Being suspended was like being on holiday.
Wednesday morning Lysander had gone for an early run and then decided to brave the beach once again, ignoring all the accusing stares of the college-age beach goers that knew he was supposed to be in school. He'd soaked up the California sun for a little while, enjoying the feel of it on his bare arms and legs, before making his way back home at a leisurely pace and arranging to meet Jack an hour later.
Thursday he'd gone along with Zacky to another band practice, eager to get to know his uncles as well as he could before they went into the studio and got too busy. They were happy enough to have him around, though he got the general impression that they didn't get as much work done as they had set out to.
Friday he'd made an effort to spend time with Gena, knowing that his relationship with her was one that was definitely going to need some working on. He wasn't a fool. He knew once the band had finally finished recording and releasing their new album, a tour wouldn't be far behind. And with Zacky gone, it would just be him and Gena in the house. It wasn't something he was dreading, but he wasn't particularly looking forward to it, either. He and his step-mother still had a long way to go with each other.
He was glad when Saturday finally rolled around though, knowing that the party Eliza Beth had invited him and Jack to was just around the corner. A part of him was nervous about what his classmates would be saying about the fight that had occurred on Tuesday; the other half of him couldn't care less. Eliza Beth had been there and he knew that she had supported him and his friend. That was all that mattered to him. Her opinion was the only one that counted.
He'd taken his time getting ready that night, unable to take his mind off of the task that he knew he needed to have completed before the party came to an end. He hadn't dwelled on it much throughout the week, but the full force of what he wanted to do was hitting him now. It was strange, being this nervous about confessing his feelings to a girl. It wasn't his first time by any means, but there was something special about this one that made his stomach flutter. He changed his outfit three times before deeming himself presentable and finally heading downstairs to meet up with his friend.
Melinda Farah's party was already in full swing by the time the two boys showed up. Her house, Lysander was amazed to see, was even bigger than his own, with wide, open windows and a perfectly manicured front garden. She was nowhere to be found when they entered her house. They were greeted instead by the smell of alcohol and a booming song that Lysander wasn't familiar with, one that had people dancing wherever they could find the space for it. He took his time to look around.
These parties, he knew, were not like the ones that were often seen in movies. Yes, there was an abundance of alcohol and a plethora of drunkards to go with it, but there weren't drugs at every corner or half-naked couples making out in plain sight of the rest of the room. The party was tame in its own special way. People knew to look out for each other; there were older kids around keeping an eye out for trouble. Most parents Lysander had known got the wrong idea about these sorts of events. He was glad Zacky wasn't one of them.
They turned. There was Eliza Beth, approaching them from the kitchen. Lysander took in her appearance quickly. She was dressed in much the same way that any other girl at the party was - a flowing cocktail dress in deep purple, with simply-done make-up that brought out her eyes and made her lips look fuller. The only thing different about her outfit was her shoes. In place of high heels, she wore her old black Converse sneakers. Dakota came to mind instantly, and Lysander had to remind himself that he was there to have fun. Staying home wouldn't bring his sister back any faster.
"Of course we came," Jack replied, and Lysander realised that he'd been silent a few seconds too long. He sent the girl a brilliant smile to make up for his failure to greet her. "We've been stuck at home all week, haven't we? We couldn't pass up a chance to have some fun."
"Well then." She grinned. "Right this way, guys."
They followed her toward the back of the house, which opened up onto a polished wooden patio equipped with deck chairs on one side and a hot-tub tucked into the corner of the other. Out in front of them stretched a yard that had no doubt required a team of professional landscapers to put together, and a brilliantly lit up pool that was under the supervision of three older kids.
For a moment Lysander thought that he was the only one not used to such grand houses being commonplace, but a glance at Jack told him that his friend felt exactly the same way. Wow didn't even cover it. Houses like this just didn't exist in Columbus. Lysander hadn't even believed that he would find them in Huntington Beach. It looked more suited to Hollywood than anything else.
"Cool, huh?" Eliza Beth asked as she looked between Lysander and Jack. There was no stealing the smile from her face. "I've been here dozens of times and I still can't get over how amazing the place is."
