THE NIGHT OF PROM
"I’m not getting in the car,” I said, eyes shut and nose raised to the sky. All night, Dakota was lip locked with secrecy and averting every question with jokes, making it hard for me to unearth the plans he had set for us. I still had an inkling that he was going to drive me to Crescent High’s prom. But I kept brushing that off as possible, given that he promised me he wasn’t. Even though Finn hasn’t been in Crescent High for a month, finishing off his senior year at a continuation school just like Beth and Carmen, I still didn’t have an interest in going to Crescent High.
“Tell me, Dakota,” I demanded. I was keeping my guard up. “You told me to dress formal, and I did. Now, tell me, why do I have to dress this nice if we aren’t going to prom?”
“I’m not going to tell you. What fun would that be?” He went in front of me, opening the car door and gesturing me for to go inside. I didn’t move. “We have to get there on time or they’re going to be mad.”
“They?” I echoed. “So, we’re meeting up with people?”
He over-dramatically gasped, putting his hand to his mouth. “I said too much.”
“You haven’t said enough.”
His shoulders slumped. “Please, Silvia. Can you get in the car? Don’t you trust me?”
I muffled a reply, kicking my skirt up and going into the passenger seat. The more we fought over this, the more times would be lost. Dakota’s punctuality was a trait I didn’t share and knew how much he cherished. For that reason, I got in to the car and buckled up for the ride. I didn’t have enough fight in me. I was anxious—the good kind. Elation, coupled with my nerves, simmered in my veins as we drove to our destination. I wanted Dakota to give me more hints, but he held off my attempts with music. He flipped on the radio, turning it up loud enough to where he couldn’t hear me.
The pop song that rang through the air, in a way, chilled my nervousness while we drove with our windows down, speeding up California highway. I wasn’t in the mood to turn it off and grill Dakota for more answers. He wasn’t going to tell me anything.
“Wait,” Dakota shouted and pointed to the glove compartment, motioning for me to grab at it. I opened it and a cassette tape fell out. “Put it in.”
I removed it out of its case, smiling to see that it was a duplicate of the tapes he made for my birthday. The index card matched the mixtape for ‘For When You Forget How Much I Love You.’ With a grin frozen on my face, I popped it in and pressed play. Dakota’s eyes hit mine, screaming-singing the opening song, gripping my thigh the entire time. I threw my head back, laughing at the way he was making himself sound horrible despite knowing how to sing. I wanted to so desperately press pause on this fun time with the two of us living our lives—loving life without considering how we had a little less than a month together. My soaring heart dipped, devastated at the number of days that meant we had. Out of habit, I began to count. But I didn’t let the fear fester into a beast bigger than itself. I pushed it down and joined along to Dakota’s bad singing, shouting the lyrics.
Dakota’s car exited the highway, entering a town I didn’t recognize the name of. We were closer to the mountains, acting as a shield against the setting sun. The sky melted in to a blissful twilight, coloring the glass on buildings with a brush of fuchsia. Dakota lowered the volume of the music, entering a dirt path that led up to the mountains.
“This looks like the beginning of a horror movie,” I murmured, sticking my head out of the car. We were going uphill, riding up a gravel road that was lined by thin trees. “Wow, it smells really different here.”
“Yeah, once you get out of Los Angeles County, the air is better.”
“Because it doesn’t wreak of weed, car emission, and piss.”
“You perfectly described the smell of Los Angeles.”
I coughed, closing my window. “I think I swallowed a bug.”
Dakota laughed. “I can’t take you anywhere.”
I swatted his arm, “Hey, I’m not use to nature. I can’t even be bothered to know the right names for some fruits and vegetables. I bet most people from my generation doesn’t know the difference between a cucumber and a zucchini.”
“Sometimes I forgot how embarrassing you can be.”
I scoffed. “Oh, since when did you become the president of the mother nature club?”
