Dennis opened the front door to see his senior classmate, Dakota, standing on the porch.
“Dakota? What do you want?”
Not awaiting an answer, but leaving the door open, he returned to the kitchen. She entered, shut the door and followed. On her way, she sniffed the air. The odor of stale cigarette smoke being absent, the house smelled unexpectedly fresh.
Walking by the living room and seeing well placed furniture, book shelves… in short, a normal home, surprised her. There were no torn curtains. No clutter. She had expected early cob-web. The furniture lacked cigarette burns. There were no over-flowing ash trays. Dakota shook her head at how wrong preconceptions could be.
She found Dennis studying at the kitchen table. He sensed her leaning on the door frame and gave her a questioning look. He wondered, ‘Why is the school’s biggest diva in my kitchen?’
“Just wanted to say ‘hi.’”
“Really?” Easily the most beautiful girl, no, woman, in his class, every guy wanted to be seen with her. But her personality…
“Yeah, well, I hardly know you and we’re almost to the end of the year… Graduation coming, you know…”
Unmoved, Dennis said, “Those first impressions get you every time.”
“You should remember. Being new at school, I introduced myself and offered to buy you a coffee. You told me, not only did you not want a coffee, but if you died, you wouldn’t choose me to be your pall bearer.”
She nodded slowly. “I’d call that Scarlett O’Hara mode… Probably PMS…”
“Yeah, I suffer from TMI. Incurable, I’m told.”
“Sorry about that.”
“No matter. We didn’t waste each other’s time.”
She thought, ‘This may be harder than I expected…’ “I want to think I meant to be funny.”
Dennis shrugged. “Just remembered it. Not harboring a grudge.”
Dakota recalled her morning. Her options were narrowing.
Prom was planned for a week from Friday. This morning, her boyfriend, Bret Capocchia, told her he got a ticket to the NBA playoffs. He would be out of town for the biggest social event of the year. That meant she had no date on very short notice. He broke his commitment to her so he could watch a bouncy ball.
He didn’t even tell her in person. Thinking it was a bad connection, she said, “What’s NBA?”
“You know, Dakota, basketball.”
“You’re skipping prom with me, for a basketball game? Are you nuts?”
“It’s not only a game, love. It’s the playoffs. Best teams in the league.”
She couldn’t believe it. What a dope. He made his choice and she made hers. That ticket cost him more than he bargained for.
But she still needed a date to prom. She couldn’t not go.
Being on the coordinating committee, she checked the guest list. Dennis hadn’t bought tickets.
Her friends discouraged her.
Dakota said, “He’s shy.”
“Yeah, by a couple. Only lose them once.”
“He’s a geek.”
“He quotes Robot’s Rules of Order from memory.”
Now facing Dennis, and fending off panic, Dakota tried to reset.
“So, Dennis, who are you taking to prom? Someone on the debate team?” She couldn’t read his look. “Is that funny?”
“No. I won’t take a debate to prom.” She waited. “I haven’t made plans.”
“It’s next week.”
“Uh huh… I always thought prom is our version of the Sage Grouse mating dance...”
‘This may be way harder than I expected…’
“…I prefer the soft-shoe…”
“A formal dance is a main event. Prom’s a big deal, Dennis. Something to remember your whole life.”
“I don’t know. This year…”
“You know this year’s theme?” He shook his head. “Last year, people thought Peter Pan felt dated.”
“Uh huh… Guys in tights is a hard sell.”
“This year. Your and my senior class year, the committee chose to shoot for the stars. Ready?” He shrugged. “Star Wars!”
Dennis made a face. “So all the guys will look like Wookies in monkey suits?”
“No. It’s prom, silly. Not a costume party.”
“All the girls gonna plaster sticky buns to their heads?”
She winced at the image. “Not me...” She couldn’t see it, but her friends compared Dennis to R2-D2.
“Being the new kid, cramped my style. Couldn’t get traction. Don’t have anyone…” He looked at Dakota and stood. “What am I doing? Take a seat. Want something to drink?”
“Okay. You have diet?” She sat. “Anyway, you should go. You’ll meet people. You’ll have fun.”
“Coming right up.” He poured fizzy drinks into ice filled glasses and served her.
He gave her a look. “So, you’re not wearing sticky buns? Or you’re not going?”
Dakota laughed. “Definitely not the buns… I don’t know… I might not go.”
“What about Bret?”
“He’s history. We broke up. He has… more important plans.”
Dennis stared. She and Bret were the star couple. “Wow! I never would’ve expected...”
She shrugged. “The NBA called him away.”
He leaned back and shook his head. They sipped their drinks.
He leaned in. “Look, I know how important prom must be, Dakota. But your social standing wouldn’t survive being with me.”
“You never heard my rep as a drug dealer, narc?”
“Neither, actually. What did you hear?”
“Don’t know many druggies… I heard you’re a dealer.”
Dennis winced. “You want to go to prom with a drug dealer?”
“No. But are you? Or, uhm… I mean, which are you?”
He adopted a cocky attitude. “You tell me. I once took Nyquil for a cold. Get this. In 1969, my grandma went to Woodstock. And when I was ten, I smoked a pack of cigarettes. But I promise I didn’t inhale.”
She looked at him wide-eyed.
“People create the world in their own image, Dakota.”
“They project what they fear, or envy onto those they don’t know.” Nodding, she tried to process that. “No one cared to ask. They just spread bogus stories.”
Dennis took the glasses to the sink.
Dakota followed. “You could ask me to the prom, Dennis…”
He turned and she embraced him. Her body melted into his. It felt good to hold her. She lay her head on his shoulder and smiled. It felt right.
She murmured, “Didn’t you offer to buy me coffee? That offer still good?”
They burst into convulsive laughter. Almost falling, they held each other up.
They couldn’t form sentences. Only fragments came out. “I mean… I didn’t… You don’t…” Which triggered more laughing.
Finally calmed. Dennis took Dakota’s hand.
“Dakota, please go with me to prom. Let ‘em talk.”
She smiled. “We’ll give ‘em something to talk about.” Laughing, they kissed.