I found it fitting that the skies had decided to erupt while I was breaking up with Eliot. Thick storm clouds concealed any light from the sky and heavy rain made it nearly impossible to see more than a few feet in front of me.
I was drenched to the bone before I reached the bottom of the MAC steps. Water flowed down the paths and I felt like I was walking upstream through a brook as I tried to get home. I couldn’t see a thing. I returned to the dorm by memory, as if my eyes were closed.
When I entered the common room, I was surprised to see Walter sitting in one of the couches. I stood in the doorway, dripping as much water onto the floor as possible to avoid ruining the carpet. I nodded towards him.
“Hey. What’re you doing here?”
“Long story. Kind of could use a friend right now. Up for some company?”
I couldn’t stop shivering. “Y-yes. But, I n-need a sh-sh-shower first.”
“Take your time.” Walter settled himself more comfortably and took out his phone.
I dripped my way up to my room. As soon as I closed the door behind me, I stripped off my clothes and left them by the door. After putting on a bathroom and shower shoes, I grabbed my towel, shower basket, and wet clothes, dripping my way to the showers.
I wrung out my clothes then allowed the warm shower to seep into my bones. When I was finally warm, I went back to my room, changing into comfortable clothes that I could wear to bed but not be embarrassed for Walter to see me wearing.
I grabbed some things from the box under my bed and headed downstairs to the Price apartment, knocking on the open door.
Clarissa and Mr. Price were sitting on the living room couch. She beckoned me in and I climbed over the gate. Mr. Price smiled at me.
“Hey. How was the dance?”
I shrugged. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”
“No problem. Would you like me to leave.”
I shook my head. “No. That’s now why I’m here. I, um, I was wondering. It’s really wet and nasty out and I was thinking it was perfect hot chocolate weather.” I held up the two packages in my hand. “I was wondering if I could use your microwave?”
Clarissa smiled. “Of course. I’ll help you.” I followed her to the kitchen, where she handed me to mugs. “You must be really thirsty.”
“Oh, that was my other question. My friend Walter Evans is here. I was wondering . . .”
“Yes, he may visit with you until curfew.”
I took the mugs of cocoa to the common room. Walter brightened when I handed him one.
“No problem. Why don’t we go upstairs?”
Walter raised his eyebrows, but followed me to my room. I left the door completely open and pointed to Sarah’s side of the room. Walter got the hint. He sat on Sarah’s bed, his back against the wall. I mirrored him so we were facing each other.
He sipped his cocoa. “So, Pat sent me a text that he had run into you and thought you could use a friend right now. What’s going on?”
I shook my head. “I can’t believe he texted you.”
“Well, technically he said you might want your roommate, but I kind of wanted someone to talk to and figured I’d come over first. If you’d rather Sarah, I’d understand.”
“It’s not really a big deal. Eliot and I broke up?”
Walter raised his eyebrows. “That’s not a big deal?”
I shook my head. “Not really. I mean, Pat caught me literally seconds after we broke up, so it was still a big deal then. But, I had a freezing, wet walk over here to think about it.”
“And I’m okay with it. Really. I like Eliot. He’s easy to talk to. But, we don’t have that much in common and it was kind of hard to find stuff to talk about. And, I don’t like how he gets jealous so easily?”
Walter smirked into his mug. “What was he jealous about this time?”
“Pat waved to me.”
Walter had taken a large sip of his drink and I guess he wasn’t expecting that response. It took him nearly a minute to stopped coughing.
I watched him carefully, worried he might pass out or throw up. “Are you okay?”
His response was raspy. “Yeah. Swallowed wrong.”
I shook my head. “So, yeah. That was my night in a nutshell. What about you?”
“I had a revelation tonight.” Walter sounded almost proud.
“Yeah? Tell me about it.”
“Well, the entire way to the MAC, Ava was complaining about how boring the last MAC dance had been and how she hoped this one would be better. Then, we walk in and she saw Pat like right away.”
Walter paused to take a long drink of his hot chocolate. Was he trying to add suspense?
He shrugged. “Pat and I had a long discussion the other day and we decided he was going to try to give me til next term before he started talking to me. Wait. I said that wrong.”
“No, I actually understood that.”
“Oh, good. So, where was I?”
Walter and Ava had just entered the MAC when she noticed Pat on the other side of the room. Her eyes went wide and started bouncing up and down. Walter caught Pat’s eye and shoo his head, a signal they had agreed upon earlier that meant Walter didn’t want to be seen near Pat that night.
“Oh, look! It’s Patrick McGregor! Didn’t I tell you this was a great place make connections with famous people? We should go introduce ourselves.”
Walter had known something like this might happen and had spent a lot of time thinking about what he could say in different scenarios. He had his response ready.
“What would you say? Hi, I’m Ava and I’m a third-form fan?”
That was not the response Walter had been expecting. He had hoped to dissuade her, not encourage her. “It’s embarrassing. I’m sure he just wants to be left alone and have fun with his friends.”
“Nah! He’s a celebrity. He’s used to people wanting to say hi. He probably expects it.” Ava grabbed Walter’s hand, dragging him towards the pool tables and arcade games, around the offices, to where Pat was standing on the opposite side of the room.
There were many people impeding their progress, so Walter somehow managed to pull out his phone and text “Run away! Now!” in the few moments Pat was out of sight. He felt he was doing this more for Pat’s sake than for his own. He would explain later.
By the time Ava reached the spot where Pat had been, the celebrity was nowhere to be seen. Ava was clearly disappointed and sulked her way over to the dance floor.
After Melinda left to find Eliot, Walter could tell that Ava kept looking all around the room for something. He wasn’t sure if it was his friend or his brother. Eventually, Ava pulled him off the dance floor in the direction of the back stairs. He followed her upstairs to the MAC attack, where the music was still loud.
