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Some Great Reward
By Elise Miller

The next night, after a day of careful planning, I am wearing the most expensive clothes I own, all in the new Baroque style. Mind you, with the skimpy change my mother is pulling in, working at the Jane Addams Hull House, I should be legally banned from wearing them. Call it divorce guilt. My sparkly black brocade mini-skirt ($100), orange satin blouse ($150), and gold leather flats ($99), all required days of uninterrupted begging. I dragged her downtown a few weeks ago, after I saw an editorial in Elle Magazine. Every over-priced piece is from Parachute, an exclusive designer store from Canada.

I sprayed my hair, a calico patchwork of black, brown and orange, with super-extra-hold Aqua-net while hanging my wet head upside down. It's solidified into a sculpture of tiny snakes, the tips like sharp, forked tongues filled with venom. I spent a full half-hour applying and re-applying black liquid eyeliner and red lipstick. And for the finishing touch, I'm wearing giant rhinestone rings on most of my fingers, which are really buttons strung with wire so they'll stay on. They're only a little uncomfortable.

In the freezing cold Nova with my mother, all of us crammed in the duct-taped front seat, Karen and I try to guess the set list while my mother sucks on a Tareyton.

"I think they're going to play People are People last," I say.

"Nuh-uh, It's new. It's going to be first," says Karen.

"I don't know. Well what about…" but I can't think of another song because we're almost there. "Oh my God, Mom. Stop the car! Let us out here."

My mom pulls her silver Nova to the curb a full two blocks away from the Aragon Ballroom.

"Thanks Mom!" I say, already sliding out of the car.

"Thanks Mrs. Abrams!" Karen says, sliding out behind me.

"Have fun girls," my mom says, "And stay together! I don't want you talking to any of these crazies."

"Mom!" I say. I want to stuff her face into the steering wheel. I am so sick of hearing her endless stream of worry. It oozes out of her mouth like pus from an infected blister. She would hold our hands and walk us to the door if I let her.

"You never know," she continues. "There are a lot of bad people out there, who would just love to get their hands on a couple of pretty girls like you."

"Mom, you are so paranoid!" I say, slamming the passenger door. In her world, inspired by countless Stephen King novels and late-night monster movies, every stranger on the street, regardless of gender, race or class, is a would-be mugger, rapist or garden variety psycho. She leans over and rolls down the window.

"Don't slam the door on me, Elise. I am your mother. I need to know that you're safe."

"We're safe! Jesus!" I say, rolling my eyes.

"So you'll stay together?"

"No Mom, we're going to stand on opposite sides of the place the whole night, and talk to really sleazy looking old men. Now can we go?"

"Oy!" she says, and smiles, exposing her huge tobacco-stained teeth. "You are so fresh to your poor mother!" Then she says, to Karen, "Do you talk to your mother like that?"

"Mother," I hiss. Karen stays mercifully silent.

"Now promise me you'll stay together. And be home by midnight!"

"We will Mrs. Abrams," says Karen, and then to me she says, "Elise, come on!"

We speed-walk the two blocks to the Aragon Ballroom where a crowd of fans huddles against the front of the building and winds around the side. Every punk rocker, new waver and Goth is here tonight, but they don't have backstage passes like we do.

"Do you think they remembered?" I ask, bouncing up and down to stay warm even though it's April.

Karen says, "Elise! Shut up! I'm sure they remembered." She'd better be right because I can't bear to think that we'll be forgotten after all the time I spent getting ready, after all the mental time I've devoted to this night. The school day slogged by in a pesky blur, my mind consumed with David: first, he realizes he's fallen undeniably, madly in love with me. Then he refuses to leave the country without me. He takes me on his plane, alternately laughing uncontrollably at my brilliant jokes and weeping for joy that I'm truly his. We get married immediately, go shopping on King's Road, and move into a converted castle outside London. We start a new band called Louis the Vampire, outlaw acid-washed jeans, and take over the world.

When we're finally at the door, Karen and I give our names to a giant black bouncer with blurry tattoos on his biceps, and I think, it's not going to happen, it was all a cruel joke, a lie, a ruse, they're just playing with our minds. They lost the napkin, or threw it out, forgot they'd ever met us, burst blood vessels laughing at us the minute we walked away from them last night. But then he looks at his clipboard and I see a glimpse of our names. I could go down on my hands and knees and praise Jesus. He reaches into a bag underneath his chair and pulls out two purple satin rectangles, stickers that we're supposed to stick on ourselves. I want to stick my pass right across my chest where everyone can see it, but I think I'll ruin my shirt, so I stick it on my thigh, which is cooler anyway. Karen puts hers on the bottom of her black trench coat. We look at each other, and beaming like straight-A students who never study, head into the ballroom.

