Later that evening, Terry, Hayley and I were gathered in Nicole's room on the fourth floor of the Fergusson building. After Nicole's sudden change of mind regarding our make-over that day, I immediately called Hayley and we'd made the necessary arrangements so that we could begin as soon as possible before Nicole changed her mind again. We stood in a circle (or as close to a circle four people can get without looking too square) facing each other.
"Raise your right hands," Terry intoned, raising his own. Hayley and I did as we were told while Nicole shot me a confused look.
I nodded at her in response and simply mouthed the words 'just do it'.
Nicole looked at us a moment a longer as if we'd all lost a screw or two but raised her right hand anyway.
Terry continued when he was satisfied with our hands. "Nicole Carter, do you know the purpose for which we are gathered here today?"
"Uh, you guys are giving me a make-over?" Nicole said uncertainly.
"You are correct. You must understand that what we are about to do is solely for your benefit. We want to liberate you from your fashionably-challenged ways and initiate you into the ways of the well-dressed. We want to expose your inner beauty so that it is reflected on your physical appearance. Are you willing to let us help you?"
"Absolutely," Nicole replied, nodding her head vigorously.
"And do you also understand that you are taking this choice of your own accord? Whilst we are offering our services, all final decisions will be taken by you and you will ultimately be solely responsible of your own destiny?"
"And finally, do you understand that we are not to be held liable following this two-week period if men throw themselves at your feet in their attempts at winning the affections of one so beautiful as yourself," Terry asked.
Nicole giggled. "I agree."
"Then may we welcome you to the beginning of a new you," Terry finished with a grin and we all cheered. "Our first order of business will be to liberate your glorious locks from that dreadful bun. Really Nicole, you're nineteen, you don't want to be looking ninety."
"I don't know what else to do with them," Nicole complained as she untied her hair, letting her gorgeous brown curls tumble down and settle just above her waist.
"You have wonderful hair, Nicole," Terry complimented running his fingers through them. "And as for not knowing what to do with them, we'll fix that up soon enough. How do you feel about getting a hair cut?"
"Well… I guess," she said hesitantly. "I haven't cut it in awhile."
"And it shows," Hayley put in. "Long hair is beautiful but it still needs to be maintained, like what Alyssa's done. You can't just let it grow wild."
"How short would you be willing to go?" Terry asked, still playing with her hair. He knotted it in his hands and held it up so that it appeared shorter.
"Not too short," she said nervously.
"Yeah, I'm thinking shoulder-length for her," I added. "She'd look nice if it got layered and framed her face."
"I like it," Terry decided and looked at Nicole for a response.
"Yeah. I suppose. I mean, you guys wouldn't purposely make me look worse, would you?" Nicole asked.
"Of course not," Hayley laughed as she strolled over to Nicole's wardrobe and threw the doors open. "Now let's see what you have in here."
While Hayley poked her nose through Nicole's clothes, Terry and I were still discussing Nicole's hair. "Don't worry, Nicole. Like we said earlier, you're in charge here. We'll look at all the possibilities before you decide what you want," I assured her. Nicole smiled gratefully.
"Now, what's up with that vest?" Terry asked bluntly.
Nicole blushed slightly. "I just—I dunno. I just like it, I guess. It's comfortable."
"Well, as of now you hate it. It's completely unflattering on you and I think that was probably the reason that it went out with the eighties and never came back."
Nicole promptly took it off and tossed it onto the floor. "What next?"
"You have a pretty nice figure under there," I observed. "That vest was really doing nothing for you."
"Nice figure? Yeah right," Nicole snorted. "My boobs may as well not be there and my hips and thighs are so huge I wonder how I even get them through the door."
"That would be your jeans. Tapered jeans are the ultimate sin. We're getting rid of those too," I told her and she nodded glumly.
"Negativity never gets you anywhere," Terry chided playfully. "What you need to do is focus on your strengths and learn how to hide your not-so-strong bits. Which parts of your body do you like?"
"None of it," she answered immediately.
"Don't be silly," I said. "There has to be something."
"There isn't. I'm pretty sure," Nicole replied.
"Well I can name a few; your hair for one, your eyes for another," I suggested. "Come on, you know you have a few more."
"Someone told me I had nice shoulders once," Nicole tried.
