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"Best Friends" cnt. (final)



Cover © Rosalie Thorne

Editor – Z. V. Ezell


"Best Friends"

By Rosalie Thorne


“There is only one happiness in this life,

to love and be loved.”

- George Sand




Twenty Four




“Hey, I’m sorry, I’m going to be a little late,” Clark’s muffled voice says through the phone.

I look at the time, it’s just after three, I’ve gotten about seven hours of sleep. Restless sleep, I might add, given that I hadn’t taken my meds. Because of this, I just turn over in my bed and yawn, “That’s fine.”

His laugh is soft, “You still in bed, huh?”

My eyes close and Hades starts purring by stomach. “Mhm.”

“You okay? You sure it was okay to miss one dose?”

“I feel fine,” I promise. “And I’ll be taking my meds at the regular time tonight… no need to worry.”

“If you’re sure….”

I nod, even though he can’t see me. “So why are you going to be late – late for a very important date – anyway?”

A small groan, “Pops wants to have another Talk.”

“Oh, that sounds like so much fun.”

A snort and some rustling of fabric. “Right?”

Hades starts to murp and nudging my hand. My eyes open and I can feel myself finally waking up. “Well… what time do you want me to be ready by?”

“The next showing is at seven thirty. We can still go to Steak’n’Shake beforehand, like you wanted. So… maybe six?”

“Sounds good. Love you.”

I can hear his smile, “Love you, too.”


*


Our conversation going just as well as I anticipated, we’re butting heads across the kitchen table. With an exasperated sigh, Pops utters “Clark… I’m trying to be reasonable; I promise. I just feel that you’re not looking at this as rationally as you should. The choice you make now is the first domino; it will determine the rest of your life.”

“I know,” I groan. “That’s exactly why I am making the choice I am making.”

His head shakes. “I get it I do but –”

“No, Pops, you actually don’t. I don’t think you even remember what it was like to be in love with Mom when you were young. So, you sure as Hell wouldn’t remember what it was like when you were first dating.”

His expression is that of a very unhappy man trying to keep himself together. “Actually,” he starts slowly. “I am very aware of what it feels like to be in love with someone given that I still love your mother and will probably never stop. I made a vow to her, a promise of forever.”

He softens, a deep breath. “I have no doubts in how much you love Candice, I don’t. I know how she’s Jonah’s best friend, that she’s already a daughter to me. But I also know that going to a state University may limit your possibilities in the future.”

He shifts a little, leaning forward, trying to be more tactful, “Don’t you want the best for Candice? For your future? Life is expensive, Clark, and if she’s so set on being a teacher well,” he gives me a look and then leans back with arms crossed over his chest like that’s the winning blow. “And then kids,” a head shake and an empty laugh. “Well.”

I’m not shaken, I just stare him down. “I’m sorry, but the two years or more sacrifice you’re asking me to make is just not a possibility. Not for her, but even more so for me. I need to be selfish, Pops. Maybe that’s hard for you to understand… I know how hard you worked to take care of Mom and us, I do. And I am so thankful.

“But I also know that Candice doesn’t care about money, doesn’t care about status. She doesn’t care about a big house in a gated community. What she does care about is being happy.

“There are a lot of things outside of her control working against her and I don’t want to add to that. If I can stay here and still do everything I want to do, that’s my choice.”

Looking like he might actually finally be coming around, he at least seems like he’s trying to understand my perspective. “I suppose I don’t know what it’s like loving someone with a disability,” he explains carefully. “I suppose that is something you have to be more responsible about.”

There’s a mood shift and I slump back in my seat a little. “It’s hard. It’s really fucking hard. I don’t know what’s going on in her head and no matter how much research I can do, it won’t ever be clear. So, I know what I know, I listen to her, and I blindly do my best.” I sigh. “And with her mom just leaving like that?” I try to clear my raw throat as I squint my now-watery eyes. “I can’t just leave. I can’t… not now, not ever.”




