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, January 27, 2013

A Boy of Character

The stairs creaked. We looked up to see Donna coming down. She took one look at Jeff, who had just excused himself to go to the bathroom, made a little “eep!” sound and turned around to run back up the stairs, where she crashed right into Debra. They whispered excitedly and then came wiggling down together, pulling their scrunchies out and tossing their hair around their shoulders. One wore a pink sweatsuit that said “Pink” across the buttcheeks. The other wore a green sweatsuit that said “Juicy.” Donna called out, “Hhhhiiii, Jeff!”

Jeff waved back as he closed the door under the stairs.

The Girls were astonished and excited. “Go tell mom,” Debra said, elbowing her sister.

“You go tell mom,” said Donna.

“Tell me what,” grumbled Sylvia, stumbling down the stairs behind them in her satin robe, hair frizzing uncharacteristically around her elegant shoulders. She stumbled into the kitchen without noticing who was on the couch.

“There’s coffee,” I said to them all.

“Ooh, and punch,” said Donna, discovering the beverage table. “Ashley, this is so nice. Who else is coming to our brunch?”

“It’s cancelled,” said Sylvia, coming into the living room with the orange juice pitcher in one hand and a champagne bottle in the other, a glass tucked under her arm. She sat down hard at her desk. “Close that damn curtain.” Then she looked up and noticed the company.

“Harry! What the hell?”

Jeff walked out of the bathroom and Sylvia jumped out of her chair, her tone turning solicitous. “Jeff! What are you doing here? Did you come to apologize? That’s so wonderful! In spite of your rash actions last night, I knew you were a boy of character!” Jeff had no chance to reply because he was suddenly surrounded by The Girls, who were making conversation that required no effort on his part at all. I introduced them to Harry.

I served the spiced sausage strata, a favorite recipe of my mom’s, which sent Harry down memory lane and drew no complaints from the girls. Sylvia stayed at her desk, thinking, drinking mimosas. When she lit a cigarette, the three of us girls exchanged worried glances—she never smoked in front of us—but Jeff was such a stabilizing presence that the mood stayed light. We balanced plates on our knees rather than sitting around the dining table, and it felt like a real celebration even though no one knew exactly what was going on. We moved in and out of the sparkles of light from the shoes, which no one seemed to notice.

“Hey Jeff, remember that time you were here studying with Ashley in ninth grade?” Debra sat onto the couch next to Jeff. “You left these…” She reached her hand into the cushions and pulled out a box of Tic-Tacs. Jeff stared at her blankly. Donna lunged.

“Give me those! I found them first!”

“Sure, Donna. You can have them. Jeff’s right here by me.” She tossed the candy box. Donna shook it. There was only one left.

“Oooh!” Donna glared and tossed the box aside. There was no room on the other side of Jeff; he was sitting at the end of the couch. She plumped back down in an armchair with her food and picked up the paper from the coffee table. Then she gasped. “Oh! My! God!”

She turned the Town Herald Sunday Edition around so we could all see the front page. The headline read, “Black Forest Coach Stripped of Position.” There were two photos above: one of Coach Pupkin with the basketball team, and one of Judy Garland singing. We all went, “huh?” Harry spit tea onto his chintz armrest.

“Black Forest High’s senior P.E. teacher,” read Donna, “who led the Trolls to a state championship last year, was outed by an anonymous parent last week, who called for his resignation.” In unison with Debra she turned and said, “Mom!” Sylvia sucked her cigarette and shrugged.

I grabbed the paper and read on. “Down at the Teddy Wolf nightclub, no one guessed the winner of last week’s drag competition was Coach Jonathon “Jack” Pupkin of the local high school—”

Harry hooted. “She was amazing! The most sensitive Judy we’d ever seen!” He slapped his thigh. “I can’t believe it! How could I miss that? I’m so good with faces! What an artist!”

“‘I can’t believe he was juggling so many balls,’ remarked one admiring judge when asked for comment on this story. ‘It takes a lot to sing like that, to dress like that. And to teach six hundred students physical culture for a day job. It took a lot of guts, a lot of guts.’”

“Who writes this stuff?” Jeff wondered aloud.

Harry glared at Sylvia. “Why would you DO such a thing, Sylvia? Of all the low tricks! He may or may not be gay but it’s nobody’s business to speculate!”

Sylvia screamed, “We had a deal!” To our blank stares, she spat out the words: “We had a deal one of my daughters would win!” She gestured so clumsily that papers flew off her desk.

“You… you blackmailed him?” Harry whispered.

“You fixed the prom?” Jeff looked like he wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be furious.

Donna and Debra looked ashen, and stuttered through the logic together. “You mean—”

“—you arranged for us to be elected to the court?”

“You mean—”

“—we weren’t nominated by anyone? ”

“You mean—” They looked at one another, horrified, and screamed in unison,

“—We’re not popular?” They dissolved into tears and ran up the stairs, sobbing, a fork flying, a half-eaten muffin rolling onto the carpet, under the chairs.

“Nice going, mom,” sneered Harry, settling back in his chair. Jeff and I stared uncomfortably at anything but her. I thought about Nevada, and all the others who actually deserved the honor my family had stolen.

Sylvia stared, stricken, out the window, her veiny hand pressed to her mouth.


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