Abby's sixteen when she meets Erin and seventeen when she falls in love with science, with research, with explaining the unexplainable. Eighteen when she realizes, quite possibly, she’s fallen in love with Erin, too.
Erin, who saw a ghost when she was eight and was haunted and ridiculed and laughed at, for a year.
Erin, who’s the smartest in their grade, mind full of numbers and words and questions about the universe, the paranormal, what’s real, and not.
Erin, who wants so badly to be accepted, by their classmates, by their teachers, by—
“Hey, watch it,” Abby calls out, as two goons from the football team barrel down the hallway, careless, and Erin’s armful of books and binders and papers clatter to the ground. She stoops and helps Erin gather up her things. Her Calc homework, notes for tomorrow’s AP Gov test. A neon blue flyer with big curved letters:
Higgins High Senior Prom Committee Presents: I’ve Had The Time of My Life, May 10th, East Lansing Marriott’s Main Ballroom.
Abby holds out the prom flyer, gingerly. “Is this yours?”
Erin's shoulders droop. She stands up and juggles her books from arm to arm, straightens out her skirt. “No, I just found that on a table in the cafeteria and I hadn’t really gotten a chance to look at the posters yet, so.”
"Did you want to actually go to prom?” Abby asks, head tilted.
"No, but I--but I wanted to be invited."
Abby's heart sinks because yeah, that's super not happening, but--"Hey. Hey Erin. Come to prom with me.”
“Like a date?” Erin looks at her, suspicious.
Abby swallows and dodges the question, says: “You’re my best friend.”
Disappointment flashes across Erin’s face, blink and you miss it, but then she smiles, bright, sincere. “Okay, yeah. Yeah, let’s do it."
So. Abby strolls into the main office next morning before the homeroom bell and buys two tickets. She goes to the mall, and tries on dresses. Nixes the ones her mother likes best nut in the end finds one she feels like a badass in. Simple, black, sort of slimming. On prom night, she borrows her older brother’s car. Picks Erin up at seven thirty on the dot.
Erin looks awesome, obviously, shiny teal dress skimming just past the bottom of her knees. Her hair falls loose across her shoulders and there’s pale pink glitter shimmering across her eyelids and she is easily the prettiest girl Abby’s ever seen.
“Look at you,” Abby teases, quiet, as Erin’s parents fuss around them, taking pictures. “Valedictorian, future Michigan grad. Total prom queen knockout."
Erin blushes, self-conscious. “I’m not going to be valedictorian--I got a C in Spanish last marking period. Dawn O’Reilly moved past me."
In the car, Abby turns and grabs a box from the backseat. Slips a corsage around Erin’s wrist and then pulls out a second for her own. Erin stares at her, open and delighted. Abby shrugs, says: “You’re my date. Figured it’d be cool if we sort of matched. We don’t have to. Wear them, inside at the dance. If you don’t want to.”
Erin shakes her head, sure. “No, I like them. Let’s wear them.”
Leans across the seat and gives Abby a sideways hug. “I’m really glad we’re doing this, Abs,” she says, softly, cheek pressed next to Abby’s ear.
“Me too, Er,” Abby answers, as her heart does a quiet tilting thing.
They dance, for hours. They drink sugary un-spiked punch. They take a commemorative photo, shoulder to shoulder. They have, as advertised, the time of their lives.
They drive home to Abby’s house, afterwards. Deliver her brother’s car keys to his room with a little doodle Erin draws on a post-it note along with a THANK YOU!!! written in big block letters.
They put on pajamas, they put on sweatshirts, they put on fuzzy socks. Take turns in the bathroom. Grab armfuls of food from the kitchen, couple of cans of pop. Kiss Abby’s mother hello, and goodnight. Trudge downstairs to the basement, and with every step Abby knows, rationally, they’re getting farther and farther away from once in a lifetime prom night, and closer to Abby-n-Erin’s standard Friday night, sleepover and ghost stories, late night TV and snacks. She wants to draw it out, just a little bit more.
“Hey Abby,” Erin says, and Abby turns, and faces her. Erin still has the dreamy faraway look in her eyes she’s had all night, happy and blissed out and at ease. “I had a really nice time tonight, and I just wanted to say. Thank you. For inviting me.”
“‘Course, Er.” Abby sets their snacks down on the coffee table. Turns on the space heater. Erin’s still standing in the middle of the room, hands worrying the hem of her sweatshirt.
“Can I kiss you?” Erin blurts out. “Not just because—not just because this was sort of a date, but it’s just—you’re—“
Abby nods, fast. Moves towards her, and rests her hands on her waist, tentative. Presses her lips to Erin’s. Takes half a step back.
“Is this okay?” Abby whispers.
Erin nods, and moves closer, and bring her hands up to Abby’s face, fingertips just skimming her cheeks. Angles her head and kisses her, again. She tastes like strawberry chapstick and her forearms are pressed up against Abby’s boobs and Abby can hardly dare to breathe, with how good it feels, her best friend’s body slightly swaying body and the gentle pressure of their lips moving against each other. Abby gets bolder, gets braver, opens her mouth, ever so slightly, and then there is tongue, and Erin gasps, and they break apart, half-breathless.
“Do you want to watch a movie?” Abby asks, racking her brain, trying to think of something she can suggest that’ll give them a reason to sort of cuddle on the couch, something scary, or romantic. “Or we can listen to music, if you want."
Erin tilts her head. Her cheeks are very flushed. “Maybe music?” she asks, earnestly. “If that’s okay? I can find us something good.”
Abby smiles in agreement, heart pounding, and nods towards the boombox sitting on floor, next to the TV console table.
Erin frowns, leans forward on her knees and fiddles with the radio dial, spinning past static and static and static, hair falling messily into her serious clean-scrubbed eyes.
“Aha,” Erin crows proudly as the crackle clears, and sits back on her heels and beams, and Abby knows then and there that she’ll never survive if and when Erin leaves her, for college or for frat parties or for that girl with dark hair in their Lit class who's always glancing at Erin when she thinks Abby's not looking.
Erin crawls up onto the couch, and settles herself right next to Abby. Pulls a fleece blanket around them, like a little cocoon. Abby holds her breath, and wraps her arm around Erin. Exhales when she sees the corners of Erin’s mouth turn up.
A slow song plays, then another. The voice of the radio host talks to them about life and love and what comes after, low and soothing. Erin sneaks a glance at Abby, and reaches for her hand.