chapters 19 & 20

19.

Undergarments. We were obsessed with undergarments for the prom our junior year. Three of us: Jen, Eva, and I. Ronnie wasn’t obsessed because she had decided she wasn’t going to the prom. She hadn’t met Mike, yet, there wasn’t anyone she was interested in going with. And it was too weird to talk to Beth about undergarments since I was taking her brother.

Which left Jen, Eva and me to figure it out on our own.

Jen and I chose white dresses. Eva’s was a pearlescent pink. Mine had a sleeveless lace bodice, and was as racy as I dared to be, which was pretty racy. Jen’s was full length, and off the shoulders, more traditional. And Eva’s had lacy short sleeves and a zigzag hemline. Weeks of discussion and at least three trips to the mall yielded undergarments that suited each of us. The idea was to find something that worked with our dresses and appealed to our dates. Jen and I found strapless bras and revealing bikini underwear. Eva wore a pink teddy.

And prom night came.

My sister fussed over me. She presented me with white gloves she had purchased for me to wear. They were beautiful. And a pretty faux pearl necklace. It was much nicer than what I’d planned to wear.

And Mr. Verdano rented us a limo. It picked each of us up in turn and transported us in grand style to our prom.

We had our pictures taken by the photographer there. The four of us. So, in total, there were five photographs. One of Marc and me. One of Jen and Keith. One of Eva and Rob. One of Beth and her date, John. And one of Jen, Eva, Beth, and me.

We had dinner together and then the dancing started. The band’s singer was a tall, thin, Rod Stewart look-alike who ran though the crowd several times, embarrassing dancing prom-goers. Singing to the girls and dragging boys up onto the stage, he made sport of everyone and kept us thoroughly entertained. At around 10:30 we decided to go to the beach for a couple of hours. We had the limo until 1:00 in the morning and we wanted to make the most of it.

We all had to remove our shoes and stockings to walk the beach, and having done that, went our separate ways, making for different parts of the beach.

Marc led me toward a bank of sand dunes. He laid his coat down on the sand and we sat down on it.

“Nice dress,” he said, smiling at the revealing bodice.

“Thanks,” I answered. “You didn’t look so bad yourself tonight,” I said, meaning it. He wore a traditional black tuxedo with a red tie and cummerbund. Together with his beautiful smile it almost hurt to look at him, he was so handsome.

He kissed me then, but he was apprehensive. Expectations were high on prom night. We’d been dating for a couple of months at that point, and I was still very much a virgin. I didn’t know if Marc had been with anyone. I was too shy to ask.

“Rowan…” he stopped kissing me, pulling away a little. “I don’t think it would be a good idea to…”

“To what?” I asked, my heart skipping a beat.

“To, umm, make love,” he said awkwardly.

I felt my cheeks burning. I hadn’t expected this conversation, and I didn’t think I had planned to make love. I had daydreamed of fooling around in our beautiful clothes, and since it was hard to imagine what I knew nothing of, my daydreams had stopped short of anything more serious than an exposed lacy bikini. But being told I couldn’t have him made me feel like maybe I did, and now I wanted to hear what he had to say.

“Okay, I agree,” I said slowly, trying to sound as if I was in command of myself. “Do you mind if I ask why? What you’re thinking?”

He sighed, looking down at the ground. His cheeks were red. He licked his lips and swallowed. “I just don’t want you to feel like I took advantage. You know, of the prom and everything… I’m glad you asked me to be your date…”

I was the junior, and this was the junior prom. I had invited him to be my date. And of course it was common for prom dates to end in sex. That was what this was about.

He continued, “And I’m going away to college next year…”

Ah. So that was it.

I stopped him, “Marc, it’s okay. I understand. Let’s just enjoy the rest of the night. We’re going home soon. We have a little time here on the beach…that’s all. Okay?”

He didn’t seem relieved. When he looked at me he smiled nervously, but his eyes still held a question. Instead of asking it, he said, “Okay.”

I was embarrassed by the discussion. I knew my face was probably red, and I didn’t want him to see how I felt. When he kissed me, my lips were quivering.

The following Monday, Eva drove me home from school. “So, how was it?” she asked excitedly.

“How was what?” I asked, teasing her.

“You know!” she answered, her voice rising in a laugh.

“Oh, fine. Nothing happened because he didn’t want me to feel he’d taken advantage of me,” I said.

She gave me a surprised look.

“He actually said that,” I said, feeling ambivalent about the whole thing.

“Wow,” she said.

“Surprised?” I asked.

“Well, sort of,” she said, looking over at me again. “Is everything all right?”

“Oh, yes,” I said, not sure that was true.

