For years I have carried around the memories of my junior prom like a pocketful of glass shards. Even the scars are largely invisible to others, but the glass is always there, always available to enhance the petty pains of life's everyday miseries.
To take just one example, a few years back Roger Bedford decided that we needed "more space." I had no problem with that. To be honest, I had more space than Roger was capable of filling anyway, the tiny-dicked little rat bastard. But beyond that, we had been dating for maybe two years, and it wasn't really going anywhere. It was time to move on, for both of us. Breaking up was the right thing to do. But the proper way to tell that to a woman to whom you've been professing your undying love for the past year, a woman who has been sharing her bed with you and cooking you meals, and taking care of your mangy ferret when you suddenly have to go visit your sister, is face-to-face. Take her to a restaurant, and give her the truth.
Don't just leave a message on her answering machine when you know she's at work, you fucking asshole.
To be fair, there was no way that Roger could have known about Alan, and my memories of the prom. Alan had been a high school senior when I was a sophomore, and had made my year by asking me to the spring dance. I can still remember the look on Andrea Phillips's face when I walked in on his arm. Alan and I dated the next summer, until I came down with mononucleosis. And then he went off to college. I didn't have a car, or even a driver's license, so we only saw each other at Christmas. He was a little distant then, but I chalked it up to the pressures of his first semester. He still seemed eager to take me to the prom in May.
His phone call came three days before the dance. I already had my dress, of course, and my mom was sitting at her sewing machine, doing the final alterations, when I burst in with the news that I wouldn't be going.
"Oh, of course, you have to go, sweetie," Mom said. She blithely continued sewing as if her older daughter weren't standing there behind her in tears. "All your friends will be there."
"Mother," I screamed. "You must be kidding."
She turned around, nonplussed by the anger in my voice. "Did he say why?"
I deflated immediately, and slumped into the chair beside the sewing machine. "Something about it not being possible. I don't know. By then, I was crying too hard."
"Still, dear, I'm sure you can find a friend to go with." Mom returned to the machine. "After all, it's a memory that will stay with you for the rest of your life."
She was certainly right about that. Particularly the memory of Andrea walking into the prom on Alan's arm. And the memory of the look she gave me when she arrived, filled with malicious triumph.
It is the memory of that moment that floods my mind today, as I scan the morning's mail. There are a few Christmas cards, which I find annoying since it's only the tenth of December and I haven't even bought mine yet. And there, stuck into the LL Bean catalog, is a postcard with a cheery little picture of balloons on the front. I turn it over, and find an invitation to my 25th high school reunion. It's not until May, but the reunion committee gushingly reminds us to keep the date open. Her name is right there among the names on the committee — it's Andrea Staunton now — and my invitation is personally inscribed. "Hope you can come, Deb. Andy."
I toss it aside. The last thing I want is to show up at anything run by Andrea and her crowd.
Andrea and I were the closest of friends throughout most of middle school. By the beginning of ninth grade, though, she was quite the little hottie. There was one spot open on JV cheerleaders that year; we both tried out and Andy got the nod. It didn't hurt that she had already started to wear bras. It didn't hurt that I was in the midst of the growth spurt that would bring to five-foot-ten. Whatever, the reason, Andy quickly left me behind on a trail of unreturned phone calls and obvious snubs. My only satisfaction was the dance, and walking in with hunky Alan.
It was a short-lived triumph. Andy had a car, and I later learned that by Christmas of that year, she had already visited Alan half a dozen times. By that point, I had apparently become his "safety" date for the prom, and Andy made sure that she didn't give me time to learn that until much too late.
For the next three weeks I occasionally run across the invitation when I'm cleaning up the counter. I can't bring myself to throw it out; as bad as some of the memories are, I had some good friends in high school that I'd really like to catch up with. Daniel, the band geek, turned out to be a very sweet guy. Last I heard, he was running a large software company. This reunion was just the sort of thing that would draw him. And Cheryl Edwards would probably be there, too. Cheryl had been my best friend for the last year, and the fact that we had drifted apart was more my fault than hers.
And then Cheryl called, yesterday afternoon. She had come home to visit her parents for Christmas and saw the sign for my business on East Fourth Street. We spent an hour on the phone, crying and laughing, and by the time the call had ended, she had somehow managed to get me to agree to attend the stupid reunion.
Today, though, I find myself consumed with the thought that I will have to see Andy again. Like me, she never left good old Hopetown. In my case, it was returning in my late twenties to take care of my dying parents, and then never leaving. In her case, it came from marrying Alan just after her high school graduation, when she was four months pregnant. She had divorced him a few years after that, and then finally realized her dream in life by marrying a richer, much older guy.
Ten years ago, when I had just started my interior design business, I had gotten a call from his secretary, who set up an appointment for me without letting me know that her boss had married my dear "friend." This woman, whom I eventually came to pity, showed me around the house and signed me up without my ever wising up. By the time Andy showed up, that same superior little smirk on her face, it was too late, according to my lawyer, to back out. Besides, I needed the money.
