Click here for the EPILOGUE to LOVE and CANDY.
It took three trips to the mall and one to Manhattan to find a dress for prom. Stephanie was the only one who had much pleasure during these excursions. Catherine had to field questions about why she hadn't gone to her own prom -- "Why didn't you ask Dad?" Gretchen got bored and collapsed in one of the seats generally reserved for boyfriends and husbands. Annabelle fumed when Catherine told her she wasn't allowed to try on dresses. Samantha shook her head at every dress she saw, imagining one of Delaney's female friends wearing it. But thanks to Stephanie's persistence she eventually found something.
At six o'clock on the dot, Delaney's old mustang pulled into her driveway. Samantha rushed into the downstairs powder room to do a final check of her wavy updo. She was wearing make up: a natural shade of auburn on her lips and cheeks.
Delaney walked in empty handed, only a key ring dangling from his finger. He winked at Annabelle who ran up to him, grinning ear-to-ear and looking like she wanted to jump into his arms.
Samantha stood off to the side until he looked over and noticed her. She was wearing a gown that flowed to the floor with a slinkiness so unlike her standard attire. Clear beads were sewn along the edge of its V-neck and on thin spaghetti straps.
She grinned cautiously and walked over to greet him with a pat on his watch-free wrist. He motioned for her to turn around, which she did awkwardly.
"I like the back," he said. It was open almost to the waist. She had to find a special bra to go underneath.
"I like the color," she grinned defensively.
"It looks good on you."
Cameras appeared, but Samantha insisted on only a couple quick snapshots.
"If you two get separated from the limo, you'll be calling a cab, not driving. Correct?" asked Robert.
"Whatever you say," replied Delaney.
Robert turned to Samantha, his eyes thin and slanted. "Or call me."
Rocking from side to side, Catherine told Delaney he looked nice, eliciting a mild "Thank you." His proportions where emphasized by the traditional dinner jacket he wore. His hair was gathered at base of his scalp, neatly pulled back out of his face. From the front you got an idea of how he would look with short hair.
Soon they were in his car and on their way to Nicolette's to meet up with the limo. Samantha glanced his way, noticing the white of his shirt peaking out from under his jacket as his hands grasped the upper rim of the steering wheel.
"So, if you dance with each of your female friends, how many times are you going to be able to dance with me?" she grinned.
"Once is enough, right?" he deadpanned.
She wanted to nag him about the prospect of being left alone sitting at the banquet table for half the evening while he said farewell to all the senior girls. "Am I allowed to say I don't want to slow dance with your horny friends?"
He laughed. "Maybe you should dictate a list of who you do and who you don't want to dance with in case it comes up."
"Just don't try to get anyone to ask me, okay?"
"Whatever happens, just take it easy, Shorty. Don't expect much from the girls and don't blow things out of proportion."
He flashed her a guilty look. "Shit, I forgot to give you your flowers." He reached back to get a box hidden behind his seat. "I hope they match. It wasn't easy. They were like, 'If she's wearing orange, then you shouldn't get red or pink or violet … blah blah blah.'"
She opened the box and took out the small bouquet of rusty white flowers tied with a champagne ribbon. "They're beautiful. I have to get a picture so I can remember exactly what they look like." She put the bouquet to her nose, screening her face. "I'm going to come visit you in New York in a couple weeks and bring you flowers."
He smiled. "We'll pick a weekend once things calm down with the job. When I get settled. Your parents agreed?"
"Well, almost." She frowned a little. "Do you think it'll be sometime before the end of June?"
"Come on, Sam. You don't have to keep asking me the same questions over and over."
"Yeah, I know. I'm just not sure how hard it's going to be to hardly ever see each other."
"We'll see each other."
"I'm going to take you to dinner in the city the week of graduation."
"You can dress up again. You look really nice tonight."
Off in the distance, near a copper fountain, Nicolette was getting her picture taken while her parents looked on. She was wearing a tight-bodice white gown with regal embroidery like a Dolce and Gabbana wedding dress. The straps were off the shoulder and the hem formed a puddle at her feet. The dress alone was enough to earn her another crown.
