Livvy stared at herself in the mirror and ripped her wig off.
Her new shingle cut gleamed like a sea of ink blots, so dark it was almost blue, beneath the stark white bathroom lightbulb. She licked her fingers and pressed them to her head to hold in place the waves that curled through her hair like ocean surf. They'd smoothed out a little bit beneath the wig. Twisting her head from side to side, Livvy examined her new look with satisfaction. She was a chessboard of dark hair and eyes and pale skin, her jawline sharp and exposed beneath the slashed edge of her hair, her lips a perfect crimson. Her skirt ended just above her knees; her velvety gloves were as smooth as a cat. Perfect.
“You bearcat, you,” she teased her reflection.
That's not always a good thing, it seemed to whisper back.
She wagged a finger at the mirror. “None of that talk, now.”
Livvy snapped her gloves against her elbows and went back into her bedroom, opening the window to the fire escape. The humid New York City air hit her in the face like a wall, and the honks of impatient cars stranded in traffic like the Fields of Asphodel shattered the stuffy night air. Livvy didn't bother being cautious as she swung herself outside onto the stairs; her parents and her beau Henry wouldn't suspect anything. They thought she was in bed with a stomachache; they wouldn't bother her. Olive, they'd said ingenuously, get well soon.
But her name wasn't Olive anymore. It was Livvy, with two V’s, a bold and beautiful name for a bold and beautiful new world. And Henry wasn't her beau - he'd be shocked if she knew who she really loved. And most of all, she didn't give a single damn about sneaking out behind her parents’ back. She was young and unafraid. She didn't mind being obedient during the day. But the night, well, that was her time.
Her wig sat abandoned on her windowsill, a remnant of her parents’ world, the world in which Livvy had to hide her true self from them, as she skipped down the stairs two at a time. She slid onto the pavement with all the elegance of a dancer and took off at a merry run down the street. She could feel eyes pressing against her from all sides - the admiring gazes of women in fancy gowns with their long tresses who wished they could be bold enough to be like her. The disapproving stares of older women who wondered what the world was coming to, and the sideways glances of young men who pretended they weren't looking. Livvy ignored them all, approval and disapproval both. She didn't care what the world thought of her; she didn't want to be a model or a scapegoat. She was herself, and she didn't need to be someone for anyone else. This was enough. She was enough.
Smog and music swirled around her, the jazz as all-pervading as the smoky night air. Those trumpets and pianos, pulling random notes out of thin air and spitting them back into thick air, thick with cigarette smoke and husky laughter and nightclub energy, those were the sounds of a new age. Grinning widely, Livvy clicked her her heels in tune to the music. She felt unbeatable tonight.
Her girl was waiting for her on the street corner ahead, a beautiful smudgy shadow in the flickering streetlights. Livvy ran right up to her and grabbed her arms and kissed her sweetly. “Hey, hey. We alone?” the other girl asked nervously, pulling away and staring around.
“I don't care, Mae,” Livvy whispered, and she gave a breathy giggle as she realized that she really didn't. There was another thing she didn't give a damn about. She wasn't hiding tonight. She felt powerful; strong. The night was young and so was she. The sky was already dark, so what need was there to do any more hiding?
Mae and Livvy walked down the street with their elbows locked, conversing quietly in the way that lovers do when they live in their own world. A homeless man curled up against the corner of a wall, his eyes like marbles, his back sinking like a ship. His eyes seemed to awaken with hope as they walked past - a hope that quickly twisted into disapproval when he saw them holding hands. Livvy saw it and knew exactly what he thought of them. She wasn't stupid. But she didn't care. She fished around in her purse for a coin and dropped it in the grimy cup at his feet and then kept walking without a look back. Let him disapprove. Disapproval doesn't mean you get to stop being kind.
They walked everywhere and did everything and nothing that night. They stooped to listen in at the basement windows of the nightclubs, and made up their own secret dance on the pavement outside. They strolled aimlessly through Central Park, cocooned by the trees that whispered overhead like a sea of birds. The lights of the Plaza Hotel glared above them as they settled by the lake and dipped their heels into the water. Livvy and Mae had no plans but each other.
When the moon’s pendulum swung gently in the middle of the sky, Livvy knew it was time to go. Her parents would still be awake because Henry was there, and there was a chance they might come in to see her before bed. With a tender farewell kiss, Livvy squeezed Mae’s hands once more and set off for home, her skirt flapping dangerously in the breeze. She relished the feeling. Back through the streets, back through the jazz, back through the fog, all the way back home. Pressing her fingers against her hair to protect it from the breeze, she made for the fire escape.
And then she hesitated.
Because she'd realized something tonight. She couldn't do this anymore. She was sick of sneaking and hiding, always hiding. She did mind being obedient during the day. What's the point of being yourself if no one sees you? Why was she so afraid?
Squinting hard, Livvy stared up at her window. A stiff curl of hair peeped out of it - her wig. She was going to have to sneak back up and wrestle that thing back on her head and change back into her demure, stifling dress and pretend that she was innocently ill in bed. That wasn't true freedom, no matter how she tried to fool herself by slipping out at night. That wasn't who she was.
Being a flapper girl was supposed to mean being brave. But this wasn't brave, this hiding. Livvy had thought real strength was being bold enough to sneak out, but it wasn't. Real strength was being brave enough to walk back in and hold your head high.
Livvy wasn't going to cower anymore. She was going to throw that stupid wig in the trash. She was going to go shopping with her mother for knee-length skirts instead of ankle-length ones. Most of all, she was going to keep loving Mae, and she was going to tell Henry that.
She took one last longing look at the fire escape, which was exactly what its name implied - an escape, a way for her to avoid shocking her parents, a way for her to sneak in and out and pretend that nothing had ever happened. And then she headed for her front door.