“That’s rude,” I said.
“Mmm-hmm,” Monica agreed, stubbing her cigarette out in the windowsill.
Kristy shrugged. “Really, I kind of prefer it. I mean, it’s better than just staring and acting like you’re not. Kids are the best. They’ll just look right at me and say, “What’s wrong with your face?” I like that. Get it out in the open. I mean, shit, it’s not like it isn’t anyway. That’s one reason why I dress up so much, you know, because people are already staring. Might as well give them a show. You know?”
I nodded, still processing all this.
“Anyway,” Kristy continued, doing another roller, “it happened when I was twelve. My mom was on one of her benders, taking me to school, and she ran off the road and hit this fence, and then a tree. They had to cut me out of the car. Monica, of course, was smart enough to have the chicken pox so she didn’t have to go to school that day.”
“Donneven,” Monica said.
“She feels guilty,” Kristy explained. “It’s a sister thing.”
I looked at Monica, who was wearing her normal impassive expression as she examined her fingernails. She didn’t look like she felt particularly bad to me, but then again so far I’d only seen her with one expression, a sort of tired blankness. I figured maybe it was like a Rorschach inkblot: you saw in it whatever you needed or wanted to.
“Besides the scars on my face,” Kristy was saying, “there’s also one on my lower back, from the fusion, and a big nasty one on my butt from the skin graft. Plus there are a couple on my scalp, but you can’t see those since my hair grew back.”
“God,” I said. “That’s horrible.”
She picked up another curler. “I did not like being bald, I can tell you that much. I mean, there’s only so much you can do with a hat or a scarf, you know? Not that I didn’t try. The day my hair started to come in for real, I cried I was so happy. Now I can’t bring myself to cut it more than just a tiny bit every few months. I relish my hair now.”
“It is really nice,” I told her. “Your hair, I mean.”
“Thanks,” she said. “I’m telling you, I think I appreciate it more than most people. I never complain about a bad hair day, that’s for sure.”
She climbed off the bed, tucking the hairbrush in her pocket before crouching down in front of me to secure a few loose wisps of hair with a bobby pin. “Okay,” she said, “you’re almost set, so let’s see. . . . Monotone.”
“Nuh-uh,” Monica said, sounding surprisingly adamant.
“Oh, come on! If you’d just let me try something, for once, you’d see that—”
Monica shook her head slowly. “Bettaquit,” she warned.
Kristy sighed, shaking her head. “She refuses to take fashion risks,” she said, as if this was a true tragedy. Turning back to her sister, she held up her hands in a visualize-this sort of way. “Look. I’ve got one word for you.” She paused, for dramatic effect. “Pleather.”
In response to this, Monica got up and started toward the door, shaking her head.
“Fine,” Kristy said, shrugging, as Monica went down the hallway, grabbing her purse off the floor by the door, “just wear what you have on, like you always do. But you won’t be dynamic!”
The front door slammed shut, responding to this, but Kristy hardly seemed bothered, instead just walking back to her closet and standing in front of it, her hands on her hips. Looking out the window beside me, I could see Monica start up the driveway, altogether undynamically, and as usual, exceptionally slowly.
Kristy bent down, pulling a pair of scuffed penny loafers out from under the hanging clothes and tossing them to me. “Now, I know what you’re thinking,” she said, as I looked down at them. “But penny loafers are entirely underrated. You’ll see. And we can do your cleavage with this great bronzer—I think it’s in the bathroom.”
And then she was gone, pulling open the bedroom door and heading down the hallway, still muttering to herself. My head felt heavy under the rollers, my neck straining as I looked down at the tank top she’d given me to wear. The straps had tiny threads of glitter woven throughout, and the neckline plunged much farther than anything I owned. It was way too dressy to go with the jeans, which were faded, the cuffs rolled up and frayed at the ankle; a heart was drawn on the knee in ballpoint pen. Looking at it, the solid blackness at its center, the crooked left edge, not quite right, all I could think was that these weren’t my clothes, this wasn’t who I was. I’d been acting out against Bethany and Amanda, but I was the one who would really pay if this went all wrong.
I have to get out of here, I thought, and stood up, pulling one of the curlers by my temple loose and dropping it on the bed. A single corkscrew curl dropped down over my eyes and I stared at it, surprised, as it dangled in my field of vision, the smallest part of me transformed. But I was leaving. I was.
My watch said 6:15. If I left now, I could get home in time to be back on my schedule as if I’d never strayed from it. I’d tell Kristy my mom had called me on my phone, saying she needed me, and that I was sorry, maybe another time.
I stood up, pulling another curler out, then another, dropping them on the bed as I hurriedly slung my purse over my shoulder. I was almost to the door when Kristy came back down the hallway, a small compact in her hands.
“This stuff is great,” she said. “It’s like an instant tan, and we’ll just put it—”
“I’ve just realized,” I said, plunging right in to my excuses, “I really think—”
She looked up at me then, her eyes widening. “Oh, God, I totally agree,” she said, nodding. “I didn’t see it before, but yeah, you’re absolutely right.”
“About your hair,” she said, as she came into the room. I found myself backing up until I bumped against the bed again. Kristy reached past me, grabbing a white shirt that was lying on one of the pillows and, before I could stop her, she’d slid my arm inside one sleeve. I was too distracted to protest.
“My hair?” I said, as she eased my other arm in, then grabbed the shirttails, knotting them loosely around my waist. “What?”
She reached up, spreading her fingers and pulling them through my hair, stretching out the curls. “I was going to brush it out, but you’re right, it looks better like that, all tousled. It’s great. See?”