Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent,
and discerning if he holds his tongue.
“…So then, she says, ‘And be sure to give little Frooey belly rubs every 37 minutes precisely, because otherwise she can’t digest her dinner properly.’” Lottie smoothed the front of her baggy overalls and checked her red bandanna as Tristan laughed. It clashed horribly with her red hair, but her date, Tristan’s nerdy friend Jared, had insisted authenticity was more important than looks. Jared was going as a cow, though, so having Lottie didn’t worry too much about having the stupidest costume at the Famous Coupled themed dance. “Do I look OK?”
“Well, to be perfectly honest… not so much, no.” Tristan, resplendent in his medieval Romeo outfit, felt silly and dashing at the same time. “On the bright side, I’m pretty sure Jared will look a lot dumber than you.”
“I have to admit, a cow costume – he’s got balls, if nothing else,” Lottie agreed. “Not many high school guys would wear a cow costume to a school dance.”
“I guess so,” Tristan agreed, but only to keep the peace. Really he thought Jared was nuts and would never recover socially from appearing in a cow costume, which neither Tristan nor Lottie could actually envision. “I’m eager to see it, though. How will he dance?”
“Or drive? But he should be here any minute.” Lottie pushed her plaid sleeve up to reveal an ordinary digital watch.
“Oh, come on, that’s so out of character,” teased her twin. “Shouldn’t you have… I don’t know, a wind-up watch or something?”
“I don’t think cowboys kept time. And speaking of anachronistic –” An imperious gesture to Tristan’s tennis shoes indicated what Lottie thought of that fine touch. “Couldn’t you wear dress shoes, or something unobtrusive? Those white sneakers stand out like a sore thumb.”
“I wanted to be comfortable,” Tristan began to explain, when the doorbell rang. It was Jared, in a plain black T-shirt and hideous brown jeans.
Continue reading.Immediately Lottie asked, “Dude, where’s the cow costume?”
“Don’t worry,” Jared said, snuffling and pushing his glasses up his nose. He jerked a thumb at the eggplant purple Dodge Caravan parked at the curb. “It’s in the back of the van. I couldn’t reach the steering wheel with it on. Plus I need help getting it on and I didn’t want Mom to see it.”
Tristan and Lottie glanced at each other, silently agreeing that Jared’s Mom was probably the best person to see it and still keep a straight face. Their high school peers sure weren’t likely to exercise tact or mercy. But Jared was unlikely to let his reputation faze him at all, and Lottie figured she’d just go, have fun, and see how it went. “Well, shall we go, then?” Tristan said, after they had all stood awkwardly at the front door for a moment. “I’m sure Kim will be wondering where we are.” Kim was meeting them at the school, and the dance would be held in what the Social Committee had guaranteed would be a “magically transformed” gymnasium.
Lottie nudged him as Jared turned. She pantomimed pulling out a cell phone and texting, then nodded vigorously. Tristan rolled his eyes. His phone, a dinosaur from his freshman year that had outlived its contemporaries several times over, could, theoretically text. But, as Lottie well knew, with his family’s plan, each text cost $1. Each child paid for his or her own texting over the month, and Tristan had already blown his month’s budget on the dozen red roses. They had been well worth it, though, just for the smile on Kim’s face as he handed them to her.
Lottie took the front seat, which suited Tristan just fine. He would happily share the more private, middle bench seat with Kim. He could already imagine how gorgeous she would be in a medieval gown, trailing skirt sweeping behind her, hair swept up to show off her queenly neck… Dang. He needed to think about something else.
“Lottie, tell Jared about the lady at the dog place.” Nothing like a good, innocuous, funny, crazy pet owner story to calm things down.
“Oh, yeah, Jared, did I tell you I work at a doggie daycare?” Lottie experimentally tried whirling her lasso around in the front seat, snagged it on the gear shift, and quickly extricated before anything terrible happened.
“Like one of those yuppie places?” Jared asked, eyes glued to the twilit road, oblivious to the ropy shenanigans that had just occurred.
