Chapter 57: The Sidekick and the Spring Fling (Part 3)
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I lightly pushed my mom’s hand away from the tie around my neck, my face burning in absolute embarrassment. Ethan and Bonnie doubled over and laughing at my expense only made my cheeks burn brighter. The tie once again ended up in her grasp, and I groaned in sheer shame while she chided me, adjusting the tie even tighter around my neck. “Don’t be that way. I’m just trying to make sure it doesn’t come undone. We can’t have you embarrassing Nora.”

A part of me wanted to tell her I’d embarrass her more if I were to pass out on the dance floor due to strangulation, but the wiser part of me chose to keep quiet. I could always adjust it in the car on the way over.

“That wasn’t so bad. Now, look how handsome you are. The spitting image of your father.”

“Mom…”

She frowned. “Except for that hair. We have to do something about that.”

I could have died on the spot when she spat into her hands and began running her fingers through my hair in an attempt to tame it. “Mom!”

The peanut gallery, on the other hand, was eating it up. They had collapsed on the ground at this point, hacking loudly enough that I was certain they weren’t long for this world. 

“Seriously, make it stop!” My sister complained in between fits. “My stomach can’t take it anymore!”

Ethan could only sputter in agreement, a single tear streaming down his stupid face. Mom didn’t care about either of them, instead focusing all her attention on me as I struggled in vain to pull away from her. Of course, I wasn’t able to get away until she was satisfied and the damage was done. 

“Perfect! Ok, let’s get a picture of you and Ethan before you head out.”

I was made to stand in front of the stairs, using the railing as a backdrop, to take a photo commemorating my pain. My best friend recovered quickly enough and stood next to me, slinging his arm over my shoulder. Admiring for a moment how we were wearing practically the same black suit, he managed to appear as though he came off the runway. Not that I would admit that to him. He didn't need the inflated ego.

Instead, I leaned closer to him and whispered into his ear. “Hate you. Hate you so much.”

“Love you too, man. Now smile!”

My smile probably looked remarkably similar to a serial killer’s smile as the camera’s flash went off. Momentarily, I could only see white, which allowed my mother to close the distance between us and smooth out any perceived creases in my suit jacket.

“You’re killing me here.”

“Alright, alright. It’s just hard for me to see my baby boy all grown up and going to the dance with his girlfriend.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of our baby boy tonight,” Ethan said, grinning from ear to ear. 

My mom nodded, apparently not catching that I was not his baby boy. “Be sure that you do. I would have liked to get a picture with Nora too, but it can’t be helped if she’s driving herself over. Make sure you take a nice photo when you get there.”

I rubbed my temple. “We will. Now we seriously got to get going, mom.”

“Get out of here, then. And enjoy yourselves!”

She wrapped her arms around me, and I planted a kiss on top of her head. When she released me, I made sure to ruffle Bonnie’s hair as I stepped past her and followed Ethan into the foyer.

“Later, squirt.” 

“We’ll wait up for you, baby boy!”

“You all suck.”

Ethan chuckled, clicking the button on his fob and holding open the door for me. I slipped into the passenger seat, fastened my seatbelt, and sent Nora a text letting her know we were headed over. The car reversed out of the driveway and we were off to the dance.

____________ 

Loud music assaulted my ears upon opening the door. I held it open for Ethan, Amelia, and Nora, then walked into the dance hall myself. The booming bass rattled my chest, and we fell in line behind the small queue for photographers. Groups of friends and couples in front of us struck different poses in front of the dark backdrop crisscrossed with streaks of lightning. It was certainly a unique photo op for a prom, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it regardless.

“Next group.”

“Did you guys want to get a photo together?” Ethan asked. 

Looking to Nora for her opinion, she grinned. “Let’s do it.”

My eyes lingered on her, coming to appreciate her style more and more. Her golden hair came to curls at the ends, and she had worn some light makeup, similar to when she was playing the role of Juliet. Those lashes of hers were longer than usual and the mascara coating her eyelids gave her a smoke show appearance. The form-fitting blue dress was the icing on the cake. It made her sexy.

Definitely sexy.

“Next group please.”

Shaking my head, I grabbed Nora’s hand and stood before the backdrop. Amelia and Ethan were to our left, holding hands and looking all too giddy for it. The photographer waved us to the right, and we took baby steps over until his hand went to the camera. He glanced through the lens, deciding to adjust it slightly. “Smile.”

