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[Fiction] Courage


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Date: August 25, 2015

Carver needs to get a grip and she knows she needs to get a grip. She shifts her groceries to her other hand and considers the really insane idea that just popped into her head. It’s stupid. It’s scary. It’s so not her.

Which is probably why she should do it.

She takes a deep breath and enters the studio. The person behind the desk looks like she could be hippie, a clerk or the owner of the studio, depending on how one interpreted her outfit. Her tightly curled hair has sprung loose in spirals from her bun, framing a face that is obviously Jewish by heritage. Her clothes look as though they are made from natural fibers, and matching bone and wood earring and necklace accessorize well. She is older, maybe forty, with a face that looks like it’s spent some time outdoors.

The woman glances up from her work when Carver walks in and does a double-take. “Can I help you?” the woman asks.

“Yes,” Carver says. “I want you to photograph me.”

The woman looks over her with sharp, measuring eyes. “Are you sure? Usually it’s the super-pretty ones that come for my work. I charge an awful lot for a portrait.”

“I want the best that I can afford,” Carver answers, trying not be irritated at not being ‘super-pretty.’ “And I have a special request.”

The woman’s name is Naomi Tischler. As Carver explains her request, Naomi seems to become more and more interested. “It will be a challenge,” she says, rubbing her chin, “and I don’t say that because I don’t believe that I can do it, but because I’m going to have to fight preconceived notions. You’ll have to do as I say, and it may not work for you. Are we clear?”

Carver sighs. It’s a lot of money… but it could work. “Yes, we are,” she says. “When do you want to do this? The sooner the better; I might lose my nerve.” She gives Naomi a queasy smile.

“Tomorrow,” Naomi answers. “My staff will be here, and we’ll done in a couple of hours.”

“Do I need to bring anything?” Carver asks.

“Only yourself, your Eufiber and anything else you might want in the pictures.”

* * *

She doesn’t bring anything extra for the pictures. And she’s even surer that this is, at best, a waste of time; at worst, it will be an embarrassment. But she’s already put half the money down, which is quite a chunk of her free cash. And she wants to try. She’s getting tired of herself, and she needs a change.

No time is wasted once she arrives; Naomi immediately hustles her into the dressing room, where she’s handed to Evon, who is so very, very gay. He’s so very gay that Carver immediately knows that he’ll do a great job on her hair. “We’ll start complicated. Now, during the shoot,” he hisses charmingly, “my assistant Claire will be there to make any of the running changes that Naomi wants. What I need you to do is relax and keep your hands out of your hair, ok?”

“Yes,” Carver says, letting go of the hank of hair that she had been twisting nervously.

He eyes her head. “Goodness! Naomi said that this would be different, but in a good way.” He takes her arm and steers her to a chair. “Because, darling, I’ve had different in a bad way. Have you ever tried to do hair while wearing razor-wire gloves? Of course not, because you’re not Evon.” He spins her to face the mirror as he stands behind her. He cracks his joints and slides his hands up into her hair, gently applying pressure to her scalp. Carver feels her eyes sag closed slightly; it feels really, really good.

“Oh, you condition, don’t you?” Evon purrs, rolling of some her hair gently through his fingers. Carver silently nods. “I can always tell,” he smugs at her through the mirror as he starts rubbing again, “even on the Star-Brights.” He winks at her through the mirror. “They all come in going, ‘Evon, do something fabulous with my hair,’ and I have to tell them, ‘I could do more with a bundle of straw, because that is what your hair is like. Straw.’ And then they cry, and how Diane does scream at me. But it is my sad, sad duty to be honest to those who deserve the truth the most.”

“Diane?” Carver murmurs, feeling languid.

Evon stops massaging her skull and starts combing her hair out. He laughs, “Oh, you’ll meet that King later. She’s so butch, it’s adorable. I just want to put her in a flannel shirt and watch my boi-friends hit on her. The look on their face when I tell them that he’s a she would be so classic.”

