Bleaching Lies | The New Engagement

Bleaching Lies

By Sam Desmond

Princess Diana’s tragic end unexpectedly created two life-long benchmarks of perfection for Hana—the British and blondes.  That evening Hana was being babysat by her parents’ friends, Artie and Tina, both in their thirties with a new house and baby dutifully minding their neighbor’s preteen daughter as her parents attended a wedding.  It was late, Saturday Night Live was on and when the NBC special report came on telling the horrific news of the Parisian tunnel demise, Hana did not know what to think of her favorite show’s unamusing skit about the death of one of her mother’s idols.  When she changed the channel and found the news of the car crash everywhere else, she felt ashamed that she had managed a sarcastic guffaw before when she thought it was a joke.

The news story then started to focus on Diana’s young children. As the eldest sister to a three-year-old and a newborn, Hana had waited to see rosy-cheeked cherubs be brought forward with little understanding of what had happened. Instead the news station began to show stock footage of a tall, exceedingly handsome blond boy in a button-down blue shirt and khakis. Hana had already started to become understandably “boy-crazy” at eleven (much to the embarrassed horror of her militantly Catholic, immigrant mother), but this new object of affection would re-colonize her mind for the rest of her life. The sun glistened off his crown of golden hair. The sky competed with his deep blue eyes. The gold standard, Hana would come to name this exhibition of recessive genetic traits.

