I’ve finally arrived at my first school dance and all I can think about is that Dylan is here. I spotted him ahead of me in line while I was waiting for tickets. He was standing with his buddy Jason, looking even cuter than he does at school with his hair spiked up with gel and a sky-blue button-up shirt on.

Dylan is in my Language Arts class and we’ve been flirting all year. He passed me a note one time in class. When he slid me the folded paper, I was sure he was going to ask me to be his girlfriend. Unfortunately, it was just a joke about how Mrs. Crinkle’s laugh sounds like an ambulance siren.

Ever since Dylan passed me that note, I haven’t been able to get him off my mind. I want him to be my boyfriend. I’ve never had a boyfriend before, but my best friend Rachel has already had two (first Chris then Josh), so I think it’s time for me. That’s why tonight I’ve pulled out all the stops.

I’m wearing a brand new t-shirt from Limited Too. It’s sparkly and lavender with a silky ribbon tie on the back. Thanks to some much-prayed-for growth this past summer, I have almost enough boob to fill it out. I stole the foamy breast pads from my sister Andrea’s bikini top and slid them into my bra to make up for that little bit I’m still lacking.

I convinced Andrea to style my hair too. It took some serious begging, but it was worth it. High schoolers are better at these kinds of things. She curled it and pulled back the front strands around my face with purple butterfly clips. I must’ve caught her in a good mood because she swiped some icy, silver eyeshadow on my eyelids and swept one of her glitter brushes that smells like cupcakes along my collarbone to top off the look.

“If a guy asks you to dance, say yes, and don’t be awkward,” she told me. “But don’t let him feel you up.”

“Totally,” I agreed.

I step into the gym and it’s dimly lit with rainbow disco lights fluttering across the shiny, squeaky floor. It looks bigger than I’ve ever seen it, with all the athletic gear cleared out and the basketball nets rolled up to face the ceiling. The echo of top forty music bounces off the concrete walls. The musty stench of the pleather mats and dirty penny jerseys still lingers, but now it’s tangled with the unavoidable odor of Axe Body Spray and Bath and Body Works Cucumber Melon lotion.

Students are gradually funneling in, staying close to the entrance and the outer edges of the gym. Teachers are already circling the perimeter like hawks on the hunt for any form of inappropriate behavior. Rachel and I decide to go sit in the cafeteria until the dance floor fills up. It seems like the cool thing to do. Rachel’s boyfriend Josh joins us in a booth there.

I notice that Dylan is in the cafeteria too. He and I catch eyes for a moment. My whole body heats up like I’m being nuked in a microwave and I feel like I might die, so I pretend like my glance was a total accident and continue my gaze along the other tables. My armpits drip with sweat, but luckily I didn’t forget to steal a couple of swipes of Andrea’s Teen Spirit deodorant before I left.

The DJ plays the “Cha Cha Slide” and a crowd rushes out of the cafeteria and onto the dance floor. When the song says “break it down real smooth,” I drop it down to the floor and body roll my way back up. Jen from my Chorus class compliments my moves. She has the best voice of anyone in school, so I tell her I loved her solo in “Lean On Me.”

Once the song ends, a slow song comes on. Everyone freezes in place and scans the room. We begin to orbit around each other searching for a smiling invitation from someone, anyone. I roam forward like a forgotten ghost watching as couples begin to link up. They carefully place their hands on each other’s shoulders and waists. Some more established couples make chit-chat as they dance, but most turn their faces in opposite directions as they robotically rock back and forth. I watch Rachel as she dances with Josh. Her face is drooping and sullen from nerves like she wishes she could be anywhere else but here. Past Rachel and Josh, I see Dylan dancing with Chorus class Jen. I had no idea they knew each other, let alone like each other enough to be dancing.

Unsure whether to puke or cry, I bolt out of the gym. I swing around the corner to the girls bathroom. Two popular eighth-graders are applying pink lip gloss in one of the mirrors above the sink. They’re wearing low-cut shirts with delicate lace tank tops layered underneath to meet the dress code. They almost look like grown women, expertly primping themselves and examining their reflections, but their stick skinny legs and uncurved hips say otherwise. They make girlhood look so beautiful and so easy, though it’s clear they’ve put in the effort. I hold my breath as I pass them and escape into a stall the moment I’m out of their sight.

I sit directly on the toilet seat in my flared jeans and sob silently into the seam of my new shirt, careful not to wipe off my silver shadow. I take deep breaths and fan myself with my hands. I imagine myself back in the safety of my bedroom, away from stupid boys and girls who steal stupid boys.

The longer I sit in the stall, the more it feels like a big deal for me to exit. I worry that the popular girls may think that I’ve been on the toilet for too long. I hunker down in place unsure of what to do until I hear a knock on the other side of the door. It’s Rachel. She recognizes my platform flip-flops.

“Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you everywhere! Josh asked if he could kiss me.”

I rip open the door and whisper, “Dylan was dancing with Jen Dawson.”

“They’re not going out or anything. You should ask him next!” she says like it’s no big deal.

Rachel grabs me by the hand and drags me back onto the dance floor. The “Macarena” is playing. Rachel and I nail every move of the choreography, even though my tears haven’t fully dried yet. Josh dances right next to Rachel like a lovesick puppy. She and I laugh at his moves, particularly his exaggerated hip shake during the “hey macarena” part. He doesn’t seem to mind our teasing, he’s flattered by the female attention.

The song ends and “You’ve Got It Bad” by Usher begins to play—my favorite slow song. Something comes over me, maybe it’s some kind of post-breakdown bravery or maybe it’s just Usher’s magic. I ditch Rachel and Josh. I spot Dylan standing by himself across the room, searching for an invitation like everybody else. Electricity fires through me as I march right up to him and tap him on the arm. I’m weightless and kind of dizzy as the words I’ve been seeking shoot out of my mouth and strike the humid air of the gym like lightning.