Dusk, Dawn, and Senior Prom Part One
by Alan Dalby
Dedicated to Anthony Mario Alessi
From fourth grade up to his sophomore year of high school, Peter Johnson had been the fat kid. When the bullies needed to get the frustrations of their home life and their personal insecurities off of their chest, Peter had always been around as a conveniently plump punching bag. His unfortunate name only added to his troubles. He stayed quiet and avoided eye contact with mostly everyone throughout these years, especially in junior high, the worst three years of any young person's life. Then one day toward the end of tenth grade, Peter was stuffed into a van filled with screaming teenage girls while the other guys on the field trip to Branson Missouri got to ride in the fancy bus. Peter learned soon after both of these vehicles had taken off from his high school in Colorado Springs that he actually drew the long straw. Sure, the other guys had a fold-down screen above each of their bus seats enabling them to watch whatever bad movies the chorus teacher had brought along for the long drive; but Peter was wedged into a small van seat in between two good looking girls. That week, Peter's natural shyness and nervousness kicked in as he spent most of his time hanging out with members of the female gender. The result was a very shaky stomach that didn't ask for food the entire time. When Peter returned from this fateful trip, his stomach had shrunk, and after a summer job filled with heavy physical labor, he returned to high school for his junior year a new man.
Suddenly, he wasn't the fat punching bag for bullies anymore. Suddenly girls didn't laugh at him as he passed them in the hallways, but rather they smiled flirtatiously and even talked to him. Peter had not become one of the popular kids in school. He maintained his shyness and still didn't speak very much. Slowly however, that all began to change. He still stuck with the same friends he had hung out with since grade school. He became friendly with the popular guys and girls, but didn't join any new clicks. His confidence grew and he became very social and outgoing. His growth as a person continued throughout the year. He kept his job where he would go after school and continued to form his suddenly skinny body, toning his muscles and hitting just below a ten on the stud-o-meter. He had gained the confidence his junior year to ask out his first girl. The nervousness that filled him caused him and his voice to tremble terribly, but much to his surprise, the rather attractive girl agreed to go with him to his company Christmas party. That one date was the extent of their relationship, as she ditched him at the party to get busy with a coworker of Peter's who was ten years her elder.
Senior year came at last. Peter spent more time hanging out with his two best friends and goofing off than actually doing any school work. Eddie Ferrelli and Harry Hodson were the other two members of Peter's three amigos. Harry had gone under a similar physical transformation as Peter. Though the former had never quite been big enough to be classified as a ‘fat kid', he had lost enough weight to match Peter's still rather new trim form. Eddie had Muscular Dystrophy, and so was in a motorized wheelchair. Out of the three, Eddie was the most successful lady's man. He was a smooth talking handsome Italian kid who never left home without his hair combed into his trademark doo with just the perfect amount of gel, a smart looking outfit, and just the right amount of cologne to get the ladies' attention without overpowering them. The three hung out at school during the day, and on Peter's nights off from work, prowled the streets of downtown Colorado Springs in Eddie's parents' specially rigged Volkswagen van. Peter sat in the captain's chair, Harry rode shotgun, and Eddie had his spot in the back where the seats had been removed to make room for his wheelchair. Attached to the van was a metal ramp that folded out, making it easy for the three to clear out of the van whenever they spotted the largest cluster of women waiting in line to get into a nightclub.
At school, Peter had his sights set on a painfully cute girl by the name of Mary Ross. He had spent half of the year building up the confidence to approach her. Once he finally did, the two hit it off swimmingly. They would hang out at lunch sometimes. They had the same free period and would hang out at various places on and off of campus. Months passed by and Peter feared that their relationship was heading into the danger zone: friendship. He knew he had to do something. He invited Mary out one free period, and the two headed to the Broadmoor Hotel. Peter's older sister had been a figure skater when he was younger, back when the Broadmoor's ice rink still existed. He would tag along as a kid and tour the fancy old hotel as his sister practiced her routines on the ice for hours on end. There was one place in particular, his favorite place at the hotel that he had discovered long ago. Luckily this place still existed, and that is where he took Mary.
The hotel circled around a beautiful man-made lake decorated by animals that had no doubt been carted in. Pure white swans floated gracefully, their beauty clashing with the quaintness of the common mallards. People would scatter around the lake each afternoon with bags full of bread crumbs and attempt to entice the swans over to socialize, usually ending up with a cluster of ravenous ducks and pushy squirrels. Peter's personal hideout was an island in the middle of the lake that was surrounded by massive pine trees. It was quiet, shady, relaxing, and usually off-limits. There was a gate blocking the bridge to the island with a snooty metal sign announcing that the island was reserved for special guests and parties only. In other words, if you wanted to get onto the island, your credit card had better have had a high limit. Luckily for young teenagers, hopping this gate was a rather simple feat. Peter showed his lady to this private spot and the two proceeded to trespass across the bridge and onto the island.
