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Cool


BY Kate Sutherland
Photography by Mitch Aunger

Everything started the day Eva walked into Miss Waverly’s School of Dance. It was a couple of weeks into the year already, too late for new students, but Eva’s mother came in waving a gold credit card and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She said they’d only just moved to town and, even though they lived on the other side of the river, she’d driven right over. She’d heard Miss Waverly’s was the best and nothing but the best was good enough for her daughter.

Pretty soon she was in the front office with Miss Waverly filling out the registration form, and Eva was in the studio with us. Eva stared down at her fingernails the whole time, not like she was shy but like we weren’t worth bothering about. Her nails were painted burgundy, the exact same colour as her suede boots.

I don’t know why she picked me to hang out with. She was a year older and way cooler than me. She said later that she knew right off there was something different about me, but I don’t know how she knew. I was the kind of girl everyone expects to be a cheerleader in high school—little and blonde with a ponytail and everything. Except I wasn’t in high school yet, it was only the start of grade eight.

The first week Miss Waverly stuck close to Eva, teaching her the routine we were practising for the year-end recital, a jazz number set to a medley of songs from West Side Story: “The Jet Song,” “Rumble,” and “Cool.”

That’s the way Miss Waverly’s worked. You learned one routine the first class then practised it over and over again for the rest of the year so that it was perfect by the time the recital rolled around. Everyone said Miss Waverly was the best dance teacher in town because the recital was so professional, but none of us ever learned more than one dance a year.

The next week, without Eva’s mother floating around, Miss Waverly was back to normal. She left Lorrie in charge of us and spent the afternoon out back of the strip mall, smoking Alpine Lights and flirting with the guy from Home Hardware. Lorrie was my best friend, and Miss Waverly’s best student. She always got the routine down first and Miss Waverly left her in charge of the rest of us from then on.

As soon as Miss Waverly took off, Eva asked me if I wanted to sneak out to the arcade with her. I tried to get Lorrie to come too but she wouldn’t. She said she had a responsibility to Miss Waverly, and I did too, and what would my mom say. I just shrugged and followed Eva out. Eva wasn’t the sort of person you say no to.

Every Saturday after that I’d show up for the beginning of class, then duck out with Eva as soon as Miss Waverly left. At first we just went to the arcade a few doors down and sat on the jukebox and watched boys play pinball. But pretty soon we got braver and hopped a bus downtown.

We started hanging out with some west side boys at the Midtown Mall, Devin and Darcy. They were total headbangers, with long hair and lumberjack jackets. Darcy had OZZY RULES printed across his hands, one letter on each knuckle. He said it was a tattoo, but I could see it was only ballpoint pen.

Eva decided she’d go out with Devin, he was the best looking, and I could have Darcy. Both of them liked her though. They’d fight over who got to light her cigarette and stuff when we met them for coffee in the Eatons’ cafeteria. At first I hated coffee, it gave me an amazing stomach ache. After a while, I got used to it.

Scott-the-cat-killer, who sometimes came with Devin and Darcy, did like me better than Eva, but that was nothing to get stuck up about. He’d sit too close and stare at me the whole time.

By then I had a deal with my mom where she would drop me off at dance class at noon and, as far as she knew, Eva’s mother picked us up after and took me to sleep over at their house. Really we’d find our own way over there when we got bored of the mall. We’d take the bus, or catch a ride with Eva’s sister Corinne, who was 17 and worked in the Bata shoe store on Saturdays.

I don’t know how Eva explained it to her mother. Usually she wasn’t home to keep track of us anyway. Eva’s dad travelled a lot on business and mostly her mother went with him. Eva’s mother told us that it’s best to keep an eye on your man when he travels. She said that Corinne was a good girl and she could look after us.

Corinne wasn’t a good girl, but she did look after us. She took us everywhere with her. Like to the high school parking lot where she and her friends hung out and smoked, or to Ming’s Kitchen where they’d serve us Singapore Slings without any ID so long as we ordered enough egg rolls.

By then it felt like Lorrie and I weren’t even friends anymore, but she still got a ride to dance class with me and my mom every Saturday. She didn’t like to, she said just being in the car felt like lying. She didn’t let anything slip to my mom though.

One Saturday the two of them were all giggly in the car, talking about how much fun it was going to be at Lorrie’s place that night. It turned out that Lorrie’s mom was having a party and our whole family was supposed to be there. They’d bought this machine for making donuts and we were all going over there to try it out.

It was totally lame, but I couldn’t think of a way out of it. I’d sort of let my mom think I’d been hanging out with Lorrie and Eva the whole time, like we were the three musketeers or something. Also, I kind of felt like I owed Lorrie one. She’d tipped me off that I’d better not skip class that day because Miss Waverly was going to come back at the end and tell us about our costumes for the recital. So I stayed and after class Eva went downtown by herself and I went to Lorrie’s mom’s dumb party.