She led them onwards, taking them down a paved path that took them to the very back of the property. They stepped into what could have been a park if Lysander hadn't known any better, with three wooden benches situated around a blazing fire pit. There was already a group gathered here. Lysander recognised many of them from school - there was Melinda and her boyfriend Robert James, and there was Eliza Beth's two other friends, Jodie Peterson and Yvonne Abelin. Yvonne was wrapped up in the arms of a senior boy that Lysander didn't know the name of, and there was one last girl that Lysander didn't recognise. She stared into the fire looking bored.
The group greeted them warmly as they approached, and Lysander found it easy to slip back into his role as their classmate and potential friend. Despite never having said more than a few words to any of them at any one time, he found himself conversing and laughing along as if he'd been friends with them all for years. Robert James turned out to be a nicer guy than Lysander had ever given him credit for, congratulating him on a "job well done" when it came to Ethan Masters and assuring Jack that things would eventually get better, and the bored looking girl (who turned out to be Melinda's cousin) proved to be a great companion for Jack. The two of them had become lost in a discussion of literature before Lysander had realised what was happening.
He took the bottle that Eliza Beth offered him, thanking her with a smile. He had never been the sort of guy to drink a lot, never been the sort of person who needed alcohol to get through an evening, but a little liquid courage seemed like a good idea this time around. One every now and again wasn't a bad thing and he felt certain that Zacky wouldn't have minded him drinking. How could he when the man had probably been drinking since he was thirteen?
The liquor relaxed him further, until he all but forgot that these were people he barely knew. It was like hanging out with Kieran and Dakota, with Mason and Amanda making out in front of them and Phillip trying to convince some poor party-goer that aliens were real. They were joined by more people every now and then, some who stayed and others who didn't, and at one point their little area became so crowded that Eliza Beth ended up sitting on Lysander's lap. Neither one of them complained and she didn't make any move to protest when he put his hands on her hips to keep her steady, which Lysander couldn't help but see as the tiniest of victories. She was comfortable around him. It was a good start.
"Walk with me a while?" she asked eventually, turning ever so slightly so she could face him. "It's getting a little full around here."
He nodded his agreement and she jumped to her feet at once. Setting his practically empty bottle down, Lysander stood to follow her. Jack looked happy enough continuing on his conversation with Brigid and so he didn't bother interrupting the boy, knowing that they would likely return before Jack even noticed they were missing. And if they weren't, he had Lysander's number.
They headed back up towards the house. Again, Lysander couldn't help but admire the place. Even from the back it looked grand and inviting; almost the entire rear wall was made of glass, reminding him of a home he had once seen in some sort of vampire movie, and a strobe light had been set up just inside of it so the light could both play out through the back rooms and illuminate the yard simultaneously. The music grew louder the closer they got - louder than he had expected, and loud enough that he wondered whether the neighbours had decided to call the police to complain.
His thoughts were drawn away from the law when a familiar sounding guitar riff started blasting through the speakers. He knew immediately where he had heard it before - blasting out of Dakota's speakers on any and every day of the week - but it wasn't until he heard to vocals start up that he felt stupid for not having recognised the band at once. Even to him, Matt's voice was unmistakable.
"Oh!" Eliza Beth brightened up at once, the smile on her face growing wider. "I love this band! Dance with me?"
Lysander had to hold back a grin. It wasn't hard when he registered what the question following her brilliant statement had been. Dancing was not something that he did, both because he didn't know how and he wasn't one for wanting to draw attention to himself. But she was already dragging him inside to the designated dance floor before he had a chance to protest and before he knew it they were in the centre of it all.
He let her dance, his eyes travelling down to her hips as she moved them in time to the music. Nobody seemed to mind that he was just standing there so he made no effort to even pretend that he was dancing with them. He simply stood. He simply watched.
And she knew, of course. Standing there in front of him, how could she not? She took his hands and made him move - not to the extent that everybody else was, but enough so that he didn't look like a complete loner - and eventually he found his body moving of its own accord. He could do this, he told himself. It was only for one song, after all. It didn't even matter that he was moving much too slowly to be keeping time with it.
"Good enough," Eliza Beth finally allowed once the song drew to a close. "I guess you're not much of a dancer, huh?"
"That would be putting it lightly."
They moved away from the dance floor, essentially leaving the party behind as she led him up to the second floor of the house. From up here they could look out over the backyard and see almost everything. Lysander's eyes lingered for a moment on the place where Jack would be, hoping that his friend was still being entertained, before following Eliza Beth further down the hall.
