Pirates, by Karin Bishop
Chapter 16: A Day With The Girls
The alarm buzzed at eight; I slapped it but after a ten-minute snooze I slapped it again and knew I had to get up and moving. I showered and then ate in my yellow robe, just a melon and toast. I really wasn’t having a problem with this kind of food; while I hadn’t gone out of my way to ‘eat girly’, I’d made a promise to myself to eat light, and my body seemed to like it better than the ‘boy junk’ I’d been eating.
I decided on khaki shorts and a turquoise tee with ‘Abercrombie’ on it, with cap sleeves and a scoop neck and I wished yet again for cleavage, but the bra did an excellent job otherwise. I liked how long and sleek my legs looked; I’d shaved them again this morning even though they really didn’t need it. I couldn’t help thinking about the boy’s strange look in PE and had a flash that maybe he thought my legs were cute!
That led to all sorts of thoughts and feelings that I just didn’t have time for so I filed them away. I slid my toes into a pair of flip-flops and cursed PE yet again because I wanted nail polish on my toes; they’d look so cute! Soon, Laura, soon! I chuckled to myself; PE Final on Wednesday, then hello, polish! I curled up on the couch with my script; I wanted to make doubly sure that I knew the show as well as I’d promised Mr. Girard.
Ronnie called at nine and asked if we could rehearse at my house; I told her that Mom had already okayed it and Ronnie said she’d call the girls and be over at ten. Mom walked into the room at this point, and waited until I was off the phone.
“So the girls are coming here? At ten? Fine; I’ll just tidy up a little. Honey, I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty of calling the hospital to check on Bree.”
“No, that’s great, Mom. What did you find out? Oh, and thanks for allowing the girls over, and I’ll help you tidy.”
“That’s alright, honey; you’ve got your script to work on. Uh, well … the news isn’t that great. Food poisoning is a tricky diagnosis because the symptoms are similar to and can mask other conditions, and what you said had me concerned. It was brilliant that you noticed and described what happened and how Bree looked when she bent over. And, sad to say, you were right. Unfortunately, her parents were a little foolish and took her home to ‘let her sleep it off,’ I guess. I know that you urged Mr. Girard to tell them to not do that, but they took the path of least resistance, I suppose. You were exactly right, anyway—you shouldn’t try to ‘sleep it off’ even with food poisoning. But at least her parents watched her closely; Bree was taken to Emergency in the middle of the night and she has possibly a ruptured appendix, although it sounds more complicated than that. There may be more there; apparently she was a mess inside—what in the world has she been eating lately?”
“I don’t know; I don’t know her that well. I don’t think any of us do. Will she be alright?”
“She’s not going on tonight, if that’s what you mean.”
“That isn’t it at all; is she going to be okay? It’s not life-threatening, is it? And will she have to miss finals?”
“I’m glad for your concern, you make me proud that it wasn’t your desire to get onstage. Well, it’s no longer life-threatening, but it was. If her parents hadn’t brought her in when they did, she most likely would have been dead by noon. Seriously. She’d have been much better off if they’d gone straight from the school to ER, but maybe she told them it was just something she ate.”
“Her father thought it was the fish they’d had at dinner, but it didn’t seem right to me. I told Mr. Girard to call them back to tell them not to just go home, but I guess he couldn’t get the point across, if he even reached them. And I don’t know her relationship with her parents, either. Geez, I feel terrible not knowing anything about her. Maybe nobody does! Maybe that’s why she always seemed so standoffish; maybe she was just lonely and shy.”
“Well, they say that people that seem egotistical are often overcompensating because they’re really shy. Or misunderstood. You might be right, honey. Well, I’ve got to get to work here. I’ll check in with the hospital through the day and keep you posted.”
I helped her and we tidied up so fast—not that our place was ever messy—so by quarter of ten I was back to my script. I moved the coffee table and some things in the living room to make a dance space, and waited for the girls to arrive … which they did, in a cluster, a little after ten.
Mom met them all—even though technically she knew Ronnie and Dawn—and welcomed them and thanked them for their support.
Dawn said, with a straight face, “You’ve got a wonderful daughter, even if you did raise her as a boy!”
Mom told the girls about her hospital news and then set out cold water bottles—we always kept a case in the fridge—and we went to work. Mainly, Ronnie and Dawn watched and coached from the sidelines as Carlie and I went through all the numbers. Carlie had brought a boom-box and had a ‘scratch tape’, a sort of click-track made during rehearsal weeks, and we could actually sing to the orchestra in the proper keys and tempo. Except for one number that had its ending changed after the first week, the tape exactly duplicated the show and everything ran smoothly, and we adjusted for the change and everything was perfect. It was nearly one o’clock when we called it quits. Ronnie said it was eerie, because she knew that I had never rehearsed together with Teresa, Carlie, and the orchestra, but it was smooth and confident. Carlie said I was ‘seamless’. Dawn said I was ready for the show. Ronnie grinned and said I was ready for goodies.
Dawn said, “I think we should ask her mother first before goodies.”
I was confused, but I called Mom in.
Mom smiled at us. “I couldn’t help but hear you girls singing. You sounded wonderful, Laura! And you, Carlie, and together … wow!”
Ronnie grinned. “They are great together! I can’t wait to hear them with Teresa. The harmonies tonight will be killer!”
Mom said, “I wouldn’t miss tonight’s performance for the world!”
“The reason we asked you in is that we have … goodies for Laura,” Dawn began. “But we want to okay things with you first. I know that Laura got some clothes when she went shopping with us last Sunday.”
“Yes; she had a marvelous time; I hope you all did,” Mom beamed at me. I think I blushed.
Dawn went on, “It was great, but she only got a few things, and I know that you had a major shopping trip on … was it Monday night?”
Ronnie picked up the story. “Well, last night Mr. Girard said that Bree’s costume—Laura’s costume, now—called for white tights and Laura said she didn’t have any. When the three of us left, we got to talking; there must be a lot of things she doesn’t have because, well …”
Dawn chimed in. “Because every girl has years to accumulate things; not just skirts and tops and swimsuits and dresses and all, but scarves and bracelets and belts and … well, you know. Just the variety of things we all have.”
“And we figured that maybe Laura doesn’t have,” Carlie added. “So last night we all decided we’d go through our closets when we got home and grab anything that we thought might work for Laura.”
“Not cast-offs or charity donations or anything like that,” said Ronnie hastily. “It’s just that …”
Dawn finished her sentence. “It’s just that we all share. I mean, at the mall I gave Laura a purse that was Carlie’s.”
Carlie chuckled. “Which I never planned to use because I thought it was one that Ronnie might like.”
“Did you?” Ronnie asked. “Aw, that’s so sweet!” And they hugged.
Dawn turned back to Mom. “So you see, we have a bag of things that Laura might like. Or not, as the case might be. She can wear them, give ‘em back, pass them along to someone else …”
“The great Circle of Life,” Ronnie said with a fake deep voice and laughed.
Mom said, “I think that’s a wonderful thing you girls have done. Yes, by all means; let her have goodies! I’m not offended; I’m deeply touched and glad she has such good friends as you. And I would love to see the goodies, if you don’t mind!”
I finally said something. “Thanks, all of you, but … I don’t see anything.”
Ronnie got up and went to the front door. “We put everything in a Hefty bag and left it in a corner of your front porch. We didn’t want to bring it in until we’d checked with your mother first.”
Carlie said, “We didn’t want her to think it was charity or anything like that.”
