It has been over a decade since I spent any time around high school girls, so I have no idea if this is an accurate representation of how they think or act. Whatever.
“Oh my god, seriously?” Kenzie squeals, piercing the refectory buzz. When you attend a fancy schmancy private school, you don’t call it a cafeteria. Flipping her smooth brown hair over her shoulder Kenzie leans in close. “He asked you?”
I give her a look. “Please. You know it doesn’t mean anything. We’re practically siblings.”
“But it’s senior effing prom,” she counters emphatically. “Josh could go with anyone, and he picked you.”
I know there’s more coming, but so is Josh and the rest of the upper echelon. “Shut up,” I say as a preventative measure.
“His childhood friend.” She clasps her hands over her heart.
“The love that has been right beside him all along.”
“Shut.” I kick at Kenzie under the table. “Up.”
“Hi!” she says brightly as Josh reaches our table.
The other boys look at him, and Josh’s gaze meets mine. I lift up my eyes to the heavens, from whence cometh my patience.
“Hey,” he responds without stopping. That’s what senior year at a small school does. Even if you don’t become friends with all the popular kids, they stop being actively rude to you due to sentimentality. Still, I can hear chortling coming from their group when they sit down, so I imagine Josh is getting grilled as badly as I am.
Unperturbed, Kenzie turns back to me. “So how did he do it?” she whispers.
“It was so romantic,” I reply sarcastically. “His family was at my house for dinner, and when I told his mom that I didn’t have a date, she was like, ‘Josh can take you. Hey, Josh, take Heather to prom.’ A love story for the ages.”
Josh’s literal response had been, “Whatever,” and a shrug. Not that it hurt my feelings; he had told me earlier that he didn’t even feel like going to prom since he had broken up with Jessica Stewart just a week before. Besides, I’d always thought that Josh was going to come out one of these days. It was the way he paid so much attention to other guys when I was around him, commenting on their clothes and looks, stuff like, “You should go for him, Heather. Look at the way he works those jeans.” Plus, what straight high school boy would feel comfortable punching me in the boob?
“I still think he’s harboring a secret crush on you,” Kenzie says with complete confidence. "I'm telling Melissa."
“Whatever you say, lady.”
Josh asks me on the way home from school. “What was that about in the refectory?”
“Ugh,” I groan. “Kenzie thinks we’re in love. This is not High School Musical.”
Josh laughs, “I thought you’d never seen that movie.”
“Jock and lady science nerd. It’s all I need to know.”
“Do you have a dress yet? Also, when are you getting your driving privileges back?”
I roll my eyes at both of those questions. “No, and I don’t know. Whenever they figure I’ve remembered how to tuck my shirt in and be on time every day. Hopefully soon, because I'm sick of you, too."
We ride in silence for a little bit. I know Josh has his tux because his mom told my mom who told me. They were in Dallas visiting his aunt over Spring Break, so they went shopping. Josh got super tan at his aunt's pool and made friends with the lifeguards. I stayed home and played video games.
“Josh, are you sure you want to go together?” I ask suddenly.
He shrugs. “Sure, why not?”
“Because it’ll be weird. Like, you’ll feel like you need to hang around me all night, and then my friends and your friends will be super awkward around whichever outsider is closest, and you’ll have to drop me off at home before you go to any after parties—Ouch!” I rub my chest. “What the hell was that for?”
“If you find another date, just tell me and I’ll go with Chelsea Mitchell or somebody,” Josh says, turning the wheel like he didn’t just give me a freaking titty twister. This is more evidence that he’s gay. I don’t care how small my rack is; guys our age get erections from just looking at boobs, much less touching them.
“I will find another date,” I swear, “one who will have greater respect for my private parts. I would punch you in the dick if you weren’t driving.”
Josh laughs, and you really can’t stay mad at the guy when he does that. Why else would my friends be so excited about our prom “date” if Josh Bacall didn’t have a perfect, blinding smile and hearty laugh in addition to his perfect, blinding face and modelesque body? My friends, though, would be just as excited if he told everyone he was gay. It would be a fanfics come to life. If only he were also a vampire. Josh could pull off super pale skin and fangs. He certainly has the bone structure for it, plus the small widow’s peak. If he were a Bram Stoker vampire his lips would be super red. Josh might look pretty with glossy red lips.
