I couldn’t help the gasp that escaped my lips when I caught my first glimpse of myself in the bedroom mirror. Behind me, Mandy practically bounced up and down, grinning like an idiot.
“So?” she prompted. “What do you think?”
“I… don’t know,” I replied confusedly. After two hours of hair and make-up, courtesy of my best friend, I could barely recognise myself. I never usually wore much make-up, but to my inexperienced eye, it looked like Mandy had done a pretty flawless job. And I had to admit I liked the way my hair looked, brushed down and swept back over my shoulders. I leaned forward, examining my reflection critically. “I think I like it,” I said at last. “What do you think?”
“I think you look gorgeous,” she replied promptly, grinning. “And I’m sure Luc will, too,” she added with a wink.
I rolled my eyes. “Please, you know it’s not like that.”
“Yeah, whatever you say,” she laughed. “Honestly, though, you look great. And that dress is just stunning.”
I smiled shyly. “You really think so?”
She nodded her approval. “I do. Now, let’s get you downstairs. Prince Charming will be here in a few minutes.”
I laughed in spite of myself, shaking my head. “You are impossible,” I told her.
The doorbell rang just as the two of us made our way into the entrance hall. “There he is!” Mandy nudged me excitedly. “Go get ’em, Di.”
Embarrassed to find myself blushing, I hurried to the door, and peered out the window. I recognised Luc’s silhouette standing on the veranda outside. Suddenly, an unexpected state of nervousness washed over me, and I could barely find the strength to open the door.
“Hey, Di,” he greeted me with a smile as he stepped through over the threshold. “Long time no…” he trailed off, staring at me with wide eyes. “Wow.” It took all my effort not to recoil in a fit of self-consciousness. “You look… beautiful.”
I blushed, and smiled at his compliment. “Thanks,” I said. “You look great, too.”
“Shall we go then?”
I nodded, and he took my hand to lead me out to his waiting car.
“See you later, lovebirds!” Mandy called. She had arranged for her boyfriend, Ethan, to pick her up from our house instead of her own, but he was apparently running a little late. “Have a great time!” I rolled my eyes at her farewell, but waved back at her as I got into the car, and heard the front door of the house snap closed when we drove off.
By the time Luc and I arrived at the venue in town, the place was already bustling with students. I recognised most of my classmates, but everyone looked so different all dressed up that it took me a while to pinpoint some unfamiliar faces. The moment we stepped through the door, Luc headed straight for the (non-alcoholic) open bar to prepare us some drinks, while I followed behind and sat down on one of the barstools, pulled a book out of my purse and propped it open in my lap.
“Really, Di?” Luc’s amused voice called from behind the bar. He was only a few feet away from me, but the loud music pumping through the room made it necessary to almost shout to be heard. “Please don’t tell me you’re going to study at the prom, of all places.”
“This isn’t study, it’s recreation,” I argued.
“Nope.” He reached forward and plucked the book out of my hands, snapping it closed with a grin. “We’re here to have fun. Now, come on, let’s get some food.”
Grudgingly, I allowed Luc to drag me to the buffet table on the other side of the room, which was piled high with salad, stuffed turkey and, strangely, cookies. I grabbed a plate from the end of the table and helped myself.
There were a lot of other students waiting for food behind me, so I extracted myself from the crowd and went to find a table to eat at. A few minutes later, Luc appeared with our drinks and his own plate of food and sat down to join me.
Luc was a fast eater – his plate was already clean before mine was half empty. Between mouthfuls, I gazed interestedly at my classmates scattered around the room. Mandy and Ethan were already tearing up the dance floor. Oliver Danes had (predictably) hijacked the DJ booth. Even Patterns seemed to have found some friends – I smiled and gave a small wave when I spotted him in a corner of the room, chatting animatedly with a group of guys from my Economics class.
“You ready to go?” Luc asked me eventually, gesturing towards my empty plate.
I glanced up at him in confusion. “What?”
He grinned. “I didn’t mean leave. If you’ve finished eating, I thought we could go dance.”
I smiled. “Like at that party.”
