When Angela cornered Lucy in the girls’ locker room and said, “White girl!” there was a moment when Lucy wanted to tell her how she wasn’t white or black, only the perfect mix of both, which is what her father liked to say. Instead, she turned away as her mother had taught her. Her mother would say, “Don’t fight. Be better than those petty girls, baby.”
One of the LaLas, either LaDonnia or LaTasha, freshman girls who’d once been friends with Lucy, said, “Cut her hair!” and laughed.
Lucy grabbed the long thick braids that trailed down her back and tried to think of a comeback—something, anything—but before she could, Angela turned her around and then pushed her hard. Lucy fell back against the metal lockers, her head colliding with a lock, the pain making brilliant spots of color in front of her eyes, and with that, Lucille Jones was done turning the other cheek.
Lucy swung first and kept swinging, her fists connecting with the body beneath her until Coach Daniels blew her whistle. Lucy stopped midswing, breathing hard. She stood and wiped her hand across her face. There was a long streak of vibrant red across the pale skin of her palm. She was bleeding but felt nothing other than the ecstatic beating of her heart.
On the floor, in the middle of a mess of backpacks and clothes and books, Angela was furious. She was still trying to kick Lucy as Coach pulled her away. Behind them, the LaLas stood, disbelief twitching off one girl’s face and onto the other.
In the principal’s office, each girl had a chance to explain what happened. Angela said Lucy started it, and that was all she had to say. Lucy calmly explained the situation, described the previous altercations, including the group teasing and the hair threatening, finishing with: “Then she pushed me into the lockers, Mr. Allegretti.” The girls left the office and sat across from each other. Angela glared at her. Lucy wasn’t worried until their mothers showed up.
The Lucy her mother wanted her to be had “good girl” friends. Friends who did their homework and didn’t sass or roll their eyes. This Lucy told her parents about her good day at school even though most days weren’t good at all. At school she kept her head down and tried to disappear. At school there was nowhere for her to hide. She didn’t fit anywhere. Pale as she was. Mixed like she was. Different as she was. These versions of Lucy were always on her mind.
Angela and her mother went into the principal’s office first. While they waited in the hardback chairs, Lucy watched her mother carefully. She sat stiff and unmoving like the collar of her uniform shirt. She had mentioned more than once to Lucy how much she hated the green polyester pants that hugged her hips and the jungle-patterned shirt she had to wear for her job as a blackjack dealer at the Tropicana Casino. She didn’t look at Lucy and seemed to be studying a banner in the hallway that read “Tiffany Carter 4 Prom Queen - CLASS of 1988 RULEZ!” in alternating primary colors.
“Nice girls don’t fight,” Lucy’s mother finally said.
“She started it. She called me ‘white girl,’” Lucy said too quickly. Her mother’s mouth tightened, but she didn’t look at Lucy. “And she threatened to cut my hair.”
Her mother loved her hair and frequently mentioned how lucky Lucy was because she wouldn’t have to endure relaxers and hot combs as her mother had when she was a little girl. Honestly, Lucy didn’t care much about her hair, which was long and, when not properly restrained in braids, expanded into wild curls. Most days she struggled to put it in manageable braids and, occasionally, a fat barrette.
Her mother turned to her, smoothed her hand over Lucy’s face, covering her eyes until Lucy relaxed and leaned into her palm. Her mother lifted her hand and said, “Well, if she started it, then I can’t blame you.”
Lucy’s mother argued down a two-week suspension to three days of detention, citing her daughter’s excellent grades and good behavior in the face of such obvious bullying, finishing with: “That girl provoked an altercation with Lucy. Now we need to think about what lesson needs to be learned here. The lesson is sometimes you have to fight back.”
On the first afternoon of detention, there were five detainees including Lucy. A redheaded boy she didn’t know made endless paper airplanes in different shapes and sizes. Lucy watched the planes fly for fractions of a second then plummet to the floor. The others were the LaLas and a girl named Therese.
