Rosemary has resolved to make friends with Martin. Arabella is displeased.
The scissors were far from new, and they opened with a difficult grating wrench each time Arabella pulled them open, needing all her strength to jam them closed on every chop. Sometimes they didn't really cut at all, just shutting uselessly with a dull thump, so that she had to force them open again and try to slam them together faster.
Arabella was rather sorry about this. She would have preferred sharp, shining scissors and a clean /snip snip snip/, to fit in with the dramatic ruthlessness of what she was doing, instead of this prosaic hard work. Never mind. Blunt and elderly as the scissors were, they still performed rather well as tools of sacrifice, especially since she was in no particular hurry.
"Arabella Buckley! Oh, what are you doing?"
The obvious horror in Rosemary's voice was music to Arabella's ears. So convenient that her friend had just happened to walk in on her midway through her brutal task, she thought, erasing from her mind the memory of having sent Jenny to ask Rosemary to meet her in the dorm. The gesture would be utterly futile if it lacked the correct audience.
It was all she could do not to smile when Rosemary's warm hand closed over the wrist of the hand holding the scissors, pulling it away from her head.
"I'm cutting my hair off," she said, composing her features into a mournful expression, her lower lip pushing out just that perfectly calculated adorable inch. Her hair still fell heavily down the back, but she had cut away around the face first, so that it curled riotously around her face in little golden wavelets. In the mirror, she looked like a heart-broken choirboy. Arabella decided she quite liked the effect.
"Oh, Arabella, you mustn't! Your beautiful hair - why, it's wicked! You truly mustn't." Rosemary, most gratifyingly, was almost in tears. She held tight to the other girl's wrist, which had fallen to her side.
"Why not?" Arabella knew that for proper dramatic effect, she should whirl on Rosemary, but it was hard to tear herself away from her new reflection. Boyish and angelic all at once, yet not boyish enough for anyone to really think she was a boy, she decided. She had never really gone in for the winsome tomboy style, but on consideration, it was utterly captivating on her. She essayed a few tears, letting her protruding lower lip tremble affectingly. "I thought you'd like me again if I cut my hair," she said plaintively.
"How could you say that?" Rosemary's tears were far more genuine. Arabella watched in the mirror as they rolled down her pretty face. They were sweet, soothing balm to her hurt feelings. Poor dear Rosemary, so easy to make her cry, she thought fondly. "You're my friend. I like you better than anyone."
"Truly?" This time she suspected she really wasn't justified in not whirling on her friend, so she did so, the uncut curls at the back of her hair flying. "I thought you preferred boys now." No, that was wrong, her tone was far sharper than her useless scissors. She carefully wrapped it in silky sorrow. "I thought that if I was more like a boy, you'd like me as much as you do Martin."
She held her breath a little as she waited on Rosemary's response. Of course, this was all simply a delightful game in a way, a way of taking punishment out on Rosemary as well as proving her power again. But somewhere beneath the act, Arabella was conscious of a horrid feeling, a kind of icy tenseness. Rosemary and Martin... their heads together over their prep., Rosemary's rather small eyes starry as she laughed at something he said... Rosemary's eyes were only supposed to shine like stars when Arabella paid her attention.
That queer, lonely feeling would go away for good now. Rosemary would choose, and she would choose in the only manner possible. Arabella was perfectly sure of this.
It was an unpleasant moment to recall her mother, laughing across at her father, as they teased Arabella that now she was going to school, she'd have her first Grand Passion. "Schoolgirl friendships are so intense, aren't they? But they never last. Eventually, every little girl meets a little boy."
No. Not Arabella, and not Rosemary either. Her mother understood nothing, or she would never have gone to America and left her daughter at Whyteleafe. She didn't realise that Arabella, who was so used to having her own way, had no intention of allowing her friend to outgrow her.
"But Martin's so nice, and he hasn't a friend. What about Julian? I didn't complain when you wanted us to be friends with him." Rosemary was pleading softly as she uncurled her friend's fingers from the scissors. Arabella allowed her grip to be disengaged, even though she wanted to slap her friend, and slap her hard.
"I never cared the slightest for that horrid, long-haired boy! I just wanted to be his friend to spite Elizabeth," she said. She hadn't realised how upset she was until she caught herself telling rather more truth than she generally felt wise, but it was too late to snatch the words back now.
"Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Elizabeth! Sometimes I imagine you think more of her than you do of me." Rosemary must be upset, too, Arabella realised, to say so much by way of criticism. She took heart at the note of hysteria in her friend's voice. It was apparent that Rosemary at least cared who Arabella thought of most.
"Don't try to wriggle out of it! You're the one who doesn't care about me now you have your precious, lying little sneak-thief of a boy friend. I suppose" - Arabella's sob was almost genuine - "you don't need me at all now you have him." The coldness intensified at her own words, squeezing her heart so heart she was afraid it would stop beating. Surely... surely she didn't care so much which friend silly little Rosemary preferred? It was only that it was unbearable that the girl could possibly choose anyone else over rich, beautiful, charming Arabella.
"That's different! I don't care for you and Martin the same way at all. Don't you understand how it's different?"
Rosemary choked back a sob of her own as the icy feeling spread, sliding down into Arabella's fingertips and making them tingle bloodlessly. All her pretence fell from her, and she screwed her eyes tight, wishing she was childish enough to stop her ears as well. She didn't want her mother to be right, didn't want Rosemary's adoration to be something that only lasted until she... fell in love. It wasn't fair. Arabella knew she was far prettier and more charming than that weak little Martin could ever be. Stupid girl-boy games... she despised them all. Hateful Martin... hateful Rosemary.
"How is it different?" she asked. Her voice was devoid of its usual sugared charm, falling dully on her own ears.
"I - I - Arabella..."
There was almost painful pressure on her shoulders, and warmth pressing against her mouth, melting away the ice at its touch. Arabella's eyes flew open in shock. By the time she had registered what was happening, that Rosemary was kissing her, Rosemary was pushing away, her pretty face flaming.
"I'm sorry." Rosemary took a step back, shaking visibly. "Don't be cross with me - please!" She turned and fled, the dormitory door banging behind her.
Arabella stared at the door for a moment, absent-mindedly drawing her thumb over her lips. After a while, she picked up the scissors, and began slowly snipping the long locks of hair at the back of her head. She would have to go to Matron in a moment, for her to finish the job and tidy it up.
She smiled at the angelic vision in the mirror, and it flashed an impish grin back, like a choirboy preparing to fire nutshells at the congregation. Her hair would always grow back, and for the moment, it was rather satisfying to know she made a much prettier boy than Martin ever would.
It seemed she wouldn't have to bother looking for a new special friend, after all.