What they don’t tell you about your last moments on Earth is how you’re going to panic for reasons that make absolutely no sense. Sure, you’ve heard your life flashes before your eyes and you become sad thinking of your family having to go on without you, but that’s actually just a clichéd version. What isn’t so typical is the bizarre thoughts that cross your mind in that last minute — questions you’ll never have the answer to. The thing about dying is…everything seems so important, yet not actually important at all anymore. You wonder why you spent so much time fighting with your mom about how to do your hair or where to get your flowers from for prom. You think about all of those times you could have gone to visit your grandma, but chose to stay home and watch TV instead because you were tired. You think of all that time you wasted because you can’t get it back now. You wonder if there is an afterlife and hope that you were good enough in this life to actually go there and fear that if not you might get sent to that rumored fiery place deep down under the surface of the ground. What will my funeral be like? Will anyone care? Will anyone come? You think of all of the plans you had and laugh to yourself because do we really get to make our own plans in this life or were they ultimately predetermined for us?
I thought it would be a fun night and weekend out with my friends. Every high school senior girl dreams about prom from the time they are a freshman to the day it actually happens. You want to have the perfect dress, perfect date, and perfect group to take pictures with, making sure everyone’s dresses are all coordinated. You know that one girl has to be Prom Queen and you fantasize over the idea that it could actually be you if you tried hard enough. I was set on the path to an almost perfect prom. I started shopping early to ensure that no one at my school had my same dress. I had a boyfriend who I dated a short time promise to ask me to the dance in an over-the-top, extravagant way. I booked hair and nail appointments and started tanning weeks in advance for the dance, and I got my name on that ballot for Prom Queen. Everything was too good to be true up until that night a few days before prom. A student at a nearby high school was found dead. She was only missing for a few hours. By the time her parents realized they didn’t know where she was, she wound up dead, dropped off near a fairly busy road at the edge of the woods. Who would have a reason to kill a high school girl? Was it an accident from walking too close to the side of the road? Her parents insisted she wouldn’t have been walking there and that this had to be intentional. We didn’t know what happened to her, and it seemed people wanted to keep it that way. Since the incident had happened just in the next town over from ours, the school board wanted to shut down our prom. The dance was to take place at a venue in town, but with a suspected killer on the loose, it seemed like trouble waiting to happen.
“Mom! This can’t happen. We have to do something!” I insisted.
“I don’t think the dance is a good idea, sweetie. What if something happens?” I wish I would have known that her worrying wasn’t for nothing.
“And what are the odds of that really happening?” I rolled my eyes.
This event had to go on. The school board met and discussed options, some parents sitting in on the meeting. It seemed the popular opinion was to keep the dance going. This town was pretty well-off and most girls went all out for prom. It would be money wasted to have dresses we could no longer wear, appointments we couldn’t reschedule, and to cancel the venue and after-prom activities. Ultimately, the board members saw it our way and the dance was able to go on as planned. It may or may not have been due to the fact that some of the board members had daughters in my grade. If I would have known then what I know now, I would have begged them to cancel the dance. That’s another thing about dying: You start to look at things you’ve done and decisions you’ve made and regret them. How could you have known things would end up this way? You couldn’t have predicted the future. You had no idea things were going to get this bad.
The morning of prom, I woke up extra early. I couldn’t sleep anymore. I was just too excited for the day’s and the weekend’s events. After the dance, my group of friends, my boyfriend, and I were going to my best friend’s lake house for the weekend. “Senior Skip Day” was Monday, so we had a full two days at the house to drink, goof off, and enjoy each other’s company before the end of the school year came and we’d all be pulled in different directions because of college. I got up and ate breakfast before going to my appointments. I arrived home at a reasonable time, already complaining about my hair.
“You look beautiful,” my dad smiled, pulling me into a hug.
“But it isn’t good enough for me to be Queen. It was supposed to look like the picture I showed her!” I complained. I wish I wouldn’t have taken my dad for granted. He loved me so much and gave me everything I could have asked for. He did so much for my family. He would be hurting so much after he found out about me.
