I sighed and tucked myself further into my comfy pajamas. I made sure that my popcorn, M&Ms, Oreos, and chocolate milk were situated in front of me within easy reach.
Satisfied, I sat back on the couch, pulled up my blanket, and flicked on the TV. I grabbed an Oreo and took a sip of my milk, prepared to enjoy a Friday night relaxing at home.
I heard vague sounds of someone, probably my brother, coming down the stairs. Whoever it was paused in the doorway, listening to the theme song of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit coming from the TV. When it finished, my brother poked his head into the living room, glanced at me, the TV, my food, and back at me again.
"Uh oh," David said, eyebrows raised. "Law & Order and Oreos? This can't be good."
I rolled my eyes, but behind his flippant tone I could see that he was concerned. I was well aware of what he was thinking.
It's Friday night. Why am I not out?
To which I had to wonder: is it a crime for a girl to stay in?
Speaking of Fridays, I gave my brother a once-over. He looked nice in dress pants and a button up shirt. Nothing too fancy, but certainly not plain. I smiled at him and gestured to his getup.
"What's the occasion?"
He strolled into the living room and popped down onto the couch, grabbing an Oreo and pulling it apart. I paused Law & Order so that I could concentrate on him. "Date with Megan," he replied before licking the frosting. He turned more toward me, eyes focused in on me instead of the Oreo. "Now don't changing the subject. Why are you in here?"
I looked at him and shrugged. "You know. Law & Order marathon on TV."
David looked at me, amused. "Hattie, I just saw you pause the thing. You're clearly watching a DVD."
I grimaced. Busted.
"Seriously, Hat, what's wrong?"
I bit my lip and gave David a side glance. I wasn't sure if I wanted to tell him. He hadn't been crazy about my boyfriend, Nick, in the first place. I really didn't want to give him any more ammunition…
"This is about Crosby, isn't it?" David practically growled, and I let out a little sigh.
"It's really not a big deal, Dave," I told him, trying to get a peaceful calm to my voice, but I couldn't remove the slight edge from it.
David's jaw tightened. "I hear rumors, Hat. I know what goes on with you even when you don't tell me."
I rolled my eyes. "Yes, because rumors are the safest form of information you'll ever find."
"How else am I supposed to find out these things if you don't talk to me, Hattie?" David snapped, and I stayed silent. He cleared his throat and tried again, his voice gentler. "Tell me if you're okay, Hattie, because I swear to you, I'll beat the shit out of this kid."
And I knew that he was serious. David had warned Nick before we'd started dating that if Nick ever hurt me, he'd be going down. I wasn't sure if Nick had taken him seriously at the time, but after watching David play football, lift some weights, and beat up some punks, he heeded the warning a bit more.
I took a deep breath and turned to David with a small smile. I could manage that, at least. "Dave, it's fine. It's a little high school drama," I told him and the little laugh I tried to let out sounded pathetic even to my own ears, but David seemed to accept it.
I saw him try to glance at his watch, so I looked at the clock.
"Oh my God!" I cried and looked at David in horror. "Why haven't you left to get Megan yet? When was she expecting you?"
David gave me a look. "You know Meg's always running twenty minutes late, anyway. I always sit outside for five or ten and then make small talk with her parents for another five or ten. It's not exactly a ball of fun."
I gave David a long suffering sigh and a slight push. "Go! You're running late and it'll take ten minutes to get to her house as it is. What if she's ready on time tonight and she thinks you stood her up?"
David stood up from the couch, but I knew he was thinking the same thing I was: doubtful. Megan was never on time. But it didn't stop David from taking her out.
Encouraged by my waving, he slowly made his way from the room, but paused in the doorway to give me one last look. I managed a smile and raised my eyebrows. David got the message and left. I listened as he shut the door and then turned on his car, pulling away from the house.
Finally, home alone. I shut off the lamp and pressed play on the remote, content for some time to pig out and watch some Elliot Stabler action. If I couldn't have a real life superhero, I could at least have a fictional detective who seemed to get it all right. And when he didn't, it was okay.
If only real life were like that.
Two episodes later and I'd switched from Law & Order to Titanic. My face was puffy and red from crying, first from the Law & Order stories, and then from Jack's complete and totally sweet treatment of Rose in Titanic, even though she's a high-end bitch to him from the start.
This made me sob. Snooty girls even got good guys. I tried to be a good girl and all I managed to find were assholes.
