Trading sips of a long-necked beer in brown glass, which we passed back and forth between us, Stephanie and I entered the bathroom to change. We set the bottle on top of the closed toilet seat, a surface just flat enough for our purposes. A day of sunbathing, people watching, and mostly meaningless flirtation would eventually culminate in a party that night. We were both giddy and feeling playful.
The two of us were nineteen. Still a year or two from being able to drink legally, this fact somehow did not dissuade our efforts. Someone with a decent fake ID or compliant older brother had purchased an obscene amount of alcohol. The boldest among us could drink for hours without stopping. Neither she nor I were drinkers, lightweights really, but it seemed like the thing to do.
In long accustomed fashion, I played foil to Stephanie’s loquaciousness and exaggeration. I was quiet and she was loud. This was the nature of our friendship and it had always been this way. As if to illustrate the distinction further, today she was clothed completely in black but I was dressed completely in white. She was dressed to kill while I was dressed for comfort, mostly.
And all I gotta say is that Ryan is fine! She gave the word “fine” a particularly strong emphasis, stretching out the vowels and consonants, in addition to increasing the volume to underscore how attractive she thought he was.
I had to agree. Ryan was the resident heartthrob of our group of friends, the one always in demand. As is often the case with the popular kids, he had, without even meaning to do it, a cult of personality built around him. People in his orbit tended to fall into one of three categories. The first were his inner circle and close confidants. The second were the wannabes who would give their right arm to be his friend. The third were the spiteful castaways who secretly wanted him but were too socially defective and self-doubting to ever contend for the honor.
Stephanie talked a good game, but her confidence sometimes left her in crucial moments. In my company, she did not feel restrained to express her true feelings. Among crowds, rivals, and uncertainty, she overcompensated by way of her vocal cords. Her humor was always silly and over-the-top, which disguised a deep insecurity she rarely ever acknowledged. I saw it, but, respecting our friendship, I did not call attention to it. I never wanted to rain on her parade, but I did wonder at times whether I should gently call attention to her flaws.
She was the only person I’d ever known who had gotten a boob job. Her parents paid for the whole thing, as though it was some life-threatening surgery, which was another way that the two of us differed vastly. My folks would have made me save up and completely subsidize myself a procedure they found to be unnecessary and distasteful.
They were really flat before. Stephanie said this while preening in front of a mirror.
I need to get one, I found myself saying. Sometimes even I wondered if I’d benefit from breast augmentation. It seemed to work well enough for her. She got four times the attention now, if attention was the entire goal in having them done.
We paused briefly to prepare ourselves for the sea and sand. Stephanie enjoyed playing the role of the high femme, the girly girl, and her clothes reflected it. Aside from a hat to keep out the sun that looked like it had been purchased in the fishing department of a sporting goods store, the rest of her appearance was immaculate. While she might have wanted to come across as regal, her slightly awkward behavior contradicted what must surely have been her best intentions.
So what do you think about the party? I’m really excited.
I wasn’t sure what to think about it, so I nodded, indicating that I, too, was excited. Parties sometimes promised more than they provided, but we put our best face on, time and time again, in search of the boy of our dreams.
Let’s get obliviated. Stephanie meant obliterated and though I knew she was wrong, I never corrected her. I enjoyed her banter and silly boasting. It was all for show. I’d never seen Stephanie drunk, not even once. She was more inclined to nurse a solitary beer or drink for hours. She told me that she associated intoxication with being out of control, and the phobia was intense enough to keep her always more or less sober.
The men’s bathroom was placed only a door down from the women’s facilities. At times, clueless men staggering towards the building from a combination of intense heat and intoxication would halfway open the wrong door. Realizing immediately their error, they would mumble an apology and then swiftly depart.
There’s a lot of perverts here now, don’t you think?
Stephanie launched into a litany of complaints and minor annoyances about the boys in our group. One of them had approached her in an unskillful way. He’d come across too strong, something men often did. She liked playing indignant, but relished any dollop of attention and praise she could find.
I’m like, what are you doing? I’m like, what, put that thing back in your pants.
I laughed. She wasn’t really annoyed, as I’d suspected. Truth be told, Stephanie never turned down any man's company, and here was a perfect example of her mock exasperation with men.
Can you help me with this?
I competently tied the straps of a revealing string bikini across her tanned back. Earlier, I couldn’t help but notice all the ways she had enhanced her physical appearance for maximum effect. Immaculately tanned, pierced navel, fake breasts, Brazilian waxed, she wanted to look somewhere between model and porn star.
What do you think? She faced the bathroom mirror again, observing her reflection. Stephanie could have been fishing for a compliment, or this could have been a period of momentary discomfort. I was never sure whether I was observing ego or lack of confidence. Perhaps it could have been a little of both.
You look really cute. I lied. Now it was my turn to be jealous.
I wrestled with myself, believing I had more self-respect than that, but I have my own baggage.
It was time to go, finally. I tried to adjust my eyes to the blinding sunlight and my feet to the unfamiliar texture of sand. Once again, I would play innocent bystander and second fiddle. The guys rarely came running to me, but I held out hope for at least one of them. Being Stephanie’s friend made me question openly how I had been raised and the values I held dear. In the end, was getting what you wanted all a question of money and time?