The homecoming committee had transformed the gym into a starry night theme with hundreds of little white Christmas lights strung across the high ceiling. A silver disco ball spun in the middle of the room casting sparkles everywhere.
True to their word, the guys had kept the ladies dancing all evening, mostly in a huge mosh group during the fast songs and pairing off during the slow songs. I had purposely steered clear of Aiden and Jonnie, not wanting to catch her eye while I was supposed to be dancing with my girlfriend. Girlfriend. What did that even mean anymore?
I let Amberlyn drag me back to our table to get a drink of her punch and found several other people milling around resting as well, including Jonnie and Aiden. I averted my gaze and waited with my hands in my pockets while Amberlyn gulped down several long swigs as if she were parched.
“I’m heading to the ladies’ room,” Amberlyn announced. “Anybody else need to go?”
“I do,” one girl answered.
“I’ll come too.” Another girl hopped up, and the three of them headed off in a swish of taffeta dresses, leaving just me, Aiden, and Jonnie at the table.
“What is it with girls all wanting to go to the restroom together?” Aiden asked playfully.
“I dunno,” Jonnie answered. “I’ve never been a girl before.”
I laughed so hard I snorted and Aiden jumped in with the best come back line.
“Yeah, you went straight from tomboy to woman.”
Did she ever. Tonight, in particular. I could barely remember this elegant woman standing before me had caught five touchdown passes the night before. Was she even the same person?
Knowing Jonnie for years skewed my vision of her. She was beautiful inside and out whether she was wearing grubby practice jerseys, full uniform on a Friday night, shorts and a tank top at the beach, or a fancy polka dotted dress that matched her date’s bowtie.
The hair she’d chopped so short the day before preschool had grown into a golden mane that flowed down her back in curls during the school day, was pulled into a sloppy ponytail or braid for practices and games, and tonight was swept up and clipped in place with ribbons that accented her dress.
Oh my gosh. I’m in love with you. I almost said it out loud, right there in front of Aiden and anyone else who might be close enough to hear. The realization hit me like a punch to my gut. I’m in love with Jonnie Gillis.
Aiden cleared his throat, pulling me from my stupor. I forced my gaze over to him and he raised his eyebrows. I couldn’t even react, just allowed my focus to drift back toward Jonnie.
“I’m gonna go find some of those nachos.” Aiden leaned over and kissed Jonnie’s cheek then rose nimbly from his chair. “I’m sure the two of you can find something interesting to talk about while I’m gone.”
And just like that, Jonnie and I stood across from one another, almost alone, for the first time since the fateful night I’d kissed her. My heart raced and my blood pounded in my ears.
As if just there to torment me, the song shifted to “Always” by Bon Jovi. I squeezed my eyes shut. This couldn’t be happening to me. How was I supposed to stand across the table from the woman I had just determined I was in love with and pretend I didn’t want her in my arms?
“Dance with me?” Was I asking or begging? I opened my eyes and met her gaze.
Before I knew what had happened, Jonnie was in my arms and we were somewhere in the darkest corner of the dancefloor swaying to the beat of the most romantic love song that had ever been written by any songwriter as long as the world had been turning. I cursed Jon Bon Jovi for torturing me this way.
My body was pressed way too close to Jonnie’s for anyone in that gym to pretend we were just friends. I couldn’t pretend anymore.
But I had to.
I had to pretend that the silky feel of her form fitting dress didn’t stir emotions inside me I didn’t realize existed. I had to pretend that heady coconut essence of her hair cascading down her face didn’t tickle my nose with my cheek so close to hers. I had to pretend I didn’t know how soft her lips were. I had to pretend my heart wasn’t pounding and my breathing hadn’t increased. I had to pretend I wasn’t in love with her.
As the song ended, we pulled further apart, and a less romantic song began. One calmer and quiet enough for us to have a conversation. My gaze bore into her, wishing I could convey what my heart was experiencing without words.
She was the first to break eye contact. Even though her voice was a mere whisper, I heard her as if she’d shouted in my ear. “Why haven’t you broken up with her yet?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. My hands reached up and smoothed the tendrils of her hair back from her face, fighting the need to pull her close and press my lips to hers.
“Do you care about me?” Jonnie’s voice hitched with unshed emotion.
“You know I do.”
“Do I?” She pulled back, placing her hands on my chest. “Have you given me any reason to have hope?”
“What do you mean?” Panic pressed against my sternum.
“It’s been weeks.” Venom laced her words. “What are you waiting for?”
“I don’t know,” I said again.
“I will not be the other woman,” she said, narrowing her eyes. “I will not be the eligible receiver standing in the endzone wide open and waiting for you to pass me the ball.”
“You’re not,” I insisted. “You’re so much more than that.”
“I’m your playmaker. The one you throw hail Mary passes to because you know she’ll always be there.” Her voice had risen and was gathering the attention of nearby students.
“Jonnie, lower your voice, please.” I pleaded through clenched teeth.
“Why?” she asked much louder and pushed me away. “Are you afraid everyone will find out? I catch every—pass—you—throw.”
With each word she smacked me in the chest, and I moved back a step with each one, cowering like she could actually hurt me. I let her take control of the conversation, wondering where she was going with this football analogy.
“I will always catch every pass you throw.” She stepped closer and grabbed my tie, pulling me close and whispering, “Because I’m your playmaker.”
Jonnie released my tie and shoved me backward.
“So, get your act together, captain.” She spit the words at me then turned with a swish of her polka dotted dress and called over her shoulder. “I’ll see you on the field.”
Jonnie walked purposefully through a parting sea of our classmates straight over to a very stunned Aiden.
“Will you drive me home, please?” She turned and glared at me. “I’ve had enough of homecoming weekend.”