Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly.
The night before he meets Stacey McGill for lunch at the Hard Rock Café, he stays up until midnight assembling just the right outfit. It had to be perfect. Nothing, he thought, had ever driven him further in his quest for sartorial perfection than Stacey. They used to delight in being equally fabulous, albeit in different ways.
In the end, he decides on skinny black jeans, settled low on his hips and slashed through the knees to reveal the red leggings he's wearing underneath. He's always had small breasts, and binding them is easy. His chest is flat beneath the turquoise t-shirt that he screenprinted with a red octopus. When he shrugs on his studded and patched leather jacket, it's almost perfect. He slings three belts around his hips, ties a red bandana above his knee, and slips on his black high-tops with the turquoise laces. He fastens the dangling, red jellyfish earring that he made out of a fishing lure through the bottom hole on his right earlobe, and a simple black stud in the top. A smudge of black eyeliner finishes the ensemble, because he's never shied away from highlighting his best features, and he's not about to start now.
He worries on the walk to the café that Stacey might have already heard. He'd kept his e-mail deliberately vague: “I hav big news. Want 2 meet for lunch?” But then, who would have told her? His parents know, but they're too mortified to tell anyone else. He hasn't talked to them in months, though Janine (a surprisingly steady source of support) keeps swearing they will come around. Aside from his family, the only one from Stoneybrook who knows is Ashley Wyeth, and she and Stacey have never been friendly. Even so, he's nervous as he steps into the café. He's half afraid that Stacey will have learned, and ditched him.
But there she is, elegent as always in a black off-the-shoulder sweater, Guess jeans, and ballet flats. A silver chain glitters around her neck, and she's wearing a crocheted beret atop her fluffy blonde hair. She's sipping a cappuchino, watching the door. When he steps inside, her eyes slide past him. Then she frowns, does a double take, and gapes, scrambling to her feet.
"Oh my God!" she says, stepping forward. "Claudia?!"
"It's Claude now," he says shyly, reaching to hug her, then hesitating at the last minute. She takes him by the arms, and turns him around, her blue eyes wide and startled.
"Wow!" she says. "I've heard of people who've . . . but I've never actually known anybody –" she's babbling, and she realizes it, a faint pink blush rising over her pale cheeks.
"Surprised?" he asks.
She nods, her silver hoops bobbing. "Stunned!"
They sit together at the table, and she reaches for her cappuccino, taking a sip to steady herself. She's eyeing him speculatively over the cup, and he braces himself for the barrage of questions that's sure to follow. He always hates this part. But she's regaining her equilibrium now, the sophisticated, slightly bored, city girl expression settling over her features as though it's never left.
"When did you get your lip pierced?" she asks, as casually as if they've been meeting for lunch every day since graduation.
He laughs, and realizes that it's going to be okay.