ACT VI

Franklin crashes the party

Franklin stood there, paralyzed. A ragged breath drained from his lungs. He wanted to run, but his body wouldn’t budge—he was trapped in a nightmare and his legs refused to work.

A date. He didn’t know why that thought had popped into his head, or where it had come from. But now it was all he could think about, and he couldn’t un-think it. He tried to focus on the loudness around him. He fiddled with the pipe in his pocket. But the more he tried to distract himself, the more his mind sprung back to that four-letter word.

Deep down, Franklin knew that he wasn’t going to be able to get past this. He heaved a sigh. The night was ruined.

For the first time in his life, Franklin found himself wishing to be surrounded by people—just enough for him to quietly fade into the background. Then at least it wouldn’t be a date.

So why weren’t his stupid friends here? He had enough of them. Almost seven. Besides Jann and Prince, he had a whole group of stoner friends from his old school, all of whom he knew had nothing better to do on a Saturday night.

What good was pretending to care about people if they weren’t around when you needed them to bail you out of awkward situations, Franklin lamented. A few more bodies would make this ordeal feel less weird. But Prince was under house arrest, and Jann had flaked. And his old friends were—somewhere. One by one they’d disappeared, leaving Franklin alone, like he was living through an Agatha Christy story.

It’s just you and me…

What did Kimberly mean by that? Did she know it would turn out like this? Or… had she set it all up? The idea made him feel slightly betrayed. Like finding out that your best friend is actually a serial killer.

He knew that Kimberly was smart—smarter than anyone he’d ever met. But she wasn’t some kind of criminal mastermind, and everything that had happened today had just been one big coincidence…

Right?

Franklin narrowed suspicious eyes at his sequined companion, fighting back a growing sense of dread.

Kimberly didn’t notice him. She was still taking in the mayhem that surrounded them, eyes wide and excited.

She watched the wild crowd swaying and surging like it had a life of its own. Then her attention fell on the stage, where a Visual Kei band blasted out a metal version of I’ll Put a Spell On You from behind cobwebs and mascara. And then her gaze trailed upward, to where laser lights danced and flashed across the vaulted ceiling.

The scene only vaguely registered with Franklin. The more he stared at Kimberly the less he could focus on anything else. He became painfully aware that she was still holding his hand tight. It felt impossibly soft, and a warmth started to spread through his body that had nothing to do with relief from the cold outside.

They were both stuck in a kind of limbo, frozen to the spot. Alone in the middle of this crowded room. Kimberly stood transfixed by everything, and Franklin stood transfixed by her.

She swung back to face him suddenly, and Franklin found himself nearly eye-to-eye with Kimberly. His breath caught in his throat. Suspicion and dread gave way to panic as her green eyes pierced into him, locking him into the most intense staring match of his life. They were way too close.

Kimberly always stood too close, Franklin thought, his mind playing at half-speed. But this time was too too close. He tried to look away, but for some reason, he couldn’t. She held his gaze like a spell, the reflection of the disco lights dancing in her dark emerald eyes.

Franklin felt his face flood with heat. The back of his neck prickled. He didn’t know if he was mesmerized or terrified. Both, probably.

It was soft—her hand. That’s all he could think about. And he kept repeating to himself that this wasn’t a date. But as he gazed into her sparkling eyes and her small face, and the music pulsed around them, soon he wasn’t able to think about anything at all.

Kimberly raised an inquisitive eyebrow, then her face broke into a fantastic smile. That only made things worse.

On cue, the colors on the dance floor shifted from orange to indigo. Her hair blended into the scene, making it look as though the whole room flowed out from her head—like everything was a part of Kimberly. She was everywhere.

She filled his field of vision, and he couldn’t help feeling like he’d seen something like this before. A world of light, where only her eyes remained…

Franklin was speechless as Kimberly shined beneath the party lights.

“So? What do you think?” Kimberly piped in, shattering Franklin’s trance. The lights switched to neon green, and the song ended.

The spell was broken.

Franklin shook his head, partly to clear it, but also to show he had no idea what she was talking about.

“The party… or… my costume?” she asked, another smile spreading across her face. Kimberly had given up trying to hide her enthusiasm for her first Halloween party. Her excitement had been brewing all day, and now it boiled over.

Franklin looked her flapper costume up and down, careful not to stare. It was definitely more of Kimberly than he’d ever seen before. And he didn’t know how he should feel about that. “The party’s cool. I guess. I swear I didn’t know it was at Emma’s house. It’s just one of those… things,” he muttered, stalling for time. He didn’t know what to say about her costume. Should he tell her what he really thought, or what she wanted to hear? And what did she want to hear? And, for that matter, what did he really think?

