by H. Bentham
Prompt: “You don’t have to do this.” “I want to.” “Then at least let me buy you a proper Sailormoon costume.”
Di, call me on this number. –Rency
I had an irrational fear of calling unknown numbers, but I immediately hit ‘Call’ the moment I read the message was signed “-Rency”. Lorenzo, my best friend, only used the pet name I gave him in times of crises. Three rings passed before he answered.
“Diana,” he said, his voice shaky and unnatural. Just one word, just my name, and I already knew he had been crying.
“Yeah, it’s me.” I fixed the towel wrapped around my body and sat in front of my dresser. My wet hair dripped to my bedroom floor but I hardly cared about that now. “What happened? Are you okay?”
“Clara’s not here yet,” he sobbed. “And my phone fell into a puddle of water on the way here. It wouldn’t turn on!” The frustration in his voice was palpable and the worry I felt rose to an almost panic.
The ‘here’ he was referring to was probably the local comic convention venue. Rency joined a cosplay makeup contest, and Clara, one of our prettier classmates in Philippine Lit, was going to be his model. I glanced at the wall clock in my room—still an hour and a half before the official competition started.
“Okay.” I exhaled, trying to calm him down. “There’s still time, maybe she’s just running late.”
“Everyone here is already prepped and I don’t know how to contact her. I only memorized my parents’ and your number.” He clucked his tongue, “And I’m here all alone. Where are you?”
“I just came out of the shower. Tarkie’s picking me up later but I’ll call him now and we’ll get there as fast as we can, okay?” I heaved a deep breath. “Calm down. Don’t panic. I’ll call Clara, too.”
I heard him sigh. “Alright. Thanks, Di.” I felt heavy even after he finally hung-up. Clara was one of the popular kids but I never thought of her as one of the meanies. In fact, I even thought of her as a friend. If she was ditching Rency for only God knows what, I didn’t know what I’d do to her.
I was about to scroll down my contacts list when Clara’s name flashed on my phone’s screen. She beat me to it. “Clara! Oh my god, where are you? Rency’s having a meltdown at the venue!” Everything came out of me in a single breath.
“Diana, I’m sorry. I’m at the hospital,” her voice was stuffy, like she had been crying too. What the hell was it with people this morning? “My dad had a heart attack; we had to rush him to the emergency room.”
“Oh my God,” I exclaimed again, raising a hand to my mouth. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. But Rency just called me and I thought…”
“I’ve been trying to call him, but I couldn’t reach his phone. My dad’s okay now but I don’t think I’ll make it to the competition anymore. Lorenzo’s going to be so mad at me.” There was an audible sob and now the panic in my stomach threatened to make me throw up.
“No, no. He’ll understand,” I assured her.
“But what about the competition? He’s worked so hard for it, and now I just ruined it for him.”
Okay, so Clara definitely wasn’t the monster I painted her to be a minute ago. But she was right. What about Rency? “Don’t worry,” I told her instinctively. “I’ll figure something out.”
I extended well wishes to her father’s health and hung up.
Rency always told me how I was always ready to help, sometimes to a fault. Ugh, he was right. The compulsion to fix everyone’s problems was starting to become my problem. What was I going to do? I wanted to call Rency back, tell him what happened to Clara. Maybe he‘d finally stop worrying about her (or accusing her like I did, at the very least), but I also needed to figure out a way to help him before I dialed his number.
On my bed was the purple shirt I planned to wear to the convention today. Tarkie, my boyfriend, had the exact same shirt, just a couple of sizes bigger. Though I roll my eyes at other couples wearing matching shirts, I figured we’d stand out if we wore the same bright colored clothes. It would be easier for Rency to find us in the crowd, to feel that he wasn’t alone. But if he was no longer joining the contest, what was the point?
On the floor beside my bed was a plastic bag from the local delivery service. Inside were the cute onesies the three of us ordered online. Tarkie chose a Gundam design, Rency got a Ranma ½ one and mine was Sailor Moon. We were going to wear this on Clara’s sister’s birthday party next weekend, but I don’t know anymore. If Clara’s dad won’t get better by then, then we would have no party.
