“The first purpose of Clothes . . . was not warmth or decency, but ornament.”
—Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus (The Tailor Retailored), 1833
Late, late, late, late. Julia was going to kill me.
I hopped around my room, yanking clothes out of my closet and throwing them on the bed. Like an idiot, I’d forgotten to charge my Unum, so the battery had died overnight. Which meant, of course, that my alarm hadn’t gone off this morning. Which meant I’d probably still be sleeping right now if my mother hadn’t come in to investigate why I wasn’t at breakfast.
Okay. I could pair the yellow Torro-LeBlanc leggings with the blue musketeer tunic—did they really go, though? — or do a black and white combo with the oversize blouse and a belt. That was probably safest. I wouldn’t have to change my nail polish, either. But I’d worn black and white last week—the other judges would definitely remember. I chewed on a section of my hair and glanced at the clock. I had to decide now, or I’d never make it to work by nine.
Tunic and leggings, fine. I grabbed my silver trendchecking gun from the top shelf of my closet, flicked it on, and pointed the barrel at my clothing tags. As the laser hit the tunic’s tag, the gun beeped and the green light stayed green. Same for the tank top. But when I scanned the tag on the leggings, the light turned red. I groaned, hurled the leggings and the gun to the floor, and grabbed my charging Unum. “Sabrina,” I said into the microphone.
Sabrina’s face, which always looked as if it was concentrating hard, filled my Unum screen. “Hey,” she said. From the light smudges of color behind her, I could tell she was outdoors.
“I’m freaking out. I haven’t left yet. I have nothing to wear.” Panic tightened my voice. “The yellow midcalf leggings expired.”
“Yeah. Like last week.”
“So what do I pair the musketeer tunic with? Mine’s cobalt.”
Sabrina thought for a moment. “You have the black leggings from the urban street punk trend, right?”
“I wore them last Thursday.”
Sabrina’s mouth twisted. “Then I don’t know. Would stovepipes work? Or you could do tights the way Olivia—”
“I hate that look,” I interrupted.
I dug into the pile on my bed and pulled out my maroon stovepipe pants. I hit them with the trendchecker, just to be safe. Green light—still wearable. I shoved them on the bed under the tunic and turned the Unum to show Sabrina the look. “I like it,” I heard her say.
It wouldn’t be my best outfit, not by far, but it would do. “Fine,” I said, rotating the Unum back so I could see her. I wiggled my fingers in front of the screen. “My nails are yellow, though.”
She shook her head. “You are going to be so late.”
I stumbled down the curved stairs of our apartment, clutching the handle of my briefcase in one hand and fanning the fingers of the other hand to dry my nail polish. My mother, Karen, stood in the front hall, smiling at me and holding a titanium travel mug. She made two lattes every morning, one for me and one for my father, who was undoubtedly sipping his on the train already.
Even in my rush, I noticed that Karen’s hair looked good. She’d finally mastered the four-quadrants-of-the-scalp method I’d shown her. The wavy part in the back was bone straight, tamed by the flatiron.
“Don’t worry, honey. You’ll make it. And you look great,” she said brightly.
I kissed her on the cheek and grabbed the mug of latte, spilling some on the bamboo floorboards on my way to the front door. Pausing to flip the lid cover closed, I nicked my thumb on the plastic, and a streak of clear nail cut through the brown polish. I pursed my lips in frustration.
“Oh, Marla, don’t have a big lunch.” Karen had grabbed a dishtowel from the kitchen and was kneeling down to wipe the spill. “I’m trying a new paella recipe tonight.”
“Sure. Your hair looks prime, by the way!” I called over my shoulder as I yanked the apartment door open and ran to catch the elevator.
Outside, a warm winter breeze rustled the sidewalk palm trees. I jogged past the white and yellow high-rises and held my hand out to stop traffic as I crossed two intersections. My station was just ahead. My coffee sloshing inside the mug, I flew up the railway steps as my train sighed to a stop at the platform. I joined the crowd pressing through the doors and looked around for a free seat.
I didn’t bother trying to locate Braxton. I knew he would have caught an earlier train, just like Sabrina. Finding a spot, I laid my briefcase across my lap and released my breath in a loud exhale. I was never late for anything. I hated this feeling. Maybe, for a backup alarm, I could buy a second Unum . . . or did we have an old alarm clock somewhere in the apartment?
The morning light danced across the domed ceiling of the train, and I sat back to watch it. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see heads turn as a few travelers recognized me. Hoping they weren’t picking apart my outfit, I ignored them. I pictured my empty seat on the Superior Court bench—and Julia’s look of disapproval—and willed the train to move faster.
Ivy let her legs hover in the open door of the urban utility vehicle before stepping out. Even though she was wearing a giant pair of Torro-LeBlanc sunglasses, she squinted in the glare of the camera flashes.
As usual, her bodyguards muscled through the crowd, clearing a path along the sidewalk to the store entrance. Fatima, her publicist, followed, with her Unum to her ear and her head cocked to one side. Ivy was next, surrounded by her nymphs. Madison and Aiko linked arms on either side of her, matching their strides to hers. Hilarie and Naia brought up the rear.
The procession moved slowly, not because the photographers blocked its way, but because it was an arranged photo op. As Fatima always reminded them, there was no point in going to so much trouble for blurry pictures. Ivy pressed her lips together in her signature pout, tilted her chin down, and stared directly into the camera flashes as she strutted forward.
Today she was modeling the Rudolfo label’s armed-forces trend. She wore a tube dress in a fatigue pattern, combat boots, and a shiny necklace of dog tags attached end to end. A black leather bag with silver studs hung off her shoulder. Her nymphs were dressed in complementary fashion: Aiko had on a sailor dress; Hilarie wore baggy Gestapo pants and a T-shirt with TELL ME YOUR SECRETS printed across the front; Naia sported a bomber jacket and goggle headband. Madison wore a sleeveless jumpsuit of the same fatigue print as Ivy’s dress....