Second Place Winner of Voyage’s Lucky No. 7 Challenge
Gold and sequined, it shone on the rack like a sunrise, bursting like the dawn over a field of muted flannels. It was armor, but nothing like a suit. It was flowing, fluid—a soft shape with hard edges. It signaled protection to the wearer and warning to the enemy.
I stared at it. First, through the window of the thrift store at the far end of the strip mall where I usually stop after school. Then from inside the shop, looking over my shoulder while pretending to rifle through old photographs of other people’s weddings and proms. I often search these photos for anyone like me—a face staring out from the past with reassurance that I’m not alone. I can’t be the only one so uncomfortable in the available categories of tuxedo or gown. I’m never sure if the questioning eyes I spot are really messaging me, but I look, and I hope.
Today, I’m just stalling though. I want to get closer to the sunburst, the supernova, the golden miracle that has landed so improbably in this drab-tastic town.
Finally, after confirming the coast is clear, I inch over and risk touching my finger to the sparkling sleeve. It’s so bright I can almost smell molten metal. This top is a star, for a star. It does not belong here.
I want it as much as I don’t want anyone to know I want it.
A voice near my ear jolts my hand back. “Want to try it on?”
I panic and turn to see a teenage shop worker about my age, someone I haven’t seen before, but I exhale, noticing blue-streaked hair over a friendly grin—a co-conspirator.
Blue Streak points to the heavy curtains in the corner and raises an eyebrow. There’s only one dressing room here. It’s another reason I like this place. I look around again. The shop is gloriously empty. I may never get another chance.
I look back to Blue Streak, who is now holding the shimmering garment toward me. I snatch it and duck behind the curtain, which designates the boundary between the shop floor and the makeshift dressing room. I cross the threshold into this portal, making a silent wish for transformation.
There isn’t a hook or bench, but there is a mirror. Stuck on the only fixed wall of the otherwise adjustable space is a flat reflective panel, held precariously by a few cracked plastic clips. My reflection stares back at me, familiar. An in-between haircut that my parents wish I’d cut, but that I’d grow longer if I dared. Eyes that have yet to experience the mascara and shadow I stole from my mom in a flash of wild hope and foolishness. A set of shoulders and hips hanging broad and straight, bodying an argument against my heart that it keeps trying to win anyway.
I look at the gold sequined top in my hand. Its short sleeves flounce with gathered darts, blooming in sweet puffy bubbles. The front has a deep V-neck, and the lower hem is a straight-chopped surprise just below the midriff—like an alternate universe version of my dad’s old football jersey he desperately wanted me to wear.
I hold my breath and pull my t-shirt over my head, avoiding the mirror now. I drop the t-shirt to the floor and slide my arms into the gold puffed sleeves. They are scratchy, as I had expected, but there’s also something deeply comforting about the weighted, pointy mesh of the sequins as the top falls over my torso. I allow my gaze to return to the mirror. I am stunned.
I see a reflection of someone who has till now only lived in my dreams. I see a wide smile on a face framed by hair still growing out. I see the slice of a V-neck adding sexy flair to my slim frame, with puffy sleeves both emphasizing and softening my broad shoulders. My straight hips suddenly look perfect in my old jeans. I hold my hand out to touch this version of me in the mirror, the truth who has been trapped in hiding for so long.
The hand from the other side reaches out to me too. Our hands meet at the mirror, our eyes lock. The sequins glow into a dazzling brightness, barriers dissolve, and I step out into a new life, shining and greeted by applause.