Sadie Hawkins Dance

Melissa L. White

© Copyright 2023 by Melissa L. White

Photo by  Yoann Siloine on Unsplash"
Photo by  Yoann Siloine on Unsplash

The flash from the Polaroid makes me blink. I wonder how many times my dad has taken my picture. A thousand? Ten thousand? Once a day for my entire life so far would be close to five and a half thousand. I’ve heard of faraway tribes who believe the camera steals their soul. I blink again, wondering how it feels to have your soul stolen. Brightly colored dots float up all around me. Am I somehow emptier inside, less soulful, than other fifteen-year-old girls whose fathers aren’t such camera fanatics?

“You blinked again,” says my dad.

I shrug. “It’s these contact lenses.” Gingerly rubbing my eyes, I try to clear away the flashbulb after images without smearing my mascara. Blinking hard a few times, I look down at my new outfit; baby blue bellbottoms with matching bolo jacket. To me, baby blue is a happy color. It makes my eyes seem brighter.

I look up at my father and smile.

“One more,” he says, motioning for my mother to join me in front of the fireplace.
Mom stands beside me and puts her arm around my waist, my arm rests gently on her shoulder. If not for my cool new platform shoes, only two inches would separate us; but with these shoes, I tower above her. Height gives me a feeling of power, a sense of supremacy. I think these lofty thoughts as I glance down at my heels then untuck the hem of my pants from inside my shoe. Oh my gosh. I hope it doesn’t do this all night; it looks so geeky.

My father holds up the prints. As we fade into view from the mist, my heightened confidence seeps away at its baby blue seams. The camera’s harsh blade of truth slashes all my illusions. Even in bad Polaroids, it’s still there loud and clear. My new outfit looks exactly like what it is: homemade. My mother glances at the photo, then at me. She smiles and untwists the chain on my baby blue beaded choker. I feel so small. Actually, “provincial” more accurately describes my self-image at the moment. Provincial is a new word to me; I discovered it yesterday, when reading the Cliffs Notes for Madame Bovary. Wonder what I’d learn if I actually read the book? Hmm.

I wonder: would a person who has more soul than me feel less troubled by these photos? Would a girl with an abundance of soul be too grateful for a mother who unselfishly gives up her time and energy to make nice clothes for her daughter, to notice the homespun unsophistication of the finished product? If beauty is really only skin deep, how deep does ugly go? How deep is shallow?

My mother drives me across town to Pete’s house. The street is dark; not a single streetlight is illuminated on the entire block. We don’t see any houses. “Is this the right street?” I ask.

“It’s Wilderness Trail,” my mother says, peering over the steering wheel of her brown Mercury station wagon. It’s a dreary night. Looking out the window I watch clouds wisp across a bright spot in the dark sky. I know the moon is there; it’s just hiding, waiting for the right moment to show its face.

Approaching the end of the cul-de-sac, it occurs to me that perhaps this isn’t actually Wilderness Trail after all. Mom inches the car along, then glances over at me. “Maybe we should call,” she suggests, “Just to verify the address.” The clock above the radio flashes 6:18 pm.

“We’re already eighteen minutes late.”

“What do you suggest?” she asks.

I shrug and gaze up at the sky, hoping the moon will surface. Maybe then a solution will come to me. Closing my eyes, I imagine myself as a sculptor chiseling clouds away from a marble moon.

Mom drives back to the intersection and turns toward Brown’s Pharmacy on the corner, five blocks away. Smoothing the crinkles out of my new blue suit, I notice the faint smell of flour and hay. New fabric really stinks sometimes. Especially unwashed cotton. I feel embarrassed. It’s not at all like the proud smell of new leather shoes. I wonder why I asked Pete to the Sadie Hawkins Dance in the first place. He isn’t exactly my type. Wait a minute. Is fifteen too young to know what you like? Pete isn’t even tall.

We pull up to the phone booth in the pharmacy parking lot and my mother puts a quarter into my sweaty palm. I sigh and head reluctantly for the phone.

I dial information and a man’s voice croaks into my ear, “What city please?”

“Friendswood. I need the listing for Dr. Peter James.”

“Is this an emergency?”

I laugh.

“Residence or office?” he asks impatiently.


The operator gives me the number and I then touch the corresponding number keys as he repeats the phone number, so I will remember it this time. I retrieve my quarter, repeating the numbers aloud, then while trying to redeposit the quarter, I accidentally drop it and its metallic ping fills this coffin of a phone booth. The cruel moon giggles behind its curtain of clouds. As I bend over to grab my quarter, still repeating the phone number and holding the receiver against my ear, the metal telephone cord hits me in the eye. I blink hard, and then feel the delicate but unmistakable brush of contact lens against my cheek.

