“Hold still, Shayna!” Brenda scolded, grabbing onto Shayna’s shoulder in an attempt to stop her from squirming, “I’ll smear your lipstick if you don’t calm down!”
“Sorry,” Shayna said, crossing her legs and gripping onto the makeup bench, trying to keep still. “It’s just…I’m nervous, you know?”
Brenda loosened her grip on Shayna’s shoulder and squeezed it sympathetically. “Yeah, I know. Is this your first time modelling?”
“No. I’ve modeled before, for other companies, but never to this scale. Certainly never for Mr. Wendell’s line. And definitely not…” she trailed off and blushed slightly, gesturing to her body, currently only covered by a thin silk bathrobe.
“Ah,” Brenda said, rubbing some tinted moisturizer over Shayna’s forehead, “That’s what’s got you worked up, is it? Doing a lingerie runway?”
Shayna nodded. “I’m just worried that the audience won’t like the look of me. That they’ll think I’m too fat, or too skinny, or my breasts don’t look right.”
“Trust me, honey, no one thinks things like that when they see a girl strutting her stuff, looking like she owns the place. Just give ‘em a dose of that attitude, and they’ll think you’re gorgeous. Besides, no offense, but the point of the runway is to look at the clothes more than the girls wearing them.”
Shayna laughed. “You’ve got a point there.”
“I know I do, honey. Anyway, I wouldn’t worry too much; Wendell picked you to model for a reason, and the outfits you’ll be wearing were chosen specifically because they look good on you. You’ll knock ‘em dead, count on it.”
“Thanks, Brenda,” Shayna said, her nerves dissipating a little, “You’re good at this.”
“This ain’t my first time comforting nervous models,” Brenda grinned, “It’s practically in my job description. Now close your eyes so I can get this eyeshadow applied.”
Five minutes later, Brenda removed the towel around Shayna’s shoulders. “There you go. What do you think?”
Shayna examined herself in the mirror critically. Lipstick just dark enough to make her lips stand out without looking absurd…eyeshadow that brought out her eyes without being obvious…no obvious traces of powder…and it all managed to balance out perfectly with her hairstyle, which was currently hanging around her shoulder in soft blonde ringlets. “It’s amazing, Brenda. You’re a genius.”
“Nah, just experienced. Go on, get into your first piece. Then see if you can walk off some of that nervous energy of yours before showtime. Just try not to smear the makeup.” Shayna smiled, stood up, and waved to Brenda before making her way to the dressing room.
“Looking good!” Irene said approvingly as Shayna walked in, “All right, let’s see what we’ve got set aside for you…”
She rooted through the long rack of clothes for a moment, before producing a delicate lacy bra and panties set. “There we go! It should be perfect with your complexion. Pair it with red heels and a fuzzy robe, and you’ll have men eating out of your hand.”
Shayna took the lingerie and moved behind the changing screen, slipping it on carefully to make sure she didn’t ruin her hair and makeup. After tugging at it gingerly to make sure all the seams were straight, she stepped out again and struck a pose like a 40’s pin-up girl. “Well? What do you think?”
“Perfect!” Irene said, “Red and pink really do suit you, Shayna. Now, let’s put on the final touches, and then you can go wait with the other models. I’m waiting for three more to come in from makeup, and then we can get started.”
Shayna swallowed, the nerves starting to creep back in. Still, she accepted the red heels and black robe and moved on to the backstage area, where eight other models were milling around. Some were chatting to each other, others were sipping at water, a few were adjusting their clothes, but all of them looked completely at ease. Shayna, on the other hand, was sure her anxiety was written all over her face. Spotting a vacant chair in the corner, she moved towards it, wanting to get fully dressed. It wouldn’t do to be unprepared when the music started.
“You’re the new kid, right?” the model next to her said, as Shayna bent down to put on the shoes, “At least, I haven’t seen you around before.”
“Y-yeah,” Shayna said, “I’m Shayna.”
