I don’t exactly remember descending the stairs or opening the guest room’s door. My conversation with Lauren had fried my brains.
My phone buzzed. I grunted and stared at the screen as I crashed down onto the outdated, floral comforter of the guest twin bed.
“Ouch!” It felt like I fell on concrete.
I opened my texts…
Trina: Brie, I miss you boo! Call me soon, k? Love you xoxo
Nash: Hey stranger. I hope your Christmas was OK. Happy New Years! Remember to drink water and have an asprin b4 U go to bed. Helps the hangover. 🙂
Nash: BTW… pls C/M if you want to talk about anything….I wanted to text you on Xmas, but gave U space. Glad it’s over for the year?
I bit my lip. I imagined Nash’s eyes staring at the words he was texting me. His eyes were a mirage. From far away, they looked blue. It’s only when you are close you see that they were a dark, forest green with a blue band around the iris. Just the thought of being close enough to see the true shade of Nash’s eyes, sent shivers up my arms. I stared at the cinder block walls with peeling paint. The guest room was no better than a jail cell.
Me: Hey Nash. Sorry I have been MIA. I haven’t been in the best head space. Things are getting better, I think. I know it sounds pathetic, but I opened a Christmas gift. I think that is a step towards normalness. I hope you and the crew have a great New Years Eve! Tell everyone hey…. Except Billy. Give him a purple nerple for me, will you? 😉
I had to type, erase, type, and change my text a few times. I hadn’t talked to Nash since the night I had the flashback at the bar. In deep thought, I crinkled my forehead. I pressed send.
Leah barged into my room. I shrieked.
“Calm down, it’s just me,” Leah said, waltzing in and taking a seat on my bed. “Girl, shit, your bed is more comfortable than mine. Can we switch?”
“How is that possible? Mine feels like a block of cement.” I said shaking my head.
“So what did Lauren have to talk to you about,” Leah said as she leaned back.
I sucked in air. When I released it, I revealed my entire conversation with Lauren. Every word.
Leah fluttered her lashes. “That is so fuckin’ weird. Mascot Girl?”
“Shh,” I said, “you can’t tell anyone, Lauren would kill me.”
“Who is going to hear us in the dungeon?”
I snorted. “True. So what do I do?”
“Do it, Brie! What have you got to lose?”
“My dignity? Control? I don’t like being out of control in a situation. I’m sure you’ve noticed that. I would suffocate as Mascot Girl.”
“Well, don’t think of it like that. If they tell you to murder someone, would you?”
“Then pretend what they instruct you to do is only a suggestion. Because, really, it is. At the end of the day, you decide what you do. That’s just how you are. I’m like that, too!”
“Oh, I wouldn’t argue with you there. But, look, if they gift me clothes and pay my dues, then they are buying me. I don’t want to owe anyone anything.”
“Ya, I get that,” Leah said twirling a strand of her hair.
“Leah, I don’t know! This is all too strange.”
“Can I be honest?”
“You don’t come from money. Take this as your ticket out. With all that fluffing and training, she was talking about, you might land yourself a rich husband. Maybe he’ll have connections in Hollywood. Who knows?”
“Is this 1951? Do I have to find a rich husband? I’m nineteen!”
“Hell no. But I have money. It doesn’t make me happy, or skinny. But it doesn’t hurt. Come on, it’s not like you’re selling your soul here.”
“Why do I feel so icky about it then? There are so many red flags. Especially since it’s, do this and be queen of Theta, or don’t, and screw you.”
Leah rolled her eyes. “I’ve never heard of a designated popular person. Where I’m from, no one puts a crown on your head. You just snatch it!”
“Mmm, like Miss Philippians did to Miss Columbia?” I laughed at my own joke.
“Brie, you asked my advice, will ya listen to me?”
“Take the crown and run. Let Lauren and the social committee think that they are in control. You know the truth. I know the truth. You would never do anything you didn’t want to do.”
I smirked at the irony. “I would never do something against my conscience… besides become Mascot Girl.”
Leah jumped up. “Okay, Mascot Girl, I’m going to change into my black sparkle dress. It’s almost nine. Almost time to pre-game!”
I watched Leah exit my “jail cell” and I realized that I should gone with Dillon instead. When I asked Lauren if Leah and I could spend New Years with the Theta’s who didn’t go home for break, I never dreamed I’d be backed into a corner and forced to sit on some hypothetical throne.
In that moment, I knew that I was at a life-altering crossroads. To Theta or not to Theta, that is the question.
