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Old 04-09-2017, 01:47 PM   #276
StrugglingWriter
 
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 359
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Default Into the breach! Final Part

The pledges looked far from convinced it was anything that simple. Karen Morley was the one who expressed it.

“So,” she said, with defeated countenance, “UNIFORM means all I have to do is look like Angelina Jolie. No pressure there!” A few affirmations from around the room mirrored Karen’s frustration.

After everything I said, that’s what they heard?

“That’s not it either!”

“You just said to think Angelina Jolie.”

“I said to think her, not be her! Look. Is that pressure? Yes. It is. But it’s not from some kind of dress code dreamed up by Phi Gamma! The pressure is from real life. So, I am never gonna look like Angelina Jolie. But everyone I need to take me seriously is gonna compare to me that kind of image. I have to figure out how to be my kind of Angelina Jolie. I’m naturally more of an Ariana Grande.” More like an Ariana Venti! “But I can’t play to that and be taken seriously! And I’ll never wear slacks and a button-up and a shoulder-length do and be taken seriously either. Now, if you totally can totally rock that look, then good for you.

“And, by the way, I totally think you totally can rock that look!”

Immediately Kelly felt more comfortable. Outlining uncomfortable societal truths for people wasn’t her strong suit. Providing personal encouragement of good fashion choices was.

As for Karen, she looked a little surprised. “Ummm, thanks! I was sort of already taught this way! I mean, it would look a lot better if I were taller, and if I, um, lost a few pounds…”

Kelly nodded in solidarity.

“...but I mostly wonder about my hair. I really think it fits me best when it’s long like this, but I don’t know. It doesn’t seem all that professional to me.”

“Oh, nooo!” Kelly crooned in her most supportive girlfriend tone. “It doesn’t hurt you at all.” Anything too short and Kelly was convinced her face would look a little…monkey-ish—or something like that! “In fact, that’s where your chic comes in. Your hair is absolutely gorgeous! It gives you a little sexy but is still totally innocent. You don’t want to look like a drone!”

Karen brightened with Kelly’s comments. Just behind her, the corners of Elektra’s mouth lifted and her eyes brightened with something that might have looked a little bit like approval.

“That’s totally what I’m concerned about, too!” Natalie chimed in. “I can totally do a button-up look, but if I go too feminine I can look too much like a little girl! But too business-like and I can look too, umm, too…uh, too Butch.” She almost whispered the word.

“I know your struggle!” Kelly affirmed. “Well, I mean, I don’t actually share it, but I know what you’re saying! I bet shoulder-length hair carries a big risk for that for you, especially if it’s straight or even has just a tiny bit of curl.” She was doing her best to avoid articulating the word mullet. “But Lindsey’s—I mean, our suggested list—recommends shoulder-length hair. You know, I bet you’re that one girl who’s a knockout with a bob!”

Natalie laughed nervously a little bit despite Kelly’s conviction. Clearly the idea seemed a bit radical to her.

“No, really! Your face is SO pretty, your eyes so amazing! A nice bob framing your face and you’ll command attention in every room you walk into!”

Natalie was wrong: Kelly’s blush wasn’t near as deep as the one that just flushed Natalie’s face.

This felt more like the Phi Gamma Kelly knew and missed: girls sitting around the study hall table, flipping through magazines, helping each other perfect their looks for the next mixer or formal or interview. Hammering out The Code, really. Kind of an ongoing refinement and application of it. And, Kelly realized, in so many of those conversations she’d been running them from the center.

Like now.

A couple of the girls—the acne-scarred brunette and a girl Kelly hadn’t much seen around—asked some tentative questions about their own possible style refinements while most of the rest of the girls engaged in relaxed side conversations. The room had the feel that the tension—and the meeting was pretty much over.

Miss America certainly thought so. She was making a show of packing her notebook and pen away, shifting with exaggerated impatience in her seat as she flicked away her hair.

“Girls,” Kelly said, finding herself as impatient to go as the other girl, “feel free to catch me after the meeting if you want to talk, but we really should be going. But I just want to add one more thing.”

The side conversations stopped.

