Ellen Duduka reacted pretty much the way Joey expected she would, when he announced at dinner, on Wednesday night, that he had a date for the prom.
"Oh, how wonderful," she gushed. "What's her name? Do I know her?"
"Her name's Bobbie---Roberta. She lives somewhere near the high school."
"Well, you'd better find out where she lives. You don't want to be late for your big date."
That night, he called Bobbie. She sounded happy, thrilled, and excited to hear from him, and amazed that he'd actually called her, like he'd said he would. They talked for almost an hour. Ever mindful of his mother's admonition, he asked Bobbie for her address. He jotted it down on a scrap of blue-lined notebook paper and stuffed it in his wallet.
Bobbie was at his locker, waiting, when he got to school on Thursday morning. They walked to every class together and even ate lunch together. At the end of the day, he walked her to her car. She drove an old, blue Dodge Dart, which like his red Corvette, looked like it had seen better days.
After school, Joey and Frank took Joey's Corvette and drove the eleven miles to a place called Dave's Bridal and Tuxedo Rental Shop, in Ellentown.
Dave, the owner, surveyed Joey for a long moment with dark, unemotional eyes. "You're a big one," he pronounced in a flat, raspy voice. "But I think I have something that will fit you."
It took over an hour, but Joey finally exited the little shop with a black tuxedo jacket, frilly white shirt, black trousers, tie, and cummerbund, all neatly tucked and folded inside a long, white cardboard box. Joey grinned as he walked out the door. He felt as if he was taking home a pizza.
On their way home, they stopped at the Target store, out on the highway. Frank bought his son a brand new pair of stiff, shiny, black shoes.
"Now, all this is your graduation present," grumbled Frank in his thick, gruff voice. "At least, from me. I still don't know what your mother has in mind."
The moment Joey walked through the front door, Ellen said, "Look in the refrigerator." There, in a clear, plastic container, he found a small bouquet of pink carnations.
That night, he called Bobbie, again. Bobbie sounded overjoyed. For some strange reason that Joey couldn't understand, she just couldn't seem to believe that a man, any man, would actually call her two nights in a row. Again, they talked for over an hour, until Joey said he was sorry, but it had been a long day and he was starting to wind down, which was the truth.
"Of course, sweetie, of course," Bobbie said, anxious and eager to please, as always. There was a pause. Then she came right out and said, "I love you."
Joey's mind and body instantly froze in shock and horror. He hadn't expected her to say anything like that---at least, not so soon! Then, just as quickly, his body relaxed and his mind unlocked. Joey felt his heart swell with a fiercely possessive pride and a strange sense of longing. He looked out the corner of his eye at his bedroom door to make sure it was closed. He hoped no one was listening on the other side.
"I love you, too," he told her.
The next afternoon, Joey and Bobbie ate lunch together, at one of the wooden picnic tables, behind the boy's gym. As they ate, they shared intimate details about themselves.
On the morning of the prom, Joey arrived at school with a great sense of excitement and trepidation. Once again, Bobbie waited anxiously for him at his locker.
At the end of the day, he escorted her to his car.
"Well, I have to go," she said. "I have an appointment at the beauty parlor. I want to make myself look beautiful for you."
"You don't need a beauty parlor," he told her. "You're already beautiful."
A faint blush the color of soft, red roses blossomed in her alabaster cheeks. "Oh, my goodness." Bobbie giggled nervously, touching the fingertips of her right hand to her chest. "Thank you."
She kissed him on the lips. "Now, don't forget. Pick me up at eight o'clock. And don't be late."
Joey went home and tried to relax. Every second of every minute seemed as long as an hour.
Dinner was an excruciating experience. Ellen looked bright and happy, and Frank wore a bemused expression on his usually stony face.
The local news, on channel 7, at five o'clock was slow and tedious. And the spidery, black metal hands of the little clock, underneath its glass dome, on the fireplace mantle, in the living room, never seemed to move at all, no matter how many times he stared at it.
The clock on the mantle finally reached six o'clock. "Hadn't you better start to get ready?" Ellen gently nudged him with her voice.
He rose from his armchair with a great sense of finality and under the stern, watchful gaze of Ellen and Frank, he strode down the hall to the bathroom, feeling like a convict on his way to the gallows.
