Chapter 1 – The Invitation
The summer sun high in the sky beats down on us as the timer blares. I slap Olivia and yell
“Wake up, Liv!” She manages to open one eye and glare over at me.
“Time to turn. Do my back.” I continue, handing her the lotion.
“You’re lucky I love you, Maddy,” She snaps playfully.
Sunbathing was a part of our daily routine now that school was out, and I thoroughly enjoy the quiet time to let my mind wander wherever it pleases. Liv and I laid out every day for an hour in my back yard at 11 AM. We lathered ourselves in tanning lotion, set the radio up on the deck railing, and let the fan blow a gentle breeze across us. The 30 minutes for our fronts had just finished, and now it was time to turn over. My mom slid open the patio doors, and Liv started dancing like a little girl.
“You make the best lemonade Mrs. Johnson!” Liv squealed and downed half her lemonade in one drink.
“Have fun baking my little rotisserie chicks,” my mom joked and headed back inside.
“You seriously have the best mom ever, Maddy. You know, I only became your friend way back in Kindergarten to get closer to your mom. She always brought the best snacks!” Olivia giggled.
“Glad to know that my best friend of 13 years only likes me for my mom’s cooking,” I replied, taking another sip of lemonade before lying down.
I loved this time we shared. Soon our lives will be headed in very different directions, and we won’t spend every minute of every day together. Soon we will find our mates and start our new lives in new packs, but for now, we get one hour of Maddy and Liv time every day. I stretch out into my lounge chair and adjust to make sure I don’t get any crease lines. Liv doesn’t ever have to worry about crease lines. Her slim figure never had to worry about a bulge, roll, or line in anything. However, I have to triple-check every outfit, every picture, and every way I sit to make sure I don’t have a roll or bulge. Liv likes to call me ‘chunky’- not fat, not skinny but just chunky. It has taken a lot of work to overcome my self-consciousness for my size, but I’m finally in a place that I am somewhat happy with my body. I still have a lot of moments when I’m insecure about my size, but I’m satisfied with myself for the most part. Liv is wearing her usual bright pink string bikini while I chose high-waisted black bottoms with a black and white polka dot halter top. One perk of being chunky was the boobs. Halter top bathing suits were the only way to control them. I adjusted my pillow and dozed off, enjoying the last few minutes of quiet.
“Hello there, beautiful,” a dark and dreamy voice filtered into my ears, sending chills down my spine. “You look magnificent tonight. Care to dance with me?” I lifted my hand, and he gracefully twirled me around the dance floor. As we danced, he pulled me closer, and I nestled into his neck. As the song ended, he lifted my face towards his we leaned our heads closer. I closed my eyes and could feel his breath tickling my lips.
“Maddy! Madison!” Liv yelled as the timer went off.
“Damn it, Liv! He was about to kiss me.” I snapped, pouting that she interrupted my dream.
“Ohh, tell me. What was it this time?” She sat on her knees, anxiously, waiting to hear about Mr. Dreamy.
“We were dancing at the Mating Ball. He told me I looked magnificent. But YOU woke me up before he could even kiss me!” I playfully pushed her over onto her chair.
Before Liv could get up, I ran inside, slid the glass door closed, and flicked the lock leaving her outside. I stuck my tongue out at her as she tried to pull on the door. Her grip loosened, and she landed on her flat on her butt. I unlocked the door and helped her up as we were both doubled over laughing. As we headed up to my room, I noticed the mail on the floor from the mail slot. I sprinted over to lay it on the table and got a glimpse of a gold-trimmed envelope. I dropped the rest of the mail and squealed, “It’s here!”
I knew as soon as I saw the gold trim on the envelope precisely what it was. I sat at the kitchen island and just stared at it. A hand-pressed wax seal on the back. Beautiful calligraphy inscribing my name: Miss Madison Rene Johnson. I carefully lifted the seal to reveal the elegant hand-lettered invitation.
The Regional Alliance requests your presence at the 832nd Mating Ball.
The Mating Ball was a tradition that was a part of many of our family’s history. While it wasn’t the only way to find your mate, it increased your chances. Eligible members of each pack in the Regional Alliance received invitations. If you were deemed a risk to the Regional Alliance name by indulging in criminal activity or were over 30, you were usually not invited. They begin inviting members at the older end of the spectrum and filter down. If they reach capacity before they get to the 18 year-olds, then you must wait until the following year to be invited. I was relieved that Olivia and I both made the cutoff. I don’t know if I could bear one of us attended and the other not. Liv had received her invitation just the week before. My anticipation grew when the days passed, and I found nothing. I had resolved just to avoid the mail and stop stressing about it. The very next day, it was here. It was really here.
