tagRomanceA Stitch in Time Pt. 07

A Stitch in Time Pt. 07


Chapter 24

On Monday morning, I was racing to my locker after English and before Astronomy to switch my books. Getting rid of Moby Dick alone would improve my posture for the rest of the morning. I quickly dialed the combination and jerked the locker open, only to have it slam close again. Tommy Narburg was standing right next to me. The locker door had apparently banged off his forehead. Despite the dazed expression on his face, it didn't appear to have done any damage.

"Tommy?" I asked as I returned to the lock.

"Your sister asked me to the dance," he said in an odd monotone.

"Oh, yeah," I nodded, opening the door more slowly this time.

"Is she, um, okay?"

"Okay how?" I asked.

"Like, um..."

"Like is she firin' on all cylinders? Has she gone off the deep end? Is she serious about going to the Spring Formal with Tommy Narburg, or is this just some big practical joke?"

"Yeah. All that."

"Tommy, as far as I know, she's dead serious. She's been plannin' this since Saturday afternoon. I told her you might not be the one doing the asking."

"No kidding."

"You did say yes, didn't you?"

He just stared at me.

"Thought so," I smiled. "Got to go to class, man. Hey, I'm gonna go rent a tuxedo this afternoon after practice. You want to come?"

Tommy broke into a big grin. He ambled off down the hallway, banging into other kids' lockers in a sort of classical random Brownian motion. I watched him for a while, and then ran to class with a big smile on my face.

Tanya pulled me aside before lunch.

"I missed you this weekend," she said simply.

"I missed you, too," I said. "It was good to have a weekend apart, though, so I could learn just how much."

"So, um, you want to sneak out back and maybe get a...?"

"Hot dog?"

"Trick," she blushed.

"Seriously, I would love to get a hot dog with you," I said. "Any other day of the week. But if you miss lunch today, you'll never forgive me."


"Oh, let's not spoil the surprise. Coming?"

Tanya let me drag her to lunch, where I waited fifteen minutes to drop the news.

"Oh, Jeanne, I'm gonna need the car after school today," I said quietly. "Me and Tommy gotta pick out our tuxes."

It didn't matter how quietly I said it. Conversation stopped.

"Tommy?" Rabbit said. "Why do you need a tux, Tommy?"

Tommy had evidently taken a vow of silence. At the very least, he was having trouble getting any words out through the grin that was frozen onto his face. I gave him a minute or so, and then answered the question.

"The Spring Formal?" I suggested. "On Saturday? That's what formal means, Rabbit. What were you planning on wearing?

"What's Rabbit wearing?" I asked a grinning Cammie.

"Who's Tommy taking to the Spring Formal?" Rabbit interrupted me. We were cutting Tommy out of the conversation completely now.

"He decided to go with Jill," I said in a tone that suggested that Tommy had finished weighing his choices and come to a final decision.

"Jill Peterson?" Cammie asked doubtfully.

"Jill Peterson?" I scoffed. "As if."

Everyone laughed at my impersonation of the annoying Ms. Peterson. That girl's voice could peel the paint off a bridge. And what her voice didn't get, her cursing would finish.

I watched the gang look around the cafeteria. I watched as their eyes settled on Jill Fairchild, an attractive eleventh-grader who, to the dismay of any number of guys, had been in a steady relationship with Amy Constantine since the ninth grade. I watched them consider whether Tommy was going to serve as Jill's pretend date, which they correctly discarded as completely unnecessary. Gay and lesbian couples were perfectly welcome at school functions, and the Fairchilds and Constantines were well aware of their daughters' attachment.

It was Rabbit who caught on first.

"Sterling," he clutched at his chest, "tell me he's not going with your sister Jill."

"He's not going with my sister Jill."

"Yes I am!" Tommy found his voice and blurted out.

"I know," I turned to him. "But he asked me to tell him you weren't. I was afraid he was going to have a heart attack."

"Wait a minute," Rabbit held his hands to his head. "You mean to tell me that Tommy Narburg is going to the Spring Formal with the most b —"

"Rabbit," Cammie warned him.

"The most young sister you have?" Rabbit paused only a second.

Cammie turned to Jeanne and Tanya.

"See, girls. That's training," she pronounced with a satisfied smirk.

"That's all right," Jeanne smiled. "I know she's the most beautiful girl in the school."

"Present company excepted," Rabbit offered.

"Nice try, pal," I muttered. Jeanne, Cammie, and Tanya just threw potato chips at Rabbit.

"No, seriously," Rabbit turned back to the main issue. "Tommy's going to the Formal with your sister Jill?"

"You do know he's right here, don't you?" I asked.

