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Luke sat in his room, the place he spent most of his free time these days. He looked idly around the small room and his gaze fell on an old photograph on his dresser. In it, his mother smiled into the camera as she held John and himself on her lap. On the bottom, she had written, “Myself and the twins (6 months).” He wondered, not for the first time, why his mother had turned into such a virulent virago, to use one of Mrs. Garcia’s recent vocabulary words.

Someone tapped on his door.

“Come in.”

The door opened and Mark poked his head inside Luke’s room.

“Got a minute?”


Mark walked in, clad in their father’s tuxedo, the bow tie hanging loose.

“Whoa! Look at you! Where are you going?”

Mark grinned.

“I’m taking Melina to Homecoming.”

Luke grinned back.

“That’s great.”

“Yeah. Anyway, could you help me with the tie? I’ve been trying to do it in the mirror, and I just can’t get it.”


Luke hopped off his bed and stood before his brother. He frowned with concentration as he worked at achieving a perfect knot.

“How’s that?”

Mark turned around and looked in the tiny mirror above Luke’s dresser.

“Looks okay from here. What do you think?”

Luke surveyed his brother critically. He could find no flaw. The tux might have stretched slightly across his shoulders, but otherwise Mark looked as though he were about to intone, “Bond. James Bond,” to a beautiful blonde.


Mark smiled.

“Thanks, bro. Well, it’s time to pick her up. Wish me luck?”

“You don’t need luck. You always have good luck. I wish you success, though.”


Mark turned on one well-polished heel and walked out of the room, his step light and springy. Luke listened to him run down the stairs. He gently shut his bedroom door and lay back on the bed.

While one part of his mind wished Mark well, another envied him. He looked so good in the tux, and Melina was so smart and pretty. It just wasn’t fair. Why did his brothers have to have all the talent and looks in the family? Maybe if he had a handsome face and quick wit, his mother would love him too. But that would never happen. He would never be as good as his brother. He would never be anything but trash.

After Mark rang the doorbell, he heard thundering footfalls as someone — he devoutly hoped it was not his date — ran down the stairs to answer the door.

“Good evening, Colonel,” Mark said formally. “I’ve come to pick up Melina.”

“Come on in,” Col. Taylor said, smiling. The boy certainly looked well in a tux. He wondered fleetingly if he should suggest that Mark think about applying to West Point. As the two walked up the stairs, the colonel shook his head. Did he have to consider every kid he met as a potential cadet? Ah, well. Once a Pointer, always a Pointer.

“My daughter’s not quite ready yet,” the colonel said. He didn’t add, “You know how women are,” but the sentiment hung in the air nonetheless. “You might as well wait in the living room. Is that her corsage? Good choice. She loves roses. Well, I’ll go let her know you’re here.” The colonel strode from the room as if off to a war briefing.

He stopped at the bathroom, hearing feminine laughter. He tapped at the door.

“Honey? Mark’s here.”

“Thanks, Dad. Tell him I’ll be right out. Mom’s doing something to my hair.”

He shook his head, but grinned. It seemed all too recent that she had run to him with scraped knees and a bloody nose from a fight with a bully. He wished Julie was here, then suddenly wondered if Julie would like seeing her younger sister all dolled up. Julie had preferred herself in the starring role. He shrugged. Kids grew up.

“She said to tell you she’ll be out in a minute,” he relayed to Mark. The boy turned his head from the books he was examining and grinned at the colonel, who returned the smile. “Ever read any of those?”

“No, sir,” Mark said. “Military history and languages have never been my strong points. I speak enough Mandarin and Cantonese to get by at the restaurant, but my father and my brother are the linguists in the family, especially my brother. He can pick up anything. I think he’s on his fifth language now. German.”

“What others does he know? Besides English, of course.”

“Mandarin and Spanish. He knows some Cantonese, but he’s not fluent.”

“Good picks, all of them,” the colonel said heartily. “If I had it to do over again, I would have learned Spanish and Chinese, not French and Italian.”

“How come?”

“They’re the languages of the future. China’s a bud ready to blossom and you can’t ignore the importance of Spanish. I did use my French in Vietnam, though.”

“Were you in the war?”

“Yes. It’s the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen. I just wish I could have seen it under different circumstances. We’re still paying the price for our involvement there, you know. Too many veterans have never gotten over what happened to them there. Etlik Escort I’m one of the lucky ones. I went over fresh out of West Point, a cliché of a second lieutenant: idealistic, excited and arrogant. I never stopped to think how scary a real war would be.”

