"We'd like to thank you all for volunteering to help with prom preparations. It's a tradition for the Juniors to help out with Senior prom, and next yet it will pay off for your prom as well." Ms. Moore was explaining while Timothy stood by her side.
It had been a week since Veronica's little police incident; she was still living at my house as her parents couldn't be reached and her great Aunt was in Europe for some conference. My Dad had confirmed through their accountant that V's parents were alive and well, merely unavailable. With each passing day, it became more and more apparent just how crappy her parents were.
Ms. Moore was still talking about tradition and all that when Nai'a leaned over to me and whispered, "Are we friends with her now?" she pointed across the table to Veronica. Veronica had volunteered for this mostly because I was and she needed me to drive her back to the house.
I shrugged to Nai'a. "It's a work in progress." I whispered.
Nai'a was confused but didn't have a chance to pursue the topic because Ms. Moore was wrapping up her school spirit speech. "Alright, we will be trying out a few bands over there..." she pointed to where instruments had been brought in from the music room, "I'd also like a few people to sort through some CDs of back up music for when the band needs a break and then we need a group on decorations. We have a hundred or more balloons that need blowing up and arranging..." she pointed out the various areas and the group of volunteers scattered.
Erik and I spent the time sorting through the CDs and had a long discussion about what was or wasn't good music. Most of the bands that tried out were terrible and I could see Ms. Moore looking distressed. They could always resort to a DJ of some sort but live music was preferable. "You should try out." I said to Erik as the second to last group walked away.
"What?" Erik asked, looking up from a pile of CDs. "I don't have a band...I have me..."
"Well Veronica is here and she can sing...and I know Alex plays the drums..." I watched as an awkward looking group took their places at the instruments. "And Wesley plays the keyboard I think...although I don't know if he's any good." As the first chords of the final group echoed painfully around the room I grimaced. "It's gotta be better than this..." I smiled at him encouragingly and within moments all protests died on his lips.
For a thrown together within moments ensemble, they played pretty well - better than the others to be sure! Okay, to be fair Wes wasn't very good but with a grand total of two minutes to prepare, they were great. And Erik looked so good...
"The gig is yours if you want it" Ms Moore said after consulting with Tim and a senior who had come in.
"This was fun but Liz and I are already going to prom and if I tell her I'm gonna be in the band all night, she'll kill me..." Wes said with a frown. "Besides, I wasn't that great..."
"You were so good man!" Alex protested. "We'd need someone on keyboard for sure..."
Erik looked between them, considering. "I know a guy...does he have to be a student?" he asked. Ms. Moore shook her head. "Then, I'm in...you?" he looked to Alex who nodded excitedly. Tessa was a few feet behind me and squealed in happiness. "V? You wanna sing with us?"
"Um...." she frowned and looked in my direction, though whether she wanted my opinion or my permission was unclear. I smiled encouragingly and she nodded. "Sure."
"Then we have our band!" Ms. Moore, who had been pensive moments before, smiled.
Veronica's great aunt arrived as we were leaving the house Friday morning. She and V barely had time to exchange pleasantries before we had to get to school but she went on inside to talk to my dad. Veronica was tense most of the day, somehow the whole being arrested thing had been kept under wraps after we let Todd and Erik in on the secret. However much V has control of the gossip ring at school, she couldn't keep my dad from telling her aunt.
There wasn't any time for dramatics though after school because the annual awards ceremony was taking place that night and we had to get changed and right back to school for it. Liz, a senior, was the valedictorian this year and Todd, Tim and Nai'a were all receiving awards along with a handful of other students.
Across the aisle from me, my dad was sitting with Veronica and her aunt. Veronica looked anxious, annoyed and sad all at once. Mei-Ling was sitting behind them next to Tim's uncle Stephen. He had made a lot of arrangements for the care of his brother over the last couple weeks and Tim no longer looked like a haggard adult. Dorian Kline, Tim's dad, was likely going to be in an assisted living facility soon, at least for awhile which would be good for him; Tim still wasn't sure what that would mean for him though - he couldn't live on his own and Stephen might very well go back to Egypt at some point to continue his work.
"Timothy Kline is one of the best academic students in the Junior class." Principal Watts said, pulling me out of my thoughts, "He is also our Junior class vice president and has shown promise in science, mathematics and drama - he has been chosen, from all the students at Carson High School, to receive our annual Science Award of Excellence." Timothy stood up just as Stephen's phone jingled softly. I looked back and saw Stephen making a hasty retreat from the auditorium so he didn't disturb the ceremony any further.
Timothy watched his retreat as well, even as he was shaking the principal's hand and accepting his reward. Instead of sitting down like he was supposed to, he made a silent exit off the stage to seek out his uncle. I glance back at them toward the rear of the theater and saw them both looking upset as they conversed.
Shortly after Stephen had left his seat by Mei-Ling, another person had slid into it. I recognized him from the university and elbowed Erik. "That's her fiance..." I whispered.
"It's time you come home Mei-Ling" he said, not trying to keep his voice down even as Principal Watts started praising Todd's athletic skills. "You have obligations, promises to be kept."
"I made no such promise!" she hissed back at him. "I won't come back to China and I won't marry you!"
A few heads turned in their directions and shushed them, Todd seemed to be watching them out of the corner of his eye as he was given his award as well.