"Yeah," Cammie smiled. "And now we understand that sappy look on his face. So I doubt we'll be able to get him to talk any more."

"True," I said. "But he can nod. Going to the Formal, Tommy?"

He smiled and nodded.

"Takin' my sister?"

He nodded some more, blushing to the roots of his hair.

"Jill, right? 'Cause you're goin' with Sammy, aren't ya, Jeanne?"

"I assume I'm going with Sammy," she said icily.

Tommy was off the hook for the moment. Now it was Sammy's turn. He actually looked a little pale.

"Yeah. You're coming with us to the tux place, aren't you, Sammy?" I asked.

"Um, yeah, sure. Thanks, Trick."

"Well, I guess Jill and I will see what's left in the bottom of the barrel at the department store," Jeanne huffed.

At dinner that evening, Tiffany asked me where Jeanne and Jill had run off to.

"In Jeanne's room," I said. "Doing something with some dresses they bought. For the spring Formal."

"Why are they so friendly now?" Dad asked.

"You mean since last Wednesday?" I asked, getting a glare from Tiffany for implying that Dad hadn't noticed for that long. Which he hadn't. "They traded parts in the school play."

"Why?" Tiffany asked.

"Jill remembered something that my mom said," I told her.

"What was it?" Tiffany looked genuinely interested, as if it were only now occurring to her that she was going to be a parent any minute, and had better start figuring out how to do it.

"'When it's your turn,'" I quoted.

"'You better be ready,'" my father finished with a smile.

I smiled back at him. I was inordinately pleased that he remembered. I turned back to Tiffany. She too was pleased, probably not with Dad remembering as much as with the way we were interacting.

"And its corollary," I added, "which was probably more important this week. 'If you're not ready, it's probably not your turn.'"

"I hadn't heard that one," Dad said, still with a big smile.

"It was at that amusement park we went to. You and Dave were trying to see who could ring the bell on the Strongman thing. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go check on the girls."

"When is the Formal?" Tiffany asked as I cleared my plate.

"Saturday night," I said. "Dave's visiting Liane so I guess you guys will have the place to yourselves."

I waggled my eyebrows at them. I wasn't sure how Dad would spend a free Saturday night with his own private five and a half foot tall bowling ball, but that was up to them, right?

"Actually," Tiffany smiled, "if I haven't given birth by then they're going to induce it on Saturday evening or Sunday morning."

"Neat," I returned her smile. "Well, gosh. We should be with you then."

"And take you away from your Senior Formal?" Tiffany laughed. "I'll be the evil stepmother for the rest of my life. If there's a problem, we'll call you. Otherwise, you can just come on Sunday afternoon."

"Okay," I agreed. "Say hi to little Brittany for us."

Jeanne had picked up a beautiful strapless dress. Jill, bless her heart, had decided on a more conservative look.

"Can you believe Sammy?" Jeanne said disgustedly. "Did he at least pick out a nice tux?"

"Yeah, but Jeanne..." I said.

Her attention caught by the tone in my voice, she stopped fidgeting with the dress and looked up.

"You want me to leave?" Jill asked.

"We're a family," I shook my head. "Secret, though, right?"

"Pinky swear," both girls said in unison as they held up their littlest fingers. I smiled. It felt really good to be the Sterlings again.

"Jeanne, I loaned him the money to rent the tux," I said. "And to pay for the tickets and a room. You've been to his house, right?"

"Oh, God," Jeanne had turned as white as a sheet.

"Yeah," I said. "That's why he hadn't asked you before."

She was beginning to tear up.

"God, how could I be so stupid?" she started sobbing. "I mean, I know he doesn't have a lot of money."

Her breath was coming in gasps.

"Sweetie, it's not the end of the world," Jill said. "You've had a lot on your mind recently. Just give him a kiss and a hug and don't mention anything about it again."

We finally got Jeanne calmed down and focused on the dresses again. We also agreed that she would use our car. Jill would be going in Tommy's car. After we finished, I called Tanya from my room and made arrangements to borrow her parents' car.

This week was the end of the regular baseball season. By now, we were all wearing ties to the game. Some of the guys even started wearing jackets. And we were taking care of business. We won the Tuesday game 4-2 behind a very strong performance by Cary. I went the distance in the Friday game, striking out 10 guys in a 6-1 win. We would still only be the sixth seed in the league playoffs, the lowest possible. We would have to beat the third seed and then play a rested second-seeded team in the semifinals. Top-seeded McKay Academy would no doubt await the winner of that game.

Saturday was the Formal. As we had arranged, Tanya drove over in her folks' car, and then I drove the rest of the way to the hotel. Once we checked in, Tanya laughingly insisted that we would have plenty of time for "that" after we got back from the dance. She needed to shower, and no, she didn't need any help.

