The Last Fifteen Minutes in the Cosmetology Room

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One sunny morning, her last at Fairlawn High School, Libbey Loughlin crept quietly up to the door of the cosmetology wing at the east end of the building.

She fiddled with her hair and waited for Mrs. Joseph, the teacher, to come to the door. A minute passed, and she didn’t, so Libbey found the key hidden under the mat and pushed it ajar.

The tall, blonde girl looked around at all the hairdryers, and then at a dim light coming from the office. When she went to investigate, she was greeted by Mrs. Joseph, who was there after all.

“Libbey,” she grinned. “I thought you wouldn’t be coming today. It’s commencement day!” Her expression changed. “Commencement day. Can you believe it’s all over?”

“Absolutely not,” Libbey sighed, as she hung up the garment bag containing her cap and gown. She sat down and crossed her legs. She looked around.

“Mrs. Joseph,” she sighed again, shaking her head now. “I’ve grown up in this room. I’ve become a lady in this room.” She laughed at the corniness, in her mind, of her statement. Her teacher didn’t.

“I don’t know what to say. I really don’t,” Mrs. Joseph chuckled. “I can’t believe I am finally rid of the Loughlin family, forever.” Libbey laughed again, heartily. Her older sisters, Kaitlyn and Korey, had both come up through the cosmetology program at Fairlawn. Both were now in various stages of college - Kaitlyn a rising senior, and Korey a junior.

“Do you remember your freshman year, the first time you came in here?” Mrs. Joseph asked.

Of course Libbey did. It was the annual orientation day, and Libbey Loughlin was Brad Loughlin then - instead of a pretty, prissy girl, Brad was a freshman boy being dragged into following his sisters to the cosmetology lab as they filled out paperwork.

“I think I was whining a lot that day.”

“When I heard you whining and bitching like that, I should have known right then what was coming next,” Mrs. Joseph chuckled. Memories flowed, as merry laughter filled the room.

Brad had a tough time adjusting to high school - especially high school baseball, which was his life at the time. He was a fantastic second baseman, already on the varsity team, but he felt alone sometimes.

“I was looking for someone, anyone,” Libbey reminisced. “My sisters answered the call. They became my heroes.”

Brad was quiet, and baseball players are loud, so the toxic mix had already been established. With only acquaintances, no friends, on the team, he turned to the cosmetology girls for support.

“And I remember one day, after practice,” Mrs. Joseph thought out loud, “Korey wanted a date to Homecoming, and everything changed.”

Indeed, early on freshman year, Brad had taken almost no role in the cosmetology girls’ discussions. He’d sat patiently, and quietly, while Kaitlyn and Korey talked with their core group of friends. They talked school and boys and dance and Brad found all of it boring for the most part, content watching Netflix on his phone or listening to the Cubs on the radio with earbuds.

One day, however, Brad was fired up from an especially taxing practice; he’d been turning double plays with Fairlawn’s junior shortstop/stud Griffin Henry, and he came in whooping loudly and excitedly, finally feeling like he was fitting in with the team.

“What’s with you?” Korey had asked him.

“Best practice ever! Griffin Henry and I-”

Brooklyn Green had cut him off. “Koreyyyyyyyyy,” she giggled slyly.

“What is it?” Brad asked.

And suddenly Brad was running interference between the baseball team and cosmetology girls. The freshman, fond of spy novels, thought of himself as a secret agent. He set up Korey with Griffin Henry, Brooklyn with Darius Henley, Colleen Mayer with Michael Dunham, Rosie Harris with John Forrest - the list went on and on.

“You know how long I’ve known your family,” Mrs. Joseph told Libbey, back in the present. “I was so happy to see the third Loughlin come out of his shell.”

“You just didn’t know someday it would be her shell,” Libbey laughed, as the reminiscing continued.

It was the height of baseball season - the Fairlawn team was 10-2 and riding high. Brad entered the cosmetology room before a big rivalry game, chattering away with the girls he had come to trust. Eight girls formed his core group of friends - Kaitlyn, Korey, the three juniors, Brooklyn, Colleen, and Rosie, two sophomores, Cecilia Shepard and Blair Drury, and cosmetology’s only freshman, Julie Hill.

Brad whirled into the room, chattering away, taking the lead in the conversation, buzzing about this couple or that kiss, finally, in full baseball uniform, taking a seat next to Julie.

Julie held up a nail polisher applicator, gesturing to Brad with a grin on her face. Brad had shaken his head, as Julie had been trying to get him to let her paint his nails for weeks.

“It ain’t gonna happen!” he’d laughed.

“Alright, I’ll make you a deal,” Colleen chimed in. “If you guys lose to Cresthaven today, you have to let Julie paint your nails.”

