[39] Exclusive, Linda McMullen

The cherry floor feels cool beneath my cheek.  In my wobbling mind’s eye, I see myself from above.  A pale, waifish, romantic figure in a crimson slip dress.  An evolved descendent of the Veronica of last year.

I don’t grieve that Veronica, saddled with uneven bangs, a muffin top, and the sad notoriety of a first chair French horn.  That Veronica spent prom night with Jennifer and Lindsey restraining herself from pimple-popping.  Jennifer and Lindsey had gone to female-dominant liberal arts schools; they’d left her to fend for herself at the state university.

A nasty virus early in the semester: eight pounds vanished.  Suddenly the thought of being seen at the gym held less terror.  So: donning shorts and a roomy t-shirt; power-walking on the treadmill; catching a first glimpse of Lisette.  A flyer.  A girl who existed in order to take her rightful place atop a cheering tower.

Lisette had offered suggestions for her hair.  For restoring rough-bitten nails.  For (more) stylish outfits.  Veronica of last year would never have blown off chemistry to jog.  But Lisette always went to the gym before other sweaty hands could touch the machines.

And then—impossibly! —Lisette had suggested she rush.

Then—mugshot smiles.  But now:  Air kisses with doll-girls.  Parties.  Solo cups with warm beer.  Confidences.  Veronica of last year faded into deserved obscurity, and I received an invitation for tonight’s ritual.  An official event at the house; an unofficial, co-ed one afterward, at some fraternity house.  The boys looked me up and down.  And let me in

Lisette rallied us pledges to show our devotion, poured the shots, shots, shots…

The shadow deepens…

“She’s fine!” Lisette cries.  “She can sleep it off!”

…my breath ebbs.  A final, straggling thought: Veronica of last year would never even have gotten invited.

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