He likes Leanne all right.
She's pretty, pretty in that same sort of innocent, natural way as – no, don't go there; don't think of her – pretty and smart and sweet, just like –
Dacia isn't here, she won't be here for prom either; she's off in Germany having a wonderful time with her new friends and probably a new boyfriend, and you may get to email her and chat regularly with her, but that doesn't mean she's thinking about you every waking moment like you think of her, so just spare yourself the agony, Hayden, and quit – thinking – about – her.
He's about to ask Leanne to prom, and he is not doing it because she reminds him of Dacia, not at all, he's doing it because she's smart and sweet and pretty and because she's here on the Ferris wheel and smiling and laughing with her head thrown back, and her laughter is so free and open, just like –
No, no, no! She's not here, she won't be here, and it's no use wishing she were because it won't change anything, and he needs to get it through his thick skull because the sooner he does that the happier he'll be.
And then he'll go to prom with Leanne, and he'll dance with her, and it'll be perfect and wonderful and he will not spend the whole dance wishing for a different set of arms wrapped around his waist, a different smiling face turned up to his –
Leanne is here. Dacia is not. And there's nothing he can do to change that.
Leanne has turned to Kaylin now, and the two of them are laughing together, and poor Colton is looking anywhere but at them because he's still smitten with Kaylin and trying to fight it, and the Ferris wheel is nearing the top of its arc and if he wants to ask Leanne it's now or never, but he's still not entirely sure he does want to ask her, because he can't stop thinking about –
Don't. Think. About. Dacia.
Don't. Think. About. Dacia.
The Ferris wheel has reached the top; it pauses, hangs in the air, and they can see everywhere, and it's very romantic, and he wishes –
Now or never. Now or never. Now or never.
Her name bursts from his lips without conscious thought, and everything in his body slows; his heart, his brain, his breath, the pounding of the blood in his veins relaxes, becomes sluggish and lethargic. Sound recedes, and her voice, "Yes?" sounds tinny and far away, takes a long time to reach his ears. He's made the decision. No going back.
"Will you go to prom with me?"
The words are out.
His heart rate speeds up, going from half to double time in less than a second. His fate isn't sealed just yet – she might say no –
Her lips part, curl into a small, pleased smile. It's pretty, but not as pretty as –
His heart drops.
He hefts a smile onto his face; she leans over to hug him tentatively and he returns the gesture. Her arms rest lightly, almost limp, against his sides; she doesn't feel right there. He's glad when she lets go.
(When Dacia hugs him, he wishes she'd hold on forever)
Girls are squealing, Colton is grinning at him. He forces himself to smile back. Back on the ground, Allie snaps a picture of the two of them, him and Leanne, arms around each other. He smiles, but inside he is numb.
Everyone is congratulating them, and it feels fake, somehow, or maybe too real.
Nadine, though – something about her smile seems as forced as his. She's best friends with Dacia, too, he knows, and if she's faking being happy for him, then maybe – could this possibly mean –
Dacia isn't here. He's going to prom with Leanne.
Besides, it's not like he has an obligation to Dacia, anyway. They're just friends. Just friends.
But he's irritated anyway when Allie posts the picture on Facebook with an overexcited caption, and when he types a message to Dacia – "Happy Easter! How are you?" – he doesn't mention Leanne. Doesn't mention prom. Doesn't mention the Ferris wheel.
Maybe he doesn't want her to know.
Or maybe he doesn't want to believe it happened at all. Maybe he wants to deny it to himself as well as her, and the fewer reminders, the better.
A chat message pops up on the screen, and he reads the name – Dacia Mann – his heart gives a little jump. He tries to push it down, because even if he weren't going to prom with Leanne, even if she were here, she probably wouldn't have gone with him anyway –
He reads her message: "Why didn't you tell me?"
She sounds angry. His heart leaps.
"Oh, I asked Leanne to prom!" he types. No point denying it now.
Her answer is quick and cutting. "So I've heard."
He should have told her. Of course that's why she's angry. It's stupid to think it's anything else.
"And?" he types. "What did you think?"
"I have to admit, I was surprised" pops up on the screen. She continues. "If I'd been there, I'm sure I could have guessed, but you never mentioned her to me."
Yeah, he thinks, and his mouth tastes bitter, if you were here.