It wasn't like I was dumb for picking Nick. We'd kind of found each other. And sure, I'd ignored my brother's warnings when he told me that I might want to stray away from Nick Crosby, that he didn't treat girls very well. But he'd treated me just fine at first.
In fact, our relationship had been pretty smooth. One of those permanent honeymoon states for the first six months. Then it started to get rocky. And now as we approached month eight (and weeks until prom), it was looking pretty… well, it was…
I choked back a sob. Who was I kidding?
It was over.
He'd said as much to me in the hall, where he'd yelled it for all to hear, that asshole. Immediately, some of my friends had run up to me to make sure I was okay, to ask me what was going on, to see if what had just happened had really just happened.
I hadn't even known how to answer them. Could I take a breakup like that seriously? He walked away from me and threw the comment back over to his shoulder, like I meant nothing to him, like seven months together meant absolutely nothing. Which, to him, I guess it didn't. It wasn't like we even fought over anything big.
I just asked him if he was getting a tie to match my dress for prom.
Clearly, our relationship hadn't been too healthy.
I sighed and cuddled under up under my blanket, focusing in on Jack and Rose. People like them were so lucky. Maybe it was because it was back in the olden days, the early 1900s. Apparently everything was easier back then. It sure as hell seems that way. You choose someone you want to be with, and if you can't find anyone, your parents arrange it for you. At the very least they find someone financially stable who can support you for the rest of your life.
At this rate, I was going to end up living alone in an apartment with 40 cats. Or maybe my brother would let me live with him and whoever he married, because God knows he was ready to settle down. And he was only 20.
Sick, I know.
I tried to concentrate on Jack and Rose and the slowly sinking ship, but my mind kept wandering. God, my heart hurt. It was like every beat was getting sliced with a knife. A dull one, probably. It wasn't like we were even that close. We made out a few times and talked to each other for a little bit, but we weren't deep or emotional or anything like that.
God, why did I date this guy in the first place? Were all of my relationships destined to be that way-- superficial and lasting half a year?
And what was I going to do about prom? He didn't even buy the tickets as far as I knew (asshole), and I didn't really want to buy them. Especially because you, you know, needed a date in order to go. And I was dateless. Because my good-for-nothing boyfriend of seven months dumped me in the middle of a crowded school hallway before fifth period lunch all because I asked him if his tie was going to match my fuchsia dress.
More tears started to fall down my face. I couldn't even handle this. And I barely knew him!
I had to go to prom. Senior year prom is the most important of the high school dances. Everyone who is anyone goes, even if the music is terrible and the chicken is rubbery. It's the pictures and the smiles and the memories and the after parties that make up the memory book.
But if I didn't get a date soon, I was clearly going to miss out. Of course. Story of my life. What didn't I miss out on? I didn't go to dances my freshman year because no one ever asked me. It didn't hit me until sophomore year that I could go to whatever I wanted even if no one asked. When guys saw me move (or, maybe, felt me move) after the second dance in sophomore year, more people started to ask me to go. Sometimes I agreed, other times I didn't.
But no one had asked me to prom. Because I'd had a boyfriend at the time. And now everyone has dates.
In the darkness of the living room, with the Titanic's lights blinking in front of my eyes, I let it out. I wailed and sobbed. I wasn't sure which I was more upset about-- losing my boyfriend or losing my prom date.
I had to calm down. I had to pull myself together. I shoved an Oreo into my mouth. If David came home and saw me this way, he would know something was wrong. And then he'd beat the crap out of Nick. And even if a part of me (a very large part) did think that Nick deserved to be bashed over for the way he treated me (or at least the way he'd broken up with me--what kind of asshole treatment is that?), I didn't really want it to happen.
Maybe, if he had a little time to get over whatever was bothering him, take a few deep breaths, he'd come over, tell me he was sorry and that he didn't mean it when he broke up with me and that he wanted to take me to prom. He would say that he secretly bought tickets meaning to surprise me and that he was stressed over school work and choosing a college and that he'd taken it out on me on accident.
And then I could laugh and say that it's okay and I understand and that I would love to go to prom and of course I take him back (at least until after prom is over) and his tie doesn't even have to match my dress (although if they were complimentary colors, it would be nice).
Did I even want that?
If it meant having a prom date, yes.
