I’m not exactly sure what classifies a person a nerd, or who it was that came up with the title, but according to everyone else, Jenna Mae is one. I, on the other hand, am not. In fact, I’m as popular as it gets in our school. Now, you’re probably thinking –Wow, Trevor, cocky much?—and I’m sure that does sound cocky, but I’m just stating the facts. If Jenna and I were being rated on a scale, we’d be on completely different ends of the curve, with me soaring to the top and her sinking to the bottom.
I’ve known Jenna for a long time, though. Her family moved across the street from me when we were ten so it made sense that we’d mingle in the beginning. Popularity doesn’t matter when you’re kids; anyone can be friends. But high school adds a whole new level of social status once you cross those front doors and like I previously stated, Jenna and I are on opposite sides of the bar. Naturally, at home, we drifted apart as a result. Still, I’m cordial with her and have taken a secret pleasure in watching her grow into a body better than any of the popular girls could ever dream of having. It’s just one more reason her nerd stigma is so strong; girls can be such jealous things.
The Valentine’s dance is a week away and I intend on crossing the border that separates us socially to ask Jenna to the dance. Most would say this was cause for social suicide, but it won’t apply to me. It’s senior year and there are only a few months left of school. It’s highly unlikely I’ll even see half of my supposed friends after graduation, and besides, part of the reason I’ve always been so popular anyway is because I just don’t care what other people think. I dictate what’s cool and people follow.
Now, before you go judging me and assuming this attempt to take Jenna to the dance is just another one of those stories where the popular guy asks the dorkiest girl in school to the dance just to humiliate her, think again. This won’t be Carrie, there are no bets. The truth is, I actually like Jenna Mae – nerd or not.
At lunch, Jenna sits in the center of the longest white table of the cafeteria. Even though her fellow nerds surround her, she is oblivious to their presence and focused solely on the world she holds in her hands. On days when the cafeteria is especially rowdy, she turns her back to all of us to further tune us out. I’ve always admired, maybe even envied, the way she’s able to escape real life through another persons words in books. And today is no exception.
I wait until the bell rings to approach her, not because I’m afraid of being seen asking her, but because I know she will just blow me off if I interrupt her while she’s reading. Kids scatter all around me, some bumping into my shoulder as they pass by. Jenna turns the page to finish the chapter. As she closes the book and stands, I finally grab her attention. “Hey, Jenna,” I say, and I’m surprised by the way my voice dips as if I’m nervous, because I’m not, at all.
Her eyebrows do this dubious rise as she pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose waiting for me to explain the purpose of my presence. “So listen,” I start. “I was wondering if you were planning on going to the Valentine’s dance this weekend?”
She laughs at me. Not loud enough to draw the eyes of those around us, but in this “You can’t be serious” sort of way as she brushes by me, getting herself lost amongst our classmates. The second bell rings, letting me know I’ll be late if I don’t hurry off to class, and my opportunity to ask today has been lost.
I consider asking her when I get home, but I don’t. And it’s not because she bruised my ego. No way.
First period is always the hardest. I’m never fully awake just yet and Mrs. Lemur’s voice drones on in the worst monotone way. If the class wasn’t called Chemistry, I wouldn’t even know I was in a science class because paying attention is hardly important to me. But today, I’m alert – or as alert as I can manage – because it’s the only class I share with Jenna.
It’s unfortunate for her that we’d be in the same lab group since I could care less about my grade and she’s an academic superstar. Nerds are like that, all gung-ho about their high school manuscript.
My elbow bumps the microscope she’s gazing into and I laugh, making a bad joke about the teacher’s reference to cell reproduction. Jenna looks at me like I’ve got two heads. “What is with you today, Trevor? Go back to la-la land, please.” And she rolls her eyes at me. The rest of our group scoffs and I shrink into my seat, outnumbered by a triplet of nerds. Wow.
When the bell finally rings, releasing us into second period, I grab hold of Jenna’s arm before she can vanish into the hallway. “Hey, I was serious yesterday about the Valentine’s dance.”
“What’s it to you, Trevor?” She presses her glasses against her face angrily, like I’m completely wasting her time.
