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The Boudoir

Go in search of magic. Leave hoping nothing's real.

By Nicky FranklyPublished 10 months ago Updated 4 months ago 8 min read

In the parking lot, they were still just people. People with lunch bags. People half-dressed. People on video calls. People adamant about sharing their favorite song at top volume with the windows down so the others could listen as they rushed by in their polishable non-slips, rain or shine. Early, if they needed to stop at the uniform shop. If their whites were drab or trousers soaked. If they needed a pendant, a satchel, suspenders. Late, if they misjudged traffic or couldn’t afford the toll roads. They were just people who hadn’t clocked in yet. Hadn’t lined up like ants in service to their queen or been properly sniffed by the police dogs before boarding the shuttle to their destination.

Welcome to work.

Vicky walked by an Audi and spit on its tires. She was good at spitting. She used to be a pirate.

Before the Boudoir opened and hired her as a hostess, Vicky worked at Ocean’s Edge where parents and kids were made over into face-painted, adorned seafarers and sea maidens, unable to call themselves pirates and mermaids, on account of the copyright laws. Vicky dressed like a wench and drew on kids' faces for a living.

The Boudoir was the shuttle’s first stop. It was a place to withdraw and often sulk, by definition, a French term for a pouting place. On purpose, the marquee sign replaced the u with a v in a Roman sort of way. A nod to the mecca of entertainment. A place where patrons paid for entrance to modern coliseums and then entered the show themselves, making a spectacle of spectacle.

Plumerias bloomed hot pink in the summer sun. Tufts of peeking canopies cascaded over the brick back wall of the shuttle stop. In a spectacular ombre of skin tones, a young girl’s smiling face was muraled onto the wall beneath a pink tuft-turned-coif.

Enzo waited for Vicky at the mural. There was a white picket bench that was not comfortable to sit upon, and indeed it was not made to be sat upon for long. Sitting there, unsittable, it uselessly marked the land.

Handsome in that non-American way, Enzo’s coral-colored capris matched the fanny pack straps hung loosely at his waist. Looking like a tourist, he was a plain-clothes officer that day.

“Good afternoon, my Time Clock Crush,” Enzo said, already standing to greet her with a gentle hug of cheeks to lips in a culturally appropriate way.

“Hello, my Not-In-Your-Usual-Uniform Crush,” she said, not noticing the mic or earpiece that he wore.

“I’m on foot today,” he said with pride.

“Congratulations,” she said, stamping her thumbprint onto the screen to let the shuttle know she was in line to start her shift. The shuttle, the Team, the ones at the Top. They knew she was here. They knew how long it would take her to walk to the Boudoir. Knew if she visited the Wellness Center beforehand. Knew her vaccine records and social media presence. They had data and baselines and scales to compare her to her usual self, using the past as the best predictor of future behavior.

They didn’t care what it all meant, they just wanted an interval of sufficient confidence to confirm her trends. Her moods. Her likelihoods. Her willingness to cooperate with the Team. To swipe her badge at the Wardrobe building, get fitted for the day in a fresh uniform, and then thumb her way onto the shuttle.

And they watched as she did just to see her smile.

Smiles made money. Way more money than non-smiles. About 87% more.

The hallway was littered with friendly propaganda. QR codes galore. Contests and potlucks and incentives, oh my. Two of the Tops were organizing a gender pronoun board to show the company’s inclusivity. They stood at the board with a stack of photos of the Boudoir Team and a list of their preferred pronouns. The Tops changed the board every time one of them changed their minds. Their identity. Sometimes, whole new words like shey and herm were made up and affixed below familiar faces in a cyclical stir of gender spectacle.

Krispin, a seasoned Boudoir stylist, eyed the Tops from the stairwell as they finished up and left without a word. Without a glance.

“I wondered who changed that thing,” Vicky said as she walked past Krispin.

“They do,” Krispin said, “right after they throw darts at it.”

It was an odd thing to say, even for Krispin.

“Why would they?” Vicky asked.

“To play Fates,” said Krispin with no emotion. “To see which one of us will quit next. Like Luca.”

“I thought Luca left because he-”

“Shey.”

“I thought Luca left because shey was allergic to the hand sanitizer.”

“Shey quit because the Tops made herm.”

Krispin huffed over to the first aid box that was wall-mounted next to the pronoun board and jump-shot a lanky arm up to reach a treasure on top as the Team Captain came through the shop’s back door.

“Krispin!” the Captain said. “Perfect!”

No one had ever said those two words together like that, rendering Krispin soul-bound to do whatever came next.

“Prince Lorelai is ready for the Boudoir,” said the Captain. “There’s a slight issue, though, and your specific magic is needed.”

Straightening up for the task and looking at Vicky with eyes that screamed for something in a language she did not know, Krispin unloaded the treasure into her hands. It was a dart, indeed. Heavy. With little rainbow flags. Krispin trotted through the backdoor, pausing only to throw a second dart at the pronoun board before the door’s hydraulics shut.

