They were surprised when Claudia arrived wearing a grey camisole with cropped dark red wraparound cardigan and navy blue pants. Holland was almost certain they’d never seen Claudia wearing pants before. “Hi, Claudia,” they said after Danny greeted her. “New look?”
“Holland,” Claudia said, cold and sharp. She stepped further into the room, saw Danny tense, and she stopped. She’d wasted so many hours already being so angry with Holland that she couldn’t focus on anything else. It was getting easier with time, but it still took a few moments for her to remember that they’d done nothing wrong.
“Yes,” Claudia finally answered. Her lips twitched down and she rolled her shoulders back just a little: a sign of her own discomfort. “There’s a lot of change happening.”
If Holland was trying to get along with Claudia, it would be nice to be met halfway. But neither did Holland want to fight with a sixteen-year-old; they had enough enemies in Danny’s family. Or pointedly outside of it, now. “Well, if you ever want to raid someone else’s closet, I’m always happy to give makeover help.”
Claudia laughed before she could stop herself. Her emotions were so close to the surface these days that sometimes her reactions were beyond her control.
“Claudia,” Danny began, but she waved his words away with a manicured hand.
“I’m sorry.” She almost was. “It’s just that your style is very… it suits you,” Claudia said, diplomatically, “but it’s not very me.”
“You said you is a fluid concept right now,” Danny pointed out. Claudia glared at him. Holland’s look was more of a request for him to stop helping than a glare. “And Holland used to help you with makeup before.”
“I do have some experience with having a fluid sense of self,” Holland agreed.
“Okay, fine,” Claudia frowned, wishing she hadn’t come over for a second visit after all. However, while their wardrobe choices were eclectic, Holland had the best makeup selection of any living being on the planet. Plus it would be a relief to get out of the clothes she’d chosen to wear that morning: they didn’t feel right for her. “Let’s give it a try.” She had literally nothing to lose. “Thank you for the offer,” Claudia forced out as politely as she could. She glared again at Danny like this was all his fault, because, in fact, it was. All of it.
“Sure,” Holland said. They led Claudia up the stairs to their room, and disarmed the wards they had set up around it.
She’d never been into their room before. Claudia’s glance swept over the astrolabe on the desk, the pile of books on the nightstand—cursebreaking texts stacked indiscriminately with political thrillers—and the dutifully organized makeup at the vanity. It was immediately evident who lived here. Kaye’s single at college reflected so much of Kaye that it was impossible to believe it belonged to anyone else. Claudia thought of her own room at home, the curtains and bed covers still the same delicate pink they’d always been. The large wooden dolls’ house hadn’t been touched in years, and the books on her shelves were mostly school books, accompanied by just a few novels featuring a fictional heroic witch as the central character. She didn’t have a tangible grasp of her own identity.
Holland’s closet was organized by color, not clothing type, and they had to pull hangers from different places to find the blouses they thought would be agreeable to Claudia. Holland dressed more modestly than Kaye in general, but they still picked some crop tops and shirts with cutouts. The point was to let Claudia out of her comfort zone, right?
Claudia eyed the clothing warily. Nothing so far compelled her to put it on, but, “I don’t even know what I want to wear. Everything I own just feels wrong now. I still like it, but it’s not… it’s a part of my life I’ll never get back.”
Holland might know how to change one’s presentation to match their inner life, but they still didn’t understand the Dubois’ abrupt exile from pureblood society. How could the groupthink be that strong? Did none of their friends have enough concept of personal loyalty to disregard the disownment? It baffled them, too, how much of Claudia’s identity (and, although to a lesser extent, Danny’s) was wrapped up in being a Dubois. Holland couldn’t think of a clearer illustration of the dangers of collectivism. If you based who you were on something under other people’s control—others’ actions or perceptions or expectations—you were vulnerable to lose it.
“If it doesn’t work for you anymore, maybe you’ve outgrown it,” Holland said. They shrugged one-shouldered and pulled a sequined top out of the closet. “Time to try something new.”