Ronnie came back in with a black plastic bag; I was surprised at how big the bundle was. Ronnie set it on the coffee table and peeled it open. There was a white sheet covering everything—‘so there’s no plastic smell’, Carlie explained. Ronnie put the bag on the ground and unwrapped the sheet. There was a neat pile of clothing that she began separating.
Dawn said, “We’ve got them all mixed in together so you can’t tell who contributed what.”
“Can’t necessarily tell!” Ronnie chuckled.
Carlie joined in. “If it’s in bad taste, it’s Ronnie’s!”
Ronnie said, “And if it’s smaller than she’ll ever be, it’s Carlie’s!”
Everybody laughed heartily.
I said, “I’m confused, though … are we doing Carlie’s mall trip today …”
Dawn said, “We figured between rehearsing, resting, and getting to the theatre early to get you fitted, it only left time for goodies.”
Ronnie said, “Yeah, we owe Carlie a full shopping day like we had.”
“I can’t wait!” I smiled. “So … on with the goodies.”
“That’s right,” Dawn laughed. “On with the goodies!”
There was a wonderful assortment of items. There were several skirts, some shorts and a lot of tops. At one point I pulled out a beautiful teal embroidered peasant top, and Carlie said, “I can’t believe I got the wrong size …”
Ronnie cautioned, “Hey! What did we agree? No ownership!” Turning to me and Mom, she said, “We thought it would make a weird thing weirder if you knew who things belonged to. They’re all mixed together so you can’t tell what comes from who. And no telling, Carlie! It’s kind of a fun secret for us.”
Dawn chuckled, “You might be able to guess in some cases.” With the back of her hand to her mouth, she stage-whispered, “If it looks fabulous, it’s obviously mine!”
There were laughs all around because it was a fact that all three had great taste. Carlie and Dawn were closer in size to me; Ronnie was taller than me, although I’d been able to wear some of her things. With some items the girls’ size difference didn’t matter, like the several tie-string bikinis—which had me kind of blushing and I did not try on. But I made a snap decision.
“We’re all girls, here, right, Mom?”
She gave me a strange look but said, “Yes, honey …”
“And girls change in front of other girls?”
“Certainly, honey. Ah … I think I understand. Well, your call, hon.”
“Be back in a sec.”
I went to my bedroom quickly and retrieved the box with the gel inserts Dawn had given me. I came back to the living room and handed them to Dawn, who nodded but seemed confused. The other girls didn’t understand at all.
“Thank you, Dawn; they were lifesavers, and I’ll never forget them.”
I clenched my teeth, looked at the three girls, and stripped. When I took off my t-shirt, there was a little intake of breath. My ‘breasts’ were covered by my bra, so I appeared fully natural. I loved that little intake of breath; it meant they hadn’t been expecting the realism. Ah, I thought, but wait …
When I dropped my shorts and stepped out of them, the intake of breath was not little this time; Carlie gasped, “Omigod!” and Ronnie’s hand flew to her mouth. Dawn smiled and nodded. All of this reaction was because I was wearing the gaff under my panties, so I looked absolutely 100% female to them. The reaction was wonderful and I felt I was definitely on the right track.
Thus began the fashion show, trying on as many things as possible. It was wonderful being one of the girls, pure and simple. Many of the things fit; a few did not. As I said, I didn’t try the bikinis, because they could be adjusted with the ties. I finished up wearing a denim miniskirt and the teal peasant blouse. Then there were accessories; scarves and some bracelets and things that would go with a lot of outfits. And finally, there were two pairs of white stockings in unopened packages, and it was the general opinion that the white lace ones would be best with the costume. When we were done, there was a very small pile of clothes that wouldn’t fit left in the sheet, and Dawn folded it up and put it back in the bag.
There was another round of hugs and thank-yous and some tears, and the girls announced that it was time for them to leave, time for me to rest, and we’d meet at school at five o’clock. I hated to see them go; I loved being with them, but they were right. I had to focus on performing tonight, and I knew that it would be a very important—maybe the most important—night of my life.
Chapter 17: Fitting Kate
Mom told me to nap for an hour and then shower. She had one of those grilled chicken salads that I love waiting for me; I didn’t eat too much because of nerves. Because we weren’t exactly sure how Mr. Girard wanted to inform the cast and crew about my taking Bree’s spot, we decided—reluctantly—that Lawrence would show up. So I carefully put my breasts, lingerie, a skirt, top, flats and some other things in an overnight bag, and dressed in my usual black shirt and pants. My face in the mirror looked washed out and pale; at first I thought maybe I was getting sick and then realized I was becoming more and more used to seeing my face with makeup, or at least lipstick. I resisted the urge to apply some, brushed my hair into Lawrence’s hairstyle—or lack of it!—sighed deeply, and left for school.
As I crossed the parking lot I saw Ronnie’s mom dropping off Ronnie and Dawn. Their faces were a curious mix of emotions when they saw me, but I saw Dawn nod and say something to Ronnie, who also nodded. Carlie was approaching from around the athletic fields.
“What can I say?” was my first remark when I got to them.
Dawn said, “You know, I never really realized before how hard this must be on you. I mean, intellectually, yeah, I understood; but leaving happy Laura this morning and seeing unhappy Lawrence now … God, what you must be going through.”
“It’s not too bad, now,” I shrugged. “I know that Lawrence’s days are numbered.”
Ronnie leered. “Kind of gives a new meaning to the old Bible thing about “the days of the beast are numbered!”
Carlie groaned, “Geez, Ronnie; don’t go all Exorcist on us!”
“The Omen, actually,” Dawn corrected, off-hand. “She’s just weird that way. Anyway, we don’t know what Mr. Girard has planned, so I think Laura dressed right. Or is that Laura in the bag?” She chuckled.
“You know too much und now I vill have to keel you,” I joked with an atrocious accent.
Dawn turned to Ronnie. “Make a note for Mr. Girard. She sings and dances but sucks at line readings.”
We all laughed, and then Carlie got serious. “Any word on Bree?”
I told them my mom had called the hospital while I was dressing and Bree had a late surgery and was still coming out of the anesthesia around 4:30.
“No singing and dancing for Bree, then,” Ronnie murmured.
Keeping things serious, I said, “I really, really want to think you again for everything you’ve done for me. And we didn’t talk about it, but there’s a chance Mr. Girard might not have me go on. Maybe he changes his mind, or maybe the school won’t allow it; maybe he found someone better—”
“That’s crap,” Carlie said, “There is nobody better!”
“I appreciate that, Carlie,” I smiled, “but I’m saying this because I just want you all to know that I’m not doing all this for the stage time.”
“We never thought that!” Ronnie protested.
“I didn’t think you did; I just mean that this is …” I held up the bag. “This is my new life, or maybe my first real chance at life, and you three were all there at the beginning, and thank you for everything. No matter what happens tonight.”
We made small talk for a few minutes and Mr. Girard’s car pulled in, closely followed by Mrs. Wilson’s van. They got out to us and Mr. Girard pursed his lips.
“What’s this? Do I have Lawrence tonight and Two Little Maids, or what?”
I explained that I didn’t know how he wanted to break it to everybody, and it was a lot easier to go from Lawrence to Laura than the other way around. He nodded his agreement and we talked about the pros and cons of different ‘unveilings’. Should I be presented to them as Lawrence and then magically transformed to Kate, or be presented fully in costume already as Kate? We immediately ruled out introducing me as Laura dressed like any other girl. He interrupted himself and showed me the insert for the programs. A slip of paper read:
Tonight, the role of Kate, usually played by Bree Fletcher, will be played by Laura Henderson.