“Knowing the difference between a cucumber and a zucchini doesn’t make me president of anything. Just makes me a human with working eyes. The tip of a zucchini isn’t even the same. And when it comes to mother nature, I know a few things because I used to go camping with my dad.” Dakota’s voice didn’t darken, nor did it falter. This was a change from how he usually talked about his father. I was hoping he had gotten to a point of reconciliation with him. I prayed for that so Dakota could have some type of peace in his life. “He would take my siblings up to a few forest reserves throughout California. But the trips were usually cut short.”
“He’d get too drunk while on trips and we’d have to call my mother to come pick us up.”
I frowned. “It happened that often?”
“Not so much when we were much younger.” Dakota nodded, as though recalling a particular memory. He looked in the distance with narrowed as, focusing in on it with silence till speaking again—much softer in tone. “I haven’t been able to forgive him for fucking up my childhood with his addiction. Yet, I know I can’t hold on to that forever. I can’t manage that much sadness. I have to get to a point where I can accept what he did and realize how he must’ve been going through things of his own—beyond the marriage and his family. It’s crazy how what he did, or rather didn’t do as a dad, has affected how I am now more than I would’ve liked to acknowledge before.”
“I have to tell myself that with my mother.”
“Your mother ruined your childhood. I don’t know how you can invite her back in.”
“I’m working on it,” I sighed, “Mostly because she’s trying.”
“It doesn’t mean she’s deserving of a second chance.”
“She did contact you when she knew Jared was on the way,” I reminded him, pointing my finger. “She would’ve been there herself if she wasn’t in San Diego.”
“I suppose,” he puffed. “But be careful is all I’m saying. Don’t get your hopes up.”
“I’m....” I trailed off, gaping at the scene before me, driving into a camping ground that had been transformed. Under the canopy, twinkling white lights were draped over the heads of well-dressed teens, chatting amongst themselves with clear plastic cups. Music played from an unknown source. I hadn’t pinpointed it yet, but it was roaringly loud, playing an R&B song that had the dance floor swaying to a soft tempo.
“What is this?” I breathed, zipping my gaze back and forth between Dakota and the people enjoying themselves behind my window. I spotted Ronnie in the far corner, handing out drinks to a couple dressed in matching shades of red.
My door opened. I peered up, finding Dakota with his hand extended to me. “I’m not sure what I’m looking at...”
“It’s your prom.”
“I don’t get it.” I took his hand regardless, stepping out of the car. “You pulled this off?”
“Not on my own.” He motioned to where Ronnie was standing. “Ronnie, Hunter, and Heath did a lot to make this happen. I told you I wanted to experience prom with you, and I meant that, Silvia. I knew you didn’t want to go to Crescent High’s prom because of the people who would be there. I understand that. So, I made a prom of our own.”
“Hunter? Hunter helped you?” I was in a state of bewilderment. I didn’t know they were talking. “Is he here?”
“No. Other than Heath and Ronnie, there aren’t any Crescent student’s here. Everyone here goes to Boulder Valley High. Heath and I contacted some of our friends from there and invited them to join us.”
“Hunter didn’t want to come?”
“He didn’t think he should come since this was made to avoid the people he hangs out with. Pierson is best friend, after all. He thought it would be better if he stuck with his plans at Crescent High.”
“That’s smart of him. I don’t want to hang with him.” I admitted, shocking Dakota with how confident my response was. “It’s nothing against him...actually, it is.”
He smirked. “Yeah, it’s hard to look at him the same after everything.”
“It really is. But I’m happy that he’s putting in the effort to be now.”
“Yeah, he definitely is. I appreciate with the way he’s working on his relationship with my family. I think my mom’s starting to warm up to him, too.”
“No,” he laughed, “I’m just saying that to speak it into existence. Hope she does. Once I’m gone, she’s going to have to deal with him more than before. For Ophelia’s sake, I think she will.”
“Once you’re gone...” I croaked. “Don’t remind me.”
Dakota brought my hand to his lips, kissing it softly. “I’m sorry, I won’t. Let’s go. The people are waiting their queen.”
“You’re kidding me.” I groaned, “You’re not involving the silly queen and king aspect.”
