The Willow Society

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Chapter 34

Chapter 34

Lou Rodriguez looked stupid.

At least that's how she felt, looking at herself in the mirror looming before her. She was at the couture dress store Izzy had insisted on dragging her to shop. Well, not precisely dragged, the idea of a beautiful dress was not something Lou inherently despised, but not something she particularly needed, either. She felt stupid and vapid standing there before a mirror, wondering whether what she saw was the same as what others saw. The notion that Izzy could drag her anywhere was just ridiculous, enough so Lou chuckled to herself, on the inside. Her emotions were always held back, it had become a self-aware reflex, one she was proud of, like the ability to endure very cold water or eat ridiculously hot food.

“Lou, seriously, that color is fierce on you!“ Izzy raved. The sycophantic sales girl nodded, her smile predatory, her lean face showing too much teeth. The sales girl might have been pretty, Izzy certainly seemed to think so, the girl was svelte and sleek looking, but she reminded Lou too much of a dog, like one of those greyhounds or something. Lou wanted to slap her. Instead she looked down at the peach and cream colored fabric draped across her body and fluffed it up a bit before she huffed, again feeling quite stupid. The dress was loose-fitting from the bust line down, what Izzy called an “A-frame”.

“Lou, I mean, LOOK at yourself? There's not an ounce of fat on you. You are... .I would burn an orphanage down to look like that.“ Izzy giggled as she said it, amused by the use of one of Lou's signature phrases. Izzy was trying to create a picture of Lou and layer it over the reality that was Lou: hard muscles, long limbs, brown skin, and a masculine bearing. Not what Lou thought of as being pretty in a dress, not unless you're a drag queen. Which was how Lou felt as she twisted in front of the mirror, like a drag queen.

”Whatever.“ Lou said, which knocked Izzy's laugh off. Izzy hated the word “Whatever.“ Lou fumbled with the fabric some more, twisted to the other side and tried to push out her breasts further. The dress was well made, the fabric luxurious; it definitely flattered her shape. She looked more like the kind of girl a boy might look at, which was a conundrum for her, it was hard to reconcile. She wanted them to look, but she didn't want anyone to know she wanted them to look, not them, not Izzy, not even Mrs. Jones. The thought made her feel weak, exposed.

“No.“ Lou said. “This is stupid, Iz. Can't I just you know... wear a cute top and some nice slacks?“ Not that Lou owned a cute top or a pair of dress slacks, but Izzy was buying. Izzy gave Lou a look of withering disdain.

They had not warmed to each other instantly. Not that they had really warmed to each other completely, which was strange. Lou knew she was Izzy's closest friend. Izzy doesn't let people in either. Yet Lou understood it, she lived it. It was part of being who each of them was, for everything given out more was always held back. Other people might think both Lou and Izzy had to work hard to be who they were, to show what they presented to the world, but Lou knew otherwise. They both kept the best part for themselves, they were not fond of sharing.

And while Lou worked hard to be who she was, she felt the past year had been just maintenance and she suspected Izzy might feel the same way about herself. It had surprised Lou and maybe Izzy as well, when the two of them had become such close friends so quickly. Lou had been sure Izzy was a lesbian. It was part of Lou's past, part of her continuing existence in a huge place like New York City, that people assumed she was herself a lesbian. That she was not aware or unwilling to admit it. Many lesbians felt comfortable seeking her out. It was a frequent occurrence. Not often enough to be easily dismissed, but enough she accepted it. When she and Izzy had been thrown together in the Society, Lou had quickly faced misgivings that Izzy sought more from her than she could give.

But that hadn't lasted long. If Izzy was gay, which Lou no longer really believed, she was easily the least sexual person Lou assumed something had happened in Izzy's past so she found no comfort in the closeness of others, in intimacy. Izzy had grown up well-loved by her Gran, fabulously rich. Lou had not, the result was the same. Neither girl was fond of affection and neither had the desire to be held by others, to be swallowed into the arms of some strong man, or lesbian. Though Izzy acted the part in public while Lou quashed her secret desire to be someone's girlfriend.