Therese was seventeen and still a sophomore. The story was she’d failed eighth grade, then managed to fail so many classes her sophomore year they couldn’t let her become a junior. The better story was Therese’s parents had split up the summer before, after a very public argument in the Lucky’s grocery store parking lot, which ended with her mother being taken away in handcuffs for assault with a deadly weapon, namely, her 1974 two-door, butter-yellow Subaru. Therese’s father left town for a job in Ohio, and her mother, now on probation, worked nights and drank during the day. Therese was always in detention for one thing or another. She didn’t seem to care what anyone thought of her.
Therese had a magazine spread out across her desk, and the girls were pointing at the pictures. The LaLas clustered around Therese like mosquitos, their voices buzzing. Lucy could see the slick pages with models on them. Therese caught Lucy looking her way.
“Hey you!” Therese said. The LaLas turned to look at Lucy, matching dark looks on their faces.
Lucy gave a little smile to Therese and looked out the window at the school practicing on the field. There was a squeal of metal against linoleum, and Lucy turned back to see Therese weaving slowly between the desks. Her hair, done up in small braids with pink beads twisted in, brushed her shoulders. She wore jeans and a neon-pink tee shirt. Pink lip gloss shimmered on her lips. Lucy felt a little plain in the yellow, short-sleeve button-down her mother had bought for her.
Therese sat on the desk in front of Lucy, her butt on the desktop and her feet on the seat. She tapped her fingers on the glossy magazine on her lap and stared at Lucy for a long moment. For her part, Lucy just blinked at her, unsure of where to look or what to say. Therese had six inches on Lucy to go along with their three-year age difference, and Lucy wasn’t so sure she’d do as well in a fight against Therese as she had against Angela.
Therese opened her mouth to speak, but then they all heard footsteps coming down the hall. The boy put his head down on his desk with the wreckage of failed flights all around him. The LaLas slipped back into their seats. Lucy straightened in her chair, but Therese didn’t move from where she sat on the desk. She kept her head down like she was completely absorbed in the magazine, the tips of her braids dusting the pages as she turned them.
“Therese, take a seat.” It was Miss Winthrop, the substitute teacher who taught freshman and sophomore English. She didn’t look much older than the seniors who walked the halls. Every day she wore her dark blonde hair in fat curls that covered her shoulders, and a watch set in a big silver bangle bracelet that slid up and down her arm.
“Therese,” Miss Winthrop said. Therese didn’t acknowledge her.
Lucy whispered, “Therese?”
Therese glanced up from the page and winked at Lucy. Slowly, she stretched one denim-clad leg out then placed her booted foot on the floor. She sat at the desk the correct way and went back to her magazine. The LaLas giggled. They reminded Lucy of the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp, so terribly happy when others suffered.
“Thank you,” Miss Winthrop said, her voice hard. “Now we all know why you’re here. I hope you’ve been behaving yourselves. We have,” she looked at her watch, “another forty minutes together and then you’re free to go.”
Therese pulled gum from her pocket, unfolded it from its silver wrapper, put it in her mouth, and proceeded to pop it loudly. Lucy saw Miss Winthrop narrow her eyes. “Therese, is your homework finished?”
“Sure,” Therese flipped another page.
“So your book report is finished for my class?”
“Yep, it’s all up here, Elaine,” Therese said, tapping her temple. She said Miss Winthrop’s name as if she had a right to. Like they were friends.
“Therese, come with me,” Miss Winthrop said, her hands clenched into tight fists at her sides. Therese hopped up from her seat with a smile forming on her lips. She tossed the magazine onto Lucy’s desk, winked again, and strutted past Miss Winthrop and out into the hall. Miss Winthrop followed her out, shutting the door behind her.
After five minutes, LaTasha got up, peeked through the window in the classroom’s door, and shook her head. LaDonnia turned to Lucy, said, “Let me have the Vogue.”
“It’s Therese’s,” Lucy said.
“Come off it, white girl,” said LaTasha. Lucy glared at her. She stood and ,with the Vogue in one hand, tried to walk like Therese, with her head up and shoulders back. As Lucy got closer to the door, LaTasha backed up. She was taller than Lucy, most everyone was, but Lucy saw a flicker of fear, and she let a smile form. She paused in front of LaTasha, then flung open the door and walked out of the room. She heard LaTasha whisper, “Bitch!” as the door closed behind her.
Lucy headed down the empty hallway to the bathroom, her sneakers near silent on the scuffed floor. Just as she passed the last classroom, she heard someone’s hiccupping sobs. She edged close to the slightly open classroom door. She saw Therese with her back against the wall next to the blackboard, tears streaming down her face. Miss Winthrop stood close to her, one leg between Therese’s parted legs, one hand on the wall and the other holding Therese’s face, her thumb stroking her cheek. Lucy didn’t breathe.
“You can’t do this,” Therese said. Her long black braids mingled with Miss Winthrop’s blonde curls as she put her head down onto Miss Winthrop’s shoulder.
“Therese,” Miss Winthrop said, “I told you. I can’t stay. They didn’t extend my contract, but we have until the end of the school year. We have weeks before I go.”
“Stay. You can work at another school,” Therese said, her voice muffled.
“The school districts aren’t hiring here. It’s bad all over, honey. We’ve talked about this. You have to stop this behavior. You’re so smart. You’re so beautiful.” Lucy watched Therese lean in and kiss Miss Winthrop on the lips. Miss Winthrop’s pale hands cradled Therese’s face. Therese clutched at Miss Winthrop’s waist, their bodies coming together, and one of them, Lucy couldn’t tell which, let out a low moan. Lucy gasped and ducked away, nearly tripping over her own feet as she ran around the corner and into the safety of the bathroom.
Lucy gripped one of the white porcelain sinks in front of the wall-mounted mirror and tried to breathe slowly. Blood pounded in her ears. Lucy touched her own lips and wondered what it’d be like to kiss another girl. Her kissing experience was minimal. Leroy was the boy she had liked all during eighth grade, but he’d been going with another girl. But that had ended with the school year, and come summer, at a fair, Lucy found herself standing in line with Leroy for the Ferris wheel. They’d shared a carriage, and when they lurched to a stop near the top of the ride, Leroy had leaned over and kissed her. She remembered grabbing his arms and gripping tightly as if she was going to push him away, when all she wanted was to pull him closer. She remembered touching her tongue to his lips and how rough they’d felt. She remembered the firm curve of his biceps under her sweating palms. They’d parted when the ride jerked to a start again, each of them looking away, trying to act as if the kiss hadn’t been the highlight of their summer. Now he was a freshman at another school, and she was hiding in the girls’ bathroom.
A few minutes later the door to the bathroom burst open, and Therese was there, frowning at Lucy. Lucy turned on the faucet and began washing her hands. Therese let the door close behind her. She walked up to the sink next to Lucy, dropped her tote bag on the floor, and leaned back against the sink with her arms folded across her chest.
“I know you saw,” she said. She didn’t sound angry.
“I won’t say anything,” Lucy said.
“I know you won’t,” Therese said. Lucy heard the threat and envisioned her end, laid out cold on the floor of the bathroom, Therese standing over her, her face blank and the LaLas laughing and orchestrating a viewing of Lucy’s body under a sign that said “Lucille Jones 4 Loser Queen. Popularity status: DOA. Teasability: Astronomical.”
Therese turned around to look at her reflection. She touched the puffiness under her eyes with her fingertips. She reapplied her lip gloss, smacking and puckering her lips. Lucy wondered if Miss Winthrop’s lips shimmered now. Lucy could see where tears had dried on Therese’s face. Lucy was so much lighter than Therese and not nearly as pretty. Therese put her hands under the faucet and delicately patted water against her cheeks.
“I heard about you and Angela. Her mother made her transfer schools,” Therese said.
“Oh,” was all Lucy could manage.
“Yeah, ‘oh,’” Therese laughed. “Nice job getting rid of her. You know, they say Coach Daniels had to pull you off her. Guess Angela didn’t know what she was getting into when she took you on, did she?”
“She was always trying to start something with me. I don’t know why.”
