Posted on: March 25, 2013
"Nobody's going to be looking at you," Mom reminds me.
She's not saying it to be mean. This is a mom-catchphrase. She means, "Stop stressing about superficial crap that doesn't matter." She means, "To me, you’re beautiful, and anyone who thinks otherwise isn’t worth it." She means, "We don't have time for primping because your brother has scouts at eight, so hurry up." I have known my mother for twelve years now, and we are practically telepathic.
The party's at the country club. Mom drives McKenna and me in our family’s awful conversion van with its scratchy gray curtains. McKenna lets me use her body glitter on the ride over.
The country club is the only place to have a party. It's classy. Adult. People's dads play golf here, and if you eat in the dining room, the chicken fingers come with secret-recipe honey mustard. We enter the social hall and set our gifts in the pile. I got Chelsea a lotion set that smells like Juniper Breeze. I think I got it right, this time. I learned my lesson the hard way last month when hand sanitizers started getting big. Mom took me to Bath & Body Works, and I picked Mountain Air because I thought it smelled nice. Audrey, who is popular, looked sorry for me when I took it out of my anorak pocket at break.
"That’s a boy scent," Audrey said. "You should go back and get Kitchen Lemon or Cucumber Melon."
I tried to give Mountain Air to my dad, but he said it smelled like Lysol and teen angst. But tonight, I'm in the clear. Juniper Breeze just came out last month, and it’s definitely girly.
The room is dark, and Chelsea’s parents are tucked out of sight in a corner while the rest of us mill around. Everyone in the grade is invited. This is an unspoken rule at our school, since our grade only has forty-two people in it. That’s why I’m here even though Chelsea exists in a remote social stratosphere.
McKenna and I are on the same social level, the bottom, because we both have glasses and weird hair, but McKenna is slightly higher up than me because she’s skinny. McKenna doesn’t eat anything and is always double-checking her skinniness by seeing if she can wrap her arms around her stomach to grab her elbows. McKenna is also a step up because she’s not wearing a cape cardigan. She’s wearing an embroidered peasant top from Limited Too, so I guess it makes sense that Christopher asks her to dance.
At country club birthdays, they only play slow songs. Except for the Macarena, we have no idea what to do when the fast ones come on. The slow ones, we know the rules. The boy puts his hands on your waist and you put your arms around his neck. Then you step-touch from one foot to the other until the song ends.
I have slow danced exactly one time, in fifth grade with Danny Dalton. We were going out at that point, which basically consisted of him holding doors open for me. Sometimes passing notes. He got me a Beanie Baby for my birthday, but then he started to like Audrey, so he had his friend tell me we were breaking up.
I’m always queasy when I get invitations to dance birthdays. If I don’t go, I’ll miss everything. But if I go, I know I’ll spend the whole time sitting in a folding chair, like now, waiting on no one to ask me to dance.
Out in the middle of the floor, Chelsea basks in birthday girl glory. She is slow dancing with Nick much closer than the rules allow, but no one says anything because they are in love. McKenna and Christopher are on the edge of the group, looking everywhere but at each other. I’m swinging my feet back and forth, buttoning and unbuttoning my stupid cardigan, sipping Hi-C mixed with ginger ale.
Just then, I see Audrey whispering to John Canneto over by the cake table. She’s gesturing towards me. John isn’t in our grade—he’s older—and he is fine. He’s invited because Chelsea has a crush on him whenever Nick is getting on her nerves. And now he’s walking towards me. Me.
“Hey,” says John Canneto.
“Hey, John,” I say.
“So…you want to dance?”
Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” is playing. I’d be a complete idiot to say no, even though I know he’s only asking because Audrey is trying to follow the advice on her What Would Jesus Do bracelet. All night, people will note her virtue.
“Okay,” I say.
We step-touch. I lock eyes with McKenna and mouth “JOHN CANNETO CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS” and she mouths “WHAT’S GOING ON” until Christopher looks at her funny.
At the end of the song, Chelsea comes up to me and John Canneto and hands him a cup of punch, which accidentally spills on my sweater. Maybe not accidentally. I spend the rest of the night waiting for John to ask me for a second dance, but he doesn’t. No one else asks either. McKenna wants to know what John’s hands felt like on my waist, and I tell her they weren’t really touching anything but the fabric of my sweater, but it was totally magical.
Mom picks us up after the party, and we giggle the whole way home. Back at the house, I throw my cardigan into the laundry. I hope the punch stain never comes out.
Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Dot Dannenberg
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