Thursday, July 31, 2008

Untitled II

“Did you kiss me back?”
Kate held the phone in her hand, silent as the previous night played back in her mind.
He was seven hours in the hold, but as they made their way into his front yard she realized that he was steadier than she was. He extended his hand and she took it as they moved from the driveway to the street.
“Are you sure you have to go?’ he asked her, almost pouting.
“I have work in the morning. - -And yes, so do half of the other people here, but, you know me…” She gave him an exaggerated smile. “I’m the responsible fun killer.”
He laughed and wrapped her in a hug. “It was good seeing you.” He pulled away but a second later came close to kiss her cheek.
She smiled. “Call me sometime.” It came out as a whisper though she hadn’t intended it to.
“I will,” he replied. And she believed him. She returned the kiss on his cheek and said she should get going. “You’re so mean to me sometimes, you know that?”
It caused her to laugh. “I’m not mean to you! I adore you!”
“See! There you go!”
She smiled but returned his scrutinizing look. “I’m not mean. I’m quite nice to you actually.”
He kept her gaze for several seconds then said, “Close your eyes.”
The request confused . “Why?” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Are you going to pull some obnoxiously large object from behind my ear? Because if you are I would like to make my objections known now.”
“Just do it.”
She pouted at him momentarily, but soon dropped her arms and straightened herself, closing her eyes. Before she could even begin counting, his lips were on hers and to her surprise she was kissing him back.
“….Hello?”
“Yeah, I’m…. still here,” she managed, bringing herself back to reality.
“Would you care to answer my question?”
She paused. “What was the question again?” She was lying through her teeth, of course, trying to stall for time.
“Did you kiss me back?”
He didn’t remember. She could tell him anything and no one would be able to tell him differently.
He sighed on the other line. “Do you want to just talk about this later?”
“Yes,” she finally answered. “I kissed you back.”
He was momentarily taken back. “Oh. Well… Why couldn’t you just tell me that when I first asked?”
Why couldn’t she have told him? Maybe because she was technically with someone else…. Maybe because she shouldn’t have given in to his pleading come by… Maybe because he had an excuse, though not a good one, and she had nothing. “No reason, I guess,” was her reply instead.
“Was it bad?”
“Okay, can we talk about this later?” she asked, suddenly suspicious that all ears at her work were leaning toward her.
“That horrible, huh? You can tell me. I could take it.”
“I’ll call you when I leave here, okay?”
He sighed. “You’re no fun.”
“I’ll talk to you later.”
“Yeah, yeah, okay. Later.”
She set the phone back into its cradle and let out a heavy sigh. What had she gotten herself into?

Five hours later Kate punched her time card and made her way toward the door. She pulled her cell phone from her purse and opened to the C’s in her phone book.
“Hello?”
“Hey, what’s going on?” She pushed through the front door and began making her way toward her car.
“You leaving now?”
“Of course. I did tell you that I would call, you know.”
“Yeah, I know, but maybe you decided that you didn’t want to talk to me because of our conversation earlier.”
“I am an adult, Chris. It’s not like I’m going to avoid the things that clearly need - -” she stopped in the middle of the parking lot, twenty yards away from her car. Chris was leaning against the side of her car, cell phone in hand, watching her make her way over. “What are you - -? Why - -?”
“How about we lose the phones?”
Kate closed her phone and stopped in front of him. “What are you doing here?” she finally finished.
“You always say that you don’t see me enough. Now you’re complaining?”
“No, I’m not, I….. You know what, I’m going to shut up now.”
He smiled. “So, are you happy to see me?”
She shrugged. “I’m surprised to see you.”
“So not happy? If you want me to go, I - -”
“I don’t want you to go.”
There was a long moment of silence.
“So…..” Chris said.
“So….” Kate repeated, avoiding direct eye contact.
“You never answered my other question.”
“Really? I don’t recall.”
“Don’t bull shit with me, Kate.”
She grimaced, though only for a second. There it was. Her name. She would have been fine as long as he had left that one extra word out. “Chris, why are you doing this? Only a few days ago you said that we were friends, nothing more. You made it a point to - -”
“Kate. Stop.” He took her face in his hands, firmly yet gentle, so that he could look her in the eye. “You and I have been doing this dance for years. Yes, it has been years now, and I’m just as well aware of it as you are. I kissed you. Yes, I was wasted, but I still did it. There’s usually something else behind those things when they happen.
And I know what I told you the other night…but are you honestly telling me that you’ve never told me we’re just friends when you wondered? We’ve been in the same boat and maybe I just got sick of it. It’s not like you were going to do anything. It’s not like you’re going to do anything now. It’s how we are. So sue me, if maybe, just maybe, that I led myself to believe some things when you told me that you kissed me back.” He paused, noticing the look on her face. “What?”
“I really want to kiss you right now.”
“Then do it.”
“I don’t think I can.”
“It’s not hard, I promise.” He inched his face closer to hers and left it for a moment. “Just say no and I won’t do it.”
“Not happening,” she said, barely above a whisper.
Their lips touched and, to no surprise this time, Kate kissed him back. A moment later they broke apart, though their faces still stayed close.
Chris spoke first. “So?”
“It was a good kiss,” Kate replied with a smile.

