Oh, Holy-MotherofHighHeelsandDroppingBalls, what does a girl wear to a New Year's Eve party?
Stephen and I have been dating for about eight weeks. We don't really go anywhere. Mostly we talk on the phone, sit together at lunch and meet at the movies. I'm not supposed to drive boys and he rarely gets the car. Correction: according to my mom, who watches way too many judge shows, I'm not supposed to drive any lifeforms, including amoebas, who might be endangered by my skills. Fab skills, if I do say so myself. But she sees lawsuits and cardboard boxes in her future with me behind the wheel.
They don't believe me when I say the mailbox had it coming.
Back to Stephen: to hear him talk, our greatgrandkids will be showing up soon. We've been dating eight weeks. Ish. Does that sound fast to anyone else? Seriously. That's like two months. I don't really know how it got to be eight weeks so fast. I mean, time flies when you're dating. Or seeing a guy. Or hanging out. Or whatever we're doing.
I. Have. Nothing. To. Wear. I move a pile of clothes off my bed so I can sit down and contemplate the disaster that is my closet.
Here's the deal: he wants to go to this party, and I'm sure the guy is hoping to get me drunk and take full advantage of me. I saw that on an afterschool special. Those boys are all CIA operatives when it comes to planting the flag on virgin earth.
And if he's not planning on trying to get somewhere, I will be crushed. What's not to love about me? I'd want to do me.
I tug on an offtheshoulder oldschool sweater. I look like my mother's favorite throw pillow.
"Mom!" I scream out my bedroom door. I'm desperate. I need assistance.
She comes barreling up the stairs. "What? What happened? Are you bleeding?"
She presses her hand against her heart and glances around. "I told you not to light candles in your room. The curtains caught on fire, didn't they? Where's the fire extinguisher I put in here?" She pushes past me into my room. "Gert, what have you done?"
Why did I call for my mom? What demon possession caused that brief and deadly miscalculation? There's nothing I can say that will get me out of a twohour lecture about respecting my belongings and taking care of things that children all over the world, and down the street, would, and do, kill for.
"I don't have anything--" I stop myself. Not a good idea to be honest. Really bad idea.
"What is it?" She turns and looks at me. "I like that sweater on you. It's very grownup and it reminds me of something."
Your throw pillows?
I think fast. "Um, my period started and I don't have enough stuff--"
"I'm going to the store in a few minutes, I can pick up whatever you need."
"Thanks." Crisis averted.
"But, Gertie, this is no way to treat things we've spent good money on." She starts picking up and folding my clothes.
"I know, Mom." Inspiration strikes. "I'm cleaning out my closet for a fundraiser."
"Oh, that's lovely. What's the cause?" She beams at me, all expectant.
Cause? Crap. Think. Think. "Teen pregnancy."
"Good for you. I like my girl interested in making the world a better place."
"Yeah." I should feel bad about lying.
"When is your young man's father coming to pick you up? Should you nap before the party, dear?"
"I'll be okay."
She shuffles back down the stairs. We don't celebrate New Year's Eve in my family. My parents may have clinked glasses one time before 1960, but we go to bed early around here. Geriatric early. Then, religiously, they get up to watch the parade the next morning. They wake me up to see horses and flowers, and horses made out of flowers, at an ungodly hour. I'm told I love seeing it every year. That's good to know, considering how much I love sleep.
I have no clothes. None. They are all wool, plaid, strangely middleaged. What happened on the hangers between the store and my closet? They morphed. Sex kitten to roadkill.
Must call Adam. He'll have an idea. Plus, he got a fun new cell phone for Christmas. Of course, I'm not speed dial one. His boyfriend Tim is. That's wrong. Really, really wrong. As the official best friend, I should be number one. Not two. Not six. One. Someday soon we'll have to discuss my sucky speeddial position. Now, must put clothes on for party so Stephen can drool and forget what we're talking about.
"Yes, Gert?" Adam sounds like he has something more important to do.
"Why are you answering the phone like a snobby British receptionist?" He's too cute for his own good.
"Because I knew it was you. I gave you a ring tone."
Shakira? Rihanna? I won't ask. I'll be cool.
" 'Wild Thing.' " Adam barely gets the words out before cackling.
There's a loud thump. I hope the roof caved in. I am not a "Wild Thing" ring tone. I will not dignify that with a response.
He huffs back into the phone. "Sorry, I fell off the couch."
Break much? "Sure hope you didn't get hurt." I don't even fool myself.
"What's up, Gertie?"
"I said yes to the party."
"Good, you only live once."
"Oh, so you're coming to make out with your boyfriend in public?" Two can play this Hallmark movie moment.
"Nope, staying here." He doesn't even sound insecure about his choice.
Hypocrite. "What do I wear?" Please, I don't want to discuss Tim's assets again. I really don't want to have to--
"What do you want to say?" Adam must be doing crunches while we talk. There's grunting in the background.
"I can converse just fine--help me with clothing."
"Your clothes. What do you want them to say?" He acts like I'm the slow one.
"I am not writing on my clothes."
He snorts. "Gert, hello, wake up, anyone home?"
If I wasn't so desperate, I would hang up on his homo fashionista ass and pretend I'm starting a new fashion trend with whatever I pull out. Queer Eye need not apply. "My clothes must make a statement?"
"Yeah. Sexy? Party girl? Crazed sociopath? Cute? 'Do me'?"