Twenty Five


Spring Break came and went in a romantic and exciting blur of picnics, pool parties, bonfires, rides in the Datsun, and Jonah’s and my tradition of The Heart List.

In the seven days Jonah and I both read a classic novel, watch quite a few classic black-and-white films, got through a cleanse of no soda or junk food or candy, faced a fear (this year was riding Justin’s motorcycle for Jonah and finally talking to my mom for me), and ‘learning someone’s story’ (an elder waitress at our favorite diner for him, an older man at the public library for me).

All the while Clark and I really took advantage of the time off to do a thing called dating. Every day we thought of something new – or, should I say, new to us. This included going to another dinner and a movie, riding the train into D.C. to walk and wander, spending a day at the lake, going to a natural history museum and planetarium, bringing out his old Gamecube to play the same games we did as kids, taking Hades into PetSmart and getting him new toys, and after a night where I’d taken my medicine early and gotten a full nights rest we grabbed donuts while it was still dark and made it out to the beach to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic.

Maybe it wasn’t the most iconic of Spring Breaks – no trips somewhere with hotel stays and pools, no road trips or #Wanderlust adventures, no real excessiveness or extravagance or constant partying – but it’s exactly what I’d always wanted, what I’d always hoped for; maybe it wasn’t the most jealousy-inducing Spring Breaks, but I felt perfectly at home.

And now, on the second Saturday, with only thirty-six hours until school, I watch the flickering of the bonfire ahead of us and listen to the lake off in the distance. The dancing flames flutter through the air, little sparks and embers floating into the blue-black sky. There’s a comforting blanket of sound, everyone enjoying themselves and catching up. I can feel Clark nodding off next to me, the silly goose not having taken a nap after seeing the sunrise on the coast this morning. Our backs are cushion by a blanket against a massive log, our legs sprawled across the sand ahead. There’s a spare blanket to my right, but the chill hadn’t reached unreasonable just yet. Just like how I have a handful of memories that are ‘my happy place’, memories that bring forth a sense of peace and bliss, I can tell this is going to be added to the stockpile.

Jonah eases down next to me, right on cue, and offers me another water bottle. He leans a little forward the bites his laughter. “He’s totally asleep!” he whisper screams.

Lifting my head ever so carefully from his brother’s shoulder, I smile after taking a big swig of water. “It’s been a long day.”

He makes a face, a sort of pursed lip smirk, “A long week, more like.”

“And what about you?” I nod over to Justin who’s leaning back, hands in the sand in eyes closed.

Even with dozens of people around us, there’s something that feels perfectly private about this moment. Maybe because everyone is so involved with their own conversations and lives, maybe because Jonah and I are just like that – able to make any moment a moment to talk, and he has no hesitation in explaining “Right? This whole steady relationship thing is so… weird. Even though he’s moving over the Summer, we don’t feel like it makes sense to break up. We’ve even talked about maybe trying long distance.” His hand makes an explosion gesture by his ear. “Seriously… I’m actually happy not knowing what’s going to happen.”

“So no systematically done activities to ensure the downfall of your relationship? My, Jonah, I’m impressed!” I push myself against him slightly and turn my eyes back to the fire. “Really, though, I’m glad to hear it. Life doesn’t always turn out as planned, but it has a funny way of working out.”

There’s an actual, very audible snore from Clark and we stifle laughter. Keeping his voice low, Jonah asks “How did that conversation with your mom?”

I push a mass of hair over my shoulder. “Honestly? I don’t know. Though it’s completely irrational of me – I think – it now feels like Mom only had me because of you. Like, her friendship with your mom was that important and she had some fear of missing out or the kid-no kid situation would get too hard. So, she had me and… well.”

My inhale is deep, exhale long. “Then your mom passed and it’s like my mom shut down. Like she just woke up one day and was like ‘I didn’t actually want any of this’. And, well, goes to show I guess…. We talked without actually talking about anything important. She said once she’d settled – with her parents temporarily – I can come visit. She said that she can still be a part of my life if I want.”

