Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 14 • Summer 2005 • Featured Writer • Fiction

An excerpt from A Really Nice Prom Mess

Brian Sloan

Chapter 2

It was beautiful out. Gorgeous even. Driving up Connecticut Avenue toward the burbs, the June air was ripe with trees and flowers and everything busting out all over. The sky was a clear pale blue, and through the thick canopy of leaves I could discern the outlines of a full moon coming up in the eastern sky. Now, being a Libra, I'm technically not supposed to be a terribly superstitious type of guy. But when I see a full moon, I always get a little uh-oh going on in my gut. It's not like I have scientific evidence that a full-on lunar event is a setup for insane happenings. But on this night that moon was giving me a pretty decent hunch that bad things were rising. It seemed like an omen that things were only going to get worse as the night progressed, the moon rising higher, growing ever whiter, bolder, crazier.

As for Virginia, once she got in my car she was surprisingly docile in a way that was almost unnerving. Every now and then I'd glance over at her and she'd be staring straight ahead, her eyelids heavy and half-closed. I still couldn't figure out what had prompted the bender and her ensuing surly mood. I mean, sure, people have a tendency to imbibe a little too much on prom night. But usually it's on prom night, not prom midafternoon. The only reason I could imagine for her terrible 'tude was that maybe, somehow, she had found out I was gay. But how could she have? I mean, no one knew, not a soul. Honest. None of the girls at Potomac and none of the guys at Prep had a clue. I mean, it was the best-kept secret of the academic year, second only to Brittany Monroe's tummy tuck. Seriously . . . the gay thing was a total information blackout. Except for my boyfriend, not a single person knew.

Oh yeah -- my boyfriend. I know, I know . . . I didn't really mention him right off the bat. Don't give me that look, okay? Believe me, I have my reasons. Anyway, even though my boyfriend knew I was gay (as he would have to, being my boyfriend and all), I can assure you that he was definitely not going to be telling anyone anytime soon. I mean, no one. Honest. You can trust me on that one.

So I remained utterly baffled as to what had gotten Virginia in a rotten enough mood to get totally sauced. Granted, I didn't know Virginia all that well, so maybe this was just an average afternoon for her. Actually, the one impression I did get from our first meeting was that she had a strong predilection for The Drinking. It was at that illegal house party in Georgetown where Virginia had impressed everyone with her limitless capacity for imbibing Jagermeister. I met her via Shane's ex-girlfriend, Jane, who was friends with Virginia from Potomac. But other than that night, the only time I'd hung out with her was Memorial Day weekend, when Shane invited all of us to his parents' country club for opening day festivities at the pool. And it was there on the sundeck that this whole double-date plan got hatched.

After a round of general razzing about how the prom sucks, Jane posited that the event could actually be fun if you went with the right people. Then, commenting on what a blast we'd had hanging out at the pool that afternoon, Jane floated the idea that we should all go to the prom together; her and Shane as one couple, and me and Virginia as the other. Still, I thought it was crystal clear from the get-go that Virginia and I were not going to be dates, nor would Jane and Shane since they weren't even dating anymore. The whole thing would be more like a group of pals going in a loose yet friendly foursome. At the time, everyone seemed cool with this arrangement. As the planning for the big night progressed, everything went smoothly. I got the 411 on Virginia's outfit, discussed the color of the dress at length so I could order a matching corsage, and made arrangements for picking her up. In fact, I had even talked to Virginia the day before the prom and all systems seemed fine. She was chatty and funny and even somewhat flirty on the phone, which I guess is pretty normal with girls who like guys. Of course, there was one little lurking problem: She didn't know I wasn't her type of guy.

Crossing the District line, Virginia's sour mood continued. As we were now only about ten minutes from my parents in Silver Spring, I was getting anxious about this impending meet-and-greet, given Virginia's condition. I figured I had to at least try to make some peace before getting to my house or, at a minimum, beg her to put on a happy front for the parental photo op. So I opened my big mouth.

"Virginia, is something, uh, wrong?"

She turned and gave me that same wicked look as when she'd stolen her mom's cocktail. Uh-oh. Bracing myself, I sensed a highly dramatic, Oscar-worthy moment approaching.

