My sister's prom date.
I'll never forget opening the paper at breakfast the next morning. There it was, right under the photos of the President and the new hippopotamus born at the zoo. I couldn't believe my eyes.
"Sandy!" I nearly choked on my cereal. My sister jumped back, startled.
"Hey!" she cried. "You spit mill all over my chemistry homework!"
"Your picture's in the paper!"
"What?" she grabbed the paper away from me and stared at the photo of her and her prom date. They were all dressed up and smiling like idiots in a toothpaste commercial.
"Pretty embarrassing, huh?" I said, sympathetically, as I looked over her shoulder.
"No," she said. "Not at all. I'm proud of what I did."
If I remember right, the whole thing started three weeks before the prom. At four in the afternoon, the phone rang.
"That must be Greg," my sister gasped, fluffing her hair as if Greg could see her over the phone. "You pick it up," she ordered.
I shrugged and waited till the sixth ring, just to drive her nuts.
"PICK IT UP!" she said again.
"Oh, certainly, Your Highness!" I bowed, and answered the phone. "Hello?"
Sandy whispered to me in a panic: "Tell Greg I'm ... in the garage. I don't want him to think I've been waiting for him to call."
I nodded sourly, and signaled her to shut up.
"What?" I said into the phone. "I couldn't hear you. There's a ... dog biting my leg.... Oh ... well, it'll take her a minute to pick up.... " Sandy nodded her approval. "Yeah ... she's in the garage ... repairing our Rolls Royce." Sandy kicked me. I laughed and handed her the phone.
"It's Kyle," I said.
"Kyle?" She looked like she'd just won six million dollars in the lottery. Sandy fluffed up her hair again as she talked. She waved her arms wildly at me like she was flagging down airplanes. She wanted me to leave the room. OK by me. I didn't care about her stupid phony phone calls, anyway.
At dinner that night, my mom started fishing for information. "Sandy, wasn't that a boy who called you this afternoon?"
"Yes, Mother," she said, annoyed. "Do you want to know what we talked about?"
"Of course not, dear," Mom said, not too convincingly. "That's your private affair."
"I am not having an affair!" Sandy said. "Kyle just wanted to ask me to the prom."
"I thought you'd promised to go with Greg," Grandpa said, winking.
"I didn't promise, Grandpa," Sandy replied. "Besides, I saw him talking to Marian last week."
"Talking to her?" Grandpa said, pretending to be shocked. "The scoundrel! Pass me the sour grapes."
Sandy started to whine. To Sandy, whining is an art.
"Now I don't know what to do!" she wailed. "If I go with Kyle, Greg will be hurt. If I go with Greg, then Kyle will never, never ask me out again! Maybe I should skip the prom altogether," she said dramatically.
"Like we care," I said, fooling with my mashed potatoes.
Mom patted Sandy on the head and made soothing baby noises. "Whatever you want, dear," Mom said.
"It's settled, then," Sandy announced, crossing her arms. "I won't go! Besides, proms are for geeks, anyway."
For once, Sandy and I were in agreement.
"If you don't go, you'll regret it," Grandpa said, talking like Humphrey Bogart. "Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But soon, and for the rest of your life." He whispered in my ear. "That's from Casablanca. Here's looking at you, kid!"
"You didn't even go to your own prom, Dad," my mom said to him.
Grandpa took off his eyeglasses and rubbed the lenses on his shirt. He sighed and looked down at his veiny hands. When he spoke, his voice was his own. But quieter.
"It was 1941," he said, "right before the U.S. joined the war. We all knew it was coming. Only a matter of time.
"Laura," he said, almost to himself. "Laura with the china doll's eyes.... I asked her to the prom on the first day of school that year. Didn't want to risk someone else beating me to it. For months, I pictured in my mind how it would be with Laura. I dreamed of it, even wide awake. Laura said she dreamed of it, too. We'd dance, slow. That's how my dream went. I'd hold her in my arms. I could almost feel it--the silk of her dress against my arm. Her perfume--jasmine, as she moved. Sandalwood, when she stood still. The sapphire necklace she always wore blue fires, like her eyes. No, not as bright! Not as bright.... " His voice trailed off. Then he began again.
"And then the war came.... The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December. I was drafted six weeks later. The army didn't even give me leave to go home and say goodbye. I'd always wanted to go to Hawaii," Grandpa said with a strange smile. "But not with two thousand other guys in a rusty tub.
"When we shipped out from San Francisco, Laura came to the dock to wave goodbye. At least, that's what the guys told me. I never did find her in the crowd.
"There was no prom for anyone, that year," he said. "I guess we all grew up too fast."
Grandpa sighed and rubbed his eyes. "Too much hot pepper in this sauce," he said, hoarsely. We'd all stopped eating, and you could have heard a pin drop.
"Did you see Laura when you came home?" I asked, breaking the silence. There was a long pause, and I thought Grandpa wasn't going to answer. But finally he said: "She'd written me a letter. Just one, while I was overseas. Laura had married someone else."
My sister Sandy did go to her prom that year. But she didn't go with Greg. And she didn't go with Kyle. Grandpa's old suit still fit him. You could see that, even from the newspaper photo.
Maybe proms aren't so goofy, after all.
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|Article Type:||Short Story|
|Date:||May 1, 2004|
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