Saturday, February 10
As soon as Pat mentioned the Sweetheart dance, I immediately thought about what I could wear. Because I was planning on dancing with Brody, I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to the mall on Sunday. There aren’t any stores in town to buy dresses and I didn’t want to buy something online without trying it on first.
Then, I remembered the dress I had wanted to buy for the Snowflake Ball. Since I decided not to go to the ball with a broken foot, I had never bought the dress. I went online, but the store no longer had that dress in stock. However, they had one that was identical in every way except for the fabric. Instead of being silver and sparkly, this one was pink with flowers on it and seemed a little less formal. Perfect for the Sweetheart Dance.
I am so excited for tonight. Someone the basketball team mentioned that last year they played only slow dances the entire night. I also feel like Pat and I haven’t had a lot of alone time lately, especially thanks to the zombies who couldn’t be near each other for two days. Tonight, Pat and I can focus on just us.
It is going to be the best night of my life.
Clarissa stood at the front of the bus as it pulled onto the highway Saturday afternoon. “Okay, ladies, that was a fantastic game. Melinda, please give out the chocolates.”
Clarissa took her seat, and I stood where I was in the middle of the bus. Clarissa had already given me the bag of heart-shaped chocolates. I looked at my list. “Okay. Erica.”
Across from me, Erica rolled her eyes. “I know. I know. No candy for me.”
Clarissa stood back up. “We should have a new rule. If you get fouled out in the first half, you owe me a bag of candy.”
The entire bus laughed, but Clarissa looked less than amused. I went through the entire roster, with Sandy in front of me receiving the most chocolates. After taking one for myself, I brought the bag back to Clarissa and returned to my seat. The bus immediately buzzed with conversations about the dance.
Sandy turned around to face me and Sarah. “Obviously you’re not going to the dance tonight, Melinda. Are you Sarah?”
I raised my eyebrows. “Why am I not going?”
“The Sweetheart dance is for couples. Who would you go with?”
I didn’t care for her patronizing tone. I tried to keep the sarcasm out of my own voice. “My boyfriend?”
“Oh. I knew you broke up with Patrick McGregor. I didn’t realize you had a new boyfriend already.”
I was losing my patience, so I turned to my roommate for help. She was obviously trying very hard to not giggle. I just glared at her and decided I was done with this conversation.
Sarah eventually composed herself and looked at Sandy. “Larry and I are going together. How about you, Sandy? Who you going with?”
I didn’t recognize the name of my teammate’s date. Then again, I still didn’t know the names of half my class. While the girls discussed what they were going to wear that night, I tuned in to some of the other conversations around me. I found it surprising that not everyone was going to the dance. As Sandy had said, it was intended for couples. Only about half the team had a significant other. Of the other half, only Sandy and another girl had found dates. The rest were hesitant about getting involved with someone so close to Valentine’s Day.
Slowly, the conversations on the bus evolved to discussions about the upcoming holiday. I seemed to be the only person, single or coupled, that considered tonight’s dance an acceptable substitute for Valentine’s Day. Everyone else on the bus, even the single girls, intended to celebrate on Wednesday as well.
As I listened as people discussed what they were getting for their dates or significant others, I grew guilty that I hadn’t gotten anything for Pat. I sent him a quick text asking if I should have. He quickly responded that he didn’t want anything for Valentine’s Day, but he fully expected a birthday present.
I smiled at my phone. His birthday was the day after Valentine’s Day. I had already picked out the perfect gift, which should arrive tomorrow. He was going to love it.
Although I was sick of MAC food, I didn’t balk when Sarah suggested we grab burgers to bring back to our dorm instead of eating in the dining hall that night. I welcomed the extra time to prepare for the dance. After quick showers, Sarah and I pulled our dresses from our closets.
Sarah immediately started cooing over mine. “Oh. That dress is so pretty! When did you get that?”
I smiled. “It’s the dress I wanted to wear to the Snowflake Ball. Only pink. When Pat told me about tonight, I ordered it online. It just came in yesterday.”
“Well, I love it. You are going to look fantastic.”
We had just about finished getting ready about an hour later when there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find Larry standing there. He was dressed in khaki pants and a dress shirt. In his hand, he held a paper rose.
