Tall , thin and blonde

It was like overnight amy had become a completely different person. All of a sudden we were in high school and my buddy , my pal , was one of those girls who worry about what they eat and what they wear and who they're friends with. The problem was...I was still me.


4. no tutu for you

Probably the best thing about the Saturday dance was that worrying about it took my mind off other things, like frogs and cheerleaders.

Not that I wanted to worry about it. I didn't. I didn't even want to think about it. It wasn't important, I kept telling myself. It was stupid to spend so much time trying to decide what shoes you were going to wear or whether or not you should wear a skirt. It was a waste of time and energy. But I worried anyway. I worried Thursday night. I worried all day Friday.

What should I wear? What would everyone else be wearing? What if Amys make-over didn't work? What if I looked the same After as I did Before? Should we get there on time? Or should we get there late? What would I do when someone asked me to dance? Were you supposed to talk while you danced? Or were you supposed to dance and talk later? Not that it really mattered, of course, because I couldn't dance. Not socially. I used to be into ballet, when I was younger, but it wasn't the same thing. And even if I could dance, which I couldn't, no one was going to ask me to dance. Which brought me to another problem. What did you do when you weren't dancing? Did you just stand there, or would there be someplace to sit down? Would the people who weren't dancing talk to one another, or what? And then a really awesome thought hit me. What if some geek asked me to dance? Then what would I do? How could you tell someone that you didn't want to dance with him not because you didn't feel like dancing, but because you'd rather have your teeth drilled than dance with him? Would there be refreshments?

Saturday was worse.

It took me five hours to get dressed for the dance, not counting the two showers and the bath I took.

The main problem was that I really did have nothing to wear. Most of my jeans were baggy and most of my shirts were flannel. You know, great for camping in the wilderness, but not exactly right for the first big dance of the year. I had a few dresses and skirts and blouses at the back of my closet, but they were mainly things my grandmother and my mother had given me for presents. Amy, Kim and Amber wouldn't have been caught dead in any of them.

On the other hand, it was just as well that I had so little choice. Because my second problem was that I couldn't make up my mind. I'd try something on. Then I'd go into my parents' room to see how it looked in my mothers full-length mirror. Then I'd go into the kitchen, where my mother was fixing the washing machine, and I'd ask her what she thought. Then I'd go back to the bedroom for a second look. Then I'd try on something else.

It was the first time I realized how unreliable mothers are as judges of fashion. No matter what I put on, my mother said it looked nice. She didn't care if it was green or had bows on or it made me look like Miss Piggy. "That looks lovely, dear," she said. Unless it was something that was almost passable. Then she'd say, "Honey, don't you think its a little...um...short?"

The only thing my father said to me all afternoon was, "Jenny, you aren't still in the bathroom, are you?"

Finally, just when I was about to start crying, my mother threw down her wrench and rushed me to the mall. she helped me pick out a stretchy black skirt and a deep yellow top. My mother and the salesperson said the yellow brought out the rich brown colour of my hair and my eyes. When I was all dressed, I went to show my parents.

"Really, honey," said my mother, "you look great."

My father said, "Isn't that skirt a little short?"

"That's the way they're wearing them now," said my mother.

When I got to Amys, the first thing she said to me was "Hi! Isn't this going to be grat?" She was wearing her new blue skirt and pale pink silk shirt. She looked like a model. An eighteen year old model. For some reason, I started ti feel short and chubby and not much more than twelve.

The second thing she said was, "Do you want to change into your clothes for the dance after I make you up or before?"

"This is what I'm wearing to the dance," I said.

"Oh," said Amy. "Oh, of course." She smiled as though she'd been kidding, but I could see in her eyes that she'd been perfectly serious.

"What's wrong with it?" I asked. I glanced at myself in the mirror. "Does it make me look fat or something?"

Amy shook her head. "No, no, it doesn't make you look fat..." She drew her eyebrow together in that way she has. I could tell she was debating whether or not she should tell me the truth.

