Joanna Friedman lives with her husband and twin girls in the San Francisco, CA bay area. She has been a writer for as long as she can remember and for the past two years has written the stories that have previously existed only inside her head. She works as a psychologist and spends all of her free time with her family and dog, Blue.
BLUE VELVET DRESS
Nate, I liked how you came over on Saturday night without first calling. You said, before you'd even handed me the bottle of wine, the neighborhood wasn't close enough to the beach. You were probably right about the neighborhood. I took the bottle, even though I don't drink. There were students barbecuing out on the lawn and I told you that sometimes it's nice to go out there with them. You told me I was smarter and would be better off spending my time finishing my thesis, getting my name out there. You told me when I do publish I should change my name from Lucy Franks to Lauren Blue. I kind of liked the idea, you have a good feel for names, but the name Lauren gave you a far-away look and so I settled on Lucy Blue. As for getting published, I doubted that would happen. Still, you made me feel like it could be true and so I wanted to work harder, so you would keep saying those sorts of things.
You pointed out my neighbor's door was open. The neighbor had moved out that morning. He couldn't pay his rent and I'd helped him put three boxes and a television in his car. He must have forgotten to close the door. You asked if there was any stuff - like pill bottles - left behind and I said I didn't know, drugs and alcohol weren't my thing. You shook your head in disbelief.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"Your dishonesty," you said.
"Are you saying I'm lying?"
"Everyone's got their drug," you said.
"I don't like to put anything in my body. It makes me feel depressed and... "
"I brought you a song," you said and put it on, but not before you complained about my speakers. I needed to get better ones, you said. How were we supposed to listen to any music with these? The song you were playing - about loving someone just for one night - came through just the same.
"One night?" I asked.
"It's just a song."
I told you I liked the melody. You opened the bottle and poured yourself a glass.
"Why don't you put on something nice?" You kept looking at me and when I looked down at the daisy print dress I'd chosen it seemed you were right.
I went in the bathroom to put on the knee length blue velvet dress, the one which showed off my cleavage. I added strappy high heels. When I came out you whistled and said I looked beautiful but my hair was too curly and I should brush it out. Then you mumbled something about girls looking sloppy when they don't wear nail polish on their toes.
I went back in and straightened my hair. Then I remembered how you told me Paula, your ex-girlfriend, was someone who should wear make-up. In the back of a drawer there were make-up samples I'd gotten with a bottle of cream. The pink lipstick made my lips look like they belonged in an ad and the dark blue eye shadow - which I applied a little darker than usual- made me feel like the sophisticated girl you told me you'd love to meet one day. This time when I came out you softened your eyes and said I looked just right for a night out with you. My toes felt naked.
I wanted to sit in your lap and kiss you but instead I said, "You look really great too."
You finished your wine and said you didn't feel right about the evening because I loved Mikey, your brother, and your ex-girlfriend, Paula, was my best friend.
"Paula and I aren't that close," I said.
You stood next to the window and looked out.
"What about Mikey?" You asked.
"How could I love someone like that," I said. You cringed, I assumed because it was your younger brother and you knew about his problems.
It wouldn't have been any better if I told you the whole truth about me and Mikey. Told you about all the afternoons we came home after eating out. I always paid because Mikey said he had ten dollars in the bank. We read on my bed or made love- one or the other. Then we told teach other stories. He liked to tell me about the apartment we'd get by the ocean and I added details.
"It has to have dark blue walls," I told him once.
"We'll read books all day, like this one." He'd hold up the book of the moment. The heroine in the story reminded him of me. At some point he would go to the kitchen, get himself a beer, and a bowl of blueberries. He'd sip the beer while feeding me the berries with his other hand.
"I love the way you look when you eat these," he'd say.
One day I kissed past his blueberry-stained fingers and along his arms, down to where I noticed the burns and cuts. He told me he'd shot heroin a few times and that it had made him a little crazy. I stopped kissing him. He held my hand and in a hoarse choked voice he told me he wanted to tell me the story about the apartment again, but this time when he told it, I pictured running out onto the sand and into cold ocean. I told Mikey to go home.
"Is it because of the heroin?" he asked.
"Yes," I lied.
It was easier than telling Mikey that it was because I couldn't risk his dying and leaving me alone.
"Let's stop talking about Mikey," you said.
You took my hand, pulled it behind my back, pushed me against the wall, smelled my hair, and told me I was the body you'd been waiting for. A body you deserve to have, you said, and for a moment I loved my body too.
"Let's go," you said. "Let's get out into the night."
