I just looked at him. “Noah,” I said. “Please.”
“Wow,” Scarlett said as he opened the container and guzzled down a bit, dribbling on his shirtfront. “That sure is classy.”
“Works for me,” Noah said snippily. He stuck it back in his pocket, wiping his mouth, and put his arm over my shoulder, which I shrugged off as best I could.
By the time we got to the prom, Noah was completely loaded. The limo dropped us off in the bus parking lot, by the cafeteria, and I just started to walk inside, leaving him to stumble along behind me. He’d downed the last swallow of his stash, dropped the container on the sidewalk, and reached out to grab me; instead, he got my dress, tearing it at the waist. I felt cool air on my back and legs and stopped walking.
“Ooops,” he said as I turned around. He had something white and shiny, formerly part of my dress, in his hands and he was giggling. “Sorry.”
“You jerk,” I snapped, grabbing behind me to bunch the fabric together, covering myself. Now I was at the prom with Noah Vaughn and half-naked. There was no end to my shame.
“Halley, what’s going on?” Scarlett called from the front entrance to the cafeteria. I could see Melissa Ringley, prom chairwoman, sitting at a table watching me. “Hurry up.”
“Go in without me,” I said. “I’ll be right there.”
“Are you sure?”
She shrugged, handing Melissa their tickets, and she and Cameron disappeared inside. I could hear music playing, loud, and people kept walking past, on their way in. I backed into the shadow of the science lab to do something about my dress.
“Here,” Noah said, stumbling in behind me, “let me help.”
“You cannot help me,” I told him. “Okay?”
“You don’t have to be a bitch,” he snapped, still reaching around to the back of my dress, his hand brushing my skin. “You know, you’ve changed so much since we went out.”
“Whatever, Noah,” I said. I needed a safety pin, badly. I could not go inside and moon my entire class, not even for Scarlett.
“You used to be nice, and all that,” he went on, “but then you started thinking you were all cool, hanging out with Macon Faulkner and all. Like you were too good for everybody all of a sudden.”
“Noah,” I said. “Shut up.”
“You shut up,” he said back, loudly. Two girls in white dresses and heels looked over at us, trying to make us out in the dark.
I ignored him, reaching around the back of my dress again, when suddenly he was right up against me, his breath in my face when I turned around. I didn’t remember him ever being so tall. He slid his arm around my waist, reaching back to the gaping fabric, and stuck his hand down my dress, brushing over my underwear. I just stared at him, dumbstruck, and watched his face get closer and closer, eyes closed, tongue starting to stick out—
“Get off me,” I said loudly, pushing him away. He stumbled, tripped over a tree stump and landed on the sidewalk just as another group of people started to pass by. I leaned against the wall, not caring anymore about my dress, or this night, and tried to hide myself.
“Whoa,” a guy in the group said as he stepped over Noah, who was still prone, blinking. “You okay, buddy?”
“She’s just—she’s such a ...” Noah sputtered as he got to his feet, unsteadily, and started to weave back around the side of the building, muttering to himself. The guy and his date just watched him go, then laughed a little nervously and headed across the courtyard to Melissa Ringley and the cafeteria. And I was alone.
I thought about going home. I had money and could easily call a cab, or my father, and just give up entirely. But Scarlett would worry, I knew, so I bunched together the back of my dress, holding it that way, and went to tell her myself.
I found her on the dance floor, with Cameron. They couldn’t dance that close but they did what they could, her stomach between them. All around her were these perfect girls, hair swept up and wearing lipstick and high heels, with their dates in dark tuxedos and dress shoes. I saw Ginny Tabor and Brett Hershey, wearing Prom King and Queen crowns, making out by the punch table. And Regina Little, one of the fattest girls in school, in a huge white dress with a hoop, dancing with a guy in a military uniform who looked at least thirty. And lastly, in the corner, I saw Elizabeth Gunderson and Macon, not dancing or smiling or even talking, just standing there staring at the crowd, same as me.
Macon saw me, and right then I felt it for the first time in so long, that rush and craziness, that feeling I’d had at Topper Dam. He looked good and he grinned at me, and I thought that in this desperate moment, alone at the prom, he could take me away.
It was too much, all of a sudden, everything rushing at me. The prom and Michael and my mother and the baby. Macon and Ronnie’s house and that night in the car, with the glass shattering around my head. Elizabeth Gunderson and her sly smile, the cold of the woods as I’d gotten sick on New Year’s Eve, Grandma Halley’s hand, thin and warm, in mine. And finally, Noah coming closer and closer to me, his tongue sticking out, and now Scarlett on the dance floor, right before my eyes, swaying to the music and smiling, smiling, smiling.
I pushed through the crowd, still holding my dress, thinking only of getting out, getting away, something. I pushed past girls in their princess outfits, past clouds of cologne and perfume, past Mrs. Oakley, the vice principal, who was eyeballing everyone on the lookout for drugs and drunks. I didn’t stop until I reached the bathroom door and ran inside, letting it slam behind me.
The first person I saw was Melissa Ringley, standing in front of the mirrors with a lipstick in her hand. She looked at the mirror in front of her, and me beyond it, and turned around, her mouth still in a perfect O.
“Halley, my goodness, what is wrong?” She put the lipstick down and walked toward me, lifting her dress off the ground so it wouldn’t brush the floor. It was black, with a full skirt and a modest neckline. She had a small gold cross hanging from a chain around her neck. “Are you okay?”
I did look crazed, wild even. My hair, so carefully crafted into a perfect French twist by Scarlett, had somehow come un-tucked and was sticking up like a lopsided Mohawk. My face was red and my mascara smeared and that didn’t even include my dress, which was bagging open in the back now that I had let go of it. Two other girls, checking their makeup, brushed past me, glanced at my exposed underwear and clucked their tongues as they pushed the door open, leaving me and Melissa alone.