“Don’t you?” Therese said and reached out to finger one of Lucy’s braids. Lucy managed not to flinch. “She was jealous.”
“You don’t have a clue how pretty you are. All this long, thick hair, plus you’re gonna get taller any day now and that weight you’re carrying is gonna drift to all the right places, and when all those things line up, you’re gonna be a knockout. Another year. You’ll see.”
“I doubt it,” Lucy said.
“You’ll see,” Therese said, and Lucy wanted to believe her. She wanted Therese to be a friend. She wanted to bask in her aura of coolness.
“Hey, you ever think of cutting your hair?” Therese pulled a pack of cigarettes from her bag and picked up the Vogue from where Lucy had set it down on the sink’s edge. She shook out a cigarette, lit it, and leaned back against the sink again, flipping through pages until she found what she wanted. She turned the magazine to Lucy. “You could absolutely wear your hair like this. You’d be adorable.”
Lucy reached for the magazine. The pictures on the two pages were of models in 1920s-style flapper clothes. The model Therese pointed at wore her hair in a short, bobbed style with just a hint of wave in it. She was thin and angular, with her eyes ringed with black eyeliner, and she wore a shimmering dress that caught the light. She had a drink in her hand, and her smile was wide and bright.
“I couldn’t cut my hair like that. My mom would never let me.”
“You always do what your mom says?” Therese exhaled a long stream of smoke toward the ceiling, then looked at Lucy with a smile on her face that said, You and me could have some fun.
At lunch the next day, Therese appeared at Lucy’s table and said, “Come on.” Therese was ditching some class, Lucy was sure of it, but she felt honored to be seen with Therese. Everyone looked at Therese with some sort of awe or at least respect. Lucy followed her out the side doors to the back of the school, where all the seniors and juniors held court. Overlooking the back baseball field, the area consisted of one stolen cafeteria table and a stack of mats from the weight room. Therese led Lucy past several small groups of seniors to the table and introduced Lucy to her friends, a couple of girls, one named April, a girl with bad acne across her forehead but with the loveliest brown eyes Lucy had ever seen. April patted the table next to where she sat, and Lucy hopped up beside her.
“So how did you two meet?” April asked.
“I told you, detention,” Therese said.
“Can’t I hear it from her, Therese?” April turned to Lucy and smiled.
“Detention,” Lucy said. She glanced from April to Therese to April again, feeling like she was missing something. Therese frowned.
“So you’re the one who fought Angela?” April asked.
“We didn’t get along with her really,” April said, tapping the end of her cigarette into an empty Tab can.
“Hey, are you gonna help Therese get out of the tenth grade?” one girl asked.
Therese rolled her eyes. “I don’t need any help.”
“And yet you flunked. Seriously, how did you fail art class?” All the girls giggled, and Lucy started to join in, until she saw Therese’s face twist into a scowl.
The bell rang, and the girls started to pack their things. April patted Therese on the shoulder. “You know we’re just playing,” she said.
Lucy grabbed her backpack and stood to leave, but Therese said, “Stay and hang out.” Lucy had never ditched before. In fact, her next class was math, her favorite subject, but that day and the rest of that week, Lucy ditched with Therese. Each day Therese would come find Lucy in the cafeteria and bring her to sit among the older girls. Lucy listened to them talk about the senior boys, even Therese did, and Lucy got the impression that no one else knew about Miss Winthrop. The girls talked about what colleges their parents wanted them to attend and who was going to the lake that weekend.
On Friday, detention was back in session. Lucy and the others sat in the auditorium watching rehearsals of West Side Story. On the stage, Mrs. Gould, their warden for the afternoon, was trying to get an adequate rehearsal out of her junior drama class.
They were supposed to do homework, and Lucy was, but Therese sat next to her, flipping pages in the most recent issue of Jet, one with Janet Jackson on the cover, pointing out hairstyles she liked. They had their feet on the backs of the wooden seats in front of them. Behind them the boy with the airplanes seemed to have fallen asleep listening to his Walkman. Lucy caught herself humming along to the sound of New Edition’s “If It Isn’t Love” leaking from his headphones.
