(A follow on to “The Definition of Cool”)
Sarah had just finished talking to Steve, her new ‘boyfriend’, on the phone. They’d arranged to meet in town in the early evening and were going to catch a film at the cinema. Steve’s friend, Mike and his girlfriend, Vicky were also joining them. Mike was a quiet lad who was of average build and height. He was a bit of a non-conformist and outside of school would often wear deeply unfashionable outfits which comprised mainly of a black t-shirt with a heavy metal band’s logo emblazoned across the chest, tight black jeans and large Doc Martin boots.
Sarah had never had any interaction with Mike, but then why would she when he didn’t meet her previously narrow interpretation of ‘cool’. However she knew Mike’s girlfriend Vicky.
Vicky was the slightly heavy-set girl who Sarah had recently struggled to beat in the tennis competition. Sarah knew Vicky, but they had never been friends, merely acquaintances. She wondered whether Vicky harboured any hostility towards her. Sarah couldn’t think of any specific reason as to why that might be the case – she had searched her memory and couldn’t recall any instance when she could have given Vicky cause to dislike her, but she couldn’t be sure. Certainly, Sarah’s own confidence and self-esteem were not what they had once been. It wasn’t how Becca, Jenna and the others had been treating her that caused this, rather Sarah’s current low self esteem was due to the fact that she didn’t like her self, the old Sarah.
Vicky, like Sarah, was a glasses-wearer, although she didn’t always need to wear her glasses, like Sarah now had to, because they were of a reasonably mild prescription. Vicky’s idea of style was pretty similar to Mike’s with one exception. Mike wore skin-tight clothes, whereas Vicky wore baggy. She would try to hide her slightly heavy physique by wearing baggy clothes. This was a mistake in Sarah’s view as Vicky had some great curves and by trying to hide those curves she felt that Vicky extenuated the wrong curves. Still, each to their own, Sarah supposed.
It was Saturday morning, almost exactly a week to the hour, after her first visit to the opticians. Sarah was just considering what her own ‘style’ was exactly. She’d stuck religiously to her conservative ensemble of pumps, jeans, top and cardigan all week. This was okay, she’s already taken some elements of this “look” to her heart, for instance she loved her simple and comfortable pumps – she was no longer a slave to high heels and shoes that gave her blisters. That said, she loved fashion and if anything she had more determination than ever to find her own style. She knew her own style wasn’t what she’d worn a week ago – she’d worn those clothes because the expectation was that a girl like Sarah would wear such clothes – the outfits weren’t really expressions of her self, but then again was her new outfit?
Sarah decided one thing. She wanted to draw a line under her old self. She couldn’t abide the way she behaved for so many years and she wanted to make amends as best she could for her mistakes. So, that was why Sarah was stuffing a second bin bag with her old clothes. She was going to take these clothes to a charity shop – maybe some good would come out of her decision to cast aside her old self?
She wanted to look good for Steve but she didn’t want to over do it either. She decided that a variation on her outfit which had sufficed for the past few days would have to do. She grabbed a pink top which had some nice detailing around the short sleeves and around the neck. She put this with a pair of skinny jeans and, what the hell, she put on her new favourite pumps – although she decided to forgo the socks!
She walked over to her dressing table and looked at herself. What was she going to do with her hair? She could tie it up or wear in down. She decided to wear it down and she grabbed her tongs and worked her hair so that it fell into loose curls, framing her face nicely. Finally Sarah thought about the makeup – she didn’t want to wear too much but then again a little makeup can go a long way – just subtle colouring to emphasise her eyes and cheeks.
Sarah hadn’t tried applying makeup since she’d got her glasses. She removed her cat eye frames and placed them on the dresser. Instantly, her view on the world a murky one, how on earth was she going to apply any makeup without her glasses on? She picked up her glasses and held the right lens in front of her left eye with her left hand and picked up the eyeliner with her right hand. She could make out enough in this improvised manner to do the job and so Sarah made herself up in this awkward fashion. She finished her subtle job and replaced her glasses.
She looked into the clear image in the mirror and she wasn’t happy with what she saw. The effect of the lens made her handiwork look cumbersome and really anything but subtle. The delicate black line around the edge of her eye looked like someone had drawn on her face with a marker pen. Okay, maybe not that bad, but it wasn’t the look Sarah was hoping for. It was obvious that she was going to have to learn another new skill.
Sarah left the house after re-applying her eye makeup. She carried the two bin bags to the bus stop and waited for the bus – a new experience for her. Formerly Sarah would have simply asked one of her parents for a lift, but she’d rather struggle into town on her own than risk any close quarters encounters with either parent.
Once in town, Sarah headed for the nearest charity shop – her second new experience of the day. She entered a small shop which was linked to the Cystic Fibrosis charity. She wasn’t sure what Cystic Fibrosis was, but certainly it sounded a good cause to Sarah. She walked up to the counter at the rear of the shop and spoke to the elderly lady who was standing there. The lady told Sarah she would gladly take the clothes as a donation – it was very kind of her to bring them in to her.
Sarah smiled at the old lady and asked her if she could possibly help her in anyway - would she appreciate some assistance in the shop from time-to-time? The old lady beamed a smile which took thirty years from her face and replied eagerly that she would love that. In fact, if Sarah had time then she would be glad of her company today.
Sarah helped the old lady with her two bin bags full of clothes. “My dear, these clothes look very expensive and hardly worn, why are you giving them away?” Sarah told the old lady, Grace, that she fancied a change and a new direction.
As the afternoon wore on Sarah perused the clothing in the store, and a dress caught her eye. It was an elegant navy blue dress which was very reminiscent of the kind of dress Audrey Hepburn might have worn. She picked it up from the rack and held it too herself, it looked like it would fit and Sarah thought it looked fantastic. The dress could well have been from the 50’s, it had some beautiful detailing on the hem, certainly its quality was unlike what Sarah was used to seeing in the modern fashion shops she was familiar with.
She looked down and saw a fantastic few pairs of shoes. One pair in particular was a perfect match for the dress thought Sarah. Looking up from the shelf, where the glamorous shoes sat, a couple of objects caught Sarah’s eye. There were what looked like two, fantastically detailed, glasses cases. Sarah’s heart skipped a beat, she placed the dress back on the rack and picked up one of the glasses cases. It was made out of a beautiful pearlescent material that shimmered under the shops anodyne lighting.
Sarah carefully opened the case and inside was the most fantastic pair of vintage cat eye glasses from a similar period as the dress. Sarah loved the glasses she was wearing, but these glasses were far more beautiful as objects in their own right. They were made out of a similar material to the case and had some fantastic inlaid detailing in the top corners near the hinges. The lenses themselves looked a little old and yellowed slightly, but they appeared to be convex and so Sarah thought she’d experiment and see if these glasses were in any way close to her current prescription.
She removed her own glasses and replaced them with the vintage glasses. To her amazement, the world came into view slowly through the old lenses. If anything Sarah thought that the glasses were marginally stronger than her own pair. She looked into a nearby mirror and thought the glasses looked fantastic on her – it brought to mind Marilyn Monroe in the film, How to Marry a Millionaire, which she had seen a couple of years previously.
Sarah removed the glasses and gently replaced them in their ornate case. She quickly returned her own glasses onto their perch on her nose and picked up the second glasses case. This case appeared to be made out of pewter, or some other soft metallic substance, she opened the case and found another fantastic vintage pair of glasses with what looked like the same prescription as the first pair. She picked up these frames and noticed underneath a small note sitting atop of the velvet lining of the case.
She unfolded the note and read the short hand-written passage. To my darling Grace, may you wear your spectacles with pride and passion. The note was signed by an Archibald Leach with a single kiss. Sarah looked at the age-softened piece of paper and wondered what the story was behind the note, who was Grace and who was Archibald? Grace… it couldn’t be the old lady that was just walking out of the back office holding a fresh cup of tea, could it?
Sarah asked Grace if she could purchase some of the items, “Of course you can!” answered the old lady, “You have got fantastic taste you know, those were my shoes and my dresses. Oh and I see you’ve picked up my old glasses too – how can they be of use to you?” Sarah told Grace that she intended to get new lenses for the frames so that she could wear them. She told Grace about how she had found the note in the second case and handed it to the old lady.
Grace put down her cup of tea and read the note to herself. She smiled and nodded, as if in agreement with herself. “If you come back next Saturday I will tell you a little about the man who wrote this note. He was a fantastic gentleman and for a short time I was lucky enough to have his acquaintance. Through his acquaintance, I met some of the biggest names of the 20th century…”
Grace stopped talking and gazed into the middle distance, seemingly lost in her thoughts. Sarah asked Grace if she could leave her purchases in the shop and pick them up next week. “Of course” replied Grace, “if you liked those then I shall bring in some more for you”.
Sarah left Grace and walked a short distance across the town to where she had agreed to meet Steve and the others.
