“I don’t want to do Powder Puff! I’m tired of getting tackled by the defense because you and the other coaches couldn’t teach the O line to hold! The juniors are going to maul me!” I flop down on the pile of pillows. Instantly, the mouth-watering scent of Rob surrounds me. If I could live in his bed, I absolutely would. Even when he’s pissing me off, an indescribable magnetism keeps me firmly imprisoned though he never intentionally incarcerated me in the first place.
I never want to be free of him.
He continues to open and close his desk drawers at random, completely ignoring my hissy fit. “I promised Alex I’d help him pull this off, and you promised you’d help me help him, so you’re coming.”
His harsh words sting, but more than that, they pique my suspicions. Rob isn’t really the alpha-male type off the football field. Not even when something’s bothering him. “Why are you so nervous about this? It’s not like it’s yourPromposal.”
“Because if I don’t help him nail this, he’ll make my, and by extension your, life a living hell.” Rob slams his top dresser drawer closed and runs a hand through his hair. “Goddammit, where did I put those markers?”
Well, if he had bothered to tell me what he was looking for, I could have helped him sooner. I feel around on the comforter until my fingers brush over the plastic case, then hold up the object of his search. “Here.”
“Oh, thank God. I thought I left them at the store.” He swipes the package from my hand, then tears it open, settling down on his carpet in front of a pile of poster boards.
It’s a comical sight. This big, six foot five, muscular quarterback sits cross-legged on the floor, hunched over as he frantically scrawls across the surface of the paper like this is the most important craft he’s ever made.
I sprawl out on my stomach, my head hanging over the foot of the bed to watch him work. With each minute that ticks by, irritation replaces my amusement.
Not only am I hours away from being physically abused on the gridiron, but I’m still waiting for myPromposal. Why is my boyfriend doing his best friend’s dirty work when he hasn’t even so much as hinted at going to Prom with me?
Throughout school, guys have been pulling out all the stops to get the girl they want to go with them. Not a day goes by where some grand scene isn’t made in the hallways, or in the middle of class, or the student parking lot, or…
The dance is in six weeks.
Finding the perfect dress, shoes, and accessories takes time. Not to mention scheduling hair and nail appointments when everyone else in the region will be flocking to salons during the next few weeks. Without fair warning, I can’t make any plans.
Is his dad causing more trouble I don’t know about? I thought he finally caved and gave up on keeping Rob and I apart. What if he changed his mind again? What if I’m only in Gary Falls’ house in secret? He travels all the time for work, so maybe Rob and his mom keep my visits clandestine for a very good reason. What if they’re conspiring together, even now, to try to find a way for Rob and me to go to Prom together without his dad knowing? What if…?
My internal escalating panic is interrupted when Rob holds up the first poster board. “This looks lame. Do you think it needs glitter? Girls love sparkly stuff, right?”
It’s almost laughable the way this football player seems to need coaching on every aspect of the female mind. “Did Alex tell you to bedazzle it?”
Rob turns to face me, an expression of absolute confusion painted across his features. “Be-what?”
“Make it sparkly.”
He continues to gape at me for several more seconds. “Uh, no. He just said to make it look good enough that she wouldn’t want to decline. Considering what you told me about the big three play, I’m thinking some glitter couldn’t hurt.”
I cock my head to the side, genuinely trying to figure out why Rob is so invested in Alex’s Promposal success. “If I ask you a question, will you give me a truthful answer?”
His eyes narrow in suspicion. Smart man. “That…depends on what, exactly, you ask me.”
It’s no secret Rob doesn’t want me to know anything about the time I’ve forgotten. I’ve managed to glean small snippets of information about the events leading up to my attack, but those have been gained either by complete accident or under duress.
In all fairness, I’m still not entirely sure how much I want to know.
I gesture with my finger between the two of us. Might as well lay it on the line. I brace myself for his expected rebuff, but then spit out what’s bothering me. “Are we going to Prom?”
Rob’s eyes widen and his nostrils flare slightly. It’s the unmistakable look of a cornered animal, unsure whether to cower or to attack in self-defense. He sputters a few times before finally settling on, “Of course. Why would you even ask me that?”
In my head, the obvious flippant response is clear.
Then, where the hell is MY Promposal?!
Out loud, I veer toward a safer route. “Okay, then. Answer me this: Why is Alex putting so much effort into a Promposal for a girl he has no real interest in and probably won’t continue to date after the big event?”
Rob’s gaze darts between my eyes, obviously trying to determine if this is a trick question, meant to throw him off topic from the realquestion. “I honestly have no idea.”
It’s my turn to gape at him. “That’s it? You’re not going to defend his life choices, or try to convince me he’s actually really interested in spending all this money on a dance rather than just hopefully getting laid at the end of the night?”
With that, Rob turns back to his work, apparently abandoning the idea of glitter.
What the hell just happened here?
One minute, Rob is freaking the fuck out about his best friend’s Promposal; the next, he’s calm, cool, collected and shutting me down faster than a safety on the field while I’m working my options in the pocket.
