Chapter 46


This Is How Samson Was Shorn



“Yoooou’ve got a secret admiiii-er-er,” Isabel burbled en route into Room 221 for Monday morning Geometry.


Oh Gahd not again! was Vicki’s first reaction, followed by Oh please don’t let it be Stu Nugent (who’d broken up with Cheryl Trevelyan last week, after lunching spine-to-spine with Vicki at adjacent cafeteria tables for a whole semester and giving her thrilling winks throughout).  Then: Any chance it could be someone worth being secretly admired by?


“You know Zally Tergeist, right?” said Isabel, planting herself near the doorway so incoming boys could scrutinize the scoopneck of her peasant?-it-is-to-laugh-tunic top.  “Well, he was asking meeee about yoooou just now in French!”


“In French?  Class or language?”


“Les deux, mon amie!  ‘Parle-moi de cette choupinette Vicki’—that means cutiepie!”


“Gangway there!” growled Robin Neapolitan, plowing past with sleepy-smily Britt Groningen trailing in her truculent wake.  “Pull up that collar, Carstairs, it’s February!”


“Oh pish,” Is replied, giving Brad Faussett’s ogle a décolleté twitch as Vicki lugged her away to their desks, while Robin sneered and Britt evinced covert enjoyment.


“Exactly what did you tell Zal about me?”


“Hey, only gooood things!  And don’t let that silly beard of his put you off, even though I can’t stand it.”


(Zalman had finally convinced his parents to let him ditch the Norelco and allow his every-o’clock shadow to grow out, which it’d done impressively if you were into beards.   Which Isabel wasn’t—she found anything more whiskery than stubble unacceptable.)


A furtive tone was back in Mr. Rankin’s voice as he called the class to order, his job security having been diminished by Mr. Watford’s unforeseen return from “medical leave” after cracking up over the school P.A. system last November.  Not that a more confident Mr. Rankin would’ve made “measuring the area of polygons” of any interest to Vicki as she dredged up everything she could recall (beard... baritone... wears a lot of black...) about this possibly-serious guy who’d called her a cutiepie in Advanced French.


Moving on to 5C Study Hall, she consulted Nonique via an exchange of notes:




(A touch of bitterness there, thanks to the memory of Eddie Ray Anderson and his damned rheostats.)


They headed down to lunch and found poor Cheryl looking even more gutted than at last Saturday’s all-cast-and-crew script readthrough, where she’d been gloated over by her archest enemy Candy Gates for [a] having been dumped [b] by a longtime boyfriend [c] in conspicuous public [d] practically out of the blue.  Then and now Vicki felt badly for Cheryl, who despite her volatile temper had been very kind and caring after Vicki’s volleyball injury, and even more so when Jenna’d fallen downstairs and caught acute bronchitis in the nurse’s office; she’d even brought “Niblets” a thermos of homemade Cornish game hen soup.  (Mary Kate Hazeldene might do good deeds all the time, but never so memorably as when Cheryl Trevelyan got nice.)


Yet sympathetic or not to Cheryl’s [a-b-c-d] aftereffects, Vicki was more concerned at that moment with her own prospective dilemma, and tried to slip a Zal-inquiry to Jenna without attracting attention from Holly or Sammi or especially Lisa Lohe.  And Jenna, not batting a birdy-eyelash behind spectacle frames like tiny proscenium arches, shifted her pencil from a set-design sketchpad to scribble on the margins of Vicki’s torn-out spiral page, before turning it over and decisively writing:




(Now there was a caveat to whet your appetite for hamburger-macaroni casserole!  You might as well have brownbagged a heaping helping of day-old poutine.)


End of Lunch 5D: procure one styrofoam cup (white) of acrid coffee (black) and somehow get it unspilled up to the fourth floor along with your books and yourself, mentally cursing Madeline Wrippley every step of the way.  Present the java to Mrs. Mallouf; rush through the Honors Grammar Composition and Literature class roll; distribute this week’s handout on Macbeth (or “the Bad-Luck-Titled Scottish Play” as Jerome persisted in calling it).  All the while craving a chance to analyze and evaluate Zal Tergeist with Joss, but unable to do more than emit a few sub-vibes that must’ve been intercepted by Fiona, since she kept giving you weird-sisterly worriment-glances:


Here I have a pilot’s thumb / Wrack’d as homeward he did come...


(Thank Gahd they hadn’t picked Macbeth to be the Spring Operetta.)


(Though Gahd alone knew how the musical they had selected would shape up.)


Last fall Mr. Frazee—the choirmaster and Vocal Music teacher, not to be confused with Mr. Freeze—had completed six years of sporadic negotiations to adapt the Broadway show Follies for a high school audience.  Himself a onetime classmate of the show’s Librettist, Mr. Frazee’d used that connection to hammer out a slightly-bowdlerized-yet-true-to-the-themes version of the Follies book; and though the show’s Composer would not permit any tampering with lyrics, it was agreed that a tantara by trumpet or horn could drown out certain words—such as the last one in “Bet your ass.”


After persuading the VTHS administration to ratify Frazee’s Follies as the next Operetta, its script had been pored over and the original cast album spun by the Footlight Players, who proceeded to divvy up the choicest parts among themselves.  Unlike last spring’s Music Man or the year before’s Pajama Game, there weren’t two girl-and-boy starring roles to compete for; Follies had four middle-aged leads and four ghosts or memories of their youthful selves, plus several featured soloists.  It was fairly obvious even to entrenched rivals who should play whom—Nancy Sykeman, for instance, had been born to belt out “Broadway Baby” as old Hattie, and did so at the drop of a hat (even carrying around a Panama for that purpose).


So auditions for the prime eight roles were pretty much pro forma, especially after getting interrupted by the January blizzard.  Their chief purpose was to confirm that each Footlighter could handle her or his part’s speaking, singing, dancing, and basic-costume-supplying requirements.  Hence the main cast list was of little surprise to anyone:


Middle-aged Sally

   always in love with Ben, unhappily married to Buddy

Judy Disseldorf


Middle-aged Ben

   in love with nobody, particularly himself

Zalman Tergeist


Middle-aged Phyllis

   used to be in love with Ben, now just married to him

Theresa Challis


Middle-aged Buddy

   always in love with Sally, unhappily married to her

Ron Deacon


Young Sally

   ghost/memory of a chorus girl

Holly Brollis


Young Ben

   ghost/memory of a stage-door johnny

Ken Keezer


Young Phyllis

   ghost/memory of another chorus girl

Candy Gates


Young Buddy

   ghost/memory of another stage-door johnny

Tim McDermid



That still left quite a few parts for tryouts, callbacks, and recruitment.  Five of the school’s most statuesque beauties (who didn’t happen to be topnotch dancers) got tapped to drift around the stage as phantom showgirls: Faye Howell, Lois Wilkie, Nancy Hantz, Gabey Sundheit, and Charisse Sassoon (named after Cyd but cursed with two left feet).  For the showstopping “Mirror Mirror” number, five high-stepping hoofers were needed; so Coach Celeste—pressed into service as choreographer, a decade after she’d starred in-and-as The Unsinkable Molly Brown—convinced her colleagues Ms. Cliffhouse and Ms. Royston to allow some cheerleaders to take part in the Operetta, even though basketball season wasn’t over yet.


Not officially over, anyway.


Vicki and Vernonique certainly wished it were in Seventh Hour Phys Ed, where that same Coach Celeste could have led them in yoga or aerobics, but sent them out instead to demonstrate residual Klumsy Klutzerhood (Vicki) and lack of paternal-skills-inheritance (Nonique).  It was no fun to be bounced around the court by Sheila-Q and recuperative Laurie, or fended off by Irina Don’t-Touch-The-Hair Saranoff, or bumped into (probably on purpose!) by squinty Enid Stott.


Even so, basketball was a much sorer subject for Vanderlund’s boys, whose varsity and JV teams were vying with sad-sack Multch East to occupy the NESTL(É) Shoreside cellar.  “We don’t need some stupid groundhog seeing its silly-assed shadow to tell us this entire season’s a flopfest,” Cheryl had griped at lunch last Thursday.  What else could you expect from a varsity starting lineup that included Gootch Bulstrode, Creaky Locke, and Tab Tchorz?  As losses mounted, fewer and fewer fans showed up in the stands—even parents were ceasing to appear!  Meanwhile the JV team was utterly dismal, worse even than its football counterpart, which meant next year’s cheerleading was likely to be pointless and pathetic and an absolute washout—


Hey!” Stu Nugent had butted in.  “S’not like you ever shake a pompon for us.”


The Nude Gent’s noseplugs were already out of joint because boys swimming (traditionally a winter sport) had been delayed a couple months this season to clear the lanes for girls swimming.  So Stu’s first meet, which should’ve been right after Thanksgiving, was now scheduled for that Saturday (February 4th) at Barris Lake against the Barracudas—and Cheryl, supposedly his steady girlfriend, couldn’t guarantee she’d be able to make it there in time.


“‘Cause you’re too busy playing a chorus girl,” Stu’d fumed.


(Cheryl, Mary Kate, Becca Blair, Nanette Magnus, and Delia Shanafelt were the cheerleaders chosen to dance in Follies; leaving diehard booster-rooters like Penny Stone, Angelique Anstruther, and Meredith Wainwright to carry on for the deflated basketballers, along with JVs Margo Temple, Diana Dabney, and Valerie Frid who wanted to ensure they’d be promoted to varsity next year, plus Taffi Applebuff who’d replaced Gigi Pyle.  But it was true: none of these had ever led a synchronized cheer for swimmers or divers or water poloists.)


“You’ve always got the Stopwatch Squad,” Cheryl’d told Stu, referring to those Pep Clubbers who kept time and tended the pool at swim meets.  “And besides, you tankmen can’t even hear anybody cheer you, since your ears’re so often underwater—”


“Very gahdamned funny!” Stu’d snarled, taking a dig at his Groundhog Day mashed potatoes that Vicki could feel right through their adjacent spines.


Even then Cheryl hadn’t bitten his bitter head off, but lowered her voice so only Stuart (and Vicki) could catch her soothing words: “(C’mon, sweetie, don’t be pissed.  You’re gonna set a new backstroke record and I promise I’ll try to get there—)”


“Don’t bother!  Stick to the stage and shake your big fat chorus girl’s ASS!”


No tantara’d drowned out that use of the word.


Every girl within earshot had sucked in her breath as the Nude Gent snatched up his lunchtray and made a dramatic departure, fork and spoon clattering to the floor.  Vicki’d cringed over her own tray, anticipating Cheryl’s outraged leap to livid feet with a blast of retaliatory dragonfire—


...but there’d only been a long ragged rooted-to-the-spot exhalation, followed by a compassionate “Oh, Cheryl” from Mary Kate.


That was Thursday.  On Friday Cheryl’d crept into the cafeteria with bloodshot eyes, pallid face, unbouffant ponytail, and a small stuffed unicorn (not the big one she’d swapped her umbrellow to Jenna for) cradled in one arm.  Numerous girls had stopped by (or swiveled around, in Vicki’s case) to offer a consolatory word or pat.  Jenna’d drawn her a pretty picture of more unicorns; Holly’d brought her the latest issue of naughty Viva magazine; even Lisa’d expressed denunciation of Stu as a backstabbing backstroker when he’d sauntered past their tables to take a stool beside Drusilla “Blue Bayou” Schwaeder of the Stopwatch Squad, who was thought by some people (mostly boys) to be a Linda Ronstadt lookalike.


By Saturday morning, when Mary Kate and Doreen Jobling had shepherded Cheryl to school for that Follies script readthrough, her turquoise irises were “simply swimming in pools of red”—as Candy Gates took fortissimo pains to point out to one and all, every syllable manifestly unmistakable.  “Just because of some buttheaded remarks about the size of your behind Too, too beneath notice!”


(Cheryl in fact had an admirably proportionate rear end, but was prone to fret over its measurement along with her waistline’s and bustline’s, though never to the harmful extent of Nanette the ex-bulimic.  Even so, whenever Cheryl’d asked Stu “Does this make me look fat?” in the past, he’d been wise enough to quickly reply “HOT, it makes you look HOT”—until last Thursday in the cafeteria.)


On Saturday in the auditorium the entire Follies company had awaited Cheryl’s scorching warning that certain dancers’s swollen tootsies were in danger of getting trodden on once “Mirror Mirror” rehearsals began; or at least a withering “You and your bombosity are too-oo too-oo beneath notice!”—


—but nothing came forth.  Archness conquered all.


Vicki’d spent the past twenty months avoiding contact with Candy Gates, the last five dodging her here at VTHS; but the next six weeks were going to be an exceptional challenge, seeing that C.G. was Young Phyllis and Vicki a Stage Crew apprentice for the duration of the Operetta.  She’d joined at the behest of Jenna, who’d been assigned to design a Follies Loveland set that would explode with bright gaudy colors in contrast to the show’s other set, a derelict shell of an abandoned theater.  To do this on a curtailed budget, Jenna’d called dibs on recycling all the hearts-and-lace decorations being made by the Turnabout committee for the Valentine dance—


—and that brought us back to the present Monday, the present afterschool double-hour, the present auditorium stage on which ten-foot lengths of primed and stapled muslin were spread over dropcloths.  Up in the balcony a cast-only second script readthrough was taking place; out in the metal and wood shops, crew boys were constructing the derelict theater set; and right here onstage, long-handled rollers were being dipped in paint by crew girls—Jenna and Dory Jobling and Alva Dee Bickling and Nancy Buschmeyer and Chookie Yentlebaum whose brother Shecky was the show’s Student Director, in collaboration with Stage Manager Dexter Rist who circulated busily in and out and up and down from one workspace to the next.  Right here too was apprentice Vicki Volester, being trained how to driplessly color within the lines of Jenna’s large-scale stencils—


—while at the same time getting further briefed by her new big sister about the remodeling ways and means of Zalman Tergeist.


If a Jewish boy could have Orson Welles and Rex Harrison as his grandfathers, and grow up (or at any rate older) to become a domineering overbearing authoritarian Citizen Pygmalion, that boy would be Zal.  He was a creature capable of immense charisma, albeit on the dark side, which got him cast so often as heavies—that plus his physical weight, height, breadth, never-resting facial hair, and aura as a dramaturge.  Zal was a stickler when it came to projection, articulation, positioning, movements—indeed every element of a theatrical production, down to the specific font and point size of program typefaces.  Which made him the burly male equivalent of petite female Candy Gates, with whom Zal’d had a tempestuous on-and-off relationship that rivaled Liz-and-Dick’s (or even Tess-Disseldorf-and-Fast-Eddie-Wainwright’s) since they’d first butted heads in a VW Drama Club enactment of a scene from The Taming of the Shrew:


As you say, there’s small choice in rotten apples...


On occasion Zal could be temporarily disarmed, as he’d been by Petula Pierro on New Year’s Eve when she’d demanded he drive her and Epic Khack to Old Town; but most of the time his was the upper hand and woe to anyone who tried to dislodge it.  This definitely involved girlfriends, or rather the girls in whom Zal took an “interest”—apart from Candy Gates and the whisker-disliking Isabel Carstairs.  They might resist being bent to his high-handed will, but others had succumbed—to the breaking point or beyond.


One such was Lois Wilkie, that exuberant ditz whom Nonique had pointed out to Vicki as “the white Addie Mae Anderson,” scampering through school like a sugar-high kindergartener at a puppy farm.  Zal’d undertaken to teach Lois “how to act,” ignoring her inability to memorize lines or dance steps since she was such a pleasure to hear and watch—and manipulate like a marionette.  So tightly had Lois gotten twisted by Zal’s ministrations that her kid brother Lyle’d intervened with a threat to kick Zal’s ass—ludicrously, since Lyle was a Dilton Doiley type; yet not disregardably, since he was also an acknowledged suitor of the golden Becca Blair.  So Zal had distanced himself from Lois, saying that trying to educate her was “like pouring champagne into a sieve”; and after a convalescent interval she’d bobbed back to her former frolicsome form.  (Shecky Yentlebaum was now hoping Lois could be taught how not to stray from her designated path as a phantom showgirl.)