She saw Steve standing alone by the clock tower. He was leaning against the brick and mortar of the tower with his back to Sarah. He was wearing a t-shirt, jeans and trainers – pretty fashionable really. The t-shirt showed off Steve’s muscular physique and Sarah had a strong urge to hug her arms around his strong torso. It looked almost as if it was the clock tower that was leaning against Steve, such was his presence.
As she drew closer to Steve she said “Hi” and stopped and stood where she was. Steve turned around and smiled when he saw Sarah. To Sarah’s surprise and bewilderingly disappointment, she noticed Steve wasn’t wearing his glasses. “Where are your glasses Steve, are you wearing contacts?”
Steve told Sarah that he wore contact lenses for special occasions and she was a special occasion. Sarah looked appraisingly at Steve. She had to admit he looked fantastic, really very striking. So, why was she feeling as if she preferred him with his glasses? She decided that she liked Steve, with or without glasses and carried out her earlier plan and gave him a hug. They held each other until he stood back and held her face gently in his hands and looked at her. “I am the luckiest guy I know, you are the best looking girl in the school and you’re here with me. Did you know that I have had a crush on you for years?”
Sarah blushed and replied that she thought that he was the “good looking one” and she was the one with the crush. They kissed each other passionately for a few minutes and didn’t notice the two people standing next to them until Mike coughed.
The group headed off for some food prior to the film and they chatted easily, as if they had been friends for a long time. Vicky and Sarah chatted about a number of topics. Vicky asked Sarah how she’d been doing following the tennis final, she had heard what Becca had said and what the others were saying. “I can’t believe Becca would act like that, it’s not like her at all – it’s as if she’s changed overnight. Actually, I could say the same about you.”
Sarah told Vicky that she knew why Becca had said it, she deserved it and she knew what the girls around Becca were like and how they would have egged her on. “That maybe so Sarah, but Becca’s just not like that – she’s been my best friend for years and now it’s as if she’s embarrassed to be seen with me.”
Sarah told Vicky to give Becca some time, she’d soon realise who her true friends were. “If you are in need of a girlfriend then my social diary is pretty free.”
The group watched the movie together. Sarah cuddled up to Steve and stole the occasional kiss when he wasn’t engrossed in the action. The two couples went their separate ways at the end of the film and Steve walked Sarah home. They agreed to meet up the following afternoon. They kissed once more before Steve left.
Sarah closed the door gently and stood there for a moment, she felt fantastic… she’d never felt that way about anyone else before in her life. She went upstairs to get ready for bed. Whilst she was washing her face she thought about Grace and Archibald, had they ever felt about each other the way she felt about Steve?
She went to her room and put on her pyjamas. Sitting in her bed under the bedclothes Sarah removed her glasses. The room descended into darkness almost as if she’d turned the lamp off, she leaned across and flicked the switch on the lamp. She lay in bed and thought about Steve, she thought about Marilyn Monroe and the glamour of the era and drifted off to a contented sleep.
The following day Sarah and Steve went for a walk. They left the town and walked up over the heathland that bordered the west-end of the town. Sarah was delighted to see that Steve was wearing his glasses. It made her feel even more turned on by his presence to see this one weakness in his otherwise strong and powerful aura. They walked for hours in each other’s company, stopping on numerous occasions to kiss and survey each others bodies in closer detail. Sarah loved it when their glasses touched, why did it feel so sensual for something with no feeling to touch? She told Steve about her feelings towards his and her glasses and how she found it a real turn on. Steve looked at her and said gently, “I wish you’d told me that years ago – I might have struck up the confidence to ask you out.”
Sarah was getting herself ready for the day ahead, the next tennis tournament started today. She hadn’t given it much thought since she’d lost her crown, how did she feel about it? Her feelings weren’t clear, she wasn’t sure, she knew that whatever they were that they paled into insignificance when compared with how she felt about Steve.
Sarah took her usual stroll to school. She was now able to walk past the “in crowd” without always eliciting comments from Scott and the others. It was amazing how she could go, in such rapid time, from being the black hole which held that group together, to now being an ethereal body blissfully detached from the crushing expectancy of the group. She supposed this was because there was no void at the centre of the group, she had after all, been replaced by Becca.
She was wearing her self-imposed “uniform” as she entered the changing rooms at the start of the PE lesson. The draw had been made for the competition and Sarah had drawn Katrina, her closet friend until a little over a week previously.
Jenna saw Sarah enter the room alone and remarked “Here she comes, ‘The Square with the Stare’ – can’t you see properly when you dress yourself in the morning Sarah, you look like a librarian!” The room erupted in laughter, Sarah had a feeling that her newly bestowed moniker would stay for a while to come. She saw Becca look away from her when their eyes met.
Vicky got up from her seat and walked over to Sarah, as she did she turned her view towards the group and said to Jenna, “Why are you such a pathetic person Jenna? You really have issues – is it because you’ll never be quite good looking enough that you have to leech off of others?” She turned her back on the group and smiled to Sarah, “That should shut her up!” Sarah smiled in return and said simply, “Thank you”.
Sarah got herself ready and met Katrina on the court. She wasn’t sure how she was going to get on with her glasses. She supposed she’d find out soon enough. Katrina hadn’t participated in the last competition because she had missed the first round due to a driving lesson. She would have featured in the latter stages if she had played as she was a very good player and had benefited from many years of playing against Sarah in her spare time.
This was the first time though that Sarah had really played against her friend. Katrina won the toss and elected to serve. Sarah took some time to get into her stride and lost the first game to love. So, it was Sarah’s first service game and one which would be a marker for the rest of the match – she had to let Katrina know who was boss. Unfortunately it didn’t go to plan and with uncharacteristic clumsiness Sarah made a number of errors, including double faults and lost her serve to love.
“Sarah, what is wrong with you?” enquired Mrs Powell as she observed from the sidelines. “I’m not sure Miss, but it’s early days yet and I’ve yet to find my range. Katrina looked on, bewildered that Sarah was putting in such a poor show. She served her way to a 3 – 0 lead with Sarah yet to score a single point.
Sarah had decided mid-way through that third game that she didn’t want the hassle and attention of a rematch with Becca. It would be easier if she could just quietly step aside and let others get on with it. She wasn’t proud of herself, but she didn’t have the energy for another fight.
Katrina won the first set 6 – 0 without Sarah scoring a single point. The news went through the group and soon people started to take the opportunity between points to look over at the match which was unfolding quickly. Sarah could feel the various eyes piercing her from all corners. This was crazy, she was getting more attention through her actions of trying to avoid the attention. ‘Sod it!’ she thought to herself, ‘I am a better player than Katrina and I am not going to let them all make me stop playing tennis, this is my game and I am going to prove it to everyone.’
Katrina tossed the ball in the air for her first serve of the second set. Sarah caught the return early and whizzed the ball back with interest, landing the ball in the back corner of the court and winning her first point of the match.
Sarah moved up a gear from there and tore through the second set 6 – 0. Katrina’s demeanour had changed from perplexed to angry. Sarah won the final set in quicker time than she had managed the second set win. She won 0 – 6, 6 – 0, 6 – 0, probably the most bi-polar score ever achieved in a game of tennis.
As Sarah went to shake Katrina’s hand her old friend hissed, “How dare you humiliate me like that? Square with the stare, that’s your name now – you’re the laughing stock, not me.”
Sarah just smiled and answered, “That’s as maybe, but I still beat you.”
Sarah walked over to watch Vicky finish her match with Kirsty. It was only then that she realised that she’d won her first game with the handicap of wearing her glasses. She hadn’t really noticed that she was wearing them in truth, she really was adapting to needing glasses very quickly.
Vicky had won the first set 6 – 4, and was serving at 5 – 4 in the second set. Sarah watched her new friend close-out the match, winning 6 – 4, 6 – 4. As Vicky walked over to Sarah she asked her, ‘So what was that all about; I hear you won after losing the first set 6 – 0?” Sarah replied “It wasn’t premeditated, but I think the score had a nice balance to it and Katrina seemed to enjoy it.” She smiled and walked back to the changing rooms. “Did you hear Becca won her match easily?” Vicky asked. Sarah hadn’t really noticed, “Did she? Let’s hope she doesn’t get too complacent.”
That afternoon Sarah took a detour on her way home and visited Grace in the shop. She picked up the clothes she had acquired on Saturday. Grace refused to take any money for them, she said she was happy that her earlier years might be relived by someone deserving of the experience. Sarah tried to argue that she wanted to pay for them but Grace was adamant. Sarah decided she would make a donation on the charity’s website. She agreed to be at the shop at 9am on Saturday to help Grace and left with her precious haul.
