Smiles tell your story.
Smiles make friends.
Smiles make everyone feel better.
There is something about the upturn of the lips, those fine lines that form at the corner of the mouth, and that slight crinkle in the nose that changes a person's perspective. Smiles invite people into you to partake of a piece of you.
But it's the eyes. Eyes are truly windows. They let others glimpse who you really are. A well-placed wink or eye-roll can convey more than an hour-long speech. It's always apparent when a smile doesn't reach the eyes. That invite now is a warning.
This person isn't really happy.
They don't mean it.
They are lying.
So it's hours practicing in front of the mirror. If you can't convince yourself, how do you expect others to see you? They will know you aren't genuine. They will know you aren't happy. They won't feel better and, in turn, take it out on you.
I crinkled my nose again, watching the reflection mimic me. My eyes remained stoic and unexpressive. I turned my head slightly, letting my loose curls fall over half my face. Maybe if they don't have to see both, I can convince them. Concentrate on one eye, then work the other in. Perhaps I can just put a patch over the other eye and make it easier on me.
My sigh echoed in the lonely dressing room. My job was to make them laugh, not terrify them. The corners of my mouth upturned again, my doppelganger doing the same. I stared into myself, willing to convince my greatest critic I was happy to see them. The nose followed suit, and there, along the outer edge, new lines formed under those treacherous orbs. I looked almost friendly.
I tried again. This time the emotion changed from a stink eye to a pleased to see you. There, there it was, I found the happy place. It stayed, stuck in the mirror, and I concentrated, my mouth stretched maniacally, showing my artificially perfected teeth, nose scrunched and eyes, my bane, my eyes upturned and presented the world with that invite into my soul.
That thought made me almost lose the moment, but this wasn't my first rodeo. It always took a few tries and getting the muscle memory into action to get me ready. I bowed my head and began the arduous task of applying my complex makeup. My blender sponge dutifully covered my face in pasty white. A few subtle contours later and time to add colors. I finished the intricate eyeshadow pallet. Tonight I went with a sparkly aqua theme. I added a bit of orange to contrast, and I genuinely smiled, pleased with the effect. If only I didn't have to work so hard to channel those feelings when others were around.
Turning my head in the mirror, I experimented with a floral vine along the right side. Adding the same teal sparkle to the center of each violet, the design stood out behind the pure white background. Some shadows let it blend in, and I moved on.
Bright pink complemented the color pallet upon my face best, so I went to work on the small heart shape centered on my full lips. It always pained me to cover up such a precious asset, but when your troupe is called The Heart's Kiss, you can't deviate from your signature look.
This is why I practiced. If I had a full range of those expressive lips, I wouldn't worry so much about the eyes. Those long, fanned-out eyelashes I was about to apply could be used to cover the fear that came across naturally. If only I could hide behind those, the smile would be so much easier. Again I contemplated an eye patch, but I reminded myself yet again, the job was to make them laugh, not cry.
I dabbed the glue with practiced ease and applied those fake lashes that towered over my eyebrows when I opened my eyes. The look was almost complete. I reached for the last item, my giant foam nose, pink to match my lips, that lay in its box along with the rainbow of brethren. The nose always matched the lips. The only part that stayed consistent was the bright red heart on the tip.
Gathering my hair, I hid it under the sparkle wig. Hanging on my door, my colorful coveralls slipped over my skin-tight bodysuit, its ruffled openings helping me to push that final transition into character. My oversized shoes finished my ensemble, and I turned to the full-length mirror in my solitary dressing room. I twirled and twisted, making sure the transformation was complete.
One last practice before heading out into tonight's show. The corners of my mouth upturned, the giant pink nose bobbed in response, and there, my eyes sparkled with the wrinkles along the edge. I was ready to face the crowd that would expect a piece of me. If I didn't enjoy the show, how could I expect them to? I grabbed my wand off of its prop stand, a giant heart sitting up top. I flicked the switch and watched it come to life with bright lights as it turned.
Out into the night, I went.
The curtain lay against the ground as my fellow troupe members gathered around me. We all smiled, embracing our collective energy to share with the world. Rebekah showed up last, and as I smiled up into her turquoise nose, I almost forgot my terrifying fear of people. But her own smile dimmed mine in its excessive wattage. Here was someone who smiled genuinely. I doubted she spent an hour before each show practicing hers. Her time, I was sure, was better spent rehearsing her lines or tumbling tricks. Precious minutes I wasted, she used to perfect her craft.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I grasped her hand and Emily's on my other and bowed my head for our nightly ritual before the curtain raised.
Rebekah led us as she always did.
"May we make them laugh and forget their sorrow for at least a little while, may we make them smile and forget the last tear they shed, may we share our own happiness with those that trust us to make them feel good. As the bard said, All the world's a stage, and we are merely its clowns. Or something like that. Let's go!"
Entrance of the Gladiators began blaring throughout the arena, and with that, the curtain opened, and I smiled.