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A line. It had not been present yesterday but today it stretched from the corner of her eye to the top of her cheekbone. Its length was accompanied by other shorter, subtle lines.
There was darkness too. The darkness that clung so closely to the edges of her eyes had replaced the glow that had once been there, and now yearned for.
Spreading out the contents of her Miss Teen’s Velcro bag, she started with her eyes. One by one she erased the memories of every obstacle she’d faced...and overcome. She did not seek familiarity with those memories, although entirely forget would be to abandon a part of her identity. With a quick glance at the array, she meticulously applied the cosmetics reminding herself of the use of each one. It had always seemed a necessary ritual .
Beginning, she whispered, “Primer, to keep everything on.”
Her routine completed, she peered into the yellow mirror in front of her and regarded her new face, illuminated by a single light bulb. The face in the reflection was not entirely hers, but neither did it belong to a complete stranger. Her own face of 12 years ago stared back at her, the face of herself before her marriage, the face of a woman with potential, passion and a little foolishness. Looking at this reflection, she straightened her back, lifted her chin and exited the cramped washroom.
Aware of the time, she grabbed her apron, neatly tied it across her hips and again glanced at the final product in a mirror adjacent to the door and let out a soft sigh. This was as good as it got – in the act of tying the bow behind her; she reflected how it always fell lopsidedly against her back as if reminding her of the burdens she still carried
She travelled across the street and entered a pair of doors under a sign reading “Third Chance”. She entered the diner just in time to receive the first customers of the day. Ever since the diner had been re-named and given that fresh coat of paint, she had always been kept busy by customers and her tasks of taking orders, answering phone calls and finally locking up.
Today was the fourth Tuesday of the month and so after closing up she emptied the contents of the till, gathered the tip jar and carefully escorted them three blocks down to Mrs. Gretchen’s house. As she rang the doorbell, her fingers shook. Once. Twice. Before she could ring it another time, a familiar face was at the door. Mrs. Gretchen was a middle-aged woman but today she wore a glow and had a smile on her face making her appear ten years younger.
“Good evening dear,” she spoke loudly to be heard over the carols and laughter in the background.
“Good evening, ma’am, I’ve brought for you the revenue of this month.”
“Yes I see you have. Give me a moment,” she said taking the box labelled “till” from her hands and closing the door after her.
Nicole waited patiently outside the door listening to the carols and children’s loud, excited voices. Before she could peer quickly inside the window, Mrs. Gretchen appeared and produced a cheque. Nicole confirmed the amount with a subtle glance: Minimum Wage. 57 hours a week.
As she pocketed the cheque with a thank you, she offered the tip jar, as per usual, but unlike every fourth Tuesday, Mrs. Gretchen refused the jar and pushed it back into her hands.
“Merry Christmas, dear.” she smiled and shut the door.
Hugging the jar closely to her chest, she was surprised by the sob which broke from her as she made her way back past the sinning street lamps. She didn’t know why she was crying but she didn’t stop.
Walking back home, she allowed herself to cry and all the yelling, beating, and misery seemed to run from her with the tears. That part of her life was over, and so was Jeremy. Reaching home, she placed the half-full tip jar in the middle of the small counter and left it there going straight back to the washroom to remove her make-up. Having cleared her face of every artificiality, she smiled at her true reflection for the first time in 12 years. This was her: Nicole.