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Rockin' Around at Riverdale High

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From her position at the refreshments table, sophomore Dot Murray surveyed the Riverdale High School gym with a smile on her pretty face. Though she was at first surprised by the impact these New York newcomers made on her school’s festivities, she was grateful to see that her friends and classmates seemed like they were getting along with them just fine. And the music, opening with The Archies and continued with Josie and the Pussycats, really made for some great dancing.

A twinge of envy and loneliness sparked in Dot’s heart as she noticed the various happy couples. All of them were enjoying themselves out on the dance floor, perfectly content to be with their other halves, and here she was, alone and working the snacks table. All of her friends dated each other, switching partners like it was a freaking line dance, but somehow, Dot never showed up on anyone’s radar.

You’re being silly, Dot told herself, annoyed at her own bitterness. You’re helping your friends, and you’re helping school. No need to feel jealous that other people have dates and you don’t.

To drag herself out of her bout of self-pity, Dot focused her attention on the activities of the visiting teens. What had they called themselves earlier — the Bob-Whites?

By the baked goods section of the refreshments, Betty was pointing out the dozens of homemade cookies she’d donated. “I made them with my grandmother’s snickerdoodle recipe. Go ahead and try some,” she encouraged the blond boy — Mart, Dot reminded herself.

Experimentally, Mart bit into a cookie, and his entire face lit up. “Yowza! Are you an angel, Betty? Because these cookies are a taste of heaven!”

“That’s our Betty,” Jughead said proudly, pouring himself several glasses of punch to go along with the considerable pile of food on his plate. “Culinary extraordinaire!”

Genuflecting in front of Betty, Mart grasped one of her hands. “Marry me, Betty Cooper,” he said mock-seriously.

Betty grinned, glancing over at Adam Chisholm, Jason Blossom, and then at Archie, who was burning up the dance floor with the brown-haired New York girl. “Well, you’re welcome to join the running, if you wish.”

Shelia Wu and Kevin Keller rejoined Dot at the refreshments table, carrying items for the sundae bar, just as Veronica pulled the tall, dark-haired New York boy out onto the dance floor.

“His name’s Brian,” Sheila told Dot and Kevin confidentially. “He’s a junior and wants to go to school to be a doctor. I’m not surprised Ronnie’s fallen as hard as she has.”

“Hmm,” Kevin replied, but his eyes were not on Veronica. His blue gaze moved past Veronica to where Reggie was dancing with the prettiest of the New York girls. This one was absolutely beautiful, with luscious black hair and enormous violet eyes. Truly, it was no wonder that she captured the attention of all the boys right away.

“You know,” Dot began, as casually as she could. “You could just tell Reggie how you feel. He might seem snide, but you’re too sensible to fall for someone who’s a total jerk one hundred percent of the time. If you thought he would make a point of brutally rejecting someone whose feelings he didn’t return, you would never be attracted to him in the first place.”

Kevin smiled, but there was a touch of sadness to it. “You really are a romantic, Dot, much as you try to hide it.”

Though Dot didn’t think of herself to be particularly centered on romance, the apparent fixation had become one of her defining qualities among her group of friends, despite her adamant protests. Truthfully, Dot considered herself as cynical as anyone — she scoffed at cheesy 80’s movies, rolled her eyes at the romance subplots shoehorned into action shows, and could only sigh when individuals defined themselves solely based on their romantic relationships. But she also wanted to believe that love was not only attainable, but sustainable, as long the people involved were willing to make the effort. And she wanted that type of relationship for herself; she wanted to be with someone she would be willing to make sacrifices for, wanted to be with someone who would make sacrifices for her.

Dot shrugged. “What can I say? I just want to believe the best of people.”

“Dot’s got a point, you know,” Sheila chimed in. “Don’t you think so, Frankie?” She asked Frankie Valdez, who was approaching the table, carrying more ingredients for the sundae bar. “Should Kevin give love a chance?”

“Of course,” Frankie responded promptly. “You know what they say: ‘it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.’”

“Yeah, I got it, Tennyson,” Kevin said good-naturedly. “But I don’t have time for romance right now, kids. I’ve got official club business to take care of.”

