"Awesome! Get a load of the gym. It actually smells nice for once!" Shelly said excitably as she and Clifford entered the double doors.
"Yeah, must be all the flowers and food they're serving over there. Let's go get some punch and stuff. I can't boogie on an empty stomach." Clifford had gotten over his apprehensions that Moody and his minions would be skulking around. They were nowhere to be seen. He was hoping they were banned from the dance.
"Men!" Shelly rolled her eyes. "Always thinking about food and women."
Clifford gripped her hand and tugged her along. "That's right. I got my woman, now I need some grub."
The school gym was barely recognizable, awash with bright colors, multi-hued lights and streamers. It was like a fifties wonderland. Loud, rock-and-roll music blared from the large stereo system in the corner. The deejay was everyone's favorite science teacher, fondly known as Mr. G. He snacked on mini-sandwiches and bobbed his head up and down as he flipped through his own personal record collection. The atmosphere and mood was lively, and everyone was truly enjoying the dance theme.
Outside the school was a different story. Rick hesitated to enter, suddenly feeling very silly. He questioned why he dressed up, but seeing Evie's delighted face when he stepped out of the limo earlier made the sacrifice worth it. She looked radiant herself. Her long poufy hair was relaxed into silky-soft curls and parted on one side with a fancy pink clip. Her face shimmered with delicately placed make-up. She resembled a bronzed-fifties movie goddess. In the limo he earned kudos and a sweet kiss for being so kind to her mother Cheryl. Grandma Peache handed him a bouquet of flowers and instructed him to give it to her. Cheryl was highly impressed by his manners and consideration.
"If ya don't impress mama, the bank will be closed, Ricky. You can bet on that!" Grandma Peache had warned him.
Ricky didn't know what she meant and Clifford had laughed at him. It was her twenties-era way of saying Evie won't kiss or make out with him. Ricky made sure to hand over those flowers with grand gestures and his most affable smile.
Shelly looked lovelier than he had ever seen her before. Her tight curls were twisted into an elegant bun with a flower pinned in the back. A few curls cascaded down the sides of her face. Ricky had to slap Clifford on the back to get him to stop drooling and say something other than 'Oh wow'.
Currently, all of Ricky's anxieties were building up again. They never let him alone. Every time he embarked on something positive in his life, there they were, trying to drag him down into a pit of despair. Evie paced by the doors expectantly. As the other students streamed in they couldn't help but stare at Ricky in awe. The transformation in him was too amazing.
"Ricky, I know you're nervous, but the more you stand out here like a statue, the more people are gonna make a spectacle of you. Just act nonchalant, they'll stop looking eventually. You gotta admit, it's a huge difference. You look fantastic. I'm jealous even, some of these girls are giving you the once over!"
Ricky went in past the doors, then backed out and rushed down the steps, pacing their length. He rubbed the back of his head; slightly mussing the style Grandma Peach had made him. His nerves were acting up.
"I thought I could do this, Evie. I really did. But I'm not ready. I'm just not. Why don't we go somewhere else?"
"Dressed like this? Where? We're too young for the night-clubs."
"We can lie. I'm big enough to pass for eighteen, and with your make-up you look just about that age. Come on!" He urged.
Evie was getting irritated, but she tried to hold it back because she promised Ricky to understand if his feelings got in the way. She just didn't expect a meltdown so soon.
"Ricky, this is ridiculous. We can't even afford those places. You went through a lot of trouble for me and I really appreciate it. Don't back out now. It's like…making it to the end of the finish line and then refusing to cross. It's totally stupid!" She blurted out.
Ricky glared at her. "I'm not stupid!"
"No, but your idea is. I want to go inside already."
"Nobody's stopping you."
Hurt crossed Evie's face and Ricky felt sorry he said that. He was glad she didn't just storm away. "Look, I'm just, well, it's hard for you to understand, Evie. You didn't go through years of these kids calling you names behind your back, spreading vicious rumors about your life. You don't know what it's like to walk down the halls and have everyone clear a path for you, not because you're so special, but because they're scared to death of you."
