“I’m never going to get used to this.”
“You will,” Vivian assured Robynne. “It’s just going to take a while. And given how you typically have hidden yourself off-campus with fake promotion events, it will take longer. But you will get used to it eventually.”
“It’s stupid though,” Robynne protested. “We had a deal and…” Vivian raised an eyebrow, reminding Robynne that she had already ranted about this. Two or three times. She sighed. “Sorry.”
Vivian gave a supportive smile. “Given your situation, you’re allowed a few rants. That said, you haven’t exactly given yourself a lot of opportunities to get used to this. You don’t just avoid promotion, but you cover up on your promotion days and only change into your uni at the last second. I’d be shocked if you’ve spent even six hours wearing that thing.”
Robynne frowned. “Has to be more than that… I mean, I wore it to cheer practice that one time.” The Promotion Squad cheerleaders didn’t get to cheer in games but they were all—except for Robynne, of course—trying to make Pep Squad next year. That meant learning the cheers and working on their tumbling once a week with some of the officers and more experienced cheerleaders. Robynne had showed up to the first one wearing her full cheer uniform instead of workout clothes like the rest of the cheerleaders. Once again, everyone just assumed she’d know this. Girls sure did assume every other girl was on the same page as them a lot.
“Okay, yeah, maybe.” Vivian said with a roll of the eyes. “But it’d be barely more than that. Look, I know you don’t like the attention on you but this infiltration thing is going to be pushing you into more situations like this, not less. None of us want to watch you suffer, Rosy, but we gotta build you up an immunity to this.”
Robynne winced, but nodded. She gripped the fliers in her hand tighter as they walked past a pair of boys. The taller one nodded, “Ladies.”
Vivian smiled at him and strolled past as if this was no big deal and not utterly terrifying. “Boys.”
Robynne suppressed making any sound and avoided eye contact like the boys were Medusa. As they passed out of earshot Vivian grabbed Robynne’s arm beaming with pride. “Great work! You didn’t even grouggle that time!”
“Great work? I… I’m sorry. Grouggle?”
“Yes. It’s that noise you make when you don’t like dealing with something.”
“I would suggest you mean ‘grumble’ but I know you and there’s no way you haven’t overthought this.”
Vivian hopped in front of Robynne and started walking backwards grinning like the imp she was. “See, Rosy, this is why I have so much confidence you’ll figure this out. You’re paying attention. Of course I mean ‘grouggle,’ silly. That sound you make when you aren’t comfortable. The sound is somewhere between a groan, grumble, growl, and that noise spit makes when you gargle it at the back of your throat. Therefore…”
Vivian pointed a dramatic finger at Robynne. She knew there would be know changing the subject until she played along. “Therefore,” she sighed, “grouggle.”
“Tadaa! Many friends speak English with you. But only one invents English for you. Now would be a particularly appropriate moment for you to lavish me with praise at being such an exemplary conversationalist.”
Robynne didn’t want to give her the satisfaction but couldn’t help but cracking a smile at the corners of her mouth. “I don’t think making up words that don’t exist counts as ‘English’, Vivian.”
“My talents are utterly wasted on you people,” Vivian lamented as she spun-hopped her way back to Robynne’s side. “Have you considered, at all, the fact that I’m brilliant and the fact that my star shines so bright makes you a total grumple?”
Robynne rolled her eyes, still unable to hide her smile. She really should stop encouraging Vivian. “And what, pray tell, is a grumple?”
“Obviously it’s a grump who is tiny. Like you. To be a plain grump you need to be at minimum 5’4″, Robynne. This is obvious.”
Robynne scowled. “You don’t get to bust my balls over height. You are, like, the only person on campus shorter than me!”
“Oh, congratulations Shortcake. You going to brag about being faster than someone with a limp now? Tsk. Tsk. So very ableist of you! I’m surprised you’d do that. I thought so much better of you!” Vivian giggled and Robynne rolled her eyes. “Besides, there are at least nineteen people shorter than me on campus. I’ve counted whenever I see one. Though, truth be told, some of them may be double counted. Besides, you’re, like, what? Five-two, I think? Lots of girls are that short.”
Rubbing at her shoulder, Robynne pointedly grumbled, but was sure not to grouggle. “I was a foot taller. Do you have any idea how terrifyingly enormous the world feels when you shrink a foot?”
A stout guy who looked like he could have been a wrestler walked passed the two and gave a raise of the eyebrow. Robynne winced and Vivian gave a conciliatory laugh. “Maybe not so loud there, Shortcake.”
