My parents are waiting downstairs and I am late. I quickly put an earring in and look in the mirror. I don't know why it took me so long to get ready. It usually takes me little. I wonder what has changed, and even though deep inside I probably know, I won't ever admit it to myself.
Janie calls up. Come on, I'll be late! She screams. I wonder how she feels, if this is some sort of climax for her. All that practice and devotion-and for what? A stupid concert in which she didn't even get the solo. And I'm still a little angry, but I'm much more upset.
Come on, Gracie! My mother calls. My mother and my father and Janie and my grandfather and his girlfriend are all downstairs, all waiting for me. I grab my purse and peruse the room for my cell phone. The floor is littered with clothing. Why did it take me so much effort to figure out what to wear?
My phone rings. I follow the sound to a pile of clothes, beneath which it is hidden.
"Hello?" I stutter without looking at the caller ID.
"Hey." The voice on the opposite end of the receiver sounds like a memory from a long-gone dream.
"How did you get my number?"
"Caroline gave it to me," Maxim replies.
I hang up and feel cold. I don't know what just happened. I dial Caroline.
"Hello?" she asks, her voice surprised.
"Why did you give Maxim my phone number?"
Gracie! My parents scream from downstairs. I scream back to hold on.
"Of course, you call me once in two months and it's about Maxim."
"Why did you?"
"Well, he said you did."
"Maybe like-a million years ago."
"He asked me. I don't know."
"Are you two-"
"We two are nothing."
"Oh." She giggles.
Then there's silence.
"Did he really break up with Jessica?" I finally ask. It had been on my mind for too long.
"Ah!" she exclaims, as if suddenly everything is explained, "thought so."
"I mean-" she continues. "it was so obvious he never really liked that chick."
"So how come he stayed with her for so long?"
"'Cause guys are stupid. And I'm guessing you finally-"
"I finally what?"
"Oh, come on, it was so obvious to all of us how into you the poor kid was."
"What?" Seriously, what?
"Are you kidding me?" she laughs as if there was some running private joke of which I was never made part. "John's party, first time I saw him since forever, he would not shut up asking about you. And then that time we went to the movies and he practically forced John and me off together to be the one to drive you home."
No way. No-no. Why, if he really did-why wouldn't he just tell me?
"And then that get together at my house where he hooked up with Jessica," Caroline continues, "he begged me to invite you. I wouldn't have, you know. You told me yourself not to put you and Jessica in the same room. And after you went home, he left maybe fifteen minutes later."
"You couldn't have told me?"
"He asked me not to. And it wasn't any of my business."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, of all the-" and I can't even really admit it to myself, I have to squeeze it out of me, "of all the girls in the world he could have-why me?"
She laughs, "I don't know. Guys are stupid, I guess."
When I hang up the phone, I feel like something inside of me has expanded and I am about to float off the ground. Boys in pre-school, when they have a crush on a girl, have the tendency to pull her hair or tease her. If stereotypes are correct, and boys will be boys, then is it possible that it was immaturity that drove him to behave the way he did? Immaturity mixed with vanity and-depression, I guess. But even as I look into the mirror now, knowing what I know, what I can't understand is not why he was cruel but why he liked me. What was there about me? I was ordinary, worse than ordinary probably. He had said himself I was not his type. So, why?
"Gracie, we're leaving without you!" I hear Janie scream from downstairs. I am back in conscience again.
We drive to the concert hall and I can't help feeling like an idiot. Ani Difranco is on the radio and I have doubt in my heart. What makes people love each other? Vulnerability, circumstance, stupid old luck. Or maybe destination, or maybe a realization that in all of the world there is someone who understands you.
Well, what if I loved Maxim? What then? How could I justify it, explain it? There were so many superficial reasons. Maybe out of hatred for the world, out of the sheepish realization that-hey, at least someone wants me, someone who doesn't have to want me, who would be better off not wanting me. Or maybe I'm just a masochist, maybe all people are secretly masochists, or he was a "bad boy" and I had a thing for bad boys, or men who prove me wrong, or men who hurt me. Maybe I wasn't content with being serene. Maybe I even only started to think of him a certain way when I found out he did. Maybe it all made sense and it wasn't love at all, and when is it ever love anyway? We all have sordid purposes and empty intents and material incentives. And how could I love him, really, if we never had so much as a decent conversation.
