David Barnett later remembered the night of his junior prom, June 20, 1954, as the last truly happy, carefree night of his life. He was Woodrow Wilson High’s star quarterback and he was dating Marilyn Ross, next year’s head cheerleader. Two months ago, he had finally scraped enough money from his after school job at the soda shop to purchase a used Ford—his very first car. Life couldn’t have been better.
Six months later, David would have given anything to go back to that night. He had no idea how easily things could fall apart.
On the night of the prom, David and Marilyn danced all night to the sounds of Frank Sinatra and Perry Cuomo. Marilyn had her auburn hair pinned up so that he could see the gentle curve of her neck. She wore a green strapless dress that allowed him to sneak a feel of the soft skin on her shoulders. In David’s opinion, Marilyn was the prettiest girl in the school—it was a popular opinion. He was frankly shocked when she had picked him over all the other guys.
Marilyn had boundless energy on the dance floor. David guessed that being a cheerleader had given her a lot of stamina. He tried his best to keep up with her, but he was still sore from football practice yesterday. He couldn’t sit one out though, because he knew the second he left her alone, another guy could swoop in and steal her away from him.
Finally, Marilyn decided to call it quits. “I couldn’t dance another step,” she sighed as she collapsed into her seat.
“No?” David tried to hide his relief.
She wiped her brow. “My god, I’m sweating. I must look horrid.”
He smiled. “No, you look beautiful.”
His face flushed as he said the words, even though it was true. He adored Marilyn, but he always had this nagging sensation that she was a little out of his league. She was beautiful and wealthy and he was nothing but a good athlete. The only time he ever felt any confidence was when he was crouched on the football field. But for some reason, she seemed to dig him.
Marilyn returned his smile and playfully ran a hand through his dark brown hair. “Say, do you want to go for a smoke?” she asked. “Judy told me that she and Larry were going out behind the school.”
There were bad consequences for getting caught smoking on school property, which was part of the reason why Marilyn enjoyed doing it. David found that smoking lowered his stamina, but he was willing to do pretty much anything Marilyn wanted and she knew it. “Okay, sure.”
David knew Larry Miles from the football team. Larry was a brawny fullback—a pretty good one too. His girlfriend Judy Nichols was a cheerleader like Marilyn. Larry and Judy were sitting on a random car in the parking lot behind the school, their hips touching as they passed a cigarette back and forth. Judy’s dress was hiked up so that David could see up her skirt. When Larry saw them, he stubbed out his cigarette and hopped off the car.
“Barnett, you got your car?” Larry asked. David nodded. “Okay, let’s get the hell out of here. This scene is getting old.”
“Where do you want to go?” David asked.
“Somewhere... private,” Larry said, casting a sideways glance in Judy’s direction. Judy was still sitting on the car, flashing her undergarments.
“Ooh, that sounds like a good idea,” Marilyn agreed, squeezing David’s hand. His heart skipped a beat. He couldn’t argue with that.
David loosened the collar of his white pressed shirt and scanned the lot, trying to remember where he had parked. Finally, he saw his car, equipped with two freshman boys sitting on the hood, chatting. David swore to himself, hoping those kids didn’t dent his hood—it was a hazard of parking by the school. Larry saw the two boys at the same time David did and stepped toward them menacingly. “What the hell are you doing on my buddy’s car, you little creeps?”
The boys’ eyes widened. Larry had a good hundred pounds on either one of them. Even David, who was somewhat scrawny for a quarterback, was a lot bigger than either boy. “You don’t just mess with an upperclassman’s car,” Larry went on, his hands balling into fists. He looked like he could have easily picked up either boy with one hand and thrown him across the parking lot. He was glancing over at David, his eyes speaking the obvious: Let’s beat the shit out of these kids.
David bit his lip. He knew what Larry was thinking: if they beat up these kids, it would impress the girls. Freshmen got beat up, that’s the way it was. He had been spared for the most part when he was at that age, thanks to his innate abilities in football. If he hadn’t discovered how far he could throw a pigskin, he probably would have spent half his freshman year with his head in a toilet.