“It is good enough! You’re the prettiest one at that school and have the best personality,” he reassured me.
I smiled and went to put on my makeup. I waited in my room once my dress was on because I wanted to make an entrance when my date arrived. I heard the doorbell ring and his voice greeting my parents. I timed my walk down the staircase.
“Wow,” he breathed. He was speechless, just like I had wanted. My dress was a beautiful, mermaid-style seafoam green gown I had seen in a catalog in December the year before. I knew I had to have it and searched dress shops far and wide to get my hands on it. It came in a couple different colors, but I chose this one in the end because I knew it would be pretty with a tan.
“Ready to go?” I asked with a smile.
We were meeting at another friend’s for pictures and my mom was coming along behind us to take individual ones of us. Pictures seemed like a blur and I wish I would have been more present for them to take it all in. I didn’t know this would be the last time my friends and I would be photographed together. Maybe I would have done some more poses. Maybe I would have made sure to go back and get pictures with the girls that had asked, but I forgot about. I could have appreciated the experience more.
As I said my final goodbye to my mom before we headed off to the dance, I gave her a quick hug and kiss on the cheek.
“Text me when you win,” she’d said with a wink.
She was sure that I would be Prom Queen. It wouldn’t matter if I was anyway. I should have given her more time, said a proper goodbye, but I thought I would be seeing her again in a couple of days. I didn’t even say goodbye to my brother and sister at home. They had things going on and were in and out running around all day. They didn’t have time to watch me play dress up.
The banquet hall was magnificent and beautifully decorated. It looked like it came straight out of a fairytale. It was everything I could have imagined and more. There was a large ballroom where the dance would take place and a smaller room with tables set up where the dinner portion would take place. There was an outdoor patio and garden with a cobblestone trail that connected the two, and couples were all outside taking pictures there. I snapped a few with my friends before we headed into the dining room.
“Are you nervous about tonight at all?” one of my friends asked.
“What like about the voting? No, piece of cake,” I smirked.
“I mean like about the thing that happened a couple days ago. What if that girl wasn’t the only one?” she looked worried.
“What is this? Scream? You think some masked serial killer wants to gut us one by one? Besides, she didn’t even go here. There’s nothing that could connect her to us,” I reasoned. I would eventually see where I was wrong, but I had no way of knowing then.
We finished dinner and soon it was time to get the dance started. I was surrounded by my friends and we laughed until my stomach hurt and danced until I felt like I could no longer stand up.
An announcement was made after a few songs calling all of the girls and guys to make their way up to the balcony. We huddled anxiously and wished each other luck. The boys didn’t care who won and most of them ran for laughs, but all of the girls up there were hoping to win. When the entrance song ended, the DJ gave a speech about all of the contenders and wished us all luck. One by one, boys and girls were called in pairs down the staircase, each being given a sash on the way down. The time had come. There were only two couples left. My heart dropped when the other girl’s name was called. I was in shock. I had actually done it. I was Prom Queen! My king was a boy I knew since elementary school who was what you could call a class clown. We walked down the staircase arm-in-arm, wearing our sashes and we were crowned at the bottom on the landing. I rushed back to my friends, all of them pulling me into a group hug.
“We knew it would be you! We all voted,” they squealed.
I was separated from them by my boyfriend who pulled me into a tight embrace and kissed my forehead.
“You look absolutely stunning tonight. I’m proud of you my queen,” he smiled.
I’d soon feel bad for him at the end of the night. I didn’t know him too well, since we had only just begun dating, but I really cared about him. He was sweet, athletic, and smart. He was going to college on an academic scholarship in the fall. I feared I might hold him back if we lasted that long, but I guess that was the least of my worries now. I wish I would have had more time to be with him.
The music picked back up after the DJ congratulated us and I was back to being with my friends. I went to get a drink of water when a girl I recognized, but didn’t really know came up and tapped me on the shoulder.
“There’s a guy who works here on the patio who asked me to send the queen out for pictures,” she smiled.