Joey shaved slowly, with his face less than an inch away from the mirror, careful not to cut or nick himself. In the shower, he lathered himself from the crown of his head all the way down to the soles of his feet, covering himself entirely in a thick, white foam, and scrubbed his body vigorously, as if he was trying to expunge himself from some deep, dark sin.
After he was finally satisfied that he was clean enough, he scraped his odorless stick of Arm and Hammer deoderant under his arms. He usually didn't use any aftershave or cologne; he suffered from hay fever and any pungent chemical compound or aerosol easily offended his delicate sinuses. But tonight, he thought, what the heck? He applied a generous doze of Frank's Old Spice to his cheeks, throat and chest.
He wrapped a towel around his waist and tramped down the hall to his bedroom and closed the door. There,, he took the long, white cardboard box from the floor of his closet and set it on the middle of his bed. He lifted the lid off the box as if he was opening a valuable treasure. His heart pounded and his fingers trembled. Joey grinned as he carefully removed each neatly folded item from the box and placed them, side by side, on his bed.
First, he slipped on a shimmering pair of silken, black boxers---Joey personally didn't believe in undershirts---and high, black socks. In his humble opinion, anyone who wore white socks with a black suit was a dork. Next came the white shirt, with its stiff frills, then the sharply creased, black trousers, and then the shiny, new, black shoes from Target.
And then there was the tie, the one piece of attire he'd been dreading. His thick fingers fumbled endlessly as he tried, again and again, to tie the stupid thing.
Frank stepped into the room. His amused expression quickly changed to one of consternation when he saw the mangled tie dangling from around Joey's neck. In less than ten seconds, Frank expertly tied and knotted the tie for his son.
At last, there was the cummerbund, the most daunting and formiddable article of them all. Joey felt as if he was being fitted with an iron harness.
"I don't know why anyone ever thought these damn things were necessary," Frank grunted. "They're worse than an old woman's corset. Just promise me one thing. When you get married, you'll have one of those wedding where no one has to wear a tuxedo. I've had to wear enough of them in my lifetime."
"Count on it," Joey promised him.
He slipped quickly, smoothly, and easily into his black tuxedo jacket.
"Now, you try and keep your hose in your pants, tonight. But if it gets to be too much for you, use this." Frank presented his son with a condom enclosed in bright, red and black foil. "You know what's out there better than I do."
Joey could scarcely conceal his shock; his face turned a bright shade of red. "Uh...gee...thanks, dad," he managed to slip the condom into this right pocket of his jacket.
"No, not there," Frank snapped tersely. "Put it in your wallet."
Joey meekly complied with his father's command.
He followed Frank to the living room. As soon as he saw Ellen standing in front of the television, holding a loaded camera in her hands, his shoulders slumped and his heart sank like a stone down a dry well.
"Don't forget your corsage," Ellen reminded him.
Joey took the corsage from the refrigerator and tried to make a quick beeline for the front door.
"Now, wait a minute," Ellen called at his fleeing back.
He stood there, one large hand clutching the corage and his other hand wrapped around the door knob, smiling from ear to ear and feeling like a complete and total idiot, while Ellen snapped not one but five pictures of him.
"Do you have your key?" she asked.
Flustered, Joey nodded.
"Well, have a wonderful time," she said, anointing Joey's smooth, bare cheek with a gentle kiss.
He closed the front door behind him. Finally!
The Clemsons lived in a tidy, brick home on Lazarus Avenue, a mile from the high school. Mr. Clemson answered the door. He motioned to the sofa and settled himself in an old easy chair, obviously his favorite. The living room was small and had a fireplace. On the mantle stood a family portrait in an inexpensive gold frame. There was a smaller picture of Bobbie as a toddler and nother picture of her in grade school, wearing braces. The pictures warmed Joey's heart. He smiled.
"The girls are still upstairs," Mr. Clemson told Joey and gave him a conspiratorial wink. "They're not quit ready yet. I'm glad to have this chance to finally meet you. Bobbie's told us so much about you. She says that among other things, you're a boxer."
"Yes, sir," Joey said and heard his voice crack. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Among other things."