He decided that chickening out was the safest way to go. “Uh… you dyed your hair—purple—I mean,” Franklin finally choked out.

Kimberly let out a surprised laugh. She didn’t really know how to respond to that. “Did you just notice? Really Franky.”

“I meant, you dyed more of it. It’s purple-er now,” he clarified.

“It isn’t. It’s always been like this,” Kimberly stated, confused.

Franklin narrowed his eyes at her locks. No, her hair is different now, he decided. He didn’t know why it mattered to him, but he knew that he was right. “When we first met, you only had your bangs dyed purple—now it’s everywhere but those two strips going down the sides,” he insisted.

Her purple was growing.

“You’re crazy,” Kimberly countered.

Franklin always appreciated the irony when she called him that.

“I’ve been dying my hair like this since I was eleven. And why are we talking about my hair anyway?” she demanded, tapping her feather.

“I don’t know,” Franklin said uneasily. “I just—forget it.”

Kimberly let go of his hand. Or maybe she pulled it away. He decided not to read anything into it.

He returned his sweaty palm to his side, breathing a sigh of relief.

Why was she looking at him like that?

Franklin avoided her gaze. “Uh… What happens now—now that we’re here?” he asked somberly, like they’d arrived at a funeral instead of a party.

Kimberly put her hands on her hips and gave the crowd around them an appraising look. “Haven’t you ever been to a party before?” she asked.

Franklin shot her an incredulous glare. He wondered how she could even ask him that. “Why would I—no,” he said tersely.

Kimberly shrugged. “Ah, me either. Well, a real party anyway. Junior High slumber parties don’t count—especially when the fire department interferes.”

Franklin didn’t want to know what they were interfering with. He shuffled his feet and pretended to care about the band.

Another song started. Ghostbusters, like he’d never heard it—Screamo-style. All around them the festivity raged, but between them you could hear a pin drop.

When it became clear that Franklin wasn’t about to suggest anything—or talk, or dance, or do anything other than try to wait-out the party—Kimberly spoke up. “You want to get something to drink?” she asked.

“They’re not serving alcohol here, are they? It didn’t say twenty one and above on the site. My folks will kill me,” Franklin blurted out. Just the thought of his mother finding out sent a chill up his spine.

“Looks like,” Kimberly answered, in a voice that said she might not mind having a drink. “I think I see champagne. But there’s a punch fountain over there.” She pointed to the enormous buffet spread on the other side of the dance floor. “Come on.”

Franklin trudged along after her, trying not to notice how short her sequined skirt was—or how it swished when she walked…

He forced his attention elsewhere, looking up at the crowd. He sent a scowl at all the costumed-weirdness around him, hoping none of it would rub off. Normal people acting like idiots, he reminded himself.

He’d never felt so out of place. He felt like a freak, but knew that he wasn’t—he just didn’t like parties. He knew he was anti-social at heart—even if he’d never been diagnosed with anything. Was that so wrong? He didn’t resent Kimberly for being the life of the party—so why couldn’t he be a wallflower?

Franklin caught himself glaring at a pair of Willy Wonkas—one Wilder, one Depp. They looked like they could be impersonators. They took one look at Franklin, and promptly retreated in the other direction, confused by his misdirected wrath.

Well, at least the costumes here were good—really good actually.

They reached a banquet table that looked like it had been set for a G8 summit—not a Halloween party. Franklin struggled to work out what he was seeing. He turned his glare on platters of truffles, spooktacular vegan cupcakes, and fresh lobster. This wasn’t the food that a high school kid would put out for her friends. Where were the Oreos? Where were the chips? This buffet didn’t make sense. But then, nothing about this night had made sense so far.

He also wondered just how rich Emma really was.

Before Franklin could gather anything more than his suspicions, Kimberly swung back around to face him, two ornate glass mugs held out before her. “Here you go!” she sang, offering him one of the pink-filled glasses.

Franklin frowned. “No thanks. Besides, what’s with the tea set? Hasn’t Emma ever heard of plastic cups?” he said dismissively.

Kimberly locked her jaw down into a smile. Her amazing mood wasn’t rubbing off on her companion—and she couldn’t figure out why. Usually, when she put all her energy out there, he’d stop acting so miserable for a little while. But it wasn’t working this time.

