Updated: May 26
“Wanna know a secret?” the girl asks.
“Yeah,” the other girl replies.
“Sorry. Like, promised not to tell anyone.”
“No fair! You can’t do that.”
“Just did. Hey! Give me back my vape,” Alice says. It’s Alice Green. I can tell by her voice, as sharp as shards of glass.
Sitting unseen in the bathroom stall and overhearing them, I don’t make a sound. The walls are cold metal on three sides with sloppily painted cinderblocks directly behind me, dirty tiles beneath my feet. It’s all I can do to keep my white, fluffy boa constrictor of a dress clean.
“Promise you won’t tell anybody,” Alice says.
“I promise not to tell anybody.”
“You know Michelle Halliwell?” Alice asks.
I tense at the mention of my name.
“Of course,” Julia says.
“I heard Booker might be cheating on her.”
“Way, and I bet the stupid brat wins Queen of the Snowball Dance tonight. It’s like, totally unfair. I hate this school,” Alice says.
“Like, she doesn’t deserve it,” Julia Smith says.
“I know right? And it doesn’t even snow in South Carolina.”
“This school’s stupid,” Julia says.
“Can’t believe Michelle is so popular. She looks like Princess Peach with Down syndrome,” Alice says.
“And you look like the mushroom Mario stepped on,” I say.
“What? Oh crap,” Julia says.
“Hey look at me, I’m Michelle. I’m better than everyone. I date the quarterback. I get straight As. Wait, is that a teacher? Better go kiss some butt, a French kiss right on the hole,” Alice says with a smooching sound.
“Alice shut up,” I say.
“You know it’s true. You kiss so much butt you use poop for lipstick,” Alice says.
“Shut up!” I say, louder.
“I bet Booker’s cheating on you, because you’re like a Jesus freak, and you think like, your legs made of diamonds and gold or something,” Alice says.
After fumbling with the latch, I throw open the stall door. Julia Smith gasps, her face bright red as she turns away. Alice Green glares at me and clenches her fists as I charge across the bathroom at her. When I’m in her face, I somehow resist the urge to slap her little pig head; that pug-nosed, freckle-infested mug, as plain as unleavened bread.
“Enough makeup on your face for three cheap whores, enough socks in your bra for three stinky feet; and you’re still average,” I say.
“So what?” Alice replies.
“You’re only popular when you spread your ugly-little-pig legs,” I say.
Then I pivot towards the door and march away. On my third step, I hit an invisible wall. Something tears and rips. The bottom half of my white, fluffy dress drops to the nasty bathroom floor. Suddenly, cold air chills my bare legs. Turning back, I see Alice grinning, her foot pinning my dress to the floor.
“Oh I’m so sorry. I accidentally stepped on it, and it broke,” she says with a careless shrug.
The once clean dress lays directly on the bathroom floor, where generations of filth have accumulated into a brownish tint that might have once been green. Surely, it’s contaminating my formerly lovely dress. As I bend over to pick it up, both girls scamper past me. “I’m sorry,” Julia says.
Standing half-naked and alone in a public school bathroom, I hear the steady roar of many voices. The big group of children are just down the hall in the gym, waiting to judge me. The door slams like a judge’s gavel crashing down. I cradle my torn dress against my chest as if soothing a crying baby. Unable to face the crowd and not get laughed at, I stand there in checkmate, contemplating an escape route, trying to reattach my dress, and ruining my makeup with streaking tears.
Awhile later, my best friend Sandy enters wearing her simple black dress.
“Why’d you come all the way to this bathroom man? We were looking for you,” Sandy says.
“The one by the gym was full. Tell Booker to come in here, then block the door so no one else can,” I say.
She stares at me blankly.
“Just do it. Please!”
Sandy nods then leaves.
Eventually, Booker knocks on the door. “Michelle, you there?” he asks, his voice high and smooth like an angel that shoots amorous arrows.
“Booker! Hurry up and come in here. I need your help,” I say.
“I can’t go in the girl’s room. You crazy?” he says.
“Yes, now come on or I’ll miss the announcement,” I say.
“Is anyone in there?” he asks.
“Yes, I’m in here. Come help before my fingernails grow longer than my fingers!”
“Oh my goodness,” he says as he dries my tears. I give him the bottom half of my torn dress. His eyes caress my bare legs. He gazes into my eyes and slowly wraps the torn dress back around my waist. He spins it to where it should be, his hands touching me here and there.
“If you keep your hand there, can you hold it up through a dance?” I ask.
“Are you nuts?” Booker says.
“Can you do it?”
He slowly nods his head.
Hundreds of voices haunt the gymnasium. As we stroll in, I notice for the first time that the wooden floor is hard enough to break bones, if I happen to fall… His steady hand never leaves my hip. All eyes target us as Mr. Murray ambles up to the microphone on stage and says, “In two minutes I will announce our Winter Formal King and Queen!” Everyone cheers. “Will the candidates please come forward?” Booker smiles, leads me through the dark gym with shimmering lights cascading off a disco ball, leads me through the sea of people.
I squeeze his hand. He stands by my side, six inches taller, resplendent in his shiny black tuxedo. We peer into each other’s eyes again.
“We better not win. I can’t dance now. Never mind. Let’s leave,” I say.
“You’re the most beautiful woman in the school,” Booker says.
“And the 2020 Snowball King and Queen are, Michelle Halliwell and Booker Price!”