Betsy was in Alice's room trying on one of her latest thrift store finds - a caftan with a vibrant jungle print, complete with toucan and swaying palm trees. It was fitting because they always said they weren't destined to be friends just because their names made them sound like two old ladies in big hats on their way to a church picnic -- but it didn't hurt.
She posed in the mirror, blowing her teal-streaked brown hair out of her face. "This is like what we'll wear when we're seventy and playing slots in the casino."
"No, at that age," Alice replied, "I'm going to revert to the fashion of our youth and wear pink sweatpants with 'DTF' printed in glitter on the butt."
Betsy caught Alice's eyes in the mirror and they both started to laugh. Alice was wearing head-to-toe black since it was a school day; it made her look dour and serious from the neck down. Only her grin and the mismatched silver and gold earrings that lined her ears captured the real her.
Betsy started to reply when Alice's computer chimed.
"Ortiz! Hey, Emmett." Alice sat down at her desk and angled the screen so her brother and Betsy could see each other.
"Swanee River! How've you been, it's been ages!"
"Hi, Emmett, I'm good. We miss you!" Betsy tripped her way into Alice's walk-in closet (her family wasn't as rich as her father pretended they were, but she did have a great closet) and closed the door to change into her regular clothes
Meanwhile Emmett was beaming in his messy college dorm room. She could see Rosalie's underwear-clad butt wiggling in the background, so Alice had a good idea of exactly what had caused Emmett's glow. "Hi, Rosalie's ass!" Alice called.
Rosalie only wiggled harder. Emmett watched her over his shoulder, then turned back to the camera and said, "Hi, Alice!" in a high-pitched demonic sounding voice.
"Excuse me? I know that's not supposed to be my ass's voice," Rosalie interrupted.
"Hello, Emmett, I love you," he continued.
Alice was used to their banter, but she also knew she had to interrupt it or they would never stop. "How're your practices going, Rose?"
Rosalie answered by straightening and then bending into a perfect backbend. (Alice was relieved to see she was wearing one of Emmett's t-shirts.) She was a gifted gymnast - not Olympic level, she was too curvy and too tall - but she was competing in the upcoming NCAA gymnastics championship and she was favored to do well, especially in the vault.
"Only a few weeks left," Emmett cheered, still in his ass voice.
"Once this is over," Rosalie said grimly as she kicked into a handstand and walked away from the camera, "I'm going to find the biggest potato in the world and then I'm going to bake it and then I'm going to cover it in Ranch dressing and then I am going to EAT it."
"Good luck!" Alice called to her as she walked away (still on her hands) to finish getting dressed.
"Thanks, Alice," Rosalie called back. "Emmett, if you do that voice again, my panties aren't coming back off tonight."
"Stop distracting me, I'm talking to my baby sis," Emmett shot back, his regular (non-ass) voice so affectionate it was clear this back-and-forth was the highlight of his day.
"Yeah, why are we talking on a Monday anyway, Em? What's up?" Alice flopped down on her bed, placing the laptop on her stomach.
Betsy scrambled onto the bed next to her, punching a pillow into place behind her back. She was back in her collared shirt and denim skirt, her square black glasses completing her good-girl intellectual look.
"Mom's 50th birthday is coming up next month," Emmett began.
Alice gave him a look of utter amazement and Betsy giggled. "Wow, you remembered! I think this is the first year I haven't had to tell you that."
Emmett had a ton of wonderful qualities and Alice wouldn't have traded him for any other big brother in the world, but keeping track of minor details like term paper due dates, car inspections, and birthdays was never something he could handle. Alice had always taken point on planning big events and Emmett was more than happy to go along with her plans.
But at some point during their first year of college, Rosalie had convinced him to go back on medication. Maybe the new pill was finally working, Alice thought in surprise. Weird.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm finally planning ahead, Gigantor. Don't look so amazed. Anyway, I was thinking we could all go in together and get her a day at the spa," Emmett continued. "Or a gun rack."
"A gun rack?" Betsy looked appalled.
"He's quoting again," Rosalie and Alice said in unison. Some days Emmett couldn't remember his homework or his backpack or his house keys, but he could always remember movie quotes.
"Oh. Okay. I was thinking about buying her this old movie, Make Way for Tomorrow. We were talking about the other day. It's not on any streaming sites, so I was going to try and find it on DVD," Betsy offered up. She considered Mrs. McCarty her second mom since she and Alice had been best friends for so long.