Funny how all my plans for the following days disintegrated in the past half hour. But Clara’s in the worst possible position right now, and my problems felt small in comparison.
I dialed the number Rency gave and waited for him to answer.
Rency and I had been friends since first grade.
The first time we talked, he was crying under the grade school building’s stairs. The class bully, Freddie, tore his crayon drawing of a unicorn and called him names. I hated Freddie too since he liked to pull on girls’ skirts and was mean to everyone.
I sat beside Rency and tried to console him by telling him I’d help him get even. The sobbing stopped and in the next minute, we were planning our revenge.
Even though I wanted to punch Freddie squarely in the face, we couldn’t resort to violence. Freddie was so much bigger and stronger, and Rency and I didn’t want to end up in the principal’s office.
What we did, though, was “accidentally” spill a huge bottle of glue inside his bag. The kid practically ignored his bag throughout class so it wasn’t until he got home that he saw the mess we made in it. By that time, the glue had dried up and all his things were stuck together. He had more enemies than friends so he couldn’t possibly know who did it to him.
It was ten years later, and Rency and I still claimed innocence regarding that incident. We also stayed friends.
I got off from the taxi (Tarkie wasn’t ready to pick me up yet) and saw Rency sitting on the floor a few steps from the entrance. He was looking forlorn, with his back leaning against the picture windows and his huge bag abandoned on the cold floor tiles. I would’ve totally felt sorry for him but he was with somebody, a cute boy I’d never met before.
“Hey, Rency!” I called out and waved.
“Diana!” His eyes widened and he abruptly stood up. “What are you doing here wearing our onesie?”
I shook my head and deflected, “Who’s the cutie?” and cocked an eyebrow at Rency’s friend. The boy blushed a little upon hearing what I said.
“I’m Dave,” he held out his hand. “I was just keeping Lorenzo company while he waited for you.”
I took his hand but my smile was directed at my best friend, “Diana. Nice to meet you.”
Stepping back a little, I gave Rency and Dave enough room to say their goodbyes. I averted my eyes to give them more privacy but my ears were extra alert. They were being cute and I couldn’t help myself. When Rency finally turned to me, he was smiling radiantly, but his eyes were still puffy and sad.
“So, is Tarkie coming here to pick us up or will we just meet him at the hospital later?” He grabbed his bag and was still looking at me funny.
“What do you mean?” I said as I looped an arm around his and pulled him back toward the entrance. “I’m subbing for Clara and we don’t have time!”
We got to the end of the line of people coming in before I let Rency jerk his arm away from my grip, “Subbing for Clara? What’s going on?”
“Look, Rency, I know I’m not as pretty as her but that’s why you’re a makeup artist. You can make me pretty!”
Rency just glared at me. I avoided his eyes. “Are you telling me what I think you’re telling me?”
I nodded and kept looking ahead. Sometimes my best friend was a dunce.
“But what about your stage fright? You do realize you have to stand on an actual stage and present yourself to an audience of actual people.” I didn’t have to look at him to know he was cocking an eyebrow at me.
“If it means I get to support and represent your amazing artistic talent, then whatevs.” I shrugged my shoulders, finally meeting his gaze.
His expression softened, letting me know I was getting to him. His lips pursed into a tight line first, and then he sighed. “You don’t have to do this.”
“I want to.” It was my turn to lock my eyes to his. I wasn’t going let him intimidate me into not doing this.
He smiled and shook his head. “Then at least let me get you a proper Sailor Moon outfit.”
I laughed and looked down at myself. “Well, I tried!”
Rency pulled me into a tight hug, “Thank you, Diana!”
I hugged him back, and before he could cry again, such a crybaby, I raised a fist in the air and screamed, “Let’s win this shit!” At that moment, I couldn’t care less whoever would have heard.
The event hall was huge. It was easy to be amazed at the sight, considering I didn’t expect it to look like conventions abroad and in the capital cities like Manila. We lived in a small province that rarely got attention and well, it doesn’t take much to impress me. When Rency found out about the first cosplay convention in town, he was ecstatic.