“Mei,” the woman said, shaking hands once Shayna straightened up, “Mr. Wendell made a good choice. That looks great on you.”
“Thanks,” Shayna said, blushing and glancing at the black-and-white two piece Mei was wearing, “You look amazing too.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere,” Mei smirked, “Come on, stand up and I’ll help you into that robe.”
Shayna obeyed, spreading her arms to make it easier. As the soft cloth slid over her arms, Mei said from behind her, “Hey, you’re shaking. Should I ask the stage manager to turn up the heat a little?”
“No, I’m fine. I’m just…a little nervous.”
“Ah,” Mei said, “We’ve all been there. Trust me, once you’re out there, it all just melts away. The waiting’s the hardest part, really.”
Shayna smiled weakly. “Got any advice for warding off the nerves, then?”
Mei finished adjusting the robe and came round to smile at her. “Practice your walk. Walk up and down the backstage area a few times to get a feel for the heels. It’ll make sure your runway walk is smooth, and the exercise will feel like you’re accomplishing something. Besides, you won’t be able to sit still anyway, so this lets you expend that energy.”
“Funny, Brenda the makeup lady said something similar.”
“Where do you think I got the idea from?” Mei winked, “Go on, give it a shot.”
Shayna tightened the robe’s belt around her waist and moved to an unoccupied stretch of the backstage area. Focusing her eyes on a stained patch of wall, she started walking forward, letting her arms swing by her side, deliberately letting her hips sway so the robe would billow out behind her. She resisted the urge to put her hand on her hip to turn it into a proper sashay; that could wait until the end of the runway, when she struck her pose.
Reaching her “mark” (a spot on the floor where the linoleum was giving way) she stopped, feeling the fur trim of the robe brush against her ankles and making her smile. Putting her hand on her hip, she turned this way and that, showing off the robe while also allowing her hair to catch the light. She kept her eyes half-closed, trying to look seductive. After all, the whole point of this was to convince people that these pieces were sexy.
As she turned her head again and raised her shoulder coyly, the black fur trim brushed against her face, the small fuzzy hairs invading her nose and tickling lightly. Shayna quickly pulled her head away and raised a hand to rub at her nose, but then remembered the request not to smear the makeup. So she just wriggled her nose back and forth a few times until the worst of the tickle passed. There was still a light itch in her nose, but as long as she was more careful, it would go away by showtime. In the meantime, she’d keep practicing to make sure she didn’t make that mistake again.
Turning around, she moved back the way she came, swaying her hips again. Mei and Brenda were right; moving around and practicing was helping her nerves, at least a little. As long as she kept her mind on her walk, she’d probably be fine.
Reaching the end of her little “runway” she tried striking a different pose, cocking one leg while turning her body dramatically. But as she turned her head, that fur trim was there to meet her again, the hairs once again making a beeline for her nose. She swatted it away and wriggled her nose again. The tickle took a little longer to fade this time, but she tried to ignore it and turned around again. If she could just find the right pose, she wouldn’t have anything to worry about.
She was getting more comfortable in her walk, at least, the swaying coming more naturally. This time, when she reached her mark, she took a corner of the robe and turned, tilting her head back and holding the robe as a screen. She’d thought just moving her head back wouldn’t cause her to encounter the fur, but the second her neck touched the robe, there was the trim again, brushing her nose. And this time, the tickle didn’t seem to want to go away, no matter how much she wiggled her nose.
“Five minutes!” Irene called, and Shayna froze on the spot, her nerves coming back for entirely different reasons. She couldn’t go out there with an itchy nose. Either her wiggling nose would ruin the effect, or she would sneeze on the runway, which could throw her off her stride. She needed to get rid of this tickle, and quickly.