I let out a ‘hmmm’ when my phone rang with an ‘unknown’ number. I almost was afraid to answer. After the Mascot Girl definition, I didn’t want anymore surprises.
I was curious. Should I? I wondered.
“Um, hello?” I said into the phone. If I were a cat, I’d be dead.
“Er, hi, Brie. This is Tabitha.”
“What? How the hell are you? Long time no talk!”
Tabitha cleared her throat. “Good, good. Sorry I’ve dropped off the face of the earth. I just, I’m sorry.”
“Believe me, I understand.”
“I changed my number when I knew that I had to do this. I wanted it to be on my terms when I talked to you.”
“Huh? Talked to me…specifically?”
“Yes. You specifically.”
“Okay,” I said. I sat down. This sounded like a sitting down conversation.
Tabitha sighed so loud, I moved my phone away from my ear.
“Brie, I never really loved Nash.”
“What? What are you talking about?” My heart sped up.
“I’ve known for awhile, sorry.”
“It’s okay, I guess. It doesn’t affect me, truthfully.”
“There is more…it’s just, I didn’t know when and where I could tell you. If I could even tell you this.”
“Tell me! For Christ’s sake.”
“This is way harder than they told me it would be!”
Tabitha was sniffling.
I took a few, cleansing deep breaths. “I’m sorry, Tabitha, I shouldn’t have yelled. I’ve just had a very…weird…day.”
“Oh no, this is a bad time then.”
In my best cooing voice, I said, “Whatever it is, I can take it.”
Tabitha let out a wail before a heavy downpour of crying.
I opened my mouth to speak and snapped it shut.
Is the universe playing a game on me? Am I sleeping? Am I dead? I squinted my eyes.
“Okay, Tabitha. Shh, it’s okay. You loved me, like, loved-loved me?”
“Yes. I’m gay.”
“I’m sorry I made things weird between us.”
“Why are you sorry? You are what you are. I’m, um, flattered.”
Was that okay? I wondered. It was easier when Trina told me that she was Trina and not Thomas. I just gave her a whack and told her that I already knew that, what did she get on the Alegbra test. Tabitha’s outing was a shock.
“I can’t speak for Nash. But. I think our relationship revolved around you because we were both so in love with you.”
Now this had gone too far.
“I’m sorry, I can’t take this…” My thumb hovered above the red end call button.
“Stop. Listen. I don’t know how we got to that place. I’m not even sure I knew what was happening until I removed myself from the situation. I’ve gotten some new friends here in New York and a lot of clarity.”
“Have you told Nash?”
“No, but he’s next on my list.”
“Do me a favor, and don’t tell him you think he loved me.””
Because I loved your boyfriend while he loved you and you loved me in some weird, twilight zone scenario. Now I still love him and he’s with Jess who I super hate but super like.
“Just don’t. But thank you for feeling comfortable enough to tell me your feelings. Like I said, I am flattered.”
“And, I hope that this helps you. You know, getting this off of your chest.”
“Oh, God, it does. I felt like I have been hiding behind this pretend version of myself, who was a homecoming queen and cheerleader and dating the star wrestler. You have no idea what it’s like to just, have to be someone else. Someone that others want you to be.”
Yes I do! That’s exactly what Lauren wants! “Ya , Tabitha. You’re right, I don’t know what that’s like.”
“Okay, I gotta go. Shawna’s calling. Happy New Years!”
“Happy New Years.”
I let out a frustrated squeal.
The conversation had already started to replay in my head. I sighed. I grabbed my suitcase and zipped it open. My little box of keepsakes caught my eye. I remembered putting all the My Little Pony stickers on it like it was yesterday. Sometimes, on New Years, I rummage through the box and remember. This time, the box would remain shut. Anymore emotion, Leah would have to scrape my body parts off basement walls.
My phone lit up. I ignored it.
I shook out my hair and threw it back over my shoulders. I decided, right then and there, to have a goodnight. I did deserve it after a flashback free, scar free, starving free Christmas. I even opened a gift.
I slid into my Goodwill 50% off sale, life changing discovery. A rose-gold sequined form fitting dress. I happened to have black nylons from a school play, and a pair of scuffed jimmy-choo Leah hand me downs.
I looked into the mirror hanging over my dresser. It had a large, crooked break. The crack made my face appear to be split into two. I stared at my double face. After Tabitha just told me about how difficult it was to wear a mask, I was almost positive that I couldn’t be Mascot Girl.
