There had been a time, once, when I wouldn’t have left the house for anything without looking flawless. Every hair in place, every outfit deliberately selected to suit my mood and the day’s agenda. I had a purpose, work I loved, above average grades, a healthy romantic life, and an unquenchable sex drive. I had hopes for the future, a plan, detailed down to the most ridiculous, minute detail.
I was seventeen.
In five years, things had changed so drastically that I didn’t even have a plan for each day, let alone my entire future. The fact that I’d lived through the one part of my plan that actually happened was a miracle; but now that I’d completed the short list of life goals I’d set up for myself, I had no purpose. No plan. No will to move forward.
The fact that I was dressing up today was a stroke of pure chance. The crippling fear that I’d just have to wipe my face down and hang the dress I had on back in the closet haunted me. Kind of like the vaguely concerned face behind my shoulder, reflected in the mirror as I drew on a nearly flawless cat eye with jet black liquid liner. Elbows propped on the counter, hand steadied on my cheek, face inches from the mirror, I pulled the brush slowly over my lash line and out. Behind me, the face of concern deepened her frown.
“Your left eye is higher than your right.”
I backed up and checked my eyes in the mirror. “You’re right. Thanks.” Flicking my eyes to hers, I willed her to vanish, to fade into the wall, to just… disappear. She scowled at me, then crossed her arms and leaned against the bathroom door.
Practicality, I called her. She’d been the first of the hallucinations to appear, and the most common ever since. Practicality was everything I wanted to be, as if someone had mixed me with Mary Poppins and created my unique version of “practically perfect in every way.” Often I forgot people didn’t see me the way I saw her, since she was, so often, the face I saw in the mirror, sometimes in place of my own.
Not that that was particularly a bad thing. I had a rather odd face; not quite square, not quite heart shaped, it landed somewhere in the middle; my eyes were small, though they were by far my best feature. Bright, clear, they shifted between green and blue, most often a pretty teal. I’d been told they went brown when I was particularly happy, but I had yet to look at myself in a mirror and experience anything more positive than wary acceptance. My lips were chapped but well shaped, my nose soft and buttony, my cheeks fleshy. I looked twelve, honestly.
My face wasn’t the only part of me that I was discontented with. At five-foot-three, I wasn’t exceptionally tall, nor was I exceptionally short. My hair, irrationally chopped off when I was trying to figure out my gender identity, had finally reached my shoulders, enough that I could pull it away from my face and have it out of the way. Like my father before me, I was going prematurely grey, sparkling white strands lacing through the mousy brown. I wasn’t athletic or thin, nor was I uncomfortably overweight for my lack of height. Sort of soft in the middle, large breasted and well endowed in the butt region, my thighs thick, my feet and hands too small for my body. Looking in mirrors was uncomfortable on a good day, though I could trick myself into accepting my appearance with the use of shapewear, makeup, hairspray, and decent lighting. In the end, the best compliment I could pay myself was that I was painfully average, and relatively pretty.
Practicality was everything I wanted to be and more. Just a little taller than me, her body toned and lithe, her face angular in a striking way. Her eyes were just a little larger than mine, a clear, electric blue that could see into your soul. Everything about her was well groomed, from her long, dark braid to her sleekly arched eyebrows. Her supple lips were tinted with a bit of red, her eyeliner effortlessly perfect. As usual, she had draped her dancer’s body in something that would have made me look round in all the wrong places– today happened to be a sheath dress in a deep navy. I, on the other hand, wore a black dress cut pin-up style that hid everything below my waist under a slightly poufy skirt.
Fuck mirrors, honestly.
“You don’t have to hate the way you look, Charlotte,” Practicality informed me. Not in the mood to listen to her list of self-improvements I could make, I started singing to myself and doctored my eyeliner. As usual, she spoke over me. “I know the depression makes it hard to wake up in the morning, to go out and do things, but one change a day could help so much–”
“I’m too lazy for that,” I snapped, switching out my eyeliner for tinted lip balm. “The only things I’m good at are sleeping and binge eating and you know it.”
Practicality rolled her eyes. “You know you’re exaggerating, you’re just having a low swing.”
“A five year long low swing, yeah.” Shrugging, I dropped the lip balm into the purse I had resting on the bathroom counter and zipped the bag shut. “Look, the only reason I lost the fifteen pounds I dropped during my internship was because I was eating two meals a day– if that– and running around everywhere for up to ten hours a day. That’s not exactly happening right now, is it?”
“God,” Practicality said, straightening from her relaxed pose against the door as I turned to face her. “You’re starting to sound like Bitterness.”
“At least she makes a damn lick of sense.” Ignoring the vaguely transparent hallucination, I yanked the door open and strode through it, and her.
As I opened my bedroom door to grab my shoes, I saw another woman laying in my bed, reading a magazine. Her usual cigarette had been replaced with bubblegum since we were indoors, not that I would have been able to smell hallucinated cigarette smoke. Bitterness was, for all intents and purposes, Practicality’s evil twin. Though they shared most of the same physical features, Bitterness dolled hers up with enough black to paint the Empire State Building. Her liner was thick and sharp enough to kill a man around keen green eyes. Her lips were such a deep burgundy they were almost black, her nails the same color, stark against her pale skin. Her hair, the color of espresso, had been braided down both sides at her temples, the middle teased into a sizable faux-hawk. Every inch of her was covered in leather, from her leggings to her knee high boots to her asymmetrical jacket to her fingerless biker gloves. The sight of her straight up screamed “badass bitch.”
