“We can never tell anyone this happened,” I pleaded with Olivia in the study of my parents’ house. Olivia nodded solemnly. I could tell by her distant gaze that she was still processing the events of the night.

And then we both cried. A deep and sorrowful cry of despair, that only angsty teenagers who feel everything has gone wrong, can cry. In solidarity, we shed the desolate tears of girls who were so desperately on the brink of social rebellion and romance, but were not quite there yet.

We never could have predicted this evening would have turned out the way it did. Especially not two weeks prior, when we’d skipped our 11th grade English class to concoct the most intricate scheme of our young lives. We had worked so hard on arranging the evening of our semi-formal.

“So, I’ll tell my parents I’m sleeping over at your house,” Olivia recapped as we sat in our dusty school hallway, leaning back against the dented metal lockers.

I detected a flaw. We couldn’t let any slide. One false move and our whole plan could unravel. I challenged, “but won’t my mom think it’s weird that we’re dropping off your overnight bag at Alpson’s after she takes us to get our hair and makeup done?”

Olivia nodded thoughtfully. She suggested, “what if we tell her I’m sleeping over at my cousin’s house, and they’re picking me up from Alpson’s after the dance.”

“But why would your family pick you up from Alpson’s instead of straight from the hall itself?” I smiled with self-satisfaction; I loved this part of the planning. The attention to detail required for things to go smoothly was our forte. While we were no amateurs to the scheming game, we had never pulled off something quite as elaborate as this. We had to be extra scrupulous with the details.

“Oh, I know!” Olivia’s eyes flashed with excitement. She’d come up with something good. “We have to drop my clothes off at Alpson’s because they live right around the corner, in that neighborhood! And my aunt and uncle are out of town, so I’m going to walk to their house after semi to see my cousins.”

“Yes, yes,” I added, “and they’re busy during the day, so you can’t drop it off at their place, and you don’t want to bring a huge bag to semi!”

“What are they busy with?” Countered Olivia.

“A soccer tournament,” I responded so quickly that it worried me a bit. Were our powers of deceit too strong?

“And my cousins love Alpson’s milkshakes, so they’re going to come meet me there after dance, and we’ll walk home together.” Olivia completed the narrative.

“Right.” It was almost perfect. “But how do I tell my mom that we’re getting from the semi-formal to Alpson’s?”

“A friend from school?” Olivia shrugged.

That would actually become the most incredulous part of this fictitious tale. We didn’t have any friends from school. Not really. Not the kind of friends who would dress up to attend a school-sanctioned event on a Saturday night. No, only the popular, preppy kids would be attending this year’s semi-formal dance. Them, and us.

Luckily, my mom didn’t know any of that. She mostly believed everything I told her. Even if she found it peculiar that we had to drop off Olivia’s overnight bag at the restaurant we both worked in, she never mentioned it. In fact, the day of semi, she was more concerned with the fact that I’d worn tight socks all morning, and now I’d have to wear my dress with wrinkly sock creases on my legs.

At the semi-formal, Olivia had secured us three seats at a table with some other quiet kids in our grade. The third seat stayed open all night; it had been for her boyfriend Wilbur in phase one of our master plan. But when he’d informed us he would not be in attendance, a few days prior, we quickly made adjustments. We didn’t speak to anyone except for each other, gossiping about our classmates the entire evening.

Wilbur agreed he would still pick us up from the dance, after dinner. Since he was older, we’d asked him to buy us some alcohol, so we could get wasted like the rest of the kids in our grade would be doing that evening. Eventually, Wilbur would drop me off at home, and he and Olivia would spend the rest of the night together. It was so romantic.

Before dessert, Wilbur texted Olivia that he would be at the hall soon to pick us up. The dancing hadn’t started yet, but I didn’t mind at all. It was the perfect way to avoid the humiliation of not getting asked to dance. Instead, we made a grand early exit through the back steps of the hall, our pale legs peaking out through the slits in our floor length gowns. I felt so glamorous.

The sentiment continued when we arrived at Alpson’s. While our coworkers looked greasy in their uniforms and hairnets, we dazzled them with our elegance and grace. We took much longer than we needed picking up Olivia’s one duffel bag. I think personally, this was one of the main reasons I agreed to go along with the whole ridiculous scheme. I wanted my coworkers to see how good I could actually look.

It wasn’t until after we left Alpson’s that Wilbur delivered some bad news. Not only had he not brought any alcohol, he also was no longer able to spend the evening with Olivia. He didn’t explain why, just that he had somewhere else to be. Devastation swept through her voice as she asked him where she was supposed to go now. She’d already told her parents that she was sleeping over at my house.