Olivia and I went up to my room to change out of our bathing suits. Knowing exactly where we were going, I grabbed a simple sleeveless maxi dress and rhinestone flip flops. Liv went to the other side of my closet, where she kept a stash of her clothes while I went to the bathroom to fix my hair. I tied my curls up into a messy bun and opted to skip the makeup and let my freckles shine. I slipped on a pair of amber-tinted sunglasses and flipped them up into my hair to hold back the loose curls that refused to stay in the bun. I met Liv in the hallway to find her wearing a sleeveless maxi dress, rhinestone flip flops and sporting a messy bun. We giggled as we locked arms and skipped down the stairs. I grabbed my keys off the kitchen counter and headed out to Dinah’s Boutique. Dinah had this fantastic little boutique nestled into the heart of downtown. We had been going in every couple of weeks since Spring to admire this year’s trends. I connected my phone to the car and started our favorite playlist.
“This girl is on fire. She’s walking on fire. This girl is on fire.” We sing along with Alicia Keys, belting out hearts out. This moment is perfection: the windows down and a cool breeze blowing the loose curls around my face, just me and my best friend, not a care in the world.
We pull into the boutique and admire the beautiful gowns in the window. When we walked inside, we were greeted by Dinah herself.
“Hey, girls! I haven’t seen you in a couple of weeks. So, did you get your invitations?” She asked nervously.
“Yes,” we reply in excitement.
“Oh, fantastic! I’ve had these beauties hidden in the back. When they came in, I knew they would be perfect for the two of you.” Dinah giggled and disappeared into the back. “You girls go into those dressing rooms and put on those robes and masks. I’ll bring these right in and help you!”
We headed to the dressing rooms and slipped on the silk robes and velvet masks. I waited in anticipation to see why Dinah was so excited. She knocked on the door before coming in and helping me slip into a dress. It felt like satin and fit so perfectly. I could tell it would accentuate my curves.
“Now sit tight while I help that sweet Olivia and absolutely NO peeking young lady.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I giggled.
Once Olivia was dressed, Dinah led us both out to the platform in front of the wall of mirrors. She carefully lifted our masks, and my jaw dropped. She had found the dress of my dreams, and I was speechless. It was a deep red satin A-line gown with spaghetti straps, a deep V neckline, and a split up to my mid-thigh. Dinah revealed the best part about it, pockets! I turned to look at Liv’s and was even more speechless. She was wearing a one-shoulder silver mermaid gown covered in sequins and glitter. It hugged her body tight, making her look like she had curves even if she was a size two. We turned to look at each other and squealed. I don’t know how Dinah had pulled it off, but these gowns were simply incredible. I never wanted to take this dress off. Reluctantly we did, but only so that we could show my mom. Olivia’s parents were always working, so my mom and dad considered her their daughter from another family. Mom would be thrilled for both of us.
When we arrived home, I saw both of my parents’ cars in the driveway. “Liv, my dad is going to freak when he sees these dresses.”
“You’re telling me, girl. We look hot! If that mate bond doesn’t bring us a man, these dresses sure will. Dinah did amazing.” Liv laughed
After every shopping trip we took, Liv and I would do a fashion show for my parents. They would Oh and Ah and snap pictures like the paparazzi. When we walked into the kitchen holding gown bags, mom dropped her spatula, sending pieces of hamburger flying.
“I need to see these right now!” mom said
“What about dad?” I asked.
“These are the most important dresses of your life, second only to your wedding dresses. He can wait until the night of the ball. He’s in his office right now, so he won’t even know what he’s missing.” She pushed us upstairs to my bedroom.
I took down my bun and let my curly hair fall around my shoulders. I slipped into the red satin gown, and Liv pulled the zipper up the side. I helped Olivia into her shimmery gown and pulled her zipper tight. I smoothed out the dress as my mom turned around. Her face looked much like mine the first time. Tears welled up in her eyes.
“Girls!” she managed to choke out. The tears began to flow down her face as the weight of the future finally hit her. She pulled us into a hug and sobbed. “Girls, I want you both to know how proud I am of you. You are an incredible young woman, and I know your futures are going to be amazing, no matter where they take you. Don’t you ever forget how much I love you girls.” There was a knock on the door, and my mom quickly yelled, “Brock, don’t you dare come in this bedroom. I will beat you senseless.” We all giggled and dried our eyes. “Now you girls change while I go finish up the tacos for tonight. And no more making me cry tonight. I can’t handle it.”
“Liv, do you know that our whole lives could change if we meet our mates at the ball? That’s two weeks!” I asked, tears beginning to form again.
“Maddy, I know you’re going to be fine. You’ve been dreaming about this you’re whole life. You’re going to be fine.”
I sure hope so