“I knew you liked me better,” she announced without looking up at me. I smirked as I collected my heels from under my bed, dropped onto the edge of the mattress, and started to buckle one on. My feet were so small and wide I had to have heels that could hold themselves on– either booties or pumps with straps like kids shoes– else they’d fall off as I walked, since decent heels were rarely made in my weird size.
Bitterness blew a bubble and let it pop loudly, turning the page of her magazine. “You going out drinking with your boo tonight?”
I snorted. “What boo? My roommate?” Talk about complicated and awkward. DJ wasn’t mine any more than my estranged parents were. “Drinking, probably, but he’s not my boo.”
My “boo” he may not be, but he sure as hell was a good friend, if not my best friend. He’d come swooping in like some caped crusader to rescue me from having to return to my parents’ home. I couldn’t have been more grateful to him, couldn’t possibly repay him for everything he’d done to help me stay afloat in the three months since my internship had ended. Between him and his parents, it was like having an actual family of my own, helping me in my time of need. They were a literal miracle, a beacon of light in the hazy fog that was my life.
I sighed. It wasn’t like I wasn’t trying to get a job. I’d applied for jobs at the company I’d interned with, the rival company, and similar jobs for the one set of skills I was actually good at: sewing. I’d put myself out on Tumblr offering commissions, from costume design to creating cosplays for convention nerds. I was good at it, I could do something decent with it, make a decent living off of it, if someone would just respond to my applications. My one phone interview had ended in “we have no positions currently open” followed by at two of my hallucinations, DJ, his mom, and myself all asking why the fuck they’d scheduled me for the interview in the first place. DJ’s mom had taken pity on me and commissioned me to make a tee-shirt quilt for her in lieu of rent, for which I couldn’t possibly thank her enough.
“You’ve been trying as hard as you can,” Practicality soothed, stroking my hair as I buckled the other shoe. “No one’s mad at you. No one thinks you’re lying. Someone will hire you soon. You’ll get back on your feet.”
I nodded. She was right, I had to hold on to whatever hope I could, and not let myself sink into the void. Standing up, I tried to collect myself into some resemblance of normality– at least for DJ’s sake. He didn’t need to know I was clinically insane, even if he did know about my PTSD and the… interesting ways it showed up.
My reflection in my bedroom mirror stared back at me with the same look of vague discomfort it always had. I looked fine, even if I didn’t look like Practicality or Bitterness, or even like Sexuality, who hadn’t shown up yet (thank god). Of course, after a few drinks, she’d be front and center and reminding me that I was in some sort of forced sexual moratorium despite living with a single (ish), straight man about my age, who had shown interest more than once.
“Get him drunk and bone him into the floor.”
Ah, there she was. Sexuality, unlike Bitterness and Practicality, had one of those fleshy hourglass figures that set everyone drooling– either from attraction or jealousy. Her hair fell over her shoulders and down her back in voluminous curls, her eyes the same dark blue of Practicality’s, her lips plump as though they’d been thoroughly kissed. She had a knack for wearing outfits that were actually just lingerie with jeans, this time featuring a black lace teddy that showed more of her back than was probably socially acceptable, and a pair of heels so high they gave her a solid five inches on me. She was soft in all the right ways, sensual, and annoyingly flexible as she laid on her stomach, her legs spread in a flat straddle. Rude.
“Not really a great idea,” I muttered. “He’s got that chick he keeps seeing–”
“They’re not exclusive,” Sexuality pointed out. “If they are, shame on him for still making passes at you.”
I shook my head at her. “No, he’s just there for harmless flirting. I’m pretty sure after the whole thing with Nessa, he thinks I’m a full blown lesbian.”
Sexuality didn’t seem the least bit deterred by my argument. “So go find a cute girl and have a one night stand.”
Practicality looked like she was about to have a stroke. “Don’t do that. That’s a dumb idea.”
“I’m with Practicality,” Bitterness announced, “but not for the same reasons.”
“Detached sex won’t make you feel better,” Practicality informed me.
“Also you technically had DJ first, and if he’s here for it, you deserve your chance before he goes traipsing off with some skank–”
“We haven’t even met her yet,” I mumbled, as Bitterness continued throwing insults.
“You do deserve your own chance,” Sexuality continued, ignoring my interjection and Bitterness’s tirade, “but if he doesn’t want to give you that chance, you need to find happiness elsewhere.”
“Can I just like… ask him what his deal is once we’re both too drunk to lie to each other?”
My three hallucinations shared looks of surprise and consideration, before they all nodded., with murmurs of “Sounds good,” and “Yeah, I guess,” and “Sure, why not?”
“At last, we all agree,” I muttered, and sauntered out of my bedroom door, leaving my insanity behind me.