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Blair peered into the mirror with the kind of fierce concentration she normally reserved for casting judgement on her Blair Mac designs for Spring Fashion Week. She didn't take in her entire face. She fixed only on her left eye.
She held it wide and very carefully attached the false eyelashes. She blinked. She repeated the procedure for her right eye. As a model, she'd learned how to do this twenty years ago. She hadn't expected to need it now she was no longer in front of a camera or parading down a catwalk, though.
It just goes to show.
Next she attached the false eyebrows. That was a newly acquired skill. Unlike the lashes, they wouldn't need to be removed every day. If she took care they should remain in place for several weeks.
Her eyebrows had always been fair, but full. She'd used to get them tinted.
Once upon a time.
She pushed the thought away. No point mooning about the past.
She reached for the wig, removed it carefully from its stand and ran a hand down the long length of blonde synthetic hair. Even a trained eye would find it hard to tell the difference between this wig and her old hair. Her friend Dana, hairdresser extraordinaire, had warned her that the wig was too long, but Blair had chosen it anyway. She'd found comfort in the fact that it looked so much like her old hair.
She pulled the wig on over her scalp, tugged it into place, and then turned back to the mirror to make whatever adjustments were necessary. Adjustments that would help her look normal. Adjustments that would help her look whole and healthy. Adjustments that would hopefully ensure people started treating her like a fully functioning adult again.
Finally she stepped back and viewed her face in its entirety. She reached for her pot of blusher. More colour on her cheeks wouldn't go amiss. She applied another coat of tawny-pink lipstick with its advertised stay-put power, and once again gave thanks for the skills she'd learned as a model.
She stepped back again, viewed her facefirst from the left side and then the rightand then nodded at her reflection. Her heartbeat slowed. Finally she could recognise herself. When she ventured outside today no one would be able to tell.
And no one was here now to see the way her hand shook as she capped her lipstick, or the trouble she had screwing the lid back on to the pot of blusher.
You have a lot to give thanks for. Chin up!
She averted her gaze from the mirror as she undid her wrap. She snapped her bra and prosthesis into place and pulled a T-shirt on over her head as quickly as she could.
Problem was, she reflected as she tugged on her jeans, it wasn't gratitude that was in her heart. It was fear. Fear that life would never feel normal again. Fear that Glory would never stop fussing, would never stop being afraid for her. Fear that her beloved aunt would worry herself into an early grave.
Glory was talking about selling up and moving to Sydney to be closer to her! Blair dropped to the bed and pulled on her boots. Glory had lived here in Dungog her entire life. She'd hate the city.
Blair glanced at the mirror again. She put a hand under her chin to physically lift it higher. She owed Glory everything. She had to put her aunt's mind at rest. She had to. That was why she'd come home. Blair was out of danger. She was healthy again. Once Glory realised that..
She leapt up to toss her cosmetics into her make-up bag. The make-up bag she took everywhere. Just in case. For touch ups. Emergencies. Once she'd succeeded in convincing Glory she was better.. Well, then they could all get back to normality.
And that was what she really wantednormality. Her motives weren't purely altruistic.
She paused to grip her hands in front of her. Bluff. That was the answer. If she could bluff her way into winning the Miss Showgirl quest twenty years ago, bluff her way into a modelling career and then bluff her way into fashion college, surely she could bluff everyone into thinking she was healthy again?
She pulled in a breath. 'Piece of cake.' The mirror proved that she could still present herself to the best possible advantage. Looking at her, nobody would believe that she was anything but healthy and whole.
You are healthy.
'Oh, Blair, look at you!' Glory said the moment Blair entered the kitchen. 'You look fabulous. As if..'
'As if I'd never been sick,' Blair finished for her.
'Well, yes, but '
Bluff! She twirled on the spot for good effect. 'I'm as good as new.' She kissed her aunt on the cheek before taking her seat and pouring muesli into a bowl. Bluff had not got her through surgery and chemotherapy. Glory had done that. 'Tea?' Glory lifted the teapot.
'Yes, please. And stop looking at me like that, Aunt Glory. The last few months have been hard.' 'Hell on earth,' Glory growled.
She reached across to clasp her aunt's hand. 'And it's beyond wonderful to have the opportunity to spend a month mooching around here. I can't tell you how much I've been looking forward to it.'
'I can't tell you how good it is to have you home.'
Glory's bottom lip quivered and Blair wanted to kick herself all over again for going back to work so soon, for fainting, for worrying everyone anew. She knew how much her aunt loved her. She knew how much her aunt had feared losing her. She knew what her aunt had gone through.
It was why she'd given herself this month off as a holiday.
She swallowed the hard knot in her throat. 'Aunt Glory, they got all the cancer. They blasted me with chemo to make sure. I'm getting stronger every day. I'm practically as healthy as any other woman my age. I'm going to live a long and fulfilling life. No more kid gloves, okay? It's time for things to get back to normal.'
