It began just before winter break and lasted a week. But it really started the day after Christmas, when Slade and I left for Florida. I told my dad I was staying at Lucy’s. I knew he wouldn’t check on me. He dated her mom for a millisecond before he got happily remarried to someone else. Also there was Daniel William Berkowitz to think about. I liked to look down at my half-brother and say his full name to his little peach face and laugh because he didn’t know who he was.
Slade and I were going to Jacksonville to visit the house Jonah Wiles had lived in. Jonah Wiles was a pulp fiction writer Slade loved, and he talked about him a lot as he drove. Apparently Wiles’s gun collection was still on display in the house, along with a cabinet of half-full whiskey decanters.
The trip was a failure. Somewhere near Raleigh, Slade’s grandfather’s RV broke down. So instead of visiting the descendants of Jonah Wiles’s pet turtles, we visited the insides of three buses and two trains. There was also one car, which my father was driving, bewildered at the thought of me with that tall boy who had just refused a ride from him and had instead zipped up his jacket, pulled his neck far down into it, and headed home alone, through snowflakes that were jazzing their way out of the sky and onto his curls.
That year Lucy and I spent a lot of time at Best Tuxedos. Her brother Max worked there, and, more important, so did Slade. Lucy loved flirting with Slade, probably because he was the only boy we knew who didn’t seem the slightest bit interested in her. He had ringlets like the porcelain doll I’d gotten for my ninth birthday and the kind of eyelashes my mother said were wasted on boys. He wore a white leather jacket every day. Sometimes he got called a faggot at school but he never even blinked. I guess I admired that about him.
While Lucy flirted, I leafed through the different swatches of fabric you could pick so that everything you rented matched—your bow tie and your vest and that strange sash that I guess held pants up before belts happened. The store was usually empty, except for prom season. The ad for “Latest Hot Looks!” in the window had faded into melancholy pastels. A weird dusty film covered the suits.
Slade was usually reading, his crocodile boots propped up on the counter. Lucy tried on top hats to get his attention. Max seemed to always be on a smoke break. He’d come back in and be pissed that Lucy and I were still around, and we’d leave out the back.
“Beth, I’m going to ask him to Snowball,” Lucy said one day was we were walking over to Best. I was eating a chocolate bar in baby bites because my mother said if you eat slower, you metabolize the calories faster. She wasn’t mean about my weight or anything, but wasn’t that thrilled about it either.
“Slade, duh,” she said. She grabbed the chocolate out of my hand and took a big bite.
“I’m going to walk into Best and say, ‘Hey, go to Snowball with me.’”
“But you’re not going.” We were sophomores, and the winter dance was junior-senior only.
“I am if Slade takes me.”
“What about Miri?”
Slade and Miri had been dating on and off since middle school. I’d never actually talked to her, but she wore sandals year round and long skirts and she was supposedly addicted to pot. That was part of the reason they were always breaking up. I’d heard they’d shaved part of their heads over the summer and had each other’s names tattooed there.
“Don’t you think he wants to go to his senior Snowball with her?”
“Uh-uh. They’re broken up for real this time. I heard him tell Max.”
“Wow, how sad.”
Lucy was wearing a ratty parka. Her yellow hair was unbrushed. Mine was in a ponytail, the way I always wore it to school—unless I flat-ironed it for Shabbat and it still wasn’t too greasy on Monday. She had chocolate on her face, and I reached over to wipe it off. She grabbed my hand and licked it, and I laughed. When we got to Best, she took a deep breath and swung the door open.
Slade looked up for a half-second and went back to his book. Now that I thought about it, he had been looking kind of miserable lately. Miri and Slade had looked so funny together—him tall and thin and her curvy and always flipping off whatever dumb dude was making fun of them. I would never have the guts to wear halter tops to school like that, with cleavage and everything, but she wore them like “so what?”
Lucy waited until Max went outside to smoke. Then she went up to the counter and knocked on the top of Slade’s boot, which was up on the counter as usual. I half-hid behind a dressing room curtain and stuck my face into a cufflinks catalog. There was a pair that looked like red dice.
“Hi.” He didn’t look up from his book. “Suit or tux?”
“Ha ha,” she said, rolling her eyes. “So, are you going to Snowball?”
He mumbled a reply.
“Got a date?” she said.
“Cool, well in that case you can take me and Max can take Beth.” Slade looked at me for what might have been the first time ever.
“Uh, I don’t know if Max will—”
I blushed and looked down at the dog-bone tie clip on page 37. I constantly felt like I was going to be chubby and 15 forever, but this was even worse than usual.
“He will if he doesn’t want Mom and Dad to know what happened to the basement ceiling.”
And just like that, I was going to Snowball as a sophomore. Max was hardly considered cool, more like the guy you didn’t want to sit next to because he’d cheat off your test and get you in trouble, but still, when people found out they started looking at me in the hallway.