Prom Nights from Hell (Chapter Six)
"I'm such an idiot-why didn't I think of it before?"
"Wait. Don't do it, don't make the-" She broke off. I heard a "whoops," followed by drunken apologies and someone saying, "Oh, I love your dress!" It sounded like everyone was having fun. I'd soon be having fun with them.
I made it to the den and approached the bookshelf where I'd left the corsage. I patted the tops of the books and then the space behind them. My fingers found softness, like petals of skin.
"I'm back," Yun Sun said. The background sounds had diminished, suggesting she'd stepped outside. "And, Frankie, I know you're hurting. I know that. But what happened to Will was just a coincidence. A terrible, terrible coincidence."
"Call it what you want," I said. "I'm making my second wish." I plucked the corsage from behind the books.
Yun Sun's anxiety intensified. "Frankie, no, you can't!"
"He fell from three hundred feet! His body was… they said he was mangled beyond… that's why they had a closed casket, remember?"
"He's been rotting in a coffin for thirteen days!" she cried.
"Yun Sun, that is a tasteless thing to say. Honestly, if it were Jeremy being brought back to life, would we even be having this conversation?" I drew the flowers to my face, lightly touching the petals with my lips. "Listen, I've got to go. But save some punch for me! And Will! Ooo, make that lots of punch for Will-I bet he'll be absolutely crazed with thirst!"
I flipped my phone shut. I held the corsage aloft.
"I wish for Will to be alive again!" I cried exultantly.
The stench of decay thickened the air. The corsage curled, as if the petals were shrinking in on themselves. I flung it away on autopilot, just as I'd shake off an earwig that chanced to light on my hand. But whatever. The corsage wasn't important. What was important was Will. Where was he?
I glanced around, ridiculously expecting him to be sitting on the sofa, looking at me like You're scared of a bunch of dried flowers? Pitiful!
The sofa was empty, a gloomy, looming shape by the wall.
I darted to the window and peered out. Nothing. Just the wind, fluttering the leaves on the trees.
"Will?" I said.
Again nothing. A tremendous well of disappointment opened inside me, and I sank into my father's leather armchair.
Stupid Frankie. Stupid, foolish, pathetic me.
Time passed. Cicadas chirped.
And then, so faint, a thud. And then another. I straightened my spine.
Gravel popped on the road… or maybe the driveway? The thuds came closer. They were labored and with the odd offbeat of a limp, or of something being dragged.
I strained to hear.
There-a thump, ten feet away on the porch. A thump that was distinctly inhuman.
My throat closed as Yun Sun's words wormed back to me. Mangled, she'd said. Rotting. I wasn't paying attention before. Now it was too late. What had I done?
I jumped out of the chair and fled to the entry hall, safe from the eyes of anyone-or anything-who might choose to peer through the den's wide windows. What, exactly, had I brought back to life?
A knock echoed through the house. I whimpered, then clapped my hand over my mouth.
"Frankie?" a voice called. "I'm, uh… yikes. I'm kind of a mess." He laughed his self-deprecating laugh. "But I'm here. That's the important thing. I'm here to take you to prom!"
"We don't have to go to prom," I said. Was that me sounding so shrill? "Who needs prom? I mean, seriously!"
"Yeah, sure, this from the girl who would kill for the perfect romantic evening." The knob rattled. "Aren't you going to let me in?"
There was a series of plops, like overripe strawberries being dropped into the trash, and then, "Aw, dude. Not good."
"Will?" I whispered.
"This is so uncool… but do you have any stain remover?"
Holy crap. Holy, holy, holy crap.
"You're not mad, are you?" Will asked. He sounded worried. "I came as fast as I could. But it was so frickin' weird, Frankie. Because, like…"
My mind flew to airless caskets, deep in the ground. Please, no, I thought.
"Forget it. It was weird-let's leave it at that." He tried to lighten things up. "Now are you going to let me in, or what? I'm falling to pieces out here!"
I pressed my body against the hall wall. My knees buckled, I wasn't doing too well with muscle control, but I reminded myself that I was safe behind the solid front door. Whatever else he was, Will was still flesh and bones. Well, partially. But not yet a ghost who could move through walls.
"Will, you've got to go," I said. "I made a mistake, okay?"
"A mistake? What do you mean?" His confusion broke my heart.
"It's just… oh God." I started crying. "We're not right for each other anymore. You understand, don't you?"
"No, I don't. You wanted me to ask you to prom, so I asked you to prom. And now for no good reason… ohhh! I get it!"
"You don't want me to see you! That's it, isn't it? You're nervous about how you look!"
"Um…" Should I run with this? Should I say yes just so he would leave?
"Frankie. Dude. You have nothing to worry about." He laughed. "One, you're beautiful; and two, compared to me, there's no way you won't look like… I don't know, an angel from heaven."
He sounded relieved, as if he'd had a niggling sense of something being off, but couldn't quite place his finger on it. But now he knew: It was Frankie having self-esteem issues, that's all! Silly Frankie!
I heard a shuffling, and then the bump of a small wooden lid. My body tensed, because I knew that bump.
The milk box-crap. He'd remembered the key in the milk box.
"I'm letting myself in," he called, slump-thumping back to the front door." 'Kay, Franks? 'Cause all of a sudden I'm, like, dying to see you!"
He laughed, jubilant. "I mean, wait, that came out wrong… but, heck, guess that's the theme of the night. Everything's coming out wrong-and I do mean everything!"
I fled to the den, where I got on my hands and knees and frantically patted the floor. If only it weren't so dark!
The deadbolt stuck, and Will jangled the key. His breathing was clotted.
"I'm coming, Frankie!" he called. Jangle, jangle. "I'm coming as fast as I can!"
My fear ratcheted so high that I was thrown into an altered state of reality. I was gasping and crying out, I could hear myself, and my hands were blind feelers, pawing and slapping as I crawled.
With a thunk, the bolt slid home.
"Yes," Will crowed.
The door swished over the frayed carpet at the exact instant my fingers closed on the crumbling corsage.
"Frankie? Why is it so dark? And why aren't you-"
I squeezed my eyes shut and spoke my final wish.
All sounds ceased, save for the rustle of wind in the leaves. The door, continuing its slow trajectory, bumped against the doorjamb. I stayed where I was on the floor. I sobbed, because my heart was breaking. No, my heart was broken.
After several moments, the cicadas once again took up their yearning chorus. I rose to my feet, stumbled across the room, and stood, shivering, in the open doorway. Outside, a pale shaft of moonlight shone on the deserted road.