I thumbed through my closet and let out a little squeal. It was like looking into a candy dish. There were so many different colors and a lingering scent of department store newness. I had to pinch myself.
“Leah, this is like, the best day of my life,” I glanced back at Leah. She was fifteen pounds lighter than the day the social committee finally convinced me to become Mascot Girl.
Six months had never whooshed by so fast.
“Clothes are a girl’s best friend. Screw diamonds,” Leah said scrolling through her phone.
I released a sigh, unsure if Leah was being sarcastic or not.
“I’ve never had this many nice things.” I pulled out a slinky black cocktail dress. I ran my thumb over the thick, expensive fabric. “I think I never cared about clothing because I couldn’t afford it. But now that I have a new wardrobe for free…”
“Lucky,” Leah said without looking away from her phone.
I hung the dress back on the rack. I padded over to my bed and flopped down. It was still a suprising sensation of being consumed. The Mascot Girl’s bedroom had a memory foam mattress that took some getting used to.
“”Leah, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Leah snipped. She rose from the bed and glanced my way. “I need to go workout.”
“Ok, do you want a workout buddy?” I asked with hopeful eyes.
Leah shook her said and waved once before she exited my room.
Oh well, she isn’t going to ruin this moment for me. I thought. I nestled under my covers. I allowed my face to melt into a smile and cleared out my mind. Dr. Jones had suggested awhile back that I should focus on something that made me happy and visualize it. He said that it was possible to rewire your brain. But it took practice.
I thought of the bowing on stage during the curtain call. I pictured laying poolside at the McClouds’ country club all summer. I imagined my new closet filled with designer clothes. I felt my smile fade. In the corner of my closet floor was that little memory box.
Get out of my happy thoughts, you fucking box. I’m rewiring here! My eyes flew open and I propped myself up on my elbows. I could see the box from my bed. It was like it was watching me, making sure that I wasn’t getting too content.
I slipped out of my bed and stomped towards the closet. I am getting rid of you, once and for all! I got on my hands and knees and crawled into the closet. Just then, a memory flooded through, like a river after a damn burst. I remembered sitting in my closet when I was a little girl and covering my ears to drown out the yelling. Our walls were so cardboard thin, I could hear it anyway. There was no use.
Memory floods aren’t flashbacks because I know it’s only a memory and not happening. It was like watching play in my mind. The script was burned in my brain with sizzling hot iron rod.
Mommy- (screams) Maybe if you didn’t drink all of our money, we wouldn’t have had to move back to fucking Rivertown! Maybe if you worked steady, like a real man. It’s all your fault.
Daddy- (screams/slurs) That’s right, blame me. Your actin’ ain’t done shit for us.
Mommy- You made me leave when my career was heating up. I was in a fucking movie. Now find a way to get me back there! Before I explode all over this shit town.
Daddy- We can live in a house that my parents left us, for free, or pay thousands a month on rent…. for a job you ain’t never gonna get!
Mommy-(throws something that shatters against the wall) You did this to me! You got my pregnant with Brianne when I was in a movie. A movie!
Daddy-Hey there, Rosalee. No one knows you’re in a movie. Maybe you should tell the whole town for the for the 1,000th time.
Mommy- Fuck you, you piece of hillbilly shit.
Daddy- And don’t go and be pointin no fingers at me. I told you to get rid of it the second you told me you was knocked up. Now you gone and got knocked up, again. I dunno if this one is mine. You ain’t nothin’ but the town bike anyways.
I shook my head and picked up the box. I creaked it open and pulled out another one of my dark objects. My cheap, big, black glasses that I wore for six months. I cocked my head as I looked at them. Six months ago, I decided to become something new. Maybe it’s a sign that I should get rid of these glasses. Six months and six months. It had to mean something. Right?
I grinded my teeth as I balled my hand around each lens. The sound of plastic snapping accelerated my heartbeat. I remembered when Trina, who was Thomas, took off my sunglasses and looked me in the eyes for the first time. He said my eyes were the prettiest shade of blue he’d ever seen. Pain thumped in my chest to the beat of my heart. I got up and headed towards the waste paper basket next to my white desk. I tossed the glasses and they clunked against the metal bin.
