poor face

Paget Cunningham was named after her mother, who was named after the island where she was conceived. Paget was convinced this was why she tanned so easily. We were roommates freshman year, having found each other on Facebook. I was from Greenwich and she was from Rye; I went to Andover and she went to Choate. It wasn’t a love match, but it seemed easy. I wouldn’t have to explain the quirks of my family and my hometown, and I wouldn’t have to worry she’d steal my Cartier Love bracelets. It wasn’t until later—long after we’d stopped talking—that I’d learned why she chose me: I was big enough that I wouldn’t outshine her, she told a mutual friend, but not so fat that I looked like a loser.

There were benefits to being her friend. We moved as a unit, and because of her, I got invited to Fraternity Mixers and Lacrosse Screws, places that felt off-limits to me in high school. I was both disappointed and vindicated by how boring these events were, and I’d spend them leaning against a wall, nursing a cup of jungle juice and watching the night unfold. My frat foresight was like a superpower. I could predict who would get too drunk as soon as the night started, which girls would be carted—half asleep—upstairs to some bedroom. Even still, I wanted to be wanted by these men I had no interest in. I wasn’t as unattractive as I thought, but in being perennially attached to someone like Paget, I was overlooked.

She, more than anyone, had the ability to make me feel special. She would do my makeup before we went out and show me how to remove it without losing eyelashes when we got back. This was my favorite part of the weekends. She would order pizza from the local late-night place, and we’d analyze the party as we waited for it to arrive. I’d pretend to be disappointed by some boy and she would shower me with compliments to make up for his indifference.


She took care of me the first time I got too drunk, leaving the guy she’d been flirting with and guiding me home. She led me through the crowd of impossibly large men without faltering, and I somehow made it back to the dorm without scraping my knee or twisting my ankle. I remember being impressed by how solid her shoulders felt. She was a tennis player, and I could feel her muscles ripple under her Barbour.

After I finished vomiting, she passed me a slice of pizza. “Get something in your stomach,” she said. “It will keep you from feeling so shitty.”

I nodded. I lay on my bed and looked at the ceiling, where she’d hung rows of fairy lights. I couldn’t tell her that the girl I thought I might love went home with Dominic, a football player so stupid he failed Intro to Statistics. So instead, I took a bite of pizza and transferred my desire onto him. “Dominic went home with that tennis girl in Alpha Phi.”

“Dominic? You like him?” She nudged me over and perched on the edge of my mattress.

“Uh huh,” I said. “He can throw the football further than anyone else.”

“I’m pretty sure he plays defense.”

“Whatever. He throws it in practice.”

Paget took a bite and I watched as she chewed it to a pulp before spitting it out. It was a trick she learned at a casting call, a way to have junk food without getting fat. “And who was this girl?” she asked.

“Kaylynn Smart.” saying her name out loud felt like falling. I tried to keep my eyes trained on the ceiling, but it wouldn’t stop moving. “She was the redhead wearing a backless shirt and the Frye boots.”

“Oh my god that Ariel bitch?” Paget’s laugh sounded more like a honk, a trait so out of sync with the rest of her that it became charming. “You’re literally ten times prettier than her.”

“No way.”

“I’m serious, Romney,” she said. “Yeah, she looks pretty at first glance, but not when you get close.”

I sat up, surprised by how defensive I felt. “You’ve never been up close,” I said. “You wouldn’t know.”

“Oh c’mon. Not to be a bitch, but she has Poor Face.”

Paget loved to make up terms. I think it made her feel worldly, to know something no one else did. Whenever I asked her to clarify, she would laugh like she couldn’t believe how simple I was.

“Have you heard of Gay Face?” she asked.

“I think so,” I said. I reached for my cheek. 

“Well it’s like that,” she said, “But for poor people.” She cocked her head and looked for a reaction. “It’s not that she’s not pretty. Like, all her features are fine separately. But they’re all scrunched into the center of her face. It makes her look pointy.”

“And this makes her look poor?”

 “Yeah, it’s the kind of thing you see way more in the middle of the country. In, like, a trailer park probably.”

I snorted.

“You don’t believe me,” she said. “But it’s true. Look at Eminem.”

“Kaylynn is beautiful, though.”

“Seriously, if you looked up Poor Face in the dictionary, you’d get a picture of Eminem. Kaylynn would be next. Like a subheading”

“It isn’t in the dictionary,” I said. “You made it up.”

“Gossip Girl is another one,” she said. “Blake Lively and Leighton Meester are both pretty, right? But everyone prefers Blake. They don’t know it, but it’s because Leighton—who, by the way, was born in a prison—has Poor Face.”


“Scrunched and pointy. Also no chin.”

“You sound like a phrenologist.”

“It’s like how you can identify Fetal Alcohol Syndrome just by looking at someone.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Dominic has FAS,” I said.

“I thought you liked him,” she said.


Paget stopped talking. The air felt heavy. She spit out her last bite of pizza, threw out the crust, and lay down beside me. She put her head in my lap, pulled the comforter over us both. She smelled like vanilla and Red Bull. “Romney,” she said, “you know you can tell me anything, right?”

I’d never lain like this with a woman before, and I imagined a future in which I had someone in my bed who wanted me. Someone who wouldn’t go home with borderline retarded football players. “What do you mean?” I said.

“You’re not into Dominic.”


“And you’re clearly obsessed with Kaylynn.”

“I’m not obsessed—”

“A girl who thinks Olive Garden is fancy.”

“Paget, I seriously don’t want to talk about this.”

“Fine,” she said. “I’m dropping it. But you can tell me if you like girls,” she said. “I’m not a bigot.”

I don’t think I’d admitted it to myself yet, not fully, and Paget was forcing me to decide how I’d be identified, how I would move forward. It felt like, once I said it, I wouldn’t be able to take it back or change my mind. I wouldn’t be able to trick myself into heterosexuality. I took a breath. I started and stopped three times before I could get it out. “Not girls plural,” I said. “Just Kaylynn.”

I waited for Paget to pull away or shift her weight from me to the mattress. But she laughed, so softly I could barely hear her, and squeezed me again with her strong arms. I stroked her hair and looked up at her fairy lights. At some point, they’d stopped spinning.   


Annie North Kolle is a Baltimore native who lives in Missoula, Montana. She received her MFA in fiction from the University of Montana, and her work has been published or is forthcoming in The Madison Review, Ponder Review, and elsewhere.

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