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Lipstick and Cigarettes

When there's nothing loveable about you...

Jennifer was beautiful in every way I felt plain. She flowed through the room on her ballerina toes, enveloping all in her path; I faded into the wallpaper. Three years older than me, she walked with grace and poise while I tried not to trip. She slipped into work boots, ripped jeans or her ballet slippers and shone like a star fallen from the sky. I primped my hair, slathered on blush, stuffed my bra and still felt dim beside her.

She was my idol and I wanted to be her...

teen Juliateen JuliaJennifer and I, second cousins, lived in the shadow of our mothers who were best friends and cousins. Our families spent weekends together through our growing up years. Once during my teens, when my mother and I battled over minuscule and monumental issues hourly, Nan, Jen's mother, invited me to visit. I ran to my room and packed my bag before anyone objected. I loved Nan, but I wanted to hang out with Jen and her friends, wear her clothes; emulate her.

When I arrived, Jen showed me where to put my clothes but didn't offer to let me try on hers. Instead she called a friend and hung her head over the end of the bed, laughing and giggling and painting her nails. She looked over at me sitting on her peach coverlet and smiled.

"Wanna come, Julia?" she asked. I nodded, too afraid to ask where. She talked for another ten minutes while I pulled lint balls from the quilt. I looked at the pictures of boys tacked onto her walls, her porcelain ballet slippers hanging from her mirror and the pet rock sitting beside the jars and pots of perfumes and lipsticks lining her dresser. I wanted to go, but I also wanted to stay here and touch everything in her room.

I followed Jen down the hall, trying to sway my hips like hers and hold my head at the same angle. Her thick black hair fell to her waist in smooth, supple waves. I shoved my hands in my pockets, trying not to think about my short brown hair clipped behind my ears. Jen grabbed her purse, hollered to her parents and headed out the door sure I followed her.

Smoke billowed out of the restaurant

Jen waltzed through the haze, her gaze lighting on the table filled with giggling girls in the corner. They turned to Jen as she sat down, each wanting to talk to her and be talked to. Jen smiled like a queen used to the attention.

"This is my cousin, Julia," she said. "She's staying for the week at our house. Wanna coke, Julia?"

I nodded yes, trying not to stare. They were beautiful and different and so very cool. A tall brunette with big puffy hair scrutinized me while another pulled a pack of cigarettes from her pocket.

"I'm so glad you remembered them," sighed a pale blonde wearing deep purple lipstick. "My mother was cleaning and I couldn't get my stash before I left."

"I always keep them in my jacket now," chirped another blonde. "No one cares if I smoke anyway."

"Come on Julia, have a smoke," nudged the brunette sitting across from me. "You do know how to smoke, right?"

I took a sip of my cherry coke and shrugged my shoulder. If I took one, they'd know instantly I didn't know how to smoke. If I refused, I'd forfeit future invitations with Jen. I felt a sick twisting in my stomach as I held my hand out. The girls giggled when I fumbled the cigarette and broke it in half.

thoughts of glamourthoughts of glamour"You've never done this before, have you?" Jennifer said gently. She took another cigarette and placed it in my fingers, her cherry polished fingers guiding my awkward plain ones. She lit the end, told me to stick it in my mouth, and take as deep a breath as I could manage.

"That's it, right into your lungs," said the intense brunette. The other girls watched with interest. I felt cool, and all at once, part of their group. Three years younger, but finally one of the girls, I belonged.

Until I exhaled...

It felt as if someone had pumped sewage into my lungs. I couldn't breathe in or out. I threw the cigarette down on the table, jumping from my seat in panic.

"Julia next time, just take the smoke in your mouth," Jennifer said. "You'll get used to it."

I sat beside her, happy for once to be ignored. The smoke swirled around our heads as they talked about nail polish, bras and boys.

"My mom will kill me," said Jen, handing me a stick of gum. "If she finds out you've been smoking, she'll have my head."

