The gym was decorated with Christmas trees and large, wrapped presents. Snowflakes hung from the ceiling along with clear twinkle lights. There was a dusting of fake snow on the ground. A large reindeer with a glowing nose stood in a small grove of evergreens in a corner. A snowman, along with Santa and his sleigh were displayed in another.
Students were heading towards the dance floor. Girls were dressed in elegant floor length dresses in rich colors of velvet, some with long white gloves. The boys sported freshly pressed shirts and pants, with festive holiday ties.
Paivi looked around, taking in the scene before her. It truly was a ‘Winter Wonderland,’ as the banner that hung on the DJ booth stated. Someone had come up behind her and put a hand on her arm. She turned to find Jason standing there, a smile on his cheery face. She looked down to see his tie, where a line of elves were doing a Rockette-style kick line under Christmas lights, which were lit up by a small battery pack behind the tie. It was extremely cheesy, but somehow he made it look cool.
“Would you like to dance?” he asked, looking out at the dance floor as the DJ put on a slow song.
He put his arms around her waist and pulled her close. She put hers around his neck and rested her head on his shoulder. As happy as she should have been, she suddenly felt extremely sad. Her eyes prickled with tears and she closed them tight. A few escaped, rolling down her cheeks. She hugged him closer and whispered, “I’m sorry.”
She awoke wiping her face, her cheeks wet. It had become no secret that she liked Jason, but he had a girlfriend. And the Christmas dance was still months away. She was excited to see he was her date, but why would it end in tears? It made no sense. Being with Jason was nothing to be sad about.
A lovely smell wafted underneath her bedroom door. Paivi felt her stomach growl and rolled over. The alarm clock on her nightstand read 10:12.
Ahh, she thought, I LOVE Saturdays!
She kicked off her down comforter and gave a loud yawn and a stretch, pulling herself out of bed.
Down in the kitchen she found Torsten eating a large plate of waffles doused in syrup. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson were manning the waffle iron.
“I love waffles!” she exclaimed, pulling her chair up to the kitchen table.
“Me too!” Torsten spoke through a mouthful.
“How did float building for the Homecoming Parade go last night?” inquired Mr. Anderson, trying to get a waffle off the iron without burning his fingers.
“It was great! You should see our float! The theme is ‘St. Andrew goes to Hollywood.’ We used chicken wire to make the Hollywood hills, that’s why my hands are all scratched up.” She showed her hands that were full of long red marks. “On the hills we are going to put ‘SAHS’ instead of ‘Hollywood.’ And then there is a huge shark, like Jaws, that comes out of the middle of the field and he has a Dundee Warrior in its’ mouth, all covered with fake blood. On the side it says ‘Chomp the Warriors.’ It’s really cool!”
“It sounds kind of dumb,” said Torsten as he dumped half a bottle of syrup on what was left of his waffles.
“Oh shut up!” She threw a crumpled napkin across the table at him and hit him square in the head. “You’re just jealous because you’re still in eighth grade, you baby.”
“More waffles are ready!” Mrs. Anderson brought a steaming plate to the table.
Paivi and Torsten both reached across the table, forks at the ready. Paivi gave Torsten a quick poke in the hand with her fork and then used it to spear two fluffy waffles.
“Owww! Mom! She totally stabbed me with her fork!” He pulled his hand back, rubbing it.
“Well, Tor, quit hogging all of the waffles! Serves you right!” laughed Mr. Anderson, bringing his own plate to the table. “So when is this Homecoming Dance that my little girl is going to?”
“Oooo, do you have a date? Did you find someone tall enough to dance with?” teased Torsten.
“No, dummy, if you don’t have a boyfriend, you just go with your friends. I’m going with Michaela, Crystal and Aimee. Jenn and Paulina both have boyfriends so they are going with them. But I think we all want to go to dinner together at Armando’s before the dance.”
“Sooo...,” Torsten was trying to sound casual, “Aimee doesn’t have a date then?”
“Why? Do you want to go with her? Oh wait, oh that’s right, eighth graders aren’t allowed!” she laughed.
“Well,” interrupted her mother, “I wouldn’t make too much fun of my baby boy. Next year he’ll be joining you at school. Then he can go everywhere you can, so get used to it!”
Mrs. Anderson patted his head and gave him a big hug. Torsten hugged her back and stuck his tongue out at Paivi.