There they were on this secluded little slice of paradise. Squirrels could not read apparently, as there were plenty of the furry little rascals rustling through the trees, occasionally descending to check the ground for food. A cute old-fashioned bench sat in just the right spot on the island. It allowed a person to catch glimpses of the lake, with the occasional paddle-boater or boaters passing by as they enjoyed the warm spring weather. Peter offered Mary a seat on the bench, waiting like a true gentleman for her to get settled before he sat down next to her. At first he sat as far away as the bench would allow, but quickly got his nerves together and scooted over close to her, their thighs touching innocently. Peter waited for Mary to look away, probably startled by one of the overactive squirrels, before quickly retrieving a mint from his pocket and popping it into his mouth.
"You were right Pete. This is a very nice little spot to hide out." Mary said. She turned her head toward him and smiled. Peter returned the smile, trying not to let her see the breath freshening device that was floating around inside his mouth. Mary looked down to the ground and started kicking the heels of her sneakers into the dirt, her perfect legs moving forward and back. Peter felt as if his entire world was made out of chocolate as he felt her thigh moving against his each time she kicked. "So what's on your mind today?" Mary asked without looking up. Peter thought for a moment about his answer. He couldn't cut right to the chase. He had to ease into it, play it cool.
"I dunno. Lot's of things I suppose." Peter said as he shifted the mint around his tongue. "I just wanted to bring you out here, have some alone time."
"That's cool." Mary said, still kicking at the dirt.
"We've known each other a while now haven't we?" Peter leaned back and relaxed a bit.
"I suppose. Not all that long, but long enough." Mary said. Peter tried to assess the last part of her statement. Was ‘long enough' innocent? Or was she implying something, perhaps giving him some sort of invitation?
"Um...well..." Peter's mind hit a roadblock and threw him off what little game he had. In a moment of pure insanity, or foolish bravery, Peter made a move. The results of this blunder would forever be burned into his memory. He looked at Mary, sitting so close to him in he tight jeans and tight-fitting shirt that read ‘My Eyes Are Up Here' with a big red arrow pointing upwards from her rather impressive chest. He felt the movement of her leg as she kicked dirt up off the ground with her feet. The months of agonizing over his desire to be with her took over and he reached out his arms.
He placed a gentle hand on each of her soft cheeks and pulled her head upwards, turning her face-to-face with him. He took a deep breath, saw the confusion in Mary's eyes, and clumsily dove in for a kiss, pressing his lips to hers. It felt great for the half-second it lasted. Then, Mary began to giggle like a drunkard. She had a look on her face that apologized for this reaction, but she just could not stop. The giggle exploded into loud and devastating laughter. Embarrassed and heartbroken, Peter stood and ran. He crossed the bridge from the island, leaped over the locked gate, and didn't stop running until he was completely out of breath. The skinny, well-toned, handsome version of Peter had failed. In that moment, leaning up against a fence belonging to a stranger's house just down the street from the hotel, Peter felt as if all hope was lost.
Monday came and it was back to school. Eddie had called early in the morning and suggested that Peter drive him in the Volkswagen. It was something that the three amigos did every once in a while to escape. Peter would bring Eddie in his van so that during lunch they could head out with Harry and the three could ditch whatever class they had after lunch and chow down at a real restaurant. Peter needed a break on this particular Monday in order to avoid seeing Mary in the school cafeteria. Plus, he needed to talk things out with his two closest friends and get some insight from neutral parties. As soon as eleven-thirty hit, the very instant the lunch bell beeped, the trio was off to the senior parking lot. They quickly loaded Eddie into the van and departed. Their destination was the same as always.
"Welcome to Small Town Inn." An attractive slightly older blonde said with a smile full of perfect pearl-colored teeth that seemed to sparkle as the light hit them. "Table for three?" The three teenage boys just smiled with dopey expressions at the perfectly sculpted hostess. "Smoking or non?" She asked, giving Eddie a wink. His face always had a natural redness to it. Now as he made eye contact with the attractive hostess, he began to take on the appearance of a tomato with facial features. Without any of them knowing which section they had chosen, and were shown to their table. As they followed Cindy, the name Peter had noticed as he quickly glanced at her nametag, all three sets of eyes were on the same thing. As soon as they were seated, their drink orders were taken, and Cindy was out of earshot, all three yelled out in unison: "DIBS!"
"You can't call dibs." Harry explained to Peter.
"Oh, and just why is that?" Peter asked as he grabbed the menu Cindy had laid in front of him.
