On the night of the Prom, I walk downstairs five minutes before Knox is due to pick me up. Instead of locking himself in his room and crying after dinner, my father is standing in the living room waiting for me. When he sees me, he smiles gently and takes out the camera he’s holding behind his back.
“You look beautiful, Reese. Just like your mother.” His smile falls as he thinks about her. “I wish she was here.”
I go to him and hug him. “Me too, Dad. Me, too.”
He clears his throat, and as I let him go he reaches up and wipes his eye. My father might never be the man he was before my mother died, but I appreciate his attempt to be present for me tonight.
I smile and laugh and pose as he takes a few photos of me, and when the doorbell rings, he holds up a finger and motions for me to wait while he goes to answer it. Which works for me because I need to take a few deep breaths and calm down. Knox Casey, my rival and long-time crush, is taking me to Prom. Even before he became the most popular guy in school – when he was a scrawny mess who made me feel better about myself, made stupid bets with me, and blew my mind with how smart he was – I liked him. Tonight, maybe, I won’t have to spend all of my energy pretending I don’t.
Catching my reflection in the mirror, I smile in silent agreement with my father; I do look like my mother. My long wavy chestnut hair is hanging in loose curls down my back. My brown eyes are smoky and dark, and my burgundy plunge-neckline dress matches my lipstick and shoes.
I look away from my reflection just in time to see Knox walk into our living room with my father.
Whatever Knox is in the middle of saying gets cut short as soon as he sees me standing there. His mouth falls open as he takes me in, and I’d probably tease him about his reaction if I wasn’t so busy ungluing my tongue from the roof of my mouth. Knox in a tuxedo? He’s painfully handsome at the best of times, but tonight he’s stolen my ability to breathe and talk. I expected him to try and tame the rogue lock of hair that usually falls over his forehead, and perhaps he did try, but it’s fought the battle against whatever hair product he’s used and won.
My father nudges Knox, starting my date moving towards me.
“You look beautiful,” Knox whispers with a touch of awe, holding out a wristband with a spray of white curling flowers that smell nearly as sweet and fragrant as Knox’ aftershave.
“You don’t scrub up too bad yourself,” I say, holding out my hand out so he can slide the wristband over it.
A smirk tugs at his lips, and standing so close to him – knowing we’re going to dance all night -has me thinking about those lips moving on mine, sending need quivering through my belly. He has to kiss me tonight. There’s no way Knox would take a girl to Prom and not kiss her.
Or try other things.
I haven’t thought about how far I’m willing to go tonight. Okay, I’ve totally thought about it. I should say that I haven’t decided yet.
If the night goes well…
“Are you ready to go?” he asks.
“Mind if I take a few photos of the two of you first?” Dad asks.
Knox looks at his watch.
“We have time,” I tell him.
“Of course,” Knox says, a smile quickly replacing the frown that flickered across his face.
“Have her home by midnight, please, son,” my father says after taking snaps for a good few minutes.
I’m relieved Knox doesn’t protest, despite the fact that there’s an afterparty tonight.
My father pats him on the back, and I link my arm through Knox’, letting him know I’m ready to leave.
“Please drive carefully,” my father pleads with us as we walk out the front door.
“He’s a bit protective,” I explain to Knox as we head towards his car – a red and black Holden Monaro SS.
It’s an older car, but well-loved. Knox saved all his money from working the past two years just to buy it, according to the Magpie Grove rumour mill. Hopefully, the fact he didn’t want to split a limo with Bex and her date means he wants to spend time alone with me.
And yes, I know I shouldn’t be so excited to spend time with my rival after he cut me out of his life and rejected my friendship, but graduation is speeding towards us and I need to know if he’s sorry. If he regrets the way things ended. I want to know if he sees me as more than his old friend and current rival.
Knox’ gaze flits down my dress, lingering on my breasts before looking at my face once more. “Honestly, I’m just grateful he didn’t have the shotgun locked and loaded. If he knew all the things that I wanted to do to you when I walked in and saw you standing there…”
“Knox,” I breathe out.