I’d known he was a great makeup artist just by the sheer number of classmates, sometimes even teachers, queuing up to him to be made up at school events. Recently, I’d introduced him to some makeup tutorial videos on the web and he’d try some of it out, sometimes on me or another classmate, sometimes on himself. I remember a class production of Lion King the Musical where he transformed everyone into lions and other wild animals with just the power of makeup and loads of face paint. Never mind if we only did two songs from the soundtrack; we got perfect scores because of Rency’s magical handiwork.
This contest would help him believe in himself more—something I’d always wished for him. He was prone to self-deprecation and felt inferior about a lot of things so I encouraged him to join this contest. With Clara’s genetic gift of good looks and Rency’s amazing raw talent, I figured they were a sure win in the competition. But with Clara out of the equation and subbed by me—of all people—Rency had to be even more amazing than he already was.
He had to work harder.
And I, ugh… I have to be on that stage. I stopped a few steps away from the large stage where the competition was to be held. In front of it were rows and rows of chairs that looked endless. Groups of people started to fill out some of the seats and a sinking feeling started to gather in my stomach.
“Di, you okay?” Rency tugged at my arm and I realized I was holding my breath.
“Y-yeah, sure.” I forced a smile.
“Look, we really don’t have to do this. I—”
I scrunched my nose at him and gave him a little shove, “We’re here. I’m fine. Now, go help me find a costume.” I masked my anxiety with a giggle and so the both of us walked towards a gap in the production barricade. We went backstage.
If I thought the audience outside was starting to get crazy, the people backstage were already going mad. Several people I supposed were part of the production staff (they were wearing matching black shirts and orange ID lanyards) scurried about, whizzing past others who I understood were costume designers, makeup artists like Rency and contestants.
Rency was right about everyone getting prepped-up and raring to go onstage. The models were properly dolled up, and they already looked intimidating even without products on their faces yet.
“Lorenzo!” went someone in the crowd. Both Rency and I turned to where it came from. “You’re back!”
A tall, skinny guy with a buzz cut was suddenly walking toward us. He then wrapped Rency in a tight hug. He would’ve looked totally unremarkable except he was wearing dangling feather earrings and I suspected he was wearing eyeliner. “Lito!” Rency said to him, returning his embrace.
When they parted, Lito smiled warmly at me and I felt a little sheepish. “You must be Clara,” he said.
“I’m Diana, actually, Rency’s best friend.” I held out a hand as I introduced myself. He took it and shook it firmly. He introduced himself as Lito Figueroa, a costume maker and collector. “Clara couldn’t come so I’m standing in for her as Rency’s model,” I said, cringing at that last word. Never in my life did I ever think of referring to myself as a model.
“Great!” Lito’s expression lit up and I confirmed he had eyeliner on. There was also sheen of something sparkly on his cheeks and I couldn’t help but stare at him. He was pretty in a subtle way, like a fairy out of the enchanted woods. He turned to Rency, “This means you’re still joining the makeup competition.”
Rency let out a nervous breath and nodded. “Which is why you finding us is perfect! We need a costume for Diana. Something less… err, comfortable, but more competition material.”
Lito turned back to me and I couldn’t help but flash a toothy smile at him. “Hmm,” he murmured as he took a look at my outfit from the feet up to my hoodie, and then back down again. “Could you turn around for me, sweetheart?” I followed slowly, feeling uncomfortable turning around for someone who was still practically a stranger. When I was facing both Rency and Lito again, he nodded, “Right.”
“So? You got anything we can possibly borrow for today?” Rency asked.
“I don’t think I have Sailor Scout outfits her size.” Lito shook his head and then he smiled, “But I think the Alice in Wonderland dress I had a while back could fit her.”
And then we were being ushered into a corner further back where Lito’s wonderful collection of costumes was displayed on several racks and shelves. I must’ve been standing there with eyes wide and mouth gaping wider because Rency then said to me, “The organizers put this up especially for him. He collects these costumes and he displays them for people to see. Sometimes he loans them to friends he trusts enough to take good care of his stuff.”