"Because you've already got that one girl, what's her face?" Harry pushed his menu away, already knowing what he wanted to order. He ordered the same thing every time; country skillet with eggs and every spicy ingredient known to man. Then he would order a side of hot sauce, which would inevitably lead to the waitress bringing a bottle of red liquid to the table. Upon seeing this bottle, Harry would start to complain that he ordered ‘hot sauce', by which he actually meant salsa, but could never seem to learn nor retain the word.
"Mary and I are just friends." Peter said glumly as he laid his head down on his menu. The memory of the weekend disaster popped into his mind. Not that it had ever completely gone away, but Cindy certainly had aided in dulling it for a little while.
"That's just because you're too much of a puss to make a move on her." Harry said, pushing the knife that he did not know existed further into Peter's chest. The conversation was paused briefly as Cindy emerged from the kitchen and passed out their drinks. She smiled and told them that the waitress would be with them soon.
"Well you can't call dibs either Harry." Eddie said as he squirmed around in his wheelchair a bit to get more comfortable. "You're dating Gwen."
"Oh come on! Gwen goes to a different school. Besides, I rarely see her, and when I do, nothing ever happens. I'm going to be a virgin for the rest of my life." Harry lamented.
"Well I'm not." Eddie said. "How much money would you give me if I went up to the hostess and told her ‘Don't worry baby, all the right equipment still works'?
"Dude, if you did that, I'd have to change my shorts after peeing myself laughing." Harry said. Peter and Eddie laughed.
"So I get dibs then, right?" Eddie asked.
"Fine." Harry gave in.
"Agreed." Peter seconded the motion. "This session of ‘dibs court' is now over. Let's order up some food so we can at least be back for last period."
"I say screw school for today." Harry said. "Let's just hang here for a while, let Eddie get his groove on with our hostess, then go see a movie or something."
"I'm in." Eddie said.
"Come on guys, we have to go back for the last class. I have weight-lifting and I need to keep my manly figure." Peter said.
"You'll have to get one going first." Eddie laughed.
"He's right dude. You can't ‘maintain' something that you don't have, twig boy." Harry said as he looked around the restaurant. "Where the hell is our waitress?"
"Right behind you sir." A gloomy voice answered Harry's question. A tall, pale man with a greasy comb-over materialized behind the table. He stepped forward to become more visible. The waiter squinted at the light pouring through the window behind the three patrons and held his pen to a small pad in preparation for their orders. "I'm Randy and I will be your server this morning."
"How's it going Randy?" Harry asked with a hint of sarcasm.
"Like life was a giant swimming pool filled with chocolate-covered raisons and I owned it." Randy replied with an equal amount of sarcasm. "What can I get for you gentlemen?"
"Well Randy," Harry started "I do believe I will have the Spicy Southwest Skillet. On the side I would like a giant bowl of hot sauce. I'm talking the size of the skillet itself Randy. I want the largest bowl of hot sauce you are legally allowed to serve."
"He means Salsa." Peter corrected Harry in order to avoid a repeat of past overblown scenes.
"Excellent; and for the man with the wheels?" Randy took a chance that Eddie was cool with comments like that. Luckily for Randy, he was.
"I'll have chicken strips with three cups of ranch sauce." Eddie said.
"Great...and for you sir?" Randy looked up at Peter who had forgotten to look over the menu. Peter glanced at the cover and saw a picture of a bowl of soup.
"I'll have this." Peter held up the menu cover for Randy to see.
"Broccoli and cheese or vegetable beef?" Randy asked.
"The first one I guess. Can I get some of those crackers too; the ones that they feed the giraffes at the zoo." Peter grabbed Eddie's menu and handed them both to Harry. Harry added his to the pile and passed them off to Randy.
"I'll get those orders right out to you gentlemen." Randy said before walking away.
"So, do you think Randy avoids the sun on purpose, or do they just keep him in the restaurant twenty-four/seven?" Harry said. Eddie laughed. Peter looked at the paleness of his own skin and sympathized. His thoughts turned to Mary. He was dreading the next time he would inevitably bump into her. Were they still friends? Did she maybe really like the kiss and just reacted bizarrely because it was so unexpected? Or was she making fun of him right now, surrounded by her friends and having another wild laugh at his expense? His stomach churned, warning him that it might not be able to hold down the cheese and broccoli soup. Peter sipped his ginger ale and pouted. Slowly, he began to notice both Eddie and Harry's faces coming into view. He looked up, back and forth at the two of them.
"What's wrong sunshine? Having a cloudy day without the silver lining?" Harry asked in an exaggerated empathetic tone.
"He's just mad because I won dibs on the hostess." Eddie said.
"I just..." Peter looked out the window for a moment. He then placed his head down on the table. The cool hard surface felt nice on his face.
