Mandy’s father waited at the gate for her. They had had improv, she had done okay but embarrassed herself toward the end when Alessa had, as usual, managed to roll neatly into the new scenario prompted by the teacher’s cue card, and she had been left behind—whatever she had been doing, door knocking for the asteroid impact relief fund or something she couldn’t remember, it went so fast. Alessa was enjoying the air with the others. Mandy’s father waved, smiled. She couldn’t stand his sweater. All his clothes he owned. They smelled of smoke, were linty, daggy, ill-fitting. Mandy made a gesture she had used many times to force him back down, away—give me space, give me space, give me space. He mouthed something, winked inadvertently and lit a cigarette in the car. Mandy pulled a pebble from the heel of her sneaker and made her way over to the cool crowd.
“Busted!” yelled a friend of Alessa’s. They all laughed, playing along with something secret. Mandy looked into the streetlight and watched what she called the astroglobes rippling outward, dissipating, reversing, rainbowing. It was a side-effect of a cataract she had had since she was three, something that gave her comfort and distraction, and helped her now to stay calm.
“Busted,” she said as she drew near, though no one heard. Alessa’s mouth reminded her of Angelina Jolie’s—full and pink and versatile—able to smile a hundred different smiles. Mandy had braces and hated them. Her mouth stank—she knew this because Serge her father’s friend refused to kiss her on the cheek like he did her brothers and sisters.
Mandy tightened her backpack for something to do and slowly made her way to the car. Mist from the car exhaust plumed and twisted in the harsh white lights. When Mandy turned she thought she saw Alessa smile at her, despite the obvious fact that they were all smiling. What Mandy saw and what she remembered was that Alessa smiled the kind of smile she did when she was being gracious with good friends—“Yes you messed up, It’s okay.” It made her smile too, which made her father smile, broad and winkingly as he rubbed his hands together exaggeratedly before the heater, as he kissed her on the cheek and patted her leg. They all were smiling still, but Alessa’s smile stayed for weeks, attached itself to things, and grew somehow inside her, around her, in spite of her.