One of Us Is Lying Goes to Prom
May 30, 2022
Earlier this month, a reader on Twitter asked me if Nate and Bronwyn ever ended up going to prom together. Here’s my response—they absolutely did, and in fact I started writing a short story about it in April 2020 to distract myself from the pandemic. But I only made it through Bronwyn’s POV and part of Cooper’s before life got in the way and I set it aside.
I posted a few snippets on Twitter, and readers asked to see the whole thing. So here it is—still unfinished, and also unedited and un-proofread. There are probably typos! Basically, this is my stream-of-consciousness from a couple of years ago, when I needed the comfort of characters who felt like old friends.
I don’t think I’ll go back to this; for now at least, I have too many competing deadlines. But as One of Us Is Lying celebrates its fifth birthday today, this seemed like a fun extra to share with all the wonderful readers who love these characters as much as I do. I hope you enjoy it, and that it gets you excited for One of Us Is Back in 2023!
Friday, May 10
My prom dress is too long.
Well, in theory, it’s exactly the right length if I were wearing the shoes I had on when I got it hemmed. Those sparkling, elegant high heels that I promised myself I would learn to walk in before I had to wear them to a dance. But now it’s half an hour before the boys are supposed to arrive, and the mood in my bedroom has turned grim.
“You can’t wear those, either,” Addy declares, hands on her hips as she watches me carefully step around the room in my favorite ballet flats. “You’ll still trip, just in a different way. There’s way too much fabric.”
“Also, it looks like your dress is melting,” Maeve says helpfully. Not. She’s sitting cross-legged on my bed, looking annoyingly comfortable in yoga pants and a T-shirt. She might have been a little wistful about not being old enough for the Bayview High senior prom in the weeks leading up to tonight, but now she has a relaxing evening of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to look forward to. “Try the heels again,” she suggests.
I glare at her. “The heels are a lost cause, Maeve. Let it go.”
Then I catch sight of myself in my full-length mirror, and … ugh, she’s right. My beautiful wine-colored dress, with its simple halter-style top, full skirt, and criss-cross straps across the back, makes me look like a toddler playing dress-up with three inches of fabric puddling around my feet. What was I thinking, buying such high heels? Even my hair, which looks better than it ever has thanks to Addy’s strategic use of a few hot rollers, isn’t enough to save the day.
My sister shrugs. “I just think that if Nate can manage to put on a suit, then you can manage—”
“Now, now. No shoe shaming,” Addy says, gliding toward my desk in her own mile-high heels. Her pageant background is coming in handy tonight; not only can she walk like a dream, but her makeup is flawless and the delicate crystal headband holding back her purple hair makes her look like an actual fairy princess. Her dress is a shimmering silvery pink with a floaty skirt that ends just above her knees. Everything about her is light and airy and sparkling and effortless. “I had a feeling this might happen,” she adds, rooting through the oversized bag she brought to my house to get ready. “So I came with reinforcements.”
“You came with—” I start, then fall silent as Addy pulls out a pair of shiny, mother-of-pearl, stack-heeled boots.
Maeve scoots toward the edge of my bed, eyes wide. “Those are magnificent,” she says in a tone of hushed awe. “Where did you get them?”
“These were part of Ashton’s Halloween costume the year she went as a go-go dancer,” Addy says briskly. “They’re super comfortable to walk in and I’m pretty sure you guys are the same size. Try them on.”
“But they …” I blink at the boots’ blinding sheen, then gesture toward my skirt. “They don’t exactly match.”
“It doesn’t matter. If I’m right about the heel height—and I am never wrong about these things—they won’t show under an A-line skirt.” Addy shakes the boots at me. “Come on. It’s these, or having Nate carry you around the entire night. Which I realize sounds good in theory, but we’re going to attract enough attention as is.”
She’s not wrong. Even though she, Nate, Cooper, and I have tried to keep a low profile for the remainder of our senior year, lingering Bayview Four notoriety makes that impossible. Especially when we move around as a group for something like prom. Mikhail Powers Investigates even offered to send a limo if we’d let them film a segment tonight.
Isn’t that a little off-brand for an investigative reporting show? I texted to Mikhail. Yes, Mikhail Powers and I are texting buddies now. If you define buddy as: he charmingly fishes for information every few weeks, and I dodge his questions but never tell him to leave me alone. Because truth be told, I like him.
Good television is good television, he replied.
Not happening. And don’t you dare send any cameras.
Ah, well, you can’t blame me for trying. Enjoy the night!
It didn’t occur to me until later that he never promised anything about the cameras.
Maeve is by my side, holding me steady as I slip the boots on. “I’ll zip them,” she says, getting on her knees to do just that. Then she smooths the hem of my dress, which now lightly brushes the floor, and sits back on her heels. “Amazing,” she says, the corners of her mouth turning up. “You can’t see them at all!”
“Told you,” Addy says smugly. “Now walk.”