I turn to him now, feeling anxiety rising in my chest. “That she can still be a part of my life, isn’t that fucked up? Not that she wants to be a part of my life, not that she wants me at all. Like she’d be doing me some service of answering my calls or spending time with me. It’s really fucked up.”

A lot of people have moved towards the lake, even Justin. Jonah watches him for a few minutes, and I can tell he would love to just go catch up and avoid this conversation entirely. Not that he doesn’t care about me, not that we’re not best friends or faux siblings, but that unfortunately everything going on with my mom goes hand-in-hand with the loss of his. Trying to be nice, I gesture my water bottle towards the lake, “You should go have fun.”

“Yeah….” He clears his throat, “maybe… maybe in a minute.” He turns to me slowly, looking at me from the edge of his vision. “I’m sorry I don’t talk about my mom. I don’t know if that’s going to change… I don’t know that I want it to change, but…” but he looks passed me a little as Clark seems to stir. “Well, anyway,” he gives me a half-smile and lifts. “See you in a bit.”

I lift a hand in a wave as I watch him jog off.


*


“I’m wide awake now, I promise,” I squeeze Candice’s hand.

She’s laughing, her head shaking enough to bring curls back and forth over her shoulders. “You fell asleep at the lake! Com’on, babe, you should just go to bed.”

I give her hand another tug and she’s fully in my room now. “Lovebug, please… just stay a little bit longer?”

Her velvety lips form a smirk. “Fine! But just one episode.”

Luckily, I was awake to make it through one episode and she was comfortable enough to succumb to my suggestion of two. Catching up on Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been the pre-bed activity of choice this week but with school only a day away she wants to go home and make sure she’s up to date with assignments and give all her work another look-over.

I’m proud of her, really, for putting so much effort into school even if things are a bit unsteady. I can imagine a lot of people would use the excuse of emotional or mental distress to not care about school – like I did with Mom’s cancer. But, no, she’s trying to achieve her goal of bringing her GPA up this semester, taking full advantage of Jonah, me, and the tutor her dad set up.

And that’s why when she doesn’t let the third episode start, I don’t fight it. With love, with support, with a lot of affection, I help her get ready and walk her back to her house.

Up the back stairs, down the hall and into her room, I put her bag on the bed and then go to pet Hades. Seeming a bit frazzled, it takes Candice a moment to answer after I ask, “You ready for Monday?”

“I think so.”

She busies herself with unpacking her overnight bag and getting her school bag out from the closet. I lean farther into the wall of pillows on her bed and bring Hades to lay on my chest. “At least we only have a few more weeks left. What… six now?”

By her desk, she’s nibbling on her lip. “I think so. Two weeks until Prom, then two weeks until exam prep, and then we’re done. Well,” she adds slowly, “you’ll be done a week before me. Then the weekend after I’m done is your graduation.”

Every time the subject of me being a Senior and me graduation and me starting University in the Fall comes up, I become instantly on edge. Fight or fight reflexes kicking in, ready to deal with any sort of breakdown she may have. I’ve even had nightmares that she’s going to break up with me about it all.

Instead, though, and maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by now, she’s excited. Happy and excited and ready to take on the challenge. “You sure it won’t be weird bringing your Sophomore girlfriend to graduation parties?”

Her smile is contagious, my smirk spreading out. “Mmm, wouldn’t you be considered a Junior at that point?”

There’s a twinkle in her eye as she comes to the side of her four-poster bed, arms crossed and resting against a column. “You’re going to be the coolest guy at UVA,” she shakes her head playfully, “a Freshman with a High School girlfriend? Oh man!” She laughs, “They better watch out.”

Hades jumps away right as I lift to pull her on top of me. “And what about you,” I coo. “You’re going to be the talk of school with a college boyfriend and all.”

She nods with mock seriousness. “Oh yeah, just the most popular girl.”

I poke her ribs. “Seriously though! With my schedule the way it is, I’ll still get to drive you to school and still get to pick you up. We could even meet for lunch on the days I don’t have class. I’ll be living at home which means nothing really changes….”

