I walked in to the funeral home by myself, feeling a little bit guilty. I hadn't seen May or her family since I moved out of New York almost four years ago, and now I was coming back for May's funeral. The accident that had claimed my best friend's life had been so sudden, and I couldn't help but think I should have been in the car with her. She had asked me to come up for the weekend from Harvard and go out on the town with her, for old times' sake. May was only 21, a few months short of turning 22 and catching up with me. I wasn't quite sure how to approach Mr. and Mrs. Phan, or Johnny. Especially Johnny. So I just sat down in the back of the room and kept to myself.
I thought about when May and I first met. It was the fall after I turned seventeen, and I knew well what it meant to be left out. Her family was the first Vietnamese family to move in to our neighborhood, and most of the other kids were very leery of them. I, on the other hand, was a bookish, quiet young lady with few friends. So as two social outcasts we were almost predisposed to be best friends. She lived right next door,and every day after school she and I would go to her house, since my mother worked and wasn't home when I got home from school. Mrs. Phan treated me like her own daughter, feeding us both sweet treats when we got home and listening to my problems. The only thing she couldn't help me with was my homework. Mrs. Phan had never had an education past the eighth grade, so every time I would be doing my Geometry homework and run into a problem I couldn't figure out, I got used to hearing "Go ask Xuan." (May and Johnny's real names were Xuan and Mai, but since nobody could pronounce them, we just called them by an anglicized version.)
Johnny didn't really have friends, so I always knew where to find him: in his room, at his desk, studying. I'd go in, plop myself down on his bed, and he'd help me, always carefully explaining whatever concept in a way that I could understand. He never treated me like his annoying little sister's best friend, but was always respectful, and even friendly. In my own way, I counted Johnny as a friend, too, but I would never admit it to anyone. As unpopular as I already was, I didn't need him dragging me down any lower.
So you can understand why I was so incredulous when May suggested that I go with Johnny to our senior prom. "Are you kidding me? Go to prom with your older brother? And look like even more of a nerd?"
May just flipped another page in her magazine. "Well, you said you didn't want to go alone. Better a nerd than a wallflower."
I shot her a withering look from my perch on her desk chair. "Easy for you to say; you have a date with Tommy Riddle, the quarterback." May's exotic good looks made her one of the most popular girls in school after people got over her ethnicity, while I was still the plain, mousy sidekick.
"Oh, come on, Trista. Half the people in our class don't even know Johnny. You can just introduce him as an old friend, who just happens to be a med student at NYU. Get him to leave those stupid glasses at home and Bang! Instant date material. It's not like I'm telling you to marry him. Although, it would make us sisters." She shot me a sly look, and I smacked her in the face with a pillow. "Hey, just a thought."
So, May's suggestion in mind, I came through the Phan's door the next night with a purpose. I went straight to Johnny's room and sat down on the bed. He was busy studying from a complicated chemistry textbook, but when he heard me settle into my usual spot, he turned and gave me his full attention. "So, Trista, trigonometric functions giving you trouble again?" He smiled. When he smiled I could almost forget that he was my best friend's dorky older brother.
I looked down at my hands, wondering how to lead into my question. "Actually, Johnny, I have a question of a different nature for you. I'm sure you've heard May talking about our senior prom in two weeks."
"I'm sure she's mentioned something about it. Why?"
"And you know it's going to be our last dance, and I really don't want to go to my last dance alone, so I was wondering..."
Johnny stopped me with a chuckle at my flustered state. "Trista, I'm sure I can make an opening in my, ahem, busy social schedule to take you to your prom."
I spoke up quickly. "Just as friends."
"Of course, just as friends."