Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Pride and Princesses Swim Team chapter 6

Chapter 6

Swim team

    ‘Throughout history, women’s moral behavior has always been highly scrutinized...males have had social freedoms women were seemingly unaware of...these freedoms were kept from women not just because of biology but because men invented the patriarchal rules...’ I was glued to A History of Suffrage in the back seat of the bus as we embarked on our trip to the swimming centre.

    ‘What does patriarchy mean?’ I asked Mouche.

    She instantly looked it up.

    ‘It’s like...society is male-dominated, so women have to fit in with rules they didn’t create but then they help to maintain them...otherwise, I guess, society as we know it...would break down completely...’

    ‘Oh,’ I sort of understood. It was like Mark and Jet escaping while we had to stay and be bored in study hall. Maybe they were just smarter, or quicker or something.

    ‘And maybe they are just male...because according to your literature...being male might be enough to let you progress easily through life,’ Miss Tartt was way bitter and overheard us as we snapped the pages shut. She really wasn’t ready to hear this stuff. She needed to focus on prettying up and being nice to other women in particular. Then people would take her seriously and she could study the history of feminism but still husband hunt.

    ‘It’s good to know the history of our sexual struggle,’ Mouche said, ‘but we so don’t want to become like her...’ Miss Tartt wandered off the bus after taking the roll. I was so glad she wasn’t going to be coming along to pass judgement on my freestyle.

    I’d also been relieved to wave Freya and Brooke goodbye at the bus stop but dismayed to learn that Mouche and I are two of only six girls on the swim team. Teegan and Tory are going with us because they are quite athletic and always compete with Mouche and me in everything. Brooke and Freya are waving us off, standing on the pavement. Brooke is wearing her latest crucifix because she has recently found religion and is working on her ‘do unto others’ motto. Proof of this is the magnanimous smile colouring her expression. She’s also considering the benefit of ‘dressing more modestly’, but worried she may not fit in with her junior sorority sisters.

    Meanwhile, Teegan, Freya, and Tory have decided to dress entirely inappropriately for the morning. It’s uncharacteristically cold and none of them have sweaters.  Teegan occasionally pretends to be my friend, so I mock smile and try to be ‘friendly’ in return. Freya, meanwhile, is trying hard to impress Mark who has barely looked at her. So sad. As Mrs Jones might have said, ‘those girls need to play hard to get.’

     Still, as I sat on the back seat of the bus watching the Princesses through the window, waving and pretending to be supportive of me, as they chat to each other, I have to admit I’m not sure even I have the restraint to act indifferently towards someone I like. I hold that thought as Teegan and Tory reach their seats.

    Everyone is seated, the bus takes off and lurches forward as I’m leaning over my tote bag searching for my iPOD. Gravity pushes me into the back of the seat in front.

     I steady myself. Mouche, seated next to me, smiles and whispers, ‘this should be fun, any excuse for extra-curricular activities with the boys and Princesses can barely contain their enthusiasm.’

     I nod in knowing agreement and flick through my playlist. Mouche is busy updating our future blog – the secret one of course, the one we carry in diary form. This one is for our eyes only. Mouche will update the official Sunrise News Blog after the Fall Fling. We’ve decided to go with a traditional headline ‘Possible Prom Themes’ then upload an article titled: Prom Themes Throughout History with the by-line -   vapid possibilities from previous junior years - Underwater World, Chicago 1930, Movie Star Couples (the usual). No sense running with the lead story of two girls dating themselves into history until it’s ready.

    Mouche was going to quit the swim team to concentrate on her academic classes but I persuaded her to come with me. ‘It is a known fact that ladies need strenuous exercise just as much as men...’ I told Mouche using received pronunciation.

   Which guide did you get that from?’

    ‘I don’t know, I think I heard the sentiments in Little Women.’

    ‘Oh, I love that story.’

    ‘Me too.’

    There aren’t very many people who swim and as luck would have it, Mark and Jet and Alex and Tom are riding the bus as well.

     ‘I’ve often noted that swimming tends to do beautiful things to shoulders. You can see the results in the broad arm muscles of the boy sitting in front of me, his face slightly obscured by the headrest of the seat,’ I whispered to Mouche.

     Of course, I’m describing Mark.

     When he turns his head Mouche stifles a giggle as I unwrap some gum, offer her some and innocently observe the world outside the bus windows. 

      ‘He’s very uptight,’ Mouche scrawled on the side of her note page, shoving it in front of me.

       ‘He still hasn’t spoken to me but earlier today, he offered to help me lift my bag when the locker door was stuck,’ I said softly. 

      ‘Chivalry is so not over yet,’ Mouche added, ‘Oh, fabulous, Tom Allen just glanced my way. Guess what?  Teegan and Tory have decided to flirt with all the boys on our behalf. Don’t they realize none of us are ready for the approach since we’ve barely had time to read the copious quantities of old-fashioned dating literature we found in the closets of our slummy mommies?’ 

     ‘I loved it when you used to jokingly answer the telephone with those immortal words, Hello this is Mrs Mouche’s brothel…’

      ‘I was only twelve…’

      ‘Our mothers weren’t quite as fond of the introduction as I recall...’

