Hubert’s Prom Challenge
by Bill Diamond
Hubert had a well-organized plan to get a date to his junior prom. It was strategic, detailed, and, so far, unsuccessful. He sat alone at his usual plastic-topped table in the most isolated corner of the crowded cafeteria. Oblivious to the noise around him, he unconsciously toyed with the remains of the food on his tray and contemplated his next steps.
He had asked, and been rebuffed by, seven girls. Hubert was dismayed, but not deterred. As a wannabe scientist, he believed that experimentation and tenacity were the key to reaching goals. After all, his hero, Thomas Edison, had said that “every failure is one step closer to success”.
Seven rejections matched the most he’d endured before finally getting a date. OK, his only date. And Sylvia had made it extremely clear she never wanted a second date. This surprised Hubert because he had found the Star Wars convention extremely exciting, and thought it, and his costume, would impress her.
One more brush-off would set his personal record. Heck, for all he knew, it might be a world record.
A date for the prom was on his high school bucket list. His parents encouraged him. ‘Dream Big’ was a standard message in all the self-help books his mother insisted he read. Hubert’s analyst advised him that successfully attending a dance would strengthen his self-confidence and help with his social skills development. They talked less about the impact of the setbacks. His mother had offered to find him a date from the other families at their church. He had rejected that offer concerned it would seem pathetic.
While he tried not to take the rebukes too personally, a couple of the harsh turndowns were really embarrassing. When Kimberly Myers had shouted in the hallway, “Oh my goodness, NO! What were you thinking?”, everyone had stared at him. Olivia Green had a quieter, but similarly disconcerting reaction. She had looked horrified, slammed her locker, and run away. Others weren’t as bad. Several said they had previous commitments. Hubert was surprised how many girls already knew they had to wash their hair on prom night. Word had spread about his massive failures, which made his task harder. Apparently, even girls who really wanted to go to the prom, didn’t want to be someone’s eighth choice.
Although his rejections were piling up, Hubert thought he was getting better. He had barely stuttered with the last three girls. And, he had learned that it was best to ask a girl when she was alone. It didn’t help his case when her girlfriends started to laugh as he extended his invitation.
Time was running out. Hubert pushed his thick glasses up his nose and studied the dog-eared list. Below the seven scratched-off names, only three remained. Freckle-face O’Connor was the center for the Junior Varsity basketball team. Her height didn’t intimidate him, but he had made a note that she hated to be called Freckle-face. Across the cafeteria, he saw Darlene Wilson in her cheerleader outfit. His heart fluttered. Darlene had turned him down in his previous quest for a date, but he thought she might be more accepting this time when he told her about his new SAT scores. The last name on the list was Juliet Jacobs. Juliet was in many of his advanced classes. However, he didn’t want to risk losing one of his few friends because of an awkward proposal.
In a skill learned in debate club, he had outlined color-coded talking points on four-by-six inch index cards. By now, he had them basically memorized. After the first few girls, he barely had to look at them when making his overture.
Hubert knew from the movies that persistence paid off and the nice guys always got the girl in the end. He was pretty sure he was a nice guy. Just none of the girls knew it. He added a note to his talking points to tell them he was nice.
His brow, armpits and palms were slick with sweat. He realized how nervous he was because he had actually eaten most of the questionable lunch. Taking a deep breath, he focused on working up the confidence for his next move. While he had read a lot about courage in history books, none of them explained how to actually be courageous. In his notebook, he saw another favorite Edison quote, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
Hubert licked his hand and patted down his errant cowlick, stood to his full five foot six inch height, and headed to ask Freckle-face.
With his head down, halfway across the cafeteria Hubert bumped into someone. Immediately on the defensive, he stepped back. Juliet Jacobs stood with her hands crossed in front of her holding several thick textbooks. She smiled tightly and said in a determined and practiced voice, “Good afternoon, Hubert. I wonder if you’d like to go to the prom with me?”
Shocked, Hubert moved his chin up and down a few times. Juliet waited patiently. Through a dry mouth, he finally managed to stammer, “Yes…yes. I would like that…a lot.”
Juliet let out a relieved breath. “Good. Thank you. We should meet after school to develop a plan.”
Hubert nodded mutely.
“I’ll see you in physics class.” She turned and left the cafeteria.
Amid the chaos, Hubert glowed in wonder. Moving toward the hall, he stopped and threw his note cards in the trash. He laughed. Just like in science, you never know how an experiment will turn out.
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Bill Diamond lives in Evergreen, Colorado. After law school, he worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. Working for the federal government taught him that persistence can pay off in progress, and an appreciation for the outlandish.