Mikey's lying awake in bed, listening to the house settle. He listens to the shudder as the heat kicks on, listens to the air coming through the vents. He hears the drop of the icemaker in the freezer. He hears the whirr and click of the clock in the hall. He doesn't hear anything else.
He turns onto his side and the slide of his bare legs against the sheets is delicious. He closes his eyes and moves one leg deliberately over the smooth cotton. He slides his hand down to touch the newly hairless skin of his calf, his knee, his thigh. He hadn't even nicked himself this time, not even on the backs of his knees or his ankles.
He touches his belly, hair below his navel whisked away by swipes of the razor, removed everywhere except a neatly trimmed patch around the base of his cock. He slides his fingers through those curls and gives them a gentle tug, sighing happily before sliding his hand up to touch his chest, to touch the smooth hollows of his armpits.
He listens to the house and waits. He listens to the heater click off, listens to the barely perceptible hum of the fridge, listens for footsteps or the creak of a door or the shifting of mattress springs from down the hall. There's nothing, and he sits up and silently slides his legs over the side of the bed and places his feet on the floor.
He hardly ever has a chance to do it, not right, not in the way that feels best. He usually has to sneak bits and pieces into his day, hidden and broken up and so furtive he can't even really enjoy them. He hardly ever has a chance like this, no school until after New Years so there's time for the hair to grow back before he has to change for gym. Gerard still in the city for another day so Mikey's got the room to himself. His parents and grandparents asleep, the house completely silent at two o'clock in the morning except for the sound of Mikey sliding his closet door open and kneeling down and digging beneath shoes and dirty clothes and books for the shoebox he keeps pressed back in the far corner where no one can get to it unless they're down on their knees and reaching.
He sits cross-legged on the floor, no light but the yellow glow from the single bulb in his closet, and lifts the lid. He takes out the small purple hairbrush and runs his fingers over the plastic bristles before bringing it up and brushing out any snags in his hair. He runs his thumb along the roots, creating a part just above the arch of his right eyebrow, and flips the hair over, knowing it looks almost like a bob.
He picks up a dark brown eyeliner and uncaps it, runs the soft pencil over the skin of his wrist. That's usually all he has time for, all he can get away with. He tests the colors against the inside of his arm and then washes them away before he has to sit at the dining room table with his entire family for dinner.
He has three eyeliners: brown, black, and navy blue. He has a red lipliner and a pink lipliner. He has four eyeshadow palettes, one in shades of green and brown, one pastel, one dark purple and pale gold, and one in shades of white, black, and gray. He has two bottles of foundation; neither one of them matches his skin, but if he mixes them together they're all right. He has face powder and blushes and so many tubes of lipstick. The lipstick's the easiest to steal; it's like it just fits perfectly into his palm, fits perfectly dropped into the deep pockets of his baggy jeans or cargo pants.
He scoots over to the full-length mirror on the inside of the closet door and leans against the pile of clothes and shoes as he carefully mixes the foundation so it's the right color. He applies it as evenly as he can. He's getting pretty good, learning how not to cake it on, learning how to blend it at his hairline and over his jaw. He hates his skin. He hates how blotchy it is, hates the acne and the oil and the way he can't ever seem to keep it clean. He pretends he doesn't care because he's pretty sure boys aren't supposed to care about things like that. He pretends he doesn't care, but he hates it so much it just makes him want to hide sometimes, makes him want to lock himself away so no one can see.
The foundation helps. It's not perfect. He can still feel the bumps of acne deep under his skin, can still see little patches of red, but it's better. He applies eyeshadow, next, pale gold over his lids, dark purple worked into the crease, black eyeliner on the top lashline and smudged gently with his finger along the lower. He doesn't have an eyelash curler, but he wants one. He's seen them in the drug store but they're always high up on pegs where he can't just palm them and drop them into his pockets or messenger bag.
He never even pokes himself in the eye with the mascara wand anymore, and he's figuring out how to twist and wiggle the brush so he doesn't get clumps. Once he's done with mascara, he leans back and looks at himself and something tight in his chest starts to unravel. It's such a relief when he can do this, when he can look in the mirror and see himself looking back instead of the strictly boy-shaped pretender he usually is.
He dusts on powder and soft pink blush and touches all the lipsticks, trying to decide. He settles on a soft berry color and opens the tube, twists the lipstick up and touches it lightly to his lips. It smells like roses and goes on smooth. He uses his ring finger to dab at any little bits of color that he accidentally smeared outside his lipline. He presses his lips together and blots against a tissue, then applies and touches up and blots again.