The click-click of heels caused both their heads to turn. Melina stood in the doorway, letting them take in the sight of her swept-up hair, her royal blue sheath, and impeccable make-up, then walked slowly into the room and turned like a runway model.

“Wow! Honey, you look stunning!” her father said. “Doesn’t she, Mark?”

Mark could hardly speak, his mouth felt so dry. ‘Stunning’ barely covered it, in his opinion. He felt his mouth hanging open, and closed it. Both of the Taylor women noted this with smug satisfaction.

“You will definitely turn the head of every guy at Homecoming,” he finally said. “I can’t believe how beautiful you look. I mean, not that you aren’t beautiful at other times, but, wow.”

“Son,” the colonel said, “it would be good if you kept quiet until you get your bearings back. Now let’s get this corsage pinned on. Here you go, Katie.”

Mrs. Taylor beamed at Mark.

“What an elegant corsage,” she said. “Red roses, baby’s breath — I see it matches the rose in your lapel. It’ll look terrific on Mel’s dress. Come here, honey, and let me put it on your shoulder.”

“I’ll just go get the camera,” her husband said.

“Oh, no, dad, not the camera!” Melina said, alarm in her eyes. “You’ll make a Hollywood production out of this.”

“I promise to keep it simple,” he lied.

Twenty minutes later, the two escaped from the house feeling like felons who had just made a jailbreak.

“Your dad’s really into photography, isn’t he?”

“Sorry. He always used to do that with Julie. I don’t know why I didn’t see it coming and hide his equipment.”

“He seemed to know what he was doing, though. Do you think he’d let me have any of the prints if they come out?”

“You’ll be lucky if he doesn’t come to your house and force them on you.” She paused as he unlocked his mother’s Lincoln. “Do I really look okay?” she asked.

“More than okay. In fact, you’d better drive. I’ll probably crash us into a tree because I won’t be able to keep my eyes on the road.”

“Flatterer.” She looked pleased.

By the time they reached the dance, the gym was as crowded and hot as only a room containing several hundred young people with robust hormones can be.

“Man, it’s packed,” Mark said, surveying the tables of laughing kids and gyrating dancers. “I didn’t realize so many people went to White Rose High.”

As several heads turned to inspect the new arrivals, Melina felt a surge of nervousness. She firmly suppressed it. A statuesque black girl wearing a clinging, shimmering white dress approached them. She smiled, and they realized they knew her.

“Oh my gosh,” Melina shrieked above the din. “Lakeesha! You look perfect!”

“So do you! That dress looks way better now than it did on the hanger! And Mark! You aren’t exactly hard on the eyes either! I was going ask you to sit with Evan and me, but you’re looking so good, he might get jealous.”

She gave him a saucy wink, and he grinned. What an outrageous flirt. He felt perfectly happy with his date, but he felt a pang of envy for Evan.

“I might be jealous of him,” he responded. “You look like a goddess, and I bet you would never let him out of the house unless he looked equally god-like.”

Lakeesha put her hands on her hips and shook her head at him.

“Melina, I can see this boy’s going to have a tendency to get out of line. You’d better sit with us, just so Evan can knock some sense into him if Mark needs it. C’mon.”

They followed their friend through the crowd to a table at the far end of the gym. They saw Evan deep in discussion with a couple they did not know. All three looked up when Lakeesha appeared — her dress had that effect. Evan grinned, then saw the others.

“Hey, who’s this? The kung fu warrior and his beautiful lady?” He gave Melina the once-over and winked. She winked back, already liking him. “And I do mean beautiful. You give Lakeesha some serious competition for queen of the table.”

“Queen of the table?” Lakeesha said in mock outrage. “Queen of the table? Don’t you mean queen of the world?”

“You always aim so high, darling,’ Evan replied, leaning forward to kiss her. “That’s why I love you.”

“Get a room!” the other boy told them. He looked at the new arrivals. “Hi. I’m Darryl and this is Rebecca. She goes to Sacred Heart.”

Rebecca nodded at them, a little shyly, Melina thought. She wore a backless magenta dress that set off her deep brown skin. Darryl looked cool and handsome in his dinner jacket and kente cloth cummerbund.

“Hi, Rebecca. I’m Melina. That’s a great dress.”

“Thanks,” Rebecca said. “So’s yours. I love that color.”

