The lights have dim, followed with the clinking of glassware as the table settings around the room are cleared away. As if on cue the music begins, a throbbing bass that could belong to a hundred different songs. In response, girls in sparkling dresses begin dragging tuxedoed boys to the center of the room, and the dance commences.
“Don’t even think about it.”
Lang continues to glare at some point along the far wall, while Angelica, cut off before she had even asked him to dance, instead reaches for the water pitcher again.
“Some fun you are,” she answers, watching the last of the liquid drip into the fluted glass. The four classmates sit at a table large enough for eight – for some reason, the prom committee had put their group in this corner, even though there appear to be smaller, unoccupied tables closer to the front of the room. Maxine had made a joke about being “quarantined” when they entered, but as the night wears on, it becomes less amusing somehow.
“You know,” says Fallon, attempting to break the silence that falls between the four, “this really isn’t that bad. I heard last year there that a pipe broke in the kitchen and ruined half the food. That’s why they switched this year.”
“Remind me why I’m here again?” asks Lang.
“Oh come on,” answers Fallon, “you wouldn’t want to miss your senior prom, would you?”
“Wanna bet?” returns his surly classmate. Fallon sighs, but realizes that Lang being here at all is something of a miracle. A lot had changed this year; the two had hardly spoken five words to each other for the past three years of high school, before their class with Mrs. K. Fallon would never have imagined that they would be sharing a limousine to prom – even if Lang seemed less than pleased to be here.
The fact that all four of them would be here would have been even more surprising to Fallon a year ago. Sitting on the other side of Lang, the two girls are an interesting contrast, Angelica in a black gown with silver thread, and Maxine in pink. Somehow, he suspects that in the past, Maxine would not have been caught dead with him here. Noticing him, she smiles back, brushing a stray blonde curl over her ear.
Yes, a lot had changed.
Their layover in nowhere had been mercifully brief. The spores on the Hamburg flight ended up being a previously unidentified but harmless strain of yeast. While their scientific guide at Pierpont had attempted to explain how exciting this discovery was as he accompanied them in the airport shuttle the day after their tour, but the evolutionary significance seemed far less important to them than the fact that they could depart for Paris.
While the conference had proven memorable – many of the speakers had written articles or books they had read in class – the city itself was the highlight of the trip. During their free time, the four had climbed the Eiffel Tower, and had several pictures looking down over the Parisian streets. Mrs. K, who was afraid of heights, had remained below. Though she was unaware of it, her absence was partly responsible for what had happened that day.
It was a weak tourist season, and only a few other parties milled about the upper decks of the tower. Finding themselves more or less isolated, and freed for a moment from the eyes and ears of their instructor, the four classmates had begun reminiscing about their experiences together the year. Even Lang, usually so unfriendly, had laughed out loud several times at particular recollections and had gotten quite involved in the conversation.
Gradually, the conversation drifted away from the class itself, to other memories of high school. Fallon had surprised himself, sharing stories he had previously only told his soccer teammates – somehow over the course of the year, these three acquaintances had become friends.
He forgot who it was who suggested the idea – maybe it was Angelica, she seemed to enjoy these kinds of things. In any event, the four had finally decided, as a kind of game, to each write down something on a piece of paper that they had never told anyone else, and exchange it with another member of the group. Additionally, they agreed they would only read them after graduation. Fallon’s note had almost blown away over Paris while he kneeled, trying to think what to write. Starting, erasing, and starting again, he tried to write something eloquent and failed. Finally, giving up, he wrote only one line:
Maxine, I’ve had a crush on you for three years.
Folding their respective notes, they had quickly exchanged them – he with Maxine, Angelica with Lang. Then, imposing upon a fellow tourist, they had taken one last group picture above the Parisian skyline, the wind sweeping their hair while the sun began to set. It remained a desktop image on Angelica’s computer for years to come, and when they asked, she would tell her college dorm mates that it was the happiest day of her life thus far.
The class had concluded soon after their return home to North Carolina. Since this was an experimental curriculum, the Pierpont team wanted time to evaluate feedback before the end of the school year, meaning that they finished their last session weeks prior to finals in their other courses. Mrs. K had given them each a book as a keepsake on that last day, and told them it had been the most memorable class she had taught. As the bell rang, they found themselves all a bit sad, realizing they would never again sit around this room, learning about the next great threats to humanity.
Though none had been part of the same social circle beforehand, the four had become an unexpected social circle in the weeks following the end of Biology 301. Fallon and Lang had begun eating lunch together, with Maxine, then Angelica, joining them. They became so used to each other’s company that it had seemed almost a foregone conclusion that they would all go to prom together – and here they were.
Angelica finally manages to pull Lang out of his seat, leading her reluctant date by the hand towards the dance floor, and leaving Maxine and Fallon alone for a moment. Once the other two are out of earshot, Maxine leans over, whispering:
“I have a confession to make.”
Fallon, not expecting this, looks puzzled. “What? Is my tie crooked again?” He’d made the mistake of trying to tie the bow himself, and it had been coming loose all night.
“I read it.”
It takes him a moment to understand her implication, after which his face turns the color of her dress. Before he can stammer out an explanation though, she continues, smirking:
“Don’t worry – I already knew. You’re not exactly subtle, you know.” She pauses briefly. “Cute, but not subtle.” With a knowing wink, she takes his hand, following Angelica and Lang. Fallon follows, relieved and excited at the same time.
“Funny, we’ll all be at the same place next year, you know?” he says, as his eyes adjust to the dimming lights. Through some strange coincidence – and, at least on his part, standardized test scores that were far better than others would have guessed – the four were all headed to the same college in the fall.
“I know,” she answers, spotting Angelica within the crowd. “And we’ll have four more years to remind Lang about how ridiculous he looks right now,” she adds, cringing at the sight of her classmates attempting to dance. “I feel embarrassed just watching him.”
Fallon laughs, wondering how Lang will feel to be made fun of for a change. “He’s going to hear about this all the way home tonight.”
“Honestly though,” she continues, “he’s changed a lot lately. I thought I’d never see the boy smile, but now he spends so much time telling jokes – even if they’re always at everyone else’s expense.”
Fallon remembers something Mrs. K had said often. “Laughter is the best medicine – I guess it cured his personality.”
Maxine laughs. “Laughter and love: they’re the cure for everything.” He blushes again, and she rolls her eyes. “All right, let’s see if you can dance any better then your friend over there.”
The music plays on, and, at least tonight, life isn’t a disease, just a condition.
“it will not be simple, it will not be long
it will take little time, it will take all your thought
it will take all your heart, it will take all your breath
it will be short, it will not be simple”
-Adrienne Rich, “Final Notations”