It’s a great honor and pleasure to welcome author Lisa Souza to our humble hut.
Lisa was the outright winner of our Captivating Opening contest, with the delightfully mischievous Beauty and the Bridesmaid.
She was raised on the mean streets of Spokane, Washington, wrestling five siblings for attention and hot meals.
Lisa modestly describes herself as “a terrible multi-tasker” but at the same time belongs to roughly the same number of clubs Tiger Woods’ caddy handled at the U.S. Open.
Lisa lives in the Snohomish Valley with her husband Mark Souza, a best-selling horror author, her two creative daughters, and rescue dog “Tater,” perhaps the world’s goofiest looking hound.
I initially lured Lisa over on the pretense that this was a typical author interview, and got her to ’fess up a few likes and dislikes so that I could subject her to my “Hypothetical Q & A”
And now we have her bio tucked away above we can press straight on with it – this is followed by the first two chapters of the fantabulous Beauty and the Bridesmaid for your enjoyment also.
Stef: Lisa, welcome aboard!
That is, welcome aboard the Quasi-Tanic, a rusty tub en route to Darwin, Australia, where it is destined to disgorge its passengers; many of whom are intent on attending a rarefied Racial Equality convention.
But destiny is a fickle mistress, and following a minor collision with a Greenpeace ship the Quasi-Tanic begins to take on water. Lots of water. A klaxon wakes you up followed by a crackling declaration from the Russian captain that: “There iss no need to panic, but better you get quickly out of bed and into one of the serviceable lifeboats,” followed by: “and don’t bring any more but you can carry in one hand or we throw over side.”
The first question is, what are you going to take from your luggage?
Lisa: Ruh-roh! I dread a deadline and I have small hands. I stuff a jar of Nestea Instant Ice Tea Mix and its companion box of sweetener into a Ziplock bag, along with a toothbrush because dental hygiene is critical. Admittedly these are poor survival choices (I’ve seen “Naked and Afraid”) but I left my machete in my other pants. The dreaded “paperback versus Kindle” debate comes next and since charging an e-Reader on a Russian lifeboat sounds dicey, On Writing by Stephen King, Persuader by Lee Child, The Husband by Dean Koontz, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood get forced into a modest canvas bag – the Ziplock bag goes in next. That leaves just enough room on top for clean underwear and one of those diminutive shampoo bottles, so small it will barely wash your bangs.
Stef: As the small and decrepit lifeboat begins to groan its way down through the darkness to the water line, a Russian crewman comes flying past with a howl which is quickly followed by a splash!, then a large designer trunk lands smack in the middle of the vessel, followed by a divinely dressed lady. There are grumbles from some of the other passengers, which the lady is oblivious to as she disentangles herself from a stunned passenger and proceeds to the bowsprit, where she ejects a yelping dog with a deft swing of her purse and takes up residence there.
As dawn begins to break you realize that the dog, now ensconced between its owner’s legs, must be Anna, the Golden Retriever who replaced the famous Trixie, because the snoozing owner is Dean Koontz himself. At the stern of the boat a soggy Russian crewman is tinkering with the outboard motor while at the same time glaring at the divinely dressed lady at the prow…who looks uncannily like drag queen icon Ru Paul.
A further examination of the shipwrecked souls reveals:
· Two orange-colored young women, one of them waving an iPhone on a selfie-stick while they pucker up in various poses.
· A heavily tattooed man with a swastika emblem on his brow and an even more heavily tattooed woman on his lap.
· Three bespectacled Catholic priests in various states of bewilderment.
· Two creepy-looking Ronald McDonald clowns.
· A Corgi dog, who must be Molly-the-evil-one because she’s chewing on author Stephen King’s cowboy boots as he jots his observations into a notepad.
So here’s a nice easy question: in a dogfight, who would you put your money on and why? Anna the Retriever or Molly the Corgi?
Lisa: As an avowed pacifist and closet chicken, I dread conflict. To avoid bloodshed, I’d engage the priests and clowns together in a drum circle. The rhythmic noises ought to confuse the dogs, who will telepathically agree that humans are stupid and end their rivalry. I’ll be a hero to all. Well, except for Stephen King. He’ll keep insisting his money’s on the stumpy Corgi with the Napoleon complex.
Stef: Okay, yes, well, one cannot argue with Napoleonic history – it seems Mr. King has a point; so, with this tenet in mind, how about a rumble between Dean and Stephen?
Lisa: Who will prevail? I see Mr. Koontz leaning toward McGyver style tactics, a real tool-using thinker. Mr. King? More Jack Reacher: well read, but schooled. Neither wants to fight, (such nobility!), but when pressed, I’ll say advantage King. He seems battle tested.
Stef: The Russian crewman issues an oath and hurls the outboard motor into the Indian Ocean, which is as still as a mill pond, the humidity and temperature rising as a lone herring gull wheels a lament above (the albatross thing has already been done). You have time to reflect on your predicament amid this motley crew of castaways. If the paltry water supplies reach critical level, who’s the first passenger – on first impressions – to surreptitiously tip overboard? And what’s the following order should the rations diminish near to naught? To accommodate your delicate sensibilities I have already hypothetically placed the two civilized mutts into a trailing inflatable dinghy so the holy men and clowns do not invoke a howling neurotic episode.
Lisa: Thank heavens I’m not responsible for the dogs. So do not need that stain on my karma. To avoid spiritual failing, I’d take one for the team and hop over the side with my Ziplock bag in my teeth. The books remain on the boat while my fragile, velociraptor-like arms tow the boat toward the horizon. Let’s go with that. It sounds far more virtuous than “toss those corporate clowns.”
