“What does she mean by ‘we’?” I asked stifling the rage under my surface.
“Don’t play dumb, Alex. She means she and Ally have landed another modeling gig.” Lara smiled through her croutons and it may have been the wickedest smile I’ve ever seen.
“Aren’t you excited?” Caitlyn looked hurt that I didn’t share her enthusiasm.
“No, because I’m not doing it.”
CHAPTER TWO — FACE OFF
“Welcome to Grubs. Home of the COLLOSUS, the world’s most ginormous...est burger. May I take your order?” I spoke into the headset. After three hours of this my own soulless voice was foreign to me.
“It’s just ginormous. Don’t add to it, trainee.” Said the fat man in the skinny tie who now held dominion over my life.
“I’ll take a COLLOSUS meal with extra bacon, extra cheese, blue cheese crumbles, guacamole... um... “
“Extra grease?” My boss, Bob, gave me a disapproving stare.
“I said, Anything else?” A cardioradiologist perhaps?
“Oh, everything. Just whatever you can put on it. Just put that and then double it. And then Ginormosize it all. Fries and Drinks included. And I’ll have an apple crisp too.”
You would think that using a computer system that only required the user to find a picture of a hamburger and press it would simplify things, but I could no more decipher the ancient pictographs on the Grubs register than I could read heiroglyphics. Was that extra cheese or some kind of pyramid? Was that an apple crisp or a coffin? Was there a difference, really? Bob was not taking kindly to my confusion. He lived and breathed this stuff. I’m pretty sure his body’s composition was more Grubs than man at this point. Me? I’d rather eat real grubs.
“It’s the one that looks like a burger, Hoth. Jesus even Jimbo there can do this and he’s reta... mentally challenged.” Bob looked around to make sure no one heard his almost slip of the tongue.
I pressed the big button with a picture on it that looked like a pile of horse shit.
“Very good. Now tell the customer how much this will cost.”
“How much it’ll cost him or how much it’ll cost the taxpayer when we foot the bill for his triple bypass?” My joke did not go over well.
“That’s it, Hoth. You’re done. If you can’t check that attitude at the door there’s no place for you at Grubs. Give Jimbo your trainee hat and get out of my store.” Bob, was huffing and puffing, due to being completely out of shape, but little did he know that I had no house to blow down. I was at rock bottom. His blustering was just wind across the dessert at this point.
“Fine. But lemme tell you something, Bobby...” I paused to wrestle with the various insults on the tip of my tongue, “...that tie makes you look fat.” OK... that was lame.
Bob yelled something after me but I barely heard it. Something about my “future” in the service industry. I gave Jimbo the folded paper hat which he seemed really pleased to get back. Perhaps the responsibilities of the fry master made him long for the halcyon days of yore when he too was playing pictionary with the register.
As I walked out I yelled, “The secret ingredient is people!” in a last pathetic act of defiance. If just one person put down the Grubs and ate a salad, these past few days would sort of, kind of, not really but maybe a little bit, be redeemed.
Mrs. Clarke was not happy to see my feet on her desk when she came in. With a quick swipe of her beast arms she pushed them off and onto the floor. Waking me from my haze.
“Tell me you got good news.” She pushed some papers aside and created serious eye contact between us.
“Oh lord... “ Her hand went to her forehead.
“This one lasted longer than the last. I’m up to three days.”
“Is this a joke to you? Am I not getting through how serious your situation is?” There goes that eye contact again.
“Maybe I’m just not cut out for this type of work.”
“Then maybe you should focus your energies on finding some work you are cut out for.”
“I don’t know what that is... ”
“You know what I think? I think the problem is you’re lazy. When you came to show me that check the day after we had this conversation I was impressed. I said to myself, ‘that boy is finally getting it.’ But here we are two weeks and two jobs later and you’re back to your old ways. Just coasting by like you got nothing to lose.”
“Hey. That’s not fair. I was trying to help organize the kitchen in the cafeteria. It was an inefficient system of management.”
“You being real, right now? You were hired to wash dishes... and you didn’t wash them.” Mrs. Clarke nearly slapped me upside my head. “You spent all your time chatting with your friends. Don’t you go flapping your gums about inefficient management.”
