Asha smoothed down the front of her prom dress, still unable to believe her mom had done such a good job at replicating the purple gown with a strapless corset top Taylor Swift had worn to the Grammys earlier in the year. Butterflies flitted in her stomach as her eyes traveled up to her flawless makeup and recently styled auburn hair. She wasn’t sure she’d ever looked this good. She took a deep breath. Would Zane notice her as a woman, or would he still think of her as his best friend’s sister? She still found it hard to believe he’d asked her to go with him.
Asha turned as her mother entered the room, her mouth breaking into a wide smile as her mom stopped, her eyes wide. “I knew you’d look gorgeous, but wow! Just wow!”
“I’ll second that,” Thomas Jones said, stepping into the room behind her mother. “Hon, you look amazing.”
Heat flooded Asha’s cheeks. “Thanks, Dad.”
“This Zane Larsen had better treat you well,” he said. “And I mean very well.”
“He will,” Asha said.
“And he’s here.” Asha’s older sister, Steph, popped her head around the door of the bedroom. “He’s waiting for you in the living room. Looking very handsome and very nervous.”
The butterflies returned with force, and Asha took another deep breath. She needed to relax. Zane was Jenna’s brother, and he was a friend. They would be surrounded by their friends at the prom, and it should be a fun night. That was all.
Her father held out his hand. “Ready, my lady?”
Asha smiled and took his hand. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
Zane stood as Asha entered the living room.
His eyes lit up, and his smile widened. “You look stunning, Ash. Truly stunning.” He opened a small plastic box he was holding and took out an exquisite corsage of miniature white roses. It matched the boutonniere attached to his black jacket. “I hope this is okay?”
Asha held out her left wrist. “It’s gorgeous. Thank you.”
“Photo time,” Asha’s mom called and took up the next ten minutes taking hundreds of photos.
“Thank goodness,” Asha said when she and Zane were finally sitting in the car he’d borrowed for the evening. “Let’s get away from here before they stop us for more photos.”
Zane laughed as he pulled away from the curb. “I’d say my mom will be on the phone any minute asking for copies. She was disappointed she wouldn’t see you tonight.”
“She’s busy with Jenna,” Asha said. “I can’t wait to see her dress.”
“She’s been going on about it for weeks,” Zane said. “Some expensive designer thing.” He glanced sideways at her, red splotches creeping across his cheeks. “Your dress is a lot nicer.”
Asha hugged his compliment to her. He’d only say that if he were interested, wouldn’t he? She hoped so because the moment she’d walked into the living room and met Zane’s eyes, she’d felt electricity between them that she hadn’t felt before. Jenna would probably kill her if she got involved with her twin, but she couldn’t help who she was attracted to and hoped Zane was feeling the same way.
The thirty-minute drive to Drayson’s Landing and the high school gymnasium disappeared in a flash of nervous energy. Zane took Asha’s hand as they walked across the parking lot toward the strobe lights and sound of music. He squeezed it, causing ripples of excitement to rush through Asha. His touch was electric. Did he feel it too?
Asha drew in a breath as they walked through the doors of the gymnasium. There was nothing familiar about the large space tonight. She spied at least three disco balls among the silver and blue streamers hanging from the ceiling, and the mirrors along the walls created a fabulous effect as the light reflected on them.
Zane squeezed her hand again. “This is going to be a night to remember.”
Asha grinned as he pulled her onto the dance floor. She had the feeling that tonight was going to be the start of something extraordinary.
Half an hour into their night, still on the dance floor, Asha’s cheeks were hurting from smiling so much. She often heard people talking about living in the moment, and she could honestly say that was precisely what she was doing. Dancing, singing, smiling, and waving at the familiar faces around her. It was hard to believe she’d nearly finished high school.
Asha laughed as Jenna glided onto the dance floor in a tight silver dress with enormous heels and pulled her into a hug. “You look amazing,” Jenna said, looking Asha up and down. “Far too good to be on a date with my brother.”
“Hey,” Zane said. “I can hear you.”
Jenna punched him playfully on the arm. “I’m just saying that Asha should be here with a real date, that’s all. Someone she could have a future with. Not my brother, as great as you are.”