I have since become pretty damn successful, at least in business. My love life is an entirely different matter, a series of relationships that has left me, at the age of forty-two, despairing of ever finding one that would last. Part of it is psychological; the pool of available guys seems to shrink as a woman's business grows. As for the rest, who knows? Maybe my height has something to do with it. Maybe I'm just a bitch.
One thing, however, I can fix. I might be dateless at the reunion, but I am going to shed these twenty or so extra pounds that I have added since high school. Or at least most of them. What my roommates used to enviously refer to as my "college endowment" is probably there to stay. If only I'd had them in high school, I think with a sigh.
I undertake the process of selecting a gym with the same methodical planning with which I run the business side of my company. I diligently search the internet and the phone book for all of the facilities within a 20-mile radius of my house, and visit each one in turn.
Actually selecting the gym is a different story. I pride myself on my ability to walk into a house, spend ten minutes talking to a client, and sense immediately what it needs. By then, I can already see the necessary furniture, the placement of colors and textures, and the completed product. I still go through the motions of conducting a detailed analysis of the space, mostly so that the client believes that they are getting their money's worth, but eight times of out ten, my client ends up buying into the vision that I had that first day. And the other two times, my client is simply wrong.
I have already visited five establishments by the time I walk into the Toned Pony. It is in a seedy-looking strip mall in a part of town not yet visited by the God of Redevelopment. It is nowhere near as luxurious as the other five were; there is no carpeting in the foyer, no perky girl sitting behind a modern steel counter. Instead, there is a guy in his mid-twenties behind a wooden desk, a wet dream of a guy with curly brown hair and exquisitely sculpted arms jutting from his faded T-shirt. He looks up at me as I enter, and his steel blue eyes meet mine. I have found my gym.
"Hi," he says, extending a hand. "I'm Ben Stone."
"I know," I say, giving his hand a firm grip.
He raises an eyebrow and I laugh.
"The certificate on the wall." He follows my finger and returns his gaze with a crooked smile and a shrug.
"What can I do for you, Ms. Donovan?"
"I'm interested in joining."
"A trial membership?" he asks, pulling a form out of one of the drawers.
"No, no," I assure him. "A full six-month membership."
He frowns, his pen poised over the form.
"Can I ask your reason for joining?"
"Joining a gym?" I ask. "Let's call it a New Year's resolution."
New Year's Day is two days away.
"Then let's call it a trial membership," he says. Now it is my turn to raise an eyebrow.
"This time of year, I get a lot of people in who have very good intentions. But when January's over, or spring comes, they ask for their money back. And if they've only signed a trial membership, it just makes it a lot easier on my accountant."
I laugh. I lean forward and drop my voice to a husky alto.
"All right, Ben Stone. The reason I want to join is that when I go to my high school reunion in May, I want the bitch who stole my prom date to stand there with her jaw hanging down to her doctored boobs."
He burst into laughter of his own, and pulled another application from the desk. As I filled it out, I remembered that that was the only part of my last meeting with Andy that had gone well. Her eyes had lingered on my chest. It was just for a moment, but it was clearly a moment longer than necessary. She wanted me to be the geeky girl from high school again, not the tall, well-proportioned woman standing before her. A month later, I had heard from the grapevine that was still active back then, she'd gotten her new husband to buy her a set of implants.
"So what do I do first?" I ask, pushing the completed application back to Ben.
"Two problems there. Before you do any weight training at all, I'm going to recommend that you do aerobics and maybe a Pilates class, to strengthen your core. And Carrie, who does those classes, is a grad student at the U. So she's off on break 'til the fifth.
"She's very good at it," he hastens to assure me. "She's doing a master's in physio-therapy and coaching the women's gymnastic team. That's why the place is so quiet now. Our lifters generally come early or late."
"And the second problem?"
He blushes, a very becoming scarlet that only adds to his cuteness.
"When we get a new client, we like to take a picture of them and then develop a computer model to help them chart their progress and reach their eventual goal," he murmurs.
"We, um, usually ask the clients to strip down to their, uh, underwear," he continues, "so maybe you should wait until, um..."
"Wait until next week?" I ask. "Because you don't know how to use the camera, Ben Stone?"
"Of course I know how to use the camera." I have wounded his pride. "It's just that I usually do the guys and Carrie does the, uh, women. And she won't be here until the fifth, for her classes. The Pilates is first, and then cycling. But she can do it when her classes are done."
"Well, you're just going to have to try, Ben. When I come back in here, it's going to be to start aerobics, not wait around for another hour afterward to have my picture taken. I'm sure a handsome guy like you has managed to talk plenty of girls out of their clothes."
He flushes even deeper, but agrees to take my "before" shot, and motions me into a small room off the back of the foyer. After a while there is a soft knock at the door.
