“So, in the end, the Roman Empire crumbled into oblivion, but not before leaving behind some of the most influential systems in history.” Mr. Chapman kicked his feet forward and back, sitting on the edge of his desk.
The bell rang, and he nodded, watching as everyone packed their bags. “No homework this weekend. Have fun, dance your hearts out at prom, and be ready on Monday to start our reviews for the end of the year finals.”
Everyone groaned. Me? I personally paid zero attention to any of it. As a senior, we all felt the same way. We couldn’t wait to graduate. My reasons weren’t because I yearned to take flight and go off to college where I would drink too much, almost fail out, find redemption, and eat nine hundred pizza rolls made in a toaster oven hidden in my dorm closet. I was just ready to get far away from all the morons I had spent the last thirteen years avoiding five days a week, eight months out of the year.
I grabbed my books off the desk and held them to my chest as I exited behind everyone else. Mr. Chapman put up his hand as I walked past. I reached up and gave him our usual high five. “You going to prom?”
I rolled my eyes as I turned, backing out of the classroom. “Of course, I am. My parents pretty much have given me zero options. They say I have to experience life. I swear they’re aliens. They want human experiences as if it’s not a normal thing.”
He chuckled as he wiped off the whiteboard. “You never know, it could be an eye-opening experience.”
I snorted as I stopped in the doorway. “Or it could be Carrie. And no one wants to spontaneously combust because of bullying.”
Mr. Chapman laughed as he pulled his worn, brown leather letter bag from the floor. “I’ll be there, and I’ll make sure to bring a fire extinguisher.”
I tapped my nose and pointed at him as I backed the rest of the way out of the classroom. Mr. Chapman was the only cool thing about high school. He liked to teach, and I liked to learn, which immediately made me a target. Of course, not as big of a target as my best friend, Ethan. We weren’t weird, we just weren’t popular…okay, I take that back. We were kind of weird, but we didn’t bother anyone.
Dodging two idiots chasing each other down the hall, I sighed and scooted along the lockers until I got to mine. I opened it up and slid my books inside, pulling out my backpack and jacket. I just had to make it through prom that night, and then I’d have the whole weekend to chill, play Darkened Dominions on Xbox with Ethan, and pretty much do nothing. My parents had some fancy dinner awards thing Saturday night, and Sundays were open to whatever. My dad was usually tinkering in his home lab, and my mother would most likely be at my grandmother’s.
“Hey there prom date,” Ethan said, leaning against the row of lockers, his thumbs tucked into his book bag straps. “You ready for some dancing, spiked punch, and our normal game of who just got knocked up in the back of their limo?”
I glanced up and chuckled. “I already have my money on Lisa Crow.”
He scoffed. “You’ve picked her for every dance since middle school.”
“Hey, it’s bound to happen, so I just go with the odds.”
What? It was true.
The familiar scent of teenage sweat and spray on men’s body spray rolled over me, turning my stomach. Drake Carter walked up behind us, putting his huge arms out, wrapping one over my shoulder and the other over Ethan’s. We both cringed. Drake had been Ethan’s arch-nemesis since he was nine. Before that, they were apparently best friends, but that ended when Drake stopped caring about being an astronaut and started caring about football and “dude stuff.” He was around six-two, muscular, about three of my size in width, with a shaved head, and a constant mischievous smile.
“Lookie what we have here,” he said, pulling us in tight. “Pretty little Clara and her girlfriend, Ethan. Are you two princesses coming to prom tonight, or are you being called back to the home planet?”
I pulled away from him, disgusted. “They were gonna let us go to prom, but they had enough evidence from you and the team that no intelligent life existed here. So, we’re going back early before we catch whatever it is that makes you such a moron.”
His lip twitched, and he slowly looked over at Ethan, who was laughing. He released Ethan from his arm hold and palmed the side of his face, tossing his head into the locker. “Very funny freaks. I’ll make sure I keep an eye out for you tonight.”
He pointed at Ethan and started backing up, letting a smirk curl on his lips. Ethan rubbed his head and sighed, snarling his lip and scrunching his nose as he watched Drake laugh loudly and turn, racing down the hall for the exit. I lifted my brow. “You alright?”
Ethan breathed deeply. “Yeah, but one day, I’m gonna be the hero. I’m going to be the Columbus of this world.”
I narrowed my eyes. “You’re gonna have serious nervous tendencies, survive a zombie apocalypse, and then shoot Bill Murray?”
He pursed his lips, but before he could backtrack, I put up my hand. “Does that make me Woody Harrelson? Because I really do like his style. Personally, I imagined you more of a Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio, wax on, wax off kind of guy.”
Ethan rubbed his chin. “Does that make you Mr. Miyagi?”
I slammed my locker and bowed. “Ahhh, Ethan Son.”
We both laughed. Ethan slung his arm over my shoulder as we headed out of the school to the parking lot. Ethan dodged a football being thrown through the crowd, but I kept walking.
He shook his fist at the guys who threw it and jogged to catch up. “What time am I coming to your parent’s house?”
“Grandma’s house,” I corrected him. “We’re all congregating there so they can embarrass us with photos and that weird squeal my mother lets out anytime she is in mom mode.”
“And voodoo,” Ethan added with a cringe.
