ben to be a virgin. But Maryann Stafford? Heidi grimaced,
missed a note, caught Quentin's glare and shrugged an apology.
And it wasn't like law school was forever out of her reach.
But her future plans to educate women about their rights, to keep others
such as her mother from becoming victims of the system, to ensure they
received the benefits they deserved, had been moved another few years
down the road.
She tried so hard to let the music take her away. But every
time she felt she'd conquered the emotional bombs of the day, a fierce
pounding detonated behind her eyes, fired against her temples, exploded
inside her skull.
The headache couldn't be blamed on her internal battle.
The source was clearly external: Ben was mad and his drums were loud.
Instinctively, she knew the reason. He'd heard second or third or fourth
hand gossip of Maryann Stafford's tales.
Heidi couldn't stand the tension a minute more. She opened
her eyes and glanced his way; his gaze was fixed her direction. He followed
every move, his mouth set hard, his eyes flinty, sweat-drenched locks
of his hair whipping about his face as he ripped into the rhythm of the
This wasn't like Ben. To be this wild, his attention focused
elsewhere while instinct drove the beat. She knew him well enough not
to be frightened of whatever he had on his mind, but she was uneasy.
Uneasy enough to call it quits. She set down her sax mid-note. The rest
of the song fizzled one player at a time. The drums were the last to
Crossing the room, she leaned a hip
on the corner of the pool, er, billiard table. She'd found a distraction. "Let's
play a game."
Randy and Jack were quick to follow; Quentin and Ben reluctantly
gave in. There were times she got her way because she was the girl. As
a rule, she didn't take that advantage. Tonight was an exception.
Heidi pulled the balls from the billiard
pockets and settled them into the rack, rolling each until its position
suited her mood. "Since
it's my game, I'll rack 'em. Ben can break. He seems to be in a destructive
Ben grabbed a cue from the custom-built
rack. He pushed back the wet strands of hair that hung long past his
brow. His eyes were
green and glittered like shards of splintered anger. "At least I'm
Heidi bristled. Behind her, Quentin
cleared his throat. The friendly warning lifted her hackles higher. "But just think.
If you were, your daddy could pay to have you fixed." She lifted
the rack, stepped back and waited.
Randy guffawed and Jack snickered from where they'd perched
expectantly on the cushions of the white leather game room sofa. Ben's
icy glare had the first studying the gold and brown patterned carpet
between his spread feet, the second slumping back to fiddle with the
controls on the stereo system until Duran Duran rocked the room.
Ben's break was clean and hard, but then practice gave
perfect boys flawless skill. He'd had years of tutoring, pampering, silver
spoon feeding. Why shouldn't his break be as faultless as the crystal
prisms of the chandelier lighting the landing?
Shot after expert shot stoked Heidi's temper. Irrational
temper, her rational side knew. But Ben Tannen had everything. Everything,
dang it. And one piece at a time, with the exact precision with which
cue tip met cue ball, her future was dying before her eyes.
She watched his stance, his concentration, seventeen years
of instruction in what society deemed proper handed down from The Royal
Tannen on high. Ben's way in the world had been bought and paid for with
Tannen money. And all he'd had to earn was his father's respect.
He had. He was a perfect father's perfect son. But she
hated him the most because he gave her no real reason to hate him at
all. He must've sensed the burning in her chest. He finally looked up
into her eyes . . . and missed the shot.
She blinked hard against overwhelming
emotions, against the feelings so close to the surface she felt as
if her skin would burst.
Right now, she wanted perfect Ben to feel as miserable as she did. "Whew.
I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to go home without taking
a shot at your balls, Ben."
"Jeez, Heidi." Quentin began
She laughed, feeling strangely as if she were careening
out of control. Shrugging out of her long crocheted vest, she took her
position, called her first shot and expertly sent the ball zooming into
the pocket. The next sailed perfectly. As did the one following.
She sized up the table, visualized her next shot and made
the biggest mistake of her life by taking her eyes off the ball. From
beneath her lashes, she looked across the table at Ben who wasn't following
the strategy of her game at all but was staring at the thin white T-shirt
stretched over her chest. He had fire in his eyes.
The volcano erupted. Lava spewed, an
inferno boiling up from the hell of a day she'd had. With a loud, "Arghhh," she
slammed the cue to the felt, reached for her hem and jerked the T-shirt
over her head.
"There! Is that better?" Two of the boys behind
whooped and hollered; the third yelled a pained, "Shut the hell
up!" The one facing her directly refused to look away from her eyes.
She'd fix that.
"Wait." She went on, whipping off her bra before
she changed her mind. "I wouldn't want you to strain your eyes or
your imagination wondering how I compare to Maryann Stafford."