Since there was no way Mei or any of the other models had tissues on hand, and it would be too embarrassing to ask Irene for one, Shayna resorted to the one item she had at hand. She pulled the robe a little closer around her and, on the pretext of turning around to practice her walk one last time, buried her nose in the trim, breathing in deeply. As if they’d been waiting for this opportunity, the hairs filled her nose, tickling from every angle and direction possible. Shayna wiggled her nose again, encouraging them to tickle every inch of her nose. Then, at last, she felt a sneeze building.
Shayna pulled her face out of the fur and turned her head to the side, tugging the robe out of the way so she wouldn’t ruin it. “Hit-kshh! Ishh!”
“Bless you!” Mei called, “You ok there? Not allergic to the fur, are you?”
“Just a tickle in my nose,” Shayna said, which was true, “I should be fine now.” Indeed, the tickle was finally gone, especially after a quick sniff and careful rub under her nose. She smiled at Mei. “I think I’m ready to go.”
“Good,” Mei said, getting to her feet, “Because it looks like we’re going right now.” Even as she said it, Irene clapped her hands. “Line up, girls! Mr. Wendell’s giving his speech to the crowd even as we speak. As soon as the music starts, we’re on!”
Shayna stood behind Mei, drumming her fingers nervously on her hip. Now that she couldn’t move, the nervous anticipation was coming back. Once she started moving, she’d be fine again, but it took all her composure to keep her from squirming. Hurry up, hurry up! She silently pleaded.
At last, she could hear the low, throbbing beat of the music, perfect for walking to. “Here we go,” Mei murmured over her shoulder, “Head high, Shayna. You’ll do great.”
Shayna nodded. “Thanks,” she whispered, “Let’s hope you’re right.” Then the line moved forward, and she tossed her hair, straightened her shoulders, and walked towards the curtain.
The moment she stepped onto the catwalk, all she could see was the white expanse of the catwalk. The overhead lights completely obscured the audience from view, and the pounding music drowned out anything they might be saying. It was as if there was no one else there except Mei, just in front of her, and the models who were making their way backstage again. Shayna’s nerves evaporated at once. This wasn’t so hard.
She sashayed down the catwalk, feeling the fur brush against her ankles again and smiling at the sensation. She was a pretty girl, in a pretty piece of lingerie, and if anybody thought otherwise, she sure as hell wouldn’t know about it, nor would she particularly care. All that mattered was showing off just how pretty everything about her was.
The end of the catwalk was approaching, and Shayna let her smile grow a little wider, her eyes a little more shadowed. As the saying went, she was sexy and she knew it. And she had the perfect pose to make that clear. She hit her mark, cocked her hip, and tossed her head, letting her hair swing around her shoulders…
…And causing her nose to brush right over the fur trim yet again.
Immediately, a tickle sprang back to Shayna’s nose. But it wasn’t just a mild tickle; this one was signaling that a sneeze was imminent. Her nose must still have been sensitive from the previous sneeze, and now anything touching it would set her off. Panic flared in Shayna’s chest, though outwardly, she just tilted her head upward to hide the twitch of her nose. Then she dramatically swept the robe in front of her as she turned to make her way back down the catwalk. Get backstage, she thought to herself, Get backstage and then you can sneeze.
She tried not to think about the tickle, instead trying to distract herself with other things. She focused on the sway of her hips, trying to put in a little extra thrust whenever she moved her right leg. The tickle spread to the back of her nose. She tried to keep her expression neutral, perhaps with just a hint of a smile. Her lungs sent out the signal that they were getting ready to sneeze. She kept her eyes on the black curtain, trying to figure out how many steps it would take her to get to it. Her breath started to become uneven, though at least the music drowned it out. But she wasn’t about to give up. She was so close now, she wouldn’t trip right at the finish line!
By the time she reached the curtain, both her lungs and her nose were burning, desperate for release. Slipping through it, she barely managed to get out of the way before pitching forward. “Hih-CHEW!”
“Bless you,” Irene said perfunctorily, stepping forward, “If you need a tissue, there’s a box right on the sideboard. Use it and get moving; you need to show off the lingerie solo, and we don’t want to throw off the timing.”
