Ricky – not short for anything, and simply named so because his dad liked it and had apparently decided that’s what he’d call their only son.
Ricky was an alleged disappointment from the very beginning. He wasn’t able to play catch – of any type, he seemed to have two left feet when it came to most sports and in fact came last in every sport; water or land.
“I wish I’d had a girl; at least if she sucked at sports we’d understand why,” he’d often lament out loud.
On Ricky’s 16th birthday, he decided to grant his father that wish.
When Ricky got up to go to school on the 21st of March in 2012, he dressed in his usual khaki shorts, white shirt with navy blazer and socks pulled up to his knees, grabbed his duffel bag and headed out the door. When he reached the corner of his street – where the junction met with the main road, Ricky saw the senior kids and he inwardly groaned. Realising he had mere seconds before they saw him, he quickly ducked to his right and shot down a laneway. He heard the shouts then; “hey! There’s the poof!” “Get him!” and “He went that way!”
Ricky knew he was no match for the boys who always won the races, but he did have adrenaline, a head start and detailed knowledge of the laneway’s nooks and crannies. He vaulted over the fence about halfway down into Mrs. Porter’s garden, scraped his shin on the way over, then landed badly on his left side. Without breaking his stride, he zoomed across the garden, nearly colliding with the cat – who screeched in terror at the sudden intrusion before shooting off into the back door’s cat flap, Ricky then launched himself over the garden bin and landed on a neatly piled stack of garden tools. Tools that hadn’t been there just a few days before, he knew – because on Saturday his father had forced him to help the elderly woman with her garden. The rake pole snapped, and a sharp blade protruded, narrowly missing his foot, but Ricky launched past the pile regardless and limped along the side of the house. Towards the front, a big bush shielded a part of the house from the street, so he ducked underneath and crawled into the centre.
Although he heard several shouts, Ricky knew the kids had gotten bored and given up. He waited much longer anyway, just to be safe, then slid out from his hiding place and cautiously re-entered the road. With a torn sock that revealed a gash that was still slightly bleeding and also covered in dirt, and twigs and dust and leaves covering his hair and his coat, Ricky slowly limped towards school.
As he rounded the bend and watched other late-comers converge on the front of the school, he decided the last thing he wanted was to be anywhere near such a place.
Ricky turned and headed away from his school and towards the shopping centre.
Brightly lit and waiting for the droves that were sure to come, the shopping centre opened itself fully and seemed not to notice as Ricky entered it looking worse for wear. His intention was to make it to the toilets, where he could easily clean up but as he rounded the corner, the pretty, young woman who was opening up the make-up shop saw him, and her eyes took him in. She stopped, hand in mid-air, opening the shutters.
“What the devil have you been up to?” she asked him, eyes scanning him and mouth curling into disapproval.
When Ricky didn’t respond, she left the shutters and moved towards him – cautiously, as though he were a wild animal and she was about to snare him into a trap. “Easy there, tiger. Shhhh, it’s ok, let me take a look at you.” When it seemed like the boy was about to run away, she stood tall and grew cross.
“Now, stop being so silly and come here at once! You need tending to and that won’t happen on its own!” Her stern voice had the intended effect and he froze. She came to him, put an arm around his shoulders and gently moved him into her store. She yanked on the shutters and let them fall, then said, “they can wait a bit longer today, you’re more important.”
At the back of the store, underneath the Lancôme and Dior signs and hidden behind a large mirror was a small kitchen with a tiny table for one person to sit.
“I’m Maddie, now sit down and tell me what happened,” she said in an older sister tone, then nudge him onto the wooden chair and moved to a first aid cabinet. She cleaned the wound while he stared at her then looked around the tiny kitchenette. “I asked you a question, young man,” she scolded him gently as she gently applied a stinging substance which made him wince, then held it there while she opened a large band aid mostly with her teeth.
Within minutes, she had him calmed, cleaned and bandaged. She stood back, arms folded and a curious look on her face as she studied him.
“So, tell me what happened, Ricky,” she asked, then leaned against the wall.
