Coretta Lyons stared at herself in the mirror. The same way she had been staring at herself for the past half-hour.
She was a pretty girl. Of that, there was no doubt in her mind. Still, though, she was a teenage girl, and tonight was a very important evening. She was going on a date with a guy that she liked very much—she couldn't even truly admit how much she liked him—and under the excitement and pride lay insecurity.
"Does he like my hair up?" she wondered aloud. "Or down?"
Her cell phone rang, and interrupted her train of thought. It was her date. Of course.
" Hey there, Étienne," she said casually. Stay calm. "I'm almost ready. … you're still coming, right?"
"Of course I am. Been looking forward to it all week."
"You have? That's great, me too!" That was not calm! "… I'll see you soon, then!"
"You too," the voice on the other end said with a chuckle.
"… way to go, doofus," she sighed as she hung up. "Make him think you've never been out with anyone.” With another sigh, she went into the bathroom, where the curling iron waited.
Forty-five minutes later, she was sitting very calmly in her reading chair. At least, she would have been calm, if she hadn't kept fidgeting out of sheer nervousness. The dress felt funny, and her nylons itched, and she wasn't so sure that pinning half her hair up was such a good idea after all. But it was too late to change it now. She could see the black SUV outside.
Still, she remained sitting. She could already hear her mother voice, sternly reminding her that a lady didn't run out of the door, and a gentleman always came inside first. So she waited patiently, more or less, until she heard the doorbell ring.
There was the sound of conversation and a "Wait right here," before her mother came upstairs to call her down. "Now remember, I want you home by 9 p.m. sharp," Mrs. Lyons said firmly, and Coretta nodded. "And you walk down those stairs, mind you. Act like a young lady, I don't care how excited you are."
Étienne was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, holding flowers. But Coretta didn't see them. She was too busy staring.
"Oh my god! …. where's your hair?"
"Wha—? … oh, right. I cut it, mom's orders. What do you think?"
Mom's orders ... boy, did she know all about those!
Mom's orders ... boy, did she know all about those!
"You look amazing," she breathed out. All dignity gone, just like that.
"Well, I guess I look good. But you look fabulous." He shyly offered her purple daisies, which she took with delight. "Oh, thank you! I'll just put these in a vase—"
"Oh, for pity's sake, you two! Don't you have a date to be on? … give me those flowers and get going!" And Mrs. Lyons shooed them out of the door. Étienne held it open for Coretta to leave first before following slowly behind. Mrs. Lyons confirmed this for herself by glaring out of the window at their backs until the truck pulled out of sight.
Their reservation at the Bistro was acknowledged by the gray-haired maitre'd. But, the older woman informed them, the restaurant was full, and being teenagers, they could not eat at the bar. "I hope outside is to your liking?"
"Sure," Étienne shrugged, and went back outside to tell Coretta the new arrangement.
To make amends, the senior hostess promised that their food would come out quickly. Étienne accepted this with good grace, as did Coretta. They sat with their glasses of iced tea and tried to bridge the unexpected silence.
"This … this dress," Coretta finally began hesitantly. "I … bought it a year ago. It's been in my closet in the plastic wrapping, never worn, never touched. Never really even looked at. It cost more than I made all summer, delivering papers. When Mom told me that she couldn't afford to pay for me to go to prom, I almost threw it in the trash."
"Why would you throw away something that took you all summer to earn?"
"… pride," Coretta said frankly. "If I couldn't wear it to prom, I didn't want to wear it at all."
"What changed your mind?"
"… you asked me out," she said, and went pink despite her best efforts.
The food arrived in under fifteen minutes, sparing either of them from further confessions.
They ate their dinners quietly. Coretta shared bites of her lobster tail with her date and smiled sweetly at him. Étienne, for his part, was too shy to meet her eyes anymore, and stared deep into his seafood spaghetti.
The meal finished, they lingered at the table until Étienne stood and offered Coretta his hand. He led her to a nearby park bench, where they sat, shuffling awkwardly. Coretta brushed imaginary lint from her stockings, and Étienne cleared his throat repeatedly without actually speaking.
"Did you want to say something?" Coretta suddenly asked, turning to him, and leaning against his arm before he could move it.
"Ah … I did … I mean, I … well, I didn't want to … say … something …"
Despite everything, Coretta giggled. She couldn't help it. He was so ridiculously cute when he blushed all over.
"… so … do it," she whispered, and leaned over just a little more.
But before anything at all could happen, a wriggling gray ball leapt into Coretta's lap, and the moment was spoiled. For Étienne, at least. Coretta didn't seem to mind in the least.
With a small sigh, he checked his watch. 8:48 p.m. He needed to get her back her home anyway, or there wouldn't be any other dates and other opportunities to kiss. That thought kept him from feeling too disappointed.
He brought her home right on time and only stayed long enough for a quick squeeze.
Then he was on his way home, and Coretta was smiling foolishly at her mother, who had appeared from nowhere to pester her about the date and whether that Shin Yi boy was too forward.
"Of course he wasn't!" Coretta protested, giggling. "He was an absolute gentleman all night long. Why, I think I'm going to marry him!"
At home, Étienne stared at his homework, totally unable to concentrate. He was certain that he liked Coretta Lyons. And he was certain that Coretta Lyons liked him.
They would be done with school in less than three months.
For the first time in years, he looked around at his home, and felt distinctly dissatisfied. They had been living in a half-finished house for his entire childhood. But things were going to change once he became an adult.
"Oh yeah they are," he muttered quietly, and went back to solving math problems.