Virginia McKinley is a wild beauty.
That's exactly what I was thinking as she emerged from her bedroom and stood behind an elegant white railing on the second-story landing of her swank Georgetown mini manse. Virginia had untamed, naturally beautiful features, unsullied by hair, skin, or facial care products; a large square face, like a vintage movie star, accented by the sharp jawline of a supermodel and eyes that were the most dangerous looking orbs since Bette Davis. Up top was an explosion of unruly hair that was not merely a fiery shade of orange but, from a distance, looked like it truly could have been ablaze. And finally, draped over her tall, robust, and generously voluptuous form was an Oscar-worthy prom dress in red velvet (see Catherine Zeta-Jones) with a neckline that risked an NC-17. I mean, whoa! Bathed in the smoky rays of an early summer sunset streaming through the foyer, her porcelain skin glowing with the radiance of an old-school goddess, Virginia McKinley truly took my breath away. Honest. Which is not too bad, considering I'm totally gay.
All right, well, I guess notthattotally if I was taking Virginia to the senior prom. But you know what? Attending a conservative, all-boys school in Washington, D.C., it's not like there's a lot of other options for a guy like me when it comes to the prom. Sure, I've read stories online about radical formals in left-leaning hamlets such as Seattle or San Francisco where these bold guys take each other to the main event. But Washington is seriously conservative, and not just because President Bush is in charge. I mean, let's be real here....It's not like there were dude couples macking to Mariah on the dance floor during the Clinton years. Please!
So that said, you must be wondering what the hell I was doing going on a fake date to the prom anyway. This is the new millennium and all, and you'd think people would be over that sorta fifties Rock Hudson, playing-it-straight crap. Well, you know what? I amtotallywith you on that one. This whole prom thing wasnotmy idea. Honest. I mean, I have nothing against the prom per se as an institutional rite of passage. I'm not some Starbucks-smashing anarchist who wants to firebomb the Marriott ballroom or something in protest of the hypocrisy of male-female slow dancing in a world where love is a whole lot more complicated (and generally, like, faster) than that.
Actually, I have to admit that in theory I'm fond of the prom. In fact, I'm a bit of a sucker for a good tacky high school prom movie. You know the genre:Down to You, Never Been Kissed, Pretty in Pink,etc. But let's be real here; those movies are about as honest as your average member of Congress. It's a fantasy, people! The reality of the prom is not so pretty in pink or turquoise or lavender....It's just pretty terrible. C'mon, you've heard the stories. (Hell, you've probablylivedsome of them.) Anyway, here's a few that pop to mind: the poor band geek who has to ask about ten girls before some tragic junior on the Potomac Forensics Team says yes; the insecure rich chick who buys her Stella McCartney gown at Nordstrom's, only to have her intended say it looks "kinda weird"; longtime steadies who plan their prom night like it's their friggin' wedding, only to have one of them drink too much and puke all over the back of the limo, causing a melodramatic breakup and ruining any chance of their getting hitched for real. Okay -- do you want me to go on? I mean, seriously, do you really think anything approaching romance happens at the goddamn prom?!
Sorry -- I'm getting a little hysterical. You see, I'm still a bit raw over the events that transpired on the evening of June 6, a.k.a. prom night. Though a couple weeks have passed, I'm still trying to piece it all together. It was absolutely insane. What -- you think I'm being all exaggerated and über-dramatic? Oh, I wish it were the case.
If you think those previous anecdotes about the prom are scary, what happened to me is downright frightening. If you take those tales and multiply all of them by 10 and add about five other tangential incidents, that might begin to approach the manner in which my wonderful night at the senior prom devolved from the highest romance imaginable to the most utter chaos in just under five hours flat. And that's not even getting into the part where the police got involved. Or the strippers. But I'm really getting ahead of myself.
So let's get back to Virginia, where I left her, standing at the top of the stairs. Where, in major retrospect, I probably should have left her. You see, the first hint of trouble was when Virginia tried to come down those stairs. To put it nicely, she was a little wobbly. I know, I know -- Virginia's a statuesque girl wearing vertiginous heels, and is relatively new to this adult balancing act that began with her debut at the Mayflower Hotel last November. I should have cut her some slack. Let the record show, I did. Until, that is, she tripped over her own left foot and went down.
"Virginia," I said, rushing up to her, sprawled out over five steps. "Are you okay?"
"Shit," she said, reaching for one of her Jimmy Choo's that had escaped the grip of her big, floppy foot. "What do you think, asshole?"
What did I think? Asshole? Let's see...uh, the first thing I thought was that her severe tone of voice and mildly abusive language were not really the nicest way to address her prom date, even if he was a big homo.
"Oh my god -- Virginia!"
That was Virginia's mother. On hearing her daughter's collapse, Mrs. McKinley came racing in from the kitchen, a highball in one hand and a copy ofTown & Countryin the other. She was an equally tall woman with similarly reddish hair, except that hers, whipped into a curly meringue and radiating a color found only on Mars, was clearly a wig.
Huffily, Virginia pushed herself up on her elbows.
"What does it look like, Mother?"
Given Mrs. McKinley's mortified look on Virginia's use of the same venomous tone of voice with her, I offered an answer.
"She, uh, she tripped."
"I told you those heels were too high for you, Virginia."
As she went up to help her daughter, bad morphed into worse when Mrs. McKinley tripped on the stairs as well. The magazine went flying but miraculously the drink barely sloshed as the lady of the house went down, losing one of her flats in the process. It was a pretty remarkable feat, this saving of the booze. I thought to myself,Hmmm, maybe Virginia's mother is a woman who has had some experience falling down with a cocktail.
