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Monday at lunch, Sarah tells me about the party.

“It’s going to be epic!” she yells. “Everyone’s is going to be there! Even Jackson…”

“Wait,” I interrupt. “Who’s Jackson?”

“Her crush,” Suzy mutters.

“Shut up!” Sarah exclaims.

It’s been three weeks since the first day of school, and I’m happy to say that I’m having a bit more luck in the making-friends departments. I now have some basic I-know-your-name relationships with a few really nice girls. Most of them I met when they asked me for help with some math problems, but I don’t mind. I’m happy to help them: it makes me feel special.

Anyways, since it’s already the end of September, the Homecoming party is coming up. This Friday, actually. Sarah has been yapping non-stop about it.

“Since the party is at seven-thirty, I thought you guys could come to my house at about five-thirty, that way we’ll have time for dresses, hair, and make-up. Okay?” she asks. Then, even before we can answer, she squeals. “Oh my god, I can’t wait!”

She points at Suzy, “You’re coming.” Then at Karen, “You’re coming.” Finally, she points to me. “And you’re coming!”

“Oh, no,” I say. “I don’t go to parties.”

“Why not?” Karen asks.

Well, I have multiple reasons for which I don’t go to parties. First, as I’ve already said, I have social anxiety. I know I’m supposed to work on it, but being in the middle of a big crowd really freaks me out. Second, I’m scared of having to deal with drunken teenagers wandering around. I know that technically homecomings aren’t supposed to have alcohol, but teens always find a way. Third, I prefer staying at home with a cup of tea and a good book. Call me crazy, but I don’t care.

“I just don’t feel like it,” I say. Why did I lie? Well, because I don’t want to seem like a weirdo. They still don’t know about my bibliophilia (love of books. Yes, it’s a real thing).

“Oh, c’mon Emma!” Sarah complains. “Please?”

I open my mouth to protest, but as I look into Sarah’s big brown eyes, I know there’s no hope. I sigh. “Fine.”

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” she says. Sarah is sitting opposite of me, but still finds a way to hug me over the table.

“By the way,” Sarah continues. “Has anyone of you been asked out yet?”

We all shake our heads.

“Really? Nobody?” Sarah asks again.

“Nope,” I say. “Alone as always.”

“I hear you, sister,” Suzy says. She gives me a high-five.

“Well, if anyone gets asked out…” she says. “I hate you.” She finishes by looking at us with a mad stare. I didn’t even know Sarah could ever look so frightening. Oh, well. I guess we all have our dark side.

Fast-forward five days to Friday. As soon as I step onto the bus, I can feel the tension and excitement of everyone. Everybody is chatting with their partner, the girls talking about boys and boys talking about… I don’t know. Cars, maybe.

Even Karen is overthinking everything. “It’s a beautiful knee-length black dress, which I love. The only problem is that it shows a little cleavage, and I don’t want to seem like a slut. The other dress is a short dark grey dress. It shows no cleavage at all, but… I don’t know.” she sighs. “Emma, what do you think?”

“I’m not really into fashion, but I think if you bring them both at Sarah’s house this afternoon, she’ll be happy to help,” I say.

“You think so?” Karen asks.

“Are you kidding? Sarah would help an ant that’s about to be squished two miles away.”

Karen laughs. “That’s accurate enough.”

When we get to school, I have the same feeling from the bus: everyone is thrilled about the party, but Karen and I don’t care. We walk towards our Social Studies class and sit down calmly. I try to listen to the lesson, but I find out it’s nearly impossible. Most of our classmates are too excited and don’t bother to listen, but that means that who wants to listen (cough, me, cough), can’t.

Well, even though the lessons won’t go on, I’m relieved when the last bell rings to signal the end of the day. Karen packs up her things in a hurry, says, “I’ll meet you outside.” and leaves. I find her behavior a little strange, but I don’t push her. She’s already left, but I take my time. Finally, I walk out of the classroom.

I’m about to push open the door when a strong hand grabs me. I turn around to see who it is, but it’s kind of obvious. Yes. Tom Polson.

