As I pull on my blue and white cotton tee shirt over clean denims, my Mom rushes me so we can pick up Annie on time for our hair appointments. I plop down in the car seat, finish tying the lace of my red Skecher before snapping the seat belt into place. I am not fond of mornings and less fond of chit-chat. Annie, however, is ever effervescent, sliding in the front seat with a big smile and greetings. She is in a short, black skirt with a black-and-white-striped, loose-fitting, tee that falls off one shoulder that shows a black bra strap.
“This is so going to be our day!” she gushes, texting at the same time. “I’ll take our pics and send them to you…oh,” she makes a funny sucking sound on her lip. “I no can do, you have no celly.” She gives me a sly smile continues, “I’ll email them to you, Fran.”
Sometimes I think Annie would be a great social worker; she’s always trying to fix people and situations. But I must admit I’m glad that she champions my cause for a celly. Maybe a little of my peer pressure on my Mom will be what it takes to make it happen for me.
My Mom pulls into a parking spot and waves us out the car. “Have fun, you two! I’ll be back at the mall by one. In fact,” she checks her watch, “I’ll have a latte and sit outside of Nordstrom. That will give you enough time after your new hairdos to browse. You can meet me at two-forty-five. ”
Annie, with her celly on a strap around her wrist bobbing and twisting as she runs, leans in the driver’s side. “Thanks, Mrs. R. We might take the bus back if that’s all right?”
I can tell my Mom is taken aback; she knows as I do that Annie hates taking the city bus anywhere. During Christmas break, my Mom and I will take the bus from a nearby Park and Ride downtown to shop, have lunch and admire the festive lights on the trees down Fifth Avenue, and the hustle-bustle of Westlake Center. Like every time I’ve asked her, Annie didn’t want to go with us, giving me a lame excuse about coming down with a cold, when I know she just didn’t want to spend any time on the Metro.
I tug at Annie’s arm as my Mom speeds away. “Hey! What was that all about? Us taking the bus?”
She in turn, grabs my hand and tows me along at a good pace into the shop. “My little surprise!” She drops my hand once we are the front desk and waves to a nice-looking young man. “Hi! Emilio!”
He claps his hands together. “Ah, Ann! How are you? And your friend, is, Frances?”
Annie bobbles her head. “Yes, yes! Can we use the computer program? I want to show Frances the perfect hair style for her!”
Emilio has the receptionist show us to the corner room. Annie sits primly in a chair before a computer scrolling several ads for beauty products. “Fran! Fran! Look at this one—or this one—or how about this one?”
I’m thumbing through the Hair Palace brochure and gasp at the prices. “Annie! Just a haircut alone is $65.00!”
“You’ll think it’s worth it when you see your new self!”
I have a hundred and twenty dollars with me, but I did not figure on spending that much on my hair when I can get it cut at Clip and Go for fifteen.
She taps the screen. “This is it. This is the one for you.”
If only I resembled the model might it work for me. “No. It would take me all morning just to figure out how to style a cut like that. It’s too fussy.”
Annie squints and tightens her lips. “Fran, honestly!”
But before she can launch into a tirade, her celly sings. She turns her full attention to the incoming call and I take her place before the computer. On the sixth page, I stop and do a second glance at a bobbed hair cut. I think this one might work for me.
“Marcy!” Annie whispers, like there are a thousand interested people around us. “She and Steve are meeting us later.”
Oh, the reason we are taking the bus. I am sure Annie purposely left out a few details to my Mom, which makes me a little uncomfortable.
We’re beckoned into the salon where we are caped and herded to our chairs. Annie chats animatedly with Emilio about the highlights she thinks will go with her new color and cut; I hear them settle on platinum blonde highlights on dark brown. Well, I hope Annie has it figured out, because she could get suspended even though there is just one last month left of school term.
“Frances!” she croons, like we speak to one another in such syrupy tones, “have some highlights, too!”
She cracks me up, like she’s serving me tea and crumpets at the Four Seasons. I crane my neck just a bit as not to disturb Anatasia’s vigorous fluffing of my hair. “No, thank you, Anne. I’m quite satisfied at the moment!”
“Ohh, but Frances,” Anatasia cajoles, “a little here and there of two or three shades lighter than your own hair color would be subtle but-oh!-so pretty!” She points to the number seven color swatch. “It is the special of the day—twenty-five dollars.”
Annie sashays by me, snapping her cape. “Do it!”
I smile as I look Anatasia in the eye. “Subtle.” I gesture to Annie. “Let me use your celly to call my Mom.”
Annie hands it over with a roll of her eyes. “You can make some decisions for yourself, Frances.”
I think I might bop her with her own phone, but I’ve really got better manners than that.
