Kissing Frogs by Barbara Brockway

“We found blue harem pants!” my best friend, Lizzy’s, voice shouts at me through my phone. “It’s totally a sign, you have to be Princess Jasmine this year.”

“Slow down, Lizzy,” I say, sleepily. “I was napping, I need a minute.”

I rub my eyes with my free hand and look at the alarm clock on my nightstand. Two thirty eight. The bright light streaming around my window shades tells me it is the afternoon, not the middle of the night.

“Please, Jasmine,” Lizzy whines. “Annabelle and I are at Goodwill trying to find her some yellow shoes and we ran across the most perfect pair of harem pants. They even have sequins. Please say you’ll be Princess Jasmine this year.”

This will be the third year running that my core group of friends has been Disney Princesses for Halloween, with long gowns, tiaras and opera length gloves.

“I don’t know, Lizzy,” I reply, trying to remember what day it is and if I have to be anywhere later. I’m in the third year of medical school, deep into the grueling grind of rotation and classes. I can’t remember the last time I had more than six hours of consecutive sleep.

“This isn’t about Jay, is it?” she asks sharply. “Mark told Annabelle he’s going to a house party, so there’s like, zero chance you’ll run into him.”

“It’s not that,” I say, not entirely truthfully. I’m still trying to work out what day it is, now the specter of my ex-boyfriend has been thrown into the mix. Annoyingly, Lizzy always know when I’m lying; it’s her best friend super power.

“You’re definitely going tonight, right?’ Lizzy pleads. “You’re not going to bail on us? I never see you anymore.”

I sit up, her questions have given me the clue I need to sort out that it’s Friday. I worked overnight at the hospital last night, now blissfully have the rest of the weekend off, from duty, at least. I’ll still have to study, but will be able to go out with my friends tonight for Halloween.

“Yes, Lizzy, I promise,” I answer.

“Then you’ll be Princess Jasmine?” she asks excitedly. I hear Annabelle cheering in the background.

“I promise to go out, but no Princess Jasmine,” I reply firmly.

“Oh c’mon, Jasmine,” she cries. “It’s just so perfect. Your name, your black hair and skin tone, now the pants.”

I’m awake now, I swing my legs off my bed and wander over to my closet.

“Don’t you think a girl of Pakistani descent going to a Halloween party dressed as Princess Jasmine is just the tiniest bit racist?” I ask her, running my hand across my hanging clothes. We’ve been friends since high school, our group of five girls, we can say anything to one another.

“Frankly, no,” she replies. “I think it’s kismet.”

“Nice use of the word kismet,” I say, laughing. “I don’t think my parents would like me traipsing out of the house dressed like the western idealized version of an Arabic princess, in a bikini top with my stomach exposed, even if said stomach is the requisite brown. Even if I share her name. And yes, even if you think it is kismet.”

“Then what are you going as, crankypants?” she asks.

My eye falls on a stack of turtlenecks on my shelf. One is black and white striped.

“I thought I’d be a robber,” I reply.

“A robber?” she says skeptically.

“Yeah,” I answer. “I’ll be warm and my stomach will be safely hidden, where it should be. These crazy hours have not been kind to my waistline.”

“OK,” she scolds. “But if we win the group costume, you’ll be sorry. We’ll pick you up around eight.”

After I hang up I lean against the doorjamb, regretting that I can’t be completely honest with Lizzy. I’m actually not opposed to being Princess Jasmine, have wanted to be her for Halloween since I was little. But I don’t want to be her in a group of gorgeous, white, Disney Princesses; I want to be her in a couple’s costume. I want an Aladdin to my Princess Jasmine.

I pull out the striped turtle neck and some black pants, then root around in my underwear drawer until I pull out a black sleep mask, scored in business class on an overnight Delta flight.  I pad downstairs in my sleep pants and wrinkled t-shirt with the sleep mask. I pull a white pillowcase out of the linen closet as I pass.

