Distraught as Vince was by turning Camille’s hair into a fireworks display, he didn’t have the option of staying in Melbrook and dwelling on it all night. He and Mary were due for their last round of training at Supper with Supers, and no amount of guilt excused him from the job. Mr. Transport dropped them a few blocks away, leaving them to casually stroll in several minutes before their appointed time. Already waiting there was a costumed woman around their own age, leaning against the host’s stand and flipping through the reservation’s book.
“Hey there, rookies,” Lacey greeted. Unlike Camille and Mary, Lacey had chosen a costume that accentuated her chest by clinging tightly to her torso. It was dark purple and blue, topped with a bobbed purple wig and facepaint they imagined took several hours to apply each morning. Lacey had been their trainer though most of the process, and it seemed today would be no exception. “You guys ready to work?”
“Sure thing,” Vince agreed. He was quite enthusiastic about the idea, since it meant doing something to take his mind off the match with Camille.
“Indeed,” Mary agreed, with less gusto.
“Good, then let’s roll some silverware while it’s slow,” Lacey ordered them. “Hopefully that will get our section closed faster later on. Once things pick up a bit, I’ll let you each take a table.”
Vince and Mary nodded. So far they’d shadowed Lacey during her job and been allowed to assist with her tables; having one of their own to work with would be a step up from what they had done so far. Both were, in truth, a bit nervous at the prospect, but they kept it off their face like the HCP students they were.
“Let’s get started.”
* * *
“Bad,” Anastasia said, carefully flipping a section of the pale-blonde hair away to reveal more charred ends. “Bad, but not impossible.” The woman towered over everyone else in the salon, and most of the state. At six feet, five inches tall, Anastasia (one name only) looked more like she should be in spandex fighting criminals than running a hair-cutting business. Her severe face and habit of rarely smiling didn’t do much to make her seem more friendly. If Alice hadn’t walked up to the woman with such familiarity, Camille likely would have dashed out the door rather than sit down.
“Yes,” Anastasia announced after more examination. “I can work with this. You sit, I shall get my special tools. I will make you beautiful.” With that, the tall woman strode into the back, thick heels clacking on the smooth tile of the floor as she walked.
“That was… intense,” Camille said once she was reasonably sure Anastasia was out of earshot.
“Anastasia takes hair seriously,” Alice replied. “It’s part of why she’s so good at her job. If anything, when it’s done you’ll look better than you did before the hair-fire.”
It had struck Camille as curious that Anastasia had requested no explanation for why she was treating burned-off chunks of hair, but she kept this sentiment to herself in favor of staying meekly quiet while being looked over.
“It really isn’t such a big deal,” Camille reiterated.
“Camille, it’s just me here. You don’t have to pretend,” Alice assured her. “I’m not great at everything in Subtlety, but there are things I do pick up on. For example, how lately you take the time to straighten and style your hair every day, or the way you use make-up when we’re not sweating through gym. There’s no shame in a little vanity here and there. You’re a cute girl, you should want people to notice.”
“Oh, that, I was just trying to get a little better at that stuff,” Camille defended lamely. “After my birthday last year I realized how little I knew.”
“Didn’t you learn how to do it in high school?”
Camille shook her head. “I was training almost all the time. There weren’t many occasions requiring more than some foundation and a little blush.”
“Come on, you must have at least gotten dolled up on dates,” Alice prodded.
“I only had one boyfriend in high school,” Camille admitted. “It was a small town, and not everyone was really adjusted to having a Super among them. Even the guy I dated used to pick on me when we were little.”
“Glad he grew beyond the pigtail pulling stage,” Alice remarked.
Camille smiled, opting not to tell her about how bad the teasing had really been, or how “growing up” had gotten a big dose of help from Vince’s fists. Rick had done a one-eighty after Vince knocked three of his teeth out; he’d told her he learned an important lesson about never knowing who was watching. Rick, once her cruelest tormentor, became her staunchest defender. She needed to call and check in on him; he was attending a bible college in Virginia and it had been a while since they talked. Even if it hadn’t worked out romantically (some wounds never quite healed enough for them to grow close), she still wanted good things for him in his life.
“Hey, Camille, I don’t want to overstep my bounds, but would you like some help?”
The question popped Camille from her reverie and brought her attention back to Alice.
“Sure, with the make-up and hair and all that stuff,” Alice explained. “I’ve got loads of experience with all of it.”
“Oh, I don’t want to impose.”
“Please, I love getting to teach people,” Alice said. “And it would be nice to teach someone who actually wants to learn for a change.”
“Who else did you try to teach?”
“I’ve been working on Mary since freshman year,” Alice grumbled. “We’ll make a few steps forward when special occasions roll around, but then the next day it’s like she’s forgotten everything I taught her about eye-shadow.”
Camille giggled softly. It was pretty funny to imagine Alice trying to get Mary into something other than her usual utilitarian ensemble. “I’m not sure; this year is already so busy…”
“All the more reason to make time,” Alice countered. “We will kick ass and look good doing it. Tell you what, wait and see what Anastasia does with your hair. If you don’t feel it’s a genuine improvement, I’ll let it drop. If you like it, however, we hit the make-up counter for a little while and let me show you a few things.”
That would certainly be out of her comfort zone, however after stripping down in front of her class, fighting in public view with her full ability, and getting her head partially roasted, she was so far gone from comfort that a few more steps didn’t seem so terrifying.
“You’ve got a deal.”