I don’t need this stress right now.
I have to get my head in game mode.
Rob lifts his gaze to watch me roll off the bed, then stalk toward the door. “Where are you going?”
“Why? You’re supposed to be helping me. And we have to leave for the Powder Puff game in an hour.”
Because I feel like a second-rate girlfriend, not worthy of all these plans and special Promposals.
Because I’m not entirely sure I’m even allowed to be here in your father’s house.
Because I’m confused and hurt, and I don’t want to deal with any of it right now.
But, I’ll never admit any of that aloud.
“Because I left my jersey at home, and I have to wear it for the game. I’ll just meet you there.”
I leave his bedroom door open when I exit. His voice calls after me as I make my way down the stairs. “Be there a half hour early, so we can go over the play book one last time!”
I snort, in spite of myself.
Nothing comes before football.
“Damn, Falls. Your girl’s getting killed out there. If she takes another sack, this game will be all over.”
I grind my jaw. The stress of the past few days is eating away at me, and watching Evie take hit after hit on the field isn’t helping. I’m so close to cracking. “Yeah, well, youwere in charge of coaching the o-line. It’s not Evie’s fault they fold within seconds.”
“It’s not my fault I can’t convince a bunch of girls to willingly let their faces get pummeled a few weeks before Prom. The juniors are out for blood this year!”
Mike’s eyes narrow as he watches the carnage from our spot on the sidelines. “Why don’t the junior girls care about getting physical, then? They don’t seem too worried about sporting black eyes for Prom.”
Alex cackles. “They don’t have to worry about getting injured when they’re the ones inflicting all the pain.”
Mike, Trevor, and I twist our heads in unison to glare at Alex. There’s nothing funny about the way our senior girls are getting a royal smackdown at the hands of the junior team.
“Watch it, Fossoway. You’re already on my shit list as it is. Evie hasn’t outright said anything, but I know she’s pissed at me for all the time I’ve been putting in to make your Promposal happen today.”
Alex scoffs, but doesn’t tear his gaze away from where Evie’s taking matters into her own hands. She’s given up expecting any protection and starts running a route herself, rather than risk passing the ball to wide receivers who apparently smeared their hands with oil before the game. “Hey, don’t blame me. This is all your fault. And, you didn’t seem to mind all the time you invested to personally coach our Powder Puff quarterback.”
It’s true. I have zero regrets about that, even if the guys have been giving me shit for not helping more with the rest of the coaching.
In all fairness, I have a lot of lost time with Evie to make up for.
Dad obviously enjoyed me being named the head coach of the Powder Puff team…to an extent. It’s obviously all for fun and nothing at all to pad my numbers or improve my game, but it’s a pat on the back for a job well done the past four years, anyway.
When he found out Evie was our team’s starting quarterback, he realized his efforts at keeping us apart were well…over.
Not that he didn’t rage over the setup until the vein in his forehead throbbed in time with his verbal ass chewing.
All it took was me finally growing enough backbone to threaten not playing football at State, and he caved. He knew I wasn’t bluffing.
Nothing comes before football.
Not even his warped ideas about who I should or shouldn’t be dating.
Trevor’s mouth twists into a sickened grimace as he watches Evie get tackled just a yard shy of the first down. “What the fuck are you two talking about? What does Alex’s Promposal have to do with Evie being pissed, and why is that Falls’ fault?”
Mike laughs, then clears his throat as our offense trickles toward the sidelines, and our special teams takes their places on the field. He lowers his voice so none of the girls will overhear. “Rob’s hellbent on making Evie’s Promposal perfect, so he’s been doing secret recon by watching her reactions to everyone else’s big asks. He’s only the mastermind behind Alex’s Promposal as a final study. It’s not like Alex had any grand plans, anyway.”
Trevor raises an eyebrow at me. “You are so whipped, it’s not even funny.”
I shrug, with no intention of denying it. If I only get one shot at asking Evie to a dance, then there is zero room for error.
She trudges toward us, the slight limp in her gait pricking worry in my chest. Just as quickly as my anxiety builds, it evaporates when she pulls the helmet off her head, shaking out her long hair like some real-life supermodel.
Who’s all mine.
That supermodel is mine.
“I take it back,” Trevor whispers at my side. “Totally worth all your geeky research to go to Prom with a chick like her.”
A smug smile stretches my lips as pride warms my chest. Yeah, it is.
“Hey, baby. That was an awesome run. You’re doing great out there.” I offer her a water bottle.
“Fuck off, Falls,” she spits, pushing past me to collapse on the bench.
The guys around me break into a barely controlled fit of hysterical laughter.
“I lied, Falls,” Trevor wheezes. “Girls aren’t worth the trouble, no matter how hot they are.”
“My arms are getting tired from holding up this damn poster board. Can she quit blubbering and say yes, already?”