Shayna was in complete agreement with that. She quickly grabbed three tissues and started making her way back to the start of the procession, rubbing at her nose while she did so. As she rounded the corner and spotted Mei’s back, the tickle seemed to have abated, and she disposed of the tissues in the nearby trash can. All she needed to do now was do one more catwalk, and then she’d have a short break to change into the lingerie for the second theme “Under the Sea”. Now that she’d been onstage, the second pass would be much easier than the first.
“Robe, please.” an assistant said, holding out a hand for the robe. Happy to be rid of the piece that had caused her so much trouble, Shayna peeled it off and handed it over. The assistant folded it over her shoulder, her arms full of the other robes, and smiled at Shayna. “Good luck.”
Just as Shayna opened her mouth to thank her, Irene’s voice floated over the partition dividing the two backstage areas. “Sharon! Come here!”
“Duty calls,” Sharon said apologetically, “Excuse me…”
Instead of taking the long way around, Sharon darted between Mei and Shayna to shave off a few seconds, the robes billowing behind her, including the one Shayna had just handed over. And since it was on Sharon’s shoulder, it meant that those damned furs brushed against Shayna’s nose one more time.
The tickle, which had been under control thirty seconds ago, suddenly came back full force. Before Shayna could make a move to grab a tissue or even carefully rub her nose, Mei moved forward, and Shayna had no choice but to head out onto the runway once more. She swallowed. Don’t sneeze, she told herself firmly, Don’t sneeze. It’s only two minutes. You can last that long.
Unlike last time, there was no way Shayna could keep her mind off of the tickle; her nose was now sensitive enough that practically everything seemed to be setting it off. The bright lights of the stage caused her eyes to water and her nose to twitch, and the pulsing beat of the music seemed to be vibrating in her nose, making the tickle even worse. Even the act of walking seemed to be aggravating the tickle, as cool air gusted over her face, brushing against the sides of her nose. She could tell that when she finally gave in and sneezed, it was going to be a big one.
She was still determined to keep it back, though, and kept up a running litany of orders, barely caring about her walk or what her expression must look like. All that mattered to her was not sneezing. You can do it, Shayna. The end of the runway isn’t too far. Just get there, strike a nice pose for ten seconds, then turn around and head back the way you came. Then you can run to the changing room and sneeze as much as you like. Until then, hold it back.
She could see Mei in front of her, striking a pose. It would be her turn soon. All she needed to do was pose, and at least this time, the fur wouldn’t get in her way. Maybe if she held her breath while she was posing, it could keep her nose from twitching, and delay the sneeze enough to let her get down the rest of the catwalk without incident. It was a slim hope, but the best one she had.
Mei moved away, and now it was Shayna’s turn. She managed a smile, stepped up to her mark, and rested both hands on her hips, tilting her body forward to show off how well the red lace stood out on her skin. She tilted her head up proudly, using the movement to take a careful breath, in preparation for holding it in. She wouldn’t be able to get as much air as she’d like, but hopefully she could keep from breathing (and sneezing) for thirty seconds or so.
Just as she was inhaling, her head went up high enough for her eyes to get a full blast of the spotlights. Even though she’d never had that photic sneeze reflex thing she’d read about in school, the sudden exposure to bright light in her already sneezy condition proved too much. Her body had decided enough was enough.
There wasn’t even enough time for a buildup. Instead, the breath she was taking morphed into the sneeze. “Haah-TCHOO!”
Shayna snapped forward with the sneeze, her hands lifting off her hips from the sheer force. She could barely hear the sneeze over the music, but there was no question that anyone watching would know that something had happened. A few people in the front row would even have seen the spray. Monumentally embarrassed, Shayna opened her eyes and raised her head. Maybe if she just smiled and gave a little wave, she could cover up her blunder by sheer strength of personality.