“Where did you meet him?” I asked as Lito began rummaging through rows and rows of clothes. Rency and I also walked around some shelves, looking at hats, gloves, and a bunch of other accessories.
“Online. We’re part of this Cosplay Enthusiasts Online Community I joined about a year ago.”
“Wow,” was all I could say. Both because I didn’t know Rency joined an online community, and because Lito’s collection was astonishing.
“Rency, Diana, over here! I found it!” Lito called out and the two of us walked to where he was standing.
“Wow!” I repeated, this time louder and I raised my hands to cover my mouth. “That is a stunning dress!”
Lito held up a baby blue dress that seemed like something Cinderella’s fairy godmother would wisp out of a wand. Swirls of shimmery thread ran across the fabric in subtle but classy patterns. A similarly patterned white cloth was attached to the waist and covered some part of the front of the skirt, making it a real-life replica of the dress Disney’s Alice wore on the classic animated feature.
“I’ve had this made by hand from a retired tailor from Parañaque. The nice lady made dresses for movie stars in the 80’s, but she stopped sometime when her kids were grown-up. She was my mother’s old friend so we were able to woo her into making this dress for me.” Rency and I couldn’t help but touch the soft and silky dress with our fingers. “I had this made for a friend that’s about your size, if my estimation is correct, but she left for the US before she got to wear it.”
“So I’m the first one to wear this?” I almost squealed in excitement.
“Yes.” Lito smiled and looked amused. “Try it on and see if it fits.”
I turned to Rency, who was mirroring the glee in my eyes, and then Lito handed the dress over to me. Lito’s little corner had a small fitting room and after a short while, I was out of the Sailor Moon onesie and into the magnificent dress.
It felt satiny and surprisingly light. The onesie was undeniably more comfortable, but I wasn’t feeling queasy in this dress. It seemed to fit me alright, but the zipper on the back was too far for me to reach.
“Um, guys,” I slipped my head between the curtains draped around me and searched for Rency, or even Lito. “I’m in the dress but I need help with the back zipper…”
“Let me help,” said a voice I was all too familiar with.
“Tarkie!” I exclaimed and jumped a little. He was wearing his Gundam onesie. “Why didn’t you wear the purple shirt?”
He raised his shoulders, “You said you were wearing the Sailor Moon onesie. I didn’t want you to look stupid on your own, so I wore this.”
I laughed. “Aww, that’s sweet!” I gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “But it doesn’t look stupid. You’re adorable.”
He laughed this time and then kissed me quickly on the lips. Five years together and I still got the tingles.
Coming down from the high, I asked him, “How’d you get in here anyway?”
“You weren’t answering your phone when I got here so I figured you were backstage.” His hand guided me to turn my back to him. Slowly, he zipped the dress up to my nape. “I ran into Rency and his tall friend Lito. They talked to the guards to let me in. They also said they were looking for shoes for you.”
I turned back to my boyfriend and then looked down at my dress. “Well? What do you think?”
“Whoa, you look extra pretty!”
I clapped my hands in the space between us. “Stop that. Tell me the truth,” I giggled.
“That’s the truth,” Tarkie said and then swept a lock of hair away from my face and tucked it behind my ears. “You’re beautiful.”
I felt warmth rising to my ears when Rency came running to us, “Diana!” he called out breathlessly, “We’re starting in five minutes!”
“What?” the warmth dropped to my toes and I started to feel cold. “What do I do?”
Lito swooped behind Rency and asked me to turn around again. Tarkie stepped away and I turned in place. “Wow,” Lito exclaimed. “It fits you perfectly.”
“Really?” Some of the fear crawling inside me died down. I only knew Lito literally minutes ago but somehow I trusted his taste and judgment.
