Once upon a time, specifically our time, there lived an ordinary commoner named Norma Dale. Norma Dale, hovering near thirty, had not given up on finding passion, or even romance. She had never expected passion, or even romance. Not since puberty and the retirement of her single Ken doll and his harem of Barbies.
First, it was the name thing. For this, she blamed her mother. There was simply no excuse. Her mother had come up with Madeline for her first girl, and Norma’s younger sister was named a perfectly decent Bethany, so why had her mother dried up so thoroughly in the middle?
Mrs. Dale, herself named Elizabeth, had never acknowledged her choice as bland.
“Norma is a fine name, Norma,” she would say. Oblivious. Compounding.
“Norma is an aunt name,” Norma would counter. “Like smelly lavender and rotten old lace. Why didn’t you name me Myrtle and be done with it?”
“Myrtle is lovely,” her mother would say, “I believe your father had a great-aunt Myrtle.” (At this point Norma’s fa-ther would look over and wink.) Then her mother would drift off for a moment and resurface with, “Marilyn Monroe was named Norma, wasn’t she, Norma? She was such a beautiful girl.”
Norma had neither the luxury of a movieland fantasy machine nor the fallback of a decent middle name, being seconded with the imageless “Lynn.” In middle school she had made the inevitable attempt to change her persona—in this case she simply dropped the m from her name and tried for a while to be “Nora.”
Ah, glamorous Nora. She of the emerald green eyes and chestnut hair. The slender ankle and cocky little hat, she of snappy banter and the devastating flirt.
We were talking middle school, however. Poor Nora was suffered her m back in short and humiliated order.
Norma’s hair was chestnut, by the way—when freshly washed and highlighted by a bright overhead sun. Her eyes were green, or at least there were green flecks in the brown when viewed in the same bright sun on the days that she wore her one green blouse. A blouse that didn’t look too good with her skin, which couldn’t take too much of that sunlight, which was okay, because the cute guy was never going to be standing there in the first place to gaze upon her undiscovered beauty. The cute guy would always be off with Ashley or Jessica or one of the other girls whose mothers had not cursed them with a bad name or used up all the good genes on their popular and happy sisters.
There. The second cause of nonexpectations of passion. Or even romance.
Norma was not ugly, she wasn’t even plain. She had sometimes wished for plain, this during hours gazing into the bathroom mirror of scrutiny and shame. Plain you could work with. Plain was a blank canvas on which to build—blue hair, nose ring for the Goth, perfect makeup for the prep, even scrubbed and healthy for the jock.
No, Norma’s problem was that she was pretty, but pretty from another time.
She’d had that epiphany one night during a sleepover. She and her non-Ashley, non-Jessica friends were up at two in the morning in their powder-pink and pony-purple sleeping bags watching late-night cable TV. The movie was black-and-white, an old musical with that rubbery-faced guy with the popped-out eyes, who sang and danced and dressed in embarrassing black-guy drag. Set in ancient Hollywood Rome, one of the big dance numbers involved hundreds of naked slave-babes concealed only by their chains and long blond wigs.
Norma’s friends were making hilarious fun of the corny old erotica, but Norma had sat there, stunned. That was her body, under the wigs and chains. Her face. Heart-shaped, with Cupid’s-bow lips, big round eyes, and a little beak of a nose. Like Betty Boop. But on Betty it looked good. Betty could do the chunky little thighs and tiny feet. Short waist, custard-cup breasts. And she was “Betty,” right? She wasn’t Norma Boop.
Norma’s decline of self-esteem had been slow but thorough throughout the tortured trail of her teens. The night of the sleepover had marked the bottoming out of her expec- tations. So she had settled. She’d dated the geeks and the dweebs who’d settled with and dated her.
But her virginity had not been lost to a dweeb, but to the king of her high school prom.
Trey Bliss. He was the boy of her dreams. Every night. Attainable until the radio clock shattered the gossamer screen. So cute it hurt. So blond. Such blue eyes. A body to die for. Captain of the soccer team, lead in the school play, president of the senior class, all that jazz—but cool—got into trouble, even. Cute trouble. He and Ashley had been going together since middle school. Ashley, who was the queen, wore Trey’s promise ring on her tanned and slender finger.
