By Helga Gruendler-Schierloh
It was time to return to reality.
For the past two months, she had been immersed in the annual stage play of her high school’s drama class. Her leading role of “Herona, the Sunrise Princess,” a two-act romantic comedy, written and directed by her boyfriend, had consumed most of her spare time.
In real life, Emily was anything but a princess. She behaved more like a boisterous tomboy than the airy-fairy, dainty type. However, for this special performance, she had enthusiastically embraced the characteristics, likes, and dislikes of some imaginary pampered young woman.
And the show had been a huge success!
But it was over – and Emily was getting ready to dismantle her fairytale image.
Gazing into her toothpaste-speckled, spit-smeared bathroom mirror, she suddenly felt a pinch of unexpected sadness about relinquishing the intoxicating sprinkles of stage magic.
Why had this play turned her head in a way she would have never, ever expected?
Was it the exhilarating feeling of being in the spotlight, the thunderous applause that made her catch her breath, or the glamorous clothing that turned her from a down-to-earth post-millennial teenager into a glamorous aristocrat of the Middle Ages? Or maybe, just maybe, had the romantic portrayal of a young girl madly in love touched a particularly sensitive nerve in her – considering how she felt about the boy who had been the driving force behind this stage play?
It was, most likely, a bit of all of this!
But now she had to emerge herself into her usual everyday activities again.
After all, she was and never would be a princess, royal or otherwise. Even though, according to all those glamorous reviews, she had come across as rather authentic.
She inhaled deeply, let out the air with a whoosh, and refocused at the task at hand.
Scrutinizing her superficial visage, she couldn’t wait to uncover the natural face hidden behind it. Somewhere under all that camouflage was a girl who tended to be easygoing, down-to-earth, and rather unencumbered with any thoughts of how others viewed and judged her.
Smirking at the messy pane of her mirror, she removed her styled blond wig. Then, shaking her head, she let her lush auburn curls cascade across her shoulders.
She smiled. She still liked her own hair better.
Next, she took out her blue contact lenses.
Her greenish-brown irises shone back at her, filled with a zest for adventure, a bit of a tendency toward naughtiness, a deep-seated curiosity, as well as an ingrained compassion for everything alive.
Yes, her hazel eyes had always suited her fine — and they would continue to do so.
Emily now dipped a cotton swab into that special facial cleaner she had pilfered from the cosmetic assortment of the student who had been assigned as the play’s make-up artist.
Ever so careful, she cleared away the thick, black mascara framing her eyes. That’s when she wondered why she even needed that charcoal-colored goop, since her own lashes and brows were naturally quite dark already.
Well, it was for art’s sake, she thought. That’s when more seems sometimes better.
Suddenly she felt excited about retrieving her own features. Although she scrubbed herself clean after each performance, she had usually been way too exhausted to reevaluate her bare appearance before falling into bed.
Grimacing, she went to work.
First there was that skin-buffering conditioner, next the wrinkle-reducing foundation, then the color-enhancing makeup, and finally the moisture-reducing, loose powder dusted over everything. For a girl who preferred to use very little to enhance her face, it had been quite an adjustment to hide behind that beige-colored crème shield. All that paint had served to underline as well as occasionally undermine her theatrical expressions.
She was painfully aware of how often this fake plaster wall of beauty products had suffered a ghastly crack whenever she laughed too heartily during an especially funny scene. And when she cried – as per script – she would off and on wash away bits of her painstakingly constructed “royal” face to reveal a few specks of what loomed underneath.
However, she had really enjoyed her moments in the limelight. She bathed in all the raving reviews and even the personal compliments heaved upon her. To some of her admirers she would most likely remain, “Herona, the Sunrise Princess.”
She found that label actually kind of corny, since she definitely was and mostly likely always would be a “night owl.” Therefore, instead of being a delightful princess at sunrise, she often was an absolutely unbearable grouch in the morning. It often took two strong cups of coffee and about an hour of mellowing out before she transformed into her pleasant self.
Finished with dismantling her stage image, Emily drew a long, hot bubble bath and indulged in it for a long time. After finally toweling off, she slipped into her old, washed-out cotton pajamas, then drew herself up in front of the full-length wall mirror in her bedroom
“Hmmm, just look at that figure,” she muttered. “Maybe I should lose a few pounds, but it’s really not an emergency.”
She shook back her tangled wet hair. “Check, all good.”
Then she swiped both palms across her face. “No goop, nothing, check. Yeah!”
She bent closer.
The beaming face in front of her was no longer that of a princess. It belonged once again to someone she remembered very well. If anything, there was an added touch of maturity in those eyes. Maybe that came from stumbling around in someone else’s diamond-studded patent-leather sandals for a while — before discovering that one’s old galoshes fit so much better.
Throwing another glance at her mirror twin, Emily was not only pleased with how she looked. She wholeheartedly accepted and embraced again who she really was — the very one she was meant to be.
* * *
Helga Gruendler-Schierloh is a bilingual writer and translator with a degree in journalism and graduate credits in linguistics. Her articles, essays, short stories, and poetry have appeared in the USA, the UK, Canada, and South Africa. Her debut novel, Burying Leo, a Me-Too story, won second place in women’s fiction during Pen Craft Awards’ 2018 writing contest.