JACKY is lanky and has no hips. The long crimson dress hangs nicely from the waist, red and yellow flowers flow down to the knees. Mum's black high heels sit a little awkwardly below Jacky's muscly calves. The pink cardigan I have picked out is slightly too short, it is only just elbow length. We have stuffed the top of the dress with tissues, to fill it out.
He is breathtaking. He looks like a fit, androgynous Monroe. Under the harsh fluorescent lights of our tiny yellow bathroom, his green eyes are wet with tears and he is laughing, my eyes are also watering but that's because the double-strength hair spray overpowers the flow of fresh air from the tiny broken window. I honestly can't stop staring at his smoky eyes; we've gone with Black Fog for eyeshadow. He doesn't look 18, he looks 21, and I'll be dammed if my brother isn't the prettiest girl you've ever seen.
Jack looks at his sparkly watch; 8pm has crept upon us suddenly. "Nadine, I want to take the gold clutch, but I'm worried it's too much. Well, even more than it already is." He laughs bashfully.
"Jack" I say, "what is the most absurd thing in your wardrobe?"
"I have a beige cowboy hat, ha! I don't even know which play I wore that in . . ."
"Perfect. That will go nicely with my coffee stained Stone's shirt. Now, however self-conscious you feel, remember this - I am beside you, and looking absurd is my specialty."
I fetch the hat and stagger back into the bathroom with my thumbs poking outwards from my old faded jeans. In my best Texan accent I croon, "Howdy ma'am, my oh my, you are takin' my breath away." He blushes and shakes his head.
"There's that million-dollar smile. This whole thing is about feeling comfortable. I want you to have a drink at The Brewery with us and feel like Jacky, fabulous Jacky.
"We'll leave before Mum and Dad arrive home, you don't need to hear their nasty words."
Jack looks at the ground sorrowfully. "Hey, when we move out together, I'll never make you wear a tie again. And you can put on a musical every night! I want to see you as Sandy, I can be a T-Bird."
I try to keep his spirits high. "We'll travel the country dressing however we damn want to. You'll teach me to act and we'll make our own cash filling up theatre halls and maybe even running our own classes. Hell, I don't care for university any way."
I am becoming increasingly loud and frantic. I have his powdered cheeks in my bony hands. I will say anything to make him feel better. "Theatre is in our blood Jack! Remember Aunt Marie, and how she performed West Side Story monologues before Christmas dinners?"
"She was mad Nadine, I mean sure she could act but the woman went insane. These days the family wants nothing to do with her."
"Ah hush! She is misunderstood, that's all. We'll rescue her from the home, take her on the road. The three of us will be a smash hit!"
I am so damn nervous for him and anxious about the night ahead. I keep rambling: "Do you remember when you were five and I was eight? We'd put on matching dresses and run around our wild backyard. We'd howl laughter behind full red cheeks, your blonde ringlets kept getting in your eyes when you ran. We jumped on that old trampoline and our dresses caught the breeze. Remember the day the springs gave up? We had to find our own fun."
"I know the old man made you burn that dress, I swear I'll get him for that, I know he smacked you . . .
A car horn sounds. I run to the window and see Sarah, stretched over Tim's lap, with her head poking out of the little green Volkswagen's window, and a half-full bottle of vodka hanging limp from her jewelled left hand.
"Could you freaks take any damn longer? Come down already and bring snacks for the ride to town."
Before we leave, I think of speaking with him frankly, to warn him about the burly, beer-guzzling men who would surely be lingering around bars and pubs. The men who would see a boy in a dress on a Friday night and talk to him, fist to face.
Jack sits on the edge of the bath, gently rocking back and forth, twisting his fingers together and muttering to himself, "Oh dear, oh lord, oh dear."
As he leans on the basin, inches from the mirror to apply dark mascara, I catch a glimpse of the two of us. Newcastle isn't ready for us. I swig from a plastic bottle full of a bourbon mix we concocted from Mum's liquor cabinet.
"Listen Jacky," I whisper, pressing his dainty body against mine, "It's you 'n' me versus the world. I'm your big sister and I'll take a hit for you, any day of the week."
He was beginning to look a little pale, as if he was about to be sick all over the bathroom floor.
"Maybe this is a bit too much and perhaps we'll come back bruised, but isn't it worth it, to feel like ourselves for one night?," I say as sweetly as I can manage. He smiles and bends down to tie up my boot laces.
"We really should be living in New York," Jack mutters. "We're much too crazy for this town."
"One city at a time, Jacky boy."