"What is it?" I pushed. "Is it too long?"

"No," said Amy, "its not too long." She was chewing thoughtfully on the end of a strand of her hair. "Its just that no ones wearing those black skirts anymore," she said at last.

I looked down. "They're not?" Why hadn't anyone told me? Or the saleslady? And why were they allowed to continue selling them if no one was wearing them? "Well, there's not much I can do about that now," I said. I looked at Amy. Her eyebrows were still drawn together. "What?" I asked.

She looked pained. "Its the top," she said slowly. "Its not really your colour."

"It isn't? You don't think it brings out the rich brown colour of my hair and eyes?"

"I think it makes you look like a plague victim." She laughed so I'd know she was making a joke.

"Ha ha," I said.

"Maybe you can wear something of mine," Amy suggested. She frowned. Her eyes went from my head to my feet. I looked down. But I didn't get as far as my feet. All I saw were my knees. They were white and pudgy. They looked like un-iced cupcakes. My father had been right. The skirt was too short.
Amy wasn't too impressed with what she saw either. "I must have something that would fit you," she sighed.

Oh, sure, I thought, like a cardboard box or a garbage bag, something like that.

"You don't have to go to any trouble," I assured her, wishing I had worn jeans after all. Jeans and stilts. "I'm OK wearing what I have on."

She didn't say anything, but she gave me this look. That's what you think, said her look. She smiled bravely. "If only you were an inch or two taller," she said. "Or a little...you know...smaller..."

"Or someone else," I suggested.

Amy gave me a wink. "That would help, too," she said with a laugh.

She stopped laughing when she tried to do something with my hair. "You should curl it," said Amy, rubbing gel into it to "give it some body". "Nobody wears their hair like this anymore. It went out with bell-bottoms."

I winced as she rubbed a little too vigorously. "But I don't want it curled," I protested. "I like it straight."

She gave me a slightly pitying look. "Its too bad its so dark," she said. "You can't even have it lightened."

"Maybe I should wear a wig."

"It works for Beyonce," said Amy.

Amy wasn't laughing while she made me up, either. "Stop blinking, Jen," she ordered. "How can I do your eyes if you keep blinking?"

"I can't help it. Its a reflex action. That's how your eye protects itself from foreign objects."

"There's nothing foreign about eyeliner and mascara," said Amy.

I didn't exactly agree with that. "I feel like my lashes are glued together."

Amy stepped back. She put her head to one side and pursed her lips. She looked like an artist deciding whether or not she had gotten the blue right in the sky.

"Well?" I asked. She'd put so much lipstick on my mouth that my lips made a noise when I moved them.

"Not bad," said Amy. She passed me the hand mirror. "See for yourself."

I stared at myself in the glass. My hair seemed to have been electrocuted, my skin was an unnatural shade of pink, my eyelids were an unnatural shade of blue, and my mouth looked as though I'd been sucking blood.

"Well?" asked Amy.

I couldn't answer. If this were After, you had to wonder After what?

We weren't at the dance for more than three minutes before I began to wish I really were someone else. Someone who lived in Alaska or Iceland. You know, a place where it was cold and dark a lot and they didn't have many dances. Someone whose best friend had found her something else to wear instead of the short black skirt and yellow top her mother had told her she looked so nice in.

We walked through the door. "Gee, doesn't it look great?" asked Amy.

It was nothing like my dream. It looked like the gym decorated with balloons and streamers. Instead of a live band there was a DJ. The DJ was Mr Mantin, the music teacher.

She looked around the room. I looked around the room, too. There were a few couples dancing, but mostly kids were just standing around in groups, boys in one huddle and girls in another. I didn't see anyone I knew. Not to talk to, anyway.

But Amy did.

"Look!" she squeled. "Look! There's Amber and Kim and Samantha Wister, the co-captain of the cheerleaders." She jabbed me in the ribs. "And look!" she breathed. "There's Rosie Henley!" Except for Rosie Henley, they were all waving at her. Rosie Henley was too cool to wave. She just smiled like a queen greeting a peasant.