The week of Homecoming had Paivi feeling like she was caught in a whirlwind. Between Powder Puff, the Pep Rally, the parade, and the big game on Friday night, Paivi was lucky to at least keep up with her homework. Sleep, however, would have to wait.
Before the dance on Saturday night, Paivi and her friends gathered at Paulina’s house to take group photos before heading out to dinner. Paivi towered above the group, as usual. She wore a light pink cocktail dress, which came just above her knee, along with fancy silver flip-flops instead of dress shoes. She didn’t mind being taller than everyone, but she didn’t want to wear heels and feel like a complete giant. Mrs. Anderson had curled her long, blond hair into ringlets and stuck in a few of her grandmother’s antique hairpins.
“Here’s your corsage, my lovely date,” Michaela said as she pulled a box containing a flower from her purse. It was made of delicate, tiny, pink roses with sweet smelling baby’s breath. Being that they didn’t have dates, they agreed to buy each other corsages. Paivi had gotten Michaela’s with red roses to match her long, red, sequined dress.
Michaela twirled in front of Paivi, showing off her look.
“Girl, you should be walking down the red carpet for real!” Paivi said. She admired Michaela’s elaborate up-do. It pained her to think that Michaela’s mother was missing her daughter’s first high school dance.
Paivi grabbed Michaela’s arm and led her over to the group of waiting girls. The cameras flashed as Paivi tried to keep her smile frozen to her face. She wasn’t going to let anything ruin their fun tonight.
“Mmmm, my stomach is going to explode,” Michaela gasped as she and Paivi made their way to the decorated entrance of the high school. She clutched her stomach with both hands. “Must…not…eat…so much pasta next time!”
“Just because it was all-you-can-eat didn’t mean you had to eat it all!” Paivi giggled and followed a red carpet through the cafeteria to the doors of the gym. On either side were members of Student Council with cameras, snapping pictures of the girls as if they were famous movie stars. The school mascot, the Terrible Tartan, was waiting to escort them down the aisle. Paivi giggled at his short plaid kilt, which displayed the school colors of maroon and cream. They entered through a large archway made of fake palm trees and made their way across the floor to their friends.
Paivi saw Jason a few times in the crowd, but avoided eye contact. She wasn’t sure if she was up to meeting his girlfriend. Unfortunately, she could see he’d noticed her. There was no avoiding it now.
“Hey, Paivi, I was just talking about you,” Jason shouted to Paivi after he half-dragged a petite girl halfway across the floor. “This is my girlfriend, Melissa.”
Paivi took the girl’s limp hand in hers and shook it. Melissa produced a half smile, but said nothing.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Paivi said, attempting a sincere smile, even though jealousy was slowly creeping through her. She brushed it off as she waved goodbye. Her eyes followed Jason as he walked away, his arm around Melissa. Next up was a slow song, driving all of the non-couples from the dance floor.
“Let’s go get something to drink,” said Michaela, hooking her arm through Paivi’s and pulling her off the floor. “I’m parched!”
Paivi gave the dance floor a quick glance, spotting Jason and Melissa, arms around each other, swaying to the music. Their eyes were locked on each other. She wasn’t quite sure why she felt the need to look; why torture herself more?
The girls headed out to the cafeteria, where tables had been set up for refreshments.
Paivi was relieved to get a break from the hot gym. They joined a line at the table where cookies were spread out on silver trays. The group of students in front of them made their selections and finally moved on.
Paivi glanced briefly over the table and something caught her eye. She looked closer at the display. She blinked her eyes, not sure if what she saw was real. It must be a coincidence. The cookies were arranged on the table to spell out something she recognized right away.
Michaela was chattering on about something that Paivi didn’t hear.
She noticed and put her hand on her hip.
“Hey, P, you aren’t even listening to me!”
She started to pout and then noticed the strange look on Paivi’s face.
“Mick, do you notice anything about these cookies?” she asked, still staring at them.
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I think they look good and I want to eat them all.”
“Yeah, yeah, no you’re right. I just thought, I don’t know…,” she muttered, not really knowing what to say.
The cookies still looked like they spelled her name, even if Michaela couldn’t see it. Michaela took the ginger snap that dotted the last ‘i’ in Paivi’s name and grabbed a napkin.
“Come on, let’s get some punch!”
