Two Dorms Part 27

©01 The Media Desk

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****** MARY
      Jack didn't want to offend her, but he started to gather his shampoo and stuff and head for the door.
      "Don't leave Jack, I like company in the shower." She sputtered with water in her face.
      "I gotta get going. It's been nice, ahhh, seeing you again. He wasn't lying, but he wondered how she had learned his routine so fast. As far as he knew he didn't have a routine. As he was drying he noticed he still had shampoo in his hair. He didn't have much of a choice.
      "Sorry, but I gotta rinse my hair." He said to her as he got back in the shower.
      "That's alright." She watched him duck a little to get his hair under the water. Then she helped him rinse the soap out.
      To get to his hair she had to stand very close to him and stretch up.
      Putting her most prominent assets right in his field of view.
      Jack froze to the bone as soon as she touched him. Her touch wasn't the same as Mary's, she was more forceful, rubbing his head like she was trying to rub his hair off. He couldn't help but watch her body move as she fought with his hair.
      "You missed a spot." She said touching a rough spot on his neck, "Don't move."
      He did as he was told, she went through his stuff on the small shelf next to the door and got his razor. Then she re-shaved his neck and jaw line.
      Jack felt the old fire in the tropics, he fought it, but it was tougher this time. He cleared his throat, hoping his voice didn't crack.
      "Thanks, thanks a lot.... I'll see you at the parade."
      "Anytime Jack. I like you." She was looking at him, top to bottom unashamedly.
      Jack didn't say anything but he tried to get control of himself.
      He got dressed and thought about the woman. She was what he would have liked to have met before he had gotten serious with Mary. Then it occurred to him that he wasn't married yet, but he had turned down a very desirable and obviously willing woman. "Maybe just being engaged makes men dull." He said remembering Larkin's words.
      But this place wasn't certainly dull.

****** DALE
      There was two limbo dancers left.
      The sounds of illegal sports betting rumbled through the yard.
      The music was pounding.
      Colleen watched as the older man flexed himself into an impossible contortion and swayed under the bar like a gray-haired scarecrow. But style and grace didn't count, he made it, that was all that was required.
      Colleen warmed up, she was getting chilly running around in her hula outfit. But she knew the house was betting heavily on her, and she was very competitive. She flexed her legs loose again, and watched Ralph bite his tongue.
      She approached the bar, easing herself down, her heels digging into the ground.
      Everybody in the crowd was staring at her, she was graceful but the bar was almost too low. She was gritting her teeth, almost going down, but she came out the other side and hopped up.
      "Alright!" Ralph celebrated. "Beautiful, wonderful, I love it!"
      Myersong doubled his bet, the butler was wagering heavily on Colleen, she had to go first this time, but if she fell, Crowley still had to make it.
      Now the bar was nearly level with Dale's knees, he didn't see how anybody could make it.
      Colleen was looking at it with dismay. Crowley seemed confident and was chatting and drinking as usual.
      The music started.

****** DALE
      Colleen started down, she looked sideways at the bar, she wasn't low enough, she felt the grass brush her shoulders, she started under the bar, but there was no way, she folded up and lay on the ground looking up at the bar.
      Ralph flew over the keg cooler and helped her up, "My God you did good. You were wonderful. I can't believe it...." He jabbered on and on to her as he helped her into a chair. The condolences from everybody were lost under his never-ending praise and encouragement.
      She only half listened. She wanted desperately for Crowley to fail, her competitiveness had her thinking about a second shot if he did make it.
      The man looked at the bar, then smiled at her, "I will make a deal with the young lady." The man said in his slightly accented precise speech. "All or nothing, one spot lower." He nodded to her. "I will do it."
      She wasn't sure exactly what she was agreeing to, but she nodded back.
      He moved the bar down to the next to the bottom peg. He took off his shirt, the gray hair on his chest looked striking next to his dark skin in the torchlight. He nodded for the music.
      There was a furious round of betting.
      The Jamaican Physicist made it look easy. Not graceful or overly athletic. But easy. He bounded up with his hands in the air.
      The cheering was deafening.
      Colleen felt the air go out of her, she knew he was a ringer now, but she had wanted to win anyway. She realized Ralph was rubbing her shoulders, she wanted to protest but she didn't, it felt too good. The old scientist held a wad of money out to her. "I will split my winnings with my most beautiful rival. It was a pleasure ma'am."
      She smiled at him, and took the money.

****** MARY
      Mary found the lineup spot, eventually. She just followed the confused line of cars, floats, and fire trucks. And screaming and arguing. Some guy with a radio that alternated between screeching and cross talk told her to head for the bank parking lot.
      There found a woman with another two-way that was just as bad, except once in awhile she would jabber into hers. In the bank parking lot there was more confusion than there had been on the street.
      Somebody had a horse unit in the middle of South High Marching Spartans Band, the woman was trying to move the horses, but the horse colonel didn't want to get out of line until he knew where to go. The woman told him where to go in no uncertain terms. The Colonel swore like a sailor, and stayed on his horse in line.
      Mary walked around and found some more of the court, but no float. As the group wandered around, they picked up the rest of the Royal Court and the Queen herself.
      But they still hadn't found their float.
      "Where is that blasted Queen Float!" A fat man screamed into a radio in his car. The radio was silent for a minute the man looked at the girls.
      "FFFzzzst It ain't here, CRACKLE, they said it'd be late... hssszz." The radio answered.

****** DALE
      The party was over. Everybody filtered away.
      Dale looked at Harrison's watch. It was two in the morning.
      "Everybody. First call for the parade will be at nine, the second call at ten. The parade should be coming past here at about eleven thirty or so." The butler announced as they wandered away from the ruins of the party.
      Dale didn't understand, every parade he had ever seen had a precise schedule. Step off at eleven, here at eleven twenty, there at eleven thirty and so on.
      Harrison shook his head. "Think about the rest of this week and the rally?" Dale nodded. "The parade is the same way. Maybe worse, because they are trying to be organized."

****** MARY
      "Late!" The court screamed at once.
      The fat man nodded and got in his car and drove away.
      The queen looked like she'd cry.
      Mary just wanted to pull out somebody's hair. The man that never talked into his radio came by. Several of the girls started talking to him at once. The man waved his hands in front of them. Finally the homecoming court stopped verbally abusing him.
      "Paleese, lladies. Eye hab nufting to doez wit tdis." He said slowly.
      Mary and the other girls understood why he didn't talk into his radio, the battery would go dead before he finished. The man didn't say anymore but waved them to follow him.
      "Hey Coaltrain!" Somebody called from across the street, evidently their man's name was Coaltrain because he stopped and looked at the approaching man with a smile.
      A younger man ran up to their man with the radio. "I'm glad I found you. I couldn't get through on the box." He pointed at the chattering radio. "We can't find the Iowa 27th Regiment. You seen them?"
      Coaltrain didn't say anything, he just shook his head with his lips pursed.
      "You girls seen a bunch of guys with Civil War outfits and Pennsylvania long rifles?"
      Mary and the others thought a minute.
      "I saw a bunch of soldiers like that drinking coffee back in the drug store parking lot, they were next to a green firetruck." One of the court said.
      The man muttered a few words and took of in the indicated direction at a dead run.
      Coaltrain watched him go, then nodded to the girls and they set off again.
      Mary watched the man with interest, he had one of the most expressive faces she had ever seen. Whenever they were stopped by a confused parade participant, or an angry security man, or somebody looking for a stagecoach he had misplaced, the man would listen carefully, then shrug, point, or wave his hands one way or another with a set of expressions on his face that told the story. Only rarely did he say more than a word or two.
      But they still had no float.

