At 10am, I found Rhonda on the front stairs of my family's apartment building. Rhonda was nursing a cup of coffee and wearing my shawl, though it wasn't cold at all. I came and sat down beside her.
"How's it going?" I said, curling my hands around my own coffee mug and leaning in a bit to let the steam rise to my face. I took a deep breath, letting the aroma fill my nose.
"Fine. I should have a great day sitting around by myself, watching TV movies and playing with my twelve year old nephew. Go. Have a blast." She looked at me, mock-sullen.
"You are such a toddler," I said. "Don't blame me that you're spending the day alone. I didn't exactly know you would be here. Remember?"
She said nothing but pouted.
"Don't guilt trip me Rhon. Won't work."
She pouted some more. I rolled my eyes and turned away from her. Just then, Betsy's car rolled into the yard. I leaned into the railing, one hand on my mug, and stood, then headed over to her car. She looked a little tired and glum, so I tried to stay cheerful.
"Hi," she said with a yawn.
"Good morning," I said, sliding into the passenger seat. I barely had my seat-belt on before she reversed and we were on our way. I put on my sunglasses - purple round ones like those I'd seen the late John Lennon wearing in pictures and thought they were cool. I laid my head back. The sun poured in like honey, giving Betsy a golden halo, and stretched across my lap in bars of orange light.
"Ok, here's the deal," she said, smiling then. It was nice to see her smile. "You have control of the radio. As long as you don't play anything depressing - I mean things like love songs or songs about death or even really mellow ballads except for anything by Crowded House because I love them - you have the control. Keep me happy and also, don't play anything that might put me to sleep. I think the light and the massive amounts of coffee I drank this morning will keep me awake but you can never be too sure."
"Aye Aye Captain," I said and gave her a little salute. We both laughed. I wound the dial and left it on a rock station playing Tears For Fears.
"Good Choice," she said.
"You're lucky. With me you might end up with something like...Billy Joel."
"You like Billy Joel? Me, too!" she said. "Some people act like that's awful."
"I wouldn't know. I have terrible taste, but Billy Joel makes me happy. His music is oddly...theatrical."
"Yes!" she said, now excited. "This is what I'm always saying. I feel like his songs are all theme songs to some part of my life or something."
We both laughed. Then we were silent for awhile as we listened to the radio and made our way past the most uninteresting part of the trip - the part where all of our surroundings were green grass and trees and houses.
By the time we made it to some kind of real civilization, Dexy's Midnight Runners were on the radio and we were singing along with the very few words we knew to "Come On Eileen." Actually, these were probably the only words that anyone knew: "Come on Eileen...at this moment you mean everything...you in that dress, my thoughts I confess verge on dirty..." we sang and then we hummed along until the chorus.
"So what's on the agenda today," I said finally. "I mean, I have some ideas for things I'd like to do. But what will we actually do?"
"I dunno. What do you wanna do?" she said, raising her eyebrows up and down. I felt myself blush and she caught herself. "Oh! I didn't mean it like that! Wow, I'm sorry. I didn't freak you out did I?"
"No! Not at all. I don't know. Maybe I am feeling bashful. I didn't think anything like...what you...thought I thought, though."
"Oh." It was her turn to look embarrassed. I shrugged and laughed and I saw her sigh with relief. She laughed too and scratched her head thoughtfully.
"Well," she said, "what things would you like to do? You said you had some ideas and I was wondering what they were. I remember you were seeking a prom dress, but what else?"
"I know prom is still five weeks away but I am on the planning committee, so there are some things I'd like to do with that. Besides the dress, I am looking for after-party music. And I have a list for decorations. But also I'd like to stop by this magic shop I heard about."
"Magic shop? That's interesting," she said, smirking. "Really?"
"Yeah - like tarot cards, candles. Not parlor tricks." I felt myself blush again. The fact that I was into that might weird her out...or make her think I was an idiot. A naive idiot. I felt like it was a risk bringing it up.
Instead, though, Betsy said, "Rad. What else?"
"Well I heard about this Mediterranean restaurant with a vegetarian selection."
"You're a vegetarian?"
