By Olivia Tejeda
The rapt crowd sat adoringly in the palm of Claire’s lovely hand. She engaged them with repartee, charmed them with humor, and enchanted them with bon mots of one sort or another. Her confidence was easy and natural, her charisma, a powerful draw. Everyone in her circle felt privileged to be there, and by their presence they were rewarded with the pleasure of her delightful company.
At least that’s what Claire tried to visualize as she stood in front of the bathroom mirror preparing for Kelly and Evan’s New Year’s Eve party. She imagined her favorite Jane Austen characters and tried emulating their chatty demeanor. She mimed conversations, nodding her head, smiling, laughing. She pretended to wave to someone across the room. She practiced standing. First with one foot forward, hand on hip. Too bitchy. Hands at her side. Too super-model-wannabe. Arms folded in front. Too hip-hop.
She slapped her hands to her face and moaned in frustration. She was determined that tonight’s party was not going to be a replay of her high school horrors. Even at graduation parties, she spent most of the night standing in the corner, talking to no one, except maybe a parent, and wondering what to do with her hands. Now that she was in college, she was determined to relax and have fun at parties – no matter how hard she had to work at it.
When she was home on Thanksgiving break, she took the “Are You the Life of the Party?” quiz in the November issue of Seventeen magazine. She fudged some answers hoping to make herself more interesting, but she still scored an 8, which meant, “Hey, sorry, but there’s no point in even showing up.”
Ouch! Was she that bad? She double checked her score, making sure she added correctly, but the outcome was the same. She tossed the magazine aside and decided that there was more to her than Seventeen allowed. She was smart, at least her grades said so. She was funny enough to make her parents, her friends, and herself laugh. And maybe she was even a little bit cute, although sometimes she thought her 12-year-old brother had more curves than she did. She knew she had all those things going on, she just had to figure out how to get other people to see it.
Once her first semester was over and she was back home again, she turned her attention to the Claire Improvement Project, which started with her spending all her Barnes & Noble Christmas gift cards on books like, “The Art of Mingling,” “1001 Conversation Starters,” and “Ten Simple Solutions to Shyness.”
It was that last book that told her, “Practice in front of a mirror so that you can judge yourselves and rectify any mistakes.”
Judge myself? Claire thought. Oh sure, like I need more of that. But she kept an open mind and kept trying out the techniques the books offered.
She went with her mother to Karen’s Kuts & Kolor and decided to go ahead with the highlights that Karen had been trying to talk her into since 8th grade. She even had a session with the makeup artist who taught her how to do her eyes and lips.
On the way home her mother commented, “You look beautiful, honey.”
Claire rolled her eyes, “You always say that.”
“Only because you’re always beautiful.”
Claire looked at her mother. “Thanks, Mom, but it feels weird. Too fake.”
The morning of the party, Claire’s mother was in the kitchen rolling little hot dogs into puff pastry.
“You’re having pigs in a blanket?” she said.
“Of course! It’s a tradition.”
Claire reached over and started helping her mother roll.
What’s going on here tonight?” she asked.
“Nothing big. The Wilsons are coming over and Aunt Caroline, Uncle Jim and the kids.”
“Oh,” Claire said. “Even Annie?”
“Sure,” her mother said. “She’ll be bummed you’re not here. She adores you.”
“I adore her, too,” Claire said. “Maybe I can babysit some night while I’m home on break.”
“That’d be great,” her mother said not paying much attention.
Later on, when Claire was dressed for the party and finished with her hair and makeup, she went to the mirror again to check herself out. She had to admit, she looked good, but she felt way too JonBenet. Seeing herself painted and primped like a pageant baby felt unnatural, and she felt a nervousness that started in her stomach and moved into her chest, making it hard to breathe. She blamed it on the new pushup bra that was pressing on her ribs and she shook out her shoulders trying to relax a little and wipe away the clownish image she had of herself.
Her shoulder shake turned into a full-on shimmy that reminded her of burlesque dance hall girls. She kept at it until she realized how silly she felt and started laughing. She stayed in front of the mirror and stared at the strange young woman she saw there.
“This is ridiculous,” she said out loud.
In the kitchen, her mother mashed avocados into guacamole and her father fried his famous chicken wings.
Claire could smell the wings as she walked down the stairs.
“It smells great in here,” she said.
“Ready for your party?” her mother asked, not looking up from a half peeled avocado.
“I’m ready!” Claire said with more enthusiasm than she felt all week.
Her mother looked up and saw Claire standing there in her gray sweats, hair in a ponytail, and her freshly scrubbed face beaming with a smiling. She reached over and swatted her husband to get his attention. Both parents stood silently looking at their daughter.
“This is where I want to be tonight,” Claire said before they asked the question.
“Yay!” Her father shouted and came around the counter to hug her. She felt the familiar comfort of his warmth, and she marveled at how natural it felt.
She would still enchant the crowd tonight, it would just be a different crowd.
Thank you for reading my flash fiction. Please share any constructive criticism and feel free to let me know about any errors you find here. To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.
© Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit, 2008-2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.