Right away Lorrie’s mom introduced my mom and dad to her boyfriend, Stan, except she introduced him as her fiancé. My eyebrows went up and I looked over at Lorrie to see her reaction. She just smiled like it was no big deal. I guess the fiancé thing was old news, only she’d never told me.

Stan was stomping around the kitchen like he owned the place on account of the donut fryer thing being his idea. He said when he spotted it in the Bay, he thought right away what a nice family activity it would make for him and his girls. He really said that, his girls, then put one arm around Lorrie’s mom and one around Lorrie and pulled them in for a group hug. Lorrie’s mom acted all giddy and Lorrie didn’t seem to mind.

Stan gave us all jobs: mixing up dough, rolling it out and cutting it into donut shapes, dropping them in the fryer, fishing them out when they bobbed up, then rolling them in cinnamon and sugar. They turned out just like those mini donuts you buy at the Ex.

I was at the end of the line with Lorrie, rolling the little hot donuts in cinnamon and sugar. My mom and Lorrie’s mom were at the front, mixing up dough and talking about the costumes they were going to have to make us for the recital—off the shoulder pink body suits with a filmy skirt thing and a turban, all trimmed with hot pink sequins. Don’t ask me what pink turbans have to do with being a Jet.

My mom said, “I’d be happy if I never had to see another strip of sequins in my life.”

But Lorrie’s mom said, “I quite like sewing. I’m making Lorrie a new dress now, for the party we’ll be having to celebrate her confirmation.” She nodded over at me and said, “Of course, you’ll be coming to the ceremony dear.”

Lorrie shot me a look.

“Sure,” I said, “I wouldn’t miss it,” like this wasn’t another bombshell. As far as I knew, Lorrie hadn’t been to church since her dad’s funeral five years ago.

After we’d cooked all the donuts and eaten most of them, my parents said it was time they went home. I could tell my dad was getting tired of pretending he liked Stan.

Lorrie’s mom invited me to stay over but I said, “No, I don’t feel very well. Maybe I ate too many donuts.”

My dad poked me in the stomach like he didn’t believe me, but my mom said, “You certainly did,” and handed me my coat.

On the way home, I felt kind of bad thinking about how Lorrie didn’t tell me stuff anymore.

My mom asked, “What’s wrong?”

I said, “Nothing’s wrong.”

And my dad said, “Typical teenager.”

I’d missed a big night at Eva’s place. Her parents were away and Corinne left her all by herself for a change. Corinne’s boyfriend Randy was back in town and she never had any time for Eva when Randy was around. Eva didn’t like being by herself so she called up Devin and he and Darcy went over there. Darcy got totally pissed on Eva’s dad’s Crown Royal and passed out on the couch, then Eva and Devin spent the night together.

“It would have been different if you’d been here,” she said. “Probably Darcy wouldn’t have drank so much.”

“So, what happened?” I asked her.

“I told you,” she said.

“No, I mean, did you do it with him?”

She made a snorting noise into the phone, like I was incredibly stupid. “You’ve got to be kidding,” she said. “Like I’d give my peace sign to that asshole.”

“Since when is Devin an asshole?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “He’s just kind of immature. You know, compared to Randy.”

“Well, yeah, Randy’s like 25 or something.”

“Yeah, I know. Still, I might break up with Devin soon.”

“Really?”

“If I break up with him, you can have him.”

“Thanks,” I said.

Two things happened the weekend before the recital. Lorrie’s mom and Stan went off to a marriage preparation course at some church camp and Lorrie moved into our place for a couple of days. Then Eva and Corrine invited half the city to a party at their house on Saturday night. They handed out flyers in the high school parking lot and everything.

I was afraid I was going to miss the party because of Lorrie. There was no way my mom would let me spend the night at Eva’s unless Lorrie went too, and Lorrie hated Eva. But Lorrie was acting weird. Now that the wedding thing was really happening, she didn’t seem too happy. When I asked if she’d come to Eva’s with me she just said, sure, whatever, so long as we stayed all the way through dance class for the final rehearsal first. Miss Waverly always stuck around for that one, so I knew I’d have to stay anyway.

Luckily it wasn’t a dress rehearsal, because my mom wasn’t done my costume yet. She always left it to the last minute. Lorrie’s mom had finished hers a couple of weeks before and Eva’s mother had sent hers out to be made by a seamstress.

We got lined up for the routine and I fixed a smile on my face like Miss Waverly always told us to, thinking if I looked good my mistakes wouldn’t be so obvious. It didn’t work. I could barely remember the steps and even in the parts I did remember my timing was off. I’d be facing front when everybody else was facing back, then facing back when everybody else was facing front again. I couldn’t even snap my fingers in the right places. Lorrie was giving me her I told you so look. Even Eva was smirking, she’d skipped the whole year too but somehow she had the routine down perfect.

Miss Waverly let us run through it four times before she pulled me aside and told the rest of the class to go on without me. She sat me down in the front office and asked, “What’s the problem, Beth? Are you nervous about the recital?”