These preliminaries out of the way, the six got down to the serious business Keçiören Escort of Homecoming: drinking, dancing and talking. As the night wore on, they noticed the guys at a nearby table become louder and drink out of silver flasks. Near the end of the evening, as a soft, slow song began, one of the guys, a blond boy with a burly footballer’s build, made a remark clearly intended for their table.

“I tell ya, it’s getting to where you can’t go anywhere without running into some fucking chink,” he drawled. “I swear, I hate them worse than anything, even roaches.”

Melina stiffened. Mark’s expressive face shut down into a perfect impassive mask. His friends looked at him and looked at the other table, where the blond boy was craning his head to see if he had gotten a reaction.

“What do you wanna do?” Evan asked in a low voice.

“Best just to ignore him,” Mark said. “Tell a joke, so we can all laugh.”

Evan complied, bringing a ragged chorus of giggles from his friends. They all spoke at once to restore the party mood.

At the other table, Jeff Rohrbach frowned. He felt loose and ready for a fight, and that stupid jerk wasn’t playing his part. He tried again.

“Yeah, they’re all yellow in more ways than one,” he said, a little louder. His companions shuffled their feet and looked anywhere but at him. Kids at other tables turned around and quickly glanced away when they saw who had spoken.

Mark took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Do you want to dance?” he asked Melina.

“Is it a good idea?”

“It would get us away from Mr. Congeniality over there. We’re kind of in a corner back here, and I have a bad feeling about him. I bet he’s just aching for a fight, and I’m not in the mood to give him one.”

“All right.”

They got to their feet and found their friends rising too.

“I love this song,” Lakeesha said in a carrying voice. She reached for Evan’s hand. “Come on, baby.”

“Me too,” Rebecca said.

All felt the eyes of the blond boy on them as they wove through the tables to the dance floor. Lakeesha in particular felt her blood boil. How dare that stupid ass say that?

They reached the floor, and split into pairs near the center. Melina put her anger aside and relished the feeling of Mark’s arms around her. She felt him pull her closer and she snuggled up with enthusiasm. They looked into each other’s eyes and before they knew it, their lips met in a soft, warm kiss. Her insides melted as her eyes closed. It felt marvelous! Neither saw Lakeesha and Evan look at them and then grin at each other.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the last dance of the evening,” the DJ intoned over the loudspeaker. “Enjoy!”

As they heard the song’s a capella opening, Mark and Melina continued to sway gently together. He savored the feel of her in his arms. He could stand forever like this.

“You’re wonderful,” he whispered into her ear.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” she smiled.

He tilted his head back to look into her laughing eyes. He kissed her again, clutched her tightly to him, and closed his eyes. Thus he did not see the stocky blond athlete glaring at him from shadows.

At the song’s end, most of the couples parted with reluctance. Homecoming dances and proms have a bittersweet magic for people on the edge of adulthood. They knew that tomorrow they would again face the homework, pimples, parents, siblings, buddies, and sermons that make up most teens’ lives. And so most prolonged the end of this night, when they looked their best and life seemed limitless.

Melina, Lakeesha and Rebecca had left nothing at their table, so they quickly wended their ways to the door and parking lot. All inhaled the crisp October air with relief. It almost seemed a shock, albeit a pleasant one, after the humid, hot air of the gym.

“Well,” Lakeesha said as they strolled away from the school, “this has been a great night. I had a very good time.”

“Definitely,” Rebecca echoed. “It was good meeting you two,” she added, turning to Melina and Mark.

“Likewise,” Mark said, grinning and putting an arm around Melina’s waist.

The six said their good-byes and split up. Mark did not loosen his hold on Melina, and she leaned into his shoulder as they approached a thick-trunked maple. What a lovely night, she thought. And to think she had actually been mad at her dad for moving them here! A quick movement caught her attention and she straightened abruptly as the mouthy blond boy from the other table lunged at them.

“Mark!” she shouted. But Mark had already seen the threat and put himself between Jeff and Melina. She looked around wildly and thought she saw a figure running toward them. She looked back to the drama before her and hastily stepped back.

“You fucking chink,” the boy said in a slurry voice. “Who the hell do you think you are, taking a white girl to our dance? Why don’t you go back where you came from?”

“What is this, nineteen Kızılay Escort sixty-four?” Mark countered, warily sizing up his opponent, who had remained in the shadow of the maple. “I hate to be the one to tell you this, but the Chinese have been here a hundred and fifty years now. It’s time to adjust.”

