Her eyelids were covered in crushed blue; shades and shades of cobalt, cerulean, aqua, turquoise, all expertly blended so that the inner corners were pale ice, stretching into darkest navy at the outside edge. The lashes were lined in a similar deep hue, melting effortlessly back into the drama of the lid, which fluttered with heavy fringe.
And on Daisy, it didn’t look stupid. Even with that deep red hair, and those pale-ish hazel eyes that were a mix of gray, brown and almost chartreuse – it looked like it was supposed to be there.
She was already at the reunion when I arrived – sitting on a stool in slim dove-gray jeans, the heel of one tall suede boot hooked over the metal rungs of the worn-out chair. Those heels would add at least four inches to her already considerable height, once she stood up. But she languished at that spot, her long fingers waving with numerous large Lucite cocktail rings, and cumbersome earrings winking from beneath her smooth auburn bob. As usual, there were boys crowded around her, only now they were men. Given that I was a certifiable adult, I should have noticed the fact that they weren’t noisy, kick-ball playing pre-adolescents with bowl cuts anymore. Some of them were even married, but that didn’t stop me from flashing back to gym class in 1990, my hair permed, clumsily kicking at that huge maroon ball that was always dusty and reeked of rubbery sweat. They all yelled at me to run, run, and on rubbery legs I would make the half-hearted journey to one of those flat plastic orange bases while some little shithead with shingles shaved into the sides of his head bonked me with the ball, gloriously crowing, “you’re out, you’re out!”
And through it all, Daisy remained enviably cool, lanky in her gym shorts and joking easily with the boys. She had kickball prowess and a trendy prettiness that was half-quirk, half-classic. I hated her.
In high school, Daisy didn’t pay much attention to me. She roamed the hallways between classes, flirting with older boys and shrieking with delight at their antics; she aced advanced Chemistry and made gorgeous paintings in art and slid into home during gym-class softball like a bad-ass bitch, even though everyone knew she really wasn’t one. Because Daisy was able to have facets, dimensions to her personality, which, normally, teenage life just didn’t accommodate for.
And now she was here, most likely back from some enviable globe-trotting adventure, drinking a gin and tonic (no lime, thank-you) and 32 years old. Good god, what had we gotten ourselves into?
Daisy lived in New York and was a stylist for some fashion magazine nobody had heard of – but that didn’t matter, because it was real, and she did – I knew it, because I’d Googled her. So that made her even more mythical; she probably had a comfortable-but-chic walk-up apartment in Soho, something not filled with Ikea furniture, but instead dotted with whimsical thrift-store finds, antique suitcases and the odd cashmere throw. She probably fed pigeons in Central Park and laughed her way out of crowded theaters on balmy summer nights, brisk traffic and hurried pedestrians surrounding her like so many buzzing insects. She was That Girl, Helen Gurley Brown, Zelda Fitzgerald; she was Mary Tyler freaking Moore.
“God, it was so funny,” Daisy was drawling, her body turned towards the baseball-hatted guy with whom she was reminiscing, sugary-sweet as a maraschino cherry. I kept smiling, waving to people I knew, but it was hard not to be distracted by her movements and champagne voice. If only I could say hi, if only I weren’t still haplessly playing kickball in my head.
Daisy was good at leaning in close to people, making vague comments sotto voce and then smiling dazzlingly, leaving that person feeling as if they’d just been given a gift or a rare secret. Surprisingly, she did this as I was waiting for a fresh glass of wine (sour and watery, from a dusty Franzia box), standing about a foot or so away at the bar, hands on the smooth wood. It was old, as VFW bars tend to be, with 60 years of nicks and gouges spattered liberally over every available surface. I scoffed inwardly; it was a shabby place to hold a reunion, that was for certain.
“I don’t know how many times I have to say ‘no lime’.” Daisy’s hair tickled my cheek as she leaned in, closer to my ear. “It’s bad enough that they only have Tanqueray.” In less than five seconds she had already retreated to her original sitting position, fishing a ragged lime slice out of her glass with one burgundy-painted fingernail. It landed on the bar in a soggy green clump, oozing juice and gin-tainted ice water.
Someone asked me if I was still “working on those paintings”; I smiled awkwardly and said yes, quickly explaining away my crappy hostessing gig and loudly assuring everyone that I was indeed still a painter, still at least minutely impressive. With a rock in my stomach, I thought about those bare canvases, some half-filled with wide slashes of color, propped against the walls at my apartment.
