Betty Quinlan had always loved pink dresses.
She happened to be standing in front of her closet with the doors thrown wide open, and she was completely torn as to which one of her lovely pink dresses she should wear.
She had made this decision a thousand times before. She had been to all kinds of parties in all kinds of different dresses, all of which now swung worthlessly and inadequately in her closet. Why was she having such a difficult time with this? What was so different about this particular party?
In the back of her mind, she knew, but she wasn’t about to admit it.
She wanted to make a good presentation. She wanted to look nice and have fun at a party. She wanted to look sweet and gracious and not offend anyone. She wanted Jimmy Neutron.
Wait - no. That wasn’t it.
Quickly she pulled one of the dresses off the hanger and scanned it with an analytical eye. It was usually one of her favorites, but it just didn’t seem to be quite enough tonight. She decided that it was a little bit too formal. She wanted to wear something a little more fun - flirty, even.
She also knew in the back of her mind that she had better watch herself, or else her choice of outfit might give the wrong impression to the host of the party himself: Nick Dean. Then again, it took very little to give Nick Dean the wrong impression. He was more conceited and over-confident than anyone she could ever dream of meeting, and he had the social IQ of a cockroach.
All the same, he threw fun parties.
It suddenly struck her that she wasn’t quite sure why she went to so many of them. The dancing was fun, she guessed. She liked talking to people and seeing people she knew. But there was the occasional moment when she felt like she would rather stay home and read a book or drink a cup of tea with her mother, and she never seemed to act on that urge.
Of course, there were other urges that she never seemed to act on. She had at one point, but now that they were becoming serious, she was trying to shove them away into oblivion somehow. She was a little bit terrified, but she wasn’t sure of what.
After all, if she were perfectly honest, she would be able to tell herself that she liked Jimmy Neutron - a lot. Did she love him? She had never had the opportunity to find out, and her mind was always changing as to whether or not she was going to give herself that opportunity. She thought he was sweet and kind and cute and brilliant, of course. Almost everyone had a complacent, disinterested, almost reluctant sort of liking for the guy. And a few years ago, she had definitely had a bit of a crush on him, which she hadn’t been afraid to show. After all, she was an honest, direct girl, and her approach to love had always reflected that; similarly, her love for and interest in people gave her the tools to send the right messages unequivocally. She knew how to communicate with people. Unfortunately, that directness was sometimes misinterpreted by a few jealous schoolmates, but she hadn’t let that false reputation affect who she was.
If only she could go back in time, to the point where she was sure that he liked her too!
It was really all her fault. She was the one who cooled off - and she had made that horrible decision to let Cindy pursue him without any competition. She knew now what a stupid move that had been. She had thought at the time that it was the right thing to do; after all, there clearly seemed to be some sort of connection between them that was stronger than her mild attraction to Jimmy, and it didn’t seem to be a huge deal. After all, she had convinced herself then that she didn’t truly like him that way. And she had tried to be gracious enough to Cindy - she had even tried to like her, although she admitted to herself that that was rather difficult for her personally - and she had avoided any kind of direct contact with Jimmy as much as possible. They still talked every now and then, and every conversation made her want more of it, but she still tried to keep her word. And of course, she had also kept a close eye on him without his knowledge. She flushed to think how stalker-ish she felt, but she really couldn’t help watching him whenever she could, particularly when he was around Cindy.
But she hadn’t seen him around with Cindy lately.
Her dresses seemed to mock her. Why couldn’t she go after Jimmy, anyway? She supposed that she was a little selfishly concerned with her reputation. She tried to keep herself grounded and not let her popularity control her, but it was only natural to want to be liked, especially when she was so used to it. And she had to wonder what would happen if anyone knew that she liked Jimmy, who was not only a year younger than she but also a nerd. Not to mention how inadequate she sometimes felt when she thought about him. She wasn’t exactly failing school, but she also wasn’t a genius, and she wasn’t a huge fan of science class.
And the intensity of her feelings actually frightened her a little. That was why she tried to ignore them.
But thinking about him couldn’t delay her choice for long.
Which dress did she want to wear? Seriously. He was going to be there. He had never been invited before, and she had to wonder why he was going to be there that particular night, but he was going to be there.
She had always been a little bit concerned with the way others saw her. She was self-conscious and wanted to please people. Maybe that was why those same schoolmates thought that she was insincere, but it was the way she was made. So why would the opinion of one specific person among the masses be so much more important to her than anyone else’s?
Why would one specific dress matter so much?
When she arrived at Nick’s party, she was pleasantly surprised and almost a little bit disappointed that Nick’s gaze wasn’t following her everywhere. Of course, she had rejected all of his intentions, and she knew that the source of those intentions were really not pure ones, but there had been a small part of her mind that enjoyed being admired like that. It was the part of her mind she was always trying to turn off.
