Bec texts me that night to confirm the time of setup in the morning, but I can’t help noticing she uses a lot of emojis. Did she always use that many with me? Or is she trying to send me a coded message? She didn’t use the rainbow emoji or the peace sign, so it’s hard for me to tell if she’s even into girls. I spend too much time wondering about it and not enough time actually sleeping. By the next morning, I’m exhausted and still as confused.
I don’t see Bec during the morning walk-through. The football field is filled with a bunch of volunteers setting up the stage near one of the goalposts and the tents where vendors will sell snacks and drinks and blowing up balloons. I try not to act like I’m looking for her as I pass Ginny mixing buckets of fake blood. Ginny calls my name, but I just give a quick wave as I keep walking. I know it’s fake, but my breakfast will not settle in my stomach if I look at the blood.
Speaking of feeling nauseous, I see blonde hair swishing from the corner of my eye and brace myself.
“Ohmygod, Ash!” Fraya croons, making it impossible to ignore her.
I put a fake smile on and manage a, “Hey, Fraya! Good to see you.”
Even though it’s definitely not good to see her. She beams at me and gestures to the setup.
“I just came to see if you needed any help,” she says. “I mean, after the… lack of planning with the ticket sales, I thought you might need extra hands for the setup.” She lets out an airy laugh. “What do you need?”
You far away.
“We’ve actually got everything under control,” I reply in a forced polite tone. “And it wasn’t so much of a lack of planning as giving the wrong people responsibility.”
She blanches at that, and I can’t help but feel a rush of pride. I mean, I didn’t fully call her out like I should, but I didn’t let her get away with it either, right?
Maybe that’s not the right move. I shouldn’t be actively making enemies. Oh, I might’ve just messed up.
“I mean,” I begin with a stammer. “I just mean that… um—”
“Hey, Ash!” a zombie calls. “We’re waiting for you!”
I have to do a double take so I don’t run away screaming. It’s not a real zombie, I realize. I’m pretty sure it’s just a member of the theater club in heavy makeup.
“You should go,” Fraya replies icily. “I’d hate for anything else to go wrong for the Bash. Who knows what’d that do for the election next year?”
“We’ve got everything under control, but thanks for your concern,” I say with what I hope is a confident smile.
“Me and… everyone,” I manage with a laugh. “You know, the volunteers and… people.”
“Of course,” Fraya says, raising a brow at me. “Hopefully everyone won’t screw it up for you.”
She leaves me with a hair toss and a quick scowl at the theater club, who seems to be getting more and more impatient for me. I drag my feet towards the zombie, who’s now joined by a bloody vampire and someone covered in what looks like chalk (maybe a ghost? I wish Bec were here to tell me).
“Hey, we’re gonna do a dress rehearsal,” the chalk-faced one says.
I should know her name, but I can’t think of it at the moment. I’m too distracted by her makeup, which looks very realistic. She has a long gash across her face, and her dress is in ribbons. She catches me glancing.
“I’m going to add the fake blood later,” she says.
“Oh,” I reply. “Of course.”
I can feel the muffin I ate this morning creeping up my esophagus.
“The others are mostly ready too,” she adds. “Do you wanna walk through? It’ll obviously be scarier tonight when it’s darker.”
“So people come through here,” she says, waving to the doors in front of us.
Usually, it’s the way to the locker rooms and bathrooms. Now it probably leads to some level of hell. She’s giving me an expectant look.
“Where the zombie will pop up and start chasing them through—” she continues “—oh, do you want Lane to start chasing you to get the full experience?”
The zombie looks a little too excited at this thought.
“Oh, I’d… love to have a walk-through,” I begin with a forced laugh, looking at the ground like it can save me. “But I actually… uh—”
“She needs to help set-up the stage,” a voice cuts in.
I feel a hand wrap around my wrist and look up. Bec raises a brow at me and gives my hand a tug.
“You said you’d help, like, ten minutes ago,” she says in an accusatory tone. “I don’t know how you want it set up.”
“Oh, right!” My voice comes out higher than I hope, and I can feel myself sweat. “I can totally come help you now. I, uh, have total confidence in the Haunted Maze. House. Thing. I’m sure it’s gonna be great!”
“Alright, well, make sure you swing by tonight!” the girl calls as I practically run away.
