It dangled from the hanger, its crescent moon collar peeking from the interior of the wardrobe. I shouldn’t, I thought, before I grasped it and pulled. A Hawaiian print of white hibiscuses unfurled against fabric stained the colour of burgundy wine.
Back home, I only wore dresses for Sunday mass or piano competitions, always in pastels or prim blacks—and never for pleasure.
“Can I try it?” I asked.
My roommate smiled. She had the self-assured air of a girl accustomed to owning many summer dresses. “Sure. You can borrow it if you want.”
Inside our dormitory, the blinds were pulled tight against the summer heat. I should have sealed myself into a practice room already—my parents had paid good money for their sixteen-year-old daughter to attend classical music camp in Indiana—but Bach and Mozart did not interest me at that moment.
Stripping down to my bra and panties, I laid aside my polo shirt. I had bought it at the local mall back home, and its cool cotton fabric and baby pink shade were perfect for blending in with the herds of popular kids at school.
But then I slipped into the dress.
Gazing at the mirror, my chest tightened like a snake before it stretches, languorous beneath the sun. My naked collarbones glowed against the red straps. The fabric encircled my waist, and the curve of my hips formed a perfect geometry with my breasts. I studied myself like a music score, my blood fizzing as I recognized, for the first time, the reflection of a woman who would be wanted.
My roommate’s eyes widened. “That looks so good on you. Here, let me braid your hair.”
She swept the hair from my forehead, and my braid became a crown. I shivered at the sight of my bare neck. I looked like a summer nymph. And if I, a Chinese girl from the sticks, could look like a Greek deity, what else might I become?
That evening, I visited his dorm room as the purple and grey shadows of dusk lengthened beneath the blinds. He reclined on the bed – the boy with the Greek name – and I leaned against the footboard, listening to the last note of “Stairway to Heaven” fade into the air.
He shifted on the bed, sheets rustling against his shorts. Pink orchids stretched taut across his broad shoulders. He favoured Hawaiian shirts and the flowers reminded me of the white hibiscuses on my dress.
“I had this friend,” he said.
He rose from the bed to arrange, then rearrange, objects on his dresser. I observed his hands. They were large with a dusting of black hair across the top. Throughout music practice, I had watched those hands coax chords and melodies from the unyielding bodies of piano keys.
“We used to practice going down on each other.”
I clung to slippery sheets, mind blank as white threads. Perhaps I murmured something, but I could not hear it. The blood roared in my ears. His words had given form to acts I had only imagined, like an amphora shaping wine, and it left me astonished.
His dark curls hid his eyes. “I could do that for you. If you want.”
The next evening, I returned to his room. I was not wearing the dress, but I no longer needed it. Beneath my polo shirt, my limbs were taut with resolve and I felt tall in my kitten heels. I had planned my approach carefully – a minor deity turned goddess of the hunt.
Outside, the night pressed against the raised blinds. I stood before him and watched his eyes grow large. The top two buttons of his shirt lay undone, the fronds of green palm trees parting to reveal the whorls on his chest. The room smelled like him: faint musk and warm summer air.
“So you know that thing you said before? About your friend?” My heart thrummed against my breast.
I was no oracle. I could predict that I would lie on the bed, but not that I would count my breaths and close my eyes against the light, my limbs evaporating like water on a hot summer day. Nor that he would move quietly to the sink to wash his hands and lips when it was over, never pressing me for more even though his eyes were hooded, because it was enough that I had let him seek his pleasure exclusively through mine.
Looking at him, I only understood why Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet Before Parting” had seemed bloodless during rehearsal earlier that day. I didn’t want classical music–I wanted “Stairway to Heaven” and its electric guitar solo.
“I’d like to try that. If you want.”
Lacey Yong is an emerging Chinese-Canadian writer. She is working on her first YA steampunk novel and her work has appeared in Prairie Fire, Lammergeier Magazine, and Minola Review. Twitter: @lacey_yong. Instagram: @lacey.yong.