Rosalie and I took our seats at the stools behind the counter. Rosalie was biting a nail and I was drumming my fingers when the curtain rustled and then moved. And then Betsy reappeared.
I gasped the same way I had when I had seen the dress on the hanger. My heart rate seemed to accelerate a little. I couldn't take my eyes off Betsy. The dress fit her slender body perfectly, hugging her just enough to accentuate the curves she often hid. The color of the dress against her skin gave it an iridescent look. I knew immediately how she could wear her hair and what shoes she could wear and...it was just gorgeous. She was gorgeous and the dress, I realized, would match up with the earrings I'd bought her. I could tell that, though she'd probably never say so, even she liked the dress. She stood in front of the mirror, walking back and forth in her cowboy boots and turning around like a supermodel. I stood up beside her and looked at her face in the mirror. I smoothed her hair to one side - the way it might look if she wore it that way - and smiled at her reflection.
When I went to take my hand away from her head, though, I happened to graze her shoulder. I felt all my hairs stand on end and the swirling in my stomach increased a little. Get a grip, Asha, I told myself - it was getting pretty late in the afternoon and I was probably just hungry. Betsy and I caught each other's reflection in the mirror and to my surprise, she looked a little sheepish. When our eyes met in the mirror, she quickly glanced away.
"We'll take it," I said. Rosalie raised an eyebrow at my sudden bossiness, but Betsy nodded to her and Rosalie went to ring it up. Since we were friends, she gave us a 25% off discount. As we were leaving, Betsy and Rosalie hugged and I saw Rosalie whisper something into Betsy's ear. Betsy's eyes looked down at the floor, her face flushed. Then Rosalie, before I even had time to be surprised by it, leaned in and hugged me.
"It was so lovely to meet you," she said to me.
"You, too," I said. We stepped back from each other and Betsy's arm found my elbow, steering me toward the door.
Back in the car, I started to ask what Rosalie had said but I decided it wasn't my business and I shouldn't ask. Though I did give myself a clause in my agreement with myself not to ask - that if I changed my mind and curiosity got the best of me, I could inquire after all.
"You hungry?" Betsy said.
"Starved," I said.
"Give me the address of the vegetarian place," she said. I did and we pored over the map to find the best way to get there. More than once, I found myself noticing precisely how close her shoulder was to mine. What the hell, Asha? I thought.
It wasn't far to the restaurant and we ordered appetizers first since we were so hungry. Two hours trying on dresses was apparently enough to wear us thin. We had stuffed grape leaves and some kind of flat bread stuff with tabouli salad, baba ganouj and hummus dip samples. Then we had falafel sandwiches with tahini and drank iced tea. We talked about movies and the last great books we'd read. I told her my favorite book was Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen and she said she liked 1984 by George Orwell a lot - and we both promised to read each other's favorite. At one point, a belly dancer appeared and she shook the tiny bells and cymbals on her harem pants as she circled the tables. She shimmied over to us and danced a little around me. Betsy and I began to giggle and it only encouraged the woman, who just continued to gyrate without speaking a word.
After lunch, Betsy took me to the mall as promised. I went into a party store and Betsy was trying to help me find prom decorations.
"What's your theme?" Betsy asked. "They do have themes right?"
"Yes, there is a theme."
"So what is it?" she asked, looking up and down at the different garland samples strung along a wall.
She looked at me. "As in Van Gogh?"
"Sort of," I said. "We just wanted everything to be celestial, heavenly. So there will be stars and swirls and glitter. Is that stupid?"
"No," she said. "That sounds nice."
We wandered around the store, which had everything from balloons to paper plates to cardboard cut-outs.
"Hey, how about this?" Betsy said and I came to her side. She was holding up some sheer purple curtains with silver stars on them. There were other colors, too - black, blue - but all with the little glimmering stars. Nearby, there was silver garland and strands of silver cardboard stars.
"Betsy, these are perfect!" I said excitedly.
"You've been using the word perfect a lot today," she said. "Which is a good thing. I'm glad it's turning out to be a good day for you."
I looked up at her. She was so close...my brain seemed to take a momentary vacation me from a skull for a second, but then finally registered what she had said. A good day for me?
"It hasn't been for you?" I said.
"Yes! It has! I didn't mean it to sound like it hadn't. I've been terribly depressed for days, off and on. Usually on. But when we're hanging out, it's definitely...off."
I didn't know what to say. I knew I probably had the goofiest grin on my face, but I didn't know how to speak. I just blinked and then Betsy rescued me.
"Hey, here's more stars," she said, holding up silver speckled balloons.