"Come on dude. We're out on a party day. Don't bum us all out. Just tell us what's up so we can move on and get back to having fun." Harry said.
"I think I messed up really bad with Mary." Peter said, his voice muffled from his face being squished against the table.
"Dude, sit up before you catch hepatitis or something. These tables are not sanitary." Eddie said quite seriously. Peter sat up and reclined, sinking down in the booth. "So what happened?" Eddie asked.
"Yeah man, spill the beans already." Harry pushed the issue further.
"We were at the Broadmoor, on that little gated island on the lake...you know where I am talking about right?" Peter asked the others.
"Sure man." Harry said. "I take Gwen there all the time. It's a great spot to be alone."
"I know. That's why I brought Mary there. We kind of just sat around on the bench for a while. Then, out of nowhere, I kissed her." Peter said, obviously downtrodden.
"Well that's good right?" Eddie asked.
"What did she do?" Harry asked. "Did she kiss you back?"
"No. Her lips didn't make a move at all, until she started laughing." Peter said, sinking down lower in the booth. Harry and Eddie looked at each other. They tried to keep each other from reacting in the way they both knew they were about to, but their attempt was in vain. The two cracked and laughed, just as Mary had. They weren't laughing at Peter, or to be cruel, but just at the situation. "Thanks ‘friends'." Peter said lowly.
"Oh come on man!" Harry said. "It's all good. I mean, do you even know why she started laughing?"
"No. I took off running and haven't seen her since." Peter said with folded arms.
"So, where is the problem?" Harry asked. "I mean, it could be a good thing, right?" Harry looked at Eddie, who's face said ‘no'.
"Sure it could." Eddie said, doing his best acting job.
"Just go talk to her man." Harry said, sipping his soda.
"I'm afraid to even see her." Peter said. "That's why I'm glad we ditched out today."
"Yet you want to go back to school in time for last period." Eddie pointed out.
"Mary has a free period, so she just leaves school an hour early. I won't have to see her or talk to her." Peter said. "I can get out my frustrations in the gym by pumping some iron."
"Why don't we go bowling or something? That would get your frustrations out." Harry said.
"What about Eddie? I doubt he wants to go watch us bowl." Peter said.
"No, it's cool." Eddie said. "They have this thing that they set me up with where you put the ball at the top. It's like a little slide. The ball goes down the lane, almost as fast as if I was throwing it."
"Yeah man, he bowled a one-seventy last time." Harry said.
"Really?" Peter was surprised. "Well, why not then?"
"Awesome!" Harry slapped Peter on the back as he sat up straight in the booth. Peter gave Harry a dirty look.
"I thought you agreed to stop that." Peter groaned.
"No, I agreed to stop punching you in the kidneys." Harry said while sipping his soda. "There's a big difference."
"What's that?" Peter asked.
"You won't be pissing blood after a slap on the back." Harry said. Peter nodded to acknowledge the truth behind that statement. "Besides, it's a much friendlier gesture."
"Look out guys." Randy's voice seemed to jump in from nowhere. "These plates are hot." Randy set down the dishes in front of the three friends. Harry watched as his bowl of salsa was placed next to his skillet. It was the tiniest dipping bowl in the place, smaller than Eddie's ranch dressing cups. Peter looked at the salsa cup, then up to Harry's face. As his friend's mouth opened, Peter knew the chaos that was about to ensue. Eddie was well aware of what was about to happen as well. The two simply ate their food as Harry went off on one of his famous lectures, subjecting Randy to a detailed description of the difference between a large bowl of ‘hot sauce', and a tiny worthless cup of it. Peter looked out the window, Harry's angry voice still going. He wondered where Mary was at that very moment, and what she was thinking about.
After their day out was over, Peter dropped off Harry, then Eddie and the van, and took off for home. He suddenly realized that he needed a notebook out of his locker to study for a test the next day. It wasn't too late to get inside the school, so he dropped by to pick up the book. Upon reaching his locker, he found a note attached to it inside an envelope. He knew right away from all of the doodles that it was from Mary. He opened it up and read the unusually brief note. It simply stated that Mary wanted to go to the senior prom with Peter. The rush of joy that quickly filled him was turned around when he hit the last few words. She wanted to go ‘as friends'. Peter's stomach felt heavy, like it was sinking inside him. His heart felt the grip of the simple yet devastating words. ‘As friends' pushed the knife all of the way into his chest. Peter slouched as he crumpled the note. The envelope fell to the floor, his hands unable to grasp it any longer.