The Pirates cast, crew, and families all wish Bree a speedy recovery.
We decided that I’d be fitted first, to allow Mrs. Wilson time to alter the costume as needed, but I’d be presented to the cast and crew as Lawrence—he’d contacted them all to be there by seven—and then I’d disappear and come back as Kate. Nothing was said about changing back after the show, but Dawn and I exchanged looks. Then he turned us over to Mrs. Wilson.
She clearly wasn’t buying it at first. “Oh, you’re small enough, I’m sure—no offense—but you’re not a girl. We move differently than boys, you know.”
We all suppressed giggles; Mrs. Wilson did, in fact, move like a long-haul trucker.
She sighed like she carried the burdens of the world. “Well, I’ll see what I can do. It won’t be the first time.”
She began puttering around in a basket and Dawn said, “Be right back. Thanks, Mrs. Wilson.”
I didn’t know what that was all about, but I hoped she returned soon; Dawn really was my Rock of Gibraltar through all this.
Mrs. Wilson turned to me and said, “Now, I don’t want to embarrass you, but we have to think about what you’re going to do for a bust.”
“Oh, we’ve got that taken care of, Mrs. Wilson,” Ronnie piped in. “Be right back.” She grabbed me behind a flat and whispered, “She’ll never really understand. Kind of tunnel vision.” We opened my bag; I removed my shirt and quickly donned a white bra and inserted my breasts. We came back around the flat to confront a startled Mrs. Wilson.
“You’ve got … Omigod … Oh, I see,” she peered closely at my chest—probably not unlike a long-haul trucker leering at a girl’s boobs. It would have been hilarious but we couldn’t laugh; we needed her skills.
“A little help from Mother?” Mrs. Wilson grinned. “Well, I’ll have to thank her for making my job easier. Um …” She was staring at my pants.
“No problem,” I said and dropped my pants. Before anyone could gasp they saw I was wearing boxers. What they didn’t see is that I had my gaff on under it. I’d been wearing a gaff ever since I’d first one on, with the exception of sleeping, showering—and in PE, of course.
“Fair enough,” Mrs. Wilson draped the white dress over me and did up the buttons.
“Oh, and we’ve got white stockings for her, Mrs. Wilson,” Carlie said.
“That’s good; we can’t provide any for health—you said, ‘her’? Well, it’ll probably help Lawrence get into the role.”
Dawn had walked up at this point and flashed me a quick look, then said, “You know, Mrs. Wilson, it might be easier to just go with that. Pretend that there is no Lawrence; tonight she’s Laura and has always been a girl.” She spoke slowly as if the thought had just occurred to her, but I knew she was manipulating the wardrobe mistress.
Mrs. Wilson gave her a look. “Laura, huh? Why not Kate? That’s who he’s playing.”
Dawn said slowly, “Right.” I could tell she was working on coming up with something. “But it’s going to have to be a two-step process for Lawrence. Bree was already a girl and wore dresses and so it was just putting on Kate, so to speak; a one-step process. But it’s an extra step for Lawrence.”
She gave me a quick look that I read as ‘Don’t crack up; just keep a straight face and go with me on this!’
Aloud she said, “Lawrence is first going to have to imagine that he’s a girl—pretty tough, you’re right, Mrs. Wilson. And then he’s going to have to imagine he’s—I mean, she’s—going to have to imagine she’s Kate. See? So can we all agree that Lawrence is Laura—seems like a good name, right?—and then fit her as Kate?”
I had no idea how she could keep a straight face herself!
Mrs. Wilson pursed her lips and then nodded. “Oh, like Method Acting? Hmm. Well, it’ll certainly make my job easier. Okay, Laura, honey; hold your pretty arms up.” She gave me an apologetic ‘Just kidding!’ look and began fiddling with a measuring tape and pinning the dress.
I shot Dawn a grin and a ‘thumbs-up’. We all knew that the dress fit almost perfectly anyway, from trying it on last night, but Mrs. Wilson had to go through her routine. I had to admit that once she had it pinned and stood back, it fit closer and truly did fit perfectly. Carlie had already given me her spare pair of white shoes, and I wore those as Mrs. Wilson finished the hem and stood back.
“My word,” she stared, open-mouthed. “You make a truly beautiful girl. I mean, no offense.”
“None taken, Mrs. Wilson,” I smiled and twirled my parasol. “And thank you for saying I’m a truly beautiful girl.”
She sputtered a little bit, then waved her hand. “Oh, go on; you actors … Come on, now; take everything off. Time to put the genie back in the bottle.”
I could tell from Dawn’s face that she loved the analogy, but I meekly complied, removing everything. I pulled my pants up and reluctantly parted from my bra and breasts. It was odd, but instinctively my arms flew up to cross my naked chest. I heard Dawn chuckle and saw Ronnie’s grin. I grinned back sheepishly, and then put on my black shirt and went to find Mr. Girard.
Chapter 18: Personal and Theatrical History
Mr. Girard was talking to Beth McKinney, one of Ronnie’s prop people. I knew Beth to be smart and a hard worker, and when Mr. Girard called me over and told me that Beth would be prompter for the night, I knew my beloved headphones would be in good hands. I went over to the prompter’s booth with Beth—who, like me, was short and would fit—and showed her the switches and talkback system for the phones. I showed her my notes and added a few on the spot. I wanted her to know who usually needed help and at what spots she should be especially on top of the game.
Beth nodded, we did a mock run-through, and I was satisfied. As she hung up the headphones, she said, “Mr. Girard says you’re going to go on for Bree.”
I left it at, “Yes.”
“Um … as a girl, I mean wearing Bree’s dress and everything?”
“Bree’s costume, yes.”
She turned to face me. “Look, Lawrence, I think there’s more going on than I know about, but before everybody gets here and the madness starts …”
I had no idea where she was going. I helped her along with, “Beth, we’ve always been friendly, if not real friends … but then I don’t really have many friends. Anyway, you can say anything you want; don’t worry about hurting my feelings.”
Beth peeked out from the prompter’s box and seeing the coast was clear, said quietly, “Do you … do you want to wear Bree’s costume? I mean, dress, stockings, act like a girl … everything?”
“It’s not a matter of wanting to wear her costume. Bree really and truly can’t go on tonight, and we can’t postpone because there’s no school left and the theatre’s booked. We can’t cancel because that would just bum everybody out and deprive a lot of families from seeing the show and their kids. So that leaves re-blocking everything around two girls instead of three—including whoever sings Bree’s lines—and that would be a nightmare and there just isn’t enough time to put it together for one night. And the whole point of Mr. Girard putting ‘Three Little Maids’ in the show is because it’s so well-known. Making it ‘Two Little Maids’ would just be silly! That means replacing Bree. And I kind of stumbled into it. But I never, ever thought, ‘Ooh, I bet I can do it better than her’. Never.”
“Oh, God, no; I never thought that. You’re just not that type of person. Everything you say is right; last night I wondered how we could pull it off if Bree couldn’t make it tonight. But you said you ‘stumbled into it’ … how?”
“I was at a meeting planning the wrap party—and no, it’s a secret and I won’t tell you about it!—and was goofing around with Carlie. I sang some of the ‘Three Little Maids’ and it kind of snowballed from there. Carlie was the one that suggested me to Mr. Girard when Bree got sick, not me. And I’d appreciate you telling people that, if you hear anybody saying otherwise.”
