Chapter 8 : And Then Lily Is Confronted By Something Ghastly And Orange . . .
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“Lily!” Petunia stamped her foot in pure, unadulterated rage, “you will put on that dress, and you will put it on now!”
Lily folded her arms defiantly, “I am never wearing that. It’s repulsive.”
“It’s your bridesmaid dress,” Petunia snapped, “you have to wear it. Now put it on so that incompetent cow over there can make sure it fits properly!”
Narrowing her eyes and shaking her head, Lily glared at her sister. Petunia huffed, “Mum!”
Mrs. Evans looked up from the magazine she had been perusing, “Yes, dear?”
“Lily won’t put on the dress,” Petunia sniffed, “how am I supposed to have a wedding with an unwilling bridesmaid? Lily obviously hates me. She wants me to be unhappy. Otherwise she’d try it on, and not act all snotty. Mummy, what am I supposed to do?”
Her mother’s stern, piercing green eyes zoned in directly on Lily. It was like a searchlight, entrapping her and blinding her with vivid power. Lily looked abashedly down at her feet.
“Lily,” Mrs. Evans enunciated very clearly, “go put on the dress.”
“Yes, Mum,” Lily muttered. She closed her eyes, reached down and picked up the . . . thing, and stomped all the way to the dressing rooms. Petunia’s self-satisfied snorts made her grit her teeth and almost rip the hideous fabric of the monstrosity of a dress. Instead, she slammed the door behind her, held the dress up to her neck, and glared sullenly into the mirror.
Lily had once heard that the more insecure the bride, the uglier the bridesmaid dresses. If that were true, Petunia must be the most insecure, self-doubting, jealous cow ever to waste perfectly good air.
It was orange.
Not only was it orange, it was frilly.
It defied gravity.
It had shoulder pads.
It had wilted yellow daises printed along the bodice.
It was hot and itchy.
It demanded orange shoes.
And, quite possibly the worst aspect of the hideous thing, it came with a faux-daisy tiara.
Was there no justice in the world?
Grimacing, Lily slid off her short, strapless summer dress and her perfectly decent sandals. Like stepping onto hot coals, Lily gingerly placed one foot inside the dress. Then the other.
Breathing deeply, she pulled the fabric upwards and forced her arms into the long, frilly sleeves. The zip was on the side, and she quickly yanked it upwards. Refusing to look at her reflection, she pressed down the shoulder pads best she could, arranged the tiara on her long red hair, and shoved her feet into the foul orange shoes Petunia had given her.
“I look hideous,” she announced when she stepped out of the dressing room.
Petunia inspected the ensemble, her eyes filled with satisfaction at the complete elimination of her sister’s beauty. Lily’s mother simply hid her eyes and shook her head.
“Mum,” Lily crossed her arms, “please don’t allow Petunia to be a sadistic cow by making me wear this.”
Petunia’s eyes filled with fake tears, “What? You don’t love it?”
“Mum,” Lily repeated in a dangerously low monotone, “help me, please.”
Mrs. Evans was powerless in the gazes of her two equally strong-willed daughters. She shrugged, “Lily, it’s your sister’s wedding. When you have your own you can force her into the ugliest bridesmaid dress you like. Until then, I need you to wear the dress like a good girl and not put up a fuss.”
Lily exhaled furiously. She watched as triumph etched itself into every visible pore on Petunia’s face.
“It needs to be tucked in at the bust, and the hem needs to go up a bit,” Petunia announced, “Lily, would you be a dear and stand there while I go fetch the incompetent cow?”
Lily shot her best, most sarcastic facial expression at Petunia’s retreating back. Mrs. Evans watched her sympathetically.
“This is borderline cruel,” she snapped in a hushed tone at her mother, “I can’t believe you’re allowing this to happen.”
“Its only for a day,” Mrs. Evans attempted futilely to console her, “then you’ll never have to wear it again. You’ll be beautiful on your own wedding day.”
She rolled her eyes, too vexed to be comforted by her mother, and spent the next hour staring hatefully at the horrific curtains in the room while the incompetent cow jabbed her with pins and fussed with the beast of an orange bridesmaid dress. Petunia watched, smiling in satisfaction, and Lily contemplated murdering her sister in her sleep.
Lily was not at art class.
For the first time in recorded history, James Potter was actually bothered by this fact.
Previously, whenever Lily missed class, James thanked his lucky stars and spent the entire day being more goofy and immature than he would usually dare to be. Megan and Timothy would waste the whole day laughing and joking with him, and his artwork would usually be less moody and more carefree. He would openly admit to himself that he was more relaxed without her scowl. It was easier for him, to function as a normal human being without Lily’s judgment wafting towards him like a bad stench.
Now, he found himself anxiously looking at the clock and feeling utterly morose that she was not there.