“What does she do here?” Carver asks, trying to watch what Evon was doing now. It seemed to involve a lot of comb clips and twisting of handfuls of hair.

“Make-up.” He sees Carver’s look of disbelief. “Don’t worry your tush none; she’s good. I let her do me sometimes, and I am Evon.”

Carver isn’t sure how he did what he did, but when he’s done, she’s astonished. He’s managed to take her crazy coloring and pull it into an elegant style that doesn’t make Carver feel like she has a big candy-cane strapped to the back of her head. “That’s… amazing!” she says, staring at the French twist with the aid of a hand mirror. She smiles up at him, “Are you sure you’re not a Nova?”

“Don’t be a silly duck,” Evon pats her knee. “I’m not a Nova, I’m Evon! Diane! She is all yours, my little butch!”

“I’m not little!” The woman who stalks into the room is indeed not little – she is shorter than Carver by a good four inches, but she has packed muscle onto her small frame. She is possibly the most toned female baseline that Carver’s ever seen and her shirt’s ripped off sleeves only emphasizes the girth of her arms. She completes her strange package by taking up far more room than she should. She shoots Evon a scowl that would have made Wakinyan sit up and take notice, but it disappears with amazing quickness when she faces Carver. “Let’s get you over to my desk.”

Her ‘desk’ is a massive dressing table piled with cosmetics. Carver sits down in the chair in front of the mirror; before she’s fully settled, Diane has pulled her to the side so that she can’t see the mirror and starts smearing a pale green foundation on her face. “What is that?” Carver gulps, trying not to worry about the fact that it’s green.

“I know, I know,” Diane laughs. “Everyone who doesn’t use this stuff gets that same look in my chair. The green foundation takes the color from your face. When I apply the next layer, the green will neutralize your natural color and even it out so that the foundation appears smoother. Think of it as making your face a blank slate.”

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Diane did seem to know what she was doing; as she works, she asked questions about how Carver applies makeup. Carver notes nervously that Diane seems displeased by Carver’s choices. “All right,” Carver finally grumps, “you have to tell me why you’re frowning so much.”

“When you were a blonde,” Diane says, “the tones and shades you were using sounded right. Now, they’re no good.

“Your hair is darker, and I don’t just mean in color. I mean in tone. Once, your eyes were probably darker than your hair; now, your eyes are paler,” Diane says. “It’s not your fault; it’s just what you were used to. Don’t worry, I’ll teach you today what you need to change.”

Carver was appalled by some of the changes recommended. Diane put heavy, dark eyeliner on her and skimped on the blush. The eye shadow was far more colorful than she was used to, but it was the deep red lipstick that balked her. “Diane, that’s too dark,” she says, pulling her head away from the Diane’s hand.

“Really? Too bad,” Diane grumps as she grabs Carver’s chin and tugs. “Naomi said you do as we say.” After she has Carver blot, Diane sets her chemicals down and says, “I know we seem mean about this. But we’re professionals; we’ve been doing this for a long time. When we let people have their way, they aren’t as happy. You’ll be shocked, but you’ll like it.”

“If you guys are so good, why aren’t you in Hollywood doing the big names?” Carver asks, keeping her tone from being insulting.

“Because we like Chicago, and those who like us will go where ever we are,” Diane answers without rancor. She suddenly spins Carver’s chair, letting her see what she’s done. Carver blinks, sure that there’s a trick involved. A woman with a creamy skin blinks back at her with large silvered eyes. Those eyes are rimmed by dark lines, which only accentuate the pale color of the orbs and eye shadow is lightly applied to help draw attention to the eyes. Full, red lips should have been too dark for the face, but the radical shade merely made them look velvety soft.

“I,” Carver starts, stopping when the mirror-woman opens her mouth in the same way. “Is that me?”