But the spotlights hit her in the face again, and the tickle came back once more. The hand that Shayna was lifting immediately migrated to her mouth, to at least keep the worst of the spray from being seen. “Ah-KCHEW!”
She felt the lacy bra shift underneath her, and the next thing she knew, a rush of cool air was hitting her chest. Shayna didn’t even need to look to know what had happened. The sneeze had managed to dislodge her bra, and everyone in the room was now getting a gander at her breasts.
Shayna didn’t know what to do. Her immediate instinct was to cover herself up and flee the stage, but her professional side knew that that would just make the situation worse. There was no way she could pretend that nothing had happened, and there was no hope of maintaining her dignity at this point. All she had left was good old-fashioned acting, and even though her insides were squirming in embarrassment, Shayna decided to roll with it.
She straightened up, looking down at herself with wide eyes, letting her mouth drop open in an “O” of surprise. With one hand, she tugged the bra back into place, which at least hid her nipples from view. With the other, she rubbed a finger under her nose, mouthing “bless me!” and managing a smile she most certainly didn’t mean. Then she gave a little wave and turned to go down the catwalk again.
Incredibly, there wasn’t too much of a gap between herself and Mei; her whole routine had probably only taken up twenty seconds, though it had felt far longer. She tried to walk a little quicker to catch up, though she left her hands by her side, not even bothering to push the bra back into place. She’d be taking it off soon, anyway, and trying to readjust it would make it hard for the audience to see the product. Not that it really mattered. After what had just happened, she was almost positive everyone was talking about her, instead of paying attention to the models.
The moment the curtain had closed safely behind her, Shayna ran for the changing room, hands over her face as the tears started. “Shayna, wait!” Mei called after her, but she didn’t care. She just wanted to get out of this damned bra and go home. She was fired anyway, why prolong her suffering? Making her way into the room, she crouched in a corner behind a rack of clothes and started sobbing, glad to be hidden from view. People had seen far too much of her already today.
“Shayna?” Mei’s voice came from somewhere nearby, “Shayna, talk to me. What’s wrong?”
Of course. Mei hadn’t seen what had happened. Well, Shayna wasn’t going to be the one to tell her. If Mei was going to laugh at her, let her do it on her own time. Wiping at her eyes, she sniffled and pressed herself further into the corner.
Mei’s face appeared above the rack of clothes, worried and sympathetic. “Come on, honey, what happened? It can’t be that bad.”
“Yes it can!” Shayna wailed, “I’m going to be fired! No one’s ever going to hire me in this town again!”
“I highly doubt that. Unless you stabbed someone to death on stage, there’s no slip-up that a model can’t walk away from.” Mei came around the clothes rack and crouched down next to Shayna, putting an arm around her. “Come on, spit it out. I’m just going to keep hounding you until you do.”
Shayna swallowed, and between sobs, reluctantly told Mei everything. As she talked, the tickle, which had gone back to a mild itch after her…display…returned full force, coaxed out of her by her tears and constant sniffling. Too wrapped up in her misery, Shayna didn’t even notice until it was too late.
“…And now everyone’s going to be laughing at me, all because I couldn’t stop a sneeze!” she finished her story, before gasping and turning her head away to sneeze yet again. “Hishh! Ishh!” She looked back at Mei, a fresh wave of tears pouring down her face. “And I still can’t stop them!”
“Hey, calm down,” Mei said, gently rubbing Shayna’s arm, “I promise you, it’s not as bad as you think.”
“Why not?” Shayna said, rubbing desperately at her nose in hopes of driving that damn tickle away for good, “You didn’t see it, how can you possibly…”
“Well, first off, there weren’t any cameras here,” Mei interrupted, “So there’s no risk of your wardrobe malfunction popping up in a magazine, or worse, on the internet. Secondly, the press releases about this show aren’t very large, so the reporters won’t have space to write about what happened in detail. At most, there’ll be a few sentences about it. And third, from what you’ve said, you handled it really well. People are more likely to talk about your composure after the accident then they are the accident itself.”