There is no ping on the floor this time. I cringe in this darkness and then inhale. I want to howl at the moon but it’s still conveniently hiding its face. Without moving my feet, I crouch in the darkness, my fingertips floating nimbly over the corrugated metal floor. It couldn’t have gone far, I tell myself. After a few minutes my mother taps on the glass. I open the door. Five minutes later my mother finally finds the contact stuck on the lapel of my jacket. I pop the lens in my mouth and deftly flip it over on my tongue as I dial Pete’s number. He answers on the first ring. I take my contact lens out of my mouth and hold it carefully between my thumb and forefinger.

“Pete, we can’t seem to find your house.”

“44 Wilderness Trail.”

“I know. But there are no streetlights, and not a single house.”

“You gotta be kidding. I’ll go stand out on the curb.” He hangs up.

I hold the phone out and look at it angrily. He not only isn’t tall; he’s rude.

“Well?” my mother asks.

“He’s waiting at the curb.”

She laughs. I lick my contact and put it back in my eye. It’s covered with a thick film; a dense spit fog. I can barely see out of it. It’s like looking through frosted glass. Closing one eye at a time, I blink hard, and then stare up at the fickle moon, wondering if this new distortion will make the night seem any less real. Are there limits to surreality?

This time a lone porch light shines back in the woods at the end of the cul-de-sac. My mom pulls up to the curb. “You’d think he would’ve turned the lights on to begin with.”

I nod then get out of the car and run up to the front door. The house is a huge plantation style mansion. Six enormous white columns line the front porch. I ring the doorbell. Inside, footsteps creak across the wooden floor. I close my good eye and look through a fog as the entry hall light comes on. The lock clicks and the door opens slowly. I glance up, half expecting the ghost of Scarlet O’Hara or some other Civil War poltergeist, but it’s only Pete James, youngest son of my family’s general practitioner.

“Sorry we’re late.”

He snorts and does not look at my face. I decide to keep my good eye closed.

“You brought the hearse?”

I glance out at my mom’s station wagon. It does look amazingly like a hearse, yet I’ve never noticed that before. I open my good eye.

“Your mom’s going with us?”

“You don’t have your driver’s license yet either, Pete,” I quip defensively.

I march straight back to the passenger side, front seat, get in and slam the door. Pete hesitates then gets in the back seat.

“Hello Pete,” my mother says warmly.

“Good evening, Mrs. Wilkes.

I glance at Pete’s curly headed outline in the rear-view mirror. What an ‘Eddie Haskell’, I think to myself. The quintessential brown-noser from “Leave It to Beaver.” At least Eddie Haskell was taller than Pete.

“Did you think we weren’t coming?” my mom laughs.


“The dinner reservations aren’t until seven anyway,” I say.
“Dinner?” he says. “I already ate.”

Mom and I exchange glances. All twenty-five hours of babysitting I’ve done in order to have the money to pay for this evening flash before my eyes. All those baby bottles. All those runny noses.

“Well maybe by the time we get to Kemah you’ll be hungry,” Mom says. She reaches over and turns on the radio.

I look up at the moonless sky through my cloudy eye thinking of all those dirty diapers and wondering how many articles of clothing I could have bought with that money. I imagine opening the menu and seeing designer jeans and miniskirts listed among the seafood specials.

Suzanna’s house is only three blocks away. Mom keeps the conversation going until we pull into her driveway. I get out of the car, but before I can make it to the door, Suzanna is out on the porch waving goodbye to her mom.

“What happened?” she asks me.

“Don’t ask.”

“Cute suit,” she says as I open the back door for her.

“Thanks,” I mumble, wondering if she really means it.

Bill, Suzanna’s date, lives about three minutes down Main Street. No one speaks until we’re almost there.

“You hungry?” Suzanna asks Pete.

“He already ate,” I answer without turning to face the back seat.

Silence floats up between the front and back seats like a bulletproof barrier. Why do I feel safer behind this wall of animosity? Would a girl with more of a soul not have to do this?

At Bill’s house, Suzanna runs up to the door and I smile watching her hairdo bounce up and down. She only wears her hair up on special occasions. My lack of “do” comforts me. I’m a good friend, I think to myself. Suzanna’s been dying to go out with Bill, but she felt awkward asking him. Two weeks ago I volunteered to ask Pete, since he and Bill are good friends. That way we could double, and it wouldn’t seem as awkward for her. I promise myself I won’t let anything spoil her good time.

“Hey dude,” Bill says to Pete as he opens the door for Suzanna. Pete slides across the seat; Suzanna climbs in, then Bill gets in beside her.

“Hello Bill, nice to see you,” my mother says with genuine kindness.

“Hi there.”

“There’s never much traffic this late,” I say. “We’ll be at Jimmy Walker’s by seven.”

“Jimmy Walker’s?” Bill asks.

Suzanna nods.

“Great. I love seafood,” says Bill.

“I thought you did,” says Suzanna.

“You bet,” Bill continues, “I’m starving. I’ve been mowing yards all day and didn’t have time to eat.”