Peter was halfway home when he realized that he had completely forgotten to pick up the notebook he had dropped by the high school to get in the first place. He didn't care anymore. He just kept driving onward towards home. He made a slight detour, turning right onto a street that lead to a small camping area just outside of Seven Falls at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain. The area was always nice and quite, with the exception of holidays and the summer months when tourists came to barbeque. On the weekends Peter's fellow classmates would gather to smoke pot during the day, and couples would park to make out at night. On this weekday afternoon, Peter pulled onto the dirt road leading to a small circular manmade clearing in the midst of giant pine trees, and found himself alone. He left his junker of a car all by itself and wandered off to his favorite spot. Right where the clearing and the forest met was a stream. Peter found a large soft familiar rock and took a seat.
He watched the fresh water flow gently by and felt at peace for a moment. He cleared his mind, leaving an empty canvas that was painted upon by the vision of the beauty around him. He would come here when he felt stressed or down, so he knew the area very well. He would think about the trees, admire their immense size and wonder how long it had been since they were tiny seeds. He wondered what all they had seen and heard. If a man falls in the woods, and nobody else is around to hear him, does he make a sound? Can trees hear? Can they see and think? They are alive after all, old and wise. Compared to them, Peter was just a sapling who knew nothing about life. He thought of his problems and frustrations, and how if he complained to the trees around him, they would chuckle. They would tell him that life is just beginning, and that the things that upset him now will fade in time, even turn into funny memories. Perhaps these events would change so much in his mind over the years that one day they would morph into fond memories. The sun began to set, and though he did not want to leave, Peter had things he had to do. He got into his car, started the clunky engine, and headed for home.
At work that night, Peter's mind was a million miles away. Luckily, he was not the lone member of management on duty. He was a shift leader, and he had his supervisor there to fix his mistakes, and to yell at him for making them. He had been given the entire ‘this is a five-star conference resort' speech about a hundred times by other supervisors and managers. Luckily, the supervisor on duty that night was the cool supervisor. He was middle-eastern in descent, but born and raised in New York. Peter often wondered which accent would be easier to understand. Unable to pronounce his first name, most of the employees just called him Jay. He was the one who made Peter believe that a seventeen year-old kid with a tendency to panic over the slightest problem could step-up to the plate and become a shift leader. At school Peter didn't really have a teacher that stood out in his mind as that one special teacher, the one you always see in the movies. He is the teacher that takes a hopeless student and turns his life around for the better. The final shot is usually that one special teacher winking at the student, now a much stronger and well-rounded person, walking off stage with his diploma. The student tosses his cap in the air, holds up his diploma, and the movie ends on that shot freeze-framed. All of Peter's teachers seemed like they would rather be hanging out in the Seven Falls park getting high with the students than teaching them.
In Jay, Peter found his special teacher. His mentor, providing guidance and helping Peter grow into a man. Of course Peter had his father at home who did more than his share of molding his son, but Jay was younger and had more modern street smarts and other wisdom to offer-up. Peter never told him so, but he had more respect for Jay than any authority figure he knew outside of his parents. Unfortunately, mentors have to yell at their students every once in a while to keep them focused, keep them on course. That night, Jay did a lot of yelling. One trick he had learned that Peter really responded to was pointing out his screw-ups over the walkie-talkies. That way everybody in every department would hear it. That did the trick and got Peter to focus on his work, and the work of the team he was in charge of.
Lunchtime for the C-shift came around two in the morning. Normally, Peter would fly into the cafeteria as soon as the call went out. This night however, he just needed some alone time. He headed out to the back dock and sat down on the bench in the cigarette break area. He looked up at the stars. Most of them were blotted out by the bright lights aimed at the back dock. Peter sat back and closed his eyes. Working eight hours each night, then getting off with one hour to get home, shower, change, and get to school often took its toll on him. Unfortunately, he had no choice. He actually did, but going part-time would require him to step down as a shift leader, and he had worked too hard to give up on the promotion he had gained a year prior. Besides, he didn't want to let Jay down.
"So, you gonna tell me what's up with you tonight?" Jay asked as he approached Peter, lighting up a cigarette. "Otherwise, I'm gonna assume that you're just screwing up left and right just to piss me off."
"It's nothing." Peter said. Without even looking at Jay, Peter could see the expression on his face. It said ‘cut the crap, stop wasting my time and fess-up!' So Peter took a deep breath, smelling the mint scent of Jay's smoke. "The girl I like at school asked me to the prom." Peter said glumly. Jay stood next to a wooden load-bearing pillar and kicked some decorative rocks that were infested with cigarette butts around. He rolled his eyes back as he squinted.
"So, you're messing up because your chick asked you out?" Jay stepped down from the rocks and sat next to Peter. He offered him a drag from his menthol cigarette. Peter accepted. "Something don't add up."
"She wants to go ‘as friends'." Peter added. Jay leaned his head back and arched his body.
