“Butterflies and Prom Dresses” by Libby Smith

We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Welcome page for more information about us. This week we meet Jeanie, who wants nothing more than a beautiful prom for her daughter.

We present our Feature Story: “Butterflies and Prom Dresses” by Libby Smith



Jeanie folded the shirt so that the purple and pink butterfly showed, then placed the tiny shirt onto the growing “charity” pile. It’d once been her daughter Beck’s favorite before she’d decided superheroes were more her style.

With the last box from the attic empty, Jeanie could focus on sorting through and packing the kitchen. Although they’d lived in the house over twenty years, the amount of accumulation amazed her.

“Mom, I’m home.”

Jeanie’s weariness faded as her daughter walked into the living room. The long, blue sleeveless prom dress complemented her daughter’s eyes perfectly. Even her blue-tipped black hair accented her outfit.

“You look beautiful.”

“You told me a hundred times before I left.” Beck plopped down on the sofa.

Jeanie smiled, remembering Beck dancing around in the butterfly shirt singing, “I’m beautiful. Butterflies are beautiful. Butterflies can fly. I’m butterfly. That makes me beautiful. Sing, butterfly. Fly, butterfly. Dance, butterfly.”

“Why are you home so early?”

“It was so lame. Just a bunch of dancing. Gene brought me home.”

“There’s usually dancing at a junior prom.” Jeanie looked at her daughter sprawled on the sofa as if she was wearing jeans, not a formal gown. “Where are your shoes?”

Beck raised a foot, examining her worn, camouflage-colored sneaker. “On my feet.”

“The pumps.”

“Like a water pump?”

“You know what I mean,” Jeanie snapped. “I looked all over town for an affordable pair.”

“They were rubbing blisters on my feet. I switched them out with my gym shoes. I told you not to buy them!”

“You had to have something to wear with the dress, Beck.”

“I didn’t want to go in the first place!” Beck shouted. “Then you got this stupid dress.”

“The dress is beautiful! I was lucky to spot it at the thrift store.” Jeanie sat down beside her daughter, placing an arm around her. Beck pulled away.

“Look, I know you miss your dad, honey,” Jeanie said. “There was just no way he could drive down to see you dressed up, then drive back in time for work. He’ll love the pictures, though.”

Beck jumped up. “I know he wanted to be here just like I know he didn’t want to move a hundred miles for a minimum wage job! I know we’re losing this house so we’re moving in with Grandpa! I know you couldn’t afford those shoes or a secondhand dress.” She stormed down the hallway. Pausing outside her bedroom, she turned to glare at Jeanie.

“This wasn’t my prom, was it? It was yours!” Beck slammed the door.

“Beck!” How did her little girl know so much? They’d tried to keep life as normal as possible during Ted’s unemployment. Had Beck answered the phone when creditors called?

Jeanie went into the bathroom for aspirin. She noticed in the mirror the perm had fallen out of her brown hair. She’d never allowed so much gray to show either. But perhaps there was something to be said about the natural look, maybe even something good.

She knocked softly on Beck’s bedroom door. “Honey? Remember—Tamara’s parents said you could live with them if you want to graduate with your friends.”

Beck yanked the door open. “It isn’t like we’re moving to the moon. I can see my friends sometimes. It’s just you told me we were moving to Grandpa’s because he needed help.”

“He’s not a young man.”

“Grandpa still runs marathons! Just say we’re broke and we’ve got to move in with Grandpa because that’s what we’ve got to do. I’m nearly seventeen. I may not like it, but I’ll understand better than you going behind my back about everything.”

“We don’t want you to worry about things, honey.” Jeanie moved past her daughter and sat on the edge of the bed. The pictures of butterflies, unicorns, and princesses which had once decorated the opposite wall had been replaced with a bookshelf full of graphic novels, science fiction and books about space. Only a brightly painted ceramic butterfly remained to act as a bookend.

Jeanie patted the mattress next to her. “Why don’t you sit here?”

“Not knowing what’s going on is making it worse, Mom.” Beck sat down hard, making the mattress bounce. “You keep forcing prom dresses and all that junk on me when I know you can’t afford it.”

“You’ll be a senior next year…”

“What about college? Can you promise me there’ll be money for college? I can’t be an astronaut without college.”

Jeanie embraced her daughter, rocking her gently. “There are scholarships and grants. Maybe we can get a loan for part of it.”

“Can you promise?”

“No.” Jeanie felt like a failure. They’d saved carefully for years, only to have it wiped away by bills and bad investments. In a few weeks, even their home would officially belong to a bank. “Your father and I tried.”

“I know. It isn’t your fault. It isn’t really anyone’s fault, just bad luck.”

Jeanie gently brushed Beck’s bangs back from her eyes. With one thumb, she wiped away a tear from her daughter’s cheek.

“Why don’t you get out of that stupid dress and I’ll help you pack up your room?”

“I want to do it,” Beck said. “I e-mailed that comic book store near Grandpa’s and the owner said he’s interested in some of my action figures and comics. He won’t pay much, but the money will help pay for college. Maybe I can even get a part-time job there.”

“Maybe.” Jeanie gave her daughter another quick hug before standing. “If your friends were going out after the prom, I can drop you off.”

“Do you remember when Dad used to go on those overnight fishing trips and we’d stay up watching all those chick-flick movies he hates. You’d make us pancakes at midnight? That’s what I want: pancakes at midnight.”

“Only if you sing your butterfly song.”

“Mom! No way.”

Jeanie laughed. “Okay, I’ll make pancakes.”

Beck slipped out of the dress and started to toss it on the bed before handing it to her mother.

“Can you pack this away so it won’t get wrinkled and stuff? Maybe I’ll feel different about proms and pumps next year. Gene said I could be his date again if I wanted to see everyone at the senior prom.”

“But you can’t wear the same dress two years in a row…”

“Mom!”

“One packed-away-until-next-year prom dress and a stack of midnight pancakes coming up.’

Weaving her way through boxes, Jeanie paused to look down at the charity stack of clothing. She picked up the small butterfly shirt and placed it atop the prom dress. She’d pack them away together.


Libby A. Smith’s stories have appeared in Caliber Comics, Hanthercraft Publications, Shanda Fantasy Art’s Atomic Mouse, and at www.4starstories.com. She is also a two-time winner of the Little Rock Free Press’ Literary Contest. She also adapted The Rainbow Bridge story to poetry form for counted cross stitch designer Sue Hillis’ design “The Story of the Rainbow Bridge.” Besides writing, she is also a stage actor in the Little Rock area. By day, she is an administrative assistant. She lives in Arkansas with her three cats where she’s a member of the Central Arkansas Speculative Fiction Writers Group.

 


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