Catastrophe Cait

Cait stared at the perfectly empty desk before her. It had taken three hours to go through every scrap and bit of paper, but it was done. There was nothing left.

Now she could leave.

She stood up and took a last look around the place she had called “home” for so long. The furniture was gone. The desk and the chair she had been sitting on were the only things left, and even those items had almost gone out the door with everything else. Even though they were nowhere near as sentimental as many of the things she had sold, she had finally decided to keep them. She had bought them ten years ago—her first major purchase on her own. That was why she was keeping them. They had been hers from the start. She’d store them away and maybe some day she’d come back for them. Maybe.

The airport was crowded. Cait could not believe how many people were waiting to go through security. She had traveled her whole life and had never seen a line as distressingly long as the one that stretched before her. Most people were trying to make the best of it, chit-chatting and making small talk with the others in line. Cait kept to herself. She didn’t want to know where anyone else was going. She didn’t feel like telling everyone around her where she was headed. She kept her sunglasses on and her mouth closed. When the security officer looked at her documents, she lifted her glasses and looked him straight in the eye. He glanced up from her papers, and his eyes opened wide. She gave him an almost imperceptible nod. With out a word he handed back everything as quickly as he could. Cait didn’t even sigh to herself when he acted like her passport was on fire. She was numb to it all—most of the time.

It was all part of being the infamous “Catastrophe” Cait.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Confessions in Black & White XIII

