“Where’s your make-up?” she asked in her velvety, impossible-to-replicate accent (I knew—I had tried).
I panicked until I figured out my lie. “My mom doesn’t believe in it.” She couldn’t know I wasn’t actually interested in it—or hadn’t been until this moment. Now it seemed desperately necessary to fill my drawers with lipstick and eyeliner and whatever else there was. I thanked god I shared my room with my little sister and could blame my stuffed animals and rainbow bedspread on her.
M. wrinkled up her button nose in the same way she had when she’d asked if my father was an adjunct. I couldn’t fault M. for the oversight; her dad seemed so much more legit with his accent and smooth, tan skin. He was divorced. He wore linen suits and aviator sunglasses. M. liked to remind me, with a smile on her face, that she was his only child.
“Do you have a tape player?” she asked, her fingertips skimming the top of my dusty dresser as she squinted at the daycamp nametags pinned up on my wall beside the drawing of a horse I’d done only a week before (and now saw with humiliated eyes). I would tell her it was a couple years old if she asked.
“I have a radio,” I offered, propping up the old metal box that my sister had been playing astronaut with the day before. I fiddled with the dial, scrolling through static until I hit on some classical.
M. wrinkled her nose again and shook her head. “Something we can dance to.”
I had dressed up in my mom’s scarves and twirled to Mozart only the day before, but I wasn’t about to volunteer that information. Instead I turned the dial, lingering on the oldies station my dad loved as M. rolled her eyes, then past the country station, and up into the 100s.
“Stop!” she yelped, and I went back to a station playing a song I could have sworn I’d never heard before. But a smile bloomed on M.’s rosebud lips as she started swaying her hips back and forth, arms crossed over her chest in a pose of sophistication. And then she started to sing along. She knew every single word.
What is this song? I asked myself, mimicking M.’s gestures in the mirror above my dresser. Her movements were fluid and alluring, and I focused hard on the voice of the woman singing, the poppy sounds of her yelps, and the words coming out of her mouth telling me something about love I didn’t quite yet understand but M. seemed perfectly confident about.
In the mirror, M. drew her elbows together in a V under her new breasts, which I would not have for another four years. They plumped up under her urging, jiggling to the music as she vamped for an audience of two. She pursed her lips and pouted along to the words, and I felt relieved she was only looking at herself.
“Oh my God,” she said, when the DJ came back on, “don’t you just love Madonna?”
“Oh my God,” I repeated, “I know.” Right then, my mother called up the hallway for dessert. As I urged M. out the door, I felt conflicting waves of relief and regret that she’d probably never want to come over again, having come, and seen, and conquered.