Stef: Probably for the best, Lisa – I’m guessing they’d have thrown you overboard first anyway, so you might as well jump… You catch a glimpse of a large dorsal fin in your peripheral vision, and you proceed to paddle like crazy in a naval zigzag maneuver as the people you are towing cheer you on (and make side bets). Finally, fate cuts you a break when you spot a luxury yacht bobbing in the distance – but is it a mirage? There are a couple of other famous people aboard this small-yet-magnificent vessel – who are they and how do you react?
Lisa: Anyone who knows me well would definitely throw me overboard first, so it’s mighty fortunate for me that yacht showed up. And look! It’s Oprah Winfrey and Martha Beck searching for inner peace on the open sea. I pull a Ricky Bobby move from Talladega Nights, flailing and screaming, “Help me, Oprah Winfrey!” to get her attention. And of course she does help, because hello, she’s Oprah Winfrey. She points a manicured finger at Koontz, King, clowns and yours truly in turn shouting, “YOU get a Coast Guard Cutter! And YOU get a Coast Cutter!” With the press of a cell phone, Oprah arranges an escort of the Maritime Guardians while I use the lull to select a lame animal totem with assistance from that lame animal guru, Martha Beck. I’ve been waffling between the Blobfish and the Possum because both speak to me and both creatures are oh-so lame. Koontz sees me as a Blobfish but King leans toward Possum and they nearly come to blows again. Fortunately, the priests intervene.
Stef: Lisa, your altruism is making it hard for me to
torment engage you. I had planned to cast you all away on a bug-infested, radioactive
desert island, and reduce you all to not-so-noble savages to see who would be
the last man standing. But if you can’t even nudge a fast-food clown into the
briny deep I fear you are a lost cause. So I will set you one last dilemma
before you and Oprah sail off to Darwin to trawl the bars and astonish the
Question: Oprah has arranged for the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard to pick up the lifeboat castaways (the next time they turn up for work). She hands you a generous measure of Remy Martin brandy and asks you whom she should take from the now-leaking tub to lessen its load. And I already know what you’re thinking, Lisa: “surely we can make room for everybody…” – but if you select too many I am going to hypothetically kill them all via food poisoning at the hands of Oprah’s executive chef: undercooked coq-au-vin, I think…a most appropriate penalty for a self-confessed chicken like yourself. So you have to second-guess my parameters to avoid mass destruction (except you, who opted for a dessert for all three courses).
Lisa: Ooh! Ooh! I got this! I’ll sort them in ascending order. We’ll keep cramming them in the yacht till Oprah gets a frowny face.
1. Oprah: It’s her boat, people. She’s coming.
2. Martha Beck. She was already on the boat. Besides, anyone who has read her work knows she is destined for sainthood and I want in on that.
3. Oh, Dean Koontz, my secret author boyfriend, with your incredible unforeseen twist in The Husband and the astoundingly fresh Odd Thomas: my life preserver is your life preserver. And of course you can bring Anna along because separating families is wrong.
Lisa: What? You can’t fit anyone else? Oh pretty puh-leeze? Just a few more?
Stef: Now, I’m not quite that mean, Lisa, though the slinky little boat is already brimming with her support team. Go ahead – tell me who’s next…
4. Stephen King. You know why you didn’t make it before Koontz? The Stand. Dolores Claiborne. The Dead Zone. And I just inhaled your latest Finders Keepers. You’re a genre-hopper, King, that’s what you are. How dare you shine in genre after genre, old-school horror to paranormal to murder mystery? Leave some space on the shelves for the rest of us, King. And don’t let me see you sneaking into Women’s Contemporary fiction or you’ll find your bacon stuck waiting behind the Selfie-Sisters, who are not exactly top of my rescue list.
Lisa: Oprah’s giving the stink-eye so space grows scarce. But surely just a few more?
Stef: Okay, Lisa, I was bluffing about fatally poisoning these souls – poor or otherwise – but the last castaway you (inevitably) save should at least develop a decent dose of Delhi-belly after opting for the duck liver pâté. Pray, continue with your rescue order to completion, dear lady…
5. The Corgi. Yes, I’m ashamed of myself for putting a dog above people, but I really like dogs. My dog is sort a mutated version of a Corgi: she’s a shelter rescue dog, a German Shepherd Basset Hound. (If a shepherd lost its legs in a tragic accident? One that also stretched her length a foot past what looks right? Yep. That’s my dog Tater).
6. The priests. I was schooled by the Jesuits. And my dad was going to be a priest (pretty sure there’s a book in there somewhere). I have a soft spot for the clerical collar.
7. Ru Paul: Style that ship.
8. Russian crewman: Who doesn’t love an accent?
9. Tattooed woman: She could have swapped spots with the Corgi if she’d made better relationship choices.
10. Selfie-Sisters: There’s something disturbing about pumpkin-colored-over-tanners wielding an iPhone when survival is at issue. Besides, they won’t even notice that they aren’t being saved – at least till the battery fails.
11. Corporate Clowns. Enough said.
12. Swastika dude: Haters go last.
Stef: Thank you so much for taking part in this bit of nautical fun, Lisa! After reading your debut novel Beauty and the Bridesmaid I knew I could rely on you to be Queen of the Subjunctive!
Lisa: Thanks for having me aboard, Stef. You have inspired and concerned me: next time I go on a fictional vacation to Australia, I’m definitely bringing my machete.
Stef: And last, but by no means least, Dear Reader, we have the opening two chapters of Beauty and the Bridesmaid:
“… a darkly comic tale of transformation and choices, frenemies and friendship, the heroic saga of a nice woman who just wants to look in a mirror and feel beautiful, but may find the price is higher than she bargained …”
“I’m a virgin.”