Chapter XIII

      It was afternoon by the time Kay was able to drag herself out of bed the next morning. Although she’d managed to sleep in her bed alone during the few nights that Will was gone to Dover, knowing that he was completely gone from the flat had apparently changed her ability to sleep, and she tossed and turned all night.
      Dressing with little notice, she grabbed her sunglasses on her way out and headed to the warehouse to meet the clean-up crew. Although filming was done on the black and white silent feature, she had left the sets and props in the warehouse, along with much of the equipment, to be cleaned up at a later date. When she opened the side door and turned on the lights however, enjoying the familiar buzzing noise that brought them to life, they exposed unexpected carnage.
      Everything was smashed.
      The Arc de Triomphe replica looked as though someone had taken an ax to it, the balcony was busted into splinters, shreds of backdrops lay everywhere, and where there might have been exposed concrete, it was covered in shattered glass or spare metal parts from the lights and electrical equipment.
      Kay fumbled for her mobile and phoned the police.
      “I would like to report an act of vandalism,” she said when she finally reached a human voice.
      She explained everything that she was seeing at that moment and they assured her that several officers would be there within the next fifteen minutes. Closing the door, Kay stood in the alley to wait and smoke a cigarette. She phoned Will’s desk.
      “Will Lawley’s desk,” he answered.
      “Will, it’s Kay,” she said.
      “What’s going on?” he asked.
      “Someone trashed the warehouse.”
      “What?” She could hear his voice become alert, as though he’d been sleeping and the words had woken him up.
      “I don’t know. I got here this morning and everything's broken and kicked in. The sets, the equipment, all of it.”
      “The film?” he asked anxiously.
      “No, thank God. I shipped it for development Friday. It’s the only thing that’ll make it out of this whole experiment in one piece apparently.”
      Will asked a few more questions, all of which Kay didn’t have answers to, and when the police arrived, she assured him that she’d call him back after she had submitted all the proper paperwork.
      Unfortunately, it took the rest of the day to go over the damage in the large warehouse, the total cost of the vandalism figuring in a five-figure digit, much to Kay’s annoyance.
      “Well, at least there’s insurance on most of it,” she said while filling out forms at the station.
      “Who had access to the warehouse?” she was asked by an officer.
      “No one; just me. And Beck.”
      “Who’s Beck?”
      “She’s my set producer. All those backdrops, the scraps of wood that used that used to be pieces of art, they were all hers…” Kay stopped and stared into space thoughtfully for a second.
      “Miss Stevens?” the officer prompted.
      “Oh…I’m sorry, I was just thinking about all the things I lost that can’t be replaced,” she lied. “The equipment, I don’t care about, it’s replaceable. But I had a movie set in there. Several movie sets, in fact. And I’m never going to get those back.”
      The officer nodded and jotted down some more notes, collecting the pile of papers Kay had been working on.
      “We’ll let you know as soon as we have any leads on what might have happened,” they told her on her way out, and she nodded her head without confidence. She already knew what had happened.

      I was surprised to find Kay on my doorstep when I answered the bell.
      “Kay!” I said. “Come in. What’s going on?” I asked.
      “I’ve got some news,” she said calmly.
      “Oh?”
      “About the studio –the film studio.”
      “Is everything okay?” I asked.
      “I think you know the answer to that.”
      “What?”
      Kay smiled a little, and I momentarily hated the sunglasses she wore that covered up the look in her eyes. I wondered if it was fear or revulsion or just amusement. Knowing Kay, it was just amusement. She had a knack for taking terrible things at a better-than-face value.
      “Why’d you do it, Beck?” she asked, following me into the front room without taking off her coat.
      “Do what?”
      “It was mostly your own work. The only thing you cost me was time and money; time down at the station today to fill out forms, and money to pay for the damages, although that’s minimal since I owned most of the equipment and doubt I’ll be making any more movies in the near future. It’s not as though I’ll need to replace it soon, if ever, and I waste more money on less important things anyway. It doesn’t quite seem worth it.”
      “You think I cared about the sets?” I laughed ironically. “Fuck the sets, Kay. Those were cartoon drawings.”
      “Then what was it?” she asked. “Was it just about Will? Just about Krystof?”
      She got to the point much more quickly than I’d anticipated. I thought she would at least try to sweeten the truth out of me with her infamous charm.
      “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I lied.
      “Oh, don’t play games with me, Beck,” she said condescendingly. “I taught you all of that. I created you.”
      “You didn’t create me, you just made me worse than I already was,” I corrected.
      “So then what was it about? Did you want the personal satisfaction of ripping the film to shreds, frame by frame?”
      She was right, I had wanted that, but I was silent. She smirked at me and I had the urge to slap her.
      “You know…I used to pity you, Beck. I used to think, ‘Poor little, Beck. So lost in the big world. So different from the rest of us.’ –What a joke.” She leaned in close to me, as if to tell me a secret. “You’re just like the rest of us…” she whispered with a grin, chuckling a little to herself and standing back up straight. “You’re just like the rest of us!” She laughed outright at that. “No better, and hardly any worse.” She shook her head as though the joke was with herself.
      “Get out,” I said, pointing to the door in case she needed help.
      She left without another word, and as I closed the door behind her, I knew that I wouldn’t be seeing her or Krystof or probably Will ever again. Because she would tell them, and I’d have failed. I’d have taught none of them the lessons that they needed to learn.

