Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? (Part Eight)
The doorbell rang, and Ciel knew it was Jason this time. Joanie was already pacing the living room, wringing her hands, and her date, Keith, sat stiffly on the couch, his eyes following her every move. Keith and Joanie were in Chess Club together. He'd been crushing on her all year and finally got up the nerve to ask her to the dance.
Now it was Ciel's turn to get nervous. Thankfully, her dad was still at work, but her mom was hovering in the foyer with a camera and refused to put it away no matter how much Ciel whined. Her stomach rolled, and she fought the urge to wipe her sweaty palms on the silky material of her dress. She froze halfway to the door at the thought of her outfit. She'd been confident in the dress shop, twirling before the mirror to the tune of oohs and ahs from Joanie and the store clerk, but now she wondered if the dress was too much—or too little.
“Breathe, Ciel. You look stunning.” Susan seemed to intuit the cause of her daughter's insecurity.
Ciel closed her eyes for a moment, remembering how she'd looked in the full-length mirror up in her room earlier. Her dress was midnight blue, trimmed with gold accents. The top was bare at one shoulder but still modest. The bodice was snug to the waist then flared into a full skirt that flirted about the knee. Her gold heels clicked on the floor as she walked to the door.
Taking a deep breath, Ciel welcomed Jason into her house. When she saw how handsome he looked in his navy blue suit, she forgot to be nervous.
“Wow, Ciel . . . you look beautiful.” Jason smiled shyly as he stepped inside. He held a clear plastic container with an orchid nested inside. “I, um . . . brought you a flower.”
“Thanks. You look great.”
Jason's fingers shook as he pinned the corsage to the shoulder of Ciel's dress, but he managed not to stick her.
“Oh, you two look so cute. Smile!” Susan snapped a few pictures in a row.
“Mom!” Ciel rolled her eyes.
After a lot of shuffling around and posing for pictures, the two couples finally made their way outside. A sleek black limo awaited them.
“A limo?” Ciel gasped.
“My big brother owns White Rose Limos. This is on the house.”
“Awesome, man!” Keith bumped fists with Jason.
Fifteen minutes later, the four of them entered the school gym. Subtle colored lights bobbed around the dim room, which was filled with spring flowers made by the art classes. Streamers in pastel colors hung suspended from the ceiling, and the theme was repeated through the cloths draped over the round tables that surrounded the dance floor.
Ciel couldn't get over how grown up Joanie looked. She'd worn a forest green dress, and in place of her usual low-hung pigtails, her light brown hair was piled on top of her head with soft ringlets caressing her neck here and there. She'd even worn contact lenses instead of her trademark big-framed glasses.
“What?” Jason glanced down at Ciel as they swayed on the dance floor.
“Nothing, really.” She shook her head. “Just looking at Jo—how different she looks tonight.”
“She's not the only one, you know.” Jason ran his fingers through the fluffy waves that Joanie had somehow managed to coax Ciel's hair into. He bent his head down and pressed a quick kiss to her lips.
The night seemed full of magic, furtive touches, and stolen kisses away from the prying eyes of the chaperones. Jason managed to twirl Ciel away into whatever dark corner wasn't being watched so they could be alone. Ciel was starting to relax with him and seemed to be drunk on his kisses.
While making out next to the bleachers, Ciel's shoe landed on something lumpy. She bent down and picked up a silver heart ring set with clear stones.
“Oh, look at this! It might be valuable. I wonder if someone lost it tonight.” She held it up to show Jason.
“Yeah, maybe. I'll bring it to one of the chaperones. You want a drink?”
“A drink sounds great.”
Jason grabbed Ciel and twirled her around, causing her to squeal before setting her back on her feet. “Be right back, 'kay?”
Ciel watched her handsome boyfriend weave his way through the crowd, and a shiver of pleasure danced over her skin. Now that they weren't sucking face, she scanned the dance floor, trying to pick out Joanie and Keith.
“What do we have here, girls?” Ashley, one of the cheerleaders, sidled up beside Ciel and bumped her shoulder roughly. Ashley took a quick sip from a silver flask before it disappeared into her handbag.
Sasha and Candy materialized out from under the bleachers as well, giggling cruelly as they crowded Ciel.
