Once at Sash, Josie comes to grips with the fact that the fashion industry isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Plus she has to contend with her fellow interns and the editor, Rae, who is in charge and arbitrary – one day Josie’s her hot new favorite, the next, who knows?
Country girl Josie also has to get used to living in the city, and sharing a small flat with her cousin Tim, and his hotter-than-hot roommate James, is an education. Things come to a head at Sash when Josie manages to connect with Billy, a troubled rock star. But a disastrous episode at a nightclub and the fallout on social media causes Josie to wake up and see the real person behind his glamorous front.
Melons. The girls. Gazongas. I could rattle off every nickname in the world for my boobs — oops, nearly forgot jubblies — but it didn’t change the fact they were small. Embarrassingly small. Think grapes over melons, fun-size bags over fun bags, shot glasses over jugs. Which was why I shouldn’t have been surprised when my boobs were the catalyst for squeals of laughter from my younger sister, Kat, on the eve before an important day. A Very Important Day.
‘Geez, put those puppies away,’ Kat smirked from my bedroom doorway. ‘Some of us haven’t had lunch yet and I’d hate to lose my appetite.’
I paused from rifling through piles of crumpled clothes on my bed. ‘What? I don’t know what you —’
‘Just look down,’ said Kat, tossing her jet-black ponytail. I hated when she did that.
Following her instructions, I looked down and saw my left nipple peeking out of my bra. ‘Argh!’ I yelped, yanking at the faded material. ‘Kat, get out! Get out!’
Kat cackled, then plonked onto my bed, squashing the heaving mass of clothes. Too tired to argue, I sat down next to her and double-checked that my boob hadn’t made another escape.
Kat fussed with her thick fringe. ‘So, found something to wear tomorrow, Jose?’
Broken shoes, stained shirts and fraying dresses burst from the wardrobe, spilling into an unwearable mess. A personal stylist would’ve come in handy to tell me why I shouldn’t tape my sneakers together instead of buying a new pair, and how to dress like a normal seventeen almost-eighteen-year-old. ‘Yep. Well, maybe. Probably. No. I’m screwed. My sister just saw my boob and I’m screwed.’ Cursing, I lay back on the bed.
Kat reapplied her gloss. It smelled of cherries, reminiscent of summery desserts.
‘Hey Jose?’ she said.
‘I won’t tell anyone I saw your boob.’
‘Well, except Tye,’ Kat added. ‘I tell him everything. You know, boyfriend rules and all that.’
I sighed. One of those melodramatic I-hate-my-life sighs, where the air rushed up from the depths of my stomach and exploded with a raging ‘whoosh’. But if Kat noticed, she didn’t show it.
‘Hey Jose?’ she said again.
‘You’re going to have to look amazing tomorrow, you know?’
‘I know.’ I know. I know. I know.
‘Amaaaazing. Seriously, tomorrow’s important. Mum’s been yabbering to everyone about it.’
‘Heard you the first time.’
During the past few weeks, Kat had been firing off tips about the Very Important Day. Wear this, don’t wear that, do this, don’t do that, say this, don’t say that. I knew she was trying to help me reduce the risk of embarrassing myself, but it only made me more panicked. You see, life loved handing me something amazing, only to backhand me almost straight after.
It had always been that way. In Year Eight, after my first kiss, the delectable Pete Jordan vomited from food poisoning and hadn’t spoken to me since. At Year Ten presentation night, I was named ‘Most Likely To Succeed’, only to faceplant the ground as I walked back to my seat. Some moron recorded my historic fall, making me an overnight YouTube sensation. I won’t even go into what happened at my Year Twelve formal, although it involved a spiked punch bowl, ninety rolls of toilet paper and a paddock of mud. I don’t know why I thought the next day — the Very Important Day — would be any different, but I was counting on a fairygodmother- haped miracle.
Most girls I knew, like Kat, spent their allowances or pay on make-up, jewellery, fashion, music, phone credit and magazines.
For me, magazines were a sparkly fantasy filled with smiling, shiny people who looked too happy all the time.
That didn’t stop me from leafing through Kat’s magazines when she was out, but instead of checking out the fashion I was reading the feature stories, scoping out who wrote them and looking for spelling mistakes.
I’d studied hard at high school for six years because I was destined to be a news journalist at a newspaper or radio station. So it had come as a huge shock to everyone, including me, to discover I would be interning at a magazine as part of my uni degree’s second semester. And not just any magazine. I’d been signed up to (translation: pushed into) a one-day-a-week internship at one of the hottest women’s magazines in the country, Sash.
When I told Kat my news, she was thirteen per cent excited for me and eighty-seven per cent envious. In her world, my inability to use a curling iron meant I didn’t deserve the intern position. Her warning of ‘Don’t say anything stupid to the Sash girls and ruin my chances of working there one day’ hadn’t filled me with confidence.
Unless I underwent the world’s first personality transplant between here and the city, I knew I’d find a way to put my high-heeled foot in it.
Kat picked up a ratty floral dress from the top of the pile and threw it into the bin near my desk.
‘Hey! What are you doing?’ I said. ‘I’ve had that forages.’
‘Exactly,’ she shot back, rolling her blue eyes in a flurryof mascara, eyeliner and eye shadow. ‘Tomorrow youneed to look hot and cool. You can’t wear your crappyold clothes at a place like that. Now, here’s what I’m thinking …’
I sighed and tuned out. I couldn’t handle another one of Kat’s pep talks where she criticised my worn-out sandals, mismatched socks, lack of bold lipstick, split ends and under-plucked brows.