I squeezed Nora’s hand, grinning despite the camera. The mechanical shutters clicked and a flash of light washed over our group, fading the next moment. 

“Looks good,” the man said. “Your photo will be uploaded to our website later, so be sure to check it out.”

Jotting down the name of their company in the notes app of my phone, I noticed Ethan doing the same. That would be good in case I couldn’t find it for some reason. I knew my mom and sister would be hounding me for pictures of the night later, and this would be a nice one to show them. 

The music became louder the further into the prom venue we went. It also revealed how well Rika and the student council had done setting the entire event up. Colorful streamers hung above the rows of circular tables in the dining area while folding tables pushed against the walls held plates of various entrees and punch. The teachers–almost a part of the decorations themselves–alternated between watching the mesh of students on the dance floor and making sure no mischief came up around the said punch bowl. A banner topped it all off, stretching from one end of the hall to the other. Big, block letters adorned it, spelling out the simple message of Spring Fling 2020.’ 

“We should grab a table before we end up having to share,” Ethan said, motioning to the tables bustling with activity amongst the people seated around them.

We followed his lead, not having to worry about losing him in any crowds. We were there early enough that everyone was either finding a spot to claim or had already wandered off to the dance floor. A circular table in the furthest corner from the aforementioned dance floor was the one he settled on, pulling out a chair for Amelia, then sitting himself. She thanked him with a sprinkling of red across her face that closely matched the color of her dress. I did the same for Nora, and she thanked me with a mock curtsy. “Such a gentleman.”

“I try to please.”

Ethan slipped off his suit jacket, letting it hang from the backside of his chair. “We were going to dance right away since the food won’t be out for a little bit yet. What about the two of you?”

Dancing wasn’t by any means my forte. It wasn’t something I went out of my way to practice or even something I particularly enjoyed. I promised myself that I would try to make this night as enjoyable as possible for them, though. So, I agreed to go with the flow. 

“That works for me. Nora?”

She stared at me blankly. “If I recall you already offered your first dance to another girl.”

Oh, shit. 

That was also the feeling I got from how Ethan seemed to wither himself, looking upon him with pity. Amelia was more amused than anything, likely having heard the story from Katy about how she had dibs on my first dance at the Spring Fling. I could only hold my hands up in an attempt to try and appease my girlfriend; the other two were understandably less enthusiastic, stalking away when they realized Nora’s attention was fixated completely on me.

“Speak of the devil. Here comes the home wrecker now.” 

A flourish of her wrist sent me gazing out in the direction of the rest of the tables. Surprisingly, there was no clear divide between our high school and Asheville. I figured everyone would more or less stick with their clicks. Everyone seemed to be keen on mingling, however, leaving me to observe a sea of both familiar and unfamiliar faces to see what Nora was pointing at. 

And then it became obvious. At the center of everything was a girl with sun-bleached hair, flailing her lanky body around in some crazy types of dance moves. I struggled to make out who it was exactly, but I doubted it could be anyone other than Katy, who was indeed heading over to us in between busting moves.

I tapped the back of Nora’s chair. “You know I only agreed to dance with her so she would help out with the play.” 

“Not because she has a smoking body?”

I shook my head. “Not at all. I’ve only got eyes for you.”

Nora groaned. “That sappiness of yours sucks all the fun out of a joke. I’m well aware that you did it to help me out.” 

“Then why–”

“Your reactions are pretty cute. And funny. Definitely funny.”

“I know I’ve said it before, but your sense of humor could use some work…” 

“Yeah, yeah.” Brushing off my concern, she gave me a gentle push. “Don’t keep her waiting. And don’t keep me waiting too long either. I’m a hot commodity, and I can’t keep the boys off me all night.”

A smirk spread across my face as I pushed in my chair. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Making my way across the dining room area, I spared Nora one more glance. She gave me a smile, which had me picking up the pace in the direction of Katy. Nothing against Katy, but I wanted to get the dance I owed her out of the way and do the same with Rika. Then, I could dance the night away with Nora, holding her close in my arms and trying not to get lost in her beauty. 

I had something important to ask her tomorrow, after all.

Busy at work on the next series, which I have settled on the name of Skill Shards Online for instead of Skills Sect Online. Fits with the theme better. I will see all of you again on Saturday!

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