Emily Towers

A Short Story

Jane picked up the antique perfume bottle her mother had given her that morning for her 15th birthday and lightly tipped the bottle to coat her fingertip, then added the scent to the skin behind her ear; a gesture she had only seen done by women much older than herself in movies made years before she was born.

Jane’s best friend Jennifer sat on the bed behind her and admired Jane ‘s reflection in the mirror on the vanity.

“You’re so fucking lucky. You have to tell me everything when you get back.”

Jane’s second best friend, LeAnn, held up one of Jane’s silk green dresses and looked in the mirror. “You have to tell all of us everything when you get back,” she said mostly to herself. The green dress had once belonged to Jane’s mother and Jane had inherited it on her thirteenth birthday. Her mother had not worn it since she was a young girl herself. It had stayed in Jane’s closet since she first got it even though it fit Jane beautifully. Girls Jane and LeAnn and Jennifer’s age didn’t wear silk dresses. They rarely wore dresses at all. The days of proms and sock hops were long gone. Dressing up for formal occasions was rare and most women wore pants or shorts to work or school. They couldn’t imagine wearing a short skirt as they hurried up the subway steps like their great grandmothers generations before them.

“Of course I’ll tell you guys everything.” Jane couldn’t take her eyes off herself in the mirror. She looked older. Mature. Grown up. She was wearing makeup for the first time since she was eight years old and snuck into her mother’s bathroom bottom drawer. She didn’t know how to wash it off. Her mother had laughed at the smudges under her eyes and drove her to the store to buy baby oil to remove it.

Today it was Jane’s choice whether she wanted to wear makeup or not. Not many women did. It was a relic really, from another time. It was seen as something for women to wear on television, or if she wanted to look rested or healthy she one was not. For today’s special occasion, Jane chose to wear it.

Jennifer joined Jane on the vanity bench and rested her head on Jane’s shoulder. “You look so pretty.”

Jane blushed even beneath the makeup. She didn’t hear she was pretty often and had never heard it from her best friend. Jennifer was two months younger with long orange hair and striking blue eyes. She was complimented by jealous women everywhere she went. Jane had dark brown locks and had tried her own hair at every length, searching for her most flattering look. On this day, it fell around her shoulders in soft curls. An effortless look that took her all morning.

Jennifer spoke to Jane’s reflection in the mirror, “You smell good. You look good. Did you… you know. Shave? My cousin shaved when she went to Resort.”

The new high Jane was riding suddenly sank. “She did? Christ.” LeAnn joined from the closet. She had slipped the green dress on over her cotton camisole. It was far too tight for her and pulled around her breast and stomach when she moved. She still had her gym socks on and they peeked out of from beneath the gown when she lay down on the bed, her soft leg hair exposed around her dangling ankles.

“I didn’t… I didn’t even think about it. Should I? Shit. I wonder if we have a razor in the house.”

“I didn’t mean to freak you out. I think you’re fine. Truly.”

Jane could tell by Jennifer’s tone that in two months Jennifer would probably shave for her first time at Resort.

Millie, Jane’s younger sister, opened Jane’s bedroom door without knocking. “Can I come in? Wow, you look so pretty!”

The shave comment had thrown Jane and she was now agitated at anything. “What time is it? What’s happening downstairs?”

Millie got the time from the screen next to Jane’s bed. “It’s almost five. Aunt Deedee and June and grandma are getting drunk on Bellinis with everyone else. Mom is saving a glass for you before you go. Don’t tell her I told you.”

LeAnn sat up on her elbows, her breasts spilling out of the dress, “D’you think your mom will let us all have one?!”

“No.” Millie, at age twelve, had already learned how to deal with Jane’s brassy friends. Millie had more intellectual aspirations. She did her homework in front of the television and she did it well. She was curious about the trip her sister would take that night, but not jealous. “Can I hang out up here until you go down?”

“We’re coming down now.” Jane sounded more mature in her head already. The tone of her own voice reminded her of her mother, stern and final; “We’re taking family portraits today.” And “No one eats any more of the batter.”

Jane stood up and smoothed out her dress. She had picked it out at a consignment shop weeks ago. It was navy with white with yellow flowers on it. The shop owner described as “sexy and flirty”. It was cut lower than any top Jane owned. She could see the very crest of cleavage in this top. She smushed her breasts together then let them go and they giggled back to their place and she smiled and her friends and sister laughed.

Jennifer squeezed an arm around Jane’s waist and hugged her. “You have to tell me everything.”

“I’m nervous.” Jane said to Jennifer as they swayed back and forth. Jennifer pulled away first and they faced each other. Jennifer assured her, “It’s going to be fun. Don’t tell your mom I said that.”

