Homecoming

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Years back, when I was fourteen years old, there was a place where the rustic countryside surrounded us from all around. Living enclosed by the fences of the military base, we all wanted to go get away from feeling like hamsters stuck in an endless time loop. But in Naples, Italy, we always found a way to make that endless time loop well worth the time. 

One October afternoon my friend Ryan and I left our high school and went to my place. It wasn’t too far. It was right across the street. Usually after school, I had volleyball practice but today sports practices were cancelled. Taking the opportunity, we hung out for the first time in a while because we weren’t busy.  

We arrived at the apartment that my dad was assigned. Filled with an array of ceramic flowers and marble sculptures, he moved with caution as I walked like I usually did. I asked if he wanted a drink or anything to eat. My mom used to tell me it was only rude if you didn’t make your visitor feel at home. He politely declined. I still gave him a drink.

For a few minutes, we talked about how our days went. He told me he was glad to have a day off, because practices were intense. I listened, rubbing my chin most of the time. Then all of a sudden, a thought passed by me. 

It was the week of homecoming, where the stakes for sports games were higher than usual. It was a time to ask out the prettiest girl in our school and pretend we had a chance. It was more than just a dance in a gym. It was a special time where we were able to go to a villa out in the countryside and act like adults who hadn’t seen each other in years.

Then, I remembered the announcement that was made before the final bell after fourth period.

“Dude, you’re the homecoming prince!” I said. 

“Yeah about that . . .” he replied.

He asked if I had an extra suit to borrow. He needed it for the dance. After all, a prince couldn’t show up to the homecoming with just anything.  

First, I checked my sister’s room to see if there were any tuxedos in her closet. Strangely, this had become routine, because her room was the closest to the living room. For some reason, the only thing that I found were both homecoming and prom sashes that she won as Queen. She had left for college a couple of years earlier. 

Next, I checked my brother’s room. Inside of his closet were varsity letters, dossiers filled with awards, and jerseys from his high school years. I sifted my hands through the leftover clothes of his high school days and found two hangars at the very right side of the closet, each enclosed in a zipped up linen covering. They were two suits from his homecoming and prom dances. I pulled them from the closet, and closed the door behind me. He too had left for college earlier that summer.

I came back to the living room and held them both up. “Do you want the stripes or jet black suit?” I asked. He chose the pinstripes, a bold choice. After he chose, he went into the other room to try out the suit. He walked out with the whole suit on, white gym socks on his feet, and asked how it looked. I gave him a thumbs up.  

“Your date will love it!” I said.  

“Yeah, I’ll probably get a tie to match her dress.” he said.

We hung out for the rest of the afternoon, talking about how our practices had been going. We ate, we walked around outside, and we talked about girls in our school. Then, he asked if I was going with anyone. I shook my head. 

When it was time for him to take the bus back to his home in Gaeta, a bayside military base about an hour west from the military base I lived in. He carried the suit on his shoulders like a letterman jacket. I waved to him as he got onto the bus. It drove away into the brisk autumn night.

A few days later he came to our group of friends with a terrible revelation. It was apparent by his silence as he sat at our lunch table. Although his date decided she didn’t want to go with him to homecoming, I tried my best to console him. I rallied in to make him smile. “You got us!” I told him. My other friends, Donnie and Tynan, joined in with the sentiment and gave him the expected pat on the back. “Let’s just go have fun and forget about it.” 

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A day later, a volleyball teammate offered a ride to the villa on homecoming night. I accepted his invitation and rode there in the cramped up tan van. There was his girlfriend, another teammate and his date, and Donnie. From the sound of their voices, there was a great expectation in the night. On our way there, he asked why the shirt sleeves in my suit were exposed. I didn’t give him a reason then, but the answer was that the shirt was too big.

When we arrived at the villa, a valet led us towards the dancehall. The girls exited the vehicle first, then the men followed along, making sure their coattails were not wrinkled from sitting down too long. I stared at my shoes to see if they looked alright. They were my dad’s shoes and we wore the same size. The girls quickly found their friends and chattered with big smiles on their faces. The boys stood in a circle and acted like a bunch of cool guys. Boy, did we think we were cool. 

The night was filled with a lot of dancing, a lot of eating, and a lot of awkward pauses. There was a couple that navel gazed and talked near the bushes, exchanging heartfelt words. They stared into each other’s eyes the way that a child watched cartoons. Oh dear, I thought. 

I stagged, much like most dances in my teenaged years, and drank my cup of mineral water coolly in lonesome. I struck up a conversation with a person that I didn’t even know. The next time that he saw me, he didn’t say hi.  

Outside the venue, I took pictures with the volleyball team that I played for. We were fresh off of an undefeated season and were eying our ascent to the Mediterranean Championship. We shot the shit and joked around at how badly we were going to give it to all the other teams. Sooner or later, the breeze picked up. We carried ourselves back inside to watch the homecoming court dance. 

As a homecoming prince, Ryan danced with the homecoming princess of our grade. Everybody else loved her although I wondered why. She smiled and they both talked swaying to the song “One Wish” by Ray J. Knowing what Ryan had been through, I was able to tell that he didn’t want to dance with her. I looked over to a table next to ours and saw the girl that didn’t want to go to homecoming with him. She wore a red dress. He wore a black tie.

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