“I asked three times for them to show me how to run dishes in that screwed up washer! Three times and they just kept blowing me off. Meaning I had to do the entire night by hand. Meanwhile, I’ve got three makeup exams and two finals to study for.”
“Wah Wah. Cry me a river. You had a job to do and you didn’t do it. End of story.”
I was feeling pretty frustrated by this conversation and was about to storm off and say fuck it all, when Mrs. Clarke pulled me back to her.
“What about you do some more modeling work?”
“No. Out of the question.” I had done everything in my power to avoid even talking about it since that day. Going so far to ignore Lara and Caitlyn completely when they even mentioned it.
“You seemed really proud of that check. Why won’t you even consider it? I’m sure it pays more than slinging greasy burgers or washing dishes.”
“I don’t want to talk about it. I had a bad experience.”
“Well, you better figure something out. The clock’s ticking.”
The clock was indeed ticking. In the three weeks since that night, I had made a real effort to get the money I needed. I took two crap jobs, sold my Xbox, cashed in my savings bonds and I was still coming up short about $25,000. Even my last resort, a panicky call to my parents in New Jersey failed to pan out. They couldn’t spare that kind of money. They had my younger brother to think of. With the economy the way it was, and the losses my Dad had taken, it just wasn’t feasible to bail me out. Sure, they’d bail out the auto manufacturers but not me. I was on my own.
For a day after being fired I moped around the apartment between classes. During this time I only saw Lara once or twice and we had hardly spoke. What little communication did exist between us was mostly perfunctory. When we were out of toothpaste and it was my turn to buy stuff she’d put it in front of me and nod.
In the two weeks since that night my leg hair had grown back coarser and stubbly. I had opened Pandora’s box and the soft curly hair that once lay like fallen wheat on my leg, was now an angry forest of sharp spears. More than once I stood in the spray of the shower contemplating Lara’s razor and imagining how much better I’d feel if I just cut go crazy lumberjack but then I’d always come back to my senses.
As I sat on my bed not playing my Xbox (which was no longer there) and not watching TV (which Lara and I agreed we could do without,) I heard a familiar buzzing coming from my bedside table. I had a new message.
sup? Got sumthin awsum 2 talk abt. Let’s do lunch? HH mall foodct 2pm, ok?
HH meant the Hammerhead Mall. Her shorthand annoyed me. All shorthand annoyed me. Especially since she had a keyboard on her phone now. It made sense when we were all using the number pad but this was just ugly. I had never received a txt from Caitlyn before. I don’t even know how she has my number.
OK. I’ll see you there.
Before I’d even finished pressing send her reply came back.
See ya @ 2, ho. LOL.
Oh I see what she did there. Clever.
I went back in the bathroom and surveyed the landscape in the mirror. I could definitely use a shave. I tried to get as close a shave as I could but even with all my effort (and blood spilled,) pre-shave skin prep and post shave skincare, I could still see a faint shadow. It just wasn’t going to go away.
I went to my closet to pick out something to wear. I’d actually sold a lot of my stuff in the great Alex Hoth firesale so there wasn’t much left to choose from. I found a plain black hoodie easily enough, but all my pants were dirty and several failed to pass the smell test. I knew what I was about to do was wrong, but compared to some of the things I wore the night I modeled for Lara, this would be nothing. I crept over to Lara’s room opened her closet and found a pair of dark blue jeans with a low waist and a boot cut. I nabbed ‘em. Lara and I weren’t quite the same size but with a belt, the fit was decent from the front. Without inspecting the tag I seriously doubted you could tell that they were girl’s jeans. I didn’t think Lara’d mind considering we were roommates and all the times I had caught her carrying an article of clothing out of my room without permission. I gave myself a final check in the mirror, taking to my tiptoes briefly to see the fit before I resigned myself to a pair of converse all stars and went out the door.