"There you go," Terry encouraged. "We'll play these up and dress you so that attention is taken away from the parts that you don't want people to see."
"Oh my god!" came a squeal from the direction on Nicole's closet. The three of us turned to look just in time to see Hayley pull out her head from Nicole's clothes and hold up a fluorescent pink turtle-neck sweater. "Please tell me someone gave this to you as a present."
Nicole turned red again and slowly shook her head. Terry and I stared at the neon creature to Nicole then back at the sweater again before we broke into peals of laughter. Soon Hayley had joined us and even Nicole had a smile on her face. "My mom and I were out shopping and she thought it would look so lovely on me," Nicole explained, mimicking her mother's voice. "She wouldn't leave me alone until I bought and wore it."
Hayley and I laughed harder while Terry tried to catch his breath. "Note to self, Nicole, we love your mom, but you will never ever go shopping with her again."
"Amen to that," Nicole laughed.
Hayley chucked the neon sweater into the corner where Nicole's vest had been discarded. "Neon and fluorescent colours only work on people with olive skin."
"And bright pink isn't even in your palette," I added. "Your colouring is pretty similar to mine and I'm guessing that you're probably an Autumn," I told her, referring one of the four main seasonal colour palettes.
"Yeah, I did that test a couple of years ago," Nicole disclosed.
"So you're not as fashionably-challenged as we'd been led to believe," Terry winked.
"No, I guess not," Nicole smiled.
"I can vouch for that," Hayley's muffled voice said. She came out of the wardrobe again, this time holding up terracotta coloured skirt. It was about knee-length and had a frilled hem of the same material as the skirt, giving the skirt a very Latino twist to it.
"That is very nice," Terry approved.
"Thanks," Nicole said. "I got it last year."
"I think what you and I need to do now is go over your entire wardrobe so that we know what you have and what you need to get rather than going on an insane shopping spree and picking up things you already have," Hayley suggested. "Then we can schedule a shopping trip for this weekend and get your haircut then. How does that sound?"
"Great," Nicole agreed enthusiastically.
"In the meanwhile, Terry will be responsible for hair. He's really good at it so don't worry. He'll gather together some looks that will look amazing on you and we'll go over them together the night before your haircut," Hayley delegated. Terry nodded in confirmation.
"And Alyssa," she looked over at me with a sparkle in a bright blue eyes, "Lyss has an introduction scheduled for tomorrow so I think we'll let her off the hook for now."
Introduction? I smacked my forehead. I couldn't believe I'd forgotten about it! Holly Dobson had been bugging me for weeks to set up an introduction between her and Jake Peters, some guy that she had been lusting after since her freshmen year. I'd told her that tomorrow would be the big day and she'd be devastated if I cancelled on her now. Looking up to see my friends, I smiled gratefully, "thanks for reminding me."
"No problem," Hayley shrugged.
We exchanged goodbyes and Terry and I left Hayley and Nicole to work.
I had planned the introduction down to a tee. It would be perfect. Last night, I'd called Jake and we decided to meet for some coffee so that we could catch up. Jake and I had dated for a little while back when we were in high school but it hadn't gotten too serious and we had remained friends since. Holly, on the other hand, I didn't know too well. She had actually approached me sometime over the summer after hearing about our "Introduction Service" from a friend, or so she claims, and pleaded to be introduced to Jake. I had been reluctant at first, seeing as Jake was still a good friend of mine and all but as far as I knew, Jake had been single for awhile and Holly seemed like a nice enough girl so I agreed to do it.
After confirming my plans with Jake, I called Holly. The plan was foolproof: Jake and I would meet at the main entrance of the library and then make our way to Tizzy's Coffee House, which was just a couple of minutes away from the campus. But along the way, we would "coincidentally" run into Holly and I would invite her to join us. Then the three of us would head to the Coffee House but as soon as Holly and Jake had bought their respective drinks (while I held the table), I would receive an urgent phone call from Terry and I would be forced to leave our little group, leaving Holly and Jake to spend the rest of the afternoon in each other's company.
Sometimes I impressed even myself. I called Terry afterwards and he agreed that it was a pretty good plan and that he would call me as soon as Hayley gave him the signal.
So there I was the following afternoon, standing on the steps of the main entrance to the library as planned. I waited only a few minutes before I spotted Jake cutting his way across the quad towards me. Reaching into my pocket and pulling out my cell phone, I gave Hayley a missed call, our signal that contact had been initiated, before putting my phone away just as Jake approached me.