David put his hand on Larry’s shoulder. “Listen, I don’t want to mess up my tux. It’s rented.” He rested his eyes on the two boys, who looked like they were about to wet their slacks. “Scram!”
Larry was intensely disappointed that he didn’t get to show off for Judy, but he calmed down with they were inside the car. David didn’t understand what Larry was so worried about—everybody knew that Judy was loose.
David dropped Larry and Judy off by the park and continued to follow Marilyn’s directions to a secluded area she knew of. When he killed the engine, he realized that his palms were sweating badly. He took his hands off the steering wheel of the Ford and wiped them on the pants legs of his tux. He lifted his eyes to meet Marilyn’s pretty, heart-shaped face. Tendrils of her auburn hair had come loose from the barrettes. “I sure had a great time tonight, Marilyn,” he said.
Marilyn smiled and touched his arm. David felt himself getting hard and hoped she didn’t notice. “So did I, David,” she whispered.
Six months ago, David had fallen for Marilyn Ross. She was always on the sidelines of the football field, cheering her heart out, her lush auburn hair pulled into a neat ponytail. He stared at her so often that he allowed the football to slam right into his head one day, nearly knocking him out. He was real gone.
Three months ago, David had finally worked up the nerve to ask her out. He had heard that Marilyn only dated seniors and he was still just a junior, but he thought maybe his quarterback status on the school’s winning football team might give him a shot. After all, he was a great athlete. “A born quarterback” was what people said.
Marilyn was always with her friend Betty, a fellow paper shaker. David wanted to get her alone to ask her out, but Betty was always around. Finally, David came out and asked her right in front of Betty. It had been one of the scariest moments of his life. She had shrugged, smiled coyly, and said, “Cool.”
He took her to a drive-in movie that weekend and ten dates later, he invited her to the junior prom. He was scared to ask, because he knew they weren’t exclusive and Marilyn still was dating other fellows. When she agreed, he felt like he was floating on a cloud. He waxed up his car, rented the best tux he could afford, and was determined to make this the best night of her life. This was one of the last times they’d be together before Marilyn went off to camp for the summer and he had something important to ask her.
“Is something wrong, David?” Marilyn asked. She slid a little closer to him. He had heard a rumor in the locker room that she was fast, but he hadn’t seen any evidence of that. They had made out once or twice, but nothing more than that.
David took a deep breath. “Marilyn, would you like to go steady?” He braced himself, waiting for her answer.
He was shocked when Marilyn’s blue eyes widened and she squealed. She threw her arms around him. “Oh, David, this is unreal!”
He hadn’t expected such an enthusiastic reaction. He pulled his class ring from his finger and placed it on her considerably smaller finger. “It doesn’t fit,” he noted.
“I’ll wear it ‘round my neck,” Marilyn decided. She slipped the ring off her finger and held it in her hand. “Do you realize how popular we’ll be? Head cheerleader and star quarterback? We’ll definitely be the prom king and queen.”
“I guess so.” David didn’t really care that much about being popular. He just wanted to be with Marilyn. For the time being, they were going steady, but in another year, he hoped he could ask her to marry him. The guidance counselor had told him that his football would earn him a college scholarship and he knew he didn’t want to go anywhere without Marilyn.
They made out until they were pushing the limits of Marilyn’s curfew and then he drove her home. He was on cloud nine as he pulled into the driveway of his house. Marilyn was actually his girlfriend now—he could hardly believe it. He wished she wouldn’t be gone all the summer, but he could hold out now that he knew she was his girl.
As he got out of the car, he noticed his next-door neighbor, Sally Jones, was raking leaves on her lawn. It seemed like an odd thing to do, since it was close to midnight. He leaned over the fence that had separated their houses since he and Sally were kids. “What’s going on?” he asked.
Sally looked up from raking leaves. David had known Sally forever and when they were kids, they had been best friends. They were still good friends, but once they got to high school David got caught up in the world of football and lately Marilyn, and Sally had her own stuff going on. Sometimes he missed hanging out with her, but usually he was too busy to think much about it.
“Just raking leaves,” Sally replied.
“At this hour?”
