High school senior Ashley St. Helens
has suddenly found herself living a fairy tale life....
Which is not as much fun as it sounds.
Until... the other shoe drops.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Familiar Embrace

A loud HONK from outside nearly startled me out of my chair. I looked out the window and couldn’t believe my eyes.

A shiny gold Cadillac convertible with white-walled tires, gleaming orange in the sunset, was pulling into the driveway. A large woman with gigantic hair waved at me from the front seat, reminding me of these commercials for the Konvertible King that we all used to see as kids. The lady parked, checked her lipstick in the mirror, got out and adjusted her skirt, pulled a few suitcases out of the back seat, and turned again to wave at me. She was wearing a colorful dress with chunky gold jewelry, almost like something Sylvia would wear, but on her it was the opposite of frumpy. Her hips were thin, her shoulders strong, her legs long and lean. She wore heels as high as Debra and Donna’s, but on her they didn’t look sleazy, they looked fun. I opened the window and remembered to close my mouth, not wanting to be rude.

“Hi,” I called down. “Can I help you?”

“Ashleeeeeeeeeey! Look at youuuuuuu!” She threw her arms wide open. “Get down here and give me a hug!”

I recognized the voice: it was Harry.

As I tore down the stairs, I understood why he had said I could call him my Godmother as well as my Godfather. Harry was not a small man to begin with. In high heels, and wearing a two-story wig, he absolutely filled up the foyer. His eyes darted around to take in every detail of Sylvia’s decorating style before they rested on me.

“Darling. How WONderful to see you again! My you’ve grown up nice — mmm, MMM, just the image of your dear mom. I think I may cry.” He held an embroidered hanky up to the corner of his eye and sniffed. I had to laugh. “There. Now give your old Godpop a hand with these suitcases. Where’s your room?” What, was he moving in? He talked and moaned the whole way up the stairs about how pretentious Sylvia’s decor was. And how awful that she had gotten rid of the Art Deco light fixtures in the upstairs hallway and replaced them with those tacky faux candle-sconces with flickering bulbs. I opened the door to the attic stairs and he gave me a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding look. “This is where your room is?” He had to stoop to get through the doorway at the top. “Good Lord child, I was in the closet so long, I think you must be a woman after my own heart!”

Harry threw his suitcases on the bed and flopped himself down between them, poking the mattress, peering underneath. “I see you’ve adopted a literary solitude, how wonderful and romantic! But a gal as lovely as you really ought to have some semblance of a social life.”

I could barely get a word in edgewise. “Harry, what exactly are you doing here?” I knew the answer, in my heart, which was dancing in my chest.

He ignored me, stomping over to the wardrobe in his clunky shoes. “I’m here to help you transform, of course,” he said, spinning around and giving me the full sunshine of his beaming face. “You’re growing up tonight, right? Well. I know the art of becoming a woman. I do it myself, several times a week. And let’s see what you’ve got in here...” He made a face at the sweater and the jacket, pulled the dress out, and practically danced across the floor with it. “Oh! It’s like seeing an old friend! I wonder if it will fit?

“Did I tell you the story? Your mom wore it to her senior prom. We went together.” He turned and winked at me as he lowered his voice and said, “Let’s just say I ended up wearing it later that night.” Harry hung the dress over the door and measured the waist with his large, manicured hands. “And I think it will fit you, just... so.” He put his hands around my waist, squeezing through layers of sweatshirt. I couldn’t help it. I threw my arms around him. I felt like myself, like I had felt when I last saw him at seven… although he felt very different, smelled different…. He picked me all the way up off the floor and crushed me in a familiar embrace (well, familiar except for the fake bosom).  It was like the other me with the terrible attitude that I was fifteen minutes ago had been someone else.

“Oh my dear, I’ve so missed watching you grow up.…” He put me down and kissed me gently on the forehead. “You’ve been locked up in a tower and I’m here to set you free. Are you going to put your gown on? Or just sit here like a bump on a log all night?”

I couldn’t believe it was happening. I jumped up and down like a kid, then reached for the dress. Harry excused himself to the hallway while I wiggled out of my sweats and pulled the sweet-smelling silk over my head. I shook out my hair, then stepped into my dad’s clean white tennis shoes—I’d thought about it all day; it wasn’t the eighties anymore; Sharon Stone had even worn tennies to the Oscars. I brushed out my hair, and opened the door.

“I’m ready!”

He stared through me for a moment, like I was a bump on a log. Then he shook his head and laughed a great big laugh. “Nikes with an evening gown? Girl, just DON’T!” I had to laugh, too. Those Just Do It ads always made me feel guilty that I couldn’t get out to exercise enough. “Now take your daddy’s shoes off, darling, and listen to what I have to tell you.”

He turned toward the bed and started opening up his suitcases. The latches snapped open, and Harry lit into a lecture I’ll never forget.


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