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“Didn’t you get the latest Vogue? Next big thing. Poofy hair. And Earth Shoes are making a huge comeback.”

“I don’t know, honey, you’ve got sort of a Bride of Frankenstein meets Shirley Temple look going on there. I’d page the emergency stylist on call.”

She, of course, looked perfect. She was wearing a midriff-baring mesh knit top with big yellow smiley faces, and a Day-Glo orange camisole underneath. I envied the outfit, but not the pierced belly button. Low-rise hiphuggers showed off smooth, sculpted curves. The shoes were designer flip-flops with little orange-and-yellow jeweled bees for decoration. She smiled as I took inventory, lifted her arms, and did a perfect runway twirl. “Well? What’s my fashion score of the day?”

I considered. “Nine,” I said.

Cherise whipped back around, offended. “Nine? You’re kidding!”

“I deducted for nonmatching nail polish.” I pointed at her toes. Sure enough, she was wearing yesterday’s Lime Glitter Surprise.

“Damn.” She frowned down at her shapely toes, one of which had a little silver ring. “But I got points for the new tat, right?”

I’d missed it during the twirl. “Let me see.”

She turned around and pointed at the small of her back. Just at the point where the hiphuggers met the curve, there was an indigo-fresh…

I blinked, because it was a big-eyed alien head. Space aliens.

“Nice,” I said, tilting my head to study it. The skin was still flushed. “Hurt much?”

She shrugged, eyeing a woman in a conservative black pantsuit who’d come in and given her one of those blankly disapproving looks, the kind reserved for girls in hiphuggers, tattoos, and belly button piercings. I saw the demon spark in Cherise’s eyes. She pitched her voice to carry. “Well, you know, those tattoos kind of sting. So I did a little coke to take the edge off.”

The woman, who was reaching for a coffee mug, froze. I watched her rigid, French-manicured hand slowly resume its forward motion.

“Smoked or snorted?” I asked. Still the straight woman. Apparently, it was my new karmic path.

“Smoked,” Cherise said blandly. “Best way to get my high on, but then I got all, you know, nervous. So I smoked a couple of spliffs to calm down.”

The woman left, coffee mug clenched in white knuckles.

“HR?” I guessed.

“Yeah, drug testing. I’ll be peeing in a cup within the hour. So.” Cherise dropped into the chair next to me as I applied the towel to my feet. “I hear you have an interview for the weekend forecast position.”

“Yeah.” I wiggled my damp toes and felt the drag of clinging hose. “Not that I have a chance in hell, but…” But it was more money, and would get me out of the humiliation business, and I wouldn’t miss being Joanne Baldwin, Weather Warden quite so fiercely if I had something else I could be proud of doing.

“Oh, bullshit, of course you have a chance. A good one, too. You’re credible on camera, honest, and the guys just love you. You’ve seen the website, right?”

I gave her a blank look.

“Your page is going through the roof. Hits out the ass, Jo. Seriously. Not only that, but you should read the emails. Those guys out there think you’re damn hot.”

“Really?” Because I didn’t think there was anything hot about getting hit in the face with buckets of water. Or standing around in walking shorts, an I Love Florida! T-shirt, and oversized sunglasses with zinc oxide all over my nose. Too much to ask that I appear in a decently sexy bikini or anything. I had to look like a total dork, and do it on cheesy, cheap sets standing in rubber ducky pools or piles of play sand.

So not hot, I was.

“No, see, you don’t get it. It’s the theory of the magic glasses,” she explained. Cherise had a lot of theories, most of them having to do with secret cabals and aliens among us, which made her both cute and kind of scary. I picked up a brush from the makeup table and started working on my hair; Genevieve, a burly Minnesota woman with a perpetual scowl, bowl-cut hair, and no makeup, took the brush away and began working on me with the tender care of a prison-camp-trained beautician. I winced and bit the inside of my lip to keep from complaining.

Cherise continued. “See, you know in the movies how the really hot girl can slip on a pair of horn-rims, and all of a sudden there’s this entire silent agreement between all the people in the movie that she’s ugly? And then there’s the moment when she takes them off, and everybody gasps and says she’s gorgeous? Magic glasses.”

I stopped in the act of sipping coffee and braced myself as Genevieve tamed a tangle in my hair by the simple, brutally efficient method of yanking it out by the roots. I swallowed and repeated shakily, “Magic glasses.”

“Like Clark Kent.” Cherise beamed. “The outfits are your magic glasses, only instead of everybody being fooled, they’re in on the joke. It’s an open secret that you’re totally hot under all that geek disguise. It’s very meta.”

“You’re not originally from here, are you?” I asked.


“The third planet from the sun.”

She had a cute smile, one side lifting higher than the other and waking a dimple. I saw one of the office guys leaning in the door, mooning at her—not mooning her, mooning at her—but then there was always somebody doing that, and Cherise never seemed to notice, much less mind. Oddly, none of her admirers seemed capable of asking her out. Then again, maybe they knew something I didn’t.

“How many hits?” I asked.

“Are we doing the drug talk again?”

I eyerolled. “To the web page, geek.”

“Couple hundred thousand so far.”

“You’re kidding!”

“Um, not! The IT guys told me all about it.” This was not surprising, because I was sure the IT guys tried to chat her up all the time. What was surprising was that Cherise had actually listened.

“What were you doing listening to IT guys?”

She raised an eyebrow. “We were talking about The X-Files. You know? Remember?

The show with Mulder and Scully and…”

Oh, right. Alien invasions. Weird occurrences. This was, strangely, right up Cherise’s alley. Hence the tattoo.

The coffee was decent, which was a surprise; generally it was rancid stuff, even early in the morning, because the station wasn’t exactly upmarket. Maybe somebody had gotten disgusted and popped for Starbucks again. I consoled myself with sips as Genevieve continued to torture my hair. She was backcombing, or possibly weeding.

“So? You got the rest of the day off?” Cherise asked. I was unable to move my head to nod, so I flapped my hand in a vague yes. “Cool. I have to do some voice promo stuff tomorrow, but I’m outta here for the day. Want to go shopping? I figure we can hit the mall around ten.”

It was seven A.M., but that was Cherise. She knew the opening schedule of every store in a tri-state area, and she planned ahead.

Genevieve picked up the hair dryer. My scalp cringed, anticipating third-degree burns. I’d have stopped her, but the weird thing was that at the end of all of this torture, I’d look great. That was Genevieve’s special gift.

“I absolutely need to shop,” I said. Shopping has a deeply therapeutic effect when you’re trapped in a less-than-ideal life situation.

Shopping with money would have been even better, but hell. Can’t have everything.

Fort Lauderdale mornings are beautiful. Soft cerulean skies, layered with pink and gold. Smog is kept to a minimum by the fresh ocean breezes. When I stepped outside of the big concrete box of WXTV-38, I had to stop and appreciate it as only a Warden can.

I closed my eyes, lifted my face to the sun, and left my body to drift up to the aetheric level. It was a little hard to do, these days; I was tired, and out of practice, and it felt sometimes like I had more than my share of worries. Hard to get metaphysical when you’re tied so closely to the real world.