****** DALE
      First call came right on schedule, but the house wasn't ready for that. Second call was better received and Dale crawled out of bed. Later downstairs he drank some hot tea and ate some cinnamon toast.
      They looked out at the street.
      There was nobody much out there.
      The parade was supposed to start downtown somewhere, Dale knew from the paper, work around to head north on Naval past the front of the campus, then turn right to come down Paris Street, then right past the Roz house, and wind up dispersing in the big parking field next to the athletic fields a few blocks down. A total of maybe twelve blocks. Not the biggest parade in the country, but it was enough.
      They sat on the small balcony that was part of roof of the music room. Harrison had the radio on loud in his room so they could hear parade updates on the campus station, and waited for the show to begin.
      Some guy on a moped came by. He stopped and hollered up to them. "You guys seen a stagecoach? Six horses and a Texas Flag?"
      Harrison called back down. "What color was the coach?"
      The guy didn't laugh. "Bright Red!"
      They told him no and the man went on down the road.
      "This is the way it goes every year. I mean how do you loose a stagecoach and six horses?"
      "Mexican Banditos." Rob said.
      Dale laughed.

****** MARY
      For a few minutes the combined, total, confused, excited, and supposed intelligent minds of the entire parade committee and support staff was turned to the queen's float problem.
      They even dispatched a police officer on motorcycle, sirens blaring, to go check on the float's progress. It was found, still in the shop where it was to be built, except the shop was boarded up, the power turned off, and the float only just begun.
      They were now trying to come up with a replacement.
      "There is word there is another float available, all it needs is a power unit. But you may not like it." The woman said.
      Mary and the queen exchanged glances. Mary asked the question, "What exactly is it?"
      The woman took a deep breath. "It's the Santa Claus float... ... It's all we've got. Unless you want to ride on the back of a flatbed semi with a few posters hung off it."
      Mary started laughing, "Santa Claus."
      Pamela was furious.
      The others on the court either were too angry to see past the lack of a float, or had acknowledged the absurdity of it all and started laughing as well.
      In a few minutes the Queen realized it was her call, she looked at Mary and the others, "OK, bring on the reindeer, but no elves." She said with a slight grin.
      The word was spread over the still cackling radio. The old float was rolled out of a city warehouse, and the wooden reindeer were draped in the school colors, the sleigh was nearly converted into a carriage, and so on.
      For the record. It looked dumber than... than... well, you know.

****** DALE
      They sat on the roof and swapped stories of Homecoming parades of the past. The parade was supposed to start now, but nobody was worried.
      "Half an hour late is considered on time, anything over forty-five minutes is unusual." Harrison spouted. "Like, ahh, three years ago, it was so late it was running while they were playing the game. The street was almost empty except for kids and some old people."
      "Is it true the parade got lost one year and was almost out of town before somebody turned them around and sent them the right way?" Sandy asked.
      "Yeah." Rob said. "The starting line was painted on the wrong street, the flag unit took off, and didn't notice there wasn't anybody on the sides watching, the rest of the parade followed them. That was, '75 or so."
      "And the time the fire tanker started leaking. 35,000 gallons of water. It almost washed away the entire Junior High band. It was a disaster." Keith told them.
      They were all laughing. Fifteen minutes late, and counting.

****** MARY
      By the time the Santa Claus float made it to the lineup area it was past time for the ROTC to step off the colors to lead the parade out.
      Except the ROTC was nowhere to be found. So the lost and now found patrol of the Iowa 27th (the reenactment organization) were rousted out to lead the parade and present the US Flag to the crowd.
      Now the parade was ten minutes late.
      There was an argument at the beginning of the parade route because a funeral was going past and wanted to turn against the parade line-up, but the cops told them that was unsafe, so the funeral was routed down Naval, along the parade route, to turn left on Paris to go to the cemetery
      Now it was twenty minutes late. And half the crowd lined up to watch a Homecoming Parade had the 'pleasure' of seeing a funeral procession first.
      Finally word was passed along the route. It was a GO!
      The Union Army brought the colors out and turned onto Naval, they followed a couple of state police cars and a city police motorcycle at respectful distance.
      The crowd cheered and saluted the flags.
      Then came the high school band, without the horses in the middle of it.
      Then some fire trucks that were supposed to be later, the rest of the Army, a few floats, and so on.
      Anybody with the marching order from the paper could have noticed that the band was ten positions early, that the fire trucks were not supposed to be all together, and minor details like that.
      There were a few last minute touches to the Santa Claus float, like a last minute covering up of 'Happy Christmas' on its backend with a banner.
      You couldn't tell unless you looked close that the horses used to be reindeer, that had been given and antler-ectomy and covered in streamers, and the sleigh just had cardboard wheels slapped on it. It wasn't that bad.
      "Damn this thing looks stupid." Pamela said as they got ready to board.

****** DALE
      The group on the roof saw the colors make the turn off Naval and head their way. Harrison stood up. Dale did remember you were supposed to stand up for the flag, but he had plenty of time, it was still two blocks away.
      There was a bunch of commotion in front of the house on 14th street.
      The missing stagecoach was trying to work through the police barricade and turn up Paris Street into the oncoming parade.
      The driver was whooping and hollering, but the campus security man wasn't giving an inch.
      Finally the driver executed a very difficult maneuver, he backed up the six horse team a little, then made a sharp turn around the barricade and wheeled the stagecoach around to head west on Paris street.
      Directly at the marching Union Army with the colors.
      Dale was having a laughing fit.
      Rob was taking pictures, the others were cheering the driver on, who now being chased by three campus officers.
      At first the Iowa 27th was going to hold its ground, to carry on their unit's proud tradition, their stand at Chickamauga against overwhelming numbers.
      But common sense was the order of the day, and a charging six horse team and a wagon flying Rebel colors was a matter they didn't feel like dealing with today.
      The Union line broke, but the colors did not fall.
      The high school band had no proud tradition of holding a line, they fled in complete disarray.
      The horses didn't intimidate the fire trucks and, it seemed, the huge machines didn't scare the horses either. The trucks veered slightly to avoid a nasty wreck and the stage stayed on course west.
      The crowd along the parade route screamed with laughter.
      The stagecoach was soon out of sight.
      The house people watched as the
      Union Troops reassembled their proud line after the unexpected Confederate attack. They stood at attention while the band got itself back together.
      And they were off again. Just another chapter in the school's Homecoming tradition.

****** MARY
      The word of the Stagecoach being found was passed around, but it was still lost somewhere around Fraternity row. The radio cackled with the discussion.
      Mary and the rest of the court were standing around the antler less Reindeer while the queen stood in the rather unusual looking sleigh/carriage.
      They were ready to roll, just waiting of the College's band to round the corner to clear the way for a couple of the other units to get out of their way.
      The Queen's float was to be the last float, right behind the Marching Prairie Dogs, but now they were about six from the end, with another fire truck bringing up the rear.
      There had been a traffic jam and the firefighter had taken a wrong cue and moved into place behind the band, and, oh well, here they were and here they'd stay.
      They got the word to roll out and they were off.
      Mary watched the crowd and waved once in awhile, she noticed some of the other girls had that rubber-wristed politician and royalty wave down to a science, but it hurt her wrist to do it, so she just waited until she saw some face that seemed to be looking at her, then she waved. Nobody noticed the difference.