"Are you, um, decent, Ms. Donovan?"
"No, I'm not decent, Ben," I say with a giggle. "I'm standing here in my bra and panties. Do you want me decent?"
"Uh, no. I guess not." He slips in the door and has me stand against a blank screen while he trains a fancy computerized camera at me. "There. That's great, Ms. Donovan. When you're dressed, you can come back to the desk and take a look."
"Thanks, Ben. Oh, and Ben?"
"If after I'm dressed you're still calling me Ms. Donovan and not Deb, there's going to be trouble. Capisce?"
"Yes, ma — I mean, sure, Deb."
He scurries out of the room as I begin dressing. I find him at the desk, staring into the computer screen with an odd expression on his face.
"Whatcha lookin' at, Benjy?"
My voice snaps him out of his reverie. He jerks his head up to see me and, after quick looks in either direction, turns the monitor around.
It is me, a me I haven't seen since high school. My waist has been magically shrunk, my thighs and arms toned, my abdomen tightened. I look pretty damn good, if I say so myself. But apparently I didn't have to.
"Say, Benjy. Guess this thing lets you play around with my hair style too, huh?"
My sharply cut blonde style has been replaced with a softer look that frames my face perfectly, enhancing my cheekbones and highlighting my own blue eyes. I look up to find Ben blushing yet again.
"Sorry," he whispers.
"Don't be sorry," I whisper back. "If I really look like that in six months, I'll let you take my picture again. So you'll have a real one. See you on the fifth, Benjy."
I toss my bag across my shoulder and sashay out the door. Sitting in the car outside, I throw my head back and laugh once more. I haven't flirted like that in twenty years. If for no other reason than that, this reunion has been worth the trouble.
Carrie turns out to be a first class bitch, but she knows her stuff. She puts me on a much better diet, and over the next three months the pounds start melting away. In February, when I needed a haircut anyway, I had Ben print out the picture he'd doctored, and took it to my stylist. She was more than a little surprised, having tried to get me to soften my look for years. It turns out she had been right. I look ten years younger.
I feel ten years younger too. With the better body has come more energy, and by early March I am pressing Ben to start me on a weightlifting program. It turns out that his reluctance stems not from my needs so much as his own. I want to come in the middle of the day, when he is the only guy around available to spot for me. I can tell his needs from the bulge in his pants as he stands above me, looking down at the sports bra and lycra shorts I'm wearing to my workouts now. Not yet, Ben, I think to myself as I replace the bar in its holders. Not quite yet.
The time is right in early April. Carrie is off on spring break, her classes cancelled for the week. I arrive a half hour early on Monday morning. By now I know the routines well enough to know exactly what I'll find. As I enter, I silence the bell that usually would announce the arrival of a visitor. Instead, I turn and lock the door behind me. I bypass the women's changing room. This is strictly a business call, and I am dressed appropriately. I have on a short pinstriped jacket over a scooped black blouse, and a black skirt that's just a little too short for my next call, although the guy is a bit of a horndog. I usually don't wear heels at hall — most tall women have no interest in looking taller — but I don't think it will make a difference, at least on this call. I have a pair of flats in the car for the next stop.
Ben has just finished replacing the bar on its holder when I announce my presence.
"Somebody has been a naughty boy, haven't they?"
"Jesus, Deb. You scared the shit out of me."
I saunter up to the bar and put my hands on top of his. Over the last three months, our flirting has become more and more outrageous, but this is the first time that we have touched. It is an electric moment. I rub a thumb across his sweaty fingers, and inhale his fresh, masculine scent. His eyes open a fraction as he watches my gaze travel down his body and then back up, until we are staring at each other, a knowing smile on my lips, a nervous smile on his. He is still lying back on the weight bench, looking up at me.
"Deb?" he asks, his voice full of hesitation.
He moves his hand, to get a grip that will allow him to pull himself up to a sitting position.
"No," I tell him with a shake of my head.
"I'm sorry?" he asks.
"Bad Benjy didn't have a spotter, did he?" I ask.
"It wasn't that much weight," he protests. He remembers, however, his own counsel. It doesn't matter how much weight you have. Be safe.
"Benjy needs to be punished."
His eyes grow wider still.
"How?" he whispers.
I tighten my grip on his hands. He could easily pull them free, but by now he is bewitched.
"You have to promise to keep your hands here at all times," I explain. "Or your punishment will only get worse."
"Okay," he says.
I move around him slowly, watching his eyes drink me in. I am no doubt a taller glass than he has ever sipped from before. I swing one of my newly toned legs up and over his, seating myself on his thighs. He stares at me, the young fly caught in the web of the older spider. Placing my hands on his thighs, I slide them up slowly toward the loose fitting shorts that he is wearing.
"You want this, don't you, Benjy?" I ask.
His reply is the merest nod of his head.