Spandexia - 2

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Spandexia - chapter 2

by Maeryn Lamonte
Copyright © 2017

I freaked. The last thing I needed right now was for Tom to go spreading it around school that he’d seen me dressed like this.

“Are you sure he saw you?” Mum asked, trying to calm me down.

“Of course I’m sure. He was looking right at me.”

“No. I mean, are you sure it’s you he saw? I mean you don’t exactly look like your usual self this afternoon, you know?”

“Why would he have been staring at me like that then?”

“You look pretty stunning Lana. I’m sorry, I should have warned you before we came out; you’re going to have to get used to being looked at like that this afternoon.”

I pulled the sun visor down and peered into the mirror. It didn’t give me that good a view, but I kind of saw what Mum meant. The tiara was a little odd – well the whole costume was, really – but despite that I did look a lot like a girl. I’d forgotten my reaction when I’d first looked in the mirror that morning. There was no way anyone but a girl would be seen in a getup like this, and working on the assumption that I was a girl, I did look pretty amazing.

I allowed Mum’s words to settle me. As we drove out into the country and our surroundings became less and less familiar, I actually found myself able to relax and enjoy myself.

After about thirty minutes, we pulled up into the car park of a smallish shopping complex. It was neither big enough nor close enough to home for any of my friends to be here, so I followed Mum into the main arcade, enjoying my nervousness more than being terrified by it. In my mind, I found the story I’d begun earlier in the week, and continued from where I’d left off.

‘England is such a strange place after Germany,’ I thought to myself. ‘Sometimes it seems there are more rules, more restrictions here, except that most people don’t pay attention to them; so instead, there are cameras everywhere. Speed cameras, security cameras, all sorts. On the one hand, they make part of my job easier; I’ve found the Mmoth Rat already. He caught sight of me too, but I don’t think he recognised me; I think my costume may have distracted him. He seems younger than I remember. Maybe the rumours about him are true; maybe he is aging backwards.’

The words, as usual, came easily. All you needed to do was pick up a thread – a piece of inconsequential information – and the rest kind of followed. Like picking up a trail through a forest, the hard part was finding the trail in the first place, so you’d wander around at random until you crossed one, even if it was nothing much. Once you were on it, the next step was easier, and the next. If I’d been at school, or even at home, I’d have found a notebook and started writing it all down, but who was going to read this rubbish anyway? This was all just mind games; a way to pass the time, and, perhaps more importantly, a way to boost my confidence so I could walk around this place dressed as a girl in a homemade superhero outfit and not feel self-conscious.

I glanced across at Mum, who smiled back at me with an encouraging, perhaps even indulgent, smile. Her phone rang. Default ring tone. Old people just don’t get modern technology.

“Hi. Is everything alright?” She turned away and I missed out on the rest of the conversation. It didn’t matter, I was too caught up in my narrative.

‘I’ve made contact with the couple who’ve agreed to act as my parents while I’m here. She seems really nice. Her husband works Saturdays, so I’ll meet him later, at dinner.’

I followed Mum into a large clothing retailer. As usual with Mum and shopping, I had no idea what was in her mind, so I just followed along. She’d make her plans known soon enough. Until then I had my imagination to keep me company.

‘The downside of all these cameras is that I’m going to end up on them as well, and in this Spandex suit, I’m going to stand out a bit.’

Mum was heading for the teens section, so I figured she thought I needed some new clothes. Generally she’d decide my stuff was worn out well before I thought it was, but some things weren’t worth the hassle of the argument. As long as I ended up with stuff I liked, or at least didn’t mind, it didn’t make much difference if it was new or old. Still, wouldn’t it be kind of cool if I could have some girl clothes of my own too?

Mum walked right through the boys section and into the girls. She grinned at me and raised an eyebrow suggestively, playfully. Was she serious? My heart skipped a beat as I looked around at the enormous array of colours and patterns.

“Really?” I asked in a quiet, almost reverent, whisper.

“Why not? Your Dad has to work late today, so I suggested that maybe we could meet up for a meal, and I don’t suppose you’re going to want to spend an evening in a restaurant dressed as Spandexia, are you?”

“I thought you didn’t want Dad to find out.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking about that, and if Lana’s going to be spending more time with us, your father’s going to have to find out sooner or later, and that being the case, I’d rather it was sooner and at a time of our choosing rather than later by surprise, when he comes home early, don’t you think?”

That kind of made sense. My face must have said so because she seemed satisfied with my response despite my not having opened my mouth.

