Connor Maguire first noticed Mackenzie Leighton in statistics class at Cape Elizabeth High School. He didn’t know many people in the class, but she made him feel right at home.
“She was friendly and funny,” he said. “And obviously she looks pretty good, too.”
After a few months, he finally asked her to dinner and a movie.
“It was kind of like the classic first date,” Mackenzie said.
They went to Chipotle, saw “Tower Heist” and walked around Kettle Cove. Soon, the relationship — the first for both — was Facebook official. They’ve been best friends since.
“It’s really easy,” Mackenzie said. “I feel like I’ve known him forever.”
Eighteen months and an eternity later, she was still excited to see him on prom night.
When it came time to ask his girlfriend to the prom, Connor was pretty sure he already knew the answer. But he wanted to make it special anyway, so he created an Easter egg hunt around his house. She opened the basement door looking for the last egg, only to find a poster with “Prom?” spelled out with chocolates.
Connor and Mackenzie went to the prom last year, too, he in a white tux jacket, she in a black dress. Before heading to the dance, they posed for photos with friends. In one shot, Connor and Mackenzie are captured mid-jump, their hands clasped and smiles stretched across their faces.
“She looked very nice last year,” Connor said. “She was a step above the rest.”
So when it came to his senior prom, Connor had no doubt that he and Mackenzie would have fun — and that she would look great. While classmates worked on their own “promposals” — a trend of asking dates to the prom in public or elaborate ways — Mackenzie and Connor started making plans with friends. They would meet at a beach cottage for a pre-prom party with friends and parents, then load into a limo for the short drive to Portland for the “Casino Royale”-themed prom.
Mackenzie usually gets up around 10 on Saturday mornings, but last weekend she set her alarm for 8 a.m.
“We both woke up way before that,” said Zoe Gillies, as she and Mackenzie, juniors at Cape Elizabeth High School, sat with their feet soaking in blue water at Today’s Nails in the Mill Creek Shopping Center.
It wasn’t nerves like last year.
“I think I’m just excited,” Mackenzie said, holding her hands under a nail dryer.
Around Cape Elizabeth that Saturday, the prom seemed omnipresent.
During Mackenzie’s and Zoe’s nail appointments, two other girls from Cape came into the salon for their manicures.
When the girls stopped at Fiddleheads flower shop on the way back from South Portland, the coolers were filled with small cardboard boxes of corsages and boutonnieres with all their friends’ names on them.
At Bellissimo on Route 77, where Mackenzie got her first-ever up-do, she heard the voice of a friend’s mother and a lacrosse teammate as they came into the salon.
“Hi, Mrs. Flaherty,” she yelled from under the blond strands that fell in front of her face.
“Jane, is that you?” she later called out to her team captain.
The girls and mothers she ran into throughout the day all talked about dresses and dates, where they were getting ready and how they were doing their hair — the continuation of a conversation that started in the winter and would last long after the big night.
“It’s really hyped up, which is half the fun of it, I guess,” Mackenzie said.
She started browsing the Web in February to get ideas for dresses, but she found the one she wanted right away. It was long, and it was red.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I love this,’ ” she said.
It was also only $80, which would mean less of her saved-up babysitting money to spend.
Proms have become expensive, for some. The average American teen now spends $1,139 on the prom, up 5 percent since last year, according to a survey by VISA and research group Gfk.
Most of Mackenzie’s prom purchases were practical. She spent $10 on strappy wedges from DSW and $3 on a gold headband from Forever 21. After all, she already had the only accessory she needed.
“I’m going with Connor,” she said. “I know I’ll have a good time.”
As Mackenzie spent hours getting her hair and nails done, Connor’s pace was a little slower, a bit more low-key. He got a quick haircut, then mowed the lawn. To pass the time in the afternoon, he sat down to watch the end of the documentary “Undefeated,” about a Memphis, Tenn., high school football team. One of the featured players was sidelined by a knee injury and missed most of the season — the same experience Connor had during his own final football season.
That injury hampered Connor’s ability to shovel the neighbors’ driveways to earn money, leaving him scrambling to do odd jobs around the neighborhood to come up with the cash he needed for prom.
Connor shopped around for the best deal on his tux, landing a rental for $113 at Tuxedos on Broadway in South Portland. Then there were the prom tickets at $45 each, a corsage for $27 and another $60 or so for his share of the limo rental.
“I can’t think of another thing I’d want to spend my money on,” he said.
Finally, 20 minutes before he was scheduled to leave to meet Mackenzie, Connor slipped into his black tux. His father helped him get his cuff links and white bow tie just right, as his mom brushed cat hair from his pants and jacket. After a few minutes of being fussed over, Connor and his family headed outside for a few photos — in the backyard, near a tree in the front yard. A neighbor watering his lawn waved to the family as they smiled for the camera.
As soon as Mackenzie spotted Connor in the crowd at their friend’s Pine Point beach house, she ran and wrapped her arms around him.
Together, they mingled among the dozen couples, their parents and siblings, nibbling on nachos and pasta dishes in a potluck-style feast.
The bare-armed girls bore the chilly breeze as they posed for photos outside in countless combinations of couples and groups, then took their shoes off and walked down to the water for a final photo shoot before the limos arrived.
Meanwhile, chaperones were arriving at The Portland Club, where red and black drapes hung at the entrance to the ballroom, tables were decorated with playing cards and poker chips, and limos dropped off the first guests. Girls greeted one other inside with shrieks and hugs, and many kicked off their shoes.
Principal Jeff Shedd waited outside, greeting nearly every student by name as they arrived. It was the 16th time he chaperoned the prom, though he never went to his own. The music and dresses may be different, but some things never change, he said.
“There are a lot of traditions that are still alive,” he said. “The king and the queen of the prom, the prince and princess.”
After a quick limo tour of the sun setting over the Eastern Promenade, Mackenzie and Connor arrived at the prom a fashionable 15 minutes late. They filed into the line that led to their assistant principal, who held a breathalyzer to test for alcohol — now a common practice at proms.
Mackenzie and Connor got their picture taken together in front of a giant ace of spades, then walked through the drapes, each other’s arm on each other’s back, and entered the mass of classmates for the main event.
They danced most of the night, to some songs they knew and some songs they didn’t.
Connor recognized the last song of the night from the finale of the television show “Scrubs.” Mackenzie had never heard it before. It was “Book of Love,” Peter Gabriel’s 1984 cover of the song by The Magnetic Fields. The song came out a decade before Connor and Mackenzie were born.
They danced anyway, before heading back to Pine Point to eat the leftovers from the potluck, make s’mores and play guitar by a fire pit. The other kids stayed over, but Connor and Mackenzie’s parents wanted them home that night.
The curfew was “a bummer,” Mackenzie said, “but I understand where they’re coming from.”
When Connor dropped Mackenzie off, her mother was waiting on the couch, as promised.
Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: