Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Mirror's Contemplation, Take 2

Regular readers may be familiar with this story already. I put it in competition once already, a few months back, and had no luck with it. So, as always, back to the revision board. As I often do, here's a teaser, a few pages of a much longer work.


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. She 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. It had already reached mythic proportions and hadn't even happened yet.

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. There were always ways. 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. We were already feeling buzzed and silly.

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 slightly increasing the volume to underscore how attractive she thought he was.

Stephanie always talked a good game, but her confidence sometimes deserted 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 goofy and over-
the-top, which disguised a deep need for validation 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. Truthfully, I liked them just fine before the surgery, but I held my tongue.

They were really flat before. Stephanie said this while preening in front of a mirror. She was tipsy already after one beer and a little unsteady on her feet.

I need to get one
, I found myself saying this, but without much conviction. Sometimes even in my most self-conscious days 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. When I was in high school, a couple years before, I’d gotten my navel pierced at the request of my then-boyfriend. It was one of the first times I’d done something colossally stupid for a boy, or at least for boys as an entire group. And yet I kept it, mostly as a reminder to think twice before making the same mistake.

I was not quite as adventurous as Stephanie was. She quickly shimmied into a black bikini, while I put on a more modest one-piece. I was an observer more than an active participant. Our friendship was built upon opposites in personality. I rarely made decisions and usually deferred to hers. I felt like a movie camera that never shut off, silently documenting the events placed before it, only documenting, never participating.

It was time to go back out again, as I rubbed suntan lotion onto every exposed patch of skin. I was usually absent when it came time for another carefree mug shot before the camera because I always was the person behind the viewfinder. I couldn’t bring myself to ask Stephanie's motivations. It shocked me how quickly I’d validated her methods by even contemplating the very same thing myself, if only for a few seconds. Peer pressure, even when it isn’t overt, can be a powerful force.

I saw evidence of this earlier when we were walking the beach, the waves lapping against my feet. The number of bad tattoos I saw walking the shore's edge was astonishing. The trend must have started somewhere. The scrapbooks my parents kept of their own summer holidays before I was born showed no evidence of ink. I always felt that tattoos, tastefully placed and limited in number, were acceptable. But few people kept such restraint or discretion.

We paused briefly to prepare ourselves for the sea and sand. Before then, we’d simply dithered along the farthest expanse of the waves, not dressed to jump into the water and swim. In all circumstances, Stephanie enjoyed playing the role of the high femme, the girly girl, and her clothes and behavior 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. For the moment, she wore a black tank top, tight and revealing shorts, and not much else.

Let’s get obliviated tonight. 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 rip-roaring drunk, not even once. She may have been a little buzzed at the moment, but not much. She was more inclined to nurse a solitary beer for hours. She told me, in a rare moment of naked honesty, that she associated intoxication with being out of control. The phobia it produced 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 or
disoriented 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 of
friends. It was all for show. One of them had approached her in an unskillful way earlier in the day. 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. Some women would take offense to the occasional bad pickup line or the arrogance of a delusional ladies’ man.

Stephanie knew enough to brush them aside, knowing them for what they were. Like many women who got a lot of attention, she’d seen and heard it all. I envied her successes, even when I questioned her tactics. Stephanie got a lot of phone numbers, most of which she quickly discarded. I felt sorry for the worthwhile guys who misunderstood her real intentions. She enjoyed being desired more than she sought a boyfriend or even going to bed. As long as she was single, she had any number of frequent ego boosts at her disposal.

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