“Hmm?” Ginny continues admiring her ass from various angles in a three-way mirror.
“I’m a virgin, Gin.” She still doesn’t respond, so I figure clarification is in order. “I have not known man. I have unintentionally embraced the celibate life. I remain carnally unchallenged.”
This time she hears me.
She glares down at me from her perch. “Can we stay on task, here, Dot?”
Can she comprehend how boring this is? I’m going snow blind from all the white. They use white to symbolize virginity and I am an expert on virginity. Unlike Ginny.
She should wear red. Maybe with racing stripes and corporate logos.
“You are so messed up, Dot.” Ginny eyes the Vera Wang knock off from a different angle. The simple white satin number clings to every inch of her till it reaches her knees where apparently it loses interest and puddles to the floor. “This may be the one.”
I’d look like a Macy’s Float in that thing: big, round, and secured with ribbon at the bottom. Eek.
She grins at me. “Mom’d kick my ass if I pick this one. D’you see the price tag?”
Are you getting this? Did you see how she just totally glossed over that heartfelt revelation? I don’t really blame her. Ginny has always had the attention span of a gnat. And gosh, with the wedding looming a scant seven months away how could it be any different? No mock designer wedding gown selected? Oh, the horror. My predicament doesn’t enter her consciousness. I’m a sex deprived manatee in sweat pants, but this pales in comparison to critical issues such as:
Ginny’s perfect ass in almost Vera Wang.
She set the hook two months ago, convincing Samuel T. Johansen III to drop to one knee and beg. Now sure, copious amounts of Jägermeister were involved (aided and abetted by an unbelievably revealing tank top), but she got the ring. Technically, he could still throw the hook, and this makes Miss Ginny Lake nervous indeed. She wants him in the boat before he can flop free. Bashing him over the head with an oar is not out of the question. Ginny’s goal oriented.
Caveat emptor, Sammy boy, caveat emptor.
Consider: I, Dorothy Alana Lindell, just admitted to being a virgin in a public place. This proves conclusively that I’m desperate to switch the topic from GINNY’S WEDDING to anything else. Absolutely anything else. Yes, even my pathetic, undefiled state. And when you’re painfully single, the only thing that might possibly out-bore someone else’s wedding is someone else’s baby.
Oh my god: how incredibly boring will Ginny be when she gets pregnant?
Her majesty turns and waves a manicured hand toward the register, ignores the assistant directly behind her. “Dress woman! You there! This is the one.”
Dress woman? Ginny’s such a pill.
Register woman hobbles over in three-inch heels. “Excellent, Miss Lake. And the tiara? Will that work, or would you care to see something else? Perhaps with longer veiling?”
Dress woman has a name – Tiffany. It says so on her nametag. Neither she nor her assistant offer their names. They stand like stiff little Chanel soldiers in arch destroying shoes and boxy suits, pursing their inflated lips. Maybe they got a group rate. I’ve seen ling cod with smaller mouths.
Bully for them, though, for not hauling off and decking her. I would have taken a swing at Ginny by now, were I not her best friend. Besides she’s my cousin.
“Vera Wang simplicity sometimes suggests the need for more elaborate headgear,” the one in charge counsels.
I fear her overly inflated mouth may accidentally explode. I take a small step back, just in case.
“Ya think?” Ginny shoots an ‘are you brain damaged?’ look at her. Bridezilla must have stowed her Catholicism somewhere in the folds of pseudo-Vera Wang.
I take a seat on a hard, armless chair, the kind that should come with warning labels and free chiropractic care. Half of my butt fits. The chair complains loudly, causing both “dress women” to glare my way. I offer a feeble smile.
I would sell my soul for a Cherry Coke, but all this place offers is weak tea that smells like dirt and leaves. Best I keep dry.
I glance at my wrist. Nothing there. One day I’ll wear a watch. The link types nip the tiny hairs on my arms and the leather ones can never quite circumnavigate my wrist.
“Ginny, what time is it? I gotta get back to work.”
My cousin and former R.H.V. - that’s “Red Hot Virgin” to the uninformed, barely glances my way. “I’m nowhere near done, Dotty. We haven’t even addressed the footwear issue. If you have to go, call Dressler’s about the flowers, ’k? Maybe you could swing by there tonight? Make sure Sam doesn’t mess up the order? I’ll end up with plastic daisies from Kmart if he starts checking prices.”
“Can’t tonight. Remember? Daters Anonymous. I have a meeting tonight.” And I’ll be switched if I take yet another bus to do your dirty work again today. “Later, Ginny.”
~ ~ ~
Tap, tap, tap. Doc Devers is forever tapping that damn pen of hers. She’s unaware of how annoying it is. It’s a tiny little snapping sound, plastic against paper, a bit hollow in places.
Sometimes I’d like to slap her.
We’re trapped in the meeting room of Valley General Hospital, my pathetic posse and me, holed up with Doctor Pepper Devers – A.K.A. Pepper the tapper. She’s asked me not to refer to her as Dr. Pepper so I fight that urge, along with the compulsion to reach across two people and snap her pen in two.
The room is fairly small, maybe twelve by ten, all low ceilings, safety beige walls and match-the-vomit carpet. It is a hospital, after all. The chairs are three-mile-orange, the institutional plastic kind. The seats are the same molded plastic that proved too small for my ass in high school, so clearly I’m overflowing mine now. With one butt cheek hanging exhausted over the edge of the chair, Dever’s interminable tapping, and the collective sighs and moans of my fellow detainees, I am miserable.
