Two hours and forty-four minutes after he appeared from beneath the inflatable archway, Dustin Bailey collapsed down on a chair so hard it slid back several inches from the table. He kept it there. The idea of getting a drink faded when he realized how far of a walk it would be to the refreshments table, so he remained seated checking his cell phone.

An unread message from her.

The phone screen was dim, sending its message glowing into the air. I miss u. I miss us. Please tlk 2 me. Dustin felt the slithering motion of anxiety twirl up his fingers.

"Alrighty," he said aloud to himself while nodding his head.

He took two steps forward toward the dance floor but stopped when he saw her. On the far side of the gym, in the last chair closest to the bleachers, a girl sat hopelessly alone. The only company she kept was the pair of heels on the chair beside her. She was hunched over with her skinny elbows on her knees. Dustin watched her for a moment but quickly dismissed her. He took a few steps closer to the clique of girls waiting for him at center court, but he stopped yet again. This time, without much thought, he spun around.

As his feet dragged him closer to the table, Dustin noticed she had her eyes glued to the couple swapping spit just four tables down. She didn't realize Dustin was standing directly in front of her. He waited to see if she would acknowledge him, but after this proved useless, he spoke.


She jolted from her seat. Her mascara was smeared down the corners of her big, blue eyes that looked so confused. Dustin gestured his head toward the boy.

"Was," she said quietly before looking down at the bundle of tissues squeezing through her fingers.

At that moment, the aching moans of Usher's "U Got It Bad" filled the gym. As everyone gravitated toward their date, Dustin held out his hand, and her gaze flickered from his smile to his outstretched hand. After slipping her hand into his, Dustin threw the ball of tissues onto the table, and she followed him out to the dance floor. They chose a spot closer to the back where there were fewer people. While keeping space between them, she wrapped her arms around his neck and matched his rhythm as they swayed from left to right. He felt her hands shaking as they tickled the back of his neck.

"Why are you doing this?" she asked in between post-cry breaths.

Dustin continued to keep a soft smile.

"I know where you're at. I have a friend who's there right now. It sucks."

"It sucks ass."

"You look like a strong enough girl."

She shook her head, took a tiny sniff, and let out a laugh, "Yet here I am."

"The only way to learn how to be stronger is to first know what can make us crack." He spoke steadily with no interruptions.

"How long have you been waiting to use that line?"

"Um…yesterday around three. You a Dr. Phil fan?"

A sharp giggle escaped from her lips. "Your friend probably could have used that more than me."

"Nope, he doesn't want to listen to anyone right now."

Finally, she glanced up at him, looking him in the eye for a moment. "Why'd they break up?" Her stare retreated back down to the floor.

Dustin thought to himself, then, "Still up for debate."

Her gaze shifted.

For the next few seconds they looked into each other's eyes without any worry of rudely staring. Suddenly, he saw the look in those baby blue eyes of the thought of her ex finding its way back into her mind.

"I'm pretty sure I got dumped for that bitch. You know, he was probably cheating on me with her. Did your friend's girl cheat on –"

"Alright, alright, let's stop trying to compare scars between you two," Dustin faked a laugh.

Her laugh followed his but hers was more fabricated. "Yeah, you're right. Sorry."

She shook her head as tears appeared once more. Dustin paused, but stepped closer to her.

"Nah, not tonight," he said as he gently rubbed his thumbs across her cheeks. "No more tears until tomorrow. People are gonna think I'm the asshole who dumped the most interesting girl in this whole damn gym."

Her hands wrapped around his wrists, slowly bringing them back down to his side. The tears were beginning to dry. Her teeth were appearing through the space between her lips as she gave him a proper smile for the first time that night. "My name is –"

Before she could reveal her identity, the slim tower of a girl barged between them. She shoved her hair into Dustin's face.

"Oh my God, there you are! We've been looking for you like all night! How are you?"

Slim Tower looked at Dustin with a look only she could explain, because it gave him the impression she wanted to throw up. "Um, I'm okay. He," she pointed at Dustin, "made my night." She smiled again at him.

Slim Tower grabbed his temporary date by the hand and pulled her back to their circle of friends, leaving Dustin to stand there with his hands in his pockets pondering his next move. The soft thud of heels on the hardwood floor caused him to look up. She hurried back to him and sprung up onto her toes to engulf him in a huge hug.

"Thank you," she whispered.

She pressed something soft into the palm of his hand. Just like that, she was gone – swallowed up by her friends. Dustin opened his hand, revealing a napkin. He grinned, then gently folded it and placed it in his back pocket.

Twenty-five minutes remained at the junior Prom of '09. Dustin thought about spending that time standing in the same spot. There were other options such as squeezing in one or two more dances, but something felt so comforting about standing still. There was no reason to move. He was lost in the moment. The music faded and the adolescent chants, screams, and laughter descended slowly into silence.

Jake Clark is currently a sophomore double majoring in English and Secondary Education. He is obsessed with films and loves being surrounded by eccentric individuals.