"Trying to be," I said. "The place sounds really good. It's on the way back and they don't seem overly pricey. And of course, I am open to other things - things you want to do. What do you want to do?"
She smiled conspiratorially.
"Just between you and me I'm actually going to be needing a dress, too. Maybe you can help me."
"What?" I said, surprised. "You're going to prom? I mean, at your school?"
"Yes," she grimaced. "I promised Glenn."
"That's disappointing," I said. "I was thinking I would ask your band to play our prom. What day is yours?"
"May 18th," she said.
"That's perfect!" I shrieked, "Ours is the 23rd!"
"Asha I am really flattered, but I don't know if I am going to be up for that."
"You have to be! You have such an amazing voice and -"
"You heard very little of that, I'm sure. I think I screamed and broke things more than I played."
"I heard you," I said, remembering the song on Erica's cassette. When she had told me later who The Windows were, I almost couldn't believe it. "I think you're great. Pleeeease!"
"I don't even know if I have a band anymore."
"What are you talking about?" I said.
"Nevermind. I don't even know. I'm having a rough time - and seeing all those lovey-dovey couples together at yet another prom sounds like it's not going to do me a whole lot of good, either."
"Pleeease," I pleaded more. "I think it's just what you need."
"Maybe. I'll...consider it."
I smiled and sat back triumphantly. I felt like I'd won.
We were approaching the city then and we had the windows rolled down as Betsy drove us along the boardwalk with Adam Ant on the radio. Betsy drove with one foot underneath her and the other foot working both the gas and the brake. She used one knee and one hand to drive while she used the other hand to tap the song on the dashboard. It seemed a little reckless but I liked it today - I was always too practical and too scared and today, I was relaxed. I was having fun. This was the effect my new friend had on me.
She parked in the lot of a beach-side tattoo and body piercing place and I felt my stomach flip-flop.
"Don't worry," she said, noting my expression. "We're not piercing you. Or me, either - not today anyway. I just wanted to get a couple new ear studs - something pretty to accent whatever horrendous thing I wear to Glenn's prom."
"It won't be horrendous," I said. "You've put it in my hands and I am going to make you look magnificent."
"Good luck," she joked. I gave her a sideways glance and then we climbed out of the car together.
Inside we looked through the selection of gemstones for studs, the already assembled ear studs and the designer earrings. Kim Wilde was singing about kids in America on the speakers overhead. The guy behind the counter was a punk guy - a little older than we were, probably, but not much. He was wearing blue lipstick and a fedora and he looked rather bored, painting his nails with a red Magic Marker. A bald and tattooed woman was with another customer behind a panel - the customer was clearly getting a piercing done, but I tended to faint if I saw too much blood or even thought too much about losing blood. It was a strange phobia, but I purposefully would not allow my view to land in their direction.
Instead, I set my sights on a pair of dangling coral earrings. They looked like a pink braid and they hung delicately against my skin when I held them up to myself in the mirror. The color complimented my olive complexion. Suddenly, I had a new idea for a prom dress. But I also was thinking how it would be nice to find a pair of earrings for Betsy. Something modest would be more her style. I looked over my shoulder to where she was standing - she was entranced by the spiked collars and fish hook bracelets. I turned the revolving display rack and instantly found the perfect ones: they were glass ovals with blue and gold flecks inside, also dangling. I knew at once that they were perfect - the gold would compliment Betsy's white blond hair, and the blue bits would bring out the azure of her eyes. I felt suddenly excited as I walked up to the check-out and had the punk guy ring me up before Betsy could realize I'd moved. He put both sets of earrings in a small brown bag - just what I was hoping he would do. As he handed me my receipt, Betsy came up behind me with one of the spiked collars.
"Oh," she said, "you found something, too. Great. I thought maybe you'd be bored here."
"No," I said. "Not bored. Not at all. Wait, you didn't get your studs?"
She sighed. "They're a little pricey - I might need to save a little more before I can get them. The only reason I can afford a prom dress at this moment is because my mom lent me her credit card for it. It means a lot to her that I attend a prom."