“Mom? Hi! Calling you on Annie’s celly.” I pause, to emphasize my point. “Would it be all right if I got some subtle highlights in my hair?” I am hoping she will go off on this and then I am off the hook. But no.
“Oh, thanks, Mom.”
Well, I guess I’m just on the hook today. It’s like my Mom has adopted Annie’s agenda.
I point out the picture of the model haircut that I want to Anatasia. Annie takes a minute from her monologue with Emilio to peer at it. “Oh, Fran, how frumpy!”
Anatasia flicks Annie back to Emilio, giving me her full attention. “I will make this very becoming on you.”
I had a moment of alarm seeing long tendrils plopping onto the floor, but then I felt excited at the thought of a new do. After two magazines and an agonizing long time being foiled and washed and rinsed and towel dried, hair-producted, then blown away by the hair dryer, I emerged with a different version of the cut than pictured. My bob was severely layered short in the back, with longer tapering sides. The golden highlights made my brown hair tawny.
“Oh,” is all I could muster. I didn’t know who that person staring at me was, I looked so totally different than I had been. Perhaps, I thought fleetingly, that is a good thing.
“Oh! Wow!” Annie clearly was stunned! “Fran, you look terrific!” She clicks several pictures on her phone, carefully saving each one, then hands the celly to me.
“You do, too, thanks.” She did, too; the brassy contrast of multi white-whites on dark-almost-black brown suited her; the shaggy long hair with bangs made her look eighteen, which I think she really liked. “I just hope you don’t get into trouble at school.” I take two pictures of her.
“Frances,” she sighed dramatically, “you worry too much.” She snaps the clasp smartly on her white Stella Ann hobo bag.
I unzip my wallet purse and pull out the folded money. I feel it was worth the hundred dollars as I smooth out four twenties and four fives for the cut, color and tip.
“C’mon, let’s hurry! I have a surprise for you!” She hustles across the street on the walk light towards Nordstrom.
I catch up to her; she so reminds me of Porthos sometimes. “Annie! What kind of surprise?”
“We are going to have our make-up done.” As we enter Nordstrom she points at one chair by the counter, then goes for the other one next to it.
“No!” I skid short of the chair. “I’m not having make-up ‘done’, Annie! Not interested.” I blush when I turn face to face with the saleswoman. “Oh, ‘cuse me. It’s just my Mom would have a fit.”
The saleslady scrutinizes my face. “Hmm, maybe just a little mascara? And a touch of eye shadow.” She smoothes my eyebrows. “A quick pluck here, a pluck there, is all you need.”
Annie is ensconced with her advisor, her back pointedly turned to me. I scoot my butt into the chair and let the woman go to work. I’m not real impressed with the stinging when the woman rips out my eyebrows, but the heated eyelash curler is luxurious. When I glance into the mirror, I am stunned to see myself so different, so not-me.
Annie signs a credit card slip and I just now realize that she has her own prepaid credit card.
“C’mon, Foxy Fran,” she guides me out the doors and across the street to Target. “We’re going to get you some tools.”
She zips down one aisle and another, flinging make-up into her little hand carry basket. She stops and peers thoughtfully at the chilled sodas as she pulls open the door and takes out two diet Coca-Colas™. At the check-out, she signs the slip with a little happy face beside her name. She stuffs the plastic bag of cokes, pink cream blush, Velvet Kiss lipstick and blue nail polish into her purse, extracts a vial of mascara and an eyelash curler and hands them to me.
“Annie! I don’t have any money to buy make-up!” I stare at these alien things, wanting and not-wanting them at the same time. And I have a not so good, funny feeling that Annie didn’t pay for the eye lash curler, but I really cannot remember if she did or did not and I decide that I really can’t say anything.
“Pfft! Early b’day!” She shrugs off my thanks as she slides on her sunglasses. “Let’s go.” She’s off again at a good clip, texting all the way.
I cram them into my wallet, slinging the strap over my shoulder, thinking how dumb it looks to have this bulging black thing banging against my hip as I keep a smart pace with Annie.
Annie and I have been friends ever since our mothers met at a gymnastics class for toddlers. We even had a secret language that only the two of us understood and we pretended we were twins separated at birth by an evil doctor. But most of this year, especially after volleyball season, Annie has been hanging out with Marcy, Sue and Ursala. And she has changed. A lot. Her Mom never let her talk on the phone until all her homework was done; now it’s like there is a cell phone umbilical cord attached to her. And the make-up, hair and clothes. Annie has spun into another planet’s orbit.
She rockets around the corner of the store, the opposite direction of the mall and heads up the street a little way, turns the corner again. I notice the sign that points to the Tukwila Pond Park behind Target. I’m confused at first where we are headed as we trot through the parking lot. Then the gravel walkway emerges as we pass through the wooden posts into the park.