“No problem. It makes sense. And it’s kind of what I wanted to ask you about.” She surprised me by peeking out of the box again and dropped back down, and spoke even quieter. “Please, please don’t get offended, but … do you want to be a girl?”
Her question absolutely rocked me. I was shocked speechless for a moment, and decided I needed more information—and to stall to allow my brain to function again—so I asked, neutrally, “Why would you ask that, Beth?”
“Well … you’re not the … let’s just say you’re not the most macho guy at school. You’re shorter than any of the other boys; and you’re gentle and your face and body are … Oh, God; I’m screwing this up. I’m sorry; forget I said anything.”
I put my hand on her forearm and took the plunge. “No, no, Beth; it’s fine. I’m going to tell you something ultra-serious—but this you don’t share with the other kids, okay? Like I said, we’ve been friendly and I know you’re smart and a good person and Ronnie likes your work and she’s darned hard to please.”
“No kidding; Props are, like, sacred to her,” she grinned.
“So that makes you highly recommended,” I added with a smile. “So … we don’t have a lot of time, so I’ll go right to the end, not the beginning. It’s not ‘wanting’ to wear a dress; that’s what girls wear and I am a girl. No time to go into it, but first and foremost, it’s a medical thing and not a whim, okay? Not a sexual kink? And not The Jerry Springer Show. It’s biological. Since birth. Once school lets out I stop living as a boy and spend the rest of my life as a girl. Lawrence ceases to exist in less than a week. I have the full support of my mother and a few select friends—of which you’re now included. I dress and live as a girl at home—heck, I am a girl at home—after school and weekends and everywhere else, and I can’t wait for school to end so I can drop this whole ‘Lawrence’ thing. I’m Laura, by the way,” I smiled and held my hand out, as girls do, for her to shake.
I had this momentary fear that she would be so totally creeped out that my hand would be left dangling and she’d run screaming. Instead, she grinned and shook my hand. “Pleased to meet you, Laura, although I feel I’ve known you for awhile.”
Carlie had said almost the exact same thing!
Beth admitted she didn’t remember me from school itself—although we’d had two classes together; how’s that for invisible!—but explained that working with me these past weeks, she’d noticed little things about me that seemed ‘off’. It wasn’t until after the wrap party that it dawned on her that she’d been so comfortable with me because I’d just been ‘one of the girls’. Thinking back, she realized that the ‘off things’ made sense if she mentally pictured me as a girl. She hadn’t said anything to anybody out of respect for me, but she had already thought, ‘I bet he’d be happier as a girl. I wonder if he’s ever thought that way?’ and finally got a chance to ask me.
I heard my name being called and told Beth she was going to do fine as a prompter but to watch out for the ‘new girl’—meaning me—because she might freeze from nerves. Impulsively, Beth reached out and hugged me. “You’ll be fine, Laura. Fine? I think you’ll be great! Break a leg!”
Carlie was calling for me; she’d had Teresa come in early to rehearse with me. I didn’t have to go into the detail I’d done with Beth; Teresa was a trouper and knew the show must go on. We went to a meeting room where Carlie had set up a sound system with the tape we’d rehearsed to. Teresa told me it was a brave thing I was doing.
“You mean, pretending to be a girl?”
“No, silly,” Teresa chuckled. “I have a feeling that won’t be too hard for you. And I mean that in the nicest way possible! I mean learning the whole show’s songs and steps right before curtain.”
I could tell that she didn’t mean her first statement harshly; she probably had recognized things the same way Carlie and Beth had. This led to a fleeting thought … did I appear girlish to everyone? And all along I’d thought I’d been so successful being Lawrence! Then I didn’t have time for any further thoughts because Carlie pushed ‘Play’ and we began singing. I could tell by Teresa’s face that at first she didn’t believe how good I sounded—and how well I knew the material—but then she began to obviously enjoy our harmonies. Bree was an okay singer, but the close harmonies caused her problems, and to a genuine singer like Teresa, it was painful at times. With my voice, we had a tight blend, and it made the lines much clearer to understand, much cuter, and much funnier.
Then it was time for the choreography, and again Teresa was surprised that I knew it so well; then she answered her own question when she said, “Probably from all the prompting, right?” We only had to run through steps one time and then it was combination time. Carlie rewound the tape and I centered myself. Now it was all coming together, and after a second run-through of ‘Three Little Maids’, our signature number, Teresa said, “Wow!” and Carlie just grinned. We were ready.
Most everybody had shown up, so Mr. Girard had everyone sit in the audience seats. He raised an eyebrow to me, which I took to mean he was asking if the rehearsal went well. I nodded quickly; he gave a single smiling nod, and I sat down as well.
Mr. Girard surveyed everybody as they quieted. “We’re all here … Good. Thank you, everybody, for coming in early; I know you must have had Saturday plans. Well, we’re at our final performance and everybody has done fantastically. We have a few announcements. First, Veronica?”
Ronnie stood up and faced the crowd. “I want to tell you about the wrap party tonight. Dawn, Carlie, Laura—ence,” she stumbled a tiny bit over my name and cleared her throat, “and Heather planned it. You all should have received the flyer a few days ago but I want to go over a few things. We’re going to meet at the Roller-Rama as soon as possible. Crew heads, put away what you can but don’t obsess over it; we want you at the party. We’ll get everything back together next week. Cast: Makeup is okay. You can remove it if you’re fast but it’s okay to show up in character, but without costumes, of course. Mrs. Wilson will need everything, so after the last curtain call, get out of your costume quickly and give it to Mrs. Wilson’s crew. If you’re running late, don’t bother removing makeup; just get dressed and head over. And if anybody needs a ride, let us know. And you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a ride home afterward. Okay? Any questions? Cool; break a leg, everybody!”
Mr. Girard resumed. “It’s been a real joy working with all of you, but we’ll save the ‘Thank You’ speeches until the party. In the meantime, this is important. Some of you have been in my History of Theatre course—no groaning, now!—but you all should know I want these shows to be learning experiences as well as fun. So, a quick lecture.”
Inevitably, there were a few groans, a few hangman’s nooses mimicked, and a general slumping in the seats.
“Don’t fall asleep; you might miss something interesting,” Mr. Girard grinned. Then his voice went into Cool Teacher mode.
“In English theatre, boys played all the women’s parts until what we call the Restoration, the 1660s, when a king was restored to the throne, hence the name of the period. This means that in Shakespeare’s time, the original Juliet … was a boy.”
He paused to let that sink in. A few people snapped their heads toward him and a few gasped.
“In Shakespeare’s time, all the women’s parts were played by boys. So the original Juliet was a boy; Lady Macbeth was a boy; King Lear’s three daughters were three boys. There wasn’t anything gay or odd about it; their culture declared women on stage forbidden. After Shakespeare’s time, there was a Civil War in England and a strict religious group ruled the country, they executed the king and they closed all the theatres.”
There were some good-natured boos. I had to chuckle to myself at how much tumultuous history was being condensed into a few sentences.
Mr. Girard went on. “While England suffered under this doom and gloom, the heir to the throne was living it up in France, where women were allowed on stage. So when England had finally had enough pious austerity and called him back—restoring a king to the throne; again, that’s why it’s called the Restoration—he brought back the things he’d learned to love—including theatre with women on the stage. But boys continued to play young girls’ parts for a time. So this is a part of the theatrical history that all of us share—every one of us that works in and loves theatre.”