Sarah got home and headed straight to her room. She changed into a pair of cream stockings and then pulled on the navy blue dress. She took a thick cream belt which was hanging in her cupboard and wrapped it around her waist. She then put on the shoes which she had already decided would go perfectly with the ensemble. These were tan coloured leather with a “t-bar” strap. They were amazingly crafted with a brogue style detailing on the leather straps. She gently opened the pearlescent glasses case and replaced her own glasses with Grace’s old and delicate frames.
She stood there in her room for a few moments whilst her eyes adjusted to the lenses with their different prescription. As the room came back into view she walked over to where the full-length mirror stood in the corner and took in the view in the mirror. She thought she looked fantastic, like a film star of yesteryear, she felt amazingly turned on and so she sat down on her bed, hitched up the hem of her dress and gently touched herself between her thighs. She thought of Steve as her own leading man, throwing her deftly around a grand ballroom. She allowed herself to be drawn deeper into the fantasy and she herself fell further away from the reality of the room. As she climaxed she groaned and sighed a number of times, each time getting a little louder than the first. She lay on her bed with her breasts moving in unison up and down with each breath.
Suddenly, her mother burst through the door and looked at her daughter. She screamed, “What the hell are you doing? What is that outfit you’re wearing and what on earth are those glasses doing on your face… are you some kind of pervert?”
Sarah sat bolt upright and drew her bed sheet up around her. “Can you please leave the room and give me some privacy?” she pleaded. Her mother stood still, in the doorway, she looked horrified as she turned, slamming the door, leaving Sarah sobbing on her bed. Sarah felt like she was in some way dirty and wrong, cheap even. But, she couldn’t help her feelings, they were her true feelings and she’d be wrong to try and live a lie.
Sarah kept a low profile, both at home and at school, her only real highlight was the time she managed to spend with Steve. So, as she found herself once more changing into her tennis clothes Sarah was contemplating the fact that between Steve, tennis and dreaming about possible new outfits there hadn’t been much to be cheerful about. Tennis was something that Sarah loved, she had never really appreciated that before because there had been so much pressure. Now though, it seemed as though the pressure was gone and she could actually just play the game. She didn’t feel she had to beat her next opponent Emma, but she resolved that she was just going to enjoy playing.
Emma was a popular girl. She was a bit of a joker and was always able to make people laugh, including the teachers. Emma’s jokes were never cruel or at the expense of anyone else, she had a way of being able to extract the humour from almost any situation.
The two girls took to the court, it was Emma who would be serving first. Being Emma, the chances that she would do something silly were high and she didn’t disappoint. She tossed the ball in the air and made the loudest grunt imaginable as she hit the ball. Sarah was laughing so much that she could only manage to hit the ball limply into the net as a reply, both girls laughed out loud and there was a good thirty second break before Emma was able to take her next serve.
The game continued in a similar way throughout with the girls pausing frequently to laugh at each other’s antics. Sarah was comfortably winning the match. The games which Emma had won were gifts from Sarah. She was enjoying herself so much that she didn’t want to embarrass Emma by beating her by too high a margin and so when the match was won 6 – 3, 6 - 4 both girls felt like winners.
Emma came up to the net to shake Sarah’s hand, “That was good fun, it was great to see you smiling again. Ever since you got those glasses people seem to have lost the plot. I don’t see what the big deal is. They’re just glasses, right?”
Sarah had to agree, “Thanks Em, you’re absolutely right, I guess it was a big deal for me. I’m not sure why it was so interesting to everyone else though? I don’t mind now, I actually quite like them.”
“God, yeah. I think they look great” said Emma, “I’ve always wanted to wear glasses myself to be honest – I was always jealous of Becca when I was younger. I’d love to know what it feels like to take off your glasses and just see a blur. Is that what it’s like for you?”
Sarah removed her glasses and handed them over to Emma. “I think if you put those on it will look to you pretty much like what Becca sees when she’s not wearing her contact lenses. I think our eyes are pretty much opposites. Although her prescription is much stronger than mine and I can’t see much clearly at all right now without my glasses.”
Emma tried Sarah’s glasses on and they made her eyes hurt. “Wow, if Becca’s eyes are worse than yours then I can’t begin to imagine what she sees, all I see is a blur through your glasses.”
“You look good in them!” Sarah told Emma. Emma handed Sarah her glasses back and Sarah was relieved to put her glasses back on.
As Sarah got changed back into her ‘square’ outfit Mrs Powell pinned a sheet to the notice board, it was the semi-final fixtures. Sarah had drawn, of all people, Jenna – whilst Becca was to play Vicky. Sarah looked at Mrs Powell with a questioning look, why did the draw never bring Sarah and Becca together outside of the final? She could handle playing Becca in the first round with no crowd, but the whole year would be watching from the sidelines in the final, that was a different proposition.
Sarah met up with Steve at lunch, he wasn’t wearing his glasses, which was a first at school. “What’s the special occasion Steve, Geography? How come you’re not wearing your glasses?” Sarah asked, trying not to sound suspicious or upset. Sarah loved to see Steve in his glasses and she also liked the fact that he reserved his not wearing glasses times for just her.
“I am getting used to the contacts and really like not needing glasses all the time, you don’t mind, do you?” Steve asked.
“Of course not – but maybe you can still slip your glasses on from time to time for me?” Sarah smiled as she said the last two words of the sentence.
It was Saturday morning and Sarah was getting ready to go to the charity to shop for her first full day’s work with Grace. She had been thinking about how she could use the fantastic clothes she’d already acquired in an up-to-date, funky and individual way whenever she let her mind wander at school. She put on the outfit that her mother had caught her wearing and felt extremely nervous. She loved the feeling of the beautiful materials used in the old clothes and she thought the whole outfit looked great. Her anxiety came from the fact of how others would look at her and, of course, how Grace might feel about her wearing her old clothes.
As she left the house in her new outfit, Sarah picked up the two vintage glasses cases. She was going to take them into the opticians at lunchtime and get her prescription made up in the frames. Sarah felt fantastically glamorous in her outfit, she couldn’t wait to see if Grace had remembered to bring in some more old clothes.
Grace beamed when she caught sight of Sarah entering the shop. “My, oh my, don’t you look lovely Sarah? I don’t think I ever had a figure quite like yours – does the dress fit okay?” Sarah confirmed that the dress was a perfect fit, as were the shoes. She was almost tempted to add that the glasses were not far off a perfect match either.
Grace prepared a cup of tea for Sarah, she really did think that Sarah loved tea for some reason, and prepared a camomile-infused concoction for herself. “Now, before I forget, if you go into the back room there you’ll find another couple of bags of clothes, brooches and trinkets which you are welcome to help yourself to.”
Sarah thanked Grace and went to the room for a quick look through the bags. There were some fantastic items which Sarah was sure she could bring right up to date with little effort. Just who was Grace? She must have been someone pretty special to have had such a fantastic wardrobe. Sarah resolved to try to find out a little more about Grace and of course Archibald.
The morning was reasonably quite. There were a few people who dropped off some clothes which Sarah organised for cleaning. She was quickly developing an eye for appraising clothes and whether she could use them to create her own unique outfit. Sarah no longer cared for designer labels, for her it was all about style and statement. She had decided that she wanted to go to University to study fashion design.
It was on her third tea break that Sarah asked some more personal questions. She discovered that the reason why Grace worked in the shop was that her grandchild, Alex, suffered from Cystic Fibrosis. “He often comes in here to see me you know, I’m sure you’ll get to meet him soon. He’s quite the gentleman, very dashing. I’m sure he’d like you.” Sarah told Grace about her relationship with Steve and Grace smiled, “Ah, but you’ve not met my Alex yet!”
‘…speaking of relationships, you said last week that you would tell me more about Archibald if I came back…” Sarah ventured.
“I did didn’t I? Archibald was his real name of course, you may have heard of him by his screen name, Cary Grant, although his fame was before your time.”
Sarah almost dropped her tea, “The Cary Grant, the actor from North by Northwest and the Philadelphia Story?” she stammered. Grace replied, nonplussed, “I can never remember what films he made dear, I just remember he had the most piercing eyes and the most delicate touch of any man I have ever met before or after”
Sarah knew all about Cary Grant, her own grandmother had thought he was the most fantastic man in Hollywood. Sarah had read stories that suggested Grant was bisexual, although she thought it was probably best not to mention that now. She did some rough maths and realised that he must have been quite a bit older than Grace too.
Grace talked all about Archibald and their brief time together. “He loved to see me wearing my glasses you see. That’s why he wrote that note in the glasses case. He was the first man that made me feel confident about my glasses. In those days boys just didn’t make passes at girls who wore glasses – it’s not like today. I think it gave him immense pleasure to see me wearing them.” Sarah thought she could understand where Cary Grant was coming from.