Jane stepped into red ballerina slippers and motioned for LeAnn to get up off the bed and join them.

LeAnn sat up on one hand like a shiny mermaid and reached for the zipper on the back of the dress. She grunted while stretching to reach it, “I’m going to need a sec to get out of this thing.”

Descending the stairs, Jane could see the ocean of women of all shapes and sizes. The roar of small talk had filled her house to the brim and Jane had to yell to Jennifer behind her, “My mom went way overboard.” Some of the women had tucked their champagne flutes under one arm, careful not to spill. They pinched and ate the small bites of cured meat and dried fruit piled off of their small paper plates. Some did it in one fail swoop, clean and elegant, while others dribbled bits on the floor or their blouses.

Aunt Deedee was the first to see Jane come down the stairs and squealed with delight. She grabbed for her sister’s arm to show her that the Queen Bee had arrived. When the women laid eyes on Jane they clutched their chests and applauded like the close of a moving poem. Jane’s mother took the tepid Bellini from the fireplace mantle and made her way to the bottom of the stairs. She presented her daughter with the drink like a talking stick. It was Jane’s turn. She took the drink and hugged her mother. She ceremoniously sipped the drink in front of the audience. Taking their cue, and tipsy themselves, the women lit up with whoops and hollars like jolly pirates.

With pink rosy cheeks from the nerves and the champagne, Jane greeted the visitors with a hug or a small wave. Some of the guests she had known since birth and others she had met only once or twice. Friends or co-workers of her mothers, neighbors, and even the sweet lady who cleaned Jane’s family’s fire shoot every October since Jane was little we there to see Jane turn fifteen go off to her first time at Resort.

Several girls from Jane’s school had gathered in a corner near the food table in front of the home’s bay window. They sipped from glasses filled with sparkling cider and grazed the small bites between conversation, their bellies swollen with pregnancy. Two of them looked like they could pop at any second, while three others had only a hint of a pot belly when they turned to one side and tittered at each other’s gossip.

When Jane was nearly done with her drink, her mother looked at her watch and nearly spilled her tumbler of sparkling water. “We got to go!”

The entire party shifted to get Jane and her mother out the door. Millie was ready with Jane’s purse. Aunt Deedee tried to quickly organize a group picture. “There’s no time, Deets. You should of thought of that. We’ll get it on the next one.” Jane’s mother shoved Deedee out of the doorway.

Aunt Deedee bordered on belligerent, “You know it’s not the same,” and attempted to snap candids of Jane making her way through the parted women and out the door.

Jane hugged her little sister on the front steps then LeAnn, and then Jennifer. Her mom appeared in the front seat of their family car parked at the ready in front of the house. The engine started before Jane made it to the front seat.

“Relax, Mom.” Jane slid in and buckled up. “I’m the one going.” The party had moved to the front lawn and they saw the car off like a ship to the sea, with the guests waving and blowing kisses to Jane and her mother like their adoring sailors.

*

The freeways on the outskirts of town were quiet at sundown on a Saturday night. Jane and her mother would have an hour in the car together before they arrived and Jane wanted to turn on music or discuss school, anything, but talk about the night ahead.

“Do you have your purse? Your ID?” her mom asked.

“Yes, mom. Of course.”

For the first time that evening Jane’s mother noticed the familiar floral spice aroma Jane was wearing. “That perfume is so nice on you. That was your grandmother’s bottle. I hope you get to give it to your daughter one day.”

“Me too.” Jane looked out and up. She spotted the first star of the evening. She wished on it silently in her head like she did when she was at summer camp. Star light. Star bright. First star I see tonight. I wish I may. I wish I might. Have this wish I wish tonight. She wished that tonight she did everything right and that the boy she is going to meet would like her perfume too.

Outside the car, the lit billboards along the freeway got further apart. A Megan Marshall was running for a local congressional seat. She had arms crossed and an expressionless face. “Ready to protect and support the community I love.” Five miles later, a billboard for a Technical Trade School with a large women in overalls welding at a steel table. “Now Enrolling for Fall”.

Jane’s mom broke the silence, “You know you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”

Jane felt a sting of embarrassment in her chest. “Mom! I know!”

“You take things slow. You need to get to know each other.”

“Mom!”

Jane’s mom threw her hands up for a second and then back on the wheel. Jane scoffed, “Okay, Okay. This is why I wanted Emma to take me. She has a car. She could have.”

“Absolutely not. I’m your mother. I’ll stop asking questions. Goodness. Not everyday my first baby goes off to Resort. Give me a little break, Janie.”

