The DJ hasn’t played a single song you know or would dance to anyway. The food looks amazing but tastes disappointing. Everyone is dressed their best, but there is no one here that you want to see that badly. You didn’t even really look at yourself or your “dates” when you left. The decorations—the meager few that are scattered around the gym—look cheap and don’t reflect the theme at all. A Night in Paris. You don’t think that consists of mini-Eiffel Towers hanging from a ceiling, of glitter thrown on the floor, or of berets decorating the tables.
The gym still smells of desperation, violence, and sorrow; it is not a pleasant smell but you’re used to it so you don’t crinkle your nose in disgust like the chaperones. The chaperones mill around the corners of the gym, guard the punch half-heartedly, and crowd the dance floor. The faculty also hangs around, lurking on the outskirts or trying to appear busy. The only teacher really working is your Yearbook Advisor, Mr. Murphy. You see him posing couples in front of the poster of the big Eiffel Tower or on the corner section of the bleachers that has red glittery material covering it like a faux red carpet. Earlier, you and your “dates” posed in front of the poster and on the faux red carpet. No matter how much you didn’t want to be here—you plastered a wide, muscle-aching grin onto your face. You laughed at all the right things. You cheerfully but firmly declined all invitations to dance and reassured your “dates” that you were having a blast just watching and eating the picture-perfect food. A few more hours, then the king and queen will be announced and on to what is sure to be the highlight of your evening—seeing the special feature of Finding Dory in theaters.
A song you know has come on, and there is no longer a reason not to dance. You head onto the dance floor, staying on the outskirts of not only it but also of your “dates.” They are moving to the beat of the song and losing all of their inhibitions. You move to the beat as well but don’t move as lithely and seem to be weighed down and incapable of the same lightness they have with their moves. You’ve been on the dance floor for two songs now and think escape is possible after this goes off. As you’re preparing your excuse and clunkily moving to the beat of the new Shalyah song, you see him enter. You stare.
He’s cleaned up nice—not like anyone expected any differently. And he knew it too. His date looked amazing too. She was gorgeous. They were a modern-day, Barbie and Ken.
You were asked to prom. Unbelievable. There must be some kind of catch to this, you think aloud. He either expects me to put out or is playing some sick game. Your friends instantly shoot this thought down.
“He is amazing!”
“And too good to reject.”
“He knows—just like everyone else—that you are the good girl. That you’re legs are basically sewn shut.”
“Every night! Including prom night.”
“You just caught his eye.”
“You are so beautiful and now someone has really taken notice.”
“Yeah! Once you come out from behind those drab clothes and books you always have your nose in. Bam! Whole new person.”
“That’s the problem. You just need to get your head out of those depressing novels; they are tainting your world view.”
“You have to say yes.”
It’s time for the King and Queen to be announced. Everyone seems to turn to the lead guy and head girl in their friend circles and says the customary, “It’s so you.”
You don’t say this to your “dates” and they don’t say it to you. None of you all are that delusional—especially not you.
You all know who it is and anyone who says that they were surprised after the results is lying. Principal Penn stands at the mic awkwardly before giving an ungenuine, lively speech about “who helped put together this magical evening” and “who spearheaded certain aspects” and “lead us in a round of applause for all of their hard work.” He then hands it over to my least favorite teacher, Bubbly Brown. She enthusiastically goes through all the nominations for King and Queen, tells them how all of them were royalty regardless of the results, and asks for a drumroll.
“This year’s Ridgewood High Prom King is… Romeo Fuller!” Applause erupts. Condolences are whispered. Pats are distributed. Screams ricochet of the gym walls. His teammates chant. But it quiets for his goofy acceptance line. Bubbly Brown uses the silence to ask for another drumroll as she prepares to announce “Romeo’s Unforbidden Juliet.”
“And your Ridgewood High Prom Queen is…. Selene Jones!” Whistling blows through the gym. Tears are patted away. Rubs are administered. Cheers start from the squad. Silence descends as she approaches the mic freshly crowned and she gives a much longer-winded and much more teary acceptance speech.
The two walk through the parting crowd and into their first dance. You unintentionally catch a glimpse of them as you turn to time-check your “dates.” You don’t want to see them like this again—twirling around happily with ecstatic onlookers. It hurts.
“I guess they’re on a break again.”
Everyone at your table turns to far left corner of the cafeteria. The cheerleading squad sits at the table right before the door leading to the terrace. They don’t sit in their usual spot—outside on the terrace with the football and basketball team, and now you all know what she means. Selene and Romeo broke up again and her being cheer captain, him being Mister All-American Sports Player usually creates a divide between the typically joint groups.