She gives me a look, with a breathy laugh. “I don’t know why you get so worried, you silly goose. Change is not always a bad thing,” she kisses me softly. Then her little fingers push away hair of my temple. “It’s just more school, that’s all. You’ll go to UVA for however long and after two years I’ll be going to the community college which has the direct to UVA program. At some point in all that schooling we’ll get married and find a place of our own.” Her eyebrows raise and her head tilts, “Really, Sir Clark, there’s nothing to be worried about.”

I get a fit of giggles in response to rolling us over. “Marriage, huh? Lady Candice that does sound like a mighty fine idea.”

A familiar pink spreads across her cheeks. She opens her mouth to say something but instead her brows just come together. Finally, she swallows hard and whispers “Yeah?”

With a soft smile, my fingertips brushing curls off her face, I look into her eyes with care. “Yeah.”




Twenty Six


I never understood the hype of Prom until I had a ticket to go, until I was going shopping for the dress, and most importantly someone I actually care about deeply to go with. With the dance, and everything surrounding it, only a week away, the girls and Jonah and I are in a bit of a bubbly tizzy. Not only am I really thankful that all of my friends are so supportive, but I’m ridiculously thankful some of them are going to.

Though, I am the only one of us going with a Senior. Justin, Steven (Allie’s Spring fling), Will (Marie’s boyfriend), and Carlos (Jules’s date) are all Juniors. But with how much our different groups hang out, with how much my fellow underclassmen spend time with Clark and his band and now Dare’s friends? That dividing line is very hazy. It’s all making me feel very much not alone.

Speaking of not alone, Jonah follows me into the dressing room since there’s so many of us and so little of them that we’re having to double up. It’s been a while since we’ve done this, but I suppose it’s been a while since I needed to shop for something so important.

Slipping across the little shelf of a seat in the corner, he shakes his head. “I still cannot believe you’re insisting on wearing green! Green, of all colors! It’s so overrated for a red head.”

I shoot him a look through the mirror, “Your brother happens to like me in green.”

Jonah’s chuckle shakes his chest, “My brother is so in love with you, you could wear burlap and he’d like it.”

Tossing my dress to the side, my eyes roll. “He’s not completely tasteless, you know.”

His eyebrows raise, his lips purse, and he looks down to his phone. “He has his own sense of style, that’s for sure – I’m just not sure you can use the word ‘taste’ accurately.”

“It’s only my first Prom! I promise next year you can pick the dress.”

This intrigues him and he eyes me carefully, “Pinky promise?”

I hold out my hand. “Pinky promise.”


Three green gowns turned into two more, which frustrated me enough to try other colors (much to Jonah’s excitement). Blues and soft purples, plus one gold and black. Finally, in the last store, I shift through the rack of greens and may have actually found it.

Looking like it belonged in a flea market rather than a high fashion boutique, my mind wanders back to something Clark had said, there’s just something about us that loves vintage and antique. My fingers gently float along the ivory fabric, softly feeling the stitching of the little peach flowers. Hanger off the bar, one arm under the waist band, I look around to see if there’s anything similar anywhere. But in all the cubbies on the wall, on all the racks on the floor, there’s nothing even remotely similar. Confused and a little worried, I get the attention of an associate nearby.

“Miss?”

Bright-eyed and perky, “Yes?”

“Is this the only one?”

Her head tilts as she looks forward. “Oh gosh! I don’t even know how that ended up on the sales floor. It was a return, from the online store. Usually, we send those back to the warehouse…” but she eyes me carefully. “Do you want to try it on?”

Jonah had left on a phone call, and I can see him pacing in front of the store windows, happily chatting with sweeping gestures. Allie, Marie, and Jules had all found their gowns already and told me to meet them in Victoria’s Secret. This shop had been on the way (and the last like it in the mall) and I’d felt a little desperate to find something before seeing them.

“Yes, please,” and I follow the lady to the back.

I manage the dress on without any help and buckle the little pink belt before looking in the mirror.