Less fortunate was Minta “Julep” Muller, a diligent offshoot from a facetious family.  (Her younger sisters were Maureen “Strudel” and Melanie “Honeycomb.”)  Admired by Alex for her many Girl Scout activities and ecological merit badges, Julep also played the harp and sang plaintive folk ballads—not unlike Rosa Dartle in David Copperfield, though without a scar across her lip.  She could perform fluently at fundraisers for Earth Day, Greenpeace, and Keep America Beautiful, but was apt to be tongue-tied when not strumming strings.  Coaxed into taking Mrs. Pentire’s Speech course to gain glibness and become a more effective advocate for the environment, Julep had accepted Zal Tergeist’s offer of private coaching—and wound up drained as dry as a Kentucky bourbon glass on a sultry Southern day.  Now she was a morbid unkempt Ophelia, scarred across her soul, and an object of fascination to Spacyjane who knew most of Julep’s disconcerting ditties by heart.  (Zalman dismissed her as an emptyheaded fallen angel who couldn’t keep her harp in tune.)


“So trust me—if he so much as tries to make a move on you, zap him with a ten-foot cattle prod!” Jenna admonished Vicki, scouring a paint tray with implacable vigor as they cleaned up at the end of the afterschool double-hour.


“(But what if he BMV’s me?)” Vicki whispered in her birdy-ear.


“Tell him you’re allergic to ongeblozzen goniffs!


“(What’re those?)”


“Zal Tergeist as anybody’s Valentine, that’s what’re those!”


BMV-ing was not taken lightly at Vanderlund Township High School.  Many customs and traditions had lapsed there in recent years, but the Valentine Turnabout was treated just as seriously now as it had ever been.  The rules, though unwritten, were fully comprehended: 

1.   On Valentine’s Day (or the preceding Friday, if the 14th fell on a weekend) boys would offer girls an autographed floral or ribbony token of their esteem, and ask them to Be My Valentine.

2.   Girls could then either accept the token, pin it on their blouse or sweater as validation they’d been BMV’d, and invite the boys to escort them to the Valentine Turnabout (always scheduled the Saturday after the 14th)—

3.   —or they could defer a decision, taking the token for the time being but not wearing it.  (Multiple tokens might be toted around as proof of the recipient’s popularity and ongoing availability.)

4.   It was considered extremely bad form for a girl to reject any guy’s BMV offer outright, no matter how objectionable he might be; or for a guy to extend a BMV token as a joke, and then reject the girl’s Turnabout invitation.

5.   Nor was it thought appropriate, even this late in the 1970s, for a girl to ask a guy to the Turnabout if he hadn’t BMV’d her beforehand.  As always, it was up to the girl to cajole a shy, dense, or reluctant guy into doing his duty.

Plenty of girls found this nonsensical nowadays, but enough still toed the line (and made sufficient boys do likewise) to keep the whole rigamarole going, and even steady affaires de cœur had been known to crumble if BMV-ing was taken for granted.  Male players-of-the-field came to school armed with mass quantities of ribbons or flowers; female gallivanters brought extra-large shoulderbags to transport and display their multitudes of tokens; and many of these, left unpinned and disowned, got thrown out by the custodial staff at the end of February 14th (or the preceding Friday).


For a girl as pretty and well-liked as Vicki Volester, there was no reasonable fear she’d go tokenless—especially since she was known to be romantically unattached.  (Thanks a lot, Tony Undependabaloney!!)  Vicki didn’t look forward to hurting any BMV-er’s feelings, even the turdliest nerd’s—such as Lumpy Skinner, who was sure to get nowhere with his beloved Jenna and might turn to her next—but at least the VTHS Valentine regulations would allow her to do this benignly.  Even so, she hadn’t reckoned with the chance of being BMV’d by a senior, much less one so heartily disparaged by her new big sister.


Oh well: the idea was probably just a figment of Isabel’s flighty fancy.  So strip off your rubber gloves and stash them in their drawer; give Jenna a don’t-panic-I’ll-be-okay hug as she catches a ride to West East Bay with the Yentlebaums; and hang around in the wing with Alva Dee and Nancy B, waiting for Nancy Sykeman to come chauffeur you all home in her Klown Kar.


“There you are!” announced not Nancy S but Candy Gates, striding down the auditorium aisle and charging up onto center stage.  “I need to talk to you right away!”


Y-i-i-i-ikes!! went Vicki, hiding behind Alva Dee, who (like Hayley Tamworth back in Pfiester Park) could diet-and-exercise her heart out yet not lose an ounce.  Unlike Candy Gates, marching compactly into the wing with an unbuttoned unbelted fur-trim coat floating diva-style from her natty little shoulders and around her spiffy little knees.


“Almond!” she snapped.  “There is still time for you to change your mind, and no earthly reason for you not to do it!”


Long slow inhalation by Alva Dee (inured long ago to C.G. addressing her as “Almond Joy”) within a polyester parka.  “Yes there is.  I’m doing crew this year—”


C.G. waved that off with a pair of fur-trim gloves in one slender hand.  “You’ll have plenty of time to do crew and be a middle-aged chorus girl!  We need you dancing in ‘Who’s That Woman?’” (the older counterpoint to ghostly/memorial “Mirror Mirror”).


Last year nimblefooted Alva Dee had been talked into playing Ethel Toffelmier in The Music Man.  She’d earned a lot of laughs and ovations—almost as many as Holly playing Zaneeta, and indisputably more than Candy Gates in the minor role of Gracie Shinn (which cast doubt on how beneficial any proposal by C.G. might be).  In any case Alva Dee, aggrieved by the indignities of portraying a fat lady, had resolved to stay backstage in future; so “Nothing doing!” she declared, for the third time in as many weeks.


Candy Gates, with a exasperated moue, swept her peevish focus past the half-concealed Vicki and zeroed in on Nancy B, who flinched.  “Bushel!  Talk some sense into her!  Tell Almond she’s perfect for the part and’ll let us all down if she doesn’t play it!”


“Uh Alm—I mean Alva, y’know we can cover for you on crew if they really need you to dance...”


“They don’t and I won’t, so she can just forget it!”


“Bushel!  Tell her I can not and do not ever ‘just forget’ anything!” C.G. glared at Nancy B and Alva Dee; taking no notice of Invisible Vicki, who began to feel a wee bit snubbed.  Hey there!  Remember me, “Velma from VW?  You called me “your strong right arm, said I was “the only one you could rely on—don’t I warrant some of your unwelcome attention?


“Uh well, if Alva says she doesn’t wanna dance...” Nancy was dithering.


“There is no art without ambition,” C.G. was insisting.



Away, and mock the time with fairest show:

Fake fur must hide what the false heart doth know


a rumbly voice overrode them both, as a big bearded shadow detached itself from the dimness of the wing.  Candy Gates turned her affronted back on it, swirling the tail of her open coat high enough to remind onlookers that while she might be diminutive, her derriere was a lot more prominent than Cheryl Trevelyan’s.  (This flair was shared by Vicki, along with silky black hair and shining black eyes and semi-Mediterranean skintone; all of which led to Vicki often getting asked “Are you like Candy Gates’s cousin or something?”)


To whom it may concern,” C.G. angrily declaimed, “I will have you know this coat is trimmed with authentic Arctic fox fur!”


“Looks more like Whierry Way possum,” rumbled the shadow as it solidified into Zalman Tergeist.  “How now, middlebrows?” he asked the junior girls, counting them with a blunt forefinger—“One-two-three, A-B-C, do-re-mi”—then pointing to the lone soph—“baby-you-and-me!”—unfolding his other fingers into a substantial hand that reached out, clasped Vicki’s, and chilled her palm with a benumbing grip.  “The new crew apprentice!  Have you been suitably initiated, ma choupinette?  ‘Welcome to the theater, this business we call show’—”


“That is a Lauren Bacall song,” Candy Gates snorted over a reversed shoulder.


“—‘like no business I know!’” Zalman deftly segued, his deepset gunmetal eyes not relaxing their hold on Vicki even as his hand continued to squeeze hers.  “If you’re tired of twiddling your thumbs” [circuitous dig from Zal’s] “waiting for La Sykeman to finish shaking the dew from her lily, I am at your disposal—so long as you don’t mind riding in a Datsun Z.”


“Errrr...” went Vicki, her ticker tocking absurdly fast and hard as she stared up at a beefier version of the dead Sea Captain in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.  This Late Movie had been seen during a Queen Anne sleepover, and “What about Mr. Muir?” Joss had harrumphed when the grown-old Mrs. M passed away and her youthful spirit sailed off with the waiting Captain’s.  Vicki could understand why she’d made this choice (assuming you were allowed to choose your partner for the afterlife, like an Eternity Turnabout) since that dead Sea Captain possessed a certain fatal charm—


“‘You sure know how to make a girl feel good!’” cackled Nancy Sykeman, delivering a Hattie-to-Ben line with a jingle of Klown Kar keys.  “Go dew your own lily, Zal—no need for your hack service tonight!  I’m the driver for hire here, specially for this ‘un” (wrapping a motherhennish arm around Vicki) “‘cause ‘she’s a young thing / and can’t believe your bushwah!’  Let’s roll, chickabiddies!”


Alva Dee and Nancy B hastened to comply, and together they guided Vicki out of the wing, off of the stage, and away from the auditorium while Nancy S chanted:



Smack you with a cherry blintz

   Zally boy!  Zally boy!

Loaded with Lifesaver mints

   Bull’s eye Zally!

They will stick inside your beard

And turn all your sisters weird—

   Come, let’s make haste, we’ll soon be back agai-in!


(Agai-in with the witchy schtick!)  “Has he got any sisters?” Vicki asked.


“He’s got a mincy-pincy albatross,” Nancy S answered; and Vicki, glancing back, saw a big bearded dramaturge being flanked by a petite hindrance who had shiny-eyed daggers drawn.




Nonetheless undaunted, Zally Boy made his next move on Tuesday at a time when Vanderlund seniors generally went unseen by younger students.


Sophomores, unless given special leave, were required to attend homeroom and eat in the cafeteria.  Juniors could opt out of study hall, but still had to dine in the lunch hall; while seniors, after the first day of school, could ditch both obligations so long as their whereabouts were logged and they didn’t leave any garbage whereabout they ate.  So finding Zal Tergeist and Theresa Challis seated at a cafeteria table during Lunch 5D was a novel experience for a tenth-grader like Vicki.


Theresa, known as “Chass” for her classy chassis, had been a runner-up at last month’s State Junior Miss (for senior misses) pageant.  In addition to having fine acting chops she was an ace tennis player, a regular honor-roll occupant, a frequent class-and-club officer, and in a longterm longdistance relationship with Brandon Schtapp (who’d played Harold Hill in last year’s Music Man and was now a theater major at CalArts).  Chass had also been a mentor since grade school of Cheryl Trevelyan, much as Nancy S was of Nancy B, Mumbles Metcalf was of Alex, Big Sue Baxter was of Laurie, Don’t-Call-Me-Debbie Karberski was of Lisa Lohe, and Vicki wished Jenna could’ve been of herself.  Some said Chass had quit cheerleading last spring so Cheryl would be sure to take her place on the varsity pep squad; but she maintained that Cheryl was a cinch for the spot and her own schedule’d just gotten too overflowing.


The same word could be applied to Chass’s coloratura, elocution, bonhomie and brassiere.  (“I learned everything I know about D-cups and diaphragms from Theresa Challis,” snickered Crystal Denvour.)  Zal had targeted her as far back as seventh grade, but kept getting stung by Chass’s unrestrained you-are-such-a-riot! bellylaughter.  So he’d settled for Footlighter camaraderie, making an annual come-hither attempt (usually at cast parties) “to keep my hand in”; and Chass would feel neglected if Zal didn’t give her a token BMV token on the 14th.


Today she was here in the cafeteria to deter the downcast Cheryl from bailing out of Operetta, and Zal was there (he said) to assist.  It might’ve been sheer happenstance that he’d taken Stu Nugent’s abandoned stool, which would have put his vertebral column awfully close to Vicki’s had Jenna—a ten-foot cattle prod in birdy-form—not interceded and switched seats with her.


All through lunch they heard Cheryl moaning “I dunno, I dunno, I dunno” till Zal burst into a snatch of “Waiting for the Girls Upstairs” from Follies, wanting to be told are you coming or aren’t you coming, ‘cause look if we’re going we gotta get going; and Chass, after a boisterous chortle (echoed by Holly Brollis), harmonized with coming, we’re coming, will you hold your horses, we’re coming, we’re ready, be there in a jiffy that blended into a full-throated duet and received a round of applause (only partly sarcastic) plus Cheryl’s reluctant agreement to remain a dancing chorus girl, no matter how many cracks Candy Gates might make.


For her part, Vicki made it through Tuesday’s lunch without being remodeled, if you didn’t count an elaborate nod from Zal when the bell rang and they all got up to leave.  But then followed a prolonged comparison in Sixth Hour English of Macbeth’s “real” witches to The Crucible’s “fake” witches, which (so to speak) triggered a dream that night of being just-turned-seven-with-no-front-teeth in Miss Sandy’s Beginners class at the Massena Dance Studio above the Joe E. Lewis Dinner Playhouse:

Suppose you didn’t have a mask or hat or broomstick, and still wanted everyone to know you’re a witch.  How would you stand, and walk, and hold yourself?  What would make people know you’re a witch, if you had no mask or hat or broom?...  We’re going to use shapes and movement.  First we’ll find our witch’s shape; then we’ll need to keep that shape no matter how we move.  Whether we’re stirring up some witchy brew in a pot over a fire, or inviting Hansel and Gretel into our gingerbread house, or even if we’re melting! melting! after Dorothy throws a bucket of water over us.  No matter what, we mustn’t forget the shape our witch starts out in...

Which (again so to speak) had alarmed Vicki way back then, and no less now: how could this be the way to learn how to dance? or learn Grammar Composition and Literature? or prevent a bearded baritone from not-so-secretly admiring you if you don’t want his admiration, though you aren’t at all sure whether you don’t want it ‘cause he really does have a spinetingling voice and those gunmetal eyes and that certain fatal charm...


Joss of course had participated in dissecting the past two days of Zal-related goings-on, as recapped by Vicki during their nightly bedtime phone chats.  And on Wednesday afternoon it was Joss who waited outside Mrs. Mallouf’s room to forewarn Vicki that “(HE’S HERE!  IN THERE!)”—helping to minimize the shock-spillage of acrid black coffee onto her pointelle cardigan and four-gore skirt.


Zal Tergeist, enrolled in Mrs. Mallouf’s First Hour senior Shakespeare seminar, had been imported to lend a hand in elucidating onstage reactions to Macbeth’s offstage regicide.  “We’ll need a Lady Macbeth—perhaps your student aide is up to the task?” he suggested.


“Take a bow, Vicki,” Mrs. Mallouf concurred over the rim of her styrofoam cup.


Ohhhh noooo There were lots better candidates for the role—Rachel Gleistein with her stately scientific detachment, Trina Purcell or Hope Eckhardt or high-strung Claudia Thurman—even Fiona, who was probably capable of masterminding a murder or two if you pushed her far enough.  “Please, I’m not an actress—”


“Ah, but you can read and emote!” Zal assured her, lending an actual large cold hand to yank her upright and forward.  “Open your book to Act II, Scene II, line 10: ‘Alack! I am afraid they have awak’d.’”


Feverishly Vicki re-skimmed yesterday’s assigned reading homework, hoping against desperate hope that Lady Macbeth didn’t say anything in this Scene of this Act about “my woman’s breasts” or “I have given suck” or “love the babe that milks me” or “pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,” which would make her die of shame to utter out loud in front of Sell-O Fayne and Buddy Marcellus and Marshall McConchie (who was likely to BMV her next week now that Gigi Pyle had gone to Peru)—


Screw your courage to the sticking-place, hissed a middle-distant voice within her inner ear, and we’ll not fail.


Okay.  Deep breath.  Here goes nothing...



Alack! I am afraid they have awak’d,

And ’tis not done.  Th’ attempt and not the deed

Confounds us.—Hark!—I laid their daggers ready;

He could not miss ’em.—Had he not resembled

My father as he slept, I had done’t.—My husband!