My mother is reading her iPad in the kitchen.

“Hi, sweetheart,” she says, rising. “Do you want me to fix you something to eat?’

“That would be great mom, thanks.”

I pull scissors out of the kitchen drawer and fold the eye mask in half, then in half again. I carefully cut out a small circle in the folded fabric.

“What are you doing?” my mom asks as she puts a plate loaded with leftovers into the microwave.

My mom has always been a bit of a food pusher, but ever since Jay broke up with me, I’ve noticed the meals she fixes for me have increased in volume. I think it’s her way of comforting me.

“I’m making my costume for tonight. I’m going as an old-timey robber.”

I try on the mask and use the toaster as a mirror to judge my work. The holes are a bit small, so I fold the mask again and cut them bigger.

“Cute, honey,” my mom says as the microwave beeps. “Your brother has a black knit cap, do you want me to see if I can hunt that up?”

“Yeah, that would be great,” I reply. “ Do we have a black sharpie? I want to put a big dollar sign on this pillowcase.”

“You are not going to draw on my six hundred count pillowcase with a sharpie, Jasmine, that is out of the question,” my mom replies in her clipped accent. We compromise by drawing a large dollar sign on a piece of computer paper and safety pinning it to the pillowcase. I stuff it with crumpled newspaper and tie the top with twine, now my robber will have a huge bag of money, so it will be really obvious what I’m going for.

 A few minutes after eight o’clock the doorbell rings and my parents let in a flood of Disney princesses, all sweeping ball gowns, fresh doses of perfume, long eyelashes and high heels.

My mom is dressed in a flashy one-piece seventies style pantsuit and a long, black, super straight wig with bangs. My dad wears bell bottoms, a sheepskin vest and a tangle of gaudy necklaces against his black chest hair. Sonny to my mom’s Cher.

“Oh, Mr. and Mrs. Kamal!” Lizzy exclaims. “You look so groovy!”

She makes a beautiful Cinderella; the blue of her gown brings out her eyes, her blond hair done in an elaborate updo.

“I love how you guys always do a couple’s costume,” Caitlyn says. “I wish I could get Jack to do that.” Her milky skin and jet black hair make her the perfect Snow White, complete with red bow and matching lipstick.

Annabelle is Belle, naturally, and carries a long-stemmed red rose for effect.

“I know, Mark would never go for that,” she says. “He barely tolerates wearing a football jersey and some eye black. So lame.”

 She lifts up her long, yellow gown to show off her Goodwill find.

“Aren’t these shoes terrific?” she asks, laughing.

Claire rounds out the royal quartet as Sleeping Beauty, complete with long flowing honey-colored hair and a little pillow trimmed in lace. Last year, if someone asked her who she was, she would lean her head on the pillow and feign sleep for a few seconds until they guessed.

“You look so cute, Jasmine,” Claire says and the group turns its attention to me.

I snap on my mask and hold my money bag high to laughs and cheers.

“Great,” says Annabelle. “I guess we know who’s buying!”

“Hey, she’s a poor med student, remember?” my father scolds, laughing.

“Can one of you take our photo?” my mom asks.

As the girls trade banter with my parents Lizzy pushes a small paper bag into my hands. I peer into it and see a flash of shimmering fabric.

“For next year,” Lizzy whispers, winking at me.

I realize the bag contains the harem pants.

“We’ll see,” I reply, stuffing them into the drawer of the console table.

And we’re off; me and four Disney princesses, ballooning ball gowns stuffed into my mom’s minivan, then emerging onto the sidewalk in front of O’Malley’s.

My parents drive away, calling out for us to have a good time. I wonder if they’ll now discuss my lack-of-princess costume, if my mom will ask my dad if he thinks it has to do with Jay dumping me. I wish I could tell them it isn’t. I wish I could tell them Jay was never my Aladdin.