Mike’s whining only vaguely registers in my brain. As does the scene in the middle of the field where Alex’s latest flavor is crying. I’m not sure whether they’re happy tears, or she’s embarrassed about the spectacle created by a Promposal launched on the heels of the biggest Senior comeback win in Ironville Powder Puff history.
My sole focus is on the sweaty quarterback, standing on the sidelines and taking it all in.
The smile on her face doesn’t tell me enough. She might be happy for the win. She’s undoubtedly relieved the intensely physical game is over.
Her gaze settles on us coaches on the sidelines, bearing five poster boards over our heads which spell out, P-R-O-M-? The smile on her kissable lips grows ever so slightly, but she shakes her head like the whole thing is ridiculous.
Hmm. So, public scenes are a no?
Or, sporting event Promposals are tacky?
Maybe it’s the fact there are more roses on the field than players on our team? Was that too much?
“Alex looks like he’s gonna puke,” Mike chuckles. “Did you set him up to fail on purpose?”
I tear my gaze away from Evie to check out the progress on the field. Sure enough, the girl is still standing there, looking dazed, holding her hands to her cheeks, and crying while Alex kneels in front of her. He looks…worried.
“Uh, no,” I cough out. “I honestly didn’t think Vettoria would tell him no, regardless of the Promposal.”
“You realize he would never have gone to all this trouble, right? Maybe she knows that, and isn’t sure if she’s being pranked or not.”
Damn. Mike makes a valid point. I really hadn’t thought all the potential ramifications of this through. My main concern was finding out exactly what Evie wants.
The object of my every waking, and most of my sleeping, thoughts breaks through the din of the crowd with a shout. “Yes or no, already! Give the poor guy a break!”
Alex shoots Evie an obviously grateful smile which is promptly cut off by Vettoria kneeling in front of him and throwing her arms around his neck.
And…it’s a yes.
I’d say mission successful, but the jury’s still out on that verdict.
I swear, my girlfriend is a tougher read than the defense against our arch rivals. Her current expression is one part “aww” and two parts “eew.”
“You’re going about this all wrong,” Mike mutters as he finally lowers the poster board and stretches out his arms. “It’s not about the presentation; it’s about the intention.”
Well, where was this wisdom a month ago when I first started freaking out about the onlyPromposal I’ll ever give? Mike brushed off my concerns and blatantly called me an idiot. “You have no room to talk, Mitchell. You did a Disney-themed Promposal that was less than stellar.”
He smiles like my comeback is no more than a fly he’s about to squash. “Chelsie loves Disney stuff. Always has. I know this about her. We’ve actually thrown around the idea of going to Disney World during summer break before shipping off to State in the fall. That Promposal meant something to her. It wasn’t just asking her to go to a stupid dance. It showed her I know what she loves, and more importantly, reaffirmed our future together after graduation.”
Evie must have gotten a concussion on the field today, and since we’re so closely connected, I’m feeling the effects of her confusion by proxy. It’s the only rational explanation for the completely irrational story Mike just told me.
Don’t get me wrong. His idea has real merit. It’s just…not a very Mike thing to say.
Or, maybe I never realized how committed he is to his relationship with Chelsie. He’s never even hinted at marriage and babies and all that stuff, not even to me or Alex.
Still, I need confirmation I didn’t simply hallucinate everything he just told me.
“Let me get this straight,” I hedge. “My Promposal for Evie should be something meaningful—that proves we have a future together. It doesn’t matter what or how I do it, so much as what I’m implying?”
Mike nods. “Yup.”
Well, that’s easy.
I do a little mental math in my head, and yep. I absolutely have enough to afford a nice diamond. Sure, it’ll eat up the rest of my inheritance from Pops, but buying Evie a ring is a worthy investment.
“No.” Mike turns to face me head on, raising his finger to my face. “No.”
Did I say something out loud?
“You are notgoing to propose marriage.” He shakes his head. “Christ, she’s not even eighteen. Besides, Papou will murder you.”
It’s not actually Papou I’m afraid of so much as the gun YiaYia likes to remind me is hiding in their upstairs bedroom.
“You don’t know what I’m thinking.”
Mike glares at me with a look of disbelief. “Yes, I do. And the answer is still no.”
“I hate to break it you, but it’s not actually your permission I need.”
“Yes.” Mike wears a kind of creepy, evil smile. “It is.”
“Down boy.” Evie steps between us and nudges Mike back a few steps. “What are you two at each other’s throats over now?”
Panic freezes me in place, and my gaze darts to Mike for backup. If Evie overheard any of our conversation, I’m so screwed.
“Uh…” Mike fumbles for words, but stares back at me with an expression that mirrors my own fear. “Nothing. Just talking about how stupid this whole scheme is, considering Alex isn’t even dating Vettoria and will probably drop her like a high pass right after Prom.”
Nice save, Mitchell.
I’m even going to let go the fact it was obviously a subtle dig at my passing abilities. Especially since it’s a great opener to finding out what Evie really thinks about this ordeal.