Zal, wrenching his massive bulk into a torturous blameworthy pose, replied “I have done the deed.—Didst thou not hear a noise?” in a thick Scottish burr.  Then with imperative gestures and directorial mugging he prompted Vicki to respond “I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry. / Did not you speak?”  Followed by a quick non-iambic-pentametery exchange: “When?“Now.“As I descended?“Ay.“Hark!—who lies i’ th’ second chamber?“Donalbain.“This is a sorry sight”—as Macbeth recoiled from his bloodstained hands, Zal staring horrorstricken with bearded jaw agape and deepset eyes a-bulge—


—till he startled the class by straightening up and coolly remarking “Note the rapid interplay, how using monosyllables boosts the tempo, how that emphasizes the sense of guilt.”  Then, to Vicki: “Continuez, votre Seigneurie,” as he resumed his angst-ridden mea culpa stance.


Out of nowhere (or the middle distance?) came an impulse (or a cued-up extract?) that made Vicki start to recite Lady Macbeth’s lines with extradistinct mincy-pinciness—“A-fool-ish-thought, to-say-a-sor-ry-sight”—that was flagrantly identifiable and set off an immediate whoop from Jerome, answered by a piercing shriek from Joss at whom Vicki hadn’t dared glance (Mmmmandingo!) since this ordeal began.  And very soon the rest of Room 403 was convulsed with laughter, as if this were a live studio audience for an episode of CPO Sharkey.


Zal seemed unfazed by either the heehaws or Vicki’s candygatesy aggravation—Why-did-you-bring-these-dag-gers-from-the-place?”—as he writhed at the thought of returning to King Duncan’s fatal bedchamber.  So Vicki, with a glaringly recognizable supermoue (do I have to do everything myself?), seized imaginary gore-dripping daggers and stalked off to plant them on the drugged grooms, while her classmates reacted as though J.J.’d just yelled “DY-NO-MITE!!”


Zal subdued their roar by springing to his feet and pounding Mrs. Mallouf’s desktop three times with mighty knuckles.  “Next on the bill is the Bard’s invention of the knock-knock joke.  We’ll need a drunken porter—”


“OOH! OOH!” Jerome lennyotis’d, nearly falling out of his combo desk-chair as he waved a pleading arm.  But Zal motioned to Sidney Erbsen, who toddled up with a squiffish “Knock, knock, knock.  Who’s there, i’ th’ name of Beelzebub?” before Mrs. Mallouf called a halt to this elucidation and sent Zalman on his merry way.  He divided a profound exit-bow between her, the class, and last of all the distracted Vicki.


Be not lost so poorly in your thoughts...


In other words, snap out of it.  You’ve got another hour of playing basketball in a hideous gymsuit, then two more of painting Loveland drops in a Stage Crew smock.


This afternoon the Follies cast was dispersed upstairs in choir and drama rooms, learning songs and speeches; so you were relatively safe to reprise your interpretation of Act II Scene II for the crew girls.  Paintwork had to be suspended, though, during their receptive hullabaloo until Mr. Watford, back in harness as the show’s Technical Director, went into agitated tempus fugit! mode.  No one wanted him to suffer a second freakout, so you all quieted down and caught up with the drop-painting schedule.  Then Nancy Sykeman came to collect you before either Zal or C.G. put in an appearance; meaning any fresh move- or moue-making got left in equidistant limbo.


Just as well: Turnabout or no Turnabout, there wasn’t time for canoodling on top of everything else.  You were signed up for a double-hour of crew work three afternoons this week plus a longer shift on Saturday, and that commitment would grow as showtime approached.  “At least it’s not volleyball,” Felicia’d sighed when she finally endorsed your crew permission slip, which had been on hold pending receipt of your first-semester report card—four A’s and two B’s (in Geometry and Biology, the latter thanks to Vernonique Save-Our-Butts Smith).  Now you were expected to sustain that 3.67 GPA through the new semester, plus handle your usual loads of homework and housekeeping, plus get in shape for track season—due to launch right after Operetta—and let’s not forget Driver’s Ed, also slotted for the coming spring.


It was enough to make your silky black hair turn stringy gray.


Particularly when you factored in the ever-more-imminent Valentine’s Day and all that might entail...




Thursday was a lab day in Biology, with “T-minus 60” on Mr. Dimancheff’s big Countdown-to-Dissection wall calendar, and the unveiling of another gross poster previewing one of your future victims.  So far you’d been exposed to a sliced-open earthworm, grasshopper, and starfish; today it was the classic fillet of frog, which made Delia Shanafelt start to cry when Petula Pierro struck up Hello My Ragtime Gal.


“Do not lose control of yourselves,” Mr. Dimancheff told them.  “We are not here to lose control of ourselves.  Today we are here to conclude our laboratory study of microbes.”


You and Nonique, trading the tiniest eyerolls, finished your 3-D model of an adenovirus and turned it in after triple-checking that the label with your names and class period was firmly affixed.  (Tess and Fast Eddie were still accusing each other of having lost the label off their food web project, which had netted them an automatic F.)


At least you’d never have to disembowel bacteria.  Nor anything more sizable for another two months; but then from spring break until Memorial Day, dissection would be nonstop and “progressing” from worms to fetal pigs, for crying out loud!  You had to wonder whether someone as tenderhearted as Alex would be able to bear this any better than someone as weakstomached as yourself.


And speaking of hearts and stomachs, forget T-minus-60-to-animal-autopsies.  It was T-minus-FIVE-to-Valentine’s-Day, shoving any thought of Napoleon Bonaparte to the back burner in World History.  He could be exiled to Elba; you had untold potential BMV-ers on the horizon, some right here at your elbows—Chipper Farlowe on the left, Conrad Aabercrombie on the right.  (Ms. Goldberg scorned alphabetic seating as “hierarchical.”)  Conrad was still going exclusively with Trina Purcell, so scratch him off your list of possibilities.  Chipper didn’t even belong on such a list; think of the denial hives he’d given Laurie while two-timing her, and the Junior Harvest Brawl he’d had with Mack “The Arm” Pittley—while they were both on acid or something!  Yet he’d been the first to ask you to dance (ask? he’d dragged you onto the gym floor) at last year’s Cicada “Tropic Island Cruise.”  If Chip tokenized you next Tuesday, you’d have no option but pretend to think about it—but that pretense, unlike the Battle of Waterloo, would not be “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life.”  You’d deposit his ribbon or flower in the nearest-run wastebasket just as soon as he was out of sight!


P-E-E-E-E-A-L went the Fourth Hour bell.  Your speculative eye scanned other possibles as they left Room 416, then those out in the hall and more on the stairs.  Ho hum—here came Marshall, heading upward like Agnes’s finger in David Copperfield.  (What put that in your speculative head after all this time?)  Look at his Gregory Peckish half-smile as you passed each other on the third floor landing: why didn’t you picture something less bland and tame and goody-two-shoesy?  Because (sigh, and not in any enamored sense) Marshall McConchie lacked the seductive allure that could beguile a Little Em’ly to dump Ham and run off with Steerforth.  Not that you’d want to be a Little Em’ly—remember how Fiona’d denounced her for unrelenting uncle-fixated soppiness—oh, if you only knew!... oh, take comfort!... oh, for mercy’s sake!...


oh, damn!—


—switch Dickensian tracks in a rapid-ass hurry as a jolly greenjacketed giant came charging up the staircase straight toward you, bellowing not a carol of Christmas Present (on February 9th) but a Continental version of the O’Jays’s “Love Train”:



Les gens partout dans le monde (tout le monde)

  Joindre (rejoindre)

  Démarrer un train de l'amour! train de l'amour!

Les gens partout dans le monde (tout le monde, maintenant)


—hoisting you high under his vast green Gallic sleeve, hauling you backward as he continued to ascend—


Noooo!  Zallll!  I’ve got to get to classss!


“Why didn’t you say so?” quibbled Zalman, swinging you and himself around there on the stairs and almost causing a human domino cascade all the way down to the basement.  “Honk honk!  Beep beep!  Where to, milady?”


“Tuh-tuh-221,” you mumblestuttered instead of the crisp clear “Let—me—go” you’d intended to say; and the vast green sleeve encircling your waist held you aloft like a captured detainee with flushing cheeks and dangling feet and thump-thump-thumping disco pulses to the threshold (“No charge! no gratuity!”) of Mr. Rankin’s room.  There Isabel, a veteran at being carried into Geometry, gave you one of her gleeful winks and a “Tolllld you soooo”; while Britt, sleepy-smiling from ear to freckled ear, looked like she could add one of her poleaxing Red Queen cause-of-all-the-mischief observations.  As for Robin, she slid a scrap of graph paper onto your desk that unsubtly advised you to



which explained one of the reasons why you were feeling so goosefleshy; also why Brad and Mike and Floyd Lewis kept looking at you instead of Mr. Rankin’s chalkboard.




This state of affairs (some might call it a “bind”) was increasingly reminiscent of the one last September with Dennis Desmond.  That’d been when and why Jenna Wiblitz became a New Big Sister; so naturally Vicki turned to her again on Thursday evening—not only because of Zal’s hijacking act, but also what happened when the Volesters sat down to dinner.  There was a Macbeth-ish knock knock knock on the front door, perfectly timed to infuriate Ozzie, who threw aside his napkin with an i’ th’ name of Beelzebub! expression on his face and a how durst you interfere with my chowdown? expletive on his tongue.  But that curse got swallowed when the knock-knock-knocker proved to be woebegone Nancy Sykeman, whose Klown Kar had died on Foxtail Road shortly after dropping Nancy Buschmeyer off on Yarrow Drive.


Nancy S was a great favorite at Burrow Lane, not simply for her own self but because she brought dear departed Cynthia Dollfuss—“hee hee hee hee haw haw haw!! yeah!... y‑e‑a‑h!” (clap clap clap)—to sentimental mind.  Now she was here in tears, begging Mr. V to pleeeease come resuscitate her cherished Rambler Rebel; and Ozzie, scrambling to throw on hat and coat and boots while confirming that his Honda trunk was stocked with flares and flashlights and toolbox, gently ushered mournful Nancy back to the Klown Kar’s Foxtail sickbed.


Vicki tried to phone in a traffic bulletin to Sykedelic Acres, but kept getting a busy signal which probably meant Beth Murrisch and Nancy’s brother Bolivar were tying up the line again with more of their weirdness.  Moot point, since Ozzie soon returned to tie on his warmed-up feedbag with mingled sorrow and anticipation.  Nancy’s bacon-tinted Rebel had shown every sign of being toast, and she’d flung herself over its gone-cold hood like a widow at a funeral; yet she hadn’t refused the Volester Motors business card Ozzie tucked into her mitten.  And when he drove Nancy home to Nutsedge Road (“Wouldn’t live anywhere else!”) and talked to her father, Mr. Sykeman showed a qualified willingness to bring her to the Lot for a look-see at some good-as-newish used vehicles—such as a green-gold Chevelle Laguna that would fit Nancy S to a T.


“But will she have it by Monday?” Vicki asked.


“Your words to the Good Lord’s ears, Kitten,” smiled Ozzie; which didn’t sound airtight-definite.


Transportation, to put it coarsely, could be a bitch.  Not so much today, when no crew tasks had been slated and Vicki was able to come straight home from school on the bus.  But this was one of their last free afternoons before practically-fulltime work on Follies began; and everyone associated with the show knew they were supposed to get as far ahead academicwise as they could while they could.  Difficult to believe that back in Miss Rosamond Ambrose’s heyday as choirmistress, three solid months had been devoted to prepping sumptuous productions of The King and I and Kismet and Camelot, with sky’s-the-limit budgets and battalion-sized companies and nobody’s grades affected in the slightest—or so Vanderlund legend had it.  Many of those actors and techfolk must be middle-aged now, but probably few of them still had to figure out their to’s-and-fro’s like a high school soph who hadn’t started Driver’s Ed yet.


That Thursday night on the phone with Jenna, Vicki grappled with transport logistics.  There was another double-hour of painting tomorrow afternoon; then she and Joss were again flipping their regular sleepover routine to spend Friday night at the Queen Anne, which was easily reachable from school via the Sendt Street bus.  So far so good —but don’t forget how last weekend’s hithers-and-thithers had to be plotted out like an intricate exercise in Geometry.  First taking the bus back to school for Saturday’s all-cast-and-crew script readthrough; then returning to Jupiter Street and getting ready for Spacyjane’s Sweet Sixteen, to which Joss’s father had provided passage in the Murrisch Lincoln Continental; then being picked up from Cecidia Drive by Ozzie’s Honda to spend the night at Burrow Lane, followed by Sunday brunch with the Monticellos in Leicestershire via the Volester Luxury Liner—and all of this done over semiplowed snowy streets.


“Be thankful you don’t have to deal with Friday sunsets,” Jenna interjected.


Too true.  The Wiblitzes weren’t Orthodox, but Jenna’s grandfather Rabbi Pip did impose some keeping-it-holy on the Sabbath, and that involved getting home no later than a few minutes before the sun went down.  Days might be growing longer, no matter what last week’s groundhog-shadow said; but tomorrow’s sunset was at 5:17 p.m., so Jenna and the rest of the East Bay crowd were officially excused to leave the double-hour of crew and cast duties early—so long as they made up for lost time on Saturday, to which Rabbi Pip gave implicit blessing.


“He always says ‘Just do yourselves a favor and sing ‘I Say a Little Prayer’ as you go about your business.’” Jenna told Vicki.


“Da da da da da da DAAA da—got it.  But if my dad doesn’t sell the Sykemans a new used car over the weekend, will anyone be able to give me rides home next week?  My mom’s got her real estate class on Monday and Wednesday, and...”


“Hmmm,” Jenna ruminated.  “Wish we could fit you into Shecky’s Omega, but that’s already standing-room-only.  And no offense to Nancy S, but it’s not a good idea to rely on actors for favors.  Too many of ‘em are tricky skip-out-without-paying-their-bill types—and before you say anything, no that doesn’t include operatic tenors” (i.e. Ike Lohe, her official sweetheart).  “But don’t lose any sleep—we’ll find you a reliable ride tomorrow, and keep you out of Zalman’s clutches from now on.  Borrow a hatpin from Spacyjane Groh and try using that on him instead of a cattle prod!”


“Okay.  Te amo, hermana mayor.  Dulces sueños.


“Te amo, hermanita.  No dejes que las chinches te piquen.


Yield the phone to Felicia so she can [a] respond to an incoming call from Miriam Monticello and [b] be done with that conversation in time for [c] your bedtime check-in with Joss.  Meanwhile, [d] tackle as much Spanish/Biology/History/Geometry/English as your not-quite-sixteen-year-old intellect can accommodate, while [e] Saying a Little Prayer of thanks (hardly your first) for having Jenna’s vigilant bird’s-eye watching out for you, albeit through garish spectacle frames.


Except that those frames, that eye, and the rest of Jenna were all missing from First Hour Spanish on Friday.


When Shecky Yentlebaum made his usual stroll into the back corner of Room 312 just as the late bell rang, Vicki leaned over hermana mayor’s vacant desk to anxiously whisper “(Where’s—)”


“(Jen?  Her grandfather’s in Mount Sinai—they’re not sure if he’ll live.)”


“(OhmyGahd!  Not Rabbi Pip??)”


“(No, her other one—Zayde Leyva.  Had a ‘widowmaker’ heart attack.)”


Cálmate, comencemos,” went Señor Banonis, frowning until Dennis Desmond ceased-and-desisted his hasslement of Gail Spruce, who was audibly gasping at Old One-Shot-Thanks-a-Lot’s devilry.  You’d think Gail would be harder-boiled, belonging as she did to the Gossip Brigade, Channel newspaper staff, and Operetta publicity team; but there she was gawking across the room at her boyfriend Tim McDermid, expecting him to defend her honor when everybody knew Tim was too meek to make a fuss (Candy Gates had been walking all over him since kindergarten) while Dennis paraded unobstructedly to his seat beside the skitterish Diana Dabney.