He paused again and his voice changed. “Most of you know that Bree fell ill last night. Most of you don’t know that it was life-threatening and she underwent surgery this afternoon. It was not simple food poisoning; it was something extremely serious and had it not been caught, she would have been dead by noon today.”
There was a collective gasp and cries of ‘Oh no!’ and ‘Is she okay?’ and Bree would have been touched to know that the concern seemed heartfelt.
Mr. Girard held up his hands, palms out. “Now, now, settle down. I’ve been informed that the surgery was successful and she’s out of the woods. Unfortunately, she’s also out of our show tonight.”
Some heads went down as kids contemplated this. Nobody was slumping in their seat anymore.
He added, “Of course, she’s also out of finals next week.”
There was laughter breaking the somber mood, and a few cheers of ‘Way to go, Bree!’ and even some shouting ‘Where can I get what she had?’ I had to hand it to Mr. Girard; he played the audience like a musical instrument.
He held his hands up. “But for our show tonight: With Bree missing, we were faced with cancelling, re-blocking, or finding a replacement. Bree didn’t have an understudy, but we’ve found one at the last minute.” He paused for suspense. “Lawrence, would you please stand up?”
He’d told me how he was going to handle this, so I was prepared. But I was still very, very nervous.
“Lawrence Henderson has been our prompter and has done an outstanding job. Those of you who work on crews probably don’t have any idea of the amount of work he’s done, but our cast can certainly attest to it.”
There were a few calls of ‘Way to go, Lawrence’ and ‘Hear, hear’ and ‘He saved my butt that first week!’ which I knew came from our pirate captain.
Mr. Girard did the palm-up thing again to quiet them. “Yes, we can all thank Lawrence for his prompting skills at the party. Beth McKinney will be prompting tonight. Lawrence will be working as Bree’s understudy.”
There was a pause while they digested this. Just as they started to realize it meant I’d be a Maid, Mr. Girard stifled their questions by continuing.
“Tonight at the party we will all be thanking Lawrence also for his work as one of our Three Little Maids. There will be an insert in the program announcing that the part will be played by ‘Laura’ Henderson, which is the name that will be used only when he is wearing girl’s clothes. And there will be absolutely no hassle from anybody about this, do you understand? Lawrence is saving our show tonight, and in the best Shakespearean tradition, I might add. We will also make a special announcement informing everyone of the change, and we have a large card for everybody to sign for Bree; see Deanna in the Box Office for that. Now, places, everyone; House crew will begin seating in five minutes.”
He’d timed it perfectly; there was no time for anybody to ask any questions or even think of any. I got lots of strange looks, some disbelieving, some wary, and quite a few warm smiles and thumbs-up. I released the breath that I didn’t know I’d been holding.
Mr. Girard grinned down at me. “Told you I’d handle it, didn’t I? Now, it’s your job to make them believers. Break a leg, Laura!”
Chapter 19: The Show Must Go On
After thanking Mr. Girard, I headed to Mrs. Wilson. She was waiting for me already with my costume and my bag, and Dawn and I were hustled into a faculty bathroom in the hall behind the theatre. After we set everything up, there was a moment of ‘whoosh!’ relaxation, but just a moment.
Dawn grinned and wiggled her fingers, more like a conjurer than Jazz Hands. “Magic time!”
I stripped without a thought of modesty. When I pulled my boxers off, exposing the gaff, Dawn didn’t blink an eye. In my bag were fresh new white bikini panties; when I pulled them up and they covered the gaff, Dawn nodded and smiled.
“It looks right on you,” she complimented, meaning the smooth mound and bikini panties. “Looks like you.”
“Thanks,” I grinned, “but not quite right …” I quickly put on my white bra and added my breasts. I bent over and adjusted and stood straight. “Aah!” I sighed with pleasure. “Now I look like me! Feel like me!”
I pulled up the lacy pantyhose, sitting on the toilet with my leg extended, and then did the ‘crotch dance’, as I’d heard Ronnie once call the bent-knee squat while adjusting stockings. Then I buckled the shoes.
“So ladylike,” Dawn laughed. “If boys only saw how silly we look when we’re getting pretty for them!”
It was wonderful that she automatically included me as ‘we’, as one of the girls. There was a momentary happy twinge deep inside me at the thought of getting pretty for a boy, and there was a flash of Jeremy’s smile and the boy in PE … but I quickly shoved the thoughts aside. There was no time for that now.
Next came a slip and finally the white dress—the costume, we would call it in public—and then Dawn had me lift my hair and she attached a gold necklace and we tucked it under my dress.
“Like sexy lingerie, you’ll know it’s there and feel more feminine,” she smiled. “And here.”
I took the magnetic earrings she’d given me—two small gold hoops—and put them in. Dawn looked at me critically, grinned and nodded and then handed me two blue rubbery things.
“Stick your fingers between them,” she advised. “A lot of girls use separators when they do their toenails, but I also use the larger ones when I’m doing hands. It reminds actors that they’ve got polish or makeup on; they’re less likely to forget and scratch their nose or something.”
She quickly and expertly applied the polish Carlie had given her that all three maids wore. I sat there with my fingers splayed in the separators, feeling a bit like I had when the girls made me up before the mall. Ronnie had said then, ‘Now don’t get used to it’ but I thought it wouldn’t be hard getting used to!
Next Dawn went to work on my hair. I couldn’t believe how fast she worked, or how pretty and feminine my hair was when she was done.
“I’m going to attach your hat, check things, then remove the hat,” she said, in her serious professional ‘I’m-doing-makeup-now’ voice.
She attached the hat, fiddled a bit with my hair, and removed the hat. Satisfied, she opened her magic tool kit and went to work. It was always fun watching her, because she could hold several brushes and sponges between her fingers while she brushed, dusted, daubed, painted, and generally made like a Rembrandt.
When I was shown the results in the bathroom mirror, I was breathless. I was a Pretty Little Maid! It was undeniably feminine makeup, exaggerated for stage—but not enough to be overly garish, and perfectly matched the makeup that Carlie and Teresa wore. My heart beat wildly … I was really going to do this! I was going to go onstage and perform as a girl …
A new feeling washed over me. Confidence. Yes, I was going to go onstage and perform as a girl, because I was a good singer and dancer, and because … I was a girl. I just had to keep that in my head and not get distracted. Dawn checked that my polish was dry, but hit it with a dryer anyway, just to be sure, and then handed me my white gloves. I picked up my parasol and twirled it with a grin.
Dawn grinned right back. “And as we said before … Showtime!”
And with that, she threw open the door. And … nothing happened. Everybody was bustling around; it was five minutes to curtain and I went to the backstage place stage right where the Maids would make their entrance. Carlie and Teresa were there, sipping water through straws, and turned to see me. Carlie smiled and nodded, but I thought Teresa was going to do a spit take.
“Omigod! Omigod! I don’t believe it!” Teresa sputtered.
“Keep it down, Tere,” Carlie grinned. “But, yeah … she cleans up purty good, don’t she?”
“Is it okay?” I asked, suddenly nervous. I turned left and right on my heel.
“Okay? You look fantastic!” Teresa whispered, and hugged me.
Carlie handed me a water bottle with a straw and the number ‘3’ painted on the side. She showed me where we placed the bottles before going on, although I already knew. I’d tried over the weeks to familiarize myself with every aspect of the show, and at last … at last it was going to pay off.
I took a sip and placed the bottle in the holding area. All around us, other actors were milling … and staring and whispering.