I sighed, picking apart another Oreo. I kind of had to look at all sides of a do or die situation, though. What if Nick didn't come over? As he'd very recently started to show me, he didn't always have impeccable timing and he was good at skipping out on things he'd promised to do.
And he hadn't even promised to pound on my door with tears in his eyes, begging me to forgive him and go to prom.
Okay, I had to breathe. It was going to be okay. Sometime tomorrow, or maybe even Sunday, Nick would see the error of his ways. He would come crawling back to me and I would have a date for the prom.
I could dump his sorry ass afterward, if I really wanted to. We wouldn't have lasted, anyway. I was heading off to the University of Pittsburgh in the fall and he was looking into West Virginia University.
A Pitt and WVU relationship is probably as disgusting as it sounds.
I only needed him for one night, and if that meant that I had to keep him for a few more weeks, so be it.
I took a deep breath, willing the tears to stay away from my eyes. It was going to be okay. Just because I was publicly humiliated and half the school watched my boyfriend walk away from me didn't mean that my life was ruined. Just because prom was three weeks away and I had a dress but no date or ticket didn't mean that I wasn't going to go.
It would all be alright. I just had to sleep on it. Take some time and relax. And the sooner I slept, the sooner tomorrow could come and the sooner I would hear Nick drumming on the door. He'd probably have a bouquet of roses in his hand. Maybe he'd even be dressed up. Maybe he wouldn't even ask me to prom right away. He would just apologize profusely for ever wanting to break up with me. And then in a few days, when I wasn't even expecting it, bam! He'd have an amazing way to ask me to the dance.
Maybe even something better than how Rachel Enders' boyfriend asked her, with sky writing as he parachuted down with tickets and a declaration of love.
Yeah, Nick could definitely top that if he put his mind to it.
I shut off the TV, feeling infinitely better about life. I would have a date. There wasn't any way I could miss one. Nick would be back sometime this weekend. I could go to prom. I could dump Nick and have a happy, care free, flirty summer. All was going to be right with the world.
I popped one last Oreo in my mouth before I shoved them back in their package, returning them to the kitchen. I put my DVDs back in their cases and grabbed my blanket, heading toward the stairs. Yes, it was definitely time to fall asleep. I could even sleep in tomorrow. I didn't think I had anything to do, other than wait for my boyfriend (ex-boyfriend?) to throw pebbles at my window or something.
I was halfway up the stairs, thinking hard, before I heard it.
I steady knocking on the door.
My breath caught in my throat and I straightened, dropping my blanket. It couldn't… not already, surely? Could Nick possibly have come to his senses that quickly? It was… God, it had to be close to midnight. Wasn't that a little late for him to come over?
Well. Not necessarily, especially if he wanted it to go all out. And I for one wanted him to go all out.
The knocking continued and I suddenly realized that I had to answer the door. I couldn't make him wait, could I? That might be considered cruel and unusual.
Or justly deserved pay back. After all, he did dump me in the middle of the school day in a crowded hallway.
But the sooner I accepted him back, the sooner I had a date for prom. And I desperately needed a date for prom. There wasn't time to waste, especially if I was going to convince him to get a fuchsia tie to match my dress.
I took a deep breath and patted my face, hoping beyond all hope that the puffiness had gone down. I was one of those ugly criers, where my face gets all red and blotchy and puffy and I kind of look like I got beat up because my eyes are so swollen. Usually my nose is red and raw from the amount of times I have to blow my nose.
And as much as I wanted him to feel badly when he looked at me and saw the pain he caused, I didn't want to look like trash. I did want him to ask me to prom, after all.
The knocking kept going and I realized that it was time. It was now or never. I resisted the urge to jump around and squeal.
I was going to prom!
I tried to hide the grin on my face. I swung the door open, ready to glare and ask what he wanted, but my words died on my lips and the glare slid right off my face.
Instead of a black hair, brown eyed boy, I was met with a freckled red head with blue eyes. Instead of a bouquet of roses, he carried two duffle bags and a backpack. I stared at him as he set one down on the ground.
"Is this the Norwich household?"
I opened my mouth to try to formulate a response, but nothing came out. What the hell? A strange guy with luggage showed up on my doorstep asking if he was at the Norwich residence. And yes, okay, he was at the Norwich residence, but I had watched enough scary movies and learned enough about stranger danger to know better than to invite some random man in, where I was alone, in the middle of the night.