By the time I was done with my shower, she was sitting on one of those little hotel chairs with a portable mirror sitting on the table. I stopped as soon as I saw her, because she was wearing the tiniest of lace white bras, a skimpy pair of lace white panties, white panty hose, and white high heels.

I was finally able to open my mouth.

"No," she giggled as she looked over at me.

"I didn't say anything yet," I protested.

"I know what you're thinking," she smiled as she returned to her task.

That was probably true.

Tanya looked lovely when she was done. I looked, well, probably a lot like every other guy at the Formal.

"What time does it start again?" Tanya asked.

"It starts at six," I said with a look at my watch. "Dinner's at seven. Dancing's at eight. It's now six-ten."

"Perfect. Five more minutes."

"But we're already late."

"Men," Tanya shook her head with a laugh. She spent the next five minutes making herself even more perfect, and we headed toward the door. As she exited, the door next to us opened up. Cammie Rowe and Rabbit Parker had the room next door. We smiled at each other, somewhat embarrassed at having been "caught" coming out of our hotel rooms. It did make me thankful, though, that Tanya had insisted on holding off until after the dance. Even then, I wondered how quiet we could be together.

We walked together in silence to the elevator, and still hadn't uttered a word as we boarded. Rabbit and I stepped to the rear, and Tanya and Cammie stood in front of the highly polished mirrored door. We all did what people usually do in elevators: stare at the numbers of the floors as they go down. But I did sneak a quick glance at the door. Tanya looked gorgeous, of course, in the off-white gown that was an odd but perfect match with her golden hair. In her high heels, she appeared to tower over Cammie, who was about four inches shorter anyway, and whose shoes added only an inch to her height. But Cammie was no less beautiful in the dark blue off-the-shoulder gown that she had chosen. The contrast between her gown, the white skin of her shoulder, and the jet black of her shoulder-length hair was almost mesmerizing.

It was mesmerizing, in fact. I was suddenly aware that her dark brown eyes were staring at me, almost laughing at me, in the reflection. She raised an eyebrow.

"You look very, um, nice, Cammie," I said.

I immediately flinched. I could already hear the patented Cammie Rowe retort, "You look very um-nice yourself, Trick. And your date is perfectly um-lovely."

"Well, thank you, Patrick" Cammie floored me with a genuine smile. "That's a beautiful gown, Tanya."

"And a beautiful necklace," Rabbit chimed in.

"Thank you," Tanya glowed. "Patrick got it for my birthday."

She turned to look back at me, and Rabbit and Cammie looked over as well.

"Well, actually, Cammie helped me pick it out," I said.

"Kind of like this," Cammie said to Tanya with a laugh as she fingered the lapis lazuli necklace that I hadn't noticed her wearing, the one I had given her in thanks for her help with my SAT test. "It's like we're using Trick's money to buy each other presents. Maybe after he gets drafted we can buy each other cars."

Tanya smiled back at her, but didn't answer. I was just as glad. I had never told Cammie about my dreams of going to UVA, and my need to ace all my courses, and I didn't want her to start giving me shit about it now.

The elevator door opened up and we joined our classmates in the ballroom. After a while, we were herded to our assigned tables for the dinner, where Rabbit, the dog, claimed the seat between Tanya and Cammie. The four of us chatted amiably through dinner, although I did talk to the stunningly beautiful girl sitting on my other side. To be honest, we didn't really have a lot to talk about. After all, Jill and I saw each other all the time. Every day, in fact. What's to talk about? We sort of had too much in common.

Eventually, Tanya and I found our way to the dance floor. Then she told me to ask Jeanne to dance. So I did my duty while she talked to Rabbit. Then Tanya told me I was obligated to dance with Jill, and that she was fine talking to Rabbit while Cammie danced with Tommy. And then she told me to ask Cammie to dance.

"Last time I danced with someone else, I got in real trouble," I pointed out.

"Guess you'll have to take your chances," she grinned at me.

I offered Cammie my hand and we made our way out to the dance floor.

"You know, it looks like my friend and your girlfriend are getting pretty friendly over there," she said after we'd danced for a minute or so. She nodded toward the table, where Tanya and Rabbit were still engaged in a very animated conversation.

"She's not my girlfriend," I pointed out with a laugh. "On the other hand, good luck to him."

"Good luck to her," Cammie said fiercely, emphasizing the 'her.'

"Hey, I didn't mean —" I started to excuse myself.

"Rabbit's a nice guy," she said.

"I know he's a nice guy," I agreed. "He's been my friend longer than he's been yours."