I step gingerly forward, waiting for my ankle to buckle, but it doesn’t happen. The boots’ heels, although high, are sturdy enough to keep me upright. Within seconds I’m striding around my room with a giant grin, even going so far as to execute a twirl that’s only a little bit unsteady. “Addy, you’re a miracle worker. You just saved my entire night.”
“I know.” She nods, serene. “Now let me touch up your lip gloss.”
Addy keeps fussing with me until the doorbell rings a few minutes later. My pulse starts jumping then, because—it’s finally here. The night I used to daydream about when things were at their worst last fall and I needed an escape. Instead of worrying about the police investigation, I’d imagine being with Nate in an alternate universe where we could talk freely, not just on the phone late at night. Where we could be a real couple, going to ordinary things like school dances. Where he could show up at my house and not get ordered off the premises by my dad.
Which, to be fair, only happened once. But still.
“Ready?” Addy asks. Her eyes are bright, expectant, and not at all nervous. She’s going with Luis as friends, and was quick to dismiss any questions about whether it might turn into more. “That would be too weird with him and Keely being exes,” she said when Maeve and I asked. “Besides, he’s not my type.”
Maeve looked skeptical. “How could he not be, though?” My sister has a well-documented thing for cute jocks, even though she’s currently joined at the hip with a guy she did the spring play with. Just friends, she always says. Mostly.
“He’s not, and I’m not his,” Addy insisted. Nothing she’s said or done since has contradicted that; all of her primping tonight was for her own enjoyment.
“I’m photographer,” Maeve announces, grabbing her phone off my bedspread. “Before you go downstairs, Bronwyn—lift your skirt a little. Those boots need to be documented.”
I do, and she snaps a picture as Addy opens the bedroom door. I can hear voices now, and the fluttering in my stomach gets even more intense. I don’t know why; it’s not like I don’t see Nate almost every day. And it’s not as if prom is something I’ve looked forward to ever since I was a little girl. In fact, when my ex-boyfriend Evan brought it up a few months ago, I changed the subject as fast as I could because—well. I guess because I didn’t want to go something like that with anyone except Nate, even when we weren’t together.
Addy heads for the staircase and strikes a pose at the top. “You guys ready?” she calls to answering cheers, and one adorably polite catcall that sounds like it came from Kris.
“Yes ma’am,” Cooper calls back. She flounces down the stairs, and I have to swallow a sudden lump in my throat. It wasn’t long ago that it would have seemed impossible for Addy to ever be this happy and carefree.
Maeve leans her head against my shoulder as we watch Addy descend out of view. “The most beautiful girl,” she murmurs, squeezing my arm.
I let out a shaky laugh. “Are you talking about me or Addy?”
“Both,” she says. “Now go. I have the feeling a certain someone can’t wait much longer to see you.”
Maeve pushes me toward the top of the stairs. Looking down, I catch a glimpse of my parents beaming proudly, and of Cooper, Kris, and Luis all looking handsome, and Addy standing in their midst like a glittering flower. Then my eyes hit Nate, and everybody else falls away.
Wow, he mouths at me, his dark-blue eyes capturing mine. I’d say it back if I weren’t smiling too much to form words, because—yeah. Wow. Nate is a jeans-and-T-shirt kind of guy, which, don’t get me wrong, works really well on him. But I’ve always been curious about how he’d look more dressed up. I’ve never seen him in even a button-down shirt before now, so formal wear is a lot to take. He’s not in a tux, but he’s wearing a sharp dark suit and a crisp white shirt. The first button is undone, his tie already slightly loosened and … if my parents weren’t here, I would absolutely pull him up the stairs and into my room. To hell with prom.
But they are, so … “Hi,” I say when I reach the bottom. Only a little breathlessly.
“Hi.” Nate takes my hand and gives me a heart-stopping smile. “You look incredible.”
“So do you,” I say, letting my eyes linger on his mouth. Que boca tan hermosa, Maeve said when she first met him, and she was one hundred percent right.
“Let’s get some pictures!” my father says, in that slightly desperate tone he always uses when it becomes obvious that Nate and I would rather be alone. The two of them get along much better now than they did six months ago, but I’m pretty sure Dad misses Evan. Or at least, misses the total lack of chemistry I had with Evan.
“Lookin’ good, B,” Cooper says as Mom starts ushering everyone into the back yard.
“You guys too,” I say. It’s true; Cooper looks good in anything, and Kris was born to wear a tux. Then I feel a tug on my hand, and allow Nate to pull me back toward the stairs. With everyone else heading outside, we’re briefly out of sight.
“We’re supposed to be getting our picture taken,” I remind him. But even as I say it, my arms wind around his neck and my fingers twist in his dark hair. His hands are at my waist, pulling me closer. “Mom will corral any stragglers within twenty seconds.”
“I only need half that,” Nate promises. “For now.” He leans down to kiss me, sweet and tender and urgent all at once, and I let myself melt against him.
It’s the perfect start to prom. And even better than I used to imagine, because in real life—other than to take a few pictures—I don’t have to let go.