"Who wants to know?" I finally managed to spit out, and I shut the door a bit. I slowly tried to wedge it tighter, attempting to be inconspicuous as I did it. The last thing I needed was for him to notice and get aggressive.
He scratched the back of his head and grimaced. "I'm Tanner Ackerman," he said, looking me in the eye.
I scoffed. Internally, of course. Eye contact didn't mean much these days. A lawyer could keep perfect eye contact and be lying out of his butt.
I raised my eyebrows. "I'm sorry, I think you have the wrong--"
"482 Kings Lane?" The guy, this Tanner character, cut in. "Look, I'm sorry, but I've been wandering along the road for a while before I finally figured out which house it was, and I just--" he took a quick breath. "Is David home?"
I could only stare at him. What the hell? This… I couldn't deal with this. "Look, I'm sorry, I don't know…" I started to say, and trailed off as I started to shut the door.
God, I hoped all the other doors and windows were locked. The last thing I needed was this creeper trying to climb into my house and come after… whatever he was after. David? Gross.
"Dave's not home?" The guy asked again, and I shook my head before slamming the door shut and quickly locking it. I paused, frozen, as I tried to listen for noise, or any indication that he was still out there. I tried to peak through the thick windows we had on the border. I thought I could barely make out a blob, and after staring at it for a few minutes and seeing it move, I made a decision.
I could not stay alone in this house with a freak outside.
Shaking, I quickly punched 9-1-1 into my phone and listened as the dispatcher answered. I kept my voice low, so as not to alarm the guy outside and make him realize what I was doing. I had no way of knowing whether or not he would get violent.
"Hi, I'm not sure what to do, I'm kind of scared, I'm alone in my house and there's a man, I don't know him, standing on my front patio. I don't know what to do, I need help, I locked the door…" I realized I was starting to blabber so I cut myself off and let the dispatcher calm me down. She drilled me for some basic information and then said that the police were on their way. I thanked her and hung up, checking the time. It was one a.m.
Slowly, I let myself fall to the floor. The more I thought about the situation, the more freaked out I got. I tried to look through the window and as far as I could tell, he was still there. I locked my arms around my legs, trying to keep myself from shaking.
Bright lights grabbed my attention, and I couldn't help but think that that was a pretty quick reaction, even for the police, until I realized that those weren't red and blue flashing lights. No, those were ordinary, regular car lights, meaning--
Oh my God. I took a deep breath and stood up from where I was standing, thinking fast. What did I do? David could certainly hold his own in a fight. I would get in the way. But what if this guy had a gun? What if he had a knife? David was unprotected, and he's who the guy wanted in the first place!
I froze and tried to make out what was happening through the blurry window. I could hear voices and… laughing?
I was able to make out the blur on the patio move toward another blot. And they… hugged?
My heart started to beat erratically in my chest. What was going on?
The voices got closer to the door and I could hear David's voice loud and clear. "How was your flight, man?"
Another voice, this stranger, this Tanner, this… whoever he was to David, replied, "It was okay. A flight's a flight, ya know?"
"I'm just glad you made it here," David said. "I was watching weather reports and wasn't sure if any flights were going to make it against storms."
"Lucked out," the guy replied.
I could hear keys jingling and realized that David was about to unlock the door. I was frozen to my spot.
"Were you waiting out here long?" I heard David ask.
There was a beat of silence before the guy said, "No, not long. Just got here, actually. We managed to coordinate pretty well."
The door slowly opened and David flipped on the light, jumping when he saw me standing in front of him. "God, Hat, what are you doing up?"
I looked at him, eyes wide. I flailed my arms. "What are you doing with him?" I cried, pointing.
David gave me a look. "What? You know Tanner?"
I gasped. "Tanner? So you do know this guy?"
David looked over at Tanner, giving him what was probably a "what the hell?" look. Tanner gave a little shrug. "I knocked a while ago…" he started, but trailed off.
David turned back to me. "Tanner knocked and you answered?" I only stared at him. "Why didn't you let him in?"
"Because he was a stranger!" I cried, and suddenly, the lights I was waiting for, red and blue and flashing, pulled into the driveway.
The flashed spilled over the lawn and filtered through the windows into the house. I could see David stiffen when he saw the flashes on the wall. He slowly turned to me. "Hattie, why are the police here?"
I swallowed hard as a knock sounded on our screen door. I heard a walkie-talkie and closed my eyes, my face in a grimace.
A/N: I don't have any words other than: I was forced to do this. Muse.