Rowan and Heather

By Eilis O'Neal

Rowan leaned her elbows on the glass counter and twirled the revolving column with her fingers. Names of lipsticks and glosses spun past her eyes: Crimson Flash, Rosebud Dew, Pink Sugar. Who gets to name all these? she thought with a giggle at the image of a table surrounded by women in dark suits, heatedly arguing the merits of Spiced Kiss versus Cherry Glaze.

The picture dissolved as two people approached the Open Rose Cosmetics counter.

"Hi there," Rowan said. "Can I help you?"

The taller girl nudged her friend, who shot a scowl at her. Sighing, the taller one stepped forward. "Do you still give free makeup sessions?"

Rowan stood up straight and nodded. "Sure. Is it for you?"

"No, for her." She inclined her head at her friend, whose look of irritation deepened.

Smiling her friendliest smile, Rowan pointed to a raised stool on their side of the counter. "Hop up."

The girl scooted reluctantly onto the stool as Rowan adjusted a mirror to face her. "What's your name? What kind of look were you thinking about?"

"I'm Jessica. Listen, I don't really wear makeup," she said. "But I have a date with this guy on Friday, and we — " she glared at her friend " — we thought I might try some. But I don't know."

Glancing at Jessica's university shirt, Rowan asked, "Are you on the rowing team?"

"Yeah. The guy I'm going out with, he's on the men's team. I want to look nice, but I don't want him to think I'm some girly-girl."

"Don't worry, I'll go easy on you," Rowan said. "First, give me a few words. Three words to describe how you want to look."

Jessica wrinkled her brows for a moment. "Strong. Sexy. Confident."

Rowan placed her fingers lightly under the girl's chin and tilted her head towards the light. A tingling in her fingers licked its way up her arm. She felt the magic rise inside her. Not too much, she thought, and a little of the spreading magic subsided. "Let's start with some concealer."

The two girls chatted with each other while Rowan rubbed concealer and foundation on Jessica's face. Strong, sexy, confident. She let the words reverberate inside her, willing them into the makeup as she dusted a brush with light pink powder and swept it across Jessica's cheekbones. Ease, she thought while she rubbed the barest hint of silver shadow onto her eyelids and combed brown mascara into her lashes. As she ran a pale gloss over Jessica's lips, Rowan noticed a woman watching her.

Jessica held a hand mirror up and exclaimed, "Oh my gosh! I look ... wow!" Rowan heard herself talking about which products she had used, and citing their prices. But these were surface things. The rest of her focused on the watching woman like a rabbit eyeing the hawk circling overhead.

Oh dear, she thought as the girls gathered their purchases and left, and the woman began to glide in her direction. She wore a soft dress of such dark green that it was almost black. Inky hair fell below her shoulders, and Rowan wondered if the woman's skin had ever seen the sun.

She resisted the urge to look down when the woman stopped in front of her. The woman's eyes, eyes darker than winter, rested on her.

"You are very skilled," the woman said. Her voice sounded like a purr, a caress, and Rowan couldn't keep from shivering a little, from wanting to lean into that voice. "You gave her just what she wanted, and a little more."

"Open Rose is known for its makeovers," she said with a salesgirl's inane smile.

"Perhaps," the woman said. Her eyes flicked down to the name badge pinned to Rowan's shirt.

She laughed then, a wonderful laugh that sounded of ice breaking or dogs baying for the hunt. The sounds made Rowan want to cover her ears with her hands. "An interesting name."

"My mother's hippie phase," Rowan managed. "My sister got a normal name."

"And what was that?"

"Heather. Very 1980s."

The woman's lips curved into a cat's smile. "Yet perhaps not as normal as you think."

Rowan started to ask what she meant, but what came out was only, "Is there something I can help you with?"

Again the woman smiled, her lips full of secrets. "Not today."

Her sister sat on the steps to Rowan's apartment when she arrived home. Heather bounded up as Rowan approached, beaming with verve and energy.

"You should make me a key," she said as Rowan unlocked the door.

"And find all my food eaten when I come home? I don't think so." Heather headed for the kitchen. Rowan dumped her bag in the bedroom, and by the time she made it to the living room, Heather was already consuming the remains of last night's spaghetti.

"Don't you have a meal card or something?"

Heather slurped deliberately at a noodle before saying, "Yeah, but the school's food's gross." She flopped dramatically onto the sofa, bowl in hand. Amethyst leggings covered the parts of her legs that the short jean skirt did not. Her yellow top's sliced sleeves reminded Rowan of falling leaves.

"So, what's up?" she asked.

Rowan shrugged. "Not much. I think they might promote me at work. Business has picked up since I started."

Heather whistled. "Promoted in a month. Good job."

"Mom won't think so."

"Well, she just thinks you should go back to school."

"It didn't suit me," Rowan said, thinking of the three years she had spent scrabbling for a degree in English.