The night is as bright as day. I’m going to shine like the full moon.
I’ve tied my hair in a French braid, applied smoky dusty rose eyeshadow, and a second coat of mascara. I try the coral lip gloss. The color is a little overpowering with my pale skin and dress that is a soft cloud pink with hints of pastel green, the dress that cost me $257, wiping out my savings. My mother lent me the extra I needed, although she grumbled about the price, especially for a long dress I’ll never wear again—unless I shorten it and wear it for Aunt Cecilia’s wedding. I didn’t say anything. If I had, I’d have told her the expense was like a peasant going hungry to pay for gold paint on the Virgin Mary’s statue, religious somehow, sacrificial, a way of showing you love something more than food. Cutting it short would be sacrilege.
When Cade asked me to the prom I was ecstatic, like one of those saints transported out of her own skin with the intense joy of encountering God.
“Why me?” We’d hardly spoken four sentences together since I’d first seen him in ninth grade. I’d admired him from a distance, like half the girls in my class, but we’d never hung out.
“Because you’re so smart and because you’re different. You don’t just follow the crowd. ”
I was confused. Could he be teasing? I examined his face for hints of mockery, but he was serious, he meant it, he liked me because I was unconventional, like him. “Yes, of course,” I said tentatively.
“And don’t tell anyone. Let’s surprise them.”
I could see the thrill in surprising people—but I wished I could tell other girls that I was going to prom with Cade Bowen, the handsomest boy in the junior class. He looks like a cross between James Franco and Chris Evans —with floppy dark hair he usually pulls back in a ponytail, perfect bone structure, dark eyes with long lashes, a bad boy with a heart of gold. Everyone’s going to be looking at us. They need to be jealous. I need to be perfect.
I remove the coral lip gloss and try the salmon. Softer, better. I want to look both soft and sharp. I could ask Mom to help, but I remember that she’s mad with me because I lashed out at her at the hairdresser. She doesn’t understand how stressed I am, how much it matters that everything be perfect. The stylist put some goop in my hair that made it stiff. I didn’t want Cade to put his hand on my head and feel a spiky helmet and think I was some plastic Barbie.
The dance starts at 9:00. I don’t want to keep him waiting. I have to make sure everything’s ready when he picks me up at 8:30. I check my Instagram account. People are posting pictures of themselves and their dates at Italian restaurants and down on the boardwalk, in the wind, laughing.
My mom comes to my bedroom door. “He’s not taking you to dinner?” She frowns. “Let me fix you a quick plate of eggs.”
I give her a look – like I don’t even need to speak. I do not need extra calories tonight and I do not need any salt. The website said to avoid salt before prom to avoid bloating. And anyway, he’ll be here any minute. She sees my face, rolls her eyes, and retreats.
8:40. I’m glad he’s given me a few minutes extra to pack last minute things like a comb and a perfume sample. My little retro, sequined purse doesn’t hold much more than those two items plus a credit card and cell phone. I don’t want to take a big clunky bag. Everything has to be perfect.
8:50. I’ll just undo and retie my hair one more time. I don’t want stray hairs making me look messy. I texted my mom to ask if she’d take a photo of us. I’d like to have a record of this evening, but he won’t want to stick around for long. She hasn’t replied. I hope she’s not still mad.
It makes sense that he hasn’t come yet. Who wants to turn up to prom at the start time? How uncool would that be. Cade is always perfectly chill, chill as a watermelon Frappuccino. I sent him a photo of a little patch of the fabric of my dress. I hope he found a tie to match. I have a boutonniere for him, a little pink and white orchid. I borrowed the money for that too.
When we walk into the yacht club with my dress and his matching tie after everyone’s there, kids will think maybe she’s all right after all. Maybe the girls will want to be friends and the guys will ask me to dance.
I want the dress itself to be a surprise, with its slit skirt and low neckline. My mom thinks it’s too revealing. She thinks I might end up with my legs open and my skirt hitched up in the back of Cade’s red Honda. I’m not planning on it–but who knows? Cade is so hot I might be unable to resist temptation. I don’t tell my mother that.
