PROM NIGHT

Chapter One

 

by Ann Carol Ulrich
© 2020 (all rights reserved)

An sample chapter from the 8th Annette Vetter Adventure

         

"ANNETTE, IT'S ALMOST SEVEN. Are you ready to go?” Blond-haired Ruby stepped through the barn entrance, wearing a new pair of bell-bottom blue jeans with a copper belt. Her aqua colored T-shirt enhanced her blue eyes. On her feet were a pair of brown sandals.

Annette had just finished milking her cow named Alice. She reached for the iodine bottle to apply the after treatment. “Yes, as soon as I put this milk away,” she told her younger sister. “Here, take this pail into the cooler for me.”

Ruby grinned, always willing to help with the farm chores. She slowly carried the pail of warm milk Annette had just collected into the room where they kept the fresh milk in a cooler.

In the next stall the sister cow let out a mournful “moo-oo-oo.” After Annette finished treating Alice with the iodine, she walked over to the pregnant with sagging flanks. Elizabeth’s large bovine eyes showed fatigue.

“Oh, Lizzie, it won’t be long now,” Annette crooned.

Ruby reappeared from the cooler room, her eyes twinkling. “When do you think her calf will come?”

“Tim says any day now,” Annette replied. She gathered up her milking tools and put them away. “Did you take care of the baby chicks?”

“Yes, they’re all set till morning,” Ruby replied. “I can’t believe how fast they’re growing. Their feathers are coming out.”

“Soon they won’t need the heat lamp and you can let them out into the chicken yard,” said Annette.

“It’ll be so fun when they start laying eggs.” Ruby laughed.

“Well, I’m afraid that won’t be for another five months or so,” Annette reminded her.

Ruby sighed. “October ... that’s so far away. But at least Kay Randt’s chickens are laying eggs and we can still get fresh eggs from their farm.”

“Is your dad home yet? We’ll need a ride to the party.”

“He’s not home yet,” said Ruby. “Oh, wait ... I think I heard a car pull in.” She grinned and ran outside.

Annette followed. She loved how it was still daylight when she finished the evening milking. The arrival of spring was a delight with everything in bloom after the cold, gloomy winter.

Farther up in the Vetters’ driveway, close to the edge of the woods in back of the farmhouse, a silver Airstream trailer was parked. In front of it was Bob Foley’s Ford Falcon which had just pulled in. Ruby ran over to greet her father as he slowly climbed out. Bob had bought the trailer through Uncle Will, who had acquired it at a cheap price from someone he knew in Madison.

Annette watched Ruby give her dad a hug. She smiled as she made her way to the back porch of the house. Her collie, who had been resting on the grass next to the Airstream, pranced toward the house to join her. Annette thought over the events that had taken place since they had all returned from their spring break adventure in Minocqua a month earlier.

After Bob Foley had been reunited with his daughter and stepson, Annette and her mother had immediately agreed to let Bob stay on the farm so he could recover from his traumatic ordeal in Vietnam. Bob had been Missing in Action. Having survived being shot down in the jungles near Hanoi, Bob and his companion, First Lieutenant Bill Crawford, had faced near death at the hands of the Viet Cong. They had managed to escape and eventually reached a primitive hospital, where the lieutenant died. Miraculously, Bob had survived.

It had taken months before he was rescued and sent home to recover, only to find out that his wife had died and his kids were missing. Bob finally found Ruby and Terry in Minocqua, where spring break for Annette had been anything but a relaxing vacation.

Mrs. Vetter had already begun legal proceedings for adopting both Terry and Ruby, much to Annette’s delight. Not only did she discover that Terry was her half-brother, but now she would have his little sister Ruby for her sister as well.

Annette walked up the steps onto the back porch and entered the kitchen, followed by her collie. Ruby and her dad came in as she was getting a drink of water.

“I almost forgot you’re going to a slumber party,” said Bob. His light brown hair had recently been cut. There was a scar over his left eye and he walked with a slight limp. He sat down in one of the kitchen chairs.

“It’s Penny’s birthday,” Ruby reminded him. “Annette and I have our sleeping bags to take over, along with her presents.”

“Otherwise we’d just walk over,” added Annette. The Duncan farm was less than a quarter mile down the road. She reached into the cookie jar on the counter and pulled out a snicker doodle.

“I wonder why Terry isn’t home yet,” said Ruby.

“He must be working late at the Randts’,” said Annette. She knew the Randts valued Terry’s help on their small dairy farm. Terry also worked part-time for the Duncans’, who had the largest dairy in their part of the county.