****** DALE
      The rest of the parade was going by without much of a hitch since the stagecoach's entrance (no pun really intended).
      The group on the roof sat and cheered or booed as the mood took them.
      Rob commented that after the initial few units the line was almost going as scheduled. This was more or less a feat in and of itself. They saw the queen's float coming and got out the binoculars for a better look.
      "That's the Christmas float." Rob said. "I have got to hear this story. "Let us know what happened." Harrison said looking at the sleigh chariot. "It was a rush job, but it looks, boy it looks stupid."
      "There's Peggy and Colleen and Yyavonne on the float with the president. And there's Mr. Crowley." Dale was pointing, and trying to wave, and lost the float in his binoculars.
      "Look what's behind them! I wondered what that noise was, I thought they had the artillery from the Army." Harrison had spotted the cannon. It boomed again.
      Not that you could easily miss the thing. They had to lower the massive barrel every time there was a low wire across the road. Otherwise it was fully extended up, towering over everything else in the parade.
      "That's not on the order, and the Queen was supposed to be last, I guess the marching order was too good to last." Rob was looking at the schedule. "Ahhh, another one for the books. It's over."

****** MARY
      The university band performed to applause and cheers. They had seldom looked or sounded better. The fight song, a TV-show theme medley, and a rousing version of something that used to be classical cut through the air from one end of the parade route to the other.
      The band's flag unit had their routine down to a science and executed it flawlessly. The rifles and batons twirled and tossed with the precision worthy an award winning drill team. Which they were, as the banner carried in front of them announced to one and all.
      And the band itself stepped proudly in perfect time and rhythm. The music flowed with heartfelt expression from well trained lips and fingers. When they began Alexander Courage's theme from 'Star Trek' the horn section's solo sent chill down the backs of everybody for blocks down the parade route.
      Then they launched into the rousing heroic music and the flags and rifles began to flap and fly like nobody's business.
      Mary saw Jack jumping up and down and waving to her at the corner of London street. She blew him a kiss and he shouted, "I LOVE YOU!" so loudly half the crowd on the other side of the street heard it.
      She looked behind them, the Spirit float was getting more cheers and shouts than the Queen on her chariot pulled by eight tiny funny looking horses with flat spots on their heads.
      It was getting some cheers, and a few laughs.
      Well, more than a few laughs.
      President Myersong was on the spirit float, with some of the other Spirit co-winners. A couple from the math class and three girls from some house wearing school logo outfits, a couple of the human cannonballs, and behind the Sprit float came a big truck with a couple of professional lunatics on it waving for all they were worth, and some of the student wanna-be lunatics sitting on the running boards.
      'STERVOTO BROS. HUMAN CANNON' the truck said. On the side of the booming and smoking cannon that was fired once in awhile for effect somebody had painted in a childish scrawl 'we salute you homecomin'. One of the brothers was driving while one sat in the muzzle and waved and the other stood on the back end of the truck and hit the 'dramatic fire' button on occasion. It was a last minute entry, nobody could turn down the brother's raw enthusiasm, and it was a pretty neat thing to have in a homecoming parade. The cannon boomed again.
      The president confided to those with him on the float, "I wanted to go out with a bang. Looks like I got it."

****** DALE
      The house had a reception planned for the Sprit co-winners, The University President and his escort, Yyavonne, and any of the Homecoming court that wanted to come, with or without escort. The butler had been busy all day, but he seemed to know all about the parade and the floats that had been in it, and how the Classic Car Club ended up with it's lead car being towed behind a city lawnmower.
      There was a buffet ready, many flowers, and a huge banner welcoming the winners.
      The president had a special messenger deliver an invitation to him at the end of the parade, which he opened while talking to Yyavonne. The invitation, written by Miss Alice just for him, mentioned an escort was also welcome.
      The president looked at Yyavonne who was chatting with Colleen and Peggy. "Miss Meade. I know this is short notice. But I have been invited to a luncheon reception for the Spirit Prize Winners before the game. Would you like to attend with me? It says a luncheon will be served." Colleen smiled at the president.
      Yyavonne read the note.
      "I guess we are all invited." He said to all of them.
      The homecoming court received individual invitations, each with a single red rose, tied with ribbons of the school colors. They discussed what to do and decided to stay together and go, mainly to eat lunch before they had to be at the stadium at one-thirty for the two o'clock game.
      The guys from the roof walked down the stairs, they noticed somebody was missing. "What happened to Ralph. He wasn't on the float with Varscroft and the others. He's not here. Where'd he go?" Harrison wondered.

****** MARY
      As Mary stepped off the float she was handed a small piece of stationary and a rose tied together with gold and green ribbon. Jack was waiting at the disbursement area. He grabbed her and they kissed while the others in the court watched. A couple of the other girls had boyfriends greet them, and others had their parents beaming toothy smiles at everybody in range.
      There were photographers, and a couple of TV crews, and people, and confusion, and Coaltrain with his radio, and... Mary just wanted to take Jack to that reception and have some lunch. The Queen told everybody how she had been humiliated, then realized that, in spite of everything, she was really happy to have this as her special memory.
      "And I would like to thank Santa for letting me borrow his sleigh." Pamela said with a perfectly straight face.
      Everybody filtered away to the waiting van and limmo to take them to the reception. Except one of the court, she stood nearly forgotten by the float, holding her rose, she looked forlorn.
      "Exctuse me miess." Coaltrain spoke slowly, thickly, "Whatses isz your're prop-blem?"
      "I just saw my boyfriend with another girl, and I can't find anybody I know. And I don't want to go to this reception alone." She handed him the invitation.

****** DALE
      Jimbo was back in his friend's apartment. He hadn't gone to the parade, but was going to watch the game on TV.
      Carl was in bed, his chest heavily taped, patches over one side of his head, covering one eye and an ear. He was on heavy medication, but the clinic didn't send him to the hospital, he wasn't in that bad of shape. But he was bad enough. Jimbo alternated between sitting with his friend, looking out the window, and watching some of the parade on TV.
      Watching the nonsense with the stagecoach going the wrong way cheered him up a little. Jimbo was face to face with his sexual identity coming out into the public world. And he wasn't comfortable with the idea. He had always known it would be known sooner or later. But he had always thought later meant, well, later. He snorted in disappointment when the stampeding horses missed the band and walked to the kitchen.
      He hated Carl's selection of liquor for his bar. Cordials, liqueurs, sherry, and upper crust stuff like that. Jimbo wanted booze, not some fancy cognac with a very tasteful French label. Frustrated he looked in the refrigerator there was a selection of wine coolers and pre-mixes, and, way in the back, two full quarts of dark beer.
      Jimbo said a brief prayer of thanks to whatever guardian angel was looking out for him and grabbed one.
      The beer and some snooty gin on ice made watching the end of the parade and the start of the pre-game show almost bearable. He checked on Carl one more time, the nurse had told Jimbo to keep a close watch on his temperature. She had also asked Jimbo the one question he did not want to hear, and could not answer.
      "Is he HIV positive?"
      Thinking about that gave Jimbo cold chills. He knew all about the disease, and had tried to practice the protections he had been told about, but he still worried... sometimes things happened without being well planned.
      Jimbo let his friend sleep and listened to the national anthem from the game at "Home of the brave" he had a shot in salute.

****** MARY
      Coaltrain looked the young girl over, he had two grandkids about her age, but they were hundreds of miles away, and he wasn't sure who their stepfather was this year. "Meiss, I misses my gran'darters sum-en terr'ble, woul' you mine beinin mye add-opted gran-au'er for ree-ception?" He said to her very slowly, looking at her mascara that was just beginning show signs of running.
      The girl brightened a little. "I remember your name, Coal Train, isn't it?" He nodded. "Can I call you Grampa instead of Coal Train, if that's alright with you."
      He smiled with his expressive face.
      She held his arm tightly. "Thank you."
      He didn't say anything again, he just smiled and turned off his radio.
      They walked to the van, it was almost full. They left for the reception.