Walker Street is lined with bars; there are people everywhere. A pirate and a cowboy call out and cheer at the princesses. It is pretty eye-catching, the group costume thing. Add in four pretty girls and you’ve got yourself an attraction. I feel pretty frumpy in my sneakers and turtleneck, but no turning back now.

We parade into O’Malley’s to more cheers and hoots. The place is as packed as I’ve ever seen it. A guy wearing a crown and ermine cape slides up to take his photo with my friends, who oblige him by gathering around, putting their gloved hands under their chins and batting their eyelashes. The princesses seem to be the hit of the bar, at least the area around the door.

An hour or so, and two Coronas later, I’m regretting not being a part of the group as the four princesses blow kisses to the crowd from the stage. Maybe I should have just picked a different Disney princess.

Their competition is two skinny Blues Brothers and a group of rowdy babies, sporting buff bare chests and diapers, and a short Fred Flintstone, complete with beard stubble, and a dark haired Wilma. Maybe the couple should have gone with Barney and Betty, I think, as I accept another cold bottle of beer from the waitress.

“Cool costume!” a cute guy in blue scrubs says to me as he stops by our table. My bag of money leans against the small pile of the princesses’ evening bags.

“Pretty good haul,” he says, pointing at the bag.

I smile and tip my bottle at him.

“This isn’t my first caper,” I reply.

There’s a loud cheer as the emcee eggs on the crowd to vote for best costume.

“Mind if I sit down?” he asks. “I’m Mike, by the way.”

“I’m Jasmine.”

“Jasmine. That’s a pretty name,” he says. He looks like he wants to say something more, but doesn’t.

“I’m with the princesses,” I say.

“I know. I saw you come in with them.”

He points up at the stage.

“I’m with the group of inebriated infants.”

“Oh, really?” I ask. “How’s that going?”

“Nobody tells you parenthood is going to be this hard,” he responds, taking a seat across the table from me. “All the excitement of Halloween. It’s way past their bedtime.”

“Being in a bar costume contest wasn’t covered in ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’?” I ask, laughing.

“You’d thing it would be, right?” he deadpans. “At this rate I’ll never get them to take a bath, and Junior really needs one. A French Maid dumped her daiquiri all over his back.”

“It’s hard to find good help,” I retort. “Which one is Junior?”

“Actually, they’re all Junior,” he says. “I’m on call, so no booze for me tonight. Lucky me is both designated driver and designated dad.”

“Doesn’t sound very lucky to me,” I say. “Don’t look now, but one of your Juniors is picking up Fred Flintstone.”

Mike turns to see one of the babies bear hugging a laughing Fred from the back, hoisting him in the air. Fred kicks out his legs for effect. A couple of the princesses are wagging gloved fingers at the two.

“That may call for a time out,” Mike says, shaking his head.

“So, you’re you in med school?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he replies. “St. Anthony’s.”

“I’m at Central.”

“Really? Do you know Carl Smith? I went to undergrad with him.”

“I don’t, but it’s a really big place. What year is he in?”

His response gets lost in a big cheer from the crowd. We turn to see Claire and Annabelle holding a trophy above their heads. Lizzy is pumping her gloved fist in the air, Caitlyn is cabbage patching around the others.

“Oh my god,” I cry, jumping up to clap. “My friends just beat out your babies for first place!”

“I predict a few tantrums,” Mike replies. “It’s not going to be pretty.”

I sink back down onto the stool.

“So,” I say slowly. “The scrubs. Not much of a stretch in terms of a costume, Mike.”

“In my defense, Jasmine” he answers, tracing the dollar sign on my money bag with his finger. “Between these kids and my rotation, I barely have time for a shower, let alone pulling together an awesome costume like yours.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s awesome,” I say. “And I totally get the no time to think straight thing. I knew med school would be hard, but-”

Before I can finish, we are overrun by princesses and babies, the group crowding around our table, jabbering, reliving the contest, trash talking, flirting.  

“Oh my God, Jasmine,” Caitlyn gushes. “We won five hundred dollars!”

