Tommy usually fidgeted and fussed when he had to get “duded” up for Cotillion, but in his opinion, this was his first real date. He wanted to look just right. He had been going to the sock hops after all the home football games with Renée but he hadn’t brought her home to meet his parents yet. Marlene Ericsen was making sure her son’s tie was straight, and Tommy’s father was tossing in his usual sarcastic remarks. Marlene let them pass as she didn’t want to get Ralph in a real sour mood. Now don’t forget the flowers Tommy and I’m sure the little girls parents are going to want to take pictures, too. But, don’t dilly dally over there too long because I want you both back here so we can take some pictures for your scrapbook, too.
“Yes, Mother. I hope you like Renée. She’s very polite, and kind, and comes from a nice family. Mother, they are not in our social class, but Renée conducts herself as if she’s been to finishing school. I think you will like her.” Tommy was nervous though. He knew what snobs both of his parents were. “Ummm, I hope you both don’t mind, but Lydia is coming by, too, so she can see Renée and I before the dance.”
“Brownstone’s daughter? Are you out of your mind? What kind of a dumb ass brings his steady girl into the house to meet the whore he... Now you’ve ruined my night. I should’ve expected something like that from you, Thomas.” His father sneered and went into his study.
“Tommy, that really wasn’t very bright.” His mother added.
“Mother, I don’t know how many times I’ve told you, Lydia and I are just friends.”
“Yes, dear, I know, but appearances, you know. What does her father do?”
“I don’t know Mother. He works.”
“Oh.” Marlene paused for a long minute. “Do you know which Corporation?”
“No, Mother I don’t. I thought it rude, to pry into their business. I’m taking his daughter to the Homecoming Dance. I didn’t feel it necessary to get a complete financial report.” Tommy hoped his father didn’t hear the sarcasm in his voice speaking to his mother that way. His father could do or say anything, and it was to be accepted as law from the highest court. Any contradiction by family members could expect physical reprimand, including his wife. The servants? Well, they might as well ask for their final paycheck on the spot if they questioned Ralph’s authority.
Tommy had been to Renée’s house several times. It was in a very poor neighborhood, but their house stood out among the others. There were fall flowers all around the front porch and along the sidewalk. Although the furnishings were sparse, everything sparkled with cleanliness. He found both of her parents, polite and kind, much the same as Renée. They seemed a little apprehensive knowing by the car he drove and the clothes he wore that this young man never gave where his next meal was coming from a second thought. Svein hoped the young man was honorable, and would respect his daughter. Marta believed Tom saw her daughter for the refined young lady that she was.
Tommy walked up the wooden steps and knocked on the screen door. It rattled a bit when he did, and he smiled at a cat with kittens sleeping on a towel by the bottom railing posts on the porch. He felt over dressed, even considering he was going to a Homecoming Dance when he saw Mr. Jorgensen in a pair of grey khaki pants and a crisp plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up. They chatted a bit until Renée entered the room with her mother. She was stunning. Marta looked drawn and tired, but beamed when she saw the smile on Tom’s face as he gazed at her daughter. The corsage he brought her was for her wrist and had many fresh flowers in it. He pulled one out and held it to her hair. Marta removed a bobby pin that was holding Renée’s curls behind her ear, and placed the flower in it before resetting the pin. Tommy’s heart was in his throat, she looked so beautiful.
“Mr. and Mrs. Jorgensen, I would like to take Renée to La Maison after the dance. With your permission, I’ll have her home by 11:30.”
“Yah, Tommy. That is fine with Mama and I. Tonight is not a school night.”
“Renée, my friend Lydia is going to be at my house, too. I usually drop her off at Patsy’s Pizza on my way to see you. We’re just friends, and probably always will be. We, ummm, cover for each other.”
“Cover for each other? I’m sorry Tommy. I don’t know what that means.”
Tommy sighed. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt this sweet girl. “Renée... when you meet my parents, and see where I live, you will understand more. They really didn’t want me going to public school. They think they’re better than everybody else. Lydia’s parents are just like them.”
