Loose chestnut waves hung down the middle of Natalie Landon’s back with a few strands neatly pinned away from her face with a shiny clip. It was prom night her senior year, and for Natalie it would be the most memorable night of her high school years at Lansing Waverly High School. She was going to prom with her boyfriend, Dean McCoy. The two dated for almost a year and he was the first real boyfriend she ever had. She was sure that he was the one she’d spend the rest of her life with.
Natalie had spent the afternoon at the salon with Jill, her best friend since elementary school. Jill’s tight blonde curls were fastened in a high up-do off her shoulders and neck, giving her a classier look despite the short silver dress she planned to wear that night. The two were double dating for prom and the girls were sparing no expense to look beautiful for their dates. It was their senior prom after all!
The Landon family was wealthy so getting the perfect dress meant shopping at the high end stores for Natalie, something she was used to doing. When she saw the lavender gown displayed in the front window, she knew it was the one. Her mother insisted on getting a matching pearl and diamond necklace and earring set that was worth more than most of the prom dresses that Natalie had tried on. Nothing but the best for mother’s little beauty queen! Mother insisted.
Natalie didn’t care about impressing anyone at the prom, she just wanted to be there with Dean. He meant the world to her and when a 17 year old girl is in love, nothing else matters.
The girls left the salon with their hair perfectly done. Natalie got into the backseat of her father’s car, which had been parked out front waiting for the girls to come out of the salon.
“Hi, Mr. Landon,” Jill greeted politely as she got in next to Natalie and shut the door. Natalie’s father returned a hello and the two frivolous teenage girls in the backseat giggled with excitement as the car pulled away from the curb. They were going back to Natalie’s house to change into their dresses and touch up their makeup before their dates arrived.
“So, do you think he’ll propose?” Jill asked when they got into Natalie’s bedroom. She had always been the straight forward type, something Natalie admired. Her friend was always the girl who spoke her mind, was the center of attention at a party, and always popular with the boys.
But not Natalie. She was always the shy girl following in Jill’s shadow. She wished she could be bolder and voice herself like that, especially with her parents.
“I don’t know,” Natalie answered quietly. “We’ve been talking about moving in together after graduation, but my dad wants me to go to college right away.”
Natalie stood looking at herself in the full-length mirror. She ran her hands down her dress to straighten out any wrinkles. She wanted to look perfect in her dress. For Dean.
“Well, your dad needs to realize you’re almost an adult!” Jill slathered on another layer of dark red lipstick and pouted her lips. “I mean, once you graduate, your life is yours!”
Natalie smirked and shook her head, then dabbed on some lip gloss. She wasn’t going to look like a tramp, not tonight! Her dress and jewelry were fit for a beauty queen, exactly what her mother intended. Natalie wasn’t the girl who disappointed her parents. She was a good daughter and student, worked hard for her grades, and had plans for her future. A future she desperately wanted Dean to be part of.
Dean was downstairs waiting when she and Jill finally made their appearance. He looked sharp in his black tux, an obvious rental that he couldn’t afford, and a black pin-striped tie hung neatly down a white button up shirt. He almost looked underdressed with Natalie in his arms, as she took the spotlight in her dazzling gown, but she didn’t care. As long as she was on his arm and he was by her side for the night, nothing else mattered.
As Jill rushed out the door with her prom date, a senior from the next town over, Natalie took her time letting Dean put a white rose and pearl corsage on her wrist that matched the single rose boutonniere on his jacket. The flowers were stunning! He had certainly picked out the perfect set for the two of them.
Perfect for a young couple in love!
The night was a blur of lights, dancing, and music as everyone gathered in the school gymnasium. Cameras flashed as couples captured the last memories of the biggest dance of their high school lives. It was a night that Natalie would always remember. The night that changed everything.
“I feel a bit foolish in this thing.” Dean tugged at the collar of the tuxedo jacket and tried to loosen it.
Natalie reached over and unbuttoned the top button. “I told you, you look very handsome.” Her voice was soft and reassuring as she looked up at him, noticing the electric green irises staring back at her.