During the whole show I stare up at the stage from the mosh-pit, where nobody moshes since this is industrial new wave and not punk. I sing along and imagine that everyone is watching me, mesmerized by my lyric knowledge. They'll see how I'm not some pathetic pseudo dork who just knows People are People.

In the back of the ballroom, spidery arms and legs twist and move to the music. I don't get it, quite frankly. The dancing people in the back may as well be at home listening to the record, since they spend all their time looking at the floor, concentrating on their moves.

I think I have eye contact with David at least three times but I'm not one hundred percent sure. I do, however, feel a connection with him, as if it's me up there on stage, as if we're interchangeable, as if I'm the famous one everyone envies, which they would, if I could tell them I met the band and have a backstage pass. That, however, would be tacky. David swivels and gyrates to the point where I'm practically drooling with heavy duty lust. I lean in and shout to Karen, "I'll bet he's great in bed!" Karen nods and grins like, we are so fucking cool, which we are.

By the time they begin their last song, Karen and I are standing on the first step that leads to the balcony. This makes us ten inches taller, but we still have to crane our necks to see. One of the ballroom workers sees our passes and leans down to us. He shouts above the music, "You know you have access to the balcony, don't you?"

"Really?" we shout. Our passes should have come with instructions. I cannot believe I missed out on the chance to have V.I.P. balcony seats, from which I could look down on all the other people like they were my subjects, from which I could practically graze the top of David's beautiful white head with my fingertips. We fly up the stairs just in time to watch their final encore, Master and Servant. Karen and I were both wrong about their set-list.

When it ends, David says, "Thank you Chicago, Good Night!" and heads off stage underneath the belly of the balcony. Right before he disappears, he looks up, right at me.

"Oh my God! Did you just see that?" I say. "He totally just looked right at me!"

"You better be careful, Elise," says Karen, smiling.

"Why?" I ask.

"I just think he's been with a lot of girls," she says. Karen knows my sexual history, that I've done it with five guys, so of course I must want to do it with David Gahan, which I do.

"How do you know?" I ask.

"Elise, come on," she says. I guess I'd decided he was saving himself for me.

"Well," I say. "What about Martin?"

"That's different," she says.

"Why?" I ask.

"Because we're just friends," she says.

"You mean you don't want to…" I say.

"No," she says, and I wonder, how could this be?

"Oh," I say, feeling curiously offended. "Well, should we go now?"

"Yes!" She says, and my heart starts jack-hammering.

As we make our way downstairs I look at everyone else. They're putting their coats on and heading toward the red exit signs. I want them all to look at me and see me walking down from the V.I.P. balcony. I want them to see that I am not putting my coat on, that my coat is very much off, and that I have a giant purple sticker that says "PASS" in huge shiny letters stuck to my thigh. Karen and I are staying to hang out with the band.

When we arrive backstage there are already a lot of people there, all older than us. There's a buffet table set up along one wall, set mostly with bottles of Heinekin. Karen walks over to Martin Gore, and they stand against a wall, settling into what looks like deep conversation. I feel orphaned. I stand there while everyone else clusters in groups of two or three, talking about things I can't imagine. I am tongue-tied, and wish Karen was available to slide me into the flow of action. I want so badly to say all the right things, as if any wrong word or gesture could ruin my entire life. That's why I don't know how Karen does it, just walks over there like she's got permission. Maybe it's because she doesn't want to do it with Martin Gore, because they're just friends. But how can they have so much to talk about? I guess they could be talking about music. Karen's more into music than I am, though I wouldn't admit it to her or anyone else. Her record collection is huge and she'll tape for me whatever I want, like the Misfits or Cocteau Twins. If Karen and I were in a band together, I'd be the lead singer like David, and she'd be the keyboardist, like Martin Gore. Looking at the two of them now, I see that they're both background people. Karen is satisfied talking to ugly Martin Gore. She'd rather be with him and just talk, than do it with David. Maybe she knows he's out of her league.

David is sitting on a maroon velvet sofa in the middle of the room, talking with a woman who looks like she's forty, with blonde hair that looks like straw. I am not jealous, because she's old enough to be his mother. He couldn't possibly want her, could he?

There's a space on the other side of him on the sofa, so I sit down. The old lady and I sandwich him in, but I still don't know what to say, until he turns to me.

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