Fear, Rejection and Spring Traditions

“We fear the wrong things you know.”
“Why do you say that?”
“We should be a afraid of not getting a job someday.” He nodded solemnly.
“Economy is bad.”
“That is what we should fear.”
“Not this other stuff.”
“Agree again.”
“So are you going to ask someone?”
“Doubt it.”

Damon jumped down from the air conditioner he had decided would make a good chair. He was wrong. He hated these chats with Derek. Derek was, for lack of a better idea, Derek. Full of bravado and bluster, but had no depth to him at all. If he was a tree he would be cardboard. Yet he put up with Derek, and Derek put up with him. It worked, and in college they would either both grow up or drift apart. They accepted that by laughing about it sometimes.
“You going to ask someone? Kristen Shaw?” Derek stared at him as if it was not just answered a moment ago.
“Still doubt it.” Kristen Shaw never even crossed his mind. Now, Claire Hodges, now she was on his mind, but asking her might just complicate things with someone that was always nice to him.
“Dude, it is prom.”
“Dude, it is prom, and it is not that big a deal.” Damon played the game guys like him played. It was easier to claim that he did not care about prom than to admit he was humiliated that he might not attend. Guys like him sat in class and mocked the other guys like him that somehow ended up with a date. Silly thing to be afraid of – rejection was part of the teen experience his dad often suggested to him – but fear of that very thing kept him awake many a night.
“Cory Will has a prom date. Cory Freaking Will dude. He asked Shontel.”
“Yeah, I know.” Damon cringed inwardly and probably outwardly as well. Cory seemed lower on the social ladder than he was, yet he stood up, walked over and asked Shontel right there in the lunchroom. She laughed nervously and said she did not know, then later said yes. Cory Freaking Will has a prom date.
“So who can you ask?”
“Dude, will you let it go. Who are you going to ask? Anyone? Or just keep bothering me to do it?”
Derek rubbed his chin in full deep thought mode. He waited so long to speak that Damon started to walk away. “Sarah, maybe?”
“Sarah Gibb?”
“Thinking about it.”
“She already has a date.”
“Sean Stepps I think.”
“That guy is the biggest jerk in the school?”
Damon had to agree with that. Stepps was a jerk, but as he pointed out to Derek, he was a jerk with a prom date. He was going to say more, but Martin Kemp rounded the corner of the building and was headed their way.
Martin was one of them, and Damon usually prefered to chat with him than with Derek. Martin was just a lot more honest about things and did not have to endlessly brag like Derek. But Derek was not a bad guy either, and the three of them were usually found together, either in person or in online video games.
“Hey guys.” Martin jumped up on the air conditioning unit Damon abandoned just a moment before. They nodded in response. “Why are you hanging out here? Thought we were playing here in a few?”
Damon started to speak but Derek jumped in. “Damon wants to ask someone to prom but he doesn’t got the balls to do it.”
Martin nodded. “Legit. Who you ask Derek?”
Derek scowled. “Not sure who yet. Dunno why you guys are so worried about it. I will ask someone soon.”
The irony of the moment was not lost on Damon, but he elected not to pursue it. He started walking towards the parking lot and the other two followed behind. “It is too bad,” he said when they caught up, “that we all get so worried about prom each year.”
“Well, last year -”
“Shut up Derek. I mean people like us.” Derek shut up. “Each year the whole school gets into a frenzy over this. And it is a dance that will cost us two hundred bucks -”
“Heard Kim Deer’s dress is worth almost a thousand bucks.”
“See, we get all worked up over this, and at the end of it most of the class will end up wearing a tuxedo or a suit to a dance that takes place in the lunchroom.”
Mark spoke up. “I was asked to be on the decorating committee today. Some kid got in trouble, they wouldn’t tell me who, so they traded him out for me.”
“So you said yes?”
“Why not? I will get out of school that entire Friday.”
Derek nodded appreciatively. “I want to be on that committee. They didn’t ask me.”
Neither boy responded. The three now formed a triangle between Derek and Damon’s car. “I should ask someone.” It was hard for Damon to admit it. He knew it. What was he so afraid of? Well, besides the usual potential for social humiliation and totally misreading the acquaintanceship he had with some of the girls in the class.
“Me too.” Martin nodded. “Think Sarah Gibb would go with me.”
Derek laughed. “Sean Stepps already asked her dude. Ha.” Once again, Damon debated making a comment but decided against it.
“That guy is a jerk.”
“We agreed with you back there. He is.”
They three of them leaned up against the cars, each feeling there were things that needed saying and doing but none of the three knowing what.
“Can you believe Cory Will has a date?”
“Matt Slaughter isn’t going to go.”
“Why not?
“He says it’s too much money, but I think he is afraid of asking someone.”
“Coward.” Derek said.
Damon stared at Derek. “Seriously?” At least Derek had the social courtesy to smile this time.
Prom. It was like Christmas, All the excitement was in the preparation. The asking for dates, the color coordinating and arranging, the dinner plans and making sure who was going to sit beside who and where everyone was going to be taking pictures at and when.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you this.” Derek swung his head back and forth, as if whatever words he was going say were for their ears only. “Lacey Grayson told me today that Chris Peete isn’t going. He was going with some girl from Meadtown, but get this, she found out she was pregnant with some dude there. So no date for him.” He laughed. “That is new.”
Damon shrugged. He barely knew Chris Peete and knew no one from Meadtown. It was over forty miles away. “Three weeks,” he mumbled, more to himself as a reminder than to the other two, but they both nodded in agreement. “Three weeks.” He stared across the parking lot. Martin was shy, and with three weeks left he probably wasn’t going to ask anyone. Derek might, but Damon just did not care about Derek Freaking Neil at the moment.
But what he did care about was Claire Hodges. She was in three of his classes and always was nice. She was pretty but tiny. Petite was a kind word. But Damon had always found her adorable, though he would have hated to ever use that word. And there she was, coming out of the school and headed towards her car. It was about fifty feet away, and suddenly Damon’s mind was racing. Derek was still babbling to them about Meadtown, but Damon’s mind was somewhere else. Third period today – Sammi Parrish had leaned over to Claire and asked if she was going to prom – Claire said she had no date. Damon had that memory wash over him now.
What if she says no?
What if?
And in a rare moment of teen clarity, Damon found himself wondering if not asking anyone would be worse than getting turned down. He turned to Martin and Derek and smiled.
“It’s just prom guys.”

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