The LaLas were in the second row, and they turned around occasionally trying to catch Therese’s attention, but she never looked at them. Therese kept showing Lucy pictures until she stopped writing her paper and focused on Therese. They traded thoughts on hair extensions versus natural, short versus long. Therese was adamant that Lucy should cut her hair.
“You would be so cute.”
“I’d be dead,” Lucy said.
“Your hair’d grow back quick, though. You have good hair. You don’t do anything to it, do you? Just shampoo and conditioner, right?” Therese said. “You and Miss Winthrop both have good hair.”
“Hers is nice. Nicer than mine,” Lucy said, thinking of the twist of curls that cascaded down Miss Winthrop’s back. “But she’s blonde. So much better than my brown hair.”
“She colors her hair. I helped her dye it once. But it’s still good hair.”
Lucy wondered how long Miss Winthrop and Therese had been seeing each other. Lucy said, “Really? It looks natural. Yours is nice, too.” She reached out and touched Therese’s long, thin braids.
“It’s okay.” Therese watched the people on the stage.
“You know, I could help you with your English homework if you wanted,” Lucy said. Midterm reports would be coming out the next week, and Lucy knew Therese was worried about her grades. She really didn’t want to be a sophomore again. Therese’s mouth dipped into a frown.
“I don’t need a freshman’s help to do my homework, Lucy.”
“Okay, just thought I’d offer.” Lucy sank lower in her chair and went back to doing her homework.
Therese raised her hand. “Mrs. Gould, can I go to the bathroom, please?” Therese nudged Lucy with her knee. Lucy said, “Me, too. Please.”
Mrs. Gould turned from her stage instruction. “Go.” When the LaLas tried to go with them, she told them they had to wait.
In the bathroom, Lucy held Therese’s tote bag while Therese lit her cigarette and then took apart one of Lucy’s braids, fanning the still wet strands out and combing her fingers through her hair. “See, if we cut it to right here,” Therese said, tapping Lucy’s shoulder, “I bet it’ll curl up to just below your chin.” Lucy squinted at her reflection in the water-spotted mirror. She could sort of see what Therese was suggesting.
“You’d cut it for me?” Lucy said, hoping they were over her stupid homework offer.
“Sure,” Therese said with a smile.
“I’d get in trouble.”
“So tell your mom someone cut your hair at school. She’ll be upset, but it’ll be done.”
Lucy handed Therese her bag and began to rebraid her hair. “My mom would be down here screaming at Mr. Allegretti. She’d have the PTA, the church, and the local news camped out on the principal’s lawn at home if something like that happened to me. I’d have to tell her you did it, and you could be expelled.”
Therese considered this, her nails tapping on the edge of the sink. “Maybe.”
“Maybe? That’s a huge risk, don’t you think?” Lucy couldn’t imagine what her mother would do if she was ever expelled. Lucy thought it would involve prison for herself or her mother. She twisted the elastic band around the end of her braid. She tugged both braids and smoothed the hair back from her forehead, checking for evenness between them.
“Some risks are worth it. What are you gonna give me for doing this for you?” Therese said.
“Give you?” Lucy frowned.
“Payment, white girl. Money?”
“I don’t have any money.”
“Your parents do. Do they smoke?”
“My dad,” Lucy said. Her voice sounded distant and small in the empty bathroom—a little girl’s voice.
“I want cigarettes and money. Say forty dollars. Then I’ll take the blame for cutting your hair. It’s all risky, Lucy, but what’s it worth to you?” The bright orange dot of the cigarette’s end bounced when Therese smiled at her. Therese pulled the cigarette from her lips and licked them once. Lucy thought of Miss Winthrop kissing those lips.
“Therese, what’s it like kissing Miss Winthrop?”
Therese went still for a moment, then cut Lucy a look that seemed to say Lucy had gone too far, stepped over some invisible boundary line. Then Therese shrugged. “It’s kissing. It’s good,” she said. Therese put the cigarette out in the sink, picked up her bag, and gripped the straps tightly in her fists as if she was struggling with it. Then she closed her eyes, and her face relaxed. She sighed and said, “It’s like holding on and letting go. It’s better than everything.”
