The Skirt Man
The Skirt Man
BY THE TIME my daughter was eighteen years old, she was already touring with the Manhattan Delacourte Ballet Theater and had danced in lead roles in Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Dallas. And, pardon me if I brag, just a few weeks before the benefit for the Killdeer Town Hall, Merry had come back from a tour that included London, Paris, Milan, and Madrid.
So, even though it was fun for her to perform in a high school auditorium not far from where she grew up, it was not exactly the high point in her career.
That Merry was dancing in Killdeer at all was actually a bit of a fluke. Her former teacher, Arabella McKenzie, who'd had a brief but torrid love affair with my brother, Billy, had originally agreed to donate her own time and talent, but at the last minute had been invited to appear as guest artist in a new incarnation of the old Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. As a dancer, this was an offer that Arabella felt she could not afford to refuse. Which left the town hall benefit in a bit of a bind.
Arabella knew that Merry would be on summer break, so she asked her former student if she could or would - "Please, dear. It would mean so much to me" - take over the job. She offered Merry the use of any or all of her students, costumes, sets, the dancers from her Lyric Ballet Company, and even (she was either desperate or joking) her bicycle, jewelry, goldfish, cell phone, and herbal shampoo.
She selected her own program and decided to present abbreviated versions of two of Arabella's ballets - sweet things based on O. Henry stories. To help with sets, props, and lighting, Merry was given permission by the head of the drama department at Killdeer High School to appeal personally to the junior and senior classes and ask for volunteers.
At the time these events occurred, Merry was all of nineteen years old - not exactly an age anyone would categorize as "older woman." That, however, is exactly what she seemed to be to Sonny and Moses Dillenbeck when they saw her for the first time. She was standing at the head of their class, less than fifteen feet away. She was a famous (well, to them if not yet the world) ballerina, wearing a frothy, pastel summer dress and looking every bit as substantial as a sigh.
She was an exquisite, fairylike creature, and she was asking them (neither could believe their ears) for their help.
Their hearts flopped out of their chests and dropped like water balloons to the floor.
It was love at first sight.
The clincher for Sonny was Merry's pale porcelain complexion, long swan neck, and the fragile symmetry of her bones.
For Moe, it was her huge brown eyes, her delicately chiseled nose, and the uninhibited tangle of her wild red hair.
They trampled the other boys out of the way, climbed over six desks, and literally fell at her feet.
Sonny Dillenbeck was seventeen years old and he was white, as in Caucasian. Moe was a month older; he was six feet three inches tall, slim, muscular, and black, as in Negro. When they were still toddlers, Moe's father, Boyd, fell in love with Sonny's mother, Netty. They got married, adopted each other's children, marveled that the boys were so similar in outlook and disposition, and began to call them psychic twins.
Sonny had dark blond hair, gold-flecked hazel eyes, and a strong jaw. He also had a set of really adorable dimples that popped out - or was it in? - when he smiled, and he smiled often because he was a happy guy. Sonny had gravitated toward the theater because he intended to be an actor when he grew up. So, aside from his ulterior motive of wanting to breathe the same air that Merry did, it was natural that he would respond to her appeal.
Moe's grandfather, Rufus, the one who