“How’s it going, you two?” asked Chris as Samantha and Justin laid their lunch trays on the table.
“Eh…it’s Monday,” said Justin. “What more can I say?”
“How’s the food?” asked Samantha.
“Somewhere between vending machine quality and drive through,” opined Chris. Then winking at Samantha, he asked Justin, “Who are you taking to the prom?”
“Well,” replied Justin, trying his best to look serious, “I was going to form a selection committee and then advertise, but, well, you know. Who are you taking?”
“The Jacobs twins.”
“Aren’t they former Munson girls?” Samantha asked.
“Yes,” said Chris, enthusiastically, “and they were very good at it too. Quite popular on the two girls for one guy date plan. They made a lot of money for my campaign.” Sighing, he said, “Too bad that polygamy is illegal. I’d be tempted to marry them both. And speaking of marriage, there’s a rumor going around about you, pal. The word is that you are going to be a daddy in a few months.”
Snorting, Justin said, “Trust me, Samantha and I have not done anything that would cause that.”
“Oh,” replied Chris, “according to the rumor, Samantha is not the mother. Personally, I don’t believe a single word of it. Who would start something like that?”
“Arnold Curtis,” said Samantha and Justin in unison.
“Hmmm,” said Chris. “I don’t know him very well. Why would he do it?”
“He wants to be the main man in my life and doesn’t know when to quit,” Samantha told him. “Frankly, he’s becoming very irritating.”
“Maybe you should call Billings Custom Nose Jobs. I’ve probably still got the number somewhere.”
“Actually,” said Samantha, “a broken nose would just improve this guy’s looks. I wouldn’t want to give him a bigger ego than he’s already got.”
Throughout the day on Tuesday and Wednesday, Justin noticed more and more furtive glances cast his way-especially from girls-as he walked the hallways between classes. The glances didn’t bother him, as he knew that without evidence, the rumor would quickly die out. What he found strange was that Arnold Curtis had used a simple rumor as his way of getting revenge. Something didn’t add up.
“Hey, it’s my Knight. What’s up Knight?”
“Don’t you find it strange that Arnold Curtis would use such a simple thing as a rumor for revenge? I mean, he has to know that you would never believe it, and that it’s not going to hurt me either. Without proof, it’s dead in the water within days.”
“You’re right,” agreed Samantha. “In order for it to really work, he would have to produce a pregnant girl who would swear that you’re the father. And knowing you as well as I do, no such creature exists.”
“That’s it!” impathed Justin. “That’s exactly what he’s going to do.”
“Explain,” said Samantha.
“At the hospital, Arnold let me know that he wasn’t through being his usual obnoxious self. Then he waits clear until prom week to do something. On Monday a rumor circulates that I’m going to be a daddy. Tongues wag for a few days, then the rumor begins to die out because there’s no proof to back it up. In the end, no one is hurt, you and I are still together, and he isn’t even close to being the main man in your life. Can you picture him walking away from that saying, ‘well, I guess I showed them’?”
“No,” replied Samantha.
“Neither can I,” said Justin. “So, he finds a girl who is pregnant, or can make herself look like she is-probably the latter. Now, what’s going on this week that involves a good share of the student body being all together in one place?”
Samantha got it. “That low-down, conniving, sorry excuse for a human being,” she said. “Not only is he trying to slander us, but it looks like he doesn’t care if the prom is disrupted in the process.”
Because they were impathing, Justin not only felt her words, but also the emotion that was behind them. He had never heard her so angry.
“Wow, Lady Fair,” he said. “that’s a rootin’ good mad you’ve got yourself on. Let me know when you’re finished so we can decide how to foil his plan.”
“Well hi, Samantha. To what do I owe the honor of this call?”
“I need a favor. I would like you to go with me and help me pick out a dress for the prom.”
“I would be delighted to,” said Connie, “but what about your own mother?”
Sighing, Samantha said, “My own mother is advocating the local thrift store. I have nothing against thrift stores. I’ve bought clothes from them before. But for the prom, I really would like a little higher class.”
“When would you like to go? And where?”
“I thought tomorrow after school would be a good time.”
“Okay,” said Connie, “and if Prospect doesn’t have what you want, we’ll drive to Radcliffe and find something.”
“That’s very nice of you,” Samantha told her, “but I can make do with something from Prospect. I don’t want you going out of the way for me.”
Laughing, Connie said, “But I want to go out of my way for you. You’re the closest thing to a daughter I’ve ever had. So humor me and let me play mom for an evening, okay?”