“We could, of course, buy Gerald some clothes for this evening instead,” she continued. “So the choice is yours. Either your dad meets Svetlana this evening, or we tell one of these shop assistants that there’s a boy underneath all this pinkness and glitter?”

That clinched it. I moved down the racks, pulling out skirts and dresses I thought might look good and holding them against me for Mum to comment. It wasn’t that I needed any encouragement; I mean this was what I wanted, after all. It was more that I needed permission, since a big part of me was still struggling with the idea that anyone else might be okay with me doing this sort of thing.

It didn’t take long for us to pick out quite a few things that both Mum and I liked, even though the whole ‘less is more’ thing seemed to be majorly influencing teen girl fashions. Neither of us wanted me in too short a skirt for obvious reasons, although in this matter, I think Mum’s tolerance was greater than mine. I had a selection of about a half dozen dresses and skirt-blouse combinations in my arms, and was beginning to wonder just how far Mum intended to take this latest crazy idea of hers, when she told me to keep hunting through the last couple of racks while she took care of something.

I’d about finished, and added another couple of things to the pile, when she reappeared at my side. Grabbing me by the elbow, she steered me across to the changing rooms. When I realised where we were heading, I dug my heels in.

“What is it?” Mum wanted to know.

“I can’t. I can’t go in there, Mum.”

“And why not?”

“You know full well why not.”

“Nobody else does, and there’s no reason why they should, unless of course, you carry on like this.”

We were whispering back and forth, and that more than anything seemed to be attracting attention. I glanced around at the curious looks being aimed in our direction and realised I had another decision to make. If I carried on making a scene, someone would find out for sure, and I’d be humiliated. On the other hand, I could just bite the bullet and get this done. The consequences of being caught were potentially worse, but at least there was a reasonable chance of getting away with it.

I gave in and carried my pile of booty across to the girl guarding the changing rooms. She counted out my items and handed me a plastic tag with an appropriate number on it.

“I’ve already paid for these,” Mum told her as she passed me a pair of sandals and a bra. She showed the receipt, but I doubted, from her bored expression, that the young customer experience enhancement specialist cared one way or the other.

I did though. It was weird how wrong this felt. Putting on a dress at home where there was no-one to see (most of the time) felt normal by comparison, as did wandering around town in a lurid pink catsuit. I mean, despite the skirt Mum had sewn onto it, it still felt a little like I was wearing trousers; like the bits I was most anxious to keep hidden were well covered up and protected. This was a whole new level of scary.

With the curtain drawn, I could as easily have been in a gent’s cubicle. There was a bench, a couple of hooks for hanging the stuff I was trying, and a full length mirror. I swallowed hard and bit the bullet.

The boots, belt and catsuit came off easily enough, and it didn’t take long to figure out what to do with the tangle of straps that constituted my new bra.

My new bra! What a concept. This had started a few weeks ago with a little curiosity on my part. I couldn’t quite understand how it had escalated to the point that I now owned a newly purchased, never used before piece of female undergarmentage. I still had on the pants and tights Mum had given me along with my costume.

‘Here goes nothing,’ I thought to myself, sorting through the things I’d brought in to try. I picked out the one I liked most, a bright, minty green dress with sleeves that ended about my elbows and a hem that came down to mid-thigh. There didn’t seem to be any fastenings, but the fabric was stretchy, so I pulled it over my head like a tee-shirt.

That was when I discovered my tiara all over again. I’d forgotten I was wearing that. I added it to my discards, and settled the dress into place before looking in the mirror.

I felt the whole blood running cold thing again, only this time it was a mixture of sensations. I could distinguish between them, just about. The exhilaration from wearing a dress in a public place like this was heady and exciting, whereas the terror of wearing a dress in a public place like this threatened to send me over the edge. They felt amazingly similar, whilst at the same time being poles apart. I just about managed to hold things together.

I looked stunning. Short hair and lack of accessories aside, I still believed a girl was looking back at me out of the mirror. The fizz of adrenaline that realisation brought was intoxicating. At the same time though, I was conscious of how short the skirt was, and how little a thing would have to go wrong before I was exposed, literally, as a guy. That fizz of adrenaline was sickening.

The curtain twitched and, before I could react, Mum’s head appeared.

“Well? Are you going to let me have a look? Wow! Step out here.” I followed her through to the larger area between the cubicles and she asked me to twirl for her. I complied, delighting in the way the skirts of the dress swirled around my nylon clad legs. “Shoes?”

“Huh?”

