ilver Tarkington went on a blind date to the Chilton School senior prom with a boy named Barry Gorda, who was the best friend of Jarrett, who was the boyfriend of Fernanda Albion, who was the daughter of the family friends with whom Silver happened to be staying for that particular weekend in June. Silver had to fly in from Houston for an early freshman orientation at NYU that coincided with the weekend of Fernanda's prom, and when Silver learned that Fernanda was finding her a date for said prom she was less than thrilled. She'd suffered through her own prom back in Texas a few weeks earlier and couldn't muster an ounce of enthusiasm at the prospect of slogging through another one. Besides, she'd broken the heel of one dyed-to-match pump and lost the other somewhere between the booming Houston country club and the sandtrap just past the third tee, where she'd smoked a joint with Cyril Houser while her own date puked peach schnapps into an azalea bush across the fairway. Plus, the fact that Fernanda had to import a girl from two thousand miles away to be Barry Gorda's prom date didn't exactly recommend him as a real winner. Nonetheless, Silver bought a fresh pair of hose, borrowed some shoes, raked on the requisite mascara, and squeezed herself back into the shimmery-sage snip of a dress that had seemed quite reckless and inspired back in Houston but there at a New York dance club amidst a group of eighteen-year-olds who appeared to be dressed less for a prom than for a haute couture funeral, she felt sort of like an oxidized Statue of Liberty: a trifle absurd and worse for wear.
Barry Gorda threw big parties when his folks left for weekends in the Hamptons, had love handles that bulged over his cummerbund, and was known affectionately as the Cheese.
"The Cheese?" Silver whispered to Fernanda. They were at their table watching Barry jog out onto the dance floor to entertain a group of break-dancing white boys who clustered around him chanting "CHEESE. CHEESE. CHEESE. CHEESE."
"Barry Gouda," Fernanda explained from beneath a well-arched eyebrow.
"Clever," said Silver flatly.
"Oh, they're quite a creative bunch, our boys."
Silver gave a little snort. She and Fernanda - estranged since age nine when the Albions had moved from Houston to Manhattan - were hitting it off again famously. Markedly less impressive was Jarrett, Fernanda's boyfriend of three years who made Silver think of a St. Bernard in tails. He was headed for Tulane in the fall, Fernanda for Hampshire College, and Silver figured any attempt to do a long-distance thing would last about three days before Fernanda hooked up with some multiply-pierced multimedia performance artist and sent Jarrett running to the Louisiana Tri-Delts for consolation.
"And what's the Cheese doing with himself next year?" Silver asked.
"Last I heard, moving to Amsterdam."
"Where prostitution's legal?"
"Drugs too," Fernanda added.
Fernanda's voice was suddenly less confident. She faced Silver. "Do you totally hate me for setting you two up?"
Silver smiled reassuringly. "Please, just don't phrase it that way-it sounds like you thought we'd really hit it off."
"Well he certainly seems to have taken a liking to you," Fernanda teased, but it was quite plainly and painfully the truth of the situation.
"I'm sure I've done something in my life to warrant a little penance;" Silver said. "I'm thinking of this date as a sort of community service."
"OK," Fernanda said suddenly, her tone abruptly new, and she reached out and laid her hand on Silver's forearm. Her face washed over in a sort of eerie film. "Don't turn around, OK? Just sit there and pretend we're having a normal conversation."
"We're not?" Silver asked.
"What?" Fernanda's gaze was distant, but like she was trying to demonstrate to someone far away that she was focused very intently on Silver. Silver didn't turn around. She had the distinct sense that Fernanda might slap her if she tried. "Approaching from behind you," Fernanda said, "is someone we'd like to see spend as little time at our table as possible. If you think of anything that'll get me, or him, out of here, do it. Ready, two, one, we have touchdown."
Something had indeed landed beside Silver in Barry Gorda's empty chair. It spoke as if to announce itself: "Fernanda Albion." Silver looked him straight on. "I thought she was Fernanda Albion?" she said, forking a thumb toward her friend. The guy didn't seem to notice or care.
