41 hours before prom, Stacey found herself dumped. She curled up in bed and cried into her pillow, the comforter pulled up over her head.
“He said I was coming on too strong,” she sobbed on the phone to Claudia. “We've been dating for almost six months, and then two days before prom, he decides I’m moving too fast for him.”
Claudia was furious and sympathetic. “You can come with me and Alan,” she said. “You don't need that asshole.”
“I really don't want to go anymore,” Stacey croaked. “What if he's there with another date?”
“Oh, Stace,” Claudia said sympathetically. “It'll be okay. We'll get dressed up, and you and me will dance to all the best bad songs, and we'll hate Cokie Mason's dress even if she looks amazing, and we'll rip Taryn apart if he dares show his face.”
Stacey sniffed. “I really don't feel like it, Claud,” she said. “I'm sorry.”
Claudia paused, and then said, softly, “Will you still come over and help me get ready?”
Stacey pulled her comforter over her head again and closed her eyes, not wanting to go anywhere. “Of course I will.”
Claudia ran a critical eye over Stacey, taking in her blotchy skin, her torn jeans, and her frizzy hair. “I have to call Kristy,” she said suddenly.
“Why?” Stacey asked. She dropped onto Claudia's bed and stared up at the ceiling.
Claudia didn't answer. She picked up her phone and dialled, thrumming the cord between her fingers impatiently as she waited for someone to pick up. “It's me,” she said. “Listen... I need to borrow your red... your red... um... Yes.”
Stacey tuned out as she thought about whether or not Taryn would take another date to the prom. Maybe he had dumped her because he had feelings for someone else.
Her stomach clenched and she rolled over, curling into a ball on Claudia's bed.
“Kristy, I don't have time to remember the code!” Claudia barked into the phone. “Just remember it's red, okay? Bright, bright red.” She hung up and clapped her hands together in the most Kristy-like way Stacey had ever seen. “Okay,” she said. “I need you to help me get ready.”
“You have plenty of time,” Stacey said, looking at the clock.
Claudia was fidgety and nervous. She sat in front of her mirror, her hair spilling down between her shoulder blades in loose curls, held in place with a handmade barrette covered in chunky gemstones. She glanced up from sorting through her box of nail polish. “What's that, um, nail polish you have that I really liked last time I was over?” she asked suddenly. “The red one?”
Stacey lifted her head. “Red a Good Book?”
Claudia snorted and then looked at Stacey's reflection in the mirror. “Yeah. Do you think I could borrow it for tonight?”
“Sure. Want me to call Mom and ask if she can bring it over?”
“Could you go?” Claudia asked breathlessly. “Don't tell your mom, but I totally don't trust her to bring the right one.”
Stacey laughed and rolled off the bed. “Okay. I'll be back in twenty minutes. Do you need anything else?”
“No. Kristy's bringing everything else.”
“Kristy?” Stacey asked skeptically. “You don't trust my mom, but you trust Kristy to bring you the correct prom supplies?”
Claudia closed the lid on her nail polishes with a snap, and grinned. “She's got it under control.”
Stacey glanced at her watch. “Get dressed,” she said. “I'll do your nails for you when I get back, and then it'll almost be time for you to go.”
Stacey pulled the bottle of Claudia's desired nail polish from the top drawer of her dressing table and gave it a quick shake and a few hard taps against her palm. It was a bright, glossy red – a close match to the colour of Claudia's dress, but not perfectly so. She frowned, and pulled out another shade (Velvet Lounge), as well as a contrasting colour called Heels of Steel.
“That'll do,” she muttered, throwing all three bottles into her purse. She stopped on the way out of her bedroom – her prom dress was hanging on the back of her closet door, catching the late sunlight coming through the window.
She brushed her fingers over the soft cream-coloured material, her heart sinking again. She felt her eyes sting as she thought about how unfair it was. She'd searched everywhere for the perfect dress, and she'd pictured herself walking into prom on Taryn's arm, dancing with her arms around his shoulders, his palms at the small of her back...
The doorbell rang, and she swallowed sharply and took a few deep breaths.
“Stacey!” her mother called from downstairs. “It's for you!”
Stacey's heart skipped a beat. What if Taryn had changed his mind? Worse, what if it had been some sick joke he and his idiot friends had played on her? If she went downstairs, and he was standing there expecting her to be ready...