We also found twinkling white lights and plastic party favor cups with stars on them. The label said that we could have the store personalize them with the name of the school or the student. I picked up brochures for these and for other things the store had that I could not possibly carry away with me, like the six foot cardboard crescent moon. Betsy and I brought the lights, curtains, balloons and garland to the register and then, after dropping them off at her car, we went over to a formal wear outlet next door. Immediately I could tell that Betsy was uncomfortable but she was trying to hide it. Luckily, I did have a pretty distinct vision of what my dress would be like. We roamed around, pushing dresses around the rods that held them, looking for something that might stand out. Everything was too bright or too dark, too hefty with yards of extra fabric and crinoline, too noisy with so many things going on or too shiny. I knew I was picky and I was probably frustrating the hell out of Betsy, though she was acting like she was having fun.
"Hey, how about this one?" Betsy said, holding up a little black dress with tulle and rhinestones. It was more simple, which was what I was aiming for. But it wasn't really elegant. I liked dresses that were timeless - not just dresses that seemed to go with the trend.
"Nah - I was originally thinking of something in a more...light color. Something like cream or...I don't know, mauve?"
"Mauve?" she said. "You want a mauve prom dress?" I laughed.
"Okay, maybe not mauve but -" My sentence hung in the air when I spotted something I hadn't noticed before, hanging on a rack behind Betsy. I walked around, over to the rack and pulled the dress on the hanger from between the two brighter, shinier and more noticeable dresses. It was a pleasant lavender with a sweetheart top made of satin and trimmed in lace with spaghetti straps to hold the dress up on my shoulders. There were no bows, rhinestones or sequins and no huge ruffles. Instead, the skirt of the dress hung down the way a ballet costume might. It was better than I'd dreamed of. I looked at Betsy and she was smiling.
"With that reaction, you have to try it on."
"But what if it doesn't fit?" I said. "I think it's so perfect I would be crushed."
"If it doesn't, you'll find something else. But try it on!" she said.
I surrendered and took the dress to the back. Alone in the fitting room, I let the dress fall over my shoulders and like water over my body. Then I stood there, staring slack-jawed at the girl in the mirror who I couldn't believe was me.
A slight knock came at the door and then Betsy's voice said, "Asha, what does it look like? Does it fit?"
I sighed and stepped out. She jumped back a little - first, startled and then in awe.
"That's beautiful. It's really...you're really...it's amazing," she said. Was she blushing or was I imagining it? Maybe I was projecting my awkwardness on her.
"I think this is it. I think I definitely have to buy this one."
"Terrific," she said and meant it. She really seemed as excited as I was. I went back to change into my street clothes and I brought out the dress on its hanger. The clerk rang me up and then Betsy and I left the mall. We had one more stop before home according to Betsy - we were stopping by her favorite record store, Metro Music.
"Clint - he owns the place - tries to get a hold of the hard-to-find stuff. He's really good at it and because I bring him leads sometimes, he gives me store credit and discounts."
"You come to the city a lot then?" I said. "I mean, clearly you know people here."
"I guess I like to escape whenever I can and I am always dreaming of new places to go. But the city is easy - it's not hard to get back from, only about a half hour to 45 minutes away. I'm often back home before dark."
"You want to go away to school next year?"
"Of course. That's the best way to escape. It's for education, to spread my wings - so it doesn't hurt anyone like it would if I, say, ran away from home. Though I can't lie and say I haven't thought of that, too. Why? Where do you want to go to school? Please don't say city college."
"No," I said. "I don't know for sure where I want to go, though. Maybe Emerson in Massachusetts. Or where my cousin...went, I guess. Sarah Lawrence. Why? Where do you want to go?"
"Always thought I might go to art school, but I'd like to go out west. I wish I had the money to travel, but maybe after a few semesters at school I can."
"Where would you like to travel?" I asked.
"I don't know. I want to see every kind of place. The desert and the jungle and huge cities and tiny towns. Everywhere. I'd like to see the Grand Canyon and I'd like to go to Mexico. And that place in Canada where Anne of Green Gables takes place."
"That was my favorite book when I was younger," I told her.
"Mine, too," she said. We looked at each other, then away again.
"I'd like to see Italy, too," she said. "I hear there's no place like the Mediterranean. Everything right on the water like that. Greece is supposed to be lovely, too."
"Oh, I'd love to go to Italy! Find my family over there," I said.
"You have family in Italy? I thought you were Indian," she said.
"No. I mean, yes. Part-Indian, part-Italian. My mom is Indian, though her family has been in the states for a few generations. My dad's family originates from Florence. Oh! And I'd like to go to Iceland," I said.
"Really?" she said. "It sounds so cold."
"Yes, but it's also really green," I said. "And I'm curious about the six months of darkness."