"No sex tonight." Even the thought of sex with Stephen starts me shaking. I've seen the guy handle a stick shift; he's not a soft and gentle lover. I read that tip in Cosmo.
I consider. "Cute is fine."
"Yes, and I found out about this great new thing called deodorant. I thought maybe I'd try that, too."
"No need to get bitchy. Just trying to get your back."
"Cute. Yes. Fine." How hard does this have to be? Clothing. Put on. Go. Voilà!
"Pay attention. You might want to write this down."
"I think I can manage." He knows me too well. I have pen in hand with a stickfigure diagram, who looks nothing like me, drawn on a pink Postit.
"The dark denim, the tank from the lime green sweater set and your black velvet bolero jacket. Bangles. Go big on the jewelry, and flashy."
Not what I would have chosen in a million years.
"Oh, and the strappy heels you wore to homecoming."
"With jeans?" Am I channeling mideighties Madonna?
Hmm . . . "Perhaps." Need I point out I couldn't dress myself? Obviously, I trust him.
"Go dark and smoky on the eyes. Gloss on lips."
Who am I--New Year's Eve Barbie? "Yes, makeup maven. Anything else, maven?"
"What are you doing with your hair?"
Shaving it? "Kate Beckinsale in her last movie."
"Chase scene or the party scene?"
As if there's a choice. "Party."
"Works. Tim's here. I've got to go play host." Adam doesn't even try to make me feel as important as his boy toy.
"Your parents okay with this?" I'm dubious at best. They're into coldly ignoring Adam's gayness unless his mother decides to randomly slap him.
"They're at the casino for an allnight bash."
"They know Tim's coming over?"
"Do I seem stupid to you?"
"I promised I wouldn't have a party or drink and drive," he says.
I understand. "And one person over doesn't constitute a party. Gotcha." Dealing with parentals requires omission. Don't ask, don't tell. Be honest, but only up to a point. Survival of the fittest.
I have seen less and less of Adam since Tim became numero uno. "Thanks." I try very hard not to be jealous. Rarely do I succeed.
"Call me tomorrow."
"Sure." Maybe. Must ready self for sociality. I didn't even ask Stephen where the party is. Maybe I should have. Maybe Stephen's parents are at the casino and he defines "party" more intimately than I do.
I wonder what Lucas is doing tonight? Lucas is Tim's twin brother and the most deliciousness boy in the world. I drool at the sound of his name. Like Pavlov's bell with pecs and amazing shoulders.
Clothes on. Made up. Where's Sephora when you need its specialists?
Hair is so not Kate Beckinsale party scene. More like hostage on the twelfth day.
"Gert, Stephen is here," Mom yells up the stairs.
I spray on a last bit of holdtilltheendoftheworld hair spray. Tug. Tuck. Pinch. Heels. Must walk in heels like floating ballerina, not hippo.
Concentrate on stairs. Don't trip. Don't trip.
"Oh, hi." I try to act nonchalant yet completely put together. I think he buys it.
Oh, HolyMotherofOldSpice, somebody got cologne for Christmas.
"Sure." I pick up my purse, which I've preplaced for optimal suave factor.
"Not too late, Gert." I can tell Mom's fighting the urge to scrapbook this moment.
And then there we are at the empty, parentalless car. Where's his father? I thought his parental was driving us?
"Where's the party?" I try to sound casual and slide into the car like Audrey Hepburn.
Stephen shuts the door and pretends he doesn't hear me. As soon as he turns on the ignition, the bass makes conversation impossible. How can he think with this much reverberation?
"Got new speakers from my brother," he screams in my direction. "Parents are out; Dad gave me the keys. No parents." He has the smarmiest look on his face. Does he think parents are the only reason we're not doing it like bunnies?
Good thing I'm adept at reading lips. I smile. Are we trying to break the speakers before MLK Day? 'Cause they're maxed out.
I buckle my seat belt while trying not to vomit. The boy pulls more Gs in this rusty heapo'metal than the space shuttle. I don't think cars are designed to do this. I hold on and pray. And try to look cute while keeping the vomit at the back of my throat.
Please tell me the party isn't too far away. I can't handle roadtrip Stephen.
He's slowing down. Thank God. I wonder if I can roll down my window without him thinking it's because the entire bottle of cologne is asphyxiating me.
This looks like Jenny's neighborhood.
I roll down the foggy window. I don't care if it's cold, I need the view.
This is Jenny's neighborhood.
There are a ton of cars parked outside. It could be complete coincidence.
No. No, we cannot be pulling up here. He's kidding.
"You're joking, right? Messing with me?" I ask, but he motions he can't hear me over Fluffy Pete's acoustic rapping.
He brakes. Turns off the car. "This CD rocks. Did you say something?"
"Yeah, this isn't the party, right?" Please tell me you're really a serial killer. That works better for me.
He has the audacity to look perplexed. "So?" Now he's going to act all oblivious to the undertones of bringing me here.
"This is Jenny's house," I try to point out without screeching.
Must I paint him a mural? "This is the party?"
He doesn't get it. "Yep. Let's go."
Is my reaction that hard to read? Could he possibly not know Jenny and I hate each other? Didn't I tell him before we ever started dating? I mean, I wouldn't put him up for a Mensa membership, but isn't it clearly defined in the school handbook that Jenny Cohen and I cannot abide each other? Stephen was in a group project with us; he knows.
I close my eyes and try to inhale.
From the Hardcover edition.