"Watch me, first."
She pushed me down into her desk chair, then stepped back, flipping sunshine locks back over her shoulders.
- she twisted her head to the right, curls spilling out towards me –
"- toss -!"
- she twisted back to the left, swinging her hair back. I applauded. She giggled, pretending to curtsy.
"Now, you try!"
Oh great. I bit my lip. My hair was all wrong for this, I knew. It wouldn't bounce like hers did. It was limp, and stubbornly straight. Still, if she wanted me to try…
I took a deep breath – then threw my head from side to side in as best an imitation of Galinda as I could, hair spiralling in a mad halo around me, blurring my vision – I lost my balance and toppled clean off the bed with a crack.
"Oh Elphie -!"
"- I'm fine, I'm fine!" I snapped, scrambling up and ducking my head so she wouldn't see me flush. Oz-damnit. I felt one of her hands at my cheek, pushing back curtains of hair whilst the other dusted off my dress.
"Galinda, it's all right," I muttered, flinching away. "I'll practise, all right?"
"Yes – yes, that's it," she chirped enthusiastically "Practise, that's all you need. But now, let's try something different. How about party clothes?" She flicked a finger at my dress, nose wrinkling. "You can't expect me to let you wander around in that awful thing next time we go to the Ozdust."
"Come on," she said, taking my shoulders and thrusting me into the centre of the room. One hand swiped her brand new training wand from the mantelpiece – uh-oh. I opened my mouth to protest.
"Um, Galinda –"
"Shh, Elphie," she tutted, raising the wand above her head, "I need to concentrate, Now…ballgown."
I almost laughed – almost – as she flicked the wand towards me. At that particular moment, however, I was more concerned with my right-eye being poked clean out that correcting her attempt at spelling.
"- watch it, Galinda -!"
She wasn't listening.
"What did I do wrong?" she muttered to herself, turning the wooden instrument over and over in her hands. "Maybe it's not turned on." She tapped the tip tentatively with one finger, peering at it. "Ok, let's try again – ballgown!"
She shouted the word this time, jabbing the point of the wand at me whilst I ducked and threw up my hands instinctively. Oz.
Nothing happened, of course.
"Do you want me to try -?" I suggested, swallowing laughter and offering out a hand instead.
"Oh no, Elphie, it's ok," she insisted, cheeks faintly pink as she chucked the wand over her shoulder. Then she turned away so I couldn't see her face. "Just wear the frock," she muttered. "It's pretty."
"It is. You should try it, sometime."
That made her laugh – she turned to shove me playfully.
"We must do a clothes-swap, sometime! Oh, it would be so much fun, and you could wear this!"
She gestured to her dress – the explosion of bubble-gum pink frills Fiyero's hands had been investigating all evening – whilst my eyes narrowed.
"And you'll prance around in my boots and hideotous glasses, I presume?"
She giggled, clasping our hands together and swinging them.
"Well – only if you wear my heels. Oh, and let me curl your hair!"
I raised my eyebrows, sceptical now. "You'll wear my uniform? My cap?"
"Oh sweet Oz." Her hands clapped over her mouth, eyes wide. "That…that disgustifying fishnet thing?"
"The very same." I grinned, whilst she hesitated, pressing a hand on top of her head as though imagining the horror.
"I couldn't," she barely whispered, hands clasping to her mouth. "I couldn't,Elphie! Oh dear. Well. We won't have to decide right now, do we?"
"I suppose not."
"Good," she said, and then stepped towards me, "ok, one more thing for you, then." She smiled. "Just one, I promise."
She reached for my hand again, interlocking our fingers. I tried not to shy away from the gesture this time; to try and treat the touch as normal, as natural, as something to be welcomed.
"Sit back down," she murmured, pulling me to her bed. I followed obediently, perching on the edge of the coverlet and gazing up at her.
She didn't answer – just reached up with both hands, folding her fingers around the petals of the pink flower nestled in her hair.
"Finishing touch," she murmured, eyes bright with something I couldn't name. The flower slid from her curls.
"Don't move – please?"
Her fingertips trailed my hair, sweeping a little handful back from my face. Her hands were so gentle, so careful, as they slid the flower snugly into place with the quietest of clicks. From above me came a stifled squeal. I glanced up.
