Kristen could do things with a thread that professional garment makers could only see in their minds. She could make a movie star of a peasant, or a pauper of a king. A prodigy, they said. Unparalleled for her age. Her parents were proud, but they could only see it as a hobby and encouraged her to go to college after her senior year to study a profession that would pull in a steady income. They always suggested accounting.
She hated numbers. She got an A in all her math courses but had to work for them and dreaded every minute of that work. But after school, when she went to the theater and worked on the costumes, she was a queen. Other students approached her with held breath. They knew she could make them whatever they wished they could be. This semester, it was The Wizard of Oz. Making Lindsay look like Judy Garland was a breeze. Turning Matt into the Tin Man a small challenge. Convincing the audience that Liam was the scarecrow without a brain she couldn’t really take credit for. He was born for the role. She just dolled him up a bit to make it seem like it was acting. The few friends she considered close called the stage a second home. To Kristen, the costumes behind the stage were her first.
Next semester, her final semester, the school was putting on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It would be her last chance to show off what she could do before she would leaving for college. She hoped she could make Puck and Oberon the most realistic Fairies to grace the stage, and Titania…she had a lot of plans for Titania. The fairy queen herself. Kristen starting working on these costumes before the production of The Wizard of Oz was over. She had started Titania’s robes the day she found out what the spring production would be. She went home and worked all night only stopping for dinner and then only after her mother forced her to put the needle down.
She finished every costume in turn while at the theater after class, but she only worked on Titania’s robes at home. They were to be her masterpiece. All of her friends believed her work on Puck or Hippolyta were the best ever seen in the history of the school. They even liked it better than the recent movie adaptation. “And that was with a million dollar budget,” they said. Kristen wanted to show them Titania’s robes at that moment, but knew she was a long way away from finishing them.
The months went by quickly and Kristen had finished every costume except Titania’s. Once this was discovered, everyone in the play became interested. They all believed she had forgotten at first. She started leaving early after school, staying long enough to make minor alterations or fix any holes her classmates somehow already made. Rumors started and her unintentional mystery costume became a concern and a wonder. Jessica, who was to play Titania, caught her a week before the first show.
“Kristen,” she called after Kristen slipped out the side door. She was leaning against the brick building with a cigarette in hand.
“How are you? I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages,” Jessica said before taking a drag of the cigarette.
“I’m good. If you’re wondering about the costume, I’ll have it ready before the show Thursday,” she said trying to cut the conversation short so she could go home and work.
“That’s great. I was wondering about it a little. So it won’t be ready by Tuesday? We do have the full dress rehearsal Tuesday.”
“I know. I just need a little more time to work on it.”
“I’m not sure what Mr. Williamson will think if I’m the only one not in costume.”
“You can use Glinda’s dress that Beth wore last semester.”
“That’s not what I’ll be wearing for Thursday. It’d be nice to wear the dress before the ball, you know what I mean? To see if it fits?”
Kristen smiled as best she could. “I’ll try to finish it this weekend.”
“Really? That would be amazing. Thank you so much.”
Jessica stubbed out the cigarette and disappeared through the door back into the theater. Kristen bolted home. She hadn’t promised anything. She only said she’d try.
The weekend passed and she didn’t complete a single stitch. Her parents surprised her with a trip to look at colleges, so she dutifully toured each campus. Each one was beautiful and she liked them each as much as she could. Every time she mentioned the theater department, her parents would divert the conversation to job placement programs. “Ninety-three percent, that’s incredible,” her dad would say.
Kristen successfully avoided Jessica all day Monday. Tuesday she was almost as successful until she ran into her smoking in the restroom after fourth period.
“Hi Kristen. Did you have a good weekend? A productive one I hope.”
“Not as much I would’ve liked,” she said, “My parents took me to tour a few colleges.”
“Oh really? Have you figured out where you’re going? I bet it’s somewhere with a really cool theater program.”
Jessica frowned. “You don’t want to make costumes? You’re so good at it.”
“I do. It’s just…”
“Speaking of which, is my costume finished…sorry, I mean Titania’s dress? Everyone’s dying to see it. Me most of all.”
Kristen glanced away from Jessica’s fake smile. She wasn’t the best actress in the play.
“Not quite,” she said.
“Will it be ready tomorrow?”
“I’ll try my best.”
“Awesome,” Jessica said, extinguishing her cigarette in the sink.
Kristen went home right after class and worked on the robes. She skipped dinner and worked late into the night. She finished them as the sun was rising. Her tired eyes weren’t able to appreciate them, but she knew this was the best work she’d ever done.
That evening during rehearsal, she made the last minute alterations after Jessica tried them on. Everyone was enthralled and envious of the quality of this one costume Kristen had poured all of herself into. Titania wasn’t a large part of the play, but to Kristen, she was the most important character.
Opening night came and Kristen sat in the back with strangers to watch all of her creations dance on the stage. Her parents were at her younger brother’s soccer game. When Titania made her appearance, Karen stared in admiration of her own work. It was her proudest moment. She almost didn’t notice the crowd had quieted ever so slightly as well. She couldn’t stop smiling.
The next day she mended any damages. Liam, now playing Mustardseed, had somehow torn a hole in his outfit by somehow stepping on it while prancing off the stage. She sat in back during the second production, again with strangers. Her parents had promised to see Saturday’s show.
Saturday came and again Kristen repaired what damages were done. Before the final show, she walked through as everyone was getting ready to make sure everything was perfect with their outfits. No one paid her too much attention. She found Jessica and noticed a small hole the size of a cigarette on the right sleeve. Her gut wrenched.
“Would you like me to fix that before you go on?” she asked.
“Your sleeve. There’s a hole.”
Jessica looked over her arm to find the hole. “Oh, would you look at that? No, it’ll be fine. No one in the audience will see it, and I’m already laced up.”
“Okay.” Kristen walked off to take her seat before the show started. An anger boiling inside her at Jessica.
The two seats next to her were empty. She wasn’t really expecting her parents to show, but she had got them tickets just in case. When the show ended, there was a standing ovation from all the friends and family of the actors. Kristen remained seated, fixated on Jessica’s right sleeve. She couldn’t see the hole at all from in the back, but she knew it was there.
The cast went out afterwards as they always did after the final show. Kristen never went despite getting a last minute invite. She had her own ritual. She sat in the dressing rooms and looked at all of her costumes cast off like the second skins they were. Hanging halfway off the rack were Titania’s robes. She took them and laid them across a chair. It seemed Jessica started the party after her last line because a wet stain, probably wine or vodka, covered the left thigh and ash specked the brilliant colors. Kristen looked at the desecration of her masterpiece failed to fight back the tears.
When she finally calmed herself, she remembered where she was and looked around to make sure she was alone. She undressed and slipped into the robes. She was able to fit into them with minimal effort despite the fact they were made for Jessica. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her eyes were red and puffy, but she was smiling. She sniffed and wiped her nose with her sleeve then stood up tall. She took in the full glory of herself as Titania. This was her center stage, and she was the queen.