As Jeff and I melted into each others’ arms, only half-aware that we were becoming legendary ourselves, Harry sauntered up to the shell-shocked Sylvia.
“My presence didn’t cheer her up much,” Harry told me later, after he tracked me down back at the house. “Of course, I came in all smooth, all ‘Sylvia darling, you’re looking trim…ish. Swellegant party. Shall we dance? I can lead OR follow.’ At first she didn’t recognize me. Thought I was some PTA mom, maybe we had worked together on some committee. I said no, we had only met a few times; mostly knew each other from the phone. Then—it was great to see her face, think of Katherine Hepburn in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner but not so gorgeous—she figured it out.”
“‘Harry!’ She goes. ‘Why...who...what are you doing here?’” (Harry did a marvelous and over-dramatized Sylvia impression.)
“‘I thought we might dance,’” Harry said he said. “‘We can talk. I can lead or follow.’ I grabbed her around the waist, and waltzed her around the floor…actually, it was more like we wrestled…and she kept craning her neck over the crowd to try to see you, to find out who the heck—HAH!—stole her daughters’ crown. But I held on tight, because I had a few things to say to her.”
Over the years, our friends have recounted stories of being in the crowd at the prom and witnessing this epic lady fight/dance wrestling match/royal ass-kicking as the two plowed through the crowd in time to the music. They overheard Harry saying things like:
- “You may have kicked me out of your life, you wicked witch, but you couldn’t kick that sweet kid out of my heart.”
- “When she was born, her mother entrusted her spirit to me, and that meant something. But it seems you made it your job to destroy it in every way.”
- “She was such a carefree child, but now she carries the cares of the world. Of your world, to be specific.”
- “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw her tonight—she was a shadow of what she once was, of what she could be.”
Although Sylvia had figured out that this tall, flamboyant lady was actually Harry in disguise, she didn’t realize it was me in disguise who had ruined her plans until later. At first she didn’t know what Harry was talking about, and couldn’t quite grasp that he’d seen me that night. She threatened Harry: “How dare you accuse me of all of this?” Harry laughed. Ana Sueño was standing right above them, looking down from the stage, when she heard Harry say, “How dare I? How dare you! You’ve tied her down with all of your menial tasks; you’ve denied her the gorgeous unfolding that is the right of a girl in her teens!” (I will never forget that line, and it has made me a better mother.) Of course, Sylvia denied everything. “What are you talking about?” She even said, “I love her like my own daughters,” which of course made Harry snort. He spun her around the dance floor, and spelled it out like only a barrister-drag queen could: “You have stifled her will, abused her rights, made her your slave, and deprived her of her much-needed beauty sleep!” When Harry tells the story, he says Sylvia wouldn’t even look him in the eye. “I told her she could kiss my big, hairy ass (and later he mentions it isn’t really all that big or hairy) and kiss her reign of terror good-bye!” Ana says it was like watching Bette Davis and Joan Crawford fighting, and she wasn’t even sure which one was which. She calls it the Fairytale Catfight Waltz.
Meanwhile, across the dance floor, I was totally oblivious to all of this, aware only of Jeff’s strong arm under mine, his hand firmly holding my back, and the way we seemed to fit so well together. With the tall shoes on, I could look him right in the eye. Green eyes. Flecked with gold. He said he thought I looked familiar.
And then, just for a moment, the magic faded away. I thought he knew who I was, but alas, I was just a mysterious stranger who arrived at a convenient time, to save him from the unpleasant fate! I struggled with my feelings, both upset with him and attracted to him, wondering what to do.
“You’re blushing,” Jeff said, noticing that I’d stiffened up. Fortunately I remembered what Harry said about me having the power. Rather than blurt out my identity, rather than feel insulted, I smiled brightly and decided to make him work for it.
“Of course I look familiar, I’ve watched you grow from a boy who likes bugs into the man you’re just beginning to be.”
“You’ve watched me?” Excellent. Just the reaction I’d hoped for. Behind his eyes, I could see his brain searching for files….“I still like bugs,” he mumbled.
“Paper airplanes ring a bell?” He shrugged. “Spaghetti bracelets? Lego racers?” His eyes wandered up and to the right, as eyes do when the brain searches for a memory. “Finger paintings?”
“Of naked ladies?” He asked, eyes starting to sparkle again. I nodded.
“We got in trouble,” we both said it together. Suddenly he lit up like I was Santa Claus.
“Ashley Stain Helens!”
“Siegfried Jeffrey Prince!”
“Shhhh, no one knows my real name,” he said, looking around.
“I’ve kept your secret all these years.”
“My honeybunch,” he grinned, hugging me. “I still have the macaroni necklace you made me! But...” he held me at arm’s length for a second. “But...you look so different from in Calculus class.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “Yeah, I don’t usually dress up for math.” Then my worrying nature kicked in: Maybe he likes the make-up, not me. Yeah, that made sense. Yeah, obviously; how could I have been so stupid to think otherwise? The vines of doom reached for me, even in my moment of destiny. This couldn’t really actually be happening to me; I’m dreaming, I must have fallen asleep on my book back at home. I pulled away.
But he grabbed my hand. “Ashley, that not it, I swear. There’s something else about you tonight. You look radiant. Amazing. Happy. You look like yourself. Even though you’re wearing a dress. Even though you grew up without me noticing. And I can’t tell you how happy I am that it’s you. I was wishing and praying that something wonderful would happen tonight. I like Nevada, I love Nevada, she’s great, she’s beautiful, and something might have happened, but seriously, everyone thinks we’re the class couple because we liked each other in ninth grade… but I love her like a sister, we’re good friends, and we both want something real.”
Something real. As much as this was all pretend—the glitter, the big hair, the fog machines—the fantasy of it all had actually coaxed something I’d always imagined into reality. I couldn’t answer, I just put my cheek to his, and it was warm, and we danced. I closed my eyes and I could feel our two auras sort of settling in together. I could feel the ankle straps of the amazing shoes pull against my skin with each step. I could feel the cool taffeta of my mother’s dress slide around my body like a blessing. For the first time since I’d lost her, I felt ready to dream about being like her one day. I sent her and dad a silent prayer of thanks for sending Harry to me tonight, for sending me love.