Should I go? Should I stay? I’ll go. I’ll go out of respect. My boss so kindly planned the party, so I’ll go. I’ll stay for two hours. An hour and a half? No. Two hours. I’ll go.
What to wear? I look in the mirror. Too dressy? Too casual? Too fat? Too skinny? I throw myself on the bed. I’m not going.
Fine, I’ll go. For Christmas. For respect. I’ll go. Oh, what to wear?
Running late. Throwing on clothes. Dress or skirt? Heels or flats? Hair up or down? Makeup or natural? Should I go? S h o u l d I g o?
I’m here. Too late to turn around. Is it? Yes. I walk up the steps. Turn back. You can’t do this. Can I? I can’t. I can. Can I? Should I? Will I? No. Yes. Yes. No. Turning back. Turning back. T u r n i n g b a c k. Turning around. Leaving. So close. Almost gone. “Mariah! So nice to see you! Merry Christmas!” Oh no. Too late. Too late. I’ll stay. For one hour. I’ll stay. I walk inside.
I made a mistake. I should have left. Never should have come. Shouldn’t be here. Why am I here? I’ll stay. Forty-five minutes. That’s all. Then I’ll sneak out. Now, where’s the food table?
“Mariah! I didn’t know you were here! Are you enjoying yourself?”
I was. "Yes. Nice party. You?” No eye contact.
“Of course! Mr. Thompson throws the best Christmas parties, doesn’t he?”
Such beautiful flooring. If I don’t look up, maybe she’ll go away. I peek up.
Nope, she’s still there. Smiling. I shouldn’t be here. “Yeah.” I say. Thirty minutes, I think. I’ll stay thirty minutes.
Where is the bathroom? If I go, I can avoid the awkward slow dance. I should have stayed home. I have no place here.
I’m no socialite. No popular girl. Just like school dances in high school. No prom date. No corsage. No awkward “meet my parents” moment. I should be home. H o m e. Twenty minutes. I look at my watch. Twenty minutes.
If I keep my head down, people won’t recognize me, won’t stop me to talk. Won’t ask to dance. No critical stares, no fake smiles. Surely, it’s been two hours. Surely, it’s almost over. Then I can leave. Go home. Feed the dog, take a bath, watch the Hallmark channel. I look at my watch. It’s been ten minutes.
I find a table in the back, near the kitchen. Maybe the staff need help. I ask a server. “Do you all need any help?” She looks puzzled. Of course not. They don’t need YOU’RE help. Why are you even here? NO ONE wants you here.
She shakes her head. “No ma’am, you just enjoy your party.”
“Really?” I ask. “It’s no trouble at all!” I plead with my eyes. “I can
wash dishes, clear tables, sweep, fold napkins, anything really-”
“No ma’am. I assure you that won’t be necessary.” Her eyes twinkle with amusement. Fine. Be that way.
“Mary! You’re here!” Chelsea Hesley, the boss’s daughter, bubbles with fake enthusiasm as she air-kisses both of my cheeks.
“It’s Mariah.” I state.
“Sure, it is.” She laughs like she has said something funny. She leans in close and I can smell the heavy perfume she has on. Why me? Why must she come over and speak to ME? “Honestly? I'm surprised you showed up. I mean, it’s not like you ever talk.” She giggles like she’s sharing a secret with me.
I keep my eyes on the ground and stay silent. She’s right. Why am I here? I should have left. She stands up to leave. Just as I breathe a sigh of relief, she turns back. “You know, I heard the funniest rumor the other day.” Her eyes twinkle. “I heard that Jordan has his eye on you.” Her laughter fills the room as she flips her hair.
“I know. Hilarious, right? As if he would ever go for someone like you.”
I should have stayed home.
Oh, no. He’s here. What should I do? He would never like someone
like you. I watch Chelsea run over and greet wonder-boy himself, Jordan Sanders. They laugh and share a smile. He looks up and catches my eye, sees me staring. I quickly look down. Look at you. You’re pathetic. Hiding over here in the corner. My inner voice laughs at me. And to think, you actually thought he might LIKE you. You. Are. Pathetic.
He’s coming this way. Walking over here. H e r e. N o w. He’s coming over to me. M E. I shouldn’t have come.
