I didn’t want to overdo it, so I got a short dress that was bottle green and edged with black lace. I did my hair like I saw in one of the magazines Lucy stole to help us prepare. I wore red lipstick, and even my mom said it looked great. I let my curls hang free for once, with the help of about a cup of mousse. Lucy wore a black sequined dress and still didn’t bother brushing her hair but it looked good anyway. Of course. Max and Slade both wore suit style #357, except Max got it in black and Slade in dark green.
“It’s like we should switch!” Max said.
“Ew, don’t be gross,” said Lucy. It was pretty bad, I guess, if he’d want to take his sister as a date instead of me, even as a joke.
The gym was decorated with so many streamers and balloons and tables and things that you almost couldn’t tell it was a gym if you didn’t look up and see the basketball hoops. Last year they had it at the country club, but someone trashed the bathroom and that was that.
Little beads of light from the disco ball splashed over everyone’s faces. Max said he needed to go out for a cigarette. I sat and played with the glitter on the tablecloth. I felt like some senior girls were giving me dirty looks for even being there, fat sophomore that I was, so I arranged a constellation of yellow and blue dots on my arm and tried not to look around too much. But I wondered who was in love and who was faking, who was trying to get laid. That’s my problem: I always think in absolutes. Of course you could be in love and trying to get laid, or you could not be either. You could just be dancing with someone you’re beginning to like, or someone you wished liked you.
I heard that Miri was pretty pissed that Slade didn’t take her to Snowball. But then I heard someone else say she wasn’t mad at all, that she didn’t care about high school shit like that. I thought it was probably some combination of the two. Even if you didn’t give two shits about a dance, you stilled cared if your ex went with someone else. Especially a sophomore.
On the road, it’s not like Slade talked about Miri the whole time. But that was almost worse than if he had. Once I could actually believe I was in an RV with this strange older boy, I watched him in the driver’s seat. I looked at the long black hair on his forearms, the beard-shadow on his chin, and his hands with their big flat nails, and I felt the ghost of her hanging over him. Somewhere under his curls was her name, and somehow I knew this was all a fluke that I was here and she was there, at home, getting high in the woods behind the playground.
When he picked me up at the bus stop near my dad’s the day after Christmas, I saw the extent of what I’d agreed to. The RV was hardly in one piece. The inside had wood paneling like my aunt’s basement, and it smelled moldy. It was 850 miles from Philadelphia to Florida and school started back up in less than a week.
“Sorry, there’s only one, uh, bunk.” Slade pointed to a ladder that led to a bed in that part of an RV that hangs over the windshield. “My grandfather took the other bed out to make room for the table there.” I thought of Lucy. How she would see this as a super cool moment, 10 times better than walking down the halls of school in the space under his arm, like Miri had. She would see it as a kind of victory. I was suddenly afraid to put my backpack down. It would mean I was going, and I didn’t think either of us thought it was a good idea. I looked at him and thought of those two other girls and why was I here instead. He smiled and took the bag from me.
I shook my head.
“Coffee patrol it is, then.” He handed me a dented Thermos. Once every half-hour he asked me to fill the cap again and downed it like a shot. Somewhere around Richmond I fell asleep. It was the Christmas leftovers I’d eaten earlier, and the blue darkness that turned the RV into a little cave.
Going to Snowball was the coolest thing that had happened to me in a long time. Even though Max pretty much ditched me and I ate cake by myself because Lucy was nowhere. I went outside to look for Max, and instead I found Slade around the corner, leaning against the brick wall, smoking. He offered me a cigarette, but my uncle Joe had died of lung cancer, so I always said no. I did take a sip from his flask, though. So far this was the most we’d ever interacted. We sat down against the wall.
“I like your dress,” he said. He took the green silk between his fingers and rubbed.
“Thanks,” I said, and took another swig.
“It’s poisonous,” he said.
“Oh, I’m just not used to whiskey.”
“No, the color,” he said, lifting the hem of my dress just a little.
“Oh.” I handed the flask back to him. “Why did you say yes?”
“To us. To Lucy.”
He pulled on his green bowtie. “Hey, look. We almost match,” he said. There was a lilt to his voice that made me realize he’d been out here drinking for a while.
“Yeah…” I said, like Lucy and Max hadn’t just talked about it. “Kind of. You’re more of a forest green.” I reached out and gave the suit a tug at his shoulder. He looked surprised, but smiled.
“Lucy is a terrible blackmailer.”
I laughed. “What happened to the ceiling?”
“Indoor bonfire,” Slade said, gulping more whiskey. “Hey, do you want to go?”
“What about Lucy?”
“Last time I checked, she was dancing with Morgan Benson,” Slade said.
“Ew, the guy with the bowl cut?”
Slade laughed. I’d never heard him do that before.