He sent me a sheepish grin. “I can’t come in. I didn’t get co-ed.”
Sarah came to the door with a smile, pointing to the rose. “Is that for me?”
“Oh. Yeah. I couldn’t go to town, but I made this for you.”
“It’s gorgeous. And it smells like—” Sarah took a sniff. “Your cologne?”
Larry shrugged. “I was talking to Kenzie earlier. She showed me how to do it. She said I had to spray it with perfume, but that was the best I had.”
I smiled at the idea of Larry doing crafts with his five-year-old sister. “You two better get going.”
Sarah gently placed the flower on her bed before shrugging on her coat.
Larry looked at me. “What about you? Would you like to walk to the gym with us?”
I shook my head. “No. Pat’s scared of the dorm and I don’t like the thought of being in his common room, so we’re going to meet at the science center.”
“We can walk there with you.”
I glanced between him and my roommate. “You don’t mind?”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “Only if you make us late. I heard a rumor they’re only playing slow dances the entire night.”
I was surprised by the lack of foot traffic on the way to the gym behind the language building. The handful of people heading there were walking around the science center. I could hear my footsteps echoing through the glass-walled corridor as my friends and I made our way through the building. We parted ways on the opposite end, me heading to the lounge as the happy couple headed toward the exit.
The fishbowl lounge was one of my favorite places on campus. A small round window looked into the corridor while a large bank of windows looked up the hill toward the language building. I sat in one of the four black leather chairs, selecting one that allowed me to see both windows as well as the entrance on the side of the room.
I was excited about tonight. It was the first dance Pat and I were attending as a couple. Although we had hung out together at the Victory Ball, and that was where we had shared our first kiss, we had gone separately, with other dates. I was looking forward to being able to dance with just Pat for the entire evening.
The dance was supposed to start around eight. While Sarah and Larry had wanted to get there early, Pat and I had agreed to meet just before eight and arrive fashionably late. I wasn’t too concerned when the dance started and Pat hadn’t arrived. I grew a little more concerned half an hour later when he was still missing. Worried I had misunderstood where we were meeting, I sent him a quick text asking where he was.
Pat replied almost immediately. I had to read the screen more than once before the information sunk in. He was helping Brody. He was stuck. He was going to be awhile and may not see me before curfew. He made no mention of the dance.
I put on my coat, hurrying to my dorm as fast as I could in my heels. I wasn’t sure if the tears stinging my eyes were of anger or anguish. Somehow, I held them back until I was in my room. As I changed into pajamas, the tears fell. Not wanting to deal with anyone, I crawled into bed and cried myself to sleep.
I was heading to my car after Mass Saturday evening when Grease Monkey sang on my phone. Instead of using the video chat, Brody was calling me voice only.
“Brody? What’s going on?”
Brody kept his voice low. “Oh, man. I didn’t know who else to call. I need you to come get me.”
“Brody, I’m not on duty tonight.”
“No. I am. And my partner just . . . I need you to come get me. I’ll fill you in.”
With a sigh, I glanced at my watch. Melinda wouldn’t be back from her game for another hour. I had a few hours before the dance. As long as Brody was in town, I should be able to bring him to his place and be back in plenty of time.
Brody texted me the address. It turned out to be a small industrial shop that was closed for the weekend. The parking lot was empty except for the figure sitting hunched on a curb stop.
I pulled into the space beside him, but Brody didn’t move. I rolled down my window. “Brody. Come on. I gotta get back to campus.”
Brody turned his head. I was glad I was sitting. Both his eyes were swollen. His nose was bent. His face was covered in blood. I wanted to ask what had happened, but I was in too much shock.
Slowly, he got to his feet. I quickly hopped out of the car and opened the passenger door.
“Thanks,” he mumbled as I returned to my seat.
“Brody, what happened?”
“I think . . . my ribs.”
I searched my phone for the nearest medical center. It was in the next town. I put the address in my map and turned back to Brody.
“I’m taking you to get checked out. In case you pass out, can you tell me what happened?”