“Well,” I say, raising my eyebrows in that flirtatious way that works so well with popular girls because it’s what I know. “I was wondering if you wanted to go together.” But I should have known better, because Jenna Mae is not like the popular girls I know and she is not persuaded with ridiculous waggling of eyebrows.
Once again, she laughs at me and barges out the door into the hallway, free of my grasp. “Get real, Trevor,” she says with all the disgust in the world and I’m not quite sure if she’s just not taking me seriously, or if she’s actually repulsed by the idea of attending a school dance with me. I decide the latter is impossible and resolve to try again tomorrow.
“Earth to Trevor,” my friend Brian chimes, snapping his fingers in my face. “Dude, seriously, who are you staring at?”
The lunch table gang laughs loud enough to be noticed by all the tables surrounding us, but not enough to draw Jenna’s attention away from her book.
“Nobody,” I say and dig back into my lunch.
I try to catch up with her before she’s lost to the lunch bell crowd, but I miss her. It’s not until the final dismissal bell rings that I spot her again leaving the school parking lot. We both have cars, so it’s not like I can offer her a ride home as an excuse to chat. But I race to her anyway, forcing her to roll her window down for me.
“Jenna… hey…” and I realize I’m out of breath. I don’t mean to be, obviously, because it definitely looks needy and no one likes desperation.
“Good God, Trevor. What now?” she says with an exaggerated sigh.
I can’t possibly be as annoying as she’s making me out to be. I let loose my winning smile. “Really, Jenna. I’m asking you to the dance. Go with me?”
She closes her eyes and pushes the heel of her hands into her temples like I’ve given her a headache. “No thanks,” she says, simply, a tired response.
Despite dodging me for two days, I wasn’t expecting her to say no. “Why not?” The words sort of escape my lips before I realize it. Crap.
She stares at me, really serious-like, a long time before she finally says, “Because, Trevor, you’re just not my type.” And that was that. She pulls away into the throng of traffic without waiting for my reaction.
And this is a good thing, because it stung more than I had anticipated.
Somewhere in the middle of the night, after giving this whole thing a lot more thought than I wanted to, I decided that it’s not possible. How can I not be Jenna’s type – I’m everyone’s type, right? Popular, good looking, funny… what’s not to love? I mean what’s a type anyway? Jenna’s never even dated anyone at school, how does she know I’m not her type? She doesn’t.
She must just be too shy to say yes (which just makes her even cuter). I decide not to give up and at lunch, I make my next move.
In a display that shocks her friends and mine, I bypass my table and cross the cafeteria to hers. Jenna’s so absorbed in her book she doesn’t notice me take a seat beside her. It’s the curious stares and uneasy quiet of her friends that finally makes my presence known to her, but she hardly grants me attention. Her eyes only drift towards me briefly with a splash of alarm before returning to her book to pretend to be lost again, like I’m not even there.
I dig into my lunch like it’s no big deal, as if I totally belong there. You’d think I was some feral animal people should be wary of with the way everyone is watching me while they eat. It’s too tense for my taste so I strike up a conversation to lighten the mood.
“So, you guys going to the dance this weekend?”
It takes a minute for anyone to answer me, but finally the boy in front of me (I think his name’s David) swallows his food in a gulp and says, “Um, yeah?”
I let out an easy laugh and remark, “You don’t sound so sure about that.”
The girl beside him (Amber maybe?) pipes up assertively, “Yes, he’s going. We’re going together.”
“Oh, that’s cool. Jenna and I are going together, too.” I motion to her with my thumb.
Forks clang as they fall from people’s hands. A gasp rolls across the table. I don’t let my confidence waver. I nudge Jenna with my elbow, a convincing grin spread across my face. “Right, Jenna?”
Her skin reddens and she closes her book forcefully. “We are not going to the dance together!” she growls. Angrily, she pushes her chair away from the table and shakes her head in disbelief as she departs.
I start after her, never letting the smile fade from my cheeks and say to the table, “Yeah, we are,” with a wink. “See you guys there!”
As I close my locker and start towards first period, Brian strolls up beside me. “So, there’s this wild rumor going around that you’re taking Jenna Mae to the Valentine’s dance.”
