The Lazarus High School's graduating class of '01 held their senior prom in the ballroom of the Holiday Inn, out on the Interstate. By the time Joey and Bobbie got there, the parking lot was already almost filled to overflowing.
Bobbie smiled demurely at Joey as he helped her out of his car. The dark parking lot was filled with the sounds of car doors opening and slamming shut, couples calling to each other, and laughter. Plenty of laughter. Girls everywhere patted down their hair, critically scrutinized their make-up in the outisde mirrors of their boyfriend's car, rearranged their gowns, and checked one more time to make absolutely certain their cleavage wasn't hanging out of their dresses. Joey saw more than one girl take a step foward, almost stumble, and quickly place a hand on their boyfriend's shoulder to keep from falling. In exasperation, they looked down over their shoulders at their high-heeled shoes, as if realizing for the very first time in their young lives what a dangerous liability this type of footwear really was.
Here and there, guys stood at attention, while their women straightened their ties, and in some cases, even re-did them. Guys tugged nervously on their shirt cuffs and the sleeves of their colorful tuxedo jackets.
"How do I look?" Joey asked Bobbie. He stood perfectly still.
She gave him a quick but thorough inspection. "You look fine, sweetie." To prove it, she reached upward on her toes and gave him a quick kiss on the lips.
He bravely slipped an around her wide waist and she responded in kind, resting her blonde head against his shoulder.
Leanne Delavan lounged against one of the entranceway's square, cement pillars, casually smoking a cigarette. Her wavy, brown hair fell lightly to her naked shoulders and her strapless, red gown glimmered brightly in the yellow light spilling out from the open lobby doors, behind her.
The moment she saw Joey, her brown eyes brightened and her garish, red lips stretched wide in a sly, provoctative smile.
"Hey, Duduka. Glad to see you finally made it. And Bobbie. You look simply ravishing, dear."
Bobbie blushed. "Why, thank you," she managed to stammer in a raspy voice.
"You might as well get in there," Leanne said. She sounded sad, bored, and resigned. "The band's already started. The Gimps. What a perfectly tasteless name for a band to play at a high school prom, don't you think? Although I must admit, for a bunch of local boys, they really aren't that bad. They've already played a couple of tunes you can actually dance to."
"Where's Tad?" Joey couldn't help but ask.
Leanne shrugged, frowned, and wrinkled her nose. "Oh, he's in there somewhere---I guess. I'll catch you later," she said, looking pointedly at Joey. "You, too, Bobbie."
Bobbie waited until they were safely inside the lobby. Then she said to Joey, "I don't like her. You stay away from her."
Loud, thumping music emanated from behind a pair of doors on their left. Gertrude Horlacher sat on a hard, metal folding chair, next to the closed doors. Beside her chair, on the floor, sat a large, plastic bowl, filled with cash and ticket stubs. Gertrude wore a long, diaphanous gown of pale, blue chiffon. If it hadn't been for her heavy, black glasses, sharp, beak-like nose, and stern expression, she would have looked pretty and, Joey thought, maybe even beautiful. So far, she was the only woman he'd seen tonight who was wearing those long, white gloves that stretched all the way up to her bony elbows.
"Oh, my God," Bobbie gasped, horrified. "I almost forgot!"
Fumbling frantically inside her handbag, she pulled out the two prom tickets and proffered them timidly to Joey.
Joey smied and shook his head. "Oh, no, no. You're the one who invited me, remember? You bought and paid for the tickets. You should do the honors."
Gertrude's sharp features softened somewhat when she saw Bobbie and Joey; she even managed a crooked smile. She arched a skeptical eyebrow when Bobbie handed her the tickets. Gertrude unceremoniously ripped the tickets in two, depositing half the torn tickets in her plastic bowl, and returned the stubs to Bobbie.
"You might want to hold on to those," she told Bobbie, who immediately put them in her purse.
Joey And Bobbie entered a vast room---an exciting, new world, Joey thought---filled with bright light and loud, raucous nose, brilliant balloons and streamers, and young men and women, in luminous suits and gowns. It almost hurt eyes to look at it all.
A huge, white banner hung from the ceiling, just above the stage, at the far end of the room. CONGRATLATION, SENIORS!!!, the banner declared in bold, red lettering.
On the stage, four skinny guys with short, spiky hair, who looked to be about the same age as the rest of the crowd, each frenetically worried an acoustical guitar. Dozens of couples whirled and swirled about the crowded floor, undulating wildly, writhing like cobras in a pit.
Joey and Bobbie located a pair of empty chairs at one of the long, white, cloth-covered tables that lined three sides of the room. Joey spied a huge punch bowl sitting on one of the tables.
"I could use a drink," he said to Bobbie. "How about you?"
Joey carefully threaded his way through the maelstrom of crazily caroming couples and finally made it to the punch bowl. He was happy to find Duke Gaddis standing there, with one hand shoved in his pants pocket and holding a plastic in his other hand, enjoying the madness.
"Hey, bud," Joey said. "What are you doing here? I thought they gave you a week's suspension, this afternoon, for spying on the girl's locker room."
"They did and I am," Duke said. "But I'd already shelled out a ton of money for this damn monkey suit and I wasn't about to miss out on all the fun. So I hunkered down with Ms. Brinkman and we struck a deal. I got to come here, tonight. And starting Monday morning, I stay home from school for a week. Try the punch, man. I spiked it."
Grinning, Duke whispered in Joey's left ear. "Mad Dog 20/20."