"That stings." Jay said. Peter took a few drags and handed Jay's cigarette back to him. Jay sat up straight and took a puff for himself.
"I just don't understand. I mean, she knows I like her. She's known that for a while now, has to have. Then, the other day, I kissed her." Peter said. Jay passed him the cigarette. Smoke leaked out of his nostrils as he thought on the situation.
"You kissed her before she asked you to the dance, or after?" Jay asked. Peter took a drag off of the cigarette and offered it back. "Keep it." Jay said as he pulled a fresh smoke out of the pack in his shirt pocket.
"She left me a note after the kiss." Peter said. "The thing that has been bothering me is that when I kissed her, she just started to giggle, then laugh."
"Oh shit." Jay said sympathetically.
"That's the last time I saw her. Then I ditched school today to avoid her. I had to go back to pick something up from my locker, and I found the note." Peter said before taking a puff from his nearly diminished cigarette.
"You got the note on you?" Jay asked. Peter reached into his pocket and handed Jay the note. Jay unfolded it and looked it over with a very serious scowl, like a detective examining evidence. Peter waited on the edge of the bench in anticipation, like Jay would crack the case and tell Peter everything he needed to know. Jay smoked his cigarette as he ran his thumb across the ink on the paper. Finally, he handed the note back to Peter, looked off into the distance, the serious look still on his face as he thought.
"Well?" Peter finally asked impatiently.
"She's a lezbo dude." Jay said.
"Oh screw you man!" Peter said as he tossed his cigarette butt into the rocks.
"I'm gonna make you clean all of the butts out of those rocks someday if you don't knock that off." Jay said. There was a moment of silence. "Look dude, she asked you to prom. Not just prom, senior prom. Even if she says it's ‘just as friends', something is there. Just think about the potential. You're off on a romantic night all dressed to the nines. You put on your best game face and be a perfect gentleman all night. Only dance to a song if you can handle it without looking like an idiot. Then afterwards, take her somewhere nice where you two can be alone. The moment will bet set up, romance will be in the air, and you go for the kiss again. Only this time the mood will be just right and boom! You've got the girl."
"That's some really good advice!" Peter said as he felt a revelation hit him.
"I know it is. I'm the man when it comes to getting the chicks." Jay took one last drag off of his cigarette and tossed it into the rocks. Peter watched him do this and frowned. He was about to start up about Jay's threat to have him clean all the butts out of the rocks when the door at the top of the back dock flew open. A gang of rowdy C-shift workers came pouring out and the man to man talk was over. Now it was joking around time as the rest of their posse piled in and around the smoking area.
Peter rushed through his hour between leaving work and getting to school. He showered, changed, and was off and running. As he pulled into his usual parking spot in the senior lot, it struck him that he had that test he had not prepared for. Normally, he would cram during a free period or lunch, but this test was in American Government, his first class of the day. He did his best to stay awake for it, and used the advice that had been around for centuries; if you don't know the answer, it is always B. This philosophy never seemed to help much or ring true, but it was the best chance he had of getting a passing grade on this exam. Time went by fast, and there were three essay questions at the end. Unfortunately, the law of ‘B' did not apply to these. Peter did his best to use the law of ‘BS' instead, and prayed that it would come out sounding close enough to being right for him to get by. The bell rang and the teacher told Peter, the last student standing (or more correctly stated: sitting) to turn in his test. Peter closed it up, stood and slipped his backpack over his shoulder, then took the long walk down to the teacher's desk. He laid his finished work on top of the pile of others, and slowly exited the classroom.
As soon as he hit the hallway, he heard a familiar voice. It was Mary, standing outside waiting for him with a big smile on her face.
"Did you get my note?" She asked. She seemed so happy and bubbly, a tad nervous too. Peter thought this was a promising sign after Jay's advice.
"I sure did." Peter smiled. The two of them locked eyes for a moment. Peter was intoxicated by her warm face. Mary was impatiently awaiting his answer.
"So...yes or no champ?" Mary asked. Peter snapped out of his stupor and smiled.
"I'd love to go with you to prom." Peter said. He took a deep breath and did his best not to make the next words sound like bummers. "As friends." He finally said, betraying his unhappiness with her terms just slightly. Of course, after the botched kiss, obviously she knew that those words would not be ones he wanted to read.
"Great!" Mary hopped in place once. Peter couldn't help but notice she wasn't wearing a bra under her cartoon monkey T-shirt. "Well, are we going to hang out at free period today? I missed you yesterday."
"Sure. I'll meet you at the library." Peter said.
"Cool Pete. Smell ya later!" Mary giggled and wrinkled her nose before she danced up the hallway. Peter stood outside the door to the American Government classroom. He watched the students coming in for second period. The bell rang, and Peter suddenly realized he was supposed to be in the chorus room for show choir. Unfortunately, that room was in the auditorium, on the exact opposite side of the campus. He took off running, once again finding himself regretting that he had started smoking in order to cope with the stress at work.
