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.

Then the music speeds into "The Tootsie Roll," and the energy explodes, as though whoever was holding the evening's reins tight suddenly dropped them and kicked the pace to a gallop. Lauren, looking sweet in a pink dress that's more sundressy than sleazy, takes the center with her longtime boyfriend, doing practiced spins and dips. Chrissie's face loses all its pained eagerness and goes rapt as she whirls into and out of her date's arms like a professional ballroom dancer. Halfway through the night, she gets kicked in the head while swing-dancing, takes an ibuprofen and goes back out on the dance floor.

In the parking lot, the limos' engines hum and the party-bus driver sits waiting, hunched with resignation. Some of the kids go to house parties -- there's a big one at Kevin's house. Others rent hotel rooms or lakeside cabins. Nobody sleeps.

The next day, they all agree prom was fun, a really good time. Nobody's using words like once-in-a-lifetime anymore, though. The rite of passage complete, their minds have already flown to graduation and fall's unprecedented freedom. Kelly is comparing the "packages" offered by William Jewell, where her mom went to college; the University of Tulsa, where her three brothers went; and Benedictine College. Chrissie wants to study business and then open a resort in Gulf Shores, Ala., where her grandparents live. Val's heading for tiny Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., where she'll play softball and study business, figure out "why people make money and how they are doing it."

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

They've crossed the line into adult society, where glitter and gazebos play a limited role and enchantment is always temporary.

Realizing it is almost a relief.

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