“Exactly.” He extended his hand, and I took it as I got up from my seat. “Shall we?”
I nodded, allowing him to lead me away from the tables and into the crowd of students gyrating on the dance floor. I didn’t recognise the song that everyone was singing along to, but it ended within a few seconds of us stepping onto the floor. Then the lights dimmed, and a slow, romantic ballad began. The DJ’s voice rang out over the speakers – “This one’s for all you kids who been dyin’ all night for a slow dance!” I turned to Luc, who, to my amused surprise, swept a dramatic bow and held out his hand to me.
“Dance with me, m’lady?”
I laughed and nodded, taking his hand in mine and allowing my other hand to rest on his shoulder, while his settled comfortably on my waist.
I tried to concentrate on the music as we danced. It kept me from thinking to hard about the fact that I was dancing in the arms of a guy for the first time in my life… and with Luc, of all people. I had never been this close to anyone, and if I was honest with myself (as I rarely was), it was scaring me a little. Not just physical closeness… somehow Luc had managed to work his way into a corner of my heart that I hadn’t even known existed until he took up residence there. And that scared me. The fact that this was such a new experience, that it was only one of the many things I had never even considered before Luc stepped into my life, scared me. What was I even doing here? I couldn’t afford to be out at a school prom when I should be at home studying for college entry exams. I looked up worriedly and met Luc’s gaze.
“Is something wrong?” he asked me, looking concerned.
“I…” I hesitated to tell him what was bothering me. I wasn’t sure he would understand, and besides, my logical mind told me that I was being completely irrational. I tried to look him in the eyes, but found, to my increasing annoyance, that it was like staring at a bright light, and was forced to look away after only a few seconds. So I focused my attention on his collar and forced a smile onto my face as I replied. “No, everything’s fine.”
If Luc could tell I was lying, he didn’t show it. He smiled, nodded, and went on dancing. Soon I found myself laughing in spite of myself as he twirled me across the dance floor in time with the swells of music.
And yet occasionally, as we danced, I would catch his eye, and there would be something there that would make my heart beat erratically and my skin heat up wherever he touched me. And when that happened, I couldn’t help but notice every brush of his skin against mine, the tenderness in his hands as they guided me through the steps, and I was glad of the coloured lights to cover up the redness in my own cheeks.
When the song finally ended, and I was able to regain some of my lost sanity, I stepped away from Luc and took a few deep breaths. Other couples around us were still dancing, but looking around the room I could still see Pat standing near the bar and talking with, strangely enough, my sister. I gave him a smile which he eagerly returned, albeit a little… sadly? I was probably just imagining things.
“Had enough?” Luc’s casual question somehow was enough to get my heart racing again. What the hell was wrong with me? I nodded without looking at him, terrified that I would give something away if I met his eyes, and headed instead towards the bar on the other side of the room. I had never drunk alcohol before in my life, but I had heard it called ‘liquid courage’, and I could sure use some of that right about now.
“Whoa, slow down there, genius!” I felt Luc’s concerned hand on my arm as I downed a small glass of some mysterious concoction sitting at the bar and immediately reached for another. “Do you even know what’s in that?” No, and I didn’t care, but I was betting it wasn’t teacher-approved. Ignoring the burning sensation in my throat, I reached to pick up a third shot, but didn’t even make it back to my mouth before it was plucked from my hand and placed firmly back on the tray. “Di, you need to stop. What’s gotten into you tonight?”
I shook my head, too confused and afraid to answer his question. There was no way I could tell him what was really on my mind. Noting my silence, Luc sighed, and wrapped an arm around my waist to help me up from the bar stool. “Come on,” he said. “I think we should call it a night.”
“But we only just got here!” I protested.
“It’s been an hour already, and you’re clearly not yourself right now. Unless you want to stay longer, of course, but I don’t think prom was exactly high on either of our priority lists in the first place, was it?”
He was right. We hadn’t been here long, but already my head was starting to hurt, and I decided I’d really rather be home at this point. I allowed Luc to lead me by the buffet table, but stopped when we had almost reached the door.
“Wait… what about prom pictures?”
