Straight Edge
Erin Conner
I poked at my mountain of peas sitting on my dinner plate as Dad started rambling on about wedding plans again. My older sister Emily was getting married next summer, which was over a year away, but he couldn’t help himself.

Oh, and we need to go dress shopping soon,” he said.
“Dad, I have plenty of time,” Emily replied. “Angela and I were going to go shopping next weekend.”
“But I have to work next weekend!” he protested.
“It is our wedding, Dad. I think Angela and I will be fine on our own.”
“But I wanna go!” he almost whined.
I could see Pim behind Dad getting the chicken out of the oven. Pim was our other Dad. Most parents just let their kids call them by their first name to cut down on confusion, but not our family. They wanted to keep it as traditional as possible. Rather than calling them both “Dad,” we called Jack “Pim.” They said that’s what Anne Frank called her father. I still thought it was lame.
Dad turned his head toward Pim. “Do you think I could try to get off work?”
“I don’t know, hon,” Pim responded.
All the wedding stuff made me sick. My parents obsessed over this stuff. When Emily told us that she had proposed to Angela, it was like they were two sticks of wedding dynamite, and she had just lit fire to their butts.
“Kat?”
I snapped back into reality.
“We’re trying to talk to you,” Pim said, concerned.
“Sorry,” I said half-heartedly, forcing another spoonful of peas in my mouth.
Dad and Pim simultaneously sighed. “Have you made any plans for prom yet?” Dad asked.
Not prom. Could we talk about anything else? “No, I haven’t really thought about it,” I lied.
I saw Pim nudge Dad. “Sweetie,” Dad started, “Your father and I are worried about you.”
I looked over to Emily for support, but she was just staring down into her plate of chicken.
“You don’t talk to us anymore,” Pim continued for Dad. “We’ve heard all about your friends having dates to prom, and you’ve never even had a girlfriend.”
“Jack!” Dad said, shocked.
“I’m sorry; it’s the truth!” He made eye contact with me again. “Kat, it’s nothing about you. You’re a beautiful girl. It’s just . . . It’s just we heard about a boy asking a girl to prom at your high school, and we’re getting a little paranoid.”
“A straight couple?” Emily chimed in.
Pim got up to refill his glass. “Isn’t it terrifying? Our world is going to hell.”
I heard them say things like this all the time. Heck, I had heard everyone from this town say those things. But it never stopped bothering me.

* * * * *

I slipped my blue sneakers on right after dinner, threw on my letterman and hurried out the door. I just needed to get out of that house.
I could see the sun setting out of the corner of my eye as I worked my way down the sidewalk. The wind tickled the exposed area of my neck that wasn’t protected by my massive braid.
Then I arrived at my destination: the bridge.
I saw its beams, old with flaking red paint. I saw the rushing, clear water beneath it. I saw its welcoming wooden base.
I sat in my spot: right in the middle of the left side, in the crook of the triangle created by the base and two crossing beams. I looked down at my swinging, blue-sneakered feet, and the dancing waters beneath it, and let my mind dance with it.

* * * * *

“Kat!”
I shook my head to snap back into reality. “Yes?” I replied hazily.
“What did you write for number 45?” Mrs. Hallet asked.
“Um, 17x.”
She hesitated, surprised. “Correct,” she said, sort of sourly. Math was my strong subject, and I didn’t need to put forth much effort.
When the bell rang, I scooped up my books and began walking out the door, but was stopped by a hand.
“Wait, Kat?”
“Yeah?” I replied to a voice ever so familiar.
It was Anthony. The most beautiful boy I had ever met. And the cause of all my troubles.
“I’m really struggling in this chapter,” he said, with the cutest pleading crooked smile I had ever seen. “Do you think there is any way you could help me out?”
I cleared my throat. “What do you mean?”
He laughed, ever so slightly. “Can I just get your number so I can call you with questions?”
“Um, sure.” I rustled through my math binder for a scrap of paper. I scribbled down my number, maybe a little too quickly, and handed it to him.
He put the paper in his pocket then put his hand on my shoulder. “Thanks so much, Kat.” He flashed a smile before scurrying away. I could still feel where his hand was on my shoulder. It was warm. I realized my cheeks were too.