Jane didn’t want to look at her mother. Eye contact usually led to more questions, more prying, she kept her gaze out the passenger window and on the fading horizon. Only when Jane heard her mother sniff did she glance over.

“Are you crying, mom?!”

Without taking her eyes off the road, Jane’s mother reached one hand across the seat and held her daughter’s hand in hers then lifted it to her face.

Jane could only smirk at her mother. When she was embarrassed or uncomfortable with how much her mother loved her she just laughed and shook her head until she saw it….

“There it is!”

A green road sign ahead of them read, “HOLK COUNTY RESORT – NEXT EXIT”. Jane’s heart began to pound and her stomach sizzled inside of her. What she didn’t know or even think about was that her mother felt the same sensations when she made this drive with her mother fifteen years ago.

The state built most of the Resorts on the outskirts of major cities just like airports. They needed ample space for living quarters, outdoor activities, dining halls, social halls and dining facilities. Women from smaller towns had a longer drive to their Resorts, but Jane lived in a suburb of Dallas and their Resort was well funded and not far outside the city.

There were already a few cars in line to enter Holk County Resort when they approached the security booth outside of the gates. Jane’s mother asked her daughter to get her ID out of her purse ahead of time. Jane sat with it in her clammy hand. When it was their turn, Jane’s mom handed her daughter’s ID card to the smiling guard. She had a kind face and greying hair. When she leaned in to take a look at Jane, she revealed a calming smile. She was used to greeting jittery young ladies.

“Happy Birthday. You excited, darlin?”

Jane nodded her head and suddenly felt like a raw young girl again, shy and speechless. She glanced in her side view mirror at the car behind them. Illuminated by the red brake lights were another mother and her daughter both with dark eyes and dark hair. The girl’s arms were folded across her chest and for the first time it occurred to Jane that perhaps every young women who came to Resort was not happy to be there.

The guard handed Jane’s mother back her ID and a perforated card that read “Hartz, Jane #590334498 SOUTH TOWER”. The guard leaned toward them and pointed ahead. “You want to follow this road you’re on and take the second right. That will get you to the South Tower. You can drop her at the front doors or valet and take her all the way in. Have a nice night.”

A large stainless cast-iron gate rolled out of the way and Jane and her mother drove through. Jane’s neck was muggy and she could feel the backs of her legs sticking to the car’s leather seats. She worried she would start to smell.

Everyone had heard the stories from their older sisters, mothers, aunts, and neighbors who had been to Resort, but it had also become a tradition to not give too much detail. Resort should remain a somewhat modest mystery for each woman to experience on her own. Everyone was different and therefore would have a different internal experience at Resort. Best not to expect too much and go in with an open mind.

Jane was grateful for the champagne before she had left her house. Maybe her mother knew what she was doing. The bubbles inside her had a way of turning the fear she felt into excitement.

The North Tower first and they passed it from a distance. It was a tall peach building, at least ten stories with a dolphin fountain at the front entrance. A golf course, lit up for night playing, stretched out behind it.

The Resort buildings were not what she was expecting. They seemed dated from the outside. Somewhere her grandmother would have liked to spend the winter. The South Tower was the exact same size as the North, only it was a mint green color. Apparently each tower was given a different color theme. Though the South Tower was a lovely shade of green, Jane’s favorite color, so much of the color on such a big building was more sickening. She immediately wished she was in the Dolphin building. She had always liked Dolphins. The fountain in front her tower had an open oyster shell with a pearl resting inside. Jane had tried oysters once on a summer vacation in San Francisco and gagged at the texture. She preferred friend clams.

As they pulled into the South Tower roundabout, Jane’s mom proceeded toward the valet. “No. I’m going in myself.” It felt like the first day of school to Jane.

“Janie, I wanted to walk you in. Make sure …” Jane’s mom drew back. She knew her daughter was not going to yield. Jane opened the car door and leapt out. Her mother had gone over and over the things she wanted to say to her daughter on this historic day. One million thoughts encircled her brain, but not one came out of her mouth.

Jane peeled her damp skirt from the backs of her legs and tried to straighten it out, swung her purse on her shoulder, and shut the car door. She waved her fingers through the cracked window, “Bye mom. Love you. See you tomorrow!” Jane turned and headed towards the entrance, leaving a damp palm print the car window.

Jane’s mom barely had time to whisper, “Have fun!” before the Resort’s automated glass doors swallowed her baby up.