“Can you believe it?” Claire exclaims.

Annabelle is shouting into her phone.

“We won! Where are you?”

I look across the table at Mike. He’s looking at me. He glances back at one of the Juniors, who’s animatedly recounting the contest.

“Mark is at Wingers, he wants us to meet him there!” Annabelle shouts over the din.

I look at Mike again; catch him as he’s looking away.

“Can’t we stay here a bit longer?” I plead.

“There’s another contest, Jasmine,” Lizzy gushes.

“Plus Jack is there!” Caitlyn adds.

I wish for more time with Mike, but with the crowd around, see no hope for any more banter with the cute med student who has miraculously stumbled into my path. There’s no way to give him my number, too many prying eyes, too much commotion.

“Let me use the restroom before we leave,” I say, trying to stall. Maybe when I get back things will be calmer. Maybe I can sidle up to Mike then, maybe the princesses will be distracted.

When I get back things are crazier than ever, with a group of superheroes added into the mix. Wonder Woman is like six feet tall, leaning over Mike and shouting into his ear. One of the Juniors flanks him on the other side, a bright red stain on his back. The French Maid’s daiquiri, I presume.

Lizzy is pulling at my arm.

“C’mon Jasmine!”

There’s no hope of connecting with the cute doctor in this mess, so I grab my moneybag as Lizzy tugs me toward the door. I make eye contact with Mike for a second, until Batman blocks my view.

The rest of the night is a blur. The princesses don’t win the Wingers contest but buy drink after drink with the O’Malley’s winnings. I’m caught up in the fun and craziness of the night, but find myself checking the door for the babies, who never materialize.

It’s after three when the Uber drops me off. I stumble drunkenly into my house, dragging my moneybag, trying to be quiet so I won’t wake my parents. I fall asleep racking my brain about who I know at St. Anthony’s, and scheming about how I can put myself in Mike’s path again.

I wake up around noon on Saturday with a pounding head and crushed hopes. There’s no way I will ever find my cute doctor again, I blew it, I should have elbowed Wonder Woman aside to get his number. I stand up too quickly, get a head rush, sit down for a few seconds. My black pants and striped shirt lie crumpled in the corner. My moneybag, with its twine coming undone, lies in the middle of my bedroom. I lie back down and survey the ceiling, remembering the fun of the wild night, wishing some things had gone a little differently.

I head downstairs, desperate for ice water and some bread to coat my stomach, the moneybag and my costume bundled in my arms. I pitch the clothes in the laundry room and take the moneybag into the kitchen, holding it in my teeth as I wrestle a bagel into the toaster.  I unwind the already unraveling twine and start to pull the balled up newspaper from the pillowcase, throwing it into the recycling.

I pull out a long piece of cardboard. One of those table tent things from O’Malley’s, advertising the beer of the month. unfolded from its usual triangle shape.

“How did that get in there?” I think, turning it over. Then I notice the scrawl written on the back. A doctor’s handwriting.

Jasmine,

 You “ stole” my heart tonight. I don’t have a magic lamp, but if you call this number, I will try to grant your dearest wish.

Signed,

Mike

(AKA, Aladdin)

My hands are shaking as I dial the number. I think of the shimmery harem pants stuck in the drawer of the console table. I have a whole year to find some curly toed shoes to match.

 Barbara Brockway has had short stories and essays published in Brain, Child Magazine, Seven Hills Review, The Binnacle, The Maine Review, The Southern Tablet, Torrid Literature Journal, Grand Central Review, and elsewhere. She has received writing awards from Women On Writing, The Chattahoochee Valley Writers, The Tallahassee Writers Association and Atlanta Writers Club and is currently working on her second novel, while seeking an agent for the first.

Barbara lives in Chieri, Italy with her husband. Her window overlooks the courtyard of their 15th century apartment building, so while writing she sees cobblestones, wooden shutters, palm trees, plus a Mail Boxes Etc. and a vape shop.

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