Who was he supposed to talk to? Who was he supposed to exchange witty banter with? And who the hell was supposed to help him with the stupid grayscale sketch Mrs. Briarwood had assigned to him? It was not going to be worthy of a space in his portfolio without Lily’s advice.
He was bored, annoyed with Timothy and Megan, furious with Rose Bennett, and vaguely put off by the entire feel in the art room. There was no cheek or fiery passion, only studious artists busily working to complete one-hour self-portraits.
Around lunchtime, Timothy chose to remark on James’ harried state. “What’s wrong, James?” he asked, “you seem a bit off.”
“I’m just uninspired,” James told him honestly.
“Why?” Megan wrinkled her nose, confused, “you don’t like your own face?”
“No,” James chuckled, “I don’t like grayscale. Or the feel in the room today. Does anyone else think that the energy in here is just weird?”
“The . . . energy?” Timothy snorted, “you sound like a fortune-teller, or one of those crazy psychics.”
James shrugged, “I don’t care.”
“It does feel a little strange,” Megan contemplated the room, “its more quiet and serious than usual.”
“Exactly!” James beamed at the girl who behaved more like him than he cared to admit, “and isn’t it so uninspiring? There’s no emotion in the room right now.”
Megan straightened up, “Yeah! That’s what it is! Everything is so dull and boring, I can’t focus on my work for the life of me.”
Timothy stared at them both as if they were complete and utter imbeciles, “You two are bloody insane.”
James glanced at Megan, who simply shrugged in return. Timothy was a person that neither of them could understand. Like Lily, he functioned based on will and desire rather than depending on others. While James and Megan struggled because the ‘feel’ in the room was not right and Lily herself was absent, Timothy hardly noticed a thing and continued drawing with the same adamant perseverance as ever. More than likely, he viewed James and Megan’s lack of interest as weakness.
Sighing to himself, James glanced at Megan’s self-portrait. It was a clumsy rendition of the bright, smiling young blonde. The basic proportions were perfect, of course, but the proletarian shading made the face look wrong. It was neither human nor Megan – it was simply a childish form of an unrecognizable human face.
Meanwhile, Timothy’s showed the young serious boy in perfect detail. His dark hair, slightly upturned nose, and the focused look to his intent brown eyes was all perfectly sketched in. The shading dramatized his rather forgettable features, and actually improved his looks. Megan had drawn herself with all the talent of a ten-year-old, while Timothy had drawn himself with Lily-like perfection.
The piece of creamy artist’s paper in front of James did not show his face. He had chosen to do a more abstract self-portrait, and so instead of the lines of his familiar features, images and patterns adorned the page. Of course he had added certain recognizable physical features. A hazel eye, complete with glasses lens, stared from the upper right hand corner. His chin, strong and sharp, was found somewhere south of the eye. A profile, formed of a chain of leaves, cut the page in half.
But still, it was unworthy of attention because James failed whenever his hands came in contact with charcoal or pencils.
Where was Lily?
“Well, I’m finished,” Timothy announced, using a dirty rag to scrub the charcoal off his fingers, “you ready for lunch, Megan?”
Megan eyed her drawing forlornly, and then sighed, “Why not? This isn’t getting better. Might as well declare it done.”
Timothy looked at her drawing, and then closed his mouth uncomfortably. There were no good things to say about Megan’s shoddy attempt at a grayscale self-portrait. He grimaced bracingly, “C’mon, we have oil pastels tomorrow and you know you’ll do great with those. Forget the stupid pencils. You’re more talented then everyone else in here, except for James, with color.”
James felt a sudden rush of affection for Timothy. Somehow, the boy knew exactly what to say to cheer Megan up. The young blonde girl smiled sweetly, “Thanks, Timothy. Would you like to eat outside with me?”
“Sure!” Timothy quickly flipped his drawing into his portfolio, “lets go, before the stupid cows over there try and follow us again.”
The pair of them quickly sped for the door, and managed to escape before a giggly group of fourteen-year-old girls could bully Megan and blink flirtatiously at Timothy.
For the umpteenth time, James wondered if Timothy and Megan fancied each other. Most of the time they acted like annoyed siblings, but every once in a while Timothy would say something sweet or Megan would uncharacteristically blush and James simply had to speculate. He liked the pair of them, and would not mind if they ended up together.
He pushed his work aside and rummaged in his bag for his lunch. If Lily were here, he would go sit with her. As it was, he would sit by himself and wonder why she had ditched art class without telling him why.
“James,” a revolting voice purred, “you look lonely.”
It was difficult for him to put into words how much he truly despised her. She was cruel to Lily, simpering towards Mrs. Briarwood, and positively obsessed with James. She wanted him, and he wanted nothing to do with her.
“Care for some distinguished company?” her fingernails scuttled quickly over his shoulder, “I’m available.”
“Er . . .” he forced himself not to cringe away from her fingernails, “no, I’m alright, but thanks.”