"Hey Lyss," he greeted, pulling me into a hug. "I haven't seen you in ages."
"I know," I said pleasantly when we pulled apart. Secretly, I felt a small twinge of regret that I was in actual fact setting Jake up and that we probably weren't going to get to catch up much after all. But I mentally waved it aside. This just gave me another reason to meet up with him again at a later date.
"So how have you been?" he asked casually while we walked slowly in the general direction of Tizzy's Coffee House. He looked better than I remembered. It was probably his new haircut which had cropped his hair very close to his head.
"I've been okay, my summer was pretty quiet but in a relaxing kind of way," I told him.
"Are you still doing your little make-over projects?" he asked with a laugh.
"Yes we are. We just started another one yesterday."
"Yeah? What's her name?"
"Freshmen chick, right?" he asked and I nodded. "She's a computer whiz. The computer in the science lab jammed up and nobody knew what to do. We were about to call the technician but then she just started typing a few things and before we knew it, it was working fine again."
"Really?" I was amazed at this new little fact about Nicole. Who would have thought?
"She seems nice," he said off-handedly.
"She is," I agreed. We were heading around the corner now, which meant that Holly would be running into us any moment now. "So what else is new with you? Seeing anyone special?" I asked.
"Nah. What about you?"
What about me, I wanted to say. I was at a point in my life where I wasn't particularly bothered about having a relationship. If I fell in love then great but otherwise, I had just had one too many meaningless relationships with too many brainless imbeciles to even want to try and get back into the dating scene. As it was, I was too busy anyway. I had a Business Management degree to work on and we had our make-over projects going twice a month so I had my hands full. Never mind that I was incredibly picky when it came to men, more so of late. Hayley and Terry teased me about it a lot but I decided it was better to have my standards than to be bored out of my mind when I went out on dates.
So the short answer to Jake's question was, "Nope, me neither."
"We're just enjoying being single, right?"
"Yeah," I laughed. Then, almost on cue, I saw Holly walking towards us without actually looking at us. Good job, I thought. That way it would at least look a little natural when we "ran into" each other.
"Alyssa?" she said in a surprised voice when we got close enough.
"Holly!" I exclaimed and we hugged briefly. "How are you doing?"
"I'm good. I just got out of the longest chemistry lab class ever. I was thinking of getting something to eat," she said nonchalantly.
"Well, actually, Jake and I were just going to have some coffee, why don't you join us?" I asked. "You don't mind do you Jake?"
"No, not at all," he shrugged. Then extending his hand, he added, "I'm Jake, by the way. Alyssa seems to have forgotten her manners."
"I'm so sorry. Holly, this is Jake. Jake, Holly."
"It's nice to meet you," Holly smiled, taking his hand and shaking it. "Are you sure you don't mind me tagging along? I don't want to be butting in on anything."
I had to hand it to the girl. She sure had the acting thing down pat. And Jake was buying every second of it. "Of course not. Lyss and I were just hanging out. You're welcome to join us." Holly smiled again and the three of us continued to walk towards Tizzy's.
It was pretty crowded when we got there, as I suspected it would be and I told Holly and Jake to go ahead and order while I grabbed us a table. I managed to find one towards the back of the café, a nice cosy looking spot which would be handy for when I left.
Oh, I was evil. I knew it.
I settled myself down on one of the chairs and glanced around the café, soaking up the ambience. Tizzy's had been very tastefully decorated with its light brown walls and plush dark brown sofas. Fairy lights adorned the ceiling casting the entire café a warm glow, even during the daytime. I sat back, letting my mind wander to thoughts of this set up working out well and Jake and Holly getting together. The more I thought about it, the more I decided that they'd make a cute couple. I was so busy fantasising that I didn't even notice a tall figure looming over me until he cleared his throat noisily.
I cringed. I wanted to believe that I'd only imagined the ogre standing before me but I knew I hadn't. Troy was there all right, trademark smirk and all. His stupid hair looked purposely dishevelled, complimenting (if that was even the right word) his scruffy long-sleeved blue shirt that hung untucked over his faded jeans.
