1 Dignity Always

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To begin with, Julia Swift was terribly pretty. Perhaps not classically beautiful, but it can be said terribly pretty because it was an unfortunate face to own growing up in a neighbourhood where there weren't enough boys to go around. It was a regrettable figure which stole in one early adolescent night and resulted in an ensuing frenzy of luring and leering from school boys and older men alike. She created uneasiness within the female ranks and as she only grew lovelier with each passing year she often found herself exiled from her peer group for crimes over which she had no control.

There was nothing about her sweet manner and playful nature so provocative as her physical being; the hair like ribbons of amber, dark blue eyes, high cheeks which made her pink lips appear to be blown out as if from bubblegum, not to mention her shapely frame which could be drawn as two valentine hearts opposing one another top and bottom. There was not a covetous bone in that sought after body which could understand others' reactions to it. Julia wanted none of that kind of attention. Maybe someday, if it lead to a good husband and lots of babies, but not in high school, though oh, how they tried!

Her mother and father armed her with self-worth to steel her against the rumours that flew, because despite Julia's frequent and judicious use of the word "no" when it came to the more urgent sex, others saw to it that the word "yes" became associated with her. Therefore she was damned like she did and damned when she didn't, and since she had homework to do she began to withdraw.

Soon enough high school was over.

She had her mother's talent for sewing and her father's gift for tuning naysayers out, so she enrolled in a fashion college and refused to give it up when she was told she was technically proficient but wholly unoriginal. She had neither's love of the ocean even before they drowned in it trying to save one another from a riptide. Her spirit thereafter evaporated like the very foam and mist which had washed her every happiness out into the sea. At twenty, she found herself unbearably inconsolable (and being ogled by some vaguely familiar family associate at the funeral church.) Held fast to the enormous, heaving bosom of her wailing Aunt Helen, Julia decided that life could only be endured if she made herself invisible.

From then on she practised concealment, both in her physical appearance and by dimming the natural light of her presence until she felt nearly undetectable. She dropped out of school and became an independent seamstress, able through word of mouth to assemble a few clients whom she attended in private at-home appointments, thereby limiting the type and number of people she dealt with at any one time. While patience and curiosity were still hers, she had lost all tolerance for disingenuous motives and artifice in character, yet twice in the years that followed she had, against her better judgement, let herself be fooled into thinking she might be in love, both times with men so obscenely egotistical that it amounted to Julia being in love all by herself. After a period of effort on her part, each man found his girlfriend becoming smaller and quieter and less available until suddenly she was all gone. In a cozy bit of circumstance, the first man was a professor of physics, the other, a small-time hood, neither really disturbed by people mysteriously disappearing.

So what could become of a terribly pretty girl who craved in secret the kindness of strangers yet could not bring herself to trust in its intent? Who wanted desperately the comfort of love but refused to seek or reveal herself to it? At twenty-seven, she had become a lonely creature of solitary habit, a wickless candle without hope of ever being lit, or as her Aunt Helen bemoaned, "a criminal waste of hormones," who simply couldn't believe in miracles but wished she could.

Sometimes the wish is enough.

One afternoon, Julia found herself about to lose her highest paying client thanks to being bamboozled into a date with the patron's greasy nephew. "Have you met my Philip?" was how they were introduced, Julia at the woman's feet with a mouth full of pins. "Why don't you two go out sometime? You have so much in common!" Julia, who had never picked her nose while making someone's acquaintance, doubted this very much. Out of gratitude to a loyal customer and perhaps to test her own convictions, Julia relented and accepted the date.

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