      Kaysa led her brother into the empty warehouse with a blindfold over his eyes. She had turned on some of the main lights, but not all of them, so only a small portion of the warehouse, in the back, was lit. In the darkened half, two chairs stood side-by-side. She led him to one of the chairs and sat him down before removing the blindfold.
      “Kinky,” Krystof observed, looking around curiously. “The place is emptier than I remembered.”
      “Yeah, well…there was a little incident last week that made certain it would all be cleaned out pretty quickly,” Kay told him vaguely.
      Krystof was predictably disinterested in the response to his observation though, and he crossed his right leg over his left. “So let’s see this thing,” he said without enthusiasm.
      Kay began to run the reel and the image came up in clean, crisp lines against the white screen that had almost been invisible in the darkness of the warehouse. The frame opened on a curb as tires spun to a stop. Above the curb, a car door could be seen to open, just the bottom, and a slender ankle wearing an old-fashioned heel emerged. The other shoe appeared in front of it, and the camera moved up a shapely calf, meeting the hem of a skirt which appeared as a dark grey on the screen, but which Krystof knew had originally been royal blue. A woman was getting out of a taxi, and the camera continued upward as she stood: from the waist of her 1950s era dress, which was cinched with a wide belt, up to the square neckline, embellished by the scarf that was wrapped around her hair and neck, fluttering in a breeze that had cost the stage hands at least a dozen attempts to manufacture to Kay’s satisfaction.
      The woman’s face was smooth and showed no sign of shadows, just like one of the old movie stars, like Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis. Her lips were full and her cheekbones were high and round. What appeared to be sunlight reflected off the corner of large, black sunglasses, perfectly round and taking up the upper portion of the woman’s face.
      Suddenly, the camera spun out away from the woman in a flurry of scenery, from which the Eiffel Tower could vaguely be picked out, and if one were paying attention, even the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre pyramid.
      Krystof watched as the blurred images slowed and straightened, the film leaping from one exciting height to another. The main character, the woman from the opening scene, was always jumping or falling into every scene she both entered and left.
      After forty minutes, Krystof said, “It’s about you.”
      “What?” Kay said, still standing next to the projector, arms crossed, watching her film for the first time as well. “Me? –It’s not about me.” She felt mesmerized by her own images. “It’s about the world.”
      “How so?” Krystof asked.
      Kay shrugged, and pushed her sunglasses, which she had for some reason left on, even in the darkness, unto the top of her head. Her eyes reflected the images of the white screen almost as well as the black lenses did, and her grey eyes and white skin looked almost to be as much a part of the film as what was on the screen.
      “Just look at her…” Kay breathed.
      On the screen, the sunglass-wearing woman in the white scarf took a flying leap off a bridge over the Seine and landed, safe and dry, inside the Louvre’s glass pyramid, the camera zooming in to her palms pressed against the glass, which then frosted over and left a perfect imprint of her hands.
      “No one feels that much. No one feels that often.” Kay took a puff of the cigarette she’d lit a half hour into the movie. “At least not anyone we know. But if you think about the world…if the world were a woman…she would feel all these things. Just like this. Every day.”
      The image of the actress pressing a kiss unto the tear-streaked cheek of a small boy zoomed quickly into an image of the actress under the Arc de Triomphe, the brilliant replica Beck had both made and destroyed. The man from the bridge, the actor Rick, held her wrists in his hands and they were kissing passionately, the scarf still fluttering elusively, almost like a dream or a butterfly, in the fabricated wind.
      “I still say it’s about you,” Krystof said, but he was silent through the last hour.
      The movie ended with the woman standing on the balcony railing. She stood on her toes, arms looking as though they were sculpted from marble they were so white and taut. Her fingers were spread, and her chin was lifted upward. Kay still got the sensation that the woman was looking up toward God, the smile on her face, faint though it was, beautiful and sublime. The pose held for a fraction of a second, and then the woman’s body became like a curved lens as she took a swan-dive forward off the balcony, like a bird.
