The first time I wore lipstick Ryan laughed at me. Tobey told me I shouldn't do that and Ricky, Charley and Bobby looked at me strangely. I think Alex might have been considering asking me out, but then again, I couldn't have known because at 14, I was more naïve than most 8-year-olds.

Ryan laughed at me and it was okay because he was Ryan and Ryan laughed at me whenever I opened my mouth or whenever he saw me. Ryan laughed at anything. Ryan was always smiling. In retrospect, maybe he didn't even notice the lipstick. I didn't try it again for almost two years and by then, Ryan was dead.

Ricky, Charley and Bobby looked at me strangely, but as I told Tobey at the time, it was okay because they were always strange-looking. They weren't used to my wearing lipstick, I guess, and it threw them for a loop. Ricky, Charley, and Bobby always thought exactly the same, and I'm sure that hasn't changed; they're looking forward to opening their own firm-Abbot, Charge and Meddling-as soon as they've gained enough experience. I could have guessed that; when I wore my lipstick, Charley gave me 20 questions and asked me if I was considering becoming a girl. Considering? I'd replied. No, Charley, I'm pretty sure it's not something I have to consider, or consider becoming. I can remember the inflection of sarcasm in every word in a time length equal to the age I was when I spoke those words.

Alex might have been considering asking me out and that was okay because he was Alex. I'd known him since he'd thrown sand in my eyes at the park and made me cry before my mother washed it out and I tackled him. Somehow he always tried to follow me. Eventually I nicknamed him 'Shadow' and he laughed at that, and I think he might have been considering asking me out then even though he never did. I never thought he would, either.

Tobey told me I shouldn't wear lipstick, and that wasn't okay, because Tobey never told me things like that. Tobey told me things like "I think you should be valedictorian" and "I think you're the best basketball player ever born" and "I think you can do anything." Tobey was a good best friend, kind and encouraging and dependable, and he told me not to wear lipstick. I asked him why, and that's when it was okay, because he said I shouldn't try to be like the other girls. He said I was perfect without lipstick. Would someone smear lipstick on the Mona Lisa? he asked. Besides, Van, it's not your color. It's not green, Vanny.

Tobey called me yesterday and said I can't wait to see you, Vanessa. It's been too long, Van. I've missed you, Vanny. You and Ryan, Alex, Ricky, Charley and Bobby, I can't wait to see you. Only we wouldn't see Ryan because he was buried at 16. Ryan was always laughing, laughing at everything and something at nothing and it never occurred to anyone that Ryan sometimes saw things that weren't there. If it had, it surely wouldn't have occurred to anyone that one of those apparitions would tell Ryan to kill himself and even if anyone had guessed that, no one knew Ryan's dad had a loaded gun in the house. No one knew that Ryan knew exactly where it was. No one knew Ryan would pull the trigger.

No one knew Ryan would die.

But I didn't say that, even though Tobey mentioned Ryan's name, because Tobey's always had a little trouble dealing with Ryan's death and Tobey went a little crazy when it happen. A bad way to go crazy, he remarked self-deprecatingly after the funereal and before the nervous breakdown. As if there was a good way to go crazy.

Tobey always loved stability, and it wasn't okay when I wore lipstick because it wasn't normal. It wasn't okay when Ryan died because now who was going to buy him a new basketball at Christmas?

I took over Ryan's role and I laughed so much my cheeks hurt and I started to laughing and I started to hate Tobey. I bought basketballs and improved at football and tried to be interested in video games. I cut my hair shorter and spent more time in the sun and Tobey didn't go completely crazy. I was relieved.

Then there was graduation and the chair next to Tobey for Ryan when Ryan was six feet in the ground and Tobey got a little crazy then so I went and sat next to him until I had to give my speech because, being valedictorian, I had more wisdom to offer than any member of the class when I was really just thinking I wish Ryan wasn't dead and I wish my best friend wasn't going crazy in a bad way, and I wish they didn't make me wear a dress and I wish I'd never worn lipstick.

Ten years after that and I'm standing here in front of my mirror, in the dress they're making me wear, standing in the wake of Ryan and Alex and strange looks and bad ways to go crazy. I'm still standing in the wake of haircuts and broken hearts and speeches and lost contacts (the people kind), and they're making me give another speech, but I think that Ricky, Charley and Bobby, what with their years and years of school, would be more qualified because right now, standing in front of my mirror with a thick black tube in my hand, the only thing I can think of is whether or not I should put on my lipstick.

I haven't seen Tobey in two years, Ricky, Charley and Bobby in four and Alex in five. I haven't seen anyone else since high school, and I didn't particularly like them then, because they picked on me and Tobey sometimes had to make sure that girls didn't beat me up because of my smart mouth. Be careful, Vanny, he'd warn. Not everyone has a sense of humor as good as Ryan. Tobey never could accept that Ryan had gone crazy a good way. On the other hand, I could, and I hoped it had been in a good way because Ryan deserved that, even if he made Tobey go crazy in a bad way.

My speech is written and I don't talk about Ryan even though Tobey asked me to mention him. Tobey might cry and then he would get mad at me, so I opted to not use that line, even though it was poignant and beautifully touching. I didn't want to make Tobey cry.

Maybe Tobey won't cry and maybe we won't talk about Ryan. Maybe we've finally all grown up enough for the wounds to stop bleeding, even though one of them, especially Tobey's, will ever fully heal. Maybe Ricky, Charley and Bobby won't look at me strangely because my hair is long now and I'm wearing a dress and I've grown three inches. Maybe Alex will finally ask me out and maybe I'll say yes and maybe we'll fall in love and maybe we'll live happily ever after and maybe we'll name our first child Ryan and make Tobey the godfather.

Maybe everything really is okay in the end. I don't know yet. In fourteen years, everything should be okay, but I have a feeling that some of it might never be.

That's okay, though, because if everything was okay, Ryan would have never thrown sand in my eyes and Tobey never would have told me that I was perfect and we wouldn't need lawyers, so Ricky, Charley and Bobby would be unemployed.

I smile at myself in the mirror, because if everything is going to be okay, I should at least wear lipstick, because that's what grownups do and I'm a grownup now and maybe that would encourage Alex to ask me out. I apply the mauve concoction delicately and smile again.

It would all be okay. Everything would be okay again because we weren't fourteen or sixteen or eighteen, we were twenty-eight, and we needed everything to be okay so we could really be adults. The boys had always followed my example by joining sports teams, reading books, watching TV show, and it only seemed fit that I had to grow up first to make sure they followed me.

This time, though, I can't look over my shoulder. I'm grownup now.

See, I'm wearing lipstick.

But it's not my color.