“Thanks, I’ll head on out,” I nodded.
I thought it was for the school yearbook. I didn’t tell my friends where I was going — after all, I didn’t think I had to. I could pose for a quick picture and no one would notice I was even gone. But that was the thing: No one would notice I was gone. I slipped out the door to the empty patio. It looked even more beautiful out here at night. In the spacious fountain, the water sparkled in the starlight. The walkways were lined with lights as well to illuminate the outdoor space. I sat on a bench and waited for whoever was supposed to come out here. Around the corner, I saw a boy from my school dressed in the same attire as the waiters here.
“Hey you must be taking pictures!” I greeted. He gave me a small smile but almost looked sad. “Didn’t go to the dance?” I asked. What should have struck me as odd was that I didn’t see him holding a camera.
“No…didn’t have a date,” he said. “I asked a few stuck-up bitches, kind of like yourself, but they all turned me down.”
The pleasant expression on my face faded.
“I’m almost disappointed that it was you,” he continued. “I always kind of liked you. You weren’t as mean as the rest of them. I wish it would have been one of the cheerleaders or that drama club bitch.”
He was talking about the election.
“Well if you liked me, why is this bad? Did you vote for me?” I smirked.
“I didn’t vote for anyone. I let fate decide,” he sneered.
“You’re starting to freak me out,” I said, backing up. I should have walked away at that point. I should have come out here with my boyfriend or my friend that won Prom King, but I didn’t. Why would I have suspected anything in the first place?
“Girls like you need to pay. Girls like you are the girls that never learned my name. We have been in class since Pre-K and you don’t know anything about me. You ignored me every day because I wasn’t a jock and I wasn’t hot or cool. I couldn’t get a date to prom…and now…I’m working it. I’m cleaning up after all of you rotten, pretentious people.”
“I know your name,” I defended myself, as I tried to remember his name.
“And that’s why I said I almost feel bad. You were always kind of sweet. That other skank from out of town? She won Prom Queen at her school, so she had to pay. She was easy to track down. Too dumb to realize what was happening until it was upon her. But that girl was just practice for the main event. You’re not going to put up a fight either are you? Not in that dress,” he stated.
“You don’t have to do this,” I reasoned. How had no one noticed I wasn’t in the ballroom? Why wasn’t anyone looking for me?
“It’s already done,” he replied, pulling a pocketknife from his back pocket.
I turned to run and as he suspected, I got caught up in the material under my dress and fell. I opened my mouth to scream and felt his hand cover it. I could feel his knee in my back replaced by a sharp pain down my spine. Something warm was coming over me and I squeezed my eyes shut, knowing full well that I was covered in my own blood. I could feel it pooling under me as he lifted me up and dragged me away from the patio. I couldn’t move any of my limbs and my vision was became blurry. I was dizzy and breathing was difficult with his hand over my mouth.
Blood wasn’t going to come out of this dress and my mom was going to be pissed, I thought. Why did I think that? What was that going to matter? The thing was, I knew I was dying. I could feel it. I felt my body becoming weak and I became more and more aware of my ever-slowing heartbeat.
I can confirm my life flashed before my eyes and I can tell you now that I did reprimand myself for all of my past mistakes. If I could have done it differently, I wouldn’t have run for Prom Queen. Hell, I wouldn’t have even come to this stupid dance. I ran through all of those forever unanswered questions and dreaded what I knew was coming. My classmate lifted me and tossed me like a ragdoll into the fountain. Was it to cover up and wash away the evidence? Was it to leave and even more disturbing scene for whoever found me? I could tell the water wasn’t deep, but it was deep enough to sink down a few inches and become completely submerged. The scariest thing was that I was still conscious with thoughts running through my head and knowing that I couldn’t do anything to help myself. If I’d known this was the end, I would have said my goodbyes. If I’d known this was the end, I would have tied up loose ends and answered some of those haunting questions.
If I’d known I wasn’t going to survive prom, I sure as hell wouldn’t have spent so much time worrying about the color of my dress.