Rosalie appeared over Emmett's shoulder. She was now wearing pantyhose but topless. Alice and Betsy exchanged a sidelong glance. Alice loved Rosalie, she did, or at least she loved how happy Rosalie made her brother, but she was a lot. Even over Zoom from several states away... a lot.
But from the first moment Emmett saw Rosalie striding down the hall of their high school, her long blond braid swinging at her back, his eyes had changed into little red hearts and they still hadn't changed back. Rosalie and Emmett were sophomores then while Alice and Betsy were freshman, but Rosalie was also a new student, having moved to the area to work and live with her new gymnastics coach. She only did school half-days so she could spend the rest of the time training.
After the two of them had started dating and entwined almost every waking moment of their lives together, Alice and Betsy debated and wondered about Rosalie. What was it like to be ravishingly gorgeous, graceful and confident? Was it ever a burden? Was Rosalie's casualness about her body the result of being so physically perfect, or did it come from performing crazy-hard routines in front of thousands of people and having every slight movement of her hand or her ankle dissected and criticized or praised?
In any case, Rosalie and Emmett had no modesty separately and certainly none together. She flashed the top of her bare breasts at the camera as she leaned forward to say, "We have to book the spa day soon to make sure they can fit her in on her actual birthday. They do cold-sculpting--"
"My mother doesn't need cold-sculpting, Rosalie," Alice prickled. Okay, she hadn't started planning her mom's birthday yet, but she wasn't going to lose control of the event to her brother and his girlfriend. "Why am I just now hearing about this? I haven't gotten any visions about a spa day!"
Emmett looked up at Rose and Alice thought it looked like he rolled his eyes. "We just decided yesterday, that's why. And we think it's a good idea. Mom deserves a day to herself to relax, Alice."
"Ooh, we could get her one of those hot stone massages," Betsy spoke up.
"And a facial. Facial is a must," Rosalie insisted.
Alice crossed her arms. "Don't think she might get offended by this? Like, we're saying she's not pretty enough or something? Look, why don't we do what we always do and wait for me to get a vision so I can see if she even wants a spa day and then--"
"The point of presents is to surprise people, Alice! You always cheat and make sure everyone's getting something they're going to like--"
"Excuse me for wanting to make sure people get good gifts instead of that year you were going to buy dad that weird golf hat that he would never use--"
"Well, that is kind of the point of gifts," Betsy interrupted and Alice narrowed her eyes. "Sorry, but you supervise our presents every year and--"
"Alice, the three of us will do the spa and you can get her something else," Rosalie said with a tone of finality in her voice.
"All right, fine, we can do the spa thing," Alice conceded. "But I'm still going to look for something to make sure she'll like it--" Emmett definitely rolled his eyes this time and Rosalie straightened up (Alice could only see perky nipples) so who knew what kind of face she was making -- "and I am going to plan the party!"
"Of course," Emmett agreed. "You always plan the best ones. Do you know what Dad's getting her?"
Rosalie disappeared again, probably to gloat that she'd gotten her way, Alice thought uncharitably.
"More jewelry from the store, I'm sure. I hope he doesn't get her diamonds again. You think after 25 years of marriage he would realize she hates them."
"You know what this reminds me of?" Betsy realized suddenly. "Little Women! The part at the beginning where they're all talking about Christmas. We're totally Little Women!" She rose up on her knees, gesturing excitedly the way she did when she was ranting about one of her favorite books.
Alice carefully scooched the laptop further away. The number of cell phones and other electronics Betsy had damaged during a literary rant was legendary.
"Rosalie is obviously Meg because she's the beautiful one, Emmett's Jo--"
"If I'm Jo and Rosalie's Meg that's a very different kind of women's movie."
"Alice is Amy, obviously, because they're both brilliant artists--" Betsy persisted.
Alice was pleased but confused. "Wait, that means you're--"
"Beth," Betsy finished with a flourish, pushing her glasses up her nose. "Clearly."
"Why are you Beth?" Emmett asked. "And if we're going to be a group of four women, can't we be the Golden Girls? I want to be Sophia."
"Because Beth ends up alone," Betsy said.
Alice frowned at her. Betsy had this crazy idea she was hard to love because she transitioned in seventh grade. There were clearly kids at their school who were madly in love with her but too afraid to ask her out because their school had a higher-than-normal percentage of transphobic idiots.