     The bus had stopped at a red light by this time. Suddenly Teegan crawled out of her seat and made her way to the back of the vehicle.

    ‘Hi Pheebs,’ Teegan said as if she was my best friend.

     I smiled tepidly. Mouche had her ears blocked with music.

    ‘Hi Mark,’ Teegan continued. ‘I can’t wait for you to pick us up Saturday tonight.’   

     Mark looked over at Jet as if Teegan had gone nuts, and then gave her a reluctant smile. Both Teegan and Tory smiled back and I was embarrassed for everyone and pretended to be writing, but the road ahead was bumpy so after a few minutes I stopped.

    ‘I forgot to tell you, Freya and Brooke are Jet’s neighbours. They’ve been ‘noticing’ him for years and Freya even spread a vicious rumor that she has webcam images of Jet doing it with an ex!’ I whispered.

     ‘So possibly illegal, to spread publicity unasked, but Brooke doesn’t care. She thinks she’s above the law. No doubt the footage is inspired because Jet is very sporty and buff. I’m not sure if Teegan and Tory realize just how popular Jet could become,’ Mouche added with a smile.

   ‘He’s good natured, too,’ I whispered after Jet had helped Mouche with her jacket and bags. ‘It seems like nothing is a trouble to him.’

    ‘Brooke and Freya act like eager fans when Jet is around. Although they are as obsessed with Mark as everyone else, he has blatantly ignored them and even the Princesses get a little hurt when boys like him look down on girls like them.’ Mouche said.

    ‘They treat Jet with the reverence of a fan base and look up to him. Brooke was once overheard in the cafeteria saying, ‘of course we’re lucky to be his neighbours but we could be totally torn apart if it came to fighting over Jet.’

    Thankfully, Mark and Jet had their earplugs safely in their ears by this point.

    ‘Girls like the Princesses learn to be nice to boys at a young age. Perhaps their mothers teach them,’ Mouche whispered, ‘Brooke and Freya have loads of money and their walk-in closets are twice the size of Teegan’s and Tory’s who make up for this slight disadvantage with extra stylish ensembles.’

    The two other Princesses had waved us goodbye from the pavement wearing today’s furry back pack slung over their shoulders. They were wearing their matching boots and jeans. Even Mark looked twice. I made a note of this in our diary under the heading: what to wear / dressing to impress.

     Now, you might think we’re being uncharitable towards the Princesses since it’s obvious they are trying to make an effort but you don’t share the history. Perhaps it’s time I shared a bit of it as we head to the swim centre about twenty minutes from school.    

     Once, when we were in first grade at the Los Angeles School for Young Ladies, Teegan tried to make us pick her lunch up off the floor. She just dropped her grilled cheese and chilli fries all over our shoes. Splat. Then her twin sister, Tory, laughed and said, ‘pick it up and eat it. All of it.’

     Then, it was our turn to laugh.

    ‘As if,’ Mouche said. Instead, we kicked those fries right back at her and ran in the opposite direction.

    These war-like incidents happened between us all the way through grade-school.

     In the beginning, we might have been friends. As we got older, we all aced fashion and theatre design but then Teegan hired a designer to do the costumes for our lame sixth grade musical and made sure Mouche and I wore the most hideous ones. Freya and Mouche had a fight over whose mommy was prettier and everyone started being catty with each other after that.

     As girls, we weren’t really taught to support each other, just to compete with each other, which is so wrong if you ask me. Anyway, the Princesses were much better at ganging up than Mouche and I. Once they all conspired to get us into trouble for something we didn’t do (like writing horrible notes about our super-strict history teacher), we were defenceless against their conspiracies. For a start, it was always their word against ours. In the end, there were more of them; and sisters usually side with each other. Go figure. At least I had Mouche. And she had me.         

    The bus slowed and pulled over. Mouche, who doesn’t get car sick, is busy studying boyzamples. She hastily shuts down the images on her cell. We bunch up our belongings and grab our bags. This time, Mark hands me mine and our fingers touch. It’s kind of uncomfortable but, in a good way. Mouche sees my blush and starts to giggle as we head to the pool.

     ‘Alright everyone, you have three minutes in the changing rooms. Then I want you all out here and ready to go by 9.30am.’

    Mr Frames was raising his voice. He has brown, curly hair, glasses and a nice smile. Although he teaches music, he doubles as a swim coach and is one of the best teachers at Sunrise.

     Teegan was adjusting her goggles and talking to me in the bleachers as the boys lined up for the one hundred metres.

     ‘Take a look at Mark. He really grew up in England.’

      I was stuffing my hair into the required bathing cap and trying to find my goggles as Mouche rolled her eyes and began the search for her missing ear plug.

      We could hear Tory rating all the boys as they stood on the blocks: ‘nine, eight, six, eight and a half, three, ten, ten.’

      The last two were Jet and Mark. The one who got three, well, he wasn’t exactly athletic. Teegan and Freya started smirking when Mark adjusted himself.         