“Yep. It’s a sweet job, except for cleaning out all the crap. And I get to meet a ton of people who are totally crazy about dogs. Like this one lady, Mrs. Colville. She brought in her dog, this horrible little toy poodle named – get this – Frou Frou…”
“No way!” Even Jared’s generally nonfunctional social radar picked up the necessity for an incredulous response and he timed it just right, so Tristan didn’t have to say anything.
“I couldn’t make this up,” Lottie assured him, and went on with the story. Then she added an interesting tidbit Tristan hadn’t heard before. “So then, as Mrs. Colville leaves, this other lady, Bernice, comes in. She’s a lot nicer and more laid back, but she’s still pretty crazy about her dog. She has one of those, what’re they called, oh, right – a whippet.”
“So?” Tristan threw in, just to keep things moving. They were almost to school, and he didn’t want the story to drag on through his meeting with Kim.
“Shut up back there,” Lottie called. “You still owe me from your first date with Kim –”
“That was NOT a date!” Tristan objected, “That was a study session.”
“Anyway,” continued Lottie with asperity, “Bernice and her dog came in for play time and while the dog was playing – he beat the crap out of Frou Frou, it was so satisfying – Bernice was telling me about how she served Senator Gilbertson lunch yesterday.”
Jared, who probably didn’t know the sitting President’s name, said, “Who’s Senator Gilbertson?”
“Come on,” said Lottie. “He’s a Senator for the state! One of two for us, you know, in the Senate? Like in Washington, DC?”
“Anyway, like I was saying, big important dude. He was having dinner with a CEO from some rodent supply place, which is why Bernice paid attention – she’s totally obsessed with animals, a vegan, member of PETA, the whole works. She thought the supply place raised rats and mice for animal testing, so she didn’t like the CEO dude at all.”
Tristan, seeing they were pulling into the school parking lot, intervened. “Is this story going anywhere? Cause we’re almost to the dance.”
Lottie, irritated at yet another interruption, looked back into the dim recesses of the van and asked, “What’s the rush? You need to go off and hold hands in some private corner with Kimmy right away or something?” Tristan blushed and remained silent, since Lottie had hit on his reasoning right away. Lottie, knowing she had scored a hit, resumed her story. “Turns out these two dudes, the CEO and the Senator, are talking about some bill that’s coming up for vote! Like a real thing that could be law. Something about like tax breaks for pet owners or something.”
Jared laughed. “Come on, give me a break. Why would they pass a law like that?”
“What do you know about it, huh?” Lottie asked rhetorically, not really wanting him to answer. “But so Bernice is, like, standing right there while the CEO is basically bribing the Senator to vote his way on the tax bre
ak! Isn’t that crazy?”
“Which way was his way?” Tristan asked, curiosity piqued, as they emerged from the van.
“I need help getting my costume on,” Jared reminded them. They all trooped around to the back of the van, although Tristan glanced around, looking for Kim, before he turned his full attention back to Lottie’s story and Jared’s costume.
“Funny thing,” Lottie said, then paused. “Oh, my gosh. This is it?” The costume, though not nearly life-sized, was the size of a small pony. It stood on its own, was covered in short brown fur, sported a pair of impressive, possibly real horns, and had wheels on the rear hooves. Jared inhabited the front of the costume, operating the head and front legs, while the rear squeaked along behind him.
“Yep,” Jared said, pride fully evident in his voice. “I made it myself.”
“Um, yeah, I see,” Lottie said, for once at a loss for words. “So, um, how long did it take?” Jared was opening a hatch on the side of the costume, attempting to clamber in without breaking anything. They couldn’t hear his muffled reply, but Tristan estimated that it would take at least a month straight of evenings to get the thing built right. Once again he glanced at Lottie, and he knew she was thinking the same thing: He planned this and started working on it before school even started. Wow.
“So the bill?” Tristan asked, suddenly glad they had something to talk about other than the cow costume.
