“No freakin’ way is she wearing that dress,” Marty says with his hands folded over his chest. He towers over Mel, who is sitting next to him in the middle of a swank shop. Either way, I need a dress for my next tryst. I’m still waiting to hear back if it will be with Sean or not. My stomach is twisting in knots. I don’t feel like shopping, but I had hoped that it would distract me. Since Mel and Marty disagree on everything, it’s been an interesting evening.
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“How can you say that?” Mel says exasperated. This is the seventh dress, the seventh pair of shoes, the seventh set of accessories that I’ve put on over the last hour and a half. “Look at how tiny her waist looks in that thing. That is THEE dress.”
Marty gets up and stands next to me. I’m on a little riser, standing in front of a mirror. The shop attendant looks at me, but says nothing. Marty points to my hips, “True enough, but it does nothing for this region and her boobs! My God, she looks like she’s nursed sixteen children. The braless look is for girls with falsies, not our Avery.” Marty gestures at my cleavage in this dress, or lack thereof. I look down. Okay, maybe he’s right. “A good dress doesn’t sacrifice one asset for another.” He snaps his fingers at the attendant. “Next please!”
“You’re such a drama queen,” I say as I step off the box. I add, “And stop snapping at the girl like she’s a labradoodle. She hates you enough already.”
He bats his eyes at her. “Sorry love. I just get so excited. You’re doing a smashing job. Keep up the good work.”
The attendant, Amanda, smiles and nods, but I’m sure she picturing strangling Marty in her mind. “I’ll get the next dress you chose. Just leave that one in the dressing room for me and I’ll put it back.”
I nod and traipse into the dressing room I unzip the dress and pull the supple fabric over my head before putting it back on the hanger. I’m standing in my undies when my phone buzzes. I wouldn’t have heard it if I wasn’t in the dressing room I pick it up and recognize the number. It’s Miss Black. Immediately, my heart starts to pound and hope fills my chest.
“Hello?” I say, answering the phone with a swipe of my finger. I’m so excited, so terrified. I want the perfect dress for Sean. I can’t wait to hear when our next date will be. Sean made is sound like we’d be seeing a lot of each other.
“Miss Stanz, good evening.” Miss Black sounds the same as usual. It’s hard to read her emotions. Maybe she doesn’t have any. “I’ve contacted Mr. Ferro and wanted to call and tell you the results oi
our conversation. As I suspected, he is no longer interested in using our services.”
A rush of air leaves my lungs and I sit down hard on the puffy seat inside my dressing room. “You told him that it’d be me?”
“Yes, I did. He was rather adamant that he no longer wishes to pursue the arrangement with you, even after I told him that you requested we call to correct this situation. I’ll find you another match. Give me a little time and we’ll have you all set. I’ll call you when everything is ready. Have a good evening.” And then the line goes dead. I stare at my phone. I feel like a hollowed out pumpkin. I put my head between my hands and try to collect myself.
Black’s words bounce around in my mind. It isn’t for a few moments that I realize what they meant —Sean didn’t want me. He rejected me. Worry pinches my face as I wonder what I did. Why woulc he say no? The other night, everything seemed perfect. I don’t understand why he would do this. I thought he liked me.
There’s a knock on my door. Amanda’s voice makes me jump. “I have your next selection here.” She opens the door and hangs the dress on a hook. When she turns to look at me, her smile falls. “Are you all right? You look ill.”
“I’m fine,” I manage to choke out. Pushing away the feelings bombarding me, I plan to fake my way through the rest of the night. I hand her the dress that made me look flat and pull this one on. It’s deep blue with silver stitching along the hem There’s a thin belt at the waist and a neckline that dips into a deep V. The skirt hugs my hips before it flares at the thigh. It’s sexy and cute, all in one dress.
Zombie-like, I wander into the center of the store and show the dress. There’s a fake smile plastered on my face. Mel and Marty both gasp when I walk out. It’s a good sign.
Marty speaks first, “That is the dress, like thee fuck-me three ways til Tuesday dress.”
Amanda blinks, like she’s never heard a crass word before.
“Will you shut up, fifty shades of gay, and let her show us the dress!” Mel says to Marty, and hops up to look at me. “Spin around, honey. Show off your stuff.” I turn slowly, palms raised while they look me over. “You look hot, Avery. I agree with the drama queen over there. You have to get this one. It’s perfect. Sean will love it.”
I swallow hard and keep the smile on my face. “It’s not for Sean.”
“What?” they say in unison.
Marty looks at Amanda and flicks his hand while he talks, “Go get us sparkling waters, honey.” Amanda smiles and walks off. No doubt she’s going to spit in his. Marty and Mel flank me. We look in the mirror as we talk in hushed voices. “What happened? How do you know?”
“I got a call while I was in the dressing room Sean declined.”
Mel’s eyes go wide and she looks at Marty who is uncharacteristically silent. Mel takes over. She slips her hand around my waist and says, “To hell with him, then. You don’t need him, Avery. He was eye candy. A crush. Nothing more. I’ll help you pick out a new guy, someone better.”
