The band played “A Theme from A Summer Place”. and the floor was crowded as the teenage couples clung tightly to each other and swayed to the music. Prom dresses in white, or pastels of pink, baby blue, lemon, lime and other soft hues swirled and the boys were identical in black tuxedo. Almost all the boys. El Goodman leaned her narrow face against the shoulder of Phil Boydon who was dressed in a white mess jacket, like what a waiter wore, except for the insignia and medals that adorned it. As his jacket was different, so too were his trousers, cadet gray with a black stripe along the seam, and a brick red sash wrapped around his waist with the end bobbing above his shiny black shoes.
“Phil, I just can’t believe my luck. That you could get special leave from Newberry to be here. Everything’s wonderful.”
He smiled at her, bowed as the dance ended, and the band laid down their instruments for a break. “Yeah. Punch, El?” She nodded her head.
He took her arm, gently, obviously not wishing to disturb the corsage of red sweetheart roses resting on the top of her first strapless. His glance showed her his devotion. They took their place in the short line in front of the punch bowl and El saw at once the blond cascade belonging to Kerry Johnson, who was new to Mount Vernon High this year. Blond, beautiful, and built. Just what she needed Phil to see while he was with sort of red, cute. and, well, adequate - maybe. He hugged El and exchanged smiles.
The boy with Kerry said something which El didn’t hear and Kerry responded with what sounded like “Icchy bond - oops, sorry, forgot.” El felt Phil tense.
“Doey tashay muschtae,” Phil seemed to say and Kerry turned, smiling. “Ohio gasi mus?” Phil continued, as best El could understand. Kerry responded with something and they bowed.
“What are you saying?” El asked, but Phil seemed to ignore her.
“I’m Phil Boydon. You know El Goodman, my steady?” Kerry nodded. “When were you there?”
“Left last June. Right after school was over. We were at Zama. How about you?”
“McGill. On the coast. I knew a girl who lived at Zama. What’s your dad? Mine’s artillery. A lieutenant colonel. Pilot.” Kerry smiled and began an answer which El didn’t listen to.
El frowned and the boy that Kerry was with looked equally unhappy. The music began again. Kerry’s date looked at her, then El.
“I’m Dick. Freshman at Georgetown. Want to dance?”
El shrugged her bare shoulders. She did, but the one she wanted to dance with was obviously totally distracted. Maybe she should feel honored that a college freshman would dance with her after he’d come with such a looker as Kerry. They moved away and began to move to “Goodbye Cruel World”, which El thought was rather ironic. When it was over they both looked at their dates, both of whom were talking, laughing.
“They old friends or something?” Dick asked.
“I don’t know. Phil’s dad’s in the army. He lived in Japan and I think that was Japanese they were speaking.”
“Your boy friend in the Navy or something?”
“No. Military school cadet. He’s a senior officer.”
The band started “The Bristol Stomp”, Dick pointed to the floor, El nodded and they danced again. Stomping seemed like a good idea to El, but on Phillip, not Bristol.
She was warm from the dance when it was over, but a glance at Phil and Kerry made her warmer. Without a word, she walked over to them, both of whom were momentarily quiet. El wondered if her final freckles were visible through her makeup.
“Mr.Phillip Boydon, have I done something wrong?” she said and this time Phil turned to her.
“El. Gee. I’m sorry. We just got carried away.”
“I’m so sorry, Elaine. I’m not trying to steal your guy. I know how much you care for him. Everybody talks about it.” El frowned at that. What was the girl implying? That Kerry was so much better looking, she could have Phil if she wanted? And the event that always haunted El and Phil too, she knew. That Kerry knew the old story about how Phil and El were caught on his bed by his mom back when they were only thirteen? Both?
“I wonder how much he cares about me, right now,” El said, her crossed arms matching the set of her lips. She could see Phil’s face register comprehension. He turned to Kerry.
“Look, really nice talking Brat talk. But I’m taken and I’ve upset my lady. Maybe sometime this summer we could double or something.”
Kerry nodded and she and Dick wandered off. El could tell that the blond was patching up with Dick, but she also knew that Dick was no more than a prom date, not what she and Phil were - or were supposed to be.
Phil took her hand and she let him, but didn’t return his squeeze. “You’re mad,” he said.
For half a second she thought of denying it, but said, “You’re darn right I am. We’ve worked to get you to my Prom for half the school year. Then you go ape over some junior who looks like Marilyn Monroe just because she says something in Japanese.”
