PROMPT: Certain actions you make drastically alter your physical appearance-the worse you are as a person, the worse your appearance becomes and vice versa. One person, who had always been terrible, decides to make a change

The Mirror

I haven't so much as looked at a mirror in ten years. Most people I run around with don't have them. It helps to keep things comfortable; I mean, who wants to see varicose veins in the morning because of the porn you read at last night? No one, buddy. No one. It's one of those little bits of common sense that gets passed around the high school locker room – jacket, jeans, then jack it.

My old man never wanted mirrors in the house when I was growing up, either, so I was used to it. My old man had a pretty big bar belly, but he always told me that you had to choose between feeling good and looking good. He'd always tell a jokes about the Heebs (his nickname for the Jewish partners at the law firm where he worked), and my mom would just yell at him and tell him those jokes would give him bad teeth. He waved her off and between gulps of beer and said that if she worried about looking good, he'd worry about feeling good, and then they'd be set.

I didn't catch all my old man's innuendos back then, but he sure was funny. Then, mom died, and he stopped being funny. His belly got worse, and he got all sorts of lines on his brow. Bad stuff.

But that isn't important; I didn't come here to talk about my old man. I actually came here to do the opposite. Where were we before all that? Oh yeah, the mirrors.

Back when I was in high school, they had mirrors all over the place. It was supposed to be good for you; that's what all the shrinks said, and I never bought a word of it. Mirrors were just another expensive thing for the government to spend our taxes on. What do they know, right? There are only a handful of people in the entire country who are brave enough to make them, anyway. Those guys probably have shrinks on retainer.

There was this one shrink, Miss Patel, she worked at my middle school. She was from middle-a-nowhere Montana or something, and boy was she a regular Black & Decker power tool, that one. God I hated her, but holy shit, was she hot. I think I got off to thinking about her more times than I did any other woman all through junior high. She always seemed happy, but I knew she just annoyed everybody. I never understood how she was so damn hot, though! She had those fat, rosy cheeks, and even twelve-year-old me knew it meant she was naive.

"Watch out for changes in yourself," she said. "A little change now will only get worse as you grow up."

Honestly, I never really believed her. Heck, I hardly every listened to her speak, I was so busy thinking about getting under her skirt. I mean, I knew it was true on some level, but if we're being real, I was one of the best-looking kids in my class. Chiseled jaw, killer smile, and man, was I tall. Not bad on the muscles, either, and I had killer green eyes. The first girl I whose virginity I took told me they looked like emeralds. My looks were aggressive and adventurous – everybody knew it, and I was proud of it.

I mean, I did a book report on The Wolf of Wall Street in eighth grade, and I just glared at the teacher while I was saying that Jordan Belfort was a fucking king. She tried to show me a picture of Belfort as an old man, but that was after he spent three years in jail, and everybody knows what that'll do to you.

Besides, the guy was obviously nuts, and that stuff really starts to show up when you hit thirty. I bet he wasn't super good-looking before he went in there. Like I said, Miss Patel never knew a thing. The way I've always seen it, as long as you don't go off the deep end, you pretty much get to stay beautiful.

Besides, who keeps pictures? That stuff's for sappy chicks with no tits, anyway. Books, man. Books leave something for the imagination. I mean, that's why the erotic literature makes so much money. Sure, it couldn't happen in real life, but hey – who cares? You bet your ass it feels good.

Now you might be asking yourself why I would bother saying all this. Now, you won't believe it, but not fifteen minutes ago, this chick walks into the bar, and I can't make this up – it's Miss Patel. Almost twenty-five years since I saw her last. She doesn't look that much different. Lost a little weight, which woulda been good except it all came off her chest. Still has those hideous rosy cheeks, too, but... I mean, are telling me you wouldn't try it? If your middle school shrink came into the bar, are you telling me you wouldn't do anything in your power to hit that fine piece of ass?

You're a liar if you say you wouldn't. Especially now that she was rapidly approaching cougar status.

I armed myself with my most seductive smile and all of the pent-up fantasies of my youth and walked myself over to her corner of the bar. I did a quick check of her fingers to see if there was a goalie, and seeing her absent of a ring, I decided to go with a classic.