“It’s too bad Mom got called into work tonight,” added Ruby, “or she would have driven us.”

“I’ll go get the car.” Bob stood up. He grimaced as he pushed back the chair. Annette knew the man still suffered from injuries that would probably never heal. Yet he always put on a brave front and refused to be a burden to anyone.

Ginger drank water out of his bowl on the floor under the windows, then shook himself and stared up at Annette, cocking his head.

“Yes, Ginger, you’re going too,” Annette told her dog.

“He’ll keep The Cheeze company,” said Ruby with a giggle. The Cheeze was Penny’s young Bratislavian sheep dog. Ruby reached for her sleeping bag and satchel that she had set next to the door. Then Annette grabbed her belongings and followed the younger girl and the collie outside as Bob drove up to the house.

They arrived at the Duncan farm several minutes later. Ruby hugged her dad and then she and Annette carried their stuff up the Duncans’ porch steps. They could hear music and laughter coming from inside the large white farmhouse. Ginger caught sight of The Cheeze running toward them, his stub of a tail wagging. After the two dogs sniffed each other, they loped off to explore and play.

“Annette and Ruby are here,” someone shouted from inside the Duncans’ living room. A moment later, Penny opened the screen door and grinned, her green eyes bright and her long dark hair swept back into a ponytail. She wore a white T-shirt, blue jeans and beige sandals.

“What took you so long?”

“Chores.” Annette groaned.

Penny turned to wave at Bob before he backed down the driveway.

“Happy birthday, Penny!” Ruby grinned.

“Thanks.” Penny laughed and beckoned them inside. “Actually, my birthday isn’t until next Tuesday. But I wanted a slumber party, and it’s the weekend.”

Inside the large living room Annette greeted her closest friends from Ravensville High School. Blond-haired and tall Debbie Kelton was now her brother Terry’s girlfriend, and Kathy Evans with her dark brown hair and flashing brown eyes smiled and summoned Annette over to join them on the couch.

“Where’s Nancy?” asked Annette, referring to Nancy Marshall, another girl in their social group.

“She’s in the kitchen with Lisa,” said Kathy. Lisa Kowalski was the president of Future Farmers of America, whom the girls had gotten to know better over the course of the school year.

“You all know Annette’s new little sister Ruby, right?” announced Penny.

“Yes! How are you, Ruby?” Debbie Kelton came over to hug the younger girl.

“It’s so nice to meet you, Ruby,” said Kathy, stepping closer. “We’re so glad you’re part of Annette’s family.”

“And how wonderful to hear that your dad came home,” added Lisa, who had stepped out of the kitchen. Behind her, Nancy Marshall, who had short, curly brown hair, carried a large bowl of popcorn.

Ruby blushed from the attention, and Annette smiled as she put her arm around the girl. “We’re all glad he is safe now.” She looked around, then nudged Penny. “Is Tim out in the barn?”

“Yup.” Then Penny added. “If you want, you can go out there and say hi to him.”

Annette blushed. “No, Pen, he’s probably busy.”

“Hey, guess who Steve Newton asked to the prom?” Kathy’s loud voice rose above the din in the room.

“Who cares?” quipped Nancy as she reached for a handful of popcorn.

“He’s a jerk,” added Debbie, then wrinkled up her nose and asked, “Who’d he ask?”

“Diane Tratt,” Kathy revealed after everyone had quieted down.

They all gasped.

“Oh ... you mean Diane Tramp?” Nancy guffawed and everyone else laughed at her joke.

Annette rolled her eyes. She was reminded of last October, during Homecoming, when Pete Randt had asked Diane Tratt to the dance in order to get revenge because his cousin Luke had asked Annette to Homecoming. She also recalled with some degree of bitterness that Tim had once dated Diane, who was a flirty sophomore.

“Are they going?” asked Penny. Then, after a pause, added, “Not that I care ...”

Annette smirked, remembering how Penny had once been infatuated with the stuck-up Steve Newton. That was before she and Pete Randt had discovered they liked each other.

“I think so,” said Nancy.

Debbie sighed. “Well, they deserve one another,” she proclaimed, and all of them nodded in agreement.

“Penny, is Pete taking you to prom?” Lisa asked as she reached for the popcorn.

Penny shrugged. “It’s okay if we don’t go.”

“What do you mean it’s okay?” Kathy demanded with a frown. “You two are dating, right?”

“Well ... yeah.” Penny blushed.

“I thought maybe you and Pete would double with Annette and Tim,” suggested Kathy, who was the most forward of their close friends.

“Tim hasn’t asked me yet,” Annette admitted meekly.

“What!” shrieked Nancy.