“Well, I have something amazing to tell you,” she said, lowering her voice almost to a whisper.

“We’re alone, you don’t have to whisper,” I chided her, smiling.

She looked in the rear view mirror as if she was verifying that.

“You’ll never believe what happened to me,” she said. I really couldn’t imagine where she was going with that statement, but she sounded so happy and sweet that whatever she had to share had to be irresistible.

“Okay. I won’t believe it. Are you going to tell me?” I said, feeling so much love for her at that moment my heart could pop. She was so adorable there smiling happily. Her face had gone red. It stood out against her frosted pink lipstick in a way that made me want to hug her.

She shifted gears and took a deep breath.

“I gave Rob a blow job.”

If she had slapped me in the face I couldn’t have been more surprised.

“You… went down on him?” I asked, my stomach doing a flip. Somehow I’d expected her to say something else. Like Rob had given her his class ring. Or Rob had told her he loved her. Or her father had bought her a new sports car. Or she was going to France. Or we’d landed a rocket on Mars. Anything, really, would have been less surprising.

“Yes.” Now she was scarlet, but she was smiling.

“Well it must have been fun,” I said, catching her smile despite myself. “You have a mile-wide grin on your face.”

“Yeah,” she said, biting her lip. “Well, that’s not the part you won’t believe,” she said.

“Well, there’s something I have to tell you,” she said, her smile almost a laugh.

“Okay. I’m all ears.”

And I was.

“I had an orgasm,” she said, as if she’d won a million dollars.

“You…?” I asked, blinking.

“It was my first time doing that and I had an orgasm! Isn’t that amazing?”

“You had an orgasm going down on Rob?” I asked, unable to believe what I was hearing.

“Yes. It was the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me,” she said.

Somehow, I couldn’t help thinking it must’ve been the most amazing thing that had ever happened to Rob.

But what did I know?

20.

The next day Celeste came by my dorm room. She looked around, seeming to notice how different it would have been if Eva had moved in.

“I just wanted to come and see how you’re doing,” she said. “We haven’t talked since the wake…” Her long hair was pulled back in a pony tail. She wore no makeup, and I noticed how attractive her brows were, full and dark, shaped into a beautiful arch. Her slim, curvy figure was accentuated by a form-fitting black T-shirt and blue jeans. I’d always noticed she was a beautiful girl, but today without makeup on, she seemed raw and yet just as beautiful.

“Yeah, it’s been a while,” I agreed, wondering what she was thinking. Her manner was so casual. How could she act as if her father wasn’t suing mine?

“Did you know your father is suing my Dad?” I blurted out, completely unseated by the whole thing.

“What?” her voice registered genuine surprise.

“Your father. He’s filed a lawsuit against my Dad,” I said, surprised to be delivering this news. Surprised to see that she was stunned.

She sat on a chair and put her head in her hands. I looked at the three earrings she wore in her ears. All small gold hoops. I had never noticed that, before. I had the same thing: three small hoops in each ear. But mine were silver.

“No, I didn’t,” she said, obviously upset. And then, looking up at me, “No. I didn’t know.” Her eyes narrowed. “For what?”

“For wrongful death,” I said, narrowing my eyes back at her. “He thinks my Dad is responsible for Eva’s crash.” I stopped there, not wanting to talk about the wheel and the oil change. Not wanting to show her my anger.

“How so?”

“Beats me. I guess he thinks that because my Dad did work on her car he’s to blame for this mess.”

“Oh, Jesus.”

We both sat silently for a few minutes. Celeste looked at the floor uncomfortably, her eyebrows knitting together as she picked at her manicured nails, thinking. She raised her head to look at me and I could see tears in her eyes. “I wish there was something I could say. My father …” Her voice trailed off and she stood up, taking a deep breath and brushing the moistness from her eyes. “He doesn’t tell us much …”

Seeming to arrive somewhere else in her thinking, she said suddenly, “This is probably some bizarre misunderstanding.”

I wasn’t sure who she was trying to convince, me or herself. “Maybe,” I said, not meaning it.

“He’s probably just upset. It’ll blow over.” But her eyes were dark.

“Listen, I came by to invite you to a party to get your mind off things,” she said, changing the subject. “I don’t suppose now you’d even want to go with me,” she added, “But you know, I’m sure there’s been a mistake. Or something,” she paused again, “and if my Dad has brought some sort of complaint or something, I don’t have anything to do with it. They didn’t even tell me about it.” She stopped short there, seeming to dismiss the news as unrelated to her or unimportant.

