The Perfect Costume
By Ashley Felix
Her hair is a large fiery thing, too big for her hats, too big for life. It’s thick golden curls fall and coil in all directions. It cannot be tamed. It’s a Monday. Her hair is always a mess on Mondays because her weekends are long and unpredictable. She’s never prepared for class because she wakes up late with only enough time to shower, brush her teeth, dress and leave. She doesn’t have breakfast; she never has the time. Her hair is an uncombed beautiful mess. It’s thick golden curls fall and coil in all directions and still manages to be more fabulous than everyone else in her entire grade–no–the entire school.
Her uniform shirt is a little small, smaller than most of the other girls’ shirts and the first two buttons are undone. Her skirt is short and her socks are tall and striped blue and white. Standing at five foot eight, she is taller than most girls her age and she wears her height like a prize. Her confidence is a veil that shields her from the world. It intimidates the other students, even the teachers.
She is seven minutes late to her first class. Her usual olive toned skin is an earthier shade of yellow in the winter and her cheeks are flushed. She knows Mr. Whitman saw her come in late. He sees everything.
“Laurel,” Mr. Whitman says to her. His voice is a cavernous sound that always seems to come from someplace outside of him. He is a small gray haired man and every time he speaks, his voice precedes him. “You are ten minutes late today. Please be sure to get the notes from one of your classmates after class.”
“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir,” Laurel responds in her soft way. Her voice is a soothing contrast to the roaring tone of Mr. Whitman’s. She never tries to compete with him and though he is one of the most intimidating faculty members at this school, she disarms him.
He sighs, “Just try not to let it happen again.”
But it will happen again. Just like every other Monday before this one. She is Mr. Whitman’s favorite student by default, whether he realizes it or not. She’s everyone’s favorite student by default. She has the highest grades and the most awards. She is the principal’s daughter. Everyone loves her.
Laurel is buzzing with something, a secret maybe. I’m buzzing too. When Mr. Whitman is busy writing on the board, a devious smile plays on the corners of her lips. She reaches into her bag and pulls out a stack of envelopes. She hands them out to her nearest classmates and kindly asks them to distribute the rest. Invitations. Her sweet sixteen will be a Halloween extravaganza. It will be the biggest event of the year.
She has several classes after English with Mr. Whitman and in every class she hands out invitations. Everyone is invited. Even me.
The girl who hands me my invitation doesn’t realize what a gift she has. She tosses it onto my desk as if it’s unwanted class work. I feel a little special. I know I shouldn’t but I do. For a moment I smile to myself. I do not plan on going to this party. I can’t go, but oh how beautiful it is to be included. There will be another opportunity to get close, one with less of a crowd. I will wait for that. I will wait for the next invitation.
I go through every day like a ghost, watching Laurel closely but not too closely. I never sit near her in the classes we share and if we are walking down the same hallway, I never walk on the same side as her. I know everything there is to know about her but I am not a stalker. I swear to you I am nothing, no one–just a silhouette. A ghost. But I am drawn to her. I am Icarus and she is the sun.
During lunch period I sit alone at the back of the school nearest the football field where no one can bother me. I can’t deal with the loud crowd of students in the cafeteria. I cannot bear the noise or the people. Out here is quieter than inside that dreadful place. I eat my ham and cheese sandwich and think about Laurel. I think about what her party will be like. She’s known for throwing the best birthday parties ever since sixth grade. It’s tradition. I try to imagine going, like a real person. I try to imagine dressing up in a cool costume and putting on spooky makeup. For just one second I can see it. Just a second and then it’s gone. I am nothing again, no one. A silhouette. A ghost.
Two weeks have passed. The big day has finally arrived. Halloween. Laurel cannot wait for the school day to be over. Her friends can’t stop talking about it. They remind everyone and anyone who will listen. This isn’t a party to miss. Everyone will be there.
After school I walk home amongst the bubbly schoolgirls who cannot wait to get home. They speak of their expectations and feelings. They discuss their costume choices and theories for what others will wear, who will show and who won’t. They don’t see me. The entire time I remain a shadow amongst them.
It’s a long walk home. I never take public transportation. I rather walk until my feet are sore. I never worry about danger. No one sees me.