At lunch Sarah walked the five minutes to the opticians and entered the place that had so significantly changed the direction of her life a fortnight previously. She saw Natalie, the optician, standing at the rear of the shop and so she went over to say hello. Natalie didn’t recognise her to begin with and complimented her on her outfit as it was that specifically, she said, that had made her not recognise her. “Where did you get that dress? You look very sophisticated.” Sarah replied that she got the dress from the same place as she got the two pairs of glasses she we bringing in to get her prescription fitted to.
Natalie took the two cases and opened them. “These are beautiful. They would be worth a lot of money to a collector you know. Why don’t I put your current prescription in one frame and the prescription that I think you will require in a few months in the other?” Sarah couldn’t see any reason to object so she agreed.
On returning to the charity shop Sarah could see a tall young man, a year or so older than herself, in the shop talking to Grace. She opened the door and entered, the motion of which made the two others turn around. “Here she is now Alex! Doesn’t she look a pretty picture in my dress? Sarah, this is my grandson Alex.”
Alex smiled. He was not what Sarah was expecting. After all he had a condition which was chronic and reduced life expectancy considerably. He was handsome in a way that even Steve couldn’t hold a candle to. She wasn’t sure if it was her imagination, but Sarah thought there was a look of Cary Grant about Alex. To top things off, he was wearing a magnificent pair of glasses, which had mild plus lenses in them – not nearly as strong as her own, but enough to make his eyes flash that little bit more intensely.
Sarah talked to Grace and her grandson for the next hour or so, between customers. He was very charming and witty. Sarah was sure he looked at her a little too long at times, suggesting he was possibly attracted to her. She worried she was getting big-headed all over again. ‘I’m sure he’s not thinking that at all’, she decided to herself. Although to anyone else, especially Grace, it was obvious that Alex was completely smitten with Sarah.
As Alex left them together in the shop Grace told Sarah that she thought that Alex was mesmerised by her, she could tell. “Are you trying to match-make Grace?” Sarah asked.
“I am in no position to match-make and you’ve got a boyfriend so I will say nothing more on the subject. He is a dish though isn’t he?” Sarah had to agree, he was certainly that.
The phone rang, piercing the moment with its shrill timbre; it was the opticians informing Sarah that her glasses were ready. Sarah quickly popped out of the shop to collect the glasses. Natalie met her and put the first pair of glasses on for Sarah. This pair had the same prescription as her current glasses. She looked in the mirror – they looked great and made a real style statement. “I am really jealous of these frames of yours Sarah” announced Natalie, “…you’ll have to let me know if you find some more.”
Natalie then removed the other pair of glasses and held them up so that Sarah could see them. “These have your final prescription in them. As you can see they are a bit stronger, the prescription is +4.75 with +1.25 of astigmatism correction in the left lens and +4.25 with +1.00 astigmatism in the right lens. If you look closely you can see that this area at the bottom of the lens is slightly different and that is because I have given you an addition of +1.00 in each lens. This will help with your reading once your eyes fully relax.
Sarah took the glasses from Natalie. They felt heavier than the glasses she was wearing and she could see that the lenses were a bit thicker. She carefully removed the glasses she was wearing and tried on the stronger pair. They made her eyes water a little, but she could see out of them without much effort. She looked at herself in the mirror and she could see the difference the lenses made to her look. She hoped that Steve would still be attracted to her when she had to wear glasses that were this strong.
Natalie advised her that she could try wearing the stronger lenses in a month or so, just when she was reading. She would become aware herself of when her eyes would be ready for the stronger prescription. Sarah put on her new ‘old’ glasses and put her original pair in the pearlescent case. She felt bad turning her back on her glasses which she’d become so reliant on – but with this dress it really has to be Grace’s glasses she decided. She felt like in some way she had been unfaithful to her little brown cats eyes.
She had a great afternoon in the shop helping Grace. She had obviously lived quite a life and was out of touch on some elements of modern life that meant she was often, unintentionally, very funny. For instance, she would just say it how she saw it. A grumpy-looking lady who was heavy-set came in and was looking at a dress before Grace piped up, “Oh no, no, no – you can’t get away with that dress. Not with those hips and buttocks!” She never meant any harm in anything she said but sometimes Sarah wondered! Sarah lost count of the number of times she had to stifle a laugh at something Grace said to her patrons.
At the end of the day Steve turned up to meet Sarah, again without his glasses.
“Wow, Sarah your outfit is a bit different isn’t it?” Sarah stood on her tip toes to kiss him before replying.
“Do you like it? What about my new glasses?”
Steve laughed, “I’ve only just got used to seeing you in your new glasses, let alone your new, new glasses. Anyway, aren’t they old? I’m confused!”
Sarah explained that they were vintage from the sixties and that once they were out of earshot of Grace she would tell Steve who had originally bought them… as long as he wasn’t a complete ignoramus and let her know what he thought of her outfit!
He whispered in her ear, “Put your hands here and I think you’ll get your answer” as he took Sarah’s delicate hand and drew it towards his groin. Sarah pulled away and took his other hand as she turned around so that she could take him over to meet Grace.
Grace announced that if she were a bit younger Sarah would have a fight on her hands to keep Steve. Steve cheekily asked Grace what she was doing later, before Sarah hauled him out of the shop with Sarah’s bags of clothes. Sarah couldn’t believe how confident Steve was, especially considering what he had been like a few weeks ago. She was wondering whether he would have been so confident had he been wearing his glasses… the glasses which she wished were perched on his nose right at that moment.
Steve accompanied Sarah back to her house, to her room and the pair lay on the bed together. Steve put his hand on the inside of Sarah’s thigh and lightly moved his fingers upwards. He kissed her on her breasts and neck and touched her on top of her knickers, which were beginning to moisten at his touch.
She kissed him back and put her own hands down inside his underwear. Steve started to breath heavier and deeper. He pulled his hand away from Sarah’s knickers and brought both hands up to her face. He removed her glasses from her face. Sarah put her hand up to stop him, but offered up little resistance. She whispered “please be careful with them” and he placed them on the bedside table.
Sarah couldn’t see her boyfriend’s features as he moved his attention back to her groin. She felt her way back to his penis and felt the vein-covered solidity throb in her hand. She moved her hand up and down in unison with the beating of her own heart and brought Steve to climax just before she lost herself in her own climactic tremor.
Lying there next to Steve, catching her breath, she was unsure how to feel about the fact that Steve had chosen to remove her glasses. Was he turned off by them, by her? Did he wish she was the old Sarah, the popular Sarah.
Sarah launched her serve towards Jenna’s backhand. Jenna stretched to make the return but the shot was beyond her and Sarah put the first points on the board, winning her first service game with ease.
Jenna looked at Sarah, “I used to think you were so cool, I was almost envious of you, but look at you now. The only thing you’ve got going for you is that I can’t tell where you’re going to hit the ball from looking at your eyes. They could be pointing anywhere - it’s so hard to tell. I can’t believe I am losing to the bint with the squint!”
She laughed at her own joke. There was nobody nearby to hear her vitriol because everyone else was watching the game between Vicky and Becca. Sarah ignored her, she wasn’t going to rise to the bait and anyway she had absolutely no respect for Jenna, she had known her long enough. In Sarah’s opinion Jenna was deeply lacking in self-esteem which was why she was so quick to hit out at others.
Jenna took her first serve, but Sarah was more than the equal to it, she hit a great return sending Jenna running to catch it… By the end of the first set Jenna’s face was purple and she was struggling for breath with the amount of running Sarah was making her do. Sarah could finish points of quickly if she wished, but she was having a lot of fun stretching them out and teasing Jenna with balls which she could just get to if she ran.
The game between Vicky and Becca was a much closer affair. It looked like the first set would go to a tie breaker. The onlookers were cheering both players’ efforts, although most were ingratiating themselves that little bit harder when they cheered a shot from Becca.
Sarah didn’t allow Jenna any respite and quickly served to open up the second set. Her favoured shot was a lob as it gave Jenna plenty of time to make an effort to return the shot, of course the “drop-shot” was a nice follow up to this as it brought Jenna running back to the net.
Jenna was beginning to give up on the chase and thus was depriving Sarah of her enjoyment, so Sarah decided to just finish the points as quickly as she could. Jenna cottoned on to this fact when Sarah took a matter of seconds to win her next service game. “You bitch, you’ve had me running around like an idiot, just for the fun of it!”.
Sarah smiled “You look a bit of an idiot whether you’re running or standing still to be honest Jenna, I just thought I’d put you out of your misery.”
Sarah won the match without losing a single game. Jenna stormed off the court without turning to look at her opponent at the end of the match. Sarah picked up her things and wandered across to see what was happening in the other match.
Becca had won the first set on tie-break and was close to edging out the match, she just had to win her service game to take the set 6 – 4. She was already 30 – 0 up in the game and was preparing to serve again. She hit a booming serve that Vicky couldn’t get back over the net. Sarah thought that Becca had really improved her game, especially her movement around the court. There would be no chance of making Becca run around the court in a couple of days when they would meet in the final. Becca hit an ace to finish of the match in style.
