“So, what did they say?” Beth asked, as she and Jack took seats at the table farthest from the doors.
“What did what say?” he asked, shrugging and tugging at the collar again.
“The — stop that!” Beth said, pulling at his sleeve. “Why did you button it all the way up, anyway? It’s not like you’re wearing a tie.”
She reached over, and unfastened the very top button of Jack’s dress shirt.
There was a chirp and a flash.
They looked up at Mrs. Chase, who smiled from behind her camera. With a wave, she moved off into the room.
“It has buttons, so you button them,” Jack said.
“You’re hopeless.” After a pause, she asked “So, what did they say?”
“Not ‘who,’ ‘what.’ The papers.”
Jack felt heat prickle at his cheeks, forehead. “Umm, nothing. I don’t remember all of them.”
“Well, not all of them, just, maybe one. Or two.”
“Well… one said ‘lucky.’”
Beth blinked. “Why would it say that?”
“That was mine,” a tall boy said as he took a seat. He had dark hair, almost black, but his eyes were a deep blue. “And I wrote that because he had to feel lucky, painting someone like you.”
Beth blinked again.
The boy turned his eyes to Jack. “I’m right, right?” He leaned closer. “She looks even better in person, though.” He grinned, and clapped Jack on the shoulder.
Jack shrugged his hand off. “Yeah. Lucky. Real lucky. Lucky she decided to include her painting in my exhibit.”
“So, which work was yours?” Beth asked, forcing the smile to her lips.
The boy sat back. “Oh, nothing so grand. Mostly flowers, third row from the doors.”
Jack nodded. “Yeah, I remember those. Do you do a lot of work outside? Beth and I live near some woods.”
The boy laughed. “No, no woods in the city. My mom owns a flower shop.”
“See? I told you,” came another voice, and three more students drited towards the table. Two girls and a boy took seats, and they all stared at Beth. Jack recognized one of the girls from the crowd earlier in the day.
“Whoa,” said the other girl.
“Her hair isn’t glowing, though,” said the boy. He looked over at Jack. “Hey, how’d you do it? Spotlights?”
“No, uh… My sister must have done something with her camera. I worked from a picture she took.”
“Mrs. Elliot said it was ‘too fanciful’ and that it ‘needed better fine brush work,’” said the first girl. “But… is it true that’s only your third or fourth painting?”
“Fourth?” he asked, glancing at Beth, who nodded.
“She won’t even let us anywhere near paints,” the second girl said, crossing her arms.
They talked for a while more, and then the salads began arriving, and — taking a cue from Beth — Jack ate slowly. After all, it was impolite to talk with your mouth full.
* * * * *
“It’s all bright, and noisy. I can’t even see the stars!”
“There’s nothing but clouds up there. You couldn’t see them even if you wanted to,” Beth said, craning her neck.
“Well, I can barely see the clouds.”
Jack turned, leaned the other way against the balcony’s metal railing, staring down at the street below.
“Look at all those people, out and about. Why aren’t they home?”
“Jack, some of them are on their way home. Not everybody gets to work banker’s hours.”
He glanced over at Beth, watched her eyes darting back and forth, from car to car so many floors below them. He decided, then, that moonlight suited her much better than the sickly yellow-orange glow of the streetlights.
“You’re staring again,” she said, her eyes still lingering on the street below.
“So, if you can’t see the stars, why haven’t you gone back in?”
“It’s too… crowded in there. Stuffy. I needed some air.”
“I noticed you left for air after those girls talked to you.”
“No, I— It just—”
“I should go in and warn them about your dancing skills.” She pushed herself away from the rail, and turned.
Jack reached out, a hand on her arm. “Beth, wait, I don’t—”
“I don’t want to dance.”
“No,” Jack said.
“Not with either of them?”
“Why not? They’re both sort of your type.”
“Wh— No they aren’t!” His eyes suddenly narrowed. “Why did you come out here?”
Beth’s impish smile faltered a bit, and she glanced at the doorway, and then turned back to the balcony’s railing.
Jack followed her gaze, saw several tall figures lurking about.
“Ah. Didn’t want to dance either, then.”
“They won’t stop asking!”
Jack took her hand in his, and she squeezed it.
He turned, and started marching back into the ballroom.
“What are you—”
“C’mon,” Jack said.
“Jack…” Her voice was edged low, nervous.
“Well, you don’t want to dance with them, right?” he asked over his shoulder.
“And I don’t want to dance with those other girls.”
“Jack, the tables are back the other way,” Beth said, tettering as he turned the opposite direction, towards the dance floor.
“They won’t keep bugging you if you’re already dancing,” Jack said, turning, and holding out his other arm.
Beth sucked in a deep breath, took his other hand in hers.
“If I’d known there was going to be dancing, I would have packed my boots,” she said.
She wasn’t sure if Jack stepping on her toe right then was intentional or not.