Renée saw a huge building emerge as Tommy drove up the long wide driveway. As they got closer she asked, “Which apartment is where you live Tommy.”
“I don’t live in an apartment, Renée, I live with my parents. I’m sixteen, remember?”
“Yah, I remember. Okay, which apartment do you and your parents live in here.”
Tommy sighed. “Renée, that’s my house.”
Renée was silent.
Renée remained silent as she stood in the foyer of a mansion that was as large as the living room in her family’s bungalow. Tom took her coat and handed it to the butler. He took Renée’s arm, looped it through his and escorted her into the room where Ralph and Marlene sat sipping Martini’s chatting with Lydia.
Nothing had prepared the Ericsen’s for the sight of a very lovely looking girl wearing a home made frock on the arm of their fully tuxedo’d son.
“Mother, Dad I’d like you to meet my date, Renée Jorgensen.” Tommy proudly announced.
There was silence. Deadly silence. Neither parent knew what to say.
Lydia spoke up. “Hello Renée. I’m Tommy’s good friend Lydia Brownstone. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She smiled genuinely, and offered her hand.
“Thank you, Lydia. Tommy has told me so much about you. It’s an honor to finally meet you, and know what a good friend you are to him.”
By this time Marlene had composed herself enough to at least say something. “Hello, Renée. That’s a lovely frock. Did you make it, dear?”
“No, Mrs. Ericsen. My mother did.”
“Well, dear you look... nice.”
“Thank you. That means a lot to me coming from you.” Renée’s smile was warm and grateful.
The tension in the room wasn’t getting any better. So, Tommy spoke, “I think we should be getting to the dance now, Renée. Mother, Dad, I’ll be home before midnight.”
“Have a nice time... both of you.” Marlene said.
“Nice meeting you Renny.” Ralph finally spoke.
“I’m leaving now, too, Mr. and Mrs. Ericsen.” Lydiat stated.
“Good bye dear. Feel free to stop by anytime, and be sure to bring some of your girl friends, too. Since Marla went off to boarding school, the house is void of girl talk. I do so miss the giggling, and chatter.”
Before Lydia got in her little sports car, she spoke. “Renée, I like you. You’re open and honest and don’t put on airs. Let’s be friends. Okay? Please, I’d like a friend like you.” Lydia meant what she said.
“Thank you, Lydia. I would like a friend like you, too. Perhaps you can teach me what you learn in finishing school?”
“Yeah, perhaps... but, why? I don’t know why anyone would want to learn to be a phony. You are real, and I think I can learn a lot more from you.”
Renée and Tommy had a nice time at the dance. Renée’s eyes couldn’t believe the miles of chiffon that seemed to make up the gown that the Homecoming Queen wore. She started to think of “things”, and wondered what it would be like to have them. “Tommy, I don’t know what you see in me. I have nothing.”
“Renée, things are just things.”
“Yah, Tommy you are right. Mama and Papa work very hard to provide for Bjørn, and I. We have enough of everything, except love.”
“Renée? Not enough love?”
She laughed, “No Tom! You are so silly. There is enough of everything, except love because there is an abundance of that!” Her eyes twinkled as she laughed.
“Renée, I know you’ve never been here before. Just watch and do what I do. About all the silverware, start from the outside if you miss what I do.”
“Oh, my Tom. I don’t want to embarrass you.”
“You won’t. You are too beautiful and too refined to ever do that. It’s just table manners are different here than even in regular restaurants.”
Renée did fine, but darted her eyes away quickly when a woman in a slender black dress that dipped low in the front was flirting a little too obviously with the gentleman she was dining with. Her long red nails at the ends of her slender fingers drew attention to the cigarette she was holding as she spoke. They both heard a stuffy middle aged woman mutter to her husband she wanted to leave since the business man had obviously brought a “working girl” into the establishment. Neither Tommy or Renée knew what that meant either, but they enjoyed their food, and agreed that the Burger Barn, or Patsy’s Pizza was much more fun.