“Deal,” Brad said confidently. “We’re not gonna lose.”

The next day, Fairlawn had lost 7-4 and Brad looked pretty with pink nail polish. Even weirder, he felt pretty.

“And that was the moment,” Libbey said as she helped Mrs. Joseph tidy up her room, “I knew something was up. I was confused. I needed someone to turn to.”

Someone to turn to. Brad spent the week soul-searching, but found nothing. He was looking at everyone differently now. He had gone, in the span of a year, from loathing to loving to wanting to be his older sisters.

Then came the last day of the baseball season - the day of the banquet. The entire Loughlin family was going to the formal dinner, to celebrate a successful debut season for Brad, the only freshman on the varsity team. Libbey had recounted the story of what happened that day to Mrs. Joseph before, but as her graduation neared, she thought of the effect it had had upon her life...

Brad was witness to a great debate between Colleen and Rosie, going back and forth over whose boyfriend was hotter (Brad favored Michael, but kept to himself) when Korey strode into the room, garment bag in hand.

“Y’all need to keep an eye on this,” Korey said firmly. “This is my dress for tonight.” And like that she was gone.

Not unlike today, Brad and Mrs. Joseph had been left alone in the room - only, as Libbey reminded Mrs. Joseph whenever the subject came up, she had been asleep. Bored and curious, Brad tiptoed into the girls’ dressing room where he’d seen his sister leave her garment bag.

He left the room back in his normal clothes, but in a reverie - “I could have transitioned right there,” Libbey said now. The boy (if he could still be called that) had simply melted running his hands down his already skinny frame. He had wished he had breasts and a butt.

Now, Libbey prodded her bubble butt and adjusted her bra. She looked around the room. Everything blurred together after that - the day she sat her eight friends down and told them, the day she told the baseball team, the ways in which everyone had supported her...

“I’m leaving it all now,” Libbey says. “Damn cosmetology school. I wish I could stay here forever.”

Libbey whisked Mrs. Joseph on a tour of the room, as if she hadn’t been teaching there for twenty years. “Remember this? When Julie and I cried together after Jacoby abandoned her at the dance?” Junior year - Libbey’s first dance as a girl, her best friend had been stood up, and the two commiserated in the back of the room, with a late-working Mrs. J providing the tissues.

“Your first ballet lesson.” As Libbey had begun transitioning, toward the end of sophomore year, she expressed an interest in ballet. Brooklyn and Rosie, ballerinas with senioritis, had transformed the unused boys’ dressing room into a ballet studio, and shown a tutu-clad Libbey the ropes.

Libbey was crying now. She didn’t want to leave the safety of the Fairlawn High School cosmetology lab. She wanted to stay a little girl forever. She buried her head in Mrs. Joseph’s arms and bawled.

“Wait a minute!” cried the teacher. She raced into her room and emerged with a binder. “This is for you.”

It was a scrapbook, filled with all kinds of pictures. They spanned the entirety of Libbey’s high school career, from early freshman year to senior year. All kinds of memories. Brooklyn as Belle in Beauty and the Beast - which Libbey had seen wearing Julie’s jeans, her first time wearing girls’ clothes in public. Cecilia and Blair posing in their softball uniforms, with Libbey in a pink and white romper. And the late nights where Mrs. Joseph had left the key under the mat so the girls could have a hangout all to themselves - for crying jags after dances, for first kisses, for being a teenager.

“You and Julie - you’re the last of the Big Eight. You’ve been a special four-year group.” Now it was Mrs. Joseph’s turn to wipe a tear from her eye. “I don’t know what to do now. Maybe I’ll retire.”

“Don’t do that!” Libbey exclaimed, and both of them laughed. She checked her phone.

“I gotta get home, Mrs. J,” Libbey smiled. “I’ll see you at graduation later?”

“Bet on it,” Mrs. Joseph said, smiling warmly. Suddenly, she found herself wrapped in a hug.

“Thanks for everything,” Libbey whispered - it was barely audible, but Mrs. Joseph heard it loud and clear.

“Good luck, Miss Loughlin.” Libbey seized her garment bag, fixed her hair in the mirror, and departed, leaving the key under the mat. A light rain began to fall.

Once at her house, Libbey stripped out of her casual clothes and began to ready herself for commencement. She looked out her window, at the Fairlawn baseball field she’d once dreamed of playing on. It called out to her, but she felt nothing. She stuffed her binder in the top of her closet next to her old baseball cap.

From under her bed, she removed the pink tutu Brooklyn had gifted her. She put it on, wearing it over her nicest bra and panties, and did an impromptu dance. The rain let up and, behind the baseball field, the cosmetology room was just visible. Already, Libbey missed home.

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This story is 1821 words long.