“Yes.” He grinned and walked around me as his fingers twirled on the edges of the dress sleeves. “But maybe we can do something about these sleeves to bare more of your shoulders, and the hemlines should be… hmm…”
Rency and Lito went into overdrive with all the necessary design adjustments with my dress and hair. They argued about getting me a blonde wig, but I was worried that my complexion wouldn’t be able to pull it off so we tossed the idea.
All the while, Tarkie just stood aside quietly, giving me reassuring glances as he watched my friends go around me like panicking chipmunks. I smiled at him, feeling calmer with each glance and subtle smirk he gave.
I heard music starting to blare outside and then Lito and Rency stopped fussing.
“It’s time,” Rency said and I watched his face go slightly paler. He might need the makeup more than I did.
“Relax, you’re okay,” I said, probably more to myself than to Rency. “Just do your usual makeup magic and we’ll be okay.”
Rency heaved a deep breath and then hugged me again. “Thanks again, Di! I owe you big time.”
“Win this and we’re even,” I whispered back to him.
The competition required the eight contestants and their models to be on stage during the entire makeup process. We were then introduced one by one. Since I was a last minute adjustment, I was introduced as Clara Marie Del Pilar. Rency and I looked at each other for a brief moment before we broke out in hysterics. Our nerves had slightly fizzled down by now.
After the introductions, there was a speech from someone who looked like he was an important person. The models were then asked to sit on high, wooden stools set up on the far back side of the stage.
The clock for three hours started, and Rency, as well as the other makeup artists, took out their fuzzy brushes and rubbery blenders and started to weave their magic. I couldn’t help but imagine the similarities between this and Master Chef, a show we enjoyed wasting weekend hours on. When this was over, I was going to be un plat principal.
While everyone was waiting for the time to end, the forefront of the stage showcased dance and song numbers, as well as presentations from the organizers. There were short videos about comic books and TV shows, but I couldn’t relate to any of it. These were things Tarkie enjoyed more than I did.
Remembering Tarkie, I swept a glance over the audience and immediately saw him, what with his funny Gundam onesie making him stand out of the crowd. He was engaged in an impassioned conversation with a group of guys wearing some sort of robotic head gears. They might be Gundam or whatever too, I wouldn’t know, but I could see Tarkie wasn’t getting bored and I felt relieved. And as if he felt me looking at him, he glanced at my direction and waved excitedly. I couldn’t raise my hand to wave back so I just smiled and winked at him. He laughed.
“Oh shit,” Rency muttered and took my attention back to him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” He spilled a little bit of blood-red lip tint over my arm. I glanced at him and saw that he was even more pallid now than he was backstage.
“Hey, you okay?” I grabbed his hand. I thought my hands were cold and clammy, but Rency’s was practically frigid.
“Yeah, I’m just… I’m really nervous.”
“Take deep breaths,” I gently instructed, “and pretend we’re just in your room, experimenting on something you’ve seen on YouTube, like Manny MUA or something…”
“Except I don’t have anything to follow or copy…” he sighed.
“Which makes it better! You’re free to do what you want.” I swiped the lip tint off of my arm with a hand. It smeared, and I began to regret it when Rency suddenly gasped.
“Oh my God, yes!” I recognized the spark of inspiration in his eyes, “Brilliant, Di! Just brilliant!”
“Wait, what did I do?”
“You just helped me finalize my idea of what I’ll do today!” His ecstatic remark brought back some color to his cheeks, but I still didn’t get what he was talking about.
“With just smeared lip tint?”
Rency sighed and smiled at me. “I didn’t know what to do with you, Di. Alice was, visually, the least interesting character in the classic tale of girl-gets-sucked-into-a-crazy-magical-world genre. She’s the human among the crazy characters, and I didn’t know how to work that into a cosplay-competition-worthy piece. But with the accidental smearing of red on your skin—” He took my wrist and showed me how red the liquid was against my palm, “—you reminded me of my favorite scene in the cartoon. The part where the deck of cards painted the white roses red to appease the problematic Queen of Hearts.”
I stared blankly at him, “Um, okay… I still don’t get it,” I admitted. “What idea did you get from that?”
He shook his head and smiled smugly at me. “I’m going to make you the entire cast of Alice in Wonderland!”
