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.

All's going well -- except that now it's spring, and Mr. Hediger, who's really supposed to be at all the meetings, must coach on Wednesday afternoons. "No problem," the girls say cheerfully. "We'll meet at 7 a.m. on Fridays, before homeroom."

Hediger pales.

Kelly Regan (left) racks up memories with a friend.
Jennifer Silverberg
Kelly Regan (left) racks up memories with a friend.
Chrissie brings not the problematic ex-boyfriend but Tommy Chlebowski, a fresh-faced young man who keeps his hand chivalrously at her waist.
Jennifer Silverberg
Chrissie brings not the problematic ex-boyfriend but Tommy Chlebowski, a fresh-faced young man who keeps his hand chivalrously at her waist.

It's 6:45 a.m. on the first Friday in March, and the meeting room is locked. Chrissie's outside, waiting in her car. Kim's standing in the hall, flipping through Teen Prom, debating whether to buy halogen sandals that shine in rainbow colors. Becky Clark arrives wearing a light, shimmery lip gloss, her hair fresh. "I set my alarm for 4:30 so I'd have time to shower," she explains, then confides in a rush that she hasn't found a dress yet. "I went Thursday, but we really didn't see too much, and I got bored. Besides, my mom wasn't there, and I know she'll be honest with me -- she'll say, 'Oh, Becky, you've got a pooch there' or 'It makes your butt look big.'"

This morning, they're talking about the setting for their prom portraits: Last year's toppled columns were a disaster. "It was supposed to look like the ruins of Rome," says Val, "but people didn't get it. They kept saying, 'Why didn't somebody pick these up before prom?'"

OK, they'll do French doors. Chrissie volunteers to check out the photographer's backdrop, although in private she admits she's still a little disgusted about "this king and queen, or prince and princess, or whatever. I'm totally against courts. Your prom should not be any more special to one person than the rest. They just want it because it's cute."

At today's meeting, the pressing worry is money: They're contracted to The Cedars, the Slay-owned banquet hall adjacent to St. Raymond's Maronite Church downtown, but the cheapest dinner, the buffet, is $28.20 per person, pushing the ticket cost to $40 apiece.

"Don't seniors usually have bake sales?" asks Lauren.

"We can't do it anymore because of hepatitis," Kim reminds her.

So they have to decide whether they can afford their favorite invitations, printed on sealed clear-plastic squares filled with glitter -- and what about little table favors of bubble-blowers? "I think we are going a little overboard here," Val says dryly. "Sticky stuff on the ground? I don't think they'd like that at The Cedars."

Once again, they vote. The bubbles win overwhelmingly, but Val tries one more time: "So even if it comes to raising the price, you still want bubbles?" Nobody even bothers to answer. She sighs: "Bubbles it is."

They're moving back and forth between girlhood and womanhood, fast as a weaver's shuttle.

Another 7 a.m. meeting, and Hediger manages to make it by 7:05. He bears good news: $28.20 was for a cash bar all night! Their buffet is only $22.

He's not enamored of the Slinky idea, though: "Whaddya think, that guys are just --" He stretches the sample Slinky wide, looking dubious. "Here, I'll show you what I thought for guys. A simple frame --" he reaches for Anderson's Prom and Party Catalog, then feels everybody's eyes on him. "You really want the Slinkys?"

Lauren sighs like a resigned wife: "Picture frames are fine."

Kelly comes in, swinging a bag of doughnut boxes. The girls slide them down the table slapshot, the aromas of chocolate and grease mingling with the scent of fruit-blossom shampoo. It's time to plan table decorations: How about wreaths of purple flowers around hurricane lamps? Or votive candles floating in bowls with flower petals? And black tablecloths, they all agree, sprinkled with glittery star confetti.

"Do we want fake flowers or real ones?" asks Kelly. "And who sets up the tables?"

Turns out they do, that afternoon. "I know you guys get your hair done and your nails and your makeup and everything -- takes five hours," says Hediger, adding, "I don't know why you guys do that; you guys look nice anyway. But I can't go; I have to teach the underclassmen, so you will have to handle it."

They disperse, Becky muttering to herself, "I've got to find a date."

"If anybody cares, I still don't have a date," Chrissie announces almost cheerfully. "There's a bunch of people who said they would go with me; I just have to narrow it down, depending on who's not mad at me that week."

That evening, on the phone, she explains high school's daily hell. "It's the prejudgment of people," she says. "They are uncomfortable with themselves. Or maybe they know I'm better than they are and they just don't want to believe it." She survives by escaping: "I like to just go for long drives or try to get away from people. And I love to dance. I plan to do nothing but go to dance clubs when I turn 18.

"DuBourg's very cliquish," she resumes. "There's the freaky people and the middle people and the preppy people, and you have all the jocks on top and all the other people seem to filter down a little bit below that, and none of those people can associate with anybody below them.

"I really wanted to be on the committee because I figured I'd have a say in making it good," she adds. "But that hasn't happened too much, because of Mr. Hediger. He's being very difficult."

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