She walked with a purpose, determination in her step. He followed her without question and didn't know whether or not to be surprised when she led him straight into what he guessed to be her friend's bedroom. The familiar sight of textbooks thrown into a corner told him it couldn't be the sister's room. Eliza Beth shut the door gently behind him, effectively blocking out most of the noise that had been filtering through the house. All they could hear now was the muffled music.
She sighed as she sat on the bed, indicating that Lysander should do the same. He did so, though kept a safe distance from her, not wanting to give her the wrong idea about the sort of guy he was. The look that crossed her face then was one of amusement.
"Just needed some peace and quiet for a while," she explained, gesturing around the room as if the two things would suddenly show themselves. "Parties are great and all, but sometimes the noise can get to be a bit much."
"And here I thought you liked to party hard."
"Who says you can't party quietly?"
He decided against arguing the point, instead taking his time to work out where he was going to take things from here. He had come to the party with a purpose, and this was probably the greatest opportunity to achieve it that he was going to get all night. He would be a fool to pass it up and he knew it.
But how to start?
"Y'know," he said, "I've been meaning to tell you this, but there's never really been a right time for it." He sent her what he hoped was a dazzling smile. "You have really beautiful eyes."
"I like you too, Lysander."
Her response took him by surprise. He'd been expecting her to blush, maybe mumble something about how her eyes weren't that great, but he hadn't expected this. Girls were usually not so bold. In his experience, they usually expected the guy to do all the work - they expected to be chased, they expected love and like to be confessed to them first and not the other way around.
But she was different.
She was perfect in his eyes.
"Am I that obvious?" he asked, unable to hide his grin. She liked him, too! "Maybe I should have tried to be more subtle."
"You're not obvious," she said, wearing a grin of her own. "Actually, I was just taking a chance there and hoping that I wasn't about to make a complete fool of myself."
So she was bold and beautiful. It made for a fantastic combination and only made him like her all the more. Knowing now that he didn't have to be at all unsure of himself, he moved that little bit closer to her. Without a moment of hesitation she'd moved the rest of the way, leaving hardly any distance between their bodies. If he moved the right way, Lysander's shoulder would brush against hers.
"You don't have a girlfriend waiting for you back home, do you?" Eliza Beth asked seriously. "Because that would not be cool."
"No, no girlfriend back home," he assured her. "But," he snaked an arm around her shoulders, "I was kind of hoping that I'd leave the party with one tonight."
"Mm, well, you'd best get to work on that, Mr Maverick."
She smirked, daring him to make the next move. And he stepped up to the challenge.
Kissing Eliza Beth wasn't like kissing any of the other girls he had back in Columbus. Kissing them had been fun, but it had always been meaningless. Here, now, in Melinda's bedroom, things felt different. There was meaning to the way that their lips danced together, the way their tongues caressed one another. Kissing her was a serious accomplishment. He felt a sense of victory in finally having achieved it, similar to the way he had often felt after winning an important race and making it through to the championships. Kissing other girls had always been a satisfying end to a chase. Kissing Eliza Beth was a promise that there would be more to come.
He didn't know how much time had passed when they finally pulled apart, but they were both flushed and breathless. Eliza Beth's eyes sparkled as she licked her lips.
"You're a good kisser."
Lysander raised an eyebrow at this.
"You were expecting that I wouldn't be?"
She giggled, and he basked in the musical sound of it.
"Oh, I knew you would be," she finally managed to say. "It's just nice to know that I was right. Honestly, it was even better than I expected."
Lysander couldn't help it - the pride inside him swelled to an almost uncontainable point. He pecked her on the lips once more for luck.
"So," he said. "Now that we've established that we both like each other, and you know that I'm a fantastic kisser," he winked at her here for effect, "would you do me the honour of being my girlfriend?"
She was silent for a moment, seeming to seriously consider things, and for a split second Lysander actually feared that she would say no. Sure, she said that she liked him - but what if there was somebody that she liked more? Somebody that he simply couldn't measure up to? His lack of confidence must have shown in his eyes, because she perked up at once.
"Don't be silly," she said, giggling once more. "Of course I will! What kind of girl would be stupid enough to refuse that?"
It was like a weight was lifted from his shoulders. He breathed a sigh of relief and smiled at this girl, now his girlfriend. There would be time later to revel in exactly how lucky he was to have claimed her for his own, but for now they were still at the party. For now it was time to relax and have some fun.
It was about time that things started going right.