She tilts her head from side to side, weighing Mike’s opinion. “I agree, but at the same time…I don’t. At least he isn’t treating her like a flavor, you know? I mean, if he had asked her without any fanfare at all, considering the other Promposals popping up all over school like a case of measles, how would Vettoria have felt, then?”
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why I have no clue what to do.
Only my girlfriend could endorse an overly elaborate Promposal in the same breath as comparing the social phenomenon to a contagious disease.
Frustration simmers under the surface of my skin, a constant rise in pressure which demands a final, explosive outlet.
I throw my arms up in the air. “Which is it? You hated it or loved it?”
Mike and Evie gape at me with wide eyes, both taking a step back.
My chest heaves with the force of cracking under this immense pressure.
“Better check your app, Falls.” Evie shakes her head, then pats my chest from a safe distance. “I think you’re PMSing.”
With that, she walks away, leaving only the sound of Mike’s laughter ringing in my ears.
“A little to the left.”
A sigh of both pain and relief escapes my lips as Rob follows orders, kneading his talented fingers into the ball of tension just under my shoulder blade.
I don’t know how he does it for weeks on end, to be honest. None of us girls were in full gear today, and the tackles were half-hearted compared with an actual football game, but damn. I’m so sore and covered in bruises, I want to cry.
Papou chuckles from his recliner. “You did fine work today, Evie. If you are still in this much pain tomorrow, we will take you to a professional.”
I have no intention of admitting to my grandfather Rob is the only professional I need. It’s already weird enough having him watch Rob’s every move.
YiaYia’s soft snores from the other end of the couch only add to my discomfort. When the grandparental units are home, they don’t like Rob and I to be alone in my bedroom. The old-school Greek in them feels the need to supervise us at all times.
For his part, Rob never complains. He usually seems perfectly content to hang out with a couple of eighty-year-olds for the evening. Like me, he’d rather play a game of Scrabble at the kitchen table than go to the cliché high school weekend parties, rife with hook ups, alcohol consumption, and sometimes illicit drugs.
I suspect part of his willingness is the fact he misses his own grandparents so much. He’s sort of adopted mine as a fill in.
And they’ve adopted him right back.
“Robert, are you all right?”
Rob’s hands still on my back. “Huh?”
Papou cocks his head, thoughtful crinkles forming around his narrowed eyes. “I know you are worried about Eva’s condition, but you have been silent most of the evening. What is on your mind?”
Rob’s quieter-than-usual demeanor hasn’t gone unnoticed by me, either, but he still showed up at my house two hours after I left the Ironville football field. I figured his weird attitude from after the Powder Puff game had subsided.
“Oh, uh…nothing, Papou. I’m fine. Just tired, I guess.”
Is it wrong my chest feels all warm and fuzzy when he calls my grandfather by the same name I do? I mean, he could call him Mr. Papachristodoulopoulos.
Although…it’s longer than my last name, and that’s saying something. Rob would probably botch that as horribly as he botched my name freshman year.
Still. With his hands working their magic on my sore muscles, sitting in my dingy, small living room on a Saturday night, I can’t help but appreciate how much Rob just fits effortlessly into my life.
The girly part of me has been watching Promposals with thinly cloaked hope and starry eyes for years. The rational part of me thinks it’s ridiculous. The whole idea of everyone in school staring at some poor guy who might potentially be refused after all his hard work rubs me the wrong way. Mama says HoCo asks and Promposals weren’t a thing in her day. Even though she’s a teacher, she’s not quite sure when the phenomenon became so commonplace.
And…doesn’t it, I dunno, take something away from actual marriage proposals?
It’s weird. Though a part of me wants what everyone else gets, I also have some serious issues with the overly elaborate propositions.
I lean my head on Rob’s knee to gaze up at him. He’s watching SportsCenter on the television with a faraway look in his teal eyes—seeing, but not really absorbing.
He looks down at me, still somewhat unfocused. “Yeah?”
“What you did for Vettoria was really nice.”
An expression of confusion passes over his face. “Don’t you mean for Alex?”
“No.” I shake my head for emphasis. “Promposals don’t really mean anything to the guys. Alex probably didn’t have anything special planned because he knows no one will refuse him. But, it means something to the girls. It was obvious by her reaction, it meant a lotto her.”
He glances at the TV again, grumbling below his breath, just quietly enough for me not to make sense of his words.
I can’t exactly blame him for being so invested in Alex’s Promposal. Rob has a big heart. He probably stepped in to intercede when Alex told him he was just going to ask her without any fanfare.
I have the best boyfriend in the whole world, and I absolutely don’t need a grand Promposal to prove it.
“What color dress should I get?”
Rob turns his gaze back to mine. “Huh?”
“For Prom? Which color would you prefer?”
Papou coughs from his position on the recliner, reminding me there’s someone listening in on our conversation. “I was not aware you two were going to Prom.”