"Can I buy you a drink?"

She looked over at me, looked down at her glass of wine, and then back at me. A plaintive smile flashed across her face for a hot second, and then it was gone. It was almost like she was sorrowful and annoyed, all at the same time. I shook it off.

"Sure," she replied.

"BOBBY!" I shouted to the bartender, a good friend of mine from high school. He and I used to go out on Friday nights, get drunk and slash tires outside the bowling alley. It's amazing what you can get away with when you're that age; we would wake up without a hangover. I can't do that shit anymore and go to work without getting fired.

"Would you get this lady the house special?"

They call it the Red Bear. Secret recipe, but I happen to know that it's mostly vodka and triple sec. Great drink if you're looking to loosen up.

Bobby looked her and gave me a wink, that sly dog, and then he went away to fix the drink.

"So, can I have your name?" I asked.

She laughed, like I had just cracked the best joke she'd heard this year, and she said, "Oh, I think you know, Mr. Forester. I'm Miss Patel; I thought you'd recognize me."

I cringed hard on the inside; this game was gonna be over before it started. That was too bad, too, because her perfume smelled fantastic.

"But you can call me Hillary."

And the cringe was gone. There was still plenty of clock left.

"I thought I recognized you," I said, "You look great!"

"Well thank you, Adrian," she replied. "I try hard to keep myself looking good."

There was a brief pause in conversation. Normally, it would be good manners for her to say the same thing, but I guess they didn't teach manners where she came from. Like I said, there wasn't much to her personality; I never understood how she looked so fine. So, I decided to change the topic and ask about her. Chicks love to talk about themselves.

"So, what brings you back here?" I asked. "Didn't think you stayed at the middle school for very long."

"No," she replied. "I'm actually back to help out an old friend. She's been having some trouble getting around because of her injury, and needed someone to fill in for her at school. I do mostly pro bono work on social cases now. Troubled children and orphans."

I nodded like what she had just said was interesting. I asked in as concerning a manner I could what had happened.

"Oh, a car accident," she said off-handedly. "Broke her leg."

Now this, I did have some sympathy for. I broke my leg a couple of years after high school when I was downtown with some of my buddies, and that had hurt. I could barely take care of myself for that first week.

The more I thought about it, the more this seemed like a problem. Where was she staying – with her friend or in a hotel room?

"That sounds pretty tough. Are you staying with her, then?" I asked, hoping I didn't sound too forward.

"Oh, no," she replied. "I have a hotel room right across the street, actually."

I think I might have smiled a little. Two wins for me.

Bobby brought the red drink down and set it in front of her. Make that three wins.

"So, pro bono work, huh?" I said. "Seems like that doesn't make very much money. How're you scraping by, if you don't mind me asking?"

"My mother and father both passed away a couple years ago. They were pretty old when they had me. I actually quit my job at the middle school to go back to Montana to take care of them while they were both sick. They left me some money. I don't really need much, and I just so love the work I do."

She smiled again. Damn her and that happy smile. I needed to speed this up before I got tired of it and gave up.

"Alright, enough with the chit-chat. Let's get out of here, why don't we?"

I could not believe my ears. That could not have come out of her mouth.

I blinked twice as she finished what was left of her Red Bear in one large gulp. There was Hillary Patel, my sexy minx of a middle school shrink, still looking at me expectantly. She had just asked me for sex.

My mind recovered from the shock, and I asked her, "Your place or mine?"

Now, you have to understand, I'm quite proud of my place. I keep it really nice for the ladies. Make sure they want to stay over, but only once. It's clean, but there's hardly ever food in the kitchen. I don't keep wine at the house either. Hard liquor only. Everything you need to have a good evening and quick morning. Big old bed, too. Usually I keep it to myself, but I'm more than willing to share for the occasional sexual adventure. And, since she was in a hotel room, I figured she would be more than happy to go to my place.

"No, let's go to my hotel room," she said.

She wanted to have sex with me, but in her hotel room? Why?

"Are you sure? I'm not that far away. I have a pretty nice place."