You look at the former couple. To have just recently broken up, they both look perfectly fine. Selene’s white teeth still provided a beautiful contrast to her dark chocolate skin as she smiled and laughed as she flipped her long raven hair over her shoulder with her perfectly manicured, French tip nails. Romeo sat laughing with the boys looking carefree outside with the wind messing up his blonde curly locks. Both still looked like they put effort into their appearance. She was in a short pale pink dress that complimented her size two frame and is accessorized to the tee. His beard was perfectly close cut and his t-shirt and jeans looked strategically chosen. You catch the logo on his shirt and startle. You wonder if he even really knows what P4A is. You dismiss that; there’s no way.
“Hopefully, this time for good. No one wants another Anabel fight.” And with that, you were drawn back to your table where the conversation turns to the upcoming vote on this year’s prom theme. You half-listen, not really all that excited about prom. The bell rings signally a shift in lunch periods and warning everyone in lunch now that you all had about seven minutes to get to your next class. You all say your goodbyes and head to the only period you all do not share.
You get to class with several minutes to spare, so you set your things down in your usual spot and head to the bathroom, telling your teacher where you are going over your shoulder in case of a line. Thankfully, you have avoided a crowd and the bathroom appears to be empty. You find the best option available before doing your business.
As you prepare to leave your stall, someone enters the bathroom and locks the door. You hear them whimpering and you hope you don’t have to deal with some crying girl. You exit the stall with your head down and try to get out of there as fast as you can without drawing the attention of the girl. You have almost made it out, but as you reach for a paper towel, you catch sight of the girl in the mirror. Shocked, you stare. It is the last person you expect to see at all—let alone crying.
Two mirrors down, Selene—Ms. Perfect—stands trying to fix her makeup.
“Whatever the situation, I’m sure it will work out.” You can’t believe you just spoke.
You stuck your nose where it doesn’t belong already. It’s too late to act like you were talking to yourself or didn’t say anything at all. “Uh, I was just trying to say something cheerful. Not cheerful—encouraging. So yeah.” You feel stupid.
“Thanks. This isn’t something that’s going to turn out good, though. And thanks for not prying.” You are glad you didn’t ask whose problem it was. She smiles, looking like her usual perfect self but you see the vulnerability and hurt in her eyes.
“Well, sorry,” you ask more than say.
And with that, you both finish up and leave. You later find out through the gossip grapevine that her dad was leaving her mom—you still don’t know if it is because of her mom’s drinking problem, her dad’s harem of women, her mom’s affair with a family friend, her being his illegitimate child, or all of the above.
You didn’t have much time to get ready, but you weren’t trying to impress anyone. There’s no real rush. Your mom spent over an hour on your makeup, but you couldn’t impress anyone anyway, you thought, as you glanced at yourself in the mirror.
You’ve let your robe pool at your feet and stand in only your seamless panties and adhesive, strapless bra. You are not much to look at in your opinion. Then again, it could be everyone’s opinion; the only people who have ever complimented you are friends and your parents—and they don’t count, not one of them.
As you continue to analyze every crevice, every curve, and the few bulges, you try to see what everyone else sees. You try to find something, anything that could explain why you seem to evoke disgust or disinterest. You can’t.
You see pale brown skin that in less tan areas appears almost yellow. You see hair that is so dark brown that it almost appears black. You see a four head that without your strategically cut side bangs could pass for a five head. You see bushy eyebrows that have been combed to almost perfection—the scar from your roller skating incident creating a line through your right eyebrow that can’t be hidden. Your heavily creamed coffee eyes are normally spaced apart, and you got rid of your thick-rimmed glasses in exchange for contacts. There was a small diamond stud in your left nostril that commemorated your one act of true adolescence. You see full lips and you had a natural, small ‘M’ that girls tried to draw. You see an average sized body, a size eight to ten depending on the cut of the garment. Your weight was distributed nicely in your eyes, C cups, a slight muffin top, a noticeable but not too noticeable butt, and shapely thighs. You see you.
You caught the reflection of your alarm clock and startled. You needed to put on the dress, so that when your friends arrived, your mom would have gotten most of her need for pictures out of the way.
Your “dates,” you thought, you have to remember to call them your “dates.” You all agreed to call each other that tonight, despite really just being a group of friends all going to prom together dateless.
Romeo used the pep rally as his promposal location. The whole team came out with a banner. The band played their song. The squad pushed her even further down center and danced with the music. The crowd members shouted: “You better say yes, girl!”, “Of course she will,” and the customary “Aww.” The air was electrified. The room was abuzz. It was perfect.
This was how people got asked to prom. Not by a note that had a date, time, and location on it to give your answer.
You should have known. You should have gone into that classroom and said a firm no and walked out with your head held high. Instead, you went against your gut, listened to your friends, and were humiliated. Romeo never wanted you to go to prom with him.