When I got to the mall to meet Caitlyn, I saw her sitting at a table by herself. She had that layered look of a brightly colored camisole under a more neutral colored tank top. Which I would have known nothing about if Lara hadn’t explained it in detail while she was preparing her website for launch. The girl could blab. Caitlyn had paired this with a pair of blue jeans in a shade lighter than the ones I was wearing. As I approached the table, I acknowledged her with a slight wave of my hand and readied a smile. What I saw next froze me in my tracks.
It was Lara and she was carrying a plate of food for the two of them. Holy shit. What am I going to do? I can’t let her see me. I tried to hide behind a couple that were passing by but they noticed me. The guy called me a creep and pushed me away making it obvious to anyone looking that I’d been trying to hide. Lara and Caitlyn did a double take and the moment I’d been dreading dawned on Lara’s face. Her mouth went agape.
Caitlyn summoned me to them with an excited hand. My instincts told me to run. I still had plausible deniability on my side. Instead I went to the table, took a seat across from Caitlyn, and waited for the silence to break. It broke into laughter.
“Alex?” Lara’s tone was rising. “Are those by any chance, my jeans?” She asked mockingly in a voice too loud for my nerves to handle.
“Oh yeah. Those are the ones you bought at Mandees, right?” Caitlyn said examining what she could see of the pants I was so desperately trying to hide under the table.
This was humiliating but what did I expect?
“I didn’t have any clean ones.” That was my case and I was sticking to it.
“Oh I don’t mind. You can borrow them whenever. They look a little silly with all stars though. I’d have paired them with heels. What do you think, Caitlyn?”
“Definitely. And maybe a lacey blouse instead of a hoodie? Aren’t you hot in that?”
“A little, yeah.” It seemed colder when I went out this morning.
“So you look surprised to see me?” Lara was frowning like a jilted lover in between bites of her salad.
“We got you one too, Ally.” Caitlyn slid a salad to me. Lucky for me this is basically what I would have ordered anyway although I would have gotten Italian dressing instead of no-fat, zero-flavor, who-knows-what’s-in-it Ranch.
“Don’t call me that. My name is Alex.”
“Jeez. Sensitive much?” Lara poked me with her fork.
I opened my salad and began digging into it. The truth is there probably wasn’t a whole lot of difference in the calories between food court salad and a burger but one made me feel like I swallowed the Titanic and the other just made me feel like I was eating grass on the side of the highway. It was a toss up.
“So, you said in your text that you had something ‘awesum’ to tell me?” I wanted to get right to the point and I wanted to get away from here and out of these pants before these two got any funny ideas.
“You should tell him, Lara.”
“No, Caitlyn, you were so excited to tell him. You should be the one.” This did not bode well. Anything that got Caitlyn excited probably meant bad news for me. Even more frightening, Caitlyn was tensing up her whole body as if the news about to burst from her mouth would shatter the earth.
“We got another job!”
Earth, not shattered.
“Isn’t that awesome? Oh my god, I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a little girl.”
“What does she mean by ‘we’?” I asked stifling the rage under my surface.
“Don’t play dumb, Alex. She means she and Ally have landed another modeling gig.” Lara smiled through her croutons and it may have been the wickedest smile I’ve ever seen.
“Aren’t you excited?” Caitlyn looked hurt that I didn’t share her enthusiasm.
“No, because I’m not doing it.” Caitlyn’s eyes went wide and the blueish grey hue became an almost cobalt. If they were laser beams I would be fried.
“What do you mean you’re not doing it? You haven’t heard who the client is yet?”
“I’m not doing it because,” I whispered the next part, “I don’t want to wear any more women’s clothes ever again.” I softly rapped the table on the word again to make my point.
“Women’s clothes, like the item you’re wearing right now?” Lara glanced down at the pants I was wearing.
“Not the same.” I crossed my arms.
“How is that not the same. Are you or are you not wearing jeans that were made for and sold to women?”
“I am but.. “ Lara leaned forward like she was in debate class.
“And did the world suddenly end when you put them on despite the fact that you’re not a woman?”
“No... but that’s not the...”
“It’s entirely the point. Who cares? So you wear women’s clothes sometimes? So what? You’re still a guy underneath.”
“In Renaissance times men were the ones who wore high heels.” Caitlyn added as if this fun fact had been written on the back of her placemat.