Trevor pulled out a bottle just as Mr. and Mrs. Hunter disappeared into their house. He passed it to Delaney who took a swig, frowned, and said, "It tastes like cough medicine," then handed it off to Brian.
"Do you need to be inebriated to make it through prom with me?" Samantha murmured in his direction.
"Who knows? You may end up needing something too before the night's over."
She shook her head.
"She prefers citron?" said Brian with a grin.
"Actually, I think she's a teetotaler," Delaney smiled.
It took a moment for Samantha to remember what the word meant. She knew she'd seen it on an SAT vocabulary list. Since when was Delaney using words she didn't immediately recognize?
Nicolette collected all the girls, except Sam, for a cheerleaders' photo. The guys were called over for a senior group shot. Next there were couples' shots.
Delaney trudged over to the photo area with Samantha, hunching over with a sigh as the photographer directed him where to stand. Samantha looked at him with pleading eyes and got a smile.
After several formal poses side-by-side, the photographer suggested they face each other and hold hands. Delaney balked, "No way." Instead, he walked behind Samantha and put her in a loose head lock.
As the photographer showed proofs on the screen of her digital camera, Samantha asked for a copy of the last one. Her smile was so big she hardly recognized herself and he looked like a mischievous kid.
Soon after, they all piled into a limo.
They entered the main ballroom after showing school IDs and dodging the photography area that was decorated with fake trees. Delaney was given a ballot for queen and Samantha looked away.
"Is it all you hoped it would be?" he asked as she examined the twinkling stars and fairy lights of the Midsummer Night's Dream décor.
"I guess it was hard for you to vote," said Samantha. "You've only seen half of the nominees naked."
"That's not the sort of conversation I expected when I put on this suit."
Dinner was served by young, bored-looking waiters in white polyester tuxedos. Nicolette and Brynn picked at their food and complained about its quality. Trevor and Brian tried to entertain the table with comments about kids passing by, but they were interrupted by a steady flow of seniors stopping by to greet one or more of the group and have pictures taken.
A girl with a diamond clip in her hair stopped to talk to Delaney. "How are you? I haven't seen you in ages. You used to be at like every party. Someone told me you have a girlfriend now. It can't be true!"
"She's right in front of you," he said nonchalantly.
"Really?" Curious grey eyes flickered at Samantha. "You and I have got to talk. How'd you managed this one?" As she spoke she squeezed Delaney's shoulders.
When the music started Samantha's wish came true. Seemingly carefree, he danced well for a guy, neither overdoing it or awkwardly stiff. She tried to immerse herself in the feel of the music and not be self-conscious as his hand rested on the exposed skin of her lower back.
The music changed to a down tempo song with blaring horns. She looked up at Delaney as he coaxed her into putting her head on his shoulder and brushed his face against her neck. As she rested her eyes, she felt the warmth of his body, giving her the feeling of being cocooned and loved by him. Swaying, her hand drew an oval on the back of his jacket. By the end of the song, she felt like she'd fallen into a peaceful sleep.
Then she heard Meghan's jarring voice.
Samantha went back to the table by herself and watched Delaney dance with Meghan at the outer edge of the floor. She had to admit, there was nothing in the way he held Meghan that gave her much pause. When he returned, a line had formed of senior girls wanting to dance with him. Some also had yearbooks for him to sign. Fifteen minutes later when a faster song with an Indian beat came on, she couldn't locate him within the mob of dancers.
Alone with the flowers, cameras, and purses, she was tapping her fingers against the stem of a water glass when a hand on her bare shoulder made her turn with a start. It was curly-haired boy she'd never seen before. He looked older than her but probably a junior, not a senior. "You wanna dance?" he asked.
She shook her head, no. "Sorry. I'm tired."
"Okay," he replied, a scowl taking over his face. "That's fine!"