Which, of course, was not to say that we did not converse. It was always painful, but on a certain inexplicable level I couldn't help liking it. If only because he stood for everything I abhorred; if only because he was the one thing I could never have that was so close, and so exotic, and so dangerous, and that made me feel so human-so full-so right.
And there has to be at least a minimal charm to a man who can make you feel like a woman, who can make you excited, genuinely excited, no matter the connotation of the word, as opposed to a man who only fits the idea of romance, who doesn't really measure up to the ideal image you create, who makes you feel like everything you've ever felt for him was an exercise in futility. Or maybe I'm just overcomplicating it-maybe-
"So, Grace," my grandfather's girlfriend addresses me in the familiar way, "is there a boy?"
I turn my eyes up at her and am about to discard the question altogether when suddenly an answer comes to my lips. "Yes, there is a boy."
Janie turns to me and my mother turns to me and my grandfather turns to me and my dad would as well if he wasn't driving. She has an expression on her face, as if she wasn't expecting my response, as if she didn't really plan any follow up questions.
"What's he like?" my grandfather asks.
"He's-" I think to myself. What is he like? An asshole, a liar, cruel, cold, horrible, back-stabbing-
"He's handsome," I find myself saying, "and clever, and funny, and unique, and complicated and-" I would continue, there are many more adjectives, but I think they got the gist. Janie smiles at me. Sometimes I think she knows me better than I know myself.
We enter the building, a small concert hall. The parents mumble to each other and pile into seats. We arrived quite late, and before I know it, the light dims and the concert begins. Damon comes onstage to introduce himself. Anita stands to the side with a proud smile. They do such important work, according to Damon. He is so excited to be a part of these bright young stars' bright young futures. I think if I roll my eyes further, they will get stuck that way.
The stage is cleared, and there is darkness, and then Liliya appears in a yellow dress with sparkling glitter embroidered on it. Fine, she looks pretty. From far away she even seems a little less evil.
And then Maxim, in black. Tight long-sleeved shirt and perfect muscles, like a painting of the perfect male. He takes her by the waist and they glide and move their body parts against each other, and the yellow of her dress and his energized movements blend and the jazzy music plays and my heart-
They are off the stage, and then there is a group of little kids doing something not unlike the Macarena. For fifteen fucking minutes. I think I'm going to go crazy soon. I excuse myself and stroll down the isle and out of the door, into the lobby. I had originally wanted to go into the bathroom, but I see Maxim standing there. He stares into my eyes. I stare back, not knowing what to say, what to do. He turns and walks away.
When I come back, a new group in colorful outfits has appeared on the stage. My mother turns to me, "Where have you been? You almost missed Janie."
I look straight ahead. Among all those gawky little princesses, I see her. Pretty in pink. Confident, happy. It seems as if nothing really matters to her, none of it. And I'm suddenly so happy for her, and I wish so much that I was like her, that I could move on, be content with what I've been dealt, even if it isn't the solo, even if it won't ever be the solo, be content because no matter what-no matter what-it's better than nothing.
The music starts and they move in different directions. Their line flaps open and they sway back and forth to a song from Hairspray that I'd heard before, when I took Janie to her practice. It seems more fueled now, more intense, more meaningful. And Janie is the best and she sways her arms and looks like a swan and before I know it-she's at the front and all the girls are doing the twist around her and-
I think they call that a solo!
I turn to my mother and she looks as surprised as I am. No way. No way! There is genuine glee on her face, I feel like warmth is radiating from her, I feel it even from so far away. My stomach flips with happiness.
In your bitchface, Liliya, the evil side of me chatters, in you face!
There is a reception after the dance at the studio. I had told my parents that I wouldn't go. But I changed my mind. I'm going. I'm going.
There is a long table with chips and cookies and ice cream and tacky hors d'oeuvres. Soda, plastic cups. Parents talk and laugh around me. Little girls run by and marvel at themselves in mirrors, their faces in clown make up, dreaming to grow up and look this way every day.
"Can you believe it?" Janie continues to gush to me. She has been for the past hour. "Can you believe Nicole didn't show up? They put me in at the last minute! Can you believe it?"
"Yes, yes," I say. She turns to see Anita and runs away, and I see her in the distance continuing to gush. Silly Janie. I suddenly realize that I am alone.
I stand with a cup, my usual style, but immensely satisfied.
"Are you happy?" I hear a voice behind me.