He walked off, and Dot, Frankie, and Sheila exchanged skeptical glances. While it was true that there probably were tasks in need of completion for at least one of the dozens of clubs, committees, and sports teams that Kevin governed, it was clear he was merely avoiding the subject. Given that Kevin was the president of the junior class, star runner on the track and cross country teams, and an officer of countless extracurricular organizations, Dot sometimes wondered if he had lost the ability to connect with people beyond scholastic activities.

“Oh, look at that,” Sheila said to them, pointing to the dance floor. “Trouble is brewing.”

At first, Dot thought Sheila was pointing to Ned Schultz, who was dancing with the curly-haired girl from New York, and, not picking up on any strife, was momentarily confused. But seconds later, she realized Sheila was indicating beyond that couple to where a group of her classmates were standing with the muscular redheaded boy, the last one of their New York visitors.

The redhead seemed entranced by Ginger Lopez, much to the dismay of Nancy Woods, Ginger’s girlfriend. Both girls were trying to be polite, but the redhead talked continually without allowing Ginger a word in edgewise, completely fixated on her and no one else. Even Cheryl Blossom, realizing the situation and purposefully forcing her way in, couldn’t divert him. And she wasn’t the only one. As Dot and Sheila watched, Shrill sauntered up to the redhead with a practiced strut, tugging down the neckline of her black corset top, obviously trying to help out her friends and distract him.

“Oh my God.” Sheila giggled as Shrill tossed her long lilac hair and thrust out her generous chest in an evident attempt to gain the redhead’s attention and let Ginger escape. Seeing their disenfranchised and usually dour friend try to lure in a guy with extremely unsubtle methods was hilarious, Dot had to admit. “Nancy and Ginger are lucky to have a good friend like Shrill,” Sheila managed to comment between guffaws.

Throwing an arm around the redhead, Shrill leaned right up against him to whisper in his ear, deliberately pressing her ample cleavage against his pecs as she did. However, the redhead just gave her a vague smile and gently pried her off, barely interrupting his one-sided conversation with an increasingly desperate-looking Ginger. An impatient expression crossed Shrill’s features, but nevertheless, she again valiantly attempted to engage the redhead, this time drawing up the hem of her Morticia Addams-esque hobble skirt to above her knees, revealing her pointy-toed black boots and fishnets.

“Oh, my sides,” Sheila gasped, trying to hold in her laughter.

“This calls for a more direct approach,” Dot decided. “Can you handle the refreshment table?”

“No problem,” Sheila said with a saucy salute.

“All right.” Dot strode off toward the redhead.

Be cool, Dorothy, she told herself as she approached.

“Hey, handsome,” she said to the redhead, giving her best effort at a winning smile. “Hope you’re ready for a dance!” Without waiting for a response, she effectively dragged him out to the dance floor, earning grateful looks from Ginger, Nancy, and Shrill.

The redhead seemed compliant enough, putting his arms around Dot to dance despite the fact that she was a total stranger. Shrill waltzed by them with her own boyfriend, Chuck Clayton, exchanging clandestine smiles with Dot.

During a break between songs, the redhead introduced himself. “I’m Jim Frayne, a junior at Sleepyside High School in Westchester County.”

“Dot Murray, sophomore here at Riverdale,” Dot responded with a grin. “Most of my friends are juniors, though.” She pointed at Sheila, Kevin, and Frankie, who were faithfully manning the refreshment table. “We’re part of the Student Activities Committee, and we helped organize this dance.”

“Well, you did an excellent job,” Jim said, to which Dot smiled gratefully.

The two of them talked while dancing and discovered a mutual love of Roman history. Thrilled at having found a fellow classicist, Dot was able to recommend several titles regarding the achievements of Scipio Africanus. Gradually, their conversation switched topics; Dot told Jim about figure-skating and the two part-time retail jobs she worked to finance her lessons, and Jim elaborated on the club he and his friends from Westchester County had formed.

A thrill zipped through Dot as she and Jim danced and talked. Interacting with Jim was unbelievably easy . The two of them clicked right away — they were instantly compatible. No feeling awkward or self-conscious, despite their inauspicious beginning.

