When we started our last year of highschool, I talked about what universities I’d be applying to. Kat didn’t really have many plans of her own. She said maybe she’d get a job, and save up enough money to buy a car. Sometimes she talked about driving across the country.
“You could come with me,” she said once. I laughed because I figured she was joking. But when I thought about it later, I wasn’t so sure.
We double-dated at prom. I wore blue and Kat wore black. She said, together, we made up a bruise, and then she laughed and slipped away from me to snuggle up against Neil, her date. I wasn’t sure whether to be mad or not. I didn’t understand what she meant.
The four of us posed for photos on my front lawn. Mrs. Archer watched from her front window while my dad took about a hundred pictures. And then we headed off to the dance we’d been waiting and planning for since the eighth grade.
In the parking lot, before we went inside, Kat slipped a flask from her purse and drank deep. She grimaced a little, then laughed.
“God, that tastes like crap. But it’s time to get this party started!” She held the flask out towards me. “Want some?”
“What are you doing?” I hissed, looking over my shoulder. “If you get caught, you’ll get kicked out. Maybe even suspended.”
Kat looked at me, one eyebrow raised. “Save it for later, Jilly. Seriously.”
I stomped away, alone. Mark, my date, hurried after me. Kat did not.
I spent the rest of the night pretending not to notice her getting gigglier and wobblier by the minute. I watched as Neil wrapped an arm around her when she stumbled on the dance floor. He pulled her tight and whispered something in her ear. I turned away when she kissed him on the mouth.
I sipped Diet Cokes and danced with Mark to all the slow songs. He had sweaty palms and dandruff. This was not how prom was supposed to be.
At the end of the night, during the final slow dance, Mark’s clammy hands grew brave. One slipped from my shoulder to the back of my neck. The other slid around my waist and then down. He pulled me closer, until I could feel the heat of him, the hardness of him, even through our clothes.
I tried to open up some distance between us, but Mark held on tight. When he kissed me on the neck, just below my ear, I increased my efforts, and finally broke out of his embrace just as the song ended. He smiled at me, then reached over and grabbed my hand.
“There’s an after-party at Dave’s,” he said. “It’ll be awesome.”
I scanned the crowd, looking for Kat. Needing her. But she was already gone and I was on my own.
“My parents are expecting me by midnight,” I said, though they hadn’t actually said so.
“But it’s prom, Jilly. C’mon, live a little.”
“I have to go, Mark. Take me home, okay? Please.”
“What if I won’t?” His fingers laced tighter into mine. He pulled me towards him, then leaned in for a kiss.
I put my other hand against his chest, and pushed him away. “You will. You better.”
He drove me home without speaking. The car door was still swinging shut behind me when he threw the car in reverse and gunned it out of my driveway, and then he was gone. I stood there for a moment, looking across the street at Kat’s house. All the lights were off, even the one over her front door. I turned and went inside.
The next day, I texted her three times, but she didn’t answer. So mid-afternoon, I crossed the street. Mrs. Archer answered the door and waved me in.
“She’s still in bed, Jilly. You guys must have had some fun last night, huh? Go on up, it’s past time she put in an appearance today.”
I climbed the stairs and pushed her bedroom door open. The room was dim and stuffy. Kat was wrapped in her blankets but I could see her eyes were open. She was staring at the ceiling.
“Listen, I’m not mad anymore,” I said. “Are we okay?”
She nodded, but said nothing.
“So, you wouldn’t believe what happened after you left,” I said. “Mark got way too friendly, if you know what I mean, and…”
She turned her head and looked at me. Even without the lights on, I could see her lip was split, and there was the hint of a dark shadow along the side of her face. Bruises. The rest of my words dried up in my mouth, unspoken.
And then, just like that time in the sixth grade, she sent me away.
The last weeks of school passed in a blur. There were assignments and essays to submit, and final exams to study for. Kat’s bruises healed, but she didn’t smile like she used to, and it didn’t matter how many times I asked, she would never talk about prom. So eventually, I just stopped asking.
On the day after our graduation ceremony, she showed up at my house with a tight, white face and twitchy hands.
“You busy?” she asked. “Can you do something for me?”
“Sure. What’s up?”
“I need a drive.”
I knew better than to ask any questions, even though I had about a million of them. I grabbed the keys, called out a quick goodbye to my parents, and we got in the car.
Kat didn’t talk much. It was all, Turn right, or Take the next left. Then finally, This is it. Turn in here.
I parked the car, then turned to look at her. We were in the women’s clinic parking lot.
She sniffled, swiped her tears away with the back of her hand, and then faced me.
“Don’t say it,” I said. “Don’t you dare.”
“Will you come in with me?’ she said, instead. “I’d really like you to come in with me.”
We walked in together, and just before she left me in the waiting room, I grabbed her hand and squeezed. “I’ll be right here.”
She squeezed back.
“Thanks,” she said. “See you later.”