“Oh yeah, right. Well, turns out the CEO was against it in the end. Bernice was really upset – she liked the idea, ’cause she doesn’t make that much as a waitress even at that nice restaurant, and it’s expensive having a dog. Or so she says. I don’t know, I mean homeless people have dogs, so how expensive can it be? But whatever, for some reason she was really upset about the Senator seeming to agree that the bill shouldn’t get passed.”
“There!” Jared said, “Done.” Lottie and Tristan let go of the middle of the costume, which they’d held up until Jared could get firmly inside it, and they stood back. “How’s it look?”
To the twins’ credit, neither laughed out loud right away. Just then, Kim walked up and cows costumes, dog tax breaks, and everything else fell right out of Tristan’s head. “Braaaains,” he murmured in appreciation, until Lottie slammed one cowboy booted heel hard on his instep.
“Wow, Kim, you look amazing,” he said. “Wow. Words fail me.” Her gown was sky-blue, the same color as her eyes, and shimmered. It seemed to magically contain her breasts despite being cut with a deep scoop neck, which revealed plenty of cleavage – a touch Tristan didn’t fail to appreciate – and its waist tucked in just under her full breasts to leave a long, full, sweeping skirt. Small puffy sleeves just covered her shoulders, but left her long, elegant arms bare. Her hair was piled up in elaborate knots on top of her head, and her long, slender neck and graceful, smooth shoulders seemed to rise like a swan above a still pond.
Lottie, feeling foolish and dowdy in with her braids, plaid, and denim, said shortly, “Nice dress,” and went to help Jared maneuver himself around to get up the ramp. Dancing would definitely be out of the question in this costume. Lottie, at least, wouldn’t have to worry about accidentally spreading viruses tonight.
“Um, Tristan?” Lottie called, “Can I talk to you for a sec?” She watched as Tristan reluctantly drew himself away from the vision in the blue dress (Lottie cringed inside; she was jealous and at the same time disgusted).
“What?” Clearly he wouldn’t budge from her side for the entire evening. Great.
“Remember the talk with Dad,” Lottie reminded urgently, trying to set aside her feelings.
Tristan’s shoulders slumped and he glanced towards Kim and then back at Lottie. “I hate to admit it, but you’re right. I’ll be careful, OK?”
“OK, good.” Lottie forced herself to smile. “Now go have fun.”
Kim enjoyed the evening, despite the initially awkward and strange tone set by Tristan’s sister’s date’s weird cow costume. Once they’d gotten in the doors and away from that whole thing, she and Tristan had gotten away together and started dancing. Tristan attentively brought her punch, and, unlike Austin, actually danced whenever she wanted. Kim loved any and all physical activities, including dancing, and Tristan was a remarkably good dancer for a high school student.
“So how’d you learn how to dance like this?” Kim asked as they glided smoothly across the floor, putting all the other couples to shame. Tristan held her firmly but not tightly, guiding her smoothly through slow dances while romantically gazing into her eyes.
For a second his gaze flickered away, and then he smiled sheepishly. “I’m in an interpretive dance troupe.”
“You are not!” Kim exclaimed, but it did explain his dancing ability.
“Every Saturday morning since I was five. I started with ballet—”
He nodded. “Seriously. We all did, but only I stuck with it. When I got older I got more into interpretive dance because I like the more modern aspect of it, and the way you can do all sorts of unorthodox things while expressing yourself with form and music.” Finishing this little speech, he blushed. “Just don’t tell anybody, OK?”
Kim smiled. “Don’t worry. I hate gossip and talking about other people. Tristan, seriously, that is so cool! You’re so unique and special, and I love how excited you got just now when you were talking about it.”
Embarrassed, Tristan muttered, “Thanks. Just don’t let it out. I’d never live it down.”
“I already said I wouldn’t,” Kim replied, slightly indignant. She pulled away to look at him seriously. “I swear you can trust me to never share any of your secrets. Anything you tell me is totally private and I won’t even write it in my journal. I promise.”
