‘We need dates, too, remember,’ Leah said. ‘Unless Heidi’s got some hot guys tucked away behind those shoe boxes.’
‘You never know,’ I said, peering into the deep recesses of the closet. ‘At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised.’
‘Dates aren’t mandatory, this time,’ Maggie said. ‘Let’s just all go together. It’ll be easier not having to deal with boys anyway.’
Leah shot her a look. ‘No way. If I’m having to get all dolled up and wear a nice dress, I want a cute boy to go with it. It’s a deal breaker.’
‘Well,’ I said, opening up the other side closet door, ‘tonight is Ladies’ Night at Tallyho.’
‘Finally!’ Leah pointed at me. ‘Someone understands.’
‘Easy for her to say,’ Esther said. ‘She’s the only one with a date.’
‘But not a dress,’ I replied, pulling out a black, low-cut sheath, then immediately putting it back. It was a small detail, I knew. And it wasn’t like this was a real prom. But it would probably be the only one I’d ever attend, so I was determined to make the most of it. So far, though, everything I’d found had been too something: too bright, too short, too long, too much.
‘Oh, man!’ Esther spun around, holding against herself a pink fifties-style dress with a full, stiff crinoline. ‘How much will you bet me to wear this without any sense of irony?’
‘You have to,’ Maggie said, reaching out to touch the skirt. ‘God. It’s perfect for you.’
‘Only if you wear that black one you had on earlier, the Audrey Hepburn–looking one,’ Esther told her.
‘You think? It’s so dressy.’
‘So wear flip-flops with it. They are your trademark.’
Maggie walked over, picking up the black dress from the bed. ‘That could work. What do you think, Leah?’
‘I think,’ Leah, who was pulling a bright red number over her tank top, said, ‘that if I’m going to go to this thing dateless, I could wear a garbage bag and it wouldn’t matter.’
‘Why do you need a guy to dress up?’ Maggie asked. ‘Aren’t we, your oldest and dearest friends, good enough company?’
‘Maggie.’ Leah yanked the dress down farther. ‘It’s a prom. Not a sisterhood retreat.’
‘And this may be the last big thing we all do together before college. It’s almost August, the summer is practically over.’
‘Don’t,’ Esther threatened, pointing at her. ‘Remember the rules. No waxing nostalgic until the twentieth. We agreed.’
‘I know, I know,’ Maggie said, fluttering her hands in front of her face. She walked over to the bed, sitting down with the black dress across her lap. ‘I just… I can’t believe that it’s all really going to be over soon. This time next year, everything will be different.’
‘God, I hope so.’
Leah looked over from the mirror, where she was eyeing her reflection. ‘What? So I’m hoping a year from now I’ll have a great boyfriend and total life satisfaction. A girl can dream, can’t she?’
‘This is not so bad, though,’ Maggie said. ‘What we have, and had. It’s not.’
‘No,’ I said, pushing aside another couple of dresses. ‘It isn’t.’
I just sort of said this, not really thinking. It wasn’t until the room got quiet that I realized they were all looking at me. ‘See,’ Maggie said, nodding at me. ‘Auden understands.’
‘She understood about Tallyho, too,’ Leah grumbled. ‘Not that anyone else cared about that.’
‘Seriously, though.’ Maggie looked at me. ‘She didn’t get to do all this, back then. If you need a reason to go to the prom, and dress up, and do it all over again, do it for Auden. She missed it the first time around.’
Leah glanced at me, then back at her reflection. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘It’s a lot to ask.’
‘So what,’ Esther said, bouncing up and down, her crinoline rustling. ‘It gives you an excuse to go to Tallyho.’
‘True,’ Leah agreed.
‘You don’t have to, you know,’ I said to Maggie, who was watching me as I pulled on another dress. ‘I’ve got Jason to go with. I’ll be fine.’
‘No way,’ she replied. ‘For the true prom experience, you need your friends there.’
‘Because who else but your friends,’ Esther said, ‘would agree to help you re-create your past, just to fix some wrong that’s been niggling you ever since?’
‘Nobody,’ Leah said.
‘Nobody,’ Maggie repeated.
They were all looking at me. ‘Nobody,’ I said, although I could think of one other answer besides this one, even if I couldn’t say it out loud.
Even with my affirmation, though, they continued to stare at me, to the point that I started to wonder if I had ink on my face, or my underwear was showing. I was just about to do a panicked mirror check when Maggie said, ‘Wow. Auden. That’s the one.’
‘The what?’ I said.
‘Your dress,’ Esther said, nodding at me. ‘It looks amazing.’
I looked down at the purple dress I’d pulled on moments earlier, which I hadn’t even really looked at that closely, yanking it from the closet only because it was not red or black or white, like everything else I’d tried on. Now, though, as I stepped in front of the mirror, I saw that it did fit me pretty well. The neckline was flattering, the skirt full, and I liked how it brought out my eyes. It wasn’t a dress to stop traffic, but maybe I didn’t need that anyway.
‘Really?’ I said.
‘Definitely.’ Maggie came over to stand beside me, reaching out a hand to touch the skirt. ‘Don’t you like it?’
I studied my reflection. I’d never been one for dresses or bold colors, and had never owned anything that shade of purple before in my life. I looked like a different girl. But maybe that was the point. And like having the right snacks, for a true adventure, the proper attire is everything.
‘Yeah,’ I said, reaching down with my fingers to pull the skirt to one side. When I dropped it, it swished back, rearranging itself, as if it already knew where it belonged. ‘It’s perfect.’
The morning of the Beach Bash, I woke at eight A.M. to the sound of Isby crying through our shared wall. I rolled over, burying my head in the pillow, and waited for Heidi to come and quiet her down. A few minutes later, the crying turned to sobbing, and I began to wonder what was going on. When she started to all-out scream, I went to investigate.