Vicki was too consumed by her own worries to pay any more mind to Gail or Tim or Dennis or Diana.  Even Señor Banonis only merited half a mind as he discoursed about cómo se relacionan el pasado y el presente.  So much grief had welled up in such a short time: first for Cheryl, then Nancy S, now the Leyvas and Wiblitzes.  It ought to reduce Vicki’s quandaries to trivial kidstuff; yet she felt very shivery and vulnerable, huddled in the rearmost row between an empty desk and baked-to-a-crisp Carly Thibert (who’d spent this year’s winter holidays on the Barrier Reef in Belize).  So, hunching down further behind big Wayne Rhinelander the future Mexican wrestler, Vicki tried to take stock.


It wasn’t that she was afraid of Zalman Tergeist, or suspected he was secretly Mr. Freeze (as opposed to Mr. Frazee) arisen from an iceberg to titanicize her.  Nor did she find him repulsive or distasteful or skin-crawling in a strictly bad sense.  (Redden tingle blush.)  But at the same time she didn’t want to be “remodeled” by Zal, or overwhelmed with his outsized attentions until she was beyond resistance to... whatever he might want to take a whack at, on Valentine’s Day or any other occasion.


Was it so terribly much to ask for a BMV who wouldn’t drag her onto a dance floor or up a crowded staircase or out of a car during a drive-in deluge or into a snow cave on Dead Man’s Slope?  A sweetheart who didn’t think it necessary to vanish without a trace after being secretive about his daily life or denying Vicki’s literal existence?  And yet not be bland like Marshall or namby-pamby like Tim or a doltish dotard like Lumpy Skinner?  Because wasn’t she a nice girl and wouldn’t she be a wonderful girlfriend for the right sort of guy and weren’t these STILL not-unreasonable things to wish for—even if Santa Claus hadn’t granted her Christmas desire for two Yuletides running?


She sure couldn’t look to any of her bunchkins as a True Romance role model.  Think of Joss and Gumbo Krauss—or Alex and Mike Spurgeon—or Nonique and Eddie Ray Anderson—or Spacyjane and Split-Pea Erbsen—or Robin and Craig Clerkington—or Crystal and Rags Ragnarsson (with whom she’d again broken up, after splitting from Judd Courtney)—or Jenna and Rags Ragnarsson (“just a splurge”)—or Sheila-Q and Avalanche Dobbs—or Samantha and Tab Tchorz—or Laurie and any of the guys she’d dated—or Fiona and any guy, period.  Same thing went for Cheryl and Stu Nugent—or Nancy B and Chewy DeWitt—or Lisa Lohe and Hillel Schiller—or Rachel Gleistein and Sell-O Fayne—not to mention Tess and Fast Eddie, except that those two seemed to get off on their chronic dysfunctionality.


Was any girl at VTHS in a good sound steady relationship?  Well... Holly with Nelson Baedeker; Mary Kate with Frank Wharton; Faye Howell with Knobby Dutton; and the Ogilvie sisters—Lesley with Scott Grampian, Thirsty Kirsten with Jacuzzi Jake Korva.  Who else?  Maybe Nanette Magnus with Boffer Freuen or Mumbles Metcalf with Curtis Weatherly, though Vicki hadn’t seen either couple together for awhile.  Could you count Theresa Challis with that guy who’d graduated after playing Professor Harold Hill?  Or Junior Nygren, who went to Archbishop Houlihan—was she entitled to invite Buddy Marcellus to a Vanderlund turnabout?  If not, did that make Buddy ineligible to do any BMV-ing?




February 14th was only four days off, so Cupid had his work cut out for him.




Vicki edged through the rest of that schoolday with apprehensive caution.  Every time she stepped into a corridor or onto the stairs, she expected to be swept off her feet if not out of her crinkle boots.  As each hour went by her nerves were further frayed, which didn’t seem the ideal way to await an encounter with l’amour—more like being that hapless black cat with the accidental white stripe down her back, who might get pounced on at any minute by Pepé Le Pew.


Nonique didn’t help by getting all teary-eyed when she heard about Jenna’s Zayde Leyva.  Last winter she’d had to endure her own Grandma Cat’s slow decline from stroke to death, the anniversary of which wasn’t far off.  Moana Lisa helped even less at lunch by hinting that Zayde’d brought on his heart attack with a diet of processed deli meat and chainsmoked stogies.  Then Mrs. Mallouf won the least-helpful award by making them pore over the effect Banquo’s ghost had on Macbeth, and how unsympathetic Lady M was—“Why do you make such faces?”—to his supernatural hallucinations.  Even the TGIF aerobic dancing in Phys Ed didn’t soothe Vicki’s jitters, since she kept searching the gym for telltale evidence of a Peeping Tergeist’s presence.


Yoooou’ve got a secret admiiii-er-er...


So scurry through a lukewarm shower and getting redressed, then out of the locker room and around to the auditorium for another double-hour of drop-decoration.  In Jenna’s absence this was supervised by Dexter Rist, who reminded Vicki less of his Anarcho-Syndicalist brother Artie than The Odd Couple’s ultra-uptight Felix Unger:


“Keep your paint within those lines, ladies!  This is color-by-number, not free-range abstract art!”


Meticulous, punctilious, fastidious, acidulousDexter’d disapproved of Vicki’s joining the crew in January rather than last September, and then only until Operetta was over with.  But she’d been vouched for by Jenna; was said to have a “dab hand” at doing hair and makeup; and would surely be more dependable than Spacyjane Groh as a liaison to the invaluable yet terminally shy costuming wunderkind, Kathleen Prindle.


“Besides,” as Dexter’d remarked, “those who are beggared can’t be choosy.”  Not a lot of students had volunteered for crew duties in September or January, what with the Stagecraft class having been eliminated by pennypinchers and academic credit no longer being at stake.  So Dexter had to grit finicky teeth and make do with inept mediocrities like Lumpy Skinner, apprentice scapegoat Marked-Down Mark Brown, and gloomily funereal Assistant Stage Manager Ryan Purvis, who at least understood orders and sometimes brought them to completion unaided.


Ryan’s chief flaw was being an Edgar Allan Poet, which came perilously close to behaving like an actor—one of that wayward herd who, if not kept in constant check, was bound to disrupt a perfectly stage-managed production.  “We on the crew must uphold and maintain a Higher Standard,” Dexter would intone, sounding now like Mr. Hudson on Upstairs, Downstairs—before giving a mortified blench to some backstage SLAM or CRASH, garnished by a contrite apology from Skinner or Mark Brown.


(Some of the crew girls had questioned why painting Loveland drops and flats was an all-female enterprise, but Jenna’d justified this by comparing it to washing and drying your family’s best china: which gender would you entrust with such a delicate commission?)


(SLAM, CRASH, and a penitent “Sorrymyfault!” from Dory Jobling.)


Dexter didn’t want to let them quit when the double-hour ended, but it was 5:15 on a Friday afternoon and the school janitors were cooling impatient heels till all the students vamoosed.  Joss had long since gone home: the Symphonic Orchestra’s afterschool rehearsals wouldn’t begin for a few weeks, and Toughie’d summoned her to wipe clean a slate of undone chores.  Nancy S had charmed Ron Deacon into shuttling her, Nancy B, and Alva Dee in his new Magnum coupe—“you are looking at a magic means of transportation!”—so Vicki bade them adieu (or was it adieux? let’s say adios) while gathering books, purse, and outerwear to beat her own retreat.


Normally this would’ve been straight through the main lobby, out under the front portico, two blocks west on Wheaf to the Sendt bus stop and so down to Jupiter Street.  But today—no, make that tonight, the sun having just set—Vicki preferred not to be intercepted by anyone in particular; so she snuck through the auditorium’s rear exit, crept through the hall by the swimming pool and boys locker room, stole past the auxiliary gym and wood shop and metal shop, and was laying her gloved hand on the pushbar that’d take her outside onto Hordt Field and eventually to the school’s back gate, past which she could sprint along McKinley and then up a block to the less-obvious bus stop on Roosevelt—


—when the pushbar was pulled from her grasp, and the doorway got blocked by a silhouette that made Vicki think (however fleetingly) of Dave Solovay framed in another entry after all the lights went out at the VW Back-to-School Dance.  “Aha!” it went:



Lo you, here, she comes!  This is her very guise; and,

upon my life, fast asleep.  Observe her; stand close—


“—have you gotten to Act V of The Play Some Chickenbritches Dare Not Name Aloud?”


“Uhhhh...” breathed Vicki, withdrawing from the frosty threshold.  “Oh, you mean—um, well, no—we won’t be reading Act V till next week.”


“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” soliloquized Zal Tergeist.  “Well, never mind that now, nor all your yesterdays either.  Here you are, so fatigued from stage crew work you’re practically sleepwalking—and here I am, raring to relieve and convey you wherever you need to go.  So ‘come, come, come, come, give me your hand—’”


“That’s okay—I’m all right—everything’s under control—”


“NONNNsense!” boomed the looming-up-on-its-hind-legs grizzly bear whose gauntleted paw seized your gloved fingers and sent you abruptly back into “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” one of your favorite tales from earliest childhood, which you were always trying to coax Tricia into reciting though she’d be sure to point out that smart Snow-White must be blonde (like her) while dumb Rose-Red must be brunette (like you) but Tricia was exceptionally dramatic when she related how a Bear invaded the sisters’s cottage one wintry night, causing them to scream and hide until the Bear told them:



“Do not be afraid, I will do you no harm! I am half-frozen,

and only want to warm myself a little beside you.


So they let him bask by their fire while beating him (playfully) with a hazel-switch; and the Bear turned out to be a Handsome Prince who’d been bewitched by the ungrateful insulting Dwarf whom the sisters had rescued three times from various mishaps.  (Snow-White of course got to marry the Prince; Rose-Red had to settle for his brother, who wasn’t even mentioned till the very end of the story.)


Now here was another Bear whose paw didn’t feel chilly or benumbing thanks to the layers of wool and leather encasing it and your clasped palm; more like Maestro Monticello’s conductorial hand when he’d bowed over yours in greeting and parting each time you’d met.  Except that now in the corridor by the metal shop you could sense gears being shifted in your wrist and arm and shoulder and neck, right up to the brainpan whose gray matter was turning rose-red (tingle blush) at the thought of what a girl could get down to with a frisky grizzly in a Datsun Z toward which you were being inexorably drawn, drawn, drawn, returning to the frosty threshold as Zal crooned Barry White’s “Playing Your Game, Baby” in French (“Je joue à ton jeu, bébé / Ton jeu, bébé / Juste toi et moi”) and before you know it you’ll both be outside in the twilight and he’ll start singing about your black eyes, passionate eyes, burning and beautiful eyes as he conducts you not to a Datsun but a highpiled snowbank at the side of a hill, tugging you through a hole and into a cave where there’ll be a tomb full of bones, that old Indian chief’s skeleton bricked up like “The Cask of Amontillado”—




Plant your crinkle bootheels in the linoleum as you resist his magnetic attraction, strain against his drawing power, yank your hand clean out of its glove and stagger backward to fetch up against somebody who utters a “Hey!” as flat and hard as a concrete sidewalk.  “Sorrymyfault!” you go, echoing Dory Jobling as you whirl around and nearly suffer a widowmaker of your own when for one heartstopping moment you think you’re nose-to-nose with Tony Pierro, risen yet again from the dustmotes of whichever separate plane of existence he’d been taking cover on—


—except he hadn’t, and it wasn’t, and you weren’t.


Instead of a sleek cleancut puddyboy, Vicki stood vis-à-vis a craggy face that belonged on a rough-edged woodsman or weatherbeaten sailor.  Instead of Zal’s or Dave’s height and breadth and shagginess, this was a stubby bowlegged figure wearing a Gondoliers baseball cap and letterman’s jacket.  Behind him, likewise attired, lounged a couple of tall thin lanky guys who were either identical twins or laboratory clones.


“Problem?” went the shortstop in the same flat hard voice.


“None you need concern yourself with,” Zal grandly replied.  “This young lady and I were just removing ourselves from these premises.”


“That so?”  To Vicki: “You with him?”


“Oh well no not really thanks um I don’t need a ride I mean I’ve got a ride and need to run for it right now so bye—”


“WAIT!” thundered Zal. 


“Run along,” the ballplayer told her, stepping between them.  “C’mere, Tergeist.  We got a few minutes before they kick us out.  Want to show you how the Theater set’s shaping up.”




“Oh, my glove!” wailed Vicki, meaning the one still in Zalman’s fist.


“Let her have it,” the ballplayer told him.


Zal, with a recalcitrant scowl, hurled the glove to what would’ve been the far end of the hall had the shortstop not snagged it one-handed from midair.


“Good catch!” applauded the twin clones.


“Here.  Don’t go dropping it,” Vicki was advised as the glove got pitched to her.  She managed not to bobble it (thanks to lingering volleyball instincts) and earned a grunt of praise from the pitcher as she raced past him, glancing back to see if the grizzly bear would dispatch the beardless dwarf with a single blow of his paw (as in “Snow-White and Rose-Red”) or get wrangled into the metal shop by a shortstop and two stringbeans (as in fact appeared to be taking place).  Regardless of which was true, Vicki decided not to wait for the next bus at either the Wheaf or Roosevelt stops but slip-and-slide all the way down slushy Sendt Street to Jupiter and chalk up this arduous exercise to preseason track practice—


—even as she fought off the memory of hightailing it like a terrified kittycat through snowy Auldforest Woods on a hellish twelfth-night predawn morning.


Now as then, the Queen Anne’s kitchen door swung open just as Vicki was about to collapse on the mat.  This time she was admitted by Toughie, on the verge of departing for her West Side home with daughter Ernestine and toddler grandchild Lashonda, who adored Vicki and wanted to stay long enough to share a mug of Carnation Coco Supreme.  When told she wouldn’t be able to “hold it” through the lengthy trip to Meemaw’s house, Lashonda insisted (adorably) on watching Vicki drink; and for once Vicki didn’t have to pretend to enjoy pouring hot liquid down her hypothermic throat.  This wasn’t lost on sub-sensitive Joss, nor on eagle-eyed Toughie: “Looks like you needed that cocoa, child.  Best have another cup.”


“Please don’t stay on my account, Mrs. Twofields,” Vicki unconsciously rhythm-mimicked while airing out her singed mouth.


“Yes, let’s go, Mama,” urged Ernestine.  She and her husband Wade Grier (no relation to Rosey or Pam) had recently moved to Happel Land, splitting a duplex with Wade’s parents and younger siblings; but Ernestine had taken over driving Toughie home after brother Lamar left for the State U, and she wanted to get to the West Side and back in time to put Lashonda to bed at a decent hour.  (Wade tended bar at a Bronzeville restaurant and wouldn’t be due at the duplex till late.)  “Say bye-bye, baby, we need to leave.”


“Not a baby!” Lashonda indignantly asserted while being allowed to slurp the last few drops from Vicki’s mug.  After submitting to a napkin-scrub, she bestowed embraces on Vicki, Joss, Mittens, and Fingers (avoiding Beth, Thumb, and Invisible Amy) before finally consenting to travel in the Griers’s Dodge Dart.


“That little girl’s nobody’s fool,” said Joss, rubbing her own neck to ease its obedient crick from nodding at Toughie’s reiteration of the weekend housework list.


“Yeah yeah yeah listen to THIS!” said Vicki; and very soon Joss was having a gigglefit on the Queen Anne’s broad oak staircase.  Unable to even sub-say C’mon as she clung to the banister, Joss flailed her other arm at Vicki to follow her up to the aerie, from one of whose bookshelves she grabbed Thurber’s Famous Poems Illustrated and pointed mutely at a page for Vicki to read.  It recounted how “a beauteous lively dame / with smiling lips and sharp bright eyes” dropped her glove into a den of roaring lions to see whether her noble French lover was sufficiently devoted to leap in and retrieve it for her.  Which he did, although he wasn’t:



The leap was quick, return was quick, he has regained his place,

Then threw the glove, but not with love, right in the lady’s face—


That’s not what happened at ALL!” Vicki exclaimed, glaring down at Joss in ecstasies on the aerie carpet.  As per usual, this was so contagious that Vicki couldn’t help but join in till her stomach ached.  Which, though it might not be symptomatic of very-best-friendship, was one of the reasons why she loved Joss so much and could always rely upon her for surefire mood-lightening.