Evie approached him, staying on the top steps to match his height. She placed her hand on his shoulder. "No, I won't know those things, I never will, but I can try and put myself in your shoes."
"Good, then you can understand why I wanna just sit this one out. I'm going home."
Evie dropped her hand disgruntled. "So that's it, huh? That's the route you're always gonna take? When things get a little tough you back down? You're not a coward, Ricky; I know you're not. You proved that in the fights."
"That was different."
"Not really, you could have just let Mike and Moody walk all over you, but you didn't, you fought for what you believed in."
Ricky shrugged and rolled his eyes. "I fought for my bike."
"You fought to protect your friends and your honor."
"Stop turning this into some big test of wills, it's a lousy school dance! There'll be others."
"That's not what this is about and you know it! It's not lousy!" Evie wanted to cry, she felt like she was being dumped already. "I know what else is bugging you. You don't want to be seen with me because I'm half-black and you're white. Nobody else asked me to the dance, I had to ask you to take me. So they're not only staring at you because of your problems, they think you're weird for being with me too!" She turned away and sniffled.
Ricky gaped at her. He wasn't about to fall for this argument. "Please, Evie! Don't suddenly turn this into a race issue! It has nothing to do with anything and you know it. I'm not ashamed of you. In fact, I'm worried about what they'll think of you when they see me at your side. 'Oh look, she's a freak who likes to date killers!' "
"Shut up, Ricky! All you think about is yourself! I don't care what anybody thinks anymore! You're not a killer! The gun went off by accident and you were scared! That's why you put it in…" Evie's words stuck in her throat as Ricky stared at her with blazing anger.
"How did you know that?" He asked, his voice tight with emotion. "Who told you?"
Evie actually backed away from him as he hovered menacingly over her. She hated herself for thinking that he could ever hurt her, but it was too late. The doubt was in her face as her eyes widened fearfully and her lip trembled. Ricky immediately hung back, he had never raised a hand, but seeing her afraid of him was like a sock to his gut.
"Evie, I'm sorry, you know I would never…"
She kept her distance. "Leave me alone, Ricky. Go ahead, stay on the outside for the rest of your life, shun everybody. I think that's what you really want! Not me, not best friends like Clifford…"
Ricky clutched her arm. "Evie, we have to talk about this."
"No!" She shrugged him off.
"You brought it up. Did Clifford tell you this?" His anger mounted again. "That little rat! I thought he was my friend."
Evie swung around and poked him hard in the chest. "Don't you dare get mad at him! I don't think you realize the things you put him through after you disappeared. He hunted all over Chicago for you! He only wanted to help you. It was killing him to keep the secret inside. I dragged it out of him. He felt terrible for betraying you, but I promised I would never tell. I made the mistake. Weren't you ever going to tell me yourself?"
"Of course I was! When I was ready. When you were ready. I didn't think you could handle it yet."
"I've known it for weeks now and I haven't said a word, we've only gotten closer, haven't we? That should tell you something, Ricky."
Ricky's eyes filled with tears and he sank onto the step. "I didn't want you to hate me like everyone else does. I didn't want you to fear me. But now I blew it. I do only think about myself. It's sometimes so hard for me to believe that I actually have friends that care anymore. My family doesn't care either."
Evie bunched up her skirt and crouched next to him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and shoulders and Ricky gripped her wrist tightly. She kissed his temple.
"I care! I'm sorry, Ricky. You didn't blow it. I still want you tell me. I want to hear everything from you. I'm not mad, or disgusted like these other idiots. I care what happens to you, Ricky. I really do."
Ricky turned his head partly and she pressed her cheek against his. "So you can believe me that it was an accident my brother died? I never meant to hurt him." He choked on a sob.
