Mara was having the absolute worst night of her life. Prom was supposed to be the highlight of her high school experience. It was supposed to be the night that she would look back on when she was old and gray and feeling nostalgic about her teenage years.
Instead it had become a night that she wanted to forget. After coming back from the bathroom she had spotted her boyfriend, James, locking lips with a sophomore girl in the middle of the dance floor. What had followed could only be described as the most public and humiliating break up that had ever graced the halls of McKinley High School and the worst part was the entire student body had been there to witness it in all its glory.
After running out of the dance, Mara had found herself at the park across the street. She had collapsed onto one of the swing seats and was now trying her hardest to pull herself together.
"Are you alright?" A voice called out from behind her.
Mara spun around and she almost felt like screaming when she laid eyes on who it was.
Ben Williams, her longtime academic rival, was standing there awkwardly as he looked at her. His eyes were full of something, pity maybe?
“Why do you care?” Mara snapped as she buried her face in her hands. She did this so that Ben wouldn’t see that her eyes were full of tears that threatened to spill at any second. The night had already been one of the worst ones in her life, and her crying in front of her sworn enemy was the last thing she wanted.
“Why do I care?” Ben repeated. He placed a hand on his chest as if he were wounded. “ I know we’re never gotten along, but that doesn’t mean I take any pleasure in watching you be publicly humiliated. I’m not some heartless monster.”
“Could have fooled me.” Mara muttered under her breath. She took a deep breath and furiously rubbed at her eyes as she willed herself to get a grip. After a few seconds, she finally looked up again and saw that Ben had taken a seat on the swing next to her. “You don’t have to stay. I’m fine, really.”
“Nah, it's cool.” Ben insisted as he gave a little kick and started swinging slightly back and forth. “I always liked the swings. In grade school I’d always swung as high as I could and then jump off so that I could pretend I was a superhero flying through the air.”
“Isn’t that how you ended up breaking your arm in 5th grade?” Mara had a vague image in her head of Ben walking around school with a cast. “For someone who wants to go to Harvard, that wasn’t very smart of you.”
“Like you’ve never done anything stupid as a kid.” Ben shot back.
“Nothing as stupid as breaking my arm cause I wanted to be Superman.” Mara replied.
“I’ll be the judge of that.” Ben said. “Name one stupid thing you did as a kid.”
Mara giggled, a sound that she was surprised to hear herself make. “One time when I was in kindergarten I ate a crayon because the color was called “apricot” and I thought it’d taste just like the fruit. Apricots were my favorite fruit back then.” She didn’t know why she had decided to share that, but strangely it felt kind of nice to think about something other than her jerk of an ex-boyfriend.
“You ate a crayon?” Ben laughed so hard that he almost fell off the swing. “You have some nerve making fun of me when you’re the airhead who ate wax. And who’s favorite fruit is apricot? I think only my grandma eats apricots.”
“Apricots are a great source of vitamin A.” Mara said. “That’s probably why I have more A’s on my transcripts than you, cause I eat apricots.”
“Unlike you, I earned all my A’s thanks to my wit and intelligence, and not by eating some fruit that no one under the age of 60 likes.” Ben responded. By this point his swing had come to a stop and he was sitting still as he looked over at Mara.
“This is a weird conversation.” Mara said before she could stop herself. She locked eyes with Ben and was surprised to see that they were studying her intently. “I don’t like it.”
“Why’s that?” Ben asked, his eyebrows feigned surprise.
“Because…it feels weird to sit here and have a normal conversation with you.” Mara admitted. “It’s also weird that we’re exchanging childhood stories and laughing about it together. It makes you seem…human.”
“Did you not see me as a human before?” Ben asked. “Ouch, that’s kind of insulting.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Mara said. “I just mean that I’ve always just seen you as: Ben, the annoying, arrogant, self centered know it all who’s the bane of my existence. Now you’re: Ben, the still somewhat annoying asshole who likes to swing and hates apricots for some reason.”
“And I see you as: Mara, the girl who’s way too good for that piece of shit tool that you used to date.” Ben said, giving her a soft smile. “You’re also kind of annoying too and you eat wax, which is super weird.”
“Thanks for reminding me of that.” Mara winced. She hadn’t thought about Jake for the last 5 minutes, but now he was back in her mind and with him came all the feelings of shame and hurt rushing back. She was so caught up in her head that she didn’t even notice she was moving until her feet left the ground. “What are you doing?” She yelped as she gripped onto the chains and tried not to fall off the swing.
Ben was standing behind her, pushing her slightly as she swung back and forth. With each push he added a bit more force until eventually she was going so high up that she almost felt like she could reach up and grab the stars. “When you get to the top, jump!” He instructed her.
“Jump?” Mara yelped. She could feel the wind blowing through her hair and a rush of adrenaline coursing through her veins. “Are you insane? I don’t want to break my arm.”
“Trust me!” Ben yelled back. He gave her one final push that was so strong it felt like she was going to swing over the bar of the swing set. Against her better judgment, Mara decided to follow his suggestion and she hurled herself off the seat and into the night sky.
For one beautiful moment, it felt like she was flying. She moved through the air as graceful as a leaf falling from a tree as a feeling of euphoria and freedom embraced her. She eventually landed on the ground and even though the impact made her knees buckle slightly and she had to put her hands on the asphalt to steady herself, she felt no pain at all.
From behind her, she heard Ben cheer in approval and within seconds he was at her side, helping her up. “That felt pretty good, right?”
“It did.” Mara smiled, and for the first time that night she felt like maybe things would be okay. “You were onto something, Ben. I guess being Superman is pretty cool after all.”
“Of course I was right, I’m always right.” Ben teased back. “I’m glad you’ve seen the error of your ways, but I’m just telling you straight up that I will not under any circumstances be eating a crayon. Especially not an apricot one.”
“Noted.” Mara said. “I still think you should at least try an apricot though. They’re not just for grandmas.”
“I’m not really in the mood for fruit right now.” Ben replied. His voice grew quiet for a moment and he seemed to grow hesitant, as if he wanted to ask something but was afraid to take the risk. “I think ice cream would be good, don’t you? We could go get a scoop together if you want. My treat.”
Mara couldn’t believe how this night was turning out. Never in a million years would she ever have imagined that she would willingly agree to go out with a boy that she had bickered and spatted with all her life. But as she looked at his face, and saw the hopeful spark that twinkled in his eyes, she knew that there was only one thing she could say. “I’d like that.”