Luc glanced towards the striped backdrop and the camera that had been set up to take pictures of all the students at the prom. The line was only a few couples long. He nodded. “I’m fine with it, if you want to.”
“I want to,” I said decisively. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have bothered, but I had had a good night, and especially being able to spend it with my best friend, I wanted something to commemorate it. We joined the queue for photos, and watched the other couples while we waited for our turn.
“Alright, say cheese!” the photographer chirped as she snapped the picture. We stood in a generic prom-couple pose, standing straight, his arm around my waist, unnatural smiles in place. I couldn’t honestly say it was the best photo I’d ever seen, but it was the commemorative picture I’d hoped for. We stayed behind and waited for the photographer to print out a copy for each of us before heading home.
After that, the few weeks separating prom and the end of the school term passed in a veritable blur. The subsequent onset of winter meant only one thing for me and most of my classmates – the all-important end-of-year exams were almost upon us.
Most afternoons nowadays, Mandy and Luc came over to my house so we could all study together. I hadn’t thought about Luc much since the prom – very deliberately, I might add. I was scared of the things I was feeling around him, and in no hurry to start analysing our relationship. No matter what, I was determined to remain friends. I couldn’t risk losing him.
I reached the end of an exercise and lay down my pen with a sigh. “How are you guys going?” I asked the other two.
“Not bad,” said Mandy. “Actually, Di, I’m kinda having trouble with question ten. Can you help me out?”
“I’m going to take a break,” Luc announced. “Di, can I use your bathroom?”
“Thanks. I’ll be back.” As Luc got up from the table and went towards the bathroom, I leaned over to get a better look at Mandy’s workbook.
“Which part are you confused about?” I asked her.
Mandy watched Luc as he left, waiting until the bathroom door had closed behind him, before shutting her book with a snap. “Doesn’t matter,” she said cheerfully. “I want to talk about something more interesting.”
I glanced at her, amused. “Like what?”
“Like you and Luc.”
I almost choked. “What is there to talk about? We’re friends.”
“Yeah, okay,” she grinned. “I saw you two at prom. Are you telling me you have no feelings for him whatsoever?”
“I…” The places this conversation was going were making me extremely uncomfortable. “… Can we not talk about this?”
“Nope,” she refused. “Girls talk about this stuff! Come on, Di, you know you want to tell me.”
“Fine, I’m utterly in love with him,” I stated, rolling my eyes. “Happy?”
“Yeah, if I thought you were serious, I would be,” she replied. “What’s really going on?”
“Um, nothing? We’re friends, that’s all,” I said firmly. I almost believed it myself.
“Fine, fine,” she relented. “But it’s going to happen, I know it. I’m calling it now.”
“Calling what?” asked Luc, sliding back into his chair.
Mandy grinned and opened her mouth to speak, but I cut across her with a glare before she could get a word out. “Nothing. Right, Mandy?”
She hesitated, then, meeting my gaze, sighed and conceded. “Yeah, Luc, it’s nothing important. Come on, we should get back to studying.”
It had been three hours since Mandy and Luc had left. I was in my bed, ready to sleep, but sleep wouldn’t come. My mind was still churning with memories of my conversation with Mandy, while all the thoughts of Luc I had tried to suppress since the prom had come flooding back.
I wasn’t an emotionally driven person by nature. I didn’t believe that what I was feeling should have any effect on how I treated Luc or acted around him. That is, if I was feeling anything out of the ordinary. I still wasn’t convinced that I was. We had been friends for ages, it was natural to feel weird doing couple-type stuff together.
I groaned in frustration and sat up against my pillows. It didn’t matter, I told myself. Regardless of how I felt about Luc, I wasn’t prepared to risk what we already had. I didn’t even know how I felt, there was no way I would hang a friendship on an uncertain and most likely passing attraction. Teenage hormones, I told myself. That’s all this was. No matter what, Luc and I were going to stay friends.
I looked at the clock on my bedside table – it was getting pretty late. I snuggled down under the covers and, pretending I was satisfied with the conclusions I had made, forced myself into sleep.