Sarah walked over to Vicky once the Vicky and Becca had shaken hands. “Becca just said, “bad luck”. That’s it, that’s all I am worth these days to her I guess.” Vicky moaned.
Before Sarah could respond Becca walked over and interrupted. “So, it looks like it’s me and you again then Sarah. I am looking forward to it actually.”
Sarah paused before responding, “I’m glad to hear that, look have you got five minutes, I’d like to talk to you about something.”
Becca pulled a pained expression on her face, “Sorry Sarah, I’ve got to go. I promised I’d meet Scott, maybe some other time?”
Vicky looked at Sarah as Becca quickly left. “She probably does need to hurry off Vicky, maybe you should give her the benefit of the doubt?” said Sarah.
As the girls entered the changing room they heard laughter. Jenna was holding court and the room fell silent as Sarah was spotted. Becca didn’t appear to be in any hurry to get ready as she too was standing around with the group loitering suspiciously. Vicky whispered “told you” from her position behind Sarah. Sarah walked over to her things and picked up some body wash and her towel. She ignored the group as she left the room and went into the communal showers.
Sarah left her glasses on her towel in the corner of the room before getting under the hot water from the shower. All the girls hated the communal showers. It was one of those things that almost all schools inflict on their pupils. Sarah remembered the times when she was younger and the showers were the place where every girl’s progress through the murky waters of puberty was advertised to the world.
As an early bloomer Sarah had felt a little insecure when she had developed ahead of some of her friends, but she always felt worse for the girls who were late developers. As she stood under the water she thought that maybe through those difficult years it would have been fairer if every girl had the same view of the room that her eyes now painted. She could see the outline of another girl in a shower next to her, but she couldn’t see the features of her to determine who she was or what she looked like.
Once she was finished washing she returned to her towel and picked up her glasses, putting them on before drying herself off with her towel. She wrapped her towel around her and headed back into the changing room.
Sarah walked back over to her belongings. She put on her knickers under her towel and did the same, as best she could, with her bra. She then put her towel down and picked up her black jeans and pulled them on. She pulled her pastel blue top over her head and went to pick up her cardigan. She noticed immediately that there was an A4-sized poster sellotaped to the back of her cardigan. The headline ‘Look both ways before crossing the road’ was written above a picture of a pelican crossing, it was a road safety advert from the notice board. Jenna quickly piped up, “That’s easy for you to do Sarah isn’t it – you can look both ways at the same time if you want.”
Sarah ripped off the note and said “I’ve had just about enough of you Jenna.”, looking at Jenna square in the eyes. Jenna walked aggressively over to where Sarah was standing.
Emma was sat between the two girls and put her foot in Jenna’s path just as Jenna walked by her. Jenna fell flat on her face in what could only be described as a comical tumble. The room erupted once more, but the comedy was lost on Jenna.
She picked herself up and lunged towards Sarah screaming “You stupid squint-eyed bitch”. She grabbed a handful of Sarah’s hair to stop herself falling again and pulled Sarah down onto the floor.
Before Sarah knew what was going on Jenna’s nails were finding purchase on her cheek as her fingers clawed to grab Sarah’s glasses. She succeeded and Jenna grabbed Sarah’s glasses and threw them across the room. Sarah was momentarily panicked as the room fell into a blur. She was just about ready to push Jenna off of her when Becca pulled Jenna away. “What the hell are you doing Jenna, leave her alone!”
Sarah stood still, she wasn’t so handicapped without her glasses that she couldn’t see what was going on in outline, but she had never felt so vulnerable.
Emma came over to Sarah holding her glasses. “I’m sorry Sarah, they look pretty broken to me. It’s all my fault.” Sarah took her glasses from Emma and told her in no uncertain terms it wasn’t her fault it was Jenna’s. Jenna meanwhile had run out of the changing rooms. Sarah took her glasses. One of the arms was severely buckled at the hinge and the lens was completely dislodged from the right eye. She hoped they could be fixed, but she wasn’t convinced. Was she ever going to go a week without a visit to the opticians?
Unfortunately for Sarah she hadn’t packed her spare glasses that morning and so she had no choice but to go bare-eyed until she could get home. Becca walked over to where Sarah and Emma stood. “My god, she’s cut your cheek!” Sarah put her hand to her cheek and felt two warm sticky crescents. She pulled her hand away and could see a couple of red blobs at the end of two pink fuzzy fingers. Becca said, “I’ve got to go, you should get that looked at.”
Vicky came over and offered to help Sarah with her stuff. Sarah sat down and pulled on her pumps as she replayed the last few moments in her head. What on earth was happening to her?
Vicky offered to accompany Sarah home to pick up her glasses and the girls left the changing rooms together. Sarah kept hold of Vicky’s arm, she could see roughly, but she felt so vulnerable and naked without her glasses. Steve was walking down the corridor and spotted the pair, “Hi you two, what’s happened to your face Sarah? And where are your glasses, did you get contacts or something?” Sarah hadn’t recognised the tall blob as Steve until he had opened his mouth.
“I suppose this is how you’d prefer me to be like this all the time?” Sarah asked with an edge in her voice. Steve looked at Vicky as if to plead “What did I say?” Vicky told Steve about what had happened and he snapped, “Right, I am going to find that stupid cow” and with that he rushed off. Sarah whispered under her breath sarcastically. “My hero!”
Sarah and Vicky left the school and walked backed to Sarah’s house. Sarah felt bad for snapping at Steve in the way that she had done. She had felt so humiliated by Jenna, it had made her realise that she really was reliant on her glasses and at the moment when Steve had seen her Sarah felt that this reliance, a weakness even, must be unattractive to Steve. She was more ashamed than anything else to been seen in such a way, a victim, by Steve who she dearly wanted to be assured by that he found her attractive, with or without her glasses.
Vicky accompanied Sarah into her bedroom and Sarah opened the drawer where she had left her spare Gucci, black and red, frames. Sarah took out the glasses and put them on. As her enlarged eyes blinked back into focus, she saw in the mirror the two crescents which were sitting proudly on her cheek, the final remnants of the attack by Jenna. “Do you think these frames accessorises my cuts Vicky?” Sarah joked. Vicky wasn’t sure whether to laugh or not until Sarah added, “I am kidding Vicky!” and both girls laughed.
Sarah told Vicky that she was angry with herself for letting Jenna get away with so much – she would never have stood for anything like that in the past. Vicky replied that she didn’t think that Jenna had won any friends in her madness. The girls soon discussed Becca’s actions. Was she in on the joke to begin with, or not? She had certainly stepped in to help Sarah when Jenna lost her temper. “What was it you wanted to talk to her about anyway?” Vicky asked Sarah.
“Do you know, I have no idea! I just thought she’d say no, so I thought I’d ask if she had five minutes.” replied Sarah. In actual fact Sarah was going to speak to Becca about Vicky and how she thought she should try to stay in contact with her friend. It was probably for the best that this hadn’t happened though as Sarah realised it wasn’t really her place to intervene.
The girls returned to the school just in time for the next lessons. Jenna was nowhere to be seen for the rest of the day which saved Sarah from any further attention. A few people commented on her glasses, but really for the most part things seemed to be back to normal. Sarah found Steve in her free period and apologised for biting his head off. “What have you done with Jenna, she’s not been see all afternoon?” she asked Steve in jest, although she was a little worried that there may be some truth in the insinuation.
Steve told Sarah that he hadn’t seen her and would leave it to her to sort, he was sorry he had intervened earlier. He touched her cheek gently, “That looks sore, are you okay?”
Sarah had to admit that her cheek throbbed, “I hope I am not going to be left with a scar” she said. She took Steve’s hand in her own and looked up at him. With her free hand she removed her glasses. “Steve, do you prefer me without these things on? You can be honest with me.”
Steve looked at her, “Put them back on, you can’t see properly without them.”
“You didn’t answer my question” Sarah insisted, slipping her glasses back on.
“If I’m honest Sarah I like you either way. I wouldn’t say I prefer you with glasses on, but I don’t mind the fact that you need to wear them.”
Sarah kissed him, and as she did so she felt pretty dispirited. It wasn’t what Steve had said which hurt, it was what he hadn’t. He didn’t mind the fact that she wore glasses, hardly a resounding endorsement. For the first time she really wished she didn’t need glasses, if it meant losing Steve she would look into getting contact lenses or even laser eye surgery she decided.
Jenna didn’t turn up the following day and nobody had heard from her. Sarah spoke to Becca briefly who confirmed Jenna was AWOL. It was Becca who had instigated the conversation this time, approaching Sarah in the library. She had asked her about her cheek, she told Sarah she loved how she had worn a red top to match her glasses, “See I told you you’d love accessorising.” Becca told her. The two girls stood side-by-side and the roll-reversal was clearly evident for all to see. Becca was wearing a green top and a white skirt with a pair of white, gem-covered sandals. Sarah who had started Becca on her fashion journey was wearing her ubiquitous black pumps, black socks, black jeans and a red top with her black cardigan… and of course glasses.
