The tables had been moved out of the H.S. L-1378-55 Cafeteria. Green and gold streamers radiated from the revolving prism lights in the center of the ceiling. Beneath the radiating streamers, teenage boys wearing suits and ties danced to the beat of recorded music, with High School girls wearing formal dresses. Chaperons drifted around the couples on the dance floor.
A stage had been set up against a wall. A simulated throne had been set up on the stage. A sign on the wall above the throne declared:
"H.S. L-1378-55 ANNUAL
Jimmy Haskins danced with Alyce Vanderland.
That afternoon, while Karen was still twitching, the crowd had begun to disperse. Jimmy saw Alyce standing beside the body of Mike Patterson.
Jimmy came over to her.
"So Alyce," he said. "I see you've suddenly become a candidate for Homecoming Queen, without a date for the Dance."
"And you've just put yourself in the same situation Jimmy."
"Then maybe we ought to help each other out tonight."
"Sure Jimmy. I'd love to."
She looked up at the dying Karen. "'It's part of being a cheerleader.'"
Whoever the Homecoming Queen was, she'd be crowned around 9 P.M. Then she'd do it with whoever her date was. Win or lose, Alyce would be doing it with Jimmy that night.
Tonight, Dave Krendell danced with Louise Torelli.
That afternoon, right after the game, Louise had come over to Dave, who'd stood at the foot of the seats, looking at the dead Karen Bennet, hanging at the end of a rope.
"So Dave," she'd said, "your former girlfriend's had her moment of glory."
He said, "She told me she wanted to be a Teams' girlfriend Louise. She said they're the girls who have all the fun."
She told him, "It wasn't all that much fun for me."
That night, as they danced, she asked, "Tell me Dave. If Karen Bennett hadn't been hanged this afternoon, and you were still dating, what'd you two be doing tonight?"
"The same thing we're doing."
"I meant dancing."
"Oh." She sounded relieved.
Then she asked, "What about doing it?"
He smiled and stood taller.
"Why thank you Louise. I know we haven't been dating that long. I didn't think you'd want it tonight."
She felt like saying, "Oh I do. With you. Tonight."
What she said was, "I wasn't talking about us Dave."
"Then what are you talking about?"
"You and Karen Bennet." She said, "If you were with her, that's what you'd be doing after the Dance, wouldn't you?"
"Oh yes. That would have gone with her being a candidate for Homecoming Queen. Either reward for the winner, or consolation for the loser."
He held her a little tighter.
"Or it can be a very pleasant time for us."
She smiled. Then she drew back.
"I'm sorry Dave." she told him. "It's never been a pleasant time for me. I've never been able to enjoy it, and neither would you."
She thought, Why did I have to tell him that? Now I've lost him for sure.
Dave said, "Louise, there's no rush. Listen. I'm glad to be with someone who I know's still gonna be around, after all the combat games are over."
Louise drew herself up closer. She put her lips up near his ear.
She whispered, "You won't have to wait that long."
Then she gave him a chaste kiss on the cheek.
As the music blared, he and Louise danced under the flashing lights. Dave noticed that people had stopped dancing. They were all turning their attention to the entrance.
Karen Bennet stood alone in the entrance, wearing the dark green strapless gown that she'd bought for this occasion. The recorded music still blared out a lively beat, but no one was dancing. Even the people at the refreshment table had stopped munching on the fried Jephthahn Warrior sausages.
Karen's gaze moved across every face in the crowd. Everyone in the crowd looked at each other.
Then Karen's gaze stopped moving. She was staring at Jimmy Haskins.
She thought, He's dancing with Vanderland, most likely to be chosen Homecoming Queen.
Karen started heading across the floor, straight toward Jimmy and Alyce.
Someone said, "Her neck's undamaged."
That was Dave Krendell's voice. She stopped and turned in his direction.
He's with his new girlfriend Louise Torelli, Karen thought. That nerdy girl with glasses, always gets top grades, and has plans for college.
Karen walked up to her former boyfriend.
She said, "You prayed for me, didn't you?"
"How did you know?"
"I heard your voice in my head."
Karen now turned away and walked up to Jimmy and Alyce.
She spoke to Alyce. "Are you planning to do it with my date who stood me up tonight?"
Jimmy said, "Stood you up? I thought you were dead."
Alyce was taken aback. All she could think of to say was, "Well, I'd had a date with Mike Patterson tonight, but he was killed during the game; and after the game...you didn't look...like you'd be... available...for any guy to…do it with...ever again. It's the same thing you've done.
"'It's part of being a cheerleader.'"
Karen shouted, "The noose was tied incorrectly!"
Everyone heard that. They relaxed, and resumed dancing.
Jimmy said, "Now don't go blaming this on me. All I did was pull the rope. Your former boyfriend Krendell's the equipment handler. You ought to be asking him what happened."
Karen called out, "Mr. Avery! Is my name still on the ballot for Homecoming Queen?"
"Yes!" The Principal was a little tongue-tied. "Karen! You're still eligible!"
She again spoke softly to Jimmy.
"Then after I win, I'll be very available, for the complimentary effing that every candidate is supposed to receive from her date."
"Forget it.” said Jimmy. "Our date was canceled when you were."
Alyce repeated, "'Part of being a cheerleader.'"
Karen asked, "Do you expect me to be the only candidate for Homecoming Queen who'll go home without doing it tonight?"
Alyce said, "We expected you to be getting ground into a pile of sausages tonight. It's wrong that you're not."
Alyce and Jimmy resumed dancing. Everyone seemed to be dancing, except Karen. She stood to the side with her arms folded in front of her.
Jimmy and Alyce danced a few steps away from Karen. Dave and Louise were also nearby.
Alyce called out, over the music. "Do you see that Karen? Your former boyfriend David Krendell's with the studious Louise Torelli tonight. I bet she's not going home without getting it tonight!"
Karen answered over the loudness of the music.
"It's over with him and me! I hope he gives her a really good one tonight! The horny nerd could use one!"
Louise stopped dancing. She stepped away from Dave, who followed her as she brought herself over to Karen.
"I heard what you just said about me."
Karen said, "I just meant that I hoped you'd have a very pleasant evening; if you're enough of a woman to handle it."
"Oh I am," said Louise, "and I will. We horny nerds know how to keep a guy around; unlike you."
She and Dave moved away from Karen, and resumed dancing.
Mr. Avery walked up to Karen.
He said, "I want to see you in my office on Monday morning, Miss Bennet."
At 9 o'clock that evening, Mr. Avery stood on the stage, behind a microphone. All the candidates, who included Karen, Alyce, Sarah Denski, Debbie Sheridan and Carlotta Obregon, stood on the stage behind him, in front of the throne.
Mr. Avery held a 3" by 5" card in front of him, and spoke into the mike.
"This year's winner, as Manhattan High School L-1378-55's Homecoming Queen is..."
A recorded drum roll was played.
He read from the card. "Miss Alyce Vanderland!"
The students cheered. Some girls sighed. Everyone applauded. Karen and the four other candidates forced themselves to smile.
As Alyce stepped out of the line, heading toward the throne, she moved close to Karen, and gave her the finger.
Karen stopped smiling.
Alyce seated herself upon the throne. Mr. Avery placed a tiara upon her head. She sat there grinning victoriously at everyone.