Mikey wiped his palm on his pants as he walked up the sidewalk to Anette’s house. He didn’t remember being this nervous ever, which was sort of saying something. He drummed his fingers carefully on the box in his other hand. Why was he worrying? It was just prom night. It was just Anette.
‘It’s dinner,’ he tried to convince himself. ‘It’s just having to deal with her other friends.’
Now was his final chance to chicken out. He stood on her doorstep, constantly shifting his weight around. Finally, he sighed, shoved his glasses back up his nose, and knocked on the door.
“Hang on!” he heard Anette call from somewhere inside. It was a few moments before he heard her footsteps and the latch unlocking. The door swung open and Mikey nearly dropped the box he was holding.
Granted, he had always considered Anette Baker, this feminine creature who doubled as his best friend, to be exceptionally pretty. But there was something about how she stood before him now that made her so downright gorgeous, made him catch his breath in his chest. Was it the floor-length, strapless, icy blue dress that fit tight at her chest and waist and then flowed everywhere? Was it the way her pale skin seemed to glow and catch the light? Was it how her mascara-coated eyelashes perfectly framed her dark blue eyes, how her curled white-blonde hair bounced, or how well the pink lipstick graced her kind, easy smile? Mikey had no clue, but he still admired it.
“Hey Mikey!” she said brightly, pulling him into a tight hug. She must have been wearing heels, because they were almost the same height.
“Hey,” he replied, holding out the box. “I’ve um, got this thing…”
“Ooh, good!” Anette’s smile grew as he opened the box and pulled out the white corsage.
“Your mom gave me a discount, too,” he added as he took her wrist up in his hand and slipped it securely on. “There.”
“Thanks, it’s wonderful,” she beamed.
Mikey held her at arm’s length, letting his eyes drink in every detail of her. “Wow,” he finally said, and she blushed lightly.
“I look alright then?” she asked, letting him into the house and running her finger over the flower.
“More like fantastic,” he replied with a wink.
“Thanks. You clean up nice,” she commented, mentioning to Mikey’s tuxedo. “You’re like… young, kinda nerdy James Bond or something.”
Mikey laughed. “Except I can’t shoot, I’m not British, I don’t sleep with any chick that I like, and I’m not a spy.”
“But you can wear a tux.”
“Thanks,” he replied with another small laugh. They collapsed onto separate plush chairs in the living room. “So, what’s for dinner? Mac and cheese?” he teased.
Anette stuck her tongue out at him. “No. My mom’s making, like, chicken or something when she gets home. She went to go get Terrence from day care.”
“Ah. And… everyone else?”
Her eyebrows furrowed. “Soon, I think. I, um…” She bit her lip slightly. “Look, Chase and I have talked about you and I tonight and stuff—”
“Bet he’s pissed.”
“Not really. He just wants to dance with me a little.”
Anette’s not really was usually an understatement.
“But I did ask him to be nice to you.”
“Thanks,” Mikey replied moodily.
“So you need to be nice too,” she continued, looking at him expectantly. “I don’t want you two fighting.”
“I’ll behave if he does,” Mikey retorted. Anette was about to say something else when there was a knock on the door. It opened and in walked Chase, Rachel, Dawn, Tyler, Kate, and Andrew.
“Hey babe,” Chase said as Anette stood. “You look pretty good.”
Mikey watched Anette’s lips force themselves into a smile. “Thanks Chase.”
“Is dinner gonna be soon? I’m starving,” Andrew grumbled.
“My mom should be home soon,” she assured him. “We’re gonna eat outside since there isn’t enough room inside.”
“Anette, I’m home!” Mrs. Baker called as she opened the front door, a bag of groceries in one arm and Terrence in the other. “Oh, hi kids. Dinner will be up soon.”
“Do you need any help, Mrs. Baker?” Mikey said, standing and avoiding everyone’s eyes except Mrs. Baker’s.
“Thank you Mikey, but I’ve got it. Here—” she said, handing Terrence over to Anette, “—keep him out of my way while I’m cooking.”
“Alright Mom,” Anette said, trying to keep a smile on her face. As soon as Mrs. Baker left for the kitchen, the chatter started up again.
“Annie, can we go play?” Terrence asked in an uncharacteristically soft voice.
“Terrence, I can’t, I’m in my dress—”
“I’ll play with you, Terrence,” Mikey offered. Anette handed Terrence over to him, smiling slightly.
“Mikey, can we play Batman?” Terrence asked, his blue eyes pleading.
“Sure Terrence, let’s go upstairs,” he replied, nodding to Anette before setting off up the stairs. She waved back before Chase wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her roughly to him.
Mikey was actually pretty grateful that Terrence wanted a play mate. As much as Mikey wanted to hang out with Anette, he really didn’t want to be around her other friends. He would have to put up with them during dinner, and that would be plenty of time with the popular kids for him, thank you very much. So he and Terrence ran around the upstairs pretending to be Batman and Robin, trying to stop some evil scheme of The Joker’s. Just when they found the “bomb,” (Terrence’s stuffed dinosaur) Anette called up to them that dinner was ready. Mikey straightened out his tux, picked up Terrence, and headed downstairs.