Asha locked eyes with Zane. His expression was full of hope and full of the future. At that moment, she knew Jenna had it wrong. This was an actual date.
“Speaking of dates,” Zane said. “Where’s yours?”
“Getting us drinks. I told him I wanted to come and say hello.”
Asha looked over to the drinks area and saw Alexander, Jenna’s date, picking up two cups of punch.
Her heart flipped as Zane stepped closer, took her by each arm, and leaned in. “I’ll be right back. I just need to use the bathroom.”
“Jenna can keep me company,” Asha said.
“Or Chippy and Jack,” Jenna said as two of Zane’s friends joined them. “I’d better get back to Alex. I’ll find you later, okay?”
Asha nodded and smiled at the two boys she’d known since grade school. “The decorations look fantastic, Jack.”
Jack blushed. “Thank you. We had a great team on the prom committee, and we went all out.”
“It’s a night we’ll all remember,” Asha said.
“And profit from, hopefully,” Chippy said, nudging Jack.
Asha frowned. Profit from? What does that mean? “Financially? Or do you mean… I can’t figure out what else you could mean?”
“Put it this way, Ash, if you can keep your hands out of Zane’s pants tonight, there’ll be some cash in it for you.”
Asha’s mouth dropped open. She looked from Chippy to Jack. “What?”
“I’m saying,” Chippy added, getting Asha’s attention again, “that if you stop at second base, I’ll make it worth your while.”
Second base? She’d been hoping for a kiss from Zane, nothing more.
“But,” Jack added with a grin, “if you’re in the mood to go to third base, I’ll make it worth your while. I’ve got a lot riding on this.”
Asha stared at the two boys, her head shaking slowly. Chippy was known for being crude, but it was unlike Jack. “Jack,” her voice was almost a whisper. “What’s going on?”
Jack broke eye contact with her, his eyes flitting to the ground as a red flush crept up his neck.
Chippy grabbed his friend’s arm. “Come on. You’ll wreck everything if you tell her. No one will win.”
Jack shook Chippy off him and turned to face Asha. “Sorry, Ash. I was just kidding around. I thought you already knew.”
“About the bet.”
Chippy groaned, threw his hands in the air. “How would she know, you idiot?” He walked away.
Jack cleared his throat. “Are you sure you haven’t heard the rumors about the Hope’s Ridge virgin being ripe for the picking?”
Asha shook her head, bile rising in her throat. Was she the Hope’s Ridge virgin?
“The football team has a bet running on you and Zane and how far he’ll get tonight with you.”
“Is that why he asked me to the prom?” She had to force the words out.
Jack shrugged. “I don’t know for sure. But I do know he’ll cash in if he rounds fourth with you tonight.”
An ugly sound escaped Asha’s mouth, and she clamped her hand across it. How could he? I honestly thought there was something between us tonight, something that had future potential, but it was all a bet.
Jack reached across to take her arm, concern filling his eyes. “I’m sorry…”
She didn’t let him finish. She shook his arm away, spun around, and marched toward the exit of the gym.
Zane washed his hands and glanced at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. Nervous energy flitted in his stomach as he thought of Asha and the look they’d shared earlier. It had instantly melted any concern he’d had that she’d accepted his invitation to the prom as a favor to Jenna. She wanted to be here with him.
He took a deep breath and splashed water on his face. He was going to ask her out when he got back on the dance floor. A movie over the weekend would be perfect. The Dark Knight was still playing at the movie theater in Drayson’s Landing. He smiled to himself. He’d love to see that, but he was pretty sure he’d need to let Asha pick a movie; he doubted Batman was her thing. He didn’t care what they saw, as long as he got to sit next to her for the duration of the film.
“Bud,” Matt Law, the high school’s linebacker, clapped him on the back as he entered the bathroom. “How’s your night going?”
“Great,” Zane said, unable to keep the smile from his face. “You?”
Matt shrugged. “Came on my own, so not ideal.” He blushed. “I was going to ask Jenna, but she’d already said yes to Alex.”
Zane raised an eyebrow. “You’re into Jenna?”
