Ma holds the camera in front of her face as she looks for the perfect angle.
“Ma!” I groan.
“What? I’m allowed to take pictures of my baby.”
Pop tears my attention away from her. “Son, which car do you want to take?”
Ma reaches to straighten my collar. “Do I have a choice?” I ask, fighting the urge to escape.
A grin spreads across Pop’s face. “Of course you do. It’s a special night. When we went to prom, we had to ride a raggedy bus. I wore my older brother’s suit, and it was two sizes too big. You two need to arrive in style.”
“The Audi?” I ask.
The doorbell rings, grabbing everyone’s attention.
My eyes lock on the door, but my feet feel like they’re stuck in cement.“That must be her…”
“I’ll get it.” Ma carefully sets the camera on the couch and makes her way to the door. She slowly unlocks it, then pulls it open. “Hey. Oh– you look so gorgeous!”
My heart slams against my rib cage. Ma takes a step back to let Mel in. There’s no way my eyes are really seeing what they’re seeing. My girl must’ve just stepped out of a magazine.
“Mrs. King, it’s so good to finally meet you.” Ma pulls Melody’s mother into a warm hug.
Mrs. King gives her a smile. “Nice to meet you. Hey, Kris. Hey, Mr. Williams.”
“H–Hey.” I force out.
Pop puts a hand on my shoulder. Melody’s eyes find me. I forget how to breathe. A smile slowly spreads across her face.
“We have to get pictures of you two,” Ma gushes.
After a million pictures and a handful of hugs, we finally manage to escape. I hold Pop’s keys in my hand as I lead her to his prized possession.
“He let me borrow it for the night.”
She stares at the sleek, black beauty. “It’s beautiful.”
I don’t think before I say, “Not as beautiful as you.”
She redirects her gaze as a smile lights up her face. “Thank you. You look great, yourself.”
I open the passenger door for her and grab a fistful of her dress so it doesn’t hit the ground. She gives me another smile as she buckles her seatbelt. Someone lets a zoo loose in my stomach. I close her door and hop in.
“Ready?” I ask.
She nods. I wonder if she’s as nervous as I am. I start the car. “I–I made you a playlist for the ride.”
Her eyes light up. “Really?”
“You want me to play it?” I try not to stare at her smile.
“Of course I do.”
I connect the phone to the car with the Bluetooth and tap my way to the playlist I spent weeks perfecting. Soon Brandy’s “Sittin’ Up In My Room” fills the car. I ease out of the driveway.
“Are you going to send it to me?” She asks.
“If you want me to.” I silently wonder how I’m supposed to focus on the road while her eyes stay glued to me.
The place the school rented is about an hour away. I triple checked the playlist to make sure I added enough songs last night. I can’t help but steal glances at her when I can. Boys II Men replaces Brandy with their “So Amazing.”
She smirks. “Someone’s been in their dad’s music.”
“Pop’s more of an old school rap guy,” I explain.
Traffic is already crazy. Most of the cars we’re sharing the road with are our classmates.
“Hey, Mel!” A group of girls shouts from the car beside us. I don’t recognize any of them.
She waves back. The wind pushes her perfume right under my nose.
“You look amazing, girl,” Another one of them hollers over.
“I agree,” I say.
She playfully slaps me on the arm before telling them to thank you. After a handful of new songs, the playlist dips into new territory. Eric Bellinger’s “GOAT” starts and huge grin surfaces. The bass vibrates through the car.
“You really made this for me?” She asks.
“Yeah. You like it?”
“I love it,” she admits.
The playlist is still going when we pull into the parking lot. Even though we got here early, it’s already crowded.
Mel grabs my hand before I can cut the car off. “Wait. I want to stay in here for a while, if that’s okay.”
“How many more songs are there?” she asks.
“I think the next one is the last one.” I unbuckle my seat belt and lean back.
She pokes the overhead light to turn it on. “I want to hear it.”
