The light and sound of the party leaped out of the dark like a lone candle flame in a room. It flickered and twisted, growing louder and brighter, then quiet once more as a door to the outdoors opened and shut again. Chloe figure slipped out of the house and into the empty road, staggering as if the earth was the storm thrashed deck of a small ship.
Her blonde hair was half twisted into what must have once been an elegant up-do, and was now a half-hearted mess of curls and pins that threatened to escape. Her heavy, glittering eye make-up was smudged and streaked down her cheeks. She pressed her forearm to her mouth, stifling a sob.
She was supposed to be her friend! And now Chloe was standing outside her own house like a stranger. She turned and looked back at the house, dreading the sight that awaited her. Through the window, she could see a couple twisted together, so close that they might as well have been one person. They were kissing, oblivious to the world around them, the jealous glances, the knowing grins. Oblivious to the girl standing alone outside. The girl who was watching her best friend and her boyfriend betray her.
Watching from her post outside, Chloe felt oddly disconnected. Now that the initial shock had worn away, she didn't feel anything. They were both shallow, empty excuses for humans. And Chloe had been trying so hard to be exactly like them. Superficial.
She leaned down and pulled off the uncomfortable heeled shoes that she had been told were so trendy. As she attempted to wrestle the second shoe off, hopping uncomfortably on the pavement with her one bare foot, she overbalanced and fell hard on her backside.
“Oomph.” She sat there for a moment, shocked that the world had shifted so suddenly. Then she began to laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Tears streamed down her face, leaving fresh marks on her face. She lifted the hem of her dress and wiped her eyes, which only made the smudging worse. She kept at it, however, until one side of her face had been scrubbed clean and her dress was spotted with black streaks.
She glanced back at the house. The scene in the window was almost identical to how it had been a few minutes before. None of them had noticed her absence. For some reason, this just made her laugh harder.
She yanked the other shoe off her foot and lurched to her feet, staggering back to her house, clutching her stomach as she continued to laugh. She managed to hold the laughter in check as she opened the door and went over to the living room stereo. She pressed the off button. The sudden silence was deafening. Chloe began to giggle again. “Party’s over, guys!” She told them, grinning from ear to ear. There was a sound like a plunger as Michael and Gabby finally separated. Their faces were identical O's of surprise. They looked so funny like that, like fish who had just realized that there was no water, and Chloe couldn't help but laugh more.
“You're fucking around, right?” One of the party-goers asked nervously.
“Nope!” Chloe gave him a sweet smile. “Get the fuck out of my house.”
“What? You're such a bitch.”
Chloe wiped all traces of mirth from her face. “Get out or I will call the cops.” Chloe snarled.
It didn't take long for everyone to trickle out, except for Michael and Gabby, both of whom looked properly contrite. Gabby had even burst into tears.
“We're so sorry!” She groveled. “It just happened. I didn't mean to-”
“Shut up.” Chloe rolled her eyes. She had seen Gabby do this a thousand times. She did a pretty job of seeming apologetic, but as soon as her target left, she was back to her fake smiles. Everything about her was so fake. Chloe was disgusted that she had tried so hard to be exactly the same.
“Look, baby, we can fix this.” Michael started. “It didn't mean anything.” That earned him a venomous glare from Gabby.
“No, no, you're both perfect for each other.” Chloe dismissed his words with a wave of her hand. “You're shallow as puddles and as dim as the seventh Pleiad.”
“The seventh what?” Gabby asked. True to her nature, her crocodile tears had evaporated.
“The Pleiads,” Chloe explained, “Are the seven daughters of Atlas. They are also a group of stars near Orion's belt. One member of the group is so dim and far away that you can't see her with the naked eye.” She laughed sharply at their mystified expressions. “I learned that from a book. I read you know. I read a lot. I know words that would mystify you. Rather than me explain all the things you don't know, you should just leave.”
They continued to stare at her as if she'd sprouted a second head. “When did you get freckles?” Gabby asked after a moment of stunned silence.
“When I was four. I've just been wearing enough make-up for the past few years to hide them. Now, if you will please.” She gestured towards the door. “Exit. Sortie, sil-vous-plait.” The two finally moved towards the door, collected their stuff, and left. They both gave her one last glance over their shoulders. Chloe slammed the door.
She went to the bathroom and leaned over the sink, cleaning off the rest of her face. When she dried her face and looked in the mirror again, she barely recognized herself. She hadn't seen that face for too many years. Her freckles glared out from her skin. Her nose was too big. Her eyes looked huge without the layers of dark make-up. And she grinned at her reflection, the quintessential self that she had tried to hide for far too long. Underneath, she'd never changed.