“The sandals? I gave them to you with the bra? Which looks good by the way. Does it fit alright?”

It felt as good as one of those things can feel, and I reported as such. Mum nodded, then pointed at my feet and made an impatient face.

The sandals didn’t take long to put on, and once more the overall effect met with approval. Even Miss Kill-Me-Now-Before-I-Die-Of-Boredom on the door looked over at me with an expression of mingled wistfulness and envy.

“I think we have a winner,” Mum was saying, “although, since we’re here, we might as well try the others on too.”

So I provided Mum with a fashion parade, doing my best catwalk impressions with all but one of the outfits. The one I vetoed showed considerably more skin than it concealed, and it probably wouldn’t take much more than a bad bout of hiccups to reveal what lay barely concealed beneath the pelmet of a skirt.

In the end Mum told me to climb back into the first dress I’d tried. It really was the winner, and felt positively Victorian after the one I’d refused to include in the parade.

While I was wriggling into it, Mum scooped up the unwanteds and returned them, with the tag, to the girl at the entrance. What I didn’t notice immediately was that she’d taken the rest of my clothes as well. I chased after her, and caught her holding the catsuit, boots, belt and tiara, and waiting for me.

“If it’s alright, my daughter would like to wear this one out of the shop,” she said to the assistant. Having received a bored what-do-I-care shrug, Mum, along with my stuff, disappeared out of the changing room.

Again with the tough choices. As nervous as I had felt changing in here, the thought of going out in public as I was added a whole new layer of terror to the day. Despite my reluctance, to display so much of myself to the world, my only alternative was to stay in the changing area, and that wasn’t really going to work. Mum had my phone and wallet in the utility belt, so I really had to go.

I caught up with her at the checkout. She’d taken the price tag out of the dress and had handed it across to the cashier, along with a small black handbag. Payment made, Mum put my few necessities into the bag and passed it across.

“I don’t know about you, but I could do with a coffee,” Mum said. “We still have a few hours before we’re due to meet your father, so how about we grab something to drink and see if we can come up with something fun to do with the rest of the afternoon?”

I smiled nervously and nodded.

“You look fabulous, Lana,” Mum said relenting a little from her afternoon of torture. “You have nothing to worry about. If I hadn’t had a hand in your transformation, even I wouldn’t recognise you.”

“But what if they…”

“They won’t. You look more like a girl now than you did when you were wearing this thing.” She indicated the pile of pink in her arms. “If you’re really that worried though, there are still a few things we could do to complete the disguise.”

The drink stop was delayed another ten minutes. I don’t know how much Mum’s ‘things we could do’ helped make me feel any better, but sitting – carefully, with my legs together – in the shopping centre’s café, my ears still stung a little where my new pair of studs pinched my earlobes, and the lips I dangled in my hot chocolate were pink and glossy, courtesy of the ministrations of the lady on the makeup counter we’d found. She’d done a few additional things to my eyes and cheekbones before exchanging a small bag of cosmetics for yet another swipe of Mum’s credit card. The cosmetics currently filled some of the remaining space in my handbag.

“Aren’t you enjoying yourself, sweetheart?” Mum took a sip of her coffee and let out a sigh of contentment as the caffeine found its way into her system.

What kind of question was that? I looked around nervously, but we’d picked a quiet corner with nobody sitting nearby. The café was nearly empty, affording us a little privacy.

“I would be if I wasn’t so scared,” I replied, still keeping my voice low. “I can’t believe how you’ve changed your mind so much about all this. I mean last week, and even this morning, you really didn’t like the idea of me dressing up, and now you’re buying me clothes and stuff so I can go out with you and Dad looking like this. I mean what’s changed? What’s Dad going to think when he sees me in this dress?”

“I imagine he’s going to have a hump to get over, the same as I did. The thing is, you were so different this morning. I mean don’t get me wrong, you’ve never complained about the things I ask you to do around the house, but today you seemed so much more cheerful than usual, and you worked like an absolute trooper. I liked the person I met this morning, probably as much as you liked being her.

“It’s a bit of a shame that she seems to have snuck back inside you again. I hoped that coming out this afternoon would give her a chance to really spread her wings. I still hope she’ll come back before we meet up with your dad because I’d really like him to meet her.”

“it’s still me, Mum. You’re talking about me like I was this whole other person.”

“Well, weren’t you in a way? Oh, I know you’re still you. You haven’t miraculously turned into someone else, but the way you behave, the way you express yourself when you’re being Spandexia, is so different from when you’re being Gerald. At lunchtime you said you felt more normal wearing that costume, and I could see that. You were more confident, more relaxed, happier. You had a different personality, one which you seem to prefer, and which I have to admit I do as well. And what is a different person if not someone with a different personality?