Shayna sniffled again. “You really think so?”
“I know so,” Mei said, “Because it happened to me.”
Shayna stared at her. “Really?” She couldn’t imagine it. Mei looked like someone who wasn’t bothered by anything. It seemed impossible that she could have made a mistake as bad as Shayna just had.
“Well, not sneezing my top off, but something equally distracting. It was my second gig modelling for Mr. Wendell, and they gave me a pair of purple heels with these weird strap things that wound over the opening of the shoe. I had to attach them myself, and I left them relatively loose so they wouldn’t cut into my skin. Besides, I thought they’d look sexier that way. What I didn’t know was that those straps were actually meant to keep the shoes attached to my feet. So by the time I made it to the posing platform, they’d loosened. I struck my pose, turned to make the walk back…and caught a heel on a loosened strap and collapsed onto the catwalk.”
Shayna’s hand flew to her mouth. “What did you do?”
Mei grinned dryly. “Fortunately, I landed on my knees, instead of flat on my face. So I spun myself over in a half-turn, grinning over my shoulder. Then I spread my legs wide enough for everyone to get a good look at my panties before I heaved myself up and walked carefully back behind the curtain. Naturally, I burst into tears once I was out of sight, and I was taken out of the lineup for a rotation so they could make sure I hadn’t broken anything and to redo my makeup. Everyone there reassured me it was all right, even though I didn’t believe them either. Then Mr. Wendell came backstage to look in on me, and he gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard.”
“Which was?” Shayna asked. There were still tears running down her face, and her nose was still tickling a little, but Mei’s story had stopped the worst of her crying. Hearing a similar tale of woe was more helpful than she would have expected.
“He said, ‘Listen, girl, bravery is going out and doing something frightening. Courage is continuing to do that something after you’ve suffered a major setback. If you hide in here for the rest of the show, people are going to wonder what happened to you. Go back on that stage and give ‘em your best smile, and they’ll know you’re fine and mostly leave you be.’”
Shayna wiped at her eyes and nose again. “And what happened then?”
“I changed clothes and went right back out on that stage.” Mei said, “After that conversation, I would have been even more embarrassed if I hadn’t. And you know what? He was right. The few press releases that did mention my fall didn’t go into details, just said that ‘the models handled themselves with grace, despite a few stumbling blocks.’ No one jeered at me at my next job, the line sold just fine, and Mr. Wendell hired me back the next time he had a runway show. Now, I’m pretty sure the only one who remembers that incident is me.”
“You think the same thing will happen here?” Shayna asked.
“Most likely. But some of that depends on you,” Mei said, looking Shayna right in the eyes, “You up for going back out there to show those reporters who’s boss?”
Shayna thought for a second. Then she pushed herself to her feet. “Yeah. I am.”
“That’s the spirit!” Mei said, grinning broadly as she stood up too. “But there’s something we should probably do first.”
“I know,” Shayna chuckled, wiping at her eyes again and seeing the dark streaks of mascara clinging to her hand, “Redo my makeup.”
“Nope. I have something else in mind.”
Shayna was puzzled. “What else? Change my hair?”
Mei just shook her head and tapped Shayna’s nose. The sensation caused Shayna’s nose to twitch, and she turned away to avoid spraying Mei. “Hitchh!”
“Bless you. You go change into your robe and sit at the makeup table. Once I’ve changed, Brenda and I will work together to get those sneezes out of your system.” With a weak laugh, Shayna obeyed.
A few minutes later, Brenda bustled over with a bottle of liquid makeup remover. “You know, I’ve gotta give you credit,” she said, as she wiped the makeup off Shayna’s closed eyes, “Your eye makeup’s a mess, but the area around your nose is still pretty good. I’m impressed.”
“Just following instructions not to smear the makeup.” Shayna said. She still wasn’t entirely sure this was going to work, but if she could bring herself to joke about it, then maybe she wouldn’t find it so embarrassing.