Doctor P sets the pen on her clipboard (sweet relief) and begins her opening spiel. I’ve heard this part before and set my brain to mute. Now it’s all fuzzed out noises, like the old Peanuts cartoons with a teacher interrogating Charlie Brown: “wah, wah wah wah.”
Group Therapy is weird beyond imagining.
The participants range in age from nineteen to sixty-seven. When everyone shows up there are three men and four women, sprawled on chairs, limbs dangling in varying degrees of looseness (depending on their medications).
I’d love to see the criteria Doc used to assemble this troop, but the stated purpose is “Relating to the Opposite Gender.” Opposing genders. This is war.
My calendar lists it simply as “DA,” shorthand for Daters Anonymous. Here’s what I’ve learned so far in group:
Don’t name your daughter Elvira.
If your brother offers to keep an eye on your wife, say no.
Meth and daycare don’t mix.
Pepper’s FM radio voice permeates my brain fog. “Last week, Don was discussing how his wife’s adultery affected him sexually. Don, is there anything you would care to add before we move on?”
I glance over at Donald Pleasant. If Don were food, he’d be pudding. His flesh swirls around him in soft, creamy folds that coins could get lost in. He wears an ill fitting shirt in a bilious plaid paired with pants so high-waisted he’s in danger of choking. If that weren’t bad enough, he’s also a nail biter. Eventually, he’s going to gnaw off a hand. Poor Don.
He squints hard through thick glasses. Clearly he can’t make out the orange chair, let alone the doctor’s elegant presence. He aims his voice in her general direction.
“Well, Doctor, I think I’ve reached a new level of understanding,” he shares between finger nibbles. His voice has the vaguely sinus-y sound of a chronic asthmatic.
Doctor Devers shifts toward him in her hard plastic chair. “Yes, Donald?”
“What’s to understand, Donny boy?” Mike pipes up. He stretches back in his chair, threatening to tip it. “You’re wife did your brother and tried to poison you. Badda bing, badda boom.” Mikey twists his hands thumbs up, thumbs down, punctuating his brilliant observation. I’m scared to death of him. He looks like what he is: tough and wired. What Mikey lacks in hair – his head is completely shaved – he makes up in tattoos.
He’s here by judicial order rather than desperation. He’d chased his wife six blocks before the cops apprehended him. At that point, he informed them that she’d escaped from their aquarium and he was merely trying to save her. The police confiscated a net of ropes he’d been swinging over the petrified woman’s head at the time, (which turned out to be the hammock from their back yard) and snapped some plastic restraints on him. He later admitted to ingesting copious amounts of crack that day, yet somehow his lawyer managed to convince the court that all Mikey needed was a bit of R and R and some counseling.
I doubt his soon to be ex-wife agrees.
“I think I know why she needed Robbie. I think… I think I was being neglectful. Maybe I didn’t consider her needs enough.”
“That’s very insightful, Donald.”
“And it’s…like…total bullshit.” Elvira rolls her heavily made up eyes. She resembles her namesake in all ways save one: no boobs. Her chest is practically concave. Today she’s done up all Goth: long black dress, limp as a greasy lock of hair, far too much makeup in splotches of white and black – but her voice, as usual, is all peppy surfer chick. Think ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ meets Tim Burton. She continues, “No offense, but you’re kinda ugly, dude. I think it was just a matter of time till she booked.” Elvira snaps her gum between black lips.
This isn’t delivered as an insult, just a casual remark. Which strikes me as hilarious. I bite down hard on my lower lip and contemplate my own stubby fingernails.
When I dare to look up, Devers is suppressing a smile under her hand, but it rests in her eyes. “Remember the rules, Elvira. No name calling. Just information, observation, and assistance.”
“Nothing personal, Don.”
“Perfectly okay, Elvira.”
Susan steps in. “Donny may be on to something, you know. Men don’t pay attention. They never think about how the woman feels. It’s all about them.” Susan is sitting on her hands, trying to warm them. She’s a single mom, a soccer mom, and she’s battling a crystal meth habit she picked up while racing to keep up with an ADHD son. Since her box cutter accident a few weeks ago, she complains that her hands are always cold.
That must have been some accident. I wonder how common is it to “accidentally” slit both wrists with an X-acto Knife?
“What does it get you, Donald? So what if you were neglectful back then? What can you do about it now?” Jasper says.
Jasper is a wild card. I’ve no clue why he’s here. He could sub for Devers if he wanted to, offering calm and sane advice. He’s even attractive in a tweed elbow patches kind of way. His beard and mustache are trimmed short, the sandy brown color making his blue eyes sparkle. Maybe he’s a physician. Mom says doctors make terrible husbands – and she should know, given she married two of them – so that may explain his presence in Relationships 101.
Don dislodges a fingernail-deprived hand from his mouth. “Well… I could call? Call and tell her I’m sorry about everything. Validate her feelings.” He’s animated, talking faster now.
A groan rises like a fart from the group, causing people to wave their hands and roll their eyes. Everyone starts bitching at once. They’ve heard Don’s story multiple times. I allow myself to check out briefly while the doc tries to rein in the mob.
I concentrate on Peppy Le Doctor’s perfect hands, pristine French manicure tap, tap, tapping on her clipboard, pausing to scribble something, thin and elegant like the rest of her. What if that pen gets accidentally snatched clean out of her hands?
I snap back at the mention of my name. Crap. What was the question?
“I asked if you recall what might have created your issue with weddings?”
“You refer to my utter contempt for them? March 5, 1989, 7:00pm, the day Melanie Fox forced my fat butt into a taffeta sausage skin while she married the love of my life.”