She let the tips of her fingers drag across his back as she circled his stool, coming face-to-face with him, “Where’s Evans?”
“Gone,” James tried not to meet her vivid blue eyes.
“Really?” using her fingers she gently pushed his chin up until he was staring directly at her, “then I’m sure it wouldn’t be any trouble at all to allow me to sit with you for lunch, now would it?’
He stared, speechless, into her generically perfect face. Her brilliant blue eyes were caked with make up, her pink lips were swiped with gloss, and her tan skin was brushed with visible powder. Even her blonde curls, which from far away looked natural, appeared stiff and unnaturally shiny, as if they’d been rubbed with broom wax. She was so fake that he could not stare at her for long periods of time without appearing sickly fascinated.
“Where’s your lunch?” she asked, and he realized he had not spoken for nearly two minutes.
“Er, right there,” he pointed at the brown sack sitting in front of him.
Rose giggled, “Of course. Need help feeding yourself?”
“No,” James grabbed his lunch hastily, “no, I’m alright, thanks.”
Her piercing eyes followed his every movement as she sat on Megan’s vacated stool. He felt like the prey to her predator, and was wary of the moment she decided to actually pounce.
“My arse of an ex boyfriend keeps trying to contact me,” Rose announced as she arranged her six carrots and three crackers in perfect formation before her, “I’m scared he’s going to come after me, or something.”
“Mm,” James hummed sympathetically. Looking anywhere but at her, he stuffed half his sandwich in his mouth and choked it down with some water.
“Boys keep telling me that they’ll beat him up for me,” Rose hinted heavily, “but I’m afraid he’ll hurt them. He’s very strong. I’m frightened.”
James offered another sympathetic hum.
“Have you ever saved a girl from that sort of thing?” she asked, twirling a rigid blonde curl around her finger.
“I think it’s the sweetest thing a boy could do for me,” she sighed girlishly, “I’m a strong woman, but occasionally I’m forced to be the damsel in distress.”
There were so many things wrong with that sentence, James did not know how to judge her for it.
“Look at me,” she instructed.
James glanced quickly at her, and then looked away again. She huffed, “No, look at me, James. Look into my eyes.”
Gritting his teeth, he turned his head and looked her. He stared at her overly made up, phony face and struggled to maintain the eye contact.
She spoke to him again, undoubtedly begging her to handle this ex boyfriend and fall in love with her, but he didn’t hear a word. All he could do was stare at her face with strange absorption, and try to figure out how she had managed to make herself look so utterly sordid.
Almost subconsciously, he began mentally comparing her to Lily. Where Rose applied heavy make up and undoubtedly fought every day to make herself look ‘presentable,’ Lily always looked completely natural and a bit messy. Lily’s freckles were clearly visible, while Rose hid any blemishes completely by using what had to be a quarter inch of solid beige powder. Lily’s eyes sparkled with only a bit of mascara, while Rose had sewn-on pitch black feather dusters attached to her eyelids.
It went even further than that. Lily’s wild, long red hair was neither sleek nor glamorous, but it was entrancing in its windswept messiness. Rose’s stiff head of curls appeared not only uncomfortable, but also completely aberrant.
Most noticeable of all was Rose’s fake, uncomfortable, carefully constructed personality in comparison to Lily’s carefree originality and authentic sense of self. Rose was insecure and terrified of flaws, while Lily proudly flaunted her flaws as if they were gold medals earned through great pain. Lily was unafraid to be who she was. Rose, if she even had any other self other than this fabricated cow, was horrified of being anything other than picture perfect.
Unfortunately for Rose, James despised picture-perfect. Where was the complexity in something already superficially faultless?
And he realized, without any outside help, that he was no longer interested in the kind of girls that prowled across fashion magazines and flaunted their skin for the world to see. He didn’t want the stereotypical pretty girl. He wanted someone unique and original and fearless.
He wanted a girl that was authentic. And preferably naturally well-endowed. He was a teenage male, after all.
“. . . its just, so stressful,” Rose sniffed, blotting tears from the corners of her eyes, “I have nightmares, and no one can help me. No one can understand.”
Normally, James would have placed a hand on her knee, looked at her in the eye, and said in husky voice, “Its okay - I understand.” Then, as she lost the ability to speak, he would draw her in with soft compliments and mysterious glances. Before ten minutes had passed, they would be snogging in the supplies closet.
But James didn’t want that. He didn’t want to woo her, didn’t want to speak to her, and sure as hell didn’t want to touch her.
So, with a nonchalance that Lily would have been proud of, he shrugged. “Someone will eventually.” Then he picked up his lunch, chucked his water bottle in the trash, and walked outside to sit with Megan and Timothy.
Rose was still sitting there, staring with shocked eyes at James’ empty seat, when they came back inside fifteen minutes later for their afternoon assignment.
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