It's Not Summer Without You
Page 14

 Jenny Han

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I stared at him. Did Conrad show him our pictures? Had he told him anything? “How do you know?”
“My mom got one of the pictures framed.”
I hadn’t expected him to bring up Susannah. I’d thought prom would be a safe subject. I said, “I heard you were prom king at your prom.”
“I bet that was fun.”
“Yeah, it was pretty fun.”
I should have brought Jeremiah instead. If it had been Jeremiah, things would have been different. He would have said all the right things. It would have been Jeremiah in the center of the dance floor, doing the Typewriter and the Lawn Mower and the Toaster and all the other stupid dances he used to practice when we watched MTV. He would have remembered that daisies were my favorite flower, and he would’ve made friends with Taylor’s boyfriend, Davis, and all the other girls would have been looking at him, wishing he was their date.
Chapter twelve
From the start, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to get Conrad to go. He wasn’t a prom kind of person. But the thing was, I didn’t care. I just really wanted him to go with me, to be my date. It had been seven months since the first time we’d kissed. Two months since the last time I’d seen him. One week since the last time he’d called.
Being a person’s prom date is definable; it’s a real thing. And I had this fantasy of prom in my head, what it would be like. How he would look at me, how when we slow danced, he’d rest his hand on the small of my back. How we’d eat cheese fries at the diner after, and watch the sunrise from the roof of his car. I had it all planned out, how it would go.
When I called him that night, he sounded busy. But I forged ahead anyway. I asked him, “What are you doing the first weekend of April?” My voice trembled when I said the word “April.” I was so nervous he’d say no. In fact, deep down I kind of expected him to.
Warily, he asked, “Why?”
“It’s my prom.”
He sighed. “Belly, I hate dances.”
“I know that. But it’s my prom, and I really want to go, and I want you to come with me.” Why did he have to make everything so hard?
“I’m in college now,” he reminded me. “I didn’t even want to go to my own prom.”
Lightly, I said, “Well, see, that’s all the more reason for you to come to mine.”
“Can’t you just go with your friends?”
I was silent.
“I’m sorry, I just really don’t feel like going. Finals are coming up, and it’ll be hard for me to drive all the way down for one night.”
So he couldn’t do this one thing for me, to make me happy. He didn’t feel like it. Fine. “That’s okay,” I told him. “There’s plenty of other guys I can go with. No problem.”
I could hear his mind working on the other end. “Never mind. I’ll take you,” he said at last.
“You know what? Don’t even worry about it,” I said. “Cory Wheeler already asked me. I can tell him I changed my mind.”
“Who the hell is Corky Wheeler?”
I smiled. I had him now. Or at least I thought I did. I said, “Cory Wheeler. He plays soccer with Steven. He’s a good dancer. He’s taller than you.”
But then Conrad said, “I guess you’ll be able to wear heels, then.”
“I guess I will.”
I hung up. Was it so much to ask him to be my prom date for one freaking night? And I had lied about Cory Wheeler; he hadn’t asked me. But I knew he would, if I let him think I wanted him to.
In bed, under my quilt, I cried a little. I had this perfect prom night in my mind, Conrad in a suit and me in the violet dress my mother bought me two summers ago, the one I had begged for. He had never seen me dressed up before, or wearing heels, for that matter. I really, really wanted him to.
Later he called and I let it go straight to voice mail. On the message, he said, “Hey. I’m sorry about before. Don’t go with Cory Wheeler or any other guy. I’ll come. You can still wear your heels.”
I must have played that message thirty times at least. Even so, I never really listened to what he was actually saying—he didn’t want me to go with some other guy, but he didn’t want to go with me either.
I wore the violet dress. My mother was pleased, I could tell. I also wore the pearl necklace Susannah gave me for my sixteenth birthday, and that pleased her too. Taylor and the other girls were all getting their hair done at a fancy salon. I decided to do mine myself. I curled my hair in loose waves and my mother helped with the back. I think the last time she did my hair was in the second grade, when I wore my hair in braids every day. She was good with a curling iron, but then, she was good with most things.
As soon as I heard his car pull into the driveway, I ran to the window. He looked beautiful in his suit. It was black; I’d never seen it before.
I launched myself down the stairs and flung the front door open before he could ring the bell. I couldn’t stop smiling and I was about to throw my arms around him when he said, “You look nice.”
“Thanks,” I said, and my arms fell back at my sides. “So do you.”
We must have taken a hundred pictures at the house. Susannah said she wanted photographic proof of Conrad in a suit and me in that dress. My mother kept her on the phone with us. She gave it to Conrad first, and whatever she said to him, he said, “I promise.” I wondered what he was promising.
I also wondered if one day, Taylor and I would be like that—on the phone while our kids got ready for the prom. My mother and Susannah’s friendship had spanned decades and children and husbands. I wondered if Taylor’s and my friendship was made of the same stuff as theirs. Durable, impenetrable stuff. Somehow I doubted it. What they had, it was once-in-a-lifetime.
To me, Susannah said, “Did you do your hair the way we talked about?”
“Did Conrad tell you how pretty you look?”
“Yes,” I said, even though he hadn’t, not exactly.
“Tonight will be perfect,” she promised me.
My mother positioned us on the front steps, on the staircase, standing next to the fireplace. Steven was there with his date, Claire Cho. They laughed the whole time, and when they took their pictures, Steven stood behind her with his arms around her waist and she leaned back into him. It was so easy. In our pictures, Conrad stood stiffly beside me, with one arm around my shoulders.