A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
Joey stares back at you from the bathroom mirror. You rub the side of your face, and she rubs hers.
It's funny, but it's like you're seeing her face for the first time. Have you ever given her a close, direct look in the short time since you've met her? Oh, the form of it is familiar. The clear skin. The slightly elfin cast of the face, with visible cheekbones narrowing down to a pert chin. The dirty blonde hair that lays in stiff, shallow waves atop her head, but curls tightly behind her ears and at the top of the neck. But when you look more closely ...
Her eyes are dark, and there's a small but noticeable bump in the middle of her nose. There's a vast empty space between her black eyebrows. Her lips are full and a pale pink, and when you part them, her two upper front teeth are very prominent. Her neck is smooth, with no hint of an Adam's apple. And in the lobes of her ears are tiny dark depressions where earrings would fit.
As for the rest of her body ...
You can't help flinching, and you won't look at it directly, and your eyes water as you look at yourself in the mirror out of the corner of your eye.
Your boobs are tiny things, like the bottom quarter of two banana stuck onto your chest. You're skinny, too, with ribs that show when you suck in a breath. Your stomach is soft, but at least it curves inward. Your limbs are thin as well. If it weren't for the boobs, the bush, and an unmistakable femininity to your face—a softness to your jaws and lips, and a wetness about the eyes—you'd swear you were looking at a freshman boy.
Movement outside the door reminds you that the real Joey is around. You shouldn't waste time ogling yourself.
But as you pause as you pick up the clothes she gave you with the mask. Did she ogle herself—yourself—in the mirror after putting the mask on, the way you just did?
You shudder all over. Joey is very smooth all over. How awful must it have been for her to find all that hair, especially that wild patch below with an ugly, one-eyed worm inside it. You can't believe she didn't tear the mask off right away.
And that thought nearly causes your heart to stop. How do you get the masks off? you wonder, and quickly begin shoving yourself into your new wardrobe.
The bra is more like two small slingshots that have been sewn together, and almost you discard it as unnecessary when you can't quite figure out the hooks. But after a short, patient examination you get the straps hooked around you and turn it front to front to tuck what breasts you now have into the cups. You pull on the panties and the narrow-waisted Levis, then the black t-shirt. ("Apollo's Creed" it says in narrow white letters across the front, but the words are meaningless to you.) Then over the t-shirt you pull a scratchy, purple-hued plaid shirt with the sleeves pre-rolled up to your elbows. God, you think as you look at yourself in the mirror, I remember seeing boys dressed like this back in the eighth grade.
There's a soft knock at the door as you're pulling on some ankle socks. "Will?" a voice says. You almost panic, because it's deeper than Joey's, so you think it must be her dad or someone. Then you remember that it will be ... gulp ... your voice.
"Just a minute," you holler back. "I'm coming." You finish tying the black sneakers, turn off the light and open the door.
The boy on the other side is shockingly tall—you have to tilt your head back to look him in the face—but he scrambles back a couple of steps and pales. "Oh my God!" he gurgles. "Ah ... ah ... ha!"
"How do I look?" you ask, and your voice sounds funny in your ears, like you've been breathing helium. "About normal, all things considering?"
He stares back with a gaping mouth. Again, it's like seeing yourself for the first time. The brown cheeks just losing their summertime tan. The whiskers popping out in weird places on the upper lip, upper cheek, and chin. The big, crooked teeth inside the twisting lips. Straw-like hair sticking out in tufts from under a sloppy ball cap. There's also a musk coming off him: dry and earthy.
"Your hair's parted wrong," he says. His voice doesn't crack, but you can hear a seam inside it that threatens to split open. "You need to comb back over—"
"I didn't touch it," you protest. "I just got up and got dressed."
His eyebrows twist. "No, it's wrong," he insists. "It—" He pushes you back into the bathroom. "Lemme just get a brush and—"
You sag and prepare to be made over. But when you look up again, you find he's frozen and is staring at your reflection in the mirror. "What?" you ask.
"Nothing," he says. "Oh, God, this is so weird!"
"You knew it was going to be."
"But I didn't expect it to be—!" He hops up and down, as though on a pogo stick.