I stand and cross to the restroom. One. Foot. In. Front. Of. The. Other. I will not give him the satisfaction of seeing me make a fool of myself. Go. Run. You are a coward. You are weak. Pathetic. Sickening.
I open a bathroom stall, walk inside. I’ll just stay in here for a little while, then I’ll go back in and make a big show of leaving, acting as if I’ve been in there the entire time. I glance down at my watch. Fifteen minutes. I’ll go in fifteen minutes. I settle in and get comfy.
Ten minutes later, (I couldn’t make it to fifteen,) I walk out of the bathroom and go to the closet, attempting to get my coat and leave as soon as humanly possible.
“Webb.” I tell the boy standing there who asked me for my last name. As he searches the coats for a nametag with my name on it, I comfort myself by thinking happy thoughts. Home. Warmth. Blankets. Christmas movies. Hot coa-coa-
“Were you running from me?” I jump at the voice in my ear, startling me out of my thoughts. I swirl around to see who this voice belongs to.
I almost faint. “Jordan?” It comes out as a question.
He smiles. “Yeah, that’s me.”
I attempt a smile that probably comes out looking more like a
grimace. “Yep, that’s you.” I promise I used to be able to form whole sentences. I shouldn’t be here.
Again, with his brilliant smile. If the butterflies, no, bats, would stop flying around in my stomach, I could concentrate on important things. Like breathing. Shouldn’t. Be. Here.
“So, how about a dance?” A dance? I’m having a panic attack, and he is talking about a dance?
“A dance?” I ask, stupidly.
His eyes crinkle in amusement. “Would you like to dance?”
“With who?” I ask. Gonna. Hurl. Surely, he doesn’t mean with him? Why am I here?
“Well, me, of course. I couldn’t just let you leave without a dance first, could I?” When I get home, I'm going to clean my ears out. Maybe I’m deaf. Or dead. Home. I should be home. I shouldn’t be here. This is wrong, all wrong. W R O N G.
“I’d love to.” I say. He takes my hand and leads me to the dance floor.
I shouldn’t be here. At this party. On this dance floor. With this guy. I shouldn’t be here. Too late to turn back? I could make an excuse. Pass out. Throw up. Run away. No. I steel myself. I will not run. I am going to enjoy myself. E v e n. I f. I t. K i l l s. M e.
He grabs my hand and leads me into a slow dance, his feet in perfect
timing with the rhythm of the music. I trip and almost faceplant. In front of an audience of about 200 people. I start to let go, turn back, l e a v e, go home, but he grabs my hand before I can get too far. “It’s okay. Just follow my lead.”
I shake my head no. “It’s not that.”
“What is it then?” He asks, bewildered.
I laugh, even though nothing is funny, and gesture around the room. “It’s everything. This party. These clothes. You. Me. Chelsea. It’s just everything.” I don’t why I thought I could do this. Be that girl. You are a coward. Be the girl who wins. You are weak. Be the girl who gets the guy. You are pitiful. The girl who gets anything. You. Are. Nothing.
“Wait,” He says. “What’s this have anything to do with Chelsea?”
I laugh. “This has everything to do with Chelsea. Look at her.
She’s gorgeous. She’s rich. She’s perfect for you.” I look down at myself. “Me? I’m just a girl in party clothes. I shouldn’t even be here.”
“Well, I’m glad you have what’s best for me all figured out. But let me ask you one thing. Who am I dancing with? Chelsea?” He doesn’t give me a chance to respond. “No. You. I had every opportunity to dance with Chelsea, and I chose you.”
I shake my head because he isn’t making any sense. You don’t fit in here, freak. You’re too fat. Too ugly. Too stupid. You don’t
D E S E R V E H I M!
I look up into his eyes. He smiles and holds out his hand. “So, the question is, will you stay?”
No. Yes. No. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. No. No. Should I? Can I? Will I? No. Yes. Go home. Go back to where you belong. Should I stay? Should I go? I. Don’t. Know. My brain is on overload. Senses in overdrive. You shouldn’t even be here. He is pitying you. No one wants you here. No one loves you. No one wants you. Should I stay? Should I go? Stay. Stay. Stay. Go. Yes. Go. Stay. No.
I smile and take his hand. “I’ll stay.”