Several minutes later they were in the bathroom of the junior girls' dormitory. One wall was lined with sinks, each with an unframed mirror above it. Augusta stood in the center of the room, trying to catch a glimpse of the scrape in her reflection. Behind her, Sally was perched on the lip of the sink, her little feet in their black boots swinging a good foot above the floor. The laces of one had come undone and the metal tip just brushed the tile, sending a soft metallic whisper through the room. She held up the plaster, nodding for Augusta to hold out her arm, and covered the gash carefully, smoothing the bandage neatly over the wound. Her touch was gentle, precise but icy and Augusta flinched, laughing,
Sally grinned, baring her teeth and wiggling her icy fingers. Again she was the ghost, a phantom breathe sending shivers through the air. She pictured herself standing in the entry hall, arms outstretched by her sides. And she pictured the whole of the school walking by, straight through her icy presence with shudders and confused faces.
Augusta's laugh trailed off as she turned to the mirror. She held up a loose strand of hair between her fingers, looking skeptically at the tangled mess that had been a neat and orderly braid that morning. Nancy Hopkins, one of Augusta's roommates, nearly always found time in the mornings to style her friend's hair. Her own hair had been cropped short into a curly bob. She did the best she could, amassing a vast collection of berets and clips, but it was never enough. She had once worn her hair long and when she brushed it out smooth it had been long enough to sit on. Living only a few miles from school, she hadn't started boarding until her 5th year. Every morning before the family had breakfast, Nancy's mother would style her daughter's hair. Nancy would seat herself at the kitchen table and refuse to budge until her hair was styled into some entirely new and elaborate fashion. If she sensed any resemblance to the past day's arrangement she would seem to grow roots, attaching herself so firmly to her chair that her mother was forced to concede, devising countless new styles until she was at her wit's end. Complicated braids, ringlets, twists, every morning it had to be something new. Eventually, her poor mother had had enough. One morning, Nancy had sat, as usual, at the table, her hair trailing down over the back of her chair in a blonde cascade. Mrs. Hopkins had come into the room in her flannel bathrobe, hiding an enormous pair of scissors in its deep pocket. In one fluid motion she had swept her daughter's hair off her skinny neck and lopped it off. Then, turning on her heel, she had marched straight back upstairs, fuzzy slippers slapping against the hardwood. Nancy's twin, Ellen, had watched this travesty with glee. Her own hair was lank and dull. Her sister's silky blonde tresses had filled her with a deep, aching envy for most of her young life and she had watched their destruction with a sickly, desperate pleasure. She told the story at every opportunity; how Nancy had reached behind her and clutched at her head, pawing at the back of her neck, pretty green eyes bulging out of her skull. Ellen would laugh hysterically as she told it, leaning down from her bunk so Augusta could see her depiction of her sister's expression. Puckering her lips and opening her eyes as wide as they would go, dangling down over the edge of the mattress. Augusta always chuckled good-naturedly, but she never laughed too hard. Nancy would just lie on her bed, occasionally letting out a resentful snort.
This situation always wound up working in Augusta's favor however, as she was perfectly hopeless at arranging her own hair, and Nancy could find no greater pleasure. That morning, up early to catch a train to the city, where she spent the long weekends with her grandmother, Nancy had woken Augusta and insisted that she be allowed to braid her hair before she left,
"Otherwise you'll have to go around with it all in a tangle until Tuesday," she'd explained, whacking a brush through the worst knots as she spoke,
"You know you're hopeless at fixing it yourself," She continued to whack away at the tangles for several minutes and when they were all out she'd turned Augusta around to face her and said, with a teasing smile,
"I don't know what you'd do without me, dear," And it was true, for other reasons than Augusta's sad incompetence when it came to hair-styling. Apart from Nell, whom she'd know since they were just toddlers, Nancy was one of her oldest and best friends, and she'd seen her through thick and thin. Nell and Nancy were the only two of her current friends who had known her during her parents' divorce, and knew that it was her gratitude to them helping her then that kept them together through the years. She would never forget the nights spent at Nell's, reading out loud to each other from magazines and trashy novels, while her parents fought it out at home. Or the days Nancy's mother had picked her up from school and brought her to spend the afternoon, because her father had called and said he was meeting with the lawyer.
Augusta pulled the ribbon out of the mess that had been a braid and shook her head, running her fingers through it to flatten it. It hung about her shoulders in thick dark waves.
"Sally, I'm an absolute mess," she said, laughing. Sally only nodded seriously and slipped down from the sink.