Claudia tried to believe Holland was trying to be helpful, and not condescending, but she hadn’t entirely convinced herself. “I don’t know how to wear any of this,” she gestured at the growing display of clothes.
Dakota had been thrilled to try new clothes, but Holland really had to walk Claudia through this, huh? “Try this,” Holland grabbed a coral blouse with a sheer lace back and offered it to Claudia. “We can worry about styling the look when you find something you like.”
Claudia took the blouse—why did everyone insist on giving her see-through clothes?—and clutched it while she looked around the room. Taking her clothes off in front of Kaye was barely possible; being unclothed in front of Holland was not something Claudia was prepared to experience.
“There’s a bathroom across the hall,” Holland said. Claudia left and returned a few moments later, wearing the new top. “Thoughts?”
“I don’t know.” It didn’t have the same feeling of being freed from herself that she’d had trying on Kaye’s clothes, which were about as far from Claudia’s usual style as she could imagine. “It’s a nice blouse.” Claudia almost perched on the edge of Holland’s bed, had the unfortunate realisation that her brother might have been in it, and moved to lean against the opposite wall, instead. “I always felt so powerful in my robes, and now just the idea of wearing robes makes me… it’s like my skin isn’t my own. I just want that feeling back.”
Holland knew both of those feelings. How perfectly comfortable they were when their appearance matched their mind. How low they felt when it didn’t. “Then maybe instead of spelunking in other people’s closets, we should go shopping and find something that’s just yours.”
Claudia looked at her feet. “I don’t have money anymore. Disowned, remember?”
“No, I’d forgotten,” Holland deadpanned. “I know how to shop on a budget. I think we can manage.”
She was fighting a smile without even knowing why she was fighting it. Maybe she’d just been against Holland so long anything else felt unnatural. She gave up the pointless battle. “Shopping sounds great. Are you free now?”
Shopping with Holland was more fun than last time, perhaps because they had chosen to go together, rather than been forced into it by Danny. They were also helpful, directing Claudia to stores she could more realistically afford now, and giving honest opinions when she tried on an outfit. By the time they returned back to the house, Claudia had purchased a new outfit, and hated Holland considerably less. She changed into her new dark purple pants, heavily flared in pleats, so at first glance they looked like a long skirt, and the top that Holland had picked out to go with them: bright pink and fitted, with cutouts to bare each shoulder. “I think I like it.”
“It suits you.” At least, Claudia looked much more comfortable in the new clothes than she had in what she’d borrowed from Kaye and Holland. “I can do your makeup if you want.”
“Yes, if you like. Everything I do I learned from you, anyway.”
Claudia usually went for muted, natural shades, but as long as she was experimenting… Holland brought out their bold palettes, glitters, and metallic lipsticks. “Anything speaking to you?”
“I don’t have much experience working with color,” she said what she presumed Holland must already know. “Stay on theme, I guess? Purple and pinks.”
In a liberal interpretation of the theme, Holland applied a purple smokey eye with silver glitter and black eyeliner wings sharp enough to cut glass.
Danny knocked at the door. “Is it safe for me to come in?”
“Yeah, we’re just doing makeup.” Holland wandlessly dismissed the spell keeping their door locked, and handed Claudia a tube of metallic magenta lipstick.
Danny let himself into the room, mouthed ‘thank you’ at Holland, and then looked at his little sister wearing clothes as bright as his own. “That’s a great color,” he commented.
“Mhm.” Claudia finished with the lipstick and stood up so Danny could see the full effect of her and Holland’s combined effort. “What do you think?”
“I love it,” Danny said, sounding uncertain. Claudia raised an eyebrow so he added, “It’s just not something I’d expect you to wear.” Especially the glitter on her eyes. Claudia wasn’t a glitter person.
“That’s sort of the point,” she said dryly.
“We’re experimenting,” Holland agreed. “Trying to find something that isn’t so…” They struggled to find a word before changing the sentence to, “Something that fits better now.”
Claudia checked her reflection in Holland’s mirror. “I still don’t know if it’s me,” she turned to view herself from a different angle, “but I like it.” She’d reclaimed some of her power.
Co-written with Sophia