Before now, there were things I hadn’t ever noticed.
I had paid so little attention. The dots were all over the page, but I’d never known they were supposed to be connected.
Now, though, I can pick out the exact things that had tipped my sister off. The way Peter avoided me. The way his attention went to me when I piped up in class. The way he went stiff when he passed Dominique on the road. Now that I know what I have, it’s like having a blindfold removed from my eyes.
I realize I’m grinning at my reflection.
My head feels steadier than it has in days. The room is dark and dusty and my mirror riddled with cracks, but the gloom of the overcast afternoon is a world away. My hair is still mussed where Peter touched it, I notice.
I can’t stop replaying it in my head. There was a moment, after he said he loved me, when the kiss was soft and quiet just like our first kiss had been… and then it was like a star exploded between us. The kiss deepened, and he pressed against me, and his lips were soft.
I didn’t want to stop.
But Paeline had walked in on us a few moments later. Peter looked much more embarrassed than I felt. Paeline had been far, far more excited than any little sibling who’d just walked in on her older sister kissing a boy had any right to be.
But it was time for Peter to leave. If I didn’t get ready for the Jubilee, I wouldn’t have time to. Peter agreed to meet me there.
I brush my fingers over my lips and watch my face in the mirror. I am going to see Peter tonight, of course, but anxiety keeps making my stomach turn. I don’t want to hurt Dominique, but there’s no way I can ever be with him after today. He has to see that what I had with him was never going to be it. After the way Peter had kissed me…
Had I ever felt this way with Dominique? There had been occasional moments when he would give me a flirty smile and my stomach would fill with butterflies… but it was never like this.
I care about you, Peter had said. I won’t let you down.
My eyes go instinctively to the teardrop pendant on my wrist, and I notice the pearl bracelet there too.
Strange. I could have sworn I hadn’t put it on this morning.
Undoing the clasp, I set the pearl bracelet on the vanity and rise from the chair, padding over to the closet.
Just as I’m opening the door, a wave of dizziness hits me.
The dresses in the closet blob together - a collage of pastel colors and pale lace. My frown deepens. Just a moment ago, the dizziness had been all but gone.
I shake away my concern and rifle through the blurry dresses. Between my obscured vision and the dark of the room, I can barely tell one lace gown from another.
The dizziness intensifies. Suddenly I’m so woozy that I can’t stay on my feet. I stumble backward, my calves hitting the edge of Mama’s bed frame.
I fall back into the sheets. I shut my eyes tightly, trying to block out the spinning world.
But even with my eyes closed, the room swoops around me. The color behind my eyelids is a solid black. My stomach tumbles nauseatingly. I groan, trying to sit up, but the moment I do, it’s as if something has rammed into me. I curl against the bed, whimpering.
Through a blur of tears and sweeping nausea, I drag myself back up, toward the vanity… but the nausea gets worse. I clutch my stomach, biting back tears. Pain streaks through me, so intense that I choke back a cry of agony. I become still on the floor, hoping the pain will fade.
I sit paralyzed like that for several minutes, or maybe only a few seconds - it’s too hard to tell. When the agony lessens, I’m left to huddle against the chair legs of the vanity chair, too weak to move for a long moment.
When I can move without crying out in pain, I pull myself up, taking deep breaths. The world slowly comes to a halt, until the dizziness that had been debilitating seconds before feels so minor that it almost isn’t there.
After a very long time of crouching on the floor, I drag myself to my feet and amble over to the full-length mirror set against the wall. I brush the mirror with my fingertips, watching my expression, searching for a sign that something is different.
There is nothing.
My hands quake. It’s subtle at first, but the quaver becomes a violent tremble, and I don’t bother trying to control it.
What is happening to me?
I look away, heart pounding, and turn to the closet.
I rifle through the dresses for a moment until I come to the dress I’d wanted - the one I’d worn to my fifteenth birthday party. A pale misty blue material, layered with sheer gray grassfabric, the hem a swirl of lace.
Once I’ve pulled this dress on, I look in the mirror, trying to make the smile of before come back to my lips. My eyes look wide and haunted. Fear is etched into my body, making me look rigid like a porcelain doll. I wait and I wait.