“Hey, Emma,” he says, flashing me a stupid smirk.

“What do you want?” I say, remembering I have to be “reluctant enough”, as Karen had said.

“Hey, is that the way to greet me?” he asks, still that grin on his face.

“Yes,” I answer.

He ignores my comment and looks me in the eyes, full of curiosity. “I just wanted to know if you’ll be at the party tonight.”

I hesitate. “Yes. Yes, I’ll be there.”

His smile comes back. “Great. I’ll see you then.” Then he reaches for my hand and brings it to his soft lips. I stand there, stunned, as he kisses the back of my hand. When he pulls back and sees my probably tomato-red face, he smirks.

“See you later, Emma,” he says, then walks out.

I stand there, frozen for a few more seconds, then finally snap out of it. I have to be strong. I have to be reluctant enough, and I am, I swear. But I can’t help but feel a wave of awe and admiration for Tom.

Stop! That’s him messing with your head! I think to myself.

Yes, right. I have to think straight.

I walk out of the doors and see Karen typing on her phone. She looks up and scowls. “What took you so long?”

I told her.

“Oh,” she says. “Wow.”

“But, this is normal right?” I ask. “You told me he does this with every new girl.”

“Yeah, but never like this. Like, with me he flirted a bit, but he never kissed my hand or anything.”

“Well, that’s just great,” I mutter sarcastically.

“I’m sorry for you, but it could be worse,” Karen says.

I look at her. “What do you mean?”

“Tom Polson, one of the most popular guys in school, has a crush on you. That’s a good sign. Would you prefer it would be Weird Mickey?”

“Oh, god no,” I say.

Weird Mickey is a guy we always see on the bus. He has big eyes and he's really skinny, almost bony. He has a condition for which he doesn’t have any hair, but he tries to hide it with a ridiculous wig. We call him weird because he’s always trying to charm girls, but he always goes a little too far and it becomes creepy.

Once, when Karen was sick, Mickey sat right next to me. It didn’t bother me at first, but he really slowly pushed his leg against mine. I tried to be cool about it and tried to move my leg away from his a little, but he just pushed farther. It was weird.

Anyways, Karen and I got on the bus and went home.

Something I didn’t know about Sarah: she’s obsessed with fashion.

As soon as she saw the dress I had planned to wear, she cringed and said. “Ew, no!”

We all arrive at the same time, and Sarah immediately gets to work. She starts working on Suzy, then Karen, then herself, and finally me. By the time Sarah is done with the others, I’m in awe.

Suzy is wearing a skinny knee-length brown dress that compliments her dark skin. Her hair is tied up in a perfect bun and she puts on a pair of brown high-heels. To complete the look, she wears some silver earrings and a touch of mascara.

Sarah tells Karen to throw out both of her dresses and hooks her up with a long green dress that reaches her shins. Around her waist is a thin leather belt, and she has on a pair of black heels. She lets her blonde hair fall down on her shoulders and put on some black earrings.

Sarah has decided to wear all pink: her skinny short dress, her high heels, and her earrings. Apparently, she doesn’t think it’s enough because she decides to put on some pink eye shadow. The only non-pink thing she has on are a couple of silver bracelets.

Oh, boy. It’s my turn.

Sarah takes a quick look at me, then disappears in her closet. When she walks out again, she’s holding a beautiful dark red dress. She hands it to me, and I walk to the bathroom to change. I’m pleased to find out that the material feels wonderful against my skin. I observe myself in the mirror. Wow, that actually looks good. It’s a little shorter than what I prefer, but the dress makes my curves flawless and I notice it also makes me look skinnier. I love that about my dress.

I walk out of the bathroom. When I come into view, I hear a gasp coming from Suzy. All my friends are gaping at me. I smile, but I’m actually a little embarrassed.

“Emma, you look… wow.” Karen comments.

“Thanks. But this is getting weird. Stop staring at me like that.” I say.