“It wouldn’t be prom without it,” he mused, walking us to the dance floor and dropping another kiss to the back of my hand, keeping his mouth on my knuckles. He released my hand for a second only to reach for it again, pulling me in to his chest for a slow, intimate dance.
Three songs later, my legs were killing me and Ronnie swooped in to the rescue, looping her arm around me. “I got you a drink.”
I eyed her before sipping it. “There won’t be any surprises in it, right?”
She took it out of my hand. “Well, in that case, I’ll get you a different drink.”
“I’ll take a water.”
“Want a pacifier with that water?”
I flipped her the middle finger, sticking my tongue at her remark. I wasn’t in the right mind to drink. I wanted to remember this night in great detail. This was important. I didn’t know when a time like this would happen again. Gabe scurried up to us, holding a camera.
“Can I take a photo of you two?”
“Sure,” I jumped gleefully, yanking Dakota with me. He walked us to the back drop set up next to bringing of the gravel path. Gabe gave us advice on how to stand, reminding Dakota to smile more before taking the picture. He let us see the picture and I’m not stunned that Dakota is emotionless on film, pinching him when I notice he didn’t take Gabe’s words in to consideration.
“I’m having a great night,” I said to Dakota. We were off to the side of the road now, closer to the trees. He had his back to the bark, holding me. “Thank you for this.”
He ducked down to sweep his lips to my cheek. I nuzzled my face in the crook of his arm, swaying to the song and trapped in a daze by the tantalizing aroma of his cologne. “I am, too. Now are you glad I didn’t tell you where we were going?”
“I am. It was worth it.” I answered. “It makes the bitter taste bittersweet.”
“Bitter?” I felt his body jerk. “Why would you be feeling bitter at a time like this?”
“You know why Dakota. I don’t have to tell you.”
“Obviously, I don’t. What are you talking about Silvia?”
“Graduation was earlier this week, Dakota. You know what that entails. College. The inevitable fall out of this relationship...”
He maneuvered me around, no longer resting my back in to his chest, and faced me with somber eyes that looked to be edging close to complete devastation. “That’s not going to happen.”
“You can continuously say that all you want, Dakota. But maintaining a long-distance relationship isn’t easy.”
“I’m going to college in New York, too.”
“But in New York City. I’ll be closer to Canada than to you. There’s a four-hour drive between us.”
He shook his head. “I’m not going to Columbia anymore. I know the principal said Columbia the graduation when we were all filing in to the stands, but that’s a dated piece of information.”
“I’m not going there anymore, Silvia. I’m going to Cornell. That mean’s I’ll be an hour away from you. And since I’ve made that change, I won’t be leaving to New York early in the summer. I know I should’ve told you sooner, but I knew what kind of reaction you would have about the change, so I didn’t. I wanted to wait till after graduation.”
“You can’t do that, Dakota. You shouldn’t have changed colleges for me.”
He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I knew you’d say that.”
“It’s a great school. You can’t change your future because of me.”
“You are my future.”
“Dakota...” I backed up from him. “I’m not going to let you do this—”
“It’s already been done, Silvia.”
I sighed. There was way of fixing what had been done before without me knowing. I wanted to scream at Dakota for altering his educational route, but no part of me could gain the strength to do such a thing. “Because you did that doesn’t mean it’s solidified this relationship in stone. There’s still a possibility of us breaking up and you to find someone else at that college and—”
“And a possibility of us breaking up and me finding someone else at my college and falling in love with them.”
“I’d wait for you,” he whispered, not throwing up a wall to hide how hurt the idea was. I saw it all, pain flourishing in the depths of his blue eyes. “It’s not a scenario I want to think of, but I have every desire to wait for you to open your eyes and see what I do. I risked my life for you, Silvia, when I walked in to that house with Jared. And anytime I think about that day, I know with every bone in my body that I would risk my life again for you. Every time. There’s a quote I heard long ago, I can’t remember who said it now, but it means so much more to me now. It makes sense.”
“What was it?”