“What is a skirt but shorts sewn together? What are high heels but men’s dress shoes with a taller heel and a few pieces cut out? What is a dress but a really long T-shirt?”
I began a slow sarcastic clap. The show was over. This silliness had to stop.
“I’m still not doing it.”
“Argh!” I’d never seen Caitlyn get mad before. She was usually kind of a ditzy happy-go-lucky girl. Her face was getting flush. “How can you sit there and say no without even knowing what a big deal this is? This is for UndeR 21, hello? Their catalog is seen by every mallrat in the country.”
“So? All the more reason not to do it.”
“You are impossible!”
“What does it matter what I do? Do it yourself! Don’t let me stop you.”
Caitlyn threw her tray on the floor and stormed away. I think she was crying. Lara was now giving me the evil eye like I’d done her some great wrong.
“Why is it so fucking important to her that I do this? I don’t see why she can’t just do it on her own?”
And then Lara looked at me like I was the stupidest person on the planet.
“Emmanuel doesn’t want her. He wants you.” And then my heart sank.
“I made him promise to use her if we got him you.”
“That is seriously fucked up.”
“Imagine you’re her. A world famous fashion photographer sees more potential in a guy in a dress who’s never modeled a day in his life than you, who have been taking lessons since you were old enough to walk.”
“I didn’t know.”
“If you feel bad then make it right.”
“No. It’s wrong. Guys shouldn’t wear women’s clothing. It’s screwing with my head.”
Lara gave a slight pause to the last thing I said,
“Look at her,” Lara pointed to the line to the ladies room where Caitlyn was sobbing. How insulting that she couldn’t even get in to splash water on her face and fix her makeup. “This could be her big break.”
I weighed my options here. On the one hand, crushing this girl’s dream of being a supermodel might be a mercy kill. It was a tough industry from what I understood and she was probably delusional. On the other hand, if she can work with top talent maybe it’ll rub off on her and she’ll blossom. I didn’t really watch her work that night but maybe she’s diamond in the rough. How can I deny this girl a chance at finding out if she’s got what it takes just because I don’t want to wear some silly clothes?
“...How much does it pay?”
Lara smiled victoriously. “Fifteen hundred for the job but I get fifteen percent of that.”
“Fifteen percent!? For what?”
“My fee, of course. I’m going to be your manager.” Lara put it out there like it was a challenge. I didn’t take the bait. “Now, do you want to tell Caitlyn the good news or shall I?”
You know you’ve been hugging someone too long when the hug grows cold. Caitlyn hugged me until ice was forming on us. Soon we’d be little more than a frozen sculpture. Even the thrill of holding a woman in my arms, especially one with as nice a rack as Caitlyn’s, had long ago subsided.
“For the thirty-millionth time, you’re welcome.” Lara helped peel Caitlyn off of me.
“Now, on to new business.” Lara was leading the charge through the mall. I was still regaining feeling in my arm so I didn’t realize where we were going until it was too late.
“Alex, Celia’s. Celia’s, Alex.”
Directly in front of me was a full service salon. It was chic. It was modern. And as if on cue, the door swung open and filled the mall with gay runway disco music -the soundtrack to TV reality makeovers. In the front window there was a poster of a woman whose shocking purple hair was so straight that it made a 45 degree angle across her face and remained perpetually suspended in animation. There were no posters of men. This was the kind of place that I had done time in as a child waiting for my mother to emerge from the giant hair dryers. The books of hairstyles would have 45 pages of women’s cuts and one page of mens, if that.
“You really like that word.” Caitlyn shot out.
“No. No. And once more...” I turned to Lara for the last one, “...no.”
“We have to.” Lara stepped in front of me with her hands on her hips.
“Why? They’re only going to see my legs and feet, maybe an elbow? Right?” Lara said nothing. “Right?”
“Actually, this job is different. These are full body shots. That was the deal.” Lara tried to make it sound as if there was no difference between full body and lower half shots.
“What?” I tried not to raise my voice but it was difficult. “You didn’t say anything about full body shots.”
“You didn’t ask and I’m telling you now. We had a verbal agreement.”
