Violet pulls open the double doors to her closet. Neat rows of electric patterns hang above and beside us. She pushes and pushes at rompers and dresses. She pulls one free.
“Want this one?” She says. Holds it out to me.
Like its nothing, like she’s offering me a right Twix.
I take it, accepting the hanger with both hands.
I turn away from her to change. I pull off my shirt and pull down my pants. I slip the dress quickly over my too-flat, too-white body.
“Do you want some different underwear?” She says.
My mother would be appalled, but I nod. The question indicates the answer. She pulls open a dresser drawer. She unfolds a silky half-pair of panties the color of melon.
“They’re washed, but I never wore them.” She says as I take them. The waist says sneaky cheeks. I slip my underwear off and pull the new pair on. The dress maintains my privacy. I still glow with shame.
I stuff the balled white cotton in my palm into my overnight bag. Violet pulls her hair over the straps of her patterned blue and purple romper.
“It’s Lily Pulitzer.” She says as we apply lip gloss in her mirror. I watch her reflection. “There’s always animals hidden in the pattern.”
I narrow my eyes and reexamine my dress in the mirror. She suddenly points, her finger at my nothing chest. “See?”
I look. She says, “It’s a tiger?”
And then the yellow and blue and green and black converge into a fan of leaves from which a tiger stares, unblinking.
Violet leads me down the steps and into the kitchen. Her mother stands at the kitchen island wearing an empty baby sling and drinking vodka on the rocks. Violet’s sister, Vivian, toddles in a diaper pulling plastic bowls and plates from an open cabinet.
“Mom. Can you take us to Town Center?” Violet asks. Her mother turns the page of her magazine. She moves her long hair behind her ear to reveal a diamond the size of a dime.
“You’ll have to ask Daddy. I’m in with the littles for the night.” She looks up. “Oh. Don’t you two look cute.”
We pose for her iPhone picture.
“Where is daddy?”
“He’s in the office.” Violet moves toward the hall to the office. “Violet! Vi! Check on Sienna and Lu on your way.”
Violet sighs with irritation. “Fine.”
I watch her mother pull the end of a long lock of hair between her fingers like a cigarette, hold it to her lips, and return to her magazine.
I hear her ice tinkle in its glass as we walk toward the little girls’ room.
Violet and I sit in her bed a while and talk. She shows me how to unhook and snake a bra through a sleeve. She throws her purple bra to the floor as she lays back in bed. I pull my flesh-colored one free, hang it over her desk chair. She laughs, but I know I’ll need it again tomorrow.
Violet falls asleep talking. I lie still and listen to her long, wet breaths. I don’t know how people share beds—the night noises of another person are so distracting. Her sighs rattle beside me until I creep along the wall and off the bed. I slip from the bedroom and tiptoe down the steps. Low lights shine in the kitchen.
I retrieve the tumbler from the cabinet. I add the tinkling ice. I find and pour the vodka as if I live here, as if I’ve done this a million times.
I drink. It burns. I close my eyes. I find a flavored sparkling water and pour it in. The drink fizzes and whispers against my lips.
A glint of light shines from the corner of the kitchen. Violet’s mother’s earrings sparkle from her closed magazine. I pluck them, one by one, to my palm. They are heavy. I clutch them as I page the magazine.
Of course, it’s all pictures of Kate Middle re-wearing her coat and kneeling beside her kids; Gwen and Blake going strong; Brad enjoying an exciting new romance, while remaining committed to his kids, says a close source. The pages snap and sigh as I turn them. My mom would call this indulgent landfill. I put the earrings in while staring down a red-lipped Angelina.
My head buzzes. I feel loose, light. Ready to float from my body like a ghost.
I catch my reflection in the warbled backsplash. My face is red. Violet’s dress is darker, somehow wilder, in the kitchen’s half-light. The tiger’s eyes appear and blink on my bubbled chest. I lean against the stove, look closer.
My reflected hair is darker, almost black, but the light plays in places shining gray. It looks longer, too. I realize how much I like long hair. I detect heavy creases at my mouth and forehead. I lean closer still. There are tears reflected on my face. I touch my cheeks. (Dry.) A trick of light, of metallic distortion.
I put my hand to the mirror. My reflection doesn’t reach back. She lifts her arm, crowded with golden bracelets I’ve never seen. She raises her middle finger.
I step back. I tuck my hair behind my ears. She lurches forward, anger in her face.
“This?” I say, too loud, touching my ear. Millions of years of pressure wasted in two stones, mom would say. I bend against the stove. I whisper. “This?”
She presses her palms toward me. I shrink back.
The voice is small. I know it must be Sienna or Lu. I pull my hair forward, cover the earrings. I turn to her.
“I had a bad dream.” Lu says. I tremble, standing with my back to my reflection.
“Let me get you a drink.” I say, glancing sidelong toward the backsplash, seeing now only myself in someone else’s clothes.