A couple of days after Hana saw her prince, she found an old People magazine whose cover Prince William had graced.  He wore a white button-down shirt and black pants as he rowed and gave a smoldering look.  Inside the magazine there were photographs of him playing rugby and sporting the Etonian tales.  On top of her Aryan-preference, Hana was soon becoming an anglophile.  Baz Luhrman’s "Romeo and Juliet" came out the same year and she fell in love with the Bard through the brooding blond who played the star-crossed lover.  She would watch the movie over and over again whilst reading along with a copy of Folger’s "Romeo and Juliet."  Amidst the explosion of pre-pubescent fascination, she started to develop a real affinity for Elizabethan drama.
The cruel joke of fate was that she was destined to grow up in New York in two of the strongest bastions of guido culture that diametrically opposed her fair-haired, knight-in-shining-armor fetish/fantasy.  Where would Hana find someone tall, blond, dashing, and chivalrous amongst the Joeys, Tommys, Tonys, and Mikeys that pervaded her hometowns in Queens and Long Island.  She longed to live with WASPs and could not be further from them. 
Hana spent the majority of high school aloof and rebellious through fashion choices.  She wore pea coats from army/navy stores before they were popular.  She decorated her entire room with visions of England, including a life-sized poster of a London telephone booth.  She had resigned herself to believing she would spend high school alone, especially as she cut classes to take trips to Museum Mile and learned that on the Upper East Side, blonds were not as far as she had imagined. When she graduated her senior year, she was ready to pounce and lamented that her parents would not permit her to go to St. Andrews where William was matriculated.
Her first semester in college in Manhattan, Hana found him.  While standing at the top of the stairs on Track 18 in Penn Station waiting for the Long Island Railroad’s 3:14 to Ronkonkoma, she spotted a tow-headed boy with the close-set, piercing grey eyes of a hunter.  She walked down the stairs slowly waiting for him to make some sort of misstep, but he didn’t.  Instead he made a genuine smile at one of his friends and Hana wished the gracious, warming smile was for her.  As many of her crushes went, she doubted this one would ever be requited because despite her undying allegiance to the gold standard, she was a pathetic inverse bearing dark hair and dark skin. 
A couple of days passed and Hana saw him stand at the same spot on the platform with the same group of men.  By this time she had been fantasizing about being enveloped in his lovely set of arms--protective and strong, but not vulgar in form like the meatheads that characterized her pitiful home town.  It was a Thursday and Hana galvanized herself to take a chance.  When she got up to disembark at her stop, she turned around and held her books close to her chest and stared at her yellow-haired, would-be Lothario.  She caught his gaze and he did not move away, she smiled sheepishly.  For the next few minutes she would catch his eyes for moment and then quickly dart away.   Leaping off the train, Hana was proud of herself that she had taken a stance and made an effort, knowing it would likely progress no further. 
But this was not to be the case.  The next day, as Hana shuffled to find a seat, she passed by his row.  It was a three-seater and he sat alone.  She was well past him, but was taken over by some energy to go back.  After rudely pushing past the people behind her, but politely apologizing, she took a seat in the row he was in leaving the middle seat open as a buffer.  Her entire body had turned red, not that it would be obvious with how dark she was.  She was sweating profusely and looking straight ahead, not willing to risk a sideways glance of rejection.  A few seconds passed by and a beer can came into her field of vision.  It was the largest beer can she had ever seen.  Then she heard a voice, more surfer than the nasaled Long Island accent.
“Hey, can I offer you a drink?” Even that close his hair still shone brightly and now she could really see how pensive his blue-grey eyes were.
“Sure, I’d love one.” She didn’t want one and she had to drive home from the train station and didn’t even really know what beer tasted like.
“So are you in college?”
“What are you studying?”
“In ... International Marketing.”  Hana looked down again. She wondered what was happening to her as she never managed to stop talking normally. 
“My name is Scott.” He extended his hand and Hana shook it timidly.
“My name is Claire.” Hana’s mind stopped and began questioning itself as to why she just lied.  Claire had been the name of her favorite actress at the time and she loved how WASPy of a name it was.
“So where do you live, Claire?”
“In the city, on Park and 68th.”  What the hell am I doing?  This is awful.  Hana thought as she realized she was ruining her one and only chance with someone who had fit her needs and more importantly lived up to her wants.
“You’re a ways from home.  What brings you out here?”
“I’m visiting my roommate, she lives in Deer Park and I’ve been helping her with her sick grandmother.”  The lies were just spouting off terribly, but she was a woman possessed.  How could she tell him the truth of where she was actually from and ruin the image she wanted him to have of her?
“So did you grow up in the city your whole life?”
“Yes, born and raised.”
“Long Island must be terribly boring for you. I mean with everything you have in the city.” Yes, it was boring, wretched, deprived of culture.  Hana thought.
“It’s not too bad.  I think the town where my roommate is from is rather gauche…”
“No disagreement here.  I mean Deer Park is in the middle of the island, you go that far from the water on an island, you’re asking for some pretty stupid people.”
“Is that what it is?  The lack of water?  Funny, there’s a water company called Deer Park water.”
Scott laughed, a genuine laugh and then he smiled at her and she melted.  Here was someone who fit her description of perfection and he was seeing her as she wanted to be seen.