"Is something wrong?" she said, her voice rising way up on wrong, like a preacher winding up for a killer sermon. Oh, God, I thought, save me . . . save me now! "Is something WRONG? Let's see . . . I think that's more a question for you, Hayes. Because there is nothing 'wrong' with me, but you . . . you . . . I think there are some serious things wrong with you!"

All right, I thought, what is so wrong with me? Sure, I rented a tux when she is definitely a buyer. But then again, girls don't rent dresses. She had something else in mind.

"What are you implying exactly --"

"Look, Hayes," she said. "Are you a fag or what?"

Shocked to hear her question, a question I'd never quite heard before, ever, I jerked my head to look at her and the steering wheel went with me. This caused my parents' practical little Neon to swerve off East-West Highway and onto the dusty shoulder. Virginia screamed as the car shook, vibrating wildly with the rough surface of the shoulder. Not one to be outdone by a female's scream, I shrieked as well. Quickly, though, my arms instinctually spasmed as I swung the car back onto the road, the tires letting out a discreet high-pitched scream of their own.

"Christ," she said, brushing her hair out of her eyes. "So I'll take that as a yes?"

Stunned by her accusation, I tried to dissuade her of the notion that I was gay, even though it was true and I had just proved it by screaming like a supersize sissy. Still, denial is my strong point, so I thought I'd play to it.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

Yeah, well, what can I say? Even though I knew I was gay and had known for quite some time, when she blurted it out in public like she had just done, even if it was in the privacy of my parents' car, it was so alarming that my knee-jerk reaction was to be all like . . . uh, what? But I couldn't play this with Virginia. She was no dummy when it came to gay men.

"And don't try to give me that denial bullshit."

I gave up on denial and went for the specifics on what exactly had tipped her off.

"Wait a minute. What made you even think that I was --"

"The corsage," she said, interrupting me.

"The . . . huh?"

"On the phone the other night," she said, to my continued blank look. "You asked me very specifically what color dress I was wearing so that you could order a matching corsage."

"But that's what a guy's supposed to do," I said protesting.

"Not a straight guy," she said, emphasis way on the straight in case I didn't get the point. "They don't care about the color of the dress or what fabric it is or who the hell made it. They just want to get the damn thing off. But you kept going on and on about my dress like you were a special guest host on E! or something."

Well, according to Seventeen, Rule number 3 of having a "dreamy prom" is to have a date who is constantly inquiring about and complimenting your outfit. Then again, I'm guessing that real straight guys probably don't read Seventeen. And perhaps therein lies my error. . . .

"Look, Hayes -- you can be as closeted or uncloseted as you want at school or at home or in your own bedroom. I honestly don't give a shit. But right now, in this car, between you and me and East-West Highway, I need to know for real. . . . Are you a fag or what?"

Again with the fag! It was annoying and insulting, and what can I say? It got to me. On a deep level. I mean, by taking this tack she was asking for it, you know? Virginia had, unwittingly, unleashed my inner gay bitch.

"I don't know, Virginia," I said cockily. "Are you an alcoholic?"

This approach, however, was a huge mistake, as it merely incensed her even more.

"Only because I am going to the prom with a goddamn faggot!"

It was at this moment that I thought of maybe driving the car off the road again, this time on purpose; a minor accident maybe, something that would be just enough to get Virginia and me into the ER and out of our commitment to an evening together of prom hell. However, realizing that a car wreck would probably mean I would not be allowed to drive for, well, about the rest of my life, I opted for something else. I tried to get her to ease up on the harsh language.

"Can you please stop saying that?"

"What . . . fag?" she said, spitting it out. Again!

"Virginia, you just said it again."

"Oh yeah? Well, maybe I'll stop saying it if you answer the goddamn question."

All right -- was she joking? There was, like, no way I was gonna answer that question, even though, sure, on a technicality I could have said that no, I was not a "fag" but was merely a guy who happened to dig guys. But I didn't sense that Virginia was in a mood for technicalities. She was equally not in a mood for me giving her the silent treatment on this issue. So undeterred by my unwillingness to speak, she launched another tirade.