Anette’s mom met them at the bottom of the stairs and took Terrence out of Mikey’s arms.
“They’re out on the deck,” she said to Mikey, who nodded and walked through the house and out the side door to the porch.
“But I wanna eat with Annie!”
“No Terrence, Annie is eating with her friends.”
The door closed on Terrence’s argument. The chatter at the table subsided as more people attended to their food. Anette sent Mikey a small smile and patted the chair on her right. He slid into it, grateful that he was next to Dawn and not someone else; though, Chase was directly across from him, but he figured that Anette had done the best should could.
“Thanks,” he muttered to Anette, piling some food on his plate.
“No, thank you,” she replied. “I never would have been able to play with him in this stupid thing,” she added, adjusting her dress.
“It’s not stupid, it looks good,” Mikey assured her. Chase shot him a quick glare.
Dinner was actually not bad. The food was great, of course, but the people weren’t terrible to Mikey like he thought they would be. Sure, he and Chase exchanged some rather snarky comments, but nothing too harsh that Anette had to step in. Afterwards, Anette’s mom came out with the camera.
“Don’t worry about the dishes, let’s get a group picture here,” she said as she organized everyone so she could see their faces. Mikey ended up in the back behind Kate and next to Andrew, who “accidentally” stepped on his foot several times.
Anette’s mom went a bit photo-crazy. Anette and Mikey were the last to leave the house.
“Alright, last picture you two. Come on,” she said. Mikey got out of his chair and stood by Anette, pushing his glasses up his nose. Anette wrapped an arm around his waist and leaned her head gently against his shoulder. Mikey felt his face heat up as he set an arm around her shoulders, his hand warm on her cool shoulder. “Alright, smile.” The camera flashed and her mom sighed. “Oh, you kids are so grown up.”
“Mom.” Anette rolled her eyes as her mom hugged her.
“Take care, have fun.”
“Promise,” Mikey replied, pulling his keys from his pocket.
“Alright. Anette, you have your key?”
“See you in the morning.”
“Yeah. Thanks for dinner, Mrs. Baker.”
And they were free from her clutches. They got in to Mikey’s slightly crumby Celica and set off, Anette fussing nervously with her dress the entire ride.
“You okay?” Mikey asked as they pulled into the parking lot of the school.
“Yeah, I’m just… I dunno.”
“Hey, don’t be nervous. You’re only dancing with me, not like, Kevin Bacon or someone like that.”
“And if people don’t like it, then they can go fuck themselves.”
Anette laughed nervously, and they got out of the car.
Music blared at them as they opened the door, and they weren’t even in the gym yet. Anette gripped Mikey’s arm tightly, her fingers drumming against his sleeve. He set his hand on her’s, and they walked into the gym.
The gym was packed with students. Or maybe it appeared that way to Mikey because the gym was small and everyone was dancing rather close together. But since no one looked at them when they walked in, Anette’s nerves must have evaporated because she dragged Mikey into the crowd and started dancing.
It was a bit like being drunk, or maybe high, when a slow song started and he pulled Anette close to him. Everything was a blur except her face, everything spinning except them. Mikey almost tripped over his own feet a few times, and he thought he maybe trod on Anette’s foot once, but Anette locked her wrists behind his neck and smiled at him. His head was spinning from her scent that was assaulting his nose. This was a dream, how he held her soft body to him, only separated by a few layers of fabric. No, this was a complete delusion.
“Can I cut in?”
Before Mikey could retort, Chase was pulling Anette away from him and they disappeared into the crowd. Fuming from his broken illusion, Mikey pushed his way over to the wall where the juice table was. Fuck that Chase Skyridge. Who the hell did he think he was, stealing Anette away like that? He had only gotten one really good dance in with Anette.
‘Well, he’s her boyfriend,’ Mikey thought to himself bitterly. ‘And I’m… a friend. So basically nothing.’ He longed to kick the wall in frustration. ‘But she kissed me, god dammit. So what the hell does that mean? She still hasn’t made a decision from Christmas… or is this her choice? Him over me?’
Mikey looked up to see Charlotte standing there in a small black dress, her hair in a sexy disarray. Mikey frowned in confusion.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“What did you think Frank and I thought we were too cool for prom?” she responded with a cocked eyebrow.
“Weren’t excepting us to be here.”
“Yeah.” Charlotte grabbed a juice cup and leaned against the wall next to him. “Where’s Frank?”
“Bathroom. Where’s your date?”
Mikey almost answered with, “With her boyfriend,” but then he saw Anette and Chase dancing rather near them and instead merely pointed.
“So… do you want to dance with me instead?”
