She ran the beauty parlor. I'd only been going there two years; up until that point Grandma had cut my hair. Douglas had told me that she said all the girls came to her before the prom, and that she would do my hair especially, as I'd be spending the evening on the arm of her son. I couldn't think of a reply to this, so the afternoon of the big event, I went to the parlor. I endured Mrs. Mather's primping and pruning, and, what was more distasteful, her conversation, for an hour before she was satisfied with the chemically-hardened sculpture she's made of my head.
Really, I didn't even know Douglas. I been out with him once before, he'd taken me to the ice cream parlor before one of the concerts in the park, but I found afterwards that I couldn't remember what we'd talked about. For several months before I'd been seeing Raymond Lee, who was on the football team. We'd even been considered one of the steady couples in the senior class for a while, but I hadn't been that surprised when Ray said he was taking Minnie Ann Donnelly, the Cottoqua County Dairy Princess, to the prom. Jane said I wasn't nice enough to him, and I'm not sure what she meant by that, but I didn't care anyway. I did want to go to the prom, though, I wanted to buy a dress like everyone else; you didn't get many opportunities to be elegant in Lake Henry.
I'd have liked to have gone with Casey. We never spoke about the subject, we'd always been very good friends, and you weren't supposed to go to the prom with your friend. Still, I knew I didn't want to go with Ray even if he hadn't been taking the cow queen, and I didn't want to go with Chet Rossman, who Jane said was thinking of asking me, or with Eddie Levinski, who kept telling me he didn't have a date. I knew if I went with Casey I would have a good time, and I knew there wouldn't be any vapid conversation, hot breath or sweaty palms. I might have mentioned this to Casey, if he hadn't told me how excited he was that Mary Donnelly had asked him. This surprised and irked me, but I liked Mary, and as Jane would say, I didn't have any "claim" on Casey.
The prom was in the school gym, the place only slightly transformed into "Fantasy Isle" by the streamers and balloons hanging from the ceiling, the smell only slightly covered by the bouquets of liles and roses and the perfume. Standing at the table with the glasses of pink punch, Douglas pressed his hand on the small of my back. I turned around, leaned against the table and looked at the floor, at the youth of Lake Henry at their best. I wasn't impressed.
"You sure you don't want to dance?" Doug set his glass on the table.
I smiled at him and shook my head, then looked at the red balloon dangling from a streamer above his head. "Yes. Not right now. I'd like to talk to my cousin."
"Ok." Doug kept shifing his weightfrom one to the other. I felt sorry for him. Why couldn't I find him interesting? "Well, do you mind if I slip out for a few minutes? For a smoke?"
"No, not at all. I'll be in here." And Doug smiled and walked away. I went and sat down on a bench against the wall. I was graduating. What was going to happen? I would work more at the diner. Casey was going to join the army so later he could go to college. Flory Hagersheim was going to Europe with her aunt. Ms. Jevers was moving to Boston to write her book. I knew Jane was going to get married and that annoyed me. When the third couple on their way to dance looked at me sideways and curious I was also annoyed.
I decided I needed some air. As I walked towards the door I passed Jane, dancing with Johnny, her head on his shoulder, her eyes closed. I went in the hall. I could see the small pack gathered outside smoking and knew I didn't want to go that way. I went the other way, through the dark locker-lined hallway. The noise of my new heeled shoes annoyed me too so I took them off. I went out the other door and started walking.
I walked through the playground, out onto the back street that led away from the school. The ground hurt my feet and annoyed me more and when a car drove by I put the shoes back on. From the road I turned and looked at the school. I hoped Doug wouldn't worry, or at least that he wouldn't get Jane worried. I wasn't going back.
I walked through town, up to the town park. I sat on the bench and looked down at Lake Henry. I realized I would miss it. And then I realized, I was going away.
These boots are made for walking, and that's what they're gonna do...