Dewy flush adorned our cheeks as we shuffled and bumped in the tiny powder room, vying for equal mirror time. I didn’t stand a chance of course, being at least a foot shorter than her, but that didn’t stop me from trying.
Dead or Alive shrieked from the boom box sitting on the rug just outside the open door while combs, sprays, powders, shadows and glosses riddled the small bathroom countertop, trembling to the beat.
Frankly, I didn’t need the mirror. I’d long since learned to mirrorlessly cake color and coif hair on buses, in backseats and down early morning deserted school hallways. Although it stemmed from faithlessness in my natural façade, it was a skill I was quite proud of and one that had come in handy many a time.
Eventually relenting, I sat on the toilet lid, hot vapors from the curling iron tickling my ear. I paused, cementing the curl with a spritz of Final Net as the spool of chocolate strands melted with heat. Shaking the iron gently, I loosened it from the hair, leaving behind a perfect sausage roll. Prepping the next coil, I tilted my chin to watch Jess, a master at her own ritual.
She used a fascinating, self-taught technique to apply liner, slicking it on as thick as she could get it, creating inch wide circles around her top and bottom lids. Taking a damp Q-tip, she’d swipe away the excess, leaving perfectly precise strokes behind to cocoon her diminutive eyes.
“You spin me right round, baby, right round…” Jess’ tall, thin frame bobbed to the music; her off-key crooning making me laugh.
“All I know is that to me, you look like you’re lots of fun. Open up your lovin’ arms. Watch out, here I come!” Although I couldn’t resist joining in, I barely finished the last line, giggles overtaking me.
“Quit showing off!” She complained, half serious. “You’re always stealing my songs.”
They’re hardly your songs”, I chided. “Unless you’re holding out on me and jammin’ with Pete Burns behind my back.”
“Do you think he’ll be there?” She asked, squinting at the mirror., fluffing her naturally curly, blonde hair.
“Pete Burns? I highly doubt it.” I teased. “Slightly rich taste for a good old North Side dance.”
“You know who I mean!” Her eyes widened, peeps of white speckling the muddy liner. Do you think he’ll show?”
“Dunno…don’t care.” I sighed, hoping I sounded undoubtable.
The gymnasium was magically murky apart from the twinkle lights. They nodded and dipped as we walked under the archway and into the dance. The ceiling was flocked with pearly white balloons, their inflated heads and dangling strings reminding me of spermatozoa, compliments of elementary Sex-Ed.
“Jess!” I turned to smirk about the balloons, but she was gone, running after Sharon who looked ready to burst with the latest breaking news on the dance shenanigans.
I started to follow her, but froze. I could see him, his head swinging back and forth in front of the stage. That was it…I was stuck, breathless.
I watched him through the packs of gyrating teens, spinning girl after girl.
Jess kept coming back, begging me to dance to all our favorites. My legs twitched, knowing I should be out there having fun, but my eyes were cemented, unable to break away from his chestnut hair and tanned skin.
“Come on,” Jess whined. “The next song is the last and it’ll be a slow one. At least dance this one with me!”
I looked at her sparkly, ever-happy face and felt terrible. I’d been a total let down; the opposite of a best friend.
“Okay, I’m sorry,” I surrendered. “I don’t know why I’m wasting our night anyway.” Irritated with myself, I chiseled my stare, breaking it free.
Managing to conceal my dismay, I smiled and laughed as we bounced to Quiet Riot, my mind fleeting to the sperm-like balloons once again, as Jess hollered out; “Cum on feel the noise…”
As the song ended, Bradley Buchner hurried over to scoop her for the last number of the night.
“I’ll wait for you outside, Jess. It’s too hot in here,” I turned, but her nose was nuzzled in the crook of Bradley’s neck and Mrs. H was already hurrying over to separate them as I slunk away.
I punched the metal bar on the orange wooden door and my heart plunged into the pit of my stomach when I saw him sitting there on the steps. I wanted to slither back into the school, but he’d already heard me coming.
“Hey,” he said. “Where did you come from?”
“The gym. It was, uh, too hot in there. I needed some air.”
“You were in the gym?” he looked surprised.
“Um, yeah.” I said, looking down at my satin dress and patent pumps. Where did he think I’d been?
“Oh, yeah, I guess,” he looked away quickly. “It’s just that I was kind of keeping an eye out for you. I didn’t see you once.”
I had been hiding in the shadows, watching him all night, sabotaging my own chances of dancing with the boy I’d had a crush on for two years.
We sat silent on the cool concrete steps. Bonnie Tyler‘s echoey billows escaping the gym, drifting through the empty halls and out the door I’d left unguarded. Stars faintly twinkling behind the drooping, greyish white haze in the sky; the scene a ghost of the party inside.
I’d hidden; afraid he’d hurt me, but in the end, I’d taken care of that myself.