Playlist: “Shame,” Elle King



This just might be the perfect day. Except for one small thing:

My underwear.

Standing beside my siblings, I smile for another wedding photo and try to focus on how magical this day has been instead of how far my panties are riding up my butt. I think about this gorgeous beachfront wedding that just went off without a hitch for my brother Ren and his now wife, Frankie, who’s been like a sister to me for years. I think about the glorious tangerine sun glowing on the horizon, the luscious sea breeze that’s kept me cool this afternoon, despite the heat weaving through our whole chaotic Bergman brood—my parents, six siblings, their partners, and my niece and nephew.

The camera clicks as my little gratitude exercise comes to a close, unfortunately leaving me no less aware of the wedgie from hell. I wiggle my butt to try to dislodge it and force my grimace into a smile as the photographer calls for one more take.

“Okay,” Frankie says after the next click of the camera, brushing back a lock of dark hair from her face. “That’s enough memory making. This bride needs a seat, five minutes of quiet, and a very large glass of red wine.”

“Coming right up,” the wedding planner says, jumping into action.

The tight photographer-staged ball of our family dissolves into easy mingling—quick laughter and steady conversation. Before someone can rope me into it, I scamper away across the sand, sandals hooked on my fingers, making a beeline for the elegant venue that boasts grand doors opened wide to the sights and sounds of the beach, the dwindling light mingling with ivory candles and floral centerpieces.

Trying to be circumspect, I follow the edge of the room, racking my memory for the nearest bathroom, though, at this point, I will take a closet, nook, the first private space available, to lose these horrible panties, because I’m about to crawl out of my skin.

Not everyone gets this upset about their underwear riding up their butt; however, I’m autistic, and I have a lot of sensory issues. Itchy seams, fabric bunched where it shouldn’t be, send me spiraling if I don’t address the issue promptly. I need to find somewhere to deal with my sensory misery immediately.

As I finally locate the restroom and stumble into the lounge area—an art deco ode to shell-pink velvet and bronze accents—I come to an abrupt stop, encountering the one thing that could distract me from the underwear from hell:

People talking about me.

“Don’t get me wrong, Ziggy’s sweet. She really is.” I can’t see her, but I recognize that voice. It’s Bridget, one of our just-retired midfielders from the National Team, whose spot I filled on our starting lineup. “She’s just so—”

“Young,” offers a voice I recognize, too. Martina, another recently retired player and former starting defender.

“Exactly,” Bridget says. “Frankly, I was surprised she made the roster at all. When Mal asked what I thought about her place on the team, I told him, she’s talented, but she doesn’t have the confidence, the…poise for a starting position, for the exposure and pressure that puts on you.”

“She really doesn’t,” Martina agrees. “I mean, as soon as the camera’s pointed her way, she goes silent and her face turns as red as her hair.”

My hand goes to my hair. And my cheeks turn hot. My vision is starting to get blurry.

“Well, soon enough, Mal will see what a mistake he made.”

Twin tears spill down my cheeks. My hands are fists, shaking as anger boils up inside me. What Bridget and Martina said is so unfair. But it’s also not unprecedented. I’m painfully familiar with this attitude, this perception that I’m juvenile and naïve, some delicate innocent who can’t handle the real world.

My family babies me. My peers underestimate me. I’m tired of it, and I’m sick to my stomach, thinking about what this perception, if it sticks, could cost me—what it already threatened to cost me, but for Coach Mal ignoring Bridget’s warnings and putting me on the team anyway.

I’m mad that I have to deal with this nonsense on today of all days. I get why my brother Ren invited Bridget and Martina to his wedding. They’re local high-profile professional athletes who partner generously with his charity. But still, right now, I really wish he hadn’t.

“All right,” Martina says, her voice growing closer on the restroom side of the lounge. “That’s enough preening. I want to get my hands on those hors d’oeuvres. They looked damn good, and they aren’t going to last forever. This place is crawling with professional athletes; you know how much food they can put away.”

Bridget snorts. “Yeah, I do. I’ve seen you eat.”

Martina’s echoing laugh grows closer. They’re about to see me, and they’ll know I’ve heard them. Desperate to avoid that, I spin and rush out of the room, right into my sister.

“Whoa.” My oldest sibling, Freya, clasps me by the shoulders as I plow into her.

I duck my head, quickly dabbing my face, but Freya hasn’t missed a thing.

“Zigs, what’s wrong? Did someone upset you?” She curls an arm around me and tugs me down the hall. “Hey, talk to me. I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me.”

“I don’t need your help!” I wrench myself away as we turn the corner in the hall, thankfully hiding us from Bridget and Martina. “I don’t need you to manhandle or womanhandle me or whatever, and I don’t need you to stick up for me.”

Freya blinks, her pale blue-gray eyes, just like Mom’s, wide with surprise. Slowly she lifts her hands in surrender. “Okay. I’m sorry. I get in mama-bear mode, you know that. I just want to take care of you. You’re my baby sister.”

I shake my head, scrunching my eyes shut. “I’m the youngest in the family, but I’m not a baby anymore, Freya. I’m a twenty-two-year-old woman.” Huffing a breath, I stare up at the ceiling and try to calm myself. “I vote. I got my driver’s license. I have a job and an apartment. I pay my rent. I take care of myself, okay?”

Freya lowers her hands, her voice quiet and hesitant. “Okay, Ziggy. I’m sorry.”

Guilt turns my stomach sour. I’ve hurt Freya’s feelings, and I didn’t mean to. I meant to be honest, to tell the truth, but I didn’t say it in a way that made her feel good.

So often, it feels like when I’m my true, honest self, I can’t do anything right.

“It’s fine. I’m sorry, too, I just…” Growling with frustration, I clutch my sandals tight in my hand. My underwear’s location in my butt crack is turning into my villain origin story. “I just need somewhere to lose these freaking panties!”

Storming down the hall and leaving my sister in my wake, I catch sight of glass doors opening out to a shadowy terrace, a steep roof shielding it from the last marigold streaks of twilight. Tall tropical plants cover the terra-cotta tiles and form a small, lush oasis, affording me plenty of privacy for what I need to do.

I drop my sandals and hike up my dress to reach the waistband of my underwear. With a sigh of deep relief, I hook my fingers on the waistband, then drag the offending fabric down my thighs. When it hits my ankles, I celebrate by flicking the horrible panties off my foot, into the air over my head. Then I spin around, prepared to catch them.

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