Brody groaned. “I was subbing for someone. For DMH. We picked up this kid from school. Turns out he was a buddy of the guy I was driving with. He was wasted. He recognized me. Started calling me some pretty rude names. Everyone at school knows I’m bi. It’s not a secret. But this guy had a problem with it. When I ignored him, he convinced his buddy to come here. They dragged me out of the car. Took turns taking shots at me. When they drove off, I called you.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t tell whether Brody was even conscious. At every stop sign, I glanced over to make sure he was at least still breathing.
The urgent care center was extremely busy. It was the only one for several towns. And apparently, there were a ton of people sick and injured on a Saturday afternoon. I had to circle the lot a few times before I found a parking space. Although Brody appeared able to walk to the building himself, I stayed close by. I expected him to collapse any minute.
“Brody? We should really call your parents.”
“Can’t. They went to New York for the night.”
As soon as we walked through the doors, there was a glass partition, behind which a very bored looking attendant asked to see Brody’s driver license and insurance card. After clacking on her keyboard for a while, she returned the cards and directed us to find a seat. As Brody made himself as comfortable as possible, I went back outside.
Lindgren picked up on the third ring. “Pat? Why are you calling me? You’re not on duty tonight.”
“My friend Brody called me. He was subbing for another volunteer. The guy he was driving with beat him up and abandoned him in a parking lot.”
“Are you sure?”
Why would I make up something like that? “I’m with him now. I brought him to the medical center in Ashton. His parents are out of town, so I’m gonna stay here and wait for him.”
Lindgren sighed. “I’ll clear it with your dean, but I want you to check in with me at midnight if you’re not back on campus.”
“What about the other guy?” I glared at a decorative boulder in the parking lot, imagining it was Brody’s driving partner. “He’s not going to still be part of the program, is he?”
“That’s my responsibility, not yours. Text me when you return to campus.”
It took hours. We sat in the waiting room for two hours before a nurse called Brody into the little room where they took his vitals and asked what was wrong. I stayed in the waiting room. When he didn’t return, I figured they had brought him into one of those little rooms in the back.
At some point, Melinda sent a text looking for me. I quickly replied that I was helping Brody. When I tried to call her, she never accepted the message. Her phone was probably dead. I would explain when I got back on campus.
When I glanced out the window, I saw that the sky had drawn dark. I was hungry. I texted Brody to see if I had time for a fast-food run. He quickly replied that he was waiting for someone to take him for x-rays.
I drove to a nearby restaurant, where I grabbed some burgers and fries and a large soda. I had a feeling I was going to be there all night and would welcome the caffeine. When I returned to the urgent care center, I ate my meal in my car, playing on my phone.
They released Brody a little before midnight. On our way back to his house, he told me he had finally gotten in touch with his parents, and they were heading home instead of spending the night in the city.
“So, what’d the doctor say?” I asked as we drove along the abandoned streets.
Brody groaned. “Nothing’s broken, but really bruised. I shouldn’t dance for a couple of weeks.”
“Oh, man. I know how much that sucks. I remember how devastated Melinda was when she broke her leg.”
Brody swore. “I’m supposed to get together with her tomorrow. Can you tell her I can’t make it?”
“Yeah. No problem. Can I tell her what happened?”
“I guess so.”
Although he didn’t ask me to, I wanted to stick around until his parents arrived. Brody went straight to his room to change into clothes that weren’t covered in blood. His parents walked in a few minutes later. They stood in the kitchen doorway, just staring at me.
I hurriedly got up from the couch and put on my coat. “Hi. I’m Pat.”
The mother seemed to recover first. “You’re the friend that helped Brody tonight?” When I nodded, she crossed the room to give me a hug. “Thank you for being such a good friend. Where is he?”
I pointed to the bedrooms down the hall. “He went to get changed.”
She hugged me again and went to find her son.
I turned to the father. “Tell Brody I left. I’ll talk to him tomorrow.” He nodded, and I saw myself out.
It was well past curfew when I returned to campus. I called Lindgren on my way. She assured me she had left messages with my dean, the dean on duty for the weekend, and my house advisor. Nevertheless, I stopped by my advisor’s apartment before heading to my room. I was glad I had. I got the impression he was waiting up for me.
Melinda is always trying to build her vocabulary. What were some words in this episode that were new to you? She will add them to her vocabulary journal.