A ray of hope surged through Dot, even as she cautioned herself to form unrealistic expectations. Even if they were getting along, realistically, she’d just met this guy. Hell, the reason for their introduction was because he’d been behaving like a jackass — and acknowledging that, perhaps their ability to relate as readily as they did carried less than positive implications regarding herself. But the two of them really seemed to jell, as if a connection had formed instantaneously.

She could see herself with him, Dot realized. Despite his supple body, Jim certainly had hadn’t been blessed in the looks department. But he was good-natured, with a ready laugh and a willing smile, all of which were far more important than physical attractiveness, as far as Dot was concerned.

Maybe, just maybe . . .

“Say, Dot,” Jim said eventually. “I could really use your help with something.” He nodded over to the curly-haired New York girl who was dancing with Ned Schultz. “The girl over there is named Trixie Belden, and she’s someone really special to me. What type of gift do you think I should get for her to show her that?”

Oh.

Inwardly, Dot sighed as disappointment and a hint of resentment washed over her. So much for Jim paying attention to her — in the end, she was just a tool for Jim to use and discard. Dot was some girl for Jim to dance with, while Trixie was the girl who truly matter to him, the one he was thinking about all the while.

And privately, Dot thought Trixie couldn’t be all that special to Jim if he was as easily entranced by Ginger as he was, despite her obvious lack of interest.

Her disappointment morphing to embarrassment and frustration, a barrage of angry thoughts struck Dot. What was Jim trying to do, con her into acting as his unofficial advisor to help him impress Trixie? Seriously, she’d just met the guy, but here he was, foisting his problems off on her.

Calming herself, Dot forced herself to view the situation from an impartial perspective. Even if his request about Trixie was odd, it wouldn’t hurt her at all to help him. Besides, while Dot might have felt annoyed and deceived, Jim didn’t owe her anything — much less a relationship.

“Let’s see,” she began. “What grade is Trixie in?”

“Eighth,” Jim responded promptly. “The same grade as Diana.” He indicated the beautiful dark-haired girl with Reggie. “And Honey, my sister.” He nodded at the brown-haired girl with Archie.

Inwardly, Dot raised her eyebrows. Jim told her that he was sixteen — so he was three years older than Trixie, then. Well, at least that was good news for Kevin. Not that Reggie was the type of guy for long-distance relationships anyway, but there was no way he’d be interested in Diana any longer once he realized how much younger she was than him.

“Well, um. Hmm.” For the first time in her life, Dot wished she watched more romantic comedies. In all honesty, she had no idea what type of gift a thirteen-year-old girl would want from a sixteen-year-old boy. When she was thirteen, all she wanted was a car. Hell, now she was fifteen, and she still just wanted a car.

Then, inspiration struck. “Why don’t you get her an ID bracelet engraved with your name?” Dot suggested. Really, it was a superb notion — an ID bracelet, personalized with the boy’s name, was the exact type of sappy gift a middle school girl, not yet savvy with the cynicism of high school, would love.

“Hey, that’s a stellar idea!” Jim enthused. “Thanks, Dot!”

“You’re welcome, Jim,” Dot said, smiling at him. Dot decided that she liked Jim— even if he did seem like a bit of a flake. He was a doofus, she figured, but a loveable one who acted out of obtuseness rather than any type of malice.

“Hey, Dot,” Jim said to her, during their last dance together before Dot went back to help at the refreshment table. “We’re all probably going to go skating sometime in the next few days. Would you like to join us?”

“I’d love to,” Dot replied, smiling. “Your friends sound like such interesting people — especially Trixie and Honey with all their mysteries! I want to hear all about their adventures.”

Not long after, the two of them cut in on Trixie and Ned Schultz. Jim whisked Trixie off, and Dot finished the song dancing with Ned before returning to her duties at the refreshments table. Kevin was elsewhere, but Frankie and Sheila were waiting for her.

“How was Mr. Tall, Supple, and Oblivious?” Sheila teased her, leaning forward eagerly.

“At one point, you looked absolutely floored,” Frankie observed. “Did he say something to you?”

Dot waved one of her hands dismissively. “He recruited me to help pick out a gift for another girl.”

Sheila’s jaw dropped. “No way! What a weird thing to do!”

“Poor Ginger,” Frankie said sadly.

Dot shook her head. “No, it’s that other girl, the one with the curly hair.”