“We’re all women. We all can be beautiful—we all are beautiful—in so many different ways. I don’t know the kinds of schools that you all came from before this, but we…well, learn this lesson now, if you haven’t already. We don’t have to run each other down because we don’t fit some ideal as well as somebody else. You know, we can actually accept each other and support each other and build each other up for the strengths others have that we never will, and it won’t mean that somehow we’ll sit a little lower on the pecking order because we did. That’s not what being a mature, powerful woman means.

“And one other thing: I just want to encourage you not to stress about all this.” She held up her copy of COMPORTMENT in its black presentation jacket before resting her eyes on Jennifer. “Just trust your instincts! You’re all smart, and now you know maybe a little more what Phi Gamma’s going for. Phi Gamma already thinks you have what it takes or you wouldn’t be here, OK?”

Kelly held eye contact with Jennifer just a little longer, as if to echo, “OK, Jennifer? OK?” Because Kelly knew she couldn’t tell her that thin wouldn’t matter, or pretend there was some way Jennifer could dress to overcome it. But she knew that it would probably mean the world to tell her that she belonged.

Kelly didn’t get much of a chance to read how Jennifer would react. A few of the girls left straight away (including Jenn and Crystal), but almost a dozen girls stuck around, half of whom gathered around Kelly with either specific fashion comments or questions, or bids to get together later with a few magazines or a tablet to update their image. It was loud and dizzying, and Kelly found herself amazed that after all that convention, they were all clamoring for a minute or two with her.

Miss America also stood by, but she wasn’t clamoring. She waited off to one side, standing on one leg with her arms clasped behind her back. It took three or four girls to peel off the group and leave the room before she finally slipped her way through and tapped Kelly’s shoulder.

“I just wanted to thank you for such a … an interesting presentation tonight. It was interesting how you interpreted some of the material.” Her voice was just low enough that Kelly could hear her and probably not the other girls, who waited their own turns by talking to each other. “These girls can be a bit challenging sometimes, and I thought you did just a really good job. You got put in a tough place on such short notice.”

She was poised and polite and confident. Maybe there was something in her voice, or her formality, or maybe it was the impatience she’d exhibited throughout the meeting. But it was hard to think that her statements were about anything better than brown-nosing. And maybe something less generous.

Kelly thanked her warmly and voiced her hope to see her more around the house, and the tall, slender girl left, long pony tail swishing behind her. Kelly turned to Ankita beside her.

“Who is that girl?”

Ankita smiled wryly. “That’s Elaine Richardson. You know, Lindsey Huntington’s Little Sis.”

Of course she is! That alone made every comment seem like an underhanded criticism! And whatever she thought about tonight’s meeting, Kelly was certain Lindsey would learn every bit about it. Drama, drama, drama!

Kelly was suddenly aware of how tired she was. At least Elaine wasn’t wrong in pointing out how stressful the meeting had been! And, she realized, her feet and calves hurt. She really wasn’t used to standing as long as she had on her feet!

Ankita and two more of the girls peeled off with a promise to catch up later, and Kelly could see that both Elektra and Jennifer were still sitting in their seats, chatting comfortably. Presently they rose to their feet and worked their way around the long conference table over to Kelly just in time for the last of the other girls to leave the room.

Kelly startled as Elektra, who was really no taller than Kelly, leaned into Kelly on her tiptoes with a hug and a friendly kiss under her ear. “Sorry I was such an asshole!” she murmured, then gave her a frim squeeze before stepping aside and into the doorway.

Then Jennifer stepped forward, and she, too, gave Kelly a hug. She was a few inches taller than Kelly, but it didn’t solve the problem of Jennifer’s generous rack and Kelly’s prodigious one competing to share the same space. They squished into each other the best physics would allow, and Jennifer held her long and hard before finally letting go. She looked into Kelly’s eyes with a thankful smile and walked over to join Elektra seemingly before breaking out into tears.

Kelly was finally alone with her fatigue. She started to lean onto her tiny presentation table, then thought better of it and walked into the hall before leaning against the wall.

What in the world just happened!?
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Author of Something's Gotta Give and What I'd Like to Say...

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