Betsy didn't like the way Isabelle shoved her aside. So when Isabelle stepped back, she grabbed Jase's shoulder again and turned her back on Isabelle. “Let's go now, baby,” she said. “We told the others we'd meet them.” She didn't way where they were going or what they were going to do.
Luis stood back and watched Isabelle. The way Betsy had turned her back on the older woman was a rude show of disrespect. Isabelle's purse was looped through her right arm and her fists were clenched against her stomach. At one point, Luis was worried Isabelle might swing her purse and hit Betsy over the head with it.
But Isabelle handled it in a different way. She glared at Betsy for a second, and then smiled and said, “Betsy, I love your hair.” Then she looked at Luis and winked. “It's so interesting.”
Luis covered his mouth and looked down so no one would see his smile. He knew when Isabelle was being a bitch. Betsy's hair was hideous, which is why Isabelle had winked at Luis. Betsy had gone to the hair salon that afternoon and they'd given her a tight permanent that made her hair even frizzier. And they cut it into one of those dramatic mullets that were so popular in the 1980's. It was dramatically short on the sides, exposing her large ears. And long and frizzy in the back, well below her shoulders. And on top, right above Betsy's high forehead, there was this tall wave of frozen hair that had been blasted with so much hair spray it stuck up straight and didn't move.
Betsy rolled her eyes at Isabelle and said, “Thanks, hon. I just got it done.” Then she went back to chewing her gum.
Before Isabelle could reply, Alec walked up to Luis and said, “I wasn't sure you'd be here tonight.” Then he turned to Isabelle and Judah and shook their hands. “It's nice to see you, Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas.”
“Congratulations on your athletic award, Alec,” Isabelle said. “I was just talking about you with your mother the other day. We ran into each other at the market. Is she here tonight, dear?”
Alec smiled and gestured to the other side of the auditorium. “She's over there with my dad. I think they're talking to the mayor.”
Betsy tugged on Jase's arm. She ignored Alec completely. “C'mon, we need to get moving.”
Isabelle glared at the insulting girl again. She bit her bottom lip.
Alec turned to Luis and asked, “Would you like to hang out for a while? I'll show you where I like to hike on weekends.” He looked at Isabelle. “We won't be out late, Mrs. Nicholas.”
Isabelle smiled. “Tomorrow is Saturday. I don't see anything wrong with that. Do you Judah?”
Judah shrugged. “We always leave the back door open, Luis. Have fun. I know Alec is a good kid. You're in good hands with him.”
Luis hesitated. He smiled at Alec. “I'm not sure. I'm a guest and I don't want to stay out late. I think I should go home with Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas. But thanks for asking.”
Without being asked, Jase jumped right into the conversation and said, “I think that's a good idea. After all, Luis doesn't know the area very well. He should probably go home.”
Betsy rolled her eyes; she didn't seem to care where Luis went or what he did, and she seemed to resent the fact that Jase did.
Luis sent Jase a glance. He smiled at Jase and spoke to Alec. “On second thought, I'd like to check out the hiking area tonight. As long as we're home before eleven o'clock.”
Alec smiled. “No problem. Let me go tell my folks where I'm going and I'll be right back. Wait here.”
When Alec left, he took Isabelle and Judah with him. They wanted to say hello to Alec's parents. This left Luis standing with Jase and Betsy and he wasn't sure what to say or do. Betsy was still hanging on Jase's arm, pressuring him to leave. He finally jerked away from her, with his eyebrows pointed down, and said, “You go outside and I'll be right there, Betsy. I have to go to the bathroom.”
Betsy kissed him on the cheek. “Okay, but don't be long.” She turned her back on Luis and walked out to the main lobby without saying good-bye.
That's when Jase grabbed Luis by the arm and asked, “What on earth are you doing? You're going into the woods with Alec fucking Stark?”
Luis jerked away from him and shrugged. “I don't know what you're talking about.” He knew; he wasn't going to admit he knew.
“I'm talking about you riding around with Alec, a perfect stranger,” Jase said. “I told you I don't trust him.”
“Your grandparents seem to think he's a nice guy,” Luis said. “And I think he's nice guy. I don't know why you're getting so upset. And, you're a perfect stranger.”
Jase clenched his fists and bit his bottom lip. “I'm not a perfect stranger, especially not after what you did to me last night.” The perfect stranger comment seemed to make the vein in his neck pop out. He took a quick breath, as if it were painful to control his voice, and said, “My grandparents don't know Alec at all. They don't understand these things. He's creepy, always wearing those black turtle necks and tight black pants. He looks like he should be living in Greenwich Village instead of Alaska. I think you should go home. Shit, Luis, he rides a motorcycle. It's not safe.”
Luis saw Alec returning. Before he turned to join Alec, he smiled at Jase and said, “And I don't think it's any of your business. I like motorcycles. I'll see you later tonight. Have fun with Betsy and her new haircut.” Then he left Jase standing there alone without giving him a backward glance.
* * * *
When Luis and Alec were out in the parking lot, they climbed onto Alec's shiny black and chrome bike and Alec gave Luis his helmet. Luis wasn't sure about this; there was only one helmet. He didn't think it was safe for Alec to ride without a helmet.
Alec assured Luis he wouldn't drive fast. “I'm fine, really. And we're not going that far. Besides, it makes me feel dangerous and reckless, even though I'm just a high school kid.”
Luis could see Alec wasn't going to relent, so he put on the helmet and reached back for the bar behind the seat for balance. He still wasn't thrilled about Alec not wearing a helmet, but this was before helmets were seriously being enforced and he figured he'd sound silly if he pursued the issue. He also hadn't been on a motorcycle in a long time. He didn't want to look like an idiot, so he tried hard to act cool, as if he knew exactly what he was doing.
Before Alec started the engine, he turned halfway around and said, “I think you should put your arms around me to be safe.”
Luis wasn't certain how to reply. He had a feeling Alec was more worried about getting off that night than his safety. “Are you sure? If anyone sees us they will think it looks gay.”