The tulle-like fabric over my shoulders wouldn’t be noticeable (it’s so thin and sheer) if it wasn’t for the silky piping that comes up from the bodice, where the sleeves cuff, and for the lavish embroidery of mossy curling stems and lush leaves and little groupings of peach flowers. The ivory piping comes down both the front and back in a v then swoops under my breasts to the inseams. The top layer (of the practically invisible fabric) goes from shoulders to waist to the scalloped edge of the skirt and is systematically covered in the embroidery but still leaves plenty of space to see the silky ivory sweetheart-neckline-d slip that runs just above the hem.

With a deep breath, I run my hands over the skirt that falls gently below the knee. It’s just so poofy! Without a petticoat and it still sticks out so perfectly – making my hips more dramatic compared to the belted waist and my legs look thinner and longer as I stand in heels. Pinching a couple inches up from the hem, I pull the skirt straight out. Arm flat, wrist not even bent, and the skirt lifts majestically without pulling the other side against me.

For a last little test, I sit on the mini couch. Sitting straight, shoulders back, knees together, ankles crossed, I look in the mirror to see the affect. The skirt is so lush that it falls straight from my back, curls softly up to my knees, and there’s still a few inches of slack. Only the tips of my heels are visible, where I’ve pointed my toe. And even in a more strained position, the bodice feels secure and comfortable – not too small but not at all loose.

And last, but not least, the heart locket from Clark completes the whole look. The v of the chain is parallel to the top, the tip of the heart falling just above the dip in the bodice. Though the dress is ivory and the flowers peach (with matching belt), the gold and delicate details add an air of sophistication and aesthetic chic.

After standing and fighting the impulse to twirl, I realize that yes, it’s very unconventional when it comes to Prom but it’s exactly what I’m supposed to wear. It’s also the perfect dress for the date of a guy who rebuilt his own vintage car, who loves antique bookstores just as much as I do, has a Polaroid camera (with the prints filling his walls), and rather live in a cottage with a garden than an estate with staff.

Back in my own clothes and at the counter to cash out, I almost don’t want to hand the dress over, I love it so much. But then there’s a “Candice!” from behind me and I let the associate do her thing.

Jonah there, a huge smile on his face. “Find something you like then?” he tries to peer around me, but I can hear the dress already in the bag. “It’s not green, is it?”

I shake my head with a giggle, “It’s got green in it.”

He cocks a brow, “’In it’? What does that even mean?”

I take my change and then my bag. I link my arm around his and we head out. “In the design.”

“And what other colors are in the design?” he asks cautiously.

“Ivory and peach.”

He stops in the middle of the crowded mall, spinning me so we’re facing each other. Eyebrows up, eyes wide, chin slightly tilted, and a huge smile he says “Peach? As in pink!”

“See! Now both the Wilson boys get what they want.”


*


“Bro, you’re going to die when you see her on Saturday,” Jonah says from the other side of the breakfast bar. Leaning forward, elbows on the marble, phone in his hands, he looks up. “Seriously, that dress –”

I cut him off by pointing the sauce covered spoon at him. “Nope! It’s supposed to be a surprise.”

He snorts. “It’s not like it’s your wedding! God, it’s just Prom.” His eyes squint and he tips his phone towards me. “Don’t you want to make sure you match?”

“You wouldn’t let me out of the house if I didn’t.”

His shoulders bounce and eyes drop back to his phone, “True.”

“And, anyway, I know it’s ‘just Prom’ but it’ll be my only Prom experience. I didn’t go last year and who knows if the school will let me go with her next year.”

Wrist limp, Jonah looks off to the right. “Wait, I thought you went with what’s-her-face last year? Megan… Monica… M-something, right?”

Head down, letting myself focus on finishing the tortellini in the Alfredo, I don’t comment. I know exactly who he’s talking about and know exactly what happened that night. And even though he’s my little brother – my baby brother – I don’t need the teasing.

“C.J.?” his voice is only slightly condescending.

“Yeah?”

“What happened last year?”