“Yes,” Diane answers happily. “This is the other reason we don’t just do big names. It’s so wonderful to see a young man or woman see their own potential.”

Diane guides Carver to a white room. A frame holds background cloths and there are lights everywhere. Naomi and several people are adjusting the various pieces of camera equipment.

“Carver. We’re ready, if you are,” Naomi says. She finally looks directly at Carver and smiles, “You look lovely dear.”

“Thanks,” Carver says uncomfortably.

“For the first shot, I want you to make your Eufiber into a red dress,” Naomi orders, waving to the center of the room. “Take position with your back to the camera, and we’ll go from there.”

The photo shoot is grueling, more so than Carver had ever dreamed it would be. Naomi is extremely demanding and a meticulous perfectionist to boot. And Carver changes her Eufiber so many times that she forgets what she was wearing when she came in. Worse, though is when Naomi says, “For this shot, I need you to look sultry and inviting. Do you prefer men or women?”

“Uh, men,” Carver says nervously. This sounds disturbing, and since she’s already in a prop bed for this shoot…

“Alright, imagine the most enticing man you can think of,” Naomi orders and two images immediately jump to Carver’s mind. Desperately, her brain discards the more threatening of the two men and focuses on who remains. “He’s in this room, wearing something sexy. And he’s walking towards you, and he wants you.”

“Hi, Carver,” Singularity murmurs, walking slowly toward the bed. His dark blue jeans ride low enough to suggest no underwear and Carver feels her stomach tighten. His rippling chest is bare and begs her to run her hands over it. Silver hair and eyes sparkle as he stops next to the bed, a sultry smile on his face. “What are you doing?”

Carver feels herself smile as she answers, “Waiting for you.”

Singularity’s smile deepens as his hands slide to the button of his jeans. He pops the button of his jeans, and Carver’s eyes fall to his zipper, convulsively swallowing as she begins to track the downward pull of his hand.

Singularity disappears in the flash of a camera strobe, leaving Carver blinded and horny.

And then comes the moment that Carver’s been dreading. This is going to look stupid. I just know its going to be stupid. Naomi turns on her computer, opens a program…

A woman with red and green hair pulled into a tight twist stands with her back facing the camera. Her red dress is cut low in back, hugging the top of her bottom. Two white handprints stand out in stark detail on her bare back, but they look… inviting. The woman’s hands rest just below her butt, claws extended – they warn that there is a price for approaching the woman, for laying your hands on those white marks.

“That’s me?” Carver gulps.

“Yes,” Naomi smiles, “and so is this.” Another picture flashes up on the screen: Carver is in the bed, looking over her shoulder with her back facing the camera. Her hair tumbles down in a tangled waterfall and her eyes are dreamy and sultry. The sheet that she has drawn around herself doesn’t quite hide the handprints and leaves no doubt that she’s naked. It’s an illusion; Carver had her Eufiber covering everything not visible. In the picture, her lips are parted, and Carver blushes as she remembers what brought that look to her eyes.

They roll through picture after picture, and Carver is stunned. Each shot holds the image of an attractive woman with red and green hair and flashing eyes, all of them with her back exposed to the camera. The twin scars look like beauty marks somehow, and Carver is astounded.

“That one,” she says suddenly, and Naomi nods.

“I thought you might like that one,” Naomi smiles. Carver has her back to the camera, as usual, but there is no clothing apparent. She is sitting the floor looking back over her shoulder, her knees drawn up in front of her with her arms wrapped around them. She looks fragile, unsure but at the same time, there is a glimmer of something in those eyes. The scars actually add to the emotion in the eyes rather than the fragility, hinting that the body had been abused, but had come through stronger. “I’ll give you disk with all of them on it. Would you like this to be the one printed and framed as part of your package?”

Carver nods absent-mindedly. She’s not sure where she’ll put it – her bedroom seems like the best place considering the nakedness – but she knows that she wants it. Anything that can make her feel this good about herself is wonderful.

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