You drove, fast, toward the club. You said this was your kind of club, as girls with red strappy dresses exited and guys threw money toward the valets. We stepped inside. You steered me through the white curtains hung at the entrance, and toward a group of dancing bodies. We fell into a rhythm and with you I was a good dancer.
You stepped behind me, lifted my arms high into the air and like a shooting star, you moved your hand down, down into my dress where I felt you close to my heart. I didn't even care that everyone could see. Our hips moved in time.
"I feel like we're in a movie." I said, but you couldn't hear me through the pounding music.
Later the bartender told me I was a good dancer. I heard a girl with high heels, nail polish on her toes, and a belly button ring ask you if you would dance with her. You asked me if that would be alright and I shrugged. "She has some stuff," you told me. I saw her wave you into the bathroom and I sat near the bartender.
"What's your name?" the bartender asked.
"Lucy... lucky Lucy... lovely," he said. "What's your drink?"
"I don't drink."
"Everyone has a drink."
He put a red umbrella in it before setting it down in front of me.
I chewed on the ice cubes and watched the bathroom door. Eventually you came out with the girl, hands around her waist, you pushed her into the crowd. The ice crunching sounded louder than the music, still I could see you Nate. Your hands around her hips, your face in her hair. I chewed cold ice and watched until she stumbled and you left her on the dance floor.
"Why'd you have to go and dance with someone else?" I said.
"She wasn't as good as you."
You ordered a shot of tequila.
"I love you, Nate."
You sat quietly.
"Why aren't you saying anything?"
"I'm waiting for the right moment... you know... I've never said it to anyone," you said.
That made me feel a little special, like you'd told me a secret about yourself. At least you trusted me. I asked you if you thought you'd ever say those words to me and you told me you'd tell me when it was time. You finished your drink and we walked back to the car.
You kissed me against the passenger side. I said it felt really good and kissed you back. Then you paused, said you missed your ex-girlfriend. I felt annoyed because I didn't want to hear about her and it made me miss your brother. I turned away until you pulled me back and started kissing my breasts. It made us both feel better for a moment until a guy slammed his fist on the trunk of your car and told us to move so he could park. I had to pull my dress up quickly but not before he got a glimpse and gave me a knowing smile. I rushed to get in the car.
You were unsteady getting in and then you fumbled to put the keys in the ignition. I offered to drive and you handed me the keys. You shut your eyes during the drive back to your apartment and I stared ahead because I didn't want you to know the empty hollow spot was starting to grow with the anticipation of ending the night.
"Can I stay with you?" I asked.
You didn't answer at first and I thought maybe you'd fallen asleep. Then you said something about how you didn't want to ruin the magic of the evening.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Hearing your lover brushing her teeth in the morning ruins just about everything."
"I didn't bring my toothbrush," I said and you nodded with a smile.
When we pulled into your driveway you yawned and then kissed me on the lips. You told me I had the perfect body for fucking. I blushed and told you we could if you wanted to. You opened my door and lifted me up and out of the car. Then you kissed me all the way into your apartment.
We walked in and you lit candles. You poured us each a glass of wine. You smirked when I pushed my glass back toward you. You leaned over and started kissing my neck and I didn't care about the red mark that would be there tomorrow. The phone rang and the answering machine came on. It was Paula's voice asking you where you'd been. She thought the two of you had a date tonight.
I pulled away and asked why she thought that. You told me she was confused. I had to go to the bathroom. I peed as quietly as I possibly could. I cried and decided it would be better to leave. Except, once I decided that, the cold empty feeling crept in.
"I'm thinking of leaving,"
You held my hand and pulled down the strap of my dress. The empty feeling dissolved with each kiss on my shoulder.
"You want to stay, don't you?" You pulled down the other strap and I felt the emptiness fill with your movement.
"I don't want to leave."
We fucked that night to the sound of the - one night - love song you'd brought me and Paula calling every hour or two. First she seemed concerned, then angry, then drunk, her voice changing shades over the course of the night. You moaned about my body being perfect and I came knowing that for a moment I was worth loving. You fell asleep and with your eyes closed you said, "I love you, Lauren Blue."
When I asked in the morning about it, you said you didn't remember saying that. When I told you I'd heard it, you said you were talking in your sleep. Still you said it, I reminded you, you said you loved me. You smiled as you let me out the door and told me I was beautiful and we were good together, and if there was poetry to be written, it would be written all about this night.