But if I am not a Kansas girl, or a Theta, who the hell am I? Nobody. That is okay. That’s been Brie Merritt so far… an empty vessel who hides behind roles. But maybe I don’t want that anymore. I don’t know, and neither does the mirror. I thought.
I tilted my head, and gazed at my double reflection. I ran my fingers through my pale blonde locks. My lips curved into a smile. In that goddess dress, I did look like an ‘it’ girl. Maybe I could be her if I tried.
I carefully walked next door to Leah’s room. The heels were death stilts. I knocked and turned the knob.
“You look hot!” Leah said as she fastened her diamond earrings in her lobes.
“Thanks, you too. So Sigma? Stay in?”
“Who cares. We’re doing a shot! Grab the malibu!”
Leah already had two shot glasses sitting next to her bottle. I carefully poured to cups of delicious, tanning lotion smelling, poison.
Leah held up her tiny glass over her head. The Malibu sloshed over the edge a little.”Here’s to friends, here’s to foes, here’s to sweethearts, here’s to hoes. Dancing on tables, No song unsung, tonight is the night we are forever young. Cheers!”
“Cute! Cheers!” I clicked Leah’s glass and threw back the shot. I slammed it on the dresser.
“Now that you are all relaxed…” Leah said flashing a stiff smile.
“Oh God, now what?”
“Well, my ex best friend from high school called me. Came out of the closet. Was madly in love with me. Then all the Mascot Girl shit. This better be good, Leah McCloud.”
“She what?” Leah shook her head and poured more malibu in my shot glass. “Here, girl. You need this. That is so crazy!”
“I always thought she loved Nash…and you kind of know that I like him, so you can see how this is like: I can’t even right now.”
Leah poured another shot. “Here, drink this one, too.”
“What do you have to tell me?”
“Nothing bad! It’s just, I didn’t think it was a big deal. When you never called Dillon, he texted me, asking why you didn’t call. I said why don’t you ask her, and he said, ‘oh, she’s playing hard to get’?”
“Mmmhm. So he asked about your New Year’s Eve plans. I honestly didn’t think anything about it. At all. Whatsoever. So I told him that we were coming to BU early from winter break to party with the Theta’s.”
“I guess he thought that was my way of hinting to him to come back to campus. Because he’s here. He said he has an two hundred dollar bottle of champagne, a box of Delafees, and a bouquet of lilies that he dropped infront of the house with your name on it. I didn’t know about this, he texted when I was changing!”
“Holy shit…what is happening. What’s Delafee?”
“Um, these Swiss chocolates…nevermind. You don’t want to know.”
“He’s not upstairs anymore, is he?”
“No. But he invited us all to Lambda. All of us! Brie, we got to go. The other Theta’s will be pumped, I swear, these guys are like, fucking Greek Gods. Think of all the brownie points!”
“Nope. I can’t think. Not anymore. I’m going upstairs and getting that champagne. Right now, it’s all about the champagne and delafoo.”
“Pshh, fancy-schmancy. They probably have gold in them or something.” I rolled my eyes.
“Leah! Do not tell me they have fucking gold in them!”
I made an bizarre growl laugh that I’m sure made me sound insane. I turned on my heel and stomped up stairs.
I rolled my eyes when I saw who was standing at the front door with the wicker basket filled with King Midas’s snacks.
Lauren raised an eyebrow as she passed the basket to me. A few other upper classmen sisters were half ready, in cocktail dresses, fuzzy slippers, and curlers. They were whispering excitedly.
I couldn’t help but sneer when I accepted the basket.
“The cards says…Dillon McCloud?” Lauren said, her face awash with I-told-you-so.
“Ladies,”I said with a thin smile. “Who would like to accompany Leah and I to Lambda house? Mr. McCloud extended us an open invitation.”
“Seriously?” Aaloka said. She was the Indian immigrant with dark, lustrous skin, unfortunate pot belly, and uneven teeth. “I haven’t gone there yet! Lauren never got us all invited!”
Lauren met my eyes and gave me a curtsy.
I started back to my room and fought a smile. I hadn’t been on a date since my ex-Jesse, who cheated on me while becoming a burnout. Even then, the most he ever bought me was movie tickets. This Dillon guy sure aimed to impress. And if I can click with him, maybe I could be ‘it’. Mascot Girl.
A whispering voice inside my skull reminded me about spontaneous flashbacks, obsession, food, cutting, a blood-soaked mattress in Rivertown’s dump…. I reached inside and pushed my skeletons inside the closet and locked the door. Just for the night. I needed a break. I earned it.
I opened a fucking present!