He smiles at his reflection, feeling giddy joy starting to bubble in his chest. He feels prettier than he has in months and his step is light as he stands and quietly, so, so quietly pulls open his middle dresser drawer and unrolls his sage green Sublime t-shirt and takes out the things he's hidden inside. He has three pairs of white cotton panties, a lace camisole, and four pairs of thigh-high stockings.
He's tried pantyhose, but they make him feel weird and cut in half, especially the control top. He likes the thigh-highs because they give him the look his wants, legs smoothed and elongated, without pinching at his junk or his waist or the juncture of his hip and thigh.
He steps into a pair of panties and pulls them up, tucking himself neatly away in the front and running his fingers around the leg opening so they're snug right under his ass. He lets the silky lace camisole slide over his skin and he shivers in anticipation as he sits on the edge of his bed and carefully rolls up his stockings before tucking his toes inside and smoothing them up his leg, the elastic digging into his thigh not enough to be painful, just enough to remind him they're there.
He already has the shoes out. He usually keeps them tucked on the other side of his closet, away from the makeup, but he'd taken them out earlier and tried them on before crawling into bed and making himself wait for the entire house to be asleep. He'd actually bought them during one of his impulsive and brave moments, had just been walking around despite his promise to Gerard that he wouldn't leave the block. Like Mikey was just a stupid kid who'd get mugged if he got out of sight of Gerard's dorm. Like Mikey hadn't ever gotten mugged in Belleville.
He was just walking down 3rd and right there, right between a dry cleaners and a fake nail shop that reeked of toxic chemicals was a tiny little shoe store. A tiny, dusty little shoe store with a sign in the window that said they carried large sizes. He walked in and saw all the shoes and imagined, just for a moment, owning a pair, and he was about to rush out when the bored looking shop assistant said, "You try on?"
"Um," said Mikey, shaking his head. "No, thanks, I just--"
She waved her hands at him, urging him towards the back of the store. She said, "You sit, you try on." She didn't look angry, but her tone made it seem like she was yelling at him. He wondered where she was from. He couldn't tell the difference between Chinese accents and Thai accents and Vietnamese accents, and he wondered if that made him an asshole.
She said, "What size shoe?"
Mikey said, "Uh, ten?" like he didn't know what size he wore.
She said, "We try twelve. Here, these very pretty, you try on." They were very pretty, but they pinched his toes. The second pair, though, they were the ones, he knew the second she opened the box. Pale beige patent leather heels with coral trim on the edges of the straps. He stepped into them and stood and the shop assistant fastened the tiny buckles across his instep, just below his ankle. She pressed her thumb down on the toe of the shoe and said, "Better, more room," and rolled up the cuffs of his jeans. She said, "Very pretty, right? Like modern pinup."
Mikey took a tentative step forward, trying not to wobble. He took another small step and felt how strong he had to keep his ankles to keep his balance. He turned and looked in the small angled mirror near the floor and he felt beautiful and he nodded and said, "Yeah. These. I'll get these."
It wasn't until the shop assistant was ordering him to have a nice day and come back soon that Mikey noticed her Adam's apple. He ducked his head down and mumbled thanks and all but ran out of the shop. His heart had thumped hard for half a block like everyone looking at him knew, like the plain plastic bag he was carrying actually had a flashing sign on it that said, This guy wants to wear women's shoes.
By the end of the block, though, he was back to giddy, almost laughing with the adrenaline and endorphins flooding through him.
He tries on the shoes a lot. He wears them to bed sometimes, liking the way they make his foot arch and curve, liking how pretty and small they make his feet appear.
He slides his feet into the shoes and buckles the dual straps, stands up carefully and walks towards the closet. He doesn't even wobble in them anymore, just stands up tall and takes confident strides. He loves the way they make his legs look, loves the long line of his body from his straight, pushed back shoulders all the way to his toes.
The dress is his mother's, white with bright orange and pink flowers over the fitted bodice and flared skirt. She thinks it's packed away in the basement with the rest of her summer clothes. He unzips the delicate side zipper, then lifts it and lets it slide down over his upstretched arms, the pink satin straps resting across his shoulders, the full skirt falling down to just below his knees.
He carefully pulls up the zipper, smoothes the material of the dress over his flat chest and belly, can't help but smile and do a little spin to make the skirt flare. He loves the contrast of his strong arms against the delicate dress. He loves how it makes him feel tough and unbreakable, how when he looks like this he feels like nothing can hurt him.
He doesn't want to be a girl, is the thing. He thought for a while that he must, that it was the only reason he wanted to be pretty, but that's not it. He doesn't know what it is, he doesn't know what he is, he just knows that the nights like this when he's alone and the house is silent and he's smiling at his reflection and brushing his hair coquettishly out of his eyes, are the only times when he's truly happy and truly himself.