Brenda laughed. “I appreciate that. No one likes to see their hard work ruined.”
Shayna couldn’t repress a wince at the words. Had she ruined Mr. Wendell’s hard work, despite everything Mei had said? Brenda’s hand rested on hers, squeezing comfortingly. “Hey, sorry about that. Could have phrased that better.”
“It’s ok,” Shayna said, figuring the best way around the awkwardness was to change the subject, “So, how exactly do you plan to get this tickle out of my nose? I can’t imagine Mei would have enlisted your help if you didn’t have a few tricks.”
“One thing you learn when working in makeup, it’s that there’s plenty of powders out there that can make someone sneeze,” Brenda said, a note of amusement in her voice, “I’ve had more than one model inhale a bit too much face powder and require a few quick sneezes before she felt ready to go on. Now speaking of which, just how bad is this tickle of yours?”
“The tickle itself isn’t so bad,” Shayna answered, rubbing her nose for emphasis, “But my nose seems to be extra sensitive right now. Touch it in just the right way, and the sneeze comes without any warning.”
“Mmm…” Brenda said, finally removing the cotton pad. Shayna opened her eyes and saw Brenda looking through her various tins. “Ok,” Brenda said at last, “I think I got it. But I’m going to need Mei’s help. Where’s she gotten off to? It shouldn’t take that long to put on a nightgown!”
“Hold your horses!” Mei laughed, appearing in the doorway in a beautiful dark green negligee, “I was just checking through Shayna’s remaining outfits. You’ll be pleased to know that there won’t be any more fuzzy robes in your future.”
Shayna smiled weakly. “Sounds good to me.”
Mei turned to Brenda. “What you do need me to do, Brenda?”
Brenda soaked a cotton pad in something and held it out to Mei. “Wave this under her nose for me.”
Mei pulled up a chair and sat next to Shayna, passing the cotton underneath her nose, low enough down that the strands didn’t touch her, but high enough that Shayna was able to get a good whiff of what had been splashed on it. It wasn’t a bad scent—it smelled a lot like oranges, really—but it was sharp enough that she could definitely feel her tickle springing back to life. Just as her nose twitched, Brenda sprang into action, gently running her makeup brush around Shayna’s nose, making sure the bristles got into her nose to add a few extra tickles. With help coming from both sides, it wasn’t long before Shayna’s breath started hitching.
Just before she was forced to close her eyes, she saw Mei and Brenda exchange a look. The next thing she knew, the cotton pad was resting right at the base of her nose, overwhelming her with the orange scent, and there were two brushes running along her nose, tickling everything the bristles could reach. The tickle spiked at once, and Shayna had just enough time to wave her hand in warning before the sneezes burst out of her.
“Hipshh! Pshh! Kchh! Ihchh! Tchoo!”
Shayna was so caught up in her sneezing that she was barely aware of anything around her. Then she felt something papery cover her nose, gently rubbing at the sides. “That should do it,” Brenda said with satisfaction, “Just try to blow the rest out.”
Shayna nodded, took a deep breath, and blew as hard as she could. The action caused one last tickle to spike in her nose, but at least the tissues were there to catch it. “It-CHEW!”
“Bless you,” Brenda said, while Mei murmured the same thing, “How do you feel now?”
Shayna lifted her head and took a cautious breath. Then she experimentally poked at the sides of her nose. “I think I’m ok now,” she said, looking at both women gratefully, “I don’t know how I can thank…”
Brenda waved her hand. “You can thank me by always being nice to your makeup ladies. After all, you never know when they might sabotage your look.”
“And you can thank me by always holding your head up high while you’re modeling,” Mei chimed in, “Then I’ll know you took my lesson to heart.”
Shayna smiled. “I’ll try my best.”
“Good,” Brenda said, opening up her various tins, “Now let’s get you made up again. Irene’ll have my head if you’re not ready by showtime.”