I chuckle at the fact that the nerds, the only people who actually know, gossip just as much as the popular people do. “No rumor. True story, Bro.”
He eyes me skeptically and assumes with evil hope on his mind, “Some sort of joke?”
“Nope. Obviously you haven’t noticed how hot Jenna Mae is.”
He laughs like Jenna’s hotness is impossible. “Of course not, man, she’s a dork.”
I just shrug my shoulders. “If you say so.” He shrugs too, indifferently and heads down a different hallway.
Jenna refuses to make eye contact with me in Chemistry and I find myself wishing for lab for the first time ever just to talk to her, but of course Mrs. Lemur doesn’t grant us the opportunity. Half the class is staring, whispering. Ah, the wonders of gossip.
Unfortunately for me, Jenna’s out the door the second the bell rings and I lose her to the hallway crowd. She skips lunch for the first time ever, so I do too and set out to look for her. It doesn’t take me long to pin down her whereabouts.
It’s in an aisle of the library no one ever wanders that I find her, resting against the stacks with her paper-bag lunch and a book in her hands. As quietly as possible I slip into the aisle and make my way to her. When I slide down beside her she sighs and closes her book.
“Why are you doing this to me, Trevor?”
I laugh lightly. “Doing what?”
“Telling people we’re going to the dance together!” she exclaims, not charmed at all by my I-don’t-know-what-you’re-taking-about technique.
“Because I really want you to go with me. Is it that hard to believe?”
“Yes,” she says shortly. “It is, actually.”
“Well, believe it. So what time should I pick you up?”
She turns to me with her mouth hanging open in disbelief and begins to shout, but remembers we’re in the library and resorts to a strained whisper. “I never said I was going with you, Trevor!”
I counter, “True, but there’s no reason not to and everyone already thinks we’re going together anyway so what time should I pick you up?” I wink, the flirtatious kind, for good measure.
She pulls her glasses off and pinches the bridge of her nose, then slides them back into place, taking such a deep breath her shoulders rise and fall dramatically. “You are such a persistent pest, you know that?”
If it helps me get my way, it doesn’t seem like a bad thing to me. I shrug nonchalantly.
“If I say yes, will you leave me alone?”
Enthusiastically, I nod like a child promising to be good over the prospect of a new toy.
“Ugh, fine. Fine, Trevor, I’ll go to the dance with you. But I’ll meet you there. I don’t want to be ‘picked up.’”
I laugh at the way she makes quotes with her hands around “picked up” like it’s a dirty thing. “All right, whatever you want.”
I can’t help but feel victorious as I leave her in the library, even if I did have to practically beg for a week straight.
The Valentine’s dance isn’t as formal as Homecoming or Prom. The dress code requires a tie, but not a full suit or tux. I fold the sleeves of my white dress shirt up to my elbows and wear a red tie because it’s Valentine’s Day. Isn’t red its official color? I hope whatever Jenna wears doesn’t clash terribly. As a final touch, I douse myself in my favorite cologne and quickly muss my hair into a purposely messy coif with some gel.
It seems ridiculous to drive to the dance separately, considering we live across the street from each other, but I’m not going to risk Jenna bailing on me by showing up to “pick her up” so I head to the dance alone. It takes a lot of genius lying on my part to explain this to my parents, something about her wanting to ride with all her girlfriends and me wanting to be surprised by her dress when we’re actually there, not before. Luckily, they buy it.
At the school, the auditorium entrance is adorned with red, white, and pink paper streamers loosely twisted together like a rope. A cluster of balloons in the same colors floats beside the ticket table, where a teacher I never had stamps our hands once we’ve paid.
The interior is even more elaborate. The ceiling is overcrowded with balloons, the strings of which dangle far enough to brush against the taller students’ heads, like mine, and tiny lights in the shape of hearts sweep across the dance floor from the DJ booth.
Tables line the walls and I scan them first for familiar faces. I spot a cluster of my friends – some standing, some dancing just beside the table. Cheerleaders bend together to take kissy-face pictures of themselves and everyone is full of glee. Since no one’s noticed me yet, I set out to look for a different group of kids – Jenna’s people – in hopes that she’s already here with them.