"Your parents may have something to say on the subject." Ning said, his eyes narrowing and his mouth creasing in triumph.
"My parents?" Mei-Ling glanced around the auditorium anxiously, as if expecting them to materialize as well.
"Todd, Coach Reed would like to say a few words as well." Principal Watts said with a smile. He looked back at the audience, I'd like to introduce our football coach, Tyson Reed."
Mei-Ling's attention was back on the stage after assuring herself that her parents were not in the building and with any luck, not in the country. "Todd, the other coaches and I have been talking and we'd like for you to be Captain of the football team next year." he said it as a statement - there was no doubt in his mind that Todd would accept. He held out a jersey to Todd, it was symbolic but had a large "C" stitched onto it as well as Todd's name and number.
We all cheered loudly - Mei-Ling probably the loudest of all - as Todd took his award and the jersey. "Thanks Coach." he said. He too should have sat down on the stage but he took the same exit route as Tim did, probably hoping to get Mei-Ling away from Ning. She watched him exit stage right and slipped out of the row to follow; Ning followed her.
My neck was straining from trying to follow everything going on around me and Erik chuckled, returning my attention to the stage as Nai'a received her award as well. I barely got to see her shake the principal's hand when I heard a strangled gasp across the aisle from me.
"You were arrested?!" I grimaced as I looked from Veronica's great aunt to Veronica to my dad and back through them again. The aunt was angry and probably disappointed, Veronica looked embarrassed and my dad looked mildly anxious.
Clearly I wasn't the only one that had heard the little outburst as Principal Watts stopped mid-sentence for a fraction of a second and the people int he first few rows all turned toward Veronica. The room was instantly a buzz with whispers.
"Perhaps we should take this to the hall." my dad suggested. Veronica was relieved to get away from the looks and whispers but nervous to be alone with her aunt from the look of it. They quietly filed out of the auditorium and almost everyone watched them go. I turned back to the stage in time to see Nai'a smirking at the general disruption to the ceremony.
I thought that all the drama had died out and gave all my attention to the next few awards - the only one I actually knew fairly well was Liz though. Shouting from the back right off the auditorium disturbed the ceremony once again. I looked back in time to see Meghan and Mrs. Anderson hurrying toward the source - I knew Todd, Mei-Ling and Ning had left in that direction and strained to make out the words of the shouts.
"Keep your hands off my girlfriend!" Todd said loudly, I watched Ning stumbled briefly into view as if he'd been shoved backwards.
"I could say the same to you - except she is my fiance..." he replied with a fierce glare.
"Why don't we..." Mrs. Anderson started to say calmly but her words were cut off by more angry shouts.
"She doesn't even like you, she barely KNOWS you!" Todd said, placing himself protectively in front of Mei-Ling.
"Enough!" Mrs. Anderson's voice echoed around the auditorium and she blushed quickly, glancing back at those who ought to still be watching the ceremony. "Outside, all of you!" she said, still loud enough for everyone to hear. The Andersons, Ning and Mei-Ling all stomped out of the auditorium where the shouting more than likely resumed.
"Well..." Principal Watts said once order seemed to have been restored, "Let's continue..." he flipped through the notes at the podium, clearly having lost his place in the whole ceremony. Liz stood up to help him and the audience was buzzing about all the drama while they found the next award.
"I wasn't arrested!" Veronica's voice carried though they were in the back. She sounded exasperated and desperate to explain. "Not exactly anyway..."
"Not exactly? Then what was it exactly?" he aunt's voice was strong and loud as well, or maybe the auditorium just had very good acoustics.
"She was detained...but the charges were all dropped after she returned the goods." my dad's voice was calm but loud enough to break through the small shouting match brewing. "She's been very well behaved since then."
"I should hope so!" her aunt let out a large sigh but was silent, maybe it was over or maybe she was thinking. Without warning, she reached out and pulled Veronica into a loving embrace, Veronica all but fell into her aunt's arms, grateful for a loving and familiar touch.
"I'll be better, I swear I will." she said into her aunt's shoulder.
They must have disappeared outside then because none of them returned to their seats. The final few awards were presented with no drama at all and somewhat awkwardly. "Well, that was an interesting evening. I'd like to thank you all for coming and congratulations to our award recipients.." he looked toward the stage where there were now a few empty seats thanks to the departures. "Those that are still here anyway." he began clapping, followed by the rest of the audience clapping.
Wes thundered past us and scooped Liz into his arms, planting a big kiss on her lips in front of everyone as the audience began to file out of the building. "That was...interesting." Erik said squeezing my hand.
"Yeah...that it was." I looked toward both exits wondering about Tim and why he'd left; wondering about V and her aunt; wondering what had happened with Todd and Ning...
"You want to go find them all don't you?" Erik said chuckling.
"Er...sort of." I said with a blush. "I just want to know that everyone is okay."
"Why don't you let them sort their own problems just for tonight." he suggested, pulling me into his arms. "We have a date to go on."
"You know what, you're right Erik." I said with a smile. "You have my undivided attention."
"For tonight anyway." he said with a grin. "But I'll take what I can get. How would you like to go to prom with me? As a member of the band I can bring a date..."
"Sounds wonderful, always wanted to date a member of the band." I teased.
"Are we dating? Officially and all that?" he asked looking hopeful.
"Absolutely." I said before kissing him.