“Well now’s your chance, pal,” Pete chimes in, “They’re buying.”

Suzanna and Bill and my mom all laugh. I glance back at Pete, and he looks straight at me, as if to say, What?

I watch as the headlights of the car behind us melt his curly hair into the silhouette of an angora sweater. It fades into darkness as the car passes us. I reach inside my purse and feel all six of those crisp twenty-dollar bills.

Sing WO-HE-LO, I say to myself, silently humming the campfire girl’s theme song.

“Shrimp cocktail,” Bill says, smacking his lips.

“Stuffed shrimp and escargot,” Suzanna says.

“Shrimp étouffée and Cajun gumbo,” I say, and then smile at Pete. He turns and gazes out the window as we cruise down Highway 518 towards the coast.

“You guys are making me hungry,” Mom says.

“Lemon sole,” Bill says, grinning.

“Melting in butter. Can’t you just taste it?” Suzanna asks.

Bill reaches behind Suzanna and thumps Pete on the shoulder. “Hey man, don’t you like seafood?”

Pete jerks his shoulder away. “It’s all right.”

“They have steak as well,” I say, then toss out my best smile.

Pete looks away, pretending not to notice my attempt at civility. He rolls down the window about two inches. A chill invades the car with the night air as a living, breathing silence erects a wall around each of us, confining us with our own thoughts.

Inside the restaurant, we sit at a table for four overlooking the bay. I watch the seagulls float by the window outside riding the waves with stolid resignation. Pete’s leg brushes against my ankle beside him. His corduroy feels warm against my cold nylons. Is this how a foot fetish starts? I’ve read about fetishes but have yet to experience one firsthand. Is it something like an addiction? These thoughts flash through my mind in the half second it takes for me to turn away from the seagulls and look up at Pete standing beside me.

“Where’s the men’s room?” Pete asks.

“This way,” Bill says, standing. “Excuse us, ladies.”

Suzanna and I watch as they walk out of view, then Suzanna takes out her lip gloss and quickly paints her lips a pale pink.

“Having fun?” I ask her, toying absently with my shrimp tails.

“He’s so fine,” she says, blotting her lips, smoothing out the gloss. “Look okay?”

“You look perfect.”

The waiter comes and clears away our dishes, leaving Pete’s half eaten sirloin and lobster.

“Can you bring a dessert menu?” I ask.

The waiter nods and disappears with our dishes.

“Listen Miranda,” Suzanna says. “I know you’d rather have asked Greg, but Pete’s not a bad guy once you get to know him. Besides, I would never have had the courage to ask Bill without you guys doubling with us. I owe you. Big time.”

“Forget it,” I say, folding my napkin into a fan. “Besides, what makes you think I wanted to ask Greg?”

“I saw the look on your face when Alexandra said she asked him.”

“Oh,” I say, spreading the napkin fan out in front of me. Its crisp linen folds hold it upright in an elegant design.

“Cool,” Suzanna says, eyeing my napkin. “Where’d you learn that?”

“My grandfather taught me.” I take her napkin and fold it into a fan, then open it out in front of her. They look very five star I must admit. Pete and Bill amble back up to our table.

“Hey. Our fan club is here,” Pete says, sliding down into his chair beside me. I grab my napkin, shake it open, and spread it over my lap. The waiter arrives pushing an elegant desert cart.

“I’m so full I can’t possibly eat another bite,” Suzanna says, “But they all look so good.”

I order cherry cheesecake and coffee. No one else orders anything. After pouring the entire pitcher of cream into my coffee, it still tastes too bitter to drink. Anyway, I only ordered it to look cool. I cut a piece of my cheesecake and hold it up for Suzanna to eat.

“Mmm,” she says, “You’ve got to taste this.” She takes her fork, and cuts a piece then holds it up for Bill to eat. He opens his eyes wide and grins. The three of us finish my desert. I deliberately don’t offer any to Pete.

After paying the check, Suzanna and I stop at the ladies’ room on the way out.

“He’s so incredibly FINE,” Suzanna says, reaching for toilet tissue under the wall between our stalls. I hand her a wad of paper.

“I’m glad you’re having fun,” I say, silently wondering where Alexandra and Greg went to eat. They probably went out with Alexandra’s older brother and his girlfriend, the homecoming queen. Her brother is a senior and captain of the football team. Alexandra could get any guy she wants; it makes no sense to me why she asked Greg to this dance. She’s never liked him before. She used to say he looked like George of the Jungle. BIG and DUMB. I happen to like BIG. And besides, he’s not dumb at all. He’s just shy, and in addition to size he’s got a nice smile and soft brown eyes. I certainly appreciate his finer qualities. It doesn’t seem the least bit fair that I’m stuck with Mr. Cynical, and Alexandra gets my dream guy.

We meet Bill and Pete in the lobby then walk outside. The full moon is higher now, but still partially concealed by its curtain of clouds. We find my mom in the parking lot, dozing behind the wheel. I tap lightly on the windshield, and she awakens.