Joey's heavy eyebrows shot upward and his jaw dropped in shock and surprise. He had samped Mad Dog 20/20 exactly once in his young life. Just last summer, one of the guys he worked with at the shoe factory in Monotoning had poured a liberal dose of the stuff into Joey's Coke, during their lunch break. Joey had felt fine for the rest of his shift, until it was time for him to go home. Then, without warning, the alcohol suddenly seemed to overwhelm his unsuspecting senses. He found himself driving the rest of the way home with his head resting on his right shoulder and his left eye tightly closed, trying with all his might to concentrate on the road and the traffic in front of him. He'd sworn he would never touch another drop of Mad Dog 20/20 for as long as he lived.
"Oh, really?" he said.
"Oh, yeah." Duke laughed out loud. "Don't tell anyone."
"Don't worry. I won't."
Joey filled a cup with the innocent-looking punch and made his way back to Bobbie.
"What took you so long?" she asked, pouting. "I was afraid you got lost."
"Here," he said, handing Bobbie her drink. "I have to warn you, though, it's spiked."
"Good." Throwing back her head like a veteran drinker, she downed nearly all of her punch in a single gulp. Joey was amazed. And impressed.
"So, shall we join the rest of the crazies?" he asked her.
They danced for almost two hours by Joey's watch. Several times, he turned his head and caught Leanne and Tad Blackwell dancing nearby, and quickly turned his gaze back to Bobbie. But not before Leanne smiled and winked in his direction. Tad glare menacingly at Joey over Leanne's shoulder and pushed his loose glasses back up his nose with a stiff middle finger.
Joey suddenly experienced an urgent need to visit the men's room. When he came out of the bathroom, he found Leanne waiting for him in the deserted hallway.
"I guess that special graduation picture I gave you didn't work, huh?" she asked.
Joey laughed. "Oh, it worked, all right. But Bobbie asked me first."
"You could have at least called me."
"Hey, I'm a one woman man. I only go out with one woman at a time. I can't handle any more than that. Sorry."
"Now, you listen to me. Bobbie may look shy and sweet, and timid on the outside, but she has an insatiable appetitie. Before tonight's over, she's going to use you, and then toss you aside like a piece of garbage. You just wait and see if I'm not right. I'm going to give you one more chance. Call me later this weekend, if you find you feel the need for a little, tender, loving consolation...I'm going out for a butt. Care to join me?"
"No, thanks. I think I'll pass. Go back to Tad. He's a nice guy."
Leanne sighed in exasperation. "That's his problem. He's too nice. He lets the whole world just walk all over him like a doormat. I need a man with some backbone, someone I can respect. Call me, you fool!"
She stormed away, her aubuurn hair skirling around her neck and shoulders.
At exacly the stroke of midnight, the band started to play Good Night, Sweetheart, Good Night, which surprised Joey; they hadn't played anything that old, all night. He smiled and looked enquiringly at Bobbie. She'd had at least nine or ten cups of punch by then, and she looked quite sad to Joey. There was a look of somber reflection in her eyes. But her cheeks glowed brightly and she smiled back at him, as he offered her his hand and led her out onto the packed dance floor.
She held him tightly, a little too tightly, he thought, pressing her body softly but firmly against him. The warm glow of her body ignited a nice, warm heat inside his own body. They looked deep into each other's eyes. Bobbie's lips parted, as if she was about to ask him an important question.
And then, they were kissing each other, and she was hugging him even more tightly than before. For a moment, she was holding him so tight that he couldn't breath; she waas squeezing all the air out of his lung. After another moment, he didn't care. He just relaxed and went with it.
The band played the last, long, lingering note of the song. There was a moment of sublime silence. Then the group's leader shouted into his microphone, "Thanks, good night, congratulations, and good luck, Class of '01!"
All around Joey, the others clapped and cheered. Joey felt the plump, moist tip of Bobbie's tongue tentatively tickle his tightly puckered lips. Joey instantly relaxed his lips, opening them, just a little. Bobbie's tongue slipped like a cunning serpent inside his mouth. He felt her body swell in his arms like a hot air balloon, until he thought they were both going to burst into flames.
Reluctantly, they parted. Joey felt as if he was going to collapse from exhaustion. Bobbie's blue eyes were bright and shining and he could see fine beads of perspiration glistening on her high forehead. She smiled back at him, fanning her rosy cheek with the round fingers of her right hand.
They went back to their table, where Bobbie retrieved her handbag. They fell in with the rest of the crowd trickling through the open doors. Gertrude Horlacher was gone, and so was her folding chair and the plastic bowl filled with cash and ticket stubs.
The moment Joey walked out of the hotel, it seemed to him that the last four hours of his life had already turned into a memory, a beautiful dream that would never return, no matter how hard he wished it so. He glanced around the parking lot, hoping to catch one last glimpse of Leanne Delavan. But it seemed that Leanne and Tad had already vanished into the warm night air like a pair of nameless ghosts.
Bobbie walked silently at his side, watching her feet as she went. The corners of her mouth were still bowed upward in a small, imperishable smile. Bobbie looked happy and contented, and filled with glorious expectation. She also appeared wistful and nostalgic.
A pair of headlights pierced the darkness, startling and blinding Bobbie. She reached for Joey's hand, firmly entwining her short, plump fingers around his.
"Hey, Bobbie," a girl Joey didn't know called out to her. "Great prom!"
"Yes, we had a wonderful time, too!" Bobbie called back to her friend.
Joey unlocked and opened the door on the passenger's side of his car. He held her hand, while she carefully lowered herself into the seat, which creaked and squeaked like a mouse beneath her ponderous weight. Before closing the door, he anointed her fingers with a tender kiss.
Joey scurried around to his side of the car and slipped behind the wheel. "You know, this has been a great night," he said to Bobbie. "I have to thank you for inviting me."
"You don't want it to end yet, do you?" Bobbie asked. She sounded horrified.
"Well, to tell you the honest-to-goodnesss truth---no."
"I know a place we can go," she said.