I try shrugging it off, but when I catch his expression, I know he’s not going to let it go. “That’s the night Candice went on that date with douche number two, remember? Well, that’s when she was supposed to go on that date.”

There’s a slam of his plastic-protected phone on the counter. “What.”

“She must have told you he ditched her, right?”

“Yeah… he didn’t show for like twenty minutes and then she saw him post a picture on Instagram of him and some other chick out at the lake.”

“Right.” I offer him a bowl and place the cheese next to his glass. “You were busy with… ah, Connor, I think. Wasn’t Connor Spring fling of last year?”

He rolls his eyes and grunts.

I chuckle. “Seriously though, you were busy. You’d made plans because she had plans and she didn’t want your night to be ruined.”

“So…?”

After sliding into the stool next to him, I push some hair back out of my face. “What else was I supposed to do?

“Marybeth – it was Marybeth by the way – was only going with me because she is best friends with Dare. It was an awkward let’s go as friends slash double date thing. Marybeth and I never really clicked but it was Prom, you know? So, anyway, literally right when I was about to hand my ticket over, that’s when Candice called me.”

“Lord.”

Stabbing a few mini tortellini, I sigh. “I know.” I eat a little bit, get some Coke down and then look to him. He’s ready and waiting for me to continue. I scratch the back of my neck and ease back on the stool. “Well, okay. So, she called me and I could hear she was ready to cry. So, before she could even explain anything, I just asked her where she was.”

“She wasn’t home?”

“Nah. She walked down to Café Celest, that little coffee shop on the corner from the bowling alley. Her dad was out of town for work, her mom not answering her phone, and like I said you were busy. Anyway, I left Prom and headed straight there.”

Mouth full, there’s a little huff of a laugh. “So, you showed up to that little café in a suit and what… had coffee with her?”

I smile softly as I think back. I could still picture the cotton dress she’d worn, the way she’d pulled half her hair back with a clip, and that even though she’d been hurt, it sort of seemed to roll off her back like water off a duck. “I paid for her tea.” I explain, “and we grabbed some cookies. I drove us home and then after I changed we ended up on her roof. We spent the whole night there until you called her to talk about your date.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah….”

My brother claps a hand on my back, “Well, if her dress is any sort of sign, your Prom is going to be perfect."




Twenty Seven


D-day is upon us! Or should I say P-day? Prom, oh Prom… the magical night where every teenager is supposed to get the opportunity to feel like they’re in a fairytale. And boy does that notion hold up.

Sure, I’ve been lucky enough to have a very comfortable life. Sure, I’ve never needed for anything but also never really wanted for anything. Sure, Jonah and I had a princess/prince themed birthday when we were seven and again (a little more ironically) at thirteen. But! We are far from the lives of the dirty rich or famous or powerful (far from the lives of Princess Lorianna and her boyfriend Chris, for example) and this is turning out to be completely different in its own merit.

Hair appointments, nail appointments, Jules ready to do red carpet worthy looks ready for any camera, and my bedroom (and the spare next door) have turned into a beauty suit and Prom-prep headquarters. Pop music, dance music, and girl-power ballads are never ending from the speakers, same with conversation over a vast number of topics. The high-energy, fun-laced, romantically inspired chaos reminds me of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, (the boys – Clark, Jonah, Steven, Will, and Carlos – are even getting ready next door).

My gown is held on the golden hook on the back of the door to the walk-in, plush blush silk hanger perfectly holding it smooth and sturdy. Standing just next to it, in my almost-pink-sort-of-nude bra with clear straps and matching bikini bottoms, I hold two sets of heels up for the girls. “Okay but…” I lift the left pair, “the actually vintage blush heels with the two straps that are more pink than peach or…” and I lift my right hand, “the mock-ballet slippers with the ties?” Sighing, I can’t decide. “The ballet flats are so aesthetic, and closer in color, but the dress is already so long! I feel compelled to wear heels… it is Prom, you know?”

Allie looks up from painting her toenails ruby, “I vote for flats.”