“Ugh… I’m an idiot.”
“Your grades in Physics 111 say otherwise,” Vivian chirped happily.
“That’s not exactly a good test for me. Everything we’ve covered so far has been stuff we covered in AP Physics back home.” Robynne narrowed her eyes. “And how do you know my grades?”
Vivian rolled her eyes. “You leave all your homework and stuff sprawled over your desk. Everyone and their dog knows how well you’re doing. I don’t know how you keep track of anything when your desk looks like a nuclear bomb went off in a Pep MD factory and then a tornado blew through an office supply store and dumped it in the fallout area. How do you keep track of anything?”
“I don’t know,” Robynne shrugged, “but it’s when I start cleaning up that I lose things.”
Vivian laughed her usual, buoyant laugh. It was hard to stay down too long around Vivian. Well was she named Spirit Guard Felicity. As the conversation died down, a spark formed in Vivian’s eye. Robynne had a feeling she wasn’t going to enjoy whatever came next. “C’mon. Quick detour.” Before she could protest Vivian dragged Robynne into the… well, Robynne actually wasn’t sure what this building was.
“We’re gonna change your hairstyle.”
Those words snapped Robynne out of her ponderings like a crash test dummy not wearing it’s seatbelt. “My hairstyle? Now? Why? You know I don’t have time for anything fancy and—”
The small girl held up a finger to quiet Robynne. “To other girls, it’s odd that you never change your hairstyle at all. It’s weird, especially for a girl with hair as long as yours. When girls grow their hair out, it’s so they can do stuff with it. So you doing nothing… very strange, and we need to get you actually integrated with other cheerleaders. So, let’s vary this up, just a little.”
“Well, you never change your hairstyle,” Robynne protested, “and your hair is even longer than mine.”
Vivian blinked at Robynne in utter confusion. “You… you can’t be serious.” She stared deeply into Robynne’s eyes. “Oh my gummi, you are serious.” She then whispered in an almost reverent tone, “The legends are true.”
“Legends? Vivs, what are you on about now?” Vivian lead her to a secluded corner of this building where they had a little more privacy.
“Legends that say men don’t notice what women do with their hair. All the sitcoms were telling the truth. You’re all hair-blind.”
Robynne frowned. “So… you… have been changing your hairstyle?”
Vivian rolled her eyes. “Every two or three days. It’s not anything dramatic usually. Parting it a different way. Doing something different with my bangs. Four days ago I had a fudging bow in my hair… did you not even notice the bow?”
“No. I noticed that one.”
“What about the hair band I wore on Sunday?”
Vivian arched her back and slumped to the ground so low her hands almost scraped the floor. “You men are so incredibly dense. And apparently no amount of gender reassignment fixes this. I’m worried you may be a lost cause forever tainted by her tragically undereducated background. You got your brush?”
Robynne rolled her eyes and fished a brush from her satchel bag. Robynne had tried to bring her backpack but that had earned a firm veto from Vivian who told her a backpack just didn’t work for anyone with an exposed midriff. At least Vivian seemed pleased Robynne had brought a brush. The scarlette wasn’t sure why her friend was surprised. After how much Vivian had lectured her on how a brush was a necessity for a girl with hair that long? As if Robynne had an option.
Plus, Robynne had to admit, the brush proven useful. Hair as long and wavy as her own became a mess throughout the day, even in her simple, high ponytail.
“Good,” Vivian deftly swiped the brush and twirled it in her hand an assassin would a dagger. “Now, I know trying to get you to go with anything other than a ponytail is going to be a Sisyphean endeavor . So I won’t convince you of that. I will, however, teach you a few new ponytails so you can spice things up.”
“You sure this is that big of a deal?”
“Sure as eggs is eggs.” Vivian giggled as Robynne squinted. “Old British saying. Came up on A Royal Affair. Really liked it.”
Robynne huffed. “I don’t like the effect that show is having on you and Cory. Soon you’ll be all, ‘Pip pip cheerio and all that whatnot,’ and the rest of us will have no idea what’s going on.”
Vivian leveled the brush at her menacingly. “Cory and I would have you all know that we have barely even begun to toodle pip at you unrefined ruffians!” With a giggle, she started touching up Robynne’s hair. “What we’re going to do here is called a criss-cross ponytail. It’s a low, messy ponytail that, while looking like a whole lot of effort, isn’t.”
Robynne frowned. “Low ponytail? I kind of like the high ponytail since it effectively shortens my hair and it gets caught in less.”