****** DALE
      The reception was a splendid time for all concerned. Miss Alice was firing all her guns to let the President know that Yyavonne was just perfect for him.
      Yyavonne had let it slip after the island party that she thought Myersong was a very nice man and she'd like to see him again. That was all Miss Alice needed to do everything but hire a caterer for the wedding dinner. She thought of the reception to bring them together under controlled circumstances, she had the invitations made, writing Myersong's herself.
      "Oh, it's just marvelous, I love it when two people find each other." She exclaimed all morning.
      Dale was waiting for Peggy to come back, he had wanted to be at the end of the parade to see her, but Harrison told him how many people would be there, and she would be brought back here as soon as possible. So as soon as the last platoon of horses with riders in fake cowboy outfits rode by trying to catch the end of the parade, he was on the front steps waiting for her.
      Dr. Canney was the first from the Spirit float to make it to the house. He was greeted like a conquering hero.

****** MARY
      They held hands in the van, watching the hubbub from safety. Mary was so happy she was having trouble taking it all in. She started to tell Jack about the float, the other girls added to the story, bringing friends and family up to date on how they ended up riding on the Christmas float.
      Jack thought it was hilarious.
      The other girls/in the van, the queen had gotten into the limmo with the president. Before the van got to the house they were all laughing and trading silliness about the parade.
      They rolled up to the house and bailed out, a tall man in a tux greeted them and informed them that the President of the University and the Homecoming Queen would be arriving shortly, if they would take places along the driveway they could greet them as they arrived.
      Mary squeezed Jack's hand and whispered to him, "That's the butler that commits all those murders in the movies."
      They only had to wait a few minutes for the limmo with its VIPs.
      As the Queen and the President got out they were cheered and whistled at.
      Yyavonne got out and the President took her hand and presented her to the crowd.
      Pamela's boyfriend/escort was a medical student who was inherently shy, he wilted at being in the limmo with the University President. He had had trouble dealing with the fact she was queen. He just wanted to study medical diagnostic imaging and live his quiet life raking in a sizable income. Pamela presented her escort to the cheering crowd, and his face blanched.
      'These people are cheering... .me.' He thought. He very nearly fainted.
      They were escorted into the mansion. Colleen was the last one out of the limmo.
      Ralph was waiting on her.
      With roses.

****** DALE
      Colleen couldn't say anything.
      Ralph was a little out of his element, he couldn't remember ever having said anything to a female human over the age of fourteen that wasn't suggestive, repulsive or obscene.
      Ralph had been arrested for asking a female dean at another university if she had her clitoral hood pierced (later the lady dropped the charges because she had misunderstood, thinking he had offered to do the piercing). He had even asked a nun if were naked under the habit, and once he had complained that a stewardess wouldn't have sex with him in the bathroom, "The button on her uniform says she's here to make me happy."
      The co-pilot told Ralph that if he didn't sit down and shut up he would be shown the exit, thirty-five thousand feet over Kansas. Ralph sat down and shut up. He doesn't like Kansas.
      But here he was, trying to impress upon the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, that he wasn't the irrepressible, sexist, obnoxious, slob and jerk that he was. You see, this not an act... This Is Ralph.
      Ralph is really as subtle as a runaway train. He is as considerate as a B-52 carpet-bombing raid. Ralph was Ralph was Ralph, with all the grace and tact of an African Elephant with the dry heaves. This WAS him.
      "Miss Cordelow. I would be most honored if you would accompany me to the reception."
      Ralph had been practicing this line for an hour. He had to fight an impulse to ask her the diameter of her nipples, or if she left stripes in her panties when she farts. Ralph was really trying. It showed.
      Colleen was surprised at his demeanor, he had the same desperate look on his face she remembered from the morning of the debate, his shave was uneven, and he kept catching his gaze wandering down her body, at which he would physically jerk his head to get his eyes to cooperate. She smiled that wonderful supernova smile. He found his hand shaking as he offered her his arm as she nodded.
      The people in the house were all shocked, especially Miss Alice. The lady knew opposites attracted, but she thought this was extreme, she wasn't sure they were even the same species. Yet it was clear Ralph was stricken badly with the young lady. Miss Alice was going to ask the butler if that 54-caliber buffalo gun was still downstairs. Then she found out they had guests that were about to be married in their midst. She even forgot about Ralph for a moment.

****** MARY
      They found the food table, complete with ice sculpture of the Heisman trophy. There was popcorn shrimp, thin-sliced turkey and roast beef, fancy cheese, many veggies, and several types of bread. Jack loaded his plate, Mary picked over and just chose her favorites, but toward the end of the table she froze, her jaw dropped, she stared, transfixed.
      "Jack." She said weakly. "Jack, I need you to help me. Please sweetheart."
      Jack followed her gaze.
      The dessert table was a work of art. Tall cakes of green and gold, homemade football shaped candies with icing laces, sherbet cups with sprinkles, a huge cheesecake decorated with the school seal. All of it was calling Mary by name.

****** DALE
      Peggy had been a quick study in how to be radiantly charming.
      And now, in her School Spirit bet outfit, she was exactly that.
      She smiled, and made small talk, and mingled and ate sparingly but always having a little something on her plate for social reasons.
      She was at ease with a smile and meaningless comments about the decorations in the windows of Ol' Abe with everybody from the school president to the chairman of the homecoming committee to the tall guy with one of the queen's court who said he saw her on the float.
      The music room and the dining room were fairly crowded, but pretty soon the people began to thin out as some of them left to join the tailgating festivities outside the stadium.
      Peggy smiled sweetly at another couple and asked them what they thought of the marching band.

****** MARY
      They walked into a big room that had a small music group performing light tasteful numbers. Mary found a seat for them along one side, they saw some of the other homecoming court sitting around eating and chatting. Myersong came in with the woman Mary had met on the float.
      They worked room like pros.
      Mary and Jack were finally eating in peace, then the butler came up and stood at attention just to one side of them. Jack looked up, chewing.
      "Miss. Sir. Pardon me for interrupting your lunch, but when Miss Henderson is finished eating, Miss Alice would like a word with her in the Meditation room."
      Mary looked at Jack with confusion in her eyes. "What'd I do?" She asked the butler.
      "Nothing Miss. Miss Alice just asked me to relay the message." He was so formal he made them nervous.
      "Well I've ate enough, maybe I'll sneak a piece of cheesecake later." She stood up to follow the butler. Jack blew her a kiss.
      "Very good Miss." He said with a smile that showed his perfect white teeth and led her out of the music room and down a short hall.
      "Miss Henderson. Miss Alice." He introduced them in the meditation room.
      Miss Alice stood and took Mary's hands with genuine affection. The older lady smiled warmly at her.
      "Miss Alice." Mary said unsure of what was going on.
      "You look so very nice, the 'homecoming court was just lovely this year, even on that terrible float. Please sit down dear."
      They sat.
      Mary looked at the room, all decked out in its Open House finest. "This is a very interesting room." She felt a little tug at her heart when she looked at the Catholic display with the Madonna in a lei of flowers and the Sacred Heart lit from behind with candles. She took a deep breath.
      "Its true you're getting married soon, I can tell by looking at you, and that Foster boy is very nice, and a good ball player too I hear. But you haven't reserved a church yet, and you need some help with your dress, if you want, I can help you a little. I know a few people, I would love to help."
      Mary stared at the woman, she didn't know her from the First Lady, but Miss Alice seemed to know Mary's life story.
      "Sure." Was all she could say.