Ben's chest rose and fell in near breathless pants. His
eyes were wild and bright when he looked over her head toward Quentin
and the other two boys. A brow went up. He nodded. Heidi waited for an
eternity Ben to say something, anything.
When he did, he didn't even speak to
her but to the boys behind. "I'll take Heidi home. Quentin'll
give y'all a ride."
"Practice is over." He didn't even let Randy
finish his complaint. Ben's commanding tone was surprisingly calm. He
rounded the end of the table, snagged Heidi's T-shirt from the floor
and held it to her with a hand that trembled as he spoke to the others. "Leave
the instruments. I'll bring them to band tomorrow."
Heidi grabbed the T-shirt and held it to her chest. Behind
her she heard lowing moans and the shuffle of six overgrown feet on indoor
outdoor carpeting. The longer it took Quentin to herd his reluctant cattle,
the faster her rush of brazenness trickled away. God, she was going to
The game room door closed and the three of them were finally
alone. She and Ben and her behavior. She'd taken off her shirt--still
had it off, in fact--and he hadn't even looked. She couldn't decide whether
to be humiliated or insulted or to sink to the floor behind the table
What she finally did was slip her shirt over her head and
down, tugging the hem as low as it would go. Her vest was at her feet,
her bra on the floor closer to Ben's. Definitely closing in on humiliation,
she managed to retrieve both pieces of clothing, shrug into the vest
and stuff the bra into the pocket of her jeans without once looking at
She'd started disassembling her sax
when he spoke. "Heidi,
Her nod acknowledged that she'd heard him, not that she
believed him. She wasn't in the mood to believe him. All she wanted to
do was start this day over from the blast of her alarm clock this morning.
"She didn't lose her top in the pool." He shuffled
from one foot to the other. "Well, she lost it, but it wasn't like
it was an accident or anything. You know Maryann."
"Not as well as you do, apparently." She locked
the saxophone case and turned; she locked her jaw as well. It kept her
chin from quivering. "You can take me home now."
Ben pushed back the hair from his forehead. "Dammit,
Heidi. Nothing really happened."
"Really?" The burn in her stomach flared. "What
does that mean, 'Nothing really happened.'? That nothing happened at
all? That whatever happened didn't mean anything?" Her voice and
temper rose in unison. "That everything's okay because we all know
"What do you want me to say?" he
asked, standing with his arms crossed, the pool table squarely between
His defensiveness answered her question.
She grabbed her sax and lifted her chin. "I don't want you to
say anything. I want you to take me home."
"I'm not taking you home until you listen to me." He
She headed toward the door. "Fine.
He changed directions, rounding the
table to head her off. "You
"I have two legs. I most certainly
"That's not what I meant. It's too far." He'd
reached the door now and blocked it with his body. "And it's not
exactly the safest neighborhood to be walking through at night."
His lack of tact and consideration amazed
her at times. She wondered if he'd taken lessons in holier-than-thou
along with deportment. "I
live in that neighborhood, Ben."
"Cripes, Heidi. Do you have to twist everything I
say?" Broad hands gripped her shoulders, green eyes made a great
show of caring. "I don't want anything to happen to you."
"Thanks for the concern. But I'd rather take care
of myself. I can make sure nothing happens to me." She shrugged
off his hold, took a step back while he crossed his arms and leaned back
on the door. "You see, I'm not Maryann Stafford."
"You're still not walking home."
She shook her head. He was totally impossibly
arrogant at times, but she didn't hate him any more. Never had hated
him, in fact.
What she felt deserved a deep and thorough and very private exploration,
but not tonight. Not tonight. "I know you're used to getting your
way, but it's not going to happen this time. Now, move please, so I can
He sidestepped, but left his hand on
the doorknob. "If
you don't want me to drive you, I'll ask my dad to take you."
"Uh, no thanks."
"Then I'll call you a cab."
Hysterical laughter bubbled up. She
pressed shaky fingers to her forehead and sighed. "You and your
"What about my money?" he
asked but he did finally open the door.
She didn't want to talk or explain or
answer another single question. She was tired and she wanted to go
home. That was all. "You
know how it is. The rich get richer, the poor pay taxes." Then she
tried to bite her tongue but the words had already rolled from the end. "And
if there's anything left they might be able to afford tuition."
"What are you talking about?"
"Nothing, Ben. Just take me home." Head
held high, she left the game room. Ben followed, slamming the door
the walls rattled.
His steps were heavy and close behind her, but she didn't
move aside. And she swore no matter how much money she made in her lifetime,
she would never hang a chandelier in a hallway.