Celia and I run out the front door, and as I’m climbing into the backseat of Park’s car, I look back. Mama is standing on the front porch watching us. Beautiful, she mouths. I feel like I could cry. For the first time ever, I feel it. Beautiful, I mean.
The gym looks like a Christmas tree. Elaine’s done a really good job. Twinkle lights are strung all around the room, and sparkly streamers and glittery confetti too. There’s a shimmer in the air, and I know that this is my night.
Elaine rushes over to me as soon as she sees me come in. “Annemarie! You’re here! I love your dress!” she shrieks. She is wearing a strapless yellow dress and a flower in her hair. It is a white calla lily.
We hug. “I’m so glad you came,” she whispers.
“Me too,” I say. She takes me by the hand, and we walk over to Mairi and Hadley. They are standing by the punch bowl. Mairi is wearing that black and red polka dot dress Mama wanted me to wear, and Hadley is in a hot pink halter dress. It’s tight, and it shows off every curve she’s got. They both look suspiciously tan.
Mairi looks me over and says, “I like your dress. Where’d you get it?”
Hadley says nothing, just watches me with narrowed eyes. Her silence is proof positive that Celia did somethin’ right.
“Thanks,” I say. “It’s vintage.” I don’t know if it’s vintage or not, but it sounds good and Mairi looks impressed.
“So where are the guys?” I ask, supercasually.
Mairi rolls her eyes and flicks her hair in the direction of the basketball court. I look over. Mark, Jack, Hugh, and Kyle are trying to slam-dunk balloons into the hoop. I laugh, and Mairi frowns.
“I want to dance,” Mairi says, her lower lip sticking out. “Come on, girls. Let’s go make them dance with us.”
She marches over to the boys, and Hadley and Elaine follow her. Elaine gestures for me to come too, but I shake my head no. They pull their dates by the arm and onto the dance floor, and soon they’re all dancing in a circle.
Pouring some punch into a paper cup, I remind myself that I wanted to come, that being alone isn’t really that bad.
Then Jack walks over to the punch bowl. “Hey,” he says. He is wearing a white button-down shirt, black pants, and sneakers. And a tie that says, “Eat my shorts.”
“Hey,” I say.
“I thought you said you weren’t coming.”
“I thought you said you weren’t coming.”
He shrugs and tosses a cookie into his mouth. “My mom made me,” he mumbles, his mouth full.
“You’re gross,” I say, curling my lip at him. “Learn some manners.”
“You’re gross,” he mimics.
And then we stand there and eat cookies. Occasionally we laugh at people dancing, and Jack imitates their moves with a deadly serious expression on his face. He moves back and forth, shuffling his feet and waving one arm in the air. “I’m Kyle, and I’m cool,” he says. I can’t stop laughing.
I also can’t stop watching Mark. He and Hadley seem so comfortable with each other. She keeps giggling and messing with his hair, and he lets her. He actually lets her. I know for a fact that he doesn’t like anyone touching his hair.
Every so often Elaine raises her eyebrows at me, and motions that I come over and dance too, but I shake my head. I’m fine where I am.
Then Ms. Bickey gets on the microphone and announces that it’s the last dance. I haven’t danced with Mark once, or anybody for that matter. This is my last chance. He’s standing across the room with Kyle and Hugh. I think all the girls made a group trip to the bathroom, and I figure I have a few minutes at least.
To Jack I say, “I’ll be right back.”
He just shrugs, and I make my way over to the boys. Kyle looks at me with wide eyes. His eyes flick up and down like he doesn’t recognize me. I almost say it’s me, Annemarie, you big dummy. But the fact that he notices, that feels really good.
Kyle clears his throat. “Wow, you look nice,” he finally says. He is wearing a pink tie with light blue stripes. Only Kyle Montgomery could wear a pink tie.
“Thanks,” I mutter.
I look only at Mark when I say, “You wanna dance?”
Mark looks surprised, but he nods. I take his hand, and we walk out to the dance floor, and it’s just like I imagined. I’m careful not to look in Jack’s direction; I don’t want to see him making fun of any of my moves. My arms are around Mark’s neck, and I’m careful not to let any part of me get too close to any part of him, but it’s nice. He’s wearing his father’s cologne, and his shirt feels crisp against my fingers. We’re swaying more than we are dancing, but it’s still nice. I’m also taller than Mark, taller than I’d realized. But like I said, it’s still nice.
It’s nice until I feel the tap on my shoulder. It’s Hadley. “Excuse me, but I’m going to have to cut in, seeing as how Mark’s my date and all,” she says. She smiles without opening her lips.
Mark doesn’t say anything; he just shrugs. I don’t know what to do, so I back away.
As I lean against the bleachers, I watch them dance. Hadley’s a good head shorter than Mark. Her arms are wrapped around his neck, like she’s hanging on for dear life. She looks up at him, and then he kisses her. Just like that, they’re kissing.
I feel dizzy and sick to my stomach. We were supposed to be each other’s first kiss, and now everything’s ruined. And the way they’re kissing, it doesn’t look like it’s the first time. Ms. Bickey goes over and says something to them, and they stop. For the second time that night, I feel like I might cry. When did Mark stop being mine?
I just want to go home. My feet hurt. So much for Margaret’s lucky shoes.
After the last dance everyone’s scrambling to get their coats from the bleachers. I’m in the very back, sorting through a pile of coats when I hear his voice, the voice I’d know anywhere.
“Annemarie? Come on, she’s barely even a girl.”
“She looked like a girl when you were dancing with her a minute ago.” It’s Hugh. He’s making kissing noises. “Oh, Annemarie, I love you, baby.”
“Shut up. I only danced with her because I felt sorry for her. She doesn’t even know how to dance like a girl.”
It’s Mark, my Mark. He’s standing with Kyle, Hugh, and Jack.