Becky lay back in the reclined chair, staring at the dog posters adhered to the ceiling. Closing her eyes, the bright light from the blazing bulb above her head, lingered against her lids while her jaw burned and she tasted cotton stuffed into her cheeks.
“Just one more,” Dr. Martin said. The orthodontist blew another puff of chilled air onto her second front tooth. The dab of cool glue made her shiver, the touch like ice.
Opening her eyes, Becky watched the orthodontist take the last bracket in his tweezers. He lifted the small square of silver and brought the brace to her mouth. The metal felt like a boulder falling upon her face.
Dr. Martin set down his tools with a clatter and pulled off his rubber gloves. He patted her on the shoulder and Becky felt his calluses against her skin.
“I’m going to give you a few minutes to let those set, and then we’ll thread you up and you’ll be on your way.”
Becky nodded, her grin stretching her chipmunk cheeks.
With a clatter of his stool’s casters, Dr. Martin rose and headed out of the paneled office. He began chatting with a nurse, but Becky didn’t listen.
The smell of adhesive and steel drowned her nose like Andy Faber’s new aftershave. She grinned again and wiggled into the leather padding the orthodontist’s chair. Images of the other girls in school, with their braced smiles and rubber bands joined her in the slim room. Paula and her gold and red smile for homecoming along with Lisa, hers glowing in the dark for Halloween. Even Vera, who barely opened her mouth anyway, had a shimmering display of crystal blue peaking out whenever she grinned.
Tilting her head, Becky gazed at the clear box on the counter, holding the colored bands from which she would choose her newest accessory. She had already decided: purple. Her mom of course thought the choice was horrible.
“You’ll look diseased,” her mom had said on the drive over.
“It’s my mouth,” Becky had countered before pouting and staring at her gapped filled smile in the passenger window.
As the medicinal aroma’s began to dwindle, Becky glanced over her shoulder. The opening into the hall remained empty, although she heard Dr. Martin and a technician two doors down. The orthodontist’s mumbling dwindled as his heavy steps neared. Becky settled her gaze back on the dog posters above her head and kept her hands from drumming the seat with nervous energy.
“Let’s see if you’re ready,” said Dr. Martin, striding back to her side and onto his stool with a spin. He donned another pair of rubber gloves while Becky opened her mouth as wide as she could. Her jaw already felt weary but she held steady while he poked.
“Alright,” said the orthodontist.
Becky gripped the hem of her tank top with both hands.
Dr. Martin drew a thin thread of metal and began weaving through the adhered braces on her teeth. Becky cringed as the sound of nails on chalkboard erupted from her mouth.
“What color did you want again?”
“Hur-hle,” she managed.
Dr. Martin nodded as if she had spoken clearly. Becky locked her gaze on him though, following his gloved hands to the box.
“These right?” He held up the plum hued rubber circles.
Becky nodded to be on the safe side.
The orthodontist began on her mouth again without argument or even an eyebrow raised in surprise at her selection. Once he had tugged and snapped, threaded and jerked, he sat back and tilted the light to observe his work.
“You’re going to need some elastics,” he said. He scooped a clear baggie from the tray and dangled them like a treat. “They’re going to go from your upper canines here,” he poked to indicate the appropriate teeth, “to your back molars. I’ll put them in and then show you.”
Again, Becky nodded. She remembered Skip Johnson flinging his elastics across the lunch room. She was certain she would be more careful, although her smile would no doubt still show them off.
Dr. Martin fought with the tiny bands and then stretched them into place. The rubber tasted like unflavored gum and the sudden tension made Becky frown.
The orthodontist pulled out the supportive cotton from her mouth and tossed the soggy wads onto the tray.
“Why don’t you have a look?” Dr. Martin pressed a button on her reclining chair and Becky started sitting up. Halfway vertical, the orthodontist offered her a square mirror with a plastic handle. The weight of the metal and bands swarmed with the blood rushing from her head and made Becky feel dizzy. Becky took the mirror in a two handed grip and drew a breath that swelled her nearly flat chest.
The orthodontist began talking about the bands, cleaning, and care, but his voice dimmed as Becky took in her reflection.
Rows of metal squares glittered where her smile had once been. The purple gleamed like fresh bruises, one for each tooth. She tried to open her mouth to check out the beige bands but her jaw felt stuck, as if made of rock. And then, as Dr. Martin gave her a final pat, the throbbing pain began. The agony ran along her gum line and then took hold of the lower part of her face. Becky scowled at her reflection as her heart began to sink and her pulse inflated her head like a helium balloon. Beauty, she realized with a sag of her knobby shoulders, came at a price.