Galinda had both hands clapped to her mouth, her face shining.
"Pink goes good with green!" she breathed. Hm. I reached my hand up to examine the flower. It felt uncomfortable against my head, the petals rough and entirely fake. Of course.
"Don't touch. Please. You might knock something. Oh, Miss Elphaba."
I shuffled my feet, not looking at her.
"What?" I muttered.
She didn't reply – merely laid something cool and smooth in my lap, folding my fingers around it. Sigh. I knew what it was without looking. Another mirror.
"Look at you, Miss Elphaba," Galinda smiled up at me from the glass, her reflection every bit as perfect as reality.
"You're beautiful," she said, simply.
Neither of us spoke a word.
I stared at myself. The reflection was, accurately, hideous – Galinda had moved out of the frame to rearrange my hair again and it was just me. Just her. Just the girl in the mirror I could never get away from and never would, no, not if I lived a hundred years, a thousand, a million…
…she would still be green.
I peered closely, all the same. Elphaba-in-the-mirror was scowling. The picture of scepticism. But as I watched…something changed. The eyebrows raised a centimetre. The mouth turned up, a touch. The eyes relaxed; changed; widened…widened in disbelief, in wonder…
I stared at myself, gawked and jaw-dropped unattractively. There was something…something impossible. Something in her words…the way had talked to me, told me…
…beautiful, she had said. Beautiful, Elphie.
My heart sputtered. Skipped a beat. Stopped.
I could almost…almost…
…could I really…
"You see, Elphie."
I…I don't know…
"Don't you see?"
"You're beautiful," Galinda murmured, and her arms enfolded me in a sideways hug. "Beautifully beautiful."
Something huge seemed to be building inside me. Something indescribable. Something wonderful, some pure and free, a waterfall, a blanket, settling over me…relief…hope…joy…
…oh sweet Oz, I could almost believe it, almost believe she was right…
…but then the girl in the mirror shimmered; shifted; and Galinda's face was there again, ducked beside mine as we peered side by side at each other's reflections, and…and…
My racing heart skittered. Slammed to a halt, shuddered in my ribcage. Shattered. Crashed.
Back to earth, Elphaba. Back to Oz.
Next to her, next to Beauty, Exquisiteness, Perfection…the girl in the mirror was a joke. A farce. A clown, done up in droopy make-up. Slapstick comedy. Her hair limp, greasy. Her lips bloody, smudged on one side. Her eyes dull, colourless. And her skin, her skin – that foul, sallow shade of dead moss, of slime, of mould, of crusty pond scum, of sickening, sickening green…
…Hideous. Shewas hideous.
How could I ever have thought otherwise?
I could accept it, I could, I always had – accepted thatI was a mistake. A roaring freak show. An abomination, I could almost hear Father choking, sobbing over Mother's grave, the grave that should have been mine, the grave that was all my fault…
My feet flailed for the ground, stumbled me up from the bed. Galinda's hands slipped away, lost behind.
"I-I have to go," my voice choked. "I-I have to – have to go –"
"But Elphie –!"
I didn't hear any more. I was across the room and out the door before she could speak another word, the bolts sizzling back into place behind me, though I had spoken no magic to release them – then running, running, running down the corridor and down the stairs and down and down and down…
…inside, I mocked myself. Fool. Oz-damned fool. Caught up in it all. Caught up in her smiles, her sweet words, her encouragement, her optimism, her hope…
…for that single second, oh, how I had hoped…
At least that idiocy, that pretence, that madness was all gone now. I was safe. Grounded. Pulled firmly down from impossible dreams, from fleeting fantasy; secure once more in reality.
The word watered tears, stinging and salty in my eyes. No. No, I knew my place now, had known it for years, known it…accepted it. Contented myself with what was common sense, common knowledge. Grown accustomed to bearing…bearing it. Galinda had merely cracked that shell, that protective case. Indulged me with silly fantasies, with hope. Sent a few walls crashing down with spectacular, terrifying ease.
But it was all right. It was all right now, because I knew; I was prepared. Safe, in my old knowledge.
A lost cause. A failure. A hopeless case.
But prepared. Prepared, from now on.
I would never let her try to make me popular again