I’ve behaved myself for almost a year, focusing on my goals, keeping it in my pants, if you will, but at the end of October I’m invited to a costume party. I’m tagging along as the third wheel to a long-time couple. They’re not married, but have been living together for almost seven years. I know all about the seven years because Angie announces it to nearly everyone she meets, forever worrying aloud about her still-unmarried status, twisting a gold dolphin ring with tiny diamond eyes around and around her finger as she talks. The dolphin is a gift from Mike, the long-haired, metal-head boyfriend who buys ocean cetacean jewelry in lieu of a wedding ring.
I’d met Angie at one of my receptionist jobs, the one where I coined myself The Coffee Slut, because despite my proficiency at filing quotes and transferring calls, my most important role seemed to be wearing skirts and bringing a tray loaded with a coffee carafe and packaged danishes into the CEO’s office for his Friday morning meetings. After I’d quit, Angie had pursued me, sought to extend our friendship beyond what had been mostly bonding over the employee microwave. I’ve let myself be taken along, even if maybe she persists in calling me the Coffee Slut a little too often. We’ve little in common, but I spend occasional weekends at the house she shares with Mike. Together we frequent local dives, drinking pitchers of beer and playing terrible pool before returning home late to catch Headbangers Ball on MTV.
Increasingly it dawns on me that I enjoy talking with Mike more than I do Angie, but I resist these thoughts. My last, brief relationship had involved a locksmith, the boyfriend of another girl I’d befriended at another front-office gig. “I wish I’d never met you,” Dawn had hissed when she’d called to confront me about my behavior. I was hurt, but more, astonished by her honesty. I’d grown up in a house of liars, where no one was ever called out on their bullshit. Her aggrieved last words in my ear, claiming that one day I’d figure out there was more to life than guys, have echoed through these months I’ve spent alone, puzzling over whether she might be right.
On the night of the party I’m rocking a thrifted mini-dress from the 1960s, a sleeveless A-line of royal blue velvet. My curls are tucked up into a long aqua wig; perched on top is a red headband with sequined devil horns. On the back, down near my ass, I’ve pinned the matching red tail. I’m the Devil with a Blue Dress On, and that old Mitch Ryder song with it’s frat-rock chorus has been looping through my head all night, starting when I arrived at Mike and Angie’s house, and on and on as I rode behind them in the backseat on the long drive into the San Fernando Valley.
Moments after we arrive, I duck into a bathroom with Mike. He’s come dressed as a woman, and needs help doing his makeup. Angie, the only one of us who knows the hostess, has left the task to me. Mike sits on the toilet lid and I swirl blush across his freshly-shaved cheeks, instruct him to hold still and stroke blue eyeshadow on his closed lids, the same shade as on mine. He smiles up at me when I’m done, briefly touches my side. Because I’m a devil, I hope he notes the indent of my waist, the softness of the velvet, that he’s comparing it to the white bed sheet Angie has wrapped around her large frame as part of an ill-conceived chicken costume. I return his smile and fluff his long hair around his shoulders.
Hours later, we’re out on the front porch, where I’m flirting with a demon in the autumn night. I’d shrieked in real fright and then laughed at myself when I’d first spotted the guy in the demon mask across the room. Since then he’s been pursuing me, following me into the kitchen, out into the backyard, asking me to leave with him, or at least give him my phone number, c’mon baby, let’s get out of here, and wow, is that your real hair? But I am more intrigued by thoughts of Mike, replaying our quiet moment in the bathroom, a stillness in the clamor of the party and devil with a blue dress, blue dress. I don’t remember pulling Mike away from Angie’s side, leading him out to accompany me on the porch of this strange house, but he’s here, standing just behind me in suntan nylons and size 11 white flats.
The demon’s mask is still disturbing, but I’m intrigued when he says he reads palms, and wants to have a look at mine. Earlier, I’d sniffed a bump of the terrible chunky speed that Angie always keeps tucked inside her boot, and now my heart is racing, keeping time to the lyrics of my costume, FEE FEE FI FI FO FO FUM, the lead singer screams in my inner ear. It’s hard to keep still; part of me wants to break into a go-go dance to the beat. But the demon holds my hand firmly in his, peering down in the dim porch light. His hands are warm, and I can hear him breathing. When he’s done he looks up into my face, dark eyes snapping behind his mask. He shakes his head in a tsk-tsk at what my palm has revealed: “Ooh, baby. Why are you so bad?” he growls, running a slow hand up my bare arm. I laugh at his cheesiness, and he laughs, too. It’s a moment that could pivot into something more, but I remove my hand from his and edge closer to Mike. Slinging a possessive arm around the waist of his pink cotton dress, I pull him close, not caring who might be watching us.
My future is already etched in deep lines. It’s coming on fast, and hard to resist, but tonight, at least, it will have to wait. After the party and the return drive in the backseat, I’ll retire alone to Mike and Angie’s guest room, where I’ll lay in the dark going over the lines in my hand, the map of my badness: moocher of drugs and boyfriends, office Coffee Slut, the one with ice in her veins, wide awake in a spare room, mouth dry, eyes barely blinking, watching to see what will happen next.
Kelly Shire is a writer from Southern California. Her essays have appeared at Memoir Mixtapes, The Coachella Review and Full Grown People, among others, and are forthcoming at Under the Gum Tree and The Museum of Americana. She works as a library assistant in an elementary school, and is completing a memoir about music, family, and road trips. You can find her at kellyshire.com