I give Papou my most relaxed smile. Because that’s how I’m feeling just now—completely content and at ease. “Of course, we are.” A self-deprecating laugh sneaks up my throat. “It’ll be our only Prom, but nothing like saving the best for last, right?”
“The best, hmm?” Papou raises an eyebrow in Rob’s direction.
Even his stern, over-protective nature has me feeling the warm fuzzies tonight. In spite of all the bad in my life, I’m so lucky. A grandfather who stepped in to replace my absentee dad, a boyfriend who loves me enough to overlook my physical shortcomings, even a grandmother who refuses to leave me alone with a boy out of fear he may break my heart or take advantage of me.
Optimism flows through my tired muscles like a foreign sensation.
I like the feeling too much to let it go.
“I’ll probably go shopping next weekend with Tini and Mama. I might not buy anything, but I definitely need to get an idea of what’s out there since I’ve never done this whole Prom thing before. You actually picked out my Homecoming dress, so this really is my first rodeo. I just want to have plenty of time to weigh my options and make the perfect choice since this is my only shot. I know your favorite color is blue, but there are obviously other choices. We could go with school colors, you know? Red and black? I think I can pull off a red dress, but blue would bring out your eyes more and obviously your tux accent colors will need to coordinate with my gown…”
Before I can get out another word about scheduling hair and nail appointments, Rob’s hands press down on my shoulders with firm, steady pressure. “Evie. Breathe.”
So, I do. And then again.
But, it’s not enough to tamp down the excitement vibrating my bones. Prom fever is in the air, and even without a Promposal of my own, going with the guy of my dreams still feels like an achieved life goal.
A smirk accentuates the deep wrinkles on Papou’s face. “You forgot to mention the shoes and the jewelry.”
The warm weight of Rob’s hands evaporates. I glance up to find him scrubbing his face before leaning back against the couch and sighing. “We still have plenty of time.”
His exhausted expression throws a bucket of ice water on my excitement. He looks so beat down. I guess now that the big moments he’s been working toward for the past few weeks of the Powder Puff game and Alex’s Promposal are gone, he’s left with an adrenaline crash. It’s the same after winning a big game. He’s happy, but…tired.
I climb up onto the couch beside him and rest my head on his shoulder. The last thing he needs is pressure from me.
“Plenty of time,” I lie. I’ll handle all my arrangements on the down low. He only has to worry about renting a tux, and I’m pretty sure he can do that at the last minute. Maybe I can even swing some extra shifts at the diner to pay my fair share for the limo and tickets…
Rob wraps a solid arm around my shoulders, tugging me against his side, then placing a chaste kiss on my forehead which lingers only a heartbeat longer than is appropriate for our present company.
No more words are exchanged. Soon enough, Papou’s soft snores join YiaYia’s to form a strange sort of symphony. I don’t know how they don’t wake each other with the noise, but after decades of sharing the same bed, I can only imagine the sound has become somewhat soothing to them.
In the same manner, Rob’s warmth, weight, and mouthwatering scent cover me in a blanket of safety. The earlier euphoria of coming back to beat the juniors at the Powder Puff game, Alex’s Promposal, and my own excitement about Prom erode, leaving me exhausted and my eyes fighting to remain open.
“I should go,” Rob murmurs, his lips brushing against my temple. “You’re exhausted, and Papou and YiaYia need to go sleep in their bed.”
“Just a little while longer?” I yawn, then lower my voice. It doesn’t matter my grandparents are sleeping; I don’t want to take any chances. “Just let me fall asleep beside you for a little bit. I’m so sore, I’m looking forward to sleeping in my closet less than usual.”
Rob’s muscles tense. The movement is almost imperceptible, and gone as quickly as it was noticed. “You made me so fucking proud today, Evie. You were amazing on that field. Go ahead and sleep. I’ll carry you to bed, and tuck you in. Consequences from the shotgun upstairs be damned.”
Another yawn escapes my throat. I can’t stop them now, like a freight train gaining speed. “Can’t be the girlfriend of the world’s best quarterback and not put on a good show.”
A low rumble of laughter from Rob’s chest vibrates my body. “I don’t know about the world’s best quarterback, but I’m damn lucky to have you as my girlfriend, good show or not.”
He doesn’t need to know he’s the best. I’ll always be here to prove it to him.
That thought floats away as I drift to sleep.
“Is she back yet?”
Papou chuckles from his spot in the doorway of Evie’s room. “Diana texted me. You have twenty minutes.”
Oh, shit. That’s not nearly enough time.
“Grab the lights!” I’m already positioning Evie’s desk chair against the wall as I gesture wildly to the boxes scattered all over the bed.
Alex picks them up, then starts pulling the strands out too quickly, probably tangling them all to hell.
Papou didn’t seem to mind much when I asked if I could hang lights all over the room, but now he’s showing a different side as I have to forcefully pry the hammer from his grip.
“I’ll patch all the holes later,” I promise him. The last thing I need is to be on this man’s bad side. He has too much influence over my girlfriend’s life for me not to kiss his ass every chance I get.
