"A Cool Dry Place"—part 3

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All week she thinks about the necklace.

When she lies in bed before falling asleep, she imagines wearing it to the game and what the girls would say and how surprised they’d be. And jealous. She crafts spectacular scenarios in which she wears the necklace. In class, at basketball games and the ice cream parlor after, on field trips to places the school would never actually go. Places that have no educational or Catholic value, but lend themselves perfectly to daydreams.

The days pass. She thinks of the necklace day after day. She is afraid to ask her mother if she can wear it. Not because she is afraid of her mother—because she is afraid of the answer, has an idea what it will be, and as long as she doesn’t ask, she can maintain the hope for it. When she finally musters the courage, of course the answer is no.

gold_heart “But, Mom!”

“To a basketball game? Mandy.” Mom shakes her head. She is ironing her dress for work tomorrow.

“But I need to look extra nice.”

“You always look nice.” Why do parents say things like this? It is not even true. Mandy vows to never say things like this to her own kids someday.

“Mom, please!” There is a frantic quality to her voice.

Her mother places the iron down and looks at Mandy. “Mandy, I don’t know when I’d ever let you, or anyone else for that matter, borrow it. But certainly not for a CYO basketball game.” She returns to her ironing. “It’s special to me. And it was expensive.”

This is Thursday.

Mandy goes to her room, flops down onto her belly on her bed.

After a minute, Lara flops down beside her.

“She said no?” Lara asks.

“Yeah.” Mandy’s hands are under her chin. Lara lies there with her in silence until their Mom calls down the hall, “Girls, supper!”

At the game, neck bare—glaring—feeling as if she sits in a spotlight highlighting her embarrassment and the stupidity for her lie, which she will now have to lie over thickly with more lies, she prays the evening will go by quickly.

All of the girls to whom she does not want to talk are part of the cheering squad. They line up facing the court, white and navy kick-pleat skirts, black and white saddle shoes, snowy white sweaters, large SMS embroidered in navy blue over their budding breasts. They jump around in synch, they bark out matching words goading the boys to victory. Mandy thinks cheering itself is stupid, but still feels she is missing something sitting way up in the chipped bleachers with the other girls who are not on the squad and the boys who are not athletic.

bananna_split The game is over and they all board the bus to go to Dot's, the ice cream place. There she will eat ice cream from a paper cup which will stick thickly inside her mouth and throat and she will wait endlessly for nine-thirty when her Mom will pick her up.

She needs only to get through his.

The lights in Dot's are bright white. Mandy stands in line and talks with the kids near her. The cheerleaders burst through the door, cheering for the basketball players who follow. They won the game. The girls break into one of their cheers. They laugh uproariously as if no one else in the place matters more than they do. (Which Mandy knows is exactly what they think.) The cheerleaders are loud, they smile largely, they seem to Mandy carefree and they fit in their bodies easily. The basketball players amble in behind them, some sheepish, some with arms upraised. The girls chant each boy's name. It is easy to tell who relishes it and who is embarrassed.

Mandy gets her ice cream and sits with some of the less popular girls. The nice girls. She avoids the popular girls, but they sit at a table close-by. She shrinks and thinks herself very small, but she is still there, still solid. They can see her. Of course. They sit with their big dishes of ice cream or paper cups of frappes. One or two drink diet soda. They don't make a big deal of it—they pretend it's normal, an everyday thing, for them to drink diet soda instead of eat ice cream. "I have to watch my figure. I'll get so fat." As if they're not making a big deal, Mandy thinks. As if no one knows they're making a big deal of something like that. Mandy sees right through it. Everyone plays along and some of the girls really buy it. Mandy plays along, too. What else can she do? But inside she thinks, you don’t fool me. None of them do. Nothing they do. But all she can do is think these things. At least she has that. This private knowledge—this safe space of her own thought.

soda But then one of them swoops in.

"Mandy." It is Nicole. She is the worst one of all. She eyes the other girls, a brief darting motion. Dart dart one girl two three girls four girls five back to Mandy.

Nicole eyes Mandy's collarbone showily. "Thought you were going to wear your new necklace."

Nicole sits at the corner of the overcrowded table. The table full all around with the right girls. Nicole sits, one leg crossed over the other, and wags her saddle shoe up and down—her folded-down white socks, her kick pleats fanned over her thigh almost touch her knee. She sips her diet soda and watches Mandy's face. The other girls watch, too.

"Um. My mom said it's too nice to wear out to just a basketball game."

"Oh," says Nicole. She turns to the other girls, ghost of a smirk on her mouth. Heads come together. One of them laughs loudly.

"Shhh," Nicole says, glances at Mandy quickly.

Mandy can't finish her ice cream.

Then it's nine-thirty and Mom is waiting outside.

Mandy pulls her coat close around her. It's absolutely freezing out. She gets into the warm car.

Her mother kisses her. "Did you have fun, honey?"

Mandy nods. "Uh-huh," she says.