Millie sits on the rickety wooden chair before me, trusting that I can transform her into one of the flappers we both aspired to be with a simple haircut. I had managed to cut mine into the infamous bob a couple of weeks ago and since then, Millie has been focused on nothing else. Plus, there was the added benefit of sending her mother into a fit with the short style.
We had grown up together, spending days together at each other’s homes and at school. But we would soon be leaving our girlhood behind. We had reached a fork in the road; our paths into womanhood threatening to separate us forever for reasons beyond our control. Millie was expected to marry a man of good reputation and wealth. I, on the other hand, would be finding work at one of the many factories opening up. I was reminded daily that I was a burden to my family, but I knew that marriage was not in the cards for me. And since I was not classically pretty enough to earn money at the local brothel, I was left with hard labor.
I look down at my hands holding the scissors and compare them with Millie’s. Her hands are pale and elegant, like fine China. Even at my young age, mine are already showing sunspots and look too clumsy to pull off this haircut.
Millie holds out a glossy black and white photograph of Clara Bow, her soft curls ending at her chin. I chuckle to myself, of course, it’s Clara Bow. We spent every Saturday at the pictures. And while we adored all of the actresses, Millie always had an affinity for Ms. Bow.
I see her pointing at the photo and explaining what should be done, but I can’t concentrate. My eyes keep drifting to her bow-shaped lips, touched with rouge lip stain. She gently bites her lower lip, and I turn away quickly to hide the blush I feel creeping up my neck.
“Lena! Are you paying attention?”
“Yes, of course,” but my voice comes out low and breathy. “Let’s just start, hmm?”
I start by cutting her long, wavy hair up to her shoulders. And as her hair shortens closer to the desired length, my proximity to Millie also diminishes.
It’s difficult to concentrate as I breathe in her sweet and flowery perfume. My fingertips brush against the nape of her neck as I precisely trim each section. I grow bolder, brushing her cheek as I pretend to check the evenness, but using it as an excuse to gaze into her emerald eyes. They’re framed by long, dark lashes, and drawn brows arching downwards, giving her a sad, yet sultry look.
We’ve been friends since we were little girls. My mother always joked that we were like sisters, but she was wrong. It took me years to realize that my feelings for Millie were not sisterly by any stretch of the imagination. The pangs of jealousy I felt every time she flirted or accepted a drink at one of the many speakeasies we frequented. And the idea of some old man roughly pawing at her body every night, claiming it as his…it was too much to bear.
I had hoped and prayed these feelings would pass. But if anything, they grew stronger with each day spent together. While it was only a matter of time before my feelings betrayed me, time was not a luxury I had. Our days together were drawing to a close and I was faced with a choice: confess my feelings or always wonder “what if.”
“Lena, darling, this looks ab-so-lute-ly divine!”
As she’s gazing at her reflection, I can’t help but drink her reflection in too. Her dark, wavy hair falls perfectly at her pointed chin, offsetting her milky white complexion. She leans into her reflection, and I’m drawn to her collarbones peeking out above her neckline. My eyes, of their own volition, scan down her body to her shapely calves. I look back up and see Millie watching me in the mirror. Quickly, I grab the broom to busy myself.
The words are on the brink of spilling out. But what right have I to worship at the feet of such a goddess as her? I have never been one to turn heads. I am too tall, too loud, too brash. Perhaps Millie would be better off without me. Yet, the need to tell her my true feelings hangs heavy on my tongue. My world would shatter if she didn’t feel the same. But my world will end when she’s sent away. Either way, I’m doomed.
“Lena? What is it?” She was always more observant than I gave her credit for.
“It’s nothing,” I say softly, slowly cleaning up the locks of hair. I feel her hand gently touch my elbow. Startled, I turn around and see she’s watching me. No, not watching, analyzing me. Those green eyes are dissecting every movement I make, each word I say. She knows me too well for me to escape my inevitable humiliation. But she surprises me, taking my face in her delicate hands.
“Lena, tell me.”
But my mouth has gone dry. I couldn’t have told you my name at that moment. Trapped in her gaze, I curse the world that wants to keep us apart. Tell her.
“Oh, Lena. Maybe this will help.” She rises up on her toes and places her soft lips against mine. I’m afraid to move, afraid this dream will end. Her small breasts are pressed against mine, our hearts beating in time. Then her lips part, accepting me in, and I wrap my arms around her waist. All the time I had spent imagining this moment did not prepare me for the actuality. She tastes faintly of the bootleg whiskey we consumed earlier that evening. Our kiss deepens, yet, no matter how we try, we cannot seem to get close enough. My arms tighten around her waist. One of her hands cradles my face, while the other is entangled in my hair. I’m home.
“Millie,” I breathe out, “I love you.”
She smiles, tears in her eyes, still clinging to me.
We are entwined again, lost, and yet found in each other’s embrace. With one kiss, our paths finally converge.