And I must be doing an okay job because he pitches in to help unravel the strands of lights, feeding me more line as I move the chair along the edge of the room. He and Alex take over connecting the individual strands as I hammer away, the steady rhythm not matching the erratic beat of my heart.
Some of Evie’s things get knocked off her dressers in my haste. God, this woman has so much stuff. Her proclivity for collecting every tiny memento over the years borders on hoarding. I guess I can’t complain too much, though, since half the things are from me.
The end result looks less than desirable. The three of us stand in the middle of the room, eyeing the effect of the Christmas lights zigzagging the walls in a seemingly random pattern.
“This looks like shit, bro.” Alex doesn’t even laugh. He sounds genuinely concerned.
My heart continues hammering away, though I’m clutching the idle tool in my hand.
“Let us see the intended result.” Papou flips the light switch, bathing Evie’s bedroom in darkness. Except for the soft, yellow glow of thousands of tiny lights that paint the walls with a starry effect.
My satisfaction is short-lived. Papou’s phone dings, so he fishes it out of his pocket to read the incoming text.
“They are five minutes away, according to Tini.”
I spin in a helpless circle. Time’s up. Game over. With witnesses still present, I can’t lay out the rest of this Promposal, which seems incomplete without the full presentation. The cream carpet takes a beating as I pace, waiting on the inevitable decline. This was a stupid play. And I blame Mike with his ideas of meaning and intent.
Alex shakes his head, a weird sort of grimace on his face. “I’d like to tell you good luck before I bail, but hell. This is such a lost cause, nothing I say matters.”
“Thanks a lot, dickhead.” Too late, I remember this isn’t a private conversation. “Sorry, Papou.”
He only smiles in response. The lack of even a warning only adds to my anxiety. I fouled up, on multiple grounds, and I know it.
YiaYia’s probably waiting in the hallway with a shotgun, as it is. And, she hasn’t even seen the most damning evidence.
Papou grips Alex’s shoulder. A little too roughly if the slight wince Alex releases is anything to go by. “Come, young Alex. We have rendered all the help we can. It is time for Robert to face the music alone.”
Yes, go. Please get out, so I can try to salvage this Promposal in as little time as possible.“Why are you even here? I didn’t ask for any help.”
Mentally, I kick myself for not specifically addressing that question to Alex. Luckily, Papou doesn’t seem to take any offense. His expression remains neutral. For his part, Alex throws his head back in laughter that ricochets through my pounding skull. “You did such a great job on my Promposal, I wanted to see what you had up your sleeve for Evie with my own eyes. Who knew you’d nail it for me, but blow it for yourself?”
I don’t get a chance to defend myself. Papou does it for me.
“I would not count this one out yet.” He nods to my overly full duffel bags on the floor. “Sometimes, the best gifts in life are those given with the most meaning and the least sparkle.”
Sweat trickles down my back as Evie’s grandfather stares at me with understanding in his eyes. He can’t possibly know my plans. The old man has no idea what’s in my bag, waiting to be unleashed in this room in, oh…I’m guessing only two minutes.
“Get out,” I croak. “I have to finish this before she gets here.”
My shoulders bunch as I await Greek hellfire and brimstone, but instead, Papou only forces Alex out the door.
I don’t have time to question all the weird dynamics of what just happened because I have a job to do. I’ll think about it later.
Much, much later.
Just as soon as I’m done promising the moon to the girl of my dreams.
It’s a trap.
Call me suspicious, but this stalling game has gone on long enough. I’m tired, cranky, and want nothing more than to take a nap in peace before I have to get ready for my evening shift at the diner.
“Look at this one,” YiaYia insists, pointing at yet another page in the magazine lying open on the kitchen table. “It is perfect. Nothing too revealing. Very elegant.”
Papou nods his approval at her side. “I think Robert would love this on you.”
Tini snorts into her soda can. “Rob would love anything on Evie. Or nothing at all.”
My face burns with mortification, but the rest of my family laughs off Tini’s inappropriate comment with ease. Strangely, that only increases my anxiety. They can’t possibly know those kinds of things are off the table for Rob and me…can they?
“Speaking of Rob,” Mama nudges my shoulder. “Are you going to call him and admit you were too picky to choose a gown today?”
“For the millionth time, no! He’s stressed enough; he doesn’t need to worry about my inability to pick a stupid dress!”
“Eva!” YiaYia raps her knuckles against the wooden table. “You will show respect to your mother. Apologize. Now.”
“Sorry, Mama,” I mumble. “I’m really tired after our ridiculously long shopping trip. I didn’t mean to take it out on you. I’m just going to go catch a quick nap before work tonight, so I won’t bite off any of my customers’ heads.”
No sooner do I push my chair back and rise to go do just that than Papou is standing in front of me to block my retreat. “Do you not want to go to Prom? Is that the real reason you are having difficulty with this decision?”
What the hell?
