Three girls emerge from a drug store, flipping through their plastic bags to look again at what they’ve got. On their minds are the 22 shades ranging from pink to orange to purple to red to brown, and occasionally black; the 47 pigments, claimed to be set in a base of natural silica powder for that pretty silky matte glisten; the range of brush shapes available for the eyelash, the eyebrow, such as concave or convex bristles, round and spiked like a mace, like a half-almond, or flat like a putty knife. “I want them all,” says Jenny, not knowing that her desire is not about consumption, but about her envying the commodity itself. “What do you mean? That I, like, want to be mascara?”
Amber wasn’t allowed to come to the drug store, because she had been in the middle of arguing with her mother. Her mother had found a sexually explicit note in the kitchen garbage addressed to her daughter by a man she knew to be twice her daughter’s age (which isn’t even saying much, since the girls were only 15, so he was only 30). Her friends had heard her mother yell, “’Baby Girl, put it on me?’ What does that mean? Put what on him?…answer me…you will not be going anywhere for a long time….No...no…you have no choice in this,” as they left.
God, life is so hard at this age, Rae thinks, you don’t have any freedom, except when it comes to choosing among a million insignificant things. They go back to check on Amber, because that’s what good friends do.
When they arrive they pour everything out on the bed, and touch and touch them like an orgy of smooth things. They try everything on their faces, layers on top of layers, like an orgy of layers. Jenny looks at Michelle’s cleavage as she leans over in her scuba spaghetti straps, Jenny thinks about how nice it must be to touch Michelle’s breasts that are so golden and plump for her age. "Seduction is the new Opium of the masses" says the disembodied voice for the YSL fragrance.
In the centre of Amber’s mess of a vanity table, like a totem of good behavior, is an aerosol spray can with Evian printed on its front, and above, the translucent image of the Majestic French Alps. Her mother had given it to her without her even asking for it, and whenever Amber looks at it she feels this pang of love for her mom. This Evian Face Mist, it feels so good; it wouldn’t feel so good to fill a dollar-store spray bottle with water from the tap. It feels so clean and refreshing, hermetically sealed, like something magically more than water. “It just seems so perfect you know, it came out of the ground so pure, and now I get to have it here to use whenever I want, and I don’t even live close to France.” The girls always wanted things to be more than they seemed – with a secret compartment underneath the cake of blush, straps that unhinge and re-strap in new configurations, giving you more than you ever expected, even if the secret itself is as advertised.
“You don’t have any choice in the matter. You will never see that man again,” her mother had said.
“But that’s not fair, it’s not like I even want to be 15.”
When the girls came in, Amber had been thinking about walking past Jason’s office everyday. He would always be waiting for her at the back door, and that ritual became the absolute centre of her day. The way the scratchy fabric of his black jacket felt when he hugged me, she thought, I love the clean-cut way he dresses and looks, his GAP hats, his hair, his ring, his Mavi jeans, all his shirts that are just so hot. I just want him so badly.
“So what did your mom say?” Michelle asks, “What did Jason’s note say? I want details. Tell me everything.”
“It’s no big deal, she said so many dumb things, I don’t even remember, it was funny.” Amber, as she’s talking, is writing their tag on a piece of lined paper; it’s a friendship tag that they draw on desks at school and in the bathrooms in town, a symbol made out of the letters ATOL, meaning, “A Touch of Love.” The A and T are drawn together like the first 4 lines of a 5-line, hand-drawn star. She’s thinking about Jason, about her mom, and drawing ATOL over and over, to get over it.
As the sun takes on a peachy 5 pm slant, the girls start thinking about the huge party they’ll go to later tonight at Graham’s parents house in the country. They’ve been looking forward to this party for weeks. Everyone but Amber is picking out what to wear, when they hear the door slam. “I guess your mom went out,” Rae said.
Everyone stands in the kitchen, the girls, Amber’s brother and his friends. While Amber makes food, her friends sit on the counters with their legs spread out and swinging. The scene is engulfed in the heartbreaking smell of that summer: an unforgettable mix of grilled cheese, Versace Baby Blue, and Smirnoff Raspberry.
When her brother’s friend Mike says to her, “Hey Amber, are you even looking at guys my age anymore?” she runs upstairs and cries. The truth is, Jason had stopped messaging her about a week ago, and she had no idea why. She had been thinking about what to do, to call him or not to call him, or even to do something drastic to relight the fire between them. She was overwhelmed with the idea that it was up to her to call or not to call, and that either way her actions would decide the future of their relationship. It was an impossibly frightening idea, and maybe she had left that love note for her mother to find in the kitchen garbage on purpose.
Rae brings up a bowl of spicy beef ramen for Amber; obviously Rae’s really nervous that they won’t all be together tonight. “So, Amber, are you allowed to come? Is your mom going to let you come to the party?” As Amber eats her noodles, she looks at all her friends’ new things strewn on her bed, and it makes her feel so queasy, like sick to her stomach; she doesn’t want anything to do with any of it. Soon, these new things will be put into greasy drawers or bags full of pink dust, and begin to merge with their new context. Outside of the array of their original in-store set, they will lose their aura in miscellaneousness. The name of the thing, embossed in silver letters, begins to flake off, and the edges of the lid get banged-up with indentations of white, the corner of the lip-gloss label peels off ever so slightly, more and more, until she’s forced to take it off altogether. “Was that my Lancôme lip-gloss, or my Revlon lip-gloss?” Only a slight difference in the tube’s body contour suggests one way or the other. Whether Amber realizes it or not, what she’s thinking about is the revelation of sameness that occurs in disintegration: that what seems like 1000 choices is, in actuality, homogenized and neutralized into no choice at all. And I am not talking about destiny, or God.
“You know what, I’d prefer not to go to that stupid party anyways,” Amber says, as if she even has the choice.