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Jenny's Winterball

Young adult

If I dislocated my hip, maybe I could kick myself for agreeing to this mortifying job.

Jenny stood near the double-doors opening into the hotel's grand ballroom, a plastic smile on her lips. "Welcome to the Grant High School Winterball formal. Please sign in at registration for your dinner table assignments. Photo signups are along the far left wall. Merry Christmas."

As the students passed by her, she averted her eyes from their sniggering grins and raised eyebrows. Ignore them, just smile. You are a happy greeter.

Her power cord tugged her skirt lower over her right foot. She sighed and wondered if it would be indecent to reach underneath and hitch it up.


She should never have volunteered to do "anything" at the Winterball planning committee meeting. Student Council President Marcella Faire had suggested the Christmas tree dress. "A green bell-shaped dress, with ornaments pinned on it and Christmas lights all around. Everyone will be cheered when they see her!"

Cheered? Maybe LOL at the flashing lights strangling her neck and looping off her hips. Or ROTF at the gigantic tinsel star tiara squashing her bangs to her forehead.

She'd love to cram that tiara up Marcella's nose. Or use the twinkling lights to strangle every laughing ball-goer. But until God delivered her from her agony--in about thirty minutes--she had to stand here and salvage her pride with a merry smile.

Oh, no! Josh Barnett approached the doors, flanked by Tim and Russ. All three looked dashing and GQ in their tuxedos. Tim's long blond hair dipped into his baby blue eyes while Russ filled out his jacket as if it were painted on his broad shoulders. But it was Josh's dimples that made her heart melt and her stomach plummet to her toes.

The one time she had a legitimate excuse to talk to him and she was dressed like this.

Josh tugged at his tie and gingerly touched his short hair, newly dyed a motley of red and blue and spiked with glittery gel. Jenny didn't care for the style but it certainly drew her eyes to him.

She smiled wide but felt a bit sick. Maybe he'd only notice her dazzling face and ignore the red light under her left ear. "Welcome to the Grant High School Winterball formal. Please sign in--"

At the sound of her voice, Josh turned from joking with Russ. Surprise flitted over his face, then shock as his eyes traveled down to take in her entire glorious ensemble.

She held her breath.

He burst out laughing.

Fire ants marched up her neck and across her cheeks, stinging her eyes. She blinked until the burning faded away and the edges of her vision cleared. Her breath felt hot as it blew out through her gritted teeth.

"Poor Josh. You looked like you dunked your head in the chemistry lab waste can."

Was that her voice? Did she really say that? She'd never heard herself hiss with such venom.

Josh's face darkened and his dimples flashed as he smirked at her. His eyes glinted like ice, contrasting his ruddy skin.

"Waddle carefully, Mrs. Claus. You might trip someone."

Russ joined in. "Good thing your dress is so skin tight, huh?"

"Maybe someone will agree to dance around you later." Tim bared his teeth in a sneer.

Jenny watched them swagger away. Her lungs heaved, as if she were trying to suck in hot air. She licked her dry lips but her lipstick flaked off.

More than their juvenile barbs, her heart hurt with a deeper, sharper ache. God, why are You doing this to me? I haven't done anything really bad lately. Why are You punishing me? How can I stand here and take any more?

Her eyes prickled. She felt trampled and worn, kicked and beaten. She wanted to scream, she wanted to huddle away and cry. She wanted to run after those boys and electrocute them with her Christmas lights. She wanted to quietly melt into a puddle here by the door.

And God had totally deserted her.

That's it. She couldn't take it. She reached down to unplug the lights draped around her skirt.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice . . .

Oh, this was a lovely time to remember her Ephesians Bible study. She yanked at the cord.

Be kind and compassionate to one another . . .

No way, God! Jenny gave the cord another heave and almost lost her balance. I am not in the mood.

. . . forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Her hand stilled on the power strip. She sniffed. They didn't deserve forgiveness. They didn't deserve kindness or compassion. None of those partygoers did. She wanted to go home, indulge in a good cry and feel sorry for herself.

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children . . .