“Stop staring at me,” he says abruptly. “You’re weirding me out.”
“I was imagining you as a vampire.”
“Heather, it’s because you say crap like that that you’re not as popular as me.”
“And because you’re a know-it-all,” Josh retorts, but he’s still teasing me.
I hold up a finger. "If popularity were based on the quality of friendships, I would be at the top. Sharing it with all of my best friends."
"Blegh," says Josh, as he always does. "I want to leave high school hot and with all the ladies after me, just like I came in."
"Just because I play RPGs does not make me the opposite of hot."
"It does, actually, to everyone except for your fellow geeks."
Folding my arms, I huff, "Screw you, we're not going to prom together anymore."
"I take it back! RPGs are the sexiest thing since LARPing!"
"Um, RPGs came first."
"No, dum dum, LARPing has been around since children," Josh corrects me as we pull in front of my driveway. "It's called playing pretend. Most of us just grow up."
Josh tries that disarming smile on me. "Come on, Heather." He knows it won't work, but for Josh it's just habit. When a girl doesn't tell him what he wants to hear or act like he wants her to, the charm comes out and the ladies all melt. It's basically a Matt Bomer effect.
"I expect a handwritten apology on nice stationery," I instruct him. "None of this torn-out-of-a-notebook crap." I cross the lawn without looking back. Josh probably knows me well enough to gauge my irritation level, which is pretty low at this point.
After dinner Mom places a fancy-looking envelope in my hand. "Josh dropped this by on his way out," she informs me.
I start laughng; I can't help it. Opening the envelope I find a dirty sheet of notebook paper that clearly had been crumpled up before it was folded to fit. I laugh even harder when I find this sentence in the center of the page. "Sorry you're so sensitive about your childhood games, you anus." Then at the bottom: "Prom uncanceled."
Mom purses her lips a little when I hand it to her. "Am I supposed to find this funny?"
"I got mad at him when he made fun of LARPing and RPGs, and told him that he'd have to find his own date if I didn't receive a hand-written apology."
"Uh huh." Mom's tone tells me she didn't get it, but at least the neighbor kid wasn't being a bully.
"Who's that?" Kenzie asks when my phone trills at the mall. It's a fair question: Everybody who would normally contact me on a Saturday is here, Mom included.
Slipping it from my back pocket, I only have to see the name to think better of telling them. "Nobod—"
Melissa snatches my phone before I can answer. "What does that text say?" she demands.
"Is that from Josh?" Kenzie squeals from the dressing room. "Read it aloud!"
I lift up mine eyes to the ceiling.
"'My tie is gold,'" Melissa reads. "Well, that's boring."
"Sorry to disappoint," I reply, taking my phone back. "Melissa, you know that Kenzie's date is a freshman, right?"
"So?" Kenzie hollers. "He has a crush on me! I think he's cute even if he is young, now all my shiz is out there!"
Melissa looks at me pointedly, and I throw my hands up. "If Josh makes any kind of move on me, I will buy you both the complete Hunger Games trilogy in effing hardback."
"Deal," Melissa agrees quickly. "Now let's find a gold dress for you."
"It's supposed to be the opposite!" I protest. I don't look good in gold. "Dammit, he's supposed to match my dress!"
Fueled with this intimate knowledge of my pseudo-date's tie, Melissa hurries me through the prom dress section of the store while Kenzie runs back and forth to choose her own. I wish I could fully share their enthusiasm, but I keep thinking, My date is gay, you guys. He likes dudes. When all is said and done I end up in a structured purple satin dress with a sweetheart neckline and a slit that goes halfway up my thigh. I imagine my hair done up in 1940s rolls, maybe a deep red lipstick.
"You look," Kenzie says, "like a mother-effing adult." We turn to admire ourselves in the mirror; her fluffy ball gown easily engulfs mine. We look…I don't know. Pretty.
"So do you," I reply.