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Passing the Panty

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Delia hated beauty pageant season. In fact, the worst thing about beauty pageant season was that it never wasn’t beauty pageant season. By the time March rolled in, she’d already been to three contests, spent pretty much every other weekend being strapped and measured for dresses by her mam’s friend Violet, and she only had more to look forward to.

As she sat in her dad’s beaten up old Renault, waiting for her mother to finish gossiping with the other parents, she sighed, straining to imagine a world that didn’t revolve around meringue dresses and high heeled shoes. She punched the buttons on the car stereo, and the sound of static filled the old car, until she twisted the dial enough to find a steady radio station. The voice of Dusty Springfield singing heartily about her man troubles filled the car, and Delia hummed along, watching her mam in the rearview mirror. She’s always had an affinity for old music, feeling a little bit like she was born in the wrong era.

When she wasn’t head to toe in frumpy satin, Delia worked down at a local cafe, where the ridiculous lilac apron still felt more at home to her than the expensive gowns her mother bought. It might not have been the best job in town, but Delia liked it well enough, if only because she got to work with one her best friends.

Most of the time, she enjoyed that part of it, anyway.

Today, Barbara was rambling about one of her favourite topics (and one of Delia’s least favourites): Men. Specifically, the youth leader of their local church.

“It isn’t just that we’re cut from the same cloth, though of course that helps,” she continued, running her mop half-heartedly across the tiled floor behind the counter, “and I know he’s extremely handsome, and probably out of my league, and after all he did only just call things off with Trixie but…”

“But what?” Delia said, playing her part as the dutiful friend and encourager, “he and Trixie broke up, what, a year ago? And you are definitely in his league. If anything, he’s bellow you.”

Barbara’s cheeks flushed bright pink at the compliment and she looked down, trying to hide her grin, “you don’t know Trixie though. I know this will come between us. And she’s been so fragile since she left for uni; I really don’t want to make things worse, or hurt her.”

That was typical Barbara; caring more for other people’s feelings than her own. It was a large part of why Delia was so fond of her, but also one of her most irritating qualities. She had watched her get hurt so many times, trying to protect other people, and more often than not, people who did not deserve it, though she didn’t know Trixie well enough to judge.

“I suppose there’s no point in me asking if you want to do something Sunday night…” Delia asked, trying not to get her hopes up.

Sunday nights was when the church youth group met, and Barbara had been spending most weekends helping Tom with anything ranging from cutting out shapes for the younger children’s Sunday school activities, to assisting teenagers not that much younger than herself with whatever it was they gave their free time up to do on Sunday evenings. Barbara had talked at length about some of these activities, but if Delia was completely honest, she’d taken to zoning out. She knew that made her a bad friend, but she couldn’t help it. She was bored of all the everyday happenings in their little town, and unfortunately, her best friend’s love life was definitely a part of that.

She never got an answer, however, because just at that moment the door of the otherwise mostly empty cafe swung open, the little bell over the door hardly having time to announce the arrival before a flash of red and blue was literally whizzing in, straight past where Delia was refilling napkin holders, and pulling to a stop right in front of Barbara’s place at the counter.

Now that she was still, Delia couldn’t help but gawp at their arrival. She realised, with some haste, that several of the tables of elderly women were also staring, tutting and whispering, before turning back to their cream teas. Delia felt her cheeks flush, but certainly not for the same reason as theirs. They were clearly appalled by the girl’s attire - a plaid flannel shirt, black denim cut-offs, a black t-shirt with some kind of logo across it - not least the pair of roller-skates she’d so easily raced in on.

“Patsy!” Barbara greeted, wiping her hands on the front of her apron and leaving the mop bucket balanced precariously on the counter, “what on earth are you doing here?”

Delia couldn’t quite believe her ears: Barbara actually knew this girl?

“Flyer distributing,” the tall red-head answered, in the sort of clipped, posh accent that Delia would never have dreamt would come from her, “Trixie wondered if you wouldn’t mind putting one in the tearoom’s window for us?”

Barbara glanced across the room at Delia, and the red head girl - Patsy? - turned to look too, offering her a bright smile.

“Do you think Mrs Turner would mind, Delia?”