“Well, he’s been pretty busy lately,” explained Annette.

“Yeah, and Pete probably can’t afford to go to prom,” suggested Kathy.

“Are you going?” Annette asked their friend.

Kathy laughed. “I doubt anyone will ask me.” Somebody else snickered.

“Debbie?” Nancy fluttered her eyelids at their blond friend, who took a swig from her pop bottle. “Are you going to prom with Terry Vetter?”

“Terry asked me yesterday,” Debbie revealed. She grinned. “I’m so excited!”

“Lisa, what about you?” asked Penny, turning to the only senior girl at her party.

Lisa looked down into her lap and then pushed her glasses up her nose and smiled shyly. “I asked Jimmy.”

“What? You asked a guy to prom?” Kathy was flabbergasted.

“Who’s Jimmy?” demanded Ruby, who so far had been quiet as the youngest member of the group.

“He’s her boyfriend who works at the gas station on the highway,” Annette explained.

“Oh ... him.” Ruby smiled, remembering now.

“Why didn’t he ask YOU?” pressed Nancy.

Lisa explained that Jimmy had already graduated from high school. He had gone to Darwell Heights instead of Ravensville High.  “Girls can ask guys to prom, can’t they?” she challenged, smiling a little.

“Well, of course they can!” insisted Kathy, her hands on her hips. “I love it when the girls ask the boys.”

“Like the Valentines Dance?” Penny winked at Annette. They both were happy about the outcome of last February’s affair because that was when Annette had set Pete free to date her best friend, and she finally got the boy of her dreams—Penny’s brother, Tim, who was a senior and would be graduating in another month. She didn’t like to be reminded of that fact because she dreaded the idea of Tim Duncan going off to college in the fall.

As it began to grow dark outside, the party of girls moved downstairs to the Duncans’ basement, where Penny put on some records and some of the girls played pool while the rest of them danced or just sat and gossiped about school, boys, pop stars and the upcoming prom.

It was around eight o’ clock when Annette saw Penny’s 18-year-old brother, Tim, climb down the basement steps. He had changed out of his work clothes and showered. His dark hair was still wet and he had donned a clean pair of jeans and a blue pullover.

“I’m crashing the party,” he announced as his green eyes swept the crowd of girls and came to rest on Annette’s face. She smiled and went over to him for a gentle hug. Then he took hold of her hand and they stood in a corner away from the others. “How’s it going?” Tim asked her.

“It’s a blast, like always.” Annette smiled. “I don’t think we’ve thrown a slumber party since last September, when Chris Hilgert’s mom ...” She suddenly stopped in mid-sentence, aware that the event had turned into a tragedy for poor Chris, who had quickly become Annette’s friend from her art class. She also recalled that Tim had briefly dated Chris before she moved away to California.

“Well, as long as you are all having a good time,” he said with a smile that made her heart beat a little faster.

Annette looked around the basement. Nancy and Debbie were enjoying a pool game. Lisa, engaged in a discussion with the others, caught Annette’s eye and winked.

“How’s everything going at home?” asked Tim.

“You mean ... with my mom and Bob?”

Tim nodded.

“It’s hard to tell,” Annette replied. She knew Tim was referring to the attraction between her mother, who had been a widow for eleven years, and Ruby’s partially disabled dad. She knew that Ruby, more than anyone, wanted her dad to marry Annette’s mother. “They’ve only known each other for a month,” Annette added.

Before he could comment, Audrey Duncan called to Tim from the top of the basement stairs. “Can you help me with something, please?”

“Yeah, Mom,” Tim called back. He squeezed Annette’s hand, then smiled and said, “I’ll let you get back to the party.”

Hi, Tim!” Debbie called to him flirtatiously, and then Nancy and Lisa echoed, “Hi, Tim!” He waved, winked at Annette, then quickly went up the steps to the kitchen.

When Annette took a seat to watch the pool battle going on, Lisa leaned over and asked her, “Did Tim just ask you to the prom?”

“Not yet,” she whispered nervously.

When another half hour had passed, Penny’s mother called down to the girls that it was time for birthday cake and ice cream. Everyone went upstairs and took seats at the large table in the Duncans’ farm kitchen. Karen, Penny’s little sister who had recently turned 7, sat at her place on a booster seat, excited for the candles to get lit. Audrey Duncan stepped into the hallway and called out, “Ray! Tim! Cake!”

Annette heard the sound on the television in the living room go off, and a moment later Penny’s father and Tim stepped into the kitchen as Mrs. Duncan struck a blue-tipped match and expertly lit all sixteen candles before the stick burned out.