‘… so come on, it’s makeover time. We’re getting our shop on,’ barked Kat, unaware that I’d been ignoring her rant.
‘I’ll sort it. Trust me.’
Grunting in disbelief, Kat held up a daggy blue skirt and waved it around. ‘This opportunity is wasted on you — and your small boobs!’
She threw the skirt back onto the bed and stormed out, her ponytail whipping behind her. I heard her bedroom door slam — twice, just in case I missed the first. I held the skirt up against my lower body and took in the reflection grimacing back at me. Mousy brown hair, scruffy but fine. Eyes, green and wide, easily my favourite feature. Eyebrows, semi-unruly but manageable. Lips, pouty and pink, no major complaints but occasionally clownish. Nose, free from any wart-like protrusions so doing okay. Boobs, small in size — obviously — but apparently confident enough to jump free of brassiere at a whim. Everything from the waist down blurred together: hips, thighs and legs were all … just there.
I gazed at the skirt. Sure, I’d owned it for five years, and it was a hand-me-down from my weird cousin Tracey, but it was all I had. I needed another opinion. ‘Mum, can you come here for a sec?’
Moments later, Mum appeared in the doorway, balancing an overflowing washing basket on one hip and holding a bag of pegs. Her shaggy brown hair was pulled into a loose bun at the nape of her neck and held with a rusty peg. A fresh yellow daisy played peekaboo from behind her right ear. Mum loved plucking flowers from the garden and wearing them until they wilted.
Her dress — another bargain from the op shop — had faded to a musky pink and clung to her body in all the wrong places. But none of these things detracted from her pretty features, which glowed without even a hint of foundation, blush or mascara.
‘Yes, love?’ she asked, readjusting the basket on her hip.
I held up the skirt. ‘How hideous is this? Would you say it’s send-me-home-to-change hideous or let-me-stay-but-bitch-about-me-behind-my-back hideous?’
Mum shrugged, then patted me on the shoulder.
‘Josephine Browning, you always look gorgeous.’
‘You have to say that.’
‘Not true. When you were a child you had enormous ears — reminded me of a baby elephant — and I was the first person to point them out.’
‘But I do like that skirt.’
‘Kat reckons I need a new outfit — new dress, heels, the works. You know, for tomorrow.’
‘Wait, is that my skirt? I thought I’d passed it on to your cousin Tracey. I should’ve hung onto it if it’s back in fashion, love.’
I forced a smile. Kat’s outburst about my lack of options suddenly didn’t seem so hysterical. It was time to admit defeat to the self-proclaimed fashion queen of the house, which ranked number two on my Things I Hate To Do List. (Number one: cross-country running.)
I knocked on Kat’s bedroom door with its Stay Out sign sticky-taped above the doorknob. Rock music pounded from within and I imagined her writing in her diary about her ugly, frumpy, older sister. Either that, or sneaking out the window to meet up with Tye. I doubted she was dabbling in the rare option of cleaning her room, although when it came to Kat I could never be sure.
The door cracked open. ‘Whaddya want?’
‘Um, what were you saying about the shops?’
‘Not another word, I hear your unfashionable cries for help loud and clear,’ said Kat, scooping up a handbag from the floor and swinging it over her shoulder. ‘Get your wallet, Jose, because when we’re done you’re definitely going to need it.’
I looked like a tarted-up pageant queen. As I stared into the full-length mirror, all I could see was big green eyes, big pink mouth, big bold jewellery, big bright patterns and big high-heeled shoes. Everything was big, right down to the price tags. I smelled like a perfumery and my face itched from the foundation and bronzer caking my skin. Kat beamed, admiring her work. She’d taken me on a whirlwind tour of the department store, trialling makeup products at every counter. Before I could stop her, she called out to a saleswoman who was hovering nearby.
‘She looks amazing, right? Like, amazing,’ Kat said.
‘Oh yeah, amazing,’ gushed the woman, fuelled by the anticipation of a sale. ‘Hon, you should seriously get that whole outfit.’
I blushed, reminded of when Mum took me to buy my first bra in Year Six and invited the shop owner into the change room to admire my ‘growing buds’. Like Mum, Kat had the intuition of a dead caterpillar when it came to sensing my discomfort. I squeezed my wallet a little tighter as the saleswoman circled me, eyeing me up and down. She’d detected my fear the moment we’d walked into the store and I’d cried out, ‘Is that a belt or a skirt?’
Mentally, I double-locked my piggy bank and buried it in a safe three hundred metres below ground level, complete with security guards and CCTV cameras.
I snuck another peek in the mirror and cringed at the loud colours competing for my attention. The dress felt tight, but Kat was convinced it fitted perfectly. I had to admit, it was creating curves in places usually hidden by baggy T-shirts or baby-doll dresses.
To my right, a mannequin wearing the same outfit, down to the bright yellow peep-toes, was looking rather fashionable. ‘How do you do it?’ I muttered to her.
‘Okay, I’ll say it: this is the best you’ve ever looked,’ said Kat. ‘Wear this tomorrow and you’ll kill it. That dress is hot.’
‘Weren’t we aiming for hot and cool?’
Kat rolled her eyes. ‘Let’s not go crazy, Jose. It is you we’re talking about.’
The saleswoman cleared her throat. ‘So do you want to pay with cash or credit, hon?’
I ran through my wardrobe options at home one final time. A montage of outdated playsuits, daggy dresses and worn shoes danced in my mind, the blue skirt at the forefront. I had no choice: I was getting the outfit.
I handed over the crumpled notes. There was no turning back now.