“How did you know my name?” he asked in a timid voice.
“It’s written on your socks.”
“So, who did this to you?” “No… you don’t get to go quiet again. I’m not going to tell anyone, so please tell me.”
He hadn’t meant to tell her anything, but when he accidentally made eye contact with eyes that might have been a patch of the Indian Ocean, that glinted an understanding of life that most wouldn’t grasp, that might warn unprepared passers-by not to try anything stupid or foul, his mouth opened, and it dare only tell the truth.
“They’ve been picking on me since the fifth grade! They call me horrible names and they say I’m really a girl; that I’m a poof, that I should die, that they’ll beat me senseless. They do it sometimes, but most of the time they just say it to scare me and make sure I don’t get too close. And nobody at school comes anywhere near me because then they’ll get teased too,” he froze, aware he’d said so much; too much, but also realising she’d had him under some kind of spell. He put his arm over his mouth and his eyes went wide.
She giggled, then said, “right, I have things to do. Think you can stay here and rest for a bit while I open up shop and get my store ready?” He nodded, and she gave him a big, reassuring smile, then turned gracefully – he noticed everything she did was graceful – and she went out to the store. Minutes later, he heard her shutters come up. Then the sounds of a til being opened and electronic sounds coming from the counter nearby.
Maddie’s first customer came in early and seemed to want to try everything; electric blue mascara, blue eye-shadow, rouge, a hot new purple lip gloss and so it went. She humoured the woman and tried on everything she asked. She explained how eye-shadows worked and showed her in the mirror. Almost an hour later, the woman bought a £7 rouge and left, mumbling a feeble thanks.
“People don’t spend money like they used to,” she said wistfully and with a face full of worry.
When she turned, she found that Ricky had moved himself to a stool, which he’d managed to raise quite a bit, and had been mimicking her. Formerly plain, blue eyes had become smoky granite-blue beacons. Flesh-coloured lips were a pink velvet while a Perricone Rouge smeared up his cheeks and turned him into porcelain doll.
Not bad, she thought.
“I think you went as little overboard with the rouge,” she said, and laughed.
His cheek colour darkened a little.
“How long have you liked makeup?” she asked him.
He shrugged, then said, “always.”
“Do you like to dress up too?”
Ricky nodded, then said, “only when she’s busy in the kitchen,” then looked around, as though afraid to be seen or overheard.
“And does she have nice heels you also like?”
“Do you like my shoes?” she looked down once, then back at him with a cheeky smile. She knew he would.
He nodded, then looked at her and smiled back.
“Would you like to try them on?”
He nodded eagerly and slid off the stool, not altogether too patiently waiting for her to get off them. She slipped them off and moved back, smiling, but also considerably shorter. She folded her arms and motioned him with her eyes.
Like an expert, he slid into them – far too big for his slim, boyish feet, but completing the look he’d created.
She clapped, softly and with a big smile, “bravo! You look simply fabulous!”
He playfully took a small bow, but nearly lost his balance, so he quickly righted himself again.
Maddie took him over to the counter, and sat him on the stool, then slipped the heels off him and put them back on her own feet, “you really do know how to move around in these heels don’t you?” she said it rhetorically, but he nodded enthusiastically anyway.
“Let me show you a few things about makeup,” she said, and began to wipe his efforts away with a soft cloth. She then picked various colours and explained what she did as she applied it. When customers came into the store and browsed around, clearly wasting time – tyre kicking, as Maddie liked to call it, then saw the young boy and what she was doing to him, the left hurriedly, as though they might become infected or marred by simply having watched them.
Maddie didn’t let it bother her, but she was also aware that it might not paint a wholesome picture, regardless of her good intentions. She finished up and moved back on her chair, leaving the boy to admire her handiwork in the mirror.
If a look of gratitude, that also encompassed wonder; excitement and surprise could be described, Maddie would do it. He stood up and his eyes sparkled with moisture. She grabbed her wipes and smiled at him, taking him in, one last time, then quickly removed the makeup. It took less than two minutes to remove it all.
