C is Only for Cupcake.
When Jillian slips off her T-shirt, I swear I break out in hives. She must know I'm not prepared for my best friend in a string bikini. Suprises like this are for spontaneous people--not for me. Now I need more than cupcakes. I need an antihistamine.
It's midafternoon, school is out for the year, and girls and guys from our class carry coolers of beer down the hill, looking for towel space near the water. Jillian and I sit at the top, under the tree we've claimed since the third grade. Everyone else wants to be close to the lake, the sun, and each other. I concentrate on the pattern of beach umbrellas and towels: circle, rectangle, circle, rectangle. I try not to stare at Jillian's bikini triangles.
"Chantal, quit staring," Jillian says.
"I didn't expect ... a bikini." I stare down at the small hills in my one-piece. I am so lacking in this department. "But it's ... nice. It fits." Barely.
"Good. I was worried you'd think it was too, well, you know." She unzips her shorts, lets them drop to the towel. Two strings connect her bikini bottom pieces. Silver studs situated, uh, strategically, sparkle. She smoothes down the fabric while she waits for my response. "Isn't it hot?"
I nod. I smile. I look to see how many people are gawking at us. Well, her. But the surrounding girls and guys are spreading on tanning lotion, opening their drinks, laughing with each other. My skin prickles. I scan the hill and mountains around us for signs of impending disaster, but Williamson's Lake is the same. For nine years, it's always been like this: Jillian, me, and a day to plan our summer project.
While Jillian adjusts the triangles over her parts, then brushes her hair into perfect blond waves, I unpack my beach bag. I need a cupcake. I open the grocery store cello pack: chocolate cupcakes, white frosting, silver balls of sugar. The signature summer sweet.
I hand one to Jillian.
"Oh," she squeals. "We match." She holds the cupcake next to her right boob. "White and silver."
Next time, I'll definitely buy a different combination.
She takes the tiniest bite of chocolate and vanilla, sets the rest of her cupcake down, rubs tanning oil over her flat belly. "We should get you a bikini, too."
I open my mouth to protest.
"You can tell your mom it's mine."
I reach for my sunscreen, SPF 50. "She'd know that you couldn't fit into an A cup."
"I think she'd be okay with a ... modest ... bikini. We'll go for playful instead of sexy, but you need padding. Cleavage is bikini success."
I stare at the shadows between Jillian's breasts. I have seen way more of her C's this year than I expected; tight sweaters, low tank tops. I thought they were the only hand-me-downs from her Vancouver cousin that fit. I thought that Jillian's new sexy was, almost, unavoidable. I thought reusing was better than buying something new. Practical, that's me.
"Remember the first principle of design? Form follows function.I can't wear a bikini. I like to dive off the platform. And swim, really swim."
"But what if you had two different functions, and, therefore, two different forms?"
It's the way she looks at me when she says it--her eyes unsure, her mouth sort of between a smile and a frown, her jaw tensed. I swallow. My eyes narrow with suspicion. Two months ago she started rating guys--few got above a seven and Jillian said she wouldn't date anyone below a ten--and now she shows up in a bikini, just when the town is about to be overrun by eligible guys without shirts.
"Tell me you're not going for maximum exposure to get a guy's attention." Summer romances don't work, she should know that. Last summer a girl from our class hooked up with a lonely sixteen-year-old from a tourist's family and stowed away in the back of their RV. They sent her back four states later.
"You need a different bathing suit."
"It's the summer? We're going into our senior year? We're both good-looking?" She hits me with the same sort of intensity I see when she's practicing the points and counterpoints for a debate. "We can attract attention without compromising our principles." Jillian rolls her eyes, just the tiniest bit. "Wearing a bikini doesn't mean we're on the dessert menu."
I tilt my head as she goes on to list, again, how much potential my features have. My un-blond and untamed hair needs short, straightened bangs. Dyeing my eyebrows darker will frame my eyes, even when I'm wearing my glasses. And her favorite: a shopping trip on victoriassecret.com will be our secret. I'm lucky, she says, runway models have androgynous shapes like mine. This is the fourth time she's called me androgynous since she started running like a fiend. My head aches. I could use another cupcake, but I look at Jillian's.She's taken two tiny bites. Even with all the preservatives, the frosting is beginning to melt.
"I'm only five-three. And I like cupcakes. I'll never be a model." I've offered this point before. Back then, it stopped her argument.
"Brain surgeons can be hot, too." Clearly, she's been practicing.
"I guess." I imagine my future as a brain surgeon, what it would be like having guys whistle at me in my white lab coat, my hotness startling them like Jillian's does now. "But I think neurosurgery is pretty hot all by itself."
"Think about the surgeons on TV."
"They're all old."
"Exactly. And they're still not bad, are they? We can be young, hot neurosurgeons." Jillian's pink fingernail glides along the top of her cupcake. She licks the frosting from her finger, reaches for her sunglasses, and shifts to catch the sunlight.
I tell her that when we're in med school the last thing we'll need are boyfriends. I detail how I ended up trapped in a girls' bathroom stall during last period today, stuck listening to a whole my-boyfriend-dumped-me drama. I remind her that we made a pact in ninth grade that we'd never put a guy above (a) our friendship and (b) getting good grades. "Remember?"
She stretches out on her towel and I pop the last of my cupcake in my mouth. As it dissolves on my tongue I detect an aftertaste I'd missed before and almost tell Jillian not to finish hers. But there's no point, she's abandoned it to the ants anyway. This is not how our first day of summer is supposed to go.
WICKED SWEET. Copyright © 2012 by Mar'ce Merrell. All rights reserved. For information, address Feiwel and Friends, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.