“Have a nice dinner?” she asks, yawning.

“Super,” Suzanna says.

Mom’s hair is sticking up in back where her head was leaning against the seat. She looks exhausted. No one else speaks the entire way to the dance.

After an hour and a half of watching the lasers bounce off the lockers in the school mall, I step outside. The moon is smaller now, high overhead, and its silvery beams shimmer off our high school banner waving in the breeze. I hum the words of our school song to myself. I say, “Go Mustangs!” aloud just to see what it might feel like to be a cheerleader and say stuff like this.

My voice sounds puny in the darkness with the wind gusting through the trees. I’m standing in the shadows and almost jump out of my skin when I hear that familiar dreamy voice.

“Having fun yet?” Greg says, behind me.

“That depends,” I say, turning to face him. To my horror, Alexandra is hanging on his arm as he escorts her into the garden. I shrink further into the shadows, pretending they didn’t hear me.

“You bet,” Alexandra says, glancing my way, then shrugs. “Aren’t you?”

He laughs but doesn’t say anything else. I hold my breath and then moving as quietly and as quickly as I can in my platform shoes, I head back into the darkened mall, where disco music echoes off the bright red lockers. Scanning the dance floor, I see Suzanna and Bill slow-dancing while everyone around them is dancing fast and furious. Running to the girl’s restroom, I notice a group of guys sitting huddled together; laughter erupts from their crowd just as I pass by them.

Black streaks of mascara broadcast the fact that I’ve been crying. It was so traumatic seeing Alexandra hanging on Greg’s arm, I hadn’t even realized that tears were streaming down my cheeks. I quickly wash my face, and then pinch my cheeks for color, just like my grandmother used to do.

Returning to the dance floor, I find Suzanna and Bill sitting together at an otherwise empty table in the back. I join them, telling one stupid knock-knock joke after another. I hear laughter again, and without turning my head to look, I can just barely see out of the corner of my eye that same group of guys has moved to the table beside us. Are they following me? Are they so bored they have nothing more to do than document my misery?

Immediately, I notice Edward Walker leaning up against the wall drinking a Coke. He’s very tall and skinny; he’s also a mega brain. He took trig and calculus our freshman year and he’s placed out of all the math and science courses available here. He goes half a day to high school, and half a day to the community college across town. His dad got him a job after school at NASA, since his dad is like chairman of the mission control team or something. Edward’s planning to graduate early and go to MIT next fall on a full academic scholarship, to study aerospace engineering.

Edward’s nickname is SPACE GEEK. He had a crush on me in fifth grade, when we used to draw spaceships together on the sidewalk with my hopscotch chalk, while waiting on our rides after school. Our moms were always late. He used to write me poems about the stars and planets. My sister and I used to call him Edward Stalker instead of Edward Walker, but for some reason, I never threw away those poems. They’re all in a shoebox in my closet, hidden beneath my winter coats.

I stand and make my way to the dance floor. My favorite song, “Brick House,” is playing now, and the music is so loud it rattles my ribcage. Dancing alone, I close my eyes and move to the music, pretending I’m a “Solid Gold” Go-Go dancer. The lights flash. I shake my long hair around in a circular motion as I spin. I know this looks cool since I’ve practiced in front of the bathroom mirror at home many times. Other people begin filling the dance floor. I can hear them clapping and whistling as they dance. I pretend they’re clapping for me; this makes me dance even better.

When I graduate, I’d like to hitchhike to Las Vegas and audition for a floorshow. My mom wants me to study engineering at Rice. I’d rather shake it on stage. If only I were a couple inches taller. I kick my right leg so high that my knee hits my shoulder. I do a dramatic lunge, and then keep swirling and swiveling to the beat.

When I hear laughter erupt from that same table of jerks, I open my eyes to find Edward Walker dancing right beside me.

“Hey,” Edward says. “You look great.”

I smile and shimmy off in the opposite direction. He follows me, imitating my moves. I laugh, but I have to admit he’s pretty slick for such a mega-geek. I stop, spin around to face him, and hold my hand up, palm out, right in front of his face. I bounce my left hip up and down a few times and he does the same then he grabs my hand out of his face. He leads me out to the center of the dance floor, and I’m so relieved to get away from the “audience” of jerks seated at the table behind us that I bounce on my platforms and wiggle as I walk behind Edward.

When we reach the center of the dance floor, he pulls me up towards him, just inches away. He raises one eyebrow seductively, and I can’t help but laugh. He laughs too then twirls me out in a huge jitterbug spin. He holds my hand up over my head so I can do a few Soul Train spins out to a big “Vegas” lunge. He’s not half bad.