"Jesus Christ, Mother!" said Virginia, standing up now and slipping her Choo back on while clinging tightly to the ornately carved handrail. "You're gonna spill all over my Armani. Gimme that."
Virginia reached for the tumbler, snatching it out of her mother's hand. Flustered, her mother tried to pretend that this hadn't happened, attempting to finesse the snatch with a question.
"Would you like a sip, darling?"
Ignoring this moot question, Virginia turned toward me with a wicked glance. I had seen this look before. I remembered it distinctly from the night I first met Virginia at an illegal parents-out-of-town party on Q Street, where she challenged some members of the football team to five consecutive shots of Jagermeister, one for all the games they'd lost so far that year. (With a grand total of only three hundred male students, my school is severely sports challenged.) Fixing me with this flashback look, she took a sip of her mother's drink, and she sipped and sipped and sipped until the drink was all gone. Then after her mother righted herself, Virginia handed her the empty glass, the marooned ice clinking sadly. Mrs. McKinley exchanged a brief, bitter look with her daughter and then turned her attention to me.
"Well, don't you look nice....It's Cameron, right?"
"Yes, ma'am," I said, self-consciously pulling at the sleeves of my rental. It was the James Bond-style tux from Formal Friends in Wheaton. Being retro and all, it was a fashionable bargain at $99.90, consisting of standard-issue black pants with a thin, sporty strip of satin down each leg, a white dinner jacket with padded shoulders that was slim cut in the waist, and a .350 Magnum concealed in the pocket. (Okay -- kidding!) Anyway, I thought Virginia might get a kick out of the spy theme.
"It's the James Bond tux."
"What?" said Virginia, interrupting a nanosecond of civility with a boozy bawl.
"That's, uh, that's what it's called. Or what the rental place called it. You know, like the old Bond wears, old what's his name...oh, Roger Moore."
Not particularly attuned or interested in what I was saying, Virginia approached me with a few unsure steps, and the problem with the state of Virginia was instantly clear. She was stinking drunk and it was not from her mother's highball. This was a drunk that had been in the works for a while, hours probably. I mean, her eyes were looking in opposite directions. Honest.
"A rental, huh?" she said casually but brutally. Then, reaching with her perfectly shellacked rose fingernails, she started molesting my lapels. It was as if she'd assumed the role of a Bond girl, you know, whose aim was the seduce me first only so that she could kill me later. Sensing her daughter's homicidal intent, Virginia's mother tried desperately to steer things back to the social niceties.
"So...Virginia tells me you're going to a dinner party first?"
"Yeah -- at my friend Shane's house. But first we've gotta stop by my house. My folks want some pictures."
"Oh -- that's nice," she said, beaming. "I meant to take some of you two here but the camera is...I don't know....I can't keep track of where anything in this house is."
Then, done with leering at me and my lapels, Virginia barked out her next desire.
"I'm hungry," said Virginia, abruptly swinging the spotlight back on her. "I want to eat now!"
Noticing the panic in my eyes, Mrs. McKinley nodded secretly to me as if we were both dealing with an unruly child. Which I guess we were, though most unruly children don't down shots in the middle of the afternoon.
"You'll be at the dinner party soon enough, darling," said her mom. "But you'll want to get some pictures first, to remember your big night."
"You meanyouwill," she said, shooting her mother a more overt, menacing glance. Ouch. "I'm really starvingnow. Can't we just skip the formalities and get to the grub?"
Ohmigod. It's true. She actually saidgrub.
What is wrong with this girl, I wondered? My mind was now reeling in reverse, desperately searching for some horrible thing I had done in the recent past to deserve this sort of behavior not only from a date, but from my prom date. My senior prom. The first and last one I would ever be attending. I mean, I knew that this was not intended to be some grand night of romance between Virginia and me. But still, I didn't expect my date to be sloshed and spouting words likegrub. It's like someone had replaced my Catherine Zeta-Jones with Anna Nicole Smith. A ravenous Anna. On a bad day.
"My parents are really expecting us," I said, trying to motion Virginia toward the door. "My dad is a bit of a shutterbug when it comes to these sort of things."
"Oh, isn't that sweet," said Mrs. McKinley as she leaned toward her daughter, attempting to will her to smile with the force of her own grin. It didn't work.
"I hate pictures."
Okay -- to give Virginia some credit here, I probably would not have been too psyched to have a photographic record of myself if I was this trashed during daylight hours.
"Now remember, Virginia," her mom said, as we headed to the door. "Make sure you get home by two A.M. I don't want to be up all night, worrying about -- "
Interrupting her mother, Virginia turned around and stated her intentions.
"I'll be home when I feel like it!"
Then just as quickly, she swerved back toward me, and grabbing me brusquely by the arm, yanked me out the door.
"Okay, Hayes, let's hit the road."
And as the weight of Virginia practically dragged me across the transom, I turned around to say good-bye to Mrs. McKinley. But it was too late. We were already halfway down the front walk, as Virginia had quite a stride with her long legs and determined pace. Despite this I managed to offer her mother a half-wave as she stood in the doorway, her brow furrowed with concern as she mouthedTwo A.M.
I was like,Wishful thinking, lady. Wishful thinking.
Copyright © 2005 by Brian Sloan
Excerpted from A Really Nice Prom Mess by Brian Sloan
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.