Friday, May 10
Nobody wanted a limo—especially not one that Mikhail Powers was paying for—but I’m having second thoughts about Luis’s dad’s minivan as a backup plan.
“Does this thing have shocks?” I ask when a pothole on Clarendon Street nearly sends my head through the roof.
“Yeah, but they don’t work,” Luis calls cheerfully over the rattling engine. “You might want to hold on to something.”
Kris, who got knocked sideways with the bump, grabs my hand. “If you say so.”
Thing is, the six of us can’t be flashy about prom. People already pay too much attention to whatever we do, and while I’ve gotten better at tuning it out, I’ve also learned not to invite it in for stuff that doesn’t matter. Driving two miles from Bronwyn’s house to Bayview High, even in formal wear, definitely falls into that category.
It would be nice to arrive without a full-body bruise, though.
Luis slows down to take a corner, and Kris and I move closer together. We’re in the middle of the van, with Nate and Bronwyn behind us and Addy in the passenger seat, fiddling with the radio. “All the presets are sports talk,” she complains to Luis.
“Yeah, and the Padres game just started,” he says hopefully. “Could you—”
“No,” Addy says, snapping it off.
Kris squeezes my hand as Luis pulls into Bayview High parking lot. “Ready?” he asks.
“Very,” I assure him.
Luis pulls into a parking spot that's as close to the front door as he can manage, considering it’s primetime for arrival. “Let me get the doors for everyone,” he says, shutting off the ignition. “They’re temperamental.” I watch students stream for the entrance as Luis exits the driver’s seat and circles to the opposite side of the van. He pulls open the sliding back door first, then wrenches open the passenger side door with a loud pop and the creak of hinges. “May I assist you from this chariot, princess?” he asks Addy with exaggerated politeness, extending his hand.
She accepts it with a regal nod. “You mean this death trap? You may.”
The sky is a soft, dark blue, and the air has just a hint of coolness. I straighten my cuffs and smooth my tuxedo jacket, stealing a glance at Kris beside me. He actually owns a tux, so it fits him perfectly, and looking at him sends my heart racing. When he meets my eyes, I cup his face in my hands and pull his lips toward mine.
And people can pay as much attention as they want, because this? This matters.
“Move it, lovebirds,” Addy calls over her shoulder, shimmying her hips as she and Luis head for the entrance. “Some of us came to dance.”
Kris smiles as we break apart. “That includes me, by the way. I happen to be an excellent dancer.”
“I’m excellent at … swaying in place,” I tell him.
He pats my shoulder. “We’ll work on it.”
We make our way inside to Bayview’s state-of-the-art gymnasium. A girl in a slinky blue dress is handing something out at the door, and my steps slow when I realize who it is. “Vote for your king and queen,” Vanessa Merriman tells Addy coolly, shoving a small white card at her.
Addy ducks around it. “Maybe later,” she says, dragging Luis toward the dance floor. Bronwyn and Nate join them, acting as though they don’t even see Vanessa, but I pause and take the card she’s still holding out.
“Thought they got rid of this?” I say. Last I heard, prom court was gone—yet another casualty of Principal Gupta’s determination to create a kinder, gentler version of Bayview High. I’m not sure she’s been successful, but points for trying. The card doesn’t have any names on it, just the words King and Queen and two blank lines.
Vanessa rolls her eyes. “King and queen only. And Gupta gets to approve the results before they get read, so ... she’ll probably make sure it's somebody boring.” Then she looks me up and down in a way that clearly says, Like you.
Kris just blinks, unable to process the nightmare that is Vanessa. It’s hard to believe, now, that she and I were ever even the loosest definition of friend. There are a lot of things I regret about last fall, but our toxic group imploding isn’t one of them. “Enjoy your night,” I say, reaching past her to take two of the little pencils that are on the table. Then I pull Kris through the door.
“Who is that?” he asks once we’re inside the gym.
I don’t want to ruin the night by telling him. Kris had to pick up the pieces after last fall’s cafeteria disaster, when Vanessa led the charge on all my friends except Luis turning against me. Kris is the most even-tempered person I know, but he’s been dying to tell her off ever since. “Somebody who karma’s gonna get eventually,” I say instead.
I lean the card against a nearby pillar so I can write on it, and Kris places his next to mine. “Who are we voting for?” he asks.
“Addy, obviously,” I say, writing her name in the blank space after Queen. If anyone deserves a crown, it’s her. “And for king …” I’m about to write Luis Santos, but just then, my eyes stray toward the table nearest us. The girl sitting there is scrolling through her phone, oblivious to the boy beside her. Who’s gazing longingly toward the middle of the room, where Bronwyn is slow dancing with Nate.
What the hell. “Evan Neiman,” I say, because that kid could use a win. Kris dutifully writes the name and gives me his card. There are ballot boxes attached to all the walls, and I drop ours into the nearest one, and the pencils on the table beside it. Then I turn back to Kris and hold out my hand.
“So like I said, I’m mostly a swayer, but … can I have the first dance?”
“You can have all of them," Kris says.