I gape at my grandfather, trying to figure out the angle my family is playing.
Ever since we walked in the kitchen door, toting too many bags of Tini’s Prom essentials, I’ve been getting the third degree from everyone. Even the two women who were shopping with me.
I cross my arms over my chest. It’s the only defense I have left. “What’s going on? You’re all acting weird. I’m not even that upset I didn’t find anything. It was only my first try. I’ll check out some more options online, then go shopping again next weekend.”
“This is a good plan.” YiaYia clucks her tongue, then squints at me like she’s trying to detect if I’m lying. “Still. These decisions take time. You cannot do what needs done if you nap. Sit back down. We will discuss your options.”
I take a deep breath for patience. I’ve been trying to escape the kitchen since I first entered it. “It’s really fine. I think a nap to clear my head is probably a better idea.”
Papou seems a little too excited about my excuse. “You must need food and drink. This is why you are so fatigued. Sit. I will make you lunch.”
“For God’s sake!” I throw my hands in the air. “We had lunch at the mall! I’m not hungry; I’m not thirsty; I’m tired.”
I don’t miss the exchanged looks of panic between my family as I head for the kitchen doorway.
“Eva, wait!” Papou calls after me.
Before I can really lose my shit, a loud thump echoes from upstairs, halting me in my tracks.
Everyone who lives in this house is currently frozen with wide eyes, watching me.
“Is there some particular reason you don’t want me going up there? What was that noise?”
“The window repairman.” Simultaneously, Papou.
Tini shrugs. “The cats probably found their stash of nip.”
Mama is the last to offer up a paltry excuse. “Um…we’re supposed to stall you for another ten minutes?”
Well, at least someone coughed up the truth.
“Stall me from what?”
Several text notifications go off all at once in the kitchen. Mama looks up from her phone with an overly bright smile. “Nothing anymore. Go on up.”
So, yeah. It’s definitely a trap.
And I don’t even care at this point. At least, that’s what I tell myself as I slowly make my way up the stairs. All I wanted was a catnap before work, but as I stand outside my bedroom door with my hand shaking around the knob, I’m not sure going in here is going to accomplish my goal.
Still, might as well get it over with.
I have no idea what iteven is.
The second I swing open my bedroom door, everything becomes clear.
Well, not quite clear. The flicker of candlelight competes with the soft twinkling of hundreds of tiny lights. In the center of the room, my bed no longer looks the same. A different, but decidedly familiar, navy-blue comforter now graces the mattress. A collection of wrinkled t-shirts covers the pillows. But, the most brilliant sight of all is my Rob, down on one knee, holding up a piece of torn notebook paper.
“What is all this?” My voice sounds breathless, stilted. Not like me.
Rob grimaces, then turns the notebook paper around. “Shit. It’s too small. You probably can’t even read it.” He stands, crosses the room in two long strides, then thrusts the paper toward me.
I’m almost afraid to look. Is he…is he actually giving me the pages of our notes from his old Bio notebook?
Is today an anniversary of something I don’t know about? Maybe the first time he tried to work up the nerve to ask me out?
“Read it,” Rob softly prompts.
You’ve always been my Dream Girl
But, there’s one more dream you could make come true
Say yes to prom with me,
And I’ll return the same sweet things to you.
“This–this is ourPromposal?” Tears blur my vision as my hands shake.
“It’s…I mean, I didn’t…I tried…” Rob sighs, runs a hand through his hair, then offers me his lickable dimple with a half-sided smile. “Yeah.”
I reread his note. “What does this mean? I don’t understand.”
He shrugs, then looks around the room. “I don’t get to sleep with you at night, so I thought…maybe if you had my old t-shirts and blanket to sleep with, it might help. That, and lots of nightlights.”
My eyes take in my changed bedroom with all new perspective. I can’t catch my breath. This… This is nothing I ever imagined, and everything I never knew I wanted.
“There’s more,” he whispers, his lips feathering across my forehead. Rob takes my hand and leads me to the closet. Inside, the floor is lined with pillows. The same pillows that used to be on his bed; the ones that smell like him. He crawls onto the floor, tugging me down with him. “I took the liberty of rearranging some of your things.”
I glance at the wall of the closet to where he’s pointing. Sure enough, the old picture of us together at one of the post-game bonfires which used to be on my dresser mirror is taped to the wall. As is the poster of the football team from last year that I swiped from the local newspaper. Pictures of us together from Spirit Week round out the collage, some I’ve never seen before. A row of small teddy bears, one from every birthday I’ve celebrated since freshman year of high school, lines the wall beneath the pictures.
“It’s stupid and makes me feel like kind of an egomaniac, but I thought maybe if you could see me, see ustogether and happy, it would ease your fears at night.”
I have no words. Already, my tenuous grip on maintaining some semblance of self-control is slipping. My chest heaves with the effort of holding back the building sob in my chest; my eyes burn, waiting for the eminent flood.