Thanks to Brenda’s years of experience (and with Mei there to hand her whatever item she needed), she finished Shayna’s makeup just as Irene poked her head in the door. “Five minutes!” She paused and looked at Shayna, expression stern but eyes sympathetic. “You gonna be ok to go, Shayna?”
Shayna nodded. “You might have to put me at the back of the line, but I’ll be fine.”
Irene gave a curt nod back, all business again. “Good. Now get in there and change. We’ll have to leave your hair the way it is, I’m afraid, but it should be ok. Gives you a bit of that ‘bedhead’ look.”
She disappeared from the door, and Mei and Shayna stood up. “See you soon.” Mei grinned, heading for the backstage area. Shayna looked at Brenda, wanting to thank her again, but Brenda waved her out. “Go get dressed. I’ll be here to give you some touch-ups for the third set. You don’t want to be late, do you?”
“No, ma’am!” Shayna said, and quickly ran to the changing room. Fortunately, her outfit for this set was a light blue, silver striped nightgown, so it was just a matter of sliding it over her head, slipping on the matching heels, and running for backstage, adjusting the gown as she went.
She reached the end of the line just as the music started up onstage. When Irene glanced at her again, Shayna just nodded, catching her breath. Then the line moved forward, and she straightened up. Time to show them what she was made of.
The anonymity of the crowd was a godsend; there was no way she’d be able to tell if they were pointing her out to each other, reminding their seatmates of what had happened the last time she was out here. Well, the joke’s on them anyway, she thought, as she reached the posing platform, this nightgown’s too thick to allow a repeat performance. The thought made her smile even wider as she swayed on the spot, arching her shoulders coyly.
She made it backstage without incident, and immediately returned to the changing room to change for the last theme, “spring flings”. Her outfit this time was a white bra and panties set, with large white daisies as the bra cups. Satisfied that this outfit wouldn’t expose her either, she started dressing.
She’d half expected the other models to gently rib her for what had happened, or at least ask her if she was ok. But Mei must have given them a talking to while Shayna had been getting her makeup removed, asking them not to make the situation worse. Either that, or they’d all experienced similar embarrassments in their lives and figured the politest thing to do was just ignore it and move on. Whatever the reason, they didn’t say a word about the incident, instead talking about their plans for the evening or exclaiming over the outfits they had to wear. It was comfortable and familiar, and Shayna felt oddly relaxed, most of her anxiety gone.
The last runway went by without incident, and the audience applauded loudly as the music died down, a few cheers mixed amongst the clapping. The models were sent out again to take a bow, and Shayna positioned herself next to Mei, squeezing her hand in thanks as they raised their hands. Mei gave her a sideways grin and squeezed back.
They had all changed into their street clothes and were heading their separate ways (Mei and Shayna having made plans to meet for coffee the next day) when Mr. Wendell appeared in the changing room. “Shayna? Could I see you for a moment?”
Shayna gulped, some of her nervousness returning. Trying not to show it, she approached him. “Yes, Mr. Wendell?”
Wendell didn’t look angry. In fact, his eyes were glittering with amusement. “First off, you did good out there tonight. I’d be glad to have you in my modelling troupe anytime.”
Shayna’s heart swelled. “Thank you, Mr. Wendell. It’s an honor to be working for you.”
Wendell chuckled and pulled out a few sheets of paper. “The other thing I wanted to tell you was that I’ve already received a few order forms from the various store representatives. That red set you were wearing during the first theme has been the most popular item requested.”
Shayna’s mouth fell open. “Really?”
“Really. I can’t pretend to know what’s going on in their heads, but if I had to guess…lingerie that can so easily expose someone’s breasts is an item that’s bound to be very popular with the men. So really, you’ve helped boost my sales.”
Shayna burst out laughing. Wendell chuckled again. “That’s the spirit. Off with you, now. I don’t want to keep you from your plans.”
Shayna nodded, shook his hand, and headed for the exit. Oh, just wait until Mei heard about this tomorrow…