Chapter 1 - Aly
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In all honesty, it should have been a cold, dark, and stormy night.  There should have been thunder. Lightning.  Spooky gusts of chilling wind to make the tree branches scratch against the side of the house like fingernails on a blackboard.  And rain.  There should have been ice cold rain.  Pouring and pounding sheets of freezing rain.  

Instead, it was a cloudless, sunny morning with just enough of a breeze to make me wish I was lying on the beach in Hawaii with one of those cute umbrella drinks in my hand. Not that I drink all that much.

Unfortunately I was running errands instead. Lucky me.

Who in their right mind would imagine that going to the Town Center Mall to take advantage of the End of Spring sales would be a particularly dangerous sort of thing to do?   I mean, just how much living-on-the-edge adrenaline rush could you expect from shopping for a few summer accessories?  It wasn’t even as if AJ and I actually needed anything desperately.  AJ is my ten year old genius sister by the way.

I just had a few extra minutes and I thought it would be a convenient morning to go stock up a little.

What school age kid doesn’t need more stylish clothing and shoes?

Of course, I was not going to buy anything for myself.  I was just going to look.

Then I walked by Nordstrom, and there it was, right there in the window:  a chiffon dress in a dreamy, soft pink.  Absolutely gorgeous.  Soft.  Fluttery.  The kind of dress that makes you think of royal balls.  In other words, nothing I’d ever have any occasion to wear. Ever!

And the price!

Oh my dear sweet Jesus, almost anything in Nordstrom requires an arm, leg and a few fingers and toes.

Of course, it was silk chiffon, with the kind of detailing that you aren’t going to see even at the better bridal shops.

Did I mention it was gorgeous?

And on sale? How lucky could I be?

I assured myself that I was not so lost to responsibility, that I’d spend that kind of money on a dress that I had no place to wear. I didn’t even have anyone to wear it for.

So I left it there and ignored the fact that it looked like my size.

My inner five-year-old all but stuck out her lower lip, stomped her feet, and howled.  I was stronger than that, though.  I am, after all, a grown-up.  Well, close enough and my mother taught me better or at least she tried.

In all honesty, all those etiquette classes when I was a young child taught me better.

So I did the rest of the shopping for AJ.  I gave myself very adult lectures about bank balances, mandatory bill payments, and school fees being due.

I assured myself I would forget about the dress.  It was a mere blip on my radar.  I was practical.  Rational.  A grown woman in control of myself and my destiny.

I left the mall.

I got in the car, fully intending to drive to Publix for hamburger and fryer leg quarters, both of which were on sale.  I had even cut out coupons for laundry detergent before I left home. Being the adult in charge of running the house was a lot more work than I had thought but I was determined to do it and do it right.

My first mistake was not starting the car.

Like a perfectly idiotic teenager mooning over the latest American idol, I sat there in my five-year-old-but-paid-for Mercedes, and instructed myself to get a grip, to just forget about the dress.  It wasn’t going to happen.

But this insidious little voice whispered that the dress was every dream I’d ever given up when David the Sleaze decided he preferred his over-endowed, little harlot of a secretary to my mom.  At about the same time, he liquidated all our assets and put them somewhere even our shark of a lawyer couldn’t find them.

All the grief he left behind bore down on my mother until her heart could take no more. While she was lying in the hospital dying, she made me promise that I would take care of AJ. She also made me promise to forgive David for all his wrong doings but that wasn’t going to happen. Ever.

He took everything. Drained the bank accounts and sold the stock. Even the house had been mortgaged behind my mom’s back, so that instead of us owning it free and clear my attorneys were fighting against me having to make payments.

Since David’s name was never on the house to begin with the attorneys argued I shouldn’t have to make payments on a loan illegally granted against the property.

The bank begged to differ of course.

Bank examiners wanted to know who had helped him get an illegal mortgage. The local and state investigators were actively looking for him. The Securities Exchange Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and a number of other governmental alphabet soups all wanted to have a little chat with David. International governments were even fighting over who got to prosecute him first.

One does have to give David credit:  he was an equal-opportunity bottom feeder.  I can think of several more appropriate words for him, but I don’t use that kind of language. Again my mother taught me better.

According to what I pieced together from the questions all those investigators asked us, it seems that David had set everything up during the last four months before he left.  He managed to finalize all those various forms of fraud in a matter of days.  During those last sixty two hours, he was apparently traveling from bank to bank so quickly that even the people who were already starting to ask questions couldn’t catch up to him before he fled the country.

Of course, they were leaving polite little messages on his voice mail.  They wanted to bring his attention to “a problem” they’d discovered.

Surprise, surprise – he never answered his voice mail, emails, or texts. Idiots!

If there was a blessing in any of this, it was that I didn’t have to pay the salaries and expenses of all the various investigators who wanted to talk to David and his chubby-chested little friend.

So I really had no business even thinking of the dress in the Nordstrom window.  So I did the practical thing.

I went back into Nordstrom and tried it on.

I trusted that an evil fate would make the dress make me look dumpy, fat, or something equally dreadful.  Then I could cheerfully leave it behind, all the while giving myself credit for having done the right thing.

That’s what was supposed to happen.

Do you know how sometimes a dress looks like nothing at all on a hanger, but when you put it on something magical happens?  It shimmered with a soft, subtle glow.  The silk slid against my skin the way you imagine the hand of a really sensual lover.

Discreetly, I looked at the price tag again.

The sales representative Greta came over to help. Greta’s smile was warm and generous, as if she didn’t have the heart of a serial killer underneath that elegant little black suit.

I turned slowly in the circle of mirrors.  The skirts floated softly and gracefully.

“It really does look lovely on you,” Greta crooned, “Let me just go get the shoes and bag to go with the dress.”

The shoes were pure frou frou.

Fragile-little-nothing sandals with four inch heels.

The sides were just these little, black leather, rhinestone studded, scalloped loops.  The swath tied at the back of the ankle in a cute, fluffy, little bow.

Do I need to tell you that the shoes were exactly my size?  That they felt like a dream when I put them on.  Don’t ask me how four inch heels could have been comfortable but they were. The bag was made from the same material as the dress and also had little rhinestones designing the outside. It was just big enough for a girl to get her lipstick and a very small compact wallet in.

As it was, I had a credit card with which to buy the dress.  Still, I resisted.  I didn’t take the dress off, but I didn’t agree to buy it.

And then Greta murmured that, of course, the shoes and the bag were included with the price of the dress, making the purchase a sensible, rational decision based on adult economics.

I told you she was evil.

She very kindly ran my card while I forced myself to take off the dress.

I wasn’t even feeling buyer’s remorse.  I supposed I would eventually. But I knew it would be worth it.  The beautiful, magical, powerful dress was mine.

I laid the garment bag on the back seat of the Toyota with exquisite care.

And then, I backed out of the parking space and hit a cop.

Told you I would regret it.


Next: Chapter 2 - Kevin

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