“Is that why you asked me to meet you at the mall? To ambush me?”
“Don’t be a drama queen.” We were both getting heated now.
“I am not going in there.” I would stand my ground. This was my Alamo.
“Alex, why does everything have to be a crisis with you? It’s no biggie. We go in there, we get your hair cleaned up, update your look and then we go home. The world keeps spinning.”
“If I asked you to shave your head and glue on a beard would you? Would that be ‘no biggie?’”
“If I could pull it off, and I was getting paid as much as you I would, yeah.”
“Yeah right? You’re just saying that so I’ll do what you want. Same as ever.”
“Believe it or not, Alex, not everything I do is about me. I care about...”
“Bullshit! You’re just using me to cover your own expenses for your joke of a website!”
Lara lost her words and then she slapped me.
“I...I’m sorry.” Lara looked up with watery eyes.
“Fuck you.” Lara looked up with watery eyes, shoved a bag into my hands, turned quickly and walked away. She blended into the crowds and then she was gone. I wanted to go after her but Caitlyn grabbed my shoulder. Her sharp nails slowly digging in.
“You still owe over twenty five thousand dollars in a little under six months. From what Lara tells me, nobody is standing by you, except us. So maybe you could quit being a little bitch and stop worrying about what a bunch of strangers will think and start doing what’s best for you and the people who care about you before you’re left with no one but your own miserable self.” Coming from Caitlyn, these words were especially disarming. I could almost hear the audience cheering as she gave me the verbal beat down. I was of course the villain of this piece but it didn’t have to be that way.
“I have to stop her...” We always had arguments. I could fix this.
“Take my advice. Give her some space.”
“I didn’t mean to...I’m just so...” Am I crazy? Has the world gone topsy-turvy? Is this not a colossal mess of a situation I’m in? I mean, I’d be committing fraud right? Does no one see this but me?
“What are you going to do?” Caitlyn wasn’t being bubbly anymore. She was being ultimatum-ey. I knew what she meant. The salon was waiting for me; the stylist, my warden, his chair, the tool of my electric execution. Maybe I was being a drama queen. Maybe if I just thought of this as an extended Halloween then it wouldn’t be so strange. Maybe I could even enjoy it a little? Why did I have to shit on Lara’s heart just to figure that out? I hope she doesn’t hate me.
I opened the bag and looked inside. As I thought, it was Ally’s bra and panty set. Lara must have thought I’d feel less awkward about the salon if I was dressed up. She thought wrong.
“I’m going to get my hair and makeup done.” I put the bag back in Caitlyn’s hands. She was stunned.
I could be the hero of this story. Hell, I could be the heroine.
Walking into the salon was sensory overload. It didn’t smell like sunshine and candy dreams. It smelled like industry and chemical afterbirth. Where the women were getting their nails done was our neighborhood paint store. It was shop class where women stood in for engine blocks and soapbox racers and always, with the pumping techno soundtrack.
“Can I help you?” The ‘you’ sounded more like joo when the tiny latino man in the Lisa Loeb glasses spoke to me. It was at vthat moment when I realized that I had no idea what to say. Full service please came to mind, but I was afraid what might come of that. I just stood there speechless.
“Do you speak the English?” Normally I would have laughed at that. “Hey everyone, we got a deaf mute cutie here. Someone who speaks deaf mute cutie?”
“My friend here is just shy.” Caitlyn to the rescue. “He’s never been in a salon before.” That was technically not true but I was relieved just to have someone to clear up the whole deaf-mute thing.
“Caitey! Oh look at you! How come you don’t come to see Hector, no more. You naughty thing.” Hector gave Caitlyn a semi-hug.
“You know I live way outside of town now!”
I know. I am only teasing to you. So this is your friend, huh? I see...” the man said with a little too much of a wink, “first time to get hair cut since coming out of the closet?”
“Uh huh.” I said without thinking.
“Gasp. It speaks!”
“What? No! I’m not gay! I’m... ”
Hector waited for my reply with doubting eyes. What am I exactly?
“His name’s Alex. He recently started working as a model.” Caitlyn saves me again.
