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I’d somehow finagled the right to check tickets at the door of prom, and so I got to wear a formal gown for the first time. Mine was sleeveless, with an empire waist that fit snugly under my breasts and flowed freely from that level down. The lower section was a fairly bright lemon yellow, and the upper part was white. There was a gathered ruffle, white trimmed with yellow edging, that ran down the middle of the front of the dress.
My left upper arm was easily twice as large as my right arm due to an allergic reaction to a tetanus shot I’d taken the night before after falling into a sewer before a softball game. Not only was it swollen, it had turned a bright, angry red as well. So between the deep tan I had from playing tennis and softball outdoors every day, and the tetanus shot reaction glowing crimson against the pristine white of my prom gown, I stood out.
Tommy could have attended prom with me for free – admission for two was one of the perks I earned – but he wanted no part of such things, and I agreed to his alternative plan. We would walk from the Civic Center to Shoney’s Colonial on the Boulevard, and have a milkshake and spend some time together talking.
He showed up in neat blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and blue jean jacket. I thought he looked like a million bucks. We strolled hand-in-hand the couple of blocks to Shoney’s. Because it was a Saturday night, the place was packed with a waiting line that snaked out the front doors and around part of the building. It was like that every weekend night if there was a concert, or a prom or other activity, or even if there wasn’t; Shoney’s was a destination in itself back then.
I expressed concern we would have to wait for hours and suggested we just go home. Tommy wouldn’t hear of it. He led me by my hand and we wove through the crowd until we reached the hostess. Tommy leaned forward and took her hand. He bent down and whispered in her ear, and she giggle and blushed, then looked down at her hand. Her jaw relaxed a little, the smile gone, and she stared into the palm of her hand. Immediately, her hand clamped shut, and she looked up at Tommy who by then had moved us away from the hostess
Pretty as you please, she called out “Watts, party of two?”
I opened my mouth to ask how, and Tommy shushed me. He tugged my arm so hard I nearly lost my balance, and before I knew it, we had been seated in a booth – a booth! When there was just the two of us in that crowded Saturday night restaurant – near the back of the dining room.
We ordered a single chocolate milkshake and chatted about my adventure the night before. Tommy was so sweet and encouraging. He made me feel as if it hadn’t been the end of the world, and by the time our treat arrived, I had forgotten about my sore arm and wounded pride. We shared the milkshake, sucking up the thick chocolate ice cream through two straws like Archie and Betty at the Chok’lit Shoppe.
We continued chatting after we finished the shake, and Tommy began to fold a five-dollar bill into intricate shapes. It seemed random to me, sort of an absent-minded activity to occupy his hands, and I assumed he was curtailing his boundless energy in order to be able to sit still.
Finally, we decided it was time to leave and let someone else have our booth. Tommy called our waitress over. He rolled what seemed to be a die across the table. It was the five-dollar bill, folded into a perfect cube shape with the “5” on one face. “This is for you. That was one tasty milkshake you made; thank you,” he said and smiled. She beamed from the wide grin that spread across her face.
He and I strolled hand-in-hand the mile and a half to my house. Although he kissed me very sweetly – reverently but passionately as well – his hands never wandered off the hardtop. There was no surreptitious brushing of the back of his knuckles, or nudging of a breast, no accidental butt touch, nothing. Tommy respected my boundaries without exception. I loved Tommy Watts and although he wasn’t the white collar upstanding citizen my parents wanted me to end up married to, he seemed to be the perfect boy as far as I was concerned. He was smart, funny, clever, kind, talented, entertaining, and he respected me in a way I was unaccustomed to.
Everything was fine until the day that summer I decided to hide and surprise him. ~~GH