I turn. It's Liliya. I'm suddenly aware that this is the first time she ever addressed me.
"Yeah, as a matter of fact I am," I say, "Why do you ask?"
"So, out of curiosity, what did you have to do to have your scrawny sister get the lead?"
Wow. No she didn't. All of the things, all of the things, all of them, those things, that I've always wanted to say to Maxim but couldn't think of come up and out, and my vocal cords vibrate and-
"What can you mean?" I say sarcastically.
"I mean-handjob, blowjob?"
I raise my eyebrow.
"For Max," she continues, "was it a quickie in the bathroom? I know you're very capable. I've heard all about it."
I'm not really sure where she's going with it. I decide to play along.
"From someone like you, I should take it as a compliment."
"Excuse me?" she hisses.
"I'd be offended if you had only the nicest things to say."
"So what was it that you had to do for Maxim to take the lead away from Nicole at the last minute?"
Maxim did what?
"My sister got what she deserved. And so did yours."
"Excuse me?" she hisses again.
"Well, when I was having that quickie in the bathroom, I couldn't help noticing all those lipstick stains on his-well, I don't want to be vulgar."
"His dick?" she screams angrily. Too loudly. An elderly couple nearby turns. I spot Maxim across the floor. He turns to me for a second, looking a little bit surprised, or- He walks through the door into the lobby.
"I was thinking ass, but I guess I left it pretty open to interpretation."
"Bitch," she spits, "Jess was right about you."
I need to get away. I need to find Maxim. I need to talk to him, tell him-
"It would hurt my feelings more if Jess was wrong."
"And I assume the reason he broke up with her was that you are a slut?"
"To assume is to make an ass out of you and-well, you mostly."
"So you're saying it isn't true? There's nothing going on between you and him?"
"I'm saying it's none of your business."
"I don't know what the hell he sees in you, you ug-"
"Get away from me, Liliya. Most you can do is validate my innate misogyny. Excuse me."
I walk away, to the doorway, through the empty lobby. There he is, outside, alone, smoking a cigarette.
I push through the doors and walk into the warm night. It smells like summer, and the sky is clear and there are millions of blue stars above my head. In the distance, moving cars speed against the asphalt and sound like a pleasant melody. He does not turn to me. I smile.
"Fucking ballroom dancers."
He leans on the railing and stares at the empty parking lot, and I stare too, as if there is something to see there. And there is an infinite amount of things to say, and reasons to apologize, and questions to ask. But they linger in the air and then dissolve. He turns to me, discards his cigarette, leans on the railing, and puts his hands in his pockets. And then, he gives me his sly, lazy, cool, beautiful smile.
"So, I've been meaning to talk to you," I say.
"Oh yeah?" he sighs, "so have I."
"Hm," I put my hand on my side, "you go first, then."
"No, you." There is resolve in his voice.
I pause. I inhale. I exhale. I stall.
There's so much-how could I possibly begin?
"So-yeah, I love you too." That's all? There should be more to say but I can't think of anything. So that's all. "That's all," I say.
He nods and removes his hands from his pockets. Motions an invitation with his forefinger. I approach and he puts his arms around me. His face close to mine.
"So, what was it you wanted to tell me?" I ask quietly. I can feel his heart beating against my chest.
"Blood Lust two came out on DVD," he says, his lips brushing mine as he speaks.
"That movie we saw-that one time."
"Oh." My fingers clench his sweater.
"Yeah. So I rented the first one the other day. It's one of those rare cases where I preferred the sequel."
His muscles flex against me. He squeezes me tightly.
"I mean, sure it basically recycles the plot, but there is solid nuance in the acting. If you ask me, Blood Lust two is what Blood Lust one should have been."
He smells like cologne and laundry detergent and hair.
"I mean, it's gritty and intense, and has a genuine feel to it, and I-"
But I don't let him finish. My mouth is on his. His tongue slips between my lips. A vague suggestion of music flows from inside. It's a hushed, dull, haunting sound. He places his hands on my waist. I wrap my arms around his neck.
Wow, I can't believe this silly little story actually got some attention. I would like to wholeheartedly thank the reviewers. I greatly appreciate your investment in this story and really do hope I didn't let you down.
Now, for some shameless self-promotion, I started writing another story that I'll probably post here soon. I'd greatly appreciate if you guys gave it a try. Thank you all again for your kind input.