Back in my apartment the quiet buzzed in my ears. I drew the shades and looked for a message on my phone. The emptiness almost had a hold until I smelled your cologne on my arm. For a moment, the dizziness filled me with calm. I checked for a message, again. Normally people shower in the morning, but I didn't, Nate. I didn't want to wash off the smell of us. I didn't brush my teeth either. I sat on the couch in the blue velvet dress, looked at my strappy shoes, and waited for you. Waited with a faint smile, a dim glow remembering how we moved. I wanted you to pick me again, for another night. In the stillness, I pretend - smoked a cigarette and then another until the dam cracked. I knew my body wasn't worth a dime and all I wanted was another whisper from you asking if I wanted to fuck.
I called you and got your answering machine instead. I left a message that I'd had a good time and could we please go out for breakfast? I tapped my foot for twenty minutes before I called Paula. I couldn't have breakfast alone and I was hungry. She said she was busy and that she'd been hoping to get together with you last night. She was mad that you had forgotten about the date and that she had agreed to see you this morning. She'd tell me about it sometime soon.
I hung up and dialed Mikey's number.
"Hey," I said.
"Hey Lucy," Mikey said back.
"What are you doing?"
"Waiting here for you," Mikey said.
"Want me to come over?"
"Could we eat first?" He sounded like he hadn't eaten for awhile.
"Yeah, I'm hungry."
I stood up and smoothed out the wrinkles in my dress. It was as good - better than - it had been last night. Mikey wouldn't know the difference. I stepped out into the morning. The clouds were thick and heavy, the air was still, like the wind wasn't quite ready to blow. The drive to Mikey's felt long. I turned around once, drove away, but eventually I pulled into his driveway. He was standing in his doorway. Big smile on his face. His hair color the same dark brown as yours. He walked over to the car and leaned in to kiss me through the window.
"God... I love you Lucy..." he opened the car door and tried to pull me into a hug but I was still buckled in. He sat down on my lap instead. I wanted him to kiss me, put his hand up my shirt, anything to make me forget you, but he put his head on my shoulder and shook a little. I put my arms around him and felt my shoulder turn wet.
"Hey Mikey, you're kind of hurting my legs."
He moved onto the passenger seat and patted my leg.
"Don't ever want to hurt you."
I started the car and drove to the diner, the one next to the truck stop. The one with the neon lights in the window. It started to rain. Mikey ordered eggs, waffles, a tuna fish sandwich, and black coffee. I ordered a decaf tea.
"You're so healthy Lucy... and you look amazing... doesn't matter if your make-up is a little..." He made a motion with his fingers around his own lips. "Looks beautiful anyway, doesn't matter," he said.
I hadn't looked in the mirror since last night. I got up from the table and went to the bathroom. The lipstick was smeared past my lips, mascara was smudged under my eyes, my hair was frizzing into curls, and I had a red mark on my neck. I looked in my purse for something to help me - nothing but some change in my wallet.
I wondered what you and Paula were doing. You probably wouldn't like it much that I'd called Mikey, just as much as I didn't like Paula coming over to your place. You could have shut off that answering machine Nate- you could have, you know?
The soap in the dispenser smelled like cleaning fluid but it washed you away. The blue of my eyes still came through without the mascara. There was a machine for the lady truckers. I put the coins in for the hair brush - it came with hair bands on the handle, toothbrush, and toilettes. I left the lipstick, tampons, and condoms. I brushed out my hair - still frizzy - but once up in a pony tail, it looked alright, even to me. I brushed my teeth so hard Nate, that when I spit into the sink I did it out loud just the way kids do when they are first learning. That's how I brushed my teeth, Nate, and you know what? They were clean when I was done with them. I looked all right. I opened the door back to the diner.
I used the public phone and called your cell phone, got your voice mail. I wanted you to hear all this, hear my "poetry" about the night. When it got to the end and the automatic voice of a woman came on and asked if I was satisfied with my message I yelled into the phone, that I wasn't satisfied with my message and hung up.
Mikey finished the tuna fish sandwich. It had begun to rain- heavy sheets of rain that turned the outside dark grey. I could barely see the car.
He looked up, "Lucy, you look so beautiful, not like other girls who need all that make up."
"Mikey, I look alright, okay? Listen, I have to go." His smile started to fade.
"Here's twenty bucks for the food and cab home. I'm sorry for everything."
Mikey started crying again and I told him that things would get better for us both. Then I walked outside. The rain pounded on my arms and legs, within one second I was soaking wet but it was all right because these types of rain storms last for only a few minutes. A few minutes of intense soaking rain, then just as quickly the sun appears and it makes it seem like the rain storm never happened in the first place.