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I'm a Believer
By Hilary Shepard

Slowly, regally, we trooped into the bathroom for the finishing touches. No Bonnie Bell kid make-up for us girls, we were after the real stuff -- Mary Quant wet-look-lip-slickers, Maybelline midnight-blue mascara, and gobs of extra-hold Aqua Net hair spray. Our technique was not to enhance the natural beauty that might be lurking somewhere just below the surface, but to paint it on thick and pasty, like a magician's assistant, just in case it wasn't. Amy looked in the mirror and shook her head vigorously, hoping the spotty, sad-eyed face gazing back at her was really not her reflection and therefore wouldn't shake back. It did. She sighed and applied some more peach blush. Marcy squinted her tiny eyes at the blur in the mirror and hoped for the best. With her glasses off, she couldn't really tell if she was beautiful or not, so she pragmatically decided she was. Cara, on the other hand, was thinking Cat Woman, and had given herself a new black beauty mark, thick black cat-rimmed eyes, and a full red mouth. She smiled at herself suggestively, turning proudly to me, then drew in her breath, slightly startled as she eyed my reflection with a newfound suspicion.

"Hey!" she blurted out, "You're kind of pretty. I never noticed it before."

Three heads turned to me accusingly. Confused, I checked out my reflection, bending in closer to see myself as I, too, had taken off my thick tortoise-shell specs, and could hardly see. Having had a beautiful blonde sister who was three years older than I, who'd shown me the real way to apply makeup, had inadvertently stirred up something that had been heretofore invisible to the naked eye. Sure, I was a walking cliché, which many a boy had cruelly reminded me of, lest it slip my ever-occupied mind. I was tall, painfully thin, had glasses, braces, freckles and long, dangling arms that brought to mind one word -- orangutan. But luckily for me a strange new realization was beginning to take hold in my slightly expanding consciousness; I just might be another cliché -- the ugly duckling turned, well, if not swan, then at least regular duckling. I felt a slight flutter in my heart as a tinge of excitement shot through my skinny limbs -- maybe I was going to be 'okay' looking after all! It was this very thought, this hope, that caused my entire universe as I knew it to warp. I could sense at that exact moment a whole new dimension of possibilities open up to me like the promise of a big unopened present, beautifully wrapped.

"Here come the brides!" I sang out with my newfound zest for life.

I was only slightly aware of the effect this had on Marcy, for it was another thinly-veiled Bobby Sherman reference, as he was on a hit TV show with the exact same name. Marcy chose to ignore the affront and ran after us girls, who had all forgotten the queenly manor in which brides were supposed to conduct themselves, and were now heading helter-skelter, limbs and hair a-flyin' into Marcy's postage stamp sized yard.

We gathered haphazardly under the gold cherub fountain, which towered proudly over the manicured lawn that seemed to cower under this suburban rococo monstrosity, submissive and afraid. To us, who were still childishly attracted to all that glitters, it was the most beautiful fountain we had ever seen. It was precisely why Marcy was chosen time and time again to host the backyard nuptials, as it afforded the perfect setting for a wedding between four imaginary pop stars and their underage brides.

"Let's practice kissing first," Cara suggested.

Being Italian, she had a slight edge up on these things, as she was already starting to sprout one tiny bump that would soon grow into a full-fledged breast. Unfortunately, the other one would be slow to follow, which would cause many hours of worry on her part, and many yards of Kleenex, stuffed in her one cup to even them out, until the other one caught up. Cara was born on the verge of puberty. Even as a baby she was dark and musty. Her upper lip was tinged with a slight mustache and her eyebrow was just that -- one, not two. She'd begun to carry herself a little differently than the others, since her recent discovery of her dad's stash of Playboy magazines under the rec room couch. Within the next year, way before the other late-bloomers, she would start her rigorous run around the bases, offering her one breast up to anyone who'd show the slightest interest. Cara had a lotta livin' to do, and right now, kissing practice was her number one priority.

She perused boys with a critical eye, and began to figure out exactly what it was that they would expect from her, and had recently concluded that she was definitely ready to comply with the first step -- kissing.

"Yuck," pronounced Amy.

She suspected rightly that no one would want to kiss her for a long while, and chose the defensive tact. Marcy looked intrigued, while I decided to take the initiative, grabbing a nearby lounge chair pillow, writhing wildly around with it on the grass. The others quickly followed suit, with Cara getting a little too carried away. That synthetic foam-filled pillow was really ravaging her, and just when she was in danger of becoming the first girl to become pregnant by a cushion, a sober Amy snapped us love-drunk girls into attention by threatening to turn on the lawn sprinklers.

"You guys! Save something for the honeymoon!" she whined, more out of boredom than a sense of morality. "Marcy, you may start the ceremony."

Marcy, who had elected herself rabbi and had already directed the conversion of the Monkees to Judaism at a prior play date where they were fed bagels and taught to say "Oy!", was determined to make this a proper Jewish wedding. So she insisted on placing four Frisbees on the imaginary groom's heads for yarmulkes. Pausing for effect, she lifted the arm of her official Monkees record player, and the haunting strains of "I'm a Believer" filled the air.

We lined up, breathless with anticipation. As I covered my face with the makeshift veil, I began to feel a strange tingle through a part of my body I'd never really felt before. Somewhere dark and deep and secret; the first tickle of sex beginning to stir. As I bride-walked slowly down to the fountain, step-together-step, I could hear Marcy's voice echoing in the distance, as if in a languid dream.

"Do you, Hilary Shapiro, take Davy Jones to be your awful wedded husband, 'til death do you part?"

"I do," I answered, and it resonated from that same secret place inside me, so special and sacred.

"I now pronounce you men with wives."

"Mrs. Davy Jones, I am Mrs. Davy Jones. Hilary Shapiro Jones." The words filled my head like a magic spell.

"You may now kiss the bride." And I saw my husband lifting my veil, slowly, seductively as I offered my eager face upwards, his sapphire eyes twinkling like jewels, and he was kissing me, my one true love his hot sweet breath all over my face, and all my love-lust burned through my tiny chest, searing me with such intensity, it marked me for life. It would be a long time before a man would make me that blissfully, unconditionally and unequivocally happy.

Any hapless observer who might have glanced into the Steins' tiny piece of backyard heaven would have witnessed a strange sight indeed. For there we were, four girls with our heads tilted up towards the sun, our tiny lips moving sensuously as we kissed the air and basked in the warm glow of imaginary love, our hearts so full of the hope that one can only feel when you're that young and that untouched and that open.

In later years, there would be crushing betrayals, ugly divorces and broken hearts. But then, it was 1968, we were nine years old, miracles occurred on a daily basis, love was a beautiful thing, and anything could happen if you were a believer.

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