Haley crossed the floor and stepped into the kitchen, the door swaying back and forth after she passed through.
Even as she passed out of sight, a rusty, white Ford Taurus raced through the parking lot, barely stopping before turning on to Jefferson Street. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I saw our waitress in the driver’s seat.
Though I couldn’t understand her words, I could hear Haley’s voice. She wasn’t shouting, but she wasn’t making an effort to keep the volume down either.
Gloria walked away from the waitress stand, across the back of the restaurant, and into the kitchen.
It got a little quieter. I could still hear voices from the kitchen, but not as well.
Keith shook his head. “What a crazy couple weeks this has been.”
Minutes later, Haley came back to the table without her plate.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m not trying to mess up everyone’s night. They’re making me another steak. It won’t be long, but don’t wait for me.”
“I wasn’t,” Keith said, and continued eating.
Courtney watched him for a second, and shook her head.
Keith’s mild rudeness didn’t seem to make any impression on Haley though. She kept on talking. “The cook said that that’s how the order came in — very rare, but burned black on the bottom. He thought it was weird, but he’d seen weirder so he just did it. I don’t understand Tracy’s problem. We were going to keep her as long as she stayed out of trouble. It’s so stupid.”
“I don’t know if it was her,” I said, “but someone raced out of the parking lot when you went back.”
“It had to be her.” Haley looked out the window. “I couldn’t find her anywhere.”
“Sounds like she wanted to go out in a blaze of jerkiness,” Keith said.
* * *
Haley seemed to be in a better mood by the time we started driving to the prom, not maybe as good a mood as she had been in before supper, but better than when her first steak arrived.
It didn’t take long to get to the high school.
We arrived around 7:30 pm, more or less when everybody else did.
A line of limousines blocked the right side of the road and we waited while they let people off in front of the school. When the limo just in front of me moved toward the curb, I was finally able to get around it and turn into our parking lot.
I got out of the car and passed around the back, intending to open her door for her if she wanted me to, but she opened it herself. She frowned as she put her foot down in the dirt and gravel.
“If I’d thought about you being in high heels, I’d have let you off at the curb.”
Haley sighed. “Well, it’s too late now.”
“At least it hasn’t rained. Then it’s one big puddle.”
She joined me and we walked together between the rows of cars.
“I’m surprised they’ve never paved it. Ten years ago, we got a whole new high school. It seems unfair.”
Limousines and students’ cars rolled into the lot, and passed us as we followed other students out, and across the street.
We weren’t close enough for anyone to overhear so I leaned closer to Haley, and said, “I brought one of your costumes just in case.”
“I saw it in the back next to the guitar. Thanks, but I hope we don’t have to use it.”
We walked up the stairs to the entrance of the school. A few people stood while others took pictures of them. I found it funny to imagine anyone taking pictures of themselves walking into school.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in your school,” Haley said.
“I don’t think you’re going to be impressed.”
A banner hanging from the ceiling proclaimed, “Welcome to Central High.”
Under it four juniors whose names I didn’t know sat at a long folding table. I signed the two of us in, and we walked into the gym.
I wasn’t completely sure what the theme was, but they’d decorated the place like London in the late 1800’s. Paper with paintings of London landmarks covered the walls. Scattered around the sides of the gym were standalone buildings. Big Ben rose most of the way to the ceiling. The majority of the gym looked like a park, but with fake gaslit streetlights.
“It looks nice. Who did it?”
“The junior class, their parents, and anyone standing too close to the gym. Our class did it last year. Everyone got to submit theme ideas. They didn’t use either of mine.”
“What did you suggest?”
“Zombie apocalypse and Soylent Green.”
Haley smiled a little. “I can’t imagine why. What did they choose?”
“Not sure, but they decorated the place like Washington D.C., because, you know, nothing says romance like Congress.”
“Hold still,” someone said. “Smile.”
The path we were on went through a gazebo next to a fake pond. Just on the other side stood a photographer. I was willing to bet we could order extra prints afterward if we wanted them.
We posed, and after a moment we could go. We took a few steps down the path, but found ourselves stopped behind a cluster of people talking. Most of the guys were members of the basketball team.
One of them turned around. I recognized him — Logan. Despite what Vaughn had said, Logan didn’t look like a druggie. About my height, he looked clean cut, and good looking.
“Haley! I didn’t expect to see you here. Not after you and Sean broke up. How are you doing?”
“I’m doing great. Do you know Nick?”
He looked at me for a second. “I’m sure I should. You go here, right?”
If we’d ever talked, I didn’t remember it.
Logan tapped the girl next to him on the shoulder and she turned around. “Hey Melanie, Haley’s here. And this is her date.”
Melanie had long hair that was blond to the point of being white, pale skin, stood a couple inches taller than Logan, and had a very vacant expression. The slit in the front of her red dress ran down to her belly button.
Not recognizing her from school, I speculated that she might have met him as result of a shared interest in methamphetamines. I didn’t say it out loud.
She tilted her head, blinked and said, “Your mind is like a carousel.”