      She was flying. Soaring.
      “She’s crashing…” Kay whispered, but she was smiling, too when Krystof looked up at her.
      The projector made a loud flapping noise as the film ended and spun off the reel. The light from the projector was a dull white, no longer brightened by the film, which even though black and white had seemed colorful by the very emotions captured in each frame.
      “So?” Kay asked expectantly as she removed the reels and placed them carefully in their canisters, and then placed the canisters in her bag.
      “You…sister…” Krystof said, standing up and stretching his back and legs. “I don’t know about you.”
      “I didn’t ask about me. I asked about the film. What did you think about the film?”
      There was an excitement in her voice, and Krystof smiled, putting his arm around her shoulder.
      “Whatever happened to Will Lawley?” he asked instead of answering her question.
      Kay flicked off the switch on the projector and both she and Krystof had to squint in the darkness as they walked back toward the door.
      “He’s still around,” she said.
      “Ever talk to him?”
      “Sure.”
      “Ever sleep with him?”
      Kay laughed. “Not yet.”
      “Not yet… Hm…” Krystof sounded as pensive as teasing, leaning more of his weight than necessary against Kay so that she would stumble. She laughed at this and playfully smacked his chest so that he’d straighten up.
      “We’re supposed to be talking about the film,” she reminded him.
      “But I’m talking about Will. –And I think it’s about time you finally slept with that poor man.”
      “Is that so?” Kay pressed her lips so that her smile was partially contained.
      “Yeah…that is so. What do you say to that?”
      “I’ll consider it,” she said.
      “Good. –Now as for this film, I still say it’s about you.”
      Kay reached out and the dim light of the warehouse was instantly swallowed by darkness, but not a half second later, the door let in a flood of sunlight. The sky was a blindingly bright blue, with not a single cloud to cover it. The beige paint chipped off the dirty red bricks of the surrounding warehouses of Southwark, and traffic noise, honking horns, pedestrians, and a whole sea of color accepted Kaysa and Krystof into an unsually warm day for such early Spring.
      “Well, you know what I say?” Kay asked, shaking Krystof’s arm off her shoulder so that she could lock the door.
      “What do you say?”
      “I say that you’re my brother.” She looked at him out of the corner of her eyes, slipping the key into her coat pocket and standing chest-to-chest with him, just a few inches shorter, but otherwise a near-perfect mirror of his features. “You’re my twin. And I love you.”
      Krystof put his cold hands on her cold cheeks, his thumbs gliding across her cheekbones, which were uninhibited by the sunglasses that were still pushed on top of her head.
      “I love you, too,” he said. And he hugged her close to him for a minute.
      As they continued to walk down the street, Krystof asked, “Does this mean you finally believe me about Beck?”
      “Yes,” Kay said after a pause. “I learned a few things about Beck.”
      “Oh?”
      “Yeah.” Kay paused again, and then found herself laughing. “You know,” she added, “I even think she might have been the one to set Will’s flat on fire.”
      Krystof laughed at that, too.
      “Really?”
      “Yeah… Last week she totally wrecked the warehouse, took out at least a half dozen Mole-Richardsons, and it looked like she dropped the Juniors off the high beam. That’s why the place was all cleared out today.”
      They were both laughing, almost uncontrollably, drawing attention from passerby on the street.
      “Oh man,” Krystof whistled. “Who would have guessed?”
      “Well,” Kay said, nodding her head from side to side. “I think we really should have known better.”
      “You’re right, you’re right,” Krystof said, nodding his head in agreement and putting his arm over her shoulders again as they caught their breath. “Just some more confessions in black and white.”
      “In this color-drunken world.”
      They disappeared between the people crossing the bridge over the Thames, arm-in-arm and still laughing a bit to themselves. And even when that laughter faded, they were still smiling. Above them, the ravens and gulls that haunted the Tower of London called to one another in their alternately soft and scratchy voices.

