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The Staircase Scene

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Charlotte has always hated that scene in every teen movie where the heroine comes down the stairs in her prom dress and the music swells and her date loses the ability to form words. It's stupid and cliched and it kind of makes her embarrassed to be a teenager. So when Z appears at the top of the landing, long curls tangling with the strings of pearls at her neck, and delicately picks up the hem of her vintage ivory lace dress as she starts down the stairs, Charlotte doesn't let on that her mouth has gone dry. She only cuts her eyes up and raises her eyebrows.

Z reaches the bottom of the stairs and twirls, to clapping and applause from her family. She ends at Charlotte's side, throwing her arms around Charlotte's neck and widening her already-wide eyes.

Charlotte drops her own hands to Z's waist. "You look like you fell off a museum stand," she says.

"Why thank you," Z says, stepping away and curtseying. "You look like a really classy call girl." Then her eyes light up as she remembers. "I bought you a corsage."

Charlotte grins. "Seriously?" Z nods and tugs at Charlotte's hand, pulling her back up the stairs. In her bedroom Z plucks the corsage off her bed: it's a white orchid, in a little bed of white ribbons. Z looks utterly serious as she fastens the orchid around Charlotte's wrist and steps back.

Charlotte tilts her head, letting her loose hair fall over her neck as she focuses on the mirror beyond Z. She puts her hands on her hips, cocking them to the side, white corsage against white minidress, rocking up on one black stiletto heel and letting her mouth curl. Z leans back against the wall, dipping her eyelashes as she looks Charlotte up and down. She pushes the tip of one finger between her lips in a way that somehow looks even dirtier in vintage lace and pearls.

"Yeah," Z drawls. "Yeah, that works."

Charlotte holds the pose for a second longer, then breaks down into giggles. "Okay," she says finally. "Your parents are going to want photos, even if you don't have a real date."

Z narrows her eyes at Charlotte. "Who says that I don't?"

Charlotte stares at her. Z's eyes are dark and unreadable. Charlotte can't help the shiver that chases down her arms.

Z seems to shake herself. "Psych," she says quietly. "C'mon. Photos await."

Charlotte lets Z take her arm. "Oh," she says. Z leans her head on Charlotte's shoulder as they walk down the stairs together, pressing easy and close. Charlotte can feel her stomach tying itself up in knots.

Maybe, she thinks.