Fear is our most base instinct. Fear can be a good thing. In our days in the animal kingdom, fear kept early humans alive.

Today fear can be a hell of a motivator; it can also be a hell of a debilitator. The latter is what I felt as I tried to remember whether the tie went up and over or down and under to make the knot. My shaky hands weren’t helping. So maybe I wasn’t being chased by some predator of the wild, but I might have preferred that. It was prom season at Terraceville High and I was trying my darnedest not to throw up all over my rented tux. Well, it wasn’t called a prom but a “Summer Jubilee.” It was an end-of-year dance for upperclassmen. A huge empty lot was rented out and decorated with all sorts of lights, balloons, and shiny things. Local restaurants would cater the event, alongside local bands playing their music, and a variety of carnival games. The whole town got involved. Picture a prom and a carnival having a baby and you’ll sort of have an idea about it.

I had never been to a school dance before, well, never with an actual date. My friend Ryan and I once went as each other’s “date” during 8th grade formal. It was supposed to be a prank, our protest of the establishment, but in reality we didn’t have the guts to ask anyone. And yes, before you ask, Ryan was the perfect gentleman. This time was different. This time I had an actual date, Dallas Briggs. Dal and I grew up together and had play dates so asking her to be my actual date just made sense.

I waited until biology had just ended and the dissected frogs were off the table before I asked her. I think she thought that I was having a stroke of some kind. What I thought I said was, “Hey Dal, I was wondering if you wanted to go to the Summer Jubilee with me?”

What actually came out was something along the lines of: “HeyDalwaswonderingifwantedgotoSummerJubleemewith?” Utter verbal diarrhea. She said yes… after she stopped laughing.

I tried to rush out of the house to pick her up before my parents stopped me to take pictures– I was late enough as it is. I was almost to the door when my mom came out of seemingly nowhere camera in hand. After an eternity of pictures in various poses in various spots around the house, with various family members (and pets), I was free to leave to pick up Dal.

“Now, you remembered the corsage, right?” My mother asked. The cherry on top. The final piece of Dal’s outfit. It was my responsibility as I had promised to get it for her. It was a beautiful pink rose that would match her dress.

“Of course. I picked it up this morning. I’m all set. Can I get going now or is the photo shoot still going on?”

She nudged me playfully before hugging me and wished me a good night. How could she think I would forget the corsage? I had spent the entire night before obsessing over every detail and planning everything out in order to ensure a smooth evening. Everything would be perfect. I was taking my dad’s truck. It was an old Ford that had seen better days. Not a stretch limo, but it would do. I didn’t know what to expect when I got to Dal’s house. I was sure there would be more pictures, but I didn’t know who would be greeting me. I was nervous. I knew her mom and her dad, but it felt like I was meeting them for the first time. There was a kind of formality in the air as if I had come to ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage.

Her dad gave me a firm handshake, one that left my hand pounding for about twenty minutes. Her mom’s photo shoot lasted longer than the one I had just come from, but I didn’t mind. I didn’t mind that my hand felt like it would fall off, nor did I mind taking pictures next to Dal’s grandmother who smelled like mothballs. None of it bothered me. I was too focused on Dal, who looked beautiful. She was wearing a long pink dress, the kind that Cinderella might have worn to a ball. Her blonde hair was done up and her blue eyes were beyond captivating. My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest, but I didn’t mind that either.

We finally got into my dad’s truck. Her mom hugged her and wiped away some tears from her eyes. We pulled away from the house and I felt myself relax a bit. We would soon be having fun with our friends. The scary part was over.

“You look really pretty. Like very pretty. The prettiest. I’m going to stop speaking now.” I felt my face go red.

“Thank you.” She smiled, I melted, “And you look very handsome yourself.”

Things had gone perfectly I couldn’t believe it.

“Hey…” I heard her voice from far away as if I was in a dream. “Did you remember to get my corsage?” This wasn’t real. This had to be a dream.

Images of the corsage sitting on my nightstand flashed before my eyes.

Shain Miles is an occasional writer of words.

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Every Day Fiction