Lights are always brighter when directed right at you. The studio lights set up in our basement are blinding, so radiant I cannot see without squinting. But that isn’t allowed right now.
“Open your eyes, Giselle! You’re masking your features! Open up some.”
I can hear my mother, but I can’t see her. It feels like in an infinite room of white and light.
But I widen my eyes.
“Good! Now turn your head to the left… No, just your head! There, and smile. Eight teeth! Eight teeth!”
I closed my eyes for a moment, letting my mouth flex according to its muscle memory. We had spent hours in front of a mirror together, but the smile still didn’t come naturally.
“Oh no! Wait a moment! The eyeliner isn’t even. Excuse me… Let me fix that.”
A silhouette looms in front of the light, letting me see for the first time. My mother reaches down with a black pencil and quickly adjusts my makeup, her pink lipstick inches away from my nose.
“Perfect! Alright, dear. Hold that stance again!”
I adjust the monogrammed purse in front of me with the strap over my opposite shoulder, making it cut directly down the middle of my chest. I realize it is pulling my dress much lower than I like, but my mother has now decided my stance is perfect, so I can’t move now.
“Alright, let’s do a laughing one. Perfect! Nice smile. Now cut it off… there!”
My dad’s camera flashes, making it difficult not to blink. I hear my mother commenting on the photographs, before doing minor adjustments to my pose and the shutter clicks a few more times.
“Alright! Onto the next one!”
Hands pull the purse away, and I am handed a new set of clothes. I slip off my dress and put on 70’s style pants, a crop top, and rose-tinted glasses. Mother wipes off my lipstick and changes the color, and a handbag is thrust into my hands. I am told that for this one I am going to be sitting, and Mother spends the next few minutes adjusting my pose and hair.
Multiple hours pass, with many different handbags and poses and makeup and dresses. In the end, I am exhausted, but my mother is as ecstatic as ever.
“You did so good honey!” she’s laughing as she side-hugs me. I am tottering up the stairs in platform heels, holding a jumbled pile of dresses, hats, and shoes in my arms.
We make it to the main floor, and she turns her face toward mine and kisses me on the forehead, smiles with her white teeth, then strides away across the living room to the bedroom. She reminds me a bit of a middle-aged Barbie.
I go up the stairs to my bedroom, gripping the handrail hard to keep from tumbling backward in my heels. My dad is already up in his office, editing the pictures quickly before uploading them to his website. He will likely be up all night.
I don’t realize until I hear Tyson’s voice at the door that I am practically naked, wearing only a frilly bra, heels, and short skirt.
“We weren’t expecting you! No this is amazing, come on in! Yes, Giselle is in her room, we just finished a photoshoot! No really, you aren’t intruding, you’re practically family. Come on in.”
I have just made it to the doorway of my bedroom when Tyson appears at the bottom of the staircase. I turn around to see him staring up at me as he raises an eyebrow and does a little half-smile.
“Mind if I come up?”
I see my mother around the corner in the kitchen, trying to look busy as she rearranges the flowers in a vase.
“Sure. Sorry for my state,” I say but he is already coming up the stairs.
I laugh a little bit as I set the mound of clothes on my bed, and sit down beside them trying to cover myself up.
The room is impeccably clean, the bed is made, and the bookshelves are dust-free. Mother expects me to keep my bedroom perfect in case Tyson pops by after work, which he does multiple times a week.
The bed is made with fresh sheets, they smell like rose petals, and the duvet on top has pink daisies and little beige dots covering its bright white surface.
The rug in the center of the room is also beige, standing out on the white carpet, and the walls are very pale pink. Mother finds the color scheme endearing, and I would agree if it was someone else’s bedroom.
Tyson flips off the light in the room, and it is dark except for the setting sunlight peeping through my curtains. Then he plugs in the fairy lights, which wrap around the perimeter of the room. His face is barely illuminated, and I can imagine the elation in Mother’s face when I replay this moment to her after he’s left.
He sits down on the bed beside me and turns my head to face him. I smile a little bit while readjusting the dress I am holding to cover the bare skin facing him.
We have been dating for about a year, but I have known him since second grade when he stuck putty, the kind you got in the plastic eggs, in my hair during lunch. I had come back to Mother crying, and we had to get it cut. Mother had held me and said it was okay, it just meant he liked me.
He has matured over the years, much to my and my mother’s delight.
“So romantic, honey. I’m so happy for you.”
I think I am too.
“How are you doing?” Tyson asks, his fingers still on my cheek. His breath is warm, and it makes my cheeks flush.
“I’m pretty tired,” I laugh under my breath, “A lot going on. But I’m good.”
He turns sideways and sits against my pillow, pulling me along with him as he inquires further, “Really? What’s going on?”
I lean against him, curled under his arm, the dress over me like a blanket.
“Oh, you know, the usual stuff. Dad released a monogrammed style handbag, so he had to add pictures to the website, so that was a hassle. Schoolwork is a bit of a pain, but not that … bad I guess.”
Halfway through my little monologue, I realize Tyson has started fiddling with the fringe of the dress, and by the end, he is pulling it off of me. My breath sucks in, and I am frozen.
I whisper, “Sorry, we were borrowing the shirt, the rest of this was mine so I just left it in the basement and thought…”
He looks at me funny like he’s trying not to laugh.
“Hey, it’s fine. I wouldn’t care if you were covered in warts and wearing a paper bag or something. You don’t have to hide from me.”
He rolls over so he is facing my direction, my arms are still trying to cover my stomach and exposed bra, but he slowly lifts them off so we end up in an embrace.
“It’s okay. I love you the way you are baby, it’s okay.”
His hand is rubbing up and down my back, and I do not know what to say. He has a hangnail that is running down the same track on my skin like it’s digging a little canal. But the only thought going through my mind is, “Mother is going to be so pleased.”