It was the first time in recent history that Rose recalled not knowing what to do.
She blew a stray curl out of her eyes and focused on the baby blue shadow coating the brush in her hand. Carefully, precisely, she swept it along her eyelids, covering the pale skin with a hue that seemed like it was made to match her irises. Next, she fished a bottle of white nail polish out from the drawer in her bedside table and touched up a couple of small chips on the ends of her manicured nails. All that was left was her pale pink lipstick. She looked up into the mirror, sighing. Nothing could totally cover up the puffy bags under her eyes or the rough, dry cracks in her lips. Nothing, not even her favorite lipstick, Briar Rose
—which, incidentally, was missing.
“Why are we going to work at eight o’clock in the morning?” she whined, rummaging through a drawer in the small vanity she and Lily currently shared and looking for it.
“Cheer up, Rose, we’re going to try on cute clothes,” Lily replied, sitting down in front of the vanity and beginning to apply a coat of mascara. “It’ll be fun.”
“Just because the magazine chooses them doesn’t make them cute
,” Rose grumbled.
Lily sighed, running a hand through her hair. As she did so, the few waves she’d managed with her Muggle curling iron fell out instantly, leaving her with stick-straight strands. She should have stopped messing with it, she supposed.
“I’m going to go check on Albus,” she said. “I haven’t seen him all morning.”
She stood up, walking down the hall in bare feet and coming to a stop in front of her brother’s closed door. Softly, she knocked, calling his name. “Is everything okay?”
When there was no answer, Lily pushed the door open gently. Inside, she could clearly see that Albus was still asleep in bed. Her eyes passed over a pair of empty beer bottles on the dresser next to him, which caused her to sigh. She moved over closer to the bed and shook him, attempting to wake him up. “Albus, come on.”
“What?” he said, opening his eyes and blinking at her.
“Don’t you remember the owl we got last night? We have an appointment with Dominique and Darcy. We’re supposed to be there in twenty minutes.”
“An appointment for what?”
“We need to try on some outfits. It’s for the cover story, I guess.”
“Oh, right,” Albus said, sighing and sitting up.
“You fell asleep in your clothes,” Lily observed, trying not to smirk.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Would that have anything to do with these?” She pointed to the beer bottles.
“Yeah,” Albus replied. “I guess I had a little too much.”
“James always could drink you under the table.” His sister frowned slightly now. “Albus, are you all right? You didn’t say much after you got home from dinner.”
“Sure. The story should be really good.”
“Did you and Darcy have fun?”
“I guess so. It was just… you know, we don’t know each other. It was awkward.”
“Do you want to get to know her?”
“Yeah, but I don’t know if she wants to get to know me.”
“I think it’s too early to make that judgment.”
Albus sighed again. “You’re probably right.”
“Sure I am,” Lily said with a giggle, turning to leave his room. “Now hurry up!”
A few moments later, Lily, Rose, and Albus were all walking to Witch Weekly
in the pouring rain. Each of the girls held a pair of high-heels at their sides, having put on rain boots to make the trip. Albus, for his part, carried a massive umbrella that had been charmed to cover all three of them.
“Why didn’t we Floo or Apparate?” he complained.
“I told you, that would mess up my hair,” Rose said. “And Lily’s, most likely.”
“Won’t the rain mess it up just as much?”
“Not if you hold that umbrella steady,” Rose replied. “Walk faster, please.”
Eight o’clock?! What the hell is wrong with Dominique?
Darcy rushed down the stairs, carrying a twin pair of strapless black dresses over her arm. She had five minutes until Rose, Lily, and Albus arrived to try on clothes for the photos to accompany the cover story, and she was still two outfits short.
Turning the corner, she burst into the dressing room, spotting Dominique sitting on the edge of a bench and calmly sipping a cup of tea. “Are these the ones?” she asked breathlessly.
Dominique glanced up, smiling brightly. Unlike Darcy, she looked completely put together and at ease with the early hour. “Yes, that goes with the smoky make-up.”
“Good,” Darcy said, relieved.
“Not yet. For the floral one, I can’t decide between the separate blouse and skirt or the sundress, so bring them both down. And let’s do jeans and t-shirts for the natural look.”
“Why put them in Muggle clothes?”
“Because that’s what the Beauxbatons girls are wearing on holiday this season,” Dominique replied. In the corridor, a door closed. “Hurry up, that must be them!”
Darcy handed her the dresses and rushed back out of the room. In the process, she almost ran into Albus, who was entering with Lily and Rose.
“Hi!” he blurted, his tone colored with surprise.
“Sorry,” she said quickly, moving past him and back up the stairs.
Lily turned and watched her go, and then she put her hand on Albus’s arm and guided him into the room. Rose had already reclined lazily on the bench.
“Good morning,” Dominique said, looking disdainfully down at Rose. “Thank you all for being so good about getting here early to sample our wardrobe for the story.”
“I’m just a little confused, Dominique,” Lily said. “How can we shoot photos for the cover when we don’t know who has won the contest yet?”
“Well, they have to have something to judge, don’t they?” Rose piped up.
“Yes,” Dominique agreed. “The pictures from today won’t actually be the ones we use on the cover. They’re going to go with the article that Darcy’s writing, just to add some color and give faces to your names. I’ve picked out clothes that will look best with the make-up we tried the other day. By having different options, we can explore how you both look together and also use looks that flatter each of you.”