Then he grabs my other hand and leads me around the floor in a kind of two-step disco-jitterbug combo that I’ve never seen before. It’s a basic step-step, twirl, shake it, step-step move so I pick up on it really quick. We’re all over the floor. I’m laughing and trying to keep up. My platforms are fast becoming a hindrance. He’s actually a great dancer. I’m shocked. He twirls me out for an extra big finish and leans me over backwards for a huge dip. I flex my right leg straight up, feeling my hamstrings tighten when I hit the splits.

The song is over, but Edward won’t let go. He pulls me up close as the next song, a sluggish love ballad, blares over the speakers. Slow dancing isn’t exactly my forte. I always end up trying to lead, so I make a deliberate effort to follow. This requires intense concentration for me, much more so than just going with the flow of a fast dance.

Edward’s shirt is all sweaty. He pulls me in close, and surprisingly I like the way his bony chest feels against my cheek, except for the pencils in his pocket, poking my earlobe. I tuck my thumb into his back pocket, and an enormous shiver runs through his entire body. He reaches back and puts his trembling left hand on the small of my back. I feel sweat trickling down between my shoulder blades.

I close my eyes, wondering what Edward will look like in five or ten years. He has a beard and the same thick glasses. I think about those poems at home in my shoebox. Then suddenly I feel someone touching my hair. I look up and Pete is thumping Edward on his lanky shoulder.

“I’m cutting in pal,” Pete says to Edward. He tries to protest, but Pete is too smooth. He’s already got his arms around me tight.

Looking over Pete’s shoulder, I gaze up at Edward, watching his eyes; then for some reason I wink at him. He smiles, winks back, then he’s gone.

“So, you giving lessons or what?” Pete says.

“Excuse me?”

“Space Geek. You teaching him those moves or what?”

I stare at Pete. He smiles nervously. I wait for him to say something else but he doesn’t. He pulls me in tighter to his chest, and I can feel his biceps twitching underneath his shirt. Why do guys act so weird when they’re nervous?

After a moment I laugh.

“What?” Pete asks with an extra edge to his voice.

“Edward’s got a few moves he could teach me.”

Pete stiffens and then grips my hand tighter than before. “Hey, I only cut in because I thought you might want to be rescued.”

Is this supposed to impress me? His ‘rescuing’ me from the arms of a guy I was clearly enjoying dancing with? I wonder if jealousy was actually his motivation. He’s certainly been no knight in shining armor all evening. If I had more soul, would I believe him? Would a girl with more depth of character find it easier to trust people?

But why not be suspicious? He was, after all, sitting in the middle of that table of jerks just a few minutes earlier, laughing behind my back, right in front of my face.

I pull away from him saying, “You know, I really hate slow dancing. You want a Coke?”

He shrugs and walks away from me. I turn and head toward the vending machines, feeling my pockets for change. I hesitate, trying to decide if I want a Coke or a Mountain Dew.

“Nice pants,” says a deep voice behind me.

I turn, surprised to see Greg standing there. He drops two quarters into the slot. He pushes the button and a cold Mountain Dew falls banging down the shoot. He grabs it, holds it against his forehead a moment, and then gives it to me. I smile.

“There’s a party at Alexandra’s beach house after this. Are you going?”

“I wasn’t invited,” I say, sipping the soda.

“Well, I’m inviting you,” he says, reaching for the drink. He takes a sip then returns it. I take another sip, imagining what it would feel like to kiss him with my eyes closed.

“Oh there you are,” Alexandra calls, running up to us. “You and Space Geek should enter the dance contest. You guys are pretty hot.”

I cringe. “Yeah right,” I say then return the soda to Greg. “Thanks. That really hit the spot.”

“You bet,” he says, ignoring Alexandra. “I’ll catch you later.”

I look up into his soft brown eyes. They’re smaller than I remembered, and way closer together than Edward’s baby blues. It hits me suddenly that perhaps I’ve been mistaken about Greg. Perhaps he is not my dream guy.

“Yeah,” I whisper then say, “Later.” I feel hollow inside, like my world has been diminished. I think of my dad’s Polaroid and wonder if this is a more accurate sensation of having your soul stolen. To believe wholeheartedly in certain truths, then realize they are not what they seem. They are in fact empty and shallow falsehoods.

Just when I find Suzanna and Bill’s table, Pete walks up with a Coke in each hand.

“Thirsty?” he says, offering me a drink.

I take it.

“I saw Edward in the men’s room combing his hair,” Pete says, laughing. He pulls a chair out for me. “He said to tell you he’s sorry if he ruined our date.”

I glance up at Pete and he sits beside me. “He didn’t ruin it,” I say.

Pete’s eyes widen. “Hey man,” he says, grinning, “Why’d you ask me out if you really want to be with someone else?”

I stare at him, wondering if he saw me flirting with Greg beside the vending machines. Just then the lights come on. The music has stopped. People are moving to the exit. I’m disappointed the dance is over, yet I’m glad I came, even with Mr. Cynical. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten to dance with Edward.