“Okay,” replied Samantha, “but if you’re going to play mom, then I just might have to play spoiled daughter and pick out something extravagant so you can talk me down to something more reasonable.”
“It’s a deal,” said Connie quickly. “Why don’t I just come pick you up from school, if that’s okay?”
“It’s a deal,” said Samantha, causing them both to laugh.
“Oh Great Knight.”
“Oh lovely Lady.”
“I won’t be riding home from school with you tomorrow. I got a better offer.”
“Really? Who do I have to beat up?”
“No one. Our mother is taking me shopping for a prom dress. We might even go to Radcliffe, if we can’t find anything in Prospect that I like.”
“And I’m not invited?”
“What-you were looking forward to spending some girl time with us?”
“On second thought, maybe I’ll see if Lloyd will take me shopping for a prom suit.”
“Your common sense is commendable, Oh Great Knight. See you tomorrow morning?”
“I love you.”
“You do know how to make my day, Lady Fair. I love you too.”
“Well,” said Lloyd, as he and Justin got into the Hicksville Beater, “I almost feel sorry for the ladies.”
“Why is that?”
“Because they had to take the car, and we get to ride to town in style.”
“One advantage to being a member of the male species, I guess,” said Justin. “You get to dictate to the female of the species-that is, after you’ve spent a lot of money on them and done the appropriate amount of bowing and scraping.”
Laughing, Lloyd started up the pipe truck. “Any idea what you want to get?” he asked as he engaged the gear shift.
“Yes,” said Justin. “I’m just not sure if I can find it.” Explaining, he added, “No matter what I wear, Samantha is going to outclass me. And, of course, all the guys are going to show up in tuxedos. So, I’m going to try for the well-heeled gangster look-you know, dark pinstriped suit; folded handkerchief in the pocket; high gloss shoes; cigar; well, forget the cigar. That sort of thing. I want to look just a little bit dangerous without crossing over into sinister.”
“Interesting,” said Lloyd after thinking about it. “Very interesting. You’ll certainly stand out at the prom with that kind of attire.”
“That’s what I’m trying for,” said Justin.
After searching the clothing stores with no success, Lloyd suggested the thrift store. Disgruntled and resigned to going the traditional tux route-Justin humored him.
Fifteen minutes later they walked out, suit in hand and smiling broadly at their good fortune. The suit was exactly what Justin had pictured-dark, chocolate brown pin stripe coat with matching trousers. The suit coat was early 1900s gangster style, with the bottom of the suit coat going almost to Justin’s knees. The trousers were a little long, but Lloyd assured him that Connie could shorten them. To complete the effect, they went back to one of the clothing stores. There they picked out a black shirt and a wide, white, silky-looking tie with matching breast pocket handkerchief. As they were walking to the cashier, Lloyd asked, “What about a hat?”
“I think I’ve reached my spending limit,” Justin told him.
“This one’s on me,” Lloyd offered.
While Lloyd waited, Justin went out to the truck and brought the suit pants in. They found a dress hat that closely matched the brown of the suit pants.
“Just one more stop,” said Lloyd as they were returning to the truck with their purchases. The one more stop was at a fabric store. Taking the handkerchief in with them, they found an exact match on the material and bought enough to make a wide, white band for the hat.
“I think we can head home now,” said Lloyd.
As for Connie and Samantha, they decided very quickly that the stores in Prospect were not going to satisfy their needs.
“Looks like we get-to have-to drive to Radcliffe,” said Connie, happily.
Samantha chuckled as they got back in the car after a disappointing search of the store. “You’re really getting into this mom thing, aren’t you?” she said, amused.
“Oh, yes,” said Connie. “I haven’t had this much fun in years. So who can blame me for trying to drag it out?”
“Certainly not me,” Samantha replied.
In Radcliffe, they found exactly what Samantha was looking for in the first store they visited. To the amusement of them both, after Samantha described to the clerk what she was looking for, the clerk took them to the bridal department. The blouse was satin white and snug-fitting without being tight, outlining Samantha’s form while still leaving something to the imagination. The sleeves were very broad and loose fitting, coming down to Samantha’s elbows and reminding her of angel wings in the snow when she held both arms straight out to the side. The satin white skirt began snug then quickly loosened, the hem low enough that it almost brushed the floor. Samantha tried it on, then came out of the change room to get Connie’s opinion.
“Daughter,” Connie said after a brief examination, “on you, the simplicity of that dress is stunning. You look like an angel. Do you know what would go perfectly with that? Silver shoes, silver belt, and a silver cloth headband. In fact, we’ll get a small Rhinestone studded headband. It will make you look like you’re wearing a halo.”