“I wanted to give that personality a chance to flourish, and I thought bringing her out into the world – bringing you out into the world dressed and behaving as Lana – would allow you to do just that. It seems I might have misjudged a little, and I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“You didn’t upset me, Mum. It’s just that I’ve been so scared all afternoon of someone finding out.”

Her face collapsed into a sad smile. “What am I going to do with you? How do you think people will find out? Dressed like you are, you look every bit a pretty young girl, and when you allow yourself to relax you act every bit like one as well. It’s only when you get nervous, when you stop believing in yourself, that you seem in any way different.

“Remember what I’ve told you in the past, sweetheart? Whatever you choose to focus on, whether it be your dreams or your fears, that’s what’s going to come true. This morning, in the house, and even when we first left home, you embraced being a girl, and you flourished. As soon as we started picking out clothes, when I sent you into the changing room, when I got you to walk out of the shop wearing that dress, that’s when the fears rose up. That’s when I saw the old you come back and those fears and worries took over from the carefree person who shared my morning.”

“Yeah, well Gerald’s the one who’s going to suffer when people find out that he’s been dressing up like a girl. It’s different at home. Wearing a dress at home isn’t scary; it’s safe.”

“But surely Lana’s going to suffer if she isn’t allowed to go outside and enjoy the world too. You can’t let your fear of something bad that may never happen hold you back from enjoying all the great things you can only experience if you take a risk.”

“But that’s just what I have to do. You can’t just decide whether or not to do something based on the risk; you have to think about how bad things would be if someone did find out.”

“Are you so sure they’d be that bad?”

“What do you think would happen if I got caught, if everyone I knew found out? People would either laugh at me or hate me. The kids at school would make my life a misery. Most would make fun of me, and the rest would pick on me, beat me up, spit on me.”

“Do you know that for certain?”

“No, but maybe I’d deserve it.”

“Ger… Lana, why would you think something like that?”

“I don’t know. I think being out here like this, all I can see, all I can feel is the way people would look at me if they knew. Or maybe it’s just the way I think people would feel. And if they all believe it’s so wrong, maybe it is. Maybe I deserve to be punished for being like this.”

Mum took hold of my hand and squeezed it. “Sweetie, don’t ever think that. I doubt most people would think it’s wrong.”

“Why not? You did.”

“I felt uncomfortable about it, yes, but then that’s human nature; we tend to feel uncomfortable when something happens out of the ordinary. But just because most of us feel something is right or wrong, doesn’t mean that’s the case. What is it your Dad says sometimes? ‘Maybe we should all eat cow poo because seventeen quadrillion flies can’t be wrong.’”

“Yeah, I never understood what he meant by that.”

“He meant… he means that just because most people think something is right or wrong, that doesn’t make it true. What I do know is true is that you do not deserve for people to hate you. You’re kind and considerate, and if wearing a dress makes you feel better about yourself, what right have I, or anyone else for that matter, to tell you you’re not allowed? It’s not as if you’re trying to make people feel uncomfortable, is it? It’s not as if you’re doing any harm.”

I shrugged. I couldn’t argue with her, but it didn’t make me feel any better.

“It would be easier if I could just be a girl though, wouldn’t it? I mean if I really were a girl, I wouldn’t have to worry. I wish I really was a girl.”

“Well, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Just because you wish for something doesn’t mean it’s going to come true. Right now though, we need to make a decision. If you feel this badly about being outside in a dress, maybe we should go home. I could give your father a call and we could order in a pizza or something when he gets home.”

I shook my head, feeling the pinch of my new earrings. “That would be a waste of all the money you’ve spent on me this afternoon.”

“Well, as an alternative, we still have a couple of hours before we need to meet your dad; we could work on making you feel more comfortable being the way you are. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Lana, apart from looking like you’re going to burst into tears at any minute, you already look like my very beautiful daughter.”

I couldn’t help smiling at that, although the tears Mum was talking about still remained, filling the space behind my eyes.

“I have a friend who runs a beautician’s near here,” she continued. “I’m sure she could do something with your hair.”

“What you mean like a wig or something?”

“Maybe.” She looked at the top of my head speculatively. “It’s not that short though, not really, and there are a lot of really nice short styles that would look absolutely stunning on a young girl like you.”

