In hindsight, I should really have guessed. Lottie bombarded me with odd questions, like what my favourite three-course meal was. Kim sounded no-nonsense when she announced she would do my make up before we went out, and drive Lottie and I to the city. Loud silences ensued whenever I asked whether our table had been booked yet.
On Thursday I endured my final five lessons, and then escaped the incessant prom-talk that echoed through the college café. As the others went into town to have their hair done, I left for Kim’s. Lottie got to me first. “Change of plan,” she said down the phone, “Our booking’s been moved by half an hour. Kim’ll get me at half seven.”
I thought I should let Kim know, but when I called her house she was out. I tried her mobile instead. She laughed, “I’m at Lottie’s. Long story… I’ll come and pick you up now.”
We went back to hers, she sewed up my dress and did my hair and then texted Lottie to let her know we were on our way. At the house she said, “Can you jump out and get her?” But at the front door, Lottie was already waiting. “I’ve just locked myself out; we’ll have to drop your stuff round the back,” she said.
I had no idea. No, really. It sounds ridiculous when I read it back, but nothing seemed contrived. We walked through the back gate and I saw the table decorated with origami swans, and as we turned the corner it took me a moment to notice the others, wearing suits and bowties and pretty dresses, waiting for me.
“Surprise,” Alice grinned, “Welcome to your Anti-Prom.”
Alice and Lottie had cooked the meal I’d described. We ate outside, under the paper cranes (and on the benches which, I later found out, Naomi had put together when the three Cambridge University offer-holders and two Engineering students failed to.) They explained how, while I’d been sat in double Politics, they had bussed in from the city with bags in tow to decorate the garden and tidy Lottie’s room, build benches and fold origami, cook the meal and change into prom-wear. We took photographs (with the help of the tripod Kim insisted I brought) and took off our shoes and when it got dark we went upstairs and curled up in sleeping bags.
We talked and laughed and played music, and eventually slept. I had a dream about the other prom and woke up in the early morning. To try and drift back off to sleep, I counted the sets of inhale-exhale breaths I could hear around the room. I reached eight, and I think it was then that it hit me.
Here I was, surrounded by a set of friends who had planned for months this surprise party. Who had worked so hard to make it a success, and who had given up so much time to make me happy. Here was a set of friends I didn’t truly realise I had.
More than that, I realised, here was not only my alternative prom, but my alternative summer. Here was an alternative to loneliness and to wishing that things were different. Here was the possibility of an alternative future; one not tied with everything I had been forced to give up in the past few months, but filled with a forever changing cycle of new friends, new experiences, new discussions and new dreams. Here, in this moment in the middle of the night, was a new beginning.