Not oblivious to this herself Becca asked Sarah about her change in style. Sarah told her she just wanted to start over, she hadn’t liked her old self much and she didn’t want to have to dress to meet other people’s expectations. Becca took this onboard but wasn’t fully convinced, “…but what I don’t understand is the fact that you obviously have an eye for fashion. I’m not saying you’re unfashionable now, but I just don’t buy it as being a true reflection of yourself either.”
Sarah thought about what Becca had said. She wasn’t sure she could trust her to tell her about her own style which she was developing using Grace’s clothes as a basis. “Can I trust you Becca?” she ventured.
Becca looked at her and responded, “I’m sorry I’ve lost your trust of late, I can’t defend how I’ve been behaving and you have no reason to trust me. But, I promise that if you tell me something in confidence then I will not betray that.”
Sarah looked at Becca and told her about her Saturday job and her resultant new clothes. She took her notebook out of her bag and showed Becca her fledgling drawings of possible outfits she had been dreaming up. “These are amazing Sarah, I bet you look fantastically chic in them. You’re like a butterfly about to materialise from its cocoon. Steve is going to be blown away, as are all the boys if and when you come to school in one of those dresses.”
The following morning Sarah was readying herself for the day ahead and the impending tennis final against Becca. She looked out the window and above the outline of trees in her back garden. The sky was completely innocent of clouds. It was going to be a hot day, perfect conditions for tennis.
She toyed with the idea of putting together an outfit from her new wardrobe. She was full of ideas but empty of confidence. Still, at some point she was going to have to ‘come out’ in her new attire, so why not choose a warm sunny day for the occasion? Sarah pulled together an outfit, one of her more conservative choices from her available assortment of classics.
She opted for a lovely cream dress with a yellow belt and detailing. She married this with a pair of yellow sandals, which were very sixties chic and a yellow handbag. She put on her pearlescent vintage glasses and packed her Gucci frames for playing tennis in. Looking in the mirror Sarah felt that she looked the very picture of summer
As Sarah left her room to leave the house, her mother caught sight of her daughter. “Sarah, you look… lovely”.
Sarah’s heart filled with pride. Her mother hadn’t said a single nice word since she had visited the opticians. She knew her mother was disappointed that her perfect daughter had needed glasses, but maybe, just maybe there was a chance that she had reached some level of acceptance.
When Sarah arrived at school she received a number of head turns from a few of the boys and some compliments too. As Sarah walked towards her class, she noticed Jenna appear around the corner. Sarah was gobsmacked to see that Jenna was wearing a pair of glasses for the first time herself.
Jenna was quite a plain girl and Sarah thought that the glasses really added something to Jenna’s look. They made her more attractive. Her glasses were heavy black framed in style with what looked like low strength minus lenses. “Jenna, I hope you’re not going to launch yourself at me if I compliment you on your glasses?” Sarah said in an even tone, laced with sarcasm.
Jenna looked at Sarah, in her finery, and replied, “Look Sarah, I guess I wasn’t dealing with the fact that I’d just been prescribed glasses myself, I had to get them when I couldn’t read the number plate in my driving lesson. I took it out on you, I guess.”
Sarah noted the fact that Jenna hadn’t actually managed an apology, “What’s your big issue with glasses Jenna, I know it’s not easy accepting you need them, but I don’t remember treating you look like crap when I got my glasses.”
Jenna looked at Sarah and said “sorry” very quietly before walking away.
Sarah took to the court that sunny morning buoyed by the many positive comments she’d received about her outfit. That said, for some strange reason she just wasn’t confident about the game against Becca. Becca had seemingly improved immeasurably since they had last played and Sarah had lost then.
Having won the toss Sarah chose to serve first. Her mind stumbled over the memory of her last opening service game against Becca when she had struggled to get used with the limitations of her lenses in providing a clear peripheral view of the world. This time she was wearing her larger framed Gucci’s, so she hoped that the issue would be a thing of the past.
The last time the two girls had played they were playing indoor on the polished wooden floor of the gym. This time they were outside in the blazing sunshine and the sunlight played on Sarah’s magnifying lenses, dancing across her eyes and making the job of seeing that little bit more awkward for Sarah than her opponent.
Sarah looked across at Becca, she seemed confident and assured. Sarah wondered whether Becca expected to win the match, any onlooker who had never seen the girls play before would have reasonably read the two girls body language and come to the conclusion that Becca was the favourite.
The on looking crowd were far more partisan than last time the girls had met. Maybe they didn’t all want Sarah to lose this time?
Sarah tossed the ball up in the air and her smooth metronomic action brought the racket head squarely to the back of the ball sending it on its way across the net and towards Becca. Becca anticipated the angle and caught the ball early hitting a reply which completely wrong-footed Sarah. Sarah’s second serve met a similar fate. Sarah was serving well! There were no issues in that regard.
Sarah’s third serve was also returned but Sarah managed to get to the return and the first long rally of the match ensued with both girls hitting some fantastic shots before Sarah hit a perfect passing shot finding the very edge of the court just beyond Becca’s reach. It was going to be an epic match.
Becca took the next point with another fantastic return and so Sarah was fighting to save her serve. Sarah was amazed at Becca’s improvement, she finally had a true competitor who could give her a match, the question was whether Sarah still had the skills she had once been able to call upon.
The tension was palpable and Sarah was the first person to crack, putting her first-serve into the net. If she missed her second service she’d lose the game. However, if she didn’t hit a serve with decent pace she knew, on the evidence of the game so far, that Becca would beat her with her return.
She decided to go for it and hit her second-serve with real pace. It was almost the right decision and the ball flew past Becca with all the hallmarks of an ace until Mrs Powell interjected with the word, “out”.
There were a few questioning looks and even Becca thought the serve looked good, but there was no point arguing. Had the point been played at Wimbledon, the ‘Hawkeye’ system would have shown that the serve was a good three inches inside the service box.
Becca’s serving was almost as good as her returning and Sarah struggled to win back the game she needed. Becca took the game without dropping more than a single point.
Sarah focused on Becca’s backhand on her next service game to good effect. She’d finally managed to win a game and the crowd were enchanted.
The first set progressed with ever-closer games and longer rallies. Becca was so consistent that even when Sarah managed to get a break point she held her nerve and fought back to win the game every time. Becca emerged from the first set with confidence that her game was good enough to beat Sarah for a second time. Sarah emerged from the same set aggrieved that she lost the first service game on a bad call, but she could only look at herself for getting into the position where one bad call had cost her the set.
The second set followed the same pattern as the first with Sarah winning her service games and Becca doing likewise. At 6 – 6 the girls entered a tie-break.
Sarah served first and won the point with a great serve. There were a number of shouts of “Come on Becca” and only a few less cheering on Sarah. Becca won her next two serves and managed a great return on Sarah’s next service to lead in the tie break 3 – 1. Sarah won the next point and Becca once again won both of her service points to lead 5 – 2. The pressure was mounting on Sarah. She now faced three match points.
Sarah’s first response was a good serve which Becca just managed to get to before Sarah smashed a volleyed-return past her. 5 – 3. Sarah had kept the match alive a little longer but still needed to be at her best if she was going to turn things around. Sarah served to Becca’s backhand once more. Becca over-hit the return putting it long and beyond Sarah’s base line. 5 – 4.
Having managed to save two match points Sarah now faced the hardest save of all against Becca’s service. Becca looked determined as she tossed the ball in the air setting up her serve. Sarah anticipated the direction of the serve and hit a great return setting up another lengthy rally. As the rally wore on Becca began to take charge and managed to manipulate the rally to the point where Sarah was chasing after the ball. Becca’s final shot of the rally swung out wide and Sarah had to run as fast as she could to get to the ball just before it bounced a second time. She swiped at the ball in a hopeless gesture and knew immediately that her return would be wide of the court. The ball spun back towards Becca’s side of the net moving wider of the target area all the time. Just as Sarah was sure all was lost, the ball hit the net chord, jumped up in an arc and landed just over the net and inside Becca’s service area. 5 – 5.
Sarah lifted her hand in apology to her opponent, her life had been saved and she was back in the game. Becca looked shell-shocked. She rushed her next serve into the net and put her second service wide, now it was Sarah who had the opportunity to win the set. Sarah wasn’t going to let such an opportunity go begging and slammed an ace past Becca, winning the second set and levelling the game.
The sun was beating down and Sarah was beginning to perspire. She had to remove her glasses and wipe off the steam that was slowly crawling up each lens from the bottom, such was the heat from her face.
