XXXIX - Ready to rock

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[RECAP: Things are progressing between Juliet and her teacher Carl Spencer, but very slowly. He's due to come and watch her perform again with her band]

"You know, you should try pushing some of his buttons," Margot suggested as she and Juliet hung out one lunch break.

"What do you mean?"

"Wind him up. Get some more action happening," Margot said.

Juliet was taken aback. "Why would I want to do that?"

"Because you're turning into the Virgin Mary. Seriously. I can't believe how slow he's taking things."

It was true that things were going at a much steadier pace than Juliet was used to, but there were reasons for that. Valid if frustrating reasons.

Juliet bit into an apple. "I'm okay with how it's going."

"I wouldn't be." Margot was still seeing Terrance on and off and they certainly hadn't taken things slowly. "Doesn't it get dull, just kissing?"

Weirdly it didn't. Juliet would have been happy with more but she had to amid that even just kissing Mr Spencer - Carl - was more intense than stuff she had got up to with other guys.

"I don't know. There's so much going on this term, what with study, and then the band. Maybe it's better this way."

"Whatever." Margot wasn't convinced. She'd been Juliet's partner in crime for too long to believe that her best friend was satisfied with a chaste romance.

As she walked to band practice that night, Juliet found herself thinking about Margot's words. Maybe it would be fun to step up the pressure with Carl. After all she wanted him badly.

She could hardly start acting like a vamp at school or in church, so that left the band. She hadn't really thought about what to wear, other than imagining she would wear a similar outfit to last time. But maybe she should try and improve it.

Juliet was hopeless at sewing but Fhemie had a flair for it, mainly from fixing up dance costumes over the years. It might be worth asking her.

* * *

"You can pay me in muffins, but not those healthy ones. Just chocolate, no zucchini or chia or shit or whatever you put in them usually," Fhemie said.

"You like them usually. You always eat them," Juliet pointed out.

"Yeah. But I'd like them more if they were just chocolate without the health food." They were at Fhemie's house, having gone there after school. Juliet had brought her outfit with her for Fhemie to take a look at.

Fhemie gave it a critical eye. "It needs a bit of work but we'll get there." She took out some scissors and started savagely hacking at the plaid of the skirt. "You rolled it over for that other time, didn't you? I can make it look better than that."

She shortened it, cut slits in it, and tacked it up. "I'll machine it later. The blouse is going to be more work."

Juliet never knew exactly what Fhemie did or how, but an hour or so later she was trying on something that seemed to be about a tenth of the size of what she had worn before. Fhemie had combined parts of the blouse with a cut up lycra vest, so it was skin tight but with the collar and a couple of other elements to retain its look of being a school blouse. Many lifetimes ago, anyway.

Juliet wasn't really sure what to say. There was no way she could wear it. "It's a bit revealing, isn't it?" she asked Fhemie.

"Have you seen what I dance in?" Fhemie said. Most of her costumes would have given her grandmother a stroke.

"I know, but I'm singing not dancing."

"Trust me on this. You have to start thinking of it as a costume, not clothes. It will move better and look better on stage this way. Just tying the shirt up like you did before make it all lumpy and bunched. This will have a good line," Fhemie promised.

Juliet had nothing else remotely suitable to wear so she guessed she would have to take Fhemie's word for it.

"And you'll need stockings. Hold ups not suspenders," Fhemie said.

"You really don't think this is going to be too much?" Juliet asked.

Fhemie shook her head. "It's not so bad. You can see a bit of your midriff above the waist as you move, but the neckline is high at the front, you can't even see any cleavage really. It's really just your legs that will be on show, and what's the big deal about legs?"

She was probably right, Juliet thought. Still, she was going to have to summon up some courage to wear it.

"Look at these." Fhemie picked up a music magazine and flicked through a few photos of female singers in concert. "You see it's really no different. You need to look the part."

* * *

Her door firmly locked, Juliet tried the costume on again in front of her bedroom mirror. She applied make-up, much more heavily than usual. Like stage make-up, Fhemie had advised.

She looked like a different person. Like a performer. She had a weird feeling all of a sudden, as though she were becoming someone else, or that there was someone else she needed to become.

Juliet had to look at herself in the mirror for a while, trying to get to know this new image.

What would my parents think of me now? she thought. They would barely recognise her dressed and painted like this. Would they even recognise her at all, aged eighteen, not having seen her since she was a small child?

Thinking about it, and knowing that she could never know one way or the other, made her tear up. Why did you leave me? she asked the mirror, wishing she could see her mother's face in her own. She only really knew it from photos, her own memories were blurred and faded.

Would they be proud of her? Even though they would probably freak out over this outfit, they might be proud of her singing. She tried not to think about all the lost years. The grief and the loneliness and the neglect and the abuse. And the other thing, the thing she couldn't tell anyone.

Her eyeliner was smudged and streaked down her face from the silent, aching tears.

Whatever she did, she must not cry on stage or ever get too damp with perspiration. It turned her from a vamp into a deranged panda.

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