Again I found myself smiling. Being called a girl and beautiful was doing a great job of dissolving the curdled mess of emotions inside me.

“I’m going to take that as a yes then. Maybe we’ll get your nails done while we’re at it, and who knows, she might even have a few better ideas about your makeup.”

One little niggle broke away and rose to the surface.

“What about Monday?” I asked. “What happens when I have to go back to school?”

“We’ll let my friend worry about that, shall we? That is if you don’t mind me telling her about you. I know for an absolute fact that she’ll be okay with it.”

“How?”

“How do I know? Because she has a daughter like you. I mean sort of the other way round; her daughter wants to be a boy. If anyone would understand, it would be her.”

Mum stood up, and I followed suit, smoothing out my dress and tugging self-consciously at the short skirt.

-oOo-

‘Near here’ happened to be about a ten-minute drive away in another small shopping complex. Mum’s friend was a pretty lady with her own idea on fashion; someone who actually managed to make different look good. Her hair was cut asymmetrically and dip dyed in a vivid blue on one side. She wore a sort of loose gypsy blouse over tight leather trousers and tan boots that came up to her knees. She smiled and greeted Mum by name when we came into her shop, pausing in her creative flow for the few brief moments such greetings seemed to require.

“Lilly, this is my daughter, Lana,” Mum introduced me. I wasn’t sure whether to offer my hand or curtsey or what, so I settled for a nervous smile and stayed close to Mum’s side. “I know I don’t have an appointment, but I was wondering if you could squeeze her in and do something with her hair. We’re going out tonight, and I’d like her to look as good as possible. She has to go to school on Monday though, so, you know…” There were a whole number of unspoken words that still managed to pass between them.

Lilly gave me a quick once-over. “I should be able to do something,” she smiled. “Jamie!” she called through to the back and a young girl about my age, wearing a pair of scruffy jeans and a plain white tee-shirt appeared. Her hair was short and she had no makeup on, but despite the attempt at androgyny, the girl still showed through. “Would you give Lana here a quick shampoo and rinse please?” She held the door for me and I ducked through into a small room with a chair and hairdresser’s sink against the wall – you know, the sort with a cut out for you to put your head in?

Jamie didn’t say anything while she lathered and rinsed my hair, and neither did I. If she didn’t want to talk, that was fine by me. Up close and personal like that, I couldn’t help noticing all the little details in her features which made it as hard, or possibly harder, for her to pass as a boy as it was for me to do the girl thing.

I closed my eyes and drifted as her slim, but strong fingers pressed into my scalp, conjuring a thick and creamy, sweet-smelling lather into existence from one of the many bottles lining the shelves. ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing,’ I found myself wondering, ‘if we could just swap bits?’ I could have her cute little nose and full lips, and she could have my slightly less feminine ones. All the little details that defined a person as male or female, that leaked through no matter how hard you tried to hide them. I wished for things to be different, for the world to work like that, if only for her and me.

The hair wash was done in no time. She wrapped a towel around my head and gave everything a good rub to get rid of the worst of the moisture, then draping a fresh, dry towel over my shoulders, to protect my clothes I guess, she gave me a guarded smile – a sort of ‘there you go mate’ kind of smile – and indicated I should head back through the door. I returned the smile, but filled mine with more softness and promise. I murmured a thanks as I ducked through into the main part of the shop.

Mum was sitting to one side with a coffee, and she, Lilly and the lady who was Lilly’s current focus of attention were engaged in a three-way conversation about something or someone or other. I found a seat myself and picked up a magazine. They were all girly, fashion sort of glossies, but some of them seemed to have been designed with my generation in mind. I’d often wondered what girly magazines had in them, and this seemed like a good opportunity to satisfy my curiosity.

Of course, Mum noticed and edged over. Lilly had just finished with her existing customer, and money was changing hands. I’d flipped my way through half the magazine and just turned the page as Mum appeared behind me looking over my shoulder. As chance would have it, the new page displayed an article on makeup, and on nail varnish in particular.

“Okay young lady,” Lilly said as her previous customer headed out, “shall we see what we can do with you?”

Mum reached over my shoulder and stopped me closing the magazine. When I turned to her, she had that look in her eye that I was beginning to associate with matters girly, in particular matters that involved me.

“Might we have time to fit in a mani-pedi as well?”

“Jamie?” Lillie raised her voice only a little, and my hair care technician from earlier appeared. I offered her an apologetic smile. This wasn’t my idea after all.

She brought over a box and went through a selection of bottles, offering me a range of different colours to choose from.

