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Chapter 8: Lillian or Lil, not Lilly

Lilly forced herself awake. She picked up a corner of the lavender sheet and wiped away the drowsiness. Better. Mind brighter, she sat up. The last thing she remembered before dozing off was the hurt in her father’s voice. She had been too cruel.

She imagined him sad and brooding.

I do love you, Chichi.

He was pacing. The sound of his size fourteens was a soft comforting thump. She sniffed. The air was flavored with his favorite Brazilian coffee. She glanced at the clock: nine fifteen. At this hour? He’ll never go to sleep.

Tomorrow a truck would arrive and haul their few personal possessions to a storage unit. Later, depending on where they landed next, her father would send for them. She knew the routine. They traveled light. The white single bed and matching dresser with floral appliqués, a thrift shop bargain would be left behind. The same with all the furniture. Lilly looked around her room. Of the dozen or more places she had lived, this room suited her best. It had a certain kind of warmth, a coziness about it that hinted of a faded memory from when her mother was still alive. That bedroom had had a light show of silver stars that played on the ceiling and two parents that kissed her goodnight.

Get it together, Lilly.

Her teeth worried over her sore bottom lip. She sat cross-legged in the center of her bed picking at the frayed corner of her flowered quilt. A half-eaten granola bar sat on top of the biography of Albert Einstein on her nightstand. The face of a black kitten peeked from between the pages, marking her place. She opened the book and read the saying under the cat: “Feline Good.” She slammed the book closed. “I don’t think so. He broke his promise.”

Restless she wiggled about reviewing her day. Found a priceless jade vase, stalked in the park, opened a padlock, had mud shoved in her face, argued with her father, and spent the last hour locked in her bedroom crying. “Oh, and don’t forget that part where her dad confessed she was a subspecies. A cross between a savant and a rodent.”

I should have asked to see his white coat.

Without a doubt, this was the worst day in her life. But what should she expect when she lived in a laboratory, not a home.

This begged for a strong response.

It came to her in a flash. It was bold, simple to execute, and logical. A preemptive strike. She was supercharged and imagined, this must be how it feels getting ready for the prom. The plan wasn’t totally new. Her mind had toyed with going to Schaffer’s the first time she spotted their lights and bright awning out her bedroom window. Many Saturday nights she had watched life pass her by from that window. She had dreamed of being among those bubbly hip swinging teens. Now that dream was about to come true.

She would sneak out and go to the ice cream parlor. Alone.

A hot fudge sundae, two scoops of rocky road, a sprinkle of gummy bears, cherry—no… two cherries—and tons of whipped cream would ease her pain. She’d sit at Schaffer’s, eat, and be back home before her father knew she had ever left.

Hm... Money? She had none. How would she pay for her night out? She’d just borrow a hundred from their stash. Why not, hadn’t she helped earn it?

The apartment’s security system? What did they say on television…piece of cake? The metaphor easy and cake didn’t compute. Cakes were very difficult to make. Whereas disabling her father’s cameras and picking the locks without setting off the alarms would take her talented fingers at the most, two minutes.

She bounced.

She glimpsed her rumpled clothes and gasped, “What will I wear?”

She ran to her closet but didn’t turn the light on until she was inside with the door closed.

Well-organized in all things, her wardrobe was no exception. Jeans lined up according to size, subcategories, style, and color. Blue, dark blue, faded blue, black, and one pair of purple. Blouses grouped by size, color compatibility with corresponding jeans, and then design. The most fashionable hung dead center.

Her father ordered all her clothes on the Internet. Lilly decided that must stop. In fact, she had many changes in mind. If he chose to continue his research, her cooperation merited a few perks. Selecting new clothes was only the beginning.

While she considered her fashion options, Lilly toyed with how to introduce herself. She would meet people at the ice cream parlor and they would exchange names.

“What’s in a name? A new empowered me,” murmured Lilly. “Lil or Lillian will do.” Change number two: her father shall henceforth refer to her as Lillian.

She practiced whispering Lillian as she slipped into her best jeans—the purple ones with the jeweled stars on the back pockets. Faded with holes, they were perfect, according to Crushed Confessions a popular teen magazine.

She slipped a white cami over her head. Checked out three different tops and decided on the blue plaid knit hoodie with the white beaded leather ties.

Dressed, she pulled the string and clicked off the light, then stepped out of the closet.