Many times, like when she'd gone to her first high school dance, she had thought about what it might be like to be approached by a stranger and asked to dance, but she'd never realized saying no would make her feel so guilty.
Delaney finally returned as the student president ascended to the DJ's microphone and asked everyone to take their seats. Nicolette, Meghan, Lila, Brynn and seven others were called forward for the crowning of prom queen. Sitting next to Delaney, Samantha strained to see, deciding on the spot that she sincerely wanted Nicolette to win and be happy.
She did. All the runner-ups were handed yellow bouquets with blue and white ribbons, and Nicolette was presented a sparkling crown by last year's queen.
The floor was cleared and Nicolette danced alone with her date. Then the entire court danced. As the announcer opened the floor to all couples, Brynn ran over and whispered something in Delaney's ear.
He turned to Samantha and said, "I'll be right back," before walking off with Brynn.
Samantha stood up and watched as Delaney danced with Nicolette to a warbling country-sounding love song. As the music died, Nicolette squeezed him, clearly overjoyed by his gesture. Samantha smiled too, even as a school photographer took a couple shots of them.
Delaney returned, grinning as he noticed Samantha's contented face. "As a reward for being cool you get to see those old prom photos you keep asking about."
Samantha laughed, but just as they were about to head out to dance, Ally grabbed her,
"Hey, baby! Can I borrow your guy?"
"Oh, sure," said Samantha tentatively, her smile fading. Delaney averted his face from Ally's view and frowned, giving Samantha a biting look before walking off with her friend.
He returned in three minutes by himself. "You should see if I'm interested before offering me up."
"I'm sorry. I felt bad about telling this guy I didn't want to dance with him, and then she asked and I didn't have the nerve to say no.'"
"Which guy?" he asked.
"I didn't know him at all. That's why …."
"If you don't want to dance with someone, don't. A lot guys just want to rub up against you."
"Uh, Del," she exclaimed, "you've spent the whole evening dancing with other girls, and now you say that?"
He shook his head. "I wasn't talking about me. I was warning you about dancing with random guys."
Taking her hand, he led her to the dance floor. Immediately closing all gaps between their bodies, they moved to a thumping dance song. Hoping it wasn't too noticeable, she tried some arm movements from Indian dance class. As her hips grazed his pelvis they moved in concert. She willingly followed his lead.
At a bridge in the music, he smiled and put his mouth to her ear, "Want a drink?" At the buffet tables, they came across Angela.
"Hi, Ang," Samantha called, waving as she held her ground next to Delaney. Her phone call had paid off, and she and Angela were on speaking terms again. The ancient history involving Stephen was forgotten. She had found out Angela was going to Russia over the summer for language courses and applying early decision to Harvard next year.
"Hi," said Angela, walking over. "Are you going to the SADD afterprom?" She had a pink corsage attached to her wrist. "It's free and we're giving out prizes."
"No, I think we're going somewhere with Delaney's friends."
"Oh. Your parents are cool with that?"
"Yeah, I have a cell phone so they can reach me. I'm surprised Dad hasn't called yet."
Motioning toward Delaney, Angela asked, "Is he coming back for junior prom next year?" During the make-up phone call, Delaney's name wasn't mentioned, yet it was clear from several things Angela said that she knew they were dating.
Delaney turned away from a couple of his friends and looked at Angela. "Not on your life. I'm out of here in a few weeks."
"Oh. Okay," said Angela, looking surprised that he spoke to her.
Timothy walked over to where they stood, near a table laid out with finger foods. "Hey, Soccer-girl, now that Delaney's graduating, who's your next victim?" He looked to see if any of the girls heard him, but they were occupied with each other.
"You certainly have nothing to worry about," Samantha answered him, then, turning her back on him, she returned her attention to Angela. "Who are you here with, Ang?"
As Angela began to reply, Timothy interrupted, "Come on, Soccer-girl. I'll take a shine job."
Delaney snapped his head in Timothy's direction, "Shut up, Asshole." He took a step closer to Samantha, his arm cradling her bare back.