Marty eyes her. “You too? Is the whole school whoring, now?”
Mel goes on the defense. She folds her arms over her chest and narrows her eyes. “You got a problem with that?”
“No,” Marty says, almost whining, “I feel left out.”
That makes me laugh. It caught Mel off guard too and she snorts so loud that she sounds like a pig. We both stare at her. “Like you expected him to say that?” I shake my head. “Where’d you find this basket of gay, anyway?”
“He’s my lab partner,” I respond, waiting to see what Marty does about the gay accusation, but he just glosses over it. I wonder what’s going through his head. The last time I assumed I knew something about someone from the way they looked, well, it didn’t go well. It turns out that the woman wasn’t pregnant. Since then, I don’t blurt things out like that.
“That was witty,” Marty says, pressing his hand to his chin and examining Mel like he’s never seen her before. “I like what you did there.” The two of them chatter and I look at the dark blue dress and know that some other guy will be taking it off of me. I swallow hard and walk back to the dressing room to take it off. This is the dress that will be on me when I solve my financial problems. This is the dress that some guy will remove from me the night I lose my virginity.
Several hundred dollars later, I’m leaving the swank little shop with a new dress and silk shoes. It cost a good chunk of the money I earned with Sean, but it’s necessary to do whoever’s next. After we walk outside, I put the things in my car.
“Let’s go grab a bite to eat,” Marty says.
“Sounds good to me,” Mel replies.
Marty claps like he’s five and yells, “Shotgun!” This is a major turn of events, since he rode to the store with me. Mel met up with us and brought her car. Glancing at me he says, “No offense hun, but your car scares the glitter out of me.”
“None taken,” I say. “Listen, I’m going to run an errand and head back. I’m not really hungry, yet. Late lunch.” I’m lying, but neither one calls me on it. I wave and duck into my car.
I have to pick up my last paycheck from my previous employer. By the time I get there, it’s dark outside. The sun sets so early at this time of year. My sweater doesn’t do much to keep the chill away. I need to buy a coat. My mother would have yelled at me for wearing something so thin. God, I miss her. On chilly nights like this, she’d be cooking chicken noodle soup. Bread would have been baking in the oven all day, filling the house with that wonderful aroma. Memories like that sneak up on me at the worst times. I sit in my car for a moment, trying to push the past away.
Moving fast, I jog across the parking lot and walk into the front of the restaurant. There’s a line of people waiting to be seated. A man is talking to the hostess. There’s a beautiful woman on his arm She has deep brown hair with a hint of red. A black dress clings to her curvy body. I envy her for a moment, wishing that I had curves like that.
“Hey, Stacy,” I say as I approach the hostess. “I just need to pick up my check.”
“Sure, but they weren’t ready when I came in. You might have to wait for it.”
I nod, intending to walk past her. I’m dressed like a bum, with tight jeans and my holey sweater. I stand out like a stripper in a preschool. A chill washes over me as I’m about to pass her. The guy at the podium turns. His blue eyes lock with mine and I freeze in place.
We stare at each other for half a beat. Sean’s wearing a black suit that fits him so well. It shows off his shoulders and his trim frame. The shirt he’s wearing is the color of the night sky, perfectly blue —dark like my new dress. A chill encases my heart, as it tries to climb up my throat. I can’t do anything but stare.
The girl on his arm, leans in close, possessively. “Is there a problem?” she snaps.
I blink and shake my head. I hate her. I hate everything about her. I want to rip her face off. My fingers flex at my sides as I think about it, but I’d rather Sean didn’t know how hung up I am on him “No ma’am,” I say, knowing ma’am pisses off anyone under thirty years old. “Your table will be ready in a moment.”
I shoulder my way past them, leaving Sean staring after me.
I get to the back room and find Lenny’s office. He’s my boss, or he was until Miss Black stole me away. “Hey,” I say, my heart still racing from seeing Sean. “Is my check ready?”
“Yeah. I just finished. Here it is. I hope you come back, if you ever need a job again. You’re a good kid.” Lenny hands me my check. He’s an older guy with gray stubble on his face. His white hair is thin and flops to one side. He reminds me of my dad when he isn’t screaming at the staff.
I nod, fingering the check. “I will. Thanks for everything.”
“No problem, Avery.”
I smile at him and leave the office. I head through the kitchen and get enough dirty looks to last a lifetime, but I have to get to the back door. There is no way I’m leaving through the front. I’m lucky I maintained my composure the first time. If I see Sean again, I’ll go nuts.
I leave through the receiving door and walk around the parking lot, back to my car. The parking lot is well lit, but there are still patches of shadow. I eye my car and hurry, walking fast, rubbing my arms to try and keep warm A jacket is definitely a priority. When I get to my car, I stuff my check in the glove box and grab a can of ether. I lift the hood and hold it up while I spray, holding my breath so that I don’t breathe it in.
“Miss Smith,” a familiar voice says behind me.