“I think you’d be more comfortable in the flats…” Sara contributes while trying to get in-progress pictures of the night so far (that are appropriate, so right now it’s of the makeup kit and hair products and stuff rather than the half-naked us).

Marie can’t look from where Jules is finishing her makeup but waves her hand and says “Ballet flats! That dress totally has a prima ballerina vibe.”

Jules looks away from where she’s holding Marie’s chin softly, eye the shoes and the dress next to me carefully. “I mean… the heels are more accurate – like time period and event wise, but yeah… I’d say I’d have to agree.”

Syndy’s shaking her head from where she’s messing with the playlist. “I’m a purest, heels on the way.”

Sandra laughs from the bed, where she’s playing with Hades. “How about this? Get the dress on first and then we’ll see!”

I’d been putting off putting on the dress in front of anyone, even Jonah, because I’m worried they’ll be critical – that they’ll be negative and I’ll end of thinking I’ve made a horrible mistake going so far away from the typical. But alas, the time has come. For better or worse – the good, bad, or ugly… I set down the shoes and go for it.

Having more than enough hands to help, I’m able to get the dress up on me slowly and carefully, softly draping the fabric exactly where it’s supposed to go. Then Sarah helps pinch the fabric in the right places so the zipper eases like water when Syndy pulls it up. I take a little bit longer than I need to with the belt, trying to push of turning around.

There’s a chorus of ‘com’on then’ and ‘let us see’ and a lot of other positive and hopeful and excited requests. I turn around slowly, my eyes unable to reach any of theirs.

“Oh, Candi!” Marie is standing now, ruby-nailed hands folded over her chest. Head slightly shaking, smile wide, “Look at you!”

Wanting to defend myself and my choices, my hand goes straight for my loose ponytail “I mean… my hair’s not even done yet.”

Sydny actually is a bit teary-eyed as she swished her hand. “Oh shush! You could wear your hair natural and you’d still look… just….”

“So perfectly you,” Allie finishes.

“Seriously, lady,” Jules points a finger, “that dress looks like it was made for you! And you and Clark? Oh goodness, I can’t! You two are going to look like you came straight from a fifties sock-hop and it’s going to be show-stopping.”

“It’s going to be legend….”

“Wait for it…”

“‘Dary!”

And we all break down in a fit of giggles. Jonah and I hadn’t been able to keep our love for How I Met Your Mother to ourselves and the girls had instantly fallen in love with Neil Patrick Harris’s character, Barney Stinson. And if they’re using such a quote, I know they mean it.

This whole night is going to be legendary; I can feel it in my bones.


*


Justin had come in a shiny black sedan (with driver) for Jonah first, then the limo picked up the rest of the boys before heading to pick up the rest of the girls. I, however, was waiting for the all clear, to take the Datsun over to pick up Candice (letting us have a moment alone, a moment to ourselves).

I hadn’t questioned Jonah when he instructed my outfit to be: “Keep the slacks, keep the shirt, keep the tie… but no jacket,” then he tossed me quality suspenders and said, “and add these.” The suspenders made me cock a brow, but he waved his hand “Trust me,” and as he walked down the hall he hollered “and don’t forget to roll up your sleeves!”

Looking in the mirror for one last look, though, I can’t up but wonder. Sort of looking like I should be going to a speakeasy or home from World War II, I’m not quite sure how this fits in to the ‘Romance Under The Stars’ theme for Prom. Really, having seen all my friends and even my little brother dressed in dark suites or rented black tuxes, I feel a bit underdressed.

With a deep breath I know Jonah promised that I’d match Candice. So, if I looked like I could go back in time and no one would be the wiser, so must she.

At the concept, my heart picks up tempo, the smile on my lips broadening enough for a faint shadow of dimples. This is coming from the couple that had vintage cars, an antique necklace, and a love for classic literature. Not people who use it for a gimmick, but just naturally are drawn to those things. Maybe because we’re both hopelessly romantic, maybe because we value hard work, maybe we cause we both feel a kinship to those things that are now a bit atypical and unusual….

