Monday morning’s alarm buzzed like it did each weekday at 5:45am. This time, it felt way too early. My brain was foggy. My eyes burned. I yawned my way through the morning routine, shuffling around sluggishly as I got myself ready, fumbling up my things before saying goodbye to my mom. I was adamant about forgetting the dream and the hair. I had other things to think about. Things that mattered. Things that were real.
In American History, Emma nudged me. “Did he ask you yet, or nah?”
“Who?” I asked, copying notes.
“No,” I said. “I thought he’d call this weekend, but he never did.”
“I know he was at some party. He’s been hanging out with Mark like all the time. Mark’s always doing something on the weekends, so Sam is too. Maybe Sam should ask Mark to go to prom.”
I laughed. Then yawned. “It’s so weird, Sam never mentions him, and when I ask about the parties, he just blows them off like they’re no big deal or like he didn’t want to go.”
“Maybe you don’t know him as well as you think you do,” Emma commented.
“We’ve known each other for years.”
“People change though.”
“Why are you bringing all this up anyway?”
“Just am. Just talking.”
I smiled. “You do love talking.”
“You still hope he asks you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“You’re such a bad liar!”
“Ladies!” Mr. Turcotte interrupted. “That is enough. You may chatter and gossip on your own time.”
“Yes, Mr. Turcotte.”
“May I continue with my class?”
“Yes, Mr. Turcotte.”
Emma and I resumed our note taking. Emma nudged me one more time. I nudged her right back.
The lunch bell eventually rang. I scooped up my things and walked with Emma towards our lockers. Before we went our separate ways, Emma said, “Valeska heard that Sam was going to ask a girl today. Have fun.” She winked and twirled away.
Her comment wrecked my nerves. As I walked into the busy cafeteria, it felt like I was walking for the first time – or at least being graded on how well I was putting my left foot in front of my right, and I made every effort to be sure not to trip or do something stupid. In preparation for seeing Sam, I gave myself reminders. It’s just lunch. You’ve sat with Sam a bunch of times. If he asks you, then you’ll say yes, and you’ll still be friends. If he doesn’t ask, so what? You just want to be friends anyway. Being friends is what matters most. Right foot. Left foot. Good.
I sat at a circular green table in the back corner, waiting for Sam to join me. I saw him in line with Mark. I wondered if Sam would notice me. I dreaded the idea that he would choose to sit with Mark over me. Sam glanced at me and waved. I waved back and smiled. After Sam paid for his lunch, he said something to Mark and Mark went to sit with some other friends. Sam then dropped down next to me with a smile and a “hey.”
He was wearing cologne.
Sam never wore cologne. It was mixing in with the smells of the cafeteria – green beans and sloppy Joes and sanitizer spray. It was adorable. He was wearing cologne for me. I readjusted my hair behind my ears, trying to act casual. My stomach was crazy nervous.
I turned and smiled (but not too big). “Hey.”
“How was your weekend?” Sam asked, working to keep his Sloppy Joe together.
“It was good. Yours?”
“I wanted to go to that party at Hunter’s house,” he said. “Mark said it was going to be lit, but instead, I spent the whole weekend studying and working on papers. Exciting, right? I had no choice though. We’re getting killed with exams next week. Plus, I still have to write two essays for college applications. I hate writing those things. You want to tell them all about your accomplishments and how great of an applicant you are, but you don’t want to sound like you’re bragging or nothing. Know what I mean?”
“Did you send in your essays yet?” he asked.
“Yep. I finished a few of them over the weekend.”
“Sounds like your weekend was as exciting as mine.”
I laughed. “Yep.” Then I said, “I kind of thought you’d call last night,” immediately regretting that I did.
“Yeah.” He got quiet. I thought maybe he was trying to find the perfect moment to ask me to prom, or maybe he was nervous because there were so many people around. I wondered if I should ask him. A lot of that whole “boy asks girl” thing was gone (Emma had asked Jared), but being raised traditional was crippling me at that moment.
Thinking it was my perfect chance, I said, “Emma wouldn’t stop talking about prom this morning. She’s so crazy.”
That’s when it was supposed to happen. The cafeteria was supposed to go silent. All eyes turned to us in expectation. And Sam was to ask, “Sarah, will you go to prom with me?”