"Wait, does she know you're -"
"I don't know," she said, pushing the door open and exiting the shop ahead of me. I followed her to the car, puzzled.
"What do you mean you don't know?"
"Long story," she said. "I don't know if I really want to go into that right now. Do you know what it's like to have one of those kinds of stories?"
I thought about my mom.
"Yeah, I do."
She drove us to a nearby dress shop - not the type of place I'd expect to find mine. I was thinking we'd go to the shops downtown or visit a mall. But I thought that this might be an interesting place to find Betsy's dress, at least. The sign on the outside was in pink neon and read "Rosalie's Apparel."
Inside, the place was more chic than I expected - the walls were covered in leopard print and silver, glitter-glued picture frames carried pictures of old Hollywood movie starlets in fancy gowns from the red carpet or famous movie scenes. There was one of Audrey Hepburn in her My Fair Lady dress and one of Vivian Leigh in Scarlet O'Hara's green dress made from drapes in Gone With The Wind. These were among the many. A lady with curly red hair, a tight black cashmere sweater, mini-shirt and leopard print leggings sat in the back reading a book. When she saw us, she jumped up.
"Poppy!" she squealed. "How's my Betsy?"
"Morning Glory!" said Betsy. "I'm fine Aunt Rosalie. This is my friend Asha. Asha, this is my mom's oldest friend, Rosalie Rascal."
"Rosalie Robbins," the woman said, giving my limp hand a shake. "The Rascal part is just a pseudonym I came up with back in the day of being a band groupie. It sorta stuck, though. I'm Betsy's godmother."
"And the flower names?" I asked.
"Just a game we used to play," she said. "We gave each other nicknames of flowers, animals, foods...what else?"
"Bodily fluids," Betsy laughed.
"That was a gross one," Rosalie laughed.
"I was pee pee," Betsy said. They both roared and I couldn't help but giggle. "Rosalie, can you help us? Asha and I are looking for prom dresses. Any ideas?"
"You came to the right place. I have tons," she said. "Come with me."
We followed her to the back and one by one, she had us try on twenty different dresses. There was a shimmery black dress with low shoulders and ruffles at the neckline, another made of gold material that puffed at the sleeves and the waist. Neither of these were very flattering to my figure, though they all looked lovely on Betsy. Still, I didn't feel that either of us had found "the one," yet.
There were so many - ones with increasing ruffles, ones with shoulder pads, ones with lace, some with vinyl material that resembled raincoats. They were all nice, but nothing special enough to make jaws drop. And I really wanted that kind of reaction to my dress, though I doubted Betsy cared. I cared for her, though. If it was possible, I wanted something extraordinary more for her than for me.
"We'll have to think about it, Rosalie," Betsy was saying as we were leaving the fitting room for the last time. "I'm still not sure we've found what we're looking for but we have found a lot of really nice ones."
"Take your time," Rosalie said. "Prom is what? Three weeks away?"
"Five," Betsy said. Rosalie waved her hand nonchalantly.
"Plenty of time," she said.
As we emerged from behind the curtain, I saw a shock of blue out of the corner of my eye and I looked over at it listlessly. It didn't register at first that I was just staring at something in the loveliest shade of blue. And then, like someone becoming more awake, it hit me. I was looking at a dress. And not just any dress: it was the perfect dress. It was designed to drift past the knees with a gossamer fabric and there was a slight train of ruffles in the back. The top of the dress had a shimmery lace neckline and ruffled shoulder trim to allow the baring of skin. The blue was electric and like the color of a calm ocean. I gasped.
"What?" Rosalie said. "Are you okay?"
"That dress," I croaked. "It's perfect."
Rosalie scrunched her nose.
"Asha, honey, it's really not your color."
"Not for me!" I said. "For Betsy. It's perfect."
Rosalie looked thoughtful. She glanced at Betsy and then back at the dress.
"Betz, there is only one way to find out if that is the right dress."
Betsy groaned a little. But she said, "Fine. I will try on just this last one. But then, no more!"
I gave Rosalie a wink and we both applauded Betsy as she took the dress off the hanger and headed back to one of the fitting rooms again. She rolled her eyes and disappeared behind the curtain.