Chapter 26

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Thursday, October 16th

Day after tomorrow is the big day, and let's just say I'm nervous.
"Bailey?" I ask, not looking up from my lap.
She peeks around the corner of a clearance rack, two dresses slung over her right arm. "What?
I shift slightly on the bench. "I don't think I can do this."
"You kind of have to, and you shouldn't be nervous. You're singing for a bunch of other students and teachers and parents, last time you were singing at the poplars. They had a reason for maybe wanting to get back at you for humiliating them. There were actual risks with that thing. These people won't have any reason to get offended."
"That's quite a mouthful."
She rolls her eyes. "Seriously, though. You'll be fine. Now-" she holds up a turquoise, strapless, lace dress with a brown leather belt, "what do you think?"
I look it over carefully. It seems to fit the requirements. It's a decent color on me, it's not too short- and there isn't a huge ruffled flower on the butt. Hallelujah.
I nod finally. "Yeah. I'll try it on."
She grins. "You're going to look so pretty."
I roll my eyes a little and take the hanger.
"Josh is going to flip when he sees it on you." she squeals.
"You can't say that yet! It might not be flattering on my rear-end at all!"
She gives me a playfully pouty face. "He wouldn't care even if it did make your butt look big, which it won't."
I scoff and close the door of the changing room.
At first impression, the dress is comfortable, and I hold my hands in a thumbs up above the stall door. "Good so far!"
"Hurry up!" she whines, "I want to see!"
Brushing invisible crumbs from the front, I snort. "Give me a minute, will you?"
After straightening it one more time, I step out of the tiny stall, and see the dress in the mirror. My eyes widen. 
Bailey attacks me immediately. "Leah, you look so pretty!"
I should wear turquoise more often, I think. The color alone makes my olive tinted skin glow, and it brings out the red in my hair.
"I wasn't going to say anything, but Josh is wearing a turquoise plaid button-up, so you'll match." She has gotten over her original awe, and now insists that we go look for accessories.
"Why do you know what my boyfriend'swearing when I don't? And why do I need a clutch? I'm going to sing, not stash chocolate samples!"
"As much as I hate to correct you," she replies sarcastically, "you are not going to sing the whole time. You have two four minute songs, and the event lasts five hours. More importantly, a clutch is not for stashing chocolates. It's for carrying your phone and your money."
"What am I going to do for five hours?"
She smiles conspiratively. "Dance."
"But I don't know how to dance!"
"Then it'll be like my dad teaching me how to swim. Necessity is the mother of learning."
"That's not the actual quote, you know."
"I know. But when my dad taught me how to swim, he just threw me in, and I learned fast that way. So, when you go to dance, and have no idea of what you're doing, and make a complete fool of yourself, you'll learn faster."
I frown as she fingers through a pile of clutch purses. "Is there any way to learn without making a fool of myself?"
"Not in your situation. The dance is day after tomorrow, in case you don't remember."
"How can I forget?" I mutter.
She hands me a brown sequined little purse with a short strap. "I think that's all you need."
I nod, but the shopper's fever glow returns quickly to her golden-brown eyes. She snaps her fingers. "Shoes!"
I quickly grab her arm before she goes to hunt for shoes. "I'm wearing my boots."
"Oh, yeah. Right."
We gather up my small collection of things, pay for them, and leave. Her car is parked at the curb right outside, we climb in, and I settle the bag of clothes on the floorboard beside my feet. 
Staring distantly up at the big, fluffy clouds out my open window, I place my aviator sunglasses on my head. This week has made me question my sanity, but not because I have to sing in an event, or because my mom is in love with my therapist, but because tomorrow is my birthday, and no one has even brought it up. I'm going to be seventeen in less than twelve hours.
I glance over at Bailey, one eyebrow still raised from thinking of how strange it all is. She watches the road, like an actual good driver, hands at 10 and 2. I don't let her appearance fool me. Bailey is a terrible driver. One time she swerved to miss a skunk and wrapped the front end of her dad's truck around a tree. Not to mention she still hit the skunk. Needless to say, I'm pretty sure that she cheated on her driver's test, I don't see how that's possible, but still. The impossible happens, her license is proof of that.
"My birthday is tomorrow." I say, trying to sound nonchalant, when in fact, I could almost scream it.
"It is?" She doesn't sound the last bit interested or surprised. I frown down at my lap, feeling hurt.
A dress, a purse, and no one remembers my birthday.

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