Okay, okay, so maybe he wasn’t the love of my life. Does the love of your life have to know you’re alive?
Elvira scrunches up her overly made up face. “Are you serious? I was like two years old in ’89. Move on, dude.”
You’re a little helper, Elvira.
I search for a place to rest my eyes, but when a hint of pity develops in Jasper’s baby blues, I break contact.
“Remember: constructive, Elvira.” Pepper aims her tapper at me. “Dorothy, how does that experience help you now? What did you learn that might help you make new choices?”
I face Dr. Pepper, the spitting image of Candice Bergen in her elegant suit. “Let’s see. Never wear taffeta. It makes your butt look big and if caught between the thighs can start a fire.”
There are a few muffled grade school giggles. The good doctor raises a fist to her chin, leans forward: Candice Bergen looking thoughtful. She’s not letting me off that easy. “Anything else?”
I sigh. “Okay. How about ‘the world has no patience for ugly people?’ How about ‘a crowd is more likely to laugh out loud at a fat girl than a single person might, but both will turn on you in time?’ You need more? Okay, how about ‘always being cast as the sidekick at someone else’s nuptials sucks.’ It’s boring. It’s expensive. It just sucks. Being ugly SUCKS!” My voice bounces in that tiny, stuffy room, a kid having a tantrum, not the calm observations of a twenty-four year old adult.
Silence. Group appears stunned.
Suddenly Elvira leans forward. “Oh my god it totally does suck!” she screams.
Who knew I’d find a champion in Elvira?
Anna Lanisovich, quiet up till now, juts out her pointed Russian chin and proclaims in her heavy accent, “Dah. It sooks.”
Donald tears up, glares over at Doctor Devers, betrayed. “She’s right you know. Everyone blabs on about how nice I am. How kind. What a beautiful soul. What crap! What bull pucky! Who wants to date your inner beauty?” He shrugs, defeated, “Women will let me debug their computer or pay their Visa bill. Denise was even willing to marry me ’cause I had a steady job. But when my handsome brother showed up? I was road kill.”
“Almost literally, Donnie, dude. What with the poison and all.” Elvira shares.
A free for all erupts, lasting for the remaining fifteen minutes. Everyone but Jasper and the Doc lament and swap tales of discrimination. This should have made me feel validated. Instead, I’m more miserable than ever. This isn’t an area where I want to be right.
Maybe group isn’t such a hot idea.
During the melee, I sneak out, hoping to catch the 8:05 bus. There’s a bus stop on the East end of the hospital parking lot with an overhang to keep the weather off. Unfortunately, no such protection exists on the way there. I’m soaked by the time I reach it. Worse, I must have missed the 8:05, which leaves plenty of time for rumination.
Maybe Elvira’s right: I should be over it. The thing is I had trusted Melanie. She was supposed to be my friend. We’d known each other since grade school. It still hurts to believe she could be so callous. Couldn’t she have at least warned me?
~ ~ ~
He called me first, you know: Gavin Dorset, Inglemoor High School’s esteemed wide receiver phoned me. Oh all right. He was flunking bio and in danger of losing his position with the team. He wanted a tutor, not a love interest.
At the time though, I believed in my soul that once he met me, there would be this cosmic connection. He would sense my inner beauty, warm to my sense of humor, admire my intellect. I’d become a doctor and he’d be a surgeon and we’d have six kids.
I know. I was an idiot.
He’d gotten my name from the school’s bulletin board where I offered tutorial services in biology and math, an easy way to make a buck. Gavin needed to pass bio not only to maintain his eligibility as a player, but also because his father – that would be Doctor Dorset – assumed he’d be going to med school, which was unlikely if he flunked basic biology.
When Gavin phoned, I practically flew over to Mel’s to dish. Her parents house, a typical seventies rambler, was less than half a mile away. I hopped on Cherub, my rusty red three-speed and arrived panting and gasping seconds later.
She opened the door to my crazed banging. “Hey, Dot. What’s up?”
“We have so got to talk.” I raced ahead of the bewildered Mel to her bedroom, where an explosion of Pepto Bismol pink covered walls, lampshade, drapes, and bedding. I plopped down on her bed, making a sizeable dent. “You will never ever guess who called me. Come on, guess!”
Melanie had her braces removed three weeks earlier, and was only now comfortable revealing teeth. Free of metal, they look huge in her tiny heart shaped face. She smiles broadly down at me. Given her tiny stature, Mel rarely looks down at anyone. “Well? Spill.”
“Gavin Dorset! I’m going over to his place to tutor him in bio!”
Her bright smile dims. “Gavin? Yeah, I heard he’s having some problems with that class.”
“Mel, don’t you get it? This is my chance! You know I’ve had a crush on him forever! I’m actually going to be in the same room with him. Alone.”
She turns her back on me, studying a pink butterfly on the curtains at her window. “Don’t get your hopes up too high, Dot. I heard he’s seeing someone.”
I miss the tension in her voice. I am too high on hope.
I tug on the back of her shirt. “Who cares? Let them find a new man. Let’s get to the important stuff, Mel. What do I wear? I need to look hot, but not slutty. Come on, girl, help me out.”
I pester her, drag her to the mall to shop for the perfect outfit. And I blow nearly every dime I’d saved from tutoring on that silly outfit. What was I thinking?
~ ~ ~
The rain slaps at the little shelter, the sound snapping me soundly back to the little overhang where I’m trapped for at least another fifteen minutes. Not a shocker, the weather, just a standard Pacific Northwest event: rain, followed by showers, rain without end, amen. In good years, like this one, the rain is warm, so I may be soaked, but I’ll live. That particular year, though, my senior year of high school, we had arctic rain, rain that wanted to be snow when it grew up.