"Well, isn't that interesting?" Mr. Clemson said. "Me, I love the sport. I used to go all the time, back when they held a card, every Friday night, at the fairgrounds, over in Ellentown. Bobbie says you live in Monotoning. I guess you must know Goody Carlisle, then. He lives there."
"No, I can't say I ever met the man."
"That's odd. I thought everyone knew Goody. He just about owns most of the Valley. He bought a big insurance policy from me for his hotel. The trouble is he put the policy in his wife's name and she keeps forgetting to make the monthly payments. Half the time I have to call and remind him. Several times, I've had to pay the monthly premiums out of my own pocket---which I don't mind; he always pays me back---otherwise, the company would've cancelled his policy---"
Mr. Clemson was cut short by the small, scuffing sounds his daughter made, as she descended the stairs, followed by his wife. Joey's eyes grew large and round as saucers and his lips parted involuntarily at the sight of plain, old Bobbie Clemson, smiling and looking radiant, in a low cut, white gown.
Awe-struck, he waited, until Bobbie reached the bottom of the stairs He slowly walked toward her, then stopped.
"Oh, wow." The words tripped over his lips in a ragged, rusty whisper. "I am one lucky dude."
Behind him, he heard Mr. Clemson laugh. "Yes, son, you are."
Joey drew in a deep breath and removed the corsage from its plastic container. He boldly took another step closer to Bobbie and attempted to affix the corsage to her dress. Standing so close to Bobbie's smooth, bare flesh caused the tips of his fingers to burn like they were on fire. Mrs. Clemson stood next to Bobbie, sharing her daughter's happiness. Mr. Clemson happily snapped away with a camera. Joey somehow managed to complete his little chorse without wounding Bobbie with the pin.
He saw the expectant look on Bobbie's bright, smiling face and he thought, ah, why not? They kissed each other on the lips, right in front of Bobbie's parents. Mr. Clemson snapped another picture.
"Now, if you'll just step over here in front of the fireplace," Mr. Clemson directed.
Joey's broad shoulders slumped and he groaned inwardly, the same way he had done when his mother had produced her camera. But Bobbie took his hand and he obligingly followed her the few feet to the fireplace. For the first picture, they stood at an angle, facing each other. Joey smiled down at Bobbie and she looked up at him with a wide smile on her thick, luscious lips and adoration in her eyes. Bobbie's huge, right breast snuggled warm and firm against Joey's chest. He thought that if he'd known that tonight was going to be one long photo-shoot, he would have said, no, when Bobbie asked him to go to the prom with her.
Mr. Clemson ran out of film, at last. Thank God! He set his spent camera on a small, round table, next to his easy chair, and glanced at his watch.
"It's getting late," he annouced. "You kids had better get going. You don't want to miss any more of your big night on account of us old farts."
Arm in arm, Mr. and Mrs. Clemson followed Bobbie and Joey to the front door.
"You two kids have a good time," Mr. Clemson said. He winked at Joey. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"That leaves a lot out," Joey remarked tartly.
Mr. Clemson brayed loudly. "Now, there's no time limit," he said. "You two kids stay out as late as you want."
"We'll send you a postcard," Joey quipped. He automatically jumped back a step and raised the palms of both hands in front of his face as if to ward off an invisible blow. "Only kidding---honest. I have nothing but the most honorable intentions toward your daughter. Please believe me."
"I know you do," Mr. Clemson said, still smiling. "Otherwise, I wouldn't let you go out with her."
Mr. and Mrs. Clemson stood together on the front porch and watched Joey escort their daughter to his car. Ever the gentleman, Joey opened the door on the passenger's side and after Bobbie was safely ensconced inside, he closed the door for her. Then he walked around the hood of the car, slipped behind the wheel, and keyed the engine. He didn't race the engine like he normally did. This time, he let the engine idle for a moment, before he shifted into reverse, looking both ways to make sure no traffic was coming, and backed down the short driveway, into the street.
Mr. and Mrs. Clemson waved and Bobbie and Joey waved back at them.
"Your parents are cool," Joey said to Bobbie. "Especially your dad."
"They liked you, too," Bobbie said eagerly. "I could tell."
At the next intersection, while they waited for the light to change, suddenly, he felt Bobbie's warm, heavy hand on his knee. He looked at her and smiled. This was going to be a great night, he thought. He was sure of it!