A heavenly floral scent surrounds me as the zipper of The Dress magically closes against my back. I gaze at myself in the mirror on the door--which isn't usually there, but whatever--and lose myself in the vision. I am totally feminine, elegant even, from the heart-shaped bodice to the nipped-in waistline to the bit of crinoline peeking out from under the hem.
Not a volleyball-induced callus, bruise, or scab to be seen. I am Nicolette Antonovich, Prom Goddess.
My mother is suddenly beside me, mouthing words about him being on the doorstep.
Him. Rod "Rascal" Pasqual, the big blond football player who asked me to his junior prom. Who needed a date when his longtime girlfriend up and moved out of state. And who is so far out of my league that I suspect some of my bruises are from pinching myself.
Mom and I float through the mirror, down the hall, through the living room, and to the front door. Which seems to be opening with a will of its own.
Rascal's too-handsome face is right in front of me. His lips move, but his words are out of sync, something about me looking fantastic. I want to tell him it's all for him, but my own voice gets drowned out.
By laughter. High-pitched screeches and cackles--like the Wicked Witch of the West has been cloned and is laughing her heart out on my front lawn.
Then there are faces, everywhere. All around Rascal. And laughing. My teammates, my best friend, her evil brother. And inside the circle of Rascal's arms, I see someone. It's his perfect girlfriend, back where she belongs.
And zapping me--and the world's most beautiful prom dress--back into our places, too. Namely, the bedroom. In front of the mirror. Alone.
Just Say Yes
My mouth was gaping when I woke up this morning, but I wasn't laughing. I wasn't screaming. I'm not even sure I was breathing.
That dream--the nightmare--hit waaay too close to home. Although in real life, Rascal had given me the courtesy of a before-the-prom, private communication that Kylie had come back to town, the bottom line was still the same. My prom dress and I were left out in the cold and, real or imagined, I was left trying to lose the remnants of laughing faces.
Rascal and his girlfriend. My coach and teammates. My best friend, Alison, and her seventeen-year-old brother.
Especially her brother. Jared McCreary, who still treated me like I was twelve years old, when he bothered to treat me like anything at all. Yet despite that, I have been continuously forced to humble myself and ask for his help throughout my saga. As I was going to have to do again today--breaking our two-month unacknowledged and mutual silence.
Which was only slightly more appealing than the nightmare I was still slowly shaking off.
And an hour or so later, things were quickly going from bad to worse. Not only did I have to grovel this time, but it looked like I had to do it in front of Jared's buddies. Three idiots so invested in my present humiliation that they probably wouldn't notice if hundred-dollar bills fell from the AC vents.
There I was, standing beside Hillside High School's Senior Bench and staring into the eyes of the one person I swore I'd never ask for anything again.
I steeled my nerves, reminding myself of my desperate crusade: to prevent my mother from potentially losing our house. Our somewhat comfortable way of life. And our frigging minds.
I would suck it up.
I knew the only way I stood a chance with Jared was by playing by his rules. Pretending that the loud, finger-pointing scene on the deck of his parents' Santa Barbara beach house eight weeks ago hadn't happened. After he'd basically pulled me out of the arms of a hunky high school Canadian and then lectured me on safety and judgment.
Like I said--twelve years old.
But for today's purposes, I was determined to give that memory--as well as my dignity--the morning off.
With that in mind, I took a deep breath and forced it out. "I need to hire you." My hands balled at my sides like I meant business, when deep down, all a little voice inside me could say was: Please. Please. Please.
It came as no surprise when the guys lounging around him laughed. And a crooked smile tugged at Jared's mouth. Not a particularly wicked smile or even one that lit up his eyes, but his pleasure at my discomfort could not be denied.
"Hire me. Who's to say you can afford me, Nic?"
His buddies did that nudge-and-smirk thing.
I probably rolled my eyes. I know I did mentally. It was bad enough that the night before I'd had to actually see my mom cry instead of just hearing the muffled sobs through the bedroom walls. No self-centered, egomaniacal, year-older brother of my best friend was going to scare me into going through that again. I was determined.
"Oh?" I said, trying to make light of it. "How much you selling yourself for these days?"
A couple of "oooh"s and a "She got you, dude!" sounded from the peanut gallery.
Jared slid off the bench and stood to his full almost six feet, clearly meaning to intimidate little old me. But considering I was the only volleyball starter under 5'2'' in the history of Hillside High School, you'd think he'd know I didn't let size get to me. Or a challenge, for that matter.
Besides, that was something I had more experience with than the McCrearys. Jared and his sister, Alison, had a pretty cinchy life. Not that I didn't adore Alison. She had a huge heart and was always there for me. It was her brother who got under my skin.
But it was also her brother, and his vintage '71 Chevy Camaro, that I needed more than I'd ever like to admit.
"Listen," I said, and flicked my head toward the stairwell. "Walk me down to my locker and we'll come up with something that benefits us both."
His buddies (the Three Stooges? Musketeers? Blind Mice?) did these stupid high fives.
"Ben-e-fits," the guy named Kevin or Keith called out. "I don't think she's talking about money, Jared!"
Guys could be so charming.
Jared followed me down the stairs and into the first-floor corridor, as I'd suspected he would. In these first six weeks of school, we might have not so much as nodded in each other's direction, but I knew he was a decent guy and would at least hear me out.
"So?" he said, stopping beside me when we got to my locker.
"I need to go see my father," I said, and popped my lock open. Then met his gaze. Yep, there was a frown.
"I thought you hated him."
"Right now my needing him is more important than my hating him."From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress by Tina Ferraro. Copyright © 2007 by Tina Ferraro. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.