As an interactive horror experience, with beasts from Hell, mayhem, gore, and dismemberment, it was an impressive event. As a high school prom, however, the evening was marginally less successful.
I should start at the beginning, but I'm not entirely certain when that is, so I'll start with the day I realized that despite my most determined efforts, I was not going to be able to ignore the prom entirely.
The end of April, and a rabid satin and tulle frenzy had attached to every double X chromosome in the senior class. All available wall space–hallway, cafeteria, even the bathrooms–sprouted signage in the most obnoxious colors possible. I was assaulted by flyers in the courtyard, and harassed by thrice-daily announcements. Had I gotten my tickets yet? Had I voted for the class song? Had I voted for the King and Queen? No, no, and Hell no, because voting for royalty was not just moronic, it was oxymoronic.
No one was safe from the Prom Plague. When dog-eared copies of Seventeen magazine started circulating through AP English, I knew I'd soon have to fall back to the band hall and call the CDC from there.
Then one day my neutrality was over. My indifference punctured. Stanley Dozer asked me to be his date.
Stanley Dozer was even lower on the high school food chain than I was, and I was in the journalism club. Sometimes I think God must have a kind of divine craps table; every once in a while He shoots snake eyes and the next baby born is screwed from the jump. I mean, "Stanley Dozer," for starters. Maybe he could have aesthetically overcome this name, but the guy was about six foot five, pale and bony as a corpse, with hair the color of spider webs. His ankles and wrists shot out of his too short jeans and the sleeves of his plaid button-down shirt. I sympathized with the sizing problems, but I had to wonder at the complete inattention to fashion. And by fashion I mean "camouflage."
Back on the middle school Serengeti I learned that, lacking a certain killer instinct, my best bet was to avoid standing out from the herd and making myself a target for the apex social predators, at least until I'd built up a tough skin. Now I'm sort of like the spiny anteater. Small and prickly, trundling along, a threat to no one. Except ants, I guess, which is where the metaphor runs out.
Back to Stanley's ambush. On the second-story breezeway that overlooked the courtyard below, the Spanish Club was selling candy to raise money for their Guatemalan sponsor child and I was taking their picture. Privately I thought little Juanita would benefit a lot faster if they sold tequila shots instead. Not that I advocate underage alcohol, but I bet there were a few teachers who could use a drink this time of year.
"Hi, Maggie!" Stanley's voice startled me.
I spun around, narrowly missing hitting him in his bony chest with my camera. I'm used to looking up, but with Stanley I had to crane my neck and squint. "Oh. Hi, Stanley."
Behind me, the Spanish Club giggled. What was Espa–ol for "Bite me"?
"How are you?" he asked, hefting his book bag onto his shoulder. The canvas bag bore the logo of the natural history museum. High on the geek quotient, but worlds better than the briefcase he'd carried freshman year.
"I'm taking some pictures for the yearbook." I hinted broadly that I was busy. After all, the next box of Chiclets might be the one that sent little Juanita to college.
"I saw you up here, and I thought . . . Well, you know how the prom is coming up?"
"Is it really?" I mumbled, messing with the settings on my camera. "I had no idea."
Sarcasm sailed over his head, which was a trick considering his height. He shuffled from foot to foot, giving the unfortunate appearance of a dancing skeleton. "Well, I was thinking you could go with me. We could, you know, go together."
The words entered my ears, but my brain rejected them. Stanley Dozer was not asking me to the prom. Words failed me, and that's just not something that happens. Ever. I'd known Stanley since his paste-eating days, and had always tried to be nice to him. I was the spoilsport who pulled the kick me sign off his back, or helped him pick up his books after he'd been tripped–either by his own overlong legs or someone else's. I guess if I were a better person I'd have befriended him more thoroughly. I felt bad about that, but not that bad.
"Wow. The prom." I stalled as the rest of the school continued normal operations, electric bells calling students to class, kids buffeting us as they passed on the breezeway, calling to the people below. "I really wasn't planning to go," I said honestly. "I might have to take pictures, but I'd kind of be working."
"Yeah, but if you have to go anyway . . ."
"Oh, you wouldn't have fun that way." I flipped through my mental student files, clinging to the notion that there is somebody for everyone. "What about Karen Foley? Weren't you guys in Mathletes together?"
"Until she blew our answer in the district semifinal round," Stanley sneered. "She's not nearly as smart as everyone thinks she is."
"Oh-kay. That was a little harsh."
"Yeah, well, Karen Foley is a dork."
And that was unkind and rather nasty. Also, Mr. Glass House didn't have any business throwing stones. But before I could react, someone grabbed Stanley from behind. Amid laughter and alarmed squeals, the breezeway cleared of traffic as Biff the Jock bent poor Stanley over for a noogie.
Biff wasn't his name, but he reminded me of the bully in Back to the Future, so that was the name my brain supplied. Though Stanley had half a foot of height on him, the football player was muscular, so watching Biff rough up the poor dweeb was like watching an English mastiff pin an Afghan hound.
"Hey, Bulldozer! Trying to get a date?" I willed Stanley to fight back; he should have leverage to his advantage if nothing else. But his spindly arms and legs just flailed around as the pack of jocks and cheerleaders jeered.
"Leave him alone," I said, not much more effectively.
"Awww." Biff wrapped a meaty arm around Stanley's neck and baby-talked, "Does oo haff a widdle girlfriend, Dozer?" His friends roared at this example of their leader's wit. Stanley's face was turning purple with what I hoped was rage and not asphyxiation.
"I said, leave him alone. Go find another Mack truck to pick on."
Biff's girlfriend–whose name, like half of the cheer squad, was Jessica–got up in my face. "That's so cute! I think she likes him back."
"How sweet." Biff and his friend pushed poor Stanley to the edge of the breezeway, pretending they were going to launch him over the brick barrier onto the courtyard below. "You going to fall for her, Bulldozer?"
Stanley didn't answer; he looked paralyzed by terror. The jocks might have been pretending, but the horror on Stanley's face was very real. I raised the best weapon at my disposal and clicked off a rapid-fire series of pictures on my camera. It got Cheerleader Barbie's attention.
"What are you doing!" Yell-leading had definitely developed her lungs. Her shriek made my right eye twitch, but I replied calmly.
"I'm documenting the event. Maybe for the principal. Maybe just for the school paper. Maybe for an insert, right next to the ballot for prom queen."
"You can't do that!" My eardrum gave a seismic shudder. "I've worked for four years. My mom already bought my dress. It's all planned, you hag." My camera clicked in her livid, bug-eyed face. It is probably all that saved me from her claws. Instead she turned to her boyfriend. "Let him go, Brandon! You and your stupid sense of humor."
Brandon. That was his real name. He and his buddies let poor Stanley go, and the geek collapsed onto the concrete in a jumble of bony elbows and knees as Brandon turned on me. "You are nothing but a snitch and a tattletale, Quinn."
"It's called investigative journalism, asshole. The next time I even hear about you attacking someone, I'll e-mail these pictures to the principal, the local paper, and the admissions board of every school with a Division One football team."
Brandon took a threatening step toward me, but restrained himself when I raised the camera. He gestured to his knuckle-cracking goon squad and they lumbered off, followed by Jessica, Jessica, and Jessica, who each gave me the death eye before they flipped their hair and flounced after them. I wondered if they worked on that synchronized hair flip during cheer practice.