A white sport coat and a pink carnation
"Rick, if you don't hold still, I'm gonna wind up making holes all over this and you can't return it."
"I'm sorry, didn't realize I was moving."
"You've been fidgeting for the last five minutes."
"It wasn't that long. Maybe you just need to learn how to pin a flower."
Clifford rolled his eyes at his gigantic friend and finally pinned the pink carnation to Ricky's jacket to complete his look. Two days prior, and much to Ricky's chagrin, he realized the spring formal was a colorful fifties sock hop theme. It wasn't mandatory to dress the era, but it was appreciated. Clifford didn't understand how Ricky missed all the huge posters around school, not to mention all the chatter, but Linderman wasn't one to stop and notice high school happenings and what he called frivolity.
Although he ebbed out of his hardened shell, Ricky still lumbered through the halls in his green jacket, keeping his focus either cast downward or straight ahead staring into space. The only times Clifford really noticed a spark of enthusiasm in Ricky's eyes was when they hung out and worked on his new automotive projects in the junkyard. And now, whenever Evalyn Samuels was near.
Clifford's dad gave the boys a neat idea to wear white sport coats with carnations pinned to their breast. He said in his youth there was a famous love song just about that – A young man crooned how his girl spurned him just before the dance. Shelly decided to wear a red shirred top dress, so Clifford wore a red flower. Ricky wasn't so fortunate. Pink was one of Evie's favorite colors. Evie's dress was a pink taffeta halter-top with a large bow design on the lower back.
Ricky and Clifford stood at attention before the mirror in Clifford's hotel bedroom. Clifford went to touch his hair; Grandma Peache went a little heavy on the Dippity-do to keep his curls from springing out. Ricky jokingly called Clifford's pushback a 'Great Gatsby' and told him it was about time he lost the fro. Grandma Peache styled Ricky's hair in a side-part, but thankfully didn't use as much hair product. Ricky pulled Clifford's elbow down and forced his hands to his sides.
"Don't you dare touch it, not after she worked so hard on that tumbleweed."
Clifford crossed his arms offended. "Will you stop picking on my hair?"
Ricky grinned. "But it's so easy to. I wonder what the girls are gonna do with their poufy do's?"
"They wouldn't breathe a word about it, I asked. They want us to be surprised." Clifford faced his best friend. "Are you sure you're ready for this? It's a big step for you, I mean showing your face like this."
"You think I should wear a paper bag on my head? I've been called a monster, but I know I'm not that ugly. Evie thinks I'm the hottest white guy she's ever seen."
"Ricky, I didn't mean it that way. C'mon, I meant…"
Ricky glanced at his black shoes; the shine almost cast a reflection. "I know what you meant, Cliff. I think I'll be fine. I made a deal with Evie. She said if I get too uncomfortable then we can leave. She's very perceptive that way."
"You think you can handle it?"
"Cliff, I know how much this means to her, and even you and Shelly. It's time that I came back to the land of the living. I'm not gonna make a scene. I can be cool."
Clifford smiled widely. "I know you can. Cool as a cucumber." His brow furrowed and Ricky sensed he was nervous.
"Something wrong, Clifford?"
"What makes you think that?"
"I'm perceptive too. Is it Shelly?"
Clifford smiled. "No way. She's awesome. Shelly just…she just has a bright way about her."
"Her optimism is overtly contagious. It's as if someone turned on a light bulb."
Clifford nudged Ricky. "Overtly contagious? Those are some high falootin' words."
"Believe it or not, I'm scoring A's in English lit. It's my best subject. Always was." Ricky said proudly. "I never said it way back in the gym, but I don't need you to do my homework."
"Okay, but your math still sucks."
Ricky stared ahead wryly. "I know, and that's probably gonna mess me up when it's time for college."
Clifford suppressed himself from making a complete double take. "College? Already? I didn't think you were college material, to be honest."
Ricky sighed. "You always are, Cliff. I don't mean Harvard or Yale. I mean a trade school or something. I want to be an engineer or maybe an architect, at least a mechanic. And that all requires good math, that's what I heard."
"Wow, that's awesome. Mechanics you already do with your eyes closed. Don't sweat it, I rock math, I can tutor you."
Ricky sat on the edge of the bed and cracked his knuckles. "I guess so. I actually can't believe it though."
"Believe what? That I'm good in math?" Clifford asked, noticing how dull his shoes were compared to Ricky's. He dug out some shoe supplies from the closet and poised his leg up on the chair to shine his spats.
"I can't believe I'm even thinking in that direction. I mean, it's me, Clifford." Ricky cast a fleeting look at his scarred wrist and kept it hidden from view with his jacket sleeve. "I never expected to even live, let alone finish high school. My mother says it's a miracle, she's…she's actually proud of me."
"That's great, Rick. What about your father?"
"He pays a little more attention to me now, but that TV is still on twenty-four-seven. Sometimes I think he blames me. I know he does, I can see it in his eyes, especially when he's been drinking. And what's so damn sick is that he's right. The one thing in my life that'll always haunt me is that I can never tell my parents what I've done. It would probably kill my mother and make my father want to kill me."
The crack in his friend's voice saddened Clifford and he mentally thanked God he wasn't a girl or else he would cry. Evie and Shelly certainly would. Girls always cried and they loved hurt and misunderstood 'bad boys.' Ricky wasn't bad, but he was gravely misunderstood and unfairly ostracized.