“What about the hair trial?” Lily asked.
“I’m going to play with that today, too. We’ll find a style that looks good, I promise.”
“Sounds good,” Rose said.
“Great.” Dominique smiled tightly. “Now, if only Darcy would hurry up with the—”
“Here, here!” Darcy cried, stumbling in the door with a small pile of clothes thrown over each arm. Albus moved quickly, holding the door for her.
“Thanks,” she murmured. “Good to see you all again.”
“So what look is first?” Rose asked.
“We’ll try your best look first—the smoky one. It’ll be really sexy.”
“I love sexy,” Rose added, standing up and smoothing her hair. She looked over at the black dresses hanging over in the corner. “Are these the ones we’re trying on?”
“Yep,” Darcy said, pleasantly surprised to see Rose so interested.
Rose and Lily each took a dress and headed behind the partition to change. After a moment, there was a slight shuffling noise, indicating that each of the girls had grabbed the wrong size. Then, both of them stepped out where the others could see them.
“How do we look?” Lily asked. The black dress was a little harsh with her warm coloring, but the short length flattered her legs. Rose, meanwhile, looked as if her dress was made precisely for her. It hugged her slight curves in all the right ways.
“Awesome!” Dominique explained. “Okay, let’s get to work on your make-up, and then Darcy can snap the photos. Think about what kind of pose you want, Darcy.”
A few moments later, Darcy had put the girls back to back, standing up straight and holding their wands straight up in front of them. It had a smart, deadly sort of look that seemed to go well with the put-together feel of the black dresses. Darcy was pleased to see that the girls’ experience showed—neither of them was camera-shy.
“Okay, now let’s do the floral,” Dominique said. “I want one of you to wear the dress, and the other to wear the white blouse and the pink skirt. You can each pick.”
“I think Lily would look best in the dress,” Darcy added.
“Fine, whatever will help her keep up with me,” Rose agreed cheekily.
Lily elbowed her cousin on their way behind the partition.
As Darcy looked back through the photographs she’d just taken, Dominique wandered over to Albus, who was sitting down on the bench formerly occupied by Rose. “I think they have a good shot, you know,” she whispered with a grin.
“Yeah?” He glanced over at Darcy. “What do you think?”
“It’s hard to say until we see the competition,” Darcy answered honestly. However, when she stole a look back over at Albus, his face looked a bit more downcast.
“Ready!” Rose exclaimed, strolling out of the dressing room. True to her word, she looked smashing in the skirt and blouse combination. Lily seemed in her element in the floral dress, though. Either way, it was sure to make for a great photo session.
“Here, let’s try updos,” Dominique suggested, grabbing her wand and heading over to the girls. With a wave, she removed the old makeup, and then she began to apply more.
This time, Darcy brought up the bench and perched one girl on either side. Rose crossed her legs neatly, leaning forward, and Lily reclined back against the bench. It was very cute, though it looked quite different from the previous session.
The final look, with the jeans, t-shirts, and natural make-up, didn’t take long at all to prepare. Rose and Lily spontaneously embraced one another and gave the camera their biggest grins. Darcy decided right away that this was her personal favorite.
“Okay,” Dominique said, speaking loud enough that the girls could hear her even over the sound of them changing clothes. “Darcy and I will take a look at these prints and pick our favorite look. You three come back on Friday morning at ten thirty. We’ll meet the other contestants and do some more photos. Those will be the ones that will actually make it in with the article. Then we’ll have some lunch.”
“Sounds good,” Albus said, standing up. He looked relieved to be done for the day.
“The show is this Saturday night in Paris. You guys are going to be great.”
“Thanks,” Albus replied, nodding politely at Darcy as the girls exited the room.
Darcy smiled back nervously, biting back memories of their awkward evening. It wasn’t that she was angry with him for the miscommunication; she just hated the thought of working with him without them really feeling at ease around one another. She decided to try to make more of an effort with him from here on out.
As she took the camera off the tripod and put it carefully back in its case, Dominique smoothed the girls’ dresses and hung them gently back on a nearby rack. When Darcy was finished with the camera, she began helping her friend clean up products. “Do you really think they have a good chance?” she asked.
“Sure. They’re naturals, and they have a ton of experience,” Dominique said.
“I hope you’re right. I’d hate to disappoint them.”
“I don’t think Rose will let
her and Lily lose, even if she acts like she doesn’t care.”
“Oddly enough, that’s reassuring,” Darcy said, and they both laughed.
On her walk home from work that night, all Darcy could think about was Albus.
She loved his awkward smile, and his kind eyes, and the unassuming way in which he carried himself. More than anything, it was the way in which he reminded her of herself. She, too, felt somewhat out of place in the high fashion world of Witch Weekly
. She had only taken the job because she wanted to write, and it was an opportunity. Maybe that was what Albus was searching for—an opportunity.
Their so-called date came back to her mind as she turned the key and opened the door to her flat. I wonder if he’ll ever pick me up from here
, she thought sadly. But she couldn’t do that. She could only deal with one crisis at a time, and she had a doozy.
To be precise, she had a story to write, a show to attend, and a promotion to win.