Twenty One: Pantyhose and Roses

Alley

September 6, 2002


I wrung my hands nervously as I stepped back from the mirror to judge my appearance. Well, not too terribly bad... I carefully pressed my sweaty hands down the front of my black suit. It consisted of a short black dress with matching jacket that fit snugly over it and buttoned closed. My hair was carefully pulled up away from my face in a loose French Twist, courtesy of Louise. Lord knows I would never be able to pull that one off myself. A hint of eyeshadow, mascara, and some shiny lip gloss completed the look. Of course, Louise had done that for me, too. I was so helpless when it came to fashion.

After deciding that my dressed-up appearance passed the dork test, I walked to my closet to find some shoes. They were all thrown haphazardly into an enormous pile. Sighing, I kneeled down and perused through the small mountain, pushing the rejected ones aside. Black boots? Nah, too clunky. Black sandals? Hmm, no. I was wearing pantyhose, and I didn’t go for the webbed-feet look. Finally I settled on a pair of black pumps. Not too tall, not too dressy, but not too casual. Perfect.

I sat down in the floor, hitching up my skirt so that I could bring my foot close enough to put the pumps on. My pantyhose offered plenty of resistance, and I voiced my displeasure when I heard a ripping sound. "Shit!"

I glanced down at my legs, searching for the run that was sure to be there. Strange, I couldn't see it anywhere... I rolled over on my side and hiked my leg in the air, attempting to find it. So far, so good. Hmm.... that was odd. Had I been imagining things?

“What the hell are you doing? Practicing for the ballet?”

Taylor’s amused voice filled the silence, causing me to jump in surprise. I quickly snapped my leg back down and rolled over again, trying not to look embarrassed at his having caught me in such an un-ladylike position. Although, that was probably nothing new for him, seeing how I was generally un-ladylike the majority of the time.

“I’m just... you know, getting dressed,” I said indignantly, trying fiercely to pull my skirt back down. It had ridden and twisted its way up even more during my romp on the floor, exposing quite a bit of my thighs, and probably my underwear, too... Since I was sitting on it, though, there was no way it was coming back down. Blushing, I quickly grabbed a T-shirt laying on the floor next to me and covered my lap with it.

“So..." Taylor said slowly. "'Getting dressed', for you, involves wallowing around on the floor?”

“Don’t be a smartass, Taylor. It’s so unbecoming.” I glared up at him from the floor.

“Well, you know, I’m actually not being a smartass this time. You’re just not answering my question satisfactorily. And you’re running late, as if that’s anything new. So I’m trying to figure out why you’re sitting here pissing around in the floor, when you should be in your little car, on your way to this art exhibition.”

He raised his eyebrows at me in a questioning look. He had a bright red cherry sucker in one hand, and periodically brought it up to his lips to taste it, rolling it around slowly in his mouth, then pulling it back out with an audible smack. I watched this process, mesmerized. Although Taylor was far from perfect -- Lord knows I’d seen enough of his faults to scare anyone off -- he was still so... magnetic. Only he could make something as childish as eating a lollipop make my hair stand on end. It was so distracting, in fact, that I couldn't think of a decent comeback.

“Well? Why are you staring at me? Come on, get up.” He extended a hand out to me, and I took it silently, trying to clear my head. He has a girlfriend, I reminded myself. Not to mention all the other too-numerous-to-name reasons why having a silly crush on my invisible friend would be a bad idea.

Besides, there was always Alex... haha. Like I’d ever see him again, but still... it was a nice thought...

I stood up, jerking my skirt back down and smoothing the front of my suit. Great, the front of the dress was wrinkled. I tugged at it, hoping it would fall out on the way to campus.

“I need my purse,” I mumbled, not meeting his eyes. I felt a little light-headed and embarrassed, as if he could read my thoughts or something. Stop being silly, you’ve got more important things to worry about. Sometimes I was way too flighty for my own good.

“Here,” he said, holding out my brown corduroy purse, a cute bag that resembled a small backpack. I rolled my eyes and brushed it off.