Ricky almost seemed disappointed, until she opened a drawer and began rummaging. She put together a small pencil-case of items; a new lipstick, foundation, eye-shadow, mascara, pencils and some other items then handed it to him and said, “you didn’t get these from me.” He nodded, as she manoeuvred him out of her store. As he walked away, she whispered, “I’m always quiet here in the mornings – especially on Mondays.”
Ricky hid his bag until Friday night, when his father passed out with a bottle of Vodka in front of the TV and his mother was at work in the local gas station until 1am. Just to be sure, he quietly went into her cupboard, chose his outfit, shoes and various add-ons and snuck them to his room. After locking his door and making sure he was safe, he would get to work.
Working methodically, Ricky applied what Maddie had showed him, only with more colour and heavier strokes. His lips were a blood-purple and sparkled with glitter, while his face was alabaster – a blank canvas. Eyes became the ocean; turbulent and full of mystery, with so much promise of what’s beneath.
When he slipped his mother’s azure dress, he tied it on with a thick white belt. It sagged too much, but he used the belt to prop it up as best he could. When he put his mother’s white 2-inch heels on, he stepped back from his full-length mirror and admired his handiwork. He used the old smartphone to take several phones of himself; checking each to make sure they captured his entire look.
Ricky then worked diligently to remove the makeup, then put his mother’s clothes away, being careful to ensure his father slept fitfully. He took a shower, then got into bed with his phone.
He had an Instagram account – of course; who didn’t? But he didn’t have a public account and certainly not with any real friends, so Ricky created a new account called WannabeSumthink and uploaded his pictures. Hashtags were for desperate losers, everyone knew, but he chose a couple carefully – so he could gain some followers, without being cheesy.
When he woke up the next day, he had 3 new followers – and one of them was a bot, he shrugged and went to school.
The following Monday, Ricky found himself waiting for Maddie far too early, but waited patiently for her to open up. Maddie arrived early that morning, she smiled when she saw him as though she’d been expecting him. She gave him a big hug and closed the shutters once they were inside.
Ricky asked her about her own makeup and asked if he could sample some darker colours. She indulged him while warning him that he had light skin tones and darker colours may not work. When they applied makeup later, she realised he intended to go overboard.
“Your inspiration is showgirls, right?” she asked him.
He simply smiled.
Over the coming months, Ricky studied carefully and even found himself helping in the store before and after school. Without realising it, Maddie had gained herself a loyal employee.
She paid him minimum wage when she could, and Ricky seemed delighted to be rewarded in such a way and worked tirelessly to clean the store. He diligently dusted, polished and often helped to change displays to better showcase a product. He seemed to have a gift for such things as that day would bring more sales from that particular display.
One Saturday, Ricky came to work as a woman. Maddie didn’t flinch but smiled – admired his dress and his choice of makeup and approved. She complimented him, as he did her. Customers seemed shocked at first, but as the weeks went on, soon let curiosity get the better of them.
Maddie was more than a little surprised to find customers gravitating directly to Ricky, especially when she dressed as Ricki.
Shortly before Ricki’s 16th birthday, a customer paid for over £100 of products excitedly and told Maddie, “I’m a huge fan of Ricki’s Instagram!”
When she finally found Ricky’s insta, she was shocked to see he had over 100,000 followers. It was also easy to see why sales had quadrupled
On his 16th birthday, Ricki went home wearing a short cerulean blue summer dress with pink flamingos and pink heels and hair piled on top in a bun. He told his parents he was moving out; left Maddie’s address and left with a suitcase of his belongings.
His mother visited the store from time to time and seemed more amused than disgusted or surprised by the town’s love for Ricki. But Ricky’s father chose to ignore his son.
When Ricki decided to move New York City, Maddie decided to go with him. The business had turned a surprising profit, particularly over the past 6 months, and a local couple decided they could do better. Ricki left, and Maddie followed a few weeks later, beckoned by a city that promised unrelenting adventures.
Another useless rambling by Fox Emerson