I said, “I don’t know.”

Then she asked me straight out, “Have you been coming to class regularly?”

I can’t lie when someone asks me a question straight out, so I said, “I guess maybe I have missed a few classes this year.”

She said, “Beth, there’s a price to pay for everything and if you weren’t prepared to put the time in, you can’t expect to dance in the recital.”

I didn’t say anything back. I just stared at her long enough to get my eyes watering a little.

But she shook her head and said, “I hate to leave you out, but I can’t let you ruin the big night for everybody else.”

So that was it, I was out of the recital.

Lorrie asked me, “What are you going to tell your mom?”

I said, “I don’t know. I’m not even going to think about it till tomorrow.”

Eva laughed and said, “If you want to have any fun, you’re going to have to learn to cover your ass better.”

Eva and Lorrie nodded at each other and it looked like they agreed on something for once.

That night at Eva’s house things were different. It wasn’t just Corinne’s high school friends there, it was Randy’s friends too, guys way past high school, if they’d ever even graduated in the first place. The only people I really knew besides Eva and Corinne were Lorrie, Devin, Darcy and Scott-the-cat-killer.

I stuck close to Lorrie at first, I was actually glad she was there. But then Corinne gave her some vodka and she got drunk really fast and took off to the basement with some guy. I couldn’t believe it, goody-two-shoes Lorrie, in Eva’s house for five minutes and already she was more into it than me.

I stood with Devin and Darcy for a while but they smoked a joint and got all spacey and weird. Devin couldn’t even remember my name. Darcy kept saying, “It’s Beth, like the KISS song.”

And Devin would say, “That’s a shit song.”

Then Darcy would say, “Not the song, the girl.”

And Devin would say, “What girl?”

I went to find Eva. She was upstairs in Corinne’s bedroom sitting on Randy’s lap. They had drugs too, not a joint though, acid. Eva offered me a tab and I said no. She said, “What’s the matter, scared?”

I said, “I’m not scared. I just don’t want any.” But I was. I couldn’t help thinking of Donnie Laurence, who used to live across the alley from my house. He tried acid just one time and went schizo, then his parents sent him away to a special school.

Corinne was in the kitchen, putting empties in beer cases and wiping things that were already clean. I asked her where all the pot came from and she said it wasn’t even pot, that Randy was selling tea joints and everyone was too stupid to know better.

I said, “I saw Randy upstairs, in case you were looking for him.”

And she said, “I know where he is.”

By then I just wanted to go off and sit by myself somewhere, but Scott-the-cat-killer was following me around and I didn’t want to end up alone with him. So I cracked a beer and leaned against the kitchen counter next to Corinne. We stood there forever without saying anything.

Then Lorrie came in with her shirt untucked and hickeys all over her neck. She’d just been to the bathroom and noticed the hickeys and she was practically hysterical. She kept saying, what will my mom say, what will Stan say, over and over. Corinne told her to put vinegar on them, that’s the only way to get rid of hickeys. So I got the vinegar out of the cupboard and started dabbing it on her neck with a piece of paper towel.

The guy Lorrie had been with came in and tried to get her to go back down to the basement. He grabbed one of her arms and started pulling, but I grabbed the other one. She hung kind of limp between us like her old Raggedy Ann doll. Finally, Corinne told the guy to fuck off. She said we were just babies and he should leave us alone.

That’s when I gave up and called my dad to come pick us up. Lorrie said, you bitch, when I told her I’d called him, but she’d gone white as a ghost by then and I was pretty sure she’d be happy to get out of there. My dad was at the door in 20 minutes.

Lorrie threw up on the way to the car, so we kind of propped her up in a corner of the back seat and rolled the window down. My dad didn’t yell or anything. I guess he was glad that Lorrie was the drunk one and not me. He said, “You did the right thing, calling me,” then asked, “What are you going to tell your mom?”

I didn’t say anything to my mom about the party. I just said we came home because Lorrie felt sick, which was pretty obvious. I did come clean about getting kicked out of the recital though.

My mom looked at me for a long time, like she knew there was more than I was telling. Then she laughed and said, “Well, at least I won’t have to finish that damn costume.”

It was the first time my mom ever swore in front of me. And I remembered then that she never wanted me to take dancing lessons in the first place. Back when I asked if I could sign up, I’d overheard her saying to my dad in the kitchen, “There’s something not right about it, little girls all tarted up in lipstick and sequins.”

Then my dad had piped in, like he always did, “Oh Helen, let her do what she wants.”

Lorrie didn’t end up dancing in the recital either. She had to fake sick because she couldn’t wear the costume without her mom and Stan seeing the hickeys.

Eva and her family moved away not long after that. Her dad got transferred to Toronto and the family packed up and went with him. Even Corinne went. She’d turned 18 by then and could’ve stayed on her own but Randy was in jail for trafficking, so there was nothing here for her.

I wasn’t sorry they left. But things had changed and they didn’t change back.

*


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