Bedelia Albert dresses methodically, laying clothes over her chair and bed with tender detail, like a nun preparing the sacrament.
She handles each piece gently, like the fabric might bruise.
Music pumps from a tape deck above her desk. “We are strong,” Ms. Benatar reassures her. “No one can tell us we’re wrong.”
The door is closed to her room though she is the only one home; her sister is married with kids, marooned on a suburban island, and her mother is working late at the supermarket.
She starts with her slip then pulls her dress over her head gradually, letting her body name every fold and hem. The sequins feel like braille.
She had started in the early evening, spread out and arranged all of her make-up on her dresser top in the order it was to be applied, every shade and hue painstakingly honed. A week ago she had strolled the aisles and combed the racks and twirled the carousels and now it is all here.
“Love is a battlefield,” she mouths to the mirror in her room.
She has steeled herself not for this moment, this is the pre-moment, but for the moment following. The Spring Starlight Formal. Rendered by her imagination in hopeful brushstrokes.
Todd’s boutonniere ices in the fridge in her room, next to the celebratory can of Budweiser her father dropped off on the way to his girlfriend’s.
Todd the Junior boy.
Asking Bedelia the Sophomore girl.
Her friends had a field day. One of them brought a cucumber to school and sheathed it into a condom at lunch.
Connie, the Wiseass.
Todd the Junior Boy and Bedelia the Virgin.
She used to stare at him in PE, getting wet when his bare legs would tense up like pistons during stretches. Her fantasy involved him swaggering into the girls’ locker room after everyone but she had left. As she soaped up in the shower, she would catch him watching her, smirking. She would beckon with her finger and then they would make love with such a fury that the light bulbs under the ceiling would explode, carpeting the shower floor with slow-motion sparks and slivers of glass.
In real life he caught her when she tripped and fell, her backpack burping notebooks and miscellany all over the quad stairs. The private made unnervingly public.
“Are you all right?” he had asked.
There were no words.
“Mmm-hmm,” she managed.
He went back to his group, who pointed and laughed with the usual casual cruelty. She knelt down and gathered what she spilled, thanking lucky stars or alert guardian angels or whomever was listening for not letting her roll down the stairs into the quad. That would have triggered the inevitable cheers and applause.
Todd soon came back to her, standing over her as she rustled up her papers.
“You going with anyone to Formal?”
She stopped. Renegade papers blew into the quad.
“You wanna go to Formal? You can say no if you want.”
“I mean, sure, I’d love to, I mean, yeah, I’ll go to the formal with you.”
They exchanged numbers in their Ocean Science class, and she helped him with his paper on the depletion of the Artic seal populations.
Just like that.
Or something like that. Some facts were inevitably lost to the industry of memory, the chucking of chaff and the selection of choicest emotional sweetmeat. More important than objective truth was that was how she thought it happened.