“Lou?“ Izzy asked as they ate lunch that Saturday afternoon. Lou had been staying at Chatham for the past week, at the request of Izzy and with the blessings of Mrs. Jones. Izzy had wanted to make sure Lou was “in the right headspace,” for the upcoming party. Which Lou took to mean: “don't embarrass me.“ Normally Lou would have balked, she preferred her own space, but the more she had considered the request, the more she realized she needed Izzy's help for the party. She had no concept of how to do well at a highbrow social event. Unspoken, at least on Lou's part, was a slight anxiety at being in the presence of girls like Philomena Behrstable, and her twin Phaedra, of being an object of scorn by such girls. Being unable to escape, having a duty to her friends and their mission, to stay and endure.
Lou could endure pain: punches and kicks; but those looks were beyond her ability to fight with fists and feet. So she agreed to Izzy's idea.
“I was thinking silver and a wine color would be best for your eyes, that whole smokey-eye thing will look amazing on you.“ Lou blinked as Izzy spoke between mouthfuls of salad she was eating. Lou realized what Izzy was blathering about: makeup.
Lou said low and grumpily. “I have to wear makeup?“
“An a cherry-red lipstick!“ Izzy said, waving a fork of spinach greens.
“I can.. .handle it.“ Lou said pushing her own meal of baked chicken and steamed vegetables around the plate, hoping it would end the discussion. She had no makeup, she never wore it. Izzy looked doubtful as she took her next bite.
“You should let me help you with this, Lou.“ Izzy said, a stubborn set to her jaw.
I know that look.
Lou already saw the argument coming, but she was not inclined to just give in, not this time. Usually, she let Izzy had whatever trifling thing her stubbornness demanded, but on this Lou felt like fighting. It wasn't a secret Lou was not Izzy's equal when it came to being the image of a teenage cliche: all the beauty rituals, the unnecessary discomfort it all entailed, this was not Lou Rodriguez. Yet, Lou's mind left the table for a moment, went back to the dress she was to wear and her face took on the ghost of a smile.
Izzy dropped her fork. Lou's attention snapped back and her smile went away, replaced by the hint of a frown instead.
“Lou?“ Izzy said, “You are going to wear makeup, right? You know you have to, right?“ Her tone was almost condescending, almost. Lou bit back a snarl.
“Yes! I said I can handle it.“ Lou said.
Izzy leaned back, blinked rapidly at Lou several times before she frowned. Lou put her face into her own preferred stoic expression, sighed. She was about to say something conciliatory, to placate Izzy, keep her from feeling she need bully Lou over the makeup issue – Lou hated bullies and seeing Izzy in that manner might be a one-way street – but before the words could leave Lou's lips, Izzy spoke.
“This is not some dinky, little party. Lou. You can't just put on some horrid shade of purple lip gloss and some pink blush and call it done. You'll look ridiculous.“ Izzy said it all matter-of-factually, but her words cut Lou to the quick in seconds. That's my lip balm, bitch. I don't own any effing lip GLOSS. Lou's stoic mask almost slipped off completely. She worked to keep herself controlled while Izzy speared another mass of greens and tipped it into her mouth. Lou didn't know what to say, how to respond, didn't trust herself to open her mouth and not scream. Izzy wasn't done though.
“I'm not trying to be a bitch, Lou. You're so pretty and you should know it, you should own it.“ Izzy said, the rush of words coming out after she swallowed her salad bits. “But you need my help on this.“ The last was offhand, might have seemed kind, if you didn't know Izzy like Lou knew her. Izzy meant those words to sting, had strategically planned them as effectively and efficiently as any one-two combo Lou had ever thrown. It was something Lou learned in group homes, in Juvie: when a person said anything starting with “I'm not trying to be...“ it meant that's exactly how they intended to be. Izzy was no exception.
Lou grudgingly admitted Izzy might be right, if only to herself. It might better if she helped me. At first that thought nearly sent Lou over her own edge, but she forked a hunk of chicken breast into her mouth and swallowed her anger with it. Why does this bother me so much? Other than fear of being made a fool? Like a lightning strike, Lou understood something true: nothing those girls could do can hurt me, unless I let them. They cannot get inside me unless I open the door. Lou smiled.
Izzy recovered and she laughed, but not a derisive or mean laugh. Lou's smile went away quick, though.
“Fine, Iz. You can take care of my makeup and hair.“ Lou said.
Later that day Lou twisted her upper body, for what must have been the tenth time in a row, as she examined her reflection in a full length mirror in one of the smallish bedrooms tucked away in the upstairs of Chatham House. She hadn't been into any of these rooms and had been a little surprised the mansion contained so many. To her knowledge, Isabel and Sue-Ann never had guests, nor did Izzy. At least not the kind who needed a guest room to sleep in, none ever stayed so long.
A week had passed since the meeting in the HQ. The party was later that night and Lou was far more nervous than she would ever let on. I'm ready. I'm ready. I'm ready. It was the same routine she did before a fight. Except for the obsessive staring at her body in a mirror, of course. The room, next door to Izzy's bedroom, was fully equipped with a walk-in closet, queen-sized bed, a large armoire concealing a television, and drawers for folding clothes. A huge bathroom was connected, with a garden bathtub, and several full length mirrors tall enough to suit a basketball player.
Inside the armoire, under the television, was an expensive audio system. Lou had her iPhone connected to it. The system connected to small speakers around the room and several in the bathroom as well, so the music could be heard while she twisted in front of the mirrors in the bathroom. She couldn't really say why, but she was hesitating. As her music played and she rocked out to some of the songs, minutes ticked by. Finally, Lou looked at her watch and saw it was almost five in the afternoon. The party was in a few hours, it was time to finish getting ready. One of her favorite songs, a heart-wrenching tune she refused to listen to if anyone else was around came on. Winter by Tori Amos. Lou sang along softly with lyrics, and pulled on her dress.
“When you gonna make up your mind...“ Lou sang along with Tori. She put her feet into the dress, pulled it up over her hips. “when you gonna love you as much as I do...“ When the dress was at her waist she changed out of her sports bra and into the skimpy black lace number Izzy had insisted they purchase. It was the only bra Lou owned that wasn't Lycra. She tucked her arm through the slit, pulled the dress up past the bra, settled it around her shoulder and hips, pulled it straight in places. Tight as it was, it was uncomfortable at first, like a tube of thin plastic around most of her body. It passed quickly and soon it almost felt like a second skin.
“when you gonna make up your mind...“ Lou hummed along. “cause things are gonna change...“ Lou sang, “so fast...“
A sudden surging feeling rushed through her, her face grew hot. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and gasped. It was as though she had grown fully into the woman she could be but wasn't yet. Her hair was swept back and brushed, a wayward strand behind her ear fell as she twisted her frame again, smiling.
“Lou?“ came Izzy's voice from the bedroom beyond, barely clearing the music.
Lou bit back a startled gasp and leaned out of the bathroom. “Are you almost ready?“ Izzy asked.
Lou had forgotten Izzy was going to be putting Lou's makeup on her face, since Lou didn't know how to do it herself. Izzy was going to do her hair as well. It had all been Izzy's suggestion, the other girl had practically had to twist Lou's metaphoric arm to get her to agree. But seeing herself again in the dress, Lou hadn't put it on since the day they were in the shop, Lou suddenly felt eager to see what she would look like once Izzy was finished.
It had caused an argument earlier between the two of them.