Kennedy hated dances. No, that wasn’t true. She hated that her friends hated dances. None of her friends were very interested in getting together beforehand to do their makeup or curl their hair. Nobody wanted to dance, unless it was a slow dance, and those were always uncomfortable. Where were you supposed to look during that? Were you supposed to talk or stare into each other’s eyes? What if you didn’t even like your dance partner all that much?
Senior prom would be different, though. Kennedy could feel it. For the first time since the freshman fall icebreaker, her friends were suddenly excited; they asked for each other’s opinions on dresses, dropped hints for their choice dates, and speculated about that year’s theme.
Kennedy had been alone in joining the Prom Committee last year, earning her the nickname “Prom Pundit” in her friend group. She wouldn’t admit to her friends how much research she’d done on fundraising ideas. She managed to sell tickets to a few of them, but they weren’t as excited as her. They bought the first cheap formal outfits they saw, and her friend Toby got so nervous that he threw up all over his secondhand Oxford shoes.
This year was different, though. Kennedy wasn’t sure if it was because of senior year nostalgia or because of the rumors that DJ Thoms—the most epic DJ in the greater metro area—would be spinning. Either way, Kennedy was thrilled that her friends were interested. She checked her phone to see if she’d missed anything in the group chat.
“After school: Meeting at the resale shop off East Second Street.”
“Kens, can you make it?”
Finally. Everyone who ribbed her last year wanted her advice. She tossed her backpack in her locker and started for the store. Homework could wait until morning.
Everyone was there by the time Kennedy arrived. She was glad they’d chosen this shop; it had the largest selection of affordable dresses on their side of the city. Surely her friends would find something better than last year’s tacky sequins and—Kennedy cringed just thinking about it—Jane’s dress with the padded shoulders.
Lori looked critically at the rows of dresses. “Wow. So much tulle.”
“You know, women don’t have to wear dresses anymore. You could wear a suit,” Kennedy suggested.
“Wait, seriously?” Lori looked surprised.
“They changed it last year after the Prom Committee petition, remember?”
“See ya.” Lori took off toward a rack of suit vests.
Kennedy took her time as she looked at each dress in her size. The past three years, she’d cut out pictures from teen magazines of all the different dresses she liked. She narrowed it down to three styles: a dark ball gown, a dark strapless A-line, or a short, sparkly cocktail dress. She desperately wanted the ball gown, but they were so expensive.
She looked for about a half hour before she saw it. She pulled it off the rack to make sure she wasn’t imagining it. A deep blue strapless ball gown with silver sparkles that made it look like a summer night’s sky. She ran to the dressing room and tried it on. It wouldn’t even need alterations. She let out a little squeal and immediately turned red, hoping nobody heard her.
She took a picture in the mirror to send to her mom and another picture of the color to send to her boyfriend, Jake. They had only been dating for a short time, but it was all part of her plan for the perfect prom night. She knew he wouldn’t get wasted or embarrass her, and a slow dance with him wouldn’t feel too awkward.
“Think you can find a corsage that matches this?” she asked Jake. She knew Jake wasn’t thrilled about the idea of going, but he promised her he’d make some effort. There wouldn’t be a limousine or dozens of roses, but she at least expected him to rent a tux.
“About that. I don’t think we should go.”
Kennedy stared at her phone. Surely this was a cruel prank. She waited for him to add “JK!” but after a few minutes, it became clear that he wasn’t going to say anything else.
She hit the call button. “Why shouldn’t we go to prom?”
“You know I hate dances. Shit, I don’t want to get all dressed up to be miserable all night.”
“And you know how important this is to me. All of our friends are going. I’ve been dreaming about this dance for years.” This wasn’t happening.
“It’s all about you, isn’t it? It’s always your freaking way.”
“I think I’ve been pretty understanding about your feelings. I thought we agreed on a compromise we could both deal with.” Jane knocked on the door, and Kennedy cracked it open to let her in.
“Look, I’m not going. C’mon, babe, it’s just a dance. We can have a movie night or something.”
“You can have a movie night with yourself, you selfish ass. This relationship is over.” Kennedy threw her phone into her purse, tears burning her eyes.
“What happened, Kens?” Jane leaned against the wall.
“Well, Jake and I just broke up. Prick refused to go to the prom. How could he go back on his word like that?”
“Because he’s a jerk. I don’t know what you saw in him,” Jane said. She dug in her bag and pulled out a crumpled tissue. Not ideal, but Kennedy took it anyway.
“I saw a prom date. Oh, Jane, I wanted it to be perfect. It’s the last big event before graduation, you know? And the first time we’ve all been excited about something together.” Kennedy sniffed and fiddled with the price tag on the dress. Seventy bucks. It felt like a steal for such a beautiful dress.
“I know.” Jane smiled. “I remember last year you kept telling us how fun prom would be and how we’d eat our words someday.”
“And now I’m the one eating them. I won’t have anyone to dance with or take pictures with now.”
“Oh, come on, hon. We’ve still got a month. I’m sure you can find another date if you want one. But you don’t need one for the night to be perfect.” Seeing Kennedy’s skeptical look, she quickly added, “Think of it this way. Going solo means you can dance with any guy you want to.”
“They’ll all have dates,” she replied.
“Not necessarily. I’m sure lots of guys go alone or with friends. Toby and I are going together, but there’s nothing romantic there. We just want to see the DJ.”
“I knew it. I knew that’s why you were going.”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s not a secret that dances aren’t really my thing. Years of Psychology Club have prepared me for this. It’ll be like a social experiment. Watching the interactions, seeing the different responses to different songs—”
“You’re going to be delightful company,” Kennedy mumbled.
“Oh, hon, I’m just messing with you. We’re going to have a fun time. After all, it’ll be one of our last together.” They were both silent for a moment.
“I guess you’re right. I’ve been so caught up in my fantasies about prom night, and I think it’s to distract me from how bittersweet it’ll be.”
“Avoidance. I’ll add that to my observation notes.”
Kennedy rolled her eyes. “I guess it can still be a great night.”
“It will be! You have a great group of friends who will all be on their most charming behavior. It’ll be fun.”
“As long as Toby doesn’t barf again.” Kennedy sighed.
“Well, maybe this year he’ll make it to the bathroom first.” Jane giggled. Kennedy joined in, and soon they were roaring with laughter.
“Eh, what’s so funny in there?” Lori called out.
“Yeah, and we want to see the dress!” Adriana added. Jane grabbed Kennedy’s arm and dragged her out into the store. The girls whistled as she modeled the gown.
“You’re going to look like an angel,” Lori said.
“And so are you ladies. Let’s find your outfits. Scoot! Start looking!” Kennedy ducked back into the dressing room to change. Jane was right. She was going to have the time of her life, Jake or no Jake.
The night of the prom, as her friends and her posed for pictures in the foyer, she realized how lucky she was to be there. She didn’t want her pictures to be with some boy she’d forget the name of in five years. She was going to have a million scrapbook moments tonight, laughing and dancing with her best friends, as she longed to do at every school dance before. Finally, her dream was coming true.