Who would have thought a fair size body of water and landscaped area could be hidden behind concrete buildings? The pond sparkles with diamonds of light; a mama duck with her little ducklings floats in vee ripples from the water’s edge.
“Hey! Look at the glam girls!” shouts Timothy as Annie and I approach the group of eighth grade boys. The Boyz! they call themselves. Oh, they are so cool. Not!
Timothy is taller than the others, with thick blond hair, his wavy bangs flowing across his forehead; he looks like a surfer boy in his blue board pants and Quicksilver tee shirt.
Annie is looking at him through her eyelashes, her head cocked and with a tiny smile on her pouting lips. “You like the look?”
“I’ll say!” Timothy drapes his arm around Annie’s shoulders and hugs her tight into his side. “I like it! I like it!”
The other guys are standing off to one side of Timothy. Brian, the porker, in his baggy cargo pants and too-tight Billabong tee shirt which stretches across his bulging stomach, whoops. Collin, short, muscular and already with a shadow of dark facial hair, in his preppie polo and black jeans, high fives. Justin, medium build, brown hair, a mega-watt smile, blue jeans and a plain navy blue tee shirt, joins in as a chorus.
“Yo! Annie!” Brian holds out his soda, “I’ll trade you for a smoke.”
Annie shakes her head, as she brings out a can of cola from her purse. “Brought my own—diet, you know to cut the calories!” She pops the can open and leans away from Timothy to pour out half the contents. “Mix and I’ll match.” She hands over the can to Brian and roots around her purse, extracting a package of Marlboros.™
Brian scoots over to a table partially hidden by grasses and comes back to hand Annie her can of soda for the smokes. He takes one, fumbles for a lighter in his pocket.
Annie reaches for the pack and takes a cigarette out. “Uh, Brian,” she teases, “don’t you know, ladies first?”
Brian, frowns, looks around, flicks the flame to his cigarette. “Where, oh, where are they?” he bellows.
Timothy snatches the lighter away and lights Annie’s cigarette, then his own.
“Fran!” Justin holds out his Big Gulp.™ “Here, have some Coke™.”
“Yeah! Fran,” Brian snickers, “have some refreshment.”
I feel suddenly like I’m on a merry-go-round that’s out of control and I can’t get off. I know I can’t hesitate too long, but I really don’t want to have a drink.
“Oh, try it!” Annie gives me a look like I’m a kid she’s babysitting. “You might like it.”
Justin smiles at me and not unkindly, as I take his cup. The cola is warm and heavy in my mouth, with a faint cough-syrupy taste. I hand the cup back to him. “Thanks, but Annie has a can of diet for me.”
She smacks it into my hand. Brian, Collin, Timothy and Justin wait as I pop the tab and sip it. I salute them. “This’ll do it for me.”
Brian screws up his face and rolls his eyes. “Figures, Fan—ny!”
“Ah, leave her alone,” Justin waves me over. “Let’s walk around the park, Fran. There’s an egret’s nest over there.” He points to the far end of the walkway.
My feet move, but throat has clutched and I can’t think of anything to say as we start to walk away from the group. Just then, from a hidden bench, Marcy and Steve emerge, holding hands. Marcy looks flushed, but smug and happy as Steve pulls her to him for a resounding kiss.
“Ohhh, Fran! You got a new look!” she sings out, adding, “Think it’s really you?”
I don’t know what I think. My brain is on hold, but stomach is aflutter, like I get before a piano recital. Justin is chattering about the birds nesting high in the trees and pulls me to a deck over the water with an explanatory sign about the wildlife.
Every time he leans in close to my face, I take a sip of my soda. He smells like an ashtray. I haven’t said much but ‘uh-huh’, ‘cool’, in between his rambling discourse. I sneak a peek at my watch.
“Justin, I’ve got to go.”
He takes my free hand in his and tugs me closer. “Can I have kiss, Fran?”
I lean over and peck his cheek and slip my hand out of his as I back away. “Bye.”
Don’t run, walk, don’t run, walk, I tell myself. I see Annie at a bench and at first, relieved, I think she is alone until I get closer. Annie has a lip lock on Timothy, and I wait until they dislodge. “Annie, we’ve got to go.”
She glares at me, and her jaw tightens. I add in a reasonable voice, “I have to walk the dogs. You know, my job.”
Timothy’s eyebrows shoot up as he scrutinizes me. I have a feeling of being hooked up to an invisible lie detector machine. “Don’t worry about, Annie. We’ll take the bus.” He squeezes her, making her smile as she snuggles into his shoulder.
“It’s all right, Fran. My Mom knows I’m at the mall with Marcy and Sue and I’ll be home later. Don’t worry, okay?”
As I tip the Coke™ to my lips, Brian yanks my arm, his grip hurts enough to make me yelp, as he leans close to me, blowing smoke into my face, he pops his cigarette into the can. It sizzles as it sloshes around.