Naturally, the first thought that jumped to my mind was that she could actually just go to her cousin’s house. Then I remembered that all of it, from their residence to their weekend activities to their actual existence had actually just been part of a web of lies. The fact that I could forget that even for a second worried me again. It seemed pathological.

“Maybe you could tell your parents that I’m sick, and you have to go home?” I suggested to Olivia when Wilbur offered her no solutions. The side glance that she gave me made it clear that my solution was most unwelcome. I tried to sink into the skunky back seat. I should have known she didn’t want to go home. A few minutes later, I was on the phone with my mom. Now, Olivia’s cousins were sick, probably food poisoning from something they’d eaten after soccer, and I asked if she could sleep over at our house instead. Without any questions, my mom agreed and said she’d lay out a mattress on the floor in my bedroom for her. Crisis averted.

On the way to my house, in what I can only imagine was an attempt to smooth things over with Olivia, Wilbur asked if we wanted to try driving his car. Whoa! We didn’t even have our learner’s permits yet. But we certainly had big dreams about the ways we would ditch class when we finally were able to drive. Wilbur pulled his old, clunky, manual transmission Honda Civic into the local high school parking lot and gave us both a turn behind the wheel.

Olivia went first, and she was a natural. Great. She cruised around the empty parking lot for a few minutes before we switched seats. Behind the wheel, the second the car began to move, I panicked. I hit the brakes hard and stalled the car. I was done. No more driving for me. I mentally added it to the long list of things Olivia could do better than I could.

As soon as we got home, we hopped on the family computer in the study. We signed onto MSN, but realized that nobody was online because it was only 9:30pm. Everyone was probably still at the dance, or at the after parties we hadn’t been invited to. They were probably drinking and having a good time, like we were supposed to be. This was supposed to be our night of fun and freedom, and we were home before curfew. And we didn’t even have a curfew!

That’s when Olivia and I vowed not to ever tell anyone about our evening. It seemed so pitiful at the time. So embarrassing. We succumbed to wallowing in self-pity, ungraciously accepting our loser status. Secretly, I was glad I had Olivia to be a loser with me. That her secret lover’s rendezvous had been cancelled. She wasn’t so far ahead of me. I still had time to catch up.

“What if we change our MSN statuses to this,” I suggested, once we were over the initial stage of grief. I typed, “we drove.” Olivia gave me a half smile and added the “cool” emoticon, the one wearing the sunglasses. Somehow, that made us feel a bit better.

“You know,” I suggested, feeling a little bolder now, “we can still get wasted tonight. My parents have alcohol.”

To the pantry, we marched. I grabbed the first bottle I found. It had a clear brown liquid inside. I searched the shelves, finally retrieving a couple of my brother’s souvenir shot glasses and poured us each a shot to the brim. We looked at each other with excited apprehension before clinking our glasses together and downing them back.

“It tastes like burning!” I cry whispered, after the initial gag. Olivia doubled over, laughing out loud and nodding in agreement. I nonchalantly glanced over at the bottle to ensure I hadn’t accidentally poured us shots of rubbing alcohol. The label read, “whiskey.” I couldn’t believe people drank something that tasted as appalling as this.

We managed to drink two more shots each before we heard my dad’s heavy footsteps heading toward the kitchen. He called out, “Lexi!? What are you doing!?”

We quickly hid the shot glasses behind the bottles on the pantry shelf. Thinking fast, I grabbed the big yellow tub of Nesquick chocolate powder and emerged from the pantry. I explained, a little too upbeat, “We’re making chocolate milk!”

From inside the pantry, Olivia stifled more giggles. My dad gave me a funny look, but accepted the answer and disappeared again. We had one more shot, and then for credibility’s sake, we really did make ourselves two glasses of chocolate milk.

Our proposed wild and crazy night of freedom ended with Olivia and I sipping chocolate milk in my bedroom watching a rerun of 7th Heaven. We watched intently as the Camden kids learned some valuable lessons about life. We poked fun at the cheesiness of the show throughout the entire episode. By the time the credits rolled, our tears had long dried, and our party dresses lay strewn across the room.

Through giggles, I declared, “we’re such losers. We can never tell anyone this happened.”

And then we both laughed. A deep belly laugh that only vulnerable teenagers at the peak of emotional turmoil can laugh. The hearty laughs of teenage girls so desperately on the brink of romance and social rebellion, but not quite there yet. But at least we had each other.

2005

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7 thoughts on “The Semi-Formal

  1. “I smiled with self-satisfaction; I loved this part of the planning. The attention to detail required for things to go smoothly was our forte.” Brings back some very old and very fond memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you can relate! I was worried I would sound too much like a sociopath. If only we had applied that level of dedication to our school work.. but then I’d probably have less stories to tell.

      Thanks for reading 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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