I narrowed my eyes at him to let him know he wasn't a welcomed interruption. To my dismay he chose to ignore it. "My, my, Lyss," he clucked his tongue, making me wince as he called me that, "sitting here all alone? Won't that look bad for your image? Or did you finally give your followers a day off?"
"I'm waiting for a couple of friends, actually," I informed him icily.
Then completely uninvited and to my extreme annoyance, he slid into the seat next to me and stretched his arms over his head. "Finally ditched Blondie and his royal gayness, huh? Good on you."
"Excuse me?" I exploded. That was taking it too far. Insulting me I could handle but taking cheap shots at my best friends was absolutely uncalled for.
"Oh simmer down, Lyss," he said calmly as he noticed my growing rage. "So, where are these friends of yours?" he asked, almost implying that he didn't believe that they even existed.
I wanted so badly to claw that smirk of his face but with great effort managed to keep my hands to myself. Instead, I took a deep breath and forced myself to remain cool. "Oh, they should be here soon," I said airily, darting a glance to the cashier's counter. Holly and Jake had already paid for their drinks and were waiting to collect them.
"I can't wait," Troy said over-enthusiastically, settling in deeper into his seat.
"You're not staying."
"Aw, come on Lyss, don't tell me you're too embarrassed to introduce me to these new friends of yours," Troy teased.
"Embarrassment doesn't even begin to cover it," I muttered. I glanced back to where Holly and Jake were and realised that they were slowly making their way back to the table. Unfortunately, my actions had not gone unnoticed by Troy who turned to follow my line of sight, immediately noticing the approaching Holly and Jake.
"Christ, this isn't what I think this is, is it?" he groaned.
"I don't know what you're talking about," I said innocently. "I'm just hanging out with a couple of my friends."
"And then trying hook them up, right?" Troy predicted dryly.
"I said no such thing. If they so happen to go out afterwards then that's their business," I responded.
"But till then you'll be giving them lots of nudges in that direction," he finished humourlessly.
"Its what I do," I shrugged.
"You can't meddle in peoples' lives, Lyss."
"Who said anything about meddling?"
Troy rolled his eyes. We'd had this argument one too many times and he knew he wasn't going to win. He was right. As far as I was concerned, I wasn't really doing anything wrong. It wasn't as if I was guaranteeing that the parties involved would end up getting married or anything as outrageous as that.
Before I could tell him off again though, Holly and Jake arrived, setting their drinks down. "Hey guys," she said pleasantly before her voice laced with accusation and was directed solely at me, "I didn't know Troy was joining us."
"He isn't," I said quickly.
"Actually," Troy countered, giving me a challenging look. "I suppose I could hang out with you guys a little longer. I haven't had a chance to speak to Jake in ages". He grinned broadly.
Jake looked visibly confused but tried to hide it with a weak smile. Meanwhile, Holly was throwing me anxious looks and I was trying very hard not to kill Troy right there and then.
An uncomfortable silence descended on us and we all tried to look as inconspicuous as possible. Holly and Jake sipped their respective drinks while Troy and I glared at each other. It was suddenly interrupted when my cell phone rang, belting out a few polyphonic strains of the Beatles' All You Need Is Love.
Not yet, I thought worriedly. I couldn't go now and let Troy destroy everything. I wasn't about to leave him here with them. I tried to ignore the shrill ring tone, silently cursing at the choice of song. Terry had sent it to me as a joke and for some reason it had replaced my usual ring tone, even though it was my sheer laziness that hadn't bothered to change it back after I found out.
Troy looked amused as the ring tone repeated itself. "Aren't you going to answer that?"
I knew it must have looked odd that I was ignoring my phone so I begrudging glanced at the little screen where Terry's name was flashing. "It's only Terry."
"It might be important," Holly said urgently.
"He's probably having a hard time deciding between his black turtleneck and black polo shirt. He'll figure it out," I said waving my hand. The phone abruptly stopped ringing and I said a silent prayer of thanks to God for making Terry stop calling.
Only he didn't. All You Need Is Love started playing again.
"Jeez, Lyss," Jake finally said. "Just answer it already."
"Fine," I muttered in frustration and pressed the little green 'receive' button. "Hello?"
"Damn, Lyss. You're lucky I had the whole day devoted to calling you," Terry said sarcastically.
"I'm sorry Terry," I said wearily, glancing at the other people on my table. "What's up?"