I charged back to the box. This is it. Fuck you, box of pain. I’m in Theta house, now. You have no power here. I threw it into the trash as hard as I could. The lid flung open and I saw the rattle, the razor, and the three other pieces of terror. I back pedaled towards the door and then slammed the door behind me. I walked a few steps, holding onto the wall.
“Brie, are you okay?” One of my sisters passing by asked.
I offered a weak smile and straightened my spine. With my Lauren Cunnigham walk, I headed for the stairs and floated down several steps when I stopped dead in my tracks. When I was gone, would our house maid be around and empty our garbages? I had only moved in a few days prior, and didn’t know the schedule the maid worked.
I ran back to my room breaking the sound barrier. I dumped the trash and panted from my high speed dash. I stared at my things and apologized to them by scooping them up and placing them back inside the closet. This time, I slid the door shut. That way, I wouldn’t have to see it watching me.
But I still needed it to exist for some unknown masochistic reason.
“You really don’t have to do my hair,” I said, feeling guilt tickling beneath my skin.
“You’ll get used to it,” Daisy said. “Lauren was the same way. Then she got accustomed to it. My mom is a hairdresser and I enjoy it. So just sit back and relax.”
I stared at my electric blue eyes, highlighted by the dark brown shadow above thick black lashes. My lips curved at my reflection. I had a vanity in my room that I already planned on stealing whenever I moved out of Theta. It was a garage sale find, they told me. The sisters made it just for Lauren. They spray painted it our color, teal, and then reupholstered the seat with fabric that had our Greek letters. There were big, Hollywood style, bulbs circling the mirror, and a drawer filled with designer makeup.
Daisy hummed along to the music that she had streaming through her portable bluetooth speaker. It was set on 90s pop, and Jesus must have been the DJ, because every song that played was amazing.
“Are you excited about your date?” Daisy asked.
I glanced at her face. She was a Chinese American, and one of the prettier girls at Theta. Especially when her mouth was closed.
“Kind of. He has something planned and wouldn’t tell me what. I hate surprises.”
Daisy smiled, revealing her horse-like gums and tiny teeth. She pinned back a loose braid and sprayed it. She ran her fingers through the tight, curling iron curls, and produced soft, flowing waves.
Being touched was growing on me. Especially having my hair played with.
“Just have fun with it. Okay, Brie, you are all done. You look stunning.”
“Thanks,” I said, with a grin. I agreed with Daisy, I did sort of look stunning. They had given me a teeth whitening kit. Not that my teeth were ever bad, but now they were brilliantly white, and contrasted against my red glamour lipstick.
“Tell me all about it when you get home, mmk?” Daisy gave my shoulders a little squeeze and turned to shuffle out of my room.
I fluffed my hair and gazed at the transformed Brie in the mirror. I was already beginning to understand what life would be as Mascot Girl. I had concerns that a majority of the sisters would hate me. I worried that I would be taken as a joke. There were so many ways that Mascot Girl could be a disaster.
There were a few haters, but I was mostly adored. I was like their little doll.
I walked down the foyer, to be sent right back upstairs. All the girls at home agreed that I needed to make Dillon wait in the foyer, and walk down the stairs like Anastasia. I rolled my eyes at their giggles, but understood the impact of a great entrance. Even though it’s not like Dillon hadn’t seen me before. He’d even seen things weren’t ever seen, even by me.
When the sisters cleared me to descend the stairs, I felt that nervous stage rush again. I focused on my breathing and imagined what an unobtainable, level ten, knockout would do. I let the palm of my hand float over the railing like a dove. Each step was flowy and graceful. Don’t trip, don’t be yourself.
When my eyes met Dillon’s, I felt as if I were in a movie. Dillon was in a sharp suit and was wearing a crimson silk tie. His face melted when he saw me. It took a lot of will power to keep my cheeks relaxed and my lips curved in a Mona Lisa smile. Am I smiling, or not? I didn’t want Dillon to know how giddy he made me feel. I realized something as I continued my long, dramatic stair decent: pretty is power.
When I arrived at the bottom, Dillon reached for both of my hands and brought them both to his lips for sweet kisses. He let our hands fall, but kept our fingers locked. Off to the side was a cluster of snickering sorority sisters in pajamas and slippers.
“Brianne Merritt. Before I met you, beauty was a word I tossed around carelessly. Now that I’m with you, that word is reserved for you and you alone. Nothing else compares.”