"Bets, you are going to have so many great love affairs, it's ridiculous. You're going to be one of those old ladies who writes an epic autobiography about all the hot guys and girls she laid during insane revolutions, while world empires collapsed in flames."
Betsy flopped back down and covered her blushing face with her hands. "You guys know I've never even been kissed. At least you had that thing with Marcus last summer."
"I thought you told me nothing happened," Emmett frowned.
Alice flicked Betsy's leg out of camera range. "Barely anything, Emmett, and we're not talking about me!"
"Well, I hope you used protection. His whole family is crazy--"
"This is not about forking Marcus and he can't help who his family is," Alice waved her arms in horror as Betsy started cackling, being the only one who knew the whole story.
Rosalie walked back on camera, dressed in a gorgeous pink dress that suited her creamy complexion and violet-blue eyes. She perched on Emmett's lap, looking every bit like an old Hollywood movie star. "You know what I was thinking," she said, tilting her head so Emmett could nuzzle her neck without smudging her face. "Isn't your prom coming up? You two should go."
It was a simple statement, offered in a "this couldn't be more obvious" tone of voice, but both Alice and Betsy straightened up and stared at the screen in disbelief.
"To prom?" Betsy gasped, her brown eyes so wide they were almost as big as the lenses of her glasses.
Alice simply shook her head vehemently, her short, choppy black hair hitting her cheeks. She stopped when she saw Betsy's horror. "Betsy should go!" she amended, grabbing her best friend's hand. "That's a great idea! But not me."
"Why don't the two of you go together?" Emmett suggested.
"Everyone already thinks we're dating, thanks," Alice said drily. "Besides, our Betsy is in love with another. And I think--no, I know said person likes you too."
"Does not!" Betsy started to insist, already beginning to blush again.
"I've been trying and trying to get Bets to ask her out, but--"
"Swanee! Tell us!" Emmett was such a romantic, he couldn't help but bubble over at the thought of Betsy finally having a crush who returned her feelings.
Rosalie studied her carefully, peering into the screen. "Please tell me it's not Moray."
Betsy glared so hard at the camera that even Rosalie was cowed. "I would sooner fall in love with dog shit." She hesitated another moment and then finally seemed to break - love was like that, Alice thought. Too wonderful not to confess. "Esme Trintignant. She only started this year--"
"She's an exchange student from France," Alice took over. "And they're perfect together. She's so, so sweet and funny, and she's beautiful, of course--"
"So beautiful," Betsy whispered, her eyes as awe-struck as they were when she talked about the brilliance of J.R.R. Tolkein or the Brontes. "And kind. She's the kindest person, she's even nice to birds and stray dogs. She worked with me on the recycling initiatives at school, it's how we met."
"Kindness is highly underrated in a partner," Rosalie added, leaning her head against Emmett. He grinned. "So ask her out! Ask her to prom!"
"Exactly my thinking!" Alice pounced. "In fact," she reached for an enamel box on her cluttered bedside table and opened it with a flourish. "I went ahead and bought prom tickets for you guys as an early graduation gift!" She passed them to Betsy, who accepted them with a dumbfounded look. "I was thinking we could do some kind of literary scavenger hunt for your promposal--"
"That's really nice, Alice, but--"
"Betsy, stop worrying! I know she's going to say yes! Like, know it know it."
"Alice, she already has a date." Betsy crumpled into her knees and covered her face. "A guy asked her this morning."
"What?" Alice frowned. She had seen Betsy and Esme at prom; that was how she knew Esme felt the same way about her friend. No one could kiss someone like that unless they did it with their whole heart. "Who?"
Emmett and Rosalie both jumped and Betsy fell backwards off the bed.
"Sorry," Alice said in a more subdued voice. "It's just-- Jasper Whitlock asked Esme to the prom?"
"Well, he and Katie broke up," Emmett spoke up. "I was texting with him last month and he mentioned that."
No, this wasn't right at all, Alice thought. Her vision of her own senior prom had been ridiculous (probably the result of the universe eating bad shrimp and giving her the equivalent of clairvoyant diarrhea), but Esme and Jasper?
They just didn't go.
She closed her eyes and began to page through the big imaginary photo album where she pasted clips of her visions. On the last pages, the most recent ones, the same image appeared over and over - her and Jasper, laughing in their fancy prom clothes. Jasper spinning her, dipping her. Jasper holding her phone with his long arms so they could get the best angle for their selfies. Jasper gazing down at her with those dark eyes of his, the ones that looked so out of place with his pale skin and blonde hair, and his expression was something that looked hot and tender and almost like it was maybe, possibly (but probably not)--
"Alice!" Emmett said, alarmed. "What's wrong? What is it?"