"Smith Parker Hewitt," Fernanda said, stony as anything, drawn out and slow.
"What's that, a law firm?" Silver clicked, to no discernible response.
"Silver Tarkington; " Fernanda said, lifting her chin in Silver's general direction.
"Is this The Name Game?" Silver said.
"You don't go to Chilton do you?" asked the man. He had a nice retro-looking shirt under his tux jacket. He looked old, maybe forty, and was not handsome but attractive. A sort of Neanderthal John F. Kennedy.
"Is it required that we all answer questions with questions?" Silver asked.
"That depends on what game we're playing, doesn't it?" he answered, still staring straight at Fernanda.
"Oh, OK, I get it," Silver said. "It's like Kazaam, right? You can't look at the person you're talking to?"
Suddenly Mr. Ape-Kennedy snapped out of whatever trance he'd been in, scooped a handful of peanuts from a dish on the table, and turned to Silver, all chatty-casual and peanut-popping smiles. Fernanda leaned toward Silver, yet spoke in a voice that anyone could hear. "Mr. Hewitt teaches Science at Chilton."
"Please," he said, extending a hand to Silver, "call me Smith."
Fernanda clapped her hand over both of Silver's and with extraordinary insistence held them to the table. "Call him Mr. Hewitt," she said. "Don't take any chances."
"It's so hard, really" Mr. Hewitt said at Silver, as though they'd been exchanging confidences all evening. "Even during social time," he swept a hand vaguely at the dancing crowd, "the students still insist on enforcing that dichotomy, rein scribing the gap between teacher and student, putting us at a surname's distance."
Fernanda snorted and recrossed her legs. "As if," she said, just as Jarrett lumbered up behind her. It was like she could smell him coming-not surprising, Silver could too: Polo cologne and tequila shots sucked back in a bathroom stall and Fernanda practically jumped on him as he slid into the chair beside her. It was more affection than she'd shown him all night, and he slurped at her gratefully, like a long-neglected housepet.
"And you are . . .?" Mr. Smith Parker Hewitt asked Silver.
"Confused," she said.
"You're a teenager;" he funneled another handful of peanuts into his mouth. "What do you expect?"
Silver pulled at a curl of her hair and inspected it for split ends.
"Confused?" Mr. Hewitt waved his hand right in front of her face, like a hypnotist checking to see how far under his patient had gone.
"Silver," she said.
"Silver," she said again.
"Hi ho," he said. "What is this, word association?"
"My name," she told him.
She nodded once, put out a hand to say, enough, OK?
Mr. Hewitt to his credit, moved graciously on. "Here with . . .?" he cued.
Silver turned toward the dance floor to point out her date and raised her hand at the exact moment that Barry Gorda happened to finish a floor spin and look up to see if Silver had caught his killer move. Mistaking her raised hand as a signal to him, he climbed to his feet, gave a little nod to the guys (my woman calls), and made his way toward the table.
"The Cheese?" Mr. Hewitt said with an unmistakable note of amusement.
"Blind date," Silver said, wishing she could lie well enough to pull off being madly in love with Barry Gorda. She couldn't. "I'm a friend of Fernanda's;" she explained, at which they both turned again to Fernanda, who was thoroughly engrossed in picking the strawberries off an extra piece of shortcake at the table and looked like she'd forgotten completely that she was at her senior prom. She had the air of someone standing naked before an open refrigerator at 3 A.M. nibbling leftovers. Mr. Hewitt had the distinct air of someone who'd rolled out of bed behind her.
Barry arrived at the table frazzled to find his seat occupied by a Chemistry teacher and hovered awkwardly behind Silver and Mr. Hewitt. He said, "Hi," but no one was paying attention, so he just kept on standing there doing a little stationary sway-dance, trying to figure out how to reclaim his rightful place at the table. He flicked out his left hand and knocked Mr. Hewitt on the shoulder. "They didn't give you peanuts at the chaperones' table, Mr. H?"