The final set was another close affair, Sarah broke Becca’s serve early on, only for Becca to break back in the next game. It looked like another tie-break was going to be needed to find a winner in the game. Sarah had realised during the game that she was no longer the best tennis player in the school and that Becca was the player with the greater potential, this was possibly going to be the best chance she would ever have of recording one last victory.
Mrs Powell was to be fate’s way of removing the opportunity from Sarah. With the match level at five games each she announced that time had run out and there was no splitting the girls so she was going to award a draw. Sarah looked over at Becca who also looked disgusted at the suggestion. She saw in that moment, through her misty lenses, that Becca wanted to underline her dominance over her and had been robbed of the opportunity.
The two girls shook hands, Sarah was the first to speak. “Good game Becca, it could have gone either way. Have you been having lessons? Some of your shots are amazing.”
“Mrs Powell organised some lessons with the county team for me and they have really helped. I couldn’t believe that ball of yours fell in the court in the second set, I was ready to celebrate.” Becca said, almost bitterly, but her mask didn’t drop and she smiled as she said it. Sarah kept the thought that her serve in the first game was perfectly good to herself. She also wondered why she’d never been put in touch with the county team even though throughout her time at school she had always been the outstanding player.
“So you nearly won, is that what you’re saying?” Steve teased Sarah about the tennis.
“I thought you were the best? I only want to go out with the best of the best you know!” He kissed Sarah on the lips and held her close to him.
“My future’s not in tennis. I’m going to have to find another career to pay the bills. So you’ll just have to accept that your future won’t include mingling with girls in short white skirts. That said, Becca could make it in tennis. I think she’s got loads of potential.”
Steve pulled away slightly with a quizzical look in his face “Are you trying to tell me that if I want to spend time with girls in short skirts I need to go out with Becca?”
“Well, if you put it like that – I guess I am.” Sarah looked at Steve and smiled before adding, “Come here you dope, you don’t need to go anywhere else.”
They were lying on Steve’s bed. Sarah was still wearing her cream dress with yellow belt, although her yellow sandals were on the floor next to the bed. Steve was looking at his girlfriend without the need for his glasses as he was again wearing contact lenses.
His fingers found their way up Sarah’s thigh under the hem of her dress. He touched her on top of her knickers and she reciprocated by moving her hands down towards his crotch. Each intimate embrace moved the young couple closer and closer to their first sexual experience. Steve wasn’t sure how much longer he could wait before he could try moving things on.
He whispered in Sarah’s ear, “I’ve got some condoms, if, you know…”
Sarah had always thought that they should wait at least three months before considering moving on to the next stage, however in the moment of passion she decided to throw caution to the wind. “Okay.”
The remainder of the summer term flew by. Sarah grew more confident with every day that passed. Gone was her outfit of black and in was a cornucopia of coloured dresses with unique vintage touches.
She had blossomed into her new look and was continually dreaming up new outfits which she could make. When she wasn’t working in the shop with Grace she was out looking for clothes from charity shops which she could use to augment her style.
People had settled down about glasses, both at home and at school.
Sarah’s parents had learned to accommodate the fact that their daughter required glasses in order to see. Her mother would never fully accept it, but she had at least stopped complaining about how Sarah had changed.
At school, people were now used to seeing Sarah in her selection of glasses, she would still wear her repaired cats eye glasses from time to time but was more often than not seen wearing her vintage pair.
Jenna had become a lot more introverted since turning up at school sporting a pair of glasses herself. She seemed to have adopted a strategy of staying away from trouble and keeping herself to herself. In many ways she had become the stereotypical glasses-wearer and spent most of her time in the library, which was ironic as she had never been particularly bright.
The only point of interest at school had been news of Becca’s finishing with Scott. She had tired of his shallow personality and had told him she didn’t want to see him anymore. If Scott was upset by this he didn’t show it and was soon to be seen with an attractive girl in the year below him.
As a result of the break-up Becca had become a lot more like her old self. She had apologised to Vicky and now she, Vicky and Sarah had grown closer than ever before. Becca was even occasionally seen in her glasses, the cat eyes which Sarah had bought her, although this was only when she couldn’t be bothered with her contact lenses.
The final tennis competition of the year was won by Becca. Sarah and Becca met in the first round ironically, and Becca had won the close match in straight sets 6 – 5, 6 - 4. She had beaten Katrina in the final 6 -1, 6 – 0.
Steve had teased Sarah about losing the game but Sarah wasn’t bothered by the loss. She knew that Becca had the potential to really go somewhere in the tennis world and encouraged her almost as much as Mrs Powell had.
Sarah was more bothered by the attention that Steve seemed to devote to Becca. He was always asking Sarah questions about her friend. Sarah was sure she was paranoid, but since first noticing this trait it was becoming ever more apparent to her.
Over the last few weeks of the summer term Sarah had grown evermore fond of Grace and Alex. She loved the time she spent in the shop. Grace’s warm, yet enigmatic character was addictive. Alex and Sarah had invested in a little speaker system which allowed them to plug in their iPods to play music in the shop. They had bought Grace an iPod of her own and uploaded a mixture of music onto it from Matt Munro to Metallica.
Sarah only had to think of Grace jigging away in the shop to Rage Against the Machine or Daft Punk to cheer herself up, no matter the situation. Her relationship with Alex had grown closer, although they were still just friends. Sarah found that she could talk to Alex about anything. They had the same interests and the same taste in music. There were times at school when Sarah found her thoughts wandering to the shop and its occupants, but she was still very happy in her relationship with Steve.
In many ways Sarah had put Steve on a pedestal and she would often defer to him in social situations or whenever there was a disagreement about where they should go of an evening.
Steve had even told Sarah that he wasn’t keen on her plan of running a half marathon to raise sponsorship for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. When Sarah had asked him why he was against it, he had stated, quiet firmly, “You spend too much time in that shop as it is. If you spend time training I am never going to see you.”
Troubled by this, Sarah decided to go ahead with her training regardless, but had reasoned that she would run in the morning and not bring it up again for a while. She was determined to raise money for the charity.
The morning had been reasonably quiet in the shop. Grace had been regaling Sarah and Alex with stories of her childhood. It seemed that Grace had been a bit of a tennis star in her youth, although she’d said that she’d given it up because, “Most of the girls were a bit butch! Not my scene at all.”
During the morning Grace had asked for her favourite song to be repeated a number of occasions on the iPod. Sarah and Alex were both beginning to tire of The Scissor Sisters song, ‘I don’t feel like dancing’. Grace never seemed to tire of dancing along. Sarah was always amazed at how much life Grace had in her. She seemed to have more energy than herself and Alex together.
Grace demanded that Sarah and Alex went off and got lunch together, “You’ve worked hard and I think you should treat yourself to a nice café lunch. Off you go!” Sarah and Alex mirrored each other’s shrug of the shoulders and resigned look of submission and left Grace dancing away in the shop.
The pair found a nearby coffee shop and ordered some Panini’s and drinks. They sat down in the corner of the shop and began to talk. It was a little strange to begin with because they had never sat down just the two of them before and talked. It underlined the superficial understanding they had of one another, yes they got on well, but they didn’t really know one another.
Sarah asked Alex about his Cystic Fibrosis, what it really was and how it affected him. He explained to her how he managed the condition with a mixture of drugs and physiotherapy. Alex also told Sarah about the fact that it was something that was always going to be there and wasn’t going to go away. He knew that one day it would kill him.
Sarah felt so sad to hear this and instinctively held Alex’s hand before telling him, with tears in her eyes, that she would always be there for him. Alex looked back at Sarah and explained that he didn’t want her ever to feel obliged to do anything because of his condition, although he did really value her friendship.
Sarah took off her glasses and wiped away her tears. Alex commented that he’d never seen Sarah without her glasses on, “You look quite different without your glasses on. I mean to say, I think you look great with them on and without them on. I hope I don’t ruin things if I tell you that I think you’re beautiful.”
Sarah blushed and hurriedly replaced her glasses so that she could see Alex. “Alex, if things were different and I wasn’t with Steve then…” She paused before continuing, “I think that you are great and bloody good looking too, but I am with Steve so, I hope this makes sense.”
Alex squeezed her hand and smiled, “Sorry for saying anything, I don’t want to ruin our friendship. But when your life is foreshortened you’ve got to take the opportunities your given. I understand about Steve and I’ve got to say I hope he appreciates you. If things should ever change, well you know where I am.”
Sarah was so confused. She was devoted to Steve, but she definitely had feelings for Alex too. It wasn’t Alex’s good looks or his condition that held Sarah’s interest in him. It was his personality which drew her to him.
Sarah had agreed to meet Steve and her friends in the evening at the pub. She was going to be a little later than the others because of the time taken to get back home from the shop to get ready before returning into town.
