The Names They Gave Us

The Names They Gave Us

Emery Lord


The first prom crisis is manageable. I’m reapplying my lip color in the ladies’ room when one of the swim team girls bursts in, sobbing. Our senior captain, Mallory, is right behind her.

“Brianna?” I spin, red mouth dropping open. Her cheeks are lashed with watery, gray mascara trails. “What’s wrong?”

“He’s been dancing with Chloe. For, like, half an hour!” The scent of spicy, floral perfume has flooded in with them. It takes a lot to cover up the chlorine smell that sticks to our hair and skin.

“Mark’s a jerk who doesn’t deserve you,” Mallory says.

Brianna huffs. “But I like him!”

As newly appointed captain for next year, I feel a sense of responsibility here. Part of Coach’s announcement speech was about my leadership abilities and dedication.

“Okay, first of all, deep breaths,” I tell her. Like many asthma sufferers, this is my go-to mantra. “Is he really worth ruining your makeup over?”

When she glances at her streaky face, Brianna lets out a horrified sob. Okay, I need to fix this.

I reach for my satin clutch, which took my mom and me hours of shopping to find. This purse was our holy grail: elegant, a deep red to add color to my ensemble, and actually big enough for all my essentials. “I can redo your makeup, if you’d like.”

“You’d do my makeup?” Brianna asks.

“Of course!” I open my bag like it’s a medical supply kit and I’m the first responder. It’s going to take me at least four Q-tips to clean up the mascara stains. “Do you think you’re all cried out? We can wait till you feel better.”

“She’s done,” Mallory insists. “Because if someone asks you to be his date and then ditches you, he’s not a good guy. So, no loss.”

I have to agree—especially since Mark’s a senior and Brianna’s a sophomore. She knows the junior and senior girls on the swim team, but there aren’t many people in her grade here.

“I’m done,” Brianna says, concentrating on a slow inhale. I begin the careful work of desmudging without taking off all her foundation. Her skin has warm undertones, so my tinted moisturizer won’t look right on her. “But it’s, like . . . I got this dress and these shoes, and I was so excited. This is so humiliating.”

“It is not, and you look great!” Mallory says, handing her a few squares of toilet paper. “Let’s think of Mark as a free ticket. He bought yours, right?”

“Yeah.” She sniffles into the makeshift tissue.

“And now you’re here in your beautiful dress,” I add. “Look up. No blinking. This makeup is salvageable, and so is your night.”

“But what am I supposed to do?” she asks as I reline her eyes, smudging the edges with a careful fingertip. “Dance alone? That’s so pathetic. Everyone else is with their dates!”

“You can dance with the girls,” I suggest, meaning the swim team. I apply the first coat of high-drama mascara, as wet and black as ink.

“With other girls?” Brianna asks, confused.

“Ahem.” This is from Mallory, who is here with her girlfriend. “Lucy means you should have the best time possible with everyone, even if it feels like you’re faking it. Then you can remember this as the night you rubbed it in his face.”

She smiles a little. “I do like that.”

“Final touch,” I say, dabbing a few dots of concealer on her now-pink nose. It’s a bare-bones patch job, but it works. “You know what? Hold on.”

I have to add a little more blush, and I blend her bronzer while I’m at it.

“Thank you,” she says, examining her face in the mirror.

“Anytime. Now, freshen up your lipstick, take a few breaths, and go out with your head up. Yeah?”


Mallory walks out beside me, nudging her shoulder against mine. “You’re going to be great with them next year, Captain Hansson.”

“Thanks. I wish you didn’t have to graduate for me to be captain, though.” Mallory is one of the girls who’s on both the school team and the Hammerheads club team with me, so we’ve been teammates for years. She’s a true shark in the pool, and she keeps me on my game.

“Well, you’ll visit me at the U next year, yeah? Let me sell you on trying out for the team?”

“Sure,” I say, although it’s strange to think of visiting Mal. Would I stay with her? She’s a friend, sure, and we have a lot of fun during our shared activities, but we don’t really talk about personal stuff. “Have a great night! See you Monday.”

It’s not just one thing that makes me feel a little separate from the swim team girls; it’s everything. I didn’t start at White Hills High till freshman year. And I stay up at the lake all summer, helping my parents run our church camp, which means I miss all the bonding moments of summer club team. Then there’s the fact that I have family movie night every Friday, and I won’t ditch it, even for social events.

Kids my age usually have a carpe diem attitude about high school—hyperaware that these days don’t last forever. And I know that too. But when your mom gets cancer on your third day as a freshman in a new school, you realize time with your parents is precious too.

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