****** DALE
      Dale and Peggy talked about all the excitement, and Peggy told Dale about watching them turn the Santa Clause float into the Queen's float.
      Dale told her about the stagecoach and how the band ran.
      They agreed that this was nothing like any homecoming they had ever heard of, but what was more amazing is that everybody here took this is stride.
      This was the way it was supposed to be, anything else probably wouldn't even get noticed. And most of them were trying to be 'normal' about it.
      Now, this is some of what actually happened.
      The stagecoach driver had read his directions wrong coming in from the campus instead of ending up at the campus. The ROTC had botched their lineup time and place, showing up for the game when they were supposed to at the parade line up. The shop making the queen's float was caught in an IRS snafu. The classic car club had checked the gas in Every Car except the leaders who swore he had just filled it up. And so on.
      This was just the way it worked.

****** MARY
      Mary followed the older woman down the hall, and through the dining room, then downstairs, and into a big storeroom. "There's a couple of dresses down here I'm sure you'll like, the house has seen its share of weddings." She was talking a mile a minute, "And never you mind about the church, I know the Bishop very well and there's never a problem getting the Cathedral for a student's wedding."
      She was digging through hanging bags, still talking about ordering flowers and how nice it'd be having all the excitement that goes with a truly special wedding and...
      Mary wondered if the woman ever had to breath.
      Finally Miss Alice found the hanging bags she was looking for. "This was a dress one of the founder's granddaughters wore a few years ago, it belongs to the house, I think it would just fit you."
      Mary had never seen such a beautiful wedding dress. It looked fit for a princess. A fitted bodice loaded with pearls and lace, it looked like it would ride just off her shoulders. There was a headpiece of silk, white and silver flowers, with a fine veil. Miss Alice showed her the rest of it.
      "I love it." She exclaimed, The train went on and on, miles of it, it seemed, lace, and silk.
      Miss Alice smiled, "You'll be beautiful."**
      Mary followed the older woman down the hall, and through the dining room, then downstairs, and into a big storeroom. "There's a couple of dresses down here I'm sure you'll like, the house has seen its share of weddings." She was talking a mile a minute, "And never you mind about the church, I know the Bishop very well and there's never a problem getting the Cathedral for a student's wedding."
      She was digging through hanging bags, still talking about ordering flowers and how nice it'd be having all the excitement that goes with a truly special wedding and...
      Mary wondered if the woman ever had to breath.
      Finally Miss Alice found the hanging bags she was looking for. "This was a dress one of the founder's granddaughters wore a few years ago, it belongs to the house, I think it would just fit you."
      Mary had never seen such a beautiful wedding dress. It looked fit for a princess. A fitted bodice loaded with pearls and lace, it looked like it would ride just off her shoulders. There was a headpiece of silk, white and silver flowers, with a fine veil. Miss Alice showed her the rest of it.
      "I love it." She exclaimed, The train went on and on, miles of it, it seemed, lace, and silk.
      Miss Alice smiled, "You'll be beautiful."

****** DALE
      Ralph wasn't wasting any time with Colleen, and she seemed to be going along with it. They had a light lunch, well, she did, Ralph didn't know the meaning of 'light lunch'. He took whatever meat was in reach, loaded up on the green things and some onions, and a few pounds of fixings, added several slices of bread, and when they got to their seats he started to make himself a real sandwich, suitable for lumberjacks and underwater demolition-men.
      She smiled and watched him eat, truly amused. He did not realize he almost had more food on his plate than the entire queen's court had taken. He swallowed his first sandwich and started making the second. Then the thought occurred to him that she was watching him eat.
      He stopped.
      "No please, I like watching people enjoy their food." She said charmingly.
      Ralph shrugged and made a second sandwich.
      Martha saw him from the kitchen.
      Varscroft was standing nearby admiring the dessert table.
      The cook spoke to the professor in conspiratorial tones. "Does that friend of yours eat at home? Every time he's here he acts like he's starving."
      Varscroft watched as Ralph took a bite, half the contents of his sandwich ended up back on his plate, Ralph just shoved them back in where they belonged and finished eating.
      "No, Ma'am, I think Ralph's apartment is pretty bare most of the time. He lives in that old building behind a couple of the fraternities. So he eats good when he can."
      Martha thought about it. "I'll send something home with him."
      Varscroft shook his head, these people didn't even know them, and they've all been treated like long lost kin.
      But he liked it.

****** MARY
      Mary held the headpiece over her head and looked in the mirror, "Miss Alice, I... I love it, but I can' t wear this, it's too much..."
      "Nonsense my child. It's been down here for years, the girl was married when my mother worked here when I was a girl. It's about time it was worn again." Miss Alice smiled. "I'd like to see it worn by a lovely young woman who is deeply in love and getting married in a real church wedding."
      The butler spoke from behind them. "Very lovely miss. Ladies, Bishop Frakes is upstairs. I believe he wishes to speak to Mr. Foster and Miss Henderson." Then he was gone. Mary marveled at the man, as they returned the dress to its bags.
      "He is what I always thought a butler should be." Mary said finally.
      "He is one of a kind. But he is a most efficient butler." Miss Alice smiled thinking about the man. "Now, let's go see the bishop."
      "How did he know we'd be here? Jack hasn't called him yet."
      "I called him a little bit ago. I knew he couldn't turn down a free lunch." She grinned knowingly.

****** DALE
      Peggy told him they should go for a walk in the garden. Dale took a handful of cookies shaped like footballs, helmets, and goalposts. They walked through the crowd, Dale stopped and stared at a tall thin priest with a thin gray beard. Then he followed Peggy out, he was learning, around this place, always expect the unexpected.
      Dale's last glance back was of the priest filling a plate with thin slices of roast beef and coleslaw.
      Dale caught up to Peggy, she was sipping from a pilfered glass of wine and looking down the driveway. The President and Yyavonne were standing very close to each other next to the limmo. The two young people walked around toward the gate to the garden. The gate was open.
      Dale caught a glimpse of Ralph and Colleen sitting on a bench near the mermaid fountain, they were fairly close but not touching. Dale wondered at them. She was so very feminine, and he was so very..., Ralph.
      Peggy liked the idea of them getting together.
      "Colleen had said that she was tired of plastic men who were too stuck on themselves." Peggy told him as they walked the long way around to the statue. "She's looking for somebody who doesn't put up a front with her."
      "But Ralph has shaved, and his shoes match, he's acting now." Dale said. "Did you see the way he was eating, and his shave isn't very good," Peggy pointed out, "And he had missed two belt loops in the back. He's not acting much."
      Dale laughed.
      "Besides, I met her last date, he was a graduate advertising student. He looked like a credit card." Peggy made a very straight face and walked stiffly.
      Dale laughed.