God had abandoned her. She didn't feel like His child.

. . . and live a life of love . . .

How could He ask her to love such malicious, evil, worthless--

. . . just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Earlier, she had entered the restroom and it stank. A toilet had overflowed, and she nearly expired on the spot.

That's how she smelled to God right now.

I'm sorry, God. I know this whole situation isn't to punish me or anything like that. But Lord, I don't want to stay.

That quiet voice replied, I don't want you to go.

God had forgiven her. She couldn't count the times had He overlooked her cowardice, her slander and gossip, her cussing, her lying. If she didn't forgive those people right now, she'd be throwing that back in His face.

I don't feel like forgiving them.

"Forgiveness is a decision you make," her youth group leader told them once. "You choose to let it go. You don't feel all lovey-dovey, but you willingly give up your anger and let God do the rest."

"I . . ." She sucked in a deep breath. She let it out, trying to imagine all the ugly feelings going with it.

It didn't work.

God, I have a right to be angry.

You choose to let it go.

She sighed. "I . . . I choose to forgive them."

Had she really said that? She waited. She didn't feel any better. She didn't feel different. Anytime now, God.

"Oh my . . . Jenny, what in the world--?"

Jenny looked up into the wide eyes of Student Council President Marcella Faire. Her slinky shimmering dress draped around her willowy body, making her look like J Lo. Her friends Ashley, Margo and Keri stood beside her, each in sophisticated gowns off the pages of Cosmo.

Jenny felt fat, frumpy and furious.

"Did you really take me seriously?" Marcella chortled. "I was only joking about the Christmas tree dress."

Marcella had just lied to her face. The dress and accessories had been waiting for Jenny when she arrived with the set-up crew.

She imagined wrapping the lights around Marcella's neck and shaking her. She'd jam the star tiara on Ashley's four-inch high hairdo. She'd rip off the lace and tulle and shove it down Margo and Keri's gaping bodices.

Jenny swallowed. It felt like shards of glass slicing through her throat. Her hands shook as she gripped her skirt, making the glass ornaments tinkle. Her teeth grated against each other and her jaw ached from clenching it so tight. She glared at Marcella's amused, sly smile as if she could shoot laser beams from her eyes and incinerate her.

Nice dress, Marcella. It shows off your little salt-shakers . . .

One of these days, you can teach me the art of looking like a call girl . . .

This green dress would clash with your frizzy bleached curls . . .

"Welcome to the Grant High School Winterball formal. Please sign in at registration for your dinner table assignments. Photo signups are along the far left wall. Merry Christmas."

It came out a little slurred because her jaw was still tight, but Jenny delivered her lines with head high, neck long and straight, and face expressionless as cool marble.

Marcella's sparkle dulled in the face of Jenny's composure. She hadn't been set down or insulted, but somehow she looked a bit deflated. She turned and flounced away.


Her control nearly shattered as Principal Jenkins stepped up to her. Where had he come from? What had he heard?

Behind him stood his son Brett. They knew each other from calculus class. They always chatted, but she didn't think anything of it--he was friendly with everyone. The senior's light green eyes rested on her, shadowed by the dim lights and gleaming like emeralds. They flustered her, as if he could read her thoughts.

Principal Jenkins reached up and tugged the vice-like tiara from her head. His serene, proud expression made her feel like she'd won the 200-meter dash, or kicked the winning field goal.

"I'd be honored, Miss Taleri, if you'd open this Winter Ball with me."

Her jaw dropped.

He beamed at her.

Traditionally, the principal opened the ball with the Student Council President. In this case, Marcella.

"Get rid of that hideous thing and join me inside." Principal Jenkins strolled into the ballroom.

Her confused thoughts whirled into high-speed as Brett approached. He glanced at his father's retreating back, then dipped his head in a quick kiss on her open mouth.

"Save the second dance for me, Jen." He followed his father into the ballroom.

Jenny stared at the potted palm across the doors from her. Had all that really happened? She slapped her cheeks. Yup, that hurt.

A fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

God must like the way she smelled.

Copyright 2006 Camy Tang