Vicky followed them through the doorway into the back of the dress shop on the way to her post at the front lobby desk. Jesse hugged her good morning as she passed. He, her favorite dress shop boy. According to his lapel pin, he was bisexual, but Vicky only ever saw him hit on men. Only ever heard of him hitting on men. Guests. Dads. Passersby. Team Captains. Krispin, once, on accident.

“It’s pronounced, ‘Lore-uh-lay’ not ‘Lore-uh-lie,’” the Team Captain told Krispin as they walked through the shop. “They chose ‘Prince’ all by themselves, Mom stayed out of it. Well, there are at least two moms in the family, we’re not sure what’s going on there. Oh, and ‘Lore-uh-lay’ refused the skin check in the prepping room.” Krispin caught the Captain’s drift and straightened up for the task.

“And there’s some ‘tres-le-ches’ waiting for you in the lobby,” Jesse said with a smirk. Jesse was always on guard for cake. White cake, chocolate cake, red velvet, or lemon. Jesse loved him some cake. Vicky peeked into the lobby and saw a handsome Latino signing a kid into the Boudoir.

“You mean Mr. Fanny Pack out there in the coral capris?” Vicky asked, lingering against the doorframe, waiting for Enzo to make eye contact. “I know that tres leches. He’s the one I told you about, my Time Clock Crush.”

“That’s him?” Jesse asked. “I thought he was security.”

“He was. He got promoted, I guess.”

“You should promote him to full-time, he’s a delicious little piece of cake.”

Enzo let his eyes catch hers with little more than an eyebrow twitch of recognition. They were working. Following rules.

“Ooh, also,” Jesse said, “I heard the Queen Mum is in the Boudoir if you want an eye full.” Jesse had a code word for everyone.

Krispin waltzed into the lobby and called for Prince Lorelai in a borderline British falsetto that kids loved.

“Hello, Prince Lore-uh-lay. I’m Krispin, I’ll be escorting you to the Boudoir.”

Lorelai, smitten already, melted into Krispin’s outheld hand and followed close behind through the tufted velvet curtain into the Boudoir. Eyes wide, Vicky saw them disappear into the den and hoped everything would be alright.

Breaking at least three rules, Vicky leaned in and peeked through the curtain to see what would happen. She couldn’t help herself. It was like watching a toddler walk into a wave.

Krispin walked past the Queen Mum nursing a child from one jubbly breast and looked a little too long, visibly inciting jealously on Prince Lorelai’s face. Parents lounged on velvet chaise benches while their children were doted on. Manicures, pedicures, hairstyles, and more. Krispin escorted the Prince to their throne, and the Boudoir attendants got to work on the young person’s cuticles.

“Lore-uh-lay! What shall we do for your coiffure?”

“My what?”

“Your hairstyle, my Prince.”

“My parents made me come here. I don’t want any hairstyle, Krispin,” the child spat. From the comfort of their chaise, Lorelai’s parents noticed, said nothing, and nodded for Krispin to continue.

One throne over sat a smiling young girl, eyes closed in revelry. Her parents, nearby, contentedly sipped on cocktails.

“Ouch!” said Lorelai, swatting a freshly moisturized hand up at Krispin’s. “That hurt!”

“Hold still,” Krispin said, “I’m almost done with this part.”

The comb wound down to the nape of the neck where living things thrived in the heat of the body. Parting Lorelai’s hair down to the scalp and spreading it open with thumbs, Krispin shivered at the sight of a waxy, newly hatched louse.

The comb dropped to the floor, and Krispin quickly snatched it up, eyeing the crowd for watchers.

“On second thought, my Prince,” Krispin said, “you’re quite right. Let’s not bother your perfect coiffure.”

“I changed my mind,” said the child. “You can do my hair.”

“It’s alright, I won’t do it if you don’t want me to.”

“I do want you to!”

“Well, I won’t.”

“Yes, you will!”

“I refuse.”

“You can’t. My parents already paid.”

“You think I’m for sale, Lore-uh-lay?”

“I do, Krispin.” The ungrateful child cranked its little neck around to lock eyes eye before hurling insults. Their parents had taught it that much.

“What a stupid name,” said the Prince. “They wouldn’t even name a storm after you.”

From the curtains, it looked like it always looked. Like a roomful of children being pampered by a team of underpaid millennials. Like a machine that printed money so parents could feel the way they wish they had sense enough to feel when they were the child. Then, without warning, it looked like madness as the Boudoir swarmed alive in a surge of anger ignited by an entitled flame.

With a javelin grip on the comb, Krispin jabbed the rattail end into Lorelai’s neck.

Vicky stumbled out of the curtain into the lobby and fired her eyes at Enzo, but she was met with steel silence.

“Lobby to Team Captain,” she said over the radio, trying not to fumble the themed language. “Code-E in the Boudoir. Krispin is rogue, and…”

The parents screamed. Enzo was gone in a blink.

Vicky lunged through the curtain and ran after Krispin, past the Queen Mum’s delicious breasts and the bleeding Prince’s family before being grabbed from behind.

Strong hands yanked her back toward the lobby and wrapped their two bodies in a velvet cocoon of darkness and breath.

“Tell me what happened,” a whisper demanded. “Why was Enzo at the Boudoir?”

Psychological

About the Creator

Nicky Frankly

I love writing !

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