****** DALE
      "They're nice kids." Colleen said as they watched Dale and Peggy walk around the topiary.
      "Yeah." Ralph took a long drink of his wine. He wasn't a wine drinker but that was all they were serving at the luncheon that had alcohol in it and Ralph knew he was going to need a bracer to get him through this.
      He was still struck by the fact this gorgeous woman would even talk to him.
      Colleen almost liked Ralph. He was for real, she could see right through his attempt to be civilized. Like now, wine was running down his chin and he was dying to wipe it on his sleeve.
      She looked away for a second, and he wiped it on his sleeve.
      "Mr. Cook," she said softly, "Thank you for inviting me for this walk, I hadn't been out her for some time, and this is about it for the fall flowers, they'll be gone soon." She looked around at the flowers, they were showing the signs of the cold nights.
      She heard Dale's laugh, more of a coughing sound, but it was his laugh.
      Ralph was fishing for something to say, most of what he thought of was not something he would ever say to her. Unless she wanted him to of course. That thought excited him a little. But he fought it down.
      Ralph sat on the bench almost as still as the bronze mermaid across the path. Colleen was enjoying his discomfort and did nothing to ease his stress.
      She watched as he sipped more wine.
      "I never drank a lot of wine before." He said.
      "Oh, what do you drink? Besides beer that is. I heard you ask the butler if they had any."
      "Bourbon, well, actually, about anything. I'm not too picky."
      She smiled at him again. He fidgeted.
      From talking to Harrison she knew he would drink anything somebody else bought. At least he wasn't pretending to be a connoisseur of fine imported Italian wine.
      Ralph was speechless when she asked him if he'd rather soak in a hot tub with her or go to the game.
      "With You." Was all he managed to say as an answer that was actually in English.

****** MARY
      The party basically died after the Queen's court left in the limmo.
      Soon the President left, taking the actress with him.
      Jack and the bishop ate another round of dessert before they went into the meditation room and had a brief but pointed heart to heart talk.
      A large contingent left for the game, with full accompaniment of fright wigs, noisemakers, and mysteriously large belt packs and satchels. They joined a procession down Paris of comparably attired fans.

****** DALE
      Colleen and Ralph left the garden to get some fresh wine and some other things.
      "Is there someplace a little more private we could go?" Ralph had finally asked her in the garden, over an hour after Colleen had expected the question. She almost didn't hear him, he had spoken so softly, but she knew what he had said.
      "I know a hot tub near here that won't be used while the game is on, that'll give us three hours to soak. Interested?" She had said.
      Ralph almost gave himself a concussion nodding. But his head and the back of the chair were none the worse for the impact. Colleen said she had to get the key out of her room, and told Ralph to get a bottle of wine. They met on the sidewalk in front of the house. Ralph was sure he was dreaming.
      They walked over to the athletic building adjacent the gym. "One of the assistant coaches gave me a key to the coaches sauna and whirlpool room. They very seldom use it but we should leave just before the game is over. I come over here a lot in the summer and during breaks."
      She knew exactly where to go, she locked the coach's locker room door so they could hear if somebody came in. Ralph was amazed at how well thought out all this was.
      "I was wondering," she looked at him as the whirlpool warmed up and started swirling, "How come you haven't asked me if I wear underwear, or like to have sex in moving cars, or do I skinny-dip in the fishpond at the house, or if I wear a swimsuit in the coach's hot tub?" Colleen flashed a naughty smile at Ralph.
      He was sure he was dreaming.

****** MARY
      They talked at length to the chaplain, he thought they were rushing a bit to get married in one week.
      Jack explained what he meant by that, not wanting to wait a year and so on, and after Mary looked the priest dead in the eye and swore she wasn't pregnant, the priest agreed.
      Miss Alice clapped her hands when she heard the news, she adored weddings, as long as it wasn't hers, and she was so happy she danced into the music room and announced to the crowd they were all invited to the wedding the next Saturday at the Cathedral on campus.
      Jack realized he still hadn't told his parents. They decided that after the game they would drive to Jack's parents and stay the night.
      The priest looked over the marriage certificate and put it in his jacket pocket.
      An act which seemed to finalize the whole thing.
      "Father, is your title honorary or are you a real bishop?" Mary asked.
      He smiled, something which made him seem a lot younger than he was, "Both actually, this post carries the title of bishop from years ago, so by being the official chaplain of the school, I am its Bishop."

****** DALE
      The butler made his rounds announcing the van was leaving shortly for the game.
      Yyavonne and the University President had already left for the game.
      Ralph and Colleen had vanished.
      Some of the others were walking down to the stadium.
      Dale hadn't said he was going, and he hadn't said he wasn't either, so when Peggy said, "Come-on let's go." He simply nodded and followed her.
      The van was packed, Dale and Peggy stood in the aisle and held onto the overhead railings as it crept through the traffic going towards the stadium.
      Dale marveled at the brightly painted cars and banners, and people, wearing the school colors of both Southern Illinois (red and white) and the Prairie Dog's Evergreen and Gold. Making a test pattern of color around the stadium that threatened some people with airsickness.
      "What's that?" Dale asked pointing at an odd looking dog painted on the side of a bus wearing red and white.
      "That's their mascot. A Salukie." Somebody Dale didn't know answered.
      "What is that?"
      "It's a, ..." He looked at the painting again. "It's a dog. I think."

****** MARY
      Mary had one more bit official duty before the game.
      She rode around the stadium seated on the back of a classic convertible waving to the crowd.
      They stood around and waited to be introduced. Then stood uncomfortably nearby as the Queen read a statement welcoming everybody to the game and then introduced the PA announcer who took it from there.
      Then the national anthem.
      Mary was used to this by now. Her name was called, she walked out, waved and blew kisses, and retreated, her duty as the second runner-up was now complete, the sash was hers, and the small tiara, and somebody had said something about a savings bond she'd get in the mail in a week or so. Not bad for a few hours work, and some public humiliation on the Santa Claus float. She went to find Jack.
      In a few minutes, before the anthem was finished in fact, they were out of the stadium and on their way to her car parked at the married dorm, safely away from the madness.
      Jack drove out and Mary fiddled with the radio until she found the game on the college station.
      The announcer was just getting to the meaning of this game and how exciting it was that so much was hanging in the balance. If Southern won, that was it, they took title and playoff spot, and everything else. If Southern lost, things went straight up in the air and depending on what happened to SW Missouri and whether or not Delaware beat somebody else and if the playoff committee liked Montana State or somebody and whether or not the moon was full would figure into what happened from there and who went where.
      Jack nodded as the announcer went through it as they sat at a light.
      "You understand all that?" Mary asked him.
      "Nope. Not a word of it. But I do know things will be happier around the house if we win."
      Mary nodded, "Ok." And gave up.

****** DALE
      The house had a small section high in the grandstand, their tickets were part of a block some company had bought.
      Dale and Peggy had never been to a game like this.
      A Major College football game, with a least a share in the conference title and a possible berth in the division playoffs in the cards for the winner. The stands were packed, well over fifty-thousand people, both University bands, scores of cheerleaders, suited mascots, balloons being released, guys with their body's painted in the school colors, TV Cameras, a blimp, the excitement was overwhelming, and they hadn't even introduced the players yet.
      Dale loved it, Peggy thought it was too noisy, Harrison went in search of beer, Rob was all over the place, flashing his press pass and taking picture after picture.
      Then the National Anthem, both bands played the song. most of the crowd noticed that this was the song you were supposed to stand up to. Then they played 'America the Beautiful' which was better received. Then the coin toss, and the big game was on.
      To Dale, high in the stands, there seemed to be no difference in the size of the players. But on the field, the Southern Illinois players looked like giants in armor. The Prairie Dogs didn't waiver, they sucked it up and got ready.
      The kickoff was taken by the Dog back who ran it back a few yards before being buried, a small green and gold figure under a pile of white uniforms. Three and out, the punt went a good way, but run back by the Salukies half the distance.
      In a half dozen plays Southern settled for a field goal.
      The homecoming crowd murmured uneasily.