“Look. I’ll go find Space Geek, if you want.” Pete laughs, then pulls a pack of gum from his pocket and offers me the last stick. I hesitate, then take it.

Pete takes my hand, leading me through the crowd to the exit. I scan the sea of students around me, looking for Edward, but to no avail.

I unwrap the gum, and just before popping it into my mouth I break it equally and give half to Pete.

He takes it and studies my eyes.

I study his studying.

Edward passes behind Pete on his way to the bike rack. I stand on my toes, gazing over Pete’s shoulder, so I can watch my Space Geek as he unlocks his scooter. He kick-starts it and it sounds like a baby lawnmower engine. He then unlocks his helmet, puts it on and slowly lowers the visor.

“Toro…toro” I whisper to myself, wondering how it would feel to break free of Pete’s escortish hold on my elbow and dash into the sidewalk, into Edward’s path, ripping off my jacket and holding it out in a stiff-arm matador pose. If I actually did this, would I jeopardize what’s left of Suzanna’s perfect evening? Glancing up ahead, I see Suzanna and Bill sitting together on the concrete bench adjacent to the parking lot, waiting for her dad to pick us up and drive us home. Bill leans in close to her, whispers something in her ear and she giggles.

Edward revs his engine and I close my eyes, imagining him at home in his garage attaching a motor to his skateboard, adding those oversized roller skate wheels and drilling holes for the steering stick which is clearly bolted on with enormous lug nuts and washers. I wonder what other contraptions he has at home in his garage. Pete touches my elbow, steering me toward the bench next to Suzanna and Bill, unaware that Edward is approaching us from behind.

I freeze, delaying the inevitable as long as I can.

Edward slips a folded-up dance flyer into my back pocket as he passes. Pete never even notices.

“Hey dude,” Pete calls out to Bill. “You guys going to Alexandra’s beach party?”

Suzanna glances back at us. Time drags incredibly slowly for me now, as if I’m hovering just out of my skin, watching this scene unfold in slow motion all around me.

“We can’t,” Suzanna says, so slowly she sounds like a baritone in the bottom of a well. “My curfew is midnight.”

Just then, Edward looks at me over his shoulder. He hesitates then continues down the sidewalk, weaving in and out through the crowd in a mass exodus from the dance. I grab Edward’s note from my back pocket, quickly unfolding it as my pulse throbs in that knotted up tight spot in the back of my neck.

There in his tiny precise block printing are the words of a poem he wrote to me almost five years ago. My hands shake as I read it. Then I read it again.

In fifth grade, this poem made me laugh. Right now, there’s a strange tingling feeling in my lower back. What a difference five years makes. Not to mention a few zillion hormones. That tingling feeling rapidly works its way down my legs until my knees feel weak.

I tuck the flyer down behind my baby blue neckline, where my cleavage would be if I had any, and try to focus on the scene in front of me. Not even spit foggy contact lenses could hold a candle to this surreality. It’s all I can do to keep from floating off into a world that exists only inside my adolescent mind.

Suzanna’s father chauffeurs us home from the ball in his 370i Bavarian carriage, dropping me off first since my home is closest to the high school. The conversation is lively, yet I couldn’t tell you one word of it. In fact, my mind is hovering over the lake that Edward described in his poem. It’s a tiny little portrait. His name and his words float above it. There are trees along the shoreline. The sun is setting behind the mountains, spreading its reflection out across the glassy water. I think of the incredibly smooth feel of his hand on the small of my back earlier out on the dance floor.

Little cold shivers run across my skin like the strings of the poetry man’s quiet guitar until those sounds are no longer words, but the timbre of his voice, the sounds of twilight: frogs, crickets, a lone whippoorwill off in the distance, singing a song for its missing mate.

My mother calls a sleepy-soft “Did-you-have-a-nice-time-at-the-dance-dear?” from the living room where my dad dozes in front of the TV. They’re watching reruns of “Love American Style.”
“Yes ma’am,” I call back to her then I float upstairs and into my bed, burying myself fully dressed beneath the crisp cotton sheets and down comforter. Closing my eyes I can’t help but feel as if I’m deep in suspended animation, even beneath the covers, somehow floating in midair like a magician’s assistant.

Trying to fall asleep is absurd.

After an hour of feeling as if I’m levitating above my bed, the sound of a pebble hitting glass permeates my pseudo awareness.

I hear another pebble, then another. I’m definitely not imagining this. Tossing off the covers, I rush up to the window and raise the blinds. Edward’s polished white plastic motocross helmet glistens in the moonlight, though the rest of his body is concealed in the bushes. I open the window and lean my head out.

I wave, and then call out softly, “I’ll be right down.” Without bothering to shut the window, I tiptoe past my parents’ room and the strangely comforting sound of my father’s snoring. The second stair from the top creaks slightly, but the rest are silent. My face feels puffy and oddly dislocated, while the rest of my body is dead on target.