That night, again with Joss’s assistance, Vicki was able to identify her rescuers as Avery Loderhauser and the Schrimpfen twins, Slats and Stretch (born Fess and Forrest).  All three were seniors; Vicki vaguely recalled their slouching silently off to one side when she’d been introduced to the Stage Crew.  Slats and Stretch were handling sound and lights respectively for Follies, while Avery was in charge of the Weismann Theater set’s design and construction.  All three were said to be obsessed with Moog synthesizer music and building their own stereo speakers.


“You ever want to borrow a soldering iron, they’re the guys to ask,” said Joss.


Avery’s face, looking like it was hewn out of granite, gazed impassively at Vicki from the pages of Meg’s old Baratarian yearbooks.  “Why do they call him ‘the Bedeguar Way Bomber’?  Does he blow things up?”


“You mean like balloons and air mattresses?  Maybe he rolls cigar-sized reefer-joints.”




“To help heal aching joints.  Actually I think it’s from how he plays baseball—though there’ve been rumors about a Science Fair project gone wrong that blasted out the back of his garage.”


Could a synthesizer accident set off an explosion that intense? Vicki wondered as she went back to school for Saturday crew duty—and stopped short at the sight not of Zal nor Avery nor the Schrimpfen twins, but Jenna Wiblitz surrounded by other earlycomers.  “Your granddad,” they were trying to ask, “how?... is?... has?... did?...”


“His cabbage went ‘swimmingly,’ I’m told,” sighed Jenna.  Which sounded like a case of sauerkraut indigestion such as Vicki’s own Diamond Joel was subject to, till Jenna explained that CABG stood for Coronary Artery Bypass Graft.  “They say he should be out of the hospital in a week.  And ought to fully recover, if he quits smoking and drinking Old Style Lager and gives up all his favorite foods.”


Everyone offered Zayde good wishes and mazel tovs; but as Jenna beckoned her into a secluded corner of the wing, Vicki could read Fat chance of that happening in the hollow-socketed bird’s-eyes behind plain black spectacle rims.


Enfold and hold her close like a good little sister.  “You look like you could use a nice lie-down.”


“And how.  Any chance you can put me up for tonight?  Aunt Sophie’s bunking with us and Aunt Bleah’s with the Lohes, and I can’t cope anymore with either of ‘em.”


“Oh absolutely!  But what about your mom?”


“She’s okay.  It was her idea.  She left the ‘with who’ up to me.”


“Well, you bet you can stay with us.  Joss is sleeping over but she always stays in my room so you’ll have Tricia’s—and hey! Keiko Nakayama’s coming by on Sunday, you ‘n’ her can talk about mangas... um, did you say ‘Aunt Bleah?’”


“Her real name’s Leah, but she really is a Bleah.  Muchas gracias, hermanita, you’re a sanity-saver.  So’s using paintbrushes—let’s smock up.”


The scent of liquid pigment quickly revived Jenna, who replaced her black rims with fuchsia Cupid frames (“Trial run for next Tuesday”) while making Dexter Rist shoo away Skinner, fetch fresh supplies out of the locked storage cabinet (“No, the other stirrer sticks”) and phone Burrow Lane to confirm she’d be welcome to stay there overnight.


That’ll learn him to say my Zayde should’ve delayed having major surgery till Operetta was over with!”


“Did he say that out loud?”


“Maybe not, but I can read the Rist mind like an open Redbook.


Jenna perked up further when told about Vicki’s Friday ambuscade and liberation.  “My oh my.  Never would’ve guessed ol’ Bomber’d be your White Knight.”


“I’d hardly call him that—”


“Don’t be so sure.  White Knights don’t all come in shining armor.  The one in Through the Looking-Glass had ‘tin armor which seemed to fit him very badly.’”


“Well, yesterday it was more like Popeye giving Bluto the brush-off.”


(Chirpy snortle.)  “With you as their Olive Oyl?”


“Oh Gahd I hope not!...  Y’know, just once I’d like to be some guy’s Betty Boop, even if I don’t have the right cup size.”


(Louder longer snortlechirp.)  “Well, I won’t start calling you ‘Boopsie’—”


“—please don’t.  ‘Loopy’s’ bad enough—”


“—but I think we can boop-a-doop something that’ll solve all your problems.”


“All my problems?”


“A couple of all your problems.  Hey, Chook!  Got a question for you!


Yeah?” from Chookie Yentlebaum at the other end of the stage.


Can you take a message from me to Shecky?


Yeah, what is it?


Something I’m much too ashamed to shout across the auditorium!


That brought Chookie over in a flash, and alarmed Vicki till she heard the actual message: Keep Zalman upstairs as long as you can.


Jenna then asked Dexter if she and Vicki could go pay a quick visit to the metal shop.  What for?  Because she wanted to consult with her fellow set designer.  What about?  Why, the choice of a gift for the Stage Manager that the entire crew would be donating to, with Vicki as witness so there’d be no takesie-backsies.


“Fine, don’t tell me why,” Dexter sniffed.  “And don’t dillydally, either!”


“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Jenna waited to retort till they were out in the corridor.


Vicki’d never been inside the VTHS metal shop, though she sometimes peeked into the Volester Motors service department when visiting the Lot.  This place didn’t seem a great deal different: full of brassy clamor, dangerous-looking machinery and an oily smell.  She was greeted by friends among the crew guys—Link Linfold and Nelson Baedeker (who’d succeeded in sprouting a pencil moustache that made Holly shut her eyes every time she kissed him, lest she laugh her head off) and Lumpy Skinner, if you could call him a friend instead of That ASS who was sidling along parallel with Jenna.  No sign of Mark Brown, so maybe he’d been sent out to get something like towelette packets, though he could turn even that kind of errand into a marked-down disaster.


They found Avery Loderhauser high in the air, laboring on the stairway which the Weismann alumni would descend during the “Beautiful Girls” number, and atop which Young Sally and Young Phyllis would make their entrance in “Waiting for the Girls Upstairs.”  It was a repurposed steel rolling ladder to which Avery and Nature Boy Rutherford were securing a multiple-cross-braced upper platform; and though the result was only twelve feet high, just peering up at it made Vicki feel dizzy.


Hey Bomber, got a minute?” Jenna screeched over the metallic racket.


Sec,” he said, completing the tool-torsion task at hand; then shinnying down the side of the scaffolding as if its ladder steps were merely for display.  Still wearing his ballcap but not the letterman’s jacket, he had on a Tangerine Dream Stratosfear T-shirt that’d seen cleaner days, and revealed forearms that some might call muscular.


“Cramps?” he asked Jenna, horrifying Vicki till she realized he was inquiring after Gramps i.e. her Zayde; which was unexpectedly thoughtful and considerate of Avery, even if his expression remained stoic.


Jenna touched briefly on CABGs, then said “You know Vicki?”


“Sure.”  (Ballcap-brim turning a few degrees in her direction.)


“She’ll be needing a ride home next week, or least until Nancy Sykeman can get hold of another car.  To Burrow Lane off Foxtail, north of Lesser—can you swing it?”


JENNA!! Vicki sub-squealed, thinking of all the ways a guy might interpret the word swing.


“Sure.”  (Ballcap-brim tipping half an inch forward.)


“One more thing.  Her mom’s picking us up today.  Can you meet her long enough to prove you’re not the Mad Bludgeoner?”


Half-hooded eyes flickered with momentary—what? annoyance? amusement? as they twitched from Jenna to Vicki under the ballcap-brim.  Then: “Sure.”


“Thanks, Bomber, we owe you one.  Don’t we?” Jenna big-sister’d Vicki, who murmured agreeable vowel sounds.  (Where had she seen eyes like that before?)  “We’ll let you get back to yours while we get back to ours.  Don’t let Dexter persnicket you.”


“Not likely,” said Avery, vaulting upward like a human fly on a skyscraper.


“Hey, watch it, man!  These ain’t monkey bars!” warned Nature Boy as the scaffolding creaked and swayed.


From the upper platform: “Might be if you’d tighten those braces.”  To the girls: “Outta here at 5:30, mother or no mother.”


“Gotcha,” Jenna told him, and What?” to the parallel-sidling Skinner.  “Is that new chapter finished?”


“Um... sort of... not yet...”


“I’m waiting for it.”


“Yeah... I know... sorry... sayhellotoyourZaydeforme” as the girls left the metal shop.


“Oh, that’ll boost his chances of recovery,” Jenna groused as she dodged Mark Brown, who’d scattered towelette packets over the corridor floor.  “And don’t you start feeling sorry for that ASS.  I’ve told you before, pity’s wasted on him.”


“Did I say a word?” asked Vicki, helping Mark salvage the towelettes.


“Didn’t have to.  I can read your mind like an open Vogue.


More like vague fretted Vicki, trying to absorb all the events of the past twenty-four hours, but hampered by pangs not unlike those of sauerkraut indigestion.




“So who needs Farewell My Lovely?” said Joss, meaning the 8 p.m. NBC movie that Goofus was about to watch with Ozzie in the Burrow Lane family room, despite Felicia’s doubts that Goof was mature enough to see such a film.  “They’ll edit out all the R-ratedness,” Ozzie told her placatingly, so Fel huffed off to study Principles of Real Estate by herself.  Which, as Joss reflected, was a real fun way to spend Saturday night—almost as festive as watching TV at home would be for a trio of voluptuous teen beauties.


“Or us three either,” Jenna snortlechirped.


“Haven’t we had our fill of drama tonight?” added Vicki.


Avery Loderhauser had been climbing into his battered Mustang Boss at precisely 5:30 when Felicia (and Joss, picked up from her cornet lesson) arrived at school in the Luxury Liner.  “That a Town & Country wagon?” Avery’d asked; and Vicki’d overcome her inhibitions long enough to blurt “Yes—’75 model—catalytic converter—high-speed starter motor—tailgate window defroster—tilt-and-telescope steering wheel,” like the car dealer’s daughter she was.  Avery’d moseyed over to take a quick look under the parking lot lights, while Jenna’d fast-talked an introduction/explanation through Felicia’s cracked-open driver’s door.  Fel had asked Avery some questions, received several Sures and Yeahs, and given a Well I guess so go-ahead to his driving Vicki home from next week’s afterschool crew work.  Being a theatrical set designer was a point in Avery’s favor; as was that he “Kind of comes across like Bogie, doesn’t he?”—or so Felicia’d mused while preparing to follow his Mustang out onto McKinley Avenue.


“Like a bogeyman, Mrs. V?”


“Now Jocelyn, you know perfectly well I mean—”


Screeeech as an honest-to-God bugbear’d lunged in front of the cars with vast greenjacketed sleeves spread wide.


The sequel to this coup de théâtre had been less Macbeth than a Comedy of Errors.  Avery’d leaned out of his Boss and aimed some Bomberish monosyllables at Zalman; luckily Alex wasn’t there to hear them, she having left the choral rehearsal for her shift at the animal shelter.  “BUT—” Zal had reacted while Avery’d slammed the Boss door shut and driven around him; repeating this “BUT—” when Felicia’d reopened her door long enough to inquire “Have you lost your mind, young man??” before duplicating Bomber’s slam and drive-around.


“(Well, Shecky almost held him off long enough,)” Jenna’d commented.


“Does anyone know who that idiot was?” from Felicia.


“Zalman Tergeist—”


“—a hammy dramaturge—”


“—with a big crush on Vicki.”


JENNA!! Vicki’d sub-squealed for the second time that day, saying I didn’t ask him to!” aloud when her mother’d glowered at her in the rearview mirror, and concluding with the sub-customary Oh shut UP when Joss had giggled “She just can’t help being a femme fatale, Mrs. V.”


“Does he know our phone number?” Fel had demanded.


I haven’t given it to him!”


“Well, if he ever does call I want you to hang up in his ear, Victoria!  Leaping at moving cars is no way for a sane gentleman to behave!”


What about a crazy gentleman? her passengers had sub-chorused.


Now at 8 p.m. they were in Tricia’s old bedroom with the mirrored closet doors, having dined and tidied up and changed into flannel sleepwear (Jenna’s taken from a “getaway bag” she’d packed before leaving Millbank Street that morning).  Rather than watch Robert Mitchum trade punches in Farewell My Lovely, Joss wanted to hear Jenna dish some personal particulars about Avery Loderhauser; as did Vicki, though she’dve denied it.


“Well, he went to Petty Elementary and I went to South Dock, so I didn’t know him till VW when I was a sevvie and he was an eighter.  Little League star—pinball wizard—skateboard daredevil—electronics genius (if he ever had a science project that blasted out the back of a garage, it was supposed to)—but unlucky in love.”


“Oooh, dooo tell!” went Joss, with the sub-obligatory You shut up to Vicki.


At VW Avery’d dated Gabey Sundheit, the same statuesque swimmer whose future sneeze would infect Jenna with acute bronchitis.  Gabey hadn’t been too embarrassed by having a boyfriend who only came up to her shoulder, since he was rugged and durable and “good with his hands.”  What had bothered Gabey was Avery’s trying to fabricate an artificial version of herself, inspired by Lindsay Wagner’s guest appearances on The Six Million Dollar Man.  Or so she’d suspected when he conjectured whether a female robot could be made sufficiently waterproof to swim without shorting out.  This had spurred Bomber to draw up technical diagrams of a bionic bikini babe, whose resemblance to Gabey was intended to be complimentary but freaked her into breaking up with him.


(“Sounds like he’d be gaga about Becca Blair,” said Vicki.)


(“Nope—someone already bionicized her,” said Joss.)


(“And didn’t leave much scope for extra creativity,” said Jenna.)


In his sophomore year at VTHS, Avery’d gone to the other extreme heightwise and dated Bianca Panucci, a tiny girl who played the sousaphone in the marching band.  When asked why that instrument instead of a piccolo, Bianca would grin and say “‘Cause it makes me look cooo-wull!”  No struggle for her to carry it: she pumped a lot of iron, though not to the point of distorting her supergirlish figure, and could outarmwrestle all sorts of boys who called her “Mighty Mouse” and claimed they’d let her win.


As with Carly and Isabel and Tess Disseldorf and Junior Nygren and Ginger Snowbedeck (to say nothing of Tricia Volester), “shyness” was a word absent from Bianca Panucci’s vocabulary.  She reveled in exhibiting what she could do and how she was shaped, which had allegedly been immortalized in basswood when Avery advanced from experiments with whittling to sculpt her sans sousaphone, sans band uniform, sans everything except her pintsized birthday suit.


At that time Jenna’d still been at VW, so she couldn’t say for certain how close this Mighty Mouse monument (known to legend as Here She Shows Her T&A!) had come to fruition.  Some whispered that it never went beyond preliminary sketches; others that an exquisite full-scale replica of Bianca got carved in anatomically-correct detail.  There was additional debate as to how her father’d found out about the posing and/or sculpting, plus in what manner he’d terminated either or both.  Pasquale “Peanuts” Panucci was said to be a mannerly terminator; he sat on (and sawed bits off) numerous boards of directors and trustees, including the Kickshaw Conservatory’s and possibly the South Side Gang’s.  So how heavily did he sit on (or saw off) Avery Loderhauser for taking artistic advantage of his daughter’s immodesty?


Not to the extent of devastating Bianca, who’d soon been back on the march and enthralling other sousaphone-lovers.  Nor did Bomber start singing soprano; in his junior year he’d wooed and wowed Rosalind Kuhn, who like Miss Rosamond Ambrose yearned for life in the 1920s.  Roz Kuhn idolized silent film star Louise Brooks, wearing her hair in the same dark Dutch bob and cultivating a similar pokerfaced aura that meshed seamlessly with Bomber’s deadpan.


Emboldened by his encouragement, she’d written to Lulu herself care of Eastman House, asking reverently for a interview-by-mail about Die Büchse der Pandora and Tageluch einer Verlorenen.  Roz’s letter had come back in its SASE with a handscrawled “NO”; yet some kind soul (if not Lulu herself) enclosed a photocopy of the 1956 Image article “Out of Pandora’s Box,” and Roz had used this as the basis for a prizewinning essay of her own.  Avery’d reputedly taken part in Roz’s victory lap, in every sense of the word; and done so without subsequent brag or swagger (which everyone in Tricia’s room agreed was a sure sign of True Love).