"Oh, I'm sure you do. And I'm sure I want to bring you back to my hotel room."

The way she said that made the sexually repressed teenager in me rise in so many different ways.

She pulled her cardigan on over her blouse and grabbed her purse, then headed out the door with her curvy butt swanking everywhere. I hastily pulled a twenty out of my wallet and left it on the bar for Bobby. Then I damn near sprinted out across the dance floor and to the front doors to catch up with her. I wanted to get a head start on the foreplay.

I put my hand around her waist and asked her how far away her apartment was, and let me tell you, I had a great line ready after that, but she didn't say what I expected. She was full of surprises, that was for sure.

"Adrian, I'm much better at this than you. I've been doing it for a lot longer, and I'm going to absolutely rock your world tonight. But, only if you do one little thing for me first."

Her eyes, which had been much less focused after the Red Bear, suddenly sharpened.

"You have to look in a mirror."

At this point, I probably would have cursed out the Pope for a chance at this. I agreed with no hesitation, and a sad but expectant grimace flashed across her face again.

I wondered for a moment if I should be worried, but she wouldn't have said she wanted to take me home if I didn't look alright.

I tried my best to get her hot and ready on the short walk back to her hotel, but she kept teasing me and pulling herself just out of reach. I figured that was just the way she liked to play it; she certainly wouldn't be the first girl I'd been with who liked to play the tease.

When we got up the stairs and into her room, it took everything I had in me not to start tearing all my clothes off. I held back and went for her hips, to pull her in for a little bit of...

She cut me off again, this time with a finger to my lips.

"Uh uh," she said. "We had a deal. Look in the mirror first."

Right. Well, just this once. For sex. Then, I wouldn't have to do it again for the rest of my life if I didn't want to.

She pulled an expensive handheld mirror out of her suitcase. I unlatched the clasp, and she stopped me again.

"Are you ready for this?" she asked.

"Ready for what?" I replied. "What could I possibly have..."

There was jazz playing in the room next to us. I could hear it softly through the walls. The interstate in the distance was audible as background noise. I lost all interest in Hillary's perfume.

"I told you I would rock your world," she said apologetically.

The three seconds I spent looking in that mirror will haunt me forever. My cheekbones were showing, I had lines on my face, but worst of all, my eyes were black. They were black as coals. They used to be so green. I was disgusting. I was repulsive. I couldn't bear to look at it anymore, and I turned away.

I broke the quiet with a single word.

"Why?" I asked

"Adrian, I know you're hurting right now, but this is only going to..."

"What do you mean, I'm hurting?" I railed. "What kind of sick head games are you playing?"

"Adrian, how's your father doing?"

Why was she bringing my father into this? I went to the bar in the first place so I wouldn't have to think about that.

"...What the hell do you care?"

"How long has it been since he died?"

I counted back.

"Nine days," I said.

"Adrian, I was at your father's funeral. Do you know why?"

I didn't even respond. Now her head games were starting to make sense. She knew I hadn't been there.


"Because I thought you might need a shoulder to lean on. It was your father who hit my friend. And I knew that even though she was hurt badly in the crash, you would be worse off than her."

My felt my eyes grow hot. My whole body felt like it was about to explode.

"I'll have you know that I was trying to honor his memory, woman, not that it's any of your business! He always preferred comfort ov—"

"Your eyes don't seem to think so, Adrian."

I was silent.

"I didn't come here to be another notch on your bedpost, Adrian. I came because I thought you needed help. I came to find you right where everyone at his funeral told me you would be."

"...Why would you do that?"

"I told you I do pro bono work, hun. Troubled children and orphans. You certainly fit the bill, and the reason I do the work I do is because I love helping other people. I don't need the money, I only need to be helping people grow."

I never thought I could be this vulnerable. I felt like if I moved, I might shatter.

"We can work on this, Adrian, together. You had beautiful eyes back when you were my student. We can get those things back. It will take time, but we can make it happen."

I looked at her carefully.

"But... Why do all of this for me?"

"I think everybody deserves a friend who can help them feel okay with what they see in the mirror."