There was so much. Nails, tanning, hair, apparel of every specific variety. So many one by one details that needed tending each hour. The sheer volume of technical specifications was enormous. And she was passively expert, bypassing scientific education to intimate knowledge of the science of cosmetics.

But it wasn't that it dragged her down. Standard equipment, she maintained. The constant effort made her hardier, more durable.

How many things had the word Girl in the title: where the girls are, when you're a girl, girl 6.

The mall was huge, and the only feature that spoke for this particular metropolitan area. Always crowds, but never crowded. The multitiled floor that made for a constant din of clacking heels.

There were smells of coffee and plastic airbed mattresses.

A huge mural painted over an unfinished storefront of old timey cottonfield scenes--ostensibly to represent what was here a couple of milleniums before the mall. The whole idea enough to give her brother an asthma attack.

There were vast sheets of glass everywhere and cathedral glass ceilings and water fountains, the omnipresent splashing of water. You couldn't really get away from it.

Cheerleaders strolling through looking like they belonged to the underground regions of a particularly nervy videogame. The look wasn't bad. It made her wish they could have pushed the envelope harder back when she was. More edgy.

Sunglasses always. The longer you stayed in a place the more doubletakes you got. Aren't you on the channel 8 news. The outright staring. Even autographs.

Even the married guy you had lunch and so forth with, wife and two kids in tow. Who looked twice to make sure she wasn't looking, and when she was, he wouldn't look. Wives know. Even kids know.

Still, better than the ones with wives who never looked at all.

A question perpetually loaded into RAM: why doesn't she do something with that hair.

The feel of walking with nothing dangling. The assurance of scent present in your wake.

That you are one of more than half the world and that you are totally unique and special because of the other half.

Being a TV reporter was really only insurance.

Those huge posters at the lingerie outlet. Whose secret? Not the bitch's in the picture, not anymore.

Into the mall bookstore, a matter to let drop to her brother. "Oh guess what I saw in the bookstore?" His eyebrows. Not that it would impress him. Not at all. Only that it went toward the total number of points against her in the long run. Against the indictment. Not that he thought that she thought it mattered.

There, in the back, she saw the girl. In the paperback fantasy section; dungeons & dragons, swords and queens, diaphanous gowns and plastic boobs. Kelly can't help but look. She turns away once, but looks back. A girl, 15 maybe. The picture of homely. The worst kind of homely. Pooch belly already, one thin ponytail, fat lips, coke bottle glasses. Not a caricature. The real thing. And she knew it was supposed to be sad. She couldn't look away. It was sad.

But she didn't feel it. Couldn't allow herself to feel it. Hopeless homely. Living for the latest in a series of books not romance but fantasy. Spells, wizards. More than that: Power and Justice.

And it wasn't true; that she could just fix herself up and make a difference, any difference at all.

What she herself had, she had. She didn't thank God for it. She didn't dismiss the possibility of God's role in it, either.

She didn't want to help the girl.

She wanted to go home and lie down on the cool bed in the cool a/c in the perfect bedroom in the perfect apartment and not be her. The girl.

Not be her. Forever and ever and ever.