Gina stood by the gymnasium door, just under the sign reading “Class of 1996”, watching her senior prom. She had initially thought “Your Ticket to the Moon” was a lame prom theme, but the overall effect was kind of cool. They had even made a big spaceship where couples got their pictures taken. The deejay was blasting Mariah Carey and kids were dancing under paper moons or standing around the edges of the dance floor drinking Tang from paper cups. Probably spiked, she thought.
But Gina didn’t join the dancing or the drinking. Instead, she waited by the doors nervously. Friends came over to her, trying to get her to dance or hang out with them, but she refused. She was waiting for her date to arrive.
Gina was a popular student. She was in the band, on the student council and a soccer player. She was expecting to graduate as salutatorian. All in all, her high school career had been a successful one. And at the moment, she couldn’t remember why she thought it would be a good idea to come out at her senior prom.
She glanced at the time on her phone. Her girlfriend, a student at rival high school, was late. Or maybe she had decided to not come at all. Gina wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t show up. After all, the idea had moved pretty quickly from “hey, wouldn’t it be fun…” to “let’s do it.” They hadn’t really discussed consequences, though. Maybe Samantha had thought about it and changed her mind.
If she had attended an urban high school, in some liberal city on either coast, Gina probably would have come out a long time ago. Or she would have just been herself all along, making the need for a big gesture unnecessary. But her hometown in the Texas panhandle wasn’t a liberal city and her school wasn’t urban. It was a tiny high school in a conservative state. Football and hunting were ok. Homosexuality wasn’t.
Gina watched the dancers a while longer and then, sick of waiting, texted Sam. “Where R U ?????”
She got a reply almost instantly. “Parking lot.”
Gina was just about to duck out the door to look for Sam when her freshman year U.S. History teacher, Mrs. French, stopped her.
“Are you having a good time, Gina?” Her teacher called over the pounding beat of Los Del Rio.
Gina smiled and nodded.
“Did I hear that you’re attending UT Dallas in the fall?”
Realizing that she wasn’t going to get away without a conversation, Gina stepped closer to Mrs. French. “No. I got a scholarship to Yale.”
Mrs. French raised her eyebrows. “Yale? You’re going up North? I assumed you were staying in state.”
Gina was tired of explaining to people why she wanted to leave Texas. Most of them didn’t understand why she would choose to go to a school so far away in cold, snotty New England. She gave Mrs. Frost her standard line “Well, it’s hard to pass up the Ivy League, especially when they are going to pay my way.” She then smiled and excused herself, leaving the woman shrug and attempt The Macarena.
The parking lot was crowded with a strange mixture of pickup trucks and idling limos. She found Sam sitting in her 1972 VW Bug. She slid into the passenger side seat.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
Sam shrugged. “Just having second thoughts, I guess.” She sniffed and Gina realized she had been crying.
“Yeah, I get it. Things are going to change if we do this. You’ll probably get kicked off the cheerleading squad.”
Sam gave a watery laugh. “The season’s over anyway.” She leaned over and got a tissue out of the glove compartment. “It’s just that people are going to treat us differently after. It’s only a few months before you leave for Connecticut, but I’m staying here. Half my class is going to West Texas State. I’ll be known as the dyke for the rest of my life.”
Suddenly Gina was mad. “You’re right. People will call us dykes and probably worse. But isn’t that better than hiding who we are?” Her resolve strengthened. “I’m sick of pretending to swoon when the quarterback walks by my locker or letting some idiot feel me up in his truck just so people won’t figure out that I’m a lesbian. Aren’t you?”
Gina realized she couldn’t force Sam into it. “But we don’t have to do this. We can just go home. But I’m coming out before graduation. I’d rather do it now, with you, but I’ll do it alone if I have to.”
Sam sighed and leaned her head back against her seat. “No pressure, huh? That’s not very nice, leaving the decision up to me.”
Gina smiled and reached over to take Sam’s hand. “You should see the decorations in there. They have an actual space ship thingy. I think it’s made from tin foil. And they’re drinking Tang. It’s riot.”
Sam straightened up. “Ok. Let’s do this. They wanted a ticket to the moon, so let’s blow them away.”
“Are you sure? We can’t take it back.”
“I’m sure.” Sam checked her makeup in the bug’s tiny rear view mirror. After reapplying her lipstick and fixing her hair, she turned to Gina. “I’m ready.”
The girls marched up to the gym door arm and arm. No one noticed them walk in. And no one noticed when they danced to first one and then two fast songs. But then the deejay played Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me.” The floor cleared of single girls, leaving only couples. Then people started whispering about the two girls dancing close together in the middle of all the swaying boys and girls. As the word spread, the dance floor slowly emptied around them. But for three minutes, before they had to start dealing with all the bullshit, it was just the two of them, dancing together under a paper moon.