“Ah... Yes, I can see it.” He didn’t look like he believed me.
“Actually, I... “
“Yes, go ahead. You push out those words like they was you babies.” Hector made like he was giving birth, breathing in and out in lamasz style.
“He’s...” Caitlyn started to answer for me again but I found the courage to stop her.
“I’m modeling as a female.” There, I said it.
Hector tucked his chin in and took a deep breath. He reached up a hand to my hair and pulled it up out of my face. Then he turned my head left and right again and again, staring deeply into me as he did.
“Yes. Yes. Now... I see it. We will make you beautiful.” Was that possible?
“No! I need to still be me. I just want to update my look and clean it up.”
“Yes! Clean it, Update it, Polish it, tie a silk ribbon around it and put it on a wedding cake. We will do all of this for you.” I looked for sympathy from Caitlyn, but all I got was a knowing look in return that seemed to say, “That’s Hector, for you.” The man was a living stereotype but damn if his attitude didn’t push through all the awkwardness and make me laugh at this whole charade. “But seriously, what do you want to do?”
Hector had me sit in a chair while Caitlyn took him aside to consult with him as if I was her daughter and only mother knew what was best for little Ally. Every so often I’d peak over and see a rise in excitement as they discussed some new awful thing they planned to do to me. Meanwhile, my neighbors to the north and south were growing more curious about me. Finally one of them spoke up from underneath a hair wrap. She was an older lady probably just short of her 60s and she had a kind wrinkly face.
“I think it’s very brave what you’re doing. I have a nephew who is transitioning as we speak.” Transitioning? He was riding a train? Fading to black?
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you mean?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought I overheard that you were becoming a woman.”
“Ah.. No, I’m just dressing up for a work thing.”
“Well, we’ll just pretend I didn’t say anything then, hmm?” The woman went back to her magazine but then I caught her looking up at me from time to time and she finally put it back down. “If you don’t mind my asking, what kind of work thing.”
“I, um, I, well how do I put this? I model women’s clothing.” This was the first time I’d told anyone about this like it was a career choice. This was the first time I’d ever discussed anything like it was a career choice.
“Oh.” The woman grew embarrassed by something and then leaned in as close as she could to whisper, “But you still have all your man parts, right?”
I laughed. “Yes Ma’am. Still 100%.”
The lady laughed and coughed up the equivalent of an older lady hairball and then laughed some more.
“So why do you do it?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I only did it once but apparently I was good at it.”
“Well I can see you have the body for it.” That felt vaguely like flirting. Were all older women this prying?
“I’ve never been good at anything before, except math. And the truth is, I’m bored to tears by math.”
“Well, I think when you find out what you were meant to do in this life, it’s a blessing. Even if it is a little weird.”
“Weird is wonderful. Who wants to be ordinary when they can be extraordinary?” Hector sung as he swung my chair around. He had returned from my consultation with notes and what looked like a roadmap drawn on a cocktail napkin.
When my chair stopped swinging I was face to face with a bald tattooed woman. “Hello, Ally. My name is Celia and I am going to cut your hair.”
Caitlyn gave me the lowdown on Celia. Celia only cut hair and she was very selective about whose hair she cut. She could demand fees as high as $5,000 for a haircut but if she felt a personal connection to the client she would lower her fee dramatically. My bizarre story had somehow qualified me for this service. Celia used to cut more hair but two years ago she had been diagnosed with breast cancer which had cost her one of her breasts. She beat the cancer just this year but lived in constant fear it would resurface. Her tattoos which ran from her neck onto her bald head were of a dragon and a dove. When I asked about this, Caitlyn simply shrugged. Whatever the meaning behind those symbols Celia kept it private. When Celia returned she dismissed Caitlyn and took me into a private cutting booth behind a black curtain. Here comes that execution.
This extremely confident woman was now pacing in front of me studying the napkin that Hector had given her. I was a little intimidated by her intensity.
“How would you feel about layering the back?” She posed the question to me like it was philosophical.
“Um... OK, I guess.”
“That’s not an answer. That’s a question. I want to know how you would feel if I gave the back of your head layers.”