Okay, maybe not that dramatic. But something close.
“Yeah. About that. You know,” he said. “Prom is so overrated.”
But I didn’t know. And I didn’t like where the conversation was going. “I know, right?”
Fiddling with his green beans, Sam wouldn’t look at me. “Yeah, it’s overrated. And it’s no big deal or anything. But I think I’m going to ask Destiny to go with me.”
It was a slap in the face. “Oh.”
“What do you think? Should I ask her? You’ve always been a good friend, so I need you to tell me the truth.”
I had no idea what to say. Always a good friend. Isn’t that what mattered most to me. I suddenly realized just how much I’d been lying to myself about the whole our friendship is more important thing. Sam was the one who had been maintaining our friendship. I was the one pretending to. Now he was asking me – as a friend – if he should ask Destiny. Because that’s what friends do.
“You should definitely ask her. She’s beautiful.”
“I know.” He smiled, remembering a moment that had not involved me.
I felt so stupid. Like the stupidest girl in the whole school. I wanted to crawl under the table to hide, stick myself there with all the dried-up gum on the bottom of the table. “Yeah, and prom is overrated anyway, like, it’s no big deal.”
Sam started to unwind. I had done what a good friend should do and encouraged him. He began talking openly and excitedly about Destiny (are teenage boys always so oblivious?). “I’ve always liked her. But she’s so hard to read, you know, with how quiet she can be. But she’s hot. Anyway, I’ve liked her since she moved here back in sixth grade. Remember when she did? All the boys liked her. Especially me. But I saw how beautiful she really was, you know, like who she was deep down. And now, we’re all going to graduate soon, and if I don’t ask her, I’ll regret it the rest of my life. You know, our lives are about small choices. That’s what I read yesterday on my Facebook page. Well, not my page, but Amy’s. I felt like it was put there for me. A message or something. I know if I don’t ask her, I’ll regret it. Besides, what’s the worst that can happen? She could say, ‘no,’ sure. But it’s okay if she does. And she’s cool, so I don’t think it would weird her out or anything. But I think she’ll say yes. What do you think? Do you really think I should ask her?”
It took me a moment to realize he’d finally included me in the conversation. But I was still too stunned. “Oh,” I said.
He laughed. “’Oh?’ Really? That’s the most intelligent thing you can say right now? Is that all you have to offer? ’Oh.’”
“Sorry.” I began placing my unopened yogurt and uneaten sandwich back into my lunch bag.
“But really, do you think I should ask her?”
“Yeah. Sure. Definitely.”
I couldn’t look at him anymore. I held back the tears that were ready to come spilling out. And as he continued on about Destiny, all I kept thinking was, I thought you were going to ask me.
I could tell that he needed another prod of assurance. “You should ask her. She’d be stupid to say, ‘no.’”
“I needed that.” He smiled and winked. “Thanks.”
I told Sam I was going to go to class early to talk to the teacher about a project.
“You didn’t eat anything,” he commented. I was surprised he noticed anything about me at all.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Yeah, that’s what I figured. You’re acting weird.”
“Sorry for acting weird.”
“It’s fine. I just hope you’re not getting sick because I don’t want you to get me sick. I need to be at my best when I ask Destiny.”
“Because it’s my destiny to be with Destiny.” He smirked at his own stupid comment. I wanted to gag, but smiled instead. I walked away, dropping my lunch bag into the trash as I left the cafeteria.
There was no song in me that day. After school, I told Ms. Milsom, our acapella coach, that I couldn’t stay for practice because I was feeling sick. She gave me tips on how to take care of myself so that I didn’t dehydrate or damage my voice. Then she reminded me that we had a concert in two weeks and I had to be at my best. I had the lead part. Everyone was counting on me. I told her I’d be ready. Then I went home to take a nap and sleep the sadness away.
I can remember the vivid details of my conversation with Sam. Not because it still hurts. Not because prom was some drama I never got over. I think deep down, I always hoped I could return to that moment and somehow change how things eventually turned out. You see, I never went to prom. No one asked me to go. Not because I was shy. Not because I wasn’t pretty. But because by the time prom came, I had lost my mind.