"Look, just what's the deal with my hair?" you demand, and pat at it. "Are you okay with it or not?"
"No, it's fine," he gasps. "I was just confused is all. It's perfect. It just looks weird because, um, I only ever see myself in a mirror."
"Don't you ever take selfies?"
"No. What for?"
You shrug, for you don't take that many selfies either. "So what now?" you ask.
He blinks, sucks in his lower lip, and gives you another long, hard stare. "Can I touch you?"
Oh God, you think, and your heart beats hard.
"Sure, I guess," you stammer. "But it won't it be just like—?"
You break off. Won't it just be like touching yourself? is what you were going to ask. But with an electric thrill you realize it won't be. Touching ... him ... won't be like touching yourself, even though it is your body. Because it's someone else. And you'll be someone else who is being touched.
This is what it is like for other people to look at me, you think, and your head reels. And this is what it would be like for other people ... for other girls ... to touch me!
The boy in front of you lifts his hands but pauses with fingertips outstretched. Gingerly, with the pressure of a feather dropping, he touches you on the shoulder. A hard thrill runs through you, and you see the answering shudder run through him. Then he touches your collar, and your hair, and finally with one fingertip he touches the side of your chin.
"Wow, it feels real," he breathes. He leans over and puts his nose to your ear. "And it ... Is that what I smell like?"
"I don't know." There's a tremble in your voice. "Is this what I smell like?"
"I don't think you smell bad!"
"Well, I don't think you smell bad either!" you retort.
He straightens up and grins at you. Gosh, I look like a rabbit, you think.
"Come on." He grabs you by the wrist. "I want to see something!" He yanks you from the bathroom. He seems much stronger now.
Together you tumble down the stairs and over to the back door. You shrink back as he yanks it open. "Go out and say hi to Monday," he says, and pushes you outside.
"What? No! I—"
But it's too late. With a laugh he slams the door, and you spin about and shrink from the spaniel that has come running up.
Only it doesn't bark at you, but with a panting tongue jumps up to touch you on the thigh with a paw. It drops down and wags its tail at you.
You're fooling the dog! "Hey there, Monday," you say to it, and bend to scratch it behind the ears. "Who's a good, uh, girl?" It grins up at you, and wags its tail harder.
But when the door opens behind you, it barks and runs at it. "Hey! Monday! It's me!" yells the guy on the other side as the dog digs at the door to get inside. Joey lets the dog in, and it snuffles and sniffs at the intruder's feet. With a muffled bark it trots back to paw at your shin. You give it another scratch behind the ears.
Then you're startled by a much more frightening sound: a garage door going up.
"Shit!" you exclaim. "Is that your mom?"
Joey stares back with horror in her eyes. "Must be. Come on!"
You dive into the house, Monday following with a bark. "What are we gonna do?" you shout.
"Wait for me down here!" Joey she gallops for the stairs.
"But your mom!"
"You'll be okay! You belong here!"
A door opens, and you hear footsteps and a deep sigh. Something heavy drops onto a countertop. You'd run, but your feet won't let go of the floor.
A short, plump, dark-haired woman in green—looking like an avocado in a wig—comes in. She looks tired, and she blows out a deep breath. "Who's truck is that in the driveway?" she asks.
"Um—" Your vocal cords don't want to work. "A friend's?"
"I'm not in the mood to play twenty questions, sweetie," she says as she waddles into the living room. "Whose truck is it?"
"Um, it's a friend of Jenny's." You are shaking all over. "I, uh, was over at her place? And he gave me a ride back here?"
"He parked in the middle of the driveway." She falls onto the sofa. "Where is he now?"
"Um, upstairs? Using the bathroom?"
"Something wrong with the downstairs bath?" She peels off a sandal and massages a foot. It's pale and wrinkly, like a fat fish.
Footsteps sound on the stairs, and a boy in a floppy t-shirt and jeans appears with Monday bouncing alongside him.
"Oh, hi, Mrs. Tartaglione," he says. "My name's Will. Will Prescott."
That's the moment it all becomes real to you. You're Joey Tartaglione, and he's Will Prescott.
"So, are we off to study now?" he asks you. He has that crazy book under his arm.
Next: "Personas, Grata or Not"