*

The lobby of the South Tower was more updated than the green exterior. There was an area inside and immediately to the right with sleek beige couches gathered around a gas fireplace where there was no fire. The walls and furniture were in inoffensive neutrals and the only color came from plastic flower arrangements on almost every surface that could hold them. Jane got in line at the front desk behind two other women. One of them looked at least thirty and wore plain jeans and a grey t-shirt with the logo of what Jane assumed was a band. She looked like she could have just rolled out of bed. The other woman wore a dark green uniform, the ones the city Waste Management workers wore. Jane glanced down at her flowered dress and crossed her ankles.

A middle aged woman with a swirl of dreadlocks piled on the top of her head with a name badge that said “Lona” took the card that the guard had given Jane and held it to a screen behind the counter. The screen illuminated Lona’s face with white light, then a green light. She handed Jane back the card and a pamphlet from a stack and then pointed to the elevators behind Jane “This is also your room key, room 605. The card will get you into all the doors you need to go enter. Keep it with you at all times.” Jane could relax in her room and the phone would ring when they were ready for her. “Happy Birthday.”

Jane entered the elevator alone. She waved her card over a small metal page and “6” lit up and she ascended further into the belly of Resort.

On the sixth floor, in room 605, Jane laid down on the bed with all white bedding. Her body already felt tired, even though it was only seven o’clock, but her mind raced far too fast to close her eyes and try and rest. The room was sleeker than the outside and remodeled in recent years. It was very clean and neat with the exception of a small water stain on the ceiling in the corner over the window. It was a lot like a hotel room with a phone and a sitting space. There was no television. Out of the large window, Jane had a view of a baseball diamond half a mile behind the South Tower. The bathroom had a toilet, shower, soap, shampoo, conditioner, towels, hair dryer, disposable hair brush, toothbrush, and toothpaste. All branded with the mint green labeling. There was a painting over the bed of clouds at sunset.

Jane could hear talking in the room next door. A voice laughing. An occasional door in the hallway opening and closing. There was no commercial cell service at Resort so Jane kept her mobile phone off. Absence of outside service providers was meant to keep everyone visiting focused and create a “peaceful and private environment,” according to the pamphlet.

After thirty minutes, the phone rang and Jane jerked at the surprise. The voice on the phone instructed Jane to take the elevator to the second floor and find room 200. She didn’t need to bring anything. And the voice hung up. She quickly stripped her clothes and washed her armpits and between her legs in the tub, careful not to wet her hair or smear her makeup. She patted dry, applied some deodorant from her purse, and got dressed again. She hoped the scent from the perfume her mother gave her earlier had not washed away. Jane’s sinuses were acting up from stress and could no longer tell how she smelled.

On the second floor, before the door at room 200 Jane assumed the room would be empty judging on how quiet it was just outside of it. She scanned her card, the locked clicked and she pushed through.

Room 200 was more medicinal than any other part of the Resort. A row of chairs in tow lines faced each other down the middle and a coffee table with the same Resort Pamphlets Jane had received at the front desk. There were at least eight women sitting and they all seemed close, if not exactly Jane’s age. Eight different in shape, but all dressed more like it was their 15th birthday. Curled hair, half of them wore skirts, and there were even some with lipstick. There was a water cooler with paper cups and a plant that Jane determined was fake by the fact that the room had no windows.

A woman in purple nurses’ scrubs and a handheld screen came out from the only other door across the room and called Jane’s name before Jane had a chance to sit down. “Jane Hartz?”

“Yes. Me,” Jane mumbled and again felt like a child. She had been thinking about this day since her cousin, Cynthia, first told her about Resort in her aunt’s laundry room. It was a cold Christmas and they were sitting in the warm hamper of dried clothes. Back then, Jane imagined herself a mature woman by the time she reached fifteen, tall and large breasted, but now that she was actually here she felt pocket-sized as she passed through each step.

After Room 200 was a long row of privacy stalls with numbers on them. Jane could hear women talking to women in several of the stalls. “Number three” the nurse said to Jane and ushered her into the stall with a piece of paper taped over an out-of-order screen. The paper had a hand scrawled “3” on it.

Jane took a seat on an elevated white cot and the nurse stood across from her. They were almost eye level. “We have your National Health Record and Pre-Resort Questionnaire on file right here. This is just a short medical evaluation before you meet with,” the nurse looked at the screen in her arm and read, “Matthew”.

It was the first time Jane had heard his name. Matthew. He was real. It was all happening. Matthew.

Jane had a hard time focusing; she only wanted to know about Matthew. The nurse went on, “Have you had any surgeries or trips to the ER recently?” “Are you currently taking any new medications?” “How are you feeling today?”