Lucy spent that Saturday on edge. She did her chores early and kept to her room with the copy of Vogue that Therese had sent home with her. She studied it and imagined her parents talking in their bedroom after she came home with shorter hair. Their hushed voices trickling down the hallway to her room, thick with concern. Should we take her out of school? her mother would ask. Private school? her father would wonder, putting out his cigarette in the ashtray on the nightstand. We can’t afford it, her mother would say, unhappiness hanging in the air in competition with the lingering cigarette smoke. We could swing it, her father would say to make her mother happy. He would work more. They would both work more. No, Lucy decided, she wouldn’t do it. She went to bed that night haunted by the look of disappointment she knew her mother’s face would wear.
But Sunday night, Lucy stood in front of her dresser mirror, folded the ends of her hair up, and pinned it back with a wide barrette so she could see herself with short hair like the model Therese had shown her. Lucy imagined dark eyeliner around her eyes, her arms thin, and the baby weight all dissolved into the new figure of a woman, of a sophomore. Lucy tilted her chin upward to elongate her neck. Oh, she could see her, that other self, right there in the mirror. That was a cool Lucy. Any day now, she’d be that girl, just like Therese had said.
When she was sure her parents were in their bedrooms for the night, Lucy moved silently down the hall, avoiding the spot that creaked and not turning on a single light as she went. Nervousness had her fumbling her way until she reached the bookcase in the living room. Her mother hid the cigarettes from her father in an effort to get him to cut back on them. This week they were behind worn copies of fairytales and King Arthur stories on the low bookshelf next to her mother’s chair. The carton had five packs in it still. She removed one, lifted the hem of her Jem And The Holograms nightgown, and slid the pack behind the waistband of her underwear, making sure it was snug against her hip, and then she replaced the books.
Her father’s wallet was by the front door in the misshapen bowl Lucy had given him for Father’s Day when she was eight. She shifted her fingers in between and over the pieces of paper in her father’s wallet, taking the first things that felt like money. With that last bit of theft done, and she knew it was theft, felt the weight of it settle on her, she crept back down the hall to her bedroom.
In the moonlight that spilled through her bedroom window, Lucy inspected the money in her hand. She’d grabbed a ten and a twenty. It’d have to do. There was no going back now. She removed the cigarettes from her underwear, pulled the tab to unwrap the cellophane from the top of the pack, and folded the money in half, then in half again, and slipped the bills down between the pack and the plastic wrapper. She put the cigarettes and the money in her pencil pouch and zipped it all away in her backpack.
In her dreams, they caught her leaving the house with the cigarettes. All her hair fell out at the breakfast table. Her nose grew Pinocchio-style when her mother asked her what she had planned for school that day. It was all ridiculous. Her mother would already have gone to work when Lucy left for school. Her father would still be asleep. They trusted Lucy to get herself going in the morning. They trusted Lucy, period.
At school the next day, there was talk in the halls about Miss Winthrop. Mrs. Dunlop was back early from her maternity leave, and Miss Winthrop was gone, effective immediately. Lucy looked for Therese in the hallways. On her way to fifth period, Lucy spotted Therese turning down another hall, and Lucy sprinted after, knocking into people, apologizing as she went. The final bell for class rang, the hallways emptied, and Therese was gone. Lucy was late to math, and after ditching she was behind in her homework, but still she wandered the hallways looking for Therese, peeking into classroom windows and calling for Therese in a quiet voice. After five minutes, she gave up. She figured by the time she made it up the two flights of stairs, she’d be a full ten minutes late for class. She was already forming plausible excuses when Therese stepped out from the recessed alcove where the bathrooms were. They looked at each other, and Therese disappeared into the bathroom and Lucy followed.
Therese was staring at her reflection in the water-spotted mirror over the sinks. Her eyes were red-rimmed. Lucy noticed she was wearing Miss Winthrop’s silver bangle watch.
“I’m not staying, so if you want to do this, let’s do it now.” Her voice was low and miserable.
