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Prom

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Sidney stood on the porch and forced himself to not try to adjust anything. He'd only ever worn suits a few times before and never a tux and for some reason it was insanely more uncomfortable than anything else he'd ever worn in his life. Or maybe it was the fact he was at a girl's house, about to pick her up for prom.

He made himself stop squirming, telling himself sternly that the sooner he rang the doorbell, the sooner he could get this over with and go back home and watch last night's NHL highlights and get his homework done. Sidney stepped forward, rang the doorbell, and half a second later the door opened and Parker stood there, staring at him.

She was wearing a dress. Sidney didn't know if he'd ever seen her in a dress before. Admittedly, he didn't normally pay attention to what Parker wore to school -- he hardly paid attention to any girls at all, unless they were on the girls' hockey team and they were actually talking hockey. But Parker had always struck him as always wearing pants and dark shirts; right now she was in a bright red dress with a skirt that was....really not all that long. Sidney swallowed and thrust out his hand.

"Here's your corsage."

She stared at it like she didn't know if it was going to bite her, then she very clearly forced herself to smile. "Thank you," she said, sounding as awkward as Sidney felt.

"I, uh, should...put it on...." Sidney stepped forward and tried to figure out how to pin the thing to the really, really thin strap that went from her dress up and over her shoulder. The really, really thin strap that was right above her boob and finally Sidney just shoved it into her hands. "I think it's the kind you wear on your wrist," he said, because it just occurred to him that Geno had told him that, when Sidney had gone over to Geno's house and begged him to help him figure out cummerbunds and bow ties.

Geno had laughed at him, sure, but in a friendly way, then he'd helped Sidney get ready and told him all kinds of things Sidney knew he was never, ever going to need to know about girls, proms, and tuxedos. He'd got rid of the small paper bag Geno had shoved at him last minute, horrified beyond the telling when he'd peeked inside and seen condoms and breath mints. Geno had just grinned at him and Sidney had thrown the bag in the trunk of his car and swore that tomorrow morning, early as possible, he was knocking on Geno's door and dragging him out to join Sidney for a jog. A long jog, the perfect thing for hangovers and nights with very little sleep and too much...whatever Geno was planning on doing tonight.

Now, though, he was just grateful that Geno had bothered to help him at all, because he was dressed properly and Parker seemed not too annoyed with the corsage of little white flowers she was holding safely in her hands. Then Sidney realised they were just standing there on the porch. "Um," he began, and his brain went blank.

Parker said, "I don't really like people."

Sidney blinked.

"Oh, not you, you're nice," she said quickly, but it sounded rote, like she was reading off a cue card from somewhere behind Sidney's back. He was tempted to glance over to check, but didn't, because now he thought of it, it would have been a good idea. He could have made Jordan's little brother do it, since sophomores weren't allowed to attend the Senior Prom, even as dates.

"That's okay," Sidney managed. "I'm not really good with people, either. I like hockey players, but...pretty much only when hockey is actually involved."

Parker stared at him, unblinking. It was more than a little unnerving. Then Parker said, "That's the one where they ice skate, right? And hit people?"

Sidney managed a nod, biting his tongue on the spiel of Hockey 101 that he'd not really had to give anyone since he was fourteen and forced to spend time with his cousins' friends, who all played chess and tennis.

But Parker suddenly grinned. "I like the hitting part. Do you hit people?"

"Um, no, I.... Mostly I'm the one who shoots goals. Geno hits people," he said quickly as her face began to fall. "He's my wingman, we play on the same line. He's bigger than I am, so it's easier for him. He's Russian," he added, though he honestly had no clue why.

"Oh." Parker stood there, staring at him some more.

"I, uh, should we go? Do I have to meet your parents?" Sidney had gotten a lot of advice about meeting parents, and Sidney had to admit that kids' parents tended to like Geno a lot. They all thought he was charming and nice, apparently not realising that Geno was the one who always brought the beer and vodka to parties. But Sidney was pretty sure he could never pull off any of Geno's tricks, so he was expecting to just stand around and say 'yes, sir' and 'no, ma'am' to everything they said.

But Parker shook her head, frowning. "Foster parents. You don't have to meet them. I'm only doing this because they said I have to make friends and act normal or they're sending me to a special school where the teachers are allowed to give out happy pills." She took a step forward, finally, shutting the front door behind her. Sidney started a bit, then led her towards his car as he tried to stop feeling stunned long enough to say something that wouldn't make him sound like an idiot.

As he held the door open for her and hurried around to the driver's door, he realised he'd heard of Parker -- the new girl who'd come in a month after school started, and who spent more time in detention than she did in class. The other kids called her a klepto, and Sidney knew she had a reputation for arguing with her teachers. He'd always thought she was some kind of delinquent, like one of the goth kids who wore all black and listened to metal music and smoked out behind the school. Not the kind of girl who wore tight red dresses and talked like Sidney felt whenever he wasn't playing hockey or practising.