“I’m not having fun.” Ava’s tone clearly implied that Walter was to do something to remedy the situation.
“Oh. Okay. You wanna . . . I dunno. Go for a walk or something?”
“No. Let’s just stay here and watch everyone dancing.”
Walter shrugged and joined Ava at a table near the balcony from which he could see his friends dancing. Suddenly, Ava jumped to her feet. “Oh! There he is! Come on!”
Walter didn’t even have a chance to process the information. Ava was already running towards his brother.
“Hi! I’m Ava. I’m in the third form and I just wanted to tell you, I am SUCH a huge fan.”
Pat glanced at Walter for only a split second before returning his gaze to Ava. “It’s nice to meet you. I’ve gotta get going.” He left the way he had come, his bewildered friends following him.
“Wow. How rude! I thought he would be much nicer!”
Walter inclined his head towards the front stairs. “Let’s go for a walk.”
Ava followed Walter in silence to the front entrance. The wind was getting stronger as they walked along the path towards the dorms. By the time they reached the intersection, Ava had finished seething and moved on to ranting.
“I can’t believe that Patrick McGregor is so brusque. It was like he had no interest in his fans. I thought for sure he was going to be nicer.”
“He is nice.” Walter had spent his entire childhood wanting to correct reporters who painted his family in a bad light. Defending his brother was a natural instinct.
Ava rolled her eyes. “Oh, you can’t believe what you see on TV. That’s why it’s called acting. He completely snubbed me.”
“He probably was just annoyed. He wanted to be with his friends.”
“Could you imagine what kinds of friends he probably has? He probably knows all of Hollywood’s elite. And then there’s his parents! Oh, I would love to get to meet them. I bet they would be able to help me find some rich celebrity to marry.”
“Is that you’re ultimate goal? Like, after college?”
“Yeah. Well, I’m hoping to get married before college so I don’t have to go to school for four more years. But, I will if I have to.”
Walter didn’t know how to respond. They walked the rest of the way absorbed in their own thoughts. By the time they reached Woodward, Walter realized that he could never be with someone like Ava. She was exactly the type of person he had been trying to avoid.
When Walter followed Ava into the Common Room, she pointed down the hall. “Did you want to come up to my room?”
“No. I just wanted to talk really quick.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot and I just don’t think things are going well between us. I think we should break up.”
Ava shrugged. “Okay. That’s fine.” She turned around and walked away.
I sighed. It was time to be completely honest with Walter. “I hate to tell you this, but we didn’t like her. We tried really hard, but we didn’t like her.”
Walter didn’t seem to mind. He shrugged. “Wheeler Weekend is coming up. You and I are going to need dates for the Victory Ball.”
“Um? Were we watching the same game last week? What chance do we have of winning?”
Walter laughed. “It’s called the Victory Ball, even if we lose. But, maybe we should rename it. How about this. If we lose—”
I raised my eyebrows. He laughed. “Fine. When we lose, we’ll start calling it the . . . Failure Ball.”
I giggled. “Are you going?”
“Well, I was going to ask Ava tonight. I think she already had the impression we were going together, but I was going to make it official. Now, I don’t have anyone to go with. I want to go, but not alone. You?”
“I haven’t decided. I have dress rehearsal all day and my show’s the next day. I don’t think I should be staying out til curfew. Then again, I would really hate to miss one of our formals.”
“Your show? Nutcracker? I thought that was in November.”
“It is. November is next week.”
“No it’s not.”
“Walter? What’s today?”
“Saturday, the what?”
Walter sighed and looked at his phone. “The twenty-eighth. Oh.” He returned his phone to his pocket, his tone growing more serious. “I had a thought.”
“I was thinking. Since you and I are both single, maybe we could go to the dance together. As friends. Assuming neither of us gets asked by someone else.”
“So, if Saturday night comes along and we’re both still dateless, we’ll go together? I like it.” I smiled at Walter’s pretend invitation as I drained the last of my cocoa.
“So, what happened last night?” I asked Walter when we went running Sunday morning. “You and Ava disappeared.”
Walter shrugged. “We broke up. Turns out, her main goal in life is to marry someone rich. The more famous, the better. She’s pretty much the opposite of who I want to be with.”
Walter nodded. “Yeah. I visited with Melinda ‘til curfew. She broke up with her boyfriend, too, but she’s not too upset about it. I asked her to the Victory Ball.”
“You did?” I didn’t bother to hide my surprise. Last night’s fries started bothering my stomach again.
“Yeah. We’re gonna go as friends. Unless one of us gets a real date.”
“Just friends? Cuz, you seem awfully chipper about it.”
“I want to go to the Victory Ball, but I really don’t want to go alone and now I don’t have to ask some random girl I hardly know. All the rest of my friends have dates.”
My stomach seemed to settle as we continued our run, but I vowed to stay away from the fried foods in the dining hall for the rest of the week. When I got back to the dorm, Frank was just getting up.
“Hey,” he greeted me. “Question for you. How would you feel if I asked Bianca to the dance?”
“Connors?” I called her a rather unflattering name as I leafed through my wardrobe to find clothes to change into.
Frank smiled. “Yeah. Would that be okay with you?”
“We were together for like a month, what? Two years ago? I really don’t care.”
“Okay. Good. Just checking. Who you taking?”
“I haven’t thought about it.”
I threw my physics book at him and left to take a shower.
Franks question had gotten me to thinking. So did my conversation with Walter. I knew there was a long line of girls who would love to go to the dance with me. I also knew I didn’t want to go with some girl I hardly knew.
I decided to take a page from Walter’s book. I texted Chloe after lunch, asking her if she wanted to go to the ball with me as friends. When she didn’t answer right away, I worried she would say no. But, just before dinner, my phone chirped. Yes.