“I’m not really in the partying mood lately,” I said, looking at her darkly, thinking that her response to the news her father was bringing a suit against mine was even stranger than the suit itself was.

“Sure, I understand,” she said. “Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful. Dad’s out of town on business so I can’t call him this week,” she said lamely.

It sounded like an excuse along the lines of “the dog ate my homework.” Bizarre. And it was interesting that she didn’t mention her mother. Why not call her mother? Surely she would know something. “Listen, Celeste, I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s all pretty strange. Thanks for coming by. It’s good to see you. Please say ‘hi’ to Venus for me,” I said, indicating I didn’t want to talk anymore. The conversation was ominous in its absolute lack of sense.

“Okay. I’m sorry about this, Rowan. I’m sure there’s been some misunderstanding,” she said again, defensiveness just creeping into her voice.

“Sure,” I said, wondering what she meant when she said the lawsuit didn’t have anything to do with her. How could it not?

“I’ll see you later, okay?” she said, reaching into her pocket. She had a piece of paper folded up. She handed it to me as she passed, saying “This is the flyer for the party I mentioned.”

“Yup. Thanks again for coming by,” I said, taking the paper. When she’d gone I looked at it. A flyer advertising a fraternity party.

That afternoon, I noticed that signs appeared all over the dormitory for the same fraternity house party Celeste’s flyer advertised. It was taking place the following Friday night. In the showers and hallways I could hear my floor mates talking excitedly about it. A party at the Zeta house. They were all making plans to go.

The girl who lived next door, Belinda, popped her head into our room.

“Hey! Girls! Going to the party next weekend?” she asked, obviously excited. “First one of the year!” she added.

Gretchen looked up from her book. “Not sure. Are you going?”

“Of course! Want to come with me and Judy?” Judy was Belinda’s roommate.

“Sure,” Gretchen said.

Belinda looked at me. I was sitting at my desk doing homework. The last thing I wanted to do was attend a party with my bitchy roommate.

“No thanks, Belinda. Thanks for offering,” I added.

“Sure thing. Well, we’re going to dinner. Why don’t you join us for that, then?” she asked, her tone making it clear she thought I was a stick in the mud.

“Sounds good,” I said, getting up. Gretchen got up, too. I sighed, annoyed and exasperated. I considered begging off sharing dinner with them, but thought better of it. If I let Gretchen scare me off of every invitation I received from a floor mate I’d never make any friends.

We walked in a herd to the dining hall. A regular gaggle of squawking chickens. It was weird. It was the first time since arriving at school I’d been in so much company. But in another way it felt good to be part of something social, protected by virtue of my association with the crowd.

I started to feel a little better. Even with Gretchen present. I felt better.

After dinner, Marc came by my room. When he arrived, I was alone in our room, sitting at my desk and trying to make sense of a chapter in my Probability and Statistics course book.

I jumped when I heard his knock on our open door.

“A little nervous about something?” he asked, his voice amused and light.

He perched on the desk next to me. “Ah, Probability and Statistics,” he said, looking at the cover. “My favorite.”

“I hate it already. I suppose that dooms me to fail,” I said.

“Well, it won’t help.” He looked around the room, “Where’s Gretchen? Out on her broom?”

I laughed. “I think if she had a broom this place’d be a lot cleaner.”

Smiling, he looked into my eyes. “Listen,” he said, folding his arms over his chest, “I’m headed back home this weekend. I’ve got some errands to run. Do you want a ride home, by any chance?”

I hadn’t planned to go home my first weekend at school, but Travis would be at the house with my parents, which meant it would be more lively than usual. And there was nothing to do here this weekend if Marc was going home.

“Sure. Thanks for asking.”

Just then another boy came to the door and knocked.

“Hey, John,” Marc said, turning around to face a blond boy wearing glasses. The young man stepped into the room gingerly, a stack of books under his arm.

“John, this is Rowan, my girlfriend,” he said, putting his hand on the small of my back and gently pushing me toward his friend. “Rowan, John. My roommate,” he stepped back to let us shake hands.

“Hi, John,” I said, taking him in. Good handshake, tall, good features, an even, kind-looking face. He seemed to be doing the same thing: taking me in, appraising me. He smiled.

“Hi, Rowan. Good to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you,” he said with a smile. He looked at Marc. “Ready?”

“Yup,” and then, looking at me, Marc said “We’re going over to the chemistry lab. I’ll come and get you tomorrow after classes, then. Be ready to leave by 4:00, okay?”

“Okay.”

He paused at the door, his hand on the door frame, and then stepped back into the room, crossing to where I was sitting. Leaning down, he gave me a kiss on the cheek.

“I love you,” he whispered, and was gone. 

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