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For The World
“All through our culture and history, we have worshipped beauty.” Mrs. Mills announced, placing slips of paper face down in front of all of us. The bell had just rang, and she didn’t give us any time to socialize amongst ourselves - which, she always did.
She’s up to something.
“We have all grappled with the invisible hands that controlled how we look.” She paused, letting the sentence hang in the air. Her close-cut grey hair quivered as she looked around the class. I twirled my pencil between my fingers, wondering if it would bounce off if I threw it at her head. “And today,” she continued, pulling me from my thoughts, “we will be tampering with the way we look.”
The girls who faces were a darker shade then the rest of their bodies smiled. Great, I thought, makeup. My one and true nemesis. I never understood the use of such evil creations, why does 99.9% of the school population of my gender cake their faces with it? Ick.
Mrs. Mills grinned widely as the boy groaned. They’re single minded organisms, and just now pieced together that they would have to deal with makeup. “No need to fret gentlemen!” she said, clapping her vein-covered hands together. “You won’t have to be made a living Ken doll, let me explain.”
She strode to the front of the class, turned to us, and held a tube of lipstick up for us all to see. “We all have our rituals in the mornings.” She waved her hands toward the girls. “Women wake up bright and early to straighten and-or curl our hair, wash our faces, and apply the needed amount of makeup.” She then turned towards the boys with a sigh. “And the men just pull on the closest pair of jeans and get on the bus, correct?”
All the boys cheered in agreement, pounding their chests like a group of wild apes.
No, they are apes. Just trying to act like their natural selves. My mistake.
I eyed the face-down slip of paper on my desk. The more Mrs. Mills spoke, the more wary of it I got.
Once the whoops died down, Mrs. Mills uncapped the lipstick. “Today, we are going to change those routines. On each of your desks, you have a slip. You may not look at it until I say so, but I will tell you there is a number on it.” She looked to each of our faces slowly, trying to gauge if we were understanding. “The number’s will match with one other person in this class. And thats person will be your partner in today’s little ‘project’.”
My eyes flicked to the paper. Suddenly, it looked like a snake, ready to strike.
“Like I said with beauty,” she went on, twisting the base of the lipstick container. Bright cherry red poked it’s head out at us, “we admire it. Those who we see as beautiful, we place on a metaphorical throne. We unknowingly strive to look more like them. But in the process of trying to look like them, we lose our beauty.”
At that, she smeared the lipstick across her thin lips. The bright red contrasted with her pale, old lady skin. Some kids in the back gasped, some laughed. I stayed neutral, narrowing my eyes at the display.
Once she was done with her savage attack on her face, Mrs. Mills capped the lipstick. She looked terrible, the lipstick too bright and the application of it was messy. “As you see, I tried to replicate Angelina Jolie’s lips, and thus, made myself look like a fool.” Mrs. Mills concluded, turning her face from side to side so we could see what she’d done.
The class fell silent, looking at the floor or the walls. Everyone knew Mrs. Mills was right. I fingered the edge of the slip of paper, itching for the awkward silence to end. After a few more beats of quiet, Mrs. Mills chuckled, then plucked a tissue from the box on her desk. She wiped the lipstick with an expert hand, then tossed the tissue lightly into the trash. “Before class is over, you will get with the person with your corresponding number. They will clean your face, then apply hair and face products that, in their eyes, will make you beautiful.”
I swallowed, pulling my hand away from the paper.
Slowly, I tried to sink down in my seat; wanting to crawl under the desk and disappear. Someone, maybe a guy, will be touching my hair and face? Changing it? I thought Mrs. Mills had blown a capillary or something. No one, no human alive could make me look pretty.
If you looked up ‘average’ on Google, my face would appear.
Round face, slim nose, freckles, small mouth, big brown eyes. And the fact that I was paler than a snowstorm didn’t help. Nothing could match my skin complexion. Plus, my hair was thicker than -
No. No more metaphors.
My hair was not one to tussle with, because it would laugh and continue being a useless lump on my head. Curse thee father, and thou plentiful hair!
“Almighty, now you may turn over your papers and get started.”
Was Mrs. Mills taking the whole time I was drowning in self pity?
Everyone rose from their seats, calling out their numbers. Slowly, I turned my slip over. The number 4 gazed up at me. I think it was smirking. Either that or I’m crazy. Maybe the latter.
