I remember his smell. Old spice meets Calvin Klein in a sports locker, the heat of summer and musk of bug spray from last weekend’s canoe trip. I couldn’t get enough.
Kyle sat in front of me in Mr. McCormick’s geography class. I could see the top edge of his underwear. Not the typical whitey-tighties that my brothers wore but colorful, square boxers. Boxers, a manly under pant, with easy access to the most fragile of skin.
Inching closer toward the front of my seat, I tried to secretly take him in. Balancing myself against the hard wooden edge of my chair, I teetered there as if discovering a present I had yet to unwrap. Eyes closed and moving in, I could feel the heat of his skin under the tip of my nose, taste his smell with my tongue. I wanted to smother my face into the nape of his neck between his collarbone and broadest of shoulders.
I could have stayed there, in that fixed, floating and awkward position for an eternity, hoping that he would just turn around and smile.
And that smile, those lips. Kyle was the first boy I knew to have lips I wanted to nibble. Shaped like inflatable canoes, buoyant and wet, I imagined taking them on my next water adventure. But Kyle was my friend. And friends don’t nibble on each other’s canoes. Or at least Kyle felt like a friend the day before I smelled him, before I discovered the benefits of a hard wooden chair in geography class.
By the end of that year our friendship quickly evolved to first, second, and almost third base. Privately, beyond the periphery of our mutual friends, Kyle was constantly curious about what was in my pocket. He held my hands in the darkest of places and told me I was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
But that was before her. Her, the new girl, the foul-mouthed, roller derby-queen who sordidly spoke her mind in the most public of places.
Her name was Crys, short for Crystal. Her name was so, incorrect. Like a five-foot, stout brunette named Barbie. A clear, shiny rock that reflects the rainbow was not Crys. She was strong though and certainly mysterious. At first, I’ll admit she shined with her long blond hair and dimpled smile but upon listening to her crassly talk about used tampons, last night’s crap and the gum she spat at a squirrel, she lost her sparkle.
No one liked her. Kyle just thought she was interesting.
He and I planned to attend prom. Dancing was not our thing but my mom bought me a great dress and I wanted to go. A true tom-boy, I never wore dresses but wanted Kyle to see me, really see me. And prom night was also our cover to attend the biggest party of the year at Joey Duckett’s farm. Anyone who was anyone would be there. There would be lots of beer, animals, and fire. But out of the blue, Kyle said he wasn’t going to prom because he couldn’t afford a tux. He said tux rentals shot up in price from fifty dollars to sixty-nine and he had to save every dime he could for his next canoe. The news was upsetting but I quickly dismissed it. I understood the importance of a boat.
Suddenly without a date for prom, I was still itching to wear the dress. So Kyle and I conspired to meet up afterwards at Duckett’s party and I’d do prom alone. I knew he’d be sorry that he didn’t go, especially when he saw my dress.
I couldn’t believe my mom bought it for me. Black and tailored with a single, skinny strap that hugged my slender neck. It was backless with just a u-shaped piece of fabric that tickled the top of my sacrum. A low exposed chest shaped like boobs hugged me tight while darts pointed south to my waist. It was there that the dress exploded, finding life away from skin. Like a tutu it extended out, then cascaded down just above the knee, exposing lots of leg. The dress demanded heels and I had the tall, dangerous kind, the kind that warranted toe to heel coordination. Fully clad, I was powerful, transformed from sweetness into a salty, sultry temptress.
I really didn’t want to go alone, so I searched everywhere for a last minute date. All I could find was Henry. Henry Doyle was a foot shorter than me, twenty pounds lighter and thrilled to attend prom. I cringed at his enthusiasm but knew it would be short-lived. I would show off the dress, ditch him and see Kyle at Duckett’s.
Henry picked me up early. Too early. Wanting to be fashionably late, I convinced him to check out Duckett’s before we went. He reluctantly agreed. And upon arrival, people were floored by my sexy girly transformation but confused by Henry. They hesitated to tell me where Kyle was. I discovered the beer was in the barn and knew Kyle was there too. I rushed ahead of Henry as fast as I could, awkwardly twisting my ankles on the dirt drive. I couldn’t wait for Kyle to see me; he’d be sorry! But before I could get there, in front of the barn, I fell. In front of everyone.
Side-swiped with dirt and a broken heel, I stood up and saw her. Crys. She was standing against the barn door giggling at me. Suddenly, Kyle appeared but was unaware of me. He walked straight toward Crys with his big, inflatable canoe smile. I watched as he handed her a beer while secretly leaning in to hold her other hand. Pointing to her pocket, he curiously gestured to what was inside. I saw his lips mouth the word beautiful to her. A line that meant nothing now.
Dirty, crumpled, and shoeless, I needed to disappear. I withered into the barn and discovered the beer. Henry took off without me, and I never did make it to prom. Kyle eventually saw me but ignored me just the same. Not only did the dress transform me from sweet to salt to broken, it also instantly altered my relationship to him.
I’d been made temporarily strong by a costume and weakened by a man. But Crys had remained strong all along. She didn’t need a dress to know who she was. In that crushing moment, I could see her allure. Kyle and his gorgeous lips didn’t matter. The love I’d been looking for had to come from me.