“Mum?” I wasn’t sure about this.

“It’ll come off for Monday,” she assured me, then feeling the need for an explanation, for Jamie if no-one else. “The school doesn’t allow makeup.”

Too right they didn’t. Not on boys especially.

“What about this one?” she asked holding a bottle against my dress. It was a pale pink – no surprise there – and it contrasted well with the minty green.

I nodded and allowed myself to be led to a chair.

“Shoes and tights off then please,” Lilly said. “Don’t worry, we’re all girls here.”

I caught the slightest of winces from Jamie and I felt bad for her. I knew something of what that felt like. I figured she’d probably hate me if she knew we were travelling in opposite directions.

I stepped out of my shoes and turned my back to everyone so I could lift my skirt enough to slide the tights down without showing my extras. The room felt a lot cooler with nude legs, but this wasn’t going to be for long, I hoped.

“Right, we don’t have a lot of time,” Lilly said. “I have a customer booked in about half an hour, so are you alright for me to just do what I think would work? I was thinking I might put in a little temporary colour. Don’t worry, it’ll wash out easily before you have to go to school.”

I looked nervously at Mum, who smiled encouragingly. “Er, sure. Please don’t make the style too girly though.”

Jamie smiled at that. She was already sitting on a low stool filing and polishing my toenails, and I had to bite my lip to stop myself from twitching about. Why is it that when I touch my feet I have no problem, but when someone else goes anywhere near them I can hardly keep still? Is that just me?

Lilly started, combing through my hair and trying it in different directions, testing the length and all sorts. The hair wash had removed whatever gunk Mum had used this morning, so she had a pretty blank canvass to work on. She made up her mind quite quickly and started clipping and cutting.

“So,” it turns out she was one of those hairdressers who couldn’t work unless she was talking. “Your mum tells me this is a new thing for you, wearing dresses. How do you like it?”

Jamie twitched slightly in response to her mum’s question. Even her least movement was magnified a thousand times though, by my overly sensitive feet, and I nearly upset her bottles.

“Sorry, I’m a bit ticklish. Yeah, I like it, kind of. I mean, I like wearing a dress. I like the pretty patterns and colours, the way the skirt moves, the way it makes me look. It makes me feel special, like I’m worth something. But at the same time, I feel kind of vulnerable. You have to be careful how you move and stand and sit. Walking in heels is a bit the same. It’s harder to balance, so you take smaller steps. It’s like admitting that you need looking after. By putting in the effort to look delicate and pretty, you’re making it harder for you to look after yourself, kind of inviting someone to come and do it for you.”

The scissors had paused and both my mum and Lilly were looking at me with open mouths. Not all the way letting in the flies kind of open, but enough.

Jamie sat back from her artistry, revealing one foot’s worth of toes glistening with pink.

“That’s kind of how I feel,” she said. “I mean I can look after myself, as long as I don’t have to wear a stupid dress or stupid heels. I mean why would you want to make things harder for yourself? Why do you still want to wear dresses?”

“Because I like feeling beautiful, and I guess for me that means looking and acting a bit delicate. I suppose it all comes down to how you feel you are inside. If you’re the independent sort who feels comfortable going out there and carving out your place in the world, then I can see that dressing like this would go against the grain. If, on the other hand, you want to be noticed and appreciated; if you want someone special to come into your life rather than go out looking for him or her, then making the effort to look pretty, and maybe a little vulnerable, works better.”

“What if you want it all? What if you want the independence and the feeling special?” This was Lilly who had recovered enough to start cutting again.

“I don’t know. It might be possible to have both, but I have a feeling that if you try, you’ll end up with a compromise which isn’t quite either. You’re better off choosing one thing or the other.”

“Yes, but a lot of women I know seem to have everything they want. A decent challenging job during the day, then they get to dress up to go out in the evening.”

“Do they have husbands or boyfriends, any of these friends of yours?” Mum asked.

“Most of them don’t, but who needs a man these days?”

I think Lilly must have forgotten I was there. It happened to be something that concerned me as well, and I’d spent a lot of time thinking about it, even before the whole dressing up thing started. More independent women meant fewer who were looking for a relationship with a man, which in turn meant that someone as far down the pecking order as me didn’t stand much of a chance.

“Sorry,” I said, “but I think that’s a bit of a short-sighted view. I mean, I know it’s fashionable these days to think of guys as little more than sperm donors; use once and discard sort of thing, but it doesn’t work like that.