~ ~ ~
Back then, in the miserable, icy damp of that day, I huddle under the edge of a building, carefully avoiding eye contact with the wet strangers around me. A bus kiosk stood five feet in front of me, but was already jammed full of people. The lot of us could pass for a homeless enclave, lumpy outlines of bodies covered in oversized coats and rain ponchos that look like tarps, faces barely discernible. A few rogue types carry umbrellas. I assume they are Californian, since native Washingtonians rarely get caught carrying.
The rain continues its assault, snapping and popping off the ground, overwhelming the leather of shoes, oozing into socks. Water works its way up the edges of my pants from below and down my thighs from above. Diesel fumes from the buses couldn’t break free of the inversion layer and remain in place, a cloud of exhaust that burnt the lungs.
By the time my bus arrives I am stone cold, barely able to climb the steps to board. I took the only available seat behind the driver and fall into a stupor, lulled by the motion of the bus and the heat which had been cranked up to compensate. When I come to, the combination of temperature and humidity fogs the windows. I take a swipe at it with my still wet arm to remove a spot to see and reveal a neighborhood completely unrecognizable. There was a moment of panic before I remember why I was making this journey. Fortunately, my unconscious cuts me some slack and it’s only a couple more blocks before I reach the correct stop. I tug the rope to signal the driver.
The bus slows, stops. I, a pathetic oversized imitation of Madonna – that’s if Ms. Ciccone had a slow metabolism and limited fashion sense – teeter from the bus. My pants are too spandex-y for warmth, and although the rain beads up nicely on the fabric at first, it soon seeps well into my skin. My heavy makeup, too gaudy to flatter, runs black stripes over my cheeks. Exit Madonna-wannabe, enter Alice Cooper. Assuming Alice been popping Prednisone or stuffing himself on Denny’s Grand Slam breakfasts.
The leather jacket, so fashion forward at the point of purchase, is swiftly destroyed in the downpour; cheap, useless, zipper already rusting. The boots that complete the ensemble slap my sides in a plastic garbage bag. No way I could survive the trek from the bus stop to Gavin’s in those things. Instead, I slosh through the damp in my sneakers.
Within minutes I spot his car – who but a football star drives a Mustang in high school? – parked at the curb outside his house. The windows are steamy so I assume occupancy, but can’t see in. That works for me. I need to make wardrobe adjustments and mentally cross my fingers that no one had seen me yet.
I lean against a stop sign in order to swap out footgear. Moisture creeps down my back. I adjust the leather bomber jacket, tug at the Lycra pants and voila: a giant, damp, black ice cream cone with very sparkly boots.
I wobble over in my silly boots and rap on the driver’s side window, confident Madonna now had a rival in coolness.
Groans and a muffled curse or two filter from the car. Another minute passes before the window eases down. Gavin Dorset glares out.
“What in the hell do you want?”
I try to ignore the pelting rain as it finds its way inside the collar of the jacket and down my back. I play it like I’m just too cool to notice. “I’m Dot Lindell. I’m your bio tutor.”
His head tips to one side “And I care because?”
The lack of enthusiasm puts the brakes on my response. “Um…well…it’s Thursday. You picked the time, remember? You said you had practice on Wednesday, so –”
He waves a dismissive hand, “Ah, crap. I guess I did. Well, see, now –,” he glances back into the car, then faces me again, “– now’s not such a good time for me after all.” This is greeted with high-pitched giggles.
I know the laugh; know the voice. Mel’s voice. My best friend’s voice.
Gavin continues, “See, tutor-girl, I’m kinda busy at the moment.”
The voice of my former best friend whispers from Gavin Dorset’s car. “Tell her you’re busy.”
Let’s get cracking on that ulcer.
I swallow a couple of times, find my spine. “Look, Gavin, I hopped a bus to be here. You want to fail bio, hey, it’s your call, but you owe me ten bucks for the session.” I push an open palm through the window, along with a good bit of the moisture now soaking me.
“Je-sus!” More muffled noise. Something crushes into my hand.
“Here’s twenty. Get lost.”
I squint: a twenty. A mountain of cash at seventeen. “Whatever. You know, you won’t get into med school if you fail high school bio. Might want to give that some thought.”
I saunter off, trying to look cool without twisting an ankle. The cold and wet bite at me, but my face burns as though scorched by acid.
When I am certain to be out of visual range, I drop down on the soggy sidewalk to do the shoe swap and saturate my butt in the process. By the time the first boot finally pulls free, the sky opens up and truly weeps. The intensity of the falling water obscures my vision with a shiny, oily film. I tug off the remaining boot by Braille, blinded by disappointment and rain and cold.
That’s when I officially became Dorothy Lindell, the last of the Red Hot Virgins.
It’s May. To spite me, it’s a glorious spring day, all golden sun and azure skies. Oh, what a perfect waste of a perfect day this shall be! Why? For I am dressed like the aftermath of a terrible Barney explosion, like the wrath of a vengeful, purple God.
And nothing, my friends, says ‘you go girl’ like yards of violet taffeta. Yes, taffeta. Again. What is this magnetic attraction between me and taffeta? Elvira warned me. Didn’t she tell me to get some new friends?
Ginny selected plum and rose for her wedding colors. Plum my eggplant ass. This dress is purple. PURPLE. Seven months of planning and Ginny lands me in this chaos of a dress. Sigh.
The wedding planner, to her credit, spent days trying to talk Ginny into a more sophisticated palette. How about chocolate and amoretto? Basic black and silver? Hell no. Ginny intends for her bridesmaids to look like plump, purple sausages, explosions in ruffles and taffeta. She will then sail in, slim and chic in her simple gown, Audrey Hepburn amidst lumpy, purple-clad Oompa Loompas.