Dillon leaned forward and kissed my lips. I heard a chorus of “awe” from my nosy sisters. He tasted fresh and minty. He pulled back, and I quickly attempted to rub the red lipstick off of his lip. It left a pinkish stain.
“Sorry, you might be stuck wearing Dolce & Gabana lipstick.” I batted my eyelashes. “In shade: ‘The Devil’.”
“I got to kiss your lips,” Dillon said, placing his hands on the small of my back. “It was worth the public scrutiny.”
Dillon guided me to the front door. “Ladies,” Dillon said winking at my sisters, “I’ll have her back at a decent hour.”
There was a response of chatter and giggles.
“Your chariot awaits, princess,” Dillon said, opening the door. A shining white stretch limo was parked in the front of Theta. I gasped.
I followed Dillon to the back door. He shooed the driver away, insisting that he open the door and assist me inside. Once inside, he put his arm around my back, and placed his other hand on my knee. Thank God I shaved. My inner voice commented.
“I have something for you,” Dillon said, so close to my face, that I could feel his mint breath on my cheek. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a little red box. My eyes widened. Don’t worry, earrings come in boxes that size. Please be earrings. Please. He wouldn’t propose! Right?
“Go on,” Dillon said. “Open it.”
I opened the box carefully, as to not break a nail. I sat back. I was grateful that I emptied my bladder before leaving, because I certainly would have peed.
“Dillon McCloud!” I shrieked. “This is beautiful. Is it really for me?”
I picked up the broach and admired it, shimmering in my palm. It was the Comedy and Tragedy masks with dozens of glittering jewels.
“It’s 2 karat total weights. All diamonds. I had a jeweler tailor it special for you. Flip it over.”
All my love- Dillon McCloud
My lunch tossed around as I stared at the frightening four letter L word. We hadn’t exchanged it yet, and I was light years away from being ready.
I gulped. “T-thank you, Dilly. It’s perfect.” I sealed my gratitude with a kiss.
“You are perfect. You needed the perfect six month celebration gift.” His hand returned to my knee. He ran the tips of his fingers across my skin, and I felt goose bumps sprout in response.
“I don’t get nervous about much,” Dillon said, “but I’m a little curious about your reaction to this one.”
“There’s more?” I felt my face drain of color. I could just open this limo door and tuck and roll. I have options.
“Let me first explain. I asked my father what he thinks, and he adores you, so I hope that it didn’t skew his advice giving.”
“Okay…” If I hold my breath long enough, I’ll turn blue and pass out.
“I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’m a bit old fashioned. Courting was done better in the past. Back when men were gentleman.”
Who is this guy, seriously? He’s got to be an alien. Or a hologram projected from some young girl’s fantasy.
“There used to be a tradition of a class ring as a symbol of going steady.”
Is this the surprise? We are in a time machine limo and traveling back to the good ol’ days when women were houseslaves and addicted to valium?
“Brie, would you wear my ring?”
Dillon reached into his pocket again. There, pinched between his two fingers, was the prettiest ring that I’d ever seen.
My jaw dropped. I plucked the ring from Dillons fingers and held it up to my eyes. I had to blink a few times. The center stone was a shining salmon colored gem and was surrounded with a halo of accent diamonds. The sides had Dillon’s Greek letters in rose gold. Under the letters, there were two feminine bands of diamonds that twisted down the side. The underside of the band was sold pinkish gold. I crossed my eyes to read the delicate cursive.
I slid the ring on my right ring finger, and held up my hand. The center jewel was big enough to be jaw dropping, but not gaudy. It fit well in that, it wasn’t too tight, but wasn’t falling off, either. It looked like a crown upon my lengthy, slender, French tipped, finger.
Dillion took my hand and inspected his gift. “It fits. It must be a sign I fit you.”
“This ring is worth more than I am. Like literally. Put all my possessions together and then sell my body to science, and this ring is worth way more.”
“It’s a morganite. It is a precious stone, but it’s not as rare as a diamond. That is reserved for your left hand. I mean, well, you know what I mean.”
“I never thought I would own any kind of jewel, period.”
“Well,” I said, finding it hard not to look away from the ring, “growing up I didn’t have much. My treasures were people. Not things.”
