What Millie couldn’t understand is why in the world a designer would make the one-shouldered, beaded, pink monstrosity she currently has on. It pinched her armpit fat, was so long she’d been tripping on it all night, and, though the waist fit reasonably, the bodice gapped so widely it’d taken fourteen safety pins to pin it tightly enough to keep Millie from flashing every person she encountered. One of those pins had come undone. Millie could feel it poking her back, not quite sharp enough to break the skin but definitely annoying. She shifted in her hard, plastic chair, tried to uncross and recross her legs without dragging the cheap tablecloth off the table. Twice already her heels had caught it, almost knocking the also-cheap glass centerpiece of colored water and plastic flowers.
A loud cry from the dancefloor snatched Millie’s attention. She tensed, ready for anything -- just yesterday there’d been another school shooting in Florida -- but it was only Ellie and her other friends, celebrating the next song. Millie really wasn’t sure why, its pulsing beat and fast lyrics sounded exactly like every other song the DJ played. Millie sighed and leaned her cheek into her hand, elbow on the table. They did look like they were having fun.
Millie accidentally made eye contact with Garrison, the boy she wished she was here with. She looked away quickly, blushing scarlet. What an idiot she’d been, to think he would ask her. She picked at the beading on her dress, and she wondered if leaving early would be social suicide.
The boy she’d ended up saying yes to sank into the chair next to her as another song ended. Wiping his forehead, he said, “Having fun with the stale cookies?”
Millie glanced at him for only a second, then nodded. Disgust twirled through her -- she’d been so desperate not to be alone tonight that when Ellie’s boyfriend suggested this guy, she’d agreed without meeting him. He’d shown up at her door tonight, in his 6’, side-burned glory, wearing a tux that was much too loose and a careless grin that exposed braces. Immediately, she’d forgotten his name, and taken to calling him Sideburns, after the disgusting sideburns that looked like sideburns, which she hated. Ugh. Sideburns.
He leaned in toward her. “Do you want to dance the next slow song?” Millie cringed at his hot breath in her face, leaning away as he leaned in.
“No thank you.”
Her response clearly annoyed Sideburns, but she ignored his irritation. She deserved this, anyway, for deciding to take a blind date to prom. She should’ve AT LEAST made Millie’s boyfriend show her a picture. Sideburns tried to catch her eye but gave up quickly. They sat in awkward silence for a few moments, until Sideburns got up and returned to the dance floor, finally. Millie went back to stealing glances, alternately at Garrison and then at Ellie. They both looked so light and carefree and happy and content and...and all the other synonyms for ‘happy’ that Millie couldn’t think of. The opposite of her, she supposed.
When the next slow song came on and Garrison pulled his date close, bile rose so high in Millie’s throat she jumped up from the table and practically sprinted to the restroom. Dimly, she saw Ellie glance towards her now empty seat, a worried look on her face, but disregarded it. She pushed her way into the restroom and breathed deeply, giving thanks for its emptiness.
It was much cooler in there. There was no crush of moving bodies to heat its tiles; no music reverberations to vibrate the air and speed up oxygen particles and increase enthalpy and make it all so hot her makeup dripped, dripped, dripped down into her jewels. Still breathing in deeply, Millie moved to the mirror, leaning on the edge of the counter.
She stared at herself. Her self stared back. There was a disconnect between the body she saw, the body she felt, the body she was. There was a pink thing, and here was a gray thing, and somehow the addition of pink and gray made the vibrant blue that she felt was really her, which didn’t make sense. Millie had never loved math but she did adore colors and she knew that didn’t make sense.
She reached a hand out to trace the curves of the face in the mirror, its broad cheeks and high cheekbones, its nose and lips and defined eyebrows. There was a disconnect, here; she was detached and full of hurt, full of milky pain that filled her up like a water glass. She didn’t know how pain that existed in a body that was not hers could be hers, when the body was not.
She breathed in.
The door opened. A gaggle of giggling girls fell over each other into the bathroom. Millie stepped back abruptly and plastered on a fake smile. They didn’t notice her, for better or for worse, and Millie stepped around them easily, exiting her cold sanctuary.
Stepping back into the music, Millie grabbed an armful of her too-long dress so she wouldn’t trip, and walked to her seat. Sideburns was still dancing, thank goodness, and so was Ellie. Garrison and his date were nowhere to be seen, both a relief and a torture. She traversed the dance floor quickly and sank into her seat, relieved to no longer be moving.
Except...evidently, there’d been a change in the music genre while she’d been in the bathroom. The song playing now was actually pretty good. Something Millie could get into. She eyed the dance floor, the writhing bodies, the sweat-soaked, blissful faces. Maybe…
Ellie caught Millie’s eye and beckoned to her again. Millie smiled back but waved her off; she liked this music, but she was bad at dancing, her limbs too heavy with the weight of her insecurities to be flail attractively. Ellie frowned.
Another good song came on; Ellie left the dance floor; Ellie slid into Sideburns’s seat; Ellie spoke.
“Are you really going to stay there all night?”
Millie shifted in her seat. “Maybe. I don’t know. I just don’t feel like dancing right now.”
Ellie rolled her eyes. “Right now? That’s what you’ve said all night. Come on, they’re playing the kind of music you like right now. Take advantage of this opportunity!”
“I’m not good at dancing, you know this. I look like a headless chicken.” Ellie laughed, and it was the kind of laugh that Millie couldn’t resist. Grinning too, she started to ‘bock’ like a chicken. Ellie clutched her sides, carefree giggles vibrating the atmosphere. Millie felt lighter than she had all night.
“Seriously,” Ellie said, once she’d regained enough composure, “Come dance a little. I promise you, no one is going to be paying attention to you. They’re all too busy trying to look as disgusting as possible.”
Millie sighed. “See, that’s exactly the kind of thing I don’t want people to say about me.”
Ellie quirked an eyebrow; another good song came on; Millie’s foot started tapping; Millie felt like she was a timer, ticking down and down and down, but to what she didn’t know.
A beat passed. Ellie sighed, then Millie sighed, which made Ellie yawn, which made Millie yawn, which made both girls start laughing again. “All right, fine,” Ellie said. “I’ll leave you here to your moroseness. But you better be in a better mood for bowling!” Ellie got up to return to the dance floor, and a panic seized Millie’s chest. She didn’t want Ellie to leave, Ellie and her brightness. Ellie and her laughter.
“Wait!” Millie blurted out. Ellie stopped, turned back around. “I -- they really won’t be paying attention to me?”
A broad smile grew on Ellie’s face. “Of course not. They’ll be too busy looking at me, and my amazingly horrible dance moves.”
Chewing her lip so hard it’s a wonder she didn’t bit it right off, Millie got up and followed Ellie to the dance floor. Her limbs moved awkwardly at first, stiff from the sitting and cold despite the temperature, but the more ridiculous Ellie’s dancing was, the more relaxed Millie became. She could still feel all that hurt sloshing around inside her, but in the golden ring of comfort that Ellie created, it didn’t feel quite so heavy. Millie even smiled a little, and breathed out.