You were a hundred dollar bet. You were a means to an end. You were nothing.
You walked into that classroom shy, hesitant, and disgustingly hopeful. You walked in and he was there leaning against the white board. The date was incorrectly written and smudged above his heads. There were remnants of the last class’ homework and in-class assignments to his left. You stood in awkward silence until he said well. You said yes. He asked what. You said a louder, less shaky yes. He smiled, a mega-watt smile that showcased all of his effortlessly white teeth and for a moment: you had a date to prom; you felt like someone; you let the hope burst free and turn to joy; you thought he smiled in light of getting the answer he wanted. And he did. He got the yes that got him the hundred dollars. He got the frigid nerd to say yes to going to prom with him.
The moment was gone as you saw all of the team come: out of the classroom closet that was full to the brim with maps no longer showcased, various assortments of papers, boxes of old work done by students that are used to give examples of do’s and don’ts, unused textbooks, extra copies, books used to supplement the textbooks, and unused junk; from under the teacher’s desk that was cluttered with a stack of papers to return and a stack to grade both judiciously placed in labeled baskets, containers of dry erase markers, Crayola markers, Sharpie pens, ink pens in several shades, teacher’s editions for all of his classes, lesson plans, club advisor paperwork, and knick knacks; and in the back door that was decorated inside with exemplary student work, upcoming school events, tutorial dates and times, and American government themed border and out with the words “History” and “Mr. Blackwell” and several famous quotes from historians, famous people in history, and textbooks. Their faces were a mixture of surprise, smugness, and elation. You slipped away and fell to pieces as the room filled with laughter and curses and shouts: “I can’t believe this,” “Man, I was going to make him pay the limo bill if he lost!”, “I knew it! Romeo can melt the coldest of broads.” You felt a tear slide down your cheek.
That moment was gone and so was your joy and so was your desire to go to prom and so was your trust in your friends’ judgement and so was your optimism. You ran from the room chased by the pain and embarrassment left in that History classroom. You’d never look at a map or globe the same, and the presidents would always know what happened in that room. His smirk as they all came out sent a punch to your gut that would always be in your mind. Their laughs would continue to ring in your ears as you passed them in the hall. This moment was forever written in your book of history.
Selene said yes to his promposal crying and laughing, looking nothing like that girl in the bathroom. She jumped in his arms, wrapped her thin leg around his waist, kissed all over his face, and they twirled around as the room continued to cheer. And you continued to slap yourself. As the two finished twirling, you locked eyes with Romeo. You saw that smirk and a laughing glint in his eye, and you knew he was thinking of that day too.
You all had agreed to leave soon after the king and queen were announced. You look for your “dates” to remind them that your car was leaving in about ten minutes. Instead of behind you, they are across the dance floor getting punch and talking to others crowded around the snack table. You look left and right and try to find a path to squeeze through. You have to tell them to say their goodbyes or they never will, and you’ll miss the movie. There doesn’t seem to be any way to get through the crowd that is packed so tightly together, staring at the couple dancing. You don’t understand the big deal. They are king and queen. Woo-hoo. They are dancing. Woo-hoo. They look very picturesque. Woo-hoo. It’s prom. Woo-hoo. They are popular. Woo-hoo. Yippie kai yay. Fan-flipping-tastic.
None of this will matter in ten years. It really won’t even matter in ten weeks. Once you all leave here, the magic, that has entranced so many, will fade. You will all be back in classes trying to finish out your senior year and planning for college.
You see a path to get to the other side. You push the girl in front of you recording them on Snapchat a little to the side and proceed to cut across the dance floor. You don’t care that you messed up the video, nor do you care that you are ruining the King and Queen’s first dance. Shocked faces are everywhere. The two miss a step in their dance and swivel their heads in your direction. You keep walking straight across and tell your friends it is almost time to leave. Eyes linger. Whisper yells are everywhere. You meet all the gazes including the glares. You raise your eyebrows at those whisper-yelling close by. You remain stone faced and straight-backed.
You’re finally where you want to be.
Here, despite the puffy material billowing up when you sit, you can forget it all. The smell of the buttery popcorn seeps into your nose, and you know the taste will not disappoint. The seat cushion is actually comfortable and much better than those blue metal chairs. The previews featured various songs you knew and movies you had to see come their release day. Your body is no longer in defense mode and your muscles relax and you slightly slouch into the seat. The Crunch Bites you have mix beautifully with the saltiness of the popcorn. Your friends, no longer your “dates,” are forced to be quiet and can no longer send you concerned looks masked with slight smiles.
Here, you are entranced by the wonderful thing that is Ellen DeGeneres’ voice. You are entranced by Finding Dory. And for the first time tonight, you smile. You forget.