I took a peek around the corner and saw my dad at the kitchen counter and my mom sitting in the living room. I took a deep breath and walked up to my mother.
“Hey, Mom. I need to tell you something, but I don’t want you to make a big deal about it, okay?”
My mother looked up from her book. “Is everything okay?” She looked concerned.
“It’s fine. This is good news, but I just want you to stay calm. Please.”
“Oh, okay,” she said, her panic-stricken look turning to surprise.
“I’m going to the freshman school dance tonight. With Simone. If that’s okay with you and Dad.”
Her face lit up and she had to fight from jumping up and doing a cartwheel in the living room.
“Ah yes, yes, of course. How wonderful. Oh honey, I’m so happy…”
I put my hand up. “Mom.”
“Got it,” she said, trying to restrain her joy.
“I’m going to walk to Simone’s house on Arrowhead and pick her up and then we’ll walk to the dance. It’s over by ten. But maybe we can get pizza or ice cream after, if that’s okay.”
“Alright. Well, you have your phone and when the dance is over, just text us so we know the plan.” She gave me the biggest smile I’d seen on her face in forever.
Then she stood up and examined me. She started touching my hair.
“Are you wearing cologne? Let me just fix your hair. Sam! Come out here, please.”
“Mom, my hair’s fine. You’re messing up my look.”
My dad entered the room, wearing an apron.
Mom turned toward my dad. “Jonah’s going to the freshmen school dance with Simone. How do you think he looks? I’m assuming the dance is chaperoned…funny, they didn’t ask for any parent volunteers…are you cooking something Sam?”
“No, why?” Dad asked, looking puzzled.
“Because you’re wearing an apron,” she said, curious.
“There’s no easy way to eat a pomegranate,” he replied.
“Alright, I’m going,” I said.
Then my mom kicked into protective mode. “Okay, have fun. And be careful. You know sometimes…kids do things…in the bathroom. Before the dance, and…”
“What are you talking about, Mom?” I asked, irritated.
“Kids like to get stoned before the dance.” My dad said.
Mom sighed and gave my dad a look.
“What? We did,” he said innocently.
“Well, that was a long time ago and we were seniors, not freshmen.” My mom tried to rationalize.
“I think they vape now.” My dad added.
My mom frowned.
“Alright, I don’t want to hear about the dumb things you guys did in high school. You’re creeping me out. And don’t worry, I’m not going to smoke or drink or take any drugs.” Now I was dying to leave the house.
“Good. Just be careful, that’s all.” My mom said, smiling too much.
“No worries. I’ll text you after the dance.”
My dad started to “floss”. His favorite Fortnite dance move from the insanely popular video game.
And then my mom tried to do the “orange justice” dance move. It wasn’t a half bad imitation, but I would never dare tell her that. It would only encourage her.
“Impress them with your moves!” My dad said, laughing.
I wanted to be annoyed by them, but they were so funny that I laughed too. And as Dr. Evans pointed out, they were trying so hard to understand and help.
“Alright. I’ll dazzle them with the “hype.” And I did the dance move for them.
They cheered and clapped. And then my mom added, “I really love the dance moves from the game, but I hate all the violence.”
“It’s The Hunger Games meets hip hop. It’s all the rage, honey,” my dad said, putting his arm around her.
Mom sighed, nodding in agreement while I rolled my eyes. “Thank you for that analysis, Dad.” I walked quickly to the front door.
I heard my dad say, “I think that went pretty well.”
As Simone and I neared the high school, we could hear the music pulsing through the thick cement school walls. Principal Nickerson greeted us at the door.
She had stuffed cotton in her ears and was smiling. She shouted above the noise, “So glad to see you both!”
The gym had been transformed into a dance club with the first section filled with bubbles. Two portable machines in the corners pumped out the bubbles and smaller fans pushed them around. There were various stations scattered around the gym. At the first table we paid our five dollars and received a wrist band. We were directed to the next table for glow sticks, necklaces and bracelets. There were also tables for water and snacks. Simone got us some glow necklaces while I scanned the area looking for bullies. Thankfully none of them seemed to be in the first section.
“Come on,” she said, pulling me by the arm and leading me through a giant hanging tinsel curtain to the main dance floor. A layer of fog covered the floor and then swirled upward in different spots. The main dance area was packed with kids. The music blared while the black light created a psychedelic ambiance. Our white shirts glowed brightly in the UV lights.
“This is so lit!” Simone yelled above the music.
“It’s pretty rad!” I called back, trying to relax.
All my old friends were there, including Jesse Williams and Timmy Brandon from my neighborhood. I again scanned the gym for the bullies from my grade. I saw the Manning twins, Harry Jamison, and Chris Hall scattered around the edges. No sign of Brian Pullman and Patrick Reilly, but they were sophomores so I wasn't expecting them.
Also along the edge of the dance floor were a number of teachers. Most of them looked like they were in pain and would rather be at home, except for Mr. Chipchaw. Chippy was decked out in a bizarre outfit. Completely in his own world, he bounced up and down enjoying the music. I watched him for a moment, envious at how comfortable he was in his own skin. A couple of kids I recognized from our art studio-lunch-society grabbed Chippy by the arms and lead him into the middle of the dance floor. Mr. Chipchaw waved to the DJ who then transitioned the music to a loud siren. Then it launched into a robot dance mix dub-step. Mr. Chipchaw took it away by starting with different dimestop moves and then began popping. The students all circled around him and started clapping and cheering. He was pretty amazing, I had to admit.