Ricky looked up at the ceiling. He blinked back hard tears, but the flush in his face was undeniable. Clifford patted Ricky's shoulder.
"You know I'll never tell, Ricky." He gulped, remembering how he slipped. "Hey, you ever think you'll tell Evie the truth?"
Ricky stared at him forlorn. "I want to, it burns me up so much because she's really sweet and I don't know how she'd take it. I don't want her to hate me."
Clifford rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He already knew how she would take it; sympathetically with lots of tears. "Rick, if she loves you, she'll be understanding. I'm sure she will. Evie has a big soft spot for troubled souls. Most girls do."
"That's a good way to describe me, a troubled, lost soul. Do you really believe she actually, loves me?"
Clifford didn't like the dim turn of the conversation. Ricky was prone to fall into self-doubt and despair, sometimes at the drop of a hat. He did a little research and learned it was all part of his depressed mental state. Ricky valiantly fought it. Clifford smiled to break the mood.
"Believe it? I know it, because she told me straight up- – "I'm in love with Ricky, Cliff. I'm utterly and hopelessly in love with Ricky Linderman." That's not a lie."
"I know you wouldn't lie to me." Ricky's big smile was contagious and then they both laughed. Clifford still noticed the color of sadness on Ricky's face.
"Hey man, you're starting to look like that carnation. Speaking of which, we can't forget these." He kicked the chair back and went into a green bag on the bed. He pulled out two clear boxes with fresh carnation bracelets. He tossed the pink one next to Ricky.
"We need to give these to the girls and my Grandma says to meet her downstairs by the bar before we leave, she has something for you."
Ricky still appeared to be in his own world, but he nodded and wiped his eyes. He stood abruptly.
"I sure could use a drink right now. Grandma Peache would let me have one too. Alright. I'm ready for this. It's neat your dad hooked us up with a limo, even if it will draw more attention to us. Evie said to pick them up at her house. Shelly slept over while her parents went out of town. Her grandfather is very sick and her parents went to visit him for the weekend. Shelly begged off because of the dance. She barely knows the man."
Clifford buttoned his coat and stared at him. "How come you know these things about Shelly and I don't? I'm her boyfriend! I…I guess."
"You know you are, Cliff."
"We never said it, not like you told Evie. This is only our first real week of dating."
"Wow, you're right. Cliff, I only know because Evie is my girlfriend and she gets all the dirt firsthand. I'm sure Shelly was planning to tell you."
"I wonder if she's mad that I didn't ask her yet."
Ricky adjusted his bow-tie. Looking down at his friend he suddenly felt like an older, wise man. Evie pumped him up the day they practiced dancing. She admired the fact that he was a sixteen-year-old. Maybe he was too mature for his own good? Ricky sometimes felt like every youthful folly and immature thought flew out the window that tragic night. It overwhelmed him, but he realized how much he appreciated the life-altering wisdom, it kept him street-smart and on the right track.
"You'll get there, buddy. It's a big decision to say it, but you also don't want to drag it out. When I said that to Evie, I really felt it. We have a strong connection. I don't know, maybe I'm starting to get needy or something. I'd say Evie and I are eighty-five percent official."
"You're not needy, but I think you could use some lovin.' So, what would make it a hundred?" Clifford grinned.
Ricky blushed. Ever since his brother died, girls were furthest from his mind in all aspects. It was hard to think of anything pleasurable when all he thought was suicide and how to keep quiet and not draw suspicions about the accident. He laughed Clifford's question off.
"Well, there's that, but let's be honest here, man. Nobody is ready for it, not to mention Cheryl would destroy me. I'm talking about a token, a gift of my affection."
"Ahh, like my dad said, in the fifties, the guys used to pin the girls, it was frat boy stuff. You'll think of something. That gives me a good idea for Shelly. I noticed she has holes in her ears, but doesn't wear earrings most of the time. Do you think she'll like pearls?"
"She seems the Olive Oyl type, ya know, with a string of pearls and a polka dot dress."
Clifford cackled at the image. "Olive Oyl didn't wear a polka dot dress. It was red and black!"
"Oh, right, with huge brown boots! Well, she reminds me of her, I guess. I think you get me. You'll know what to buy Shelly when you're ready. If ya don't, just ask Grandma, she's old, but she's still a woman. I was thinking of a necklace for Evie. I like her neck, it's long and graceful."
"Whatever you say, Rick. I guess our girls are just beanpoles and giraffes."
"Heh, you said it, not me."
"Hey, I overheard them say it about themselves. So, you're on a first-name basis with Evie's mom, huh?"
"Yeah, don't you remember when we met her, she said, just call me, Cheryl?"
"Oh right! You know, Rick, now I remember Shelly saying when she met my grandma that she hardly knew her grandparents. Shelly's parents had some kind of falling out with them or something."
Ricky picked up the carnation boxes and headed toward the door. "Don't tell her I told you, I wouldn't want those girls to think we hang out and gossip about their lives like they do about us all the time."
Clifford laughed. "Okay, it'll be our secret."
As they went to the hall elevator, Ricky suddenly remembered Clifford's earlier mood. "Hey, I asked you if something was wrong, was there?"
Clifford shrugged. "No. It's all good."
As the door opened and they stepped inside, Clifford's stomach knotted up. Although they humiliated and beat Moody to a pulp two weeks ago, he still wondered if and when the vindictive kid would take his revenge.