Though Viney wouldn’t admit it, she had been excited for Grom.
It was hard to explain, but she never felt like she had belonged before. Hexside, and by extension school events, had always felt limiting. When she was on the healing track, she never felt like she quite belonged. When Principal Bump moved her to the detention track, that feeling only worsened.
Now that she was on two tracks, Viney finally felt like there was a place for her at school. Sure, her class load was higher than before, but she enjoyed the work. Getting to work with Puddles and then go to a class about healing was something she’d only dreamed about before.
As such, Viney was optimistic about Grom this year. She didn’t go with a date; there wasn’t anybody she was interested in asking. Instead, she went with her friends, Jerbo and Barcus. When Viney discussed it with them, they agreed. Barcus even checked with an oracle potion to see if it was a good idea. Viney didn’t know what he saw in the future, but he barked that yes, they should all go together.
Viney even bought a new dress for Grom, one that matched her usual look. The edge was stylishly jagged, and the dark blue fabric brought out her eyes. She decided to wear her hair in a much tighter bun than usual, so that not a single strand could escape.
On the day of Grom, as she got dressed and did her hair, Viney regretted not asking someone to the dance. Sure, she would have fun with her friends, but dressing up like this for someone felt different. Not that she had any experience in that area. Nobody ever wanted to date the girl who didn’t fit in.
But that depressing thought was to be dealt with on a different day, and Viney put it out of her mind as she walked to Grom. She had her friends, and she was going to have a good time with them. She met Jerbo and Barcus at the school, both of whom had also dressed up nicely, and went into the dance with them.
They stood near one of the walls, chatting until the Grom fight. Luz was going to be the one fighting it, so Viney was going to cheer her on. Luz was really strong, and quick on her feet, so Viney was confident that she could win the battle.
Once the fight started, Viney and her friends rooted for Luz the whole time. When Luz fled, bringing Grometheus with her, the whole dance followed.
By the time Viney made it out to the cliffside, the battle was over. Luz and Amity were crowned joint Grom queens, which was unheard of, and then carried back to the school.
After that, the party could truly begin.
Barcus had enough standing and watching, and insisted that the three of them dance. Neither Jerbo or Viney could resist his adorable puppy eyes, so they did.
The three found a spot on the now crowded dance floor, where they could stand in a small circle, then danced to an upbeat song. Viney wasn’t confident in her dancing skills, but Barcus seemed really into it. Jerbo was refusing to make eye contact with either of them, his movements choppy and cheeks flushed dark red.
As they danced, Viney took a look around the room. Most of the other students were on the dance floor, but there were a few sitting up in the bleachers.
Two spots of green and bright yellow stood out, way at the top of one of the sections. That could only be the Blight twins, two troublemakers in the same grade as Viney. Viney had taken a good look at their outfits earlier, their matching yellow look. It suited them well, she had to grudgingly admit. When she saw them earlier, Viney had watched Emira walk past for a few seconds longer than she intended to.
They were hard to see from here, but even at a distance Viney could tell that they looked upset.
It was satisfying to see the twins get knocked down a peg, especially considering how they ran rampant all over the school with no consequences. It was fitting for them to come to the dance alone.
“The Blight twins don’t have dates?” She asked Jerbo, who stopped dancing to respond. His face was still red, but not as much as before.
“Umm, I thought I heard that they did.” He looked down at Barcus, then remembered he was supposed to be dancing and started moving again.
“Woof.” (They were asked out on a dare.) Barcus provided the missing information, not missing a beat.
Viney had a hard time believing that. “Seriously?” She looked back up at the twins, squinting to try and see them better. Edric seemed to be scowling, while Emira was resting her head on her arms, eyes locked somewhere in the distance.
“Woof.” (They stood them up.) Barcus added that detail. No wonder they looked so upset; Viney actually felt bad for them now. That wasn’t something she was used to feeling, especially not towards the Blight twins.
Jerbo shook his head, this time keeping his feet moving while he spoke. “Nobody deserves that, not even them.”
