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Waking Up After the Best Night Ever This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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Ah, the morning after: the time to lie in bed, staring at the ceiling, fondly remembering the evening before, one of the best nights of your life.

I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t what I once would have described as an ideal evening. My thoughts were very different two short years ago.

I was in sixth grade and going through what could only be described as an awkward phase. Too old to pull off the whole disheveled bangs and thick framed glasses look; too young to shake off my baby fat figure or convince my mother that I no longer fit in clothing sizes from Justice and had to shop elsewhere.

As you can imagine, I wasn't exactly the confident type. I spoke little to the general population; it took the right person to coax me out of my shell.

And there was the boy who, against all odds, did just that. He was placed next to me in a science class seating arrangement. He talked to me then, his jokes and banter charming my traditional “smile and nod while remaining strictly focused on task” response into laughs, eye contact, and even comments of my own. It didn't stop there. He spoke to me at times when we weren't even forced together, like in the hallways between various classes, when he had a million other options and I seemed to be the most improbable one.

It was almost inevitable that I tumbled head over heels into a massive crush on the boy.

My usual tactic of “admiring from afar” had been insufficient in that case, since his friendship prevented the all-important “afar” part.

But it didn't stop me from letting my imagination run rampant and dream up all of our times together.

As I gradually pieced together the concept of our middle school’s spring dances, the eighth grade one quickly became a favorite subject of my fantasies.

It was to be the perfect night.

I imagined my eighth grade self: a face free of glasses or blemishes, long hair that shined and flowed and curled in the absence of my annoying bangs, a body that was tall and slender, that looked great in the floral dress I had selected. Someone grown up and beautiful rather than the dorky and naive child I was. But most of all, my eighth grade self radiated confidence in a way that my sixth grade self never could. She walked in great strides, with a wide smile on her lovely face, towards him.

He appeared relatively unchanged, as wonderful as ever in my sixth grade mind, smiling the same smile as always while approaching eighth grade me.

He had fallen for the new me as hard as I'd fallen for both versions of him and had asked me to the dance in ways I never quite devised in detail in my daydreams.

Either way, we would talk and laugh and hold hands as we made our way around the cafeteria, conversing and dancing around with his friends and mine, which when combined was nearly everyone, since we were both so outgoing. When each slow song came around, he would pull me aside and hold me close, we'd whisper in each other’s ears as we swayed to the music.

When the time came for all the eighth graders to go to the gym for a traditional round of volleyball, he'd leave the game and sneak me away to some deserted location where we'd share a kiss.

I would go home with a wide smile on my face, lying in bed, unable to sleep, because my thoughts were only on him.

It would have been a perfect night.

But somewhere between my sixth grade fantasies and yesterday, the boy and the real me drifted apart through a series of events that could become a novel in themselves, so I'll skip ahead to what actually happened.

My real perfect night.

I entered the school with a smile on my face and my camera in tow. The first one to greet me was not the boy of my dreams but one of my best friends.

Together, we circulated the area, surveying the decorations and meeting up with other members of our circle of friends, using my camera to snap some mandatory group photos. The music was great and my friends and I danced out hearts out in our own weird ways. The DJ kept us all involved by starting up a multiplication dance that no one quite understood and a crazy conga line that almost contained the whole grade. We snacked on some popcorn and pretzels, but mostly went to the snack stand to gulp down frequent cups of water. Slow songs came and went, and I glanced at the boy a few times, only to go back to talking to my friends.

As in the usual style of spring dances, at nine the sixth and seventh graders went home, which gave us eighth graders the cafeteria to ourselves. My friend and I spun around in circles with outstretched arms and marveled giddily at the fact that we didn't hit anyone in the process. By 9:30 or so, I was feeling tired but refused to let my energy die out during the last half hour of my last spring dance. I danced even crazier to the last few of our favorite songs that played.

When the DJ announced that the next song would be the last slow one, I instinctively glanced around for the boy. When my eyes fell upon him, I came to a conclusion: it'd been almost three full years and he hadn't made any attempt to be with me. If he wanted to, he would have by then. My old dream was never becoming a reality. Instead of feeling down about this realization, I was empowered. I was not going to waste another song fawning over him or feeling sorry for myself. I grabbed my friend and twirled her jokingly around the vast empty space on the dance floor, laughing uncontrollably, not caring who saw.

When that song ended, the DJ announced that this was the final song and asked that we all have one last circle. We gathered together, put our arms around the person next to us, and belted out Don't Stop Believing as one unified eighth grade.

Afterwards, it was time for volleyball. I stayed in the gym for only a few minutes. Before I knew it I was really slipping away from the game, except with my friends, off to get my camera. In the mostly empty hallway, we took all sorts of crazy pictures for the rest of the night, completely ignoring the rest of the grade because we only needed each other.

Eleven o’clock came way too fast and all of a sudden we were saying goodbye. I still left the dance with a smile on my face, but after making an 11:11 wish and getting into bed, I fell asleep instantly, completely content. In my dreams, I began to make my new wish come true.

I wished that I would remember that night forever.

And now, today, on this morning after, I grab my camera and happily scroll through all the pictures we took. I laugh out loud at some of the poses, but even through the ones that aren't very funny, I can't keep this foolish grin off my face. I'm so grateful for these pictures. They'll help my wish come true.

But they help in another way too. I study the pictures of myself, and observe the real eighth grade me. Maybe I don't have twenty-twenty vision, my hair still doesn't look perfect, and not all the baby fat ever went away. But I've learned some things since sixth grade. Sure, I've learned how to use contact lenses. I've learned that it's not all that hard to grow bangs out. And I've learned that the right dress can do wonders to make you comfortable in your own skin. But I've also learned to be confident, because what other people think of you is much less important than what you think of yourself. I've learned that boys have a place, but at this point in time it's not worth it to see them as anything more than friends; the relationships can wait. I've learned that friends are the best thing you can possibly have at this stage in your life and to always make time for them, because even as you get older, they’ll be a living reminder of the good times you had when you were younger, and that’s something even more valuable than pictures.

But most of all, I've learned that the things that you want aren't always the things that you need.



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