Betsy, Emmett, and even Rosalie knew that when Alice got a certain look on her face, the only thing on her mind was the future. They believed her - well, she was pretty sure Rosalie believed her, anyway - and that was the most precious thing to Alice.
Alice opened her eyes and turned to Betsy. "Okay, I've seen you and Esme at prom so I know it happens. You wear that blue dress we found at Goodwill, the one I made you buy even though you kept saying you had nowhere to wear it. You know how cute you look in blue--"
"Alice, the point, please, I'm having dinner with my parents tonight!" Rosalie interrupted.
"Okay, Rosalie," Alice snapped, barely resisting sticking out her tongue. "You rush a miracle woman, you get shitty miracles. And, the other part of the prom vision, which probably won't happen because you know I see weird things sometimes, and this is the weirdest yet--"
"Weirder than the time you saved Mr. Black when his house burned down?"
"That wasn't weird, Emmett," Betsy objected, driven to defend her friend's honor. "It was heroic!"
"Weirder than that time Michael Jackson's sister came over to our house to use the bathroom?"
"A movie again," Rosalie finished. "Let her finish, babe."
"Betsy, we have to make you watch movies that aren't based on novels," Emmett added, not for the first time. "Now, what did you see, Alice?"
"I had a vision," Alice put on her serious foretelling voice, the one that practically demanded she dig out her turquoise silk turban. Where did she put that thing anyway? "Of Jasper Whitlock and I going to prom together." She stared at them all, waiting for a big reaction, but they just watched her. Finally after a few seconds, she clapped her hands to her cheeks and stretched her mouth into a Macaulay Culkin-esque scream.
"What's so weird about that?" Emmett said finally. "Jasper's a good guy. He can take you and Betsy and this French chick can go together."
"Emmett, did you put ketamine on your cereal this morning? Why would Jasper Whitlock agree to go to prom with Mary Alice McCarty?"
"Why wouldn't he?" Betsy asked, loyal to the end. "You're smart and fun and creative--"
"Is everyone-- Jesus! Okay, Jasper's, like, the most perfect guy in school," Alice rubbed her temples, trying to figure out exactly what her friends didn't get about the weirdness of the situation. She might as well be expecting Harry Styles to take her, it was that hopeless. Not that she cared, she and Jasper had barely ever spoken to each other. They would never have exchanged a single word if he and Emmett hadn't been friends. "He's a star athlete, he's student body president, his grades are perfect, he's gorgeous, he dated Katie Finnegan, one of like ten people in the world who might rival Rosalie for looks--"
"Ha!" was Emmett's response to that.
"It sounds like you really hate him," Rosalie added sarcastically.
"It's not a matter of hate, we're from totally different universes. It's like me going out with Harry Styles-- or a fish. Jasper is like a fish and I'm a bird, okay, and now you've got me quoting like Emmett!"
Emmett ducked off screen and reappeared holding a bag of chips. "I need brain food 'cause I don't know what the fork you're talking about, sis."
"Me neither," Betsy added.
"You don't find the idea of me and Jasper Whitlock at prom weird? 'Cause I'm pretty sure everyone else in school will." She wrapped a strand of her shoulder-length dark hair around her finger, twisted and let it unravel. Repeat, repeat. "Besides, he would never in a billion years agree to go with me."
"Will you stop saying his name like that? And you're the one that had the visions," Emmett reminded her, feeding Rosalie one chip at a time so she didn't smudge her lipstick.
"Yes, Alice, don't you always say that we should trust in your visions because they allow you to pick the most optimal version of the future?" Rosalie raised a delicately arched eyebrow.
I knew that would get thrown back in my face one day.
"But I don't want to go with him!" Alice persisted. "He's too-- shiny. He's probably empty behind the eyes, and soulless. Like all the douchebags at that school."
"What are you talking about? He's always been very nice to you," Emmett said again, that rare but potent annoyed set to his lips. "He always said hi to you when he came over. He told me to tell you hey the last time I talked to him."
"We go to the same school - why is he telling you to tell me hi? And why are you still texting him anyway?"
"He said you never make eye contact with him at school," Emmett said with a raised eyebrow. "And I text him because we're friends. I don't think he has a lot of people he can talk to."
