I laughed back then. It’s strange to remember.
I was gathering my books for first period when my friends swarmed me at my locker. They chatted away about prom, gossiping about who was going with who, who asked who, and the leftovers who should be paired up.
Emma was going with Jared.
Tonya was going with William, who was also in acapella.
Valeska was going with Hunter, who didn’t do much of anything but play video games and post fights on his Facebook page.
Courtney was going with Blaine, who was literally one of the funniest people I knew.
As for me, I was in a leftover.
They were busy, busy bodies, talking loudly, laughing. I became giddy myself, pulled into their contagious excitement. We walked towards first period when Valeska asked me who I was going with. The next thing I knew, I was being spun from one friend to the next as they tossed me around by my shoulders. They started singing a song – pretending it was spontaneous – “Oh, Sam! Oh, Sam! You’re such a man! You’re the man for Sarah!”
They threw their hands out. That was my cue. I sang, “Sam! Won’t you take me to prom?” with an expression of dramatic longing. It was ridiculous. We burst out laughing, even as the students around us rolled their eyes or shimmied past to avoid us.
I promise, we weren’t always so obnoxious or theatrical. But prom was coming up. Our acapella competition was just weeks away. And we were teenage girls in our senior year. We were having the time of our lives.
The bell rang a second time. My girlfriends waved their way to class while Emma and I walked together towards American History. Emma was pleased with herself, grinning away, books pinned to her chest. She was the one who had orchestrated the grand spectacle I’d just been a victim of. Emma went on to talk about all the rumors she’d heard recently, the mounting evidence that Sam would be asking me any day. Sam had been talking to his friends – who were friends with her friends – and Sam had told those friends that he was finally going to ask a girl to prom.
“That doesn’t mean it’s me,” I said.
“Oh, please,” Emma said dismissively. She then began counting out the facts. “First of all, it’s a girl that Sam has had a crush on for years. Second, he has a lot of the same classes with her. Third, she’s pretty. Fourth, she’s someone he admires.” She tilted her eyes at me each time.
“And! It’s obviously you!”
“Obviously,” I said, returning her eye roll.
“Who says I even want to go with Sam?”
Emma spun in frustration, the green dyed streak of her holiday colored-hair tossed around before resetting at the corner of her brow. “Sarah, you are the worst liar! You’re still blushing,” she said as final proof.
“Of course I’m blushing, after that show you just threw at me in the hall.”
“You loved it.”
“Not even a little?” she pretended to pout.
“Maybe a little.”
“Just a little?”
“Then why are you smiling?”
“I smile when I’m embarrassed. It’s my worst character flaw,” I said, teasing.
“Your worst flaw of all!” Emma twirled in front of me. “And Sam is going to ask you. I swear it! And you want him to!”
My smile gave me away.
Emma was right. I did want Sam to ask me. Sam was the only one I wanted to ask me. But I shook my head. “I don’t even care.” I didn’t want to get my hopes up.
“Sarah,” was all Emma said with a smile, knowing better.
We walked into class. Class had kind of started, which meant kids were still sitting on desks and talking, while Mr. Turcotte scratched out some notes on the blackboard. He turned and greeted, “Ladies, thank you for joining us.”
“Good morning, Mr. Turcotte. Sorry we’re late.”
Mr. Turcotte brushed aside any possible excuses. “Take a seat, Ladies.”
Emma and I sat in our usual spots. Emma continued her attempts to torture me playfully, humming her Sam song. I pretended not to notice. Mr. Turcotte hushed the room, turning around and lowering his hands like a maestro regaining the focus of his preoccupied orchestra. Somebody snapped their gum. Mr. Turcotte cleared his throat and began disclosing specific details regarding our upcoming test, beginning with his favorite ominous caution, “be ready for anything, Folks.”
But I was thinking of other things.
I was thinking of prom.
And I was thinking of.
Sam and I had been friends ever since grade school, back when we didn’t even notice things like being a boy and a girl. We liked each other, sure. But we also enjoyed our own drama-free friendship. All around us was plenty of evidence of friendships had ruined by a short-term relationship, which became an awkward breakup, which then became cold-shouldered attempts to avoid each other and teary-eyed class attendance. We had seen the warning signs. Do not cross! Friendship at risk!
But there was something more than just friendship between us. There were subtle hints. A touch of hand. A brush of body. A look. A tease.
Now, Sam was going to ask me to prom – according to Emma. It became an easy obsession in the middle of American History, as Emma’s song and Emma’s comments opened doors I had kept readily and cautiously closed.
When he would ask. How would he ask? Would there be people around or would he try to keep it secretive and special? What would I wear to prom? Would we make sure we matched in subtle ways or just decide on our own what we would wear? Would we go with his friends or with mine?
Would we share our first kiss during prom? Maybe after? Would he kiss me in a nervous sort of way, rushing through in a floppy-lipped fit of nerves? Or would he take his time, letting me know he’d wanted to kiss me for years? My stomach fluttered more and more with each question.
American History ended and Emma commented, “May want to ease up on that blush, Sarah.”
“It’s not –”
Emma laughed, spinning excitedly. “Oh, I know it’s not!” Then she skipped away.
The rest of the day came and went. I don’t remember if I saw Sam or not. I don’t remember being the focus of any more dramatic antics from friends. Those things didn’t matter as much as I thought they did. My memories of those days come and go in pieces, bearing less and less significance with time. But I remember that night.
My mother had come home early from work, which was a wonderful change. We finished our evening with a movie, cozied up together under one big blanket, knees tucked to our chests. We chatted through the scenes, and soon, an autumn nostalgia took us over. I said, “Dad loved October.” My mother said, “Yes, he did.” We reminisced through memories of my dad, beginning with October, and working our way through Thanksgiving and Christmas, spring and summer, birthdays and stories we were suddenly reminded of, back when he was ours and we were his. I loved listening to my mother. She made it sound as though my father would return home any minute to tease us about our movie before heading off to shower. The movie finished. We said our good nights.
I opened my bedroom door to find my bedroom freezing, like I had stepped into a refrigerator. I had left the window open for hours as an open invitation to the cold. I loved sleeping beneath the pre-winter air, stuffed under layers of thick blankets. I didn’t realize just how cold out it had gotten. It was wintry. I pulled on fuzzy socks and an old gray sweatshirt, and snuggled into bed, my nose chilled. I gazed out absently through my open window at the quiet sights of night as the heat of my body slowly warmed me.
The window went suddenly black. The outside world vanished. I tilted my head. But the window was like a thick shadow. I got up from my bed and walked through the icy darkness. But when I stopped in front of the window, I still couldn’t see through, though cold air was pouring in. I swiped my hand across the blackness. My fingers brushed through hair.
I clutched my hand to my chest. Then the hair moved in a streaming flow, as though someone had stepped away. Then it was gone. An inflated Charlie Brown and Snoopy were outside, dressed for Halloween. Orange lights were strung in decoration from our neighbor’s tree. I slammed the window shut. I crawled back into bed, keeping my wary eyes on the window, tossing around ideas on what had happened, wondering if what had happened had happened at all. By the time I fell asleep, I had convinced myself that what I had touched had been something other than hair.
In the morning, when I found a single strand of long black hair on the floor by my bed, I told myself it was mine.