"The girls in Waterton High go to Homecoming wanting more than anything else to be queen."
All the girls in Waterton High go to Homecoming wanting more than anything else to be queen. Being queen in Waterton means wearing a pure crystal tiara and sitting in a fur-crested throne and looking at everyone through eyes of superiority – a superiority that is not made up in your head, but an authentic one, confirmed by the crown set upon your curls.
But there is also a rumor about what happens after Homecoming that makes the girls at Waterton yearn to be crowned. Nobody can prove that it really happens, but everyone believes that it does, firstly because it is a tradition, but also because of a girl named Kristin McAllister, who graduated a few years ago. The rumor went that after she was crowned queen and the party ended, she went to Center's Bluff Park, as every queen must, and descended the stairs alone into the art gallery. The gallery was unusual for a couple of reasons. It was underground; its walls and its floors were white plaster, and you got the illusion after a while that you were not in a room at all, but a space – a space with no floors or walls, a space that went on for eternity, like facing mirrors. The only thing with you in that eternity, if you were by yourself, as the queens must, was the ivory statue of a girded man. He was a sculpture of immense proportions, a giant of rippling shoulder muscles and lean legs and a forlorn, beautiful face.
It was tradition for Homecoming queens to miss the next day of school, to supposedly rest. If It really had happened to you, you would have to rest; but since all the girls wanted everyone else to believe it had happened, all the queens stayed home, whether it had or not.
Not that they fooled anyone. You could tell immediately whether It had happened, on the Tuesday the queens returned to school. Most girls came dressed more nicely than normal, because they knew everyone would be looking at them: to these girls It had not happened.
Kristin McAllister came to school wearing sunglasses and sweatpants and soft cozy booties, and she skulked along the hallways trying to ignore everyone who addressed her. In the bathroom her best friends accosted her, dying with suspense, and ripped off her sunglasses; but only Kristin's familiar blue eyes waterily blinked up at them. She had only covered them, she explained faintly, because she could not put on her make-up. So her friends put on the eyeshadow and mascara for her while they barraged her with questions, but Kristin remained mute, and only looked from one to the other as if she were seeing them for the first time.
After the bathroom incident, her friends didn't ask her any more questions and shushed those who tried, but by the end of the day it was common knowledge that It had happened to Kristin. And just looking at her during lunchtime you could tell. In a sea of friends she had become a pinnacle of rock, immovable by the gossip they shared, impervious to their jokes. She drifted away as soon as she could to the water fountain where she lingered for some time, playing with the spout, and then she wandered into the library where her friends finally found her after madly searching the rest of the school. There Kristin sat in a beanbag, reading a children's book about a doll come to life.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This year the girls on the night of Homecoming at Waterton High were delirious with excitement. Aubrey wore a peach-colored dress, with a rhinestone strap arcing across her golden shoulder; Casey wore a blue dress that reflected a sheen of emerald hues in the light and a salamander ring on her long knuckly finger; Trisha wore a tight bubblegum pink dress and pink nylons. These were the three candidates for queen and they shivered together backstage, exclaiming their support for each other and declaring their lack of envy or ill-will if another should win.
But in their hearts, each of them knew that if another indeed won, It would not happen to her in Bluff's Park, for only she – the one thinking it – was special enough.
That is the curse of all high school girls: each thinks she is unique and pricelessly different and better than every other girl. That is why they fight so much; their over-grown egos grapple with each other because there is not enough room for all of them.
Aubrey, Casey, and Trisha promenaded onto the stage, arms linked, taking tiny, stunted steps in unison. Under the discs of light they waited for the principal to announce the new queen.
What they didn't remember - or refused to remember - was that Kristin McAllister had left high school a month after Homecoming and had schooled herself at home the remaining year. That before leaving for college she went to Center Bluff's Park for the first time since that Homecoming night, and shakily descended into the art gallery where the Man still stood in eternity. She circled around him, half-fearful that It would happen again, half-amazed that a sculpture of mere marble could wrought such a change in her. She stopped in front of him and gazed into his pupiled, anguished eyes.
And there a small thing happened, a fraction of It.
His cold marble eyelid lowered in a wink.
Kristin fled out of the gallery up the stairs, never to return. The Man smiled.
The principal of Waterton High School said, “And the new queen is..."