I tried bargaining for the night off. My first offer came three weeks before. Three straight weekends-Friday-Saturday-Sunday, for one lousy Friday-Saturday combination. “We need you that weekend. It’s the annual case-lot sale. Everyone, and I mean everyone will be here. We need all our front end people running things from the back room.” I was undeterred.
The second offer: a month of Sundays, the absolute worst day for a high school kid like me to work. Especially when the part-time Sunday shift ran 4 to midnight. Getting up for class on Monday would be brutal, but it was the dance, and I was determined to go. “You could offer three months of Sundays and I couldn’t give you that weekend off.” Which was my third offer.
My final offer included the three months of Sundays, Every summer holiday and Christmas Eve the following December. “You wont even work here in December.” Which was true. “The best I can do is let you off at 10 on Friday and 7:30 Saturday.” This made any Friday plans irrelevant, but would allow me to attend the dance. Reluctantly, I agreed.
Friday, they went to the zoo, then hiked up to the living room, sat on the rocks and discarded milk crates and shared stories. Jordan and Samantha kissed for the first time. Drew told Victoria he loved her. Martin preformed his best Monty Python. Summer dragged up the tape player, allowing sunset dancing, which I happened to be very good at. Nina went without me. I cried a little, working that night.
I left the store at exactly 7:30, with boss man Kevin hollering at me, “I’ve changed my mind, you can’t,” but I wasn’t listening. In less than 40 minutes I would pick her up, hopefully in time to meet the others for dinner downtown. The restaurant was Drew’s choice. Alforno’s for pasta, which made Nina a bit nervous, as she was going to wear a white dress. I reassured her that she could eat something without tomato sauce.
In the mirror, fogged from the fastest, too hot shower of my young life, I tried desperately to make my hair lie flat. No amount of product or water could convince it to behave. Time forced me to give up. The shirt I wanted to wear was a wrinkled disaster, the faux tuxedo shirt the only suitable replacement, and the baby blue tie (that matched her eyes) had three small circle stains from an errant cologne spray. Finally assembled with parts plan B C and D, I took a final look in the mirror-Bad hair, three zits, ridiculous shirt, too skinny red tie, and hanger creases on the slacks. At least the black jacket seemed flawless. Perfect.
The parents Citation slid into her driveway at 8:04. I Silenced the sound of Baby Pain on the radio, took three deep breaths and was out the door, walking to her porch. One last feeble attempt to straighten the hair, rub the crease out of the slacks, two embarrassing, too loud knocks (which made my heart jump), then two much softer. I waited.
Mom answered the door, “well hello there, Mitchell. Please do come in.” Smells of tacos or some sort of burrito-like food wafted from the back of the house. I heard the clinking of plates and silverware, slight laughter of siblings, the unmistakable deep baritone of her father. Mercifully he stayed in the kitchen. “She will be right out.” Her mom always treated me well. “Don’t tell her I told you, but she is so excited. She has been ready and watching out the window for the past half hour. Ugh, I shouldn’t have told you that.”
Yes mother of Nina, you should. The thought of Nina’s anticipation making all the effort worth while. Years later, when we wouldn’t recognize each other if we collided face to face on the street, I hold close the image of Nina in her white gown with the amazing lace neck gazing out the window, waiting for me.
She came from the hallway, a suppressed smile on her lips, her short hair slightly curled, diamond studs in her ears, three inch white heels and that dress. She walked up to me, brushed a loose hair off my jacket lapel. “You look amazing.” I said. She stood back and did a tiny half twirl. I took it all in.
“My dad picked it out. He has spectacular taste.” I could not argue otherwise. “Shall we?” She said, putting her hand on my elbow.