I have waited for this day for too long now. Today, I am presented to the world for the very first time as a woman. Today is my coming out.
I stand for a moment in the empty room full of ornately decorated tables and gold chairs. The space at the bottom of the sweeping staircase is the dedicated stage and dance floor.
It’s where Thomas and I will dance for the first time after he escorts me and I am announced as a debutante. It’s a moment I’ve dreamt of for so long that I can’t tell if this is just another dream or reality.
Before going back upstairs where all the other debutantes prepare themselves, I watch as Thomas and Jackson turn onto the property, the tires of Thomas’s father’s mint 1964 Buick Skylark squealing. With the top down, I can hear them both hooting, like they’ve conquered an untamable beast. Boys will be boys.
“Julia?” I turn to find Frenchy hovering on the steps with her hair in curlers and in nothing but her undergarments and one of her father’s old button-up oxfords.
“They’re here,” I tell her. “It’s going to be perfect.”
Her lips spread into a thin smile. “I have no doubt.”
The dressing room is loud with frantic laughter and shrill voices. Frenchy and I share a dressing station. I watch, hypnotized as she pulls her curlers from her hair and each chestnut ringlet bounces into shape like an exclamation mark.
When she’s done, she stands behind me, her fingers polished with a quietly rebellious coral work their way through my hair. Effortlessly, she sweeps my strawberry blonde locks into a simple French twist.
She drapes a string of pearls around my neck, and I let my fingers brush them gently.
“She would have wanted you to have them.”
Our eyes meet in the mirror, and I nod.
“Okay, girls!” calls Miss Penelope. “Time to get those dresses on.”
I help Frenchy into her gown first, a floating floor length chiffon dress with a jewel studded waistline. The bodice fits her perfectly and I can practically envision Jackson’s hungry gaze. “He’s going to love it,” I tell her.
Blush gathers in her chest as she grins knowingly.
“Your turn, Julia.”
I step into my white gown, the most important dress I’ll likely ever wear—second only to my wedding gown. My mother picked it out. It’s the kind of dress that commands your attention. A white brocade gown that sweeps the floor and cuts in on my waist. The sweetheart neckline is the good kind of tease. Well, according to my mother, and the soft chiffon off the shoulder sleeves flutter as I move, a nice reminder not to take myself so seriously.
Once we’re dressed, I take Frenchy’s hand as we sneak off down the hallway to where the escorts are.
“Frenchy! Julia! Where are you two running off to?” calls Miss Penelope.
“To wave at our mothers from the balcony,” I tell her.
“Well, be quick about it. Don’t let anyone else see you.”
Frenchy and I look to each other and giggle. “Yes, ma’am!”
Down the hallway, I duck my head into the sitting room that is currently serving as the holding pen for the suitors. I point a long finger at Thomas and Jackson, summoning them. The two of them look devilishly good in their tuxedos. Thomas’s raven hair is freshly cut and Jackson’s white blonde curls are the kind of thing girls go crazy for. Too bad for them. He’s all Frenchy’s.
I take Frenchy’s hand again as the door shuts quietly behind me, “Come on,” I tell her.
We dash down the hallway and up another set of stairs as the sitting room door swings open.
“I see you!” calls Thomas.
Their shiny dress shoes slap against the floor. “Ready or not, here we come,” says Jackson.
“We’re waiting,” says Frenchy in a sing-song voice.
“And we have been for quite some time,” I mutter.
Frenchy giggles as the boys take the stairs two at a time.
Thomas sees me first. He stops on the landing with his hand over his heart. “Christ. You look absolutely incredible.”
He takes the two steps toward me and sweeps me off my feet, swinging me in a circle.
Jackson does the same with Frenchy. He groans into her ear. “French, you’re killing me, doll.”
I take Thomas’s hand. “Follow us. We’ve got a few minutes before anyone comes looking.
I lead the four of us to an empty bedroom on the third floor. I wonder briefly about what wicked things have happened in this place, but I have no energy to pay mind to forgotten pasts.
A dark velvet canopy hangs over the richly decorated bed.
Frenchy and I perch on the edge and I squeeze her hand quickly. Today, we become women.
Thomas and Jackson saunter toward us, and I know it’s crazy and maybe even sickening to some, but I’m so glad not to be doing this alone.
Thomas hooks a thumb behind my ear and pulls me toward him, our lips colliding. It’s hard for me to see what Jackson and Frenchy are up to, but I can hear them. Kissing, giggling, and moaning. My sweet Thomas rucks up my skirt and separates my knees with his hips.
I’ve dreamt of this moment for so long. This exact moment.
I pull back and cough three times as he continues to kiss down my neck. Over my pearls. Over her pearls. And onto my chest.
My dreams become reality as I plunge an unexpected knife into his gut.
He grunts and groans, and the noises he makes aren’t so different from how he sounded a moment ago. Sex and death have more in common than I anticipated.
Beside me Frenchy stands as Jackson’s body hits the antique oriental carpet with a dull thud. Blood pools around him, saturating the carpet. Jackson rolls over onto his side, attempting to crawl away, but Frenchy straddles him before he can get very far.
Thomas still stands before me and I stab indiscriminately.
“What are you doing?” he sputters, blood and drool dripping from his lips.
He pushes me back against the bed, holding his gut with one hand and my throat with the other.
“This is for Greta,” I tell him.
He searches my face frantically. “Julia, I didn’t hurt Greta. I didn’t touch her. I don’t know what sick fucks did, but it wasn’t me and Jackson I swear.” He stumbles forward, restraining my knife-bearing arm.
I gasp for air as he presses down on my windpipe. I wonder for a moment if he’s telling the truth and if Frenchy and I are somehow wrong. But that can’t be. I know for certain. He and Jackson took Greta from us. They used her body and hung her from a tree. They left her strung up there naked. On her own parent’s property. They did that to her and they left her there to die. The coroner said her neck didn’t even snap, so she suffocated to death slowly. Like I am now.
Our wonderful Greta. The missing point in our trinity. Our best friend who we must now survive without.
My vision goes foggy just as he yells, Frenchy pulling him off of me.
It takes me a moment to come to, but when I do, I find Thomas and Frenchy wrestling on the ground beside Jackson’s limp body.
With my knife, I stab him in the shoulder, giving Frenchy a moment to de-entangle herself from him. And then again in the gut.
Blood pours from his mouth, as he says, “She begged.” He spits in my face.
And that’s all I need to hear. I rear my arm back and drive my knife deep into his chest.
Life flutters in his eyes, and then he’s gone.
It was to fast, I think. He should have suffered even more.
“We gotta go!” says Frenchy, her chest heaving and her once white dress splattered with blood.
I look down to find myself in the same state. I squeeze my eyes shut for a moment and force my brain to remember The Plan.
Digging into Thomas’s pockets, I find his father’s keys.
Frenchy grabs the small getaway bag we’d left behind the nightstand and the two of us race down the servant’s stairs and out to where all the cars are parked.
I hear my mother’s voice. She can’t see me and she’s not calling to me. But I can hear her somewhere outside chattering with someone. Small talk bubbles from her freely, and I only wish I could say goodbye. She’ll look back on this moment and always wonder exactly where she was and at what point it was too late.
Frenchy jumps into the passenger seat of Thomas’s father’s car as I slide in behind the wheel. I pull my dress up so my feet can find the pedals.
As we turn the corner out of the property, the tires squeal like they had earlier today. Once we hit the highway, Frenchy takes my hand and she doesn’t let go. There’s no going back. Not ever.