****** MARY
      They were in her car well on their way out of town when the kickoff after the three-pointer was downed at the five-yard line. The good guys were in a deep hole. But, this time they put together a good series and got to mid-field before they stalled.
      Jack listened to the radio intently, shouting encouragement.
      Southern scored a TD on their next possession, and the air was going out of the Homecoming crowd.
      But the Dogs did better on the return series. They pulled off a miracle long-range pass and a lateral to get six points, the coach took a gamble on a two-point conversion, and on fake kick, pulled down two more points.
      Now it was a game, the crowd noise on the radio got loud and wild.
      Jack beat on the steering wheel, Mary was jumping up and down in her seat.
      The first quarter ended with Southern facing a third and many yards for a first down near mid-field. The Dogs had remembered how to play this game, and they were ready to do it.
      Jack's parent's house was only an hour or so down the road, so they were there before half-time was over. Jack's parents understood that whatever this visit was about, he had forgotten to warn them that he was coming home and, oh yeah, he was bringing a girl he had mentioned a few times home with him, the GAME was more important right now.

****** DALE
      There were two things nearing the boiling point in the coaches training room. The first was the hot tub, the second was Ralph's blood.
      Colleen was far more relaxed than Ralph in some ways, she had a lot of self-confidence, and she knew Ralph was easily put into a holding pattern while his basic instinct conflicted with how he knew he should act.
      Her question about what she expected him to ask her was a good example. He almost blushed, and looked at the floor. "Well," He said, "I want to ask you, but I don't want to offend you, or make you mad at me... You know, I really like you..."
      She held up her hand, he shut up, "I can be almost as bad as you in some ways, remember I'm an artist... among other things. So I have seen most of it, I have done most of it, and I enjoy quite a bit of it." She stuck her hand in the water, "It's about ready, and the game will be starting before long. Turn that radio on the campus station."
      Ralph figured out the radio's switches, and then tuned it to the college station, the announcer was going down the starting lineups. When he turned around she was in the water up to her neck.
      He worked his dry lips a minute.
      She held up one finger. "I wear underwear, most of the time."
      Second finger. "I like sex in moving vans, not in cars, they're too cramped, I like to have some room."
      "And I have been skinny-dipping in the house fishpond, on a dare." The third finger was up. She splashed Ralph with the warm water.
      "Come on in. Unless you want me to ask you some crude personal questions."
      He noticed she wasn't wearing a swimsuit. He started gathering his nerve.
      "Do you get naked in the computer lab?"
      "Sometimes, wanna join me?" He answered with a little of his old bluster.
      "I'm asking the questions. Hey the kickoff!"
      They listened to the radio for a few minutes.
      Ralph finally got in the water convinced he was dreaming, AND afraid he'd wake up before it was over.

****** MARY
      During the commercials Jack broke the news to his parents.
      The first thing his father asked was if Mary was 'expecting'.
      "No dad, she's not pregnant. We just want to get married, and we have a chance to do it next week for next to nothing."
      Jack's mom was crying, she blubbered on Mary, she sniffed at Jack, she whined while the Prairie Dogs came out after the half and ran a fumbled kickoff return in for a touchdown that was called back on a late penalty.
      But two plays later they scored anyway.
      Jack was beside himself. If they kept this up they just might win the game, the first win at Homecoming in three years.
      Jack's father was just as enthusiastic, he considered himself an alum, even though he had only gone there for a year and a half. He was very spirit oriented, and he understood, his two homecomings on campus were both bad losses.

****** DALE
      The second half turned into jungle warfare, it seemed they had to stop almost every other play to help somebody off the field. Once toward the end of the third they brought the ambulance on the field to take a Southern player to the hospital unconscious.
      For the third period the score stayed close but the Prairie Dogs were always in the lead.
      Dale loved it, and his team was winning. Harrison explained the intimate details of each formation and what the slot back should do on a play-action option.
      Dale would never have to worry about applying for the coaching job at Ohio State, probably not even as a coach at some Pop Warner peanut league in New Jersey. Peggy had more of an idea what the Nickel defense did than Dale, by the fourth, she was explaining how a safety blitz worked and what overloading the strong side meant to the tight end.
      "I just like to watch the game." He kept saying.
      On the field the teams kept clawing at each other, men were now playing hurt, some fresh bodies were brought in, but soon the carnage was claiming them as well. Both teams were in a must win in this last game of the season. Any hope for a post season trip rested on this game. A loss or even a tie would mean they went home.
      But Southern's starting quarterback was out with a slight concussion, the Dogs leading receiver had a bad sprained ankle, and the list was growing longer, linemen were banged up on both sides, a kicker had a cracked rib, and even an official was out after getting sandwiched in an ugly gang tackle that sent a Dog middle safety to the locker-room with back spasms.
      A technically ugly game was getting worse. Cheap shots, clips, and roughing calls got more frequent, usually offsetting penalties. Every holding call nearly started a fight, there were punches and gouging in the trenches that never got called.
      The officials called a time-out and warned both coaches to clean up the game or they would start ejecting people. This brought boo's from the stands on both sides of the field.

****** MARY
      Jack's parents were happy for them.
      His mom stopped crying long enough to call half their small town.
      Since Jack had been a local high school basketball star, his getting married was news. The small weekly paper sent over their part time photographer for next week's edition.
      Jack's family wasn't very extensive, but in a little town, family really didn't mean much, close friends were family, the entire church was basically family. Everybody knew everybody so well, and 'I worked with your father since you were a baby', one tended to forget who was a relative and who was just a friend, and sometimes, who was both.
      In fact, Jack had dated a girl that had turned out to be his third cousin or something. When they found out they were related it ruined a perfectly good relationship.

****** DALE
      The hot tub had been getting hotter. Ralph had started rubbing her shoulders and things had gone from there.
      But the news from the game, the injuries and the reports of the badly injured Southern player having emergency surgery for a ruptured disk in his back dampened their spirits.
      Colleen told him she really wasn't in the mood after all that. Ralph understood, he knew the kicker with the cracked rib, they decided to get out and go back to the house and watch the fourth quarter on TV. Ralph got out and got dressed.
      His breathing stopped as he watched her get out and dry off, the only thing he could think of was how extraordinarily beautiful she was.
      Even the soles of her feet were beautiful, he marveled openly as she dressed.
      Ralph realized he was totally infatuated with her, and he was going to have trouble thinking of anything else for some time to come. His mind was blank. OK, it was blanker than usual. But most of the time with Ralph ideas of the interaction between energy and the rest of the universe would float into his consciousness and numbers and symbols representing the concept would work on his brain at almost anytime of the day or night. Sometimes he would be drunk and happily watching his dying black and white TV with some inane sit-com on it, and he would suddenly be stone sober writing out a complicated formula on the effect of an electric current on the electron shell of some heavy metal at cryonic temperatures.
      Since he had met Colleen at the breakfast table debate, his higher level thinking had ground to a halt, he had trouble focusing on anything, she had become his universe. The man who would go to a women's basketball game to leer at the athletic women and think about the insides of high-energy particles at the same time, had trouble changing his socks without thinking about Colleen.
      And you thought stuff like this only happened in old movies.

****** MARY
      The game was down to two minutes and some seconds.
      The clock was stopped while the officials sorted out a penalty on a punt return, with a roughing the kicker, and possibly offsetting unsportsmanlike calls away from the play.
      Jacks parent's house was crowded with well-wishers. Jack was worried about Mary, everybody was crowding around her, she was still wearing her second runner-up sash, and was still dressed like a princess. She had to model her tiara for everybody. Several of Jack's young female cousins thought she was the greatest thing to ever hit town.
      They all wanted to come to the wedding, but Jack wasn't sure how big the Cathedral on campus was.
      "You've never been in it?" His dad asked, Jack slowly shook his head no, "It would hold the town, and then some, it's huge. Believe me, I ran a dust mop through it twice a week for a year."