They laugh, but they still keep their eyes on me. After a few seconds, Sarah approaches me and gives me a pair of red heels. I put them on and try to walk. It may sound weird, but I’ve never worn heels. I normally wear sneakers or, if I have to, flats. Nevertheless, I can walk pretty well in heels, so I decided to go for it. Sarah hands me a pair of stunning sea green earrings that make my blue eyes pop. She then tells me that I should tie my dark hair in a ponytail so that they don’t hide my face. Sarah’s the expert, so I do. Finally, she puts a thin layer of mascara on my eyelashes.

“Voilà!” she exclaims after she’s done.

Shortly after, we’re in the car driving to the party. During the trip, we talk about the cutest boys in school, and I’m not surprised to hear the name “Tom” multiple times.

After parking the car, we walk out and go up the stairs. I have to admit, Sarah did a great job. We turn quite a few heads on our way in.

We open the doors and step in.

The music is blaring from the loudspeakers, the people are dancing and the night is young. At first, we don’t move, but after a while, we find ourselves on the dance floor. I normally dance exclusively in my room or in the shower, so I thought this would be a little embarrassing for me. Turns out that I have nothing to worry about. Yes, you’re dancing, but there are dozens of other people dancing. It would be weird if you weren’t dancing.

I’m dancing for a while, maybe half an hour, when I suddenly feel suffocated.

Too many people. I can’t. I can’t!

My heart is pounding in my chest and I start to hyperventilate. I push myself through the crowd and run out of the front doors, gasping for air. I sit down on the steps and place a hand on my stomach, trying to calm down.

I knew I couldn’t do it. The crowd freaked me out. The same thing happened when I went to Comic-Con. I was there with my family, but after a few hours, I couldn’t cope with all those people around. I had to beg my mom to leave.

Now, the same thing happened.

I hear steps coming closer and then a hand on my shoulder.

“What’s wrong?” Karen asks.

“I needed air.” I say.

“Your anxiety?” she asks. I nod. She sits down next to me and sighs. We stay there in comfortable silence, looking at the road. After what was probably fifteen minutes, Karen asks me if I want to go back in.

I take a deep breath. “Yeah. Let’s go.”

We walk in again. Karen takes my hand and guides me onto the dance floor. Soon, I’m moving to the sound of the music, feeling the rhythm. I close my eyes to calm down, and literally, five seconds later the pop music turns into a slow song. I’m walking off the dance floor since I don’t have anyone to dance with when a muscular arm wraps around my waist and turns me around. I’m not surprised to see Tom.

He mouths something, but I can’t hear due to the music. I gesture him that. He nods and leans closer to whisper in my ear. “You look gorgeous tonight.”

I’m probably blushing like hell, but fortunately, the room isn’t well lit.

I whisper in his ear. “Thank you. You’re not too bad yourself.” In fact, he cleaned up quite nicely. He’s wearing some black trousers and a black t-shirt. It’s not really special, but it looks great on him.

“I was thinking,” he says. “Can I have your phone number?”

I look down. “I’m sorry, no.”

He tilts his head a little bit. It’s almost imperceptible, but I find it cute. “Why not?”

“Because we barely know each other. And I’m sure you’re a nice guy, but I’m not interested.” I say.

“Not interested in having a friend?” he asks.

“Well, if friendship is what you want, then sure. But nothing else.”

“How do you know this isn’t going to work?” he asks, and I assume he’s talking about a romantic relationship.

Before I know what I’m saying, I blurt out. “Because I’m into nerds.”

My eyes widen when I realize what I said. I’ve always thought about it, but I’ve never said that out loud before. Oh god, what is wrong with me?

“Oh.” Tom says.

You wanted him gone? My brain asks me. Well, here he goes! In three… two… one…

“Okay,” Tom says.

Wait, what?

We keep dancing together, but I’m a little surprised. I really thought he would leave. I mean, why wouldn’t he? I’m the weird smarty-pants while he’s the badass player. We have nothing in common. Maybe he’s still here out of kindness?

These thoughts are roaming in my mind, and I don’t even realize that the song has ended.

“I think our time together has come to an end.” Tom says. Again, he takes my hand and kisses it. “See you around.” He turns around and leaves me alone, exactly like a few hours earlier.

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