Take me back

It's a Girl Thing12-08-2021, 1600 words

Domestic life
Gender identity

The thirtieth annual Fitzroy charity gala.

Truth to be told, Penn had never expected to be here again. At another ball, like the ones she’d been forced to go as a child and stopped going once she grew up. It didn’t help that this was the Fitzroy gala, held by the same family that disowned her partner.

But Lyon was here tonight. All three of them were, Lyon, Penn, and Rowan, because girlfriends supported their girlfriends through harrowing family events. Because once Lyon started making it big as a brand-name fashion designer, the Fitzroys suddenly wanted their black sheep back. Now Mr. and Mrs. Fitzroy were thinking of expanding into department stores and company representatives were knocking on their door asking for partnerships.

And this was supposed to be a soup company. Good lord.

The gala invite was just another in a long series of attempts to get Lyon to say yes. Lyon, bless their heart, was too bemused not to come. Penn thought that secretly, maybe they wanted to string the Fitzroys along and crush them at the end. Would’ve been fair play with what they put Lyon through.

Or maybe Lyon just missed having a family. In the bottom of their drawer, Penn had found sketches. Drawings of ironic, half-assed tomato shirts that were bound to be another runaway hit from Lyon Zively-Belmonte.

Either way, it wasn’t Penn’s business to pry. As Lyon’s plus one out of two, she was there for emotional support. Lyon would talk when they were ready and in the meantime, Penn would go to pretentious balls for them.

Surrounded by starched suits and swishing skirts, Penn sighed. At least she wasn’t there as the Zively Financial Group representative. Tonight, Penn was just someone’s trophy wife and that felt like she’d gone up in the world.

Not that her trophy husbands were anywhere to be found. The other Zively-Belmonte trophy partner, the one who was the Belmonte part of the equation, had fucked off somewhere. Rowan’s words, not hers, because Penn would never swear but Rowan had enough rage to level a small country.

Her, Rowan, and Lyon. The three of them would be alright. Not now, but eventually.

Standing by herself, her partners lost in the crowd, Penn thought about going to powder her face. Maybe it was time to retouch her makeup.

Or, to put it in better terms, she was going to stand in the bathroom until the night was over. No way she was sitting through Mr. and Mrs. Fitzroy’s fifth speech on the future of canned foods.

She thought it might’ve been Lyon at first.

But Lyon wasn’t wearing a dress tonight. Penn knew for a fact they were in a suit, navy blue which she’d picked out (Rowan had picked the tie). And Lyon wasn’t that tall, hair not that long and definitely not braided. This person, who looked like Lyon but not quite, was Sol.

What were the odds of running into your partner’s cousin at a fancy party?

Very high actually, given the Fitzroys were hosting the party in the first place. Poor Sol must’ve been forced to come by her parents, seeing as she wasn’t disowned like her cousin. Yet?

She was hovering awkwardly around the bathroom, between the two doors like she didn’t know where to go. Now that felt familiar. That brought back memories.

Sol, in her silver dress and matching heels, reminded Penn of a different, younger Penn. And in the end, hadn’t everything turned out alright for her? With a soft feeling in the back of her throat, like how it felt after a good cry, Penn touched her on the shoulder.

“I like your dress,” she said.

There they were in the ladies’ room, Penn redoing her makeup and Sol watching her do it. She had a feeling they were both there to avoid the rest of the party.

Sol was quiet. Like, really, really quiet. By the time Penn moved onto eyeliner, she still hadn’t said anything, just stood there and wrung her hands. With her downturned gaze and meek little look, Penn almost wanted to snap that she was making her nervous.

But that was a bit mean. Penn was working on being less of that lately, keeping her snippy thoughts to herself. She used to be worse, like a real mean girl. At least now, she knew when she was being petty. (And Sol had her cousin to thank for that.)

Besides, Sol was a kindred spirit. Not exactly like her, but like Lyon and Rowan, who wore dresses and suits as they pleased. Lyon had said as much, that my cousin’s exploring gender and I am so proud of him.

Looking at Sol from the corner of her eye, Penn couldn’t help but think they really did look like family. Same black-green hair, same bony shoulders, and so on. Their faces were carved from the same blueprint, though they arranged it differently. If Lyon was calm and collected, cool even, then Sol was shy. Timid. A nervous look to her, brows drawn in anxiety. Funny enough, that made her easier to read. Lyon only got like that when things were getting really bad.