I felt a pin prick as I heard my admission.
“I see,” Dillon said, running his hand through my hair. “I want you to know that this ring is a promise that I will take care of you. You won’t struggle anymore now that you are mine.”
“I wouldn’t call it a ‘struggle’ per say,” I said meeting Dillon’s eyes. Why the fuck are you defending your poverty! Shutup, Brie.
“Oh?” Dillon raised his eyebrow.
“I wasn’t always comfortable, but I had the love of my friends. I told you about Trina.”
“Yes, the transgender girl who moved into Valentine Hall this fall?”
“Yes. She saved my life.”
“Oh? In what way?”
“She just did, okay?”
“No-no, I’m sorry, Dilly, I don’t know why I said it that way. Anyway, I had my next door neighbor I told you about, too.”
“Yes, he sounded like a great guy. Is he still in Kansas?”
“Yep. He’s in trade school but wants to get into a university. So he did, after many attempts, get some decent SAT scores, but hasn’t applied anywhere yet. I don’t know why. It’s been his dream forever to become a dentist like his dad.”
“What a terrible job…looking at people’s mouths?”
“ He would be a really good dentist. Ya know? Everyone hates going to the dentist, he’d be the type to give you a little bit more laughing gas and tell some crappy jokes while he cuts open your gums.”
I beamed at the mental image and smile dissolved when I saw Dillon studying my face.
“You’ll have to tell him about the ring,” Dillon said in stern tone, rocking the ring back and forth on my finger.
For whatever reason, my heart dropped at the thought. I didn’t want Nash to know that Dillon and I were officially together so I never got around to telling him. I was sure he saw it on Facebook, but he never brought it up during the rare times that we FaceTimed or texted. I hadn’t been back to Rivertown since my Christmas break. I hadn’t seen my dad or Nash in person for an uncomfortable amount of time. I stared at the twinkling rock on my finger and it finally hit me. I ran away. For real. And I was staring at my new life and future in the form of a salmon colored gemstone.
“Will you tell your father that you are officially spoken for?” Dillon said a bit gentler. He squeezed my hand.
“What are the rules on that? Were you supposed to ask him?”
Dillon shook his head. “Only for engagement. And honestly, I would never ask your father that. I can’t respect a man who was neglectful to his daughter. There is no excuse. None.”
“If it comes to that point in the future,” Dillon said stroking my cheek, “I will speak with him, but I won’t ask him for your hand. I’ll tell him that I’m going to treat his little girl the way he should have all along. Like the princess she is.”
That was the last straw. I lunged into Dillon’s arms kissed him in a way I knew would drive him insane.
He had to tell the limo to drive around for another hour because we arrived at the restaurant before he was done with me.
Dillon ordered me sushi and I was glad for it. I think I saw his head pop off his neck when I admitted that I never had it. It turned out, he was practically an expert. I was an instant fan, the moment the seaweed paper slid over my tongue.
I hid behind an ivory cloth napkin when I took a piece of sushi into my mouth. My cheeks felt like chipmunk’s cheeks, and it didn’t seem very “Mascot Girl”.
Those were my last thoughts before the sky crumbled into sand crashed down to bury me. They say you will always remember that moment as a before and after. My phone vibrated under the table and I ignored it. Then, it buzzed again and I reached down and sent whoever to voicemail. When I kept receiving the calls, I asked Dillon, with rosy cheeks, to excuse me.
I took my phone outside with me. Where we were didn’t seem like a place you answer cell phones. Our dinners combined were probably worth more than my house. I rubbed my arms as I looked at my phone. It was my grandparents. It wasn’t odd that my grandparents would call; I talked to them about once a month. We never we as close, but that was because my grandpa hated my dad. It drove a wall between us when I refused to move in with them time and time again. I should have moved in with them, I knew that when I was a little girl, just as much as I knew it as an adult. But I couldn’t leave my dad. He needed me.
I called back my grandparents’ number and I my grandma picked up after three rings. I could hardly understand her through her hysteria. Finally, I understood what was happening.
The world went black. I dropped to the asphalt, and felt the skin on my bare knees tear open with sharp little rocks. My phone slipped from my grip as I fell and sailed to the ground. The screen split into winding cracks. I hardly noticed the disturbed expressions all around me as I screamed.