I smirked. “You have got to get over that whole fear of my grandmother. She is not a voodoo queen or a witch. She’s just…eccentric. An old hippy.”
He stopped at my car and raised a brow. “Mhmm. It’s all fun and games until I wake up to a horse head in my sheets.”
I threw my bag in the back of the car. “That’s the mafia weirdo.”
“I know, but still, sounds like something creepy that could happen.”
I patted him on the shoulder. “All will be okay, my friend. Maybe she’ll put a spell on Drake, and then we won’t have to avoid him all night.”
Ethan backed up toward his car, parked adjacent to mine. An old hooptie of a thing with about nine Star Wars stickers on the back. “Yeah, maybe she can hook us up. I’ll leave my garlic necklace at home.”
I rolled my eyes. “Vampires, not witches.”
“You can never be too safe,” he said, pointing at me. “I’ll see you at seven.”
Waving my hand, I shut the car door. As I drove away from the high school, I could feel my blood pressure beginning to lower. School stressed me out. But I knew I wasn’t the only one. There was a symbolic connection between adolescence and social gatherings meant to leave a euphoric emotional memory for when you got older. Everybody says you should experience prom, experience graduation, experienced parties, but why? What did it really do for you when you got older? Did it create a framework for success?
My parents never experienced those things. They talked very little about their youth. And though they weren’t the most socially active members of society, they were incredibly successful people. On top of that, they were kind, caring, and moral. In my eyes, becoming an adult wasn’t about looking to the past. Becoming an adult was about looking to the future.
I pulled into the driveway, behind my father’s 1983 Mercedes, a plethora of random bumper stickers on the back. Half of them, I didn’t even think my father understood what they meant, but he danced to the beat of his own drum, the same drum my mother danced to. He was unique, and so was I. At that time, though, I hadn’t realized just how unique I truly was.
“There you are!” My father put his arms in the air as I walked through the door.
He was wearing his regular scrub pants from working in the lab, slip-on clogs, and a T-shirt that looked like a tuxedo jacket with the words, “let’s get this prom going.” I shook my head at him. “Where do you find these shirts? Do you create them yourself? Because I’m going to call the company and tell them not to place any more orders from you.”
My father looked down at his shirt then back at me with his forehead scrunched. Before he could respond, my mother stepped in front of him. “Ignore him. Are you excited? I figured we would leave for your grandmothers in about an hour. That would give you time to grab something to eat, and we can get you all ready.”
I shrugged my shoulders, turning toward the stairs. “I guess. If you’re making me go. I have one piece of homework I have to knock out, and then I’ll grab my stuff and meet you down here.”
My mother stuck out her bottom lip and turned to my father as I headed up the staircase. She slapped him in the chest. “I told you the T-shirt was gonna be too much.”
I chuckled to myself, reaching the top of the steps, and heading into my bedroom. I closed the door and leaned against it, rolling my eyes. The truth was, I didn’t have any homework. I hadn’t had homework in weeks. I always got everything done in class. It all seemed so simple to me. I needed a second, a few moments of alone time with no squawking teenagers, no excited parents, or a frightened best friend. I was preparing myself for something I had dreaded from the moment I entered high school four years before. It was going to be excruciating. It was going to rip at every thread of who I was. It was going to test my real level of bravery and strength.
I had to put on a dress.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I liked to look pretty, but my idea of pretty was not lace and fine linens. It was an awesome T-shirt that I found at a thrift store. It was a badass, post-apocalyptic, leather-clad chick riding a motorcycle through the desert. My idea of pretty was everything I wasn’t. Self-confidence on level one thousand, a hardcore walk, and a soundtrack wherever I went. That was what I pictured to be a badass girl. Instead, my shoelace was pretty much always undone. There was some sort of stain from something I ate that day down the front of my shirt. And my teenage body had curves that didn’t quite fit inside the societal manufacturing size of jeans.
My thighs filled out the legs, but the waist always had a gap. And don’t even get me started on my boobs. Compared to other girls, they were big. For me, the boobs caught food crumbs and stretched out the front of my really awesome video game conference T-shirts. Ethan and I had been going to them since we were thirteen.
Ethan always told me I was “H – double O – TT.” Of course, that spelled hoott, which I always pointed out to him. He then would follow that up with lowering to one knee in front of me, putting out his arms, and singing the word hot at the top of his lungs. He had no shame.
I stood up and dropped my book bag on the floor as I wandered over to my bed and stared down at the dress. It was simple, even though my mom was really obsessed with the super big skirted crazy dresses. The one I had chosen, I felt okay in but only when I imagined myself wearing boots and a gun strapped to my thigh underneath. Of course, the heels next to it on the bed were mocking me. I grabbed the dress and hung it on the back of my door as I shoved the shoes in my bookbag with the makeup kit that my mom had told me if I forgot I would be forced to let my grandmother do my makeup. While I felt like I would look like a clown either way… My grandmother had a slight obsession with hot pink lipstick. That really wasn’t the look I was going for.
I walked over to the window and put my hands on the sill, staring out at the street. It was quiet that day. Almost too quiet, and something stirred inside of me. I didn’t know what it was at the time and chalked it up to nerves over prom that night. Looking back, the surge of energy within my chest and the clouds that began rolling in, covering the crystal blue sky, was something much more than adolescent angst.