“Now my town, Bayport, is right on the water.  It’s the most beautiful place on Earth.  I would never leave.”
Hana was somewhat disappointed at his allegiance to Long Island and lack of desired mobility, but his earnest love of his hometown intrigued her.
“I’ve never been to Bayport.”
“Of course not, a city girl like you?  But you pass by it on your way to the Hamptons.  Bayport was the original Hamptons.”
“Yeah, totally.  You should come by.  Maybe I can show you around sometime…” Scott’s voice wavered at the end of the sentence.  Hana’s insecurities went into overdrive, she wondered if he meant his offer or if he was just being courteous and making polite conversations.  She read in "The Preppy Handbook" that WASPs were notorious for that.  She sat in silence, no clue what to say next.  Scott was starting to appear perplexed as well.
“Well, I mean I can give you a tour if you want, but if you don’t--"
“NO! I want a tour with you!”  Hana winced internally at what was definitely too much enthusiasm.
“Umm, great.  Well, let me know when you’re free and I can take you out.”  Hana continued to wonder if this meant she had been asked out.  She wondered if a town tour counted as a date or if this was a pity party for a girl who didn’t know Long Island.
“We can get dinner at Harbor Crab, it’s not in Bayport but it’s close and it’s right on the water.”  Hana felt pretty confident that she had just been asked out.  Remembering his halo of golden hair, she did continue to doubt his interest as charity.
“Well, here’s my phone number.  Give me a call when you want to show me around.”
“How about tonight?  It’s Friday and they’ve got live music.  I think you’ll definitely like it.”
“Yes, that would be great!”
“Your roommate won’t mind?”  Hana gave herself a mental slap upside the head as she forgot about her fake roommate and her dying grandmother.  She hoped she would not appear callous.
“I’m sure she’ll be fine.  She mostly sleeps on Friday evenings.”
“Well, that’s good luck for me then.” The Gatsby smile he gave her put her in a spell of ecstasy.
“Should I wear anything specific?”
“It’s pretty casual.  I’m sure you’ll look beautiful no matter what you decide to wear.”  Hana wanted to revel in the compliment about her appearance but fought her doubts that he was just trying to be nice. 
”Are you going to drink your beer?”
“Ummm…no I have to drive.”  Hana tried to pull back the words.  Why would she be driving when she was staying with her roommate’s family?  Scott looked confused too.  “I mean, my friend is coming later so she won’t be able to pick me up so her parents left me the car to drive home.”  Hana gave a ridiculously wide smile.
The next forty minutes were filled with great conversation about music and funny stories.  Scott was a big fan of Nirvana, one of the bands Hana had envisioned her beau ideal to play on his CD player.  He came from a large family that was stationed all over Bayport and had been for generations.  Scott’s father had run the campaign for the current county executive of Suffolk, a position akin to a mayor from what Hana could glean, and currently held the highest political appointee position as a thank-you for the work on the campaign.  There was a bit of a Kennedy-esque glamour to his family and Hana couldn’t stop envisioning herself wearing all red with a pill box hat (not pink because that would be distasteful).
The conductor announced Deer Park as the next stop.
“Well, that’s me.”
Scott stood up and Hana swooned at the chivalry.
“It’s not you, it’s just where you’re staying right now.”
Hana turned around and gave him one last smile.  She couldn’t believe she had finally met him and on the Long Island Railroad of all places. 
The reality began to set in that she was going on a date with a dreamboat and her ebullience turned into a knot of apprehension.  How would she continue her fake life?  Would he be able to tell it was a fake life? Why did she need a fake life in the first place? What the hell was she going to wear?
As soon as she ran into the Levittown style split-ranch built in the 60s she called home, Hana ran to her room and began pulling out of all her clothes categorizing them as WASPy, borderline WASPy, and ethnic.  Thankfully her “ethnic” pile was filled with mostly gym-type clothes that would never be worn outside of a track.  She settled on a boat neck black top, a knee-length khaki skirt, and plain, black kitten heels with a tortoise-shell button on the side of the shoe.  She had no idea how Scott would dress, but she had hoped to see him in a collared shirt with a cable-knit sweater and khakis.  Khakis, the color of the flag of WASPdom.  Hana had even taken the step to enhance her make-up strategies.  She had just purchased a heated eye-lash curler from Sephora following make-up guru Bobbi Brown’s advice that “ethnic” lashes did not have a natural curl, but could be fixed with one of these contraptions. 
Hana read the instructions fairly well, albeit with a distracted mind, and flipped the switch to activate the heating coils of the mascara-tube sized contraption.  She kept her eyes wide open as well as her mouth and clamped the curler onto her inadequate lashes. 
“AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!” For a few seconds she was blinded and had to grope for the table to set down the torture device.  With one very agitated eye and another fearing the same fate, she assessed the damage.  It looked like a black eye.  Her cell phone rang.
“Hey, Claire, I’m on my way.  I should be there in about five minutes?”
“That’s great,” she managed to blurt out as she continued to wince in pain.
“You don’t sound well.  Are you all right?”
“Yes, just had a mishap with a miniature curling iron.”
“That sounds awful!  Are you ok?”
“I’ll be fine, just don’t be alarmed when you see me.”
“Ok….see you soon…”
Wonderful, Hana thought, her first date and she had a black eye.  She began feeling short of breath wondering what else could go wrong.
“Anong horas ang lalake mo coming?”  Hana’s mother asked when her date was coming in her mash up of native tongue and assimilated English.  She was hoping to hide her from Scott before he noticed the ethnic resemblance between them.
