Joey left the Turnkpike and eased his way down the off-ramp. At six o'cloxk on Saturday morning, the Holiday Inn, on his right, appeared serene and impassive, almost tomblike, just like any of the hundreds of other nondescript businesses that dotted both sides of the teeming highway. Except for the large, black letters on the marquee, out front---CONGRATULATIONS, LAZARUS HIGH SENIORS!---there was nothing at all to tell the world that a monumental moment in Joey's life had transpired there, last night.
A half-hour later, they passed good, old Lazarus High. Ten minutes later, Joey took a deep breath and reluctantly pulled into Bobbie's driveway. The Clemson's porch light still burned next to the front door, stupid and stubborn, almost surreal, a pale, weak beacon in the startling morning light.
Next to him, Bobbie was sleeping soundly, snoring softly, her cheek resting on her right shoulder. Her left hand was still planted on Joey's right thigh, right where she'd placed it, just moments after they'd left that dark, desolate, little strip of beach.
Joey got out of his car, closing the door carefully; he didn't want to make any noise that might alert anyone inside the house---especially Bobbie's father---to his presence. He walked around the back of the car and opened the door on the passenger's side. Joey bent down low and unbuckled Bobbie's seat belt, which, thanks to her cumbersome weight, was stretched all the way to the limit, and slowly and carefully hoisted her from her seat. It took all of Joey's considerable strength and he felt the muscles in his lower back stretch and strain, as he lifted her out of the car and up on her nylon-stockinged feet. That was when he noticed for the very first time that her high-heeled shoes were gone---she'd left them at the beach!
Joey groaned inwardly. Oh, great. That was just one more thing her parents were going to love him for.
Bobbie's body slumped against him like a block of cement, her heavy arms flung outward on either side like two heavy pieces of driftwood. Bobbie's breath felt warm and stale against his neck. Her dusky perfume still encircled her body like a palpable aura.
Bobbie stirred in his arms. Her eyes opened, just barely, and she smiled at him, dull and uncomprehending. The faintest flicker of a smile played across her lips.
"Hi, sweetie pie. Where are we?"
"You're home, now," he told her.
"Oh. Uh-huh." She nodded, or seemed to nod. Her eyes closed again and her head fell forward against his chest. He slipped his right hand around her waist and dragged her right arm up over his shoulder. Her arm remained there for only a second, and then, it slid like a broken pendulum down his back. Her meaty, right hand gently slapped his rear.
He half-carried, half-dragged her up the short sidewalk and up the three cement steps leading to the porch. The front door creaked inward. Mr. Clemson stood behind the door. "Just put her on the couch," he instructed Joey.
Joey gladly complied with his request. He caught a brief glimpse of Mrs. Clemson slogging silently up the staircase, in a faded, green housecoat and fluffy slippers.
Mr. Clemson covered his daughter with an old afghan that was draped over the back of the sofa. "She's drunk, isn't she?" he asked Joey.
Joey figured there was no use lying when the truth was so obvious; he nodded. "Yeah, I think so."
"How about you? You drink anything?'
"Well, at least one of you was responsible." Mr. Clemson sighed and shook his head. To Joey, Mr. Clemson didn't look or sound mad or angry, or frustrated, so much as resigned. Joey felt sorry for him. "You had sex, didn't you?"
"Well, don't feel too bad about it. Mrs. Clemson and I both knew before you and Bobbie left, last night, that it would turn out this way. Bobbie's been like this ever since she turned thirteen. We don't encourage her, you understand. But then, I guess we never did enough to try and stop her, either. I'm just glad she was with you. Another guy would've just dumped her off in the driveway and taken off. Believe me, it's happened many times before."
Mr. Clemson followed Joey to the front door.
"I hope this won't be the last time we ever see you," Mr. Clemson said. "Bobbie likes you. She talks about you alot."
"I like Bobbie, too."
"Good." Mr. Clemson offered his hand and Joey shook it.
"Well, take care," Joey said.
"You, too, son," Mr. Clemson said.
Frank Duduka was sitting in his favorite chair, perusing the sports section of the morning paper, when Joey walked through the front door. Frank glared at his son over the top of his paper with his all too familiar, stern, obdurate expression, which could have signified anything, but which, Joey knew from bitter experience, usually meant harsh disapproval.
"Well, finally," Frank said. "It's about time. Your mother and I were starting to get worried."
"You want some breakfast?" Ellen called from the kitchen.
"I'll get some later," Joey answered her. "I want to get out of this damn monkey suit, first."
"Did you have a good time?" his mother asked.
"I had a wonderful time."
Joey turned and took a step toward the hallway leading to his bedroom. His father called at his back. "Why do you have sand on your shoes and all down your pants legs, and the back of your jacket?"
Joey froze. He sighed and turned to face his father, again. "After the prom, we went to the shore."
"Did you two---"
Joey easily anticipated his father's question. "Yes."
"Ah. So you're a man now, I supposed. You drink anything."
"Well, I don't want you traipsing sand all over the house. You can change in the bathroom. And where's your tie and your cummerbund?"
"I still have 'em. Don't worry."
"Oh, I worry, all right. If there's anything missing, or they try and sock me with a cleaning bill, it's coming out of your wallet, not mine. And if you want to be treated like a man from now on, you'd better start trying to act like one," Frank said, and went back to hiding behind the impenetrable wall of his paper.