Samantha turned and looked in the mirror. Once she pictured the dress with those items, she couldn’t picture the dress without them.
“Okay,” she said, pleased, “you sold me.”
“What time does the prom start tomorrow?” Connie was pinning up the hem of Justin’s suit pants in preparation for cutting and sewing them.
Justin told her.
“Samantha’s parents have invited us over for supper before prom time,” Connie informed him. “Ian wants to get some pictures of you two, and I think I’ll bring my camera with me also. Has Samantha told you what she’ll be wearing?”
“Sort of,” replied Justin. “I know that it’s mostly white, but she didn’t go into detail.”
“Then neither will I,” said Connie, smiling at him. “I want to see your reaction when you see her.”
“It must be something special then,” Justin told her, “because that girl looks good no matter what she wears.”
“You’re not going to be far behind her in uniqueness,” Connie told him. “I really like this old-time gangster look idea you had. You can bet there won’t be any one else at the prom who’s dressed like you.”
“That’s what I’m trying for.”
At Connie’s suggestion, Justin waited until after dinner at the McCallen’s before changing. He liked the idea, actually, because he wanted Samantha be the first one to see him all dressed up. Connie had seen him in the suit coat and pants, but not with the rest of the items on.
In Justin’s opinion, dinner had been quick, simple, and adequate. As soon as it was over, he and Samantha went to their respective rooms to get ready. Sooner than he expected her to, Samantha impathed him.
“Knight of mine, are you ready?”
Justin, who had changed in Samantha’s parent’s room, inspected himself in the full length mirror that hung on the door of the adjoining bathroom. He had told Samantha almost nothing about what his prom attire looked like-only that it would be unusual. Adjusting the hat on his head so that it had a slightly rakish tilt to it, he smiled. “Billings,” he said to himself, “you’re gonna knock’em flat.”
“Come on over, Lady Fair,” he told Samantha.
For each of them, the effect they had on the other bordered on awe.
After Samantha entered the room and closed the door, they both stood in silence for a minute.
“You..,” began Justin, having trouble with his words and starting over. “You…look like an angel,” he finally managed to say. “It’s a good thing I chose this theme for my prom wear, because even in the most expensive tuxedo in the world, I would still have looked like a gangster next to you.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” said Samantha, her face flushing slightly. “If that’s the look you were trying for, then you’ve succeeded.” Blushing deeper now because of his handsomeness, Samantha walked up to him and grabbed the lapels of his suit coat. Looking up into his eyes, she said, “Remember the time I told you that unless you could find some way of cooling down those warm, chocolate brown eyes of yours, mean looks from you would never get past the level of cute? Well, forget that. You’ve done it. You have a small but excitingly dangerous look about you that every single girl at that prom is going to pick up on as soon as they lay eyes on you.” Standing on her toes, she kissed him quickly and lightly under the ear. “Now, come on killer,” she ordered, “we have an audience waiting.”
The only discord in the expressions of admiration and praise for the prom attire came from-no surprise-Samantha’s mother. Upon learning where Justin had gotten his outfit from, she was quick to let her daughter know of her feelings. “Now see there, Samantha?” she said. “If you had shopped the thrift stores like Justin did, you could have looked every bit as nice as he does.”
There was an almost audible sound in the room of groans being suppressed.
Justin would have preferred not having any pictures of himself taken. It was a personal quirk of his that he knew Samantha-while perhaps understanding it-would not forgive if he didn’t. Ian and Connie took several dozen each, most of them of poses suggested by Justin. One of his favorites, as it turned out later on, was of him facing the camera, legs spread slightly and a don’t mess-with-me look of business on his face. Samantha was sideways to the camera, leaning against his right side, one knee bent forward and her arms folded. Her indifferent posture suggested that, to her, the guy in the picture was nothing but a harmless cuddly kitten in disguise.
Samantha’s father drove them to the prom, reminding Samantha to call him when they were ready to come home. For a time, Justin had seriously considered cleaning up the Hicksville Beater and using that as their limo. But, without telling Samantha of his idea, he decided against it.
One idea he did consider, and followed through on, was keeping his hat on for the entire prom. Just before leaving Samantha’s house, he had examined himself in the mirror-hat on and hat off. He only had the excitingly dangerous look with the hat on, so that’s where it stayed.
“Right beside you, Sir Justin, so why are we impathing?”
“Keeping it private, Lady Samantha. What are we going to do when the pregnant-looking girl shows up?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet. Do you have any ideas?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” Justin told her, outlining what he had in mind.
“I like that,” said Samantha when he had finished. “It’s simple, and simple is usually the best.”