“The eighth-grader?” Frankie’s expression was skeptical.

“I can’t believe he would string you along just to try to get with some middle-schooler.” Sheila shook her head in disgust. “What a dick.”

“No, it’s all right,” Dot assured them. “He just wanted my help, that’s all. I don’t think he meant any harm by it.” Secretly, though, she was pleased by her friends’ ready outrage on her behalf.

After the dance concluded, when Dot, Sheila, Kevin, and Frankie were packing away the supplies, she took a moment to chat with Kevin.

“You were right,” she told him. “I guess I am a romantic. I helped Jim Frayne choose a gift for the girl of his dreams today.”

“Poor Ginger,” Kevin said sympathetically.

“Oh, no, it was a different special girl. This one is named Trixie, and she’s one of his friends from New York. The girl with the short, curly hair,” Dot explained.

For a moment, Kevin frowned quizzically, but then gave a careless shrug. “I must not have seen her.”

“He only had eyes for Reggie,” Frankie broke in, earning Kevin's glare.

“But anyway.” Dot continued. “This romantic thinks that you should give Reggie a shot. Even if things don’t work out, at least you can move on to someone who does want to be with you.”

“Yeah, seriously, make like Nike,” Frankie agreed.

“And speak of the devil . . .” Sheila swept her arm toward the end of the corridor, where Reggie had just rounded the corner and was walking toward the exit to the parking lot, his bass guitar strapped to his back. “Now’s your chance. You go, and we’ll clean up here.”

“This is a conspiracy,” Kevin grumbled.

“GO!” Dot, Sheila, and Frankie chorused, bringing Reggie to halt and look back down the hall at them.

Muttering, Kevin grabbed his backpack and took off down the hall, calling, “Hey, Reggie, wait up!”

“And they all lived happily ever after,” Sheila quipped, watching Kevin go.

Dot rolled her eyes but grinned. “Yeah, okay. That’s a little bit too romantic, even for me.”

“Fair point.” Sheila stowed away the last of her boxes. “Well, we’re done here. I just need to get my bag from the club room, and then I can give you a ride home, Dot.”

Dot waved her off. “I need to grab my backpack, too. Why don’t you go outside and warm up the car, and I’ll bring out our stuff?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Sheila agreed.

After exchanging goodbyes with Frankie, Dot made her way back to the club room, thinking back over the day’s events. Kevin finally took a chance on Reggie, and Jim was going to let Trixie know that she was his special girl.

Truthfully, Jim’s request still stung — even though Dot knew he had not intended to hurt her in any way, and was just asking for her help. It was a reminder that she didn’t have anyone, that no one was buying her gifts. She wasn’t the focus of anyone’s attention. No one was calling her their special girl.

Put it into perspective, Dorothy, she scolded herself as she gathered her possessions and Sheila’s.

Being the center of someone’s attention wasn’t important — especially if she couldn’t even think of a specific person whose attention she wanted. A silver ID bracelet wasn’t important. And honestly, Jim Frayne wasn’t all that important, either; there were a hundred other matters that were of greater significance to Dot before his opinion of her even became a factor.

What was important was that the dance went well tonight, and that the hard work of the Student Activities Committee paid off. Dot was glad to have witnessed it, glad to spend the evening with her friends, glad to have these people that she loved and whose company she enjoyed. What’s more was that these people loved and enjoyed her right back. What mattered was that in the span of one evening, Dot helped two couples — three, if she counted diverting Jim’s attention away from Ginger so she could run off and dance with Nancy. And helping other people was astronomically more important that her own happiness.

She was Dorothy Murray. Figure skater, secretary of the Student Activities Committee, Roman history buff, and, apparently, romantic thinker, whose soul was owned by retail chain stores during most evenings and weekends.

And she wasn’t Jim Frayne’s girl. She wasn’t anyone’s girl. But she could safely say that as much as she wanted a romance, she didn’t want it at the price of being defined solely by being just anyone’s girl.

Pushing through the exit doors, Dot strode out into the nearly empty parking lot. The night air was chilly and damp, but the warm yellow lights of Sheila's car beckoned, cutting through the dark. Dot hastened forward, eager to take shelter from the cold and take comfort in the company of her friend.