The son of one of Mr. Larsen’s drinking buddies stood at a distance. He and Rich made eye contact. He motioned with his head for Rich to come.
His name was Joe Quinn. Rich did not run in the same social circles as Joe. He was two years older than Rich. He was handsome, dressed fashionably, and had an engaging personality. He was never more than a week without a steady girl. He drove the hottest car in the school—a candy-apple-red ’57 Chevy convertible. It seemed to Rich that any acknowledgment from Joe was only because their fathers were friends. To Rich that was the only possible logic.
Rich broke away from his friends to talk to him for a while.
“You going to stay for the dance?” Rich asked.
“You gotta be kidding me,” Joe said looking at his hair in a window of the school, just over Rich’s shoulder. “This place is dead. It’s nowhere-ville. The only people that will be here are retards and farmers.” He removed a comb from his hip pocket and ran it through his hair.
“I’m staying,” Rich said.
“My point exactly,” Joe said and laughed. “All the neat girls will be at the Peppermint Stick. “Why don’t you come with me?”
“My mom is picking me up at eleven,” Rich said.
“Give her a call,” Joe said. “I’ll take you home.”
“Nah, Joe,” Rich said, “I can’t do it.”
Joe smirked. “See ya in the funnies.” He walked away. He stopped and talked to couple other guys; likely trying to talk them into going with him.
“He’s really a lonely guy,” Rich thought.
Rich made his way through the carnival crowd and found Howie.
“Howie,” Rich said motioning with his head to break away from a group of boys.
Howie followed Rich to the edge of the carnival crowd.
“What’s up?” Howie said.
“Are you going to the dance?” Rich said.
“Nah,” Howie said, “You know better than to ask that.”
“If you do,” Rich said, “I’ll be with ya.”
“It just ain’t so,” Howie said, “Black boys don’t go to the carnival dance, never.”
“You go to school dances,” Rich said.
“It’s different,” Howie said. “I don’t know how, it just is.”
“It’s about time for things to change,” Rich said.
“If there was at least a handful of us I’d give it a try,” Howie said, “but I’m alone.”
“I’ll stand with you,” Rich said.
“You want to know the truth?” Howie said.
“Sure,” Rich said.
“I don’t trust you,” Howie said.
“You can trust me,” Rich said.
“I know you feel that right now,” Howie said, “but if you have to stand up to all your friends, that’s a mighty powerful thing to do. I really don’t know if I’d do it for you, so why do it for me?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do,” Rich said.
“No it’s not,” Howie said. “I think the right thing to do is stay with your own kind.”
“You don’t believe that,” Rich said. “You’re trying to save me from trouble.”
“What if I am?” Howie said. “You and me are nothing, we can’t prove or change anything.”
“What about you and Lori?” Rich said.
“I gave a little white girl a tease,” Howie said, “that’s all.”
“What about you?” Rich said.
“I get to brag about it someday,” Howie said.
“It’s tearing you up,” Rich said.
“Everything in my life tears me up,” Howie said.
Rich put his hand on Howie’s shoulder and Howie did the same with Rich.
“Maybe, someday,” Rich said.
“Yeah,” Howie said, “Maybe. Go have a good time at the dance. And if you get a chance, dance with Lori.”
“I think I’m calling my mom and heading home early,” Rich said. “Don’t feel like dancing.”