Norma went to the prom with Ricky Pierce. King of the chess club. Greasy glasses. Sweaty palms. Hair too curly. Shaped like a Bosc pear. His rented tuxedo didn’t improve on that.
Norma thought she was looking good. (Though her father had been the only one to say so.) Not “Nora” good, but close. She’d found a shade of green satin for her gown that worked (almost) for her skin and her eyes, and her hair had been done in a soft wave, offsetting (almost) the roundness of face. She was having a good time at the prom. (Almost.)
She and Ricky had shuffled around a bit on the dance floor and then he had mercifully gone off to join the pocket of other dweebs. Norma stood for a while on the edge of things, hoping for a miracle, then gave up. At least this phase of the torture was almost over and she could go away to college. A thousand miles away from here, a thousand miles away from these people.
The music stopped and the spotlights circled and landed on the stage. Trey and Ashley were about to be crowned into their cheesy but oh-so-coveted high school royalty. Norma couldn’t take it. She left the rented ballroom with its rented glitter and its rented lights. Magical lights and magical glitter that would never fall on a girl named Norma with her prettiness out of time.
Consequently she missed the big fight.
She never found out what had started it, and later it didn’t matter, but the newly crowned king and queen of the prom had a royal falling out. Words—bad words—were exchanged on the dance floor. A crown was hurled, a designer dress was ripped. There were tears and screams, accusations, and one delicious slap, all played out in front of the extreme appreciation of the entire student body.
Except the Betty Boop body of Norma Dale.
Norma had left the hotel ballroom by then. The town was too small for a fleet of taxis to accommodate her dramatic (though unwitnessed) exit. It was also safe, so she decided to walk home. Her heels were too high, of course, but she didn’t really care. Pain would be a welcome thing on which to concentrate. Halfway home, when the pain had gone way past its welcome, she heard the roar of a combustion engine and then the screech of braking tires.
It was him. Trey Bliss. In his throbbing muscle car of iridescent ultramarine.
He’d popped the door, flashed his killer smile, and said to hop in.
Yes, she’d hopped. How could she not? Here he was—her knight on four shiny new Michelins.
His custom-cut tuxedo jacket was gone. His tastefully ruffled white shirt was torn, a portion of his hard and smooth perfectly formed Trey Blissian chest exposed, and across it ran three bloody red trails of Ashleyesque claws. He was drunk. His handsome hand clutched a half-empty bottle of Herradura Silver, the remaining half of which was graciously offered.
She took it.
Yes, she took it. How could she not? Here it was—her dream incarnate—Trey Bliss in the slightly damaged flesh, all for herself.
Norma had never tasted tequila before. She took a sip. It was good. Kind of salty. She lifted the bottle to her Cupid’s-bow lips and took a big manly slug.
Trey Bliss had said, “Atta girl,” and then laughed. He’d thrown back his head and howled. He’d gunned the engine and taken the bottle back for a big manly slug himself and they had roared off into the night.
Years later, on the very few occasions of sharing the story of her “first,” Norma would always say, “The rest was a blur—I woke up in the motel room the next morning and I was no longer a virgin.” She would then give what she hoped was a knowing and sophisticated smile. But it was a lie. There was no blur. Despite the tequila, despite the hot hormonal rush and fervor of their teenage coupling, she remembered every detail. Every word. Every touch. Every sensation. Everything.
He’d taken her there without asking. It wasn’t a cheap motel. It was nice. With carpeting in the lobby and nice potted palms. The room number was 323. The big double bed had cream-colored sheets, and the bedspread was a pleasant stripe of taupe and gold. There were two pictures on the walls. Matched. Botanical prints of ferns with close-ups of the seed pods and unreadable cursive script. Two chairs, prints of taupe and gold, and a round dark wood table between them. (The tequila bottle had been on that table in the morning, on its side, sticky and hollow.)
Trey had kissed her then. A long, drunken, tongue-thrusting kiss, with his arms tight around her and his hard-on pressed up between her legs.