With a roar, the boy rushed him. Mark stood his ground until the last possible moment, then stepped neatly to one side and gave Jeff a shove as he passed. Melina winced, hearing the rip of fabric as he hit the sidewalk. She decided to step back a few more yards, realizing she might prove more a liability than an asset to Mark.

Jeff rolled over and bounced back to his feet.

“You’ll pay for that, motherfucker!” he shouted. Gathering the few wits he had left, he walked unsteadily to Mark, intending to grab his jacket. His football-honed moves proved inadequate against Mark’s defenses. Once more, he found himself on the ground.

Melina heard footsteps behind her and whirled around to face whatever fresh challenge life had in store. She recognized Evan and relaxed. He ran past her and up to Mark’s side.

“How’s it going?” he asked, looking at the ripped, rumpled wreck near the tree.

“Not bad,” Mark said in a conversational tone. “Mr. Congeniality here apparently doesn’t like my face.”

Moaning, Jeff suddenly threw up.

“I’d say your work here is finished,” Evan said. “Let’s go.”

They had reached Melina when they heard Jeff’s raspy voice.

“I’ll get you, you son of a bitch. You’ll pay for this.”

The three turned their backs on him and walked away.

“So where’s your car?” Evan asked.

“Not too far from our friend, unfortunately,” Mark said, grabbing Melina’s cold hand. He gave it a gentle squeeze. He felt giddy with adrenaline.

“Why don’t you come to my car and I’ll drive you over?” Evan said. “By that time, he’ll probably be gone and he won’t be able to match your face with your car. I know that guy. He’s a mean one. You got off lightly tonight, but you don’t want any trouble with him when he’s sober.”

Once in the Tangs’ plush Lincoln, Melina leaned back and exhaled.

“You okay?” Mark asked.

“A little shaken up,” she said. “I wasn’t exactly expecting some goon to jump us.”

He reached over, took her left hand in his and stroked it tenderly.

“I wasn’t either,” he admitted. “I was awfully glad when you got a few steps back. He looked like the kind of guy who wouldn’t have any problem hitting a girl. In fact, did you notice the girl with him inside? I’d bet anything she was covering up a black eye.”

“Really?” Melina asked, diverted. “How come?”

“The way she had her make up on,” Mark said.

“You’re a guy. You’re not supposed to notice things like that.”

“True, but if you lived with my mother, you’d notice every little nuance around you too.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, nothing. Let’s not talk about her. Anyway, you did exactly the right thing by moving away. I was worried you’d get hurt. Not that I’d have let him, but things happen.”

“Well, I thought you were just amazing,” Melina said. “It was just like what you talked about last weekend. And he didn’t even touch you. You still look like someone on a movie poster or something.”

Mark laughed.

“Which movie? The Swamp Thing?”

She smacked his hand playfully.

“Hardly. More like something starring Cary Grant or Pierce Brosnan or someone like that. You know. Dashing. Debonair. All the better adjectives beginning with ‘D.'”

“What a sweetheart you are,” he said. “I’m sure glad you called me Monday.”

“So am I,” she said as the car rounded the final corner before her house. “I’ve never been to a Homecoming dance before, and I’m not sure one could ever be better than this one. I had the best time.”

He stopped in front of her house.

“Come in?’ she asked.

He glanced at his watch.

“Okay. I’m supposed to be home in thirty minutes, though.”

“Then come in and spend twenty-five with me. That gives you five to get home.”


They found the Taylors in the living room. The colonel motioned them in.

“So how’d it go?” he asked.

“Great!’ they said simultaneously.

Melina’s father smiled.

“Well, if that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what one is,” he said.

“It’s definitely ringing, Dad. Mark took me to an Italian restaurant and the food tasted terrific. And at the dance, we sat with Lakeesha and Evan and two of their friends. They were a lot of fun. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time.”

“That’s great, sweetie,” Mrs. Taylor said. “I don’t when I’ve seen you glow quite like this. What did you think, Mark?”

“What she said,” Mark replied with a grin. “If it hadn’t been for that stupid bully, the night would have been perfect.”

“What stupid bully?” Col. Taylor said, instantly alert.

“Oh, some guy mouthing off at the table next to ours,” Mark said, deciding to minimize the incident.

“He did more than mouth off,” Melina said. “He tried to jump us after the dance. But Mark was too quick for him. He was great, Dad. I wish you could have seen him.”

Mark shook his head.

“She exaggerates. I just helped him find the sidewalk a couple of times, is all.”

The colonel shot Mark an approving glance. If the kid had a hair out of place, he couldn’t see it.

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