“Yeah…” Viney’s voice trailed off as she responded, turning that knowledge over in her thoughts.
As they kept dancing, she tried to put it out of her mind. What did it matter to her that they were stood up? It didn’t, it shouldn’t.
But still, as Viney looked up once again at their forlorn figures, she remembered what that was like. She knew how it felt to be cast aside, to be left behind. Even now that she was more accepted, she still experienced it.
Viney knew what it felt to be alone.
After a few more songs, one of the twins stood up. It was Edric. He walked down the bleacher steps, heading out into the hallway. This left his sister, Emira, all alone.
It didn’t feel right, watching her suffer.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this.” Viney said, looking between her two friends. “I’m going to talk to her.”
To say the evening had gone poorly would’ve been an understatement. Sure, the Grom fight had ended without Amity or Luz being harmed, which was good, but everything else had gone terribly.
Before the fight, Emira still hoped her date might show up for the dance. Being fashionably late was a thing, after all.
But after the fight ended, she knew that was an empty dream. Both her date and Ed’s hadn’t shown, had stood them up for the dance.
As the party raged on, the two ended up sitting up at the top of the bleachers. Ed wanted to leave and go home, but Emira reminded him that they had to wait for Amity. Their sister was still having a wonderful time at the dance, so they shouldn’t ruin it for her.
Ed had grumbled, but complied.
For many songs the two sat there, not speaking. Emira rested her head against her arms, and wondered if there was something she could’ve done to prevent this, besides not accepting the offer to attend the dance. She should start planning revenge for this, but couldn’t focus on any specific ideas.
Emira felt like crying. She couldn’t; this wasn’t the place for it.
After a while, Ed got fed up with sitting. He said he’d be back and stormed off down the bleachers. Emira stayed right where she was, eyes locked on a point somewhere in the distance.
“Excuse me.” A female voice startled Emira out of her daze, and she snapped her eyes towards it.
A witch in her class, her name was Viney if Emira remembered correctly, was standing nearby on the bleacher stairs. She had come all the way up and had her piercing green eyes locked on Emira. She looked stunning tonight, Emira wasn’t ashamed to admit that, a far cry from her usually messy look.
“Hi.” Emira wasn’t sure what to say to her, why she’d come all this way. They hadn’t really spoken before, maybe once or twice in class. She always got the feeling that Viney didn’t like her, which wasn’t unusual among her peers.
“I, umm.” Viney glanced away and then back at Emira as she searched for the words. “Are you okay?”
Emira chuckled lowly at that, forcing the sound out. “Not really.” She answered truthfully, a half frown on her face.
“I’m sorry.” Viney apologized, though Emira wasn’t sure why. Her horrible Grom experience had nothing to do with Viney. Viney’s cheeks dusted pink as she opened her mouth to continue speaking. “Dance with me?” She asked it as a question, much softer than she’d been talking before. Emira could barely hear her over the music.
Emira stood, brushing off her dress, and stepped closer to her. “You want to dance?” She needed to make sure she heard right; this was certainly a strange occasion.
Viney nodded once, firmly. “Yes.” She sounded more certain now.
As someone who had been stood up, who was Emira to say no? “Alright.” She agreed, slipping on a façade of a smile. If Ed was going to do his own thing, she might as well too.
Viney’s eyes lit up at the acceptance, and she turned to walk down the stairs to the dance floor. Emira followed her, still not quite sure what to make of this turn of events.
When they reached the floor, they moved through the dancers to an open spot. Then Viney turned back to Emira, reaching out to take her hand. Emira accepted, noticing how much smaller Viney’s hand was as their fingers intertwined together.
Emira then stepped forward, placing her free arm around Viney’s shoulder. The other witch responded by placing a hand on Emira’s waist. They started to move to the music, slowly swaying in place.
Over Viney’s shoulder, Emira could see that Ed had reentered the gym. He raised one eyebrow at her, in an exaggerated way. She rolled her eyes at him, and he waved one hand in a dismissive fashion.
Emira couldn’t see it, but behind her Viney’s friends were doing much of the same. Jerbo was flashing two thumbs ups Viney’s way.