It was a tender moment, telling each other how much they meant to one another without having to say a single word.
They had made their way around the gymnasium, waited in line to get their picture taken, and she was ready to spend some time alone with her boyfriend. She was hoping he’d get the hint to leave.
And he did.
“You want to get out of here?” He put his arm around Natalie’s waist and gave her a squeeze, flashing those big, green eyes that had drawn her to him the first time they met.
“I’d go anywhere with you,” Natalie smiled. And she would have. She had already made plans in her mind to move in with him after they graduated and start spending the rest of their lives together.
This was the moment she had been waiting for. She hoped he was going to propose, make their plan real for after high school. Her stomach had butterflies in it as she envisioned him on one knee, the sound of romantic music playing in her head, and she would say yes. This was it!
Outside, Dean pulled her aside to a quiet corner of the school to be alone. There were only a few people outside near the parking lot, giving Dean and Natalie some privacy.
He took her hand in his and slid his other hand in his pocket. Natalie held her breath, anxiously waiting. She had only dreamed of this moment and here it was.
When he pulled a key from his pocket and handed it to her, she shook her head, confused. This was not what she was expecting.
When Jill had asked her earlier if she thought Dean would propose, the thought had made Natalie happy, and would give her an excuse to leave right away when school was done and start her life with him. Something her parents did not approve of, but she didn’t care. She was going to be with Dean no matter what. And now was the moment she had been waiting for all night and he pulled a key from his pocket instead of the ring she had wished for.
“This is the key from my school locker.” He handed Natalie the key. “I’m giving it to you.”
“I don’t understand. If you give me the key then how will you open your locker on Monday?” Natalie took the key and laughed, thinking how silly it was.
It must be a joke.
Dean’s eyes lowered to the ground. “I left something inside my locker for you. Please, take it.”
He was serious.
Natalie instantly knew something was wrong. “Dean, what is it?” Sure, a ring would have been nice but handing her the key to his locker was just wrong. It didn’t make sense. She was worried that he was breaking up with her, and her heart wasn’t ready for it. Not tonight.
Dean reached for Natalie’s hand. “I have to leave.” He leaned in and kissed her lips, almost taking her breath away. His kiss was hard but passionate. She feared it was a goodbye kiss.
“I don’t understand.” Natalie couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. This night was supposed to be the best night of her senior year, a time to cherish. Not have her heart broken.
“My uncle out in South Dakota has a job for me. I have to leave right away.” He ran a hand through his dark hair and kept his eyes to the ground.
Natalie shook her head. “Why can’t you leave after graduation?” She pleaded as she put a hand on his shoulder. “Then I could come with you. I could go to school out there.”
“No!” Dean pushed her away. He had never behaved this way before. “I have to leave now. My uncle said I can get my GED out there this summer. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it has to be.” He began to walk away but Natalie grabbed him by the arm.
“That’s a bunch of bull! There’s no reason you can’t wait a few more weeks. This isn’t how tonight was supposed to be.”
“I’ll never be good enough for you unless I can make enough money,” he turned towards her. It sounded exactly like the argument she had with her father, ever since she started dating Dean.
“Is that what this is about? I don’t care what you or my father says. I love you!” Natalie threw herself into his arms and wrapped herself around him, arms tight around his neck. “You’re the only one for me.” She lifted her head to meet his gaze and lowered her arms to place both hands on his cheeks. In an attempt to show him how much she loved him, she kissed his lips hard, not letting him pull away. She would change his mind, she was certain of it.
Tears welled up in Dean’s eyes and Natalie knew that he felt the same way. But it didn’t change anything.
“I’m sorry. But I have to go.” He pushed her hands away and took a step back, wiping his eyes.
Natalie knew he felt the same for her, but her heart ached so much that she couldn’t move when he turned his back to leave. She stood watching, frozen in that unexpected moment, letting the man she loved walk away.
The perfect prom night that beautiful Natalie Landon dreamed of had just ended before her.