"Why are you going to prom with me?" he found himself asking as he pulled away from the curb. "I'm a jock." Unless he'd been the only one in school without a date which, Sidney realised, was very probably the case. He'd actually not even planned on going, but then the entire team had told him they'd arranged a date for him and he couldn't back out.

Parker shrugged, and looked uncomfortable. "Your hockey coach is my history teacher. He's the only teacher I've ever liked. He doesn't treat me like I'm a freak. So I...told him about what my foster parents said and he said me he knew someone who could take me to prom."

"You're in Coach Spencer's history class?" He'd always tried to get assigned to the Coach's class, because all the kids absolutely loved him. But the Coach never let his hockey players take his courses, saying he had to appear unbiased and fair. As though Coach Spencer would go easy on them, Sidney thought, and snorted.

"I like his class," Parker said. "He speaks a million languages and he's actually been to the places he tells us about, and he likes to take things apart!" Parker was smiling, now, and Sidney could tell she was genuinely happy.

"So he set us up on a blind date?"

Parker shrugged. "Guess so. He didn't tell you?"

"He must have told Geno, and made him act like it was the team's idea, or something." Which would explain why Geno had been prepared, knowing where to rent the tuxes and buy corsages and even how to get to Parker's house to pick her up.

He'd sort of thought Geno had set him up with one of his old girlfriends, out of pity or bribery or something. But this... well, it was weird, but Sidney was used to weird.

"Um, so...." Sidney racked his brain for something to talk about. "Do you like hockey?"

"I like hitting people," Parker said. "I don't know anything about hockey."

A silence fell over the car and Sidney tried to think of something else. Finally he managed a lame-sounding, "Do you like to dance?" Since they were going to prom, and all, it was a reasonable guess. He hoped. He hadn't had time to get Geno to teach him to dance, but Geno had assured him that if he swayed back and forth and kept his eyes on the girl's face and his hands on her waist, everything would be fine.

"I don't dance," Parker said.

Sidney gaped at her. "But it's prom."

"My foster parents said it was what normal kids do. So I'm going. Mrs. McKenzie bought me this dress even though I totally could have shoplifted it myself and left the tags on and returned it. She made me do my hair and nails." Parker made a disgusted face at them. Then she sighed and said in a small voice, "But they're not talking about sending me away anymore."

Sidney had no idea what to say to any of that, so he didn't even try. He drove the rest of the way to the school gym in silence, and Parker seemed perfectly okay with that. As they walked towards the gym, Sidney saw a few guys he recognised, but no sign of Geno or Flower or even Nealer. No one he could drag Parker along to hang out with, so he could at least have someone to talk to who made sense.

"We're going to end up standing by the wall drinking punch and being miserable, aren't we?" Sidney asked. He could have stayed home and watched tapes of their last game and at least not been wasting his time.

Parker wrinkled her nose. "I like to climb up into the gym's rafters. They're comfortable and we can watch everyone else." She said it like it was almost a question, and Sidney found himself staring at her.

Then, for some reason -- maybe he'd lost his mind, or taken a hockey puck to the head and no one had told him he'd gotten brain damaged -- he nodded. "That sounds a lot better than trying to dance," he said, and couldn't hide the annoyance from his tone, or his face.

Parker's own face lit up and she grabbed his hand. She dragged him, running, towards a side-door and soon he was following her up a ladder, across a catwalk, then swinging from what he hoped was something a lot more sturdy than it looked, into the rafters above the gym floor.

When Parker sat down among three of the rafters, intersecting at just the right angles, Sidney settled in beside her. He looked down, and had to admit it was pretty cool -- and a lot nicer than being down there would probably be. He turned to her and asked, "You come up here a lot?"

"All the time. I think Coach Spencer knows, but he's never turned me in. But last month someone signed me up for the rope climbing course in P.E.," Parker said, and shrugged. She didn't say anything else, just watched the crowd of kids, swinging her feet freely. Sidney did the same, watching as some of his teammates began gathering in clumps, talking and laughing and apparently annoying the girls they'd brought. Except Flower, who wasn't stupid enough to try to bring a girl, and Geno who was actually dancing and looking pretty decent at it.

Sidney watched him dance, trying to ignore the way he kind of wanted to jump down on Geno's date and squash her. Instead he stayed where he was -- high enough to kill himself if he fell, which made him cling a little more tightly to the rafter he was leaning against. But Parker seemed fine, like maybe they weren't going to drop to their deaths, and after awhile he began to relax.

He glanced over at Parker and she smiled at him, awkward and weird and, Sidney thought, genuine. He smiled back, and Parker nudged his arm with her elbow, and they sat there in silence, watching the dance.