Edric vanished back into the crowd, leaving Emira to focus on Viney. The two swayed and spun slowly, their bodies kept chastely apart. Viney was looking at a point over Emira’s shoulder, her face maintaining that pink from earlier. As Emira looked at her, her eyes flicked over, causing Emira to quickly glance away. The side of her neck felt hot, though that could’ve been from the heat of the gym.
They continued to dance.
After a minute, Emira had to ask. “Why did you ask me to dance?” She looked down at Viney as she posed the question.
Viney slowly looked up at her, green eyes crisp and clear. “Do I need a reason?” She responded, taking a surprisingly teasing tone.
“No, but I’m sure you have one.” Emira countered. Everybody had reasons for doing things, without exception. Even the witch who stood her up, there was certainly a reason.
A small smile crept onto Viney’s face. “Would you be offended if I said I felt bad for you?” She leaned in a little closer with those words.
Emira loosened her arm, frowning as she took half a step back. “Yes.” She didn’t need pity.
“Wait, I didn’t mean it like that.” Viney stepped closer to close the new distance, tightening her grip on Emira’s waist. “I just, I know what it feels like, to be left out.” Her eyes, fierce and vibrant, were locked onto Emira’s. It was impossible to look away, to retreat. Even to breath felt like a struggle.
Emira slowly moved her hand back up, back to where it was before. “Oh.” Was all she could say, as she resumed moving with the music.
“I always wanted someone to reach out to me.” Viney spoke slowly, like it was an admission. “So when I saw you up there, all by yourself, I couldn’t stay away.” The words were raw, honest.
Emira smiled slightly, her first genuine one since the end of the Grom fight. “I see.” She mused over the idea. She had never given Viney much thought, perhaps she should’ve. “I guess, I’m not offended then.”
“Good.” Viney’s eyes softened, and she pulled Emira slightly closer.
Emira let her.
The song ended, and then rolled on into the next. The two continued dancing.
They talked as they did, about tracks, magic, and siblings. They didn’t have much in common, but the conversation flowed quickly. Emira learned that Viney was an only child, but she thought of her beasts as her family. That she wanted to open her own clinic someday, with Puddles the griffin as her assistant.
Emira told her about the antics she got up to with Ed, and the trip they took with Mittens to The Knee. It felt easy to talk to her, as if they’d known each other longer than just an hour.
By the end of the night, as the last song played, only a few inches separated them.
When the last notes faded, Principal Bump came to the mic the thank everyone for attending.
Neither Viney nor Emira moved.
For a minute, they just stood there with their arms still in place, staring at each other. They had been dancing all this time, focusing on moving their feet and talking, but now they those distractions were gone.
There was no more music, no more motion. There was only them.
Viney’s lips, which Emira hadn’t spent any time dwelling on before, were open slightly as she looked up at her. Her cheeks were flushed from dancing; Emira’s were too she was certain of it. The air between them seemed to spark. Emira felt as if a switch had flipped inside her, drawing her to not let go, to just lean closer and…
“Ahem.” A low, dry voice interrupted Emira’s musings. Both her and Viney snapped to look. Ed was standing to her right and had one eyebrow raised even higher than before, with Mittens standing next to him. She was still wearing her Grom crown. “It’s time to go.” He said bluntly, clearly irritated. At least Mittens looked happy.
“Oh, right.” Emira reluctantly stepped back from Viney, creating space between them and finally allowing their hands to fall apart. Her palms had become sweaty from the exertion. “Thank you, for reaching out.” Emira turned back to Viney, her heart full.
The other teen smiled back in return. “Any time.” She said warmly. As she turned to go, Emira realized she didn’t want it to end like this. She couldn’t just let Viney walk away, and go back to being alone.
“How about I take you out after school on Tuesday.” Emira called after her, a clear hint of desperation in her voice despite her efforts to not let it show. “As thanks?” She had lost some of her confidence by the end, but when Viney turned back she was beaming.
Viney practically glowed in the dim light of the gym.
“I’ll see you then.”