All Appearances Aside

By Avery Parks
(Illustration by Maria Korolov based on image by niekverlaan via Pixabay.)

Claire stretched, toes curling under the sheets as she reluctantly opened her eyes. Looking over, she saw June propped up on her elbow, watching. 

“Mmm. How long have you been awake?” Claire asked, voice still thick with sleep. 

“A few minutes. Not long,” June murmured, reaching out to caress her cheek. “Sleep well?” 

“Very,” Claire said. “Thanks for having me over.”  

“I’m glad you stayed. You are so beautiful.” June hesitated. “Have you ever considered green eyes?” 

Claire shrugged. “I’ve been green before. Why? Would you like me to change them?” 

“Up to you of course. You’re lovely as you are.” June leaned over, kissing her forehead. “Want breakfast? Anything you want.” 

“Pancakes?”  

“Absolutely. I’ll get them started.” June flipped the covers back, pulling on her nightshirt as she made her way to the kitchen. Claire smiled to herself, admiring the view. 

One last stretch before she leaned over the edge of the bed to grab her phone. She pulled up the Appearances program, tapping through until she reached the options for eye color. A color wheel appeared. Claire dragged the cursor around the green section for a moment before she settled on the perfect shade. 

Pulling out the interface, she accepted the changes and pressed her thumb to the panel. She took a deep breath, preparing for the discomfort as the nanites reprogrammed her iris pigment cells from blue to green. She winced. Normally she’d leave the process for overnight, but eye color was simple enough. 

Wandering into the kitchen, she batted her eyes at June as she flipped the pancakes. Her face lit up as she caught Claire around the waist, pulling her close. 

“I didn’t realize you could be even more beautiful. I love them,” she breathed into her ear. 

Claire shivered. “I’m glad.”

#

“What do you think?” Claire asked, executing a quick twirl for June’s inspection. Her legs were longer this morning. June’s eyes followed her, narrowed in appreciation.   

“Perfect.” 

Claire stumbled. She was unused to the extra height, and her legs ached painfully from the quick growth. June jumped up from the sofa to catch her. 

“Easy. Last time I added a couple of inches, it took me a few days to adjust.” 

Claire nodded as June guided her to a chair. “Of course.” She looked up  and squeezed June’s hand. “I’m sure I’ll be fine in a bit.” 

#

Claire stood naked in front of the mirror and saw a stranger looking back. Her facial structure was different now — wider cheekbones, smaller nose. As she ran her hands over the stranger’s body, she felt different breasts, smaller, higher. Her skin was the latest to change — paler now than she had ever been. It ached like a vicious sunburn. 

June walked in, interrupting her inspection. “It’s beautiful, like porcelain,” she murmured, running her fingers down Claire’s back. 

“Ouch.” Claire pulled away. “It still stings,” she said, apologetically. 

“Sorry. Do you like it?” June asked. 

“It’s great.” A slight hitch in Claire’s voice betrayed her words. June didn’t notice. 

#

Claire rolled over, reaching for June. Her hand patted at empty covers, bringing her fully awake. 

“June?” 

She poked her head in from the other room. “I didn’t want to wake you,” she said as she turned to leave again.

“Wait,” Claire said. “Did you change something?” She looked closer. “Your lips?”

June shrugged. “Yeah. Guess I was just ready for a change. Why?” 

Claire shrugged back, uncertain. “I guess I just liked them the way they were.” A pause. “I’ve always loved your lips.” 

June smiled a new smile. “Well, I’m sure you’ll learn to love these, too.” 

#

Claire took a seat at the cafe, fingers twining nervously in her lap as she scanned the crowd. A mass of humanity sped by on the sidewalk. Claire’s eyes skipped from one face to the next, waiting for June. 

A woman approached, pushing open the gate to the fenced in patio and coming to a stop in front of Claire’s table. Claire frowned. 

“I’m sorry, but I’m waiting for someone.”

“Yeah, silly. Me.” Hands on hips, she flashed a smile at Claire before sitting down across from her. 

“June?” Claire’s jaw tightened. There was a certain familiarity in the shape of her face, the tilt of her head. But it ended there. 

“Of course. Remember I said it was time for a change? I just took it up a notch, that’s all. You look beautiful today.” June reached toward Claire’s face, fingers outstretched. 

Claire flinched. 

“I don’t even recognize you.” Claire shook her head. “Maybe I’m ready for a change too,” she said, voice catching as she looked away. 

#

Claire woke, back in her old apartment. She pulled herself out of bed, long legs reluctantly leaving the warmth of the sheets as she stood and made her way to the bathroom. Leaning over the sink, she scrubbed the dried tracks of last night’s tears from her face before looking in the mirror. 

The woman June wanted her to be looked back. Pulling out her phone, she cued up the Appearances program. 

Her finger hovered, wavering above the screen. 

“Do you accept these changes?” The words pulsated slightly, awaiting her reply. 

She took a deep breath. It was time to be herself again. 

Yes. 

Avery Parks is a SFF writer of short fiction. Her work has placed in multiple contests, including the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award. She lives in Texas with her family, a variety of pets, and -- according to some -- too many books. You can find her on Twitter at @parks_writes.