“You’re a jerk, Brian,” I snap as I twist away from him and dump the can in the nearest trash can on my way out.
“Fran! I’ll call you tonight.” Annie calls after me.
“Okay!” I concentrate on the crunching of my footsteps on the gravel path and not look around or respond to Brian bawling out my name.
“Fran! Come back, little sheep, come back!”
It’s two-fifteen. I have plenty of time to meet up with my Mom. I stand in the middle of the sidewalk debating whether to go to Barnes and Noble and do some browsing, but suddenly I am just not interested. As I walk back to the mall, thoughts ping-pong inside my head and I can’t sort out what I feel or what I think about anything. A couple of months ago, my biggest problem was being bullied at school by Marcy and the Three Musketeers on my way to school. Today was a time warp, fast forward a hundred years; I no longer feel like a kid.
Cold air whooshes over me as I pull open the door to the air-conditioned mall. It feels so good as I wait in line to order a strawberry lemonade from Nordstrom eBar, and claim a spot in a sea of black tables and chairs cluttered with moms, kids, strollers and groups of women chatting, and young guys talking and gesturing earnestly and virtually everyone texting. Everyone, except me.
The lemonade goes down cold as I replay the scenes at the park in my mind’s eye. I wonder what my Mom’s reaction would be if I told her about Annie and the gang. Oh, yes, we were just hanging out at the park, sipping an afternoon cocktail. The young men, the gall-ants, lighting our cigarettes. A little kiss, kiss, here, there, you know the routine. Oh, my, such a lovely place to be, on such a lovely day!
I nearly jump out of my seat at the sound of my mother’s voice and I clutch my lemonade that I almost drop, which makes the lid pop and ice cubes ping on the table and floor. I glare at her.
She’s pinching her lips tight so she won’t laugh. “Can I get you anything to eat? Or more lemonade?”
I’m hungry, I realize as my stomach rumbles. “Bagel. Cream cheese.” I finish my drink with a slurp. “Strawberry lemonade. Please.”
She stares at me a little too long and I wonder if I am going to get a blast of hot air for my new look. But she says nothing until she returns with her latte and my order.
“Where’s Annie?” She hands me a napkin, a plastic knife, and the cream cheese.
“She’s here with Marcy and Sue. Think they went to the movie,” pops out of my mouth. Did I mention how easy it is to lie?
Mom settles back into her chair and eyes me. “I really like your haircut. I almost didn’t recognize you.” She sips her latte. “It could be the make-up.”
I have to remind myself not to rub my eyes. “Uh, yeah, Annie surprised me with a make-over at Nordstrom. You should see her—she looks eighteen! She colored her hair really dark with white, I mean platinum, highlights. I have to admit, though, it looks good on her.”
My Mom sips and ponders. “I wonder how that’ll go over at Saint Mary’s. You may not wear any make-up to school.”
“Oh, I know, I know. I don’t know how Annie’s going to get by with it.” I cram my mouth full of bagel, just in case a little truth should pop out.
My mom taps my wallet. “What’s this bulge all about?”
I swallow a chunk of bagel and choke out, “Ann-ie,” swig of lemonade, “early birthday present. Mascara and eye lash curler.”
I hurry past that. “She took a bunch of pictures of us on her celly. She can upload them onto her computer and send them in an email. I’ll show you when I get them.”
My mom is a little bit too casual, like she’s hiding something from me. Makes me nervous. I remind myself not to blather.
What I had not noticed until she picked up the red and white bag—
“Mom! You got cells?” I shriek and everyone turns around to look at the idiot with the loud mouth.
She slides a little black number to me. It’s a basic Verizon LG. “Cool! Speaker phone and camera!” I feel like doing a happy dance as I hug it to me. “Unlimited minutes?”
She laughs aloud and nods. “You, me and Dad. As the world changes, so must we.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” I flip it open, turn it on and start scrolling for the menus. “Just give me a few minutes to set ring tones, wall paper…”
She sighs and slumps in her chair. “Maybe you can help me configure the other two tonight. I’d have to study the booklet for an hour just to get a clue.”
‘Clueless’ I did not utter.
“I think,” she gathers her shopping bags after she dropped her cup into the waste can, “we should head home.”
My celly reads three-twenty-five. “Can you drop me off at the Wessenfelds? I’ll walk, or should I say, be walked by, the dogs.”
We wend our way through what Mom has dubbed the ‘mommy brigade’; women with strollers walking side by side, making everyone stream around them. I catch up to Mom at the car. Mom chats about her day on our way home, not really expecting much of a response from me I’m sure. I just hope that it’s not too late. If I’m lucky, I can get the dogs leashed and on the way in time to rendezvous with Dean.
And, indeed, it turned out to be my lucky day. Or not.