“Okay.” Lucy fumbled in her backpack. Her hands shook. She thought she should say something to make Therese feel better. The bathroom they were in had no windows. The tiles seemed to glow yellow under the fluorescent lights. From her backpack, Lucy pulled the cigarettes, money, and Therese’s Vogue, handing them all over to Therese. Therese slipped the money from the side of the pack and shoved it into her tight jeans pocket without counting it and put the cigarettes next to a faucet.
Lucy tried again. “Therese, I’m sorry she’s gone.”
Therese wouldn’t look at her. Lucy stood next to Therese and looked at her reflection in the mirror, hoping to convey how sorry she felt for the other girl. Lucy thought she understood what the absence of Miss Winthrop must feel like to Therese. She thought of Leroy in his school across town and the press of his lips against her own. At least Therese wouldn’t have to see Miss Winthrop with another girl, the way Lucy had had to watch Leroy in eighth grade.
Therese opened the magazine and found the page with the model on it. She balanced the magazine on the edge of the sink.
“Look straight ahead,” Therese said, stepping behind Lucy and adjusting her head in the mirror. “Keep it here or it’ll be shorter than we want.” She went back to her bag and pulled out scissors and set them on the sink’s edge.
“You remind me of Elaine,” Therese said. She took up the end of Lucy’s braid with her left hand and began winding the hair around her hand, tugging hard with each successive loop of hair. “She’s smart like you are. Too smart. She thinks I need help too. She thinks I need more than she can give me. All I needed was her, though.”
“Therese, you’re hurting me,” Lucy said.
“Don’t be a baby.” Therese took up the scissors with her right hand, and Lucy saw something dark and angry on her face.
“I’m not a baby, Therese. Just stop,” Lucy said, her voice just this side of a whine. Therese yanked on her braid, and Lucy yelped in pain.
“Shut up and hold still.”
“No,” Lucy said, afraid now. Lucy pulled away from Therese, backing up and pushing at Therese. Therese followed, her hand pulling harder now, the scissors edging closer.
“Stop it or I’ll cut you,” Therese said.
The girls turned in a circle, Lucy trying to pull away and Therese trying to stop her. Their voices rose until Therese yelled, “Hold still!” again and forced Lucy down onto her knees with her fist hard against the side of Lucy’s head. Fat tears ran down Lucy’s face as the scissors made their first cut just above Therese’s knuckles.
“No!” Lucy said, her voice just a whisper.
With the last snip of the scissors, the length of hair pulled away from Lucy, and Therese straightened. “There. One side down and one to go. That wasn’t so bad, now was it?” she said.
The bathroom door opened, and Mrs. Gould walked in on the tableau, Therese with scissors in her right hand, a thick braid of hair in her left hanging like meat in a butcher’s case, and Lucy on her knees sobbing, her face in her hands.
“Girls, what exactly is going on here?” Mrs. Gould asked, looking from one girl to the other.
Therese looked at Lucy crying and said, “She wanted me to do it.”
Lucy tried to stifle her sobs. The bathroom air was cool on her neck, and her head felt lopsided without the weight of her hair on her right side. What was left of her braid began to unravel as she stood up. She looked at herself in the mirror. A different Lucy stared back. A Lucy she didn’t recognize. One that didn’t match any version she had imagined. Lucy wiped at the tears on her face.
“Come with me,” Mrs. Gould said.
Mrs. Gould took the scissors and reached for the curl of braid still wrapped around Therese’s hand, but Therese shoved it at Lucy who took it and clutched it against her torso.
“It’s what you wanted,” Therese said. Vogue lay discarded on the floor. Therese picked it up as she picked up her bag off the floor. She glared at Lucy, her arms folded, her eyes shiny with tears of her own.
Outside the principal’s office they sat in the hardback chairs not looking at each other. Lucy’s mother arrived first and gasped when she saw Lucy’s hair.
“Baby,” her mother said and pulled Lucy to her chest. Out of the corner of her eye, Lucy could see Therese watching them. Studying them like Lucy had studied the girls in Vogue, trying to figure how to become like them.