"Look, Hayes -- I've known a few in my time, and you seem pretty faggy to me. And I have no intention of going to the prom with a known fag and being labeled a fruit fly."

"A . . . a what?"

"A friggin' fruit fly . . . a girl who hangs out with fags."

Hmmmm -- fruit fly. Clever little slang, I thought to myself, and a lot sweeter than fag hag. Still, I guessed that it was probably not so cute when you're the one getting tagged with it. But it definitely had a sweeter ring than fag. Especially when you factored in the harsh manner in which Virginia said it, which was truly getting on my nerves.

"Virginia, can you please stop using that word? It's totally offensive."

She shrugged, that wicked sideways grin reappearing.

"I'm just being real here . . . that's all, Hayes. Calling a fag a fag."

And that was it. Her double fag broke me. I slammed on the brakes and Virginia's hair lurched forward, her head following. Now that I had her full attention, I laid into her in a manner that surprised even me.

"Virginia, I swear to God, if you don't stop using that word I'm gonna run this car off the road and we'll both die terrible deaths together and thus be perpetually linked till eternity or something!"

Virginia regarded me like I was somewhat crazy, which at that point, I guess I was. Adjusting her disheveled hair, she brought her tone down a few octaves.

"Okay, I just need to know what the hell's going on here. When Jane set this whole thing up, I thought I was going on a legitimate prom date --"

"We said we were going as friends!" I said, my voice rising.

But she continued talking. "With a heterosexual male. But, after some consideration, it appears that I've been duped into being your show pony so that the rest of Prep won't figure out that you'd rather be slow dancing with some guy. Now, am I right or what?"

She poked my arm, fingernail first. Ow. But what hurt even more was that she had me. Sorta.

"Well," I said, concentrating on driving again. "You're not exactly wrong."

"So you are gay?"

I froze. I had never really admitted this to anyone. Ever. (Okay, well, other than my boyfriend.) So confessing this to some random prom date was not exactly the first person I imagined I'd be sharing this highly personal information with, especially a person who'd been drinking since 4:00 PM.

Sensing my apprehension at copping to this admission, Virginia shifted gears.

"I don't have anything against gay guys, okay? My older brother's gay and I don't hate him. He can get on my nerves sometimes and the guy he used to date is a retard, but other than that, it's fine. No big deal. To each his own and all that shit. But this is my prom night we're talking about here. And if you really are gay, it basically means that I have a zero chance of getting any action whatsoever. Zee-ro. Probably in the negative numbers even. So how do you think that makes me feel, huh?"

All right, she had a point. It made me feel kinda bad, actually. At least I knew that no matter how terrible the prom was going to be for me, I would eventually get to make out with my boyfriend at some point towards the end of the evening. And maybe even get some action, too, as Virginia put it.

"Okay -- you're right," I said, feeling vaguely guilty. "But taking you to the prom is not some lame attempt to make everyone at the dance think I'm not gay. That's not the point of this at all."

"Then what exactly is the point?" she demanded, crossing her arms across her ample chest.

Oh, man. Talk about the million-dollar question. The funny thing is that this was the exact same question that had been bothering me ever since this whole prom scheme was hatched. But I couldn't get into this with Virginia. I'd been sworn to supreme secrecy. Still, I began to wonder if by even having this conversation with her, I'd already compromised that top secret vow and the whole scheme itself by inadvertently coming out to my fake date.

"The reasons for going to the prom are . . . well . . . it's complicated."

"Hmmm," she said, her mind practically whirring, trying to figure this whole puzzle out. "Lemme guess. This have something to do with your parents?"

"What!"

"Do they know you're gay?"

"Uh . . . no. But that has nothing --"

Virginia cut me off, suddenly sure of what was behind this charade.

"Oh, I get it. . . . Playing straight for Mom and Dad. I totally know this whole tired routine. My brother did it all through high school, even into college, which was lame considering that at that point he wasn't even living at home. I had to out him to get everyone to deal with the whole thing."

"Wait -- you outed your own brother?"

"His stupid boyfriend kept calling when he was living at home during the summer," she said, trying to downplay her role in this outing. "So one time when he called and my brother was up in his room, I yelled up the stairs 'Hey, your boyfriend's on the phone!'"

