Hired Girl -4-
by Erin Halfelven
Harold looked at himself in the full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. He was dressed from the skin out as Carol, except for his briefs. Judith, packrat that she was, had not saved any panties that would fit him.
She had found a bra, a pale rose, padded 28A/B that was still too big but with a few tissues inside fit him well enough. And over that he wore the pink party dress that Carol had saved from her ninth grade days because it was just so cute and she had loved it so much, being one of the first grown-up style dresses she had picked out for herself.
“It’s awfully short,” said Harold. In fact, it reached barely to a pale, non-SoCal-looking mid-thigh. Harold wondered about getting more sun.
“You’ve got the legs for it, even if they are a bit froggy-green right now,” said Judith. She fussed with his short hair. “Whatever possessed you to chop off your hair so short?”
“I was trying to look like a boy,” he reminded her. And that was why he hadn’t pushed to get the backyard pool open since he didn’t want to expose his chest in a boy’s swimming suit. But now?
“Platinum blondes with short hair seem to be a thing so cutting it off didn’t actually help that much,” she commented. “It’s so fine! I’ll need some spray to give it a little body.” She picked up a can and showed it to him. Light hold, it said.
He waved at her, “Go ahead.” He peered at the mirror again while Judith combed and sprayed. “I… I really look like a girl, and all I did was pull on a dress.”
“You’ve got perfect skin. Cheekbones to die for. Blonde hair that’s almost white. And with that bra, a bit of a shape. It wasn’t that much of a reach.”
“Um,” said Harold. He had to admit, the girl in the mirror looked cute, but it was embarrassing to think how easy it was to make her appear. He sat still, watching his sister work, wondering, would he still look so girly in a swimsuit?
Judith achieved an asymmetric arrangement of Harold’s locks that had elements of an ironic punk style — or perhaps ironic punk was redundant. She assessed it critically and decided that the do was done. “You’re not even wearing makeup, and already you look two years older than you did,” she remarked.
“I do?” said Harold. But it was true in some alchemical fashion. Harold looked twelve in his own clothes, even as young as ten or eleven if you missed that he was most of an inch over five feet tall. But Carol, in a pink mini-dress with her off-center hairdo looked thirteen, maybe fourteen or more. The youthful but grown-up-styled dress helped, and so did the post-punk hair. And the shape added by the well-stuffed bra….
Was it an improvement? Harold stared at the girl looking back at him. Would someone hire a girl who looked like… Carol?
Behind him, he could see his sister grinning and shaking her head. “You’re killer,” said Judith. “You don’t need any foundation, some blush and lip color and do your eyes…. Queen of the Prom.”
Harold considered fainting at the suggestion but decided it would be overly dramatic. Instead, he just rolled his eyes at Judith.
“You think I’m pulling your leg, but you’ve got a look. I dunno, maybe it’s the hidden androgyny or….” She stopped to think. “Hey, I’m pretty, and I know it but, punkin, Carol is not just cute or pretty, she’s a beauty. You’re beautiful.”
The girl in the mirror frowned at him. “Is that good or bad?” Harold asked. He felt slightly dissociated, watching his mirror image move her mouth.
“Could be either, but I’m even more certain you’ve got the job. Except, we need to buy you some more stuff.”
“Underwear that fits, to start with, and your own scent, you don’t want to wear mine.”
“Two girls standing next to each other wearing the same scent is kind of tacky.”
“It is? Who makes up these rules?” Harold grinned, a bit shakily.
Judith laughed. “We could get you other stuff, some more shoes. Another dress. Some jewelry.” She touched his ear. “Get your lobes pierced.”
“Arr!” Harold clapped his hands over his ears, and Judith laughed again.
“Only if you want to, silly,” she said. “I kinda talked you into this, but if you go through with it, it’s got to be you wanting to do it. ‘Kay?”
Harold nodded cautiously, taking his hands down.
She motioned. “Sit at the vanity and let me mess with some makeup for you?”
“I guess so.” He sat.
“Get back up and sit down again,” said Judith.
“You didn’t do it right, see if you can figure out what you did wrong.”