She busied herself with getting ready, but she couldn’t help but think about her lunch with Alex. Her outfits were becoming more adventurous as the summer drew on. She decided to go for a funky combination for the evening ahead. She mixed up a floral dress and tan leather belt with knee-length grey school socks and her tan leather sandals. The look was very different, but very funky. She straightened her hair using straightening irons and applied subtle makeup touches to really accent her look further. She even considered wearing her other pair of vintage glasses as she was now doing more and more at home, but decided that Steve wouldn’t like the look of the lenses and so opted for her usual pair. Her father had agreed to take Sarah into town and so when she was ready Sarah went downstairs and asked him for a lift.
Sarah said goodbye to her father and left the car a short while away from the bar. She walked towards the busy bar and smiled at the doorman as she walked in to the hubbub of raised conversation and music. The bar was packed and Sarah looked around for Steve and her friends. She first spotted Vicky and Mike and so walked over to them to say hello. They seemed a little concerned to see her and hurried their hellos.
“What’s up with you two, you seem a bit jumpy?” Sarah asked the pair, who both said ‘Nothing’ in unison. “Where are Steve, Becca and Emma?” Sarah asked, deciding to ignore their strange behaviour.
“We haven’t seen them for a bit. Oh look, here comes Emma now”, Emma arrived carrying three drinks and beamed a welcoming smile to Sarah. She handed out the drinks to Vicky and Mike.
“Hi Emma, are Steve and Becca still at the bar? I might be able to catch them and save queuing myself.” Sarah asked looking over at the heaving bar.
“Um, sorry Sarah, I haven’t seen them for a while. I thought they were with you?” Emma replied uncomfortably.
Sarah was beginning to understand the reason for her friends’ uncomfortable demeanours. It seemed implicit that Steve and Becca had disappeared off together for reasons unknown. She wasn’t going to jump to any conclusions and told the others she was going to go to the bar and get a drink.
She waited to be served at the bar for what seemed like an eternity and scanned the bar for any signs of her boyfriend and friend. When she did finally get served she ordered herself a gin and tonic and paid the extortionate price with a five pound note. As she walked back over to her friends she saw Steve and Becca walking in from the beer garden hand-in-hand and giggling together. She stopped where she stood, obscured from view by a pillar. Steve and Becca couldn’t keep their hands off one another and snuck another kiss before rejoining the group.
Sarah couldn’t watch anymore. She walked over to the group and said hello to Steve and Becca. She could sense the tension from Emma, Mike and Vicky who were not oblivious to what the others had been up to. Steve smiled and was about to say hello when Sarah slapped him in the face. She turned coolly to face Becca who was looking guiltily on and poured her glass of gin over her head.
Having completed her declaration, Sarah turned and left the bar, hurrying as fast as she could towards the door. Once out the front of the bar she ran as fast as she could away from the scene. Emma raced out after her but by the time she had gotten out of the bar there was no sign of Sarah anywhere.
Sarah found a quiet street and sat on a bench. She removed her glasses, placing them in her lap, and cried her heart out. She felt so betrayed. She had loved Steve and had given herself to him. Had he ever cared for her? Did he think of Becca when he was with her? Had he imagined he was making love to Becca when he lay on top of her? Sarah couldn’t comprehend all the different questions which were coming to mind at that moment.
“Sarah, there you are”, Emma had found her friend. Sarah removed her head from her hands and looked over to where the statement had come from, through the tears and her foreshortened eyeballs she couldn’t see anything, but she felt reassured when Emma sat beside her and gave her a hug.
The two girls sat there in silence and Sarah slowly soaked Emma’s shoulder with her tears.
Sarah arrived at the shop the following morning only to find it closed. She had resolved to go to the shop in the morning rather than mope around at home. What she wanted was to be in the place she loved with the people who were most dear to her.
To find the shop closed was very disconcerting. She wondered whether she’d misread the time and was early, but the two shops either side of Grace’s shop were open. She sat down on the step by the door and started thinking about Steve and Becca’s betrayal, she couldn’t help but start sobbing gently.
Alex arrived half an hour later and saw Sarah sobbing on the step. “Sarah, have you heard. I’m so sorry.”
Sarah looked up and saw Alex. How on earth did he know about her splitting up with Steve, is that what he meant, she was confused. “Heard what, how did you know about Steve?”
Alex, who was upset himself, looked questioningly at Sarah. “Sarah, I’m not talking about Steve. It’s Grace, my Gran, she’s dead.”
Sarah pulled herself up from the step and walked over to Alex. “I’m so sorry.” She hugged him close and they both cried.
They walked to the coffee shop where they’d had lunch the previous day and ordered some tea. Alex explained that Grace had suffered a massive stroke in the evening. His mother had been alerted when she had tried to call her and had no response. “The doctors say she wouldn’t have suffered, it was very quick.”
Sarah couldn’t believe what was happening. It brought her sadness about Steve into sharp perspective and she knew that there wasn’t another person in the world she’d rather be having a cup of tea with than Alex.
Sarah put the credit card-sized key into the walnut door and entered her room with its views over Central Park. She stood by the window for a moment watching the skaters on the rink and the couples taking an evening stroll together as the bright lights of Manhattan twinkled in the dusk.
The hotel had been kind enough to get her a copy of the New York Times and a bottle of sparkling mineral water.
She opened the paper and flicked through the pages until she got to the article entitled, ‘Fashion’s Hottest Property – NYT Meets the Woman Behind Grace – an Article by D.F. Thomas’.
Sarah was in New York promoting her fashion label at the eponymous ‘fashion week’. This show was especially important as Sarah had taken an extended break from the promotional circuit following the death of her husband Alex a little over a year earlier. It was to be the re-establishment of her phenomenally successful label, Grace.
She poured herself a glass of water and sat down to read the article.
…At just 35, Sarah Macintosh has compressed a lot into her life so far. I caught up with her at the Guggenheim Museum of Art where she had just staged the most significant show of Fashion Week so far. I wanted to find out more about this amazing woman who rarely speaks to the press. What drives her to challenge the foundations of modern fashion, where has she come from and where is she going?
I was first struck by the grace of the woman herself. Wearing a fabulous violet dress and her trademark vintage glasses I felt that I was in the presence of a movie star of yesteryear. Her beauty is not something which can be easily captured on camera. She has an ethereal quality and gently way of talking, which only those who have experienced true love and real loss can express…
DT: First of all, I have got to say I was blown away by your show and the collection. How would you sum up the show?
SM: Thank you for your kind words, I’m glad you liked the show. We selected the Guggenheim as the venue as it perfectly captures the essence of Grace and what we are trying to achieve in our latest collection. The Guggenheim is both modern and contemporary whilst being of a different era, a gentler time in many ways.
My clothing and accessories will always stay true to the ethos of that time. If you have ever handled clothing of that era you are captured instantly by the quality and craftsmanship of the garments. Look at the materials and craftsmanship in these glasses for instance.
[At this point Sarah removed her glasses and handed them to me. After getting over the weight and strength of the lenses they held I can confirm that the glasses were beautifully manufactured and were as fashionable today as they would have been when they were made.]
DT: This is your first show for over a year. How hard a decision was it to return to fashion following the death of your husband?
SM: The death of Alex is not something I will ever get over. To lose someone who you love, especially at such a young age, is heart-breaking. However, I have been so inspired with the way Alex lived in the face of adversity, his grace, that I have resolved to keep my work going.
[Sarah Macintosh’s husband Alex died in the summer of 2008 from complication arising from the Cystic Fibrosis which he had been born with. Her fashion label, ‘Grace’ contributes 50% of all profits towards the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.]
DT: What was your inspiration that lead you towards fashion? Was there a defining moment in your life where you woke up and realised your fate or were you always destined to do what you do?
SM: It’s strange really. The trigger for my love of fashion was when I was in my late teens and I was prescribed glasses for the first time. Up until that point I had never really though about fashion in a deep sense.
You might think that the link is pretty tenuous but the first time I chose glasses they called out to me and changed the way I looked upon the world and the way I behaved. If you think about it, fashion is purely a way of expressing yourself. Glasses are functional and yet we care about not only how you look out through them but also how people look upon you wearing them. That is why my eyewear range is every bit as important to me as any other item of clothing I produce.
DT: The name ‘Grace’ seems to perfectly capture your fashion. Where did the name come from?
SM: Around the time of my fashion awakening I met a wonderful woman, Alex’s grandmother in fact. Her name was Grace and she was the epitome of the word. I loved her like my own grandmother and I miss her to this day. She would have loved fashion week and I hope she’s up there with Alex right now having a little boogie and enjoying what she sees…
Sarah put down the paper and sat on the bed. The words in the article brought home to her the feelings of loss she felt. She removed her glasses and was quickly ensconced in the comforting blur of the room. She cried gently to herself and lay her head on the feather-filled pillow. She reached out for the bottle of pills which she knew were on the bedside table and took two of the capsules washing them down with the remaining water in her glass. She quickly fell asleep dreaming of waking next to her love, Alex.