Valerie Solomon is perfect.
Her makeup is flawless and over-the-top, and her hair is always completely amazing. It never looks like someone styled it with an eggbeater unless she means it to.
We’re in the west-hall bathroom, during the five-minute passing period between first and second, and she’s alone, which is weird because Valerie is insanely popular, and she is never, ever alone.
She stands at the mirror, painting on lipgloss, pursing her lips for her reflection. I don’t want to look, but I have to anyway.
Valerie is the girl all the other girls have a crush on. Not like a kissing crush—I mean, I guess some of them could have that too—but the kind of crush where everything a person does is irreproachable. The kind where you just want to be them.
So when she turns around and looks at me and says, “Hey are you going to that party at Clara Finn’s this weekend?” it’s like being acknowledged by the Pope or something. You don’t know if you should kneel, or bow or avert your eyes before some vengeful god strikes you down with lightning.
“It’s not really my scene,” I say which is a massive understatement and also implies that I have a scene.
She nods like she’s thinking hard about something. Then she holds out her hand. “Here, let me see you,” she says.
It’s in the narrow window before the late call, but after the second bell. If we don’t leave now, we’re going to miss roll, but I step closer and hold very still while she stares at me.
I don’t know much about her. Just that she’s on lacrosse, which is the toughest sport Saint Paul’s has for girls, and her arms are thick and kind of built. She’s always covered in bruises. Usually, that would be sort of gross, but on her, they look almost decorative, like some kind of exotic body paint. Like someone has been dotting on purple splotches with a paintbrush. Her joints look hard and sturdy. She could take a punch, no problem.
I’m nearly done to death. I know I’m not supposed to say that, because this is the prime of my life and I am blithe and youthful and privileged and blah, blah, blah, but no. I am overly done to death, and yeah, I really mean that.
The texture of my life is so dense, so all-consuming, that I stop being able to think about trig or symbolism or who won the war. It’s like this time in eight grade when Logan Baines told me he was going to kiss me and didn’t do it, and then it was just like this thing, hanging over me for weeks and I couldn’t relax or concentrate. I never knew when that kiss was going to come out of nowhere.
Now it’s exactly like that, except for ski trips and parties, and I get kissed every weekend, but the feeling of waiting never goes away, like I am scrambled to pieces in my own skin.
The waiting is always hanging over me and all I want is for the other shoe to drop.
Valerie sticks out her chin and rakes her hair back from her face, turning away from me. “You should come anyway,” she says to her reflection. “Or, at least not worry about people or scenes or whatever, because that’s just stupid.”
“Why?” I say. And I mean, why come to Clara’s party, but also, why does she care one way or the other.
“Because it’s better to just do what you want. Whatever you want. You should do what it takes to be tough,” she says, and her voice sounds tired and annoyed.
“How do you mean?” I ask, not knowing quite how to take this. “What do you mean by tough? I mean, are you tough?”
“I used to be, sort of. But that was back when I was young and dumb or however you are in eighth grade, and that’s stupid. I mean, it’s all Black Labels and Marlboro Reds and rebelling just to fit in.”
The shape of her mouth is bored. Over it, and I nod. A Marlboro Red is a cigarette. I have no idea what a Black Label is.
“Can I give you a makeover?” she says suddenly, talking fast, like I might say no. “Just a tiny one. A two-minute makeover.”
And I nod because I want her to, even though this is not how I would have pictured it. Makeovers are the kind of thing friends do, not complete strangers standing in the bathroom after the late bell.
She opens her makeup case and gets out a pale, iridescent liner. She draws a shimmery line around my eyes, then follows it up with a smear of glitter and candy-pink shadow. She does my eyelashes and my cheeks, rubbing in cream blush until I am very, very pink.
“There,” she says, stepping back. “Now you look like me.”
I don’t, but I do look different and kind of harmless. Even though I wear makeup sometimes, it never looks this soft when I put it on myself.
Valerie takes a deep breath, zipping her makeup case. “Here, stand right here and don’t move. I want to try something.”
So I stand with my arms at my sides, watching as she walks circles around me.
“Perfect,” she says under her breath, and her voice is shaking a little. “You really do look just like me.”
Her voice is so dark and ferocious that I flinch. I start to tell her no, that I’ll never be as pretty as her. I’ll never be Valerie, who is indeed perfect, even though her eyes are strangely red. Her mouth is working like she’s trying not to bite her lip.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
She shakes her head and swallows hard. I half-expect her to start crying.
Instead, she hauls back and punches me in the face.
Photo by Lutykuh, 3rd