Alicia Key’s “If I Ain’t Got You” comes to an end. We wait in silence for the last song to play, the few seconds in between feeling like hours. Her eyes never leave mine. Her honey-colored flecks glimmer under the car’s light. Ne–Yo’s “Never Knew I Needed” begins.
“This is the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me.” She turns her body to face me.
My heartbeat booms in my ears. “I’m glad you like it.”
“I loved the whole thing.”
Time stops. Her eyes trap me. One of her arms slide around my shoulders as she leans up towards me. Is this the moment I’ve been hoping for? I decide to meet her halfway.
We both jump as someone knocks on my window.
Taylor gives me a huge grin. “Kris, nice ride!” He waves at Melody. I roll a window down.
She returns his smile. “Hey.”
“Look at you two. Matching and everything.”
“Where’s your date, man?”
“Tasha? Oh — She’s somewhere with her girlfriends. Probably taking selfies or something.” He tosses me a look I can’t read. “You know what? Let me go find her. I’ll catch you two later. Don’t forget about Prom, you guys.”
We both watch him walk off. As soon as I turn my head, her arm is back around my neck. One look in her eyes and I remember the first day we had a conversation like it was yesterday.
I was on my way to Ms. Kenneth’s room for English. Her voice stopped me dead in my tracks.
“Kris?” I could make a break for it, but I didn’t. I stop walking before I realize it.
“Kris, wait a second.” My eyes locked with none other than Melody King, Miss Editor in Chief.
“Hey.” Does she know what that smile does to people? She hadn’t stopped smiling, but my heart stopped beating.
“Hey, Melody.” I forced out somehow.
“I have a question.” She began to fold the newspaper back up and tucked it under her arm. “If that’s okay with you.”
“As long as it’s off the record.” I glanced at her journalism buddies behind us. Her eyes followed my gaze. I don’t know what look she gave them, but they file into Ms. Thompson’s room one by one. When the last one disappeared, she turned back to me. “Of course.”
“Are you really going to try out for the basketball team?” Her eyes never left mine as she waited for my answer. I shifted my English book to my other hand. My cheeks grow hot. I could only imagine how red they’re turning. “Yeah — unless Coach Griffin has me kidnapped on the try-out day.”
“You’re going to be the first openly transgender person to try out for anything at this school,” she said. The hallway began to thin out. The last wave of kids slammed their lockers and rushed to class. We both turned to watch a kid race down the hallway with one hand tugging his jeans up; he must’ve been a freshman.
“I guess I am.”
Just when I’m remembered how to breathe, she looked back at me. I saw the honey-colored flecks in her toffee eyes.
“Good luck. I hope you make it.” Why does she keep smiling at me? I’ve seen her smile plenty of times during the years, but never right at me. My heartbeat boomed in my ears as like I’m standing right next to a concert speaker. I hoped she couldn’t hear it.
“Thank you.” I glanced down the hall towards my class, wondering how long it would be until the bell rang. Part of me didn’t want this moment to end. I wanted to stand in this hallway and talk to her longer.
As if on cue, she turned and took a step towards the door. “I’ll see you around.” She turned back around before entering the room and placed the newspaper on top of the English book I hold in my sweaty hand. I watched until she disappeared into the room.
It feels like everything else is miles away. I’m the one who leans in this time. I remember the night of the first game. I remember meeting her at the diner.
She‘d given me a sad smile, then asked, “What if we try and it doesn’t work?”
I didn’t think before I asked, “What if it does?”
It seems like it’s working to me. There’s no one to knock on the door this time. She gives me a small smile as our foreheads touch. Hesitation sends a shiver down my spine just as our lips are about to touch –
BEEP BEEP BEEP!
My eyes tear open. No! My hands grab a fistful of bed covers. The ceiling fan whirs endlessly. The alarm clock blares as if someone was trying to steal a car radio.
It was just a dream…