Teresa spun on her heel and confronted them with a loudly whispered, “What?”
There was a whispered chorus of ‘Nothing!’ and ‘Never mind!’ and then one voice said, “You look great, Laura; break a leg!” and the orchestra struck up the overture and it was, indeed, Showtime.
Chapter 20: And … Showtime!
We made our entrance on the third number; at first we would be in a crowd scene, singing chorus. Our big number would come at the end of the first act. Just before going on, we turned and crooked our little finger, linked fingers and shook, then pulled apart and did a shooting motion skyward. Teresa was surprised that I knew that the three of them did this every night for luck, but I had seen the girls do this ritual from my prompter’s box, which could see into the wings a little bit. I knew most of the good luck rituals the actors did, and it was only natural to join in. Carlie grinned hugely and playfully shoved me out.
Nothing—absolutely nothing—can prepare you for what it’s like being on stage! You can watch from as close as the prompter’s box, or the orchestra pit, or even the wings. But once you’re out there and the lights hit you and you see that ocean of dark shapes and faces in the audience … it’s a rush. I immediately felt a surge of energy and my smile got even bigger and the three of us milled around in the crowd—all carefully choreographed, of course—and sang our lines. It was a chance for us to get a quick rehearsal of our close harmony before our big number.
We twirled our parasols and did cute little curtsies and I went Method Actress all of a sudden and just pictured myself as a pretty girl, out with her girlfriends at the beach, when we see pirates landing. I shrieked—on cue and on key—with the other girls and scampered off stage. We had a chuckle and Carlie hugged me.
“Welcome to The Big Time!” she joked.
I turned in the wings to watch the next scene, and I could still feel the rush and my huge grin. I glanced at the prompter’s box just as Beth looked up at the scene, caught my eye, grinned and gave me two thumbs-up. I mouthed ‘Thank you!’ at her and turned as Teresa called me.
“Omigod, you sing well! That was fun!” she said. “I’m so looking forward to Maids!”
“Me, too, although I’m a little nervous!” I agreed.
“Nothing to be nervous about. If you were going to be nervous, you wouldn’t be this excited,” Carlie added. “Use the excitement, channel it and keep your energy up. Just like we’ve done it, only it’ll be even more fun!”
We retrieved our waters and sipped a little. I got some more thumbs-up signs and the ‘Okay!’ circled thumb-and-forefinger from passing cast and crew members, and relaxed a little. Then came our cue for Places, and some nerves reappeared.
“Channel the nerves, use the fear, make it your engine,” Carlie whispered.
“Gotcha,” I smiled. “And, Carlie … thanks for everything.”
“No, thank you!” she teased.
“No, thenk yew!” I teased right back.
And suddenly we were onstage, singing, doing our dance, twirling our parasols, and I was absolutely transported. We were Three Little Maids From School. We were the very definition of frilly, feminine, youthful girlhood. It was heaven, it was bliss, and it was over all too soon and the applause was thunderous and went on and on and the whistles grew as the curtain came down.
Huge relief! Hugs all around, and Ronnie ran up and hugged me and Dawn waved ecstatically from the other side of the stage. We had an assigned place to sit for intermission, and fanned ourselves and sipped and gradually our breathing got regular again—but we couldn’t stop smiling.
Teresa was going on and on. “Omigod that was fun! It’s so cool to sing in close harmony and nail it! God, I’m jazzed!”
Carlie had told me how Teresa was serious about a career as a singer, and she certainly had the pipes for it. I kept complimenting the two of them for making it so easy for me. We just felt great.
We felt like sisters.
In the second act we had several group numbers, singing sections of choruses, and a small reprise of the ‘Three Little Maids’ chorus. Suddenly, much too quickly, it was curtain call. We took six curtain calls and I could see by the third one that the audience was giving us a standing ovation—not the fake one where they’re really just standing up to leave, either. Then hugs all around backstage, and Pirates was over.
We all went out into the house; family and friends were waiting for us. Many had brought flowers; some even had signs with their family member’s name on it in sparkles, like something out of American Idol. I saw Mom on the far side and waved; she waved back. A strange thing happened as I made my way to her. Many people from the show congratulated me and a few girls hugged me; some said, ‘Way to go!’ or ‘Great job!’. But whether they were cast, crew, or audience, not one person made any reference to me being a boy in a dress. Not a single person treated me as anything other than a singing actress. It cheered me immensely and strengthened my decision about the wrap party.
When I got to Mom, we hugged fiercely and she gushed all over me, saying she knew I could sing and knew I could dance, but didn’t know I could sing and dance so well! She went on and on, and then leaned close and whispered, “And nobody is causing you any grief?”
“None at all, Mom,” I reassured her. “It’s like everybody took things in stride. They just seem to accept Laura. Of course, Mr. Girard did a great job introducing me and explaining me to them. But … it’s as if they already knew somehow.”
Mom nodded. “I think that watching you perform … no; that’s not it. It’s not just performing. I think that just watching you—walking or talking or just the way you carry yourself—it became obvious to them that you are a girl. I think they’ll forget about Lawrence pretty quickly because Laura is so real.”
“Mom … about the wrap party …”
“Don’t worry; Ronnie’s mom will be taking you and bringing you home, although I’d love to see you get the praise you deserve. You were so wonderful, honey!”
“Thanks, Mom. Listen, I know about Ronnie’s mom. Um … I mean at the wrap party. I’ve come to a decision … about …”
She smiled and nodded. “I think I know what you’re trying to say, and I think you know my answer. I’m mostly concerned about your safety. I’m not as concerned about your happiness because we’ve found your happiness. But whatever you decide, honey, I’ll support you. I love you, my beautiful, talented daughter!”
“And I love you, Mom!”
We hugged again and she told me she’d wait up to hear all about it, and to have a great time. I watched her leave and then headed backstage. There was a rush going on to get out of costume and to get everything stored before heading off to the rink for our wrap party. I didn’t want to get out of my pretty white dress, and I certainly didn’t want to go back to being Lawrence. Dawn came up and sat down on the edge of a table next to me.
“You kicked ass, Laura,” she grinned. “And best of all? It was the last performance so we avoid the sticky question of how to break it to Bree that you’re better and should be doing the part. You’re the star of the night. God, you were good!”
“Thanks, Dawn, but it was three of us! But … I’m really sad it’s ended.”
“Yeah, that’s the downside of theatre. You work intensely hard for a short time and get really close to people, and pfft! it’s over. I’ve known people that stop doing plays because they can’t take the depression when we wrap. And you’ll see a lot of emotion at the wrap party. People often do stupid things, make out with someone they wouldn’t be caught dead with, for instance; just caught up in the emotional moment.”
“Or to put off the emotional letdown,” Carlie said. She was changed already, wearing a denim miniskirt, black leggings that ended at the ankle, and a black and white striped top. “I did that last year, stupid me.”
“Not so stupid,” Dawn said gently. “The realization that on Monday, we’re just students like everyone else … it’s depressing.” She sighed, lost in her thoughts for a moment. Turning to me, she said, “And you, missy? Don’t you have something to do and somewhere to be?”
“I’m putting off the emotional letdown,” I grinned. “But don’t you have to do Makeup department things right now?”
“Nah; the beauty of makeup is that once everyone’s on stage for the second act, we begin putting everything away. So we’re mostly done; just put out the Albolene and tissues for the actors and toss the mess when they’re done. I’m just hanging until you thespians are ready to go.”