“I really don’t know. I’d feel layered?” She didn’t react to my humor.
“OK. OK. Let’s say that the wind blows through your hair, would you want it to look windswept? Or... stay flat.”
“Windswept.” I had no idea what she was going on about.
“Good. We’re making progress. So, Bangs... yes or no?” This lady was manic.
“Do you mean do I want bangs?” I imagined coming out like Lara and shuddered at the thought.
“Does that shiver mean no?”
“No. I mean yes, it means no.” Is this candid camera? Has this whole last month been some long con reality show?
“Gravy. Bangs are in though. I got it. I know it’s a little stale but what do you think of a swoop. By which I mean, if the hair in front here swooped over your eye just like so.” She picked up my hair and gave a quick chop of the scissors, which magically appeared in her right hand. The hair fell just across my eye. She used her left hand to bend and curl the hair slightly and I saw what she meant in my reflection. It was pretty. “Yes, that’s what we’ll do.”
Celia kicked back out into the main room and had me taken to the back to have my hair washed. It was an odd sensation having a man run his fingers through my hair and ask me in his deep voice over and over again if it was too hot. I couldn’t find my voice to reply, I just shook my head for no and let him work his magic. When I was washed and toweled off I was brought back to the private room behind the black curtains.
Celia returned with a boombox.
“I hate that techno shit but Hector’s been good to this place in my absence.” Celia hit the play button and out came the first chords of Dirty Deeds by AC/DC. This was a chick after my own heart. She started dancing around as she set up her cutting station. “See, I knew you were a rocker girl. Takes one to know one.”
I didn’t correct her. It was easier if I didn’t. For the next hour Celia clipped and snipped my hair. A slow but steady pile was growing around me. In between the cutting she would sometimes take a clip and clip up a clump and cut around it. I think this is what she meant by layered. I couldn’t see though. Celia had flipped the mirror around so that all I saw was the wooden backside.
“You got any family, kid?”
“My parents and a younger brother, Seth.”
“What do you think they’d think of your recent lifestyle choices?”
“I think they’d disown me. Seth would probably call me a fag and beat the shit out of me. He’s a hockey player.”
“You should give them more credit. People are more understanding than you think.”
I let that comment breathe a bit.
“Are you a lesbian?”
“What, because I listen to AC/DC and have a dragon tattoo suddenly I’m a lesbian? Didn’t they tell you I had cancer?”
“I’m sorry, I , no, I didn’t mean...”
“I’m fucking with you. You are adorable. Yes, I’m a lesbian.”
“Jeez, you almost gave me a heart attack.”
“Now I get to ask a question?” I steadied myself for this. She was going to ask me what I’d been wondering since that night. Since my head became so confused. “Do you like Coke or Pepsi?”
“I like Coke.”
“Me too. Pepsi is for fags.”
I didn’t get to see my new haircut. I could feel it, feel the swoop that was not yet swooping as it swished across my eyes but I was not allowed to look. They were building the anticipation. Hector returned and did a terrible job of masking his surprise and joy at seeing my new hair. He put a blindfold on me and then for the next twenty minutes I found myself assaulted by unseen paint brushes which coated my hair in what I could guess was dye. I could have stopped this at any time, but I was committed to my makeover now. I was genuinely curious what I would look like when all was said and done.
Once my hair had been washed for the twentieth time, I was instructed to disrobe and put on a loose gown. From there I was lead by the hand into a room separate from the sounds of the busy salon. I heard a high pitched yelp from nearby and jumped at the sound.
“Calm down sweetness. This isn’t gonna hurt a bit. That woman is just surprised. Now, I’m going to remove your blindfold so don’t go crazy, ok.” The woman’s voice was soothing like honey tea.
As promised she removed my blindfold. The room came into focus and I realized that I was at a waxing station. The Indian woman next to me had a smoking pot of golden death next to her.
“Lay back and relax.” Not easily done but I gave it my best shot. “Please spread your legs like her.” She pointed to the table next to me where a woman was laying with a towel over her face with one leg splayed to the side.
The hot wax was spread on my inner thigh. A soft cloth was pressed onto it and held for a few seconds. Then...
