Amber tumbled more than walked into her house, pushing the door shut and holding it as if it might resist. Her father had made an effort to beat her home today. He rose from his seat on the couch as she came in.
“Amber,” he started softly, “how was-“
“He asked me to Homecoming dad.” Amber rested her forehead against the door. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears in the silence.
“And what did you tell him?”
“I said,” she swallowed with a throat suddenly dry, “I had to check with you.”
Silence descended on the room once more, until Amber finally turned her head to look. Dad extended a hand, inviting her to sit down on the sofa. She stepped over her things and sat, fixing her gaze on her knees. Felt her father settle on the cushion next to her.
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know!” Amber was instantly back on her feet, pacing in a vain attempt to expend nervous energy. “That’s the problem. I thought, and thought all morning and all day and all of the last two weeks and I never-“ She dropped back onto the couch, sniffing back tears. “I have no idea what he’s thinking. I never could have dreamed he would ask me out.”
Not after he missed her deadline last year. No point bringing that up. Amber had already accepted that Frost did not remember his grade school question.
“Not before and certainly not…” She couldn’t complete the sentence.
Her father took a breath to speak. Amber shot back to her feet.
“But he did! Frederick Borealis Winters, lured into… to-“ she swallowed, “and two weeks later he’s asking me on a date!” She paused in the middle of the room.
“Do you want to-“
“Of course I want to go! Dreamed of going any of a thousand places with him for years, and here he is throwing me the golden opportunity. But that’s just it. I destroy him and he comes back… offering my childhood dream. How? Why?”
“I don’t know dear one. He doesn’t mean to hurt you?”
“Frost wouldn’t-“ Amber stopped herself, looking at her father. With a shake of her head she resumed pacing. “No, not like this. Avoid a big scandal yeah, apparently. But he wouldn’t lie.” Except he clearly hadn’t told anyone what happened. That was no small lie, at least by omission.
“So he does mean to take you?”
“I think so,” Amber nodded slowly to herself, still pacing. “He stands by his word.”
“You’re sure he’s not going to hurt you.”
Once again Amber stopped in her tracks. She sank onto the couch. “He wouldn’t. Even if he might have before,” she shivered. No, she’d been the only one of them doing any hurting so far. “Not now, not like that. And you know he can’t really hurt me.”
Her father started to say something, paused and changed his mind.
“Then the question is already answered isn’t it?”
“What about me hurting him? I scratched him today dad, when he came up to ask.”
Dad paused, spoke after a tiny shake of the head. “He deserves an explanation Amber. I think it’d be good for you to give it to him.”
“We’re talking about-“
“And,” her father continued doggedly, “what’s one dance? You want to go. He asked. You could ask some of your own questions.”
“But he’d ask questions too, dad.” Amber pulled her knees up and hugged herself. “What then?”
“The truth, Amber. Like I said, he deserves to know.”
“Simple as that?”
“Much as I hate the situation, with what already happened? He didn’t have a meltdown over that.”
“Gee thanks dad.”
“I’m sorry,” he put a gentle arm over her shoulders, “to be fair this is not a conversation I would ever want to have, especially with my own daughter. We can’t change what happened, all we can do is move forward. And we both want you to be better than your mother.”
Amber hissed. “Low blow dad.”
“Believe me,” He gave a friendly squeeze to her shoulder, “as your father I want to kill the boy. But I also remember how I got you, and we can do better for him than that. Need to do better.”
“All right, all right!” Amber shrugged him off and stood with a huff. “I’ll go.”
“I love you.”
Amber rolled her eyes with a sigh, “love you too dad.”
She knew that wouldn’t be enough, though.
“I talked to dad.”
Amber appeared next to Frost’s open locker the next morning, speaking without preamble. His friend Sara trailed off, both in conversation and physically. Frost looked at Amber with a flash of annoyance that died as he saw the uncertainty in her eyes.
“He thinks I should.”
Not the response he’d expected. Hopefully, she would expand on that a little.
“You know I won’t be free right away, with the game.” It was a statement, spoken like a question.