Rob hauls me against his chest, wrapping his arms around me. “It’s not so much a Promposal as it is a promise. Only a few more months, then you’ll never sleep alone again.” Though I can’t see his face, I hear the frown in his voice when he continues. “Except when I’m away for camps and games, but I’ll make arrangements for then, too.”
I twist until his handsome face comes into focus, even through my tears. “I can’t wait.”
And I mean it. The idea of falling asleep with him every night, and waking up to his smiling face every morning keeps a faint flicker of hope in my chest that one day I’ll be strong enough to face these ghosts alone. He won’t need to make “arrangements” for when he isn’t with me. Kind of like charging a laptop or cell phone to full battery, the more I’m with him, the longer I can go without him.
His chameleon eyes dance across my face. “And, uh…I’ll tell you what? I’ll make you a deal. If you say yes, I’ll even give you a taste of what’s to come in the fall. We can rent a hotel after Prom, just like we did for Homecoming. It’ll be a practice run for sharing a bed at State. How does that sound?”
It sounds wonderful. “What am I saying yes to? Because sign me up for that.”
He brushes his knuckles across my cheek. “Prom?”
“I didn’t think I had to say yes. You said we were going. I assumed it was a foregone conclusion.”
“I promise to hold you every night when we get to State. I also promise not to ever assume anything where you’re concerned. So, until you say yes, it’s not a foregone conclusion to me.”
I don’t even have to think it over. “Yes.”
His smile lights up my world. He shakes his head, that dimple in his cheek hypnotizing me as well as any pocket watch. “How’d I get so damn lucky?”
“You? I’mthe lucky one.” I gesture around the closet and the rest of my bedroom. “How did you come up with this, anyway? It’s…perfect.”
“You gave me the idea, actually.” He tilts his head back with a rueful laugh. “For weeks, I’d been studying your reactions to every Promposal launched at school. I could never tell how you felt. Even the one I orchestrated for Alex got mixed reviews from you. I had no idea what you wanted until you practically dropped it in my lap the night of the Powder Puff game.”
“I did?” I have zero recollection of that. Which is hysterically ironic, considering my not-so-distant past.
“Yeah.” He brushes his lips across mine, just enough to give me a taste, but not nearly for the amount of time I’d like. “I said I was going to go home because you were tired, but you asked to sleep by me for just a bit. That’s when I knew what I had to do.”
“You didn’t have to do anything. I’m perfectly happy just to be going to Prom on your arm.”
He raises a disbelieving eyebrow. “That doesn’t sound very gender equalist of you.”
I shrug. “Neither is needing you to sleep in a bed, but that doesn’t seem to stop me.”
“So…” I bite my lip, anxious about being refused even if it’s completely non-sexual. This must be how nervous Rob felt while planning this whole thing and waiting for my response. “Since it’s different, can I make a small request?”
“Can we do a practice run now? I’m exhausted after shopping all day.”
Rob heaves a deep breath. “I dunno, baby. That might be pushing the limits of Papou and YiaYia’s generosity. Even if it isjust a nap together.”
He’s probably right. They would flip their old-fashioned shit to catch us napping in my bed. And no way am I going to let anyone discover us in the closet.
Rob heaves me off him, then climbs out of the closet. “I gotta blow out these candles before I start a house fire. I’m entirely sure your grandparents would kill me for that infraction.”
He sets to work while I look around at the galaxy he’s created on my walls. It’s funny he made me an entire universe. Does he understand he’s the center of mine?
“I love you, Rob.” The words spill from my lips without any restraint, just to make sure he knows.
“I love you, too, baby.” He climbs on my mattress, obviously staying above the blankets, then pats his chest. “Come on.”
“You said you didn’t want to incur the grandparents’ wrath. I think that’s fair.”
He gestures again for me to join him. “I’ll risk certain death for you.”
Well, when he puts it like that, how can I refuse? I settle myself in the crook of his body, snuggling my face in his neck while he wraps an arm around me.
“I won’t let them kill you. Promise.”
“Ssh,” he whispers against my forehead. “Sleep. If I’m not dead when you wake up, we’ll go out to dinner.”
I pop my head up from its resting place to gaze at his gorgeous eyes. “I can’t. I picked up an extra shift at the diner tonight.”
“To help pay for Prom expenses like the tickets, and limo, and whatever else we need.”
“What? You can’t tell me no!”
“I just did.”
“Now who’s a terrible gender equalist?”
He scoffs. “You already knew that about me. It’s not a surprise.”
Fine. I’ll let him believe he’s won…for now. I’m really too tired to argue. I place a kiss against his full lips, wishing I had the energy for more. “This was a wonderful surprise, Rob. Thank you for my Promposal.”
“Thank you for saying yes.”
As if I would have ever said no to him. I couldn’t even when I tried.
Just as I’m settling back down for what will surely be the best nap I’ve had in weeks, the door bursts open. A cacophony of both praise and reprimands rains down over us.
No rest, it seems, for the wicked.
Oh, well. We can still look forward to Prom.