“How does the little runt do it?” six-foot-tall guys had marveled when the Gossip Brigade chinwagged that Rosalind Kuhn was posing in the nude for another Bomber statue—this one made of hammered and molded metal, though that veered out of G.W. Pabst’s territory and into Fritz Lang’s.  Her enigmatic gaze, both in real life and welded art, had indicated he could do it very well—


—at least up to Roz’s sudden decampment to Germany as an eleventh-hour foreign exchange student.  She’d spent the past semester in Hamburg, from which she’d posted a Dear Avery letter that accused him of starkly objectifying her in sexualized aluminum.  Which might be partly true; but Bomber never got a chance to defend himself in person, since Roz took early graduation like Bunty O’Toole and was now at Pomona College majoring in Deutsch.


“At least the little runt’s still got her Tin Can Fanny,” jeered the six-footers, though some guessed he’d demolished Rosalind’s statue with a baseball bat; others that he’d transformed it into ornamental birdbaths.  Either way, did Avery suffer the same low blow Rick had felt when abandoned by Ilsa in Casablanca?


No telling—certainly not by him.


“But now he’s got a second chance for True Love!” Joss enthused, rolling her small blue twinklers at Vicki.


“More like a fourth chance, but yes he does,” chirped Jenna, surveying Vicki through glasses framed with frilly pink scallops (another tryout for Valentine’s Day).  “And now that he’ll be giving you rides home, I dare you to cajole him into a BMV.”


“Double that dare!” went Joss.


They waited expectantly for Vicki to protest that she hadn’t even ever really talked to Avery Loderhauser, so how was she supposed to jump over all his heartbreak-hurdles by next Tuesday?  Such a reaction would leave her open to be double-dog- and triple-dog-dared, as only a very best friend and new big sister could get away with.


But Vicki was lost in thought, staring unfocusedly at a mirrored closet door.


That’s where I saw those half-hooded eyes—in the dream I had after being told not to worry about “Lucia Vantropbaring her bod for Playboy’s Girls of the Big Ten.  So what did I do but go and dream that I did the same thing—not for a camera or a canvas but a block of wood that split and split and SPLIT wherever the sculptor hit it with his mallet and chisel while he ran half-hooded eyes over every inch of my exposure?  Never had that dream again, but lived through a real-life nightmare five months later in Isabel’s utility basement where Mr. Freeze (not Mr. Frazee) ordered me to take off my butterfly costume and feel free to SCREAM while I did it.  Which I couldn’t have done for long before dying of shame—except that I didn’t undress or scream or die, I fought back by ramming a Pet Rock into Freeze’s groin and cracking his helmet open with his own raygun, then sending him fleeing blindly up and out of a third-story window.


And funnily enough, in the eight weeks since that happened I haven’t once had a flashback about any part of it, waking or sleeping.  And without needing a Bob Newhart lookalike psychotherapist to help me recuperate.


So maybe reciting Lady Macbeth’s cruder lines to a classroom full of guys might make me squirm, but I can think back on that scene in the basement and not break into a sweat, cold or hot.  Ditto when I relive opening Tricia’s envelope and seeing her as a naked Big Ten Girl.  Or when I remember watching The Maltese Falcon as a sleepover Late Movie and Joss saying “In the book, this is where Sam Spade stripsearches her! Which they obviously couldn’t’ve gotten away with in a ‘40s film and why would they want to, since Mary Astor looked more like Olive Oyl than Betty Boop?


Even if the opposite were true about me, I’d never pose that way for a camera or canvas or sculptor with half-hooded eyes—not while I’m an underage sophomore.


But it no longer does me any sweaty sleepless harm to wonder what it might be like—how it might feel to actually do it.


Or at least to be asked...




On Sunday afternoon the thermometer rose above freezing for the first time in three weeks, yet Zerlina wasn’t allowed to drive the Monticello Jeep from Lutterworth Terrace to Burrow Lane; her authorization was revoked when she overslept almost to the moment of departure.  She arrived in a colossal snit with her tawny mane still damp from a hasty wakeup shower, and wearing next to no cosmetics which made her look much more naturally pretty but also about twelve years old (facially if not bodily).


Well, that accounts for all the warpaint thought Vicki as Zerl stalked off to the nearest bathroom to “fix her face,” preceded by an unglossed lower lip pouting like a rubber baby buggy bumper.


“She’s added me to her ‘ostracize’ list,” reported Miriam.  “Her father, brother, and the dog are already on it.  They send their hellos, by the way, so please pass them along to Surly Zerly for me.”


Midge and Felicia settled down for a realtors-in-training powwow while Vicki introduced the brought-along Keiko to Jenna, who made a valiant effort to not remark on her hornrims.  (Keiko kept blinking behind them at the Wiblitz frilly-scallop frames.)


“Do you still tutor people?” Jenna asked her.  “I’ve been trying to study Kanji and Kana characters so I can do my own manga translations, but I’m not making much headway by myself.  I could pay you two dollars an hour for lessons.”


“She’ll take it,” said Zerlina, swooping in to overrule the flustered self-effacing Keiko.  Zerl’s own face now looked thoroughly varnished and more in synch with her full-grown figure, packaged today in a snug maroon-and-blue Kickshaw Dance Division jogging suit.  “You’re Jenna?  I’m Zerl.  Those are snazzy glasses.  Pay no-never-mind when she gets bashful about her teaching skill, I’ve learned heaps of Japanese from her—useru, ‘get lost’—shizukani, ‘shut up’—”


“(Shihhh-zoo-kah-nee,)” murmured Keiko.  “(There is no ‘T’ sound.)”


There was however a note of disappointment in her quiet voice: Keiko’s parents, while “approving very much” of Vicki, had not permitted Keiko to visit Burrow Lane until they were assured that Carly Thibert wouldn’t be present.  Which made Carly seem like a pernicious temptress instead of a giddy gadabout who, on the whole, had been a pretty good locker-neighbor to Vicki these past three years (if you overlooked her desertion of last spring’s Earth Science project so she could entice Tail-End to do all the work on “Air Masses”).  Carly had truly liked Keiko and taken pride in playing fairy godmother to her Cinderella-san; and Keiko’s missing Carly so sorely was probably a factor in her having gravitated to hotcha Zerlina’s side.  The Nakayamas didn’t seem to mind the two of them palling around—perhaps because Zerl was acquiescent with Keiko’s face being anointed only by chapstick, while her body was swaddled in dowdy duds.


“Shizukani,” Jenna enunciated with T-free care.  “How do you write that?”


Everyone watched Keiko pen on Jenna’s sketchpad, even as the phone rang and was answered by passerby Goofus.


“Hey Sis!  A guy’s calling who must be insane, ‘cause he wants to talk to you


“I’LL take that!” snapped Felicia in the living room.  The girls heard angry-sounding noises, an audible click, then Fel when she came up to criticize the caller as devious, impertinent, and deafening.  “I told him not to call here again till he learns how to lower his voice and behave himself, on the phone and after dark in a parking lot.  Jocelyn!  Jennifer!  And you too, Zerlina!  I’m counting on you to tell him the same if he ever calls when Victoria’s at your houses.”


Mother...” groaned Vicki.


“We’ll make sure she stays on the straight and narrow,” vowed Jenna, who didn’t mind Fel’s elongating her name (possibly in fond remembrance of Cynthia Dollfuss’s older sister, the one who could protrude her eyeballs for minutes at a time).


“And the path of righteousness, Mrs. V!” added Joss.


“Let’s just say safe and sound,” said Felicia, heading back down to Midge.


“What was that all about?” Zerl wanted to know.  “‘After dark in a parking lot’—sounds like it could be wicked.”


“That’s one word for it,” nodded Joss.


Jenna reran her Orson Welles/Rex Harrison/Citizen Pygmalion personality profile, including Zal’s attempts to captivate, dominate, and/or remodel Chass and Lois and Julep and Isabel and Candy Gates; while Vicki summarized his approaches to her own person—Macbeth’s Act II Scene II, “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” hauling her physically upstairs/downstairs, and the bugbear-lunge at the McKinley exit.  Joss contributed occasional bon mots and Keiko an intermittent titter, as Zerlina licked overly-glossed lioness-chops.


“Sounds like my kind of guy,” she purred.


Jenna shot Vicki a scalloped glance just as Joss’s elbow nudged Vicki’s ribs.


“Ow!...  Um, Zerl?  Are you like... going with anyone right now?”


“Don’t you dare mention Paitoon!” Zerl snarled at Keiko, both of whose hands had risen to cover her chapsticked mouth.


“Oh,” sighed Vicki.  “Well, if you’ve already got a boyfriend...”


“(She doesn’t,)” Keiko murmured through muffling fingers.


Shizukani by Vicki, Joss and Jenna till Zerl phffft’d and shrugged.  “Okay fine.  He was born in Bangkok, his name’s Paitoon (not poutine) which means ‘moonstone,’ he’s a freshman piano major at Kickshaw, we went out a few times (don’t tell my folks) but it didn’t work out.  Turned out he’s bi.”


“Buy what?” asked Vicki.


“Bisexual,” clarified Jenna.


“Likes girls and guys,” defined Joss.


“Guys more than me,” grated Zerl.  “I could live with that, except why on earth would an eighteen-year-old pianist fall for a thirty-year-old golf pro—in the middle of winter??


Keiko said nothing, but lowered her hands and shook her conservatively-raised Japanese head at the thought of a bi Thai.


“So... I guess you’re not ready yet for another relationship?” ventured Vicki.


“Says who?” Zerlina bristled.  “Not with another ‘moonstone,’ maybe.  But a guy named Zalman, who drives a Datsun Z?  You don’t think that’s significant?”—as the Zorro-sign quivered on her maroon-and-blue chest.


“Course I do, we all do!  Jen, show her his picture!”


Jenna fished out some Footlighter and Follies cast photos from her zippered art portfolio, and Zerl’s bright white teeth slowly illuminated the room.  “Ooh, I like that beard... Paitoon couldn’t grow one if you drenched his jaw with fertilizer... you weren’t kidding about the Orson Wellesishness... ‘We will sell no wine before its time’... you say he’s a senior?  Does he drink a lot?”


Everything he does, he does a lot,” Jenna sourpussed.


“Better and better!  Okay: I’m definitely interested.  Get me a whip and chair!”


“Have you got a snapshot or something of yourself I could show him as, well, y’know...” Vicki fumbled.


“Bait?” Zerl answered bluntly, directing an “I’m gonna slap you!” at the again-tittery Keiko.  Digging into her shoulderbag, she withdrew an 8x10 slice of cheesecake.  “This was taken at our avant-garde dance recital—made the costume myself.”


Vicki was immediately reminded of [a] Split-Pea’s North Squire portrait of Lillie Guldbaer, projecting bosomly over her bikini top as she was caught in midair; and [b] Isabel’s coating of red spraypaint that was in fact a Palan Pétard designer original, the sort of dress a girl might wear to the electric chair if she wanted to go out with a bang.  In [c] Zerlina’s case, the upper half of her indigo leotard was a big Z—made of straps just wide enough and thick enough to keep her own peachy upper half partly under wraps through the dancing.


“Yep,” said Jenna.  “That ought to do the trick.”




Bolstered by this vivid pinup, Vicki strode into school on Monday primed for confrontational action—


...only to encounter neither hide nor hair of Zal Tergeist all morning long.


Maybe Mom scared him off?  Don’t bet on it.  Maybe just having Zerl’s pic is a lucky charm?  More like a callback to UN-lucky Charms, e.g. Dennis Desmond.


“(Now’s not the time to let your guard down!  Keep that ten-foot cattle prod up and ready!)” Jenna whisper-cautioned at lunch, before she and Vicki shifted their attention from meatloaf and green beans to eavesdropping on the adjacent cafeteria table.


Frank and Mary Kate had each invited a potential BMV-er to try his luck with Cheryl.  Frank’s nominee was his track teammate Kevin Wingate, who’d broken the NESTL(É) high jump record last season while only a sophomore.  Spacyjane would say that Kevin had a “mystic introvert aura”: you could envision him wandering the Wild West with David Carradine in Kung Fu, quoting Master Po’s aphorisms—except he was too busy applying his nose, brain, and entire being to the proverbial grindstone.  No Wingate personal best was left unimproved, whether in field events, weightlifting, fly fishing, or microbiology (as Doc Plassy’s student aide and protégé).  Kevin seemed to regard romance as a branch of research science, mentally logging investigative notes even in the backseat of his rebuilt Studebaker; yet here too Wingate’s Personal Best had to be continually upgraded.  Last fall he’d reached the high plateau of dating surgical-minded Becca Blair—briefly, interspersed with her other courtships, and while people speculated whether they spent more time studying anatomy than making out.  Now with Frank Wharton’s sponsorship he was trying to high-jump onto Cheryl’s jilted precipice.


(Vicki felt sorry for Lisa Lohe, whose heart was inclined toward Kevin as a fellow ascetic and future doctor; but she stood meager chance against the challenge Cheryl Trevelyan posed to any guy’s Personal Best.)


Mary Kate’s choice of Cheryl-wooer had been christened with the noble name Roland George de Courcey, yet he was generally known as “Futz” and infamous as a chronic procrastinator.  His test papers, unlike Tail-End Wyszynski’s, didn’t need to be pried out of scribbling hands; they were submitted upon request, filled out at the last minute after Futz devoted the test hour to meditative inactivity.  For years he’d been the despair of cello instructors who swore Futz could be the next Mstislav Rostropovich if he’d buckle down and exert himself; but he went on playing by ear and spending rehearsals in randy contemplation of nearby female fiddlers.  Some resented this (Alma Battenburg once threatened to skewer Futz with her violin bow) but others sought out his surveillance (such as Dilly Vlasic who was built like her double bass and and twice as pluckable).  A lot of girls openly pined for Roland George de Courcey: he came from a wealthy Baroque Vista household, was indolently handsome, and had a head of hair that Brad Faussett or even Irina Saranoff could envy.  (Their coifs were groomed around the clock; his got idly finger-combed at random interludes.)  And Futz tended to wind up lackadaisical dates with the same conclusive flourish he gave to cello concerti he hadn’t bothered to practice but still got ovations for.


He’d also been Cheryl’s very first boyfriend back at Snead Elementary.  Their preteen liaison lasted till Cheryl, enraged by Futz’s slothful “running” to kickball bases, declared she would rather croak than date such a lazybutted caterpillar inspector!  (An epithet still in use by the old Snead crowd.)  Yet here he was, five years later on Valentine’s Eve, picking at his meatloaf while visibly savoring how much more the eleventh-grade Cheryl filled out a pullover than the sixth-grade Cheryl who’d dumped him on a kickball diamond.


Meanwhile Kevin Wingate was chewing each mouthful twenty conscientious times (according to Holly’s watchful count) between delivery of Tao-ish homilies about uplift and separation—as if he too were paying homage to Cheryl’s sweater.  (Boys will be boys, even the ascetic and lethargic.)  But Cheryl, gazing bleakly across two tables at the back of Stu Nugent’s head leaning close to Dru Schwaeder’s, ignored both Kevin and Futz along with her meatloaf and green beans.


“Can’t say she’s my favorite person, but she ought to get a better Valentine offer than from those two,” Nonique told Vicki as they went upstairs after lunch.


“What about us two?” Vicki replied, trying to balance Mrs. Mallouf’s latest hot caffeinated offering.  “All we’re sure of is who we don’t want to BMV us.”


“You got that right,” exhaled Nonique; and they rolled dark eyes at each other in parting on the fourth floor.


Vicki made it to Room 403 without spillage or any fresh manifestation by Zal Tergeist.  Maybe he wasn’t even at school today?  That would tick Zerlina off, having her whip-and-chair interest whetted to a fine edge for an irresponsible no-show.