Tommy picked and poked at his food at the Thanksgiving spread served by staff.
“Thomas, you usually stuff yourself this holiday. Are you feeling well dear?”
“Yes, Mother. I’m fine. I’m expected at Lydia’s and I don’t want to be rude by not accepting any of their food because of being over full.”
Marlene smiled. “That’s true , and very thoughtful of you dear. What time are you expected there?”
At 2:45 Tommy left for the Brownstones. He had dessert with them, and asked to take Lydia to an early movie showing of Love Me Tender. Off they went, Lydia to Patsy’s Pizza and Tom to Renée’s. “Don’t forget Lydia, you and Animal pay attention to the plot this time, even if you don’t watch the movie. I have to be able to tell the folks what it’s all about.”
“Yeah, me too! I don’t want to get caught like we did the last time, and get accused of necking with you again!”
“Uh huh, what ever that is!” They both laughed.
Tom had a wonderful time in the coziness of the Jorgensen’s home. Bjørn kept a watchful eye on Tom, feeling he knew what a rich kid was after sniffing around his sister. Mr. and Mrs. Jorgensen were as pleasant as ever. Tom watched Renée clear the table, scrape food scraps off the dishes and put them in sudsy water. It never dawned on him that regular people had to do that for themselves. That evening Tom gave Renée his ring from the private school he had attended. He also gave her a bag of angora fluff that Lydia had given him to give to her. All the girls were wearing that wrapped around their boyfriend’s rings. They were officially going steady.
Renée felt cheap only giving Tommy a charcoal sketch she’d done in art class of his favorite horse, Dusty, for Christmas. She came up with a couple of dollars to buy a frame at the 5 and Dime. The memory of the aroma of a traditional Christmas dinner for Norwegians of codfish, potatoes, porridge, gingerbread and Christmas punch gave her an idea. She decided to make a gingerbread man and a gingerbread woman, and decorate them for the both of them when Tom came over on Christmas Eve to exchange gifts. Tom loved spending time with Renée and her family. He gave her a mountain of gifts, and she dearly loved every one of them. Lydia had also sent gifts. She was invited and welcomed in their home too, but as usual, she chose to go over to the Miltonelli’s for an Italian feast. “I don’t know what I can ever do for Lydia... My goodness, I’ve never seen so many clothes, except what’s in the catalogs.” Renée prepared a plate of homemade pastries to send to Lydia.
“There isn’t a thing in the world that Lydia needs other than a true friend Renée.” Tom informed her.
Lydia was generous, but truly nothing came out of her pocket for Renée. She had either out grown, or grown tired of the sweaters, blouses, skirts, Keds, and saddle shoes. She did like Renée though, and wanted her to have them rather than having the errand boy drop them off at a donation center. Going to a different school than Renée, none of the snobby upper middle class girls would know that they were given to her.
After the festivities were over, Marta was completely worn out. She and Svein excused themselves and retired to their room. Bjørn left for places unknown, leaving Tom and Renée alone in the small living room. He was tracing the outline of the horse drawing with his finger. “I can’t believe you did this. And, you did this just for me. Renée, I got a truck load of crap this Christmas from my parents, staff, and friends of my family. Nothing means as much to me as this.” Tom felt very sentimental and learned a lot this evening.
Renée smiled and walked to the kitchen. In less than a moment, she returned with a small plate with two cookies decorated. One said Tom, the other Renée. She took the girl cookie and he took the boy.
“Hey this is really good! Where did you buy them?” Tom wondered as he kept munching on the gingerbread man.
“I didn’t buy, Tommy. I baked them. I even decorated it. We learned how in my home economics class. Miss Henry is the best teacher."
Tom continued to eat his cookie slowly as he watched Renée gobble hers down. When he had nibbled it down to the shape of a small heart, he told her to open up. She did and he popped his heart in her mouth. Renée had tears in her eyes when she realized what he meant.
Tommy kissed Renée good night before he left. He lingered on her lips just a few moments longer than ever before. He felt a twitch, and felt he’d better go.