“Sure,” he replied a bit recklessly, and he and Charlotte found a spot on the dance floor near Anette and Chase. Blinded by hurt and anger, Mikey let Charlotte grind on him shamelessly. He kept glancing over at Anette to see if she was looking at them. The third time, when his hands were tight on Charlotte’s hips, Mikey and Anette locked eyes and he looked away sharply. ‘What the hell am I doing?’ he asked himself. He hated when she looked at him like that.
“What?” Charlotte asked when Mikey stopped moving. She looked at him reproachfully.
“I… sorry,” Mikey mumbled before shoving his way out of the gym and outside. But not even the cool night air could get the image of Anette’s eyes filled with hurt out of his mind. He wanted to just go home, but he couldn’t leave her here.
“Want a smoke?”
Frank stepped up to him, lighting a cigarette and then leaning against the wall of the school.
“Sure,” Mikey replied, accepting the cigarette Frank passed him and lit up, taking a long drag and letting the smoke stream lazily out his mouth. He closed his eyes and sighed. “Thanks. I needed this.”
“I figured,” Frank replied. “I saw her dancing with Chase.”
“If you like her so much, why didn’t you make a move?”
“I did,” Mikey replied, taking another drag. “She doesn’t want me.”
Frank frowned. “What?”
“Yeah.” Mikey took another long drag and then stomped out the half-spent cigarette. “I don’t fucking get it, Frankie. I was there for her. Chase didn’t even know she existed until a few months ago. Why the hell does she even like him?”
“Well, he’s good-looking?”
“And I’m not?”
“I didn’t say that,” Frank sighed, slightly exasperated. “He’s also really popular. Popularity equals power and influence. Women like that.”
Mikey was getting increasingly agitated. “Are you calling her shallow?”
“Maybe,” Frank shrugged. “I dunno man, she’s your friend and all.”
Mikey didn’t reply. He just wished he hadn’t stomped out that cigarette so soon.
“Look, Mikey, why don’t you just talk to her? She’s reasonable.”
“I… I guess.”
He waited until Frank was done and then they walked back inside and into the gym. Frank spotted Charlotte right away and took off to go dance, and Mikey was about to follow when a hand on his elbow stopped him.
“Can we talk?” Anette’s voice asked, her lips tickling his ear. He nodded and allowed her to pull him into and down the hallway. When they stopped, Anette wouldn’t meet his eyes. She pulled off her high heels and rubbed her feet for a moment before wrinkling her nose.
“You smell like smoke.”
Mikey gulped. “I was outside with Frank.”
She caught his eyes for a moment and he glanced away. “You sure?” He didn’t answer. She sighed. “You’re mad at me.”
“No I’m not.”
He could tell she was resisting rolling her eyes. “Come on Mikey, I’m not stupid.”
“I saw you glaring at me. And well… you do stupid things when you’re upset.”
“Like that?” Mikey asked heatedly.
“Drinking. Smoking. Being reckless.”
“What I do with my friends is my business,” he snapped back.
“So I’m not your friend?” she asked quietly.
Mikey’s face fell. “No, I meant—”
“Do you want me to leave?”
“Then tell me what’s wrong.”
“You forgot about me!” Mikey yelled in her face, breathing hard.
Anette was trembling, but she said as calmly as she could, “What are you talking about?”
“You just ran off with Chase—”
“You think I like being dragged around and forced into things with him?”
Mikey didn’t answer.
“But Mikey, he’s my boyfriend. It’s my obligation to dance with him a little. And besides you were having a great time dancing with Charlotte a little while ago.” Her eyes were looking glassy.
Mikey shoved his glasses up his nose. “Annie, it’s… it’s not just that…”
“Then what is it?” she asked, exasperated.
“I—” Mikey stopped, unsure. “I—” he tried again, but then words and feelings were stuck in his throat.
“I just… I don’t like this. Fighting,” he finally replied. “It’s not… us.”
“Then what is us?” Anette asked. “I’ve dated people before and you’ve never acted like this.”
“Did you forget?”
“How could you forget?!” Fury and hurt were rising in him again. When Anette just gaped at him, he yelled, “How could you forget I love you?”
The tears were back and Anette’s lips were trembling almost violently. “I didn’t forget.”
Mikey wanted to rip his hair our. “Well you’re sure fucking acting like you did!”
“Mikey, I can’t—I can’t talk about this,” she mumbled, a black tear streaking down her cheek. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
He didn’t know what to do. He was angry with her – she had hurt him, ran away with another guy, deserved to be yelled at and crying. But actually seeing her so distraught made him upset and mad at himself for making her cry, and at fucking prom too.
“Then when can you talk about it?”
“I don’t know,” she replied, trying to wipe away tears.
“Then pick sometime, because unlike you, I can’t wait forever.”
“I know that, and I’m sorry.”
They were silent, listening to the pounding bass from the music in the gym. Finally, Anette said, “I want to go home.”
“I’ll take you.”
They walked out of the school together to Mikey’s car, not speaking a word to each other. After Mikey dropped Anette off at her house, he hit his head against his steering wheel.