Chapter 19: Holding Hands

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"You look stunning," Rob said, stepping out from the window alcove.

"Thank you, Robert." Greta smiled at him warmly. "Your suit of clothes is most handsome as well."

"Thanks. It's brand new." Rob shifted his weight, feeling off-balance from the warm room, the watered-down wine, and being complimented by a beautiful girl. "I know I was supposed to take you to the ball, but I hope Hans explained—"

"I'm aware of your situation with the Godmother. I'd hoped we might discuss it before the ball began, but instead, here we are."

"Yeah," Rob said, the nervous pit in his stomach returning for his heart, liver and any other organs it could get its hands on. "Here we are."

"I suppose this should be a time to talk about what the future might hold for the two of us." She glanced down at her clasped hands. "But it's the Harvest Ball, after all, and I don't believe you've yet been out to dance. Would you care to, Robert? To dance with me?"

Would he like to dance with her? Rob rephrased her question in his head: Would he like to hold her lithe, youthfully-ripe form in his arms, in front of the whole town?

Yes. The answer to that question was yes.

And as long as he was fantasizing, he really wouldn't mind waking up with her the next morning, fixing a little breakfast, and trading sections of the Sunday Times all the while sneaking peeks at Greta's sleepy eyes and bed-tousled hair. They'd invite Hans over to watch college hoops on their big-screen OLED, and the weekend before Christmas they'd throw a Yankee swap party for all their friends, family and work associates. 

Finally, Rob would hire a realtor to find a place for them to get away to over long summer weekends. It didn't have to be anything fancy; just a somewhat-recently modernized camp with a screened-in porch, waterfront access and an open kitchen. Unobstructed lake views were negotiable, but it absolutely had to be within a couple hours drive of the city.

Because if it was too far away, Rob knew they'd never get there.

"Robert? Hello?" Greta waved her dainty hand in front of his face. "You do know how to dance, don't you?"

"I can't," Rob said.

"You can't dance?" Greta said.

"No. I mean, I can't dance, at least not very well, but that's not what I'm talking about." Rob closed his eyes. He felt sad, as if he was losing something, but he knew it was never his to begin with. "I'm not right for you, even if it means I have to leave town. I want you to be happy, really happy, and not to settle for someone like me."

"Take my hand, Robert," Greta said. "Take my hand and tell me I can't make you happy."

That wasn't what I meant, Rob thought, but as he reached out to take Greta's hand and tell her so—really, he swore that's what was going to happen—he found himself holding a sweaty man-paw.

Rob opened his eyes. "Zev!"

"Cuz, what up?" Zev sputtered through waves of heavy panting. He stood between Rob and Greta, holding each of their hands. "Whew! Dude, I got so hot running around town tonight I had to lose the leggings. Between you and me, I'm kind of freeballing under my tunic here."

"What the—"

"Yo, thank me later. I just wanted to say that—oof!" Zev's cheeks puffed out, knocking several drops of sweat from the tangled curls hanging in front of his face. "Sorry, dude, I threw up a little in my mouth. It's cool, I re-swallowed it all. Anyhoo, where was I?"

"You know Cynda's looking for you, right?" Rob yanked his hand out from Zev's slippery grip. He wasn't thrilled by Zev's entrance, but at least it had broken his hormonal spell. "You were supposed to be here, like, hours ago. She's furious."

"It's all good, we'll make it up in the bedroom. Or on the kitchen table, she's pretty flexible. Hey. Hey! You look amazing." Zev at last took notice of Greta, whose hand he still held, and gazed at her admiringly.

Greta shook her head. "Robert, is this person really your cousin?"

"That's what he keeps telling people." From the corner of his eye, Rob spotted Cynda's guards fanning out along the walls. "Well, you've been spotted," he said to Zev.

"Might I have my hand back?" Greta nodded to Zev. "Thank you. Now, I suddenly find myself in need of refreshments. Robert, when you and your cousin have completed your business, please come and find me."

"Sorry about the sweaty hand thing!" Zev called after Greta as she walked away. "Do you want to dry yourself off on my—ah, she's gone."

Rob peered over Zev's shoulder. "Forget about Greta. You've got a pissed-off princess at three o'clock."

"Three o'clock, okay. Is that my three o'clock or yours? Never mind, let's get back to Greta. You think she likes me? I think she likes me."

"Zev . . ."

"What? You're not into her, right?"

You really think you two are a match?" Rob said. "I've probably got T-shirts older than her."

"So the fuck what," Zev said as Rob formed his hands into a pair of fists. "I'm not you. I'm me. And for all your protesting about T-shirts, it looked like you were ready to hop into her sock drawer, if you know what I mean."

"That's not what—"

"That's exactly what it looked like, dude."

Rob felt a bubble of anger rising inside him, though it wasn't just Zev. He was mad at Cynda and the Godmother, he was mad at all the medical problems he couldn't solve on his own, but most of all he was mad at himself for spoiling things with Maggie. The bubble had been growing for weeks, but tonight it burst forth as Rob planted his hands on Zev's sweaty chest and shoved as hard as he could.

"Fuck you!" Rob spat at Zev, who'd fallen on his ass. He was yelling at Zev, but Rob knew he was really yelling at himself. "Fuck you. Why do you keep screwing everything up?"

"I thought you didn't approve of hitting," a husky voice spoke behind him.

Maggie, of course.


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