Margaret Dunne’s afternoon job at her mother’s dress shop is usually tranquil, but in the weeks leading up to prom, her work is nonstop. She wouldn’t mind helping the popular girls try on dresses if she had a date too, but boys hardly look at Margaret. After a particularly grueling day taking abuse from three popular girls, Margaret finds a strange package in the alley behind the shop. Inside are the three girls’ dresses—mangled, muddied, and completely ruined. Plenty of people hate the popular clique, but why take it out on their prom dresses? A few days later, Margaret sneaks off from the senior picnic to enjoy the view from the old lighthouse. A scream pierces the air, and Margaret sees one of the popular girls, Stephanie, dead at the bottom of a cliff. It seems someone at her school has her eye on Stephanie’s perfect date, and will kill to get her hands on him. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Diane Hoh including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.
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About the Author
Diane Hoh (b. 1937) is a bestselling author of young adult fiction. Born in Warren, Pennsylvania, Hoh began her first novel, Loving That O’Connor Boy (1985), after seeing an ad in a publishing trade magazine requesting submissions for a line of young adult fiction. After contributing novels to two popular series, Cheerleaders and the Girls of Canby Hall, Hoh found great success writing thrillers, beginning with Funhouse (1990), a Point Horror novel that became a national bestseller. Following its success, Hoh created the Nightmare Hall series, whose twenty-nine installments chronicle a university plagued by dark secrets, and the seven-volume Med Center series, about the challenges and mysteries in a Massachusetts hospital. In 1998, Hoh had a runaway hit with Titanic: The Long Night and Remembering the Titanic, a pair of novels about two couples’ escape from the doomed ocean liner. She now lives and writes in Austin.
Read an Excerpt
By Diane Hoh
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Diane Hoh
All rights reserved.
The small boutique known as Quartet in the heart of downtown Toomey, New Jersey, was a frenzy of activity. Although the shop had four owners (thus the name), only one of them ran the shop. Adrienne Dunne was a tall, attractive woman with intelligent gray eyes behind hornrimmed eyeglasses, her auburn hair restrained in a neat chignon at the nape of her neck. Dressed in a stunning pink suit, she calmly wove her way in and out of the throng of young women who were excitedly exclaiming over and trying on the prom gowns in the shop, most of which Adrienne had designed and made herself. She gave advice, found selections for girls overtaken by confusion, and measured for alterations when they were needed.
Her two helpers, her daughter Margaret and Margaret's best friend, Caroline LaSalle, were not so calm. Neither had anticipated such a hectic Saturday afternoon. They had expected the girls to come in one or two at a time, rather than in this unrestrained herd. Margaret was reminded of a cattle stampede in an old western movie. Then, too, they were discovering what a knife in the heart it was to help other girls search for the perfect dress to wear to the senior prom. The prom Margaret and Caroline did not expect to attend.
It wasn't as if either girl was unattractive. Both were tall and thin, moved gracefully, and had good skin. Great skin. Margaret had never had a blemish in her life. She was fair, with light brown, very fine, straight hair, which she wore shoulder-length and tended to yank away from her face and fasten with a rubber band. She had amazing eyes: doe-shaped, a warm, deep brown, with long, thick, upturned eyelashes. But she hid them behind sunglasses much too often. Intelligent and a born leader, Margaret would have been, in a perfect world, president of her class. Unfortunately, at Toomey High, intelligence, even when combined with a quick wit, wasn't enough. At Toomey, pretty and popular were also required for any elective office.
Both girls dated occasionally. But Margaret had never dated one boy exclusively for any length of time. She hadn't yet met anyone she felt like saving all of her evenings for, and the feeling had been mutual because as far as she knew, she hadn't broken any hearts.
Because she loved to read, she really didn't mind spending time alone. Besides, she had Caroline, who didn't date much, either, and Jeannine and Lacey. They wouldn't be going to the prom, either. Maybe they'd all rent a video, and just have fun.