Phil stopped. The song, which El hadn’t heard, came to an end and the couples clapped. “Moon River” started. “Miss Goodman, may I have this dance?” he asked and gave a Gone With the Wind bow. She couldn’t help but let a little anger ebb and she extended her hand; she knew he knew how much she loved that song. But she didn’t let him hold her as close as she had the previous slow dance. When it was over, she curtsied, but she knew that her lips really didn’t smile.
Phil seemed to think everything was back to normal. El knew she was still upset, but really, where was her confidence? But Kerry had powerful weapons - beautiful, no question, well endowed, no doubt, and had things to talk about with Phil that El knew she couldn’t possibly discuss. Then the call for the last dance came, it was over and Phil escorted her to the car and right into the path of Dick and Kerry.
“So where you going now?” Phil asked.
“Sue Bishop’s party,” Kerry answered and El frowned again as Phil smiled.
“Hey. Great. That’s where El and I are going. See you there.” Then the two couples parted, walking their separate ways to their separate cars.
“Phil. Maybe we should go someplace else. Bob Sill is having a party that we could go to.”
“But El, Mark and Freddie are both going to Sue’s.”
His best friends at home, she knew. But that Kerry was going, too. El didn’t even realize that the girl knew Sue Bishop. Could she have asked around and found the most likely place Phil would go? As Phil walked around to open his car door, El didn’t slide over to be next to him. He looked at her, his mouth straight as he got into the car.
“You’re still mad, aren’t you, Elaine?” he asked.
“Well? Shouldn’t I be?” Her hand reached for her hair and twisted a carefully permed lock before she realized what she was doing. Her name. Not her nickname. He was hurt, or upset.
“I don’t think so. All I did was talk to a girl who got to Japan two months before I left and was in kindergarten at Fort Sill when I was first grade. Whose family also liked to go on picnics behind Medicine Bluff.” He stopped for a moment and looked worried. “I did tell you about Medicine Bluff, didn’t I?” She nodded, fighting the remembrance of the eagerness she’d experienced when he’d described to her the stream carved cliffs, sacred to tribes she’d never heard of.
He continued. “And knew a girl at Zama who I knew. I’m not about to ask her out or anything. You’re my girl as long as you want to be. I thought we both knew that.”
El looked down her front. In the dark, with occasional flashes of headlights, her bust seemed smaller than it really was. Definitely smaller than Kerry’s. And that hair!! Hers was thin and odd colored in comparison.
“But you went ape over Kerry. Left me standing there.” She knew she was pouting, knew she shouldn’t be. He kept his eyes on the road, she could tell, but, under his white shoulder straps, she could see him tense.
“El, I’m sorry. I was rude to you. I shouldn’t have been. But you just don’t understand. I could drive you home right now and even in the dark you could show me where you scrapped your knee learning to ride a bike. I’ll bet you could take me to the home of ninety per cent of your first grade class. Monday after school you could go visit any elementary teacher you had. You have a family doctor - the guy may have given you your first spanking.
“El. I can’t do any of that. I learned to ride a bike a thousand miles from here. My first grade class is scattered from Oklahoma to God knows where. Some of my elementary school teachers aren’t even on the same continent they were when they taught me, probably. And my family doctor wears a khaki uniform and gets transferred every three years in the opposite direction.” He shook his head.
She knew he was trying to reason with her, but everything he said made her feel more vulnerable. “So you have so much to talk about with Kerry. So much more in common,” she said, turning half away.
“Than us?” His voice rose, his tone was sharp. “You know, for a girl who will graduate number three, sometimes I wonder about you. She wasn’t the girl Mom caught me with in my bedroom. She didn’t write letters, make plans so we could see each other, while we were being punished. She didn’t con her cousin so he would drive over fifty miles so we could talk. She didn’t help me face parents when they caught us coming home together on the train.
“Some of my childhood crossed paths with Kerry. You and I have had high school together, as much as we possibly could. I want to have the rest of my life with you. You know that. I’ve told you. Do you still want to?”
As he spoke his voice went from loud to soft and his hand on her shoulder went from a squeeze to a caress. She put her hand on his.
“I’ll never really understand. But I think I can forgive you.” Even as she said that she could tell from his face that he knew she was really asking his forgiveness and that he was accepting it.
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