Or would that be R.I.P.
“Oh, that is just the surprise of the pain. It will go away soon.”
For what seemed like three lifetimes I writhed in agony as massive sections of hair were cleared from my body. When they finally got to my underarms they had to have another girl come in with clippers to shear the hair down to a manageable size. It hurt. Luckily for me I was devoid of chest hair. After my legs, underarms and extremely sensitive bikini area were cleared, the woman approached my face.
“Hey. Hey what are you doing? I just shaved.”
“I’m not gonna wax my eyebrows, are you crazy. Get that away from me.”
“Faster than tweezing.”
So I let them wax my eyebrows and try to wax my mustache which really didn’t work out. When the woman was done I had a chance to run my hands over them. I probably should have tweezed. The change wasn’t drastic but it definitely felt like my eyebrows thinned towards the outside. The rest of me was left raw and bleeding, again. The price of beauty was being cut into me on a semi-constant basis today. I was relieved when the woman started rubbing a salve on all my sore parts. After another half hour I emerged from the torture chamber smooth all over. Touchably smooth. Wearing pants on these smooth again legs was such a mindfuck. I could feel a chill between the denim and bare skin. It was like the day after my modeling gig all over again. The denim was rough and I was unprotected. What a strange sensation.
Hector saw me stumbling out and had two of his lackeys re-blindfold me. I was returned to Celia for a final once over. She pulled at my hair and teased it with a brush, sprayed it down here and added wax there. I felt like a work of art being slowly shaped into something worthy. For all I knew at this point though, I was still a badly drawn boy.
“Done.” Celia stopped to admire her work. “Lemme do something extra for you.”
Celia pulled out a tiny makeup case and poked through it, pulling a tube of something or other and a stick of this or that as she deemed fit. She then gripped my face with a steady hand and started mixing a foundation on the back of her hand. I instinctively retreated.
“Don’t be shy, Ally. I’m not gonna go nuts. I just want to bring out the model.”
“I don’t feel comfortable with that.”
“It’s just a little makeup. If you were in a movie, male or female, doesn’t matter you’d be wearing it.”
“Please. I don’t feel comfortable.” The thought of her putting that stuff on me stopped my heart. I didn’t know if it was because I was afraid to look bad or afraid to look good.
“You have to. I just gave you a deeply discounted haircut and I can’t finish this look without seeing your face made up to match. Please?”
This was a pattern with me. I didn’t say yes. I didn’t say no. I gave no indication that it was OK but I let it happen anyway. I let Celia cover my face with liquid foundation and then a powder topping. I let her line each of my eyes with a black eyeliner pencil, meanwhile feeling shame with every line she drew. I let her dust the tops of my lids with a purple tint and lengthen each of my lashes with an extending mascara. I didn’t just let her. I closed my eyes when she told me. I pursed my lips when she asked. I watched her sketch an outline in red and then fill my pouty lips in first with a matte red lip color and then a pink faintly glittering gloss. I tasted and smelled it all.
Then when I was sure that things couldn’t get anymore surreal. This lesbian hair warrior kissed me full on the lips and I got a taste of her lipstick which was somehow tangier than mine.
I was lead out into the salon and my blindfold came off.
My eyes locked onto my reflection’s. The face in the mirror was not Alex’s. His face was dull, listless. The face I was looking at now was vibrant, sexy and full of life. Her eyes were wider, her cheeks fuller and her smile full of mystery. Her hair was a rich auburn color, with burnt orange highlights, a contradiction of loose tangles and full, sculpted curtains. The layered look that Celia had referenced was complete rock n’ roll. In the back of my head some parts of the hair hung lower than others and it was overall shorter than it had been but two especially long bits on each side still flirted with my shoulder blades. The swoop she had mentioned was drastic and came from a ¾ part in my hair. I wanted to kiss this girl’s lips, to stroke her hair, to be seen as her ideal.
I was in love. In love with an illusion.
I was an illusion.
I turned around when I heard the cheering. Caitlyn was whooping and hollering. Hector was clapping.
But Lara was nowhere to be seen. And the moment just didn’t seem important without her.
.... to be continued.
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