Chapter Twenty

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This kit's missing components, fist kisses flat proportions, the scale's wrong, lost in that throng, it's all just bad advice. In the end hate's just a disguise. –Jackson Killian

Chapter Twenty

The costume department of the Treasure Chest Theater was small and windowless, illuminated by a double track of white fluorescents in the low ceiling, and crammed full of colorful clothes, wigs, hats, and prop weapons carefully organized into the tiny room. On the north wall were three sewing stations with repurposed drafting tables hosting thirty-year-old machines. The opposite wall had a single Art Deco vanity table pushed against the ancient, blackening panel mirrors.

Bettie called my name. I navigated around the rack between us, catching a whiff of dust and layers of perspiration from the costumes that hung there, redolent of old lace and Febreze and sweat-stretched linen. I stroked an olive green Juliet Capulet dress as I passed it, wanting to feel the crushed velvet texture. The sign on the end read Female Renaissance.

"Here." Bettie's arm was outstretched to hand me a dark wig. I looked at it.

"No. More like mine. Like Cleopatra. There." I pointed at a brunette bob with a sharp cut of bangs perched on a styrofoam bust at Bettie's right. She swapped the vamp wig for the bob and held it out to me.

"If this is what you want I don't see why you don't just pose."

"I can't be in the pictures. I have to remember how to see through a lens again, first."

Bettie had put the wig on her fist and was twisting it to and fro so that the hair fanned out around her wrist. I took it from her and planted it on her white-blonde hair, finger-combing the strands so that they fell evenly around her face.

"Holy shit you look different." I turned her around so she could see herself in the large vanity mirror behind her. She leaned in, ran her hands over the fake hair, turned to see her three quarter reflection, then the other way. Her blue eyes, normally a pale shade, seemed to deepen into a curacao richness. Her freckles announced themselves, constructing new patterns over her cheeks.

"Hell yes, I do. Shit."

I pulled my Nikon out of its bag and took the lens cap off. "Sit on that bench right there... and face the mirror so I can get you and your reflection."

She hesitated.

"Come on. I need a subject." I said, tracking her through my viewfinder.

"I know. I just feel weird. Having my photo taken."

I lowered the camera. "I take your photo all the time."

She shrugged. "Yeah, but that's different. I'm just a prop in those photos. You know?"

I did know. Because the photos I took of her were of her and Quinn, casual phone-cam photos of Bettie playing or making silly faces.

"I don't... like the way I look in photos of me." She shrugged again. Looking at her—her shoulders curved slightly toward each other, you wouldn't know she had this bright everyday bravado. The conviction of life running in her blood almost all the time. You'd think she was a shy nobody who wanted to stay that way. She was suddenly the un-Bettie, dark hair and timid eyes.

I wanted a picture of it.

I held up my camera. "Don't move. Let me take one photo."

She shifted her gaze away and pursed her lips, resolved. I raised the camera and got her just as she looked up at me.

The display showed me a beautiful, forlorn twenty-something girl lost amid garish maroon velvet and ancient bronze handles on a battered vanity. The age-spotted mirror reflected the back of her. I turned the camera and showed her.

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