Oh well: another Monday, another Macbeth handout to distribute.  Act IV “(in which Doris gets her oats,)” Fiona muttered, though Petula Pierro née Doris Tays wasn’t in the vicinity.  But the three weird witches returned, with a bubbling cauldron whose ingredients smacked of Biology dissection labwork:



Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the cauldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt, and toe of frog,

Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing...


Just the sort of tidbits you wanted to be served right after lunch.  From this mess the witches conjured up some fortunetelling apparitions: a disembodied Head, a gory Child, a crowned Child holding a tree, a parade of Kings holding a mirror and shadowed by Banquo’s Ghost.  Macbeth was left standing “amazedly,” not least by the witches’s madcap dance—“(Who knew there were Valentine Turnabouts in ancient Scotland?)” muttered Fiona—before they vanished, and Macbeth ordered the murder of Macduff’s wife and children with th’ edge o’ th’ sword.


It was a real fun way to gain an hour of secondary education, if you asked Vicki the T.A.—who would not only have to write a paper on this gruesome drama, but also alphabetize everybody else’s.



Cool it with a baboon’s blood

Then the charm is firm and good

(Let us thank Him for our food...)


When the bell rang she hurried down to extract coats and take-home textbooks from her third-floor locker and Jenna’s adjoining one, having been entrusted with its combination.  This would save time and energy following afterschool crew work, and give Jenna a few extra minutes in her Seventh Hour Ceramics class (where she might be firing a bowl as a surprise for Vicki’s birthday).  Fortunately their winter overcoats were both petite, and Jenna’s big art portfolio accompanied her everywhere she went; yet Vicki’s double-armload was still bulky enough to make negotiating the stairs down to the first floor as hazardous as climbing them with a styrofoam cup of acrid black coffee.


And of course NOW was when Zal Tergeist decided to pop out of nowhere and block her path: “Well met, ma choupinette!


“Where the hell have you been?” she blared.


Bushy brows shot up over gunmetal eyes.  “Qu'est-ce que c'est?


“None of your French!”


“‘Canst thou not cleanse the stuff’d bosom of that perilous stuff which weighs upon the heart?’”


“None of your Shakespeare either!” snapped Vicki, outraged by the implication that her cup size might be phonily Boopified.  Utilizing the double-armload, she began to propel Zalman backward down the staircase.


“W—” he went.


Raising her voice over complaints from people Zal’s backside was bumping into: “I’ve got a message to give you and there’s no time to do it now so meet me in the auditorium before you go wherever you’re rehearsing today if you’re rehearsing today!




“And don’t be late!  Dexter wants the Loveland set finished this week so we can start work on the showgirl headdresses and we’re barely on schedule as it is.  ‘Scuse me—” as she ducked past Zal through the doors of the girls locker room.


“H—” from the other side of the swung-shut doors.


Deposit the double-armload in Coach Celeste’s cubbyhole-office as prearranged; then it’s off with woolen dress and crinkle boots, on with hideous gymsuit and slipshod gymshoes (got to buy a new pair), and out for another delightful dose of basketballing.  Yet here too Vicki demonstrated she was in no mood for intimidation or overwhelment: stealing the ball repeatedly from Irina and Sheila-Q, and knocking Enid Stott clean off her myopic feet.


That done, shower taken, street clothes redonned, double-armload retrieved, Vicki entered the auditorium and found Zal backstage, irascibly tapping a size 13 Dingo like Robin Neapolitan beating a drumskin.


“YOU are tardy!  Practically truant!” he proclaimed.


“Am not!  Hold on—” (stowing the double-armload inside a cabinet) “—now then!  This is what I’ve been waiting all day to give you!”  (Thrust of 8x10 into Zal’s stunned face.)  “Her name’s Zerlina Monticello, she’s sixteen and goes to Startop and is even hotter-looking in person, her dad conducts the Kickshaw Conservatory and they’ve got a Jeep, we showed her your picture and she said she was ‘definitely interested’ and that’s her phone number on the flip side.  But if you get her mother when you call, take my advice and don’t act like you did with mine—at least pretend to play it cool!”


Rearing up Bearishly: “Have you somehow gotten the mistaken impression that I’m in need of a matchmaking service?”


“Would you rather end up going to the Turnabout with Candy Gates?


Right on cue, a staccato rat-a-tat-tat could be heard out front and on high: “Zeppo!  If you’re down there, ARE you coming or AREN’T you coming?


“‘Cause look if we’re going we gotta get going,’” Zal auto-echoed while giving Zerl’s glamorous glossy a deepset review.  “This is mine to keep?”


“If you can win her heart!” Vicki parried.



Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair,

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs?


Zalman riposted, not to Vicki or Zerlina, but to C.G. who stood severely akimbo at the balcony railing as Zal made une entrée dramatique onstage.


Zeppo!  Do I need to send a cop down there with an arrest warrant?


“‘I’ll warrant you for drowning, though the ship were no stronger than a nutshell and as leaky as an unstanched wench!’”


“OH!!” expostulated Candy Gates, pivoting on a wrathful heel and flouncing up to the balcony exit with the seat of her vehement skirt going no-no-no-no.


“You might’ve had the decency to change from Sunday to Monday pantaloons!” Zal observed from below.  “Talk about ‘outstripping all praise and making it halt behind her!’  And as for you,” rounding tempestuously on Vicki as she watched from the wing, “don’t presume for a second that I can be diverted by her rump or these boobs” [waving Zerl’s photo] “—or that I’ll concede that we two must be twain!”


Oh go Huckleberry Finn yourself!” Vicki shrilled as she too spun around and almost ran into quizzical Jenna, whose hair and face and glasses (today in Royal Doulton rims) were speckled with smidgens of clay.


“Sorrymyfault!” whuffed Vicki.


“And here I thought I was having a sticky afternoon,” said Jenna, mopping her palms with a moist towelette.




Zalman’s threat—it could scarcely be called a billet-doux—hovered over the afterschool double-hour like a rumbling stormcloud.  Vicki found it difficult to paint luminously, even with DayGlo colors; she kept wishing Jenna’d brought the umbrellow to school that day, though it would’ve been a pain to lug down with everything else from their lockers.  Not only would the umbrellow be protective in a thunderous torrent, but it’d make a much sharper skewer than a violin bow.  Without it or any other defensive weapon, Vicki felt her courageous rage seeping slowly down the drain.


At the very stroke of 5:15 (or what would’ve been the stroke if there were a chiming clock among the Follies Loveland props) a big bearded silhouette again emerged from the dimness.  This time it solidified into Falstaffian affability, wreathed in jolly smiles: “Well now, well now, well now!  You may be comforted to hear that our Candy-Ass is indeed encased in complete accordance with the weekly calendar!



Monday Monday (bah-dahhh bah-dah-dah-dah)

So good to see (but-tuhhh but-tuck-cuh-ver)


“—though if she ever manages to sing ‘You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow’ on key, then I am a shotten herring.”


“Shotten?” went Alva Dee.


“Rotten?” went Nancy B.


“Herring?” went Chookie Yentlebaum.


Vicki, keeping mum as she buttoned up her overcoat, felt uneasily that Alva and Nancy and Chookie and Doreen Jobling—even Jenna!—were all drifting offstage like phantom showgirls whose roles were over and done with.  Don’t leave me alone with him... there’s safety in numbers... I could use some moral support here...


Falstaff proceeded weightily toward her.  “Well now, well now!  I believe I tendered you a proposal of a ride home, or at any rate away from this place.  Did I not?”


“...I have a ride...”


[Distant reprise by Jenna: “...she has a ride...”]


Jolliness evaporated and smiles went missing, leaving only their wreaths.  “So you have said.  Convinced me, I couldn’t say.  What I can say is that my car awaits us.  On our way there you can tell me more about your pectoral dancing friend—and give me more than her two most obvious reasons why I should two-time you with her.”


Two-timing can’t be done till there’s been first-timing, and that’ll only happen in your dreams “...I-I-I do so have a ride tonight...”


[Echoes from both wings: “...she-she-she does so have a ride tonight...”]


Bearing down relentlessly, like a bulldozer or steamroller: “So you DO.  It’s with MESo let’s GO.”


Oh Gahd—here it comes—inevitably, inescapably, unavoidably—the moment of overpowering overwhelment: I’m about to get flattened like a pancake


(Make that a cherry blintz.)


“In fact,” said a voice like the chop of a chef’s knife, “her ride is with ME.”


Falstaff, rising up to gargantuan height, responded with the sound of a hundred crossbows being drawn to shoot a hundred arrows: “This does not CONCERN you, Lo‑der‑haus‑er!”


Standing his ground, the White Knight in tin armor which seemed to fit him very badly (some might just call it a too-large letterman’s jacket) unfolded a voice like a well-honed Swiss Army blade: “Think again, Tergeist.”


Heatedly, like an iron in the fire: “Oh, is that SO??


Strikingly, as if upon an anvil: “Yeah, that is SO.”


Crushingly, like a tank advancing over foliage: “What are you DOING here??”


Squawkingly, as if from a vexed little birdwoman: “I went and got him!”


Mincy-pincingly, like an overparticular albatross: “If you’re so zealous to be a chauffeur, Zeppo, you can give me a ride home—I’d say you owe me one!”


“Monday Monday,” sotto-sang the Stage Crew girls, “can’t trust that day...


Zalman’s deepset gunmetal wreaths reeled around the circle of spectators, finally fixing on an imaginary packed house to which he trumpeted: “Si fortuna me tormenta, spero me contenta!” like a discharged pistol.


“You can yodel opera even when you scrub,” critiqued Avery Loderhauser.  To Vicki: “If you’re coming, c’mon.”




His Mustang Boss was basically a four-wheeled stereo system (“pair of Cricket speakers with a Pioneer Supertuner and two Jensen TriAxials”) transmitting intergalactic synthesizer music, with recitation by softspoken robots like C‑3PO:


“Trans-Europe Express... Trans-Europe Express... Trans-Europe Express...




“Kraftwerk.  German band—‘power plant pop.’  Or you druther Ultravox!?”


“Oh no this is fine,” said Vicki, bouncing a bit to the electronic beat as the Boss sped down Panama in February rush-hour (usually slog-hour) traffic.  Avery smoothly maneuvered around laggart vehicles, steering with one hand as the other tapped out the cadence.  Vicki noticed his ashtray was empty; the Klown Kar’s had overflowed, though Nancy Sykeman seldom smoked—“I pick up lots of hitchhikers with lung cancer!”  Maybe Avery, as a ballplayer, chewed tobacco and kept a spittoon under the driver’s seat?  If so, eww.  But the only scents inside the Mustang came from its elderly heater.


Life is timeless (Europe endless)... Life is timeless (Europe endless)...


That might be true overseas, but here in Vanderlund they went lickety-split off Panama onto Lesser, onto Foxtail, and into the Burrow Lane cul-de-sac.


“Here’s my house.  Thanks very much... um, for everything.”


“Don’t mention it.  Or worry about Tergeist.  He’s just a gasbag.”


“I guess,” said Vicki, getting out of the car—


—and landing heavily, painfully, oof-ily on the driveway, her treacherous crinkle boots having slipped on a patch of unsalted ice.


Quick as lightning he was there kneeling by her side.  “Anything busted?”


Oh Gahd my dignity oh Gahd I’m still a Klumsy Klutzer plus I must’ve caught bad luck from Dory Jobling who fractured her ankle (the first time) snagging it in her seatbelt after getting her license oh Gahd now I might be crippled and’ll never learn to drive and what about track season barely six weeks away oh Gahd I’m supposed to be getting into shape for it how can I do that in a cast using crutches oh Gahd—


As this monologue spiraled off on panicky tangents, Avery picked up its thinker and held her aloft with one arm while the other reached into the Boss to cut its engine.  Then he supported her with both, Vicki acutely aware of muscular forearms under the small of her back and the back of her thighs—oh Gahd he was pressing her flesh and NOT through a demure wool dress but a pair of thermal tights that’d felt much thicker before now—


“Anybody home?”


“What?  Oh!  Um—not my mom... I dunno, my kid brother maybe...”


“Got a key?”


“What?  Oh!  Where’s my purse, and my books ‘n’ stuff?”


“Hold on,” said Avery, setting her carefully upright by the front door.


While he went to fetch her dropped belongings, Vicki tried the knocker and doorbell (no answer to Peter and the Wolf) and cautiously tested parts of herself for damage.  Ouch!  Might’ve known—that same dumb left ankle she’d sprained at the ballet academy when she was eleven.  Didn’t feel nearly as bad now as it had then, but still...


“Here you go.  How you doing?”


She explained about her ankle while unlocking the door, finding lights on in the vestibule and living room.  Then she went speechless as he hoisted her up (“Best not take chances”), stretched her out on the sofa (“Try to relax”), and pulled off her left boot (“Got to check for swelling”).  Oh Gahd—this was a guy who’d already talked two girls into posing stark nude for him, and now he’d begun to remove her clothes—


“How’s this feel?”


Like he was laying bare hands on her tights-clad ankle, touching it gently and fondling it firmly and caressing it all over as galvanic currents spread up her calf past her knee and through her thigh ohhhh Gahhhhd...


“What’s going on here?” broke in Goofus, leering over Avery’s shoulder.


“You the kid brother?” Avery asked.


“Hunh?  Hey!  Aren’t you Bomber Loderhauser?”


“Yeah.  Go get some ice.  Wrap it in a washcloth.”


“Why?  What’d she do to herself this time?”


Ice.  Now.




Teach me how to make him obey my commands like that.  Or at least to open the door when I knock or ring the bell.  But don’t stop massaging my ankle, ever, ever...


“Old sprain, you said?  So you know the drill?”


“What?  Oh!  Yeah... rest—ice—compression—elevation.  And I’ve got some painkillers left over from last fall, when I got hit in the f—uh, hurt playing volleyball.”


“Good,” said Avery, taking the bundled ice from Goofus and positioning it on her ankle, his craggy head displaying a variety of small scars in the lamplight.


“Bet there ain’t much you don’t know about sports injuries,” said respectful Goof.


“Gimme your hand, kid”—taking his off the icebundle (noooo!) and replacing it with Goof’s (noooo!).  “Look after your sister.  That’s your job, not just now but always.  You hear me?”


“...yessir,” repeated Goofus, looking rather greenfaced beneath his orange hair.


Vicki was reminded of Yash Pramanik back in Pfiester Park, who’d worn a bracelet as a symbol of brotherly devotion and fought Dunk Gunderson in defense of his sister Rupa’s honor.  Then most of the girls in their class at Reulbach Elementary had given Yash heart-shaped cinnamon suckers on Valentine’s Day—


“Got to be going,” said Avery.  “Take it easy tonight.”


She caught hold of his hand before it got out of reach and gave it a squeeze, hoping to feel a few more sparks while at the same time conveying gratitude.  His half-hooded eyes flickered again with transitory—what? amusement? annoyance? as he tugged his hand free and headed for the vestibule, nodding casually at the just-arrived Ozzie.  “Hey there,” Avery told him without breaking stride out the still-open front door.


“Who was that?” asked Ozzie.


“The Bedeguar Way Bomber!” cheered Goofus.


“The what did you say?Kitten!  What happened to you?


“Plenty,” sighed Vicki...




So on her first February 14th as a student at Vanderlund Township High School, she had to stay home and miss the BMV-ing.  Firsthand, that is: several bunchkins came over afterward to update Vicki and see for themselves that she was indeed legitimately bandaged, having spent the sick day in rehab.  (Rolling a soup can with her foot and flexing that foot with a towel, while using brought-home textbooks to study fungi and the Industrial Revolution and the Pythagorean theorem and el sentido pluscuamperfecto, plus start her essay paper on Macbeth.)


Exactly five months earlier, Vicki’s friends had brought homework assignments following her volleyball facesmash.  This afternoon they forwarded floral and ribbony tokens of numerous guys’s esteem, some with appended get-well-soon wishesbut none from Zal Tergeist; his had been withheld with an accusation of “chickenbritching.”


As for the tokens she had received, Vicki figured they were now expired coupons, though she was told that loads of horsetrading went on between Valentine’s Day and the Turnabouta period some people called “Meat Market Week,” when girls negotiated quid pro quo transactions that could reach Byzantine complexity.  The thought made Vicki’s head and ankle ache; she was thankful her bunch wasn’t that hardheartedly calculating.  If they erred at all, it was on the softhearted side.