Mr. Hewitt glanced up at Barry, seemingly unaware that he was eating peanuts at all. "Huh?" he said.
The song in the air ended, Red Red Wine giving way to a different beat which Barry's body seemed to recognize. With his right hand he knocked Silver on the shoulder like he was a pinball flipper. "Wanna dance?" he asked, twitching toward the crowd. Silver seized the moment. She yanked Fernanda's arm. "Hey, you guys, Barry wants us all to come dance." Barry pulled Silver from her chair; Silver, Fernanda; Fernanda grabbed Jarrett; and they flew onto the dance floor like a little chain of cartoon animals, airborne as a kite tail in their haste. Mr. Hewitt was left to his salted peanuts.
Everyone was dancing; Billy Idol roused even the most defiantly sedate promster. The four squeezed into the crowd and made a tight circle which felt to Silver like a doubles boxing match since someone had obviously tipped the boys off that if all dance techniques failed, they could do Rocky moves and no one would know the difference. Silver tried not to look at Barry or Jarrett, feigning instead what she hoped looked like a sort of music-infused trance, her energy concentrated in a white-girl overbite to let the world know she'd been transported by the song, but really, it was just not the kind of music that would inspire such blissed-out possession, and when Barry and Jarrett and the few hundred other sweaty teenagers joined in on the musical bridges like depraved football fans screaming "HEY HEY WHAT GET LAID GET FUCKED," it was simply impossible for Silver to maintain any sort of detached oblivion to the scene around it. It was all beginning to feel like her worst nightmare of a frat party-every reason she was getting the fuck out of Texas and coming to New York, where things were supposed to be different but apparently, were not. Silver wanted off the dance floor.
Amid the frenzied, bouncing mob, Silver tried to catch Fernanda's eye but kept catching Barry's instead and then having to pretend she hadn't. Finally she just stepped across the circle and put her face to Fernanda's ear. "Bathroom;" she shouted and then got mopped in the face by a carwash of thick, drenched-with-sweat hair as Fernanda nodded yes and stole Silver away from the crowd.
The ladies' room was not much roomier. A scantily ventilated cave crammed full of girls in bad dresses, it was the hangout spot of the uncool, the dateless, and the dowdy, and it seemed to Silver that it was probably the place she most belonged at this entire affair: in the bathroom she saw the first outfits all night that bore even the tiniest twinge of color. These wallpaper girls were friendly, at least, smiling hey to Fernanda and introducing themselves to Silver right off the bat, like they were welcoming her into the clubhouse. Silver and Fernanda found a spot at the corner sink by the towel dispenser, and Fernanda pulled out a handful of paper towels and started blotting her face. Silver stuck her wrists under the faucet, looked in the mirror at Fernanda behind her, and wondered if it would be tactless to just demand an explanation about Mr. Hewitt. Fernanda read her thoughts.
"Oh," she said. "So Mr. . ." and then she waved her hand to say, yes I mean Hewitt, but there are too many ears here so I'll not use his name. Silver turned off the water and Fernanda handed her a wad of fresh towels. "Jesus," Fernanda sighed, "it all goes so far back," and her voice was low, so Silver moved in closer to hear as Fernanda hoisted herself up to sit on the bank of sinks. "OK," she said again, "so I've been totally hot for him since like eighth grade, and, I mean, you saw him-he's such a little hottie." Fernanda scowled then, as if it just made her crazy to admit how damned attractive she found him. "And I know everyone has the crush-on-the-teacher thing, whatever, but it wasn't like that. There was a thing with us. Between us, you know? We flirted. But not like teacher-and-student flirting, you know?" And though Silver wasn't sure she did know how else exactly a Neanderthal science teacher might flirt with a thirteen year old, she nodded anyway.
Fernanda lowered her voice conspiratorially. 'Anyway, it goes on like that forever, Jarrett and whatever other guys in my life notwithstanding. And of course it gets more intense, you know, as time goes on, as I get older. It's like: once you've slept with someone, then the idea of sleeping with another someone just isn't such a big deal. And then once I'd slept with a couple people, you know, it was just like, OK, I want to sleep with Mr. Hewitt. Which is what it's all been about with him since fucking eighth grade."