Many people who came into the store mistook the two girls for sisters. But they really didn't look that much alike. While Caroline, like Margaret, was tall and slender, her face was thinner, with more sharp edges, her hair a cross between bronze and what Caroline herself called "muddy water." "Like burned muddy water," she sometimes remarked sourly. Her eyes were a little green, a little gray. This was very disturbing to Caroline, who would have preferred a clear, bright turquoise. She planned to buy turquoise contact lenses when she had enough money saved.
While Margaret rejected every one of her mother's attempts to "beautify" her ("Margaret, honey, you have such a pretty face. A little blush, a touch of mascara, what can it hurt?"), Caroline eagerly devoured every little self-improvement hint Adrienne dropped her way. Caroline tried them all — sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn't. An experiment gone sour, something for the Other Girls, the ones who always somehow looked as if they belonged on the cover of a magazine, to laugh at. Not always behind Caroline's back, either.
It was about to happen again. Stephanie Markham, tall and leopard-sleek, her dark hair spilling over her shoulders like black velvet, smiled with fake friendliness at Caroline and asked with equally fake innocence, "Is that supposed to be a chignon on the back of your head, Caroline? Funny how it doesn't look anything like Adrienne's." She was holding a black velvet dress by its hanger.
Margaret hated it that the "Pops" (her word for the popular girls) called her mother by her first name, but Adrienne said it was good for business.
The store was packed with customers. Everyone in it heard Stephanie's cruel remark.
Caroline turned scarlet and one hand flew to the back of her neck in embarrassment.
Margaret, in the process of removing a pale pink dress from the rack, hissed over her shoulder, "Stephanie, let me just go check in back and see if we have a broom and a tall, pointed black hat to go with that dress."
Stephanie's friend, Beth Andrews, who always said hi to Margaret at school, laughed. And tall, blond Liza, another of the Pops, scolded mildly, "Steph, don't be such a pain. Mind your manners."
Ignoring the reprimand, Stephanie said coldly, "You know, Margaret, we don't have to buy our prom dresses here. We could go somewhere else and spend our money if you'd prefer."
Margaret preferred. Margaret wished for, craved their departure. Unfortunately, her mother didn't. Running your own business, from what Margaret had seen, wasn't a great way to get rich. It was a constant struggle, like swimming upstream. She shouldn't be screwing it up for her mother, who worked harder that any other person Margaret knew.
"You could go to every store in town," Margaret said to Stephanie, her voice smooth and controlled, "and not find anything that comes close to my mother's designs, and you know it. But if ordinary is what you want, there's the door. I'll even open it for you."
Because the girl knew Margaret was right, she shrugged, fell silent, and resumed browsing through the lovely creations on the racks.
Caroline went into the back room. When she returned to the sales floor, her sharp, angled face was grim, her attempt at a chignon gone. Her bronze hair hung loosely, limply, around her shoulders in her customary style.
Margaret burned with anger. Okay, maybe it hadn't been a perfect little bun, and maybe Caroline was too young for such a sophisticated hairstyle. But she'd tried. It was mean of Stephanie to make fun of Caroline for trying. One more example (and there were so many) of the Perfectly Pretty People stepping on the Imperfect. Mean. Really mean.
Scott Noonan burst into the store, all awkward arms and legs and freckles, a green baseball cap worn backwards over his bushy red hair. He was beaming with enthusiasm for his new part-time job. Adrienne had hired him to drive Quartet's van, making deliveries and picking up supplies.
Margaret knew it wasn't just the job that lit up Scott's round face. He was now in the presence of Caroline LaSalle. Scott had a thing for Caroline, who so far seemed to regard him as a pesky younger brother or a mosquito tormenting her at a picnic. Scott's blue eyes followed Caroline's every movement adoringly. He sometimes brought her a single yellow rose when he came back from a delivery, and would have carried her books to the Canadian border and back if Caroline had asked him to. Caroline was not impressed. If she thought of Scott at all, it was only as a friend.
"One of these days," Margaret had warned her, "he's going to get tired of being treated like the contents of a vacuum cleaner bag and find someone else. And you're going to miss him."
Margaret liked Scott. So he wasn't cool, like the gorgeous, athletic guys the Pops dated. So what? He was smart and funny and treated her mother with respect. Margaret liked that about Scott.