Joss, for instance, had accepted a BMV from P.J. Panucci, the Cadet Orchestra’s second-chair trombonist (“like Nanki-Poo!”) and polar opposite of his older sister Bianca.  She was short and shapely and noisily vivacious; he was longshanked and tubular (“like a trombone slide!”) and quietly unobtrusive.  Joss couldn’t say she’d taken much notice of P.J. till now, though they’d been in the same brass section for most of the past four years.  But he’d apparently been very aware of Joss, and finally mustered the nerve to make this known—also that he had his license, and could borrow his mother’s Cadillac Seville.


“Not that that was the deciding factor.  He’s really kind of sweet, y’know, and not that bad-looking.”


“You’re not going to call him ‘Nanki-Poo,’ are you?  In front of other people?”


“Depends on how the Turnabout turns out (nudge nudge wink wink).”


Alex had received Mike Spurgeon’s floral Valentine token and hidden it inside a shoebox in her spare gymbag cloaked by an old jersey on the upper shelf of her locker at school.  Yes, doing that would make the flower wilt; but it was a small price to pay for keeping Papa Dmitria from catching wind of it.


“He’d never let me go to the Turnabout if he had the slightest inkling” [dry swallow] “that I’d asked a boy to take me!”


“(Some umbilical cords are more tangled than others,)” Joss remarked to Vicki.


Nonique, wearing one of her cherry-covered-chocolate blushes, had to confess she’d consented to be the Valentine of Floyd Lewis.




“Yeah, I know, but he was courteous—for him—about asking.  Besides, I haven’t seen Darren Buckley for awhile, and wouldn’t ask him to another Vanderlund dance even if I had.  And Rhonda staked out Cedric Grier” (Toughie’s son-in-law’s handsome youngest brother, a junior who’d transferred to VTHS last month) “before I even knew he was in school.”


“Yeah, that’s one reason why we call her the Road Runner.  You said Floyd was actually courteous?”


“Put it this way: while he asked me, he only tried to look down my front.  Mark Brown almost spilled a plate of ravioli down it.”


“Oog!  Sounds worse than a twisted ankle.”


“My best blue top, too.  You can bet that stain wouldn’t ever’ve come out.”


Elsewhere, Arlo Sowell had BMV’d Robin on the anniversary of the first time he’d asked her out; she’d said yes on condition they go bowling instead of to the dance.  Sheila-Q’d agreed to “two falls out of three” with Graham Aleshire, who was doing better as a wrestler than he had playing football.  (“I might pin him to the mat, though,” bragged S-Q.)  Sammi and Link Linfold were going to the Red Devil Bowl with Robin and Arlo; Crystal had reconnected with Judd “For the Defense” Courtney; Isabel was meatmarketly horsetrading with Carly Thibert and LeAnn Anobile; while Spacyjane was tagging along after Split-Pea, as per usual.  And Laurie’d chosen to remain on the dating sideline, taking Alex’s Saturday shift at the animal shelter.


“(Maybe she’s finally gotten over the death of her hamster back in sixth grade,)” Joss told Vicki.  “(He made her a lot happier than any guy ever has.)”


Among the upperclassmen, Nelson and Frank had done their duty by BMV-ing Holly and Mary Kate before the First Hour bell rang, as was deemed proper for steady couples.  Ken Keezer’d again come through for Jenna as he had at Homecoming, despite knowing her corazón belonged to Ike Lohe.  Lisa’d settled for Lyle Wilkie (another future doctor) though she suspected he was more intent on probing her mind than her body.  As for the crew girls, Alva Dee’d paired off with Nature Boy Rutherford and Doreen with the year-younger-but-big-for-his-age Rags Ragnarsson; Chookie was taking a reckless gamble with Hillel Schiller; and Nancy S had mesmerized Ron Deacon into offering more than just a ride in his Magnum coupe.  But poor Nancy B didn’t get asked by Chewy DeWitt, even after her loyal friend Nancy Hantz told him to; so she wasn’t going at all.


Fiona shocked no one by boycotting tokenization and Turnaboutery alike.  She would spend Saturday night with her Downbite bandmate PoonElly Scales—working, Feef said, on her third annual song in honor of Vicki’s birthday.  For this boon she was awarded a little box of Volester conversation heart candies, making Feef blush—though not the shade of cherry-covered chocolate.


One thunderbolt that did rattle the school to its foundation was Cheryl’s accepting a BMV from neither Kevin Wingate nor Futz de Courcey—nor, of course, Stu Nugent—but Dennis Desmond.  “Believe me, you don’t want to get involved with that turd,” Cheryl’d warned Vicki last September; and Vicki wanted to ring her up that Valentine’s Night and return the favor, but lacked the bravery to make the call.  Instead she broke into her mother’s phone conversation with Midge Monticello to ask if she could have a quick word with Zerl before taking a fresh icebag to bed.


“An icebag?  To bed?  In February?” went Zerlina.


She quickly got told about Vicki’s ankletwist before they moved on to the main topic—circumspectly, since both were within maternal earshot.


“Yeah, Zal called.  Yeah, we talked.  Yeah, I’m still interested.  Yeah, we might go to your dance.  Have you ever seen this Datsun Z of his?  Any idea what color it is?  Well of course that’s important, it says volumes about a guy.  Look, if you go to school tomorrow, try to find out and let me know.  Be careful with that ankle and I hope it heals fast.  (Okay, Ma, I am getting off!)”


Felicia, reclaiming the handset, gave Vicki the same searing glance she’d already administered to Ozzie and Goofus for not having fully salted the driveway; to Vicki herself for slipping on its one unsalted patch; and to the Hasleman family for having cornered The Cityland’s rock salt market and thereby, to a certain extent and at a considerable remove, avenging Flake’s coma.


Vicki cautiously mounted the stairs on her Ace-bandaged ankle with one ear cocked for the click that’d mean she and Joss could tuck into their nightly bedtime communiqué.  The ankle produced a faint click of its own with each step; but the leftover ibuprofen had kicked in (as it were) and her mobility was fairly pain-free.  Ozzie’d been guilt-tripped (also as it were) into providing a drive to school tomorrow; so barring an overnight relapse, she stood (ditto ditto) a good chance of declining her assorted BMV bids soon and in person.


Take another gander at them as you prepare to hit the sack.  Marshall McConchie, as expected.  Chipper Farlowe, sure enough.  Phonsie Alphonse (the poor man’s Futz de Courcey), still yearning for that second crawfish-flavored kiss.  Fast Eddie Wainwright, trying to get Tess Disseldorf’s goat.  Shecky Yentlebaum, who’d bequeathed a token to all the crew girls, even his kid sister Chookie—sweet or eww?  Fletcher Wyndham (definite eww), cast as Dmitri Weismann, trying his luck with all the Follies females.  Kerry Hinterwald (ditto ditto), cast as the waiter who gets hit on by Middle-aged Phyllis, taking a similar shot.  “Throb” Garrigan—do the world a favor and find another planet!  Last and least, “Steve” Skinner—‘nuff said.


(Nada from Tony Ashes-to-Ashes Pierro.)


Leaving one name unaccounted for.


Which you’ll deal with tomorrow too.


As your well-tuned teen-girl eardrum detects the click that signifies the phone is free—about time, Mom!  So let’s hop to it (ditto ditto ditto...)




The ankle, though still a trifle gimpish, was cooperative Wednesday morning.  Vicki threw in a few winces and wobbles to keep Ozzie solicitous en route to school, where she was met by Jenna with the furled umbrellow to use as a stabilizer.  That plus a parental note (countersigned in the office by Vice Principal Krall) enabled her admittance to most classes a few minutes late—and leaving Spanish a few minutes early, since Señor Banonis knew Mr. Dimancheff locked the Biology lab’s door when the late bell rang.


Over the course of the day she returned the tokens to “Throb” and Skinner and Chipper and Kerry and Fletcher and Fast Eddie and Phonz and Shecky and Marshall with increasing degrees of thanks-but-no-thanks sincerity.  If anyone wanted to know whom she had asked to the Turnabout, Vicki would lean on the umbrellow and hint (with a wobbly wince) that she might not be medically cleared for dancing by Saturday night. 


I’ll be just another yellow beach umbrella...


(And won’t take you along with me.)


At lunch Cheryl was AWOL from the adjacent cafeteria table, and Mary Kate feared she’d been led astray by Dennis Desmond for who knew what sort of hijinks.  (“Nefarious,” suggested Jenna, sketching a ponytailed unicorn TP-ing a gingerbread house.)  During First Hour everyone’d expected Dennis to fanfarronear about his seducción of Cheryl, but he hadn’t so much as alluded to her—though he did implore Vicki not to open her sombrilla amarilla inside Room 312 and condemn them all to siete años de mala suerte.  “Or put somebody’s eye out, or force black cats to break mirrors over their left shoulders under thirteen ladders on Route 666!”


(Vicki’d been extra glad to escape from Spanish a few minutes early.)


Nonique volunteered to take up Mrs. Mallouf’s Sixth Hour coffee, and Joss was deputized to call the Advanced English roll—reaching the V’s just as Vicki reached Room 403.  (The umbrellow got a round of applause.)  Chookie helped bring Vicki’s and Jenna’s coats etc. downstairs in exchange for a No-Saying-I-Told-You-So proviso re: her Turnabout date with “Killer” Schiller.  And Vicki was allowed to exercise her ankle in Phys Ed rather than subject it to basketball: Coach Celeste lent some range-of-motion advice, and Louisa Lang stopped by to check on Vicki’s healing progress.


“I’ll be ready in time for track season,” Vicki promised.


“‘Kay then.  Keep it up,” said Captain Lang, poised like the Masai warrior(ess) in the Monticello dining room.


Leaving the gym, Vicki was hailed by a deep rich sonic boom: “Well, I had to see it to believe it!  That must be the kitschiest bumbershoot in the Western Hemisphere—canary-colored and with a corncob handle!  ‘What, are thou lame?’  ‘Ay, God Almighty help thee!’”


“Cheryl Trevelyan won this at the State Fair,” Vicki retorted.  “And you’re one to talk—look at your shirt!  It’s like a blacklight poster with sleeves!”


“Touché, ma choupinette.  Une affiche en polyester.”  Swinging the auditorium’s rear door open, he held it for her and the umbrellow to wobble through.


“Zerlina wants to know what color your car is,” said Vicki.


“There’s still time for you to find that out for yourself.


I’m—not—interested.  But Zerl is, so you better treat her right!”


“Fair enough.  She indubitably sounds worth pursuing, and positively will be if she lives up in the flesh to how she looks in that photo.  And yet—and yet...”


Giving Vicki a deepset gunmetal pensive-Macbeth once-over, he emoted:



The saddest words of hands or foots

Are these—“Alas! it’s your loss, toots!


And with that convoluted misquote Zalman Tergeist took his leave and headed off to rehearsal upstairs, going bump bump bump like Winnie-the-Pooh on the back of his head behind Christopher Robin.




Vicki was both relieved and chagrined that her being off sick yesterday had no adverse impact on the crew’s work schedule; they were still on target to complete the Loveland flats and drops by Friday, clearing the stage for Saturday’s first Operetta runthrough.  Then they’d begin making those headdresses for the showgirls, including an XXL one for Conceited Candy Gates as Young Phyllis.


(C.G.’s BMV was Hansel Hitchens, and wagers were being placed on whether she would survive his [a] habitual DUI, [b] family’s German restaurant fare, and [c] having a name like Hahhhnsel.  In any event, it couldn’t happen [d] to a mincier-pincier diva.)


At 5:15 Vicki and the umbrellow made their way to the metal shop, where they got eyeballed by Slats and Stretch Schrimpfen.  “Guess you won’t get lost in a whiteout,” said one or the other.


“Knock it off,” whichever twin was told by Avery, shrugging on his letterman’s jacket and resetting his baseball cap.  “You ready?” Vicki was asked; but before she could answer he turned and started for the exit without a backward glance.


Hey!  My overcoat’s not fully buttoned so you can see the sexy purple top beneath it, if not the lacy violet bra beneath that.  (Tricia always said “Just knowing you have on pretty underwear will make you feel prettier and be prettier—works every time.”)


“How’s the ankle?”


“What?  Oh!  Um—better, thanks.  This” [rustling the umbrellow] “is just to help me keep it that way.”  Are you a leg man?  I might not have a Betty Boop bosom but these are great little legs like Sally Field said in Smokey and the Bandit and she should know ‘cause hers are too—


“Right,” said Avery, opening the Boss’s passenger door and boosting Vicki in by the right elbow (ooooh, even through her overcoat) after the umbrellow got stowed.  Then around to the driver’s seat, on went the ignition, and out of the Cricket speakers with Pioneer Supertuner and Jensen TriAxials surged a ROckWrok ROckWrok ROckWrok” such as might’ve come from the voices and instruments of Downbite.


This is punk, right?” Vicki inquired.


Avery dialed it down infinitesimally.  “Punkish.  Ultravox!’s new album.  You druther Kraftwerk?”


Oh no this is fine.”


Dear Gahd did that singer just say “Rip off my clothes, I’m stripping yours”??  Well I’m not ready to pose that way for you and it’s probably illegal at my age anyway and maybe I wouldn’t measure up to Roz or Bianca or Gabey except you didn’t make a statue of Gabey but you must’ve seen her in a swimsuit I looked pretty cute in mine last summer the Studly Trio in Fort Lauderdale certainly thought so I’d be willing to pose in a scrump-tilly-umptious maillot as long as the statue made it obvious I had it on like bra straps and pantylines but more modest yeah I could live with a statue of me like that even in a gallery or museum where crowds of people could see it so make me an offer we could “seal it with a kiss (redden tingle blush) if you don’t chew tobacco why on earth does Nancy B want to smooch Chewy DeWitt everybody knows he uses-and-spewses Red Man sorry I draw the line at anything that gross wouldn’t you prefer “kisses sweeter than wine”?  Tony never objected to mine nor did Dave nor Roger (thank Gahd I never kissed Dennis) so I bet I could even bring a smile to your face—


“Here you go.”


3132 Burrow Lane.  On whose driveway Avery (like a sane gentleman) lowered Ultravox!’s noise level (it says volumes about a guy) so as not to deafen the cul-de-sac’s inhabitants; and was opening the driver’s door to get out and scout the surface slickness and open his passenger’s door and help her step safely from Mustang to split level house, when he was arrested by a small gloved hand on his letterman’s-jacketed forearm.




“Um... yesterday... did you sort of... ask anybody... to Be Your Valentine?”




Bad start fool move too personal forget I said anything I take it back—


—but a miniature Joss and Jenna were perched on her shoulders, whispering double-dog-dare and triple-dog-dare—


“WhatImeantosayis—has anyone asked you to the Turnabout?  Y’know, the dance?  After Saturday’s Follies runthrough?”


Silence inside the Boss.


Oh Gahd oh Gahd oh Gahd I’m such an imbecile I just wanted to see him smile now he’s gonna laugh at me laugh in my face


“Not much of a dancer.”


I am SO!  I’m a wonderful dancer oh wait he might be talking about himself and maybe me too with this ankle—


“Some friends of mine are going to the Red Devil Bowl instead, do you like bowling?  I’m not that good at it, my ‘approach’ is smoother than my ‘release,’ and the last time I went bowling this guy I was with knocked an extra-large malted milkshake over my coat but I’m willing to try again.  Or... um... like... maybe... go to a movie... or something...?”


Oh dear Gahd I’ve asked a guy out on a date something I swore I’d never do even if I am in favor of women’s lib... except this IS a turnabout, that’s my excuse, the loophole for liberated Loopy even if he didn’t BMV me beforehand—


Avery Loderhauser, the Bedeguar Way Bomber, sat like a block of uncarved stone while Ultravox! mutedly beepbooped “Hiroshima Mon Amour.”


Then he uttered the three little words of a thousand Harlequin romances and a thousand many-splendored ballads:


“Sure.  Why not?” 




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