* * * * *

“I think Tyler is going to ask me.”
The continuous prom conversation at my usual lunch table remained the hot topic, and the topic that revolted me.
“Kat, when are you going to ask Jamie?” one of them asked me.
I just looked at them all stare at me. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know if she’ll say yes.” That was a lie. I knew she would say yes.
“Are you kidding me? Of course she will!” The hubbub continued. I just wanted to disappear.
“Kat, this is getting ridiculous. We need to be making plans by now. Do you even have a dress?”
I could feel the blood rushing through my veins. “What if I just asked Anthony?”
I wanted to put the words back in my mouth as soon as I said them. They all just stared at me.
“What?” an astonished voice finally croaked.
I looked at the center of the table to avoid looking at their judgmental faces. I could feel my face reddening. “Yeah,” I finally choked out, “like, would that be weird?”
“Yeah, it would be weird. It would be very weird. Kat, what’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing. Nothing is wrong.” I was backtracking at this point. “I was just seeing how you guys would react.”
“Don’t do that to us, Kat. Not cool.”

* * * * *

Dinner was brutal. More wedding plans, more questions about prom.
Then my pocket buzzed.
I looked down while Pim was rambling on about floral arrangements to the word lighting up on my screen: Anthony.
“Um, may I be excused?” I was racing the rings.
“Honey, you didn’t even finish your sandwich.”
“That’s okay, I’m not hungry,” I said as I turned the corner to run up the stairs.
I jumped into my room, slammed the door, took a breath, and answered.
“Hello?”
“Well, hello, Kat.” His voice had a hint of crooked smile in it.
Our conversation began with quadratic formulas, but before I knew it, we were talking about oblivion and God and the meaning of life.
I rolled over in my bed and saw the flashing green number of my alarm clock.
1:30.
“Oh, my gosh, Anthony, do you know what time it is?”
“Oh, wow,” he said in this deep, raspy tired voice that I found insanely attractive. “I probably should be getting to sleep.”
I searched for the words I wanted. “Well, see you tomorrow.” That’s what came out.
“Sweet dreams, Kat.”
I just smiled as I fell asleep next to my math book.

* * * * *

I skated through the hallways at school the next day, my eyes glazed over, half because of lack of sleep and half because of giddiness. This was not like me. I was not one to get all lovey-dovey about anyone, much less a boy.
I put in my locker combination and twisted the knob. I swung the door open to find my entire locker filled with balloons. All of them had a word written in magic marker: Prom?
I immediately stood up straight, and felt my tiny anti-prom heart grow three sizes. I couldn’t believe he would ask me so obviously, and in the middle of the hallway.
Then reality hit me again.
“So, is that a yes?” I heard an excited, high-pitched voice ask from behind me. I turned around to find Jamie standing there with one last balloon in her hand.

* * * * *

“Oh, this is just so exciting!” Dad exclaimed over dinner. “Our little Kat is going to prom!”
“Dad, it’s really not a big deal. Jamie and I are just fr--”
“Have you decided what colors you’re going with yet? Or have you discussed flowers? Oh, we’ll have to decide where pictures will be taken . . .”
At this point I wanted to die.
“We’re just happy for you, sweetie,” Pim tried to interject. “Both of our daughters are getting their happily ever after.” He grinned at Dad. Emily smiled with them too. I continued to mix around my mashed potatoes.
Then my pocket buzzed.
“Oh, is that her?” Dad asked excitedly.
“Yeah,” I lied.
“Oh, you can be excused,” he said with a huge smile.
Once I was in my room, I answered. “Anthony . . .”
“Can I see you?”
I was taken aback. “What?”
“I want to see you,” he said again.
“Uh, sure.”
“Tell me when and where.”
I smiled. “I know just the place.”

* * * * *

I looked down at the water dancing beneath my blue sneakers, now accompanied by his red sneakers.
“I saw your prom-posal today,” Anthony said, after a few long minutes of silence.
“Yeah, I--”
“Do you like her?” he said, not looking at me.
“Well, I, uh…”
He just nodded and sighed, with a look of defeat on his face.
“No.” The word just popped out of my mouth, without my permission. “I don’t like her.”
He looked at me, his deep blue eyes seeing straight through me.
“I’m straight.” I could feel my heart beating on my chest, trying to punch me for saying the words that just came out of my mouth.
“Me too,” he said out of his crooked-smiling lips.