The heat and the intensity in his gaze cause me to shiver. I can’t wait to spend all night dancing with him.
He leans in, and for a moment I hope he’s going to kiss me. Instead, he whispers in my ear, “Get in the car, Reese. Before I do something extremely inappropriate with your father standing there watching us.”
The effects his words have on me…my knees are like jelly as I climb into the passenger seat of his car, thinking of everything Knox wants to do to me.
Knox slides into the driver’s seat, and I silently try and compose myself while fumbling with my seatbelt. After too long, I finally hear the click.
“I’m sorry we won’t have time to go to the afterparty,” I say as Knox starts the engine.
He shrugs and begins making his way around our circular drive, exiting through the large open gate.
“You’ve been to one party, you’ve been to them all. It’s not a big deal.”
I’m so glad he feels that way. “Thank you. I’m lucky Dad even let me out at all.”
“Why, because I’m the bastard son of Chapman Ross?”
The anger and resentment in his voice stake me through the stomach. I can’t tell if the hatred in his voice is directed at me or his father.
“Why would you say that?”
He shrugs, his mouth pulled into a tight line and his hands clenched tightly on the steering wheel.
“Since the accident, my father doesn’t like my brother or me going out all that much,” I tell him. “He’s just so…cautious about everything.”
I’m not sure if he believes me or not and I twist my hands in my lap, feeling like I need to explain more even though I don’t know how to. I don’t want to spend my first night out in forever – my first date with Knox – talking about the most devastating event of my life. Even when Knox and I were friends, I never told him about my father’s breakdown. The only person who knew about that was Bex. And that’s because she caught me sobbing one afternoon while I was working at the paper.
“Well, it’s good he let you out for Prom then, isn’t it?”
After a few minutes spent chatting about the antics Mr. Thomas employs to help the students less than enthusiastic about English, Knox pulls into the school lot and drives around so we that we park on the opposite side of the school to the gym.
“Why are we parking here? Shouldn’t we go around the other side?”
“You afraid of a little walking, Cameron?”
“Of course not. I just…there’s no one parked here.”
He turns off the car, but leaves the radio on. “Perhaps that’s the point.”
My stomach dips as he takes off his seatbelt and looks at me, sending heat curling through my middle.
I take off my seatbelt, too, wondering if he’s going to kiss me now. We haven’t even danced together, and our evening has barely begun. After so many nights thinking about his lips on mine, however, I won’t pull away if he tries.
When he moves forward, my heart goes into overdrive and my stomach drops down to my toes. He grins and opens the glove box in front of me, taking out a flask and removing the lid before raising it to his lips and swallowing some of the contents.
“Want some?” he asks, holding it out to me.
I haven’t consumed alcohol since before my mother died, but my nerves are so crazy right now that I could do with something to take the edge off.
“Sure. Thanks,” I say, taking it from him.
I sip from the flask, enjoying the burn of the alcohol down my throat and the immediate warmth that follows. Deciding quickly that I need another hit, I take a breath and then down half of the flask.
He chuckles as I pass it back to him.
“Nervous?” he asks.
“Of course not.”
We both know it’s a lie. Well, it would have been a lie a second ago. Right now, I’m flushed, legless and filled with more confidence than I was. Thank you, alcohol.
Knox raises the flask to his lips, his eyes never leaving mine. I’m aware that his lips are touching the place mine just were. Need and heat intertwine inside me. He hasn’t even touched me yet, and I’m ready to climb into the backseat with him. If we don’t get out of here soon, I’ll let on just how affected I am by him.
“We should head in,” I say.
He looks at his watch. “We should.”
He caps the flask, puts it back in the glove compartment, and then gets out of the car, coming around to open my door for me. I take his hand when he offers it, feeling a little unsteady on the gravel crunching underneath my very high heels.
Apparently, I consumed enough alcohol to give me a confidence boost and impair my co-ordination. The car park isn’t very well lit, and when I step on a pebble my ankle twists a little. Before I fall, Knox snakes an arm around my waist, holding me up.
