In my dreams, I’m Romeo, Casanova… Lothario, even. I swirl into a room and the girls swoon, their eyes bright as icicles snapped from the eaves of their flash-frozen hearts. My glance did the freezing, but my touch warms them; my kiss, still more.
But these are just the dreams of a foolish, lonely boy. Joey says I’m The Invisible Kid, because girls gaze right through me when I walk the halls of Fitzgerald High. “You’re a regular crumb-bum, Clayton. You need to get yourself a dame.”
Joey fancies himself a ladies’ man, confidently chatting them up on a daily basis with his ring-a-ding-ding speak he got from watching too many old Sinatra movies. He fares no better. He makes a bigger fool of himself than I ever have.
We sat in the school cafetorium, idly munching our Sloppy Joes, when Joey caught me starring like a wistful pup at Mary Sellers. “Say, pal, that bird caught your eye?”
“What? Huh? No.”
“Oh, baby, she’s a honeycomb bee, that one. Why don’t you go toot your flute at her?”
“Ain’t you peeped the walls, Poindexter? Prom’s at hand. We needs us some dates for that clam bake.”
“I’m not going.”
“Why the hell not?”
“I’m sure I have a Dungeons and Dragons game that night, or something.”
“You are a lost cause, my friend. A regular basket case. Now ten-hut and get over there and talk to that broad. If you don’t, I’ll do it for you.”
“Joey, you better not.” Too late. Joey hopped up and sauntered over to the next table, where Mary sat with other ‘popular’ girls. He tipped his ridiculous fedora to them, then went into a spiel. He began to point back toward me, and the eyes of Mary and her friends swung around to me like the guns on a battleship. He said something else, they laughed, and I wanted to slip under the table.
The next few weeks I lay low, focusing on rehearsals for our drama department’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, which premiered late May. On stage, all my shyness faded and I could be anything, anyone.
Reality returned when Joey cornered me after the performance. He was hell-bent on us going to prom, and he eventually wore me down and I agreed to go stag.
That agreement was breached, however, when Joey drove up in front of my house on prom night. Outside, I could tell by the high-pitched laughter coming from his old Dodge that he wasn’t alone. Two women sat in the back seat. They had to be in their mid-thirties, with bleached blonde hair, skimpy black dresses and outrageous stockings that made them look like hookers.
Joey grinned. “I got us dates.”
“What? From where?”
“Escort service. Relax, kid. We’re gonna look like a couple of aces walking in with these dames.”
And walk in with them we did. I felt like all eyes were on us as we entered the gym. My only thought was how many kids figured we’d brought our floozy, boozy moms to the prom.
Our dates, Daphne and Skippy, made for the refreshment table and quickly spiked up a few glasses of punch with flasks of god-knows-what from their purses. I stood by, my nervous eyes on the security guard by the entrance to the gym. Joey rattled on and on about nothing as we sipped our spiked punch, and then he tried to bim-bam-baby us all to the dance floor. The ladies followed him, but I stood my ground, watching as they jiggled about foolishly, Joey doing some sort of ridiculous neo-swing moves that were as out of place as his seersucker suit.
“Cory Clayton,” I heard a voice call my name. It was Mary. “I thought you were gonna ask me to prom.”
“Yeah. But I see you already have dates.”
“Oh, no. They’re just some weird friends of Joey’s.”
“Ah.” She fidgeted a moment. “Hey, I saw you in Midsummer. You were a great Nick Bottom.”
“You were really funny.”
“It’s a great role.”
“So, you wanna dance?”
“Yes, you. Don’t you know how?”
“I guess I can try.” I downed my punch, then followed Mary to the dance floor. She wore a simple, floral print dress that brought out the red in her long, straight hair. We faced one another and I tried to emulate the gentle gyrations she was making. From time to time, she smiled at me.
“So you don’t have a date?” I asked her.
“No. I came with my friends, who by the way are having a party tonight. You wanna come?” I couldn’t believe I was being invited to a party. I tried to stay calm and simply nodded. “Great. I’ll let ‘em know.”
Mary and I danced, and everything got surreal. I was actually able to talk to her. And I made her laugh. I made her smile. We sipped punch and danced some more and talked to her friends… and everything else faded. There was no fear, no awkwardness, no shyness — just like I was on stage.
Before I knew it, prom was over. I stepped outside with Mary and spotted Joey alone by his car.
I excused myself and went over to him. “Where’s the dames, Joey?”
“The Principal had a little… talk with ‘em. They skedaddled and I got booted from the dance.”
“No skin off my snoot. I see you got in with that little peach.”
“I’m going to a party with her.”
“That’s tops, kid.”
I suddenly felt bad for Joey. “You wanna come?”
“Nah. I’d just louse things up. You just go do that voodoo that you do, kid.”
Mary looked over and motioned me toward her friend’s car. I slugged Joey gently on the arm and walked away.
“Don’t say I never did you no favors, Clayton,” he shouted. I hurried off into the night, feelings of Romeo stirring in my heart.
Christopher Owen lives in Texas with his wife and two cats. His work has appeared at Daily Science fiction, Mirror Dance, Mystic Signals and other places. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing workshop and the Yale Summer Writers’ Conference.