Franklin could tell that he was beginning to take a toll on her. He was every bit as depressing as she was fun. Still, he didn’t want to ruin her mood.

Couldn’t she just go and have fun with other people and leave him alone? That would probably be best for both of them. Even if he wasn’t sure that he wanted her to go.

“Then, do you want something to eat?” she tried. “Look at that—caviar!” she said, just as shocked as he was by the splendor of the buffet spread.

He didn’t know what to say. He’d woken up this morning ready to endure whatever Kimberly had planned for the holiday—like usual. When those plans fell through, Franklin had taken it on himself to find her a new party, and to make sure she got there. As far as he was concerned that was a job well done. He hadn’t considered what would come after that.

Franklin’s stomach churned. He took a deep breath to brace himself, then asked, “What?”

“I said, do you want to eat something?” she repeated, still upbeat.

Suddenly, a horrible realization dawned on Franklin. This wasn’t like their other KKKK events. Kimberly would usually take out her enthusiasm on her cronies, while he waited patiently for the night to be over. But this time all she had was him, Franklin, for the entire evening—on this date—and it was clear she expected him to play the part.

Franklin swallowed. He could taste bile on his tongue. “No. I’m not really hungry,” he breathed, trying to keep his voice steady.

He knew that he couldn’t do it. He could never live up to her expectations for a date. So he decided that there was really no point in trying. He’d just crack under the pressure. Like he had on the first day of Kindergarten—or at grandma’s funeral.

Kimberly returned her plate to the stack, set down her cup and crossed her arms. “Then do you want to dance?” she demanded.

Was she kidding? Dancing was total date territory. Franklin wasn’t ready to go there. Besides, he’d never even played a game of musical chairs.

“Just give me a second,” he mumbled, trying to think of a good excuse. He couldn’t find one, so, “Uh, no. Actually, that’s not happening.”

“Don’t be embarrassed,” Kimberly soothed. “I don’t expect you to be a great dancer. Let’s just get out there! Don’t think about the dozens of eyes on you! Don’t think about looking ridiculous in front of everyone at school. Don’t think about the Youtube videos going viral. Who cares what they think anyway!”

Franklin stared at her mutely. After that speech, he resolved never to dance as long as he lived. He also hoped that Kimberly wasn’t considering a career in motivational speaking: she’d left one friend grounded, one in tears, and one with a healthy new neurosis.

“No thanks. But you can dance if you want,” he tried.

“Oh, that’s fun.” Kimberly rolled her eyes and let out a big puff of angry air. “Okay, Franky,” she began, her tone cutting between concern and frustration. “So I can’t help noticing that something’s bugging you. Wanna share with the class?”

“I—it’s nothing.”

“It doesn’t look like nothing. You’ve been acting weird ever since we got here. Did you have some bad kettle corn or something?” she pressed.

“Is this a date?” Franklin asked off-handedly. “Because it feels like it might be a date.”

He couldn’t believe he’d just said it. He knew that you were never supposed to just say it, but he was Franklin, and he was losing interest too quickly to beat around the bush.

Her mouth dropped open. It was the last thing Kimberly had expected him to say—and the only thing that could’ve spoiled her mood.

“Why would you think it’s a date?” she asked, suddenly suspicious.

Franklin hated having to explain anything, but this was particularly painful. “We’re alone together at a party. There’s food and dancing—and you’re dressed like that,” he said lamely.

For the first time ever Franklin saw Kimberly blush. He knew he’d made a mistake the second her cheeks turned pink.

“Dressed like what?” she snapped.

“Fancy,” he decided, though hot would’ve been closer to the truth, “like for a date.” He crossed his arms and leaned back against the table. For some reason, he couldn’t look her in the eyes. “I just wanted to know, but, I guess…” his words fell away. He knew that he’d blown it, and didn’t know what else to say.

They both wished that he hadn’t labeled it.

“Well it’s not,” Kimberly answered reflexively. Her mouth puckered into a frown. The space between them grew cold and quiet. She’d never felt uncomfortable around Franklin before. “Did you… want it to be a date?” she asked, not sure if she wanted to hear the answer.

Franklin dug his hands into the pockets of his waistcoat, and shook his head. He still couldn’t look at her.

“This just got weird didn’t it?” Franklin said dryly. He wished he could just DVR the whole night. Then he could rewind—or better yet, just delete the whole thing. “I’m going to go stand over there for a while,” he said miserably, then hiked over to the wall on the other side of the room.

He didn’t look back at Kimberly before he left, but if he had, he’d have seen disappointment fall across her face.

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