I did and gasped. Had I not known her voice I would never have recognised her. Long, curling, honey-blonde hair fell past her shoulders in complete contrast to her own short, dark hair. The glasses were gone and her eyes were bright. She wore a school sweater and a short pleated skirt, sneakers on her feet. She looked about seventeen. She held out her hand.
“Hi, I’m Cheryl,” she said in a voice that was a husky parody of her own. “Catherine says you have no date for the Prom.” She gave a shy smile. “I’d like to go with you.”
“Are you serious, Catherine, umm, Ms Shillings?” I asked in a daze, “because if you are I would be delighted.”
She laughed and took off the wig, then sat beside me on the couch. “Deadly serious, Jim. You realise why I’ll have to go in disguise?”
“Yup. You’re a teacher. Okay, not at our school, but still a teacher.” I shook my head. “Incredible, you look so young like that.”
She laughed. “Jim, when I was finishing my degree, I had to carry my birth certificate around with me. Barmen wouldn’t believe I was over twenty-one. I even wear the glasses now to make me look older. I don’t need them, they’re plain glass.”
I looked at her. “You’re sure you want to go as my date?” I flushed. “I mean, people might expect me to kiss you or something.”
“I think I can cope with that, Jim,” she said, smiling gently, “but I think from now until the Prom is over, you’d better get used to calling me Cheryl.”
“Okay, Cheryl,” I laughed, but then frowned. “About the photographs,” I began awkwardly, but she put a finger on my lips.
“Will you give me your word that you will never tell anyone?”
“On my honour, I swear it,” I said.
“Okay, we’ll say no more,” she said. “Memories are fragile things.”
“Just one thing,” I said.
“I’ll never tell, but I will remember those photographs for a long, long time. You are beautiful.” I held my breath, thinking ‘Fool! You should have kept your mouth shut!’
She looked at me without speaking for a long moment, then smiled. “Thank you, Jim. Now, where’s that test?”
“Over here, Ms. Shillings, ” I said then caught her look. “Sorry. Over here, Cheryl.”
Suddenly, from dreading to even think about the Prom, I was looking forward to it. Monday found me frantically trying to organise myself a tux, but I struck lucky and got one in a deep wine red, with a black vest. Dad offered me a choice of his ties – he actually owns a tux – and Mom promised to buy me a new shirt. Apart from transport, I was ready.
“Corsage?” Mom asked.
I groaned. “Oh, heck, I forgot.”
Mom grinned. “All taken care of, son. Your Aunt Charlotte is bringing it on her way home from work that Friday. Her treat, she says.”
“Dad?” I began, but he stopped me.
“Yes, Jim, you may borrow the car, on your word of honour that you will not drink any liquor. On that basis, as the day after the Prom is Saturday, so long as the car is ready to take me to my Saturday morning golf, it’s yours for the night.”
“Sir, you have my word,” I said.
“Very well.” Dad grinned suddenly. “I wish your Grandad had owned a car for my Prom.” Mom gave him a sideways look, a half smile on her face, and I remembered them saying they’d started their romance on their Senior Prom night. They hadn’t gone together! Everything was ready, now all I had to do was wait.
That was the hard part. I still had two Saturday tutoring sessions to go before the Prom, and another three after. When I turned up for the last session before the Prom I stopped in my tracks. Catherine Shillings was in her ‘Cheryl’ persona, blonde hair piled up, jeans and sweatshirt.
“Hi, Jim,” she said. “Come on in. Catherine asked me to take your session today. You don’t mind, do you?”
“Umm, no, Cheryl,” I managed to say, “that’s fine.” And it was, too, because Cheryl was as hard a taskmistress as Catherine. Four o’clock came and we called a halt.
“Yes?” I said, packing my papers.
“Who knows you’re taking Cheryl to the Prom?”
“Just my folks,” I replied.
“Who am I? I mean, to your parents.”