Sounds of a car engine and music from outside. Finally! I pull back the curtain a few inches and peek out. I want to be ready to run downstairs and meet him at the door.
Just Mr. Benson across the street. Damn!
9:07. Cade, where are you?Perhaps he couldn’t read the number on our house. Maybe if I go outside and walk up the sidewalk a way in my long dress and heels, he’ll drive by and stop and say, “Hey, gorgeous. Like a ride?” and I’ll say, “Maybe,” and he’ll beg a little and I’ll relent.
But I’d look ridiculous outside in these clothes. And it’s cold. I should have a jacket in case we go to an outdoors restaurant after, or for a walk on the beach. I go through my coats and jackets – heavy wool winter coat? No. Hiking fleece and shell? No. Little white cotton jacket? Maybe at a pinch. It wouldn’t clash with the pale pink of my dress. I could just bring it and not put it on unless I’m freezing.
9: 23. Can I text him? Would I sound like some desperate housewife nagging her husband? I don’t want to sound anxious. Rumors are Cade’s mom is a nagging woman and that she drove his dad away with her nagging. The experience has given Cade a phobia of clingy women. He can be mean I know, but also loyal. I’ll be patient with him. Love will make him a better man.
My mom comes into the room and looks at the clock like she’s making a point. I keep my eyes on the mirror. I don’t want to see that soft look in her eyes. I will her not to speak.
After she leaves, I glance at the clock. 9:37. Not so late. The dance ends at midnight. There’s lots of time. Only nerds would get there before 9:30. I should just relax, read a book, watch some TV.
9:39. I’m being an idiot. It’s only been two minutes. I’m sweating. Better go and have a quick wash and another swipe of deodorant. If only I could relax. I don’t want to be that anxious clinging woman.
I turn on the TV but then turn the sound down. I don’t want to miss the doorbell. Is the doorbell even working? Could he have come to the house, tried the bell, and then when no-one answered, gone off again? I go down and check. Open the door and push the bell. Ding, ding. Good. Maybe while I’m outside, he’ll drive up and we can just take off without even saying good bye to my mom. I wait on my doorstep listening for cars and other sounds—a yapping dog, the TV blaring next door, angry seagulls. The chilly April air cools my hot cheeks. A couple of cars go by but no red Hondas.
I head back upstairs. Halfway up, I realize with a kick to the gut that he must have had an accident. I’m sure of it. He’s lying hurt and unconscious somewhere. Maybe nobody even knows. If I had a car of my own, I’d go out and find him. I’d call an ambulance and stay with him, holding his head and keeping him alive with the warmth of my body and the heat of my love. His blood would soak my dress, ruining it forever. Nothing would matter as long as he survived.
But I have no car and no idea where he is. Oh, God. I can’t bear it if he dies. I can hardly breathe. I turn on my phone. Can I try texting? Just to make sure he’s not dead or injured.
On the little phone screen I see that people have started posting photos from the yacht club.
My mom comes to my doorway and looks again at the clock. “Why don’t you get into your pajamas? I’ll make some popcorn and hot chocolate and we can watch Netflix.”
It hasn’t occurred to her that Cade is likely dead or dying. I close my eyes to shut her out. “U OK?” I type—trying to sound casual. I keep looking at the stupid photos of grinning girls in taffeta and boys in tuxes.
Under my text to Cade, I see little moving dots, like he’s writing back. He’s alive! I can breathe again. Mindlessly I switch back to the Instagram app and see the Instagram photos of myself in my pale pink satin dress peeking out through the curtain, ringing my doorbell, standing on my doorstep peering hopefully into the dark with the caption, “Lol. She fell for it, guys. Perfect!”
“What d’ya think?” my Mom asks.
I try to push past her but she catches me.
“I hate you. I hate you. I hate you!” I yell and pummel her back.
She doesn’t let me go.