“I have quite a few friends at school who come from single-parent families, and they’re all missing something. I think it’s better for a child to grow up with both parents, for the balance of temperaments if nothing else. I know I’m really glad I have both a mum and a dad.”

The room had gone quiet again. It hadn’t occurred to me that Lilly might have been one of those single mums and that her arguments might have been to justify her lifestyle, even though she probably hadn’t chosen it. Oblivious to the havoc I was creating, I barrelled on.

“Then what do these women do when their children have left home? I know that when I move out, Mum and Dad will have each other, which is great because there’s nothing worse than being lonely. What?” I finally noticed the silence.

Jamie was looking up at me from her low perch with an inscrutable expression, and I’d rendered Mum and Lilly speechless again. I craned my neck to look round at Lilly and was more than a little shocked at the slack face and glistening eyes I found.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to upset anyone.”

“No, it’s alright Lana. I never thought about it quite that way. I think you’ve given me some serious food for thought you know? Oh dear, look at the time.”

The conversation lulled into silence as Lilly concentrated on getting my hair done before her next customer arrived, though I’m not sure how much was her trying to avoid me talking further along the same lines.

It seemed incongruous that Lilly should hold such views and yet be in the business of making women look beautiful, but then again, in the modern world, a lot of women still made the same effort with their appearance, but without much thought to chasing after guys. Looking good could be its own reward. You were at least as likely to receive compliments on your appearance from other girlfriends as you were from guys, and if independence meant no relationship, then steering away from menfolk altogether made for a simpler life.

Lilly had just about finished when her next customer stepped through the door. I’m not sure what magic trick she’d used, but despite cutting bits off everywhere, it seemed like I actually had more hair. She’d put in some pink highlights as well, which she assured me all over again would wash out.

It looked amazing, and the delight must have shone out from my face because Lilly’s return smile was just as genuine.

“Thank you,” I said as she made to move onto her new customer. Jaime was still working on my fingernails, so I remained confined to my chair. “I’m sorry about what I said earlier; I didn’t think about how it might affect anyone else.”

“You don’t have anything to apologise for, Lana. Sometimes we need to hear the difficult truths, and it’s a rare friend indeed who’ll tell you what you should hear rather than what they think you want to. When you come next time, promise me you’ll do just the same.”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure it’s such a great idea, upsetting the person standing behind you with a pair of scissors.”

“What if I promise not to go all Sweeney Todd on you?”

“You could still do horrible things to my hair. I mean you didn’t today; I think is amazing. It’s perfect for now, and it’s not going to get me stared at on Monday morning.”

“Lana, whatever else I might feel tempted to do, I would never do anything less than my best on someone’s hair. And you’re very welcome. Now if you’ll excuse me, I should get started on Mrs Kerridge.”

That startled me. There was a boy named Paul Kerridge in my class at school, and I doubted it was that common a name. I glanced at her in the mirror and sure enough, I recognised her as someone who’d been in the school from time to time. I swallowed, my mouth gone suddenly dry. However long it was going to take Jamie to finish my nails was going to be very nerve wracking indeed.

“I wouldn’t worry,” Jamie said. “I doubt even your friends would recognise you after the number my mum’s done on your hair.” She gave me a smile and a conspiratorial sidelong glance before returning her focus to my nails.

“Do you know who I am then?” The dryness in my mouth leapt to Saharan.

“Your mum comes in here quite often. I know it’s rude to eavesdrop, but when there’s only a curtain in the way, you can’t help it sometimes. She talks about her son quite a bit, never her daughter, so I kind of put two and two together. I’d never have known otherwise. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure until just now.”

“Does it bother you?”

“Why should it? I think we’re kind of the same in some ways. I think it’s cool that your mum will let you do this, the same as my mum lets me do what I want. I only wish I could look the part as much as you.”

“Yeah, I probably won’t be able to for much longer though. I’m kind of a late developer, but I imagine my body will start changing soon.”

“You know there’s drugs for that nowadays?”

“Yeah, I only just started doing this. I’m not sure I’ve figured out what I want yet.”

“Well while you’re figuring, maybe we could hang out sometime. We could go see a film or something. Maybe tomorrow after lunch?”

A liquid warmth trickled through to the core of my being. I’d never had the courage to ask a girl out before now, and here I was being asked by one. I don’t know what level of aridity lies beyond the Sahara, but my mouth reached it. I couldn’t speak for several seconds.

“Or not.” I could hear Jamie trying to cover the disappointment in her voice. “I just thought it might be fun.”