Before I could ask how, he went on a rapid fire explanation of what he was going to do to my face and body. He was going to paint my face in two halves, one as the Queen of Hearts and one as the hookah-smoking caterpillar. A contrast of warm colors and cool blue-green. My mouth would be turned into the Cheshire Cat’s unnerving smile for accent, and for my head and hair, I’d have a Mad Hatter top hat with White Rabbit ears.
“How would we get those accessories in time?” I asked, glancing at the clock. Twenty minutes had passed and all I had on was primer and some foundation.
“I’m on it.” Lito appeared beside Rency and if I didn’t know better, I’d think he was an actual guardian angel sent from heaven to help us today. “But what about her shoes?”
We all looked down at my white, but dirty and rugged, sneakers.
“Well, what did Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee have as footwear?” I said, trying to be helpful.
“They just wore black shoes,” Rency answered.
“But it doesn’t have to be just black shoes,” I countered. “As far as I remembered, they were wearing matching yellow and red shirt and pants so maybe we can paint my shoes red and then find me some yellow socks. If you also have baby blue ribbons, we can put them on top of the laces to copy the Tweedles’ bowties.”
“Great idea, Di!” Rency and I high-fived. “But do we have paint?”
Lito sassily snapped his fingers. “Say no more.” And then the two of them started to hurry about to get things done while I sat in the stool like a princess waiting for my royal image crew to tend to me.
An hour passed and while Lito was busy fixing my last minute accessories, Rency expertly turned me into a mixture of Lewis Caroll’s literary masterpiece. My stage fright was under control the entire time, which I reckoned was because I was not going through this alone. Rency was making me pretty, in a twisted sort of way, and Lito was quickly becoming my new favorite person. His artistry in costume making was not going to be judged at the competition today, but he worked as if it was. The kind of passion these two guys had was something I wished I had.
I glanced over the audience and found Tarkie taking photos with a different group of people. I recognized one of the younger kids from school so maybe these people were from our university and I was glad Tarkie was having a great time. Boys at ComiCons, go figure.
My eyes shifted to the opposite side of the audience, to where the lights-and-sounds control booth was and saw a familiar face looking at us. It was Dave from earlier, the guy who was sitting beside Rency when I arrived.
“Can I ask you a question?” I said to Rency.
“Yeah, sure. What about?” he answered nonchalantly while painting red roses on my left arm. We decided my entire left side would be the Queen of Hearts side. I could see he was glancing at the other contestants beside us more often as the time ticked on. He was starting to get fidgety again so I had to do something to distract him from his worries.
“What’s the deal with that guy over at the control booth?”
“What guy?” He turned to see who I was talking about and when Dave made eye contact, I saw Rency’s face register shock and then bashfulness within a split of a second. “Oh.”
Dave’s smile widened and then he raised a hand to wave at us. Rency waved back.
“You have a crush on him,” I teased.
“I do not!” Rency giggled, turning back to me to hide his expression from clueless Dave. He was blushing.
“Sure, sure.” I batted my lashes flirtatiously and sing-songed. “Are you falling in love with him?”
“What? No, Diana! Don’t be ridiculous!” The shade of his cheeks turned even redder.
“How’d you meet anyway? I don’t remember you telling me you met somebody.”
“That’s because we just met at the entrance this morning,” Rency huffed, but his smile was proving harder to hide. “And why the sudden interrogation?”
“No reason.” Rency was crouching down, fixing something near my ankles. “He just keeps glancing here and staring at your ass.”
“What?” He shot straight up and warily turned to Dave.
I laughed out loud. “Just kidding! He wasn’t staring at your ass.” I snickered.
Rency rolled his eyes at me and poked my arm with a brush handle. “Diana!”
“I mean, I can’t be sure if he was staring or not, but he looks interested.” I told him when I recovered.
“You think so?” Rency was starting to blush again.
“Honey, I know so.”
In the last fifteen minutes of the contest, huge drapes were put up surrounding us so we could add the final touches to our costumes—in my case, the impromptu top hat with rabbit ears made by the talented Lito.