Outside, I hurry barefoot through the dew-drenched grass until I reach the west side of our house. Glancing up, I can see my curtains billowing through the open window.

Edward stands beside the humming air conditioner unit, waiting for me in the flowerbed with his binoculars around his neck. The scent of jasmine blossoms and wet rose petals wafts up beside us. Without speaking I unclasp his chinstrap and delicately pull his helmet off his head.

He smiles and before I quite realize what he’s doing, I can feel his breath on the back of my neck. Startled by the unexpected warmth of his lips on my skin, I stiffen, wondering where this is leading and so anxious to find out I don’t even care that his hands are shaking as he touches my shoulders. I hesitate then let him kiss me. I can feel his heart pounding as he hugs me. It’s an awkward kiss, my first, and then he steps back away from me.

“Let’s go for a walk,” he says.


We head out into the darkness, walking down the sidewalk, hand in hand.

Two hours later, Edward and I sit cross-legged in his little brother’s tree fort, taking turns gazing at the full moon through his Eagle Scout binoculars. I’m wearing his helmet and his size nine Nikes, and he’s donned my jacket.

“If you could have one thing in this life, anything you want, what would it be?” Edward asks me.

Pulling the binoculars away from my face, I look at him, eyeing him up and down, wondering if he’s kidding. He smiles then I’m certain that he’s not kidding. He is without a doubt the most random guy I’ve ever known in my life. Slowly I unfasten his helmet and slip it off my head.

“Just curious,” he says. He leans back on his elbow, points at a constellation and begins telling me a story about an ancient and far away galaxy. I watch him speaking for a moment, then close my eyes and let the sound of his voice carry me off in space to another place and time. Shifting my weight, I roll onto my side and then lay my head on his shoulder. His story is a sedative, his voice an elixir. It doesn’t even matter what he’s saying, as long as the sound of his voice resonates inside my head.

His story goes on and on. There’s a revolution, and warriors. And forces of good and evil so ancient and central to anyone’s innate sense of morality they need no explanation.

Closing my eyes, I run my fingertips slowly down Edwards’s cheek, touching his earlobe, his chin, and his shoulder. With my pinky nail I trace my name over and over on his bicep, as if tattooing myself invisibly onto his arm will somehow insure my permanence in his life.

He stops speaking and my eyes blink open. Could he actually feel what I was writing on his arm? He takes a deep breath.

“What?” I stare at him, nervous.

He doesn’t answer me.

I sit up and stare at his face. He switches his attention from the stars to my eyes. “Ever wonder if there’s more to it?”

“More to what?” I ask, pretending I have no clue.

He smiles. “You’re lying without actually saying anything. Interesting.”

I shrug. “Sing Wo-He-Lo,” I say, then hum the rest of the tune.

“Work. Health. Love,” he says, laughing.

“Oh my gosh! You actually know the Campfire Girls’ theme song?”

“My mom was a Campfire Girl leader for my sister’s troop,” he explains. “I used to sneak into their meetings and sing their songs just for kicks.”

“What are you going to be when you grow up?” I ask him.

He laughs then says, “Do you need to know right now?”

I say, “Just curious.”

He rolls over onto his stomach, propping himself up on his elbows. “I used to dream about being an astronaut and traveling to other planets. But lately I’ve been fascinated with staying in one place and examining the fabric of time all around it. You know, continuance theories?”

Clearing my throat, not wanting to appear any more stupid than I actually am, I say, “You mean like particle theories? Sub-atomics? Super-strings? Minute dimensions?”

He frowns slightly. “Well. It seems to me we should understand our place in this space we’re in right now, before tearing off to ‘conquer’ some new space.”

He makes little quote marks with his fingers as he says the word “conquer.” He stares at me longer than it usually takes to make me feel uncomfortable.

“Makes sense to me,” I say, to fill up the space of his silence. Why is it when he looks at me like this, all my good ideas float out of the top of my head? I feel strangely like a dolphin, blowing away water in order to breathe, yet forgetting the point in the process.

He then pulls a tiny tape recorder from his pants pocket. He turns it on and hits the rewind button.

Staring in horror at this device, I somehow manage to ask him why he wants to know.

He shrugs then turns on the tape player. “Just curious,” he says.

My cheeks blaze as I hear the sounds of our conversation over the last two hours, interlaced with moments of silence when he was kissing me.

I frown. “Am I your next science fair project or is this what you do to all your chicks?”

He laughs.

I don’t. I stand up, feeling the tears well up in my eyes and I slither down the tree fort ladder.

“Hey, wait up,” Edward calls. He hurries down the ladder and chases me. I run as fast as I can, attempting to outrun the embarrassment of what just happened.

But Edward is too fast, he catches me and grabs me by the wrist. “Miranda. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you cry. Please don’t run away from me.”

I try to pull my arm free from his grip, but he holds on tight.

“Listen to me.” He takes my other hand. “I have watched you since fifth grade. I still remember what you were wearing the first day you came into class as the new kid at school.”

