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The drive to the beach was about forty minutes from Rachel's house. We spent the whole drive blasting Taylor Swift with the windows rolled down. Our last girls' day had been ages ago.

Once we reached the beach, we set up our towels and bags, making sure the wind couldn't blow anything away. Rachel darted down to the water with her arms extended in glee. I wasn't a terribly huge fan of the beach, but she was. I followed her down to the incoming tide at a leisurely walk, appreciating the feel of the wind caressing my exposed skin.

It was a perfect beach day. Rachel and I stayed as long as we could. Despite the gobs of sunscreen I'd rubbed on, the sun still managed to turn my skin pink. Rachel had a nice tan glow, something I tried hard not to envy. I dropped her off at her house and sped home, so my parents wouldn't scold me for making them late.

To my relief, my parents were in their room when I got home. I bolted up to my room, took a quick shower, and began getting ready for the event. Picking out something to wear was always a burden for me, and, when I did finally choose something, I often wasn't satisfied with it. Tonight, that was what happened.

I analyzed by figure in the mirror with a scowl. The purple sleeved dress I'd put on clung to my curves almost a little too well. Most of the other tighter dresses I'd tried on had been too unflattering. I groaned. Stupid fancy parties.

A knock at my bedroom made me jump. My mom called my name from the other side and asked to come in. I reluctantly gave her permission. She opened the door and checked out my outfit.

"Cute," she remarked. "Are you ready to go?"

"I don't know. I'm not sure I like this dress."

"You look beautiful, Hazel. If you looked any prettier, your father would have to beat some of these old geezers off."

Though I cringed, I also laughed. "Let's not tempt the old men," I agreed.

"Have you done your makeup yet?" She checked her phone for the time. "We really need to get going."

"My makeup's done, but my hair's still wet. I'll just pull it up into a bun in the car," I decided.

"Great. Let's go."

My parents and I piled in the car and headed off to the city center where the event was being held. I chatted with my dad about work and the like. We rarely had time to catch up on what was going on. Before my senior year, we'd been really close. Everything was changing now that college was on the horizon.

The center's parking lot was packed. We could only find parking spaces in the back, which was fine. My mom and I would just have to make the long walk in our heels. When we reached the city center doors, a nervous tingle sprouted in my stomach. It was probably just the idea of socializing that was making me nervous. These old people always liked to ask me questions about what I wanted to do with my life. There was hardly a better way to stress someone out.

As expected, the center was booming. People were jammed into every crack and crevice of the main room. Colorful dresses and expensive suits overwhelmed my visual stimuli. I followed my parents to where the tables were and set my purse down in the chair next to my mom's.

"I'm going to the bathroom," I informed my parents before they headed off to mingle.

I held my breath and worked my way through the crowd to the bathrooms. Unfortunately, these were just as crowded. The mirrors were all occupied with women fluffing their hair, checking their lipstick, and smoothing out their dresses. Their laughter and lighthearted banter bounced off the walls. I probably would have enjoyed this more if I had my friends here to talk to. After all, social events weren't meant to be torturous. They just weren't for introverts like me.

After I'd survived the bathroom, I realized everyone was drifting to their tables. I tried peering over the crowd to remember where our table was, but I was too short. Even in these stinking heels I couldn't see over people's heads. A hand clapped onto my shoulder, almost making me cry out until I saw it was my dad.

"Pumpkin," he greeted with a grin, "dinner is about to start. Ready?"

"Yep," I answered. "Where's our table?"

Rather than reply, he guided me in the right direction. It was hard to hear over the chatting crowd anyway. My mom waved us down from her seat. A smile had stretched across her painted lips, and her eyes were bright with happiness. She liked this kind of gig.

Then I noticed a familiar man in a solid black suit standing behind my mom. She turned her head a little and said something to him. Lifting his gaze, our eyes locked. My stomach dropped to the floor along with my jaw. What was Mr. Whitaker doing here?

Meeting Mr. WhitakerWhere stories live. Discover now