"Ohmigod," I said, my mouth agape. "That is evil."

"No, it's not," she shot back at me. "It was the truth, that's all. There is nothing evil about telling people the truth and waking everyone up to the goddamn elephant in the upstairs bedroom. I mean, the sheer volume of lying going on it that house . . . it was absurd and driving everyone crazy."

"Still, it was so not your right for you to out him like that."

"Believe me, it was for the best. Everyone freaked out for a month, but in the end it made life at home about ninety percent more bearable. Look, I'm sure your little secret is making things tense with you and the 'rents, right?"

Remarkably, she had a point. In the previous few months my conversations with my parents had gone from full sentences to the basic multiple-choice answers of yes, no, or maybe. Family meals were these increasingly awkward, silent affairs punctuated only by sad clinks of silver. I don't have any brothers or sisters so, in effect, I was the family, and suddenly I was not really there.

My dad tried to talk to me once, back in March, about the change in my behavior. In response, I covered up the real reason for my lack of communication, saying I was stressing because of the pressures of senior year, waiting to hear about colleges, and on top of all that, being in charge of editing the yearbook. But of course, I failed to mention the real reason: the guy who'd turned my world upside down with a stolen kiss at a Homecoming Weekend rager.

"That shut you up," said Virginia.

"Huh?"

I didn't realize it but I had gone totally mute, dropping my end of the conversation as I mused about my clueless parents.

"Sorry, I was just --"

"Thinking you should probably tell your folks?"

I turned toward her with my best sarcastic squint.

"Uh . . . no."

Virginia squinted back at me, her well-lubricated head bobbing with every bump the car encountered. We came to a stop at a traffic light and she lurched slightly forward again. She was still decidedly drunk. Not that I thought that she would have sobered up in the car. But I realized this was going to be a real problem in a few moments, as we were only a block away from meeting the parents.

"You know," she said, trying to be helpful and wicked all at once. "I could tell your parents for you."

"Are y-- are you insane?"

"C'mon, Hayes, aren't you tired of the whole charade? You're what, eighteen, almost nineteen years old, and you're basically scared of your parents because of this? What kind of life is that?"

"Uh, it's my life. Mine. And you have no right to --"

And again I set her off.

"I have no right. What about you having no right to ask me as your date to the prom under totally false pretenses. How about that?"

When she was done letting me have it, all I heard was honking. Lots of cars honking. The light had turned green and I hadn't even noticed. I slammed my foot on the accelerator and Virginia slammed backward into her seat.

"We're almost at my parents' house," I said, on the verge of begging. "Please, Virginia, all I ask is that you just act like a normal date for ten minutes and don't mention anything about --"

"You being a fag?"

Ohmigod, I thought. This was bad. This was badder than bad. This was a family crisis about to be triggered by a sloshed girl in a very bad mood. If I can analogize here for a minute, she was a loaded gun and I had given her all the ammunition she needed to blow some severe holes in my entire life! Okay -- maybe that was a little over the top. I can get a little dramatic sometimes. But I am a gay boy in training. Comes with the territory, you know?

"I'm serious, Virginia," I said, giving her my best pleading look, working my adorable droopy dawg eyes (that's what my boyfriend called them!) to full effect. "Please don't hint or allude or say one single word about this to my folks. Please . . ."

So for the record, these sort of big-eyed charms don't exactly work on a girl when she knows you like guys. In fact, in this situation they had the opposite effect.

"All right, Hayes," she said, her own eyes brimming with sheer craftiness. "What's it worth to you?"

***

Excerpted from A Really Nice Prom Mess by Brian Sloan © 2005, used with permission of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.

Brian Sloan

Brian Sloan is a writer/director based in New York City. A Really Nice Prom Mess (Simon & Schuster) is his first novel. His second book, Tale of Two Summers will be published in summer 2006. Previously, his short fiction has appeared in Genre, Christopher Street and New Ink. Stories of his are anthologized in Men on Men 7, Man of My Dreams, and Not The Only One. His short story "Sex With Teenagers" won a National Magazine Award for short fiction in 1996. He is also an indie filmmaker. His latest film, WTC View, premieres in summer 2005 at film festivals in New York and Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.briansloan.com.

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