Silver did a heavy-lidded blink, trying to convey shock. "You didn't."
"Ugh-I did." Fernanda's face broke in a guilty smile. "Three weeks ago," she confided, like this was gossip about someone else she was spreading, not her own life turning into tabloid before her very eyes. "Barry had a party. Jarrett was away with his folks at some family wedding something. Smith-Mr. Hewitt-he lives like a block away from Barry."
Silver must have looked kind of revolted then, because all of a sudden Fernanda started trying to justify everything. "He's not a total skeeze; " she said. "It's not like he comes to high school parties on a regular basis."
Silver was skeptical.
"No, no, I swear. He doesn't even come to Barry's ever. He just came that night. He knew Jarrett was away."
Silver was barely hearing the details at this point; her brain was still trying to make its way around the original fact. When she spoke she could read her own lips in the mirror behind Fernanda's head. "You slept with your Chemistry teacher."
"Ugh," Fernanda grunted, like she'd heard all the admonishments before. "I know, I know, I know . . . But the thing is that that's not it."
"What else did you do?" Silver said, unable to imagine at that moment what else one could do.
"It's not what we did." Fernanda said, and Silver's relief was nearly palpable. "It's just, he won't leave it there, you know? You'd think it would be the other way around," Fernanda went on, "older guy fucks younger girl and then blows her off while she gets stupid and moony and decides she's in love, and he's the one, and yadda yadda yadda. And, you know: whatever. It was fine. It was sex. Whatever. But him-he's totally gone." Fernanda paused, as if to let that sink in, but Silver didn't want to infer anything about what "gone" meant until Fernanda clarified her terms. There were a lot of ways one could interpret "gone." The whole thing was a bad TV movie. Definitely one set in Texas. "He calls my house;" Fernanda said. "I had to tell my folks I was on the fucking prom committee and he was the advisor! He leaves letters in my locker, and they're all like: he's in love with me, he wants to be with me, I shouldn't go away to college . . . "
"He said that?" Silver asked, incredulous.
"In so many words;" Fernanda said. 'And it's like he's reassuring me-like I'm going to think he's bailing and he wants me to know that he's seriously in love with me. Like this is all completely his real life." She paused, almost out of breath. "I mean, what do I do with that?" she asked, and it was an earnest question, like she thought Silver might actually have a response.
The bathroom door swung open again with a blast of music that made Silver feel like she'd had a wad of cotton yanked out of her ears. ". . . like no one else, ooh, ooh, she drives me crazy, 1 can't help myself, ooh, ooh. . ." Some girl on her way into the bathroom had stopped in the threshold talking to someone in the hall, the door propped open on her taffeta hip. Suddenly Fernanda's expression went tight, eyes narrowed to charcoal slits. Outside, Mr. Hewitt stood with one shoulder resting lightly against the opposite wall, ostensibly engaged in conversation with the girl in the doorway, but his stare was trained directly past her and into the bathroom. Fernanda shook out her hair, gave him the cool angle of her profile, threw back her head and laughed and Silver thought: what you do is stop doing that.
In the mirror behind Fernanda, Silver could see the row of toilet stalls, a steady stream of girls in black trotting in and out, the metal hinge doors swinging open and shut, all of it flipping past like a game you can't quite stay on top of, a round of Three-Card Monty where everything's moving far too fast. And these girls-all of them, with their sly come-hither stares, their you want me you come get me looks, or that dead-on frozen glare that says in your dreams, asshole-they turn away then, out of the girls' room and into the night, and what they know, or don't know-and maybe that's the crux and the tragedy of it all right there-is that they may be saying you piece of shit bastard you think you can fuck me. But at the same time, they're saying I'll let you. In the same breath they're saying you can.
Excerpted from Out of the Girls' Room and Into the Night by Thisbe Nissen. Copyright © 2000 by Thisbe Nissen. Excerpted by permission of Anchor Books, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.