"What's up? This is your emergency call. Get your butt outta there."
"Go for the turtleneck," I said.
"What are you talking about?!"
"Yeah. Anyways, I gotta go," I said into the receiver, ignoring Terry's confused protests. "I'm having coffee with Jake, Holly and Troy."
As soon as I'd mentioned the last name, Terry shut up, immediately understanding the situation. "Oh."
"I'll talk to you later, okay?"
"You know, it's a real pity that hunk of man slice is such a jerk," Terry chatted. "Although I'd love to see him naked and pressed up—"
"Goodbye Terry," I said loudly, cutting him off before he could say anything more and hung up. I busied myself in putting away my phone so that no one would notice that my cheeks had turned a few shades pinker. I had an overly visual imagination and really didn't need to add any more of Terry's homosexual fantasies in there.
Troy snickered, knowing full well that he had caused enough damage. Jake and Holly appeared uncomfortable and had started speaking nervously amongst themselves.
Well, that's a good sign, I thought, trying to optimistic. At least they were talking to each other even though they were probably discussing their mutual discomfort at the whole situation. Eventually Jake looked up at me with a sad smile on his face. "Hey, Lyss, I just remembered that I have this huge paper due in tomorrow and I've barely even started. Do you think we could take a rain check on this?"
No! I wanted to scream. After all my planning, I wasn't going to just let it all go to waste. "But we didn't even get a chance to catch-up," I tried lamely.
"I know. I'm really sorry. But we'll do this again sometime," Jake promised, getting up to leave. He reached across his seat to give me a brief hug before saying good bye to the others.
As I watched him leave I slumped back into my seat feeling drained. Troy placed his hand on my knee and squeezed gently but I swatted it away almost immediately. "I'm sorry your huge plans didn't work out," he said with mock sincerity.
"Shut up, Troy. This is all your fault."
"What was he doing here anyway?" Holly piped. "It was just supposed to be the three of us."
"You were in on this?" Troy asked Holly, genuinely surprised.
"Who do you think wanted this set up?" Holly shot back. "Thanks a lot Troy."
"Anytime," Troy winked and flashed his thousand megawatt smile.
"Well, I'm going to go too," Holly announced huffily and left, leaving me alone with Troy once again.
I placed my head in my hands. This day had turned into a complete disaster! Not only had I been unable to get Jake and Holly together, I was beginning to suspect that Jake would probably never want to hang out with me again, thinking that I would try to set him up with some one else the next time.
And let's not even add Troy to the ever growing list of things that had gone wrong. God knows the man was going to be the death of me. I would either end up actually killing him and then be sentenced with capital punishment or, and this was beginning to seem more and more likely, he would slowly torment me for the next couple of years until I went over the edge and eventually got thrown into the loony bin.
Suddenly I felt his presence a little too close to my body as he leaned in to whisper into my ear, his warm breath licking at my earlobe. "Looks like my work here is done."
I turned my head sharply in his direction and shot him a deathly glare. "What the hell are you trying to prove?"
"Exactly the opposite of what you are trying to do. You try to construe circumstances to get people together but you can't control everything that happens. If Holly and Jake were meant to get together they'd do so without you butting in. I'm just undoing your damage," he informed me, looking pleased with himself.
"Sometimes things need to be helped along," I pointed out.
"Yeah but not by someone who doesn't know what they're doing."
"And what makes you think that?"
"Correct me if I'm wrong Lyssa, but you've been single how long now? Two years, is it? It's a bit rich that you're the one to play cupid when your own love life seems to be non-existent."
I felt my cheeks heat up. "That's none of your business. Besides, it has nothing to do with the people I help out."
"If I were you I'd help yourself out first," he said condescendingly as he stood up and started to walk away.
"Fuck you Troy," I spat.
"No thanks," he called over his back then walked off. Smirking to himself, no doubt.
I would kill him. Capital punishment would be worth it.
A/N: Here's a huge shout out to my reviewers! THANK YOU! You have no idea how happy it made me to receive your reviews. To Snuzzle, thank you so much for your kind words! I'm flattered : ). I actually read your review at the end of a particularly heinous day and it made me feel so much better. Thank you!
To Diana, thank you for your support!
And finally to Quantum, thank you! And I absolutely love queer eye! I reckon that's another influence that I've got on this story.
Chapter edited on 18/1/06