Thinking that it was merely a matter of appearances, perhaps, Cat tried to cut off her hair. She managed to sever a number of long blond locks before her grandmother caught her. Cat went to bed that night with scissor scores along the backs of her legs, where nobody would see. The welts from her grandmother’s strop were more visible, but would heal more easily than the cuts. Her hair—the patches she had not gotten to—remained long, girlish.
Cat closed her eyes, and dreamed of running about in trousers, and never seeing a bed again.
Harry, she decided, was precisely who she wanted to be. Well, perhaps not as mean. But she would wear smart hats just as he did, and say things like she didn’t care what anyone else in the world thought, and make her own way on her own two feet.
Once away from her aunt and grandmother, she worked to lower her voice. She imitated Harry’s clipped precision and learned that even if she spoke softly, the lower register made her words more notable. She didn’t want to be noticed, exactly, just listened to.
When she gained employ through the Hathaways—and found just how far the authority of her deeper tones would go—she put a little money aside. On one of her days off, she rode into town and ordered a hat just like the one Harry had been when they’d first met. She told the shopkeeper it was for her brother, who’s head was not so very different in size from hers.
Back in her room, she placed it atop her head and considered herself in the mirror. She did not look as sharp and confident as Harry had, but it did make her feel taller, bigger than herself. She put the hat carefully away, sure that she would never know the ease of wearing something that felt so real to her in front of others.
Beatrix, of course, found the hat. No, that was a lie, Dodger, the bane of Cat’s existence—outside of Leo, naturally—found the hat. But Beatrix, predictably, was not far behind.
Beatrix reclaimed it from the meddlesome creature and her eyes widened. “Miss Marks! Have you a suitor?”
Cat felt the color rise in her cheeks. She ran frantically through possible explanations in her mind, but in the end all she could manage was a feeble, “No.”
Beatrix, however, was already in front of the mirror, trying the hat on. She turned to Cat, eyes sparkling. “It is rather smart, is it not?”
Cat bit the inside of her cheek. Beatrix’s smile fell away. “Miss Marks?”
Beatrix was silent for a moment, before she turned back to the mirror. Her eyes on herself, she said, “Before you came, I wished ever so much to be a boy. Boys could tramp through the mud all the day long and not a person would say a word. But me, a mere two hours in the mud and Amelia would be all fretful. Leo, back when he cared about anything, would scold me—no matter how much of a terror he had been.”
Cat closed her eyes. “I think you are quite perfect the way you are.”
A hand on Cat’s shoulder caused her to open her eyes, and see Beatrix right before her. Beatrix took the hat off her own head and placed it upon Cat’s. She said, “The same, I’m sure, applies to you.”
When Cat had moved most of her things into Leo’s London house, she had meant to leave the hat behind—it was hardly as if she needed it. She had learned to find comfort and strength in her own body, her own dress, her own being. But no matter how hard she tried, she could not seem to walk out without the piece.
Several nights after they had settled, Cat went up early to change into her nightgown and decided to follow her own instincts toward boldness, and go without. When Leo came into the room, she was atop their bed, reading, naked but for the hat.
Leo blinked. His, “Cat,” was a bare release of breath, slightly choked at that.
She met his eyes. “I once thought I would never find anyone who would see me like this, and not think-- Not think me some foolish girl.”
“I find you entirely foolish,” Leo replied, but without any of his normal bite.
Cat smiled knowingly. “I see.”
“It fits you better than half your dresses.” Leo paused. “And I rather enjoy you in your dresses.”
And out of them, she thought. “Harry, he-- When I was a girl, for a long time, I thought that being a man meant being independent and strong.”
Leo walked slowly to the edge of the bed. “Then I don’t suppose I am a man, my dear.”
Her chest ached, just a bit, at the admission. She said, “But neither am I, and I made it quite fine on my own.”
Carefully, he pulled the hat from her head. “You needn’t any longer, though, you know.”
She knew. It was why she was going to allow him to keep the hat.