Amy grabbed my arm. "We'd better go over and say hello," she said.

"What?" I don't know why, but I wasn't prepared for this. I'd thought Amy and I were going to hang out at the dance together. By ourselves.

She waved back. "They're waiting," she hissed. "We can't just stand here..."

"But, Amy-" I began. She was already walking away. I pulled myself up to my full height, and I strode after her. I might not be part of her new crowd, but I wasn't going to stand there all alone.

They were all happy to see one another. They hugged each other. They started talking and giggling. I smiled. Amy told each of them how great she looked. She loved Rosies hair. She loved Samanthas earrings. She loved Ambers dress. She couldn't get over Kims new shoes. They told Amy how great she looked. Samantha loved Amys skirt. Kim loved the way she'd done her eyes. Rosie used to have a blouse in exactly that shade of blue.

No one said anything to me. I just stood there, smiling. I could feel my skirt shrinking and my knees swelling. I was getting shorter. I glanced at my watch. Why hadn't I ever realized how hairy my arms were? I looked like a jungle girl. I clasped my hands behind my back. Amy said something that made everyone laugh. I smiled harder. And then I remembered we'd had spaghetti for supper. My mother always put garlic in her spaghetti sauce. And I'd eaten it! I'd eaten garlic before the dance! I stopped smiling and clamped my mouth shut. My feet began to sweat. Goos grief, that was all I needed. I lowered my head a little to see if I could smell anything. My contact fell out. I didn't usually wear them, because they never really fit right, but Amy had convinced me that I couldn't go to the dance in glasses.

These things don't happen in real life, I told myself. They only happen in the movies. As casually as I could, I got on my knees. Someone - Amber, I think - wanted to know what I was doing. "Listening for buffalo," I said.

I knew they were exchanging looks above my head. Someone - Samantha, I think - said, "Was that a joke?"

Amy giggled nervously. "Jenny has a very unusual sense of humour."

"She certainly has a very unusual sense of something," said Rosie Henley.

"Maybe that's the way they dance on her planet," said Kim.

"I wouldn't crawl around in that outfit if I were her," said Amber.

Amy stepped forward. I held my breath, expecting to hear the unforgettable sound of a plastic lens being ground into the floor of the gym by size five pumps in a vibrant shade of blue.

"Don't move!" I shouted. "I've lost my contact."

Amy laughed. "Oh, your contact." She moved and my heart stopped. "Jenny lost her contact," she told them. She sounded relieved. "Why didn't you say you lost your contact?"

"Because she was too busy listening for buffalo," said Samantha.

When I came back from the girls' room after putting my contact back in, everyone was gone.

I sat down on the bleachers to wait for them to come back. I firgured they'd gone somewhere to smooth down their eyebrows or something. I waited.

Slowly, I began to notice that I was the only person in the entire gym who was by herself. Even the people you knew no one would ever dance with were with other people no one would ever dance with. I scanned the crowd, hoping the Martians might have shown up after all. I suddenly had a real longing to hear Tanyas too-loud laugh, or see Sue standing in the doorway with that "What am I?" expression on her face. Even Marva in her Countess Dracula cape would have been a relief. But they weren't there. I waited some more.

I began to feel really self-conscious, Whenever someone looked my way, I could hear them thinking, Good grief! Look at her clothes! Doesn't she know that black is out? Doesn't she know that yellow makes her look ill? How could she dare to show those knees? Look at how short and chubby she is! Hasn't she ever heard of self improvement? I waited some more.

Eventually, I spotted Kim, Amber, Amy, Samantha and a couple of boys who were on the football team, talking at the other side of the room. Dwayne Miller was standing next to Amy, smiling. Sort of like in my dream. I continued to wait.