“Taylor, I’ll admit that I’m not fashion plate, but I do know that what you’ve got there isn’t going to go with what I’m wearing.”

“So sorry... just trying to help,” he replied huffily.

I bit my lip in thought, trying to remember where my black purse was hiding. In the closet? No, I hadn't seen it when I'd gotten the shoes... downstairs? No, Louise had just cleaned the den earlier in the day, it wouldn't be there. Under the bed? I dropped to the floor on my knees and stuck my head under it. AHA!

“I found it!” I exclaimed triumphantly, snatching it up. “Now, get me my keys and I’ll be off.” I glanced at my watch. “Just in time, I can make it.”

I dashed towards the door, but my momentum was stopped abruptly as Taylor latched on to my arm and pulled me back.

“Well, not exactly," he said, sound amused. "I think you’re going to have settle on being a little late.”

“Why?!”

“Because you’ve got a big rip in your pantyhose.” He pointed to the back of my leg. I screeched, twisting around to look, but apparently it was out of my line of sight.

“SHIT!" I cried. "What am I going to do?! I don’t have any others!”

I frantically looked in my dresser drawer, flinging my socks and bras to the side. But since I hated pantyhose, and rarely wore them, there was not another pair in sight. And I didn’t even think to buy a spare...

“Quick, do you have any fingernail polish??!” I asked frantically, forgetting who I was talking to. Taylor looked offended at this comment.

“Now, maybe I’ve been known to have painted nails in the past," he said, folding his arms and glaring. "But NO, I do not have --”

I ran out of the room, ignoring his mini-tantrum. Surely Louise had some in her room somewhere... He followed me, still bitching and still enjoying his cherry confection.

“What do you need polish for, anyway? Are you going to paint all over them and then hope no one notices the big rip?” he asked snidely. God, he was such a smartass.

“Shut up,” I mumbled as I jerked open Louise’s drawers and searched through them. Finally I found an ancient, nearly empty bottle -- it was silver, not clear, but it was all I had, so I decided to make do. I turned to Taylor and handed the bottle to him.

“Okay... now you take this, and dab just a little -- just a little -- at the beginning and the end of the run, got it?” I instructed him. He threw his arms up, the sucker still hanging out of his mouth.

“What?!” he said in disbelief.

I scowled. “Come on! Just do it, I’m already going to be late! Help me out here!”

“And what, exactly, are we hoping to accomplish with this?”

“It’s to keep the run from getting any bigger... because I don’t have anything else. I’m just going to have to grin and bear it. NOW DO IT!” I demanded.

He grumbled, taking the bottle from me and carefully picking up the brush. I turned around, and felt slightly embarrassed once again when I felt a very light, cold pressure against the back of my thigh.

“Don’t paint it on,” I warned him. “Just a dab.”

“Uh...”

“Dammit, Taylor!”

“Haha, just joking. Sheesh.” He paused for a second, and then cleared his throat. “Uh, Alley?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re, um... you're going to have to lift your skirt up a little... I can’t see the other end of it.”

I sighed loudly, feigning irritation, hoping it would cover up my mortification. I carefully lifted up my dress, making sure it didn’t go too far. I didn’t want to totally expose myself in his face...

“Uh, a little more. I still can’t see it,” he said sheepishly.

“Forget it. No one will see that anyway,” I said hastily, pushing my dress back down. I snatched up my purse and took off downstairs. “Thanks! See you later, gotta go!”

“Wha-?” Taylor’s confused voice floated down the stairway after me as I grabbed my keys from the counter and ran out the door.

I leaped into the Jetta and took off. Furtive glances at the clock indicated that as usual, I was running on Alley Standard Time -- about 15 minutes later than everyone else. I sighed, brushing the wisps of my hair back from my face and fanning it. I still felt a little flushed.

I arrived at the Singletary Center, throwing my car into park and racing towards the doors. I stopped just before I reached them and took a deep breath, trying to regain my composure. After several minutes, my breathing slowed, and I straightened up, smoothed down my suit, and confidently strolled in the doors.