"What's the problem then?" she demanded. "You think your friend Tanya's so special that your friend Rabbit isn't worthy of dating her?"

"Why do you want your boyfriend to date Tanya?" I parried.

"He's not my boyfriend," Cammie insisted. "Answer my question. You think she's too good?"

"No, it's just that —"

"What?" she pressed me.

"She's Jewish," I said.


"He's not an M.O.T," I confided in her.

"He is so an M.O.T.," she answered.

Wow. Cammie Rowe was something else. I was tempted to see what would happen if I insisted that Rabbit wasn't a kumquat.

"M.O.T. means —" I started to explain.

"Oh, fuck you, Trick Sterling," she cut me off again. "I'm smarter than you are. I know what an M.O.T is."

"But — but Rabbit's not a... I mean, I've been over to Rabbit's house for Christmas," I protested.

"His father's Catholic, his mother's Jewish," she explained, suddenly growing wistful. "He says he promised her he'd marry a Jew. That's why we're not, you know..."

Oh, my God, Cammie Rowe was in the same boat I was. I remembered now that Rabbit had told me, months ago, that they were just friends. Good friends obviously, if they were sharing a room, but not boyfriend and girlfriend.

"Then why didn't he ask Tanya out before now?" I asked when I finally found my voice.

"I guess because he didn't know she was Jewish," Cammie replied.

"I thought everyone knew," I'm sure my voice expressed surprise.

"Why?" Cammie chuckled. "Does she wear a sign?"

"No," I laughed. "'Cause that's the reason I broke up with Stephie van Carlen. 'Cause she called Tanya a Jew girl."

"Seriously?" Cammie asked, her eyes softening a little. "That's pretty cool. I didn't know that, either."

I shrugged.

"We just thought you finally realized what a bitch she was," Cammie said.

We danced the next dance as well, this time joined on the dance floor by Jill and Tommy, and by Jeanne and Sammy. Rabbit and Tanya were still talking. About halfway through, Cammie asked me what I thought we should do.

"About what?"

"Tanya and Rabbit. Look at them. They're half in love already."

"It'll mean giving Rabbit up," I pointed out.

"I don't own him. He already told me he was looking for a nice Jewish girl to come along."

We danced a little longer while Tanya's very similar words echoed through my head as if she had said them yesterday and not two months ago: So I'll be available whenever you want, okay? Just promise me that if I can't find a nice Jewish boy while I'm here, you won't start publicly dating some hot little shiksa. Well, I had reminded her about the first sentence recently. Maybe it was time to remind myself about the second one.

"Hello?" Cammie was saying. "Trick?"

"I'm sorry," I said, looking down at her with what I hoped was a smile. I swallowed hard. "What did you say?"

"I asked, 'how about you and Tanya?'"

"You know," I looked at the table with a wistful grin, "I really just want her to be happy. So how 'bout I go over and say, 'so, how you two Jews doin'?'"

Cammie laughed and hit my arm.

"Actually, hang on," I said. "I have another idea. I'll meet you back at the table."

I found Mrs. Jenkins, who was sitting with Mrs. Palmer at one of the faculty chaperone tables.

"Mr. Sterling," she said.

"Ma'am," I said, drawing up a chair. "Can I ask you something? That's a lovely dress, by the way."

Mrs. Jenkins could see a suckup a mile away.

"Um, do you know any Jewish, ma'am?" I asked, ignoring her glare.

Mrs. Jenkins looked at me coldly.

"Jewish is a religion, Mr. Sterling," she reminded me.

"Yes, ma'am, a religion," I agreed. "But isn't there some sort of, uh, language?"

There had to be some sort of language, what with the shiksas and the mitzvahs and everything. I mean, it couldn't possibly be some sort of private Szerchenko code that nobody else knew.

"Like Yiddish, Mr. Sterling?" she asked as Mrs. Palmer, sitting on her other side, started laughing.

"Exactly," I said. "Yiddish. Do you know any?"

"A little. Why?"

"I have two Yiddish friends," I began.

"Jewish," she said.

"Jewish friends," I corrected myself. "And they don't know each other is Jewish, see? So here's what I was thinking..."

I returned to the table armed with a little knowledge, usually a dangerous thing. I picked up my glass and raised it in the air.

"A toast," I said.

My tablemates picked up their glasses as well.

"L'chaim," I offered.

"To life," Tanya and Rabbit responded in unison.

They laughed and then they stared at each other. They talked some more and then they danced. It was hard to feel sorry for yourself in the reflected light of true love, so Cammie and I just sat back and watched it happen. At one point, when Cammie had left to talk to some of her volleyball teammates, Rabbit left Tanya shyly hanging around the doorway to the ballroom while he slid into a chair next to me.

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