Harold stared at her a moment, then stood, and sat back down immediately with one hand smoothing his skirt as if he had been doing so since kindergarten.
“You’re a natural,” said Judith grinning. “Have you been wearing my clothes while I’ve been gone?”
“No,” said Harold. He looked at his image in the mirror. “Thought about it for the last month or so, waiting for you to get back from New York,” he admitted.
“Really? So this was not exactly completely my idea?”
“I dunno,” he said, watching as Judith held various makeup bottles and pads of powder up next to his face, checking the colors. “I wasn’t thinking of dressing up to get a job, just….” He waved vaguely then gestured at his chest. “Just wondering, I guess.”
Judith changed the subject slightly. “You don’t need any foundation with skin like yours.” She’d said that before. “Just a little blush on the cheeks, some powder to take the shine off your nose and forehead.”
“Hmm,” said Harold. He knew next to nothing about makeup, had actively avoided finding more out for years.
Judith worked quickly. The blush under the cheekbones seemed to make a noticeable difference, making him look nearer his own age while still young. Or… nearer her own age? Because each change emphasized that this was not a boy’s face being revealed.
Judith handed Harold a lipstick, the tube an outrageous electric pink. “You know how to use this?”
“Uh,” Harold stalled. The cosmetic itself was only slightly less bright than the tube.
“Just like putting on Chapstick except you can see where it’s going,” Judith said helpfully.
Looking in the mirror, watching his hand move, Harold felt very far away but somehow in the moment. When he finished using the lipstick, Judith handed him a tissue. “Blot then reapply.’
He complied but asked, “Why?”
“It will last longer, gets the color deep into the little grooves everyone has in their lips,” Judith explained. “Nerd,” she added, though it wasn’t clear if she meant him for asking or herself for knowing.
Harold stared at his reflection. The alchemy seemed complete enough to cause an identity shift. Carol looked back from the mirror. “I do look older,” she said.
“Careful cosmetics will do that. If we went the other way, we could make you into a ten-year-old playing with makeup,” said Judith. “A real professional could do even better.” She put her face down near Carol’s. “We look even more like each other now. Sort of Elle and Dakota Fanning.”
“Huh,” said Carol.
“Let me do your eyes,” said Judith. “Then we’ll make a test run.”
They both heard a car pull into the driveway before Carol could ask what she meant that last phrase.
“Sit,” Judith ordered while she peeked out the window over the head of the bed. “Yeah, it’s Mom. She’s alone and only one bag. Looks like she went to Ricky Rickshaw, so I guess we’re having Chinese takeout for dinner.” She glanced at the clock on the head of the bed. “A little early, she probably has meetings tonight or a client to show a house to.”
“I… What… You… She…,” Harold stammered, shoved back into his own identity by a sudden panic.
“Relax,” said Judith. “You worried about telling Mom about what we’re doing?”
Harold nodded, Carol’s cute little chin quivering in the mirror.
“Don’t lick your lips,” Judith warned. She came back over to the vanity and began selecting pots of eyeliner, brow pencils, and mascara wands. “Mom will be cool with this. She’s asked me twice since I got back if you’re gay. She mentioned that Daddy had asked her, too.”
Harold’s mouth flew open.
“She said she’d be okay with it, but she just wanted to know, and maybe I could find out,” Judith went on, behaving as if it were no big deal. “That’s why I asked you.”
“W-w-well, I’m not,” Harold managed to gasp. He looked again at Carol in the mirror. “Well, I don’t think I am,” he amended.
“Sit still,” ordered Judith bending over him. “Don’t move your face but close your eyes.” He did so, and she went to work with her tools. She used a dark orchid eyeliner and pale mauve and lavender eyeshadow after the barest touch of golden pencil on Harold’s brows. Navy mascara finished the job, and she pulled back to look at the whole effect.
“Open your eyes and take a look,” she said.
In the mirror, Carol’s eyes opened. “Wow,” she whispered. “Am I still me?” Harold asked, staring at the beautiful girl in the glass who looked all of sixteen and maybe older.
Judith laughed softly. “In answer to Mom’s question, I don’t think you’re gay, honey. I think you’re going to like boys — because I know they are going to like you.”
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