Excitement level over nine thousand, my internal clock about to turn from nineteen ninety-nine to two thousand, there’s not a drop of doubt or worry as I carefully place a bouquet of daises into the passenger seat and then make my way over to her house. We still have plenty of time to start the night, get some pictures, grab a bite to eat at Panera (as Candice very specifically and passionately requested, especially after I suggested a group dinner at Jardin’s), and meet everyone just outside of the hotel.

Car parked, flowers in hand, deep breath. I’ve never known myself to be a nervous person, but my stomach is tumbling. If all our years together mean anything, the butterfly effect of Candice is not going away any time soon.

I can hear some kind of commotion behind the door, some half-hearted yelling, when I wrap my knuckles again the wood.

Almost instantly the door moves away from me, Candice slipping into a sliver of space by the frame. “Hey,” she heaves a sign that sounds like a mix between anguish and relief. “Uh… could you, maybe, wait a second?”

“What’s wrong?”

I can’t even take the moment to look at how beautiful she is, my concern for her taking alpha position. In response, she closes her eyes and nods, then swings open the door.

The first thing I see are boxes lining the hall. Some still folded, leaning against the wall, others taped haphazardly, some still open with an array of things sticking out. The second thing I see if a very angry Mister Robinson with a face of a man at the end of his rope. And last, but surely not lease, I see Candice’s mom coming in the hall with arm full of cookbooks.

“Oh, C.J.!” her voice as happy as can be. “Long time no see, huh?” she smiles like nothing has changed.

Smiling like she didn’t break up her marriage. Smiling like she didn’t abandon her daughter. Smiling like she had no care in the world.




Twenty Eight


Down the path from the main conference hall, Clark and I have found a couple of benches in a make-shift garden hidden away by hedges. Trying desperately to get the evening back on track, after Dad promised to put my flowers in some water and we got the fuck out and went to Panera. In a little booth in the corner, we slowly made our way through the shark-infested waters that was my mom’s unannounced arrival. Trying not to completely lose my cool, trying not to completely ruin the night, the conversation was paced. Now though, having already parked the car and met with everyone, we have to get this wrapped up or the whole night is tarnished.

“She thought this weekend of all weekends would be ‘just perfect’,” I throw up air quotes, “to come get the rest of her stuff…. Something about getting to see me before Prom, which is some bull shit, really; her trying to act like a proper Mom who cares, rather than how she really sees it. How the important part here actually is how I’ll be busy this weekend what with Prom and then the party and then spending the night and the meet up at the lake tomorrow and brunch on Sunday….” I sigh, hoping none of this amazing weekend will be tainted, (because, honestly, I don’t deserve that).

“Anyway, she just put up this façade of caring but after, like, fifteen minutes her attention was already drawn to moving out.” As I sit back, I feel the cold planks of the bench across my skin. “This is a her thing though… not an us thing, not a family thing, not a me thing. This is her and really, it’s not something I want to deal with right now.”

After a moment, Clark nods. “I think that’s smart.”

Having expected more of a ‘we should really talk this out’ push back, I eye him carefully. “Yeah?”

He shrugs, breathing in deeply through his nose. His eyes drift to the starry sky above us. “Yeah. Like you said, it’s a her thing.” His blue eyes meet mine and there’s a subtle smirk, “You know what’s a you thing though? Being my date to Prom.”

A little teary, my smile spreads through my whole face, my eyes even squinting a little. “Mister Clark, I think you’re right.”

He stands, offering an arm. “How about it then, Miss Candice, shall we?”


*


Though Sanderson High is technically a public school, it’s what most say is ‘full of rich snobs’. A lot of kids with parents who work in D.C. or have a home base here by travel around, there are not a lot of kids who want for much or need anything. Actually, Candice and my neighborhood is on the poorer end (meaning no gate or security which is one of the reasons parties are so easy and fun to have). That being said, with a Prom in a hotel ballroom usually reserved for wedding receptions, with a theme of ‘Romance Under The Stars’, I really shouldn’t have been surprised when it felt like we stepped into a movie set.