She swiped a few more tears away on the back of her hand, feeling angry and bitter. If he was standing there, she was going to shove everything back in his face and dump him.
She went downstairs ready for an argument.
It wasn't Taryn. It was Sam Thomas, dressed in a dark tuxedo and flirting with Stacey's mother at the bottom of the stairs.
“So if I can't talk her into it, you've got a little black dress, right, Maureen?”
“I don't think you'll need to worry about that, Sam,” Stacey's mom said, raising her eyebrow. She caught sight of Stacey and grinned, waving her closer. “Come on down here, honey.”
Stacey approached Sam almost reluctantly as Maureen beamed at them both and then made herself scarce, disappearing into the kitchen where she started loading the dishwasher with an exuberance Stacey had never seen or heard before.
“What are you doing here?” Stacey asked.
“Following orders,” Sam said honestly, giving her a grin. “You need a date?”
Stacey shrugged and tucked her hair behind her ears. “I'm not going,” she said. “My boyfriend broke up with me. I just – I don't feel like it.” She gave him a small, apologetic smile. “Thanks anyway, Sam.”
“Listen,” Sam said quietly, tilting his head to look down at her. “We don't have to stay long, okay? We'll walk in, and you'll be a total knockout and you'll show your idiot ex-boyfriend exactly what he's missing out on, and then I can bring you home again. Twenty minutes, tops.”
Stacey blinked and bit her lip, looking up at him.
He leaned in to whisper in her ear. “Are you telling me you're going to deny your mother the chance to photograph her only child on prom night?” he asked. “She's grounded you for less than that.”
Stacey smiled, taking hold of his hands and shaking her head. “Sam...” She tried to draw up as much conviction as she could for an excuse which was already flimsy at best. “I have to take some stuff over to Claudia's.”
“I hate to break it to you, McGill,” Sam said, “but I think that might have been a ruse.”
Stacey opened her mouth to protest, and then remembered Claudia's phone call to Kristy: I don't have time to remember the code.
“Oh my god,” she muttered.
Sam laughed and leaned in to brush his lips over her temple. “You're not gonna turn me down, are you?” he asked. “It's Saturday night, Stace, and I'd much rather take a pretty girl to her prom than sit at home with my little brother and explain why his home-made helicopter is never going to fly. FYI, the answer is physics.”
She laughed, and it was a genuine laugh that took no effort. She sighed and took a step back, Sam's fingers trailing against her palms. “Give me twenty minutes,” she said.
“Can I use your phone?” Sam asked. “I'm supposed to call Claudia's house and confirm the Eagle has landed.”
“You look beautiful, honey.”
Stacey smiled at her mother. “Thanks.”
Maureen rested her chin on the top of Stacey's head and gazed at her reflection in the mirror. “For what it's worth,” she said, “I'm glad you're going to prom with Sam.”
Stacey gave a small nod and drew a deep breath, checking her makeup one last time. “Me too,” she said.
Maureen stepped back and allowed Stacey to stand up, straightening the soft waves of her dress under her palm. “Have you got your insulin?” she asked. “Checked your blood sugar?”
“Yes, Mom,” Stacey said patiently.
Maureen brushed some imaginary lint from the clinging bodice of Stacey's dress. “And, Stacey,” she said, her voice a little too high and light to be natural, “if you and Sam decide to participate in any after-prom activities, please be careful. I mean, have fun. And be careful.”
“Mom,” Stacey said, mortified. “You're not really giving me a safe sex talk, are you?”
Maureen raised her eyebrow. “I'm just saying if you have to fit anything else into that little clutch purse, you'd better do it now.”
Stacey felt her face turning red. She blinked at her mother, who only gave her a knowing look in return.
“Fine,” Stacey said, her voice cracking despite her best efforts to sound cool. She pulled open the drawer of her night stand and held up three foil-wrapped condoms, the packaging still linked.
Maureen grinned and turned to leave. “If you could let Sam know I asked you to take those, I'd appreciate it.”
“Yeah, right,” Stacey said, following her. “That'll get him in the mood.”
“If you look at my cleavage one more time, I'll drop you,” Kristy snarled at Alan.