“Hi,” piped up a petite brunette sitting behind a table. “Can I help you?”

“Yeah, um, I’m Alley Krzyzewski.... I have a painting here... what do I do?”

“Oh!” Her eyes got big and she smiled. “I’ve seen yours, it’s wonderful!”

“Uh, thanks.”

“Okay, it’s down the hall to the right -- everyone has just been standing around theirs and kind of explaining them to the visitors.” She smiled at me. “Here’s your nametag, and a corsage." When I eyed it suspiciously, she laughed. "Don’t ask, they just decided to give them to all the entries. Oh, and good luck! I hope yours wins!”

“Thanks again,” I murmured as I walked away, fiddling with the nametag and the white rose. I walked down the hall until I reached my display.

I stood next to my painting, being very careful not to turn around, for fear that others would see the mess that was my ripped-up, silver-speckled pantyhose. I got several compliments on my work, though, so that made up for the chaos that ensued before I’d reached the exhibition. After a while, I glanced at my watch, and was amazed to see that nearly two hours had passed. Only one more to go... But hell, my feet were hurting like a bitch. The shoes I'd chosen may have been the most appropriate, but they were also the most uncomfortable. I began shifting from side to side, trying to relieve the aching pain in my feels. I probably looked like a chicken getting ready to fight.

I sneaked a glance down the hallway. Not too many people remained, so I decided to seize the moment. I quickly de-shoed my feet and planted them on the floor, relishing the feeling of the cold tile against them. I leaned over, my corsage stuffing itself up my nose. I lifted up one leg and massaged my poor foot, groaning aloud.

“Not the most comfortable shoes, eh?” a smooth deep voice spoke, above me. I turned my head upward and nearly fell down. JAY. What was he doing here?!

“No, no, they’re not,” I said, laughing nervously. I cursed my heart for beating so fast. Had it already forgotten that horrible incident from June? Forget him, Alley... stop acting like a lovesick moron...

“Ah, that’s too bad.” He smiled at me slowly. He moved his eyes to my display, and pointed casually. “This yours?”

“Um, yeah, it’s called 'Celebration'.”

He nodded approvingly. “Pretty good stuff.” He turned back to me. “Hey, um... Alley, right?”

I nearly choked. “Y-yeah...” I stammered. Apparently my heart did indeed possess a short-term memory.

He grinned slowly and nodded again. “Hey, yeah, we have biology together. Man, that first day, you really showed him, when he tried ripping on you. Wiped that self-assured smirk right off his face.”

“Oh, well,” I looked down, blushing, and noticed that I still hadn’t put my shoes on yet. What an idiot. I sneaked them back on, hoping he didn’t notice. “It was nothing, really.”

“Well, I though it was pretty cool,” he said.

“Thanks...”

“You’re most welcome. Well, I gotta be going.... so.... I’ll see ya around, I guess?”

“Yeah, sure!” I replied, a little too eagerly. He began to walk away, and I tried frantically to think of something else to say, or do, before he left. Refreshments! my mind screamed. Any excuse to stay with him for just a few minutes more...

I hastily trotted up beside him. “Well, I was just going to get something to drink, so I’ll walk with you.”

He looked over and me and nodded. “Cool.”

We walked down the hall together, and I noticed the appreciative glances I received from other girls. Hey, if I’d seen another girl walking with Jay, I’d have been envious, too. The boy was hot beyond belief. I reached the drink table, stopping and smiling shyly at him.

“OK, well, see ya later,” I said.

“Alright... definitely,” he replied. Smiling uncontrollably, I turned around to fix myself a drink and a moment later I felt him standing right beside me.

“Oh, and Alley?” he murmured, right in my ear.

“Yeah?” Knees, don’t fail me now.

“You have a run in your pantyhose.”

“Oh--” I stopped, dumbfounded and completely humiliated. “Um, well, uh... Okay, thanks, I guess, for telling me, you --”

He interrupted me with a chuckle. “You know, I think it’s kind of sexy.”

He walked off, leaving my senses in shambles and my frazzled mind burning with wonder... and hope.