“I don’t think she’d even notice to be honest,” without needing much thought, Delia replied, and whilst her answer was partially down to the fact she couldn’t bring herself to say no to this girl, it was mostly based in truth: ever since the Turners had adopted their little girl, they’d spent less and less time worrying about what the girls in the cafe got up to. She quickly added: “what’s it a flyer for?”

Patsy handed across the flyer, and Delia tried not to think about the way their fingers accidentally brushed when she accepted the sheet of paper, her eyes darting over the wording instead.

“It’s our Roller Derby team,” Patsy continued, somewhat awkwardly, “we’re looking for new players.”

“Out here in the sticks? You must be joking.”

Now that the girl’s face was so close to hers, she couldn’t help but gaze up at her bright ocean blue eyes, the sharp angle of her jaw. There was something exotic about her, but also intensely beautiful. She knew she had to look away for fear or making a tit of herself.

“I know, but we’re desperate,” she said, casting her eyes down at the paper and sighing a little.

“Well, roller derby girls are hardly our demographic,” Barbara chimed in, casting her gaze around the sea of grey hair in the room, “but maybe you’ll get lucky.”

“I hope so,” Patsy said, looking more than a little downtrodden, “anyway, I better get going. I’ll catch you later, Babs. Thanks again.”

And then Delia was left to watch her retreating form zig-zag expertly between tables and out the door.

“Oh no,” Barbara said, somewhere that felt a million miles away from where Delia was dreamily staring out the door, but was realistically only about a meter, “she’s forgotten the rest of the flyers.”

Without really thinking, Delia turned and snatched the pile of flyers, and ran out of the cafe, spotting Patsy not all that far down the street. She knew she could never keep up - Patsy on roller-skates and Delia on foot - so instead she shouted after her, hurrying along with the flyers clutched to her chest.

Finally, the redhead turned, and sped back, narrowly missing colliding with a bin (though Delia suspected that may have been intentional), and drawing to a halt in front of her.

“You forgot these,” Delia panted, holding the flyers up to her.

Patsy’s face flushed red and she took the flyers, carefully putting them back into her satchel, “honestly, I don’t know what’s wrong with me lately; I’d forget my own head if it weren’t… you know.”

“It’s okay.”

“Anyway, thank you,” she put a hand gently on Delia’s arm, before retracting it, once again looking a little awkward, “and maybe you could, I don’t know, come and see us play some time?”

“I’d love to!” Delia said, grinning, “I mean, if you guys manage to get those extra players, right?”

She knew immediately that she’d said the wrong thing because Patsy’s face fell a little as she nodded, and then sped off in the other direction, leaving Delia to walk back to work feeling more than a little bit stupid.

A part of her expected the spanish inquisition on her return, but she ought to have known better: of course Barbara was entirely clueless, and was instead finishing off the napkins, humming to herself.

It wasn’t until their shift ended, four hours later, that Delia decided to bring the subject back up. She couldn’t help it; she’d spent the rest of the day thinking non-stop about her, whilst Barbara continued to dwell over her relationship with Tom.

“So, about the roller derby…” she said, somewhat tentatively, pulling her apron off and hanging it on the hook in the staff room, “how does Trixie know them?”

Barbara looked up, surprised, “oh, she and Patsy are roommates. I’ve only met her once or twice. I don’t think Trixie has even been to see her play.”

Not for the first time, Delia was exceptionally glad that her best friend was so oblivious to what went on around her, or else she’d have been trying to extract gossip from her for sure, just in the same way she did whenever she witnessed Delia even conversing with a member of the opposite sex. But Delia had known from a fairly young age that she wasn’t like girls like Barbara. It wasn’t that she was ashamed of herself, or too afraid to tell her, more that there hadn’t really been any point in telling her. Besides, they lived in such a small town, she was sure that if she uttered the words aloud to anybody it would get back to her mam in .05 seconds, and she was someone Delia definitely was afraid of telling.

On more than one occasion over the years they’d been friends, she’d thought Barbara must know: surely she’d seen the way she looked at some of the girls in their hockey team at school? But if Barbara did have any clue, she was certainly good at hiding it. Which was probably for the best, given who her father was.

“I think I might go see them play,” she said, attempting for casual, as she slipped her jacket on.

Barbara stopped what she was doing to stare at her, looking like a cartoon character with their eyes out on stalks, “what? Why? You know it’s awfully violent, and your mother will absolutely be against it.”

Because I have to see her again, Delia thought, but instead grinned, “exactly.