Tristan pulled her in close, and she wrapped her arms around his waist as they moved slowly together. He felt good, strong and muscular beneath his dark blue doublet; the hose showed off his well-turned calves and ankles, although the white tennis shoes did rather ruin the effect. They’d have to hide those somehow in the photos. Kim leaned in, putting her head against his shoulder, nuzzling into his neck. She felt his heart pounding wildly and smiled a secret smile into the velvet of his shoulder. That heart was pounding for her and her alone.
Later, when the music got faster and they decided to take a break, Tristan went off to obtain some strictly nonalcoholic punch for both of them. Kim caught sight of Austin and Crystin. Gratifyingly, they hadn’t been able to agree on a theme, and so ended up coming in everyday dress clothes, looking more out of place than all the costumed students.
“You want to just go for a walk?” Tristan asked when he returned, plastic goblets in hand. “It’s getting kind of hot in here.”
Kim readily agreed, imagining less walking and more snuggling and perhaps a first kiss somewhere in a dark corner. She was ready, and she knew Tristan was more than ready. This could be a very good evening, indeed.
But when they had pushed their way through the crowds outside, Kim and Tristan found themselves joined – almost chaperoned, Kim would have said, if she hadn’t known better – by Tristan’s twin sister and her cow-costumed date, who persistently dogged Kim and Tristan wherever they went. Kim leaned into Tristan’s arm and whispered in a sultry voice, “Let’s go somewhere more private.”
Tristan, however, seemed momentarily deaf to her seductive suggestions. Kim found herself increasingly puzzled and frustrated. They walked, almost marched, around the track a few times, wi
th the other couple trailing along behind like an ungainly escort. The cow costume slowed the boy down, and instead of leaving his sister and the cow boy behind, Tristan bewildered Kim by slowing his pace to match that of their unwanted shadow.
“Come on, let’s leave them for awhile,” Kim suggested again, this time more insistently.
“I wouldn’t want to leave Lottie,” Tristan demurred.
“Who’s your date here?” Kim asked, now feeling frustrated. “She’s your sister. You see her all the time, and she’s not usually in a stupid cowgirl outfit. This is supposed to be about us, getting to know each other better. I was having so much fun inside, and now all of a sudden instead of getting away by ourselves, it’s all about your sister instead of me?”
“No, no,” cried Tristan, pulling her resistant form into a side-hug. “It’s all about you. I swear.”
“OK, then, let’s get away from them and find a spot by ourselves.” But for whatever reason, Tristan instead suggested returning to the increasingly riotous, stinky, noisy, crowded gym for more dancing. In the end, Kim reluctant agreed, if only to get away from their irritating shadow. “What’s with your sister? Why won’t she leave us alone?” Kim asked when they finally got inside and found a quieter corner.
“She’s got my brains in a vice,” was Tristan’s inexplicable reply. “I mean, I’m still recovering from being sick and I don’t want to infect you. Lottie was just making sure I didn’t…um…forget about that.”
Kim, who for all her blonde hair wasn’t stupid, said in a sarcastic voice, “Sure. I’m sure that’s really the reason.” In a huff she jerked her hand away from Tristan’s gentle grip and stalked off into the crowd in a huff. There she found a big football player as a partner for the next dance. She’d let Tristan stew for a little while, maybe one or two dances, and perhaps he’d be a little more reasonable when she got back.
Unfortunately, Kim never found out whether her tactic would have worked or not. By the time she escaped the groping clutches of the boneheaded football player – and that took no small doing – Tristan, his sister, and the cow boy had all disappeared. The purple van was gone from the parking lot by the time Kim squirmed her way out of the packed gym, and she sighed. Driving home by herself without so much as a goodnight from her date wasn’t exactly the way she’d envisioned ending the dance. Still, she had enjoyed dancing and talking with Tristan more than she’d enjoyed any other dance before, so she figured she’d give him another chance. He was, after all, still very young, and had a lot to learn about women.
If only he hadn’t spun that ridiculous tale about infecting her! The rest of it had been going so well until then.