Simone turned to me, “Chippy is on fire!” she laughed.
“He’s so boss!”
The music then moved into a string of school dance anthems and the entire gym jumped up and down together until we were all a sweaty mess. After a while Simone went to grab us some waters and hit the girls’ bathroom. I went over to talk to Mr. Chipchaw.
“Glad to see you showed up, Jonah,” he said smiling. “Looks like you’re having fun.”
“I am, thanks. You seem to be enjoying yourself,” I laughed.
“Indeed. Well, I dance to express, not impress,” he replied.
Simone and I hung near Mr. Chipchaw and his groupies the rest of the night so I was safe from the bullies. The dance turned out to be a total blast. When the lights came on, we filed out of the gym and started walking to town. We decided to get some pizza at a popular spot but when we arrived the line was out the door. Same with the ice cream shop.
Simone came up with a plan. “Let’s just go to my house. We can cool off in the pool and get something to eat.”
“Sure.” I agreed, feeling relieved to avoid any potential encounters with the bullies. I quickly texted my mom to let her know.
At Simone’s we jumped in the pool and I tried not to act embarrassed that her little brother Marcus’s bathing suit fit me. Simone’s mom watched us from the deck as she did some reading. Her little brother and a friend were playing basketball. Her mom brought out chips and salsa and lemonade and after we ate, Simone and I headed downstairs to a large finished playroom in the basement of the house. The room had a pool table, ping pong, a projector screen tv, and karaoke machine. Simone put on some music and we started to play some ping pong.
“Hey, I know you’re coming to hear me sing on Sunday at my church, but I want to show you something.
Simone turned off the music from the tv and opened up a laptop. She opened a file and then took out a folder from a bookcase.
“You can’t laugh,” she said, quite serious.
“Sit there on the sofa. And don’t look at me, turn away.”
I laughed. “Okay.”
A looping bass beat started to play from her laptop. It was simple but catchy. She looked quickly down at a piece of paper and then started to rap.
“Yo, born in the Bronx, raised in The Brook...But you neva know my status, without a closer look...Na ghetto girl nor queen, check out my coastal meme...Not tryna make your head hurt, just join me in the surf
Pipes I ride gotta east coast zip...But I got the skills, you be lookin for a tip...No need to be jealous, just dig my surfin’ zealous...Cuz there ain't no better place than in the barrel...Check out this city girl in the barrel.”
Then she stopped.
“That’s all I got. It’s still pretty rough.” And she stopped the music. Then she turned to me but hid her face behind the page of lyrics. “I know, it sucks.”
I sat up straighter. “No, not at all. It’s got some serious potential.”
“Really?” she said, sitting next to me.
“Yeah, I like it. You have a pretty good take on a line, keep working on it.” Then I added, “But you’re going to have to get a lot better at surfing, to back up that rap.”
“Hey!” she exclaimed, whacking me in the shoulder. “I’m obviously not going to do anything like that for the solo audition. I just wanted you to hear it. I really like rap.”
“Me too.” I smiled. It felt good that she wanted to share something personal with me.
I had a sketchpad full of drawings that I had worked on all year and I suddenly entertained the idea of sharing them with her. But many of those sketches told a darker story. My bullying story. And I was afraid this would turn her off. I felt a pang in my stomach as I remembered something Dr. Evans told me about hiding the truth from Simone.
And as I stared off, absorbed in my own thoughts, Simone moved in and brushed my lips with a quick kiss. It was over before I had a chance to melt into it.
“Was that okay?” she asked, her eyes downward.
“Yeah. Definitely,” I said.
She looked up and smiled and this time I moved in and kissed her. After a moment she pulled away. She cleared her throat and swallowed and said, “I don’t want my brother or my mom to walk in.”
“It’s okay, I get it.”
We got up and went back to playing ping pong. A few minutes later her brother Marcus and his friend Joel raced into the playroom. Marcus stole our ball and Simone chased him for it and then started hitting him with a pillow from the sofa. He threw it to his friend and then I joined in and playfully wrestled Joel to the ground, who was thankfully smaller than Marcus. Simone put the music back on and then the four of us started smacking each other with pillows and dancing around the room. We laughed and danced and threw pillows until we heard Mrs. Hayes at the top of the stairs.
“Uh oh,” said Marcus.”
Simone turned down the music.
“I hope you clean up whatever mess you’re making down there…and then let’s call it a night,” she called down to us.
We all laughed into the pillows.
When it was time for me to go, my dad came by to pick me up.
“Thank you very much, Mrs. Hayes, for having me over. Sorry it got a little out of hand.”
“You’re welcome, Jonah. I’m glad you and Simone had fun tonight. See you soon.”
Simone gave me a little wave and smiled.
When my dad and I were in the car, he asked, “How was the dance?”
“It was really fun.”
“Good. So…what got out of hand at Simone’s?”
“Just a rather loud pillow fight in their playroom. We cleaned it all up. Her mom was cool about it.”
“Okay. I think Simone really likes you,” he said, winking.
“I think you’re right. And don’t say another word.”