“Fashion is pain, my dear. Also, it doesn’t shorten it that much. That’s mostly in your head. Literally since that’s where hair comes from. Regardless, just trust me. This is pretty easy to do and is gonna look great. Ten dollars says Stacy absolutely flips when she sees you in this.”
“No bet! Stacy flips over anything I do that is halfway the least bit girly.”
Vivian laughed pulled Robynne’s hair out of her ponytail and gave it all a quick brush. It always felt weird with her hair free and loose like this. There was just so much of it. It felt like she had a messy bramble patch on top of her head that would snag anything that came by. The fact that girls like Vivian would willingly ever grow their hair this long absolutely floored her.
Vivian reset the ponytail lower and then gathered up strands of hair on the sides of Robynne’s head. “Okay, what about Stacy and Lilly?”
“Also no dice. Lilly is obsessed with her hair. I swear she has a different style every day.”
“Oh, so you notice her changing her hair but not me?”
Robynne waved Vivian off. “Hers is very dramatic. But more importantly why are you so intent on trying to win ten bucks from me… you forgot your wallet didn’t you.”
Vivan stopped doing Robynne’s hair and huffed. “Why, I never! How dare you accuse me of such irresponsibility… and right before lunch… also, I may have slightly forgotten my purse.”
Robynne sighed. “I can buy you lunch… as long as you don’t go crazy or anything.”
“I still don’t fully understand why we are doing this with my hair though. I mean, yeah, girls with long hair play around with it. Yeah, okay, I can understand that. That makes sense to me. But Lilly and especially Stacy already mostly seem to like me. How will this help me with them?”
“It won’t,” Vivian admitted as she wove her fingers through Robynne’s hair, “at least I don’t think it will. Maybe Lilly a little as it just humanizes you more in her eyes. No the bigger effect will be what this does to your standing with the other cheerleaders who are suspicious of you and think you’re getting away with something… which you are, so you don’t want them thinking that.”
Robynne grunted an acknowledgement. “That’s… reasonable.”
“Of course it is! I’m a paragon of reason. Also I’m fast.” She handed Robynne her brush back. “Ta-daaaa.”
Robynne stood up and examined her hair in a weak reflection in the window next to them. Felt strange to have the hair’s weight distributed differently than before. Then again, she hated whenever anything felt different. Uncle Taylor had always teased Robert about the fact that he had kept the same hairstyle from middle school to throughout high school. Was he expected to change? How often? As usual people seemed to have made up social rules but had failed to release the patch notes.
What Vivian had done, Robynne decided to like. “Looks good.”
“Of course it does! I’m an artist. That will be $32.20.”
“I’m buying lunch and didn’t complain. That’s your payment.” Robynne hadn’t decided to like it because she was particularly drawn to the style. She didn’t give a rat’s angelcake about the style. But Vivian’s logic about girls with long hair wanting to do different things with it made sense. She had been acting strange as far as the rest of the world was concerned. People who acted outside of expectations made others feel uncomfortable. And someone who made others feel uncomfortable was never going to successfully infiltrate Cammy’s Cheer Cabal.
So, Robynne decided she would like the hairstyle because hating it was pointless. Vivian was right and she needed to vary things up more to make this seem realistic. She hadn’t been taking this seriously. Yes. She’d like this style and the ones that followed it… assuming they weren’t too tedious.
“Why can’t you just be stupid rich like Mal is and give me money all the time? It’s very inconsiderate on your part.”
Robynne smirked as they exited the building, making a mental point to ignore the guys checking her and Vivian out as they left. Worrying about that was pointless too. She had too much to do to waste energy worrying about things she couldn’t control. “I’m sorry, Vivian. I’ll think about that next time before I’m born… Mallory doesn’t give you money all the time though, does she?”
Vivian laughed, “Nah. But she’ll pay for things here and there. Given how little her parents seem to keep track of what she spends and how much the whip is cracked against Eli, it’s a shocker she’s not a spoiled brat.”
“Mal is pretty awesome.” The duo made it to the Billot Building and even from a distance Robynne could make out Stacy chatting enthusiastically while Lilly looked like she just wanted to go back to bed. Robynne didn’t know which she’d rather deal with less: boundless passion or grumpy grumblings.
But she’d manage. Robynne could deal with this. She had to deal with this. They didn’t know what Cammy was plotting. She and Vivian were the only ones who could infiltrate cheer at this point. So, she’d be good at this. She’d be good at it because she needed to be good at it. And, if she had to be good at it, she likely would need to learn to find the parts that she could enjoy about it. So she tried to fake a smile, and stepped forward.