Caroline was not so easily impressed.
Margaret had said, "Caroline, beggars can't be choosers. You're dying to go to the prom. I know Scott's only a sophomore, but you're a senior, so you can invite anyone you want. Quit being such a snob. You're almost as bad as the Pops."
That, of course, was meant as an insult, and Caroline took it that way. Still, she insisted stubbornly, "I'm not settling. I can do better than Scott, I know I can. And if I can't, I'll just stay home."
Margaret gave up. Caroline had her heart set on attending her senior prom with some tall, cool, popular guy. She refused to accept that they were all taken. David Goumas would be taking gorgeous Kiki Pappas, who was one of the Pops but wasn't with them now because she never shopped at Quartet. Kiki went into the city for her wardrobe. Lucas Nelson would be arm in arm with Beth, and Liza would probably go with Mitch McGill, unless she decided to ask a college guy. That was a concept Margaret couldn't grasp. Asking someone else instead of going with Mitch McGill? Crazy. He was so cute. Michael Danz, the poor fool, would be going with Stephanie Markham. Stephanie was a prime candidate for queen this year. Beth was a possibility, too, although she had a quieter kind of beauty, far less spectacular than Stephanie's. Kiki and Liza, who'd been dating seniors for years, had been queen already, and the rule at Toomey High was, only one monarchy to a customer.
Not that Stephanie wouldn't make a suitable queen. She certainly had a talent for ordering people around.
The point was, the best guys were already taken. If Caroline wanted to attend the prom, she'd better lower her sights pretty darn fast or she'd be sitting at home watching rented videos with her fellow wallflowers, Margaret Dunne, Jeannine Baker, and Lacey Dowd.
"Oh, come off it, Margaret," Caroline had said in exasperation the last time Margaret had vented her opinion. "You could go, too. Lots of guys like you. I know a couple of juniors who think you're cute. They haven't asked you because they just don't think you're interested. If you want, I could drop some hints. Let them know you'd say yes if they asked."
"They won't ask," Margaret said firmly. "I like them and they like me okay, I guess. But not as a date. They don't see me that way. I'm good old Margaret, who can toss a ball or Frisbee with the best of them and help them with their calculus, but that's about it. The image of me in a prom dress would be as hard for them to grasp as the meaning of a Shakespeare sonnet. So forget it, Caroline; Just butt out, okay?"
"Look who's talking."
"Liza," they heard Stephanie say authoritatively, "red is definitely not your color. You're blond. Find something more pastel, like this pale turquoise. It's perfect for you." She waved a dress in the air.
Margaret knew exactly what she was doing. She wanted the red one for herself. Crafty Stephanie.
"It's no big deal, Steph," Liza said, reaching for the turquoise. "If you really want the red one, here, take it. Just don't ever say I refused to give you the shirt off my back. Or dress, in this case."
From behind her, Margaret heard Caroline gasp in dismay. The turquoise! Caroline had had her heart set on that dress ever since Adrienne finished hemming it and carefully slipped it onto a padded hanger. Maybe she wouldn't ever get to wear it. But it would crush her if someone else went to the prom in that dress.
Swiftly, Margaret slid her right hand across the fat, wet sponge sitting in a small, white dish beside the cash register. The sponge was used to moisten stamps. Hurrying over to Stephanie's side, she grabbed the dress from her, saying, "Oh, sorry, that dress has a water stain on it," at the same time surreptitiously wiping her wet, gluey hand on the skirt. Then she pointed. "Look, see it, right there? It wasn't supposed to be on display. Off to the cleaners it goes!" she cried cheerfully, and swept the dress out of the room, ignoring Stephanie's indignant, "Well! I guess we should be checking the merchandise more carefully before we try it on. I didn't think that was necessary here."
"I didn't think that was necessary here!" Margaret mimicked under her breath as she hung the turquoise dress in the back closet.
When Margaret went back out on the floor, her other two best friends, Jeannine and Lacey, had arrived. They were the only girls in the store not shopping for prom dresses. They did not look happy.