I realized I had to finally get out of the dress. With Dawn and Carlie there, I said, “Listen, Lawrence isn’t going to the wrap party.”
Carlie said, “But you’ve got to go! You helped plan it, and everyone is going to want to congratulate you, and … you’ve just got to go!”
Dawn chuckled. “Listen to what she said, Carlie: Lawrence isn’t going to the wrap party.” Then with a serious tone, she asked, “Are you sure, hon?”
I nodded. “I have to do it. I’m not worried about hassles from anybody at school; I just have five finals on four days and it’s done. Mom has already said with the last final it’s goodbye Lawrence forever; all I’m going to do is introduce Laura a little bit earlier, and to everybody that’s already seen her. I’ll still dress like Lawrence for finals, but anybody that cares will know it’s a masquerade.”
“I think that anybody that cares already guessed that,” Carlie said gently.
Just then Heather came around the corner, calling, “Hey, are you guys still here—hey!” She grinned on seeing us. Seeing me, her smile got wider. “You were phenomenal! I couldn’t believe it—well, yes, I could, because I already knew, but your harmonies, and your dancing, and …” She was so enthusiastic that she made a funny face and spun her hands around her head. “Just wow!”
Dawn said drily, “Yes, she was, indeed, a wow.”
We all laughed at that, and then Heather frowned slightly. “Um, Laura …”
“Yes, Heather?” I responded, to help her out. She seemed to be floundering after her initial craziness.
“You, um … are you …” She was drowning.
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Is she what, Heather? Is she a vegan? Is she an aardvark? Is she from Fort Wayne, Indiana?”
Carlie, wise to Dawn’s ways, casually asked, “Why Fort Wayne?”
“No reason,” Dawn shrugged. “First place that came to mind. Did a report on the railroads this semester.”
Strange girl …
Heather ignored them, still focused on me, and burst out with, “Are you thinking about being a girl?”
Dawn and I exchanged looks but I spoke to Heather. “Yes and no. Yes to what you’re asking, but no to what you actually said. You, see, it’s not so much a matter of thinking about it, as much as—”
“She is a girl,” Dawn said, tired of waiting for me to explain.
I gave her a playful glare and then plunged in yet again, telling Heather the condensed version that I’d told Beth. And just like Beth, Heather simply nodded.
“Yes,” she smiled. “Absolutely. I get it! Okay. Um …” Then the frown came back, as she thought to herself.
I looked at Dawn and Carlie, both of whom were wondering. Tentatively, I asked. “Are you okay with this, Heather?”
“What? Oh, yes! Absolutely,” she said again. “Laura, you don’t really know the orchestra, do you? I mean, you know all the actors you prompted, and you’ve been helping out all the departments.”
“Did the chairs for you guys,” Carlie reminded her.
I said, “You’re right, though, Heather; I don’t know the orchestra. But I wanted to tell you that you really fired them up tonight; you were great!”
“Thanks, Laura,” she smiled. “Okay,” she said again to herself. “There’s a girl named Katie, first chair flute, that was asking about you.”
“Okay …” I raised my eyebrows. “What about me?”
Carlie asked, “About the whole Lawrence-or-Laura thing?”
“Well, sort of. But she said her brother was asking, and I didn’t want to say anything until I checked with you. Said he might be at the party.”
Oh, no, I thought! Carson! I bet her name is Katie Carson! I was so dead! Heather was right; I didn’t know the orchestra, and I’d only mentally run through the last names. I should have checked the program; stupid-stupid-stupid!
If Carson was going to the party, I absolutely was not and I felt profoundly sad at that.
“What’s her name?” Dawn asked.
Heather was distracted by the concern on my face. “Huh? Oh; Katie. She’s a Junior. Katie Bender.”
My body felt this surge of relief and something stronger, warmer, and powerful.
Dawn already knew me so well that even though I hadn’t said a word about my dream, she knew. She knew.
She oh-so-casually said, “That would be Jeremy, right? In our class?”
I nodded, swallowing. Dawn’s eyes bored into me.
Heather didn’t notice this, and asked, “So what should I tell her?”
I swallowed again. “First, uh … don’t tell her the truth, what I told you. Just say that all three Little Maids will be there and leave it at that.” I saw Dawn roll her eyes but went on. “Heather, I’ve known her brother for years and he’s, uh, kinda guessed what’s going on with me. I guess that’s why he asked.” I drew a breath. “So if he’s at the party, and if we get a chance to talk—”
Dawn had snorted.
I really glared at her this time, but went on. “If we get a chance to talk, we’ll … talk.”
Even Carlie was picking up on it. “Yeah, right; talk,” she snickered. “Ow!”
Dawn had swatted her.
Heather was getting it, too; her concern had turned into a smile. “Oh. Oh! Yeah, I’ll tell Katie her brother can come along, then. Wow,” she said to herself, then grinned. “You were really great tonight, Laura!”
Then Heather left.
Dawn being Dawn, said, “So … Jeremy.”
I sighed. “I wasn’t working hard enough at being Lawrence, and a Senior was … let’s just say ‘he was threatening’. Jeremy came up and defused the situation.”
“Knight in shining armor,” Carlie grinned.
“Not like that,” I said quickly, then blushed. “Yeah, exactly like that.”
“You can tell a lot about a guy, facing down a Senior for you, and he sounds like—” Carlie startled; her cell phone had buzzed her. She looked at the display. “Gotta take this. See you guys at the party!” She scampered off, phone to her ear.
Dawn said, “I don’t feel like ‘a guy’. Do you, Laura?”
“Haven’t since … well, ever!” I laughed with relief.
I was back on solid ground. If Jeremy was at the party, it would probably be specifically for me. Sure, he supported his sister, but the wrap party? It was for me. I hadn’t seen him, but it was pretty certain he’d seen tonight’s show; it was pretty certain that he suspected the truth about me. Well, I would deal with it as it came. I had things to do at the party, a responsibility for the awards—my last responsibility for Pirates.
If he was there, Jeremy and I would talk. If it turned out horribly bad, I only had four days of Finals and no class with Jeremy. If it turned out wonderful …
Well, that would be wonderful!
Dawn gave me a warm smile and clapped her hands once, snapping me out of my thoughts.
“Alright. Got a party to go to. And there may or may not be talking involved. Anything you need?”
“Make me gaw-juss!” I teased.
“I always do,” she grinned.
“Seriously, Dawn,” I said quietly. “Make me pretty?”
Dawn shrugged casually but her voice was serious. “I’ve been known to be a miracle worker, but that doesn’t apply here. No, that’s not a diss. Laura, you are pretty. Naturally. You’re what I call ‘shower-pretty’, meaning you can step out of a shower soaking wet, no makeup, and you’re pretty. You always have been, too; that’s the weird thing. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but … maybe it’s a residual of Lawrence that doesn’t think you’re pretty.”
“You think …?” I frowned, stunned by the observation.
“No; I know. Why do you think we all took to you so quickly? It’s because you’re a girl, despite what you were wearing or what your school records said. And you’re a really nice girl, too. And there was no trace of boy; you were just another pretty girl. And not every girl is as lucky as you. You know how people say, ‘oh, she has such a great personality’? That’s code for ‘great personality but not pretty, though’. It’s a sad but true fact of human nature that people respond more to pretty girls.”
“Really? You all thought I was pretty?”
“In anyone else I would think this was false modesty. Yes, you ninny; yes we thought you were pretty, and you are. So revel in it, use it, enjoy it. Make the world better. Why do you think I love makeup so much?”