“I'm not looking at your cleavage, I’m looking at the lack of it,” Alan retorted.
Kristy raised her fist and Claudia grabbed her arm. “Come and get some punch,” she said, dragging her away. She shot a look at Alan over her shoulder which clearly said she was going to kill him if he didn't start behaving himself.
Alan made a big show of straightening his jacket. “I'm gonna circle the room,” he said. “Make myself known, socially.”
“Good idea,” Pete said, raising an eyebrow. “I'm sure nobody here knows who you are.”
Alan disappeared into the crowd, trailing after Claudia and Kristy.
“Where did Sam go?” Mary Anne asked Stacey. She was wearing a midnight blue dress that gleamed in the dim light, and she kept her arm looped through Pete's.
Stacey gave a small shrug, feeling a little flutter of butterflies in her stomach. “He said he wouldn't be long.”
“You want a drink?” Pete asked. “I'll go get us some punch.”
“Thanks,” Mary Anne said.
Stacey shook her head. “No punch for me, thanks Pete.”
Mary Anne edged closer to Stacey once Pete disappeared. “I'm really glad you came,” she said. “You look beautiful, Stacey.”
Stacey blushed. “Thanks, Mary Anne. You look beautiful too.”
Mary Anne smiled nervously and fingered the pearl necklace at her throat. “Are you going to Austin Bentley's party, later?” she asked. “Pete's trying to talk me into it.”
“I don't think so,” Stacey said. “I don't want to drag Sam too far out of his comfort zone.”
Sam chose that moment to return, two sticky plastic cups in his hands. “Water,” he explained to Stacey, handing her one. “And punch for you, Mary Anne. I'd take it if you want punch at all, I think I got to it about three seconds before eight flasks of rum were emptied into it.”
“Ew,” Mary Anne said softly. She took the cup Sam offered to her. “Thanks.”
Sam draped his arm around Stacey's waist and bent close to her ear, his voice murmuring over the music and the rise and fall of excited conversation around them. “So where's the jerk who stood you up?”
“I dunno,” Stacey said honestly. “Maybe he's not here.”
She was glad he'd gone to get her a drink. She wasn't ready to brave the dance floor yet – if at all – and she was happy to stand to the side and survey things.
Mary Anne and Pete disappeared to dance, and Stacey spotted Alan and Claudia at the edge of the floor talking to Austin Bentley, who was gesturing towards the punch with a grin on his face. Kristy had taken Bart's jacket to wear, and was talking animatedly to him and four of the guys from the SHS basketball team. Robert Brewster shook his head and countered something she said, which earned him a scowl and a rapid peppering of questions which didn't leave time for answers in between.
“So, you were just hanging around the house tonight?” Stacey asked, turning her attention back to Sam. “No date?”
“No date,” Sam said. His fingers curled against the small of her back, his hand closing and expanding again slowly. “No dates on the horizon, either.”
“So you just jumped at the chance to take me to prom, huh.”
“What can I say,” Sam said with a grin. “You're the X to my Y, McGill.”
The night passed by in a blur, and Stacey found herself having a good time. She and Claudia danced, and giggled over some of the dresses they'd seen. Claudia confided her plans with Alan in hushed whispers, her cheeks rosy, eyes bright. And Stacey found herself smiling whenever Sam was near, his fingers wrapped in hers, his voice low in her ear.
“Thanks for being my date, Sam,” Stacey murmured, her head on his shoulder as they circled slowly on the dance floor.
“Anytime, Stace.” The heel of his hand skated slowly over the slippery bodice of her dress, tracing the dip of her waist, and she felt him press a kiss against the top of her head. “I've got a question for you,” he said quietly, swaying in time to the music with her.
“There's a guy looking at me like he wants to kill me,” Sam said, and Stacey could hear the grin he was hiding against her hair. “What does Taryn look like, and just how jealous do you want to make him?”
Stacey felt her heart skip a beat. She swallowed and closed her eyes for a moment, letting Sam steer her in a slow circle, his hips flush with hers. She shifted her cheek against his shoulder and thought about how nice it was to be dancing with him, and what a good night she'd had, despite Taryn's best efforts to ruin everything.
“I don't want to use you to get back at him,” Stacey said softly, but she felt a pleasant shiver when she looked up into Sam's blue eyes.