“I wanna sing!” Karen called out, waving her hands in the air.

“Go ahead,” Penny prompted her little sister. “You can start.”

Happy birthday to you ...” Karen sang in her little girl voice. Everyone else, except Penny, joined in, and at the end, Karen blurted out another ending to the traditional song: “You look like a monkey ... and you ...”

“Stop!!” cried out Penny, pretending to be shocked.

Karen wouldn’t be silenced, however. “And you smell like one too!” She laughed and everyone else joined her.

Then, before another word was sung or spoken, Penny made a quick wish and blew out all the candles on her cake.

Tim began cutting slices of birthday cake while Ray Duncan dished out scoops of vanilla ice cream onto little plates and handed them to his wife. Annette watched Mrs. Duncan add cake slices and pass them around the table.

“When are we gonna open the presents?” asked Karen.

“You mean, when am I going to open MY presents?” Penny corrected her little sister.

Ruby, who was sitting next to the small girl in pigtails, grinned and poked her gently in the side. Karen just giggled and lifted a spoonful of ice cream to her mouth.

Annette gazed around at all of her friends and thought to herself, Gee, in just a little more than three months, I'll turn 16. She took a bite of cake as Tim pulled the chair out next to her and sat down to eat his cake and ice cream. She smiled up at him and he smiled back.

 Annette noticed it was growing darker outside while listening in on the various conversations at the table. She felt comforted with Tim sitting beside her. A flash of car headlights swept the walls from the kitchen window. Annette turned to Penny and asked, “Are you expecting company?”

“Somebody’s here,” announced Kathy, who had also noticed the headlights.

Tim pushed his chair back and reached for his napkin to wipe cake crumbs off his chin. At the same time Penny’s father walked over to look out the window. “Looks like company all right.”

A few moments later, a knock on the front door sounded and Tim followed his dad into the living room.

Ruby craned her neck to see who had arrived. “It’s Terry!”

“And Pete!” cried Penny, hopping up from her place at the table. She ran out of the kitchen to greet the two boys.

“Looks like we’re just in time,” said Terry as he popped into the kitchen. He had showered and put on clean jeans and a gray sweatshirt. Pete Randt followed behind his tall blond friend. Pete Randt’s dark hair was also still wet from the shower and his brown eyes swept the row of faces in front of them.

“Happy birthday, Penny,” said Terry with a grin.

“Yeah, happy birthday, Pen.” Pete produced a small wrapped gift from behind his back, which caused Penny’s eyes to expand with delight.

Penny eagerly accepted the package. “Oh, Pete, you didn’t have to!”

“Have some cake and ice cream, boys,” invited Audrey Duncan. “Ray, take the ice cream out of the freezer, would you?”

Terry pulled a spare chair over to the table and sat down beside Debbie. Annette, who had finished her dessert, got up to make room for Pete. She stood next to the stove beside Tim.

“Did Mom come home early?” Annette asked Terry, wondering if they had driven the Vetters’ car over.

“Nope. Bob let me borrow the Falcon,” said Terry.

“As soon as everyone’s done, we’re going to let Penny open her presents,” announced Ruby, who had just cleaned her plate.

Pete caught Annette’s gaze and smiled. “How are you, Annette?”

“Groovy,” she replied.

“Hey, I’m glad you and Terry could drop in,” added Tim.

Annette caught Tim’s eye as he motioned for her to follow him into the living room. She quickly placed her dirty plate and spoon in the sink and joined Tim in the living room.

“Did you get it?” Annette asked in a low voice as she and Tim slipped through the hallway to his father’s den.

“You can help me carry it out,” he said with a conspiratorial smile. She giggled in response.

Ginger and The Cheeze had come into the house when Terry and Pete arrived. The two dogs, worn out after their romp around the farm, settled down in front of the fireplace to rest. Their heads popped up to watch Annette and Tim carry in a large heavy box that had been wrapped in gift paper and displayed a large red bow.

By that time, the rest of them had come out of the kitchen and were finding places to sit in the Duncans’ large living room. Penny’s birthday presents were stacked in a colorful display on top of the coffee table.

“Oh my gosh!” exclaimed Penny when she saw the stash of gifts from her friends and family. “I can’t believe all this is for me.” She twitched an eye and looked at her presents. “Are they?”

Everyone laughed and then they watched as Annette and Tim carefully set the biggest present on the floor under the picture window.

“What is that?” Penny stared in awe. “Who got me that?”

“You have to open it last,” said Annette.

Ruby, who was the only other one in the room who knew what was inside the monstrous package, giggled and said, “You’re gonna like it.”

 

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