(This piece of flash fiction was originally published in Crack The Spine Literary Magazine. You can view it here: http://pub.lucidpress.com/crackthespine237/#W0.KiFPllsw. I would very much appreciate you clicking over there to check out their cool publication.)
“Look how pretty you are.” The woman held the girl’s face in her hands, as if it were the first day of kindergarten and not the girl’s college graduation day.
It was colder than it should have been in May. The girl had purchased her graduation dress online in February during a snowstorm, when May seemed like a foreign place with tropical possibilities. It was too short and too sheer. She wrapped her commencement robe around herself and took a step backwards. The hands on her face felt too intimate.
“Mom, stop,” the boy said quietly. He knew the girl preferred a buffer of personal space.
“But look at her face,” his mother said.
The girl wished her own mother would say she was pretty. But if the woman noticed that her daughter’s face had recently elongated into something elegant, she hadn’t mentioned it.
“Shall we go to the breakfast?” The girl’s mother wasn’t talking to anyone in particular. She was touching up her lipstick in the reflection of a storefront window.
Her mother never said “shall.” The girl knew this affect meant she was nervous, worried the boy’s mother, a pediatric surgeon, would see through her seashell print dress and white cardigan. The outfit was purchased, like everything else in her life, with alimony money.
The families met move-in weekend of freshman year. Small talk was exchanged over boxed lunches in a multi-purpose room. The table tent said “New House.” The boy and girl would be among the first residents of a recently completed dorm for which the college had failed to secure a naming donation. “New House,” a placeholder on a campus map, was now the name of their new home. That was fine with the girl. She was ready for something new.
As they had unwrapped the cellophane that housed their sandwiches, they discovered they were both from California, she from the south and he from the north. They knew it was like being from two different planets but here, on the East Coast, it was enough to form a bond. She was happy they’d be in the same dorm. He thought she was pretty.
All freshman year he liked her, but she held him off. She had a boyfriend back home. Sophomore year, newly single, she liked him, but he was dating someone else. Junior year they liked each other, but they had become such good friends it was hard to know how to make the first move, so neither did. During the massive snowstorm that shut down the campus just three months earlier they slept together and had been inseparable ever since.
“What is this place?!” Her mother looked past her own reflection for the first time. The plate glass window she was using to primp was the front of IN WHITE. “Who puts a bridal salon on a college campus?!”
The girl had thought the same thing several times. It made no sense. On the first floor of the large college-owned apartment building where she lived, an upscale bridal salon was sandwiched between the pizza place and the drug store. It displayed delicate lace gowns and shimmery satin ones. Girls would drool over them on their way out for the night. The girl didn’t drool. She thought the store was a ploy, installed by boys who threw keggers where they coerced girls into sex with unspoken promises of fairytale futures.
One morning at two a.m., drunk and hungry, the girl suggested to her roommate that they throw a trash can through the window. Her roommate laughed, but the girl wasn’t joking. Her mom would like that story, which is why she hadn’t told it to her.
“It’s just a store, Mom.”
The summer after freshman year her mother supported her decision to break up with the high school golden boy. Her mother was done with men. The girl’s father had done all the things you hear about, stayed at work late, took too many business trips, dyed his hair, but it was her mother who actually left. The girl liked and disliked her mother and father equally and didn’t feel strongly about the split, though she harbored resentment towards her mother for breaking a vow. She didn’t know why she felt that way; she thought marriage was stupid, but she couldn’t help her feelings.
After she dumped the Southern Californian prom king, the girl told her mother she was interested in someone on campus.
“As long as it’s not that brown boy from orientation,” her mother said.
It stung, even though the girl was not surprised. There weren’t many Black or Brown people in the sunny suburb where she grew up, but she had seen her mom treat the gardeners like trash.
“Let’s go.” The girl led the group towards the student center where they’d first met. It was time for bagels and goodbyes.
In the multipurpose room, graduation gowns hung open and caps were strewn on side tables waiting for their moment. People did the small-talk thing, and no one paid attention to the boy and the girl looking at each other across the table.
The boy’s mother adjusted her sari and asked the girl what was next.
“Like you!” the boy’s mother said to him. “It’s nice you’ll both know someone there.”
The girl smiled thinking of the L-shaped studio she and the boy had found on the Bowery. There was a bathtub in the kitchen and a curtain around the toilet. It would be hot in the summer and cold in the winter, but they would be together in a new place.
She kept smiling when it became apparent her mother had figured it out. The girl’s smile was a dare. Her mother wouldn’t cause a scene, not in front of a room full of parents she wanted to impress.
The day they signed the lease the girl reminded the boy she didn’t believe in marriage. The boy promised her as much space as the studio would allow.