I give Bec a grateful look, and she smiles. Then drops my hand quickly with a flush. I can’t help but notice she’s in a black tank top, showing off muscular arms, even though it’s cool outside.
“You’ve made it so far without letting anyone know what a scaredy-cat you are,” she says. “I figured I’d help you out a bit.”
“Yeah, I think me crying already would have been a sure giveaway,” I reply.
My hand feels a little tingly, but that’s probably because Bec had held my hand so tight to pull me away. She leads me to the stage, which is already mostly assembled.
“The band will set up their instruments and do a sound check in a few hours,” Bec says. “But you mentioned we have to have a table near the stage?”
“Yeah, for the Best Costume awards,” I say. “Principal Crowe will come on stage at ten o’clock and give the sashes.”
“Oh, sashes,” Bec says in a joking tone. “Well, maybe I should’ve put more thought into my costume then.”
“I know you’re joking, but it’s a really big deal,” I say. “People vote all night, and I know some girls who plan their costume, like, year round.”
“Nothing better to do?”
“And the couple costumes category can get really intense,” I add. “Last year three couples broke up after they didn’t win.”
“Wow, no, yeah, I see it’s really serious,” Bec replies with a straight face. “There are futures at stake. I’m guessing you’ve had yours planned for months, then.”
I just roll my eyes in response. I could tell her that I don’t really care about the costume categories either. Especially since there are only a handful of costumes I could pull off… or get a lot of comments about my “creativity” for “re-imagining” popular costumes as half-Asian. Usually, I just end up going as a black cat or a witch (both only require black clothes and a bit of makeup magic).
“So what’s your costume going to be?” I ask. “Something straight out of a horror film?”
“Why ruin the surprise?” she asks.
“Well, if I don’t know who you’re supposed to be, how can I find you tonight?” I say before I can stop myself.
A flush spreads across my face as the corners of Bec’s mouth turn up.
“Are you going to be looking for me?” she teases.
“In case there’s a problem,” I add a little too late. “You know, most people here can’t even assemble these tables without supervision.”
“Well, I’m sure I’ll find you,” she replies, her smile not faltering.
It’s like she can see through my weak excuse. I brush my hand through my hair, getting my fingers tangled in a few knots. Oh god, how bad is my hair right now?
“Well, I need to—” I begin, looking around quickly for an excuse.
“Hey, so there’s—” Bec says at the same time.
We both pause and awkwardly gesture at the other to complete her sentence. Bec chuckles and I give a nervous laugh.
“You go ahead,” I say.
I still can’t find an excuse to leave, and now I’m not sure if I need one.
“Oh, I was just,” Bec says with a casual shrug. “I saw that there’s a music festival not too far from here next weekend. The Babes in Black will be there, along with some other local groups that look cool.”
“Wow, that sounds—” I say, feeling my heart skip a beat— “um… cool?”
Please be what I think this is. Please be what I think this is.
“Yeah, and tickets weren’t expensive at all, since they’re all local,” Bec continues with a sheepish smile. “I was so excited that I bought two… before realizing I don’t really know anyone else who’d want to go.”
It sounds like she’s asking me out. The thought races across my mind, and it feels like my heart is about to jump into my throat.
“I’m sure after tonight there will be a lot of fans of the Babes in Black,” I say, and then mentally kick myself.
Did I just suggest she should find someone else to take? The look on her face tells me that’s what it sounded like to her.
“But if that ticket’s up for grabs,” I add quickly. “I can add my name to the waiting list?”
Her smile reappears.
“Only on one condition,” she says. “We take my motorcycle this time.”
“C’mon, Park,” she groans. “Live a little.”
“I’d like to stay alive actually,” I retort. “We can take my car, though… Maybe I’ll even let you be in charge of music on the way there and back.”
“You drive a hard bargain. But okay.”
Her eyes are bright and her smile actually looks genuine, not like she’s secretly laughing at me. I never realized how warm her brown eyes are when they aren’t glaring at me or rolling them. And then I realize I’m totally just ogling her in public. I look away quickly, feeling the flush return to my cheeks. Someone is waving at me from a half-assembled table.
“Oh, I gotta go check that,” I say quickly.
I don’t mean to run, but the pace at which I walk away could be considered at least a light jog.
“See you later!” Bec calls.
I try to stop the smile that’s taking up half my face as my brain keeps making my heart do flips in my chest.
Did I just make a date?