And Stephanie was indeed wearing the red dress, a short, slinky number with spaghetti straps. Liza was wearing black, and Beth looked lovely in a slender pale blue slip dress. All three gowns needed minor alterations. Adrienne promised to attend to them well ahead of the prom, still three weeks away.
When Stephanie brought her red dress to the counter to pay for it, Jeannine and Lacey were lounging nearby, waiting for a chance to talk to Margaret, "So," Stephanie asked them in a perfectly friendly voice, "did you two come to see what everyone's wearing to the prom? I guess this will be your only chance, since you won't be there."
Lacey, who was short and stocky, her bright blond hair cut in a Dutch-boy bob, flushed angrily and said, "You don't know that, Stephanie. Maybe all of us are going."
Stephanie laughed. "Right. Well, good, if you are, because then you'll get to see me crowned queen."
Jeannine, as tall and thin as a stick, red hair frizzed around a narrow face, muttered, "I'd be happy to crown you myself, Stephanie, right here and now," but Stephanie had already turned back to Margaret to hand her a slice of plastic.
As Margaret slid the credit card through the machine, Stephanie smiled a smile as plastic as the card and said, "It must be hard selling all these beautiful dresses when you're not going to be wearing one yourself. Poor Margaret." She glanced over at Caroline, fastening "sold" tags on the dresses, and added, "I guess you won't be going, either, am I right, Caroline?"
Caroline winced and blanched. Margaret Dunne, who had never physically hurt another human being in her entire life, found herself thinking how satisfying it would be to reach out with the scissors at her elbow and whack off every strand of Stephanie's silken dark locks, leaving her virtually bald. Instead, she said softly, "Stephanie, is that a zit I see right smack in the middle of your forehead?"
And even though there wasn't a blemish anywhere on that perfect porcelain skin, Margaret felt a wickedly satisfying surge of triumph when Stephanie went as white as Caroline had and her right hand flew up to explore her face in alarm. Even when her fingers felt nothing, she was compelled to sidestep over to the nearest mirror and peer in anxiously, just to be certain.
When she was satisfied, she said angrily, "That wasn't funny, Margaret."
"Oh, yeah, it was," Lacey said. "If you could have seen your face, Stephanie!"
Margaret didn't even care when, after the store had emptied, Adrienne scolded her for teasing Stephanie. It wasn't much of a reprimand, and Margaret could see that her mother was trying to restrain a smile.
It was Margaret's turn to close the store. Caroline was off to the library to meet Scott, and Adrienne had a dinner date. Jeannine and Lacey had evening baby-sitting jobs. Margaret liked closing. It was so quiet in the store when everyone else had gone. No more Pops yapping like puppies over this dress and that dress. And for Margaret, no more feeling like she had two front teeth missing and a bad facial rash in the midst of all that perky perfection.
It was so much easier to be content with who she was when no one else was around.
She was halfway home when she remembered that she'd taken her chem book to the shop with her that morning, thinking she might slip in some study time. She hadn't, and finals were almost upon her. She was going to need that book. Might as well go back and get it tonight, since she was only halfway home.
Margaret pulled the van into the alley near Quartet's side door. The courtyard was empty, the office building next door only dimly lit. Too early for dinner patrons to be arriving at Impeccable Tastes, the upscale restaurant on the ground floor of the office building.
She was almost to the store's side entrance when something lying on the cement just outside the door caught her eye. There shouldn't have been anything there. She had swept around the door just before closing, as she always did, and fed a stray cat a saucer of milk, something her mother had expressly forbidden her to do. "Feed them," Adrienne said, "and they'll never leave. They can take care of themselves, Margaret."
There hadn't been anything in the alley when Margaret fed the cat.
But now there was something. A bundle of something lying in a puddle left over from the rain the night before. Wet newspapers, maybe.
Margaret moved closer. It wasn't newspaper, she realized as she arrived at the puddle and looked down. It was ... clothing. Crumpled and soaking wet with oily, muddy water. What looked like black tire tracks waved across the top layer like canceled postage stamp marks.
Excerpted from Prom Date by Diane Hoh. Copyright © 1996 Diane Hoh. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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