My parents forced me to go to prom.
“Henry, you’re the only new kid at the school,” Dad said, as Mom nodded eagerly behind him. “It’s important to show up and make friends.” So I dressed up in an ill-fitting tux, pinned a ratty-looking flower to it, and headed to prom alone.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
The bass throbbed painfully in my ears. Tacky streamers were hung from the ceiling, and the dance floor was scattered with whispering couples.
I pushed past all of them, and sat down at one of the tables, alone. But it wasn’t long before I heard a small voice.
I looked up.
It was a pretty girl – but I had never seen her before. Deep brown eyes, long black hair, and a purple gown that touched the floor. Must be somebody’s date, from a different school or something, I thought.
But then she asked –
“Do you want to dance?”
“Really?” It flew out of my mouth, before I could stop myself.
She giggled. “Yes, really.”
We made our way to the middle of the dance floor, next to Cheerleader Molly and Jock Casey. She wrapped her arms around my neck, and I just stood there, stunned.
“You’re supposed to put your arms around my waist.”
“I – I know that.”
“Then do it.”
I laughed, nervously, and obliged.
“I’m Mary, by the way. Mary Keller.”
Motion caught my eye, and I looked up.
The mirror on the wall glinted brightly, reflecting the flashing lights of the dance floor. Below, the couples twirled and whispered and laughed. I saw myself in the center, but –
My arms were wrapped around thin air.
I looked back at her. “Uh, sorry, I just –”
I glanced back at the mirror.
There we were, arms wrapped around each other, swaying to the beat. “Nevermind,” I muttered, looking away.
“I was asking you if you liked the music.”
I laughed. “Oh, no, not at all.”
“Me neither,” she giggled. “It’s awful.”
We continued dancing to three more songs – even though they were terrible. Finally, we took a break for drinks.
“It’s so happy to be here,” she said, squeezing my hand. “I didn’t get to go last year.”
But she just shook her head, and didn’t reply.
So I let her be, and looked out at the dance floor. Molly and Casey were making out, as were many of the other couples. Throngs of girls whispered and giggled to each other. But no one was paying attention to the fact that me – Henry Slater, resident wallflower – was with the most beautiful girl at prom.
“I don’t get it.”
“You’re the prettiest girl here. And no one is even looking at us.”
She just laughed, her curls bouncing around her face. “I’m not exactly popular.”
“Heh, neither am I.”
After drinks, we made it back out on the dance floor. And we talked, and laughed, and twirled – until the lights faded and the crowd thinned. “Want to get out of here?” I asked.
She followed me outside. Thin sheets of rain drizzled down, turning the spring grass into a mess of mud. “Car’s unlocked!” I shouted, as we ran towards it.
We dove inside. Beads of water trickled down from my hair, into my eyes, onto the upholstery. “Didn’t think it was supposed to rain,” I said. “I’m sorry, I would’ve brought an umbrella –”
I turned to her.
She was completely dry.
No water matting her hair, no wet sheen on her shoulders, no mud on her high-heels. “How’d you do that?” I’m sitting here, sopping wet, looking like an idiot…
And somehow she’s perfect.
Mary smiled. “I just got lucky, I guess.”
And then she leaned in.
We kissed, and time seemed to stop. It probably only lasted a few minutes, but it felt like forever. Finally, she pulled away, and whispered:
I started the car, and we swerved onto the road back from the school. She didn’t say much in the car, and the longer we drove, the less she smiled. “Everything okay?” I asked, a few times, but she just nodded her head and forced a smile.
“Woah – what’s that up ahead?”
Red-and-blue light flashed through the trees. We swerved around the bend, and I gasped.
A sedan – run right off the road, into a tree, coming from the other direction. The hood was crumpled against the bark, and police officers swarmed to the driver’s side. Shards of glass glittered in the flashing lights.
“Oh my God,” I said. “Mary, do you see the –”
I turned to face her.
But the seat was empty.
“Mary?!” I hit the brakes, pulled to the curb, and searched everywhere. I checked the backseat, the space underneath the seats, even the trunk.
But she was nowhere to be found.
Maybe she somehow – fell out, or –
But then I looked up.
I was standing on a dark, empty road. No flashing lights, no mangled car, no accident at all.
Just a small sign, stuck in front of the tree.
IN MEMORY OF MARY KELLER