Socks. What did she have clean? After all, wearing two different socks was her signature move. She rummaged through the dirty clothes and found one flaming red sock with silver roses and a chartreuse one with dancing stickmen. “Excellent.”

Lilly tiptoed into the bathroom to have a look. She put her ear to the door that led to her father’s bedroom. Silence. Good, he was still tinkering around in the living room.

She added another item to her growing list. No more Jack and Jill bathrooms. A young woman needed privacy.

She hopped up onto the toilet for a lower half view. Lilly turned, taking inventory of every angle. Did these jeans make her look fat? She added a scarf at her waist. Still, something was missing.

Was it the hair or the face? She sprang down. Put her nose to the mirror.

She had her mother’s Asian straight hair and her high sharp cheekbones and amber cat eyes. She was happy that she had her father’s skin tone, a rich spicy brown. Well, she had very little makeup, no actual lipstick. Only tinted lip gloss and that didn’t count. It was medicinal.

‘Buy lots of cosmetics’ was added to the changes list.

She smeared ‘kiss me’ pink gloss on her lips and used the same on her eyelids and cheeks hoping the antiseptic scent would wear off. The eyelids looked a little heavy. Too much color on her already scratched cheeks and a clown was looking back at her in the mirror. She washed her face moving gingerly over the sore sections. Then she reapplied the tint to her eyelids with a lighter touch, wishing that her mother had been there to advise her. She couldn’t do anything about the red blotches and scrapes…but the hair.

It fell to the middle of her back. On impulse, she pulled open the vanity drawer, grabbed the scissors, and whacked off ten inches. Then another four until it looked like a black cat had curled up in the sink. She combed, swirled, and snipped until the longer pieces on the side of her head fell into a silky curve and cradled her chin. The back was shorter, collar length and turned under naturally. It lay smooth and glossy.

She struck a chic pose and checked out the total package. Still no boobs, but it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t a child named Lilly. This was a Lillian.

What next? She opened her top vanity drawer wishing she had pierced ears. For jewelry, she had a black and yellow elastic band that her father had given her. ‘Wounded Warriors’ circled it. A beaded candy necklace that she had made when she was eight (Was it still edible?) and a pink watch summed it up. She slipped on the band. It hung from her thin wrist.

“More jewelry and pierced ears is change number three.” She wrote it down on a pad.

Ready, chills rushed up and down her spine like the bubbles in a soda. She wanted to run out that front door and saunter the two blocks to the ice cream shop. Mingle with people, teens.

Caution prevailed and she returned to her bed. Fully dressed she waited with the bedcovers pulled up to her chin. She listened for the signals that her father had finished his work and was putting the apartment to bed. He was predictable—off at nine-thirty each night and back on again at five in the morning.

Tonight, Cosmo proved his daughter wrong.

Nine thirty, then nine thirty-five came and went.

At nine forty-one, she heard the first of his customary preparations. His fingers tapped over the computer keys followed by the beeps that armed the alarms in the living area. Next, sliding bolts on the doors and windows, open then closed. She listened for each click.

The apartment was like living in Fort Knox. Considering all her father’s expensive computer equipment and the neighborhood, his precautions might be justified.

She glanced at her digital clock. Plenty of time to indulge. On concert nights, Schaffer’s stayed open an extra hour. They closed at eleven. She recognized her father’s heavy feet coming down the hall and clutched the covers tighter, snuggling down. He often checked on her, made sure the sheet was pulled up.

He stopped at her door.

She held her breath. Would he come in? He could pick the lock in one beat of her heart.

He whispered, “I love you,” then walked away.

His bedroom door creaked then closed. “Tomorrow,” Lilly told herself, “we’ll talk and hug.”

She waited fifteen minutes just to be sure he was asleep before throwing off the covers and bounding out of bed. She pulled a small set of lock-picking tools from a drawer and stuffed them into her jeans pocket so she could get back in later. Another change would be her own house key and access to the passwords.

She tiptoed to her door and opened it a few inches. She carried her sneakers. The apartment was dark except for a sliver of light at the bottom of his door. Lilly froze, poised to scurry back to her bed. Instead, she stole closer, put her ear to the wood, and heard his steady deep breathing. “Fell asleep with the light on again,” she whispered.

Returning to her door, she relocked it. Her dad might check it later.

Slinking down the hall she flew into action.

“Now for those alarms,” she giggled and rubbed her hands together.

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