To be fair, Ginny has always loved this color. And her taste zigzags from elegance to double wide trailers, unfiltered Camel cigarettes and Jägermeister.
Regardless, Virginia Lake will wed Samuel Tibbets Johansen III of the Boston Johansens in less than ten minutes. She’s chosen St. Louise’s, a Catholic church in Bellevue, about ten minutes from Ginny’s apartment. It’s not Saint Mark’s Cathedral, but it is still reasonably churchy. The smell is off though. A sea of vanilla scented candles and white roses mask the usual aromas of incense and aging bathroom deodorizers. At least the candles aren’t purple. Lucky candles.
I’m being snide. Ginny is, of course, ravishing in that Vera Wang number (which she purchased over Aunt Vonda’s screams of protest and Uncle Jake’s sighs). And I’ve told her so, oh maybe a hundred or so times in the last hour. Her majesty is holding court in the crying room, grilling the wedding planner about no-shows. How else can she identify who to snub later.
The rest of us are crammed into the back of the church, sweating to the purple. Two of the groomsmen herd guests up the aisle. Those of us not yet roped into service are milling around in purple splendor.
My escort has yet to arrive. He is supposed to be some distant cousin on Ginny’s father’s side. He’s gay, (so said Ginny, expert on such things), and according to the pinch faced stick of a girl whispering next to me, he’s wicked cool. Ginny had spoken of him with awe and a touch of annoyance: she’d tried to get him to design the wedding – and no, I haven’t a clue what that implies – but he declined, citing scheduling difficulties. He also skipped the rehearsal.
Kennedy? Kennedy something? Size zero girl mentions that he’s an image consultant.
And then he arrives. Or rather he glides, smooth perfection wearing, in theory, the same holy-smoking-Jesus purple suit the other groomsmen are wearing. He’s tall and buff beyond reason. He’s immaculately presented, totally working the grape where Prince himself couldn’t have pulled it off. And clearly he bats for the other team.
Kennedy draws delicately on one of those clove cigarettes that were huge back in the fifties. It mixes with his cologne, creates a cloud of scent around him. The cigarette rests in one of those Marlene Dietrich style holders (who on earth uses those things? In a church?). He frowns over a thin plume of smoke and waves the stalk of the cig at me.
“You look beastly in that.” He’s got a slightly affected East Coast Prep School/almost British sound to his voice.
“Yes. Yes I do. You’re implying someone could look good in it?” I cough out the smoke. Temper, temper, Dot. “Note that I didn’t choose this gem of an outfit.”
He releases another thin trail of smoke, considers. “Next time such an unprecedented fashion failure occurs, swing by the office. Adjustments can be made. Alterations. Corrections. Oh it will remain hideous, of course, but less so.”
I look directly at him, trying to place the face which looks strangely familiar. It comes to me: the cover of Barbara Cartland’s “The Ruthless Rake”: same cleft chin and the amused blue eyes. That is, of course, if Dame Cartland’s hero rode sidesaddle and wore a purple suit.
“You can make this offense to daytime television attractive?” I wave a hand at the front of the dress.
He inhales delicately – not easy for such a big guy – and slowly releases the smoke. “My dear, there is always a path for maximizing the positive.” He pauses, smiles broadly, “Although Ginny certainly has made a game of it.” His generous mouth gleams with what I assume are veneers. I’d hate to think anyone could have such nice teeth without having to pay for them. That just wouldn’t be fair. His business card materializes. He slips it into my hand. Where does one store a business card in a pocket-less dress?
With few alternatives, I insert it into my ample cleavage.
“Look, Kennedy, my guess is your fees are in the platinum range. I doubt I can afford you.”
His smile broadens. He reaches over and pats my hand. “Fear not. I need a project. And you, my dear,” he says, taking a step back, “qualify. And of course you’re family, more or less. Besides, you tolerate our dear cousin Ginny.” He glances over his shoulder. Ginny is taking up her position behind us. He makes a face as though he’s inhaled ammonia, coughs once, continues, “That’s laudable, truly laudable. Few have survived. Just look at Johansen. He’ll be on a short leash. Wonder if he’s developed inner ear plugs to dampen out that stream of self-serving chatter.” He takes another drag. “What do you do for filthy lucre, my dear?”
I’m too stunned to refute his summation. “I test software.”
“Not for Microcosm by any chance?”
“The very same.”
“I’m miserable with computers. Abominable things. My assistant Jefferson normally handles all things technical, but I foolishly let him take a vacation and now I’m lost. Not even certain what’s scheduled for next week. This gives me a thought. We could arrange an exchange of services. You could track down my calendar while I...” he waves his hand at me.
“I’m sure I can talk you through it.” I shrug. When I look over at him, the cigarette is gone, (no idea where) and the silver holder disappears inside his lapel with a deft hand movement. “Excellent. A prisoner exchange: my wayward technology corralled in exchange for you, drastically improved of image, yes?”
I’m about to argue. Not a fair barter. Way more work for him than me, but before I can respond, we get shushed by the wedding planner, bun so tight it eliminates wrinkles. She pushes her prissy face nose to nose with mine and shushes me before swiveling and shoving the first boy-girl team up the aisle. She offers one more glare at Kennedy and I before clickity-clacking off to reconnoiter with Ginny who has taken up her position behind us.
“Bitch.” Kennedy J has few qualms about dealing with the help. “She’s pushing that Kim Novak thing a bit past its expiration date.”
