Ethan

It seemed that no matter how his hair fell, he looked fabulous. If it was in his eyes, it looked boyish. If it was curled up a bit, it looked sexy. If it was cut short, it showed off his perfect forehead. That was the kind of man-boy he was. He could wear whatever he wanted, and did. Anything from black boots, black jeans and a biker jacket to a waistcoat, pinstriped pants and loafers. In his pocket, you could easily find either a pack of cigarettes or a watch on a chain. If all that weren’t enough, he also projected his comfort and self-esteem and acceptance of who he was. His presence was enough to make anyone weak-kneed, men and women alike. He wasn’t even twenty yet.

He stood smoking outside of his apartment building. As I walked by, he looked up at me, and I saw that his eyes were wet, on the verge of spilling tears. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out “Ethan? You alright?”

He mutely offered me a cigarette, lit it for me, and leaned back against the brick wall, one leg going up to prop himself. He was wearing his black boots, I noticed. I stood beside him, puffing away, feeling more intimate with him than I ever had before, despite being his neighbour for over six months, and despite us having many mutual friends. It seemed that I saw him all the time – around the building, at clubs and pubs. He was a fixture of the Soho night-life, and I often found myself dancing just a few people away from him. It wasn’t that he was a snob, exactly. He wasn’t posh, his father didn’t go to Eton and he hadn’t even finished university. He was just a regular bloke like me. Of course, I couldn’t pull off half the image he had, but then, that’s me.

“Boyfriend,” he sighed. He took a last drag and then threw the butt down. He stomped on it with a force that made me shiver a little. He looked at me, and I think I must have looked a little guilty, since his eyes flashed from heartbroken to angry to resigned in quick succession. “You knew?” He’d already ducked his head, pulling out another cigarette from his pack.

I couldn’t deny it, but I didn’t want to let him in on the fact that, well, we all knew. We all thought he knew it, too. We’d seen them together almost every night of the past few months, but we all knew. The boyfriend lived in Manchester, only came to London every month or two. He’d been over just three weeks ago. So, obviously, we all thought that Ethan knew.

“Sorry, mate.”

He shook his head. His hair flopped, looking perfect no matter what he did. That hair, that hair that my eyes always fixated on, it was still as glossy, as perfect, as natural as it always was. But the rest of him… Well. For the first time since I’d met him, I wasn’t intimidated.

“When’s your birthday?” I asked. I knew it didn’t matter one whit, but I asked anyway.

“February. February 9th, ’88. Why?”

“No reason. You’re two days younger than me. I always thought you were older than me. Never mind. Come upstairs, come on, I’ll make you some tea and we can watch whatever football game is one tonight, right?”

He chucked his smoke way across the street so it hit the building across and a little spray of sparks shone red-hot before falling to the ground. Brushing a hand through his hair, he followed me into the building.

3. Heather

Heather stood in front of the glass door, arms wrapped around herself. She closed her eyes and leaned her cheek against the glass, which was cold despite the heat inside the shop. She shivered, the chill in her cheek spreading within moments to the rest of her body through her bloodstream. She jerked away from the door, and turned back to the warmth inside.

Miranda was still sitting at the table at the very end of what looked less like a shop and more like a deep and narrow closet. The entire shop was just a bit wider than the door leading into it, and both walls were lined with racks. The racks were filled completely with clothing inside plastic bags, to keep them all separated, clean and neat. Miranda, who was ancient, dumpy, tiny, and brought to mind things like tin cans full of a animal crackers and yellowing newspapers, had owned the shop for the past fifty years and didn’t seem to be thinking of leaving it any time soon. The biggest and only change she’d made to it in years was hiring Heather, because one of her eyes had gone blind and the doctors had forbidden her to keep sewing and straining her eyes. She didn’t listen to them, of course, but instead merely hired some help so that she’d only have to sew about half as much as she’d had to before.

Heather sat across from Miranda at the rickety old table at the end of the shop and rested her elbows carefully on it, making sure not to move the dress that was half stuck in the sewing machine in front of her. She felt stiff. That damn tear in the evening dress had been plaguing her for the past hour, as she tried to sew the old and thin fabric back together perfectly. Miranda prided herself on the miracles she performed, mending any type of clothing and never saying no to a job, and she made sure that Heather was capable of doing the same when she’d hired her to help out.

Miranda worked odd hours. Her shop was open from late afternoon until late at night, so Heather got to sleep in every morning. But some nights, like tonight, she really craved a good, strong cup of coffee. Miranda forbade her from bringing coffee into the shop, though, claiming that the smell made her gag. Heather considered trying to bring a travel-mug of coffee and tell her employer it was tea and see if she’d actually notice the smell. Maybe tomorrow.

Miranda lifted her head from her work and gave Heather a piercing glance. Heather smiled reassuringly and bent back over the dress. It was going to be a long evening yet for her.

Boots [Part II]

Part I

Sandy wasn’t sure what to say, so instead of responding, she looked around the shop. It was like she expected it would be. The shop was only sparsely lit, the clothing racks were mostly full of black garments, with the occasional shocking pink or electric blue peeking through. A television that was hung on the wall was showing an old horror film with the sound muted. Sandy gulped, eyes fixed on the fake blood spraying from a man’s stomach.

She tore her gaze away from the gruesome image, worked up her courage, and spoke.

“Um, can I see what boots you sell, please?”

“Sure thing,” the red-haired woman chirped. “Size seven-and-a-half?”

“Yeah, how could you tell?” Sandy was so surprised at the lucky guess that she looked up into the red-haired woman’s face and met her eyes.

“I know about boots. ‘Cause of that, I know about feet. Anyway, I’m the same size, so I know what seven-and-a-half looks like,” she winked at Sandy, and disappeared into a back room.

A half hour later, Sandy had tried on three pairs of boots and hadn’t liked the look of any – either they had too many laces and complicated bits of string, or the buckles were too big or they didn’t cling right to her calves.

“Maybe I should just forget it,” she moaned.

“Oh, Honey, don’t think like that – we’ll find the perfect ones for you.” The red haired woman was packing the discarded boots back into their large boxes, folding the tops meticulously over the gigantic heels. Sandy cast a sideways look at the curtain that hid the store-front window from the interior of the shop. As the woman finished replacing the last pair of boots, she said shyly “What about the ones in the window? You know,” she paused, received an encouraging smile from the red-haired woman, continued. “The ones I was looking at last week.”

The red-haired woman smacked her forehead, an act which Sandy thought should have left marks there because of the amount of heavy and spiky silver rings were on the woman’s hand. “I should have brought those out first thing!” The woman exclaimed. She smiled apologetically and bustled out of sight into the back room again, yelling over her shoulder. “They’re an older model, you see, which is why I didn’t think of them straight off!”

Within a trice, she had Sandy’s feet in her lap, the boots from the window on and clasped. Sandy found herself lifted to her feet and steered towards a full length mirror at the back of the shop. She looked at herself- light blue dress, brown hair cut in a simple, good-girl style, arms and legs tanned from the sun, and there, at the bottom of the image in the mirror, the boots. They clung to her legs, the buckles glinting faintly in the feeble light, deadly and beautiful and cool.

“They look… I look…” Sandy was lost for words. The red-haired woman laughed a throaty, deep voiced laugh.

“The word you’re looking for is awesome,” she said.