Sitting in the middle of the row is a girl with short dark hair wearing a bright pink sweater. She is looking at her program. David is surprised to recognize Mariah. Mariah has been David's friend since he wore the same kind of underpants as the Naked Cowboy. David sees Crystal and Mariah every Wednesday night at Socialization.
Mariah has a new hair cut. The hair cut makes Mariah look like the pictures of girls David sees in magazines and on TV. Her bright pink sweater makes her look a lot more grown-up than the jeans and sweatshirts she usually wears to Socialization. "Oh, my!" says David. "Mariah is here? Alone?"
"She came with her sister and her Aunt Pat," says Pop. He puts a hand on David's shoulder and points to the seat right next to Mariah. "Today is Mariah and Crystal's birthdays. They invited you to be part of their present."
Mariah stands up as David, Mother and Pop squeeze between the narrow rows. She gives David a big hug and a kiss on his cheek. Her lips are sticky and when David rubs his cheek, a little pink smear comes off on his fingers.
Mariah smells like the perfume one of the prettiest girls at David's work wears. Her skin above the sweater looks as smooth and soft as the velvet curtains hanging in front of the stage. Looking at Mariah makes David feel as warm as if one of those curtains were wrapped around him.
Mariah smells so good and looks so pretty, David wants to keep hugging her. For just a second, David imagines kissing Mariah the way he imagines kissing Sarah. But he knows he can't kiss Mariah like that without permission. So instead, he sits down and looks at his program until the feeling of wanting to kiss Mariah goes away.
Mariah sits down next to him.
"Where's your Aunt Pat and Crystal?" asks Mother. Mother sits next to David, and Pop is on the end. All the seats next to Mariah on the other side are empty.
"She took my sister to the ladies' room," says Mariah. "I'm waiting for you and Larry. Larry is Crystal's date. You're mine." She gives David her happiest smile.
David has never seen Mariah so happy, not even when she and Crystal were elected joint Homecoming Queens at school. David didn't know she liked to come to shows in New York City.
"Me?" David is confused. Larry is another friend from Socialization. David thought Mariah and Larry were going out together, even though recently, he has seen Larry walking around with Crystal. He thought it was because Larry couldn't tell the twins apart.
Mother pats David's knee. "Mariah's mom called me a few months ago to arrange this. The girls each got to bring a friend, and Mariah chose you."
"Your birthday's coming up, big guy," says Pop. "You'll have to think about what you want."
"Not now, William," says Mother with a little frown. "Don't give him ideas."
Just then, Mariah's Aunt Pat comes down the row with Crystal, Mariah's twin. David is surprised to see that for once, the twins are not dressed alike. Crystal is wearing a dark purple dress. Her hair is cut in a different style from her sister's. Seeing them dressed in different clothes and wearing their hair in different ways is almost like being with two new people.
David sits in the shock of it while Mother and Pop hug and shake hands. Aunt Pat lives just a few blocks away from the theatre. Everyone is invited back to her apartment – she calls it a flat – for birthday cake after dinner. Aunt Pat sits next to Mariah. She mentions how well David's sweater matches his blue eyes. She says his blue sweater goes well with Mariah's hot pink.
Mother agrees and says she grows a rose the same color as Mariah's sweater, or used to, until one of the new lawn people got happy with their hedge-clippers. David listens to Mother and Aunt Pat talk about roses. Mariah looks at David and smiles. Then she giggles and turns pinker than her sweater. She holds her program up close to her face.
David smiles back even though he's not sure what she thinks is funny.
Crystal sits on Aunt Pat's other side. There are three empty seats next to Crystal. The theatre begins to fill up but the seats next to Crystal stay empty. Mother and Aunt Pat keep talking, and David and Mariah stay quiet. Then Mother says, "Mariah, how do you like your new job at –"
Suddenly the lights start to blink on and off. It is time for the show to start. Mother stops talking and sits back in her seat. Everyone in the audience quiets down. The lights come up in the orchestra pit. The conductor takes his place. David leans forward, holding his breath. The conducter waves his arms and the music begins.
David settles back. He loves music almost as much as he loves Mother and Pop. The music fills the theatre. David looks up at the big curtains
Then a bobbing beam of light catches David's attention. He looks across Mariah to see three people coming down the aisle behind an usher holding a flashlight. David recognizes Larry by the way he lopes ahead on his long legs. He rushes past their row and the usher has to catch up to him and bring him back. Larry looks very surprised to see Crystal and Mariah and David.
Before anyone can stop him, he says "Hello!" in a very loud voice. Someone behind Larry grabs his arm and pushes Larry down in the seat next to Crystal. David can't see who.
People around them say "Sh!"
Mother looks over and waves. Pop waves. David and Mariah wave.
David recognizes Larry's brother, Steve, and his wife. Steve's wife is named Joy. David remembers when Steve and Joy got married because David and Mother and Pop all went to the wedding.
Steve and Joy looked very happy at their wedding but they don't look happy now. Joy looks like she's been crying. With a white tissue, she dabs at black trails of makeup running down her face.
The curtain rises and David forgets all about Larry and Joy and Steve. He forgets all about Crystal and Mariah and Sarah. He even forgets about Mother and Pop.
The show is about a young man who works in a mail room, just like David. He wants to become head of the company he works for. He meets a beautiful girl named Rosie and he wants to marry her. David wonders what Alan, his new job coach would think if he started to sing and dance around the mail room like the actor up on the stage. David imagines Sarah dressed as Rosie, singing to him.
Beside him, Mariah hums along with the songs and when the actors dance, she takes David's hand and swings it in time to the dancing. On the other side of Aunt Pat, David can see Larry squirming around in his seat. Larry loves to dance. In fact, Larry loves to dance so much David feels sorry for him that he has to sit still and watch the dancers on stage.
The dancers whirl and dip. They kick their legs high and wave their arms. Their costumes flash and sparkle under the bright lights. They smile and sing. The music builds and builds. Lots of people in the audience are bobbing their heads in time to the music. Some snap their fingers in time or tap their feet. David can tell from the music that the end of the show is near.
Mariah swings their hands back and forth. David imagines he and Mariah are up on stage dancing and singing and wearing shimmering costumes. David imagines Sarah sitting in the front row, watching them. He would love to sing and dance for Sarah some day. He wonders if Mariah would sing and dance with him.
Suddenly, there's a disturbance at the end of their row. It's Larry, standing up. Everyone around him says "Sh!" David hears Steve say, "Larry, sit down!"
But Larry doesn't listen. Larry runs up the aisle. Larry dodges two men in black suits who try to stop him. He runs up the steps at the edge of the stage into the middle of the dancers. The men in black suits try to get on stage but the dancers are whirling directly at them on the steps. The men are blocked by all the kicking legs.
The dancers don't stop dancing. Instead, they make room for Larry. A pair of dancers takes his hands. They dance him to the corner next to the steps. They dance him back and forth a few times, then hand him over to the men in the suits.
Larry is smiling. He is thrilled. He dances back up the aisle with the men in the suits. They guide him back to his seat next to Steve. Steve and his wife get up and lead Larry, still dancing, up the aisle. Steve and his wife don't look anywhere near as happy as Larry does.
The whole audience starts to clap as the show comes to an end. The curtain goes down then up. The actors come out on stage. They bow and everyone claps and claps. At last the lights brighten, and it's time to leave. David wonders what's happened to Larry.From the look on Steve's face, David doesn't think it's going to be good.