Angela's eyes bulged, but after a fleeting look at Timothy, she continued, "Um, I'm just here with a friend really. I don't think you know him. He's been hanging out with his friends all night."
"Yeah, I know the feeling," laughed Samantha with a look at Delaney.
They continued to ignore Timothy and he walked away. Delaney eyed his progress across the dance floor. "There are definitely some things I'm not going to miss about Darcy."
Angela chuckled, adjusting the waist of her dress as she looked at Delaney. "Did you guys hear about junior prom?"
"No, what happened?" asked Samantha.
"Well, it was really bad, actually. This girl was wearing a white dress and then suddenly people started pointing at her. There was a red stains on the back of it."
"Oh my gosh, what did she do?" Samantha glanced at Delaney.
Angela shrugged. "It was all anyone could talk about for the rest of the night. She went running to the bathroom, and I think her date went home with someone else."
"What a jerk!" Samantha looked at Delaney. "Would you ditch me if I did something embarrassing?"
"When do you not do something embarrassing?"
Samantha smiled at him.
They were all quiet for a moment, then Angela said, "Well, I should probably go find my date." Looking at Delaney, she extended her hand. "It was nice meeting you."
"Likewise," he said, as he shook her hand.
At almost midnight Samantha was in the ladies lounge as she heard the DJ call for the last dance. "It's almost the end of your Midsummer Night, so everyone on the floor."
Passing through the crowd near the Prom Court section, Samantha noticed people taking pictures in front of the make-shift throne. Nicolette was there with her rhinestone crown. The other crowned princesses were also smiling and posing for photographs.
Nicolette called to Samantha, "Don't you like this song?"
"It's okay. Are you guys going to dance?" Samantha asked.
"Where's Delaney?" Nicolette asked.
"I'm not sure."
"Actually, I think I saw him heading out to the parking lot with Mairin," said Meghan.
"Oh," Samantha nodded.
"Yeah, but once you exit, I don't think you can get back in," said Nicolette.
Samantha frowned slightly.
"Did you see her date?" asked Brynn. "I think he's over there with a red carnation."
Mairin's date was wiry with jet black hair and a stern look that made Samantha think he'd probably be a little rough in bed. Jesus, what in the world am I thinking?
"Betcha I know what he was smoking before he got here," said Meghan.
"I guess I'll just wait at the table for Delaney. If you see him, tell him I'm looking for him," Samantha said gently.
"Oh course," they chimed, all smiling in a way that made Samantha shiver.
Samantha waited at their table for five minutes, telling herself to stay put. But after the house lights came on and the DJ asked everyone to begin gathering their things and exchanging goodbyes, her feet started moving toward the door. A chaperone told her she could peak outside for a second and get back in, but once she passed through the doors, she couldn't return to the dance.
After running back to retrieve her purse, she looked out the door and spotted him at the end of the front drive, near dumpsters flanking the building. She hurried out. There were a few couples in the shadows, but he and Mairin could be seen clearly. They stood near a sconce attached to an outer brick wall. She was dying to know what they were saying and wanted to interrupt.
But was there really a point in trying to ask him about going off alone with his ex-girlfriend? Exclusivity was about to end. One week here, one week there.
She waited quietly under the awning by the front door, trying not to stare. Suddenly, Delaney and Mairin walk toward a flush-mounted side door. His hand moved to Mairin's back as he escorted her, like his gentlemanly attire required, but Mairin brushed him off. Samantha took off in their direction but was too slow to catch them before someone opened the door from the inside and they went back in.
Breathing loudly, she phoned her dad and told him everything was okay.
"Is he behaving?" Robert asked.
"Yes, better than me." She chuckled so as not to worry him.
Samantha pointed and flexed her suddenly tired feet, wishing she had a place to sit down. She worried that the couples nearby were staring at her, wondering what she was doing by herself. After a few minutes, people started filing out of the hall. Would Meghan and Nicolette tell him that she might be out here looking for him?