"Great place to be a vampire," she said. "I'm kidding, of course. I'm not sure I could handle it as a regular thing, but it would be interesting to see what it's like. The long periods of darkness, that is. Then again, aren't Chicago winters cold and dark enough?"
We arrived at the music store and headed in, where there were aisles of records separated into musical genres (rock, pop, blues, jazz, etc.) and soundtracks and singles. There were also other music-related items for sale - banners, t-shirts, posters, old 8-track players. There was a disco-ball over the check-out desk and a Jimi Hendrix tapestry behind it. A heavy man with long-ish salt and pepper hair, a receding hairline, sunglasses atop his head and a Grateful Dead shirt sat behind that counter reading what looked like a Rolling Stone magazine. He acknowledged us with a nod but wasn't as extroverted as Rosalie had been.
Betsy started flipping through music and got excited showing me some of her favorite bands and some of the rare singles that she was trying to decide between.
"I'd buy them all today if I could, but I can't so I'm debating over which of these three I should get. Any suggestions?" She held up record covers for three bands I'd never heard of.
"I'm not sure," I said honestly. "I've never heard of...any of those bands."
"You're kidding!" she said. "Now I have to buy them just so you get some very important exposure. These are all great, Asha. Hey, do you want to look for something?"
"I don't know," I said. "I like a lot of different music, but I can never find something I don't feel guilty spending my money on. Then again, I think most purchases are like that for me."
"How much do you get at the diner?" she asked but then held up her hand. "Nevermind. That was rude and none of my business."
"It's ok," I said. "I make minimum wage but I should get a raise soon. Most of that money has to go to savings or...well, to help my parents."
"That's rough," she said. "I'm sorry, Asha."
"Don't be," I said. "I don't think it's a horrible thing. Build character!" She smiled.
"Couldn't you buy some records and rationalize that they're for the prom deejay?"
"Hmn," I said. "Good point. I really would like to see if I can find some Devo and maybe some kind of party mixes. You're the expert...you can help me?"
For the next half hour, we flipped through record stack after record stack and came up with several things: The Tom-Tom Club, Prince, a great compilation of dance tracks. And then Betsy did the most awesome thing. Instead of spending her money on one of the records she wanted, she paid for one of mine so that I could afford two. I tried to object but she just said, "We'll share joint custody. This is a great album, Asha - we have to have it."
When she handed over the wad of money to Clint and he gave her the half-off discount, she winked at me. I felt extremely happy, though I knew the day was coming to a close and I really didn't want it to end. There was no explaining these feelings I was having to myself so I didn't try.
On the way back home, we took one last detour to get milkshakes at a place called Wizard's where Betsy claimed they had the best ice cream and gelato anywhere. I got a Grasshopper shake, which was a mint and chocolate shake that had pieces of Oreo in it. Betsy opted for a Paradise shake which had banana ice cream and a swirl of caramel. They were huge with wide straws and we rode home sipping on them with the windows rolled down and the warm layer of thin fog drifting in. She left the radio on low on the rock station so we didn't have to speak so loudly over it.
When I got home, no one was there. There was no car in the driveway and even Rhonda's motorcycle had disappeared from the side of the garage. Betsy left the car running, but she helped me bring things in.
"Thank you so much," I said as she was about to walk out. "This has been the best day I've spent in awhile. I don't have a lot of friends here."
"You're the one the made my day. I would have done this alone but I - I'm glad I didn't. I'm glad I had company. It made it better."
"I'm glad I could help take your mind off things," I said. It occured to me that I had not given her the earrings, yet. "Oh! I almost forgot!"
I reached into my purse for the small paper bag and pulled out the lovely blue and gold ovals.
"I bought these for you when we were in the piercing shop. They were just so pretty and I knew they'd look wonderful on you. And I think you will find that they go with your dress, too."
She took them and looked at them with an expression of disbelief and awe.
"Asha, these are so beautiful. How much were they? I'll pay you back."
"No! These are a gift. For letting me hang out with you and showing me around."
"I don't know what to say," she said. "Thank you...for everything."
I beamed at her and said, "You, too. For the records and...and the whole day."
"We'll do this again sometime...soon?" Her forehead creased with the inquiry. The look was hopeful but without speculation.
"Yes," I said. "Soon. Call me."
"I will." The moment felt a little awkward, but I was impulsive and was probably about to make it worse. I followed through anyway, though, leaning in for a hug. Betsy kissed my cheek - another awkward moment. I backed away from her slowly and we held each other's gaze for an instant.
"So I'll see you," I said softly.
"Good night," she said, her face flushed. Then she turned and ducked back into the driver's seat without another word. I listened as her car backed out of the driveway.
Revisit the past four installments at louisetripp.blogspot.com, and tune in next week for another book & movie post by yours truly!
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