"Look at this Pete." Mary said as she passed an immensely heavy book over to him. Where her finger was he saw a picture of a thin attractive woman in black and white. "Would you do her?" Suddenly Jay's joke about Mary being a lesbian hit him.
"Sure. This picture looks old though, so I'd have to get myself a time machine." Peter said. Mary pulled the book back from his lap and looked at the picture, running her fingertips over it.
"Her name was Christine Jorgenson. She was one of the great female pioneers in our country's history." Mary said.
"Oh really?" Peter said with genuine interest. "Did she invent anorexia?" Peter asked, commenting on her thin frame.
"Nope. She was famous for getting the transgender movement underway." Mary said. Peter grabbed the book back away from Mary and looked at Christine's picture again.
"Why would such a beautiful girl want to become a dude?" Peter asked. He looked up at Mary who giggled a bit. Then it struck him. "Oh, it was the other way around."
"Yes sir." Mary replied. "George Jorgenson was in the army back in the fifties. He returned home from a trip to Denmark and, badda-bing, Christine was born. She changed the world." Mary said with pride in her voice.
"That's not all she changed." Peter joked. Mary gave him a look that partially accepted his jest. "So, why is she in a book about women who changed the world? Shouldn't she be in a book about men who changed the world?"
"No. She was never a man. She had the goods at birth, but she was always one of us. She was one hundred-percent woman from the day she came into this world." Mary smiled. Peter nodded, truly understanding Mary's logic. "So, do you want to talk about that kiss we had over the weekend?" Mary suddenly tossed out a bomb that exploded in Peter's face. He tried to answer, but couldn't. Mary waited through a few minutes of his starting to speak then stopping. "It's okay Pete. We don't need to talk about it." Mary got up to put her book away. Peter sat in his chair with a belly full of butterflies and a head stuck on a bad memory that kept skipping and replaying. Mary returned and sat next to Peter once more. The two were silent and awkward for a moment. Out of the blue, Mary checked the clock. "We've still got forty minutes of free period left." She stated as she slapped her hand down onto Peter's thigh. "Let's go to the soccer field and roll down the hill a few times."
Before Peter could respond, he was at the soccer field with Mary, standing at the top of the grassy hill leading down to it from the football stadium. The two giggled as their bodies were taken out of their control, spiraling downward atop the soft grass and occasionally lumpy and painful dirt patches. For the next half hour fun was all that either of them thought of or had to deal with. Peter and Mary took turns chasing and tackling each other on the empty soccer field. Grass stain after grass stain adorned their previously spotless attire, but they didn't care. This is what Peter imagined the trees near the stream at the Seven Falls park would have wanted him to do. To cut loose, enjoy his time as a young man on earth, and most of all to stop filling their forest with depression and bad vibes. The two teenagers continued to giggle as Peter tackled Mary. He hovered over her and looked at the softness in her cheeks, the glistening reflection of the sun in her brown eyes, and her long curly black hair splayed around her with little bits of grass stuck to it. Against Jay's advice, Peter let his emotions and desires take him over too soon. The moment seemed right, it seemed romantic. As Peter lowered himself down for a kiss, Mary turned her head. The two of them stood up. The moment turned awkward, the fun and innocence of it melted away.
"I think you should go to the prom with someone else." Mary said. Peter's heart and stomach sank once more as Mary took off running toward the football stadium. He stood there in the grass, the sun warming his pale face. He started to worry that he would end up with a sunburn; just another tidbit of angst to add to his growing list.
Peter sat in the lunchroom at an empty table with his head down. It was the gang's usual table, and soon one of his two amigos arrived as usual. Peter heard Eddie's wheelchair pulling up. He listened to the sounds of Eddie maneuvering the chair that was in his way aside then felt the slight bump as his armrests hit the table.
"Long night at work bitch?" Eddie asked. Peter gave no reply. Eddie backed up his wheelchair a foot or so, then slammed his armrests into the table, jolting Peter into an upright position. "Wakey-wakey, eggs and bakey!" Eddie said enthusiastically. Peter slammed his head back down on the table. "Are you going to help me get my food or not?" Eddie asked. Peter always waited for Eddie to go through the lunch line so he could carry both of their meals. "I'll give you a quarter if you get your ass up and help me." Eddie said. Still he received no reply from Peter. Harry arrived and looked around at the table.
"What's up with sleeping baldy?" Harry asked. He liked to constantly point out that Peter's heredity was already starting to show small signs of kicking in as the rest of his pale body grew enough hair to pass him off as a werewolf on Halloween; no makeup required.
