Popular Girls

A Short Story
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You know who we are. We're Kaethe and Alina, CJ and Sydney. Stephanie. Our hair is blonde or brown or black. Rarely red, rarely curly. It's thick and straight, and falls back into place after we run our fingers through it and hold it away from our faces long enough for you to see our striking eyes. When we do this, you get shivers.

It's 1982, and we sit on the benches lining our New York private school's entrance, after classes are over and before we head home. They are old church pews, and we are from another world. Our canvas book bags mass at our feet. They're from Sweden. They come with an excess of zippers, a plastic ID tag on a small chain, and a ruler that we never use. We buy them at Chocolate Soup, on Madison, the store for cool kids. We say things like "Tenth grade is the Howard Johnson's of school life."

You can sit on these benches too, but we do not notice you. Last fall we excised some of you from our group by taking you aside five minutes before chapel and saying "It just isn't working out."

We see everyone who walks past us, in and out of our 200-year-old originally Episcopalian school. We sweep you with our eyes as if you were a landscape. We've seen everything the world has to offer, and we've dismissed it.

We lean back in the pews, our heads against the brick wall, our feet planted widely in front of us if we are wearing jeans—worn jeans that we say we've had since we were ten. If we're wearing miniskirts, we cross our long legs and tuck one foot behind the other calf, like CJ told us she once saw Anne Sexton do in a photo. We are weary. Our day was long.

Our book bags spill into the corridor in front of us. They are our moat. We reach into them to refold twenties into our Coach leather wallets, to idly rearrange a silk sweater that matches our socks, to lift and complain about that bio textbook. We mention the biology teacher's name and flutter our lashes, holding our hands over our hearts. We also discuss the theater teacher. And that one English teacher.

We have breasts. When we stretch and yawn, we arch our backs, and our buttons strain. You can see bits of our Lily of France bras. We have seen the theater teacher looking at them. We are not shocked. We are not surprised. We wear them in mocha and black, dark purple and fuchsia. They are sheer and iridescent. If we are not careful, our fingernails snag on them. We don't let boys take them off. We take them off ourselves.

We listen to the tribulations of other girls' boyfriends. The boys muse about affairs. We suggest ourselves. We hold other girls' boyfriends' hands and write in our diaries, "Bingo!" We cross out the ex-girlfriends' pictures in the yearbook with a blue ballpoint pen.

We talk to senior boys on our private phones for three hours a night. We talk about girls' sexual limits. They tell us that the first time should be with an older, more experienced person. We lie under our Charlie Brown bedspreads, hug our pillows, and agree.

Some of us are virgins and some of us are not. Rumors have floated about some of us giving blowjobs in the wrestling room. Kaethe, people say, slept with Treat Williams.

Some boys we are friends with, and some boys we date. There's rarely any crossover. The boys we're friends with—Andy and Greg, Hunter and Miles—can join us on the pews. They sit outside the moat, on the carpeted floor, leaning forward to look at us, or leaning back on their hands. We talk about last weekend, or this one. It is always Friday, in April. We talk about who has passes to Studio or Xenon. An Ivy League party at Limelight tonight. The boys hold up postcard invitations and ask if we're going. We take their postcards and make no promises. We turn to one another and talk about meeting at this bar or that one. We have fake IDs from the fake-ID place on Eighth Street. They say we go to Vassar, NYU, Columbia. We stopped going to Dublin House a year ago; that's for ninth-graders. We drink on the Upper East Side, at Dorian's or Fitzgeralds or JG Mellon's. We know the managers. The bartenders give us free drinks. If we go to the West Side, we go to Nanny Rose—crayons on the table and ice-cream drinks that make our teeth ache. We pass out in the bathroom, forgotten until we're remembered and brought back to the group.

We chew gum in school. On the sidewalk around the corner, out of sight of Mr. Bleakley, the upper-school principal, we smoke cigarettes. Virginia Slims. Lights. Some of us smoke Gitanes—well, just CJ. If Mr. Bleakley catches us, we can flirt with him until he lets us go with a warning. Stephanie touches him on the arm. Alina leans in close to let him smell her. We love warnings.

You can't get enough of us. You've seen girls like us every step of the way through school. We're way out of your league.

We walk in the formation of migrating geese. Stephanie is at the head, with Sydney and Alina on her left and right, Kaethe and CJ last. Only Kaethe cares that she's last. We haven't figured out what CJ cares about; we don't spend much brain time on the subject.

Stephanie cares that she's first. She's the tallest. She was the first to wear boot-cut acid-dyed jeans. Her mother, aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmother were all ballerinas. She danced for the New York City Ballet. She was in The Nutcracker when she was eight and nine. She gave up ballet at thirteen. Her mom was pissed. Stephanie says she's going to be a fashion designer. In her Swedish book bag she carries an artist's sketchbook and colored pencils. Sometimes she just peels back the cover of her book and starts working on her fall line. She designs her company logo. She says with a slow sweep of her arm that when we grow up, she will dress us all. Her father lives in a castle. Her grandmother was the Queen of Holland, or something like that.

We live on Eighty-ninth and Park, and Sixty-sixth off Fifth, and Sutton Place, in penthouses and duplexes and townhouses. We rollerskate in parquet hallways and throw water balloons from roof gardens tended by Japanese men whose names we don't know. We get stoned in walk-in closets organized by color and in guest rooms we've never seen used. We make our Sassoon jeans fit just right by putting them on and soaking in tubs filled with warm water in mirrored bathrooms.

To school we wear sweater vests from Benetton in maroon and forest and bright pink over men's white T-shirts. Sometimes bandanas around our necks. Our socks match our vests. We wear wool side-zip tapered-ankle trousers in yellow and purple and red from Fiorucci, or dyed painter's pants from Reminiscence. We wear boys' black penny loafers with dimes in them, or black suede booties that make us look like we're from Sherwood Forest. We wear black-metal band watches that are slightly oversized. They slide up and down our forearms like bracelets.

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