“Soon!  Don’t answer the door!”
“Baket?”  Or “why not” in civilized people’s speech.
“Just don’t!”  Her mother was supposed to be having dinner somewhere fabulous while discussing charity benefits for the California condor, not sitting at home forcing her siblings to do extra credit homework. 
Hana finished getting dressed and tried to style her hair to cover her affected eye.  She kissed her wall of celebrity blonds good-bye for the evening and ran down the stairs.
“Kelangang ko ma kita itong lalake mo!” Her mother demanded to meet the young man whom she was entrusting the care of her daughter to for the evening.
“No, you don’t need to meet him.  I’d rather you not ruin it!”
The doorbell rang and Hana squeezed herself outside.  Scott was dressed exactly how she pictured him, right down to the Cole Haan shoes.
“Shouldn’t I say hello to your roommate’s mom?”
“No, don’t worry, she doesn’t speak English.”
“I can still say hello--"
“She doesn’t like white people.”
They walked over to Scott’s car.  To Hana’s surprise, it was an old Jeep Wrangler, but in a tasteful hunter green.  Scott let her into the passenger seat and drove her away from the land of guido machismo to what she hoped was a story book village of people just like him.  People who would never accept her, but at least she could concede as of better, settler stock.
“I think you’ll really like this place.  I’m sure you have plenty of places in the city, but nothing is like being on the bay.” 
“I have a few favorites, like the Russian Tea Room, Smith and Wollensky’s—”
“Well, no one will have fish as fresh as this place.  That’s the best part of living on Long Island.”
“I wouldn’t know.  Being a city girl and all.”
“Well, lucky you’ve got me to show you.”  He flashed that “smile gazing upon the world” and she decided she would love to give him her virginity that night.  Although she had read that virginity was a middle-class virtue and mocked by upper-class WASPs.  “I think your eye looks okay, from what I can see.”
“Really?  Thanks, I was pretty worried about it.”
“You have gorgeous eyes to begin with.  Why do something where you have to hide them?”
“I read that long, curly lashes were important to men.”
“According to some chick magazine?  It’s better you be natural, Claire.”
It was everything she wanted to hear so long coming from the type of person she longed to hear it from.  But it was all being said to someone who was a lie, as much as she enjoyed being Claire.
“So tell me about your major?”
“Well, I decided on International Marketing because I’m a good writer, but it wouldn’t be practical to major in that so I am going to study marketing in Eastern Europe and eventually join the Peace Corps to help banking develop in the former Soviet satellite countries.”  Hana took a breath after reciting her carefully prepared speech.
“That sounds amazing, but you don’t really sound too crazy about that plan.  It’s kind of an afterthought.  You said you like writing.”
“Well, I’d love to study English Literature, but it’s not very practical.”
“But if it’s what you love then why not?”
“I don’t know.  I just couldn’t do it.  I mean my mother thinks—”
“What do you think?  It’s okay if it’s not what your mom thinks.”
“I think I’d love to major in English Literature.”
“So do it!  There’s nothing stopping you. I’d love to read your work ... well, if you’ll let me.”
Hana couldn’t believe how well this was going.  He wanted to read her writing, an act of intimacy she was less comfortable about than sex.  He thought she should pursue English Literature.  She wondered who Scott was and why was he so perfect?  She pinched herself—possibly too hard—but couldn’t believe someone had come into being seemingly from her demanding imagination.
“You seem very genuine, Claire.  You shouldn’t hide behind other people’s ideas just because you think that’ll make them happy.”
When they arrived at the restaurant, Scott put his arm around her and she had to remind herself to take in air.  They were seated at a table in full view of the water and the moonlight.  The other patrons looked like they could have been Scott’s family, but Hana was surprised at the hokey, nautical décor of the place. It reminded her of a homemade Red Lobster. 
“Welcome to Harbor Crab.  Can I get you something to drink?”
“I’ll take a gin and tonic,” Scott replied.
“I’ll have a Sprite.”
“Claire, they don’t care that you’re underage.  Just pretend you’re in the city.”
“No, it’s okay.  I’ll have a Sprite.” 
Scott laughed and turned to the incredulous waitress, “I’ll stick with my gin and tonic.”
“Sorry, I don’t feel comfortable drinking.  My mom would—”
“But she’s not here.” He gave a devilishly sexy half-smile and added, “but I would like to meet her someday.”
“Well, maybe one of these days.”
“What’s she like?”
“She’s pretty much a lady of leisure.  She doesn’t spend too much time in New York.  She likes to travel to Europe a lot.”
“She sounds like someone who would love to have her daughter study English literature or Art History.”
“Yes, you would think that.”
“There are these amazing seafood skins here—”
Suddenly, a nasaled, piercing Long Island accent screamed, “OH MY GOD!!! I can’t believe you’re here too!!”  The screeching severed Hana’s spine and Scott politely smiled.  In horror, Hana saw a high school acquaintance and stared back with her mouth agape.
“How are you doing?” Hana managed to compose herself and appear courteous.
“I’m fucking GREAT!  Isn’t it awesome to be done with “Queer” Park High School?!  Yo, I don’t know who you are, guy,” the unwelcome classmate said turning towards Scott, “but you got one smart bitch here.”
“Claire, do you want to introduce me?” asked Scott, somewhat uncomfortable.
“Why the fuck’s he calling you ‘Claire’?”

Sam Desmond lives in bucolic Bayport, New York with her husband and menagerie of dogs and cats where she is a community reporter for the Suffolk County News and Long Island Advance. Her short fiction has been published in multiple literary magazines. Prior to her career as a journalist, she had twelve years of experience as a corporate immigration legal writer for top 100 law firms.

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