She felt her cheeks burn, trying to figure out what explanation she was going to give. Angela and her date came out and looked at her funny, but they didn't ask any questions, just said, "See you later."
Samantha turned her back to the crowd and, glancing over her shoulder, tried to discreetly search for Delaney's face. She felt tears start to form as she shifted awkwardly but told herself not to be a baby. This was not a serious tragedy.
After a while she stopped scanning the exiting crowd, just waited off to the side, her arms crossing her chest as her hands rested on her shoulders. Then she heard Brian's voice, "What are you doing out here?"
She turned to him, straightening her posture and acknowledging him with a slight grin.
"You didn't tell us you were coming out here," said Lila. Samantha studied her eyes for sincerity.
Brian backed up and called to someone inside, "Tell him she's out here."
"Oh, there you are, Samantha, we couldn't figure out where you went," said Meghan.
Samantha glowered. She was way too upset with herself to say anything. If she did, she might end up venting on Meghan.
Delaney appeared, his hair slightly messy, strands loosened from his short ponytail. Was he frazzled? He repeated Brian's question, "What are you doing out here?"
Samantha closed her eyes, breathing deeply. Delaney's face moved close to hers. "Why don't you ask Meghan?" she whispered with exasperation, trying not to allow their conversation to be overheard.
"Huh?" he asked.
"Someone told me you were out here, so I came to look for you."
"With all your stuff?" he exclaimed. "When I saw your purse was gone, I thought you ditched me." He grinned for an instant.
"I couldn't find you inside, so I thought you might have gone outside and then I couldn't get back in …" Feeling frustrated with her lie, she paused and began anew, "Nicolette and Meghan said you were outside with Mairin. I thought you wouldn't be able to get back in, so I came outside to wait for you."
He visage contorted comically. "Oh, that's a relief. You were only spying on me. I was worried the mystery guy you turned down for a dance had kidnapped you or something."
"I wasn't…" she raised her voice a little. "I was just curious what you guys might be talking about." She shook her head realizing honesty wasn't working because her actions just didn't make a lot of sense. "Stop grinning at me like that, Delaney."
She squinted at him, turned away and started walking slowly.
He caught up with her. "Okay, okay, whatever. It doesn't matter. I'm glad I found you." Taking her arm in his, he led her back toward where his friends were waiting for the limousine.
There, Nicolette was standing with her hands on her hips, looking pissed, and not at all ladylike like her attire. Facing her, on the other side of the sidewalk, was Mairin. Her date was placing a paper plate crown on her head.
"Drop dead!" Nicolette growled.
Mairin laughed. "Please don't have our heads cut off, your highness."
For the first time, Samantha noticed Mairin's dress up close. It was strapless with tulle flowing out from under an uneven, ripped hem with frayed threads hanging loose. On her legs, she wore dark fish-net stockings and contrasting white high heels. She had black bangles on her wrists and a big ebony ring. And to top it all off, there was a pink bow in her hair.
"We're starting a website," said Mairin. "Prom Queens gone wild. We'll take the pictures of you from tonight and add them to your crotch shots from other parties." Mairin turned to glance at her laughing friends, including Ally's sister Suzanne.
Samantha eyes moved back and forth.
"Listen, Bitch, go back to the meth lab you were born in. You're the porn star, Mairin. Not me."
"Being a whore cheerleader really does pays off. But your reign is over, Princess."
Friends on both sides, saying stuff about not wanting a fight on prom night, got in between the two. Then Samantha's heart stopped as Mairin turned toward her. "Don't worry. I'm not going after you. I don't mess around with children. Unlike some people." Mairin glared at Delaney. "Ta ta."
Once safely nestled into the innermost seat of the limo, Samantha whispered to Delaney, "You've gone out with the sweetest girls around." She said it with a smile, relieved to have reunited with him and relieved to have avoided becoming a part of the nasty altercation.
Delaney smiled back. "To me, you're much scarier than either of them."