Sally shrugged and looked him over. “Nice threads, David. You went to the prom, I guess.”
“Right on,” he said. He didn’t recall seeing Sally that night. “How come you didn’t go?”
She shrugged again. “I’m not much of a dancer.”
“Well, it was great,” David assured her.
Sally smiled. “You went with Marilyn?”
“Yeah.” He grinned at her... he was exploding to tell someone the news. “Marilyn and I are jacketed.”
Sally’s eyes widened. “Really? But David, you barely know her and she—”
“She’s great,” David finished Sally’s sentence. “She’s the most wonderful girl I’ve ever known.” He saw the look on Sally’s face. “I know it’s hard to understand, but I feel like we’re meant for each other.”
“No, I dig,” Sally said quietly. “If you like her, David, I’m sure she’s great.”
“Thanks,” David said. Once again, he felt some regret that his friendship with Sally had fallen apart. She was a nice girl. “Hey Sally, maybe sometime this summer we could catch a flick together.”
“You don’t think Marilyn would mind?”
“Nah, she’s cool.”
Sally didn’t give him an answer. She simply smiled, rested her rake against the fence, and went back into her house.
Sally Jones spent her entire life in love with David Barnett or at least it felt that way. The Barnett family had moved in next door to the Joneses when Sally and David were only three years old and they had become instant playmates. Nobody had much money back then and the kids were left to their own devices to amuse themselves.
As they got older, they built a treehouse, played stickball in the backyard, and spent many lazy afternoons lying in the grass. David had dark hair, bright green eyes, a round face, and freckles across his nose, and Sally had a crush on him the way only a little girl could. Sally still remembered the day that she had dropped her knickers to show David how girls were different from boys. David had been quite intrigued and had agreed to follow suit—he pulled down his pants and showed Sally his equipment. Of course, nothing more than that had happened that afternoon between the two children.
Sally was sure that David didn’t remember that he had been her first kiss. It was when they were 10 years old and Sally’s oldest sister had just gotten married. As they sat in chairs eating finger sandwiches at the reception outside the church, David leaned in and kissed her on the lips without warning. She had stared at him in surprise.
What did you do that for? she asked, trying to look annoyed.
I just wanted to see what the big deal was, David explained sheepishly.
Back then, both Sally and David believed they would get married someday. In fact, they both took it for granted. David would make remarks like, When we get married, I think we should have four kids. It seemed like it was expected of them. Sally couldn’t remember exactly when the “when we get married” comments ended, but it was probably around the time they went through puberty. David lost his baby fat and grew muscles out of nowhere as the freckles faded from his face. Sally vividly remembered the first time he had been sitting in her room wearing a T-shirt and she noticed that his biceps had become tight and hard. She should have known that day that their friendship was over. It took a few more months for him to discover football and Sally began to hear the girls whispering in the bathroom about how cute David Barnett was.
Sally’s puberty was far less graceful than David’s. By seventeen years old, she was short and dumpy, with stringy hair and a poor sense of fashion. She found refuge with the other oddballs in her class—the other girls who couldn’t find dates. She knew David didn’t mean to avoid her, but it was a natural consequence of his social position. He was still a nice guy—he never ever pounded the freshman like the other football players did and he always had a smile for Sally. She went to all his football games and cheered for him from the bleachers. She and David were friendly to each other, but she knew they were no longer friends. And they would certainly never be anything more.
But somehow, in the back of Sally’s mind, she had hoped that David might rediscover her someday. It was silly, but it was a fantasy she often wrote about in her diary. Maybe she’d lose the extra weight, get her hair fixed up, and David would see her over the fence separating their houses and he’d forget all about Marilyn Ross.
Of course, Sally could see in David’s eyes that he wasn’t going to forget about Marilyn so fast. He thought he was in love with her. He wanted to spent the rest of his life with Marilyn and Sally thought there was a good chance Marilyn might agree to that. After all, David was a genuinely nice guy, good looking, and he was one of the few kids in town who would be going off to college. As beautiful as she was, Marilyn couldn’t do much better than that.
But she’ll never love him like I do, Sally knew.
To be continued...