She looked like she realized she’d said too much, because she abruptly turned and busied herself in her makeup kit.
Quietly, gently, I asked, “Dawn … why do you love makeup so much?”
She shrugged, and then looked up at the wall, into a vision that only she could see. “Because … oh, crap. Becky …”
I’d never seen Dawn at a loss for words. Impulsively, I put a hand on her shoulder. She spun slowly into my arms as I hugged her. And to my shock, she was crying. I held and reassured her through my touch that I was there for her. I could feel her tension leaving. We broke the hug; she pulled a tissue and dabbed her eyes.
“God, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, Dawn. You’ve been there for me; I’m only starting to be there for you. I want to be your friend for life.”
She grinned as she dabbed. “You are, already.” She pulled the tissue away and examined it critically and sighed.
“I’m not sure if Ronnie even really knows this. I feel like we’ve gotten pretty close, Laura, but I still can’t believe I’m telling you this. Um … I had an older cousin, Becky. I idolized her. When I was growing up, she was everything I wanted to be—smart, funny, drop-dead gorgeous, and kind. She was a cheerleader, star student in high school, and worked for the disabled; later she also worked a suicide prevention line, and she worked at a veterinary hospital.”
She trembled and I put my hand on her upper arm and squeezed gently, reassuring her. She went on.
“There was some accident, some chemicals in a storeroom at the vet’s. She was in there, getting something, and the chemicals somehow ignited and the door got jammed and … she was horribly burned in the fire. It was a long time recovering; a lot of skin grafts … and my beautiful, beautiful cousin had a ruined face. It was cruel, what fate had done to her, but what was crueler was the reaction of people around her. Once she got healthy again, she tried to go back to her life. She wasn’t going to let the fire get her down. I told you she was wonderful …”
She choked slightly and dabbed. All I could do was keep holding her arm, feeling her emotion. She nodded to herself that she was under control, and continued shakily.
“Anyway, people that she’d known, strangers, it didn’t matter who; everybody reacted like she was The Elephant Man. The disabled place where she volunteered asked her to not come around anymore; her face ‘bothered’ some people, they said. The vet paid her medical bills but ‘released’ her from working. She could still do the suicide hotline because nobody could see her. But over time, I saw her … saw her light go out. The doctors had done all they could and her parents couldn’t afford the serious plastic surgery that might help.”
Dawn was silent, lost in her memories. After a time, I asked, “How is she?”
She chuckled sadly. “I don’t know. I don’t know!” Her face twisted in pain. “She moved away and the family never said where; they said it’s what she wanted. God, I loved Becky, loved her … Anyway, I was watching a movie on TV and this creature looked half-melted and I knew it was really a handsome actor in real life. I suddenly thought, if makeup can make a good-looking person look bad, maybe I could learn makeup techniques to help someone like Becky look good again. I know that’s all stupid and not totally possible, but that’s how I got into theatrical makeup.” She paused, absorbing things, and then laughed for real and affected a mad scientist accent. “Of course, the bug really bit me when I saw the incredible power I had over people!”
We both laughed, and she looked me in the eye. “I transform people, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. It can be powerful, and fun … but you’ve got to believe me, Laura, when I tell you that you are, deep down and in every way, a pretty girl. I can make you beautiful, but you are wake-up-in-the-morning pretty. Shower-pretty. Pretty from your bones outward. So people will respond to you and you owe it to yourself to enjoy it.” She got quiet. “For the ones who can’t.”
I hugged her again. Dawn was an incredibly special person and I loved her. We were both a little teary now, and she bustled about with her makeup kit touching up both of us.
“I really want to do this, but I’m so nervous …” I mumbled.
Dawn was back to her old self. “Two things: First, Ronnie set it up for you. You might not have noticed it, but when she made the announcement, she was setting it up so you could go as Laura. Remember? She said, ‘Makeup is okay. You can remove it if you’re fast but it’s okay to show up in character, but without costumes, of course.’ And so you will have your makeup—nobody’s going to really notice that I took things down a bit and made it more real—and if anybody were to say anything, you are ‘showing up in character’—one of the Maids.”
“She knew I would decide to go as Laura?”
“Geez, Laura, we all knew; or at least we hoped you wouldn’t go back to Lawrence … at least until Monday at school. Okay, the second point is that you won’t find a more supportive, understanding, and friendly group than the gang at the wrap party. They know you, they saw what you did tonight, and even if they haven’t put two and two together about you actually being Laura, everybody’s going to be in such a good mood—except for the depressed ones, like we talked about—that it’s going to be fine. And you’ve got me, Ronnie, Carlie, probably Heather and Beth and who knows who else for bodyguards. Okay?”
I nodded. She was right, as usual. There wouldn’t be a better time. Oh, I could slink out as Lawrence, finish the school year as a non-entity, and then start my life as Laura, but my life had already started, two weeks ago. Omigod, was it only two weeks? Well, it was like a book where a long-lost daughter suddenly turns up—as soon as she makes an appearance, everything changes for the main characters. So that was me, in my own story.
Taking stock, I still had the nail polish, I had my clothes, and I had Dawn. Time to get ready for the party. In the faculty bathroom, Dawn helped me remove the costume. Leaving me in bra, panties, and white pantyhose, she took the costume to Mrs. Wilson. In the meantime, I started to remove the pantyhose but decided to keep them on. I pulled on the skirt I’d brought, black denim with a slit on one side, and my shoes, which were black Mary Janes that combined with the white stockings to look both innocent and sexy. I had a white camisole with a bit of lace at the neckline, and a white poet’s blouse. I was just tucking it in when Dawn knocked and returned.
“Omigod, Laura! You think you’re going to just talk, looking like that?”
“Um … too much?” I said, embarrassed a little. “I thought it was …”
I wanted to explain that I’d thought that, as a presenter of awards, I should be nicely dressed at the wrap party. At the bottom of my bag were Lawrence’s black slacks and shirt, if I chickened out. But even if I hadn’t admitted it to myself, deep down I’d known that I would present myself as Laura.
But all of that reasoning had flown out the window when Heather told me Jeremy might be there. Now it was all I could think about and I was getting nervous. I remembered Carlie telling me before ‘Three Little Maids’ to use the nervous energy, to make it my engine. I would hold onto that to get through the night.
Channel the nerves, girl; use the energy to—But, oh! Jeremy might be there, and he might see me, and we might talk … about me, and … maybe about us …
Dawn grinned. “You are nine-tenths of a babe. Let me add the last tenth!”
It was all I could do to keep from quivering with excitement, but I managed to put Jeremy to the back of mind … or at least to the side for the moment. Meanwhile, Dawn brushed my hair quickly and then did her usual flurry of brushes on my face, finally applying lipstick with a brush. Putting everything away, she grinned.
“Once I teach you how to do this I won’t have as much fun!”
“Dawn, you can make me up anytime.”
She closed her makeup kit and looked at me. “I really like having you for my friend, Laura.”
“Me, too,” I smiled back.
Ronnie stuck her head around the corner. “Hey, you two! Ready to—wow! Look at you! Omigod, girl, are you on the hunt?” she grinned, looking at me. “Anyway, my mom’s here. Time to wrap this play!”
She hurried off and we grabbed our things. Just before we left, Dawn turned to me, grinning.
“Ready to show the world Laura Henderson?”
“Yes,” I smiled back at my wonderful girlfriend. “Laura Henderson is ready to show the world!”
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