     Mouche and I nearly walked into Mark and Jet as we hurried back to the bus a few hours later, but Mark just said, ‘excuse me,’ quite dismissively and walked past me without saying anything else. Jet paused and smiled at Mouche and I noticed she smiled back, but now Jet seemed hesitant to actually say anything. Boys are complicated.

    That evening, after my mom and I finished our late night shopping at the market on Main Street, Mouche met me and together we tried on dresses for the dance. Mouche whispered into a changing room mirror as we swapped make-up, ‘I’ve been reading loads of classic dating guides, such as Deal With It - He Doesn’t  Want to Date You and The Unspoken Laws of Romance but I think we’re embracing unknown territory, our own Dating Adventure for Teenage Girls.’

    ‘Because we’re such experts...’ I added sarcastically.

    ‘True,’ Mouche replied, ‘but I’m sure we can teach while we learn – look at Mr Frames.’

     Mr Frames was our student teacher last year and we leaned into the store window to watch him and his new fiancĂ©e walking across the road hand in hand. We’d conspired to let Mr Frames know how much our other student teacher, Miss Love, liked him. Now they’re both fully registered teachers and we’ve received invites to their wedding this winter. We are obviously very good matchmakers for other people – why not each other? Why not all the girls in school? The whole town?  The universe even?

    ‘But what is the point of all of this, when, what we really need, is some money for our college funds?’ Mouche said. ‘You’re starting to take this whole Emma fixation a little too far. Forget about school plays and dating new boys, I’m starting to worry I may not get my college scholarship.’

    ‘Of course you will Mouche. You’re one of the smartest girls I know. Besides, money isn’t everything...’

    ‘I just have this feeling,’ Mouche said.


    ‘That we’re going to be seriously sidetracked...’

    ‘Well, maybe that’s a good thing, because sometimes the real world lacks excitement...’

    ‘Really Pheebs, you are my best friend, but I’m not so sure...’

    I smiled and pulled out the copy of Wuthering Heights that I was being forced to re-read and review for an English assignment. I’d just finished skimming Emma, another Austen story, but Mouche had preferred the movie version. ‘Life’s kind of like that now,’ she had said one afternoon when we watched it, ‘except faster and with more sex and swearing.’

    We sat in the Sunrise cafe and viewed the world going past our window booth, each of us adding to the Boy Rating Diary as we waited for our food.

     Joel Goodman worked in the diner. He was kind of hot but monosyllabic. I should know. I tutored him in English once a month and in return he helped to fulfil my credit quota. He’d been brought up speaking English as a second language and although he spoke almost without an accent, he sometimes wrote the words around the wrong way.

   ‘Hey,’ he said as he took our orders wearing all black and his usual wife-beater shirt, ‘the usual?’

   ‘Yes please,’ said Mouche, who was unfailingly polite in public. Joel smiled at her then me, in turn. I looked away, because Joel was a huge flirt.

   ‘You know how long we’ll need to work Saturdays just to get enough money for even a year in New York?’ Mouche asked.

    ‘Do not fear...I have a feeling everything will come together in the end. It always does and money worries are no reason to change our plans...’

      We expanded our ideas on napkins after eating the special burger deal, watching the Sunrise world go by. Most of the people we saw through the window we knew or had met at least once. That was one of the things I liked about Sunrise, though Mouche and I mostly wanted to get out. Maybe she wanted out even more than I did.

    Later that evening we continued to plot.

    Mouche dropped her purchases next door at her house, then came over. 

    I was sitting on the porch eating ice-cream having my musical theatre star fantasy and waiting for my agent to call.

     Oh, that’s something else I haven’t told you much about yet. I’ve been acting, or rather auditioning professionally, part-time, since I turned twelve. I try not to spread this about as I was teased mercilessly at HSYL. I got to do a commercial a few years ago for breakfast cereal but since then the money has kind of dried up. It’s so weird how I can be outgoing when I’m pretending to be someone else, although lately, I’m starting to fear stage-fright. I have to really psyche myself up to perform. But I’ll get over that. All the best actresses do.

    My agent, Thom, says I need to wait until I’ve made the transition from ‘child to woman,’ which would be a bit creepy if Thom were even vaguely interested in females for anything apart from ‘art or fashion.’ Although Mouche liked dance and drama, she never seriously considered the artistic world in her career prospects.

     But when I looked up that evening, I suddenly noticed a possible usurper for my junior year glory. Mouche was framed by the moonlight and actually looked much more like a star in repose than I did.

     Mouche was so pretty. I believe Mrs Jones may have referred to her as ‘breathtaking.’

     Have you ever felt like someone else has stolen your life? Well, Mouche is so perfect and so perfectly nice that you’d almost give her your life if she asked, but then you’d totally regret it.

    The thing was, she could steal your life or the hottest guy in school, if she was so inclined. She was much prettier, if you ask me, than even the Princesses; although I’m fairly sure she never thought it. Mouche had Alice in Wonderland hair and cool jeans and perfect boots and was wearing bright pink, frosty lipstick.

     I forgot about the slight pang of envy I felt as we were trying on our Fall Fling dresses again and deciding what shoes and accessories to take. As we stood in front of the full length bedroom mirror, I knew it was wrong to be jealous or envious of your best friend forever, but it didn’t feel wrong at the time.