Across the room, Daisy was gesturing theatrically, her designer purse hanging from the crook of her arm, her face expressive and close to Robert. Robert, who had floppy chestnut hair and perfect report cards, who had beautiful hands and whose picture I used to dog-ear in the yearbook. Robert, who’d played hockey and dated girls who didn’t love him, was now successfully and curiously cornered by Daisy – though he didn’t look any worse for the wear.
Daisy was outside, and her silver rental BMW had a flat tire. It was raining pretty good, so I was standing under the tin VFW awning, arms around myself, waiting for the chilly downpour to let up. Daisy yammered on her cell phone, all furious shrieks and sighs of exasperation.
“Hey!” The shriek turned towards me, as she ran up the wooden stairs, clackety-clack, her wide black umbrella straining and pulling with the wind. She leapt up onto the porch, and, predictably, the storm hadn’t disrupted a single hair on her head.
“Wait with me? The tow truck won’t be here for another hour.” Daisy’s aquiline nose crinkled in disgust. She was wearing over-sized black sunglasses, which I found slightly ridiculous, given that it was nearly 10 p.m. But then, I didn’t have to meet her enormous eyes with my own timid brown ones, and I felt a bit braver because of it.
“Uh, OK.” I decided that it couldn’t have come out more lackluster. I felt like a hick, like a hillbilly.
The rain slowed to a cold trickle, draining noisily from the sides of the tin awning. Daisy was looking up at the slate-colored sky, where the clouds were beating a hasty retreat towards the East. She lead me to one of the paint-chipped Adirondack chairs on the deck and wearily sank into it, her thin frame next to me, folded like a half-open jacknife. She chatted rather amicably, and her jewelry jingled, bracelets clinking together with the slightest movement of her hands. She leaned over to adjust the tall boots that barely covered her long calves, and the silver bangles slid up and down her forearms, filling the space with noise.
“Sorry, I just had to get out of there.” From the corner of my eye, I could see her Sephora-glossed lips curved into an apologetic smile; a shiny slash of deep coral in the dark.
I swallowed. I pretended to be laid-back. “No, that’s totally fine. I was getting bored anyway.”
“Yeah, there weren’t many people there, huh? I wasn’t even planning on going, but I figured, as long as I was in town visiting my parents, it would be rude not to make an appearance.”
I let her sit on that one, think about how stupid it was – that the whole fate of a lousy high school reunion at the VFW rested on her being there or not.
Baseball Hat Guy comes out onto the deck then – he’s got a wad of Skoal in his mouth the size of a Volkswagen, smelling of tobacco-minty spit; this in fact makes him resemble a retarded gopher. I vaguely remember him as one of those smugly sporty boys, no doubt among the ranks of the relentless youthful kickball players. Corey? Jeff? He was semi-cute, but stupid as the day is long. He was looking at us both with leery-beery eyes, and then suddenly he was slinging Daisy over his shoulder and running down the length of the porch with her screaming, bellowing like a calf. When he came thundering back up the rise in the wheelchair ramp of the deck, she was laughing, her perfectly sleek bob overturned into rusty ribbons, streaming over his shoulder like a burgundy jellyfish. He dropped her back into the chair, a giggling gunny sack, with her legs hung over the armrest, kicking playfully at his figure as it retreated back through the door, under the weak-lit neon Old Style sign. She turned back to me, her grin self-satisfied and completely insouciant. Her hair burned in the darkness.
I didn’t think of it until later, but maybe all I really wanted was for some grown-up boy to choose me for such shenanigans – picking me up in an arbitrary joyride, some celebration of long-forgotten teenage irresponsibility, a sparkling juvenile mating ritual that I’d missed out on.
“Sorry”, she said with a childish breathlessness, “he’s such a flirt.”
I wondered if Daisy had ever dogeared the pages of her yearbook.
When she finally walked to her car, the stacked heels of her tall boots sank into the gravel parking lot, sloppy with mud and chocolate-milk puddles. I stood in the doorway, and heard the beep of her key chain remote, saw the quick flash of lights on the late-model foreign car. Before Daisy got in, she brought one calf up, bending it behind her at the knee, momentarily looking like an elegant red-headed crane in the light, gray mist. She flicked a muddy droplet from the suede surface of one boot, and then she was gone.