The stage was set for us to have a grand entrance before the judges could finally assess our work. I’d been enjoying chatting with Rency and Lito so much I almost forgot we were supposed to present ourselves to everyone at the end of this.
Before the curtains closed, I blew a kiss towards Tarkie and he blew me back the same. I looked at Rency and Dave, and while they only shared a quick hand wave, it was as if they did the same thing. Oh, such cutiepies!
“I have to be out of this stage before your entrance,” Lito told us, “But don’t be nervous, okay. You got this!” Rency and him hugged, and because the makeup and body paint covered my arm, neck and shoulders, Lito and I just gave each other air kisses.
“Thank you so much for your help!” Rency and I almost said in unison. We laughed but it was cut short when the first contestant was called to come forward. Rency and I were fourth in line.
“Uh-oh,” I said. “I can feel my stage fright coming back…” I murmured dreadfully to both of them.
“Oh my god, what do we do? What do we do?” Rency chanted in panic.
“Relax,” Lito turned his head around us, like he was looking for something. “Come, follow me.” He strode towards the far back of the curtained stage and we followed behind. The second contestant was called.
Lito led us to a full length mirror propped just beside the stage exit. “I really can’t stay here any longer, but Diana, look at yourself…” he stepped back and allowed me to look at myself in the mirror.
“Embody your inner Alice. You’re not Diana anymore, you are someone else. There’s no need to be scared.” He didn’t wait for us to respond; he went down and disappeared backstage.
But he was right. I was no longer Diana Real, I wasn’t even Alice. I was something else. I was Rency’s masterpiece.
“Rency,” I said, “This is wonderful. You’ve done a great job.”
“I couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks again, Di!”
The third contestant was called and we went back to get ready for our entrance. We could hear the loud cheering of people and the raving descriptions of the emcee. At this point, I’d usually have crippling abdominal cramps and the urge to throw-up was impossible to keep at bay but I was surprisingly zen.
It was like I was an entirely new person. I finally understood the magic of makeup.
“Lorenzo Burgos and Diana Real!” The emcee called out and I smiled at the name change. A small thing, but it made me feel even more confident to be recognized as myself and not as Clara. I asked Rency if I needed to do poses and whatnot when we came out. He said that wasn’t necessary.
But I didn’t want to just stand there like a dead log, so when the curtains opened, I twirled like a madwoman then stopped to expose just half of my face, the Caterpillar side and pretended to smoke a hookah.
The crowd appeared shocked at first, faces stunned into silence.
Then they roared their cheers, applauding wildly.
I twirled again, this time stopping to show the Queen side. Though I didn’t have a microphone to shout the Queen’s iconic catchphrase, I drew a line on my neck and screamed, “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!” at the top of my lungs.
The crowd went even wilder!
I twirled a third time, covered both my eyes with my hands, and pouted my lips. Slowly, I stretched my mouth into a wide grin enunciating the Cheshire Cat’s smile and the cheers and whistling just went on and on.
Lastly, I pointed to my top hat and made circles with a forefinger. I then curtsied and ended my short performance with a bow. I saw everyone rising to a standing ovation and though I was chasing my breath, I was glad with what I did.
I walked towards Rency, my favorite crybaby, who was clapping and crying, and who welcomed me with an extremely tight hug, ignoring the body paint mess I was putting on his shirt and Lito’s dress. “Oh my god, Diana! You were beyond awesome!” he sobbed.
I hugged him back and held back my tears, “You were awesome, too Rency. We did this together.”
When we parted, I glanced at Tarkie, who was jumping up and down with the crowd. I love you, he mouthed. I love you, too, I replied.
When the competition was over, Rency and I ran backstage and practically tackled Lito into a bear hug.
“Whoa, guys, guys! Let me breathe!” he said as he squirmed out of our grasp.
“Thank you so much for your help!” cried Rency and once again embraced our guardian angel.
“Congratulations on winning third place!” he said to us and we held hands, jumped collectively and squealed in joy.
