By Kate Elizabeth

"Good, you got her to wear that top." --(future) Max, 'End of the World'

"What about the dark green one?"

Liz has to tear her eyes away from the sort of dirty but familiar beige carpet of Kyle's room to look up at Tess. The blonde girl is standing in front of her, with two hangers hooked over her fingers. The shirts drape over her chest, showing a V of human skin the color of ivory. She's not wearing a bra. She hasn't been wearing a bra since Liz shut the door behind them.

"Liz?" Tess asks again. "If this is your kind of help, I can do without it."

Though she opens her mouth to say something about the exact quality of her help, Liz snaps, "The dark green one's not cut right. It sags under your arms. Put on the red thing."

Tess blinks. "Okay," she says.

She should wonder how long she's been noticing the cut of Tess's clothing, but she doesn't really. Nor does she look down at the carpet. Tess turns around, dropping one of the hangers on the floor, and pulls the red shirt over her head. Her curls bounce and shine when they're pulled free from the neckline and Liz watches the light on them. It's almost loving. She used to want blonde curls as a little girl. Blonde curls and red sneakers.

She used to want to be Maria. That's stopped now, mostly.

The curve of Tess's right breast is visible. Shouldn't she be uncomfortable with this? She used to kiss Kyle fleetingly in this room and now the girl who wants to steal her first love is practically stripping in front of her. But she isn't nervous. She kicks her shoes off and crosses her legs on the bed and watches the way Tess tugs at the waistline of the shirt and just barely catches herself before glancing in the mirror to see if it flatters her ass. It's strangely nice to know that some things are universal.


She smiles a little, brushing hair away from her face -- almost feeling like herself for a minute. "It's fine."

Tess folds her arms across her chest and her breasts push up toward her collarbone. Her decolletage makes her look like an eighteenth-century whore. It's not a bad look on her. "Fine?" she says, drolly.

"Yeah, it's fine. I mean, it's pretty."

"Should I lift up my arms so you can check the cut?"

So much sarcasm in her voice. Maybe Liz should take lessons. Maria's been focusing on "wounded" lately and their repartee is starting to lose its edge. Wielding the dull blade of her earnestness is getting tiresome, even if it's real.

"You don't have to," Liz says, and just smiles at the look Tess slants at her. "Do you have anything with a lower scoop neck?"

Another look. But Tess starts pulling the shirt up before she's even half-turned this time and Liz sees rose-toned flesh curled tight as a promise. How strange that this body was designed for Tess -- designed for Max's touch, when she knows he likes her pale nut-brown skin, the true peach of her nipples, the way their naked flesh nearly blends.

She knows and Tess doesn't. Oh, she's not nervous at all.

The hem of a slinky black shirt is sliding down Tess's bare white back and Liz is watching it. Finally Tess turns around, like a dancer, leading with her chin over her shoulder in a flirting glance. "How's this?" she asks, and makes a little motion with her arms.

She's pretty. Suddenly Liz notices that this girl who she hates, wants to hate, is standing in her ex-boyfriend's ugly bedroom surrounded by books and posters and dark wood paneling and she's really, incredibly pretty in that black top. And she's smiling -- all the way from her face to the round invitation of her breasts to her swaying indigo-jean-covered hips.

"Wear that one," Liz murmurs, then pauses. "I like it."


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