Matt laughed. “I think every guy in high school wishes he had a chance with your sister. I’m a realist, though, so don’t worry. She’d never look at me. She’s way out of my league.”
Zane didn’t correct him. Having a twin sister at the same school was difficult. She was attractive, and conversations often stopped when Zane entered the locker room, confirming she was the topic of discussion.
“I’d better get back out there,” Zane said.
Matt nodded. “I’ll catch up with you later.” He raised an eyebrow. “Did you come with someone?”
Zane grinned as he opened the bathroom door. “I did!”
He didn’t respond to Matt’s who? Instead, he strode back to the gym, his eyes scanning the spot he’d left Asha and then the dance floor when he couldn’t see her. He moved slowly among the couples and groups of friends dancing. She was probably with Jenna. But he saw Jenna on the far side of the dance floor, her arms around Alex as they swayed to the slow music that was playing. He walked over to her.
“Sorry to interrupt, but have you seen Ash?”
Jenna’s head turned as she scanned the room. “I left her with Chippy and Jack. Jack’s still over there.” She pointed to where the tall blonde-haired boy stood chatting with Heidi, a girl from their class.
“Thanks.” Zane walked over to Jack and smiled at Heidi. “Sorry to interrupt. I’m just wondering if you know where Asha went?”
Jack’s cheeks colored immediately.
“I’m not sure. I think she left.”
Zane’s heart sank. “What? Why would she do that?”
Jack shrugged, his eyes not meeting Zane’s. “Maybe she wasn’t feeling well.”
Zane hurried to the exit of the gym. Their biology teacher, Mr. Boya, was by the door. “Excuse me, sir, have you seen Asha?”
Boya nodded. “She left about five minutes ago.”
“Did you see who she left with?”
“She went with Cathy Walker.”
Zane nodded his thanks and hurried toward the parking lot. Cathy had already said she was leaving and driving back to the Ridge. Asha must have gone with her. But why?
He got his answer thirty minutes later when he stood at the front door of the Jones’s house.
“She’s not feeling good, Zane,” Sue Jones said.
“But why didn’t she wait for me? I was only in the bathroom for five minutes, and she’d gone by the time I got back. We were having a great time up until then.”
“I'm sorry, that’s all I know. She went straight to bed.” She leaned against the doorjamb. “Are you sure nothing happened? She said she threw up earlier, but it looks like more to me than that.”
“Nothing happened. We were only in the gym a short time. We danced, said hello to Jenna and a few friends, and that’s all.” He ran a hand through his dark hair. “I must be the worst date ever.”
“I’ll have her call you when she’s feeling better, okay?”
Zane nodded. She wasn’t going to let him talk to her daughter tonight. That was very obvious.
“Why don’t you go back to the dance,” Sue said. “I’m sure you’ll have a great time.”
Zane forced a smile. “Okay, thanks, Mrs. Jones.” He turned and slowly walked back to his dad’s car—what a letdown. The night had held so much promise. He just hoped Asha was okay, and he hoped that she’d call him.
But she didn’t. He spent a miserable weekend glued to his phone, willing it to ring and willing it to be Asha. But she didn’t call. He called her several times and just got her voicemail, so he stopped by to check on her in person. Steph repeated what her mother had told him the night of prom. “She’s in bed, Zane. She says she’s not feeling well. I’m not sure what’s wrong with her, but I think she’ll be back at school tomorrow.” She rolled her eyes. “You have to be dying here to be allowed a day off school.”
Zane managed a small smile. “Okay, thanks. I’ll see her at school.” And he did see her at school—saw her deliberately avoid him. He tried five times to get her to talk to him, but she ignored him each time until the fifth time, when she practically spat at him: “I’m not interested in anything you have to say, Zane. Leave me alone. The prom was a big mistake.”
A mistake? How had the most exciting night he’d probably ever experienced go from an immense possibility to being crushed? It didn’t make any sense. Chippy clapped him on the back and draped an arm across his shoulders as Asha stormed off. “Women, heh,” Chippy said. “We’ll never understand them.”
Zane allowed his friend to guide him to their next classroom, realizing those were probably the most accurate words Chippy had ever spoken.