I wipe my tears away and glance at him. “You do?”

He squeezes my hands. “You wore a red and black plaid skirt, a white shirt, and a red hair ribbon. I remember it like it was yesterday.”

“How can you remember something like that from so long ago?”

“Because from the first moment I saw you, I knew we would be together. I said to myself ‘That’s the girl I could spend the rest of my life with.’”

I laugh.

He doesn’t.

I sniffle and Edward takes off my jacket and slips it onto my bare shoulders.

“I was wrong to record you without your knowledge. But I did it so I could keep it with me when I leave for college. So I can hear your voice, even if I can’t talk to you.”

I gaze at him, shocked by what he is saying. I had no idea he felt this way about me all these years. I suddenly think of Greg and how empty I felt after sharing a soda and flirting with him at the dance. If that’s what it feels like to have your soul stolen, then this must be what it feels like to have your soul returned to you.

I hesitate, then reach up and touch Edward’s cheek with the palm of my hand. I suddenly get a very cool sensation of floating in warm water with my eyes closed. He leans down and kisses me.

“Be my girlfriend, Miranda,” he says.

He laughs. I laugh as well because it feels like my only option. Then he leans over and kisses my neck. I close my eyes and imagine that I can hear the ocean hitting the shore. I wonder if anything lasts from here to eternity... and beyond. Opening one eye, I stare at this male animal beside me and wonder if he will be the same funny little boy inside, twenty years from now. For that matter, I wonder if anything will be the same in twenty years. A year is pushing it in this restless world. Three hundred and sixty-five days from now Edward will be away at MIT doing mister-science-guy research or something else monumentally serious and important.

I clear my throat. “What’s your address?”

Edward says, “291 Willow Bend Drive. Why?”

“So we can write to each other.”

Edward grins. “You mean it?”

I nod.

He leans his forehead down and touches it to my forehead then puts his hands on either side of my face.

“Thank you,” he whispers.

I take a picture of this moment with the camera in my mind’s eye. Then I freeze frame it on my gallery wall of precious memories so I can remember it whenever the urge overtakes me.

Suddenly Edward’s watch beeps.

“Stop. Put your pencils down,” I say.

Edward laughs.

I hesitate, then ask him, “Ever feel like you’re trapped inside a fairytale with no beginning or ending?”


I untie Edward’s shoes and slip them off my feet. One thing about Edward I feel certain will always be true, no matter how much time he ends up exploring, is that he will always take himself lightly. He will always be able to look around him and find humor.

This one thing is more attractive about him than all his other merits combined.

A breeze stirs the trees all around us, and the morning sun begins to wipe the darkness from the sky. I close my eyes and wish I could have all those years back between right now and fifth grade, when I forgot Edward existed.

He leans in close and whispers a couple lines from his best poem then says my name. I get a strange but totally awesome sensation of falling. He whispers my name again, as if getting used to the way it feels on his tongue. Then he takes my hand and holds it up to his cheek.

Oddly enough, I think of Pete and our monumentally bad date, which clearly could not have been more fortuitous because it led me here. Does that sound slightly unfifteen-ish or what? Is this how it feels to grow up fast?

“You didn’t answer me,” he says.

“What do you mean?”

“I asked you to be my girlfriend and you didn’t answer me.”

I hesitate. I’ve never had a boyfriend before. This is new to me.

All those nights I’ve spent dreaming about Greg seem a ridiculous waste of time right now. My assessment of Greg as attractive seems immature and shallow right now. In fact my entire world seems to be morphing into something new all around me and I’m glad it’s happening. What if I never found Edward tonight, and I woke up fifteen years from now married to someone like Greg and realized how mistaken I’d been about what’s important in life and what is meaningless. There is an urgency in Edward’s eyes, as if he’s leaving tomorrow instead of next fall.

Suddenly Edward takes my hand and kisses it. “You don’t have to answer me right away. Think about it for a while. But let’s do something now, before you go home.”


“Let’s make a pact between us that we will always keep in touch after I leave for college. No matter what happens.”

Without hesitating I say, “Okay.” For some reason the urgency in his voice is contagious. I feel compelled to hang on to this moment.

He reaches for my hand. “Let’s shake on it.”

We shake hands.

“So it’s official,” he says. “We’ll always keep in touch.”

“No matter what happens.”

He smiles at me. “Come on. I’ll walk you home.”

We walk down the street holding hands as the sunrise starts to break through the clouds and a comfortable silence settles between us. We walk for about a block and a half, until I can’t help but ask him, “Have you ever kissed a girl before?”

He shakes his head. “Could you tell?” He glances at me nervously and I smile at him and shake my head.

We walk half a block further then I say, “I don’t need to think about it. My answer is yes.”

He stops in his tracks.

“Are you sure?”


I think of that shoebox full of his poems and I imagine another box full of letters that he will write next fall from MIT, and I smile.

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