He smiled at her and shrugged. “So kiss me for some other reason.”
She swayed towards him, her hand cupped against his jaw, and closed her eyes when she kissed him. It wasn't about Taryn at all – she felt it all the way down to her toes, her nerves pulling tight with an electricity which was all due to Sam.
They'd stopped dancing, and Sam's hands were on her waist. He rested his brow against hers. “So,” he said softly, “I don't know what your original plans were, but... do you want to get out of here?”
Stacey nodded and kissed him again, her heart racing. “Yeah.”
“Are you sure this is okay?”
“What's the point in being a millionaire's son if you can't use a credit card to get a last-minute hotel room for your prom date?” Sam asked, keying the door open with a grin.
Stacey rolled her eyes and walked into the room ahead of him. “You're a real romantic, Sam Thomas.”
He caught her hand and pulled her to a stop as the door swung closed behind them. “I can just take you home, if you want,” he said. He tugged her closer and pressed a line of kisses along her bare shoulder. “You're not here because you feel like you owe me something, are you? Because I’m not exactly unhappy about how tonight worked out, Stace.”
“No,” Stacey said, truthfully. “But...”
Sam looked down at her with an expression like he was bracing himself for something.
Stacey shrugged and looked down at one of his shirt buttons instead. “Maybe tonight is just... a rebound,” she whispered, frowning at the words. “I didn't feel nothing for Taryn. Breaking up still hurts. Having a good time with you tonight doesn't mean he's completely out of my head.”
“I know.” Sam's hands skated up her arms and clasped her shoulders, and she looked up at him again. “Just tell me if there's something you want, okay?”
She looked up at him, her fingers curling over his belt, pulling him closer. “I'm just not sure about tomorrow,” she said quietly.
He kissed her again, bending lower as she stepped out of her shoes. “Tomorrow's ages away,” he whispered.
She laughed, and stretched out on the bed, sighing when he settled on top of her, pushing her dress up her thighs so she could bend her knees and wrap her legs around him.
“Just so we're clear,” Sam murmured, his fingers tracing circles against Stacey's hip, “you're not a virgin, are you?”
“Don't worry,” Stacey said, shaking her head.
“Because I don't think I could perform to those sorts of expectations.”
“It's still going to be our first time,” she said, propping herself up on her elbows as he tugged his shirt over his head. “My expectations are still sky-high.”
“Prepare to be disappointed,” he said cheerfully.
She laughed, and wrapped her arms around him when he came close again, giggling into his neck when he started to laugh with her.
“When was your first time?” she asked, lifting herself a little so he could find the zip at the back of her dress.
“Prom,” he said. “My prom. It was fucking terrible. It was awkward, and neither of us was really into it, I don't think. I wasn't so fast to get to the punch that night, and she got drunk and cried, and I got drunk and was worse at this than I might have been otherwise...”
“No wonder you raced to the refreshments table tonight,” Stacey said.
“Yeah, well. Lesson learned.” He grinned at her.
She grinned back at him and raised her hips so he could slide her dress all the way off. For a moment she found herself wondering if Taryn was in a hotel room somewhere – the hotel room he'd booked to go to with her – and whether or not he was with another girl.
Sam's tongue traced the crease of her thigh and she squirmed and tugged at his hair until he was in a better position to kiss her again. He kicked his pants to the end of the bed.
“I want to be on top,” Stacey whispered, “and I’m going to keep my bra on, whether you like it or not.”
“Yes ma'am,” Sam murmured seriously.
“Also, just so you know, the only reason I have condoms in my purse is because my mom insisted I bring them.”
Sam rolled onto his back and laughed, his hands over his eyes. “Oh my god,” he said. “Remind me to thank your mom for getting me laid.”
Stacey grinned and swung herself on top of him, kissing him again. He laughed against her mouth and leaned into her, his hands grasping her hips and pulling her down against him.
“Hey, Stace,” he said, “keeping in mind that we're not thinking about tomorrow, and how last minute our amazing prom night was...”
“Mm,” Stacey agreed, looking down at him with a smile.
“I love you to bits, okay? That other guy doesn't deserve you.”
She cupped his face in her hands and kissed him again, her pulse jumping beneath her skin. “I love you, too,” she said, “Y to my X.”