I find them tucked away like hermits in the opposite corner of the auditorium, as far away from the DJ as possible. Jenna’s not among them. Disappointing. I head back towards my friends where I can keep a better eye trained on the door.
So, she’s late. Aren’t most girls late for everything? No big deal.
It feels like I’m sitting there forever waiting for her, but I tell myself my impatience is just making it feel that way until the fairly steady stream of people stop coming through the doors. According to my watch, an hour has already passed and I’m just sitting here missing the dance.
On the chance that I missed her entrance on the few occasions my friends distracted me with their razing over my absent date or requests to snap their picture, I wander back over towards her friends. When I spot the couple who sat across from her at lunch, I approach them with a hopeful smile.
“Hey, David!” I say, giving him a friendly clap on the shoulder.
He corrects me, “Um, my name is Daniel.”
David, Daniel, I was close. “Yeah, Daniel, that’s what I meant.”
His girlfriend turns into our conversation and I try to erase my mistake with his name by complimenting her. “Amber, aren’t you looking lovely.”
She crosses her arms over her chest and scowls at me. “Marcy, Trevor. My name is Marcy. We’ve went to school together since we were five. Nice of you to remember me.”
My neck gets hot with shame. Marcy is not even close to Amber. “I’m sorry, Marcy. Really, I am.” She rolls her eyes at me unconvinced and returns to her previous conversation.
“Did you want something?” Daniel asks.
“Yeah, actually,” I start and scan the crowd one last time for her myself. “Have you seen Jenna?”
“You were serious at lunch?” he asks. A slow, surprised smile spreads into his cheeks. I’m speechless so he continues. “Dude, Jenna never comes to dances.” It takes a lot for him not to laugh in my face, I can tell, and I appreciate his effort because I feel like a fool.
My shoulders slump in defeat as I make my way back across the auditorium. I can’t fake a happy expression right now; the reality stings too much. I sink down into a seat and stare at the floor, hoping no one’s noticed my return yet.
I can’t believe I’ve been stood up.
Bless my friends for seeing the disappointment on my face when they realize I’m back and alone. We might be popular, stuck-up kids, but we’re mostly good to each other at least. I make attempts to mingle, and have fun with them despite the lack of a date, but her absence lingers like a sticky misery that wants to keep me glued to a seat on the outskirts of the dance.
The clock moves insanely slow, as if on purpose to draw this letdown out as long as possible. When there’s only about an hour left of the dance, I decide to just duck out early. I can’t endure another slow dance while I’m stuck watching from the sidelines.
I stuff my hands into my pockets with a sigh and head for the auditorium doors with my head down. No one seems to notice my departure, or at least no one tries to stop me. The teacher at the entrance has left her post and the hallway between the auditorium and the front door is empty, which I’m grateful for as I take my walk of shame.
As I press down on the metal bar to open the front door, I feel a pull on the other end sharing the weight of it. I push it all the way open and stand there in the doorway a bit stunned, as Jenna Mae stands on the other side of it shivering. For a full minute we just stare at each other—shock, irritation, and intrigue registering on both of our faces.
“Oh, so I see you finally decided to grace us with your presence,” I sneer. And immediately regret my tone because in truth I’m happy she finally showed.
She rolls her eyes at me and pushes past me into the school foyer and out of February’s frigid air. I let the door slam louder than it needs to and face her.
“Look, Trevor,” she says sharply. “I wasn’t going to come at all. I don’t do dances, okay? But,” she hesitates and she can’t make eye contact with me anymore. “I ultimately decided I couldn’t stand you up. I wouldn’t want someone to do that to me and I sort of live by the golden rule.”
I think that I could probably make her feel really guilty about that last part, since she basically did stand me up, showing up with less than an hour left of the dance, but I don’t because I just want to get a couple dances in so this night wasn’t a total loss. “Well I’m glad you have morals then. Come on, let’s go.” And I drag her towards the auditorium.
“Wait!” she says, pulling me to a stop. “But you were leaving, weren’t you?”
“Maybe, but you’re here now. Don’t think you’re getting out of this just because you confessed yourself. Let’s dance.” I smile widely and start back towards the music, with her in tow.
