The blonde at the counter looked up at him for the second time during his visit. This time, the smile she struggled to suppress was unmistakable, even from where James stood in the distance. She turned to say something to her co-worker whom James could not see because of a large perfume display blocking his view. Both employees laughed quietly.
Ignoring the burning sense of shame in his stomach, James squinted his eyes in the vague hope that doing so would make sense of the words before him. What the hell is radiant foundation? And why the fuck are the colours named like that? Punjab? Barcelona? Siberia? He was certain those were places rather than skin colour.
He sighed in desperation, reconsidering his decision and reassessing his need. It was bad enough he was browsing through the small, over-perfumed makeup store by himself. It was even worse that he was wearing dark sunglasses indoors like some sort of conceited tosser. The fact that he was the only customer in there that morning did not help him in his effort to be inconspicuous.
His eyes fell on the price of the impossibly small bottles and he cursed under his breath. "Thirty one pounds?" he muttered incredulously.
"Worth it," said a voice behind him. "It honestly feels like buying a new face when you put it on."
It was a very attractive girl of about his own age, even with his blurry eyesight he could tell that much was true. She was a head shorter than he was, with a light dust of freckles on her nose and arms. Her long auburn hair fell past her shoulders and even with the slight distance that separated them, he could see the lovely shade of green in her eyes, made lovelier still by the amusement in her smile. He felt startled for a brief moment, and belatedly hoped his demeanor did not betray that.
Something quivered in her smile at the sight of his shades and suddenly, James felt even more like a prat than he did before.
"You don't need a new face, though, " she added, holding her gaze at his jaw for reasons unknown to him. "Are you buying a gift for someone?"
At his lack of response, she gestured towards the small bottles of flesh colored liquid he had been examining and prompted, "Do you need help finding a shade?"
"Er…," was all he said, appearing more idiotic by the second.
"It's all right," she assured him. "Loads of blokes come in here to find a gift for their girlfriends."
"Right," he said, nodding and deciding to use that pretense. "Yeah, I'd like to buy her one of these…" he trailed off, glancing at the small bottles. When he couldn't think of the proper term, she laughed again.
"Foundation?" she offered.
"Yeah, that," he said helplessly.
Traces of humor pulled at her lips as she nodded in acknowledgement. "Do you know her shade?"
His hand flew to his messy hair as he struggled with an answer. "Not really," he confessed. "Can't I just pick one and hope it works?"
She laughed again. "It doesn't work that way," she explained patiently. Nodding towards the display of the expensive bottles then at the exposed skin on her arm, she asked, "Is she like me?"
James grinned, convinced no imaginary girlfriend he could ever make up would even compare.
"Not possible," he replied at last, evoking her to tilt her head curiously. "More like me," he continued before they could dwell on that. As he said this, his hand absently moved to adjust his sunglasses.
The notion did not go unnoticed by the redhead, much to his embarrassment. She bit her lower lip briefly, doing her best to abate a smile. Just as quickly, she recollected herself and assumed a very business-like tone. "Right, so is she almost your shade or is she your shade exactly? Because it makes a difference, you know," she explained quite seriously. "If she's got cool undertones and you get her a foundation that's too warm, it's going to look disastrous. Plus, if you get her something too dark, it's never going to look natural. If you get her something too light, she might be able to warm it up with a bronzer but it's going to show a lot. Everyone will be able to tell she's got a large amount of makeup on." At this, she looked significantly at James's shades.
James, meanwhile, stared back stupidly, trying and failing to make sense of everything she had said.
"You might also want to get her a setting powder," she continued.
"And a beauty blender."
"Beauty blender," he repeated blankly.
"And concealer, too," she added with a nod. "Particularly if what she wants to do is cover up discoloration." Again, her green eyes met his through the tinted lenses of his shades. "That's very important. Loads of people make the mistake of using just foundation to cover up problem areas."
"Is that so?" he asked is his most casual tone, trying his best to hide the fact that he intended to do just that.
"Oh, yes," she replied very solemnly. "It's a very silly thing to do."
"Stupid, even, " he offered.
She hummed in agreement, shifting her weight to one hip and crossing her arms.
"How daft," he commented with a smirk, mirroring her and crossing his own arms across his chest. They fell into the exchange with far more ease that was deemed normal for strangers.
"Definitely," she agreed. He could see the corner of her mouth twitch.
"I bet you've seen all sort of idiots who failed miserably," he quipped.