'No more kid gloves?' Glory murmured, but she shook her head as she said it.
'That's right. So drink your tea before it gets cold.'
Blair waited until her aunt had eaten a piece of toast before saying, 'You said last night that you have a meeting of the Agricultural Show Society today?'
The enthusiasm in Glory's voice gladdened Blair's heart. 'With the show in three months' time, I'm guessing this is the first official planning meeting?'
'That's right, love, and everyone will be there.' 'Fabulous! Count me in.'
Her aunt's teaspoon clattered back to its saucer. 'Oh, but, Blair '
She tried not to wince at the anxiety that strained her aunt's voice. She'd lain awake last night, thinking of ways she could prove to Glory that she was okay again. Being seen out and about in the community, and functioning fully and normally was the best she'd been able to come up with. 'It'll be lovely to catch up with people I haven't seen in a while. And surely there'll be some small thing or two that I can help out with for the next month or so?'
'You should be resting!'
'Oh, I'll be doing plenty of that too.' She stretched her arms back behind her and grinned. 'I'm on holidayI plan on being lazy and having some fun. The show-planning will be fun. I always loved this time of year when I was a girl.'
The wistful note in Glory's voice had Blair's throat thickening all over again.
The show meeting was every bit as gruelling as Blair had expected.
There were all the expected stares that made her flinch and cringe inside, and lots of 'My, aren't you looking well?' comments, and genuine surprise that helped ease all that flinching and cringing. She had no intention of being an object of pity.
Oh, poor Blair. It's so terrible to lose your parents at such a young age.
She'd grown up with that refrain and she'd hated it. There was no way she was adding, Oh, poor Blair. It's terrible to lose a breast so young, to the litany.
Even if it was terrible.
Even if she couldn't look at herself in the mirror naked any more.
Nobody else needed to know that.
So she chatted and laughed, drank tea and ate cake, and took a seat at the table when Joan, the chair of the Agricultural Show Society, called the meeting to order. She listened intently as the meeting progressed, and even made an occasional suggestion.
'Rightiolet's move on to ' Joan checked the agenda '.the Miss Showgirl quest.'
Blair shifted on her seat. The Dungog Miss Showgirl quest was part-beauty-pageant, part-charity-fundraiser, and part-public-speaking contest, and had been part of the town's history for as long as anyone could remember.
And twenty years ago she'd won it.
Perspiration prickled her scalp as inevitable comparisons bombarded her. Her body had been perfect once, and she'd never fully appreciated it. Now, it was.
She swallowed and blinked hard. She didn't want to remember how perfect her body had been twenty years ago and how imperfect it was now. Her hands clenched against the assault of grief. She didn't want to be reminded of all she'd lost. She risked a glance at Glory. Could she sneak out of the meeting unobserved?
As if sensing Blair's pain, Glory swung round.
Blair schooled her features. 'Ooh, what fun!' She rubbed her hands together. 'How many contestants are there this year?'
'Girls?' Joan called down to the end of the table where a group of teenage girls were gathered. 'How many of you are entering for the quest?' She counted the raised hands. 'Ten? lovely.'
There'd been a dozen in Blair's year.
'Now, we do have a bit of a problem.'
Aware of her aunt's gaze, still surveying her from the other side of the table, Blair kept her face clear and her attention squarely on Joan.
'Lexxie Hamilton, who is normally mentor to the contestants, is unfortunately unable to take up the role this year. So we are going to need a new mentor. Would anyone like to volunteer for the role or put someone's name forward as a suggestion?'
Nobody said anything.
Joan turned to Blair. 'Blair, honey, for how long are you in town?'
Out of the corner of her eye she saw her aunt shake her head at Joan. She pushed her shoulders back. 'I'm here for a whole month and I would love to help out.' She was aware of Glory stiffening and shaking her head again, and of Joan's gaze flicking to Glory before moving back to Blair. She lifted her chin and smiled brightly. 'I would love to be the Miss Showgirl mentor for the next month.'
Joan cleared her throat. 'We should hate to put you out, Blair. We all know what you've been through'
'Put me out?' She snorted, and then deliberately beamed at Glory. 'From memory, I meet with the showgirl entrants for two hours a week, yes? That's not putting me out at all. It'll be fun.'
Glory bit her lip. 'Fun?'
'You bet.' While she had control of the floor she glanced to where the entrants sat. 'Do Thursday nightssix-thirty till eight-thirtysuit everyone?' Ten hands instantly shot into the air. 'Theredone! And that gives you a whole month to find a replacement for when I go back to the city.'
Joan glanced at Glory again. 'Well I '
Blair smiled at her aunt with deliberate blitheness, as if unaware of her aunt's objections, effectively preventing Glory from shaking her head at Joan again.
'Um thank you, Blair. That will be a great help.'