“Four?” a soft voice asked over my shoulder.
I hunched my shoulders, wincing. My head swiveled - who gave you permission, neck? Huh? Cause it wasn’t me you rebel - and I looked up at the guy behind me.
And wow, he’s hot.
I quickly blinked, hoping I kept that in my thought bubble. Well, it was true anyways. His dark hair hung in his eyes in a mysterious, bad boy way. He was skinny, but not the boney and malnourished skinny, but the lean kind of skinny. I bet he had abs. Oh gosh, stop looking at his chest. But wow, collar bones for days on this one -
“Yeah.” I said quickly, holding the slip up.
Now my mouth is working on it’s own. Great. I’m a mess.
The corner’s of his mouth lifted slightly. He swung his backpack from his shoulder and slid gracefully into the empty desk in front of me. We stared at each other for a few moments, my face steadily growing hotter. I’ve never seen this guy before, I realized as he tapped the desk with his long fingers, I should be more observant. Then again, something tugged at the back of my mind. Maybe I did know him.
“I’m William, by the way.” he suddenly piped up, holding out his hand.
I watched his hand, hanging in the air between us. Slowly, I reached out and took it, allowing a shy grin to come across my face. William’s hands were warm, and soft.
Hush, hormone crazed female brain. You’re starting to worry me.
“Laura.” I replied, pumping his hand twice. He held it a second longer after I let go. Great, now I’m really blushing.
“I know.” he said, and maybe it was a trick of the light, but I swear I saw a slight reddening spread across his high cheekbones.
I began to ask how he knew me when Mrs. Mills laid a small case on the desk in between us. “Here are your tools,” She smiled, tapping the case with her fingers, then moved on to the next group.
William gently pushed the case toward me. “You first.” his voice was soft, yet deep and firm. An amazing combination, if I say so myself.
While I unzipped the case, my mind began to work. William knew me, and the way he looked at me said he may have known me well. But for the life of me, I couldn’t really remember him. A memory tickled the back of my mind, but it was too faint for me to grasp.
The case held simple makeup items and hair gels. A large comb caught my attention when I raked the inside with my eyes. I pulled it from the case, holding up for William to see. “May I?” I asked, motioning to his hair.
He smiled, leaning forward. “Of course,” he answered.
My heart fluttered when his face got closer to mine. I could feel his eyes on mine, but I couldn’t look. I ran the comb through his hair, from his forehead to his crown, making his dark hair stand up. With his eyes no longer covered, I discovered they were a bright hazel. I thought I could see a splash of gold around his pupil, but I didn’t look too long.
Oh my, what was wrong with me?
When have I never been able to look anyone in the eyes? Usually, I would lock eyes with someone, making them shift uncomfortably. Now the tables were turned. Touché, William.
Abandoning the comb, I ran my fingers through William’s hair, trying to shift it away from his face. After a few moments of pawing his head, William gently asked “You don’t recognize me, do you?”
“Uh...” I stammered, placing the comb away quickly and removing a wet wipe package from the case. I stopped in the middle of ripping the package open, and bit my lip. “No, yes.” I clenched my eyes shut. “I’m sorry, should I?”
William chuckled lightly, taking the package from my hands. He tore the top off and handed it back to me. I unfolded the wet wipe, then hesitantly began to run it over his face. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw others doing the same - but to the girls. I pressed my lips together and tried to hurry so no one would see my mistake. William smiled when I ran the wipe over his closed eyes. “Done.” I breathed, tossing the used wipe aside.
“Remember sixth grade?” he inquired, turning the makeup case towards him to peer in. William fished out another wet wipe, this one for me. As he torn off the top, he continued: “Lexie McDonald had a huge party for her thirteenth birthday on the last day of school. The whole sixth grade class was invited.”
I did remember. When I got the invitation, I was overjoyed. Lexie had been one of the most popular people in the whole school before she moved away the next year. The party had been eighties themed, and I scoured the stores for days, looking for the right clothing articles. My head hurt just thinking of how long it took to find leg warmers.
William pushed my hair away from my face. His thumb brushed my cheek, the nerves burning where he touched.
“Everyone got dressed up to the nines. I had so much gel in my hair, it took days to wash out.” he grinned at the thought, tucking a few stray hairs behind my ear. “That was one of the biggest parties I’d ever gone to in my life. There were games, and food, and... All sorts of things.”