She first went over and poured herself a glass of Purple Flurp. It was already warm in Nick’s house, with dozens of dancing, laughing teenagers packed in tightly together. She strained her neck and eyes in order to scan the crowd for a certain guest that she knew was supposed to be there, but she couldn’t see him. She did see Cindy, who was looking beautiful - Betty couldn’t help but be a little apprehensive of this - chatting animatedly to a distracted Libby, whose attention was partially focused on an infatuated Sheen.
Betty knew that Sheen’s presence was indicative of another - one that was much more exciting and distressing to her.
Her heart was beating madly, but she was still able to take note that Nick was eyeing Cindy now. She was glad that the little part of her mind that liked Nick’s attention was not in the least bit jealous. Cindy didn’t seem to be very happy about it once she actually took notice of him, but it seemed clear to Betty now why Jimmy had been invited to the party. Nick seemed to want to make sure that Cindy would come.
Betty was still trying her best not to dislike Cindy simply because they were rivals of sorts, but she couldn’t say that she was sorry about Nick with any sort of honesty.
Then she saw him.
He was hanging out awkwardly in the corner with Carl. That would be where he was, of course. She had to admit that there were many instances when she had felt like doing the same.
Should she approach him? Should she talk to him? Should she ask him to dance?
She swallowed the lump in her throat and downed the rest of her Flurp. It was really starting to get unbearably hot in there now, despite the fact that the dress she had picked was cool and light and sleeveless. Why was she suddenly finding it so hard to be straightforward and assertive about her feelings for Jimmy? They were so strong now - she could already feel how much it would hurt if she discovered that she no longer occupied even one of his thoughts.
But she would do it. She edged her way around the room, murmuring her polite “excuse mes”, and finally made it to the corner where Jimmy and Carl were making occasional off-hand comments to each other.
“Hey, Jimmy,” she said with a smile.
“Oh, hi, Betty,” Jimmy said with a start. “I-I feel like I haven’t really talked to you in forever. It’s too bad, I really like spending time with you. I - how have you been?”
“Oh, well, I’ve been pretty good, I guess,” she said with a slight giggle. Oh, no, now she was sounding empty-headed and flighty - and - oh, no, where was Carl going? Why was he leaving them alone together? Should she be reading into that at all? “What about you? I’ve heard great things about your inventions recently.”
“Yeah, things have been - great.” Jimmy shifted his weight and put his hands in his pockets. Betty suddenly wished she had pockets too, so she would have something to do with her hands. “Okay, anyway. Sort of the - well, sort of the same as they, uh, as they always were.”
His words and the way his eyes were looking at her - into her, even - were nothing if they weren’t a cue; despite the slight fog in her mind, she could recognize that, and every molecule in her body seemed electrified.
“Hey - do you want to dance?” she asked with a slight toss of her head. She couldn’t help but think of the first time they had danced. He was a much less awkward height for her now; she had to smile to herself.
Betty was usually a very brave girl - again, very direct and generally honest about her feelings. She had kissed Jimmy Neutron twice. She had also thoroughly enjoyed it both times, but that was beside the point. It had always been clear to her that Jimmy had enjoyed it, and that, right now, was the main thing. But it had always been abundantly clear to her that however courageous he was when it came to science or saving the town, he was just as clueless and cowardly when it came to girls. Whether it was Cindy or Betty, he never knew the right things to say or do. It was why he was always getting into trouble with Cindy. Betty just considered it part of his charm.
So nothing had really prepared her for his kiss. It was sweet and long - but still full of boyish innocence - and it made Betty’s knees a little weak. It took her so by surprise that she almost didn’t return it.
“I would love to dance,” he finally replied.
It was a long and beautiful evening that Betty would remember for the rest of her life. They hadn’t stayed very long at Nick’s party; the atmosphere was not conducive to their conversation, and they discovered that the open air under the stars was much better in comparison.
Suddenly everything seemed so natural with Jimmy. It was amazing how excited and happy and nervous and safe and comfortable he made her feel, all at the same time. And she knew that nothing mattered more than he did, than his love did - because that was what she saw coming for them: true love. If she had to sacrifice her reputation for that, she would. Even if there came a day when she would have to sacrifice her heart - that sprouting love - to him, she would have no choice but to do it.
And it was so amazing that they had been able to build their relationship through the few years of near silence. She felt close to him - closer to him than to anyone else in her life, and yet it had all happened so fast.
They had not kissed since dancing at the party, and as Betty and Jimmy approached her front porch, she was anticipating another. Their conversation had been wonderful, of course; they had talked about many things: about her, about him, about science and literature and theater and even about Cindy and Jimmy’s feelings about her. But she wanted to feel his lips against hers again, and she wanted him to be the one to initiate it again.
She was not disappointed, and his arms wrapped around her warmly and securely as his lips touched hers for a few seconds.
She was sweetly burning with the feel of him as she stepped inside her house.
No, she would not forget this. Not ever.
And then she started to laugh - laugh with joy, laugh with delight,
laugh with the wonder of whether or not anything would have happened
differently if she had worn another dress that night.