      "We have offsetting penalties. Number 76 Visiting Team is ejected. Number 23 Gold team is ejected. Both Gross Unsportsmanlike Conduct. All Penalties offset, the ball is spotted at the end of the runback. FIRST DOWN!"
      The referee blew his whistle and waved his arm.
      The entire crowd hated the call, both coaches hated the call, the players all hated the call. So it must have been a good call. The clock started counting down the last two minutes of the season.
      The dogs were up by five points, and Southern had the ball. If the defense could hold them to a field goal, they'd win. If... if...
      Dale was screaming with the crowd, "DEFENSE!!! DEEFENSE!!"
      Everybody gathered around TV's all over were screaming for the wounded line to hold.
      Jimbo woke Carl up with his screeching at the first play from scrimmage, Southern got five yards, "HOLD YOU BUNCH OF WIMPS!"
      Carl gingerly sat on the coach next to his friend, "hold that line," he said weakly.
      Jimbo looked Carl, he looked awful but he was going to be OK.
      The Roz house was in turmoil. The defense gave up fifteen yards on a naked bootleg. Ralph and Colleen took turns cussing the secondary.
      Rob was screaming from his end-zone perch with his camera "My little sister could plug that hole better than you Kazinski!"
      Then the mood changed, illegal procedure, the center flinched early.
      Third and twelve.
      Myersong was up in the booth. He was cheering with Yyavonne. They were making the rounds, but they made sure they saw every play. "STUPID!!" The president screamed as the Dogs blew another one, "Interference! WHY DON'T YOU JUST GIVE THEM THE TOUCHDOWN!"
      Now it was first down on the Dog's thirty-five.
      The crowd wanted blood. The coach's blood. Now was no time to get sloppy. Timeout, Dogs.
      The crowd was catching its breath.
      The coach gave the defense a blistering lecture, he called them everything but football players...
      "If any of you have ever wanted to be a hero in the big game. NOW IS THE TIME! ! ! They don' t get any bigger than this for you, we're not going to play for the national championship, this team ain't going to the ROSE BOWL. THIS IS IT! NOW GO WIN THIS DAMNED GAME!!!!"
      "First and ten on the Dog thirty Sanders drops back into the shotgun, two out wide on the left, the snap. He's looking, under pressure now from big sixty-three, scrambling, nobody's open. SACK! He's sacked by Crothers. The Dog's have five sacks on the day, and he lost plenty on that one. It'll be second and about eighteen. Make that nineteen on the spot. Sanders was a little slow getting up, they can't afford to lose this kid with the game on the line, the third stringer is a true freshman, but he's on the sideline warming up. Sanders is calling an audible at the line, I don't see how the tackles can hear him, this crowd is really into the game, Fraizer is in motion... The snap and a handoff to Fraizer..."

****** DALE
      Dale was standing on the arms of his chair, screaming with the crowd for their defense to do something that wasn't stupid. Dale had never been to a football game before, but on TV you didn't get the sense of this excitement, the drama, it was, it was like watching TV.
      "WOW," Dale said after almost every play, "This is great!" He told Peggy about fifty times.
      She was having a good time, and she screamed with everybody else, but she wasn't overwhelmed by the whole thing.
      Then the final two minutes. The emotion intensified a dozen times over.
      There were periods of silence, then wild shouting from the crowd.
      "SAAAACCCKKKK!!!!" The PA screamed.
      Harrison was dancing in the aisle.
      They held their breath, then started screaming as the enemy quarterback approached the line and turned his head both ways to call signals. Dale understood now about the 'twelveth man' as Harrison had called the crowd, he couldn't hear Peggy and Harrison who were right next to him, both screaming as hard as they could, he wondered how the players on the field could hear anything.
      Dale tried to yell louder.
      The ball was snapped, the quarterback faded back and handed the ball quickly to a running back who was already in motion. It nearly worked big, but the play only netted a few yards. The crowd roared. Time was starting to work against the visitors.
      The teams didn't huddled up, everybody knew a field goal was a waste of time, they had to score a touchdown. But the Dog defense had recharged, they were covering deep, trading the three-yard run for a blanket down field to protect the end zone. Forcing them to run down the clock.
      It was third and long, the teams lined up in the 'hurry-up' mode. A quick pass out to the corner got them the yardage needed to get it close to the first down marker.
      The measurement had everybody holding their breath.
      Fourth and inches.
      The Prairie Dogs dug in for a last stand.

****** MARY
      Jack's parent's house was silent, everybody stared at the TV.
      Mary was holding jack's hand so tight his fingers were turning blue, but he didn't notice.
      The clock on the screen showed fifty seconds, if they got the first down they had time to punch in for the score. If not, the Dogs would win by falling on the ball a couple of times. The quarterback surveyed the defense and started barking out signals to the roar of the crowd.
      Southern Illinois senior quarterback Ed Sanders knew his whole sports career was at a peak right now. He had been told by an agent he had a shot in the pro's either late in the draft or as a free agent, he was big enough but his arm was a little suspect. Plus Southern wasn't known for cranking out pros like a UCLA or Notre Dame. His sporting life was flashing in front of his eyes. He fought the distraction down...
      "BLUE EIGHTEEN...BLUE EIGHTEEN!!!!" Sanders barked. "TWO---HIKE!"
      Sanders got the ball hard into his hands...

****** DALE
      Colleen was holding her breath. Ralph was praying.
      Jimbo was holding Carl's hand.
      Myersong was having trouble watching. Yyavonne was screaming.
      Harrison was hollering, so was Peggy. Dale waved his arms and shouted.
      The coaches were pointing and shouting.
      The enemy started in motion with the snap, it was a designed quarterback sneak just left of center. The guards pulling, and center pushing to open just a little hole, just a little. That was all Sanders needed.
      The quarterback was to take two or three steps back, then rush the hole at full speed, and lunge for the first down. That's how it was supposed to work.

****** MARY
      They watched as the Southern line buckled. The TV camera zoomed in on the quarterback.
      Sanders moved like he was going to charge the line anyway, then he thought better of it and scrambled around to the wide side of the field.
      "GET HIM!!!" Everybody in the living room screamed.
      Sanders tried to find a receiver, an open lane, anything, but it seemed to him like the Dogs had fifty players on the field, he turned and ran the other way, trying to break down field.
      The camera followed the quarterback one way, then the other, he lateraled to another player as he ran out of ground. The fullback back headed back to the other side of the field. The seconds were ticking away. Then the unexpected happened, as it does in football, the Southern back tripped and fell with the ball seeming to jump out of his arms as he went down.
      "FUMBLE!!!!" The TV announcer shouted. The ball bounced around awhile, then disappeared under a mountain of players. Whatever happened, no matter who came up with the ball, unless there was some really odd penalties, the Prairie Dogs would get the ball and the win.
      Everybody in the living room was already congratulating each other on the win. Then the air was let out again.
      "!W!H!A!T!?!?!?!" Jack demanded from the TV. Then he was relieved, the holding was against Southern. Dogs ball.
      The people went wild, pounding Jack on the back and hugging Mary. Then Jack waved them to quiet down.
      "Mary, I've been carrying these around all day trying to find the right moment to give them to you." He held out a small box. "For the second runner up, my Homecoming Queen."
      There was applauding from their friends and family.
      "Jack, they're beautiful." She exclaimed, the box held earrings, small golden '2's each with a TINY speck in it, a real diamond chip.
      The group in the living room approved and demanded Mary show them off. She was happy to.
      These people, Jack's family and friends accepted her.
      "Jack, you did all right. I like her." His dad said.


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