Matilda had followed him over to where he sat crouched on the floor, putting the game in the player and hooking up the wireless guitar controllers. She shoved her nose right in his hair, drooling over it, but he didn’t seem to really mind or notice.
“Like once, at a friend’s house,” I said. Jane had been making out with a guy the entire time, while I sat downstairs in the living room and played Guitar Hero with his nine-year-old brother. It had been a hoot.
“It’s really awesome,” Jack said.
“I don’t know why you’re making the poor girl play with you,” Peter said. For once, he didn’t sound angry or irritated, and I think he was almost coming to my defense. “You’re going to completely slaughter her.”
“I am the greatest Guitar Hero player of all time.” Jack was insanely proud of this accomplishment, and why wouldn’t he be? He had amazing talents that he downplayed constantly, but he was really, really good at a video game. He had his priorities in order.
“Of course you are.” I took the plastic guitar from him and dropped the strap over my shoulders.
“What song do you want?” He started scrolling through the song list so fast I could hardly even read it, but I caught a few that I liked.
“Um… how about Interpol?”
“Good choice,” Jack commended me.
I was acutely aware of the fact that Peter was staring at me, and it made me extremely self-conscious. His gaze didn’t feel quite as hateful as it had before, but that didn’t change the effect he had on me. Ezra had been able to calm him down somewhat, and for that, I would be forever grateful. I couldn’t bare him hating me.
A few strums on the guitar switch later, and the game started rolling. The object was to hit the colored buttons on the arm of the guitar in time with the same colored buttons flashing on the screen, but it was much harder than it sounded.
Jack had put me on the easy skill level, but he was on expert and flying through it. Peter had been right. There was no contest between the two of us. I could barely even finish the song.
“Oh, that was brutal,” Peter said when we had finished playing.
He left his place on the wall and walked over to me, making my heart pound so loudly I could barely hear myself think. He was careful not to look me in the eyes, and I could tell that was a very deliberate decision. Then he held his hand out towards me, and at first, I didn’t understand.
“Give me the guitar. Jack needs a good ass kicking.”
“You need it more than I do,” Jack scoffed.
I started to pull the strap off over my head, but it tangled in the length of my hair. Peter reached out to help me, and for a second, his hand was over mine.
His skin felt much different from everyone else’s. It was just as baby soft, but it was burning hot. It reminded me of when I accidentally touched an electric fence when I was a kid, except this was pleasurable. It actually sent a jolt through me, and I saw his eyes flash up, meeting mine for just a second, so I knew he felt it too.
Then he quickly untangled the guitar and took it from me, without saying a word or looking at me again.
“What song?” Jack asked Peter, with a strange edge to his voice.
“Your choice,” Peter said. He sounded perfectly even, but when he looked at me out of the corner of his eye, I could tell that he was a little startled by our moment.
Feeling weak and shaky, I walked back and collapsed on the overstuffed plush couch. Matilda decided that I needed company and climbed next to me, resting her enormous head on my lap.
I stroked her ears and watched Peter and Jack play the game. They were playing so fast it didn’t seem humanly possible, but then I remembered that they probably weren’t humanly possible.
My whole body still felt electrified from the touch, and I tried to decide whether or not I should ask Jack about it. It still felt weird to me to talk to him about his brother, even though it wasn’t as if Jack and I were dating or anything.
Peter beat Jack the first round, so Jack demanded a rematch. They played on for awhile, and Jack kept looking back at me, to make sure I was still there.
Peter did too but always quickly looked away. Every time he glanced back, my heart would flutter, and I swear every time that my heart beat sped up, Peter and Jack would tense up.
“You’re not even letting her play?” Mae appeared in the door with her hands on her hips, sounding appalled. Ezra stood behind her, but he just chuckled at the boys, as if he hadn’t expected any different from them.
“She played,” Jack said defensively. “She just, you know, wasn’t very good.”
“I had to put Jack in his place,” Peter said.
“Well, that’s enough of that,” Mae informed them. She walked over to the couch, pushing Matilda onto the floor and sitting next to me. “She’s probably bored out of her mind.”
“I’m okay,” I smiled at her. Truthfully, I hadn’t had a chance to be bored. Watching Peter do anything was intoxicating.
“Turn that off anyway,” Mae gestured to the game.
Jack grumbled, but he complied. Peter took off his guitar and set it down in front of the entertainment center, and then he sat in the chair on the exact opposite side of the room from where I was sitting.
“It’s a fun game,” Jack complained to no one in particular, then sat down on the floor in front of me. Matilda grabbed a thick rope chew toy and brought it over to him. He started yanking on the rope, and she growled happily and wagged her tail.
“So, Alice, are you still in high school?” Ezra asked. He’d been standing in the doorway, but somehow, he’d moved into the chair closest to me without me noticing.
Mae was running her fingers through my long hair, and I thought about how weird it was. If any other person had been doing that, I would’ve pushed them off and thought they were insane. But with her, it felt perfectly natural and comforting.
“Uh, yeah, eleventh grade,” I answered.
Ezra looked at me as if I was fascinating, but I couldn’t imagine anything about me would interest a person like him. It reminded me of what Peter had said, about them putting me on display, and it did kind of feel like that. Not that that made any sense.
“Are you doing well in school?” Ezra asked.
“Not really,” I admitted. I knew that I could lie to him, and part of me wanted to in a desperate attempt to impress him, but I also knew that I wouldn’t lie to them. It just didn’t feel right.
“Are you planning on continuing your education?” Ezra leaned back in his chair, but there was nothing disapproving about him at all. He was merely taking it all in and trying to find out more about me. No matter what I had to say, it wouldn’t upset him, because it was part of me, and for whatever reason, he approved of me.