The Virgin of McWayne County

It wasn’t that Celeste O’Keefe wasn’t interested in losing her virginity. She was. Very much. She thought about sex a lot, but she was also a smart girl, and knew deep down that she just wasn’t ready yet. Celeste believed her virginity was sacred and precious, and it was important to her. A lot of people she knew thought sex wasn’t that big of a deal, but to her, it was a very big deal.

Jason didn’t quite see it that way.

Lying next to her on the stiff white sheets, Jason was panting and red-faced, appearing to be in great pain. "Celeste, when are you going to quit teasing me?"

She could tell by his tone that he was angry with her, and his flushed cheeks likely had more to do with his feelings of outrage than from his current state of arousal. Rolling away from him, clutching her prom dress, she found herself getting angry, too.

"I wasn’t teasing you."

Jason rolled his eyes at her. "You let me unzip your dress, and you certainly didn’t complain when I slid it off. You were all over me. That’s teasing."

Celeste’s blue eyes blazed at him as she yanked on her dress and hurriedly zipped it. Winding her sweaty brown hair into a bun, she growled out, "Well, excuse me! I didn’t realize that going to prom meant it was an automatic free pass for you to get laid. So what if I let you take off my dress? I’m wearing a bodysuit underneath, which covers more than my regular swimsuit. You don’t try to jump me when I’m in a bikini, so why would you try when I’m more covered? And is that all you ever think about? Trying to get into my pants? Sorry I’m not ready to satiate your lust!"

With that, she snatched her evening bag off the dresser and flounced out of the room, firmly shutting the door behind her. She’d made it only as far as the hotel swimming pool when Jason caught up and grabbed her arm.

"Celeste, wait. I’m sorry."

She angrily shook away his hand and kept walking, trying to avoid getting splashed by her mostly drunk and excessively rowdy classmates. Angel Lake only had one hotel, which typically stood nearly empty all year until prom rolled around. Then, it was full of seniors and a handful of juniors who managed to snag invitations to the big event. The only good thing was that at least the parents knew where their kids were at, and Vince, the owner and manager of the hotel, kept a close watch on the activities. He didn’t really mind the kids drinking, so long as it didn’t get out of hand. And the kids knew that if they caused any real trouble, Vince would be on them in a flash, with their parents in tow.

Celeste thought it was stupid. Come to think of it, Celeste thought that a lot of things that went on in Angel Lake were stupid. The sex and the underage drinking were just two of the things that annoyed her.

Jason again reached out to her, this time gently taking her hand.

"Celeste, please stop. Look at me. Please? I really am sorry. I was acting like a jerk."

She gave him a petulant look, but relented a little. Celeste was cursed with a soft heart. And underneath his macho exterior, Jason was a pretty decent guy.

Celeste, though she hadn’t spoken a word, slowed her pace so Jason could keep up with her without having to trot. She had long legs and everyone she knew complained that compared to them, she could cover double the distance in half the time—and she usually did. She had slowed down to what she considered a stroll, though Jason considered it to be almost power walking.

"Jason, I’m sorry if my actions tonight indicated that I was ready for something more. I’m not ready. I’m sorry, but I’m just not. I was having a great time, and honestly, I was roasting in my dress, especially with the bodysuit under it. That’s why I didn’t object to taking it off. But I’m not the only one at fault, you know."

Jason was slightly taken aback. "What do you mean? You were the one shimmying out of your dress. To me, that’s a pretty clear invitation."

She gave him an icy stare and raised her eyebrows. "I beg your pardon? I was not ‘shimmying’. You unzipped my dress and slid it off. Granted, I didn’t complain or make a move to stop you, but I don’t quite see how that’s a clear invitation for anything."

"Girls don’t usually go to hotel rooms with their boyfriends and take off their clothes unless they’re planning on spreading their legs." He was angry again and didn’t care that he was being nasty.

Celeste froze, and just for an instant, was completely speechless. "I can’t believe you just said that. So, all prom meant to you was getting me to spread my legs? Nice, Jason. Really nice."

