The Last Dance

The little flower shops wound extra rolls of floral tape, and the photographers wound fresh film, and the Bosnian seamstresses stitched poufs of netting to strapless bodices. DuBourg High was planning its prom.

When the other girls start suggesting themes, her eyes roll.

"How about 'Save the Best for Last,' because it's our last dance ever in high school and it's the best thing you're going to do?" offers banged, brown-haired Lauren Schulte, who looks like a tomboy one day and Audrey Hepburn the next. "When you think of high school, you will think of your prom."

"I've been dreaming of prom since I was in sixth grade," Kelly agrees.

Angie LeGrand and Kim Hughes helped plan this shindig.
Jennifer Silverberg
Angie LeGrand and Kim Hughes helped plan this shindig.
Angie LeGrand and Kim Hughes helped plan this shindig.
Jennifer Silverberg
Angie LeGrand and Kim Hughes helped plan this shindig.

"Everybody does," says another girl. "This is, like, right under my wedding."

They sent their Barbies to prom; watched prom scenes in teen movies; giggled at older sisters and brothers dressed up past recognition, departing in nervous ceremony. Now, finally, it's their turn. Each harbors a slightly different scenario, but all want the night to be "special," a break from ordinary time, a ticket that transports them somewhere more enchanted than a low beige-brick building on the corner of Hampton and Eichelberger.

"I'm really stuck on gazebos," admits Val, leafing through one of five fat pastel prom catalogs. "I want a gazebo so bad!" Lauren leans to look over her shoulder and quickly sticks a finger into the flipping pages: "This! What is this thing called?" She squints at the text. "A trellis. We could have our photos in front of a trellis with roses...."

"'Wish Upon a Star,'" somebody calls. "'On the Edge of a Dream,' because we are definitely on the edge of something!" counters Lauren. Then she has a brainstorm: "'I Hope You Dance.' Yes! The words it speaks are like lessons; it's deep. Of course, how many people are really deep thinkers? But I still really like it. We could write that on the T-shirts: 'When you get the choice to sit it out or dance' -- and then, in big type, 'I hope you dance.'"

There's a murmur of agreement, even though, it's noted, "not everybody likes country."

"What about 'Unforgettable,' because our prom's unforgettable?" suggests Angie LeGrand, a redhead with curvy bangs, translucent fair skin and emotions just as transparent. "It's a really cool song; I got it off Napster this morning."

"'I Want to Be With You,'" someone proposes, and Angie's face falls. "We are trying to stay away from lovey-dovey," she points out, "for us poor single people who don't have steady boyfriends." They decide they can't do "Oh What a Night," either: "Teachers might be, like, 'Oh, it's a sexual song.'" Oddly enough, sex isn't even in the room at these meetings: Prom's romance is of a storybook sort, predating any particular boy. This thrill's about having the door of the limo opened for you, not necking in the back seat.

They rule out "Almost Paradise" because "it sounds like 'Oh, this isn't good enough?'" and "I Stayed Alive" because "it sounds like we clawed our way through high school eating rats." Chrissie, seated down at the end of the long table, leans forward. "What I like about that one," she says, "is, not everybody can say they were 100 percent happy with everything the whole time." There's a long silence, the first of the meeting. "But still," Val says gently, "prom's a happy time."

"What about 'We Danced Anyway'?" suggests Lauren. "We are going to have grandchildren someday, and they are going to be getting ready for their prom, and here we'll be, all shriveled up, and it'll make us feel young again."

The committee presents a list of theme suggestions to the entire class (Val having reminded them, "People like to be asked") and "I Hope You Dance" wins by 20 votes, with "Unforgettable" a close second. At the next Wednesday-afternoon meeting, a new issue burns: They all want graceful frosted-glass vases inscribed with the legend "Prom 2001," but what memento should they order for the boys? No self-respecting DuBourg male's gonna show up for one of these meetings and offer his opinion, so they'll have to guess.

The girls flip through the catalogs again. Would glasses be legal if they had candles stuck in them?

"They won't use candles anyway," predicts Lauren.

"My brother would," says Angie. "He's a huge pyro."

"Snow-globe picture frames?"

Eventually they settle on customized "Prom 2001" Slinkys and make a note to inform Mr. Hediger.

Now, the biggest question of all: whether to restore the prom-court tradition that's making a comeback nationwide after decades of plain egalitarianism. "I'm starting to think no," says Val, "because it's supposed to be everybody's special night, and it's not fair to make it more special for somebody. Maybe we could buy cheap crowns and give them to all the girls -- everybody's a princess."

No way; it'd ruin people's hair, the others say. They all (except Chrissie, who's ready to gag) like the drama of royalty. Not king and queen, because that's for homecoming -- what about prince and princess? The class votes 97-39 in favor, so the committee decides to crown two sets of princes and princesses, avoiding a pure popularity contest ("Impossible," mutters Chrissie) by letting the teachers make the initial nominations.

Later that week, after combing South County Center, Kelly finds her elegant and glamorous dress -- "long, light-pink, with a white glittery sheer overlay and spaghetti straps and the back kind of open." Tiny Kim Hughes, who has a pale French-urchin look and an adorable lisp but could organize the Russian Army, goes all the way to Plaza Frontenac for hers, a coral strapless with sequins and a train and a little beaded shawl. "They send you a thank-you note," she reports, "and they keep a log so nobody buys the same dress as another girl from their school."

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