Laurel’s building is the halfway mark. I stand outside just staring at it, at her floor, the fourth floor. I imagine an alternate universe where I am a normal fifteen-year-old girl. I imagine going to Laurel’s party with friends, having fun and drowning in ignorant bliss. I can see it so clearly some days, through the eyes of others, through Laurel’s eyes most especially. I can feel her from all the way out here. I’m beginning to buzz. I know if I keep standing here it’ll only get worse but I will myself to control it. I close my eyes and practice the breathing technique my grandfather taught me. “When it gets really bad, just close your eyes and breathe in and out and count backwards from ten.”
I am almost to zero when I hear Laurel’s voice. “Xaria!”
Startled, I gasp and open my eyes immediately. Sure enough, she is standing outside her building waving at me. I am frozen with shock.
“Xaria!” She shouts again. “What are you doing here so early?”
I am still frozen. Laurel hurries past the doorman, down the front steps and closes the distance between us in under five seconds. Her golden hair moves with the wind in all directions.
“You’re early,” she says.
I try to find my voice. She is too close. I want to run. I shouldn’t have been here still. I should’ve been on my way again minutes ago.
“And you’re still in uniform,” she frowns.
Shit. Speak, Xaria! Speak!
“Um…” I start without the slightest clue of how to finish. “I…”
“Do you live near here?”
Her gray eyes are piercing. Too beautiful. Too striking. I’m beginning too buzz again. Oh no. Think! Think! Speak!!!
“I can’t.” Two words. Progress.
“You can’t… come to my party?”
I am taken aback, not by her response specifically, but by her expression. I have offended her.
“Why?” she asks in a small voice.
I am frozen with shock again. Could Laurel actually want me to come to her party? How? Why? We never talk. This is the most she’s ever talked to me since fourth grade when we were somewhat friends. Could she remember those days? Was it possible that she missed them just as much as I did? The possibility–the mere thought of this calms me. The buzzing stops.
“I don’t have a costume,” I say. This is the truth. I don’t have a Halloween costume or any other kind of costume for that matter. But this is not the reason I cannot attend her party.
Laurel’s eyes widen and her lips pull back into a huge grin. “I can fix that!” She grabs my hand and takes off. Before I know it I’m on the elevator with her, headed towards her floor. I can’t stop it. I can’t stop any of it. The buzzing worsens. My worst fears and my best dreams are coming true.
Her two-floor condo is lavishly decorated. We zoom past the ghosts and pumpkins and Halloween treats. The dj waves at us, the caterers smile. Laurel giggles and skips all the while I’m still in deep shock, tagging along with my hand in hers. It’s all too surreal. We rush to the top of the large round golden staircase that leads to the second floor and just as we get there a man emerges. It’s none other than the film director Antonio Belladonna. He’s tall, taller than I remember, with wavy dirty blonde hair, a clean-shaven handsome face, gray eyes and a wickedly beautiful smile. Laurel looks a lot like him.
“Dad this is Xaria. Xaria this is dad. Okay bye,” Laurel says and then we’re off again before he even has a chance to say hi.
We’re in her room. Her room is the size of my apartment. It has a queen size bed, a ridiculous amount of floor space, a sofa, a large flat screen TV mounted to the wall, standing closets and plenty of other expensive furniture and accessories. She starts pulling out costumes left and right. I am still in shock. I don’t even know how I lasted this long. Surely I’ll explode at any moment now.
I stare at the pictures on her lavender colored walls. There are pictures of her parents and her brother Christian. Her mother, our principal, Loretta, is a beautiful woman with skin the color of coffee beans and eyes the color of hazelnut. Christian, whose complexion is very similar to Laurel’s, has dark brown hair like his mother’s and the same hazel eyes. Beautiful family. Too beautiful. There are other pictures of her extended family and friends, her boyfriend Shaun and a few posters of Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Jared Leto. Each photo, portrait and poster is another glimpse into a life so different from my own. The togetherness, intimacy and closeness of her family and friends is so tender, so beautifully captured, it makes me want to cry.
The bedroom door opens and her mother pops her head in. “You two need anything? Something to drink?” She smiles, revealing two lovely dimples that I have never seen before on school grounds. “Hello,” she says, smiling at me. “Xaria.”
“Hello,” I say, smiling. I hope.
She enters the room, closes the distance between us and pulls me into a warm hug.
“Mom! Don’t scare her,” Laurel groans. It’s then I noticed that Laurel is already dressed in her costume.