They were in the parking lot, which was a sea of pickup trucks and limousines. Celeste was aware that she didn’t actually have a ride home since they’d come in Jason’s F-150, but she was hopeful that one of the limo drivers would take her home. With any luck, it wouldn’t cost more than the twenty dollars she had in her wallet. She headed toward the row of parked limos, hoping to find the one driven by her father’s friend Harry, pretty sure he would drive her home without asking too many questions. It was only a little after eleven and most of her fellow seniors would be at the hotel until at least one or two. Of course, that didn’t count the number who planned on staying there for the night, nor did it include the many seniors who would drink themselves into complete stupors and forget they even had limos waiting for them.

Jason grabbed at her again, forcing her to turn and look at him. "So that’s it? You’re just going to walk away from me?"

Celeste shrugged. "I don’t see any point in sticking around. You’re mad at me for not having sex with you, and I’m mad at you for pressuring me. If I stay, you may come to the asinine conclusion that I’ll," she paused and mimicked his expression, "spread my legs for you." She shook her head sadly. "No thanks."

Jason was momentarily stunned. "You’re really going home?"

"Yes, Jason. I’m going home. End of discussion."

"If you walk away from me, we’re done."

She gave him a hard, appraising look. "If that’s what you really want, I guess I’ll have to deal with it."

"You’re really telling me that you’re going to throw away the past eight months? You’re going to give up on our relationship because of sex?"

His words cut to the quick and unbidden tears sprang into her eyes. Thankfully, it was dark enough that he couldn’t see them, and when she finally spoke again, she managed to keep the quiver out of her voice. "Jason," she said quietly, "I am only going to say this once, so please listen very carefully." She was silent for a moment, just to make sure he was really paying attention, then cleared her throat. "I am not the one giving up on our relationship because of sex."

She began walking away from him, but not before he got in one last jab. "You’re the oldest virgin in Angel Lake, Celeste!" he shouted. "In fact, you’re probably the oldest virgin in McWayne County!"

Celeste, hobbled by high heels, picked her way through the gravel parking lot. She forgot about getting a ride, and instead made the mile and a half walk home in full prom gear, Jason’s words ringing in her ears the whole way.

Upon arriving home, Celeste was surprised to find the house dark and quiet. She’d thought for sure her mother would be up, wanting to hear all the details of the evening. She was grateful, though, because at least now she wouldn’t have to explain why she was home so early. Wandering into the kitchen, she smiled when she saw the light on over the stove with a note dangling from it. Her mother’s neat script indicated that there was a snack in the fridge for her and Jason. Peeking inside, she found a platter with two egg salad sandwiches and a dozen chocolate chip cookies. Suddenly famished, Celeste poured herself a glass of milk, helped herself to one of the sandwiches and half of the cookies, and got down the business of eating.

After polishing off everything, she sat back, feeling uncomfortably full and very sleepy. She chided herself for being so piggish, but didn’t feel too guilty. Running kept her lean and fit, and she was pretty sure these calories would get burned up the next day.

Celeste rinsed her dishes and put them in the dishwasher before going to her bedroom. Once there, she didn’t bother putting on a light, choosing instead to undress in the pale moonlight. She stepped out of her prom dress, smiling as she hung it up. It had been such a find. She and her mother had been visiting her brother in the city the month before, and she had seen it in a used clothing store. When she saw it, it was long, mermaid-style, pale yellow, with long, ridiculously puffy organza sleeves. On an impulse, she’d bought it.

Her brother Andrew frowned at her when he saw it. "You really paid seven dollars for that? I don't think I would have taken it if someone offered me seven dollars to take it away. No offense, sis, but that’s really ugly."

It was ugly. But with the help of her creative eye and her mother’s sewing machine, the ugly dress was now the beautiful creation she had worn this evening. Other than the fact that the color was the same, there was no way to recognize what the dress had once been. What she had worn tonight was unlike anything she could have gotten in Angel Lake, or all of McWayne County for that matter. Gazing at the dress, she remembered how beautiful she’d felt only hours before.