“No,” I managed to squeak. “I mean yes, or whatever. I’d like that. I’d like to go out with you.”

Go out! I’d meant to say hang out. Not cool.

“Cool,” Jamie disagreed with me. “How about tomorrow afternoon?”

“I’ll have to check with Mum and Dad. I’m guessing it is me you’re asking and not…”

“Gerald? I’d rather it was Lana, but it would still be you, wouldn’t it? I mean I’m who I am regardless of what I look like, right?”

“I suppose, in a way. Mum was talking about something like that earlier, and I think she had a point when she said I was like a different person today. I’m not entirely sure I am who I usually am right now.

“Mind you if I can come tomorrow, I imagine it would be as Lana. It would be a shame to undo all the amazing things you and your mum have done after just one evening, and I doubt Gerald could rock this haircut or these nails quite like I could.”

She laughed. More of a snigger than a giggle, but it made me smile too.

“If you don’t mind me prying, this doesn’t seem like the sort of thing I’d expect you to enjoy doing.” I pointed at my fingernails, now glistening pink with Jamie painting on minty green tips and blending the colours together.

“A jobs a job; Mum pays me to do things like this, and it’s better money than I could get elsewhere. I’m kind of artistic anyway, and painting nails is as much fun as painting anything. Plus it’s kind of challenging because they’re so small.

“There, all done. What do you think?”

They were amazing. Ten works of art in miniature. I told her so.

“Yeah, well,” she shuffled uncomfortably. “You should sit there for a few minutes and give the varnish a chance to set. I have to clear up a bit. When you’re ready, you can come through the back. You know? Privacy putting your tights back on?” She gathered her things and dived through the curtain.

Mum came over and handed me the magazine I’d been reading earlier. She offered me a knowing smirk, which I repaid with a rather more self-conscious one. Jamie was nice, and it felt amazing that she seemed to be interested in me.

-oOo-

We stayed in the shop another ten minutes. Five to make sure my nails were dry, three to get me fully dressed and to assure Jamie I’d call later to let her know about the following day, and another two for Mum to sort out payment. I hated to think what today was costing her, so I chose denial instead, waiting by the door so I couldn’t see the numbers that rang up on the till.

“Okay, sweetheart,” Mum said once we were back outside in the cooling summer afternoon. “We have about an hour before we need to get over to the restaurant to meet your dad. Any ideas?”

“Well, I know you’re spending a lot on me today, so I’m probably kind of pushing my luck a bit, but Jamie asked me out tomorrow, and…”

“…you need something to wear,” Mum finished with a grin. “There is definitely a girl inside of you, isn’t there, Svetlana?”

Mum chose a different shopping centre, one that was more on the way to where we were going to eat tonight. I didn’t want to push the overspend, but Mum had other ideas. We managed to use up all the available time, amassing a car full of clothes, and giving Mum’s credit card friction burns along the way.

I stayed with the green dress, mainly because my hair and nails had been coloured to match, but I was really looking forward to my options for the following day.

Dad was waiting for us when we finally pulled up at the restaurant. We usually came here when Mum had the car on a Saturday. It was just a short walk from his place of work and it meant he could ride home with us after we’d eaten.

Besides, it was a good restaurant, and when you find one of those, you like to stick with it. So my dad says anyway.

He rose to greet my mum with the usual peck on the cheek, then turned his attention in my direction.

“David, I’d like you to meet Svetlana. She’s going to be staying with us for a while, I think.”

“Pleased to meet you,” I said with a slight curtsy and a totally unexpected Russian accent.

“What is this?” Dad didn’t seem too happy. The expression on his face was a mix of confusion and concern. He glanced at Mum. “Perhaps you’d like to explain?”

Mum, in turn, looked at me and raised an eyebrow. Apparently, this was to be my show.

Well, if it was going to be like that.

“Is exchange trip from Germany. My family is Russian, but we live in Frankfurt. Is last minute arrangement. Your son, he is gone to Germany, and I stay with you instead for a while. No-one must know about this, so I pretend to be Gerald when I go to school, yes?”

Dad’s eyebrows were up behind his fringe, and Mum was biting back a smile and trying not to laugh.

“Svetlana is a superhero, David. No, it’s alright Lana, you can trust him as much as you trust me. She’s quite the master of disguise. You’ll be amazed how much like Gerald she’ll look on Monday morning.”

An ominous silence followed. Dad was putting two and two together using his own complex form of mathematics. I don’t know what number he came up with at the end, but it certainly wasn’t four. His expression darkened slowly – bad weather on its way.




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