We're remembering games at the Red Dress Club this week...
Jess and I scurried to the back seat of the bus, our backpacks bumping our backsides with each step.
She wrinkled her nose at the end-of-the-school day blending--spoiled milk and fourth-grade boy. I caught a quick glance at her rubber bracelets, stacked up her arms just right, then looked away.
"Hey," she said, "Let's play MASH." She grabbed a piece of paper from her Trapper Keeper and wrote the familiar letters atop a box.
I smiled, and watched her set up the pattern. Her handwriting had taken on a decidedly bubbly quality, all soft arches and rainbows. All the girls wrote like that now. I wonder if they had a Secret Handwriting Meeting in the bathroom one day.
I had tried to mimic it, but everything I scrawled was childish. Decidedly not cool.
Jess finished, and began the game. "Four cars."
I knew what I was supposed to say, "Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bug, and--"
Jess squealed, and lifted up a finger. "Wait! Let me choose the last one!" She smiled to herself, and scribbled her choice on the sheet.
"Okay," she said, "Jobs. Same thing. You pick three and I'll pick one."
This was by far my favorite part of the game. I thought about jobs, no careers, all the time. "Doctor, Veterinarian, or Movie Director."
She wrote each down. Her pen poised in the air, she gazed from my lanky ponytail to my K-Mart sneakers. "Perfect," she mumbled as she wrote down her pick.
"Now the best part," she grinned. "BOYS!"
I blushed. I cleared my throat, and said the names from the script, "Tom Cruise, Michael J. Fox, and Kirk Cameron."
She frowned. "Nancy, don't you like any real boys?"
I forced myself to meet her gaze. I wanted to tell her the truth--No. Not yet. Instead, I whispered the safe bet, the scripted response, "Jason." Everybody liked Jason.
She sighed, perhaps in the sheer dreaminess of his name. "Good choice." Her eyes narrowed, "I'm going to tell him you like him!"
My face flooded with red shame. "Noooooooo! Ohmygosh, PLEASE don't! I'll do anything."
She laughed, "You're so predictable." She giggled, and wrote down her selection. "This is so funny."
"Yeah," I said, "So funny." I watched the landscape, morphing into blurs of brown and green between bus stops. We stopped and started as if on fast forward.
We did the normal numbers of children: 1, 2,3, and a ludicrous number. She starting drawing a spiral: "Say stop."
"Stop." She counted the lines to make the magic number, then began the process of counting and deleting.
She cackled to herself and she planned my future. "Oh, this is totally perfect."
I nodded and turned back to the window. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Her scratching on the paper was like mice, gnawing, nibbling away.
I loved her and hated her.
"Okay, here we go." Jess beamed. I squinted. "You live in a house, you have two kids, your job's being a mom, and you drive a station wagon!"
I sighed. Not a life I would choose. But at least I wasn't living in a shack with 200 children with Kirk Cameron. While driving a Lamborghini.
Jess shook with laughter, "Do you know who you married?"
I shook my head, waiting. Dreading.
"Mr. Baker!" She snorted, "You and Mr. Baker luuuuuuuuv each other!"
My insides curdled, thick and pungent. "No way!" Mr. Baker, the music teacher. He of the dandruff and ever-present ukelele? "Gross!"
The bus screeched to the next stop. My stop. I picked up my backpack and hissed, "That will never, ever happen!"
She laughed, "We'll see!"
It wasn't until the bus pulled away that I let the tears fall. I didn't need MASH to see my future. Jess would not be my friend much longer. She was pulling away, fast-forwarding to a new life.
PS--I'm at stay-at-home-mom, with two children. I live in a house, and yes, I drive a wagon. An Outback, but still, it's a wagon. MASH is terrifyingly accurate.