"He has SO many friends, Emmett. Are you even my brother?" she exclaimed wildly. "Are you calling from another dimension right now?"
He rolled his eyes and went back to gobbling chips.
"If you want my advice," Rosalie began, "I think you two should do go for it. Betsy, walk up to Esme and ask her out. Tell her you've liked her forever but you were too shy to admit it. Alice, go to prom with Jasper or don't - but you should go!"
"Yeah," Emmett added. "Finish one of the dozens of dresses you've got in that closet and show it off."
Alice let go of her hair and covered her face with both her hands. How could they be getting this so WRONG? "The point of prom is to celebrate the end of high school All I want is to get out and be free - why would I voluntarily spend more time with people I hate when I'm so close to never seeing them again?"
"Ditto," Betsy added, tracing a finger on Alice's vintage quilt bedspread and looking dejected "Alice and I will stay here and finish our latest K-drama. It's not a big deal, even."
"What about Esme, Swanee? Don't you want the chance to go to prom with her?" Emmett asked gently.
Alice hadn't seen her friend look so depressed since seventh grade, when their whole grade got a lecture on what transgender meant and how unacceptable bullying was in the auditorium, and they turned and whispered and watched her the whole time.
She bit her lip, hard, and started blinking rapidly. "If she said yes to Jasper, she's not going to agree to go with me! If Jasper broke up with her, maybe, but why would he do that when she's so, so wonderful--"
"Alice?" Rosalie asked pointedly.
Alice stared at the ceiling for a long moment, trying to see what would happen if Betsy didn't go. Was this going to haunt her friend for the rest of their lives? Of course, her mind was silent on the topic, offering the same visions of the two of them at prom, seeming so happy with Esme and Jasper. She glanced back at the screen just in time to see Rosalie give her brother a pointed look.
"You know, Alice," Emmett said slowly, "all the things we've gone along with because of your visions - isn't this one time you should go along with them, even if you don't want to?"
Alice glanced from him to Betsy -- they were the two people who knew her best in the world, aside from her mom, and they were both looking at her like... like she should be the one to fix this somehow?
"You guys, what do you want me to do? Go to Jasper and ask him to dump Esme and take me instead? He would laugh in my face! And for the last time, I don't want to go to prom! Why would I waste one of my beautiful dresses on Moray and Katie and those other awful girls?"
"Because you spent, like, three and a half years letting them change you--"
"The fuck, Emmett? No, I didn't!"
"And this is your chance to show them that they didn't," he continued, talking over her in his booming dad-voice.
Rosalie was nodding in that superior way of hers. So help her, if she found out they were sitting around discussing her, she would never warn them about a traffic ticket again.
"Now go to that prom and spin like a little pinwheel! Live your dream! GET IT!!!!" Emmett's pep talk finished by him spraying the camera lens with half-chewed potato chip remnants and Alice resisted the urge to wipe her own screen clean.
What the hell was going on? Alice asked herself again. They're away at college for one year and now they want to change everything?
Rosalie had moved closer to wipe the lens clean with the bottom of her shirt. Once she reappeared, she began, in a measured tone, "You know, Alice, most people go through something in high school. I got teased for not being 'soft' enough and having a six-pack--"
"Being the hottest woman who ever turned a handspring," Emmett corrected, resting his head against her arm. Rosalie indulged herself for a moment and bent to kiss his black curls.
"But I never cared. Emmett and I went to prom and we danced and we had a great time. If people thought I shouldn't wear a sleeveless dress, or Emmett shouldn't have worn a purple tux--"
"That tux was so Prince, it was insane!" Alice corrected. She was pissed at him right now, but she would always stick up for her brother on that topic.
"So I think you should consider your vision again," Rosalie finished.
Emmett quickly added, "You know they always come for a reason, Alice. And you always say things work out better when you listen. And anyway, before you changed -- sorry, before you decided to 'stop wasting your genius on idiots'-- Jasper said he liked the way you dressed."
"No, he did not," Alice replied witheringly. He must really think she's an idiot if he's trying to sell her that line of bull.
"He did! He liked that whatever it was - cuckoo hat." Alice gave him a confused look. "With the feather, you know!"
"Oh." Alice sighed, looking at her closet again, where her cloche hat and her turban and all her other crazy clothes were packed up in boxes. A closet full of the black clothes she had worn to school every day since freshman year. "I loved that hat." She sighed and looked at the fragile hope in Betsy's eyes. "All right, maybe I'll think about it."