I don’t force her all the way to my friends or hers. I take her coat and purse and drop them off at the first spare table, and then spin her onto the dance floor before she can fully grasp what’s happening. Best way to get over a fear? Plunge headfirst into it.
The song is just right for fast-dancing, but not so fast that I can’t keep a hold of her hand so she doesn’t escape. I twirl her away from me, and back until she’s flush with me. She wears a silky purple dress with spaghetti straps that doesn’t quite reach her knees. A dress I can’t really imagine her having or needing. It falls over her body like a loose glove and I love the way it feels under my hands. We rock together and she looks so frightened you’d think I’d put her in a life or death situation. I chuckle to lighten the mood, but my happiness has no effect on her unease.
When the song fades out of upbeat tones and into something slower, I brace Jenna against me. She finally starts to compose herself and uses the closeness to berate me. “How can you be so full of yourself? It’s ridiculous.”
“Is it? I think it suits me just fine, actually. I’m having fun despite the fact that you showed up so late, while you, on the other hand, are doing everything you can to not enjoy yourself and for no reason at all. Seems like I’m the one winning here to me.”
She stiffens. “Winning? Is this a game to you, Trevor?”
I bend my face even closer to hers. “No, Jenna. I like you. I wanted to spend this night with you.” And I back away just enough to make her look at the seriousness in my expression.
It doesn’t really change her demeanor. She’s got it in her head that school dances are a bad thing and I’m even worse for forcing her to partake. But I decide to not let her mood faze me. I wanted to be doing this all night and I will enjoy every last minute of it.
Over the next few songs, I never let go of her. I get lost in her closeness and the music. It’s not until one of her friends skirts by with curious eyes that I’m drawn back to the reality of Jenna’s discomfort. I release her long enough to say an awkward hello. Her friend’s face tells me everything I already know – Jenna hates dances, she does not want to be here. And especially not with me.
The DJ calls last dance and it’s a slow one. The whole auditorium seems to quiet, and nearly everyone enters the dance floor for one last time. Jenna’s defiance has dwindled and she sort of sags against me when I pull her close.
“I guess this isn’t so bad, but it doesn’t mean I like you, Trevor.”
“I figured as much, but why?” I’m not really concerned anymore about how pathetic it sounds to care out loud.
“You’re just not my type.”
There’s that answer again. “What does that even mean, Jenna?”
“Your bravado, your popularity, your…” she loses the words she wanted to say. “You’re just not my type, Trevor.”
I sigh. “So you’re just not attracted to me, then?”
“It’s not about attraction. You’re not ugly. We just… are nothing alike, at all.”
Of course I’m not ugly. “What about opposites attract?” I offer.
A smile finally breaks into her cheeks, but she doesn’t agree. I know the answer anyway. She’s driven it home hard enough.
“You’re persistent; I have to give you that. Most guys’ egos would have been too bruised to continue the pursuit.”
I don’t bother to say that in this case, persistence wasn’t on my side if I didn’t win the girl. I don’t need to point out my failures anymore than she already has.
As the song comes to an end and the auditorium lights fade into a blinding brightness, I finally release her. Brian, who never even noticed Jenna Mae’s hotness until now, passes by me nodding his approval of my date. Daniel and Marcy gape at Jenna as they pass us, shocked at not only her presence, but her being here with me. She smiles politely and doesn’t out me over the real reason she’s here. Morals and all.
I start to offer her a ride home once we’re outside, but remember we drove separately. Before I leave her at her car, I say, “Thanks, Jenna. I know it wasn’t exactly what you wanted to do, but I’m glad you live by that golden rule.”
“I’m sorry you wasted your time on me,” she replies and kisses me on the cheek, the way old friends do after not seeing each other for a long time.
It wasn’t a waste of time, I think. Because even if Jenna has no interest in me romantically, I feel like I’ve opened the doors for us to at least be friends again. It’s senior year after all and we’ve already survived crossing the social barrier that separated us by being at the dance together. I only hope that come Monday, Jenna agrees.
This plan of mine didn’t turn out the way I expected it at all, but I think I’m okay with that. Maybe I learned that while confidence is an important quality, sometimes it can be overbearing – cocky even. Just because I’m popular doesn’t mean I get to call the shots. Popularity means nothing really in the grand scheme of things