I stuffed it in my mouth, nervous and scared and excited all at once.

"Don't worry Julia. It doesn't take much to fool Jen's mother," nudged another friend with a conspiratorial wink. "One stick of gum and you're home free."

I smiled and chewed my gum.

"Jennifer, where's Dave?" asked the blonde.

"Oh, who knows?" she said. "I think I'm going to break up with him anyway. He's really only good for kissing."

The girls giggled and I smiled, trying to understand how a girl could break up with a guy who was a good kisser. Suddenly Jen turned to me and wrapped her long, tanned fingers around my chin.

"You have lovely lips you know, Julia," she said. "I bet you're a good kisser. Pucker up and show us."

I scrunched my lips together, not sure exactly what she wanted. I'd practiced on the poster of Shaun Cassidy in my bedroom. Kissing a cardboard poster wasn't quite the same as puckering your lips for a group of incredibly cool, sophisticated high school girls.

beautiful lipsbeautiful lips"Yup, she'll have lots of boyfriends," the others agreed.

Jennifer took out her red Bonny Bell lip-gloss that tasted like watermelon and handed it to me.

"Put this on and let's see," she said.

I did as I was told, rubbing the liquid ball across my lips like a paintbrush. I mushed them together and pouted like Jennifer instructed. The girls fell silent.

"Perfect, you have absolutely perfect lips," Jennifer said. "We have to go to the mall tomorrow."

I smiled and nodded my head. My mother would flip, but just at that moment, I didn't care. I had kissable lips - Jen thought so.

These lips were made for?

We returned home and Jen's mother wanted to hear all about our trip. She stood with her back to us chopping vegetables while Jennifer perched on the kitchen table and swung her feet back and forth. She grabbed a celery stick and chomped loudly while she fed her mother stories. Then Jen turned to me as if she'd suddenly remembered I was still there.

"Mom, look at Julia's lips. Aren't they beautiful? She's going to be such a great kisser."

Nan turned around and looked at me, her soft brown eyes lighting up as she studied me. I stood there like an ugly bug under a microscope. But the more Nan looked at me and the more Jen talked I began to think maybe they weren't seeing the same bug I saw.

"Julia, you have beautiful lips," Nan said as she wiped her hands on a tea towel and raised my chin with her fingertips. "Just lovely."

"Really?" I asked. The girls had gone home now and I didn't feel the same desperate need to be something I knew I wasn't. "What does it matter if I have lovely lips when I've got these stupid braces? And my hair looks like straw. Who is ever going to look at my beautiful lips when everything else is so so so nasty?"

Nan smiled, and reached up to undo the clip in my hair.

"Julia, you have beautiful hair," whispered Jennifer. "I've always wanted hair that changed color when the light hit it. It's better than this one color wonder on my head. And yours is so soft."

Compared to Jennifer I was an ugly duckling while she, the beautiful swan, swam circles around me. Nan wrapped an arm around me, acknowledging my fears. "Why don't you girls go get ready for bed?" she suggested. "Tomorrow we'll go to the mall."

Following Jen's cover-girl body down the hall, I reached up to run my fingers across my lips. They felt nice. Was there more to me than I could see?

Julia Rosien - beautiful, proud and confidentJulia Rosien - beautiful, proud and confidentIt feels like a lifetime has passed and Jennifer's still as tall and beautiful as she was at sixteen. I suspect she'll always be a person others flock to because she loves herself and feels comfortable in her own skin.

Thanks to Jennifer, I've never smoked - that one cigarette lasted a lifetime. I've learned to live with my many faults and accentuate my assets. I've grown into my lips, the lips Jen thought were so kissable. Turns out they are.

Sometimes I slather them in lipstick. Sometimes I don't.

And thanks to a cousin that was everything I wasn't, I've enjoyed a lifetime love affair with my lips. A love that began when I could find nothing about myself to love.

Do you have an ugly duckling story? How did you overcome - or overcompensate? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook and let's start talking!

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