“I know. I’ll-“
“You can wait at the field entrance, after.”
Frost bristled. How had Amber managed to imply with her tone that he not attend the game itself? He examined the feeling carefully, growing more certain he wasn’t making it up. He hadn’t thought about the game, but the fact she meant for him not to go gave him sudden interest in attending. She was cheer captain, it was unquestionable that she didn’t fold under scrutiny. Why would she not want him there?
If he didn’t articulate his impression, she couldn’t confirm it. Probably a bad idea to deliberately rile her. But Frost hated not knowing something, and he wanted especially to understand this girl better. Amber turned away, hair flip filling his nose with a rich scent of fresh flowers and left as abruptly as she appeared.
Shaking his head, Frost shut his locker. And remembered a school dance might not give them much chance to talk. So what precisely had he accomplished? He shouldered his bag with a sigh. No point kicking himself more. Why had her father said she should go? Did he know the whole situation? How could he be in favor of the dance, if that was the case? Why would he be if he wasn’t? Curiouser and curiouser.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully, so early in the year. Uneventful at least, discounting the stares. It was funny really. He knew how quickly the rumor-mill churned, but never saw it so obviously chewing on him before. Frost didn’t worry about what they were saying. He knew no one was remotely close to the truth. The more important question was how to deal with this long-term. At least rumors should die quickly once the dance was over and nothing happened.
The doctors hadn’t found anything wrong with him. The tests had all come back negative. Mom wasn’t happy about the brand on his chest, but then neither was he. Amber clearly wasn’t interested in explaining anything. So what was he doing? Getting answers, he hoped. Like why she apologized when she saw the brand. What it was, how it got there.
James called from the track table as Frost left the lunch line. With a half-smile Frost went over and sat down.
“I was just telling Sara how you’d expect fire to melt ice, not Frost. Never can tell can ya?”
“You are entirely over-reacting J,” just as well do his part speeding the blow over. “She agreed to one hardly formal dance after the game.”
“You asked her, though.” Ann pointed out from across the table.
“It’s my senior year.”
“No one asked her to any dance, after Homecoming last year. Ya don’t ask her.” Kaylie, another teammate piped up from down the table. Frost dipped his head fractionally in acknowledgement.
“I hadn’t even thought of that! That was balls-y man.”
“J, eew.” Seriously. However, “I must’ve missed whatever you’re talking about. What happened?”
“You did not miss this.” James look was wide-eyed disbelief.
“Pole kid,” Kaylie said the name in hushed tones.
Frost whistled. He remembered all right. Alex still wore the nickname. Frost hadn’t heard why he’d done it, just that he swore he did it himself. Apparently it was shortly after asking Amber to Homecoming last year. Frost was now both less surprised by the stares, and even more puzzled she’d agreed. Alex hadn’t met her in a park… Frost ran the conversation back through his mind. She said her dad thought it was a good idea. Where did he fit in this picture? Frost didn’t know anything about her family. Who did?
“She did talk to her dad first.”
“Hu-uh” James drew out the word. “I didn’t know she had-”
“J, Everybody has a dad!” Kaylie again. “Ya sleep through health class?”
“Just most,” James shot back. “Anybody seen her family?”
“She doesn’t have siblings in school.” Another voice down the table offered.
“I heard she lives up on the bench…”
“Wow, Frost,” James looked around the table and back to his friend. “First she agrees when you ask, and now you’ve heard more about her family than anyone in school. Tread carefully my friend.”
“I’m always careful,” Frost tried to play it off as a joke, “why now?”
“If she’s not staging a bigger fall,” He raised eyebrows meaningfully. Then lowering them leaned in conspiratorially, “maybe she means to keep you. Permanent like.”
“Oh, come on J.” Ha. Ha-ha. Yeah. Just kids, in high school, joking about a date. Yup, nothing out of the ordinary here. Not at all. “It’s just homecoming.”
“Does she know that? Just remember, I warned you first.”
Late there my friend. Everlastingly too late.