For me, school had never been slow, and never ever boring for longer than a period or two. But this week sped by. I was always on my toes, leaping to avoid anything that could expose The Secret. There might have been a moment long ago when it would have been strange enough for everyone to laugh at--but that time was long gone. It had been kept for too many years. Every free moment was spent with Shay, preparing our elderly couple costumes. I knew that Shay possibly knowing The Secret was a problem that would only grow worse with neglect, but I couldn’t bring myself to bring it up. And anyway, I reasoned with a pretend confidence, Shay wasn’t the type of person to tell me. She had an agenda. Currently, it was to torture me with her silence. She had never been the kind of person that would willingly give up her hand just because someone asked nicely… right? Then again, that night, she had revealed what she had known, without my asking….
I was going mad. I had to confront her. I couldn’t confront her. I was going mad.
I started ignoring my online friends. It wasn’t to be mean, or to drive them nuts, in fact, I’m not even sure they noticed. I told myself that I just didn’t have time, but in reality I was returning to the hazy state of denial I had been in for a few weeks when I was ten, after that one ugly dinner. I was pretending that I was like everyone else, despite the way my heart leaped a little when Grace entered the room, and remained stubbornly rooted to the ground every time that John said hi to me. Every time I walked into a classroom, I listened for my name, panicking when I heard it, for what if they were gossiping about me? About The Secret? Then what? What if Shay had finally become sick of me, and had began telling everyone she knew? What if… What if…
Sleep was my only escape, on the rare nights when it came. Exhaustion followed me everywhere. It was a week. And, while it felt so fast in the moment, it seemed as if it must have been years when I looked back on it. But, as it always did, Halloween night came.
If you’re imagining an old gymnasium, covered with orange and black streamers, with half the lights turned off and a couple of teenagers in costumes sitting in the corner because they weren’t invited to a party and wanted to say they were doing something, you’re wrong. Ever since Charlotte had become the head of the dance committee two years ago, our school’s dances’ had become legendary. We often had people from the private school across town sneaking in.
The admission was ten dollars, which was actually low for the Charlotte Dances. When we got there, I threw down a fifty. “The four of us, and the person behind us.”
I was in a giving mood, willing to pay for myself, Shay, Victoria, her date, and the lucky stranger behind us in line. The student working the line, not anyone we knew, rolled her eyes, but nodded at us to pass.
The sight inside the gym took my breath away. Charlotte had really outdone herself. The whole place was covered in orange and black, even the ceiling, so you would never be able to tell it had ever been somewhere that sweaty kids ran in circles for forty minutes three times a week. The walls appeared to be dripping paint, but I knew that it would all be gone when we returned on Monday. Ghouls and Ghosts hung from every corner, but the scary part wasn’t super over the top. We were looking for a party, not an elementary schooler’s haunted house.
I wrapped my ankle length jacket around myself, hiding the costume that was designed to win our yearly Instagram contest.
“Victoria! You guys came!” Charlotte was sprinting over to us, from the corner, also wrapped in a coat.
“Of course we came!” Shay exclaimed, embracing our friend. “This place looks amazing!”
“You guys ready for the big reveal?” She looked us over, examining our matching coats.
“Yeah. We’re ready. We have to go into the bathroom for a minute to prepare the last details.
“OK. We’ll wait here.”
Shay and I walked carefully into the bathroom, and started to prepare. She pulled the fake wrinkles out of her giant grandma bag and smoothed them onto my face while I stood still, trying to hide the thrill of her gently running her hands over my cheeks. I did her afterward, and then we put on wigs and shoes. She took a breath and pulled out her phone, dialing Vicky’s number. “We’re ready,” she snapped. “Are you?” Pause. “Well get ready!” Pause. “Yeah. We can’t wait.” Pause. “Sure. Five minutes.” Short pause. “Yeah. See you then. OK. Bye.”
I shifted in my costume, which consisted of a straw hat, a plaid shirt, jeans, suspenders, and loafers.
“So… we gotta chill here until they’re ready.”
I groaned. “That’s gonna be days!”
“Yeah. They said five minutes… so, two and a half hours tops?”
“Maybe three. Depends on the costume.” I sat back against the wall, and took out my phone, noticing another notification from Snapchat, which I dutifully ignored. “Wanna watch a movie?”
“Oh, I didn’t know that they had begun to install televisions in the bathrooms in public schools,” Shay said sarcastically.
“On my phone,” I rolled my eyes.
“Let’s do it on mine. It’s bigger.”
I nodded, my mind elsewhere, and we settled down, grandma and grandpa, watching a movie again.
There is something sweet about older couples. Of course, like any other teenager on the planet, I believed that you shouldn’t be allowed to kiss in front of people once you turned sixty. But I had always appreciated those older couples, with nothing left to hide from each other except which candy you had gotten for your 50th Valentine’s Day together.
That’s how I felt as Shay’s phone rang. A strange sort of belonging, sitting on the bathroom floor with my head on her shoulder, watching a corny horror movie. But the movie was paused, and Vicky’s name popped up on the screen, while a shrill cry filled the room. Shay picked up. “Took you long enough.” Pause. “Yeah. Damn straight, we’re ready. Come on, Jamie.” She stood, and lent me her hand, which I took, pulling myself up and brushing off my plaid shirt. “OK. Tell us when. Now?” Pause. “Oh. You’re in the locker room?” Pause. “Yeah. Jamie will. OK. Yeah. Going now.”
She hung up and looked at me. “They’re in the locker room. You have to take a picture of them as soon as the door opens. For Instagram.”
I nodded, and we made our way to the door dividing the bathrooms from the changing rooms.”
“Ready?” I heard Vicky’s voice from inside.
“Three.” Shay called.
We all joined in for, “Two, one, open!”
The door swung open and I snapped the picture, then wrapping my arm around Shay to pose for the one they were taking of us.
Then we burst out laughing. It was so Vicky and Charlotte. Flirty, but still practical. Somehow making them look otherworldly and human at the same time. They each wore giant bunny ears, simple animal makeup, giant furry ears, and what looked like furry, one piece bathing suits.
“It’s a good thing,” I managed, “that most of your followers are girls. We could be in big trouble.” I know. I’m terrible. The words hurt coming out of my mouth but I considered it necessary.
We are supposed to leave through that door,” Charlotte gestured behind her. “So everyone can see.”
We followed them through the room to the door. The bunnies left first. I heard the cheers and whistles and saw the flashes of cameras. “It’s like a paparazzi,” I whispered to Shay.
“It is a paparazzi,” she corrected. And she was sort of right. The whole school worshipped the three of them. They were like the queens, with Shay and her little quirks putting her at the very top. Then Vicky. Then Charlotte. Not so much me though. I just faded into the background. I was Shay’s friend. I wasn’t Jamie. I never had been.
I was brought back to the present when Shay lightly touched my hand. “It’s time,” she whispered.
I took a breath, and together we strutted out of the grey door and into the lights.