But you know it’s coming, I tell myself. You know he asked you what size ring you wear.
“Oh god,” I whisper, my stomach turning into a whirlpool.
“What?” Sarah asks.
I look at her, pained. “What do you know?”
“What do you know?” I hiss. “Sarah. You’re terrible at secrets. What do you know?”
She gives me a funny look. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” But there’s a warble in her voice, an uncertainty. She knows something. “I have to go to the washroom. Excuse me.”
I watch as she quickly walks off.
I take in a deep breath, trying to fight the nausea, my hands wrapping around my stomach. My nickname in high school, aside from Amanda Panda, Lord of the Geeks, and Tits McGee, was Sir Pukes-A-Lot. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a sir. I still got sick every time I got really nervous, which led to many embarrassing moments during presentations, PE, and drama class. Clearly, having such a nightmare-worthy reflex defined my awkward teenage years, though I haven’t puked in an awkward situation in a really long time, and I desperately want to keep it that way.
I wonder if I need to escape to the washroom to splash some cold water on my face, but before I can, Alan approaches me with the champagne.
“Here we go,” he says, smiling at me with sparkling white teeth and handing me the glass.
I hesitate, afraid to take it, afraid I won’t be able to grip the stem and it will shatter at my feet.
“You all right?” he asks in that gentle, sweet way of his, and I try and let the familiarity ease me back to normal.
I nod and grab the glass, taking a tepid sip. I can barely taste anything right now, but at least it should help with the bile.
Deep breaths, stay cool, I tell myself as I meet his eyes.
“Guess the storm has me on edge,” I tell him, watching him carefully. “You seem on edge too.”
His eyes widen, brows pulled to the ceiling. “I do?” he practically squeaks. “No, no, not at all…I just…” He licks his lips and looks behind him at his dad who is now standing by a lectern that seems to have come from out of nowhere. His dad gives a barely imperceptible nod of his head.
Alan turns back to face me. “Amanda,” he says, voice soft and full of something that sounds like hope. My gut clenches. “Just stay right here. Don’t move.”
He walks over to the lectern. Someone turns down the music. The lights dim. People stop dancing.
I’m frozen in place. Stay right here? I couldn’t even run, even if I wanted to, even if I needed to upchuck in the toilet.
Oh god, please, please don’t puke, I tell myself. Please don’t let this be what I think it is.
Alan picks up the microphone, tapping it.
“Testing,” he says, his voice way too loud and crackly over the speakers. “Sorry, sorry everyone. I know midnight isn’t for another hour, but I was wondering if I could have your attention.”
I glance around and see everyone either looking at Alan or looking at me. His parents, dressed in their finest and wearing expressions that only sun exposure and plastic surgery can bring, are watching me. So is Alan. So is Sarah, who is coming through the crowd, giving me an exaggerated thumbs up as she takes her place among everyone else.
“You see,” Alan goes on, “tonight isn’t just New Year’s Eve. It’s the fourth anniversary for Amanda and me. It’s a special night, one we usually celebrate by ourselves, so you’re probably wondering why I invited you all here to share in the night with us. I mean, other than the fact that we adore your company.”