"You see? Already this color is causing problems."
She wouldn't back down. "It'll take like a minute. And that's all we've got. If we don't leave soon, we're going to be late. Your boyfriend's always early, right?" I didn't answer right away. She had me there. Brayden was always early, and as much as the costume pained me, I couldn't stand the thought of making him wait - especially since he wouldn't be able to get into the dance without an Amberwood student.
"Fine," I said, with a sigh. "Let's go."
Jill grinned triumphantly. "But first - the makeup."
I conceded to the makeup and then, at the last minute, added my cross necklace. It didn't go with the theme and was instantly swallowed by the more flamboyant gold jewelry, but it made me feel better. It was a piece of normality.
When we finally left, we found Eddie waiting for us in the lobby. He was dressed in normal clothes, his only nod to Halloween being a plain white half-mask that reminded me of the Phantom of the Opera. I was half-tempted to ask if he had a second one so that I could do a quick wardrobe change and just go masked.
He jumped up from his chair, his face going dreamy when he saw Jill in her blue, ethereal glory. Honestly, how could no one else see how crazy he was about her? It was so painfully obvious. He drank her in with his eyes, looking as though he might swoon then and there.
Then, he flicked his gaze over to me and did a double-take. His expression wasn't lovestruck so much as dumbfounded.
"I know, I know." I could already see tonight's pattern forming. "It's red. I never wear red."
"You should," he said, echoing Jill. He glanced between her and me then shook his head.
"Too bad we're 'related.' I'd ask you guys to dance. Seeing as my cousin already wants to go out with me, though, I suppose we shouldn't start any more rumors."
"Poor Angeline," said Jill, as we walked out to my car. "She really wanted to go."
"Seeing as there'll be speakers there, it's probably best she doesn't," I said.
Eddie paused when we reached Latte. "Can I drive? I feel like I should be a chauffeur tonight.
You guys look like royalty." He grinned at Jill. "Well, you're always royalty." He opened one of the back doors and actually swept her a bow. "After you, milady. I'm here to serve." Practical, stoic Eddie was rarely given to such dramatic shows, and I could tell it caught Jill off guard. "Th-thank you," she said, getting into the backseat. He helped her tuck her skirt inside, and she regarded him wonderingly, like she'd never noticed him before. After that, I could hardly deny his request and gave him the keys.
The Halloween dance was being held at a very pretty hall adjacent to some botanical gardens.
Eddie and I had checked it out this week so that he could determine its safety. Micah was meeting Jill there, though for different reasons than Brayden meeting me. Supervised buses were shuttling most students from the school to the dance. Upperclassmen like Eddie and me were allowed to take our own transportation, along with family like Jill. No one would technically know if Micah dropped her off later, but for now, she could only leave campus in the family carpool.
"I hope I'm ready for this," I muttered, as we pulled into the parking lot. The dress had distracted me so much that I hadn't had time to ruminate over my other concern: going to a dance. All my old social anxieties returned. What did I do? What was normal here? I hadn't had the nerve to ask any of my friends.
"You'll be fine," said Eddie. "Your boyfriend and Micah will both be speechless." I unfastened my seatbelt. "That's the third time I've heard 'your boyfriend.' What's going on with that? Why won't anyone say Brayden's name?"
Neither of them answered right away. Finally, Jill said sheepishly, "Because none of us can remember it."
"Oh, come on! I'd expect that from Adrian but not you guys. It's not that weird of a name."
"No," admitted Eddie. "But there's just something so... I don't know. Unmemorable about him. I'm glad he makes you happy, but I just start to tune out whenever he talks."
"I can't believe this," I said.
Brayden was waiting out front for us, no doubt having been there for at least ten minutes.
My stomach fluttered as he looked me over from head to toe. He didn't comment, though his eyes widened a bit. Was that good or bad? I flashed my student ID to get him in the door, and Jill almost immediately joined Micah. Eddie's brief romantic flare was gone as he shifted into business mode. A brief look of pain crossed his face, disappearing as quickly as it had appeared.
I touched his arm.
"You going to be okay?" I asked softly.
He smiled back. "I'll be fine. Just have fun." He walked away, soon melting into the crowd of students. That left me alone with Brayden. Silence fell between us, which wasn't uncommon.
It sometimes took us a few minutes to warm up and get the conversation going.
"So," he said, as we walked further inside. "You have a DJ. I wondered if it'd be that or a live band."
"Our school just had a bad experience with a live band," I said, thinking of Angeline.
Brayden didn't press for details and instead gazed around at the decor. Fake cobwebs and twinkling lights were strewn near the ceiling. Paper skeletons and witches hung on the walls. Over on a far table, students were scooping punch out of a giant plastic cauldron.
"Amazing, isn't it?" said Brayden. "How a pagan Celtic holiday has become such a commercial event."
I nodded. "And a very secular one. Well, aside from attempts to merge it into All Saints Day."
He smiled at me. I smiled back. We were safely in familiar academic territory.
"You want to check out the punch?" I asked. Some fast, bass-heavy song was on, drawing lots of people to the dance floor. Fast dancing wasn't really my style. I didn't know Brayden's take and was afraid he might want to join in.
"Sure," he said, looking relieved to have a purpose. Something told me he'd been to as many dances as I had: none.
The punch provided us with a reason to discuss sugar vs. artificial sweeteners, but my heart wasn't into it. I was too concerned about something else. Brayden hadn't said one word about my dress, and it was filling me with anxiety. Was he as shocked by it as I had been?
Was he politely holding back his true thoughts? I could hardly expect compliments if I wasn't giving them, so I decided to take the plunge.
"Your costume's great," I said. "That's from the theatrical company, right?"
"Yes." He glanced down and smoothed out the folds of his tunic. "Not entirely accurate, of course, but it'll do." The tunic was knee-length, pinned on one shoulder, and made of very light, off-white wool. He had a woolen cape over it dyed in a dark brown that was accurate to the time period. Even with the cape, a fair amount of his arms and chest were exposed, showing a runner's body with a lightly muscled build. I'd always thought he was cute, but it wasn't until this moment I realized he might actually be hot. I expected that to trigger a stronger feeling in me, but it didn't.