I suppress a laugh. We’re next up in the processional. I have a big stupid smile on my face. Kennedy just slays me.
The service begins. And goes on… and on, ceremony without end, Amen. I barely avoid lapsing into a coma during a chorus of “Lord, oh Lord, My Sweet Lord” and only the pain of good old Catholic kneeling keeps me from nodding off.
Kennedy makes it bearable. In direct violation of eye daggers from the priest, the best man, and that tight-bunned wedding planner, he delivers caustic observations just within earshot, causing my enormous purple dress to quiver as I fight off giggle fits.
The event finally ends. Ginny and Sam drive off in the limo bound for the reception. I’m supposed to race over to The City Club to help with gifts and cake, schlepping along in Aunt Vonda’s car. That was the plan, anyway.
Until Kennedy suggests we dog such plebian responsibilities and hit a bar instead.
He knows this great place where the bartender has a thing for him. Dressed in such festive garb, we’ll get our drinks for free.
“Can you imagine the potential for intrigue in these outlandish costumes? Far greater than milling around at The City Club. What do you think?”
Before I have a chance to think, I hear my voice say, “I think I’m all over it.”
For the first time in my entire life, I blow off responsibility. A stupid grin pins itself on my face. I abandon my post. Blow off my cousin’s wedding. And dressed in perhaps the ugliest dress ever conceived, I follow my homosexual savior to his Hummer.
“Loud car for such an understated man,” I wave at the enormous silver grill.
“Sometimes grand gestures are best. Especially when it comes to ostentatious displays of success. Festive, don’t you think?” He beams at the SUV. “Thing is a monster. Just eats the road, I tell you.”
~ ~ ~
I rarely go to bars. Okay, never. I have never gone to a bar before. And I’ve certainly never been in a gay bar. Kennedy has. Before I can rethink my decision, Kennedy wraps his arm through mine and sweeps me in, where he is recognized immediately. Swarms of friendly faces surround us. Above the din of music and chatter, a handsome guy in a dress shirt and jeans points at the dance floor. Kennedy demurs, smiling an apology, motioning toward the bar instead. We take up stools and get comfortable. Four of his buddies have trailed us into the bar. They immediately vie for “best story” competition. I can barely catch a word over the pounding music, but it hardly matters. In short order I’m buzzed on my first ever Appletini. It’s heavily alcoholic but I’m not driving so who cares? I’m over twenty-one.
Kennedy knows everybody or has done everybody, either biblically or in his professional capacity. There’s a rock star guy with carefully spiked hair and green eyes. The three piece suit guy (oh he cannot be gay. That’s just wrong!), who turns out to be an attorney. My favorites so far are the Cambodian brothers, Somnang and Sovann, currently sharing the dance floor with me. I promise to donate the dress to Sovann who wants to make throw pillows out of it. Like Kennedy, he has given me a business card. Being without pockets, and since Kennedy refused to let me bring my monster bag along, it is being held in suspension in that same sweaty niche between my breasts where Kennedy’s formerly rested.
On my god this is fun!
The bar area is crowded and loud, and terribly chi-chi. I’m already wasted on my second Appletini, which I’ve concluded is composed of copious amounts of alcohol and something green. Since I very rarely drink, it’s easy to push down the guilt demons with each swallow. Who cares that I abandoned my cousin’s wedding? So what if I’ve casually misplaced my identity as a heterosexual? Everyone here assumes I’m the life of the party and a drag queen. So be it.
There I am, happily holding my Appletini glass by the stem (is this a fresh one?) when I catch sight of my swollen fingers. They’re stubby, porcine digits with bubblegum pink nails (Ginny insisted). My stomach lurches and a wash of blood flows to my face as I stare at those hateful, fat paws with that ugly polish and catch a glimpse of obscenely purple dress. I’m about to fall straight down the rabbit hole into a sea of self-hate, when as quickly as the wave of disgust and nausea came on, it recedes.
Back to the ocean with it! Away issues of fatness, nail polish, and dress! They’re of no relevance to Dot the Happy Drag Queen!
I concentrate instead on watching Kennedy make witty remarks to the bartender. Here’s a guy who obviously knows how to enjoy himself. He snatched fun from a boring wedding and that’s no simple feat. This is a man to admire and emulate, my new role model.
By closing time, I’ve danced in bare feet and Kennedy has made a date with that bartender, (an endearing fellow named Max with the chest of bodybuilder and the gentle smile of a Saint Bernard). Max the bartender offers to drive us home, but with grace, Kennedy declines.
“I must take my fairy princess home unscathed. But we’re on for Friday at nine, right Max?” They share sunny smiles and a gentle touch of hands before we head off to the car.
The Hummer appears by magic – I don’t recall his leaving it with a valet – but then again, I don’t recall much of anything after my fourth Appletini. Or was it my fifth? Kennedy asks directions to my place and he shudders at the address.
“Listen, my dear. You really must come by the office. Let mamma fix, yes? Find the time. Tuesdays are best. Mondays are always a mess, so best to avoid them, but do what you have to do.” I promptly fall asleep, waking to find we’re at my apartment building.
Kennedy must have assisted me out of the car and into the apartment, (probably shaking his head the entire time). All I know is sometime during the night, I wake up still in that ugly damn dress. I strip the offensive garment off and stomp on it a few times, then flop back down on the bed, relishing the feel of cotton under my skin while enduring the sick spins that come from too much booze.
Still, my mouth tugs up in an easy smile. I had so much fun. I ignored everyone’s agendas. I laughed and drank and chatted and made friends. For the first time in twenty-four years, I felt twenty-four, not fifty.
Never mind that everyone thought I was a man in drag.
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