The wet wipe was cold against my skin as he ran it across my cheek. I was bathed in the memory of the party. Music had pumped through the speakers in Lexie’s backyard, everyone swaying on the makeshift dance floor. I had worn one of my mom’s old sweaters, a faded pink that was as soft as a cloud. I also wore large, hooped earrings that caught the stroke lights, making them shine like stars hanging from my earlobes.
“That party was awesome.” I sighed, closing my eyes so William could wipe them.
“Yeah,” he replied, running the comb through my hair. I felt it catch on a knot, and he gently worked through it. He must have sisters, I thought, because only a guy with sister’s would know how to comb a girls hair. It felt great to have someone combing my hair, so relaxing.
Pull it together woman!
I slowly opened my eyes. William raised his eyebrow at me, his eyes sparkling. “Go on.” I said, leaning onto my hand, trying to act nonchalant about how close he was to my face, even though my heart was slamming against my ribcage.
“So,” he continued, placing the comb away, “as the party wound down, the remaining party-goers drifted inside.” He picked up mascara, turned it over in his hands, then returned it to its place.
“But I didn’t,” I said, recalling the cool autumn wind blowing my bangs around, and trying to pull my hair from my high ponytail when I sat next to the fire pit. I had the whole bag of marshmallows to myself, toasting them one by one.
“Me neither,” he responded, popping open the foundation container. William sniffed it, made a face, then closed it. Did he even know what he was doing?
I gazed around the room at everyone else's progress. Like I had suspected, all the boys had no clue what most of the makeup was, and had the girls instructing them what to do.
Dear Lord, I prayed, looking skyward, don’t let him make me look like a clown.
And let there pizza at lunch.
“I remember walking over to the fire pit, and seeing an eighty pound girl, eating all the marshmallows.” William went on, steepling his fingers.
I had been in the middle of making a black crust on an especially plump marshmallow when someone had sat next to me in an empty lawn chair. I jumped with surprise, and in the process of my infant heart attack, had lost the marshmallow to the flames. “Great.” I had muttered, feeling a pang in my heart for my fallen comrade.
“Sorry.” a low voice said, belonging to a boy with dark hair, gelled back flat against his head.
I shrugged, then fished for two marshmallows. Turning back to the boy, I held one out. “Want one?” I asked.
The boy looked from me, to the marshmallow, then back. “Sure.” he replied, taking it gently from my fingers. “I’m William.” he tried to say, but his voice was muffled by marshmellow.
“I know,” he said, “we have math class together.”
We had sat for awhile after that, having small talk back and forth. When everyone’s parents began showing up, we had walked together to the front of the house. William hesitantly reached out, taking my hand. I smiled and laced my fingers through his.
Once we reached the driveway, I saw my mom’s van blink its headlights at me. “That my mom.” I said, turning to him. “I gotta g -”
Suddenly, he had leaned forward, and kissed me. His lips were soft, a surprising discovery for me, thinking boys were gross at that ripe age. He smelled like marshmallows, and when he pulled back, the scent drifted away.
“See you next year.” William had said, blushing up a storm. I most likely looked the same.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” I replied, then turned away quickly. I ran to the car, smiling the whole way home.
But the next school year, William wasn’t there.
“How are you doing?” Mrs. Mills voice pierced through my memory, pulling me back to the present. William was watching me, his gaze switching from one of my eyes to the other. Mrs. Mills placed her hands on her hips. “Have you even started?” she asked, seeing my face makeup-less.
William leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms. He spoke to her, but his eyes remained glued to mine. “The assignment was to make someone beautiful in our eyes, using makeup and such,” he paused, lifting his face up to Mrs. Mills’, “and Laura is already beautiful in my eyes.”
Mrs. Mills smiled down at him, patting his shoulder lightly. “Finally, someone who understood the assignment,” she said, then she moved on to the next group.
I couldn’t help it, my mouth hung open.
My chest had this, squeezing feeling. Part of me liked it, and part of me - never mind, all of me loved it.
The bell rang, signaling the end of class. William rose from his seat, swinging his backpack onto his shoulder. I sat there, like a fool, watching him walk past me. In mid stride, he stopped and leaned down. “See you next period?” he whispered, his breath warm in my ear.
I turned to face William, our noses almost touching.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”