Paivi grabbed a chocolate chip cookie and followed her over to the next table. An older lady in a Tartans sweatshirt, wearing a Scottish beret on her head ladled punch from a large bowl into red paper cups.
Paivi glanced into the bowl and felt sick. The fruit in the punch began to arrange itself into two words.
Paivi could hardly believe her eyes, but after the cookies she wasn’t so surprised. She was scared. What did they know about her? And who knew it?
The woman stopped pouring and looked at Paivi.
“Are you feeling okay, sweetheart?” Her hand with the ladle was hanging just above the fruity words in the punch bowl. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“No, no, I’m fine,” she mumbled. Maybe the ladle would mess up the fruit. She stood there staring at the bowl, waiting. It broke the surface, breaking up the fruit letters. But after the lady served the next portion of punch, the fruit seemed to gravitate back together, like they were full of magnets. The words had reformed.
Michaela grabbed two cups of punch, said a quick thank you to the woman and led Paivi over to a table.
“Are you all right?” She sounded concerned. “You look like you’re going to puke! Please don’t puke on me, I really like this dress! But seriously, do you think you are sick from dinner or something? You know you are allergic to cheese.” She looked around and dropped her voice to a whisper. “Or maybe this is because Jason is here with his girlfriend?”
Paivi’s mind was racing. She couldn’t tell Michaela. Paivi felt crazy herself, and she was sure Michaela would agree. She hadn’t seen the words in the cookies or the punch.
“Here, maybe if you get some punch, you’ll feel better.” She pushed it towards Paivi.
She was afraid to look into the glass, for fear there would be some kind of message.
“Look, I’m sorry,” she said, trying to sound normal. “I just don’t feel well. You’re right; it was probably all that cheese on the pizza. But it’s cool, I’ll be fine.”
“Seriously? What was Miranda Swenson thinking, wearing that hideous yellow dress? She looks like Big Bird!” Michaela giggled as she nodded discreetly in Miranda’s direction before shoving a cookie in her mouth. The table she chose had a perfect view of the people waiting in line for refreshments.
Paivi turned to look and snorted, hurriedly covering her mouth. The punch almost made a quick exit.
They didn’t notice two girls walking up to the table. The first was short and plump and was dressed in orange, resembling a pumpkin. The other was somewhat skinny and wore a green dress.
“Hey,” said Pumpkin, looking at Paivi.
“Um, hi?” Paivi tried to figure out if she should know the girl from somewhere.
“We’re supposed to tell you that Christian Nelson wants to talk to you,” Green Bean explained.
“Who’s Christian Nelson?” Paivi asked, although she was worried she might already know.
Pumpkin and Green Bean exchanged a look that clearly read ‘what an idiot.’
“Everyone knows Christian. He seemed to think you’d know him too. Anyways, he’s sitting over there.” Green Bean gestured to the other end of the cafeteria, where a bunch of students were sitting at a table, talking and laughing. He was there, in the middle of the group. He wore sunglasses, so Paivi couldn’t see his eyes, but she could see his blond hair, which looked white in the light, very clearly.
Her hands shook as she grabbed her used cup and napkin from the table.
“Come on Michaela, I wanna dance,” she said, standing up abruptly.
“Whatever,” said Pumpkin.
The girls, looking a bit annoyed, turned and headed back to Christian Nelson’s camp.
“Don’t you want to go over and talk to that guy? That’s the one that was checking you out on the first day of school. He’s pretty cute. And he looks pretty popular,” Michaela said, pulling on her arm.
“I’m not interested. And I don’t think he’s cute at all,” she added firmly. “I just want to go back to the dance floor. Let’s go find the girls.”
Paivi dragged Michaela back into the gym and disappeared into the throng. She had a hard time enjoying herself after the cookies and punch incident, and tried to make sure she was in the middle of the group as much as possible. She didn’t want to have to deal with Pumpkin or Green Bean or any more of Christian Nelson’s entourage.
She couldn’t wait to go home. Who was making food talk to her? Could it have been Christian Nelson? She still thought she might be seeing things. And she didn’t know who to talk to about it. Hopefully, it would be over now. She had made it quite clear that she didn’t want to talk to him. Unfortunately, there was one small problem. Paivi would still be forced to see Christian every day at lunch and there was no getting around it. She shivered at the thought and tried to push it from her mind.