None of that meant they didn't like being looked at; Izzy visibly more than Lou. Lou knew how much effort Izzy made to ensure she was always looked at; it was something of a game with her. She also knew it was not Izzy's full game, more like a sideshow. The only thing Izzy really cared about apart from the Society, was her social media company, IzEvents. The teenager had inserted herself into the bloodstream of social media, found she belonged there, that she was perhaps its most naturally gifted navigator.

Lou liked when people checked her out, but she never really took it to heart. She couldn't separate herself from the niggling fear that maybe, just maybe, that glance was derogatory, insulting instead of appreciative or flattering. It was difficult to push that inner voice aside when all her well honed instincts told her a man's gaze was threatening, but was actually interested instead.

Lou snapped back from thinking about Izzy and the strange road to their friendship. Back to the mirror and the peach and cream colored dress. She tussled the monstrosity and a niggling sense rose like a wave within her, preparing to crash.

“No.“ Lou said again, more firmly this time when Izzy looked ready to insist. Izzy sighed, and relented.

“Do you have any of that new Marchesa? Dior?“ Izzy asked the sales girl, half distracted while she half-frowned at Lou.

The sales girl's eyes widened, which didn't help her lean face looked any less pinched. She knew money and those designer dresses cost thousands and thousands of dollars. The girl didn't even bother to hide her excitement as she scuttled off like a puppy sent to fetch a thrown stick.

“Something black.“ Lou called after her, twirling the soft fabric in her hands as she took the horrible thing off. It wasn't really horrible, but she thought of it that way.

“But your skin tone... a lighter color would look...“ Izzy said.

“Look, I've tried on four already, Iz. Give it up. I already feel like ditching this shit and wearing a sweater and some jeans from the Gap.“ Izzy looked amused and mortified by the suggestion.

“Fine.“ Izzy said, "Black.“ Her eyes went unfocused as though she were replaying images in her mind's eye. “Why are you being so difficult?“ Izzy murmured, still unfocused. “This is a mission right? It's not like you are going on a real date or anything...“

“I don't want to feel or look like a fool, especially not in front of the Behrstables. And I need to blend in with all you glitter monsters, don't I? I need to feel comfortable to do that, all airy-fairy and...“ Lou stuttered searching for the right word.

“Beautiful?“ Izzy murmured, her eyes, focused again.

“Yeah. I guess.“ Lou said, looking away. But the word turned itself over and around in her mind and she smiled on the inside at the notion of being beautiful. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.

The salesgirl returned, pushed a wheeled rack with several bagged dresses limply hanging on it.

“This is all new Marchesa, no Dior I'm afraid. Some Zac Posen and some Miu Miu.“ the salesgirl said cheerily.

“Are any of them black?“ Izzy asked, touching her finger to her mouth as she flipped through the first few dresses.

The salesgirl pouted as she swept over the dresses with her eyes, searching. She moved a pair of them near the center of the rack. Something on a hanger, but not in a bag, fell to the floor. It was sleek, silky, and covered in some kind of reflective, shimmery nodules; dark like obsidian, with no other embellishments.

“That.“ Lou said immediately.

The salesgirl's lip curled, scornfully. “That's not couture. It's a sample from some designer we refused to carry. I don't know how it got in there.“ Lou thought the girl was directing that scorn at her and she balled her fist reflexively before she realized the scorn was directed at the dress. Izzy's eyes had caught on the dress now as well and she glared at the salesgirl, her full-on Upper West Side bitch mode switching on.

“Try it on, Lou.“ was all she said as she all but snatched the dress from the salesgirl's hand, while looking down her nose at the woman.

The salesgirl swallowed hard and sighed. “I'm sure it will look lovely on her.“ Lou rubbed the fabric between her fingers: it was even softer than the previous dress had been, silkier, it was as light as pair of expensive pajamas. A few minutes later Lou stood in front of the mirror again, trying to keep herself from biting her lip in excitement.

“Lou!“ Izzy said breathlessly, clapping a hand to her mouth when Lou pulled the dress up.

It was like looking at someone else someone other than herself; yet still her, a Lou from an alternate reality. Lou's throat caught. She didn't know what to say, how to feel. But she knew one thing right then. -

I'm beautiful.

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