My reflection frowned back at me as I dabbed the powder puff everywhere but on my face.
I wasn’t sure just exactly what to do, I usually took a peach lip pencil and colored in the lines until you couldn’t see the marks any more.
Naked lips twist into a snobbish smirk and I shudder, reaching for lip gloss. It takes a half-minute to smear on the red color and blot neatly.
I try a smile out in the mirror, but my eyes look sad. The chocolate-fudge orbs are haunted instead of cheerful about my upcoming baptism.
Mekki taps on the church bathroom door. “Alicia, hurry up! You’re six people away.” She jiggles the doorknob. “Can I come in?”
The lock pops open and my new friend lets herself in. She sucks in her breath at the sight of my cosmetic endeavors lined up along the sink’s edge. Suddenly her freckled face is inches away from mine, nose wrinkling. “Alicia, are you okay?”
I blink slowly, leaning back a bit and reaching for the powder puff again. “Fine. You?”
She makes a face over my shoulder in the mirror. “Fine. You?” She mimics, taking the powder puff away and handing me a hairbrush. “Don’t worry about makeup, unless it’s waterproof mascara, your whole face is going to get wet anyway.”
The brush moves awkwardly through my thick tangle of curls. I don’t even want to think about the knots that will come afterwards.
Mekki gently pries it out of my grip and begins to work it through from the ends. “I’ll give you a French braid, ‘kay?” The brush drops into my lap and she begins to section off my hair.
Another shudder moves over me and I jerk involuntarily as the memory I’ve been avoiding replays in my mind.
Arms wrap gently around me and I struggle, pushing against them as traitorous tears spill over, burning my tired eyes.
“Shhhh! It’s okay.” Mekki is whispering softly into my ears and stroking my hair. When I hiccup, she pulls away to look me straight in the eye. “You were remembering your face, weren’t you?”
Her fingers caress the dark, three half-circles seared on my right cheek. She is silent, allowing me to keep my thoughts to myself. I know she is remembering the story of how I got them.
I never told her what I’d done to anger my foster father so badly that he’d pushed me into the kitchen stove. My newfound inner freedom seems dirty and tattered as I think about the church that took me in and the women who have unofficially adopted me.
A scarred, skinny, orphaned teenager, trying to make ends meet and get a government grant to start college.
My nose is stuffed up.
“Real friends don’t mind the scars.” Mekki murmurs, tugging a sheet of paper towel of the roll and holding it in front of my nose. “Blow.”
Because she is like a sister to me, I obey. The noise sounds like a strangled warbler.
Mekki twists my hair into a high ponytail and scoops my makeup back into the vinyl case. “Up. Look at me.” She waits until I am standing. “God doesn’t make junk. Everything that happens to you, is a little speckle of paint on the glorious canvas that will be the masterpiece of your life.” Her voice trembles. “You’re beautiful. Broken and beautiful. Believe it. This is your new beginning.” She kisses my forehead and straightens the black baptismal robe. “Now walk out there like the princess, you are.”
She follows me up to the hidden door.
There is one person left.
I am beginning to smile when I realize something obvious. “Mekki, I can’t swim.”
The door opens and it is my turn. Mekki is smiling through tears. “Nevermind. Just hold your breath and close your eyes.”
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