Updated: May 31, 2019
I think about canceling, telling Drew I’m sick or got hurt at the dojo. But something won’t let me do that. I don’t want to lie to him and let him down. He needs me there. Even if it is a less-impressive, antisocial me.
I fumble with the doorknob, my fingers about as cooperative as my shaking knees.
Drew’s waiting in front of my door like a real gentleman. He’s wearing a suit and tie, and I realize I’ve never seen him in anything other than jeans and a T shirt. His hair is slick and combed back. It’s funny, in a cute way, how uncomfortable he is. His eyes rest on me, making me tremble even more. I’m not the person Drew got to know. I’m just a shell of the outgoing, fun person I was. I shrink back into the door, not wanting him to see me like this, not until I get the glasses back.
“Ready?” he asks with a small smile.
I follow him, and he introduces me to his parents, who are waiting in the car. Drew and I are quiet the whole ride there, listening to his parents talk in the front. Once I glance toward him and see him watching me. He looks away quickly, and I pretend I didn’t see him. Why had I said yes? This could only end in disaster.
The ball is at the Imperial Hotel, a building I’ve only ever seen from the outside. Inside it’s even more glamorous than I imagined.
“Here,” Drew holds his arm toward me, “This is how the upper class do it.”
It’s the first thing Drew’s really said to me all night. I smile at him, trying to keep from crying from all the pressure I feel. I’m not funny. I’m not cool. I take his arm, hoping he doesn’t feel my arm shaking.
“Okay, so this is what we do,” Drew says when his parents stop to talk to a group of sophisticated-looking lawyers in suits and gowns. “Stay to the side, so we don’t get caught into dancing and where the food is, and eat as much as possible. The food is the bomb.”
I follow him, trying to take in everything, the fancy gowns, orchestra playing in the background, the tables with dainty platters, actual waiters carrying sparkling glasses on trays.
“This is crazy,” I say so quietly I don’t think Drew heard me.
But he says, “Yeah. Let’s eat.”
The tables are loaded with all kinds of delicacies. Drew's not shy and helps himself to as much as he can carry. I follow him, picking up a little sandwich or some fancy dessert here and there, but I know I'm not going to be able to eat more than a couple bites. My stomach has shrunk to where a drink of water would make me feel sick.
We end up sitting on the long staircase with our plates and watching the dancing and conversations beneath us.
“You do this every year?” I ask. It’s hard to tear my eyes from the massive chandelier hanging from the high ceiling.
Drew nods. “This is all it is. The same thing every year. It’s cool to watch for a while, but my parents stay past midnight, and the food starts running out by ten.”
He shrugs, and I’m amused at how normal he sounds under his suit and shiny hair.
“Thanks for coming with me,” he says, giving me a shy look. “You look… you look great, by the way.”
I blush and don’t know what to say. I’ve never been good at taking compliments. If I had my glasses, I know I would have something cool or funny to say to that.
Drew stares at his plate, ripping little holes in his napkin. “I want you to know, Katie…” His voice trails off, and now we’re both watching his fingers pull at the napkin. I don’t know what he’s about to say, but my heart is pounding so loud, I think it could join the orchestra as percussion. “I didn’t just invite you as a friend. I mean, you have been a good friend, well, not really a friend, but you’re a good friend to your friends. I mean—”
Drew finally looks up after his rambling, his voice as shaky as my entire body.
I need my glasses to steady my nerves. I feel like I’m about to explode from the tension.
Drew’s phone rings, breaking the awkward silence, and he snatches it. I see Grace’s name on the screen before he picks it up and mouths, “Sorry,” and steps down the stairs.
I stare after him. What had just happened? Was he about to tell me that he liked me? It sure sounded like it until his phone rang. But if he does like me, why is he always running off every time Grace calls?
What’s going on between them?
I stay there, studying my shaking hands. It’s okay. I’ll just wait till he gets back and calm down a little. I wait through another song. Then another. I look out but don’t see Drew anywhere on the floor. The orchestra strikes up a third song, and I’m starting to get more nervous than I was before he left. What’s going on?
Then I see him rush inside. He goes to his parents, who are talking to a group of older men, and he exchanges a few words with his dad. Then he hurries up the stairs to where I’m sitting.
“I have to go,” are the first words out of his mouth. I look at him, not getting what he’s saying. “You can come with me. I got an Uber, and it can drop you off on the way. I don’t want to leave you here alone.”
Drew’s face is serious, his eyes pleading. “I’m sorry. One of my friends is in trouble, and I have to go help.”
When I don’t move, he takes my hands, sending a shiver down my spine, and pulls me up. He grabs our plates, and I follow him down.
In the Uber, we sit like we did in his parents’ car on the way, the driver happy to chat even though we don’t respond. We pull up to my house, and Drew just tells me he’ll see me at school before the Uber drives away.
I stare after the car. And then I start crying. I don’t cry a lot, I don’t even remember the last time I cried, so the tears surprise me. I wipe them away and walk inside, hoping it’s late enough that my parents will be in bed.
They’re not. I hear their voices in the living room, and when they hear the front door, my dad calls, “Is that you, Katie?”
“Yeah,” I say, making a beeline straight toward my room.
“You’re home early,” I hear my mom’s voice say from the other room.
“Aunt Stacy’s here,” Dad says just as the bathroom door at the top of the stairs opens and Aunt Stacy walks out.
“What’s wrong, Kate?” Aunt Stacy’s face goes from a smile to a puzzled frown. “Was it the ball?”
“I lost them,” I say in a shaky voice, hurrying past her to my room.
She follows me. “What? What did you lose?”
“The glasses,” I say, wiping my tears. I know I’m being stupid, and I don’t want the rest of my family to notice and make a big deal about it. I turn around to face Aunt Stacy. “I left the glasses at the dojo, and nobody was there for me to get them, and I was so boring and clumsy with Drew, he left me early to go be with another girl.”
