Not necessarily joining their team, but he claims he'll help
The ball – or dance, if you wanted to go by Ava – was tonight. I was nervous. I didn’t like big parties. There was always loud music and a bunch of people dancing and talking, which only contributed to the noise.
Ava said that she’d help me get ready since she didn’t have to worry about getting herself ready. She tried to put me in an itchy yellow dress, which I immediately objected to. I could not do anything itchy.
You know that saying that people say, “Beauty hurts”? I don’t understand that saying. If something is anywhere remotely uncomfortable on me, I don’t wear it. And anyhow, that’s like saying that someone can’t look nice unless they’re uncomfortable.
Anyway, Ava then opted in a blue dress that was really soft, but still managed to look appropriate for a “ball”.
Ava insisted that I let her do my makeup. I’d never worn makeup before and honestly, had no desire to. I didn’t have anything against girls who did – like Ava – but I personally didn’t want to wear it myself. I didn’t like the feel of it. It made me feel uncomfortable, so I didn’t wear it. She seemed to really want me to, so I let her do a little bit.
“You’re good at this,” I said as she was putting the powdery stuff off my cheeks.
“Did your mom teach you how to do this?”
Ava scoffed, “Why would she? It’s not like she ever had time for me.”
Whenever Ava talked like this about her mom, I desperately wanted to ask why she hated her mom so much. I’d give anything to have my mom back. She died in a fire when I was ten and I wished she were still here. Maybe then I wouldn’t be at Grapevine.
Ava had told me on more than one occasion that she didn’t want to talk about it, so I didn’t ask.
“There,” Ava said when she’d finished. She put a mirror in front of my face and said, “Don’t you look pretty now?”
I looked at the reflection. I didn’t really look that different from normal. My eyelashes were more defined, my cheeks were slightly pink, and my lips were shiny, but that’s about it. I shrugged.
“I look the same as before,” I said.
Ava nodded, “You said you didn’t want it to be crazy, so I didn’t do that.” Ava looked in the mirror at her own reflection, “If I want people to know I’m wearing makeup, I have to wear bright colors. Pastels just won’t do anything.”
I looked at Ava. I guessed she was right. Ava was dark skinned with frizzy, curly hair. I’d heard that light makeup didn’t work for black girls.
I stood up and put the ear plugs in and made sure my hair covered them. I didn’t want the noise to be an issue at the dance, but I also didn’t want to look like a freak with bright green ear-plugs in my ears.
“Why do you always wear those?” Ava asked.
I looked at her again and shrugged, “I don’t like loud noises. These help muffle out the sounds.”
Ava nodded, “I guess that makes sense.” She sat down on her bed and sighed, “I still wish I could go.”
“I wish you could go instead of me,” I blurted.
Honestly, the whole reason I was even going was that Wyatt and I were going to see if we could find out anymore at the dance. We both agreed that had it not been for figuring this out, we wouldn’t have gone. Although, Ava probably would have dragged me along with her anyways.
Ava reached up and fixed the little strand of hair that was pinned back. I tried not to recoil. I didn’t like to be touched unexpectedly.
“You’ll be fine,” Ava said.
Somehow, I didn’t think that to be true.
Since everyone was already in the auditorium, there wasn’t any trouble to walk through the halls. It was actually nice, and peaceful. I know a lot of people would find this level of quietness in and school hallway unnerving, but not me. I wished the halls could be this empty and quiet all the time.
I found Wyatt sitting outside the auditorium, looking down at the rubber ball and squeezing it. He wasn’t in anything too fancy. He was wearing a light blue shirt with some dress pants, and it looked like he’d tried to tame down his shaggy brown hair with his hands. Like, he didn’t look like a royal prince that had just stepped out of a fairytale is what I’m saying.
I didn’t mind though, I was actually relieved that he didn’t wear anything too fancy.
Wyatt stood up when he spotted me, “You look pretty.”
I wasn’t sure how to take that, so I just nodded, looking straight over his shoulder.
“Should we go inside?” I asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.
The number of people dancing in there was way too many for my comfort. They were all dancing to music from the nineteen-eighties, and they were packed in like sardines. I couldn’t figure out how any of them still managed to move.
“We probably should,” Wyatt said, staring straight ahead, and not making any effort to go inside.
“Yeah,” I breathed, not moving, save for the fidgeting I was doing with my hands.
“You know what?” Wyatt finally said, turning to me. “If the whole point of coming to this stupid dance was to discuss more possible suspects, then we could just do it outside. Everyone’s in there and won’t notice if we aren’t.”
I sighed, relieved. I was glad he didn’t want to go in there either. And fresh air seemed like a good idea.
Mom was the one who suggested the earplugs, back before the fire, back when I was nine.
We’d stopped going to watch movies at the theater because I’d always end up in the bathroom because of the volume level of the movie. But, there was this movie was coming out that Akimi desperately wanted to see.
I’d been hesitant to say yes when Mom and Dad asked me if I was okay to go. Even after seeing how much Akimi wanted to go, I was still hesitant.
Mom had knocked on my door later that day. “I know how much the volume level bothers you, but I also know how much your sister wants to see that movie.”
I took a deep breath, knowing what was coming next.
“That’s why I brought you something,” Mom said.
I’d looked at her curiously.
Mom took out a small, rectangular, clear plastic case out of her pocket. In that case, were two pairs of green, silicone, corded earplugs.
“If you wore these whenever we went to the movies, it might block out the noise.”
I eyed the earplugs wearily. “What if they don’t work.”
“We’ll give it a trial run,” Mom told me. “If they don’t end up working out today, then we’ll figure something else out.”
I’ve had those earplugs ever since. I was glad they were reusable and that I could just wash them in the sink when I was done with them for the day.
Dad wasn’t as good with helping with things like that. He got too flustered and frustrated when I was nervous.
Maybe that’s the reason he sent me away.
I’d never been outside of the school at night. In fact, I was hardly ever outside the school. It was kind of one of the unspoken rules the teachers and administrators had for the students here.
Wyatt sat on one of the rocks near the lake and motioned for me to sit on a rock near him. I walked over, sat down, and took the earplugs out, seeing as it wasn’t loud enough out here to be uncomfortable. Wyatt stared at me as I put the earplugs in the little plastic case I kept them in.
“What?” I asked.
“Do you always wear those?” He asked.
I nodded, “Loud noises make me…uncomfortable.”
More like loud noises made me want to immediately curl up in a ball and die, but that sounded weirder than just uncomfortable.
He didn’t say anything like why or that’s weird. He just nodded and looked out at the lake.
“So, Rory,” Wyatt started. “What’s your deal? I mean, you didn’t say that you had social anxiety when I told you about it, but I’ve seen the way you act around people, and you don’t exactly act like Ava.”
I blinked. “I don’t have social anxiety,” I said. “I’m just…different, I guess? I don’t really know. I just know that certain things bother me that don’t bother other people.”
Wyatt was silent for a moment, and I went back to fidgeting with my hands.
After a moment, he said, “Have you considered…” he trailed off, looking over my shoulder at something behind me.
I looked back and saw Gavin Gallagher carefully opening the door to the administration building and slipping inside.