Amy started dancing with Dwayne Miller. He was still smiling. There was a group of girls sitting at the other end of the bleachers. They looked at me and I looked at them. I turned away. They started laughing.

Up until this evening, the worst moment of my life had been when I was nine years old. Back then, I spent my Saturday mornings not at swimming club, but at Miss Marilus Academy of Dance. I was in the advanced ballet class. There were twelve of us in the advanced class. Eleven of us were tall and slender, and called "my little swans" by Miss Marilu, the twelfth one was me. Miss Marilu called me Jenny, I loved ballet. All year long, I looked forward to the big end-of-year recital, when we got to wear these beautiful costumes and dance on stage. Back then, I liked having the spotlight on me. The year I was nine, Miss Marilu choreographed the ballet herself. It was abour a fairy princess and a frog. The princess and her friends got to wear pink tutus and tiny silver crowns on their heads. The princess's tutu was sprinkled with stars. The frog and his friends wore green leotards and hoods so you couldn't see their ears. All the frog had to do was leap around and make sure the princess didn't fall on her face, but the princess was the star. I wanted to be the princess. I had my heart set on it. I was one of the very best dancers in the class, so I knew that I has a chance. I practised for weeks. I twirled through the kitchen. I spent hours in the bathroom, using the towel rack as my barre. I stood in front of the mirror at the back of my mothers closet, picturing myself in the princess's tutu.

At last, the day of the audition arrived. Louise Leftbridge was out with the flu. Arabelle Mulson forgot the routine. Pamela Hindrikson stumbled twice. But I was terrific. I was flawless. I was the princess down to the tip of my toes. Even Miss Marilu praised me. "Excellent, my dear," said Miss Marilu. "Very, very good, indeed." She shook her head. "Its amazing," said Miss Marilu, "but you really have a talent." You'd have thought she'd just discovered I could fly. Flushed with pleasure, I sat down to wait for Miss Marilu to assign the roles. Everyone agreed that I was a sure thing for the princess. I was so excited I could barely sit still.

Miss Marilu made me the frog. "But I want to be the princess ," I protested. "I've been practising for weeks." Miss Marilu smiled at me kindly. She patted my shoulder. "I'm afraid that you're not really built for the role of the princess," said Miss Marilu. She patted my shoulder again. I wasn't quite sure what she meant. She explained. "The princess must be slender and graceful," said Miss Marilu. She gave me another kind smile. "There will be no pink tutu for you," Miss Marilu bellowed. "But you will make a most excellent frog." I burst into tears.

If I'd still been a child and not a young woman in high school, I might have burst into tears while I was sitting by myself on the bleachers, watching everyone else have a wonderful time. Watching Amy laughing and tossing her curly blonde hair while she danced with Dwayne and didn't once look in my direction.

But I wasn't a child and I was in high school, so as calmly and casually as I could I stood up. I walked slowly towards the door. I crossed the hallway. I entered the girls' room. There were a few girls brushing their hair and studying their faces in the mirrors over the sinks. I strolled to the corner booth. I locked it behind me. I looked at my watch. It was nine twenty-five. The dance wasn't over till eleven, when my father would be picking us up. I couldn't walk home, because it was too late. I sat down to wait. Now that I knew what you did if you weren't dancing, I vowed that if I ever went to a dance again I'd be sure to bring a book along.

When the dance was finally over, I went back into the gym and signalled Amy that I'd meet her outside. She was talking and laughing with Dwayne, Kim, Amber and a bunch of kids I didn't know. She nodded briefly in my direction. When my father came I got into the front seat and Amy got into the back. My father asked us if we'd had a nice time. I said, "Uh huh." Amy spent the ride home telling my father about the nice time she'd had, blah-blah-blah. My father spent the ride home nodding and pretending to be interested. I spent the ride home changing the station on the radio.

"So," said my father as we watched Amy let herself into her house. "Your very first high school dance. I'm glad you girls had such a good time."

I swallowed hard. "Yeah," I said. "So am I."
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