She noted Jane’s weight off a small screen on the side of the cot and drew a blood sample. “You can take that band aid off in five minutes if you want.” She winked at Jane. She then produced a yellow pill in a clear plastic pouch from a drawer against the wall. She was routine when she spoke, but upbeat, “Today you start the yellow pill. That’s what we call it. Have you heard of it?” Jane nodded, yes. “Great. It’s perfectly safe. What it will do long term is subdue your hormones, your sex drive. Stop any chance of you from thinking of Matthew day in and day out. Probably be on it for up to ten years. It’s to make sure you can go on with your daily life after Resort. Not getting all googly eyed is what they called it back in my day. It is highly recommended. But you are allowed to refuse it.” She leaned closer, “Most women want it eventually.” Jane took the pouch and poured the pill into her hand. “Now for the short term, it is going to calm you down. Right about now you are probably experiencing rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, maybe even nausea. That’s nerves! It’s natural. Maybe the most excited or frightened you have ever felt in your fifteen years on this earth. This is to help you calm down. Relax. Not mess yourself. Lord, I have seen it all! Now don’t be worried, it will not change you, just help you be yourself tonight. Understood?” Jane nodded in agreement. Jane knew about yellow pill. Everyone took Yellow Pill. She didn’t know anyone who did not take it after Resort. Her mother only stopped at menopause. Her older cousin took it. She once heard of a classmate two years older her that miscarried not long after Resort and had to return. She was depressed and stopped taking Yellow Pill after she had lost the baby. Once at Resort she wanted to be paired with the same boy she was paired with previously, but that wasn’t allowed after a miscarriage. Her emotions got the best of her and she had a nervous breakdown. She was miserable for months until she went back on Yellow Pill. She got better. She was so grateful for it.

Jane was given a small paper cup of water to take the pill, then she crushed the cup in her hand impulsively. “I didn’t realize I was treating Wonder Woman,” said the nurse. Jane was relieved to know the pill would calm her down. The knot in her stomach was tightening her bowels and she didn’t want to have to use the bathroom. How embarrassing that would be.

“It may take an hour… half hour to set in. Everyone is different. We’ll give you prescription for Yellow Pill when you leave.” The nurse instructed Jane to follow her out of the stall and through another door to another set of elevators. The nurse stayed with Jane in the elevator and used her own keycard to light up the button for the floor labeled “M”.

“You hungry, Wonder Woman?” Jane hadn’t been hungry all day. “Not really.”

“You should eat something, though.” The doors to the elevator opened and the smell of hot food and the sound dishes clinking filled the elevator. “You’ll feel better.” The smell only made Jane feel more nauseated. “Go ahead and check in the with the hostess. And remember to have fun.” The nurse winked again and the elevator doors closed her inside. Jane liked the nurse and preferred

The hostess had her hair in a long braid and stood at a wooden hostess stand just like a restaurant one step nicer than a roadside Pancake House. Beyond the hostess was an open hallway of small doors that led to cubicles set up like little rooms, but no roofs. The ceiling of this floor was painted black with fiber optic stars made to simulate the night sky. Deep voices mixed with female voices. Couples. It was the first time Jane had heard anything like it in person.

“Jane Hartz,” She heard herself say to the woman with the side braid. The hostess checked a screen in her arms and told Jane to follow her.

They stopped at a door with a small screen that read, Hartz, Jane + Matthew. The hostess said, “Matthew is such a cutie. You’re going to love him. He’s the best.” Jane was comforted by this, to have the approval of another woman, and also soured by it. She felt an unusual sting of jealousy inside of her. Different than a larger present under the tree for her sister, this was deeper. A threatening feeling. How had the hostess with the side braid gotten to know Matthew? How well? What did Matthew think of her?

Inside their cubicle was a table set for dinner for two with candles and some more fake plants lining the wall. These were fake orchids. There was another door across the room and a menu on the table. “Enjoy your dinner,” said the hostess and she spun around to leave so quickly her braid got air.

Jane was alone in the room with no further instructions. Her armpits sweated through her dress. Jane blew her nose in a napkin from the table and stuffed it in the plant. She could smell the spiced perfume scent and it was now almost over powering rising off of her neck. Her crotch was hot and damp. Her mouth was dry. She hated this. It was not what she wanted. Not what she thought it would be. The formality. The anticipation. She was miserable. She missed her mother and sister and her friends. She wanted to throw up. Jane’s knees were weak and she sat at the table. She drank some chilled water from a glass, the condensation collecting on her hand. Slowly the cold water took over and cooled her. Her breathing slowed to almost normal. She read the menu. “Squash Soup” was first. That sounded good. It all sounded good. Suddenly her appetite had returned.

The door across the room clicked then opened and in walked Matthew.

 

 

 

 

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