“I dunno, Ash . . . I think the president of the Plain Jane Club is trying to dip her fingers in the cheerleaders' stash of hot guys. Tsk.” Sasha leaned her face close, and Ciel could smell the alcohol on her breath.
“Excuse me.” Ciel tried to walk away, but the three cheerleaders herded her deeper into the corner and through the door into the dark, empty hallway. “Hey, we're not supposed to be in here.”
“We're not supposed to be in here,” Candy mocked. “What are you, a hall monitor?”
“You need to get a clue, sister.” Ashley poked a finger against Ciel's chest. “You don't think Jason's really interested in you, do you?”
Ciel kept moving away from the aggressive trio until she felt the cool metal of lockers at her back. With nowhere to go, she inched her way to the right, unwilling to be trapped in a dead-end but unable to reenter the gym.
“It has nothing to do with you, Ashley.” Ciel's voice was just above a whisper.
The girls laughed again as they came at her from different directions. Ciel thought about yelling out, but the pounding pulse of music coming from the gym would surely drown her out.
“Jason is one of us,” Sasha said. “That makes it our business.”
Anger sizzled through Ciel at that, and she stepped in closer to Sasha. “Jason is nothing like you! He doesn't have a mean bone in his body.”
“Whoa! Listen to Plain Jane defend her man. Too bad he's just with you on a bet.” Candy smiled meanly. “He's just trying to deflower a wallflower.”
The bottom dropped out of Ciel's stomach. Could it be true? Was Jason using her? Her mind quickly went over their conversations and the time they'd spent together. She couldn't bring herself to believe that of him.
Ashley smirked. “Don't you watch teen angst movies, Plain Jane? He's just not that into you.”
Ciel turned on her. “Sure I watch teen angst movies. You'd fit right into Mean Girls.”
“Ooooh!” Sasha and Candy said in unison.
“You know what? Jason's not like that. You're just a jealous wench!”
“What the hell did you call me, bitch?” Ashley yelled.
“If the shoe fits!”
The next few minutes were a confusion of girls shrieking threats and insults that finally drew the attention of one of the chaperones.
“Girls . . . GIRLS!” A fist slammed against the lockers, sending a hollow bang through the empty hallway.
All the chattering stopped at once, and the four girls stared at Professor Jeffries.
“What in the world is going on here, ladies?”
It was a mistake to ask a group of agitated teenagers an open-ended question. The four of them began talking at the same time, creating a cacophony of echoing voices that had Professor Jeffries clapping his hands over his ears.
“Enough! In my office, right now. It's just up the hall.”
There were multiple protests, but his booming command to “get moving” put an end to them. Four sullen girls trailed behind him in the semi-darkness until he reached the door to his office and flipped the light on.
They crowded into the small room.
“The four of you should not have been outside the gym. What's all the fighting about?”
“Who started this?”
The three cheerleaders stared at the floor. Ciel's gaze roamed over the small office but avoided Professor Jeffries' face. If the other girls weren't talking, then neither was she.
“If someone doesn't start talking, you're all getting detention next week.” When the silence continued, he sighed deeply. “Okay then. Detention it is.”
“Ciel?” Jason's concerned voice echoed in the hall outside the office.
“She's in here,” Professor Jeffries answered.
Jason entered the room and froze when he saw the occupants. “Ciel? You okay?”
His angry gaze landed on Ashley. “You couldn't give it up, could you, Ash? I told you to stay out of it.”
“Whatever,” Ashley muttered and rolled her eyes.
Professor Jeffries looked around the room. “I'm not going to stick my nose into this, but I don't want to see or hear another scene like that. Understood?”
There were nods and mumbled yesses.
“See you ladies in detention next week. Get out of my office.”
The three cheerleaders filed out into the hallway. Jason took Ciel's hand and asked her again if she was okay.
“Let's go back and dance.”
As Ciel turned to leave, a photo up on a shelf caught her eye—a wedding portrait of Professor Jeffries. The couple stood in silhouette on a beach, facing each other. It was obvious the groom was Paul Jeffries, but the bride's face was obscured by the veil floating around her in the wind. Something wasn't right, but Ciel didn't have time to contemplate it before she was swept down the hall and back into the dance.
Later that night as she lay in bed replaying her evening, seeing the photograph was not one of the moments she chose to relive, and by the next day, she'd completely forgotten about it.
Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SarahAislingAuthor Website: www.sarahaisling.com