“Sorry,” I say, giggling. “I’m not usually this clumsy.”
I expect him to laugh, make a joke at my expense. Instead, he’s staring down at me, his intense gaze focused on my mouth.
For a moment we simply stare at each other, and then he dips his head and I wait with bated breath for his lips to touch mine. Finally, they do, and I feel even less steady than I did a moment ago as he fills my senses.
Kissing Knox isn’t anything like I imagined. His lips are hotter, for one, and they fit over mine so well, it’s like they were made to kiss me. And when his tongue dips into my mouth, my whole body feels as if it’s on fire. Heat, energy and colour shoot off in all directions inside of me, like fireworks. I cling to him, running my hands under his jacket and over his chest, until he’s kissing me so passionately, my head is spinning.
Needing to take a breath, I force myself to break away from him, staring into those eyes as he stares back down at me, the heat in them making me want to dive back into the car with Knox.
The sound of a sharp female voice scolding my date turns my head in the direction of the school gym. Taya McDonnel walks towards us dressed in a sapphire blue frock, her dark brown hair weaving down her back.
“You said eight o’clock,” she whines. “You know I hate waiting. I want to go to my Prom.”
I look between Taya and Knox, trying to understand what’s happening. Because Knox told me he wasn’t taking Taya.
“Didn’t you tell her you were coming with me?” I ask him.
Taya snorts. “Like he’d ever take you to prom, Reese.”
I expect Knox to tell her off, to tell Taya to go away. But when I see him swallow and look away from me, the most horrific empty cold feeling fills my stomach.
“Tell her,” Taya says with a cruel smile on her face as she moves towards us. “Tell her that taking her to Prom was a joke.”
No. Even if I know deep down that something – that everything – is wrong, wrong, wrong, I don’t want to believe this was a joke. I can’t believe that Knox brought me here, made me break my date with Gabe, for the express purpose of humiliating me. Even though he ended our friendship and we’ve been rivals for the past twelve months, I can’t believe Knox would do something so cruel to me.
He looks at Taya and then back at me. “I told her I was taking you.”
“Yes, as a joke,” Taya says impatiently. “And the joke is over now. It’s cold out here and I want to go inside.”
“You brought me here as a joke?” I choke on the question, instead of sounding in control and chilly like I want to. “Why?”
“He thinks you’re a snob, Reese,” Taya says. “He wanted to teach you a lesson for being such an uppity bitch.”
“A snob?” I ask, doing everything I can to hold back the tears stinging my eyes and nose. “You think I’m an uppity bitch?”
I want to say it’s just anger raging through me making me want to cry, but the pain in my heart, the way it’s twisting in my chest, is so excruciating I don’t know how I’ll survive it. We were friends for eighteen months before Knox turned his back on me. An entire year and a half. When did he decide he hates me this much? When did he start believing I was a snob?
And why? What have I ever done to him to deserve this…this punishment and humiliation? I thought he invited me to Prom because he liked me. Because he regretted everything and wanted to make amends.
“I’m sorry,” he starts, shaking his head as if he’s made some sort of silly mistake instead of breaking my heart. “At the time, I thought it would be funny.”
“You thought it would be funny?” I repeat.
He nods and takes a step towards me. “I can see now that it was a stupid idea. I really screwed this up. Let me make it up to you.”
“How? How can you possibly make it up to me?”
“Let me take you to prom. For real. I wasn’t serious when I asked you, but I’m serious now.”
His golden-brown eyes appear earnest, but I can’t trust them. I can’t trust him.
“Knox,” Taya says with annoyance. “You’ve had your fun, now leave it.”
I look at Taya. Seeing her dressed up – knowing she was the one Knox wanted to come with – isn’t something I can forget. And how can Knox expect me to carry on with our date as if she never announced I’m here with him as a joke and he thinks I’m a snob? Maybe, after our kiss, he thinks I’ll be an easy lay and he can humiliate me further by telling everyone I slept with him at Prom.
In other words, he can go to hell.