Norma tried to kiss back—but he was doing enough kissing for the both of them, so she just melted into his arms. He stripped her. Not expecting a steamy encounter with Ricky, the king of chess, her underwear was woefully unsexy, but it didn’t stay on long enough to matter. Trey gathered her, melted and trembling, and lay her on the bed. He ripped his shirt open all the way, exposing the full glory of his wound, ripped off his cummerbund with one hand, and with the other zipped open his pants.
Norma’s virginity didn’t put up much of a struggle. Later, she would wonder whether he even knew what he had taken. But that evening, all she knew was the wonder of Trey Blissian manhood. He was good, and it was years and many dis- appointments before she understood to what extent. The first thirty seconds, though, were pretty much about the Trey, for the Trey, and nothing but the Trey. Norma had barely got- ten started when he grunted—manfully—and collapsed on top of her. For the next thirty seconds she lay gasping under his cologne-drenched bulk—bewildered and beginning on the bothered part. And then Trey did what eighteen-year-old boys do best—he retumefied—rather splendidly and right inside her.
Norma let out a soft cry of surprise. Trey lifted up on muscled arms and flashed her his grin.
“This one’s for you, baby,” he said, and began to move.
Until then she hadn’t been really sure what an orgasm was. The next ten minutes thoroughly honed the definition.
The third time was for Trey again—but that was okay, she was getting the hang of things by then. After that they took a short break while they finished off the tequila, and there was a wonderful few minutes of breast-fondling, drunken nuzzling, and sweet talk. Well, one sweet sentence, anyway. He had his mouth full at the time, and Norma wasn’t sure if he said, “You’re so pretty,” or “They’re so pretty,” but she wasn’t going to quibble. Then he flipped her over and she discovered, intensely, the thrill of coming from behind.
But halfway through fourthsies Trey slowed way down, then stopped moving altogether—which was just as well. By then she was getting a tad sore, and the fern prints on the wall above her hands had begun the Herradura swirl. Trey fell off of her and onto his pillow—he had passed clean out. Norma let go of the wall and sat back, knees folded to the side like the White Rock girl, and watched him. Watched Trey Bliss as he snored—beautifully—next to her on the bed. The bed where she, Norma Dale, had made love—repeatedly—with him—Trey Bliss—the boy of her dreams.
Eventually she lay down, too, and finally fell asleep, wondering what the hell she would say to the boy of her dreams in the morning.
That problem never arose.
In the morning—mid-morning, it was—the rattle of the maid’s cart two doors down woke Trey up first. His movement woke Norma. She opened her eyes to the wonder of his Trey Blissian back and the edge of his Trey Blissian butt. His blond hair was sticking out all over and his head was bent to his handsome hands.
Norma rose to one elbow, acutely aware of her nakedness and the out-of-reach sheets twisted at the foot of the bed. Her movement stirred him to turn slowly around. Bleary blue eyes widened and he spoke the words that would haunt her for the next dozen years.
“Oh, no,” Trey Bliss had said, “not you.”
To his credit, he was instantly sorry, which only made it worse. He apologized and said he hadn’t meant it like that, but Norma knew. She wasn’t Ashley, she wasn’t even Jessica. She was Norma, the oh-no, not-you girl. In the naked light of dawn—well, mid-morning—it was all so perfectly clear.
She scrambled from the bed, a dried smear of blood down her thigh, and scrambled in horrid awkwardness for her unsexy panties and her unsexy bra. Her prom dress was hellish. The texture and color of generic canned peas. Ricky’s browning pink carnations crouched on the bodice like a knot of dying tooth fairies. Norma struggled into the dress, hearing but not hearing Trey’s pitying words. There was something about breakfast—something about a ride—something about “don’t be ridiculous of course I’ll take you home.” Then her too-high heels were on her bare feet—panty hose abandoned for the giggles of the maids—and she was out and away from him, the door closed on the worst moment of her life.
There were, however, many more and much worse to come. Fate had taken notice of Norma Lynn Dale.
Excerpted from Norma Ever After by Nancy Baxter. Copyright © 2005 by Nancy Baxter. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.