Samantha was right about the stir Justin’s outfit would cause among the rest of the girls that the prom. The first thing the girls noticed was that he was the only guy who had not come dressed in a tuxedo. The second thing they noticed was, as Samantha had so aptly put it, the small but excitingly dangerous look his attire gave him. Being a guy, Justin would never pick up on it, but Samantha could tell by the looks on the girl’s faces exactly what most of them were thinking: I wouldn’t mind being the girl who’s with him. The third thing most of the girls noticed-and it had nothing to do with Justin-was Samantha’s prom dress. Unquestionably the most modest one there, the radiant satin white with the addition of the silver shoes, silver belt, and small rhinestone studded headband, gave her a look of innocent angelic beauty the rest of them fell short of matching. That was something Justin did pick up on, and he knew that most of the guys there had also.
“I think we’ve caused quite a stir by the way we’re dressed,” Justin told her as they were dancing.
“Envy, too,” said Samantha. “Every girl wishes she were me. And if they aren’t wishing that, then they should be. And by the way, I’ve been Visioning Curtis every few minutes. Since the pregnant-looking girl won’t know what you look like, he’ll have to point you out.”
Chris Munson arrived a little late-on purpose, Samantha suspected-with a girl on each arm. The Jacobs twins were exact replicas of each other, and seemed to find it almost hilariously funny that they both were at the prom with the same guy as their date-and the student body president, no less.
“How do you tell them apart?” asked Justin amusedly.
“I can’t,” replied Chris, giving the twins a mock stern look. “And they won’t tell me who’s who.”
“Don’t worry,” said one of them, giggling. “You’ll get equal time on the dance floor with each of us.” After a few comments from them about Justin’s and Samantha’s attire, they each took Chris by a hand and led him on the floor to dance.
Laughing, Justin said, “This ought to be interesting.”
The dance number was a fast one, and after watching Chris and the two girls for a minute, Samantha and Justin looked at each other. “I didn’t know Chris could dance like that,” said Samantha.
“Neither did I,” Justin admitted.
On the floor, Chris was going through an assortment of loose jointed moves that seemed to fit right in with the dance number. The twins meanwhile, were spinning and circling around him. Occasionally, one would break from what she was doing, and spin into him so that they were face to face. Each would cease what they were doing, frozen in the moment. Chris would reach out as if to hold her, upon which the girl would spin away from his grasp.
Very quickly, everyone else had formed a large circle around them.
After the number and the applause had subsided, Chris and the girls rejoined Justin and Samantha.
“Where did you learn how to dance like that?” Justin asked him.
Looking around him, ostensibly to make sure nobody else was listening, he said, “The two girls have been teaching me. Don’t tell anyone.”
About an hour into the prom, Samantha’s Vision caught Curtis in the hallway, his cell phone pressed up against his ear.
“Get ready,” Samantha impathed Justin. “Something’s about to come down.”
“I saw him leave the dance hall. Let me know when the girl comes in the building, Lady Fair.”
After five minutes and three polite refusals to girls asking him to dance, Justin received another impath from Samantha. “She’s in the building. I’m going to break off my dance with this guy so I can keep an eye on Arnold.”
Without being obvious, Justin watched as Arnold and the girl came into the dance hall. He saw Arnold take hold of the girl’s arm and point towards him.
“Lights, camera, and now, action,” Justin told Samantha. “I’ve just been pointed out. I’d be interested in knowing if Arnold stays or leaves.”
Justin turned slightly so that his back was to the approaching girl, wanting her first look at him to be up close and personal.
“Justin Billings?” said a female voice behind him. The hurt tone in her voice was very good, Justin thought as he turned to face her.
“Hello there,” he said with an amused smile, his warm chocolate brown eyes looking deeply into hers. “You must be the girl Curtis sent to prank my fiancé and me.”
“I don’t-“the girl said, trying to maintain the image of a cast-off pregnant girl.
“Sure you do,” Justin told her, still smiling. “I saw Arnold pointing me out to you. Now you’re supposed to claim that I’m the father of whatever it is you’re using to make yourself look pregnant. Am I right?”
Before the girl could reply, Samantha came up. “Arnold’s gone,” she said. “He left the building-the jerk.”
“You don’t seem to like him much,” the girl stated, nervously.
“That’s an understatement,” Samantha informed her. “He’s been stalking me. He wants me to go out with him and won’t take no for an answer. When he found out that I was engaged, he spread rumors around school that my fiancé here had gotten another girl pregnant. So it was only natural that he would con someone into showing up at our prom claiming to be pregnant and naming my fiancé as the father.” Losing some of her irritation, Samantha looked pointedly at the girl’s bulging tummy. “By the way,” she asked. “Is that a girl cushion or a boy cushion?”