* * * * *

I could feel my head pounding with the beat of the bad music that was playing much too loudly. I watched as the many sweating bodies of my fellow classmates rubbed against each other on the dance floor. I looked down at my dress: a coral color shimmering with tiny silver strands woven into the fabric. My left arm was free, while the other had a sleeve flowing from the shoulder and also had a drink in the hand.
Jamie came running over. “Thanks!” she yelled much too loudly, even over the music. “Are you sure you don’t wanna dance with me?” she slurred. She actually showed up to my house wasted. Before prom.
“No, I’m okay, thanks.”
“You’re loss,” she yelled, before screaming about the next song that came on and running back into the mass of bodies.
My eyes scanned the room. Why couldn’t I find him?
Then I felt warmth on my shoulder.
“You look like you’re having fun,” his voice struggled to sarcastically say over the pounding.
“Oh, yes, such fun it is sitting here, holding this drink for my drunken date, listening to this delightfully loud noise some people call music.”
I stood up, so I could face him. “Whoa,” he said, blue eyes wide. “You look beautiful.” He looked into my eyes for a bit and then took a step closer. “You are beautiful.”
No words were coming to mind. I just stood there, like an idiot, with my mouth half open, hoping half-intelligent words would come out eventually. Then he cracked that crooked smile.
He grabbed my hand, and before I knew what was happening, he was leading me out the gym doors. I looked behind me, and no one seemed to see us at all.
I heard the doors shut behind me, then looked up. The sky was entirely lit up, shimmering like my dress under the disco lights inside.
Then I saw nothing. Anthony’s lips were on mine.
I had no time to worry about what most people worry about leading up to their first kisses. No time to think about my breath, or the moisture on my lips, or the way they were moving. Just Anthony.
His hands grabbed my hips, pulling me closer to him. I put my hands on his stiff arms, pulling myself even closer yet, our bodies becoming one.
Then the door creaked as it flew open, light from the dance waking me up from my daydream that had come true.
Our lips ripped apart, and we just stood, looking at the door, still holding each other.

* * * * *

I stood in front of my front door, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. I slowly opened the door, trying to avoid the inevitable squeaking. I tip-toed inside, still holding my heels in my free hand, then shut the door ever so slightly.
“Kat?” Mission failed.
The lights flicked on. Dad and Pim came downstairs in their matching robes.
“What’s going on?” Pim yelled. “I want to know right now!”
“Wha--What are you talking about?” I stuttered.
“Don’t play stupid, Kat, your principal called us. What the hell is wrong with you? What was going through your head? Just explain that to me!”
I had no words. “I just . . . I don’t know.”
Pim looked at Dad. “What did we do wrong? How did she become straight?”
“I didn’t become straight,” I said quietly.
“What did you say?” Pim snapped. I could see Dad’s eyes fill up with tears.
“I said, I didn’t become straight. No one becomes straight. I was always straight.”
“Do not speak like that. You know that is not true. It says in the--”
“You seriously aren’t going to believe me? You think I want to be bullied? You think I want my own family to be ashamed of me?”
Dad was trying to plead with me. “Kat, this is just a phase. Someday you’ll meet a girl and she will--”
“No, Dad. I won’t. I love Anthony.” I used the “L” word. I never used the “L” word.
“Kat, I swear--”
“It’s the way I am.” I was shaking. I was sobbing. But I was standing strong.
They stared at me for what seemed like an eternity. “Get out.”
“Jack, you can’t--”
“No. Kat, leave. Now.”

* * * * *

I could see the moon glowing out of the corner of my eye as I worked my way down the sidewalk. The wind slapped the exposed area of my neck that wasn’t protected by half-down updo.
Then I arrived at my destination: the bridge.
I saw its beams, rusty and dark against the illuminated night. I saw the rushing, black water beneath it. I saw its wooden base.
I stood in my spot, this time hanging onto a beam, standing on the edge of the base. I looked down at my shaking, bare feet, and the whirling waters beneath it, and let my mind whirl with it.
I couldn’t tell if my face was soaked because it was raining or I was crying so much. It didn’t matter anymore.
The water looked so promising. I looked up at the once sparkling sky, now pitch black with clouds; then down at my ruined dress, stuck to my body like my skin because of the rain; then down at the water again, beckoning.
Life was so hard. And jumping seemed so easy.
Then I felt warmth wrap around me.
“No, Kat!” he said to me, through the beams. “I need you!” he yelled, over the pouring rain. He leaned his head on my shoulder through the triangle created by the beams. “I need you,” he repeated, now sobbing with me.
I climbed through the beams, back onto the oh-so-familiar wooden base. I embraced him, our bodies one, once again.