"Oh, yes," she said with a fervent nod. "All sorts. Mainly, though, I try to prevent that type of mess."
She looked up at him, unfolding her arms and gesturing towards the foundation. "Yeah, foundation on its own is never going to cover things like acne, pigmentation or… bruises."
James raised his eyebrows, half embarrassed and half impressed.
The redhead, meanwhile, smiled innocently at him.
With a defeated sigh, James let his shoulders drop. "Alright, fine," he admitted to her, removing his sunglasses with a swift motion. "The foundation rubbish is for me."
As soon as his sunglasses came off, he caught his own blurry reflection in one of the many mirrors behind her. Though he was used to the yellowish-purple bruise enveloping his right eye, he couldn't help but shudder slightly. The redhead, meanwhile, bit her lower lip sympathetically at the sight of it.
"There it is," she said with a nod, raising herself on her tip toes to study it. The space between them grew considerably shorter as she did this, making his muscles tense up. "Marlene owes me ten pounds."
He had a distinct feeling Marlene was the blonde he saw at the counter earlier. "So you knew all this time?"
"Naturally," she replied, going back to her normal height as she finished studying the bruise. "No one is arrogant enough to use sunglasses inside, particularly on a day with no sun." At this, she nodded at the overcast sky, visible through the storefront doors of the shop. "I guessed it was a black eye and Marlene thought you were a celebrity in disguise."
"Maybe I am a celebrity," he informed her with a smirk, retrieving his normal spectacles and adjusting them on the bridge of his nose. She was prettier than he originally thought. "You didn't go to school with me. I was quite popular."
Her eyes moved to his jawline again. "I don't doubt that."
He said nothing, feeling his stomach swoop.
The redhead let out a small sigh, averting her eyes to the bottles. "It's a shame this is for you, though. It's really good foundation," she told him. "Your girlfriend will be so disappointed."
James grinned. "Nah," he said dismissively. "She'll be too busy getting over the fact that she doesn't exist."
She laughed loudly, realizing a bit too late that she was at work. Flushing, she regained control.
James only watched her, feeling entranced by the sound. Instantly, he felt rather ashamed for the reaction. It was ridiculous and admitting the effect she had would make him subject to Sirius's merciless teasing for the rest of his life. After all, she was a complete stranger, a stranger whose name he did not know. The badge pinned on her chest only identified her as a shop employee. "I'm James, by the way," he told her, offering her his hand.
"Lily," she replied, shaking it. "Is James your real name?"
It was his turn to laugh. "Yes, why?"
She shrugged. "I suppose any other bloke would have made up a name after embarrassing himself like you did."
"Ah," he said, grinning. "Good point."
There was a small pause and with another smirk, he informed her, "I don't mind you knowing it, though."
Lily's cheeks colored, which was the only indication of a reaction. She was far more successful about guarding her expression than he was. "So how did the other guy end up?" she asked conversationally, nodding towards his face.
He had almost forgotten about his black eye. "Untouched and more of a prat than usual," he replied. "It was my best mate, Sirius. He kicked the ball straight at my face during football practice. I should've had the git pay thirty one pounds for this coverup thing and all the other rubbish I have to buy."
He could see her biting the inside of her cheek thoughtfully. Finally, she asked, "How desperate are you?"
He raised his eyebrows. "I've got a wedding to go to tomorrow and a rehearsal dinner tonight. One of my mates is the bride and if she sees me like this, she might even out my other eye to make them match."
Lily laughed before she looked over her shoulder. Lowering her voice, she said, "My boss is not in today. If you want, I can cover up the bruise for you so you don't have to spend any money."
He rubbed the back of his neck, assessing the chairs in the middle of the store. He'd be the first thing anyone saw when they walked in.
She must have discerned his uncertainty because she added in a conspiratorial whisper, "No one needs to know." She winked, which was all it took to convince him.
"Fine," he said, following her to one of the chairs.
A thought occurred to him as he sat. "Won't this all wash off by tomorrow?"
She smiled at him through the mirror, preparing a palette with many shades of colours, many of which were not flesh toned at all (green, blue, yellow). "I suppose that'll be an excuse for you to come back tomorrow."
"I already had one," he replied without missing a beat.
Her smile gave way to laughter, her face coloring with a lovely shade of pink.
Yes, he definitely did.
A/N: Thank you for all your wonderful comments lately on these AUs I've been publishing. They make my day :)