“That if you don’t have anything to die for, then you have nothing to live for. And I’ve found what that is. It’s you.”
“Martin Luther King Jr,” I recalled. “That’s who said it.”
“Hmm, never heard of him,” he said smugly, “is he a rapper?”
“Yeah, he has a fire mixtape titled ‘Dream.’ It’s full of bops. You should check it out.”
“You’re so lame.” His face fell to his hand, muffling a laugh. “I know who he is.”
“Oh really? You could’ve fooled me,” I hooted. “I hope you sense my sarcasm.”
A clap of thunder, far in the distance, startled the partygoers and eased me out of my conversation with Dakota. In the matter of minutes, the serene nature of our prom turned in to mayhem with the intense introduction of torrential downpour sweeping away our festivity. Dakota handed me his blazer to help shield away the rain, inching on to my tiptoes so the heel of my shoes won’t dig in to the wet dirt. I hurled myself in to the passenger seat of Dakota’s car, tossing his coat to the back. Ronnie, Gabe, and Heath funneled in to car as well.
“You did all of this planning but didn’t think far enough to check the weather?” I asked.
“It’s California.” Dakota shouted, putting the keys in to the ignition and twisting it to cause the engine to roar. “Before last year, it didn’t rain for six-hundred years.”
His exaggeration wasn’t working on me, it only made me roll my eyes even more. “A quick weather search beforehand could’ve saved you from this. That’s all I’m saying. I check the forecast every morning.”
“I’m sorry, I should’ve.”
“It’s fine,” I said soothingly, touching his wrist. “I had a good time while it lasted.”
“No, this isn’t over. I’m not letting some rain ruin our night,” Heath announced from the back. He had his phone out, typing away with frantic fingers. “Everyone’s been messaging me since the rain started.”
“What are they saying?” Dakota questioned.
“They said they’re heading over to a pizza place off the highway, north of Everson Street. I’ll send you the address.” He looked over at Ronnie. “You in the mood for pizza?”
“I’m in the mood for anything to get me out of this shitty rain,” she chattered.
When we got to the location, the place was packed with people. Attached to the restaurant, there was an arcade, populated with kids running in and out with colorful tickets that stretched to the checked floor. The Boulder Valley students who came to join us here had waited for us to arrive to go inside, storming the inside of the restaurant as the largest singular group there. We entered, stomping off the rain, and joking amongst ourselves about our bad fortune when we caught the attention of the people enjoying their meal. My face felt hot from all the gazes stuck on us.
With all of these eyes on us, I couldn’t concentrate on my next step. “They’re looking at us.”
Dakota’s finger hooked my chin, making me to look up at him and touched his lips with mine. I savored the kiss only for a second. He retracted, looking back at me with a beautiful smile, and said the same words he’d said months ago in the same tone, form, and fashion. “They’re staring at you. I know I would be too if I were them.”
Here I was, swept up by the words that work on me like a charm. I’m unlocked under his gaze, but I didn’t let the feeling latch on anything for too long. I loved Dakota, and I knew that no matter what happened in college that we would always have the moments we made in Crescent Heights--the good and bad, they would be remembered. If we didn’t end up with a beautiful house full of kids, I wouldn’t regret what we had and how much it changed me.
At the end of it all, I would still go down the path of trying tirelessly disarming the boy who promised me a special place in hell next him. I would subject myself to our phase of dismissal, hurting internally and missing him for weeks. I would do it over again just in the hopes of getting to this moment in time. To the point where I could reach out and hold on to his hand under the table in the busy, bustling restaurant with my eyes only seeing him and feeling nothing but love.
“You never told me.” I nudged Dakota. “What is it you’re going to be doing in New York?”
“You mean other than pissing you off?” he grinned. “Annoying you is a full time job. I can’t slip up on that. It’s at the top of my list of priorities.”
I prodded him with my elbow, laughing at his remark and thinking of how many antics he’ll be up to in the Northeast. Dakota would be a handful. I couldn’t wait to see where it would take us.
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