“I didn’t really think we’d place, the others were very talented and they had more time to prepare.” I was about to kick Rency in the shin because he was starting to self-deprecate again, then he continued, “But Diana here made a mind-blowing impromptu performance that got us third place!”
I clapped my hands to cover my mouth but Rency and Lito started hooting and cheering and so I did too. Suddenly, I felt myself getting pulled away from my friends and being lifted higher to the air.
“Whoa!” I squealed and then saw Tarkie’s grinning face over mine. He was carrying me in his arms.
“You were the best!” he greeted, and then I pulled him in for a kiss.
“Oh my god, Tarkie, we won! We won!” I kept chanting, intoxicated with happiness!
“I know! You were amazing!” We hugged tight and was only broken apart when other people came up to us to chat and congratulate.
The judges I feared the past few hours didn’t seem too scary now and we even made friends with some of the other contestants. People praised my short and impromptu show earlier but I pointed to Rency and explained to them that his makeup skills were the reason why it was great. I really never would’ve done anything good onstage if Rency wasn’t as talented as he was.
A few more minutes like this passed and then we had to clean up and help Lito with his things. He had a team of people fixing up his collection. I discovered we weren’t the only ones who loaned costumes from him. He had people taking names and contacts of other borrowers because although Lito didn’t earn anything from his collection, he obviously needed to keep track of who had his stuff.
Part of the contest prize was four gift certificates for group meals in a popular restaurant, as well as certificates of participation and a bit of cash prize. We all decided Rency was to keep the cash prize, and though he didn’t want to have all of it at first, we convinced him to take it. He deserved every bit of it.
“We could use some of it to get something for Clara’s dad. I was thinking of visiting the hospital tomorrow afternoon,” Rency said, and Lito and I just nodded.
“For the gift certificates, I suggest we each get one so we can treat our families or friends some other time and use the last GC to celebrate dinner tonight.” Rency handed out the GC’s to me and Lito.
“I really don’t want to take anything—” Lito started but I quickly countered.
“Oh please, Lito! You deserve this win as well! We wouldn’t have made it without the dress, the last minute headdress, and well, I have new shoes!” I pointed to my newly painted sneakers which were now cherry red thanks to Lito.
“It’s the least we could do,” Rency said and the three of us wrapped each other in a group hug.
“Thanks, you two! You’re amazing, both of you!” Lito planted soft kisses on both our cheeks and squeezed us tighter.
After a while, we loaded our things in Tarkie’s car and prepared to go to one of the branches where we could maximize the free GCs. We still couldn’t stop talking about the whole experience. The adrenaline rush had already left us but the high of happiness hadn’t completely washed out yet. I didn’t think I’d do something like that again anytime soon, but it was fun to be someone other than myself for a while.
Just before we drove off the parking lot, Rency shouted, “Tarkie, wait!”
Tarkie on the driver’s seat, and I, riding shotgun, quickly turned to him in the backseat. “Huh?” we said in unison.
“Umm, will it be okay if someone else joins us for dinner?” Rency said sheepishly.
“Who? You invited one more person?” I frowned. Rency scrunched his face and I immediately understood who it was. “Oh my goodness! You invited Dave!” I shouted.
“Who’s Dave?” It was Tarkie’s turn to frown.
“It’s Rency’s new boyfriend!” I managed to say it out loud before Rency could cover my mouth and strangle me.
“Woot-woot!” Lito cheered beside Rency. I saw him poke an elbow at Rency’s side. “I didn’t know you had a boyfriend!”
“He’s not my boyfriend!” Rency huffed, and then he grinned. “Well, not yet anyway, but we’ll see.”
All of us squealed. Okay, maybe Tarkie didn’t, but he also shouted something affirmative and I could just feel the ecstatic energy fill his small car.
“I hope you still have a tube of concealer with you right now,” I teased. “Unless of course you want Dave to notice the cherry red blush you’re entire face has on right now.”
Rency and I giggled and squeezed each other’s hands, knowing we’d get through absolutely anything because we had each other. ☁