"He's non-responsive. You'd better use the heart-shocker." Eddie said, referring to a defibulator. Harry rubbed his hands together and slapped Peter hard across the back of the head. Peter sat up and grabbed the back of his head and rubbed the precious hair over what was surely to soon become a lump.
"Knock it off you asses!" Peter yelled before putting his head down again.
"Come on Eddie, let's grab some grub." Harry said. He and Eddie headed off into the little room where the lunch ladies served up the school's answer to food. Peter remained hunched over the table, broken and confused. He thought about everything that had happened with Mary. He realized now that he had not only lost his chance for romance, but had probably ended their friendship in the process. Eddie returned with a slam, his armrests smashing the table into Peter's chest. Harry set Eddie's food in front of him, then sat down with his own.
"What's wrong honey?" Eddie asked Peter. "Did somebody steal your milk money?"
"Yeah man, wake up and talk to us." Harry said before flicking a piece of macaroni into Peter's hair. The cheese did a good job of helping it stick.
"Knock it off." Peter mumbled, barely audibly. Harry threw a french fry at Peter's head.
"I'll keep going until my plate is empty pal, and I've got pudding." Harry said. Peter slowly sat up. He picked up the fry and threw it back at Harry, landing it in his afore-mentioned pudding. He then reached into his hair and plucked out the macaroni noodle. As for the cheese, he just rubbed his hair and spread it thin enough that no one would notice it. "So what's the deal pal?" Harry asked before eating the pudding-covered French fry.
"Gross!" Eddie laughed at Harry.
"It's not bad actually." Harry said. He dipped another fry in his pudding and reached over toward Eddie. "Wanna try one?"
"Get that crap out of my face!" Eddie said, still laughing. Peter waited for his friends to stop goofing around so he could tell them what he had done. He explained the story, starting from the note that Mary had left on his locker and ending with her running away from him at the soccer field. Eddie and Harry listened and thought about it. "She's probably a lezbo." Eddie said.
"Why does everyone keep jumping to that of all the possible conclusions?" Peter asked in an annoyed tone.
"It makes sense to me." Harry said as he ate another pudding fry.
"Well I doubt it." Peter said.
"Look dude..." Harry said before swallowing his fry. "You're better off. You've tried to hook up with her, and it's obvious that she isn't into you."
"So, what do you suggest I do about prom?" Peter asked.
"Ask somebody else." Eddie said. "Then we can all go together in my van. Get some dinner at the Golden Liner, hit up prom, then go get hotel rooms." Eddie grinned.
"You guys both have dates?" Peter asked.
"I'm taking Gwen." Harry said.
"I'm going with this chick I met at the mall. She goes to Harrison I think. Her name is Kelly." Eddie said. Peter leaned back in his chair like a defeated man.
"Prom is this Saturday." Peter said. "I don't know anybody who would go with me."
"Well, think about all of the girls you know, then ask the one you'd have the most fun with." Harry said.
"They've all got dates by now." Peter said.
"Then ask a sophomore, or a junior." Eddie said. "Hell, I'd bet there are tons of freshmen chicks who'd love to go to the senior prom."
"I'm not doing that. I'm too old to be taking a fourteen year-old out." Peter said.
"Right, because when you are twenty-three and she is nineteen, it's really going to matter." Harry said sarcastically.
"That's different. There's a way bigger difference at this age than there is once you're an adult." Peter said. He thought for a minute. "Do either of your dates have cute friends?"
"Gwen's friends all go to a different school. I don't know any of them." Harry said.
"My date goes to a different school too, and I don't even know her much less her friends." Eddie said.
"I guess we could ask them if they have cute friends, see if one wants to go to our prom." Harry said.
"No, I couldn't handle a blind date anyway, and I don't know any girls here that aren't already taken. I'm just going to forget about prom." Peter said.
"Dude, don't do that." Harry said.
"Yeah. At least go stag. Maybe you'll find a lonely girl there that needs a dance partner." Eddie said. Peter thought about it.
"I don't know guys." He said.
"Look, go out after school today and rent a tux. Don't just rent a vest and use your show choir tux like you did last year. Go and get the whole shebang." Harry said. "If you decide not to go to prom at all, then Eddie will pay for the rental."
"What? Screw you guys." Eddie said.
"Seriously though, rent the damn tux Pete. If you don't go to your senior prom, you'll always regret it, even with no date. You'll regret it man." Harry said.
"I guess you guys are right." Peter said. The bell rang and lunch period was over. Peter got up and grabbed his backpack. "Don't be surprised if you get a bill for that tux." He said to Eddie.
"You can stick that bill up your..." Eddie started.
"See you guys later." Peter said.
© Copyright 2016 Alan Dale Dalby. All rights reserved.
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