The pale yellow had brought out the coppery highlights in her brown hair and made her dark blue eyes appear even bluer. It was more about the shape of the dress, though. She had shortened it to knee-length and split the side seams, using the extra fabric to fill out the skirt and make it flare. Additionally, she had completely and carefully removed the sleeves, decorated the organza with seed pearls, then used it as an overlay for the skirt. She had then cut out the upper back of the dress and re-designed the neckline, making it a pleasing-to-the-eye-but-not-too-sexy halter. The style made her smallish breasts appear larger, while accenting her small waist and concealing her wide hips.

She had finished it all off with white sandals, her mother’s pearl earrings, and a white handbag. She’d worn her hair in loose waves, her long bangs swept to the side and held in place above her left ear with a tiny, pearl clip. Jason’s jaw had dropped when he arrived with a daisy corsage, and even daddy told her she looked beautiful. Her mother had beamed with pride, telling her she looked "like a wholesome, home-grown girl and dressed to kill." Celeste had smiled broadly at her mother, knowing it was hard for her to be watching her little girl grow up so fast.

Sighing, Celeste wiggled out of her bodysuit, then flopped on her back on her bed and squeezed her eyes shut. She could not believe how badly the evening had turned out. What a flop. Lying there in the darkness, she kept hearing Jason’s words. ‘The oldest virgin in McWayne County.’ The tragic part was that he was probably right. But at eighteen years old, she just knew that she wanted more out of life that what Angel Lake had to offer, and if she gave up her virginity, especially for Jason, she would never have the courage to leave for college in August.

Magic, the family cat, streaked out from under Celeste’s desk and pounced on her bed. She reached out and stroked the old cat’s black fur, thinking about how easy he must have it.
"What do you think, Magic? Am I being foolish? Hanging onto some crazy, moralistic ideal that went out of fashion faster than tapered-leg jeans?" Magic blinked his yellow feline eyes at her and licked her hand with his sandpaper tongue.

Celeste closed her eyes, thinking about how much fun she’d had with Jason. They’d had a romantic dinner at Sebastian’s, a Greek restaurant in the next town, then headed back to Angel Lake High School, where they’d set the dance floor on fire. And Celeste didn’t like to admit it, but Jason had also set her body on fire.

For a brief moment, lying on the hotel bed with him, she’d considered letting Jason go all the way. And the mere fact that she’d thought it at all was what made her get up and leave.
A bittersweet smile tugged at the corners of her mouth when she remembered the look on his face. Never before had she seen such an expression of shock. He just couldn’t grasp the concept that she wasn’t ready to give him her virginity.

A faint tap at the bedroom door snapped Celeste out of her reverie.

"Just a sec," she called out, hurriedly pulling on her pajamas. As she buttoned her shirt, the door slowly opened and her mother poked her head in, looking sheepish.

"Hey kiddo. I thought I heard you come in. Did you have a good time?"

Celeste shrugged. "Pretty good. Dinner was great and the dance was a blast."

Rose Marie heard the catch in her daughter’s voice, but knew better than to ask her about it. Celeste would talk when she was ready, and not a minute before.

"Okay. Maybe you can tell me about it in the morning. Get some sleep."

"Will do. G’night mom."

"Good night, sweetheart."

Her mother stepped into the hall and quietly pulled the door shut, pretending not to see the tears bulging in her little girl’s eyes. Celeste, alone on the other side, pulled the blanket over her head and let the tears flow. Magic nuzzled up next to her and she scratched behind his ears, enjoying the sound of his rumbling purr.

Was being a virgin really so bad? As she thought about it, and thought about friends of hers who already had babies and the troubles they faced, thought about her plans for the future and what she wanted out of life. She glanced at her desk, where her acceptance letter from Brown University was proudly displayed and decided that no, it really wasn’t so bad—even if it did make her the oldest virgin in McWayne County.