The story brings back more tears, and my voice gets high and whiny, the thing I hate most about when I’m trying not to cry.
“Wait, what?” Aunt Stacy pulls me down beside her on the bed and faces me. “Tell me everything.”
I start from talking to Meg Ingleson and tell her everything that happened with Drew. “If I hadn’t forgotten those glasses, I know I could’ve kept him there,” I say, blowing my nose.
Aunt Stacy lets out a long sigh. “Honey, you’re missing the whole point about the glasses.”
“The glasses don’t change who you are. They change the way you look at things.”
I hug my knees, trying to stop feeling sorry for myself and paying attention instead.
“When you put on the glasses, you don’t become a better, cooler, or more talented person,” Aunt Stacy says. “You’re the same you you’ve always been—”
“But then what do they do?” I cut in. “I felt like a totally different person.”
“The glasses change your attitude. Without them, you think running a race is impossible, that guy would never like you. Your negative thoughts drag you down so much, they keep you from being your true self.”
She scoots closer to me and takes my hands. “The glasses just show you what you’re really capable of. That you can run, even if you don’t win. You can talk to that guy and not make a fool of yourself. You can befriend that one evil girl at karate. It doesn’t change you, it just makes you more confident in yourself. Does that make sense?”
I look into Aunt Stacy’s earnest face, the pieces slowly clicking in my head. “So I could still do everything I’ve been doing in the past few weeks without the glasses if I just had the same confidence.”
Aunt Stacy nods. “And more. It’s all about your attitude.”
“Then why did everything go wrong tonight?” I says, slouching back down.
“Everything didn’t go wrong. Your confidence was crushed because of what you thought about yourself. It sounds like Drew was actually enjoying himself with you. I think it was your perspective that put everything in a bad light.”
I think about what she’s saying. “He did leave to help Grace, but he’s done that before, when I had the glasses. Maybe it didn’t have anything to do with me.”
“I don’t think it did,” Aunt Stacy says. “I think he has a problem with a friend that may be coming between you two that you should probably talk about, if he’s getting serious about you. But I don’t think he’s doing that because you’re not interesting.”
“So,” I say, “figuratively speaking, I could stop wearing the glasses and be the same person I am with them on?”
“Exactly.” Aunt Stacy smiles.
“That’s why you don’t wear them anymore?”
“I don’t need them,” she says. “I’ve learned to live this way.”
“Wow,” I say, blowing out the air through my mouth. “The last few weeks has been the craziest time of my life. I’ve felt so alive.”
“I’m glad,” Aunt Stacy says, squeezing my hand. “Now come downstairs. I’m sure your parents want to hear about your first ball.”
The next day, I get the glasses back, but I try to go without them to see if Aunt Stacy is right. It’s hard. I catch myself thinking negative thoughts all the time. But when I walk into school Monday morning, I still say hi and smile at people I don’t know and feel good, even without the glasses on. I keep them in my backpack though, just in case.
I haven’t talked to Drew since Friday night after the ball, so I’m nervous. Big time. Unfortunately, before I put my glasses on, he catches me in the hall.
“Hey,” he says with a shy smile. “Are you doing okay?”
“Yeah.” I try to mask my shaky limbs by looking him in the eye. “I’m good. You?”
He shrugs. “Listen, can we hang out after school?”
When I walk out of my last classroom, Drew is already waiting by the door. I put my glasses on, just to be safe, and am feeling a little better about myself.
When we got outside, Drew starts his rambling thing again. “I’m really sorry about the ball. I hated to have to leave you so early, we were supposed to hang out all night, but Grace was in trouble, and I didn’t know what else to do. We’ve been friends forever, and she needed me—”
“It’s okay,” I say, stopping him. “Don’t worry about it.”
“No, I feel really bad.” I can tell he means it by his sagging shoulders and pleading eyes. “I hope you don’t hate me.”
I laugh. “I don’t hate you. I do have a question though.”
Drew raises his eyebrows expectantly.
It’s now or never. “What’s going on between you two? We’ll be hanging out, and then she walks by or calls or… I just want to know if there’s something…”
“Oh, no.” Drew shakes his head with a laugh. “There really is nothing. She’s moving.”
“Oh, really?” I try to hide the relief flooding through me.
“Yeah. Her parents are getting divorced, and they’re moving away. Grace has a…. complicated life. I wish I could tell you everything, but I can’t right now.” He glances at me. “I’m not trying to be sketchy. We’re really only friends. She just shut out everyone else from her life, and I’m the only friend she has now. I swear that’s it. I… I was going to tell you this Friday before she called. I really like you.”
He can’t look me in the face, but if he did, he’d see my uncontrollable grin. I yank off my glasses, just to see if I still feel as ecstatic. I do.
“I know I’m not the coolest person ever,” Drew continues, slowly gaining the courage to look at me, “but I want to keep getting to know you. And hanging out. And stuff.”
He grins. I grin back. We probably look really weird, standing on the sidewalk, grinning at each other.
“So…” I say, prodding him.
“So… Want to be my girlfriend?”
I don’t need my glasses to say yes as loudly as I do right then.
It’s been weeks since I’ve worn the glasses. I’m almost too happy, even without them. I ran the half marathon with Aunt Stacy. We didn’t do great, but it was fun. I made a good friend in Meg Ingleson. She’s pretty cool when we’re not competing in something. And I have a boyfriend. He’s a little awkward and goofy, but he’s exactly what I’ve wanted for years.
I sometimes still get discouraged and feel like giving up, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. When I feel down, I look at the glasses case on my book shelf and remember it’s not about who I am, it’s about my outlook on life. The way I see. That’s what changes everything.