Penn didn’t know Sol well. She didn’t think Lyon did either, and how could Rowan when they didn’t grow up in high society?

She’d really only seen Sol as a kid, when the Fitzroys first started doing their galas. She remembered seeing a tiny child in an ill-fitting suit, clutching her mother’s dress before she batted her hand away. And then Penn had stopped going to those parties so they never actually spoke.

Until now.

“How are you?”

Sol looked up, startled. Penn continued with her eyeliner.

She was just making polite conversation. Standard, textbook pleasantries that would give Sol room to say “good, thanks” and move on, or keep going if she wanted.

“I’m okay.”

Sol was quieter than she expected. Actually, just as quiet as she expected. Makeup back in her purse, Penn gave Sol a smile, the warmest she could muster. “Penn Zively. I’m Lyon’s partner.”

“Oh.” Sol blinked, something in her face clearing. Less like a cornered animal and more like one coming out for treats. “That’s cool. They’ve told me about you? Um, both of you. Both as in you and the other person, not, not that there’s two of you. Sorry. I don’t remember their name.”

Oh, oh gosh. Her social ineptitude was endearing. In a way, Sol was like the little sibling she never had.

“You mean Rowan,” she offered, to save Sol the mortification. “They’re here too, I can introduce you if you want.”

“No thanks,” Sol said, and Penn could see the moment she realized it was the wrong thing to say. “I mean, I was kind of hoping to stay in the bathroom the entire night?”

Wow. Relatable.

Penn coughed, covering the amusement that was starting to form. “Well, you’re Sol, right?”

Sol nodded. Penn fished for something to say again.

“I like your makeup. How did you do it?” Girl code number seventeen: compliment her look.

Sol tugged on a lock of hair before answering. “Thank you. I, I just did it like normal. Chet… um, my boyfriend, he helped too. I don’t care if it’s not very good.” She flushed bright red and looked a little upset.

Getting defensive was relatable too. Penn raised her hands in a placating gesture. “I think it’s great. The eyeshadow is very pretty. Better than I did when I first started and I didn’t start early either.”

Sol’s eyes widened in recognition. “Mhm. So you also…?”

“Some girls take a while to come into themselves, right?” In the mirror, blue-green eyes blinked back at her. Gold eyeshadow and a dignified matte lipstick, and all of it worked. Just like her.

“I…” Next to her, Sol was clutching the edge of the sink nervously. Like she wanted to say something but didn’t know how. “I mean, I’m not always… I don’t want to give you the wrong idea or something.”

“Don't worry, you aren't,” Penn said with a smile.

“Thanks,” Sol mumbled. She fell silent, like she was expecting Penn to say something - but Penn was waiting for her.

After a pause, Sol straightened, eyes darting to the door. “Sorry, I don’t know.”

This was a good time to change the topic. A great time actually, because wow, this was awkward. Then again, maybe bathroom talks about gender were just like that. Between pseudo-strangers, no less.

“Well, forgetting all that, I’d offer to let you borrow my makeup if you want to retouch yours,” Penn said in the most graceful pivot she could think of. “But I’m sure you don’t want to share a stranger’s. It’s the thought that counts, right?”

Sol visibly relaxed, looking almost relieved. Relieved and a little grateful and once again, Penn couldn’t help but think endearing. “It’s okay. I don’t think anything is really falling off. But thank you for offering.”

“And, um,” she continued, fidgeting with her hair again. “I don’t think we’re really strangers if you’re with my cousin? That counts as family, right?”

Gosh, why hadn’t they spoken before? Sol was such a good kid. Penn could barely hold back the urge to pat her on the head. “Tell Lyon we should meet sometime,” she said instead. “All of us. You, me, Lyon, Rowan. The boyfriend too, if you want to bring him.”

“Okay,” Sol said and smiled shyly. If Penn wasn’t sure, she would’ve said she was beaming, actually. “That’d be cool. We could go somewhere to eat, maybe. I’ll ask.”

“Of course.” Brushing her hair back, Penn straightened and gave Sol a smile. “It was nice to meet you, Sol.”