To Samantha and Justin’s surprise, the girl began crying. Putting an arm around the girl, Samantha said, “Hey, it’s not your fault Arnold is such a jerk. My fiancé and I hold absolutely nothing against you.”
“I never meant to hurt anybody,” she said, getting her emotions under control. “I told him very plainly that I don’t do mean pranks.”
“Let me guess,” said Justin. “Him and I are supposed to be good buddies.”
“That’s what he said. Obviously, he lied to me.”
“No,” said Justin dramatically, clapping a hand to his chest. “Arnold? Lying? I’m stunned.”
Despite herself, the girl burst out laughing. Almost immediately, however, her face grew very somber.
“Well,” she said, “I guess that’s one friend I’ll be doing without from now on. And good riddance. I’m sorry about the school rumors, too, even though I knew nothing about them.”
“Eh,” said Justin. “they’ll die out-sooner or later.”
At Justin’s comment, the girl had a flicker of inspiration. Samantha’s question about the gender of the cushion, coupled with Justin’s remark about the rumors dying out, gave her an idea. She knew how she could make things right with the two people she had been about to hurt.
“Is your student body president here?” she asked Samantha.
“Yes, over there,” said Samantha, pointing to Chris. “Why do you ask?”
“I’m going to make those rumors end tonight,” she replied. Finding Chris, she introduced herself to him.
Samantha and Justin watched as he steered her to a corner of the room where they spent the next few minutes in private conversation.
“What’s she going to do?” wondered Samantha.
“I have no idea,” Justin told her.
A minute later they found out.
When the band had finished the number they were playing, Chris stepped up to the microphone. “May I have everyone’s attention, please,” he requested. “As you all know, there have been rumors floating around school this week that a good friend of mine was about to become a daddy, and that another good friend of mine was not the mommy of the baby.” Pausing, Chris signaled for Stella to come up on the stage. She did, looking very pregnant. Sounds of surprise emanated from some of those on the dance floor. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” said Chris, “this is the mommy, and she would like to tell her story.”
Not a sound could be heard from the dance floor.
“My name is Stella from Radcliffe,” she began simply, “and you don’t know me.” She stopped for a moment, getting her emotions under control. Anyone who thought she was on the verge of crying found out differently a few seconds later. “I’m here tonight because some jerk named Arnold Curtis-yes that Arnold Curtis-bribed me into coming to your prom claiming to be pregnant and lying about Justin Billings being the father. He’s also the one who started the rumors, by the way.” Turning her back momentarily, she reached under her dress and pulled the cushion out. Turning around again, she held it high for everyone to see. “This is the baby.” Pausing, she took a closer look at the cushion and added, “It’s got a lot of blue in it, so it must be a boy.”
Laughter erupted from those on the dance floor.
“Thank you for letting me take some of your time. I just wanted to warn all you girls out there what kind of guy this Arnold idiot is. Hey, if we can’t stick together against jerks like that, what good are we? I hope you have a wonderful prom.” With that, she came down from the stage and rejoined Samantha and Justin.
Amazed, Samantha and Justin looked at her.
“Well,” said Justin. “I think Arnold just got some big time payback.”
“Yes,” agreed Samantha, “and it was marvelous. Thank you, Stella from Radcliffe.”
Laughing, Justin said, “It won’t be very marvelous for him. I think our new friend here managed to unite every girl in the school against Mr. Curtis.”
“I hope so,” said Stella.
“You’re welcome to stay for the rest of the prom,” Justin told her.
Ready to politely declined his offer, Stella paused in thought. “Hummm,” she said. “Return to my apartment and have a boring evening, or stay here and have fun. Tempting, but I’m not dressed for it.”
“And I am?” Justin replied to her. “I mean, I’ve been sticking out like a sore thumb ever since I got here.”
“Okay,” said Stella, who hadn’t needed much more persuading. “You’ve talked me into it. And if it’s alright with your fiancé, I’m going to ask you for the next dance.”
“By the way,” impathed Samantha while Justin was dancing, “my sister angels just showed up. They wanted to see you and me in our prom outfits. They also told me that there’s a Guardian meeting in the clearing tomorrow morning.”
“Good things really do come in two’s,” said Justin.
“Three’s,” corrected Samantha.
“When I get an after the prom kiss at your door,” said Justin, “then it will be three’s.”
“In that case, good things might just come in four’s, Knight of mine.”