"If that's what you're telling me, then I have to believe it. You are not a killer; those bimbos in school don't know what they're talking about. I never listen to any of their crap. How would they know? They weren't there and even the papers said you found your brother like that, the gun was in his hand. So what gives them the right to claim you killed him in cold blood? Nothing! And all those other stories are full of baloney. I've thought about this a lot, and it just makes me madder that they keep treating you like this."
Ricky's mouth curled up in a small grin. "Evie, I think you should be a lawyer when you get older. I know I'd want you to defend me."
Evie chuckled slightly and wiped her eyes carefully. "My mom says the same thing sometimes. I'm thinking about it." She hugged his neck. "Oh, Ricky. I didn't mean to hurt you."
Ricky turned toward her and pulled her close. "I know. You were right, this whole thing is stupid! Very stupid. We can't talk about this anymore here. Let's go inside, I'm getting hungry."
"Fine. Men! All they think about is food and women."
"The two biggest pleasures in life for us, Evie."
They rose up together and went before the doors again. "Are you sure you're good for this?"
"I'm good enough."
"Then let's go find Clifford. I guarantee he's eating right now."
"Us men have our priorities."
Evie tugged on his arm before he entered. "Wait. Promise me you won't say anything to him tonight? Even if you're mad. I don't want to spoil the fun."
Ricky sighed. "I promise. I know Clifford means well. I'm not too mad anymore. I may look like a hard nose, but I'm pretty mellow. "
"We'll um…we'll all get together and talk about this very carefully. We have to."
"Yeah, we do. Otherwise it will just keep getting in the way of everything."
As they went inside they saw Clifford and Shelly standing outside the gym with Cartman. Shelly lit up and ran over. "There you are! I was just gonna round up a search party!"
"Yeah, we thought you two might have found a hot spot, if you know what I mean." Clifford ribbed Ricky.
"I wish…but things were pretty heated for a little bit." He replied embarrassed.
"Eww! I don't even wanna touch any surface in this school, let alone make-out in here." Cartman piped up. "Girls, I came stag, so I'm free to dance with whomever I want, care to put me on your dance card?" He asked solemnly.
"Wow, a ladies man!" Evie grinned. "Okay, if Ricky doesn't mind, I'll dance with you later."
Ricky shrugged and smiled. "Go ahead, make his day."
"Cool! That's two down and about one hundred more chicks to go, see ya!"
Everyone laughed and went back into the gym to enjoy the rest of the evening.
A few minutes later Moody and his friends showed up, once they made it inside, they hurried down a darkened corridor of the hallway.
"Listen guys, I figured out how to set off the sprinkler system."
"What are you gonna do? Start a fire? That's kinda dangerous, man. We're talkin' suspension and arrest." Koontz said, adjusting his aviator shades.
"No dipstick, all I gotta do is get to the second tier in the gym and heat the piping. It'll work, my dad's a plumber, he knows about this stuff."
"If you say so."
Moody punched the locker annoyed. "Look, they think they're gonna treat me like an outcast, they got another thing coming. Nobody makes a fool of me and gets away with it. And when everyone's running around I'm gonna grab that stinking peach pit and beat the crap out of him."
"Dude, what about his bodyguard? I saw him inside, I almost didn't recognize him, but he's here, man." His blonde friend, Dubrow, said.
A flicker of fear passed over Moody's dark eyes, but he shook it off. "Who the hell cares? He's gonna be too busy getting soaked too. You should be glad, Dubrow, Peache got your girl, Shelly."
"She ain't my girl."
"Yeah, then how come you're always undressing her with your eyes in class? Get off it; I know you're hot for her. Look, Do you think I'm afraid of Linderman? Is that what you all think?"
His three buddies backed away and held up their hands. "Naww, man, we're just warning you. You know what, Linderman's even got a date with the Oreo chick, Evie. They keep it on the low-down, but I know they're a couple."
Moody smiled mischievously. "That gives me ideas. But first things first. Let's move it."