“Sorry, sorry,” Loretta says quickly and pulls away from me. “Would you two like anything?”
“I’m fine,” I say.
“Please leave us be mother,” Laurel says with an impious grin.
Loretta leaves the room swiftly.
“I’m sorry if that made you uncomfortable,” Laurel says, holding up a costume. She stares at it for a moment. “You like vampires? We can be vampires together.” She presses the costume against me. “I think this will look good on you. You can try it on and if you don’t like it we can find something else.”
I cannot begin to fathom why she’s being so nice to me, not that she’s ever been mean to me. I just can’t figure out why any of this is happening. It’s so odd, so out of the blue. I want to run. I want to scream. I want to explode with joy and pain. My buzzing is getting out of control. I can no longer decipher her words as she messes with my hair and helps me get out of my school uniform. My movements are robotic. She’s staring at me in a way I never imagine anyone would look at me. My chest feels tight and my head feels dizzy. My heart is pounding and my entire being is shaking. I’m scared. I don’t know what any of this means.
I’m standing in front of a mirror and Laurel is standing behind me.
“You like it?” She asks in a whisper, her voice tickles the back of my neck and caresses my ear. I shiver.
“I said… do you like it?”
“Oh.” Right. She’s referring to the costume. I look at myself for the first time. My plain brown face isn’t so plain anymore. My lips are glossy and black, a striking difference to my zombie like makeup. My short unruly hair has been fixed into a hairstyle that I never thought possible. I’m wearing a shimmering black dress covered in spider webs and blood stains.
“All we need is the right shoes and some fangs,” she giggles. “I think it looks good on you.”
She places her hands on my shoulders and moves them down slowly. Her hands are fire to me, scorching my skin wherever it moves.
I’m shaking, visibly now. Surely she must see it. I know I’ll explode. Something terrible is happening within me. I close my eyes and breathe in and out slowly.
Ten. She traces the length of my arms and presses her palms firmly against my sides. Nine. Laurel whispers something in my ear.
Eight. Laurel moves her hand over my stomach slowly.
Seven. Laurel turns me around.
Six. Laurel pulls me close.
Five. Laurel says something again. It’s louder than a whisper this time but I still can’t understand it.
Four. My skin feels like it’s on fire.
Three. Laurel places her hands on either sides of my face.
Two. Laurel presses her lips to mine.
One. I explode.
Every particle, molecule and follicle, every fiber, every cell, every single atom of my entire being explodes. I feel light, lighter than air. For one second everything is blank, silent and vacant. For one second I cannot think, feel, see or hear. For just one second I am nothing. And then it’s over. I am whole again. I’m afraid to open my eyes. I’m afraid to face Laurel even though she is the one who kissed me. There’s a knock at the door.
“Some of your friends are here. Are you nearly ready?” Loretta asks.
Laurel doesn’t say anything. Shit, this can’t be good.
“Laurel,” Loretta calls again. “Do I need to come in there?”
Laurel still doesn’t say anything. I’m beginning to worry now. Perhaps I should open my eyes and see what’s going on with her. Stop being a coward! I open my eyes and stare into Laurel’s. Only it’s not Laurel physically standing in front of me. It’s a reflection. My reflection. I’m staring at the mirror and seeing Laurel. What?
The door opens and Loretta walks in. “What are you two doing in here? Your guests have arrived. Are you going to just keep them waiting?” She stares at me with earnest concern.
My brain provides me with obvious responses, smart ones. I look down for a moment, noticing the pile of clothes I was once wearing when I was still Xaria. But I am still Xaria. I still have my thoughts. Wait.
“I’ll be down in a minute,” I say but it’s Laurel’s voice that escapes me. I stare at my reflection and touch my new face.
I look at Loretta and then I look down at the pile of clothes again. “She went to the bathroom.”
She sighs, “Okay. You look beautiful by the way.”
“Thanks mom,” the words flow effortlessly from my lips. Laurel’s lips. My lips now.
Loretta leaves the room. I stare at my reflection again. I step back and admire the Countess Dracula costume that hugs my new figure. Years and years spent dreaming of this day. Wishing, hoping, waiting. Nearly sixteen years of waiting. I smile. My confusion has gone and fear is now a distant memory. I welcome this new life as Laurel. This is the perfect costume.