Aug 30, 2014

The Ingenue (13) - Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo


Chapter Title: Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo


Rating: PG  (adult language).
Word Count:  ~6,130.
Characters:  Maraina Stratten, Helena Caine,  Kirk James, Noel Cruz, Elly Owens, Kendra Owens, Reece Chambers, Riley Stratten.
Synopsis: Familiar strangers resurface as Mari & Helena go on the search for a 'perfect' dress.
Warnings: Unedited.

    You got me into this crazy train and you don’t to get off just because the conductor job is a little dicey.

Author's Note: Thanks Betty! :)



Reece Chambers pulled his motorcycle in the back parking lot of the large building and parked it facing two men who were on their smoking break. They eyed him curiously and he almost chickened out. This was insane. Crazy. Whacked up, but he had run out of options really. She probably wouldn’t even remember him anyway. He shrugged off the guitar case, with his one prized possession safely nestled inside it, off his back and leaned it against the bike. Then he dismounted and took off the helmet, then the jacket. He was stalling. He knew it and the two dudes looking at him probably knew it, too. He gave himself a little shake and walked over to them. They were both wearing white coats and plain black pants that screamed kitchen staff. They looked completely average and harmless. He hoped.
“Hey,” he said, trying to sound cool and normal instead of desperate and lost, “I’m looking for a girl.”
The two men looked at each other, then back at him.
“That ain’t us, homey.” The older man with short cropped hair and a goatee answered. The younger, rounder one just snickered.
Reece gave them a tight smile. Yeah. This was not going to go well. Of course, if he just remembered the name of that pretty girl, it would help. Then again, he really had no freaking idea what the hell he hoped to accomplish anyway. He nodded.
“Yeah, I met this girl during a traffic jam a couple of weeks back and she gave me this card.” He pulled out the card with the ornate Civilized Pleasures and showed it to them.
“Yeah, man,” goatee said. “Right place, but we are a catering company not a brothel.”
Reece nodded. Dammit, he was smoother than this. He prided himself with being able to talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime. He was a people person. Charming, accessible, downright lovable by all. Except he’d lost his mojo the minute Gary had taken the van and effectively dismantled the band.
“Dude,” goatee said, “she gave you a business card without her name or number? You were friend zoned.”
“Nah, man,” round boy joined the pile on, “that’s creepy cousin zone you can’t kill ‘cuz his momma is your aunt and you’re afraid she’ll slice off your jewels and feed them to you.”
Goatee turned to his friend and shook his head.
“What?” Round boy looked at both of them. “My aunt is vicious, man. Scares the shit out of me. Scare you too if you met her.”
Reece really didn’t want to go there. “Yeah, she, the cute girl, not the aunt, did give me her name, but I don’t remember it.”
Goatee nodded. “I see. You thought you could score better and when that failed, you came back to the card and realized your effed up. Right, hefe?”
Reece opened his mouth, but nothing came out. It was true. The girl had been cute, but the girls in the convertible had been easy. Now, he was shit out of luck and hoping for a hand out because the cute girl had been nice. He was a dog. A desperate dog at that.
“What she look like?” Round boy ignored the glare from goatee and asked.
“Cute. Brunette. Sweet.” Reece shrugged. He’d been trying to get an easy score and man, did he feel cheap about it. Charming girls was his thing. It’s why he’d joined his first band. Then he realized he loved the music and girls were just a positive benefit. But charming a girl in the hopes he could score a gig or some quick cash. That left a sour taste in his mouth. He just hoped this was bottom because if things got worse…
“Legs that went on forever.” She’d had awesome legs and if he saw her again, he’d apologize for being such a douche. He’d forgotten about the two guys until they spoke.
“You tell him,” round boy told goatee. “I’m not going to. He’s on a tear today.”
“Tell me what?” Reece asked.
“Not you, homey,” goatee grumbled. “No seas maricon,” he snarled at round boy, then hopped off the crates and leaned on the door frame. “Yo, Noel. Mari is collecting strays again.” He turned to Reece. “Dude, you’re on your own from here. Good luck.” He went inside.
“Mari, right. That’s her name.”
Round boy snorted. Put out his cigarette and threw it inside an empty container. “No shit, homey.”
Another man came outside and looked around. “You looking for someone?”
“He’s looking for Mari,” round boy replied.
“No shit, Sherlock,” the man replied. His lips tightened and he stared at round boy. “Don’t you have work to do?”
“Jesus, Noel,” round boy grumbled. “Who got your panties in a bunch?”
Reece cringed and took a tentative step back. He hadn’t been around this Noel for more than twenty seconds to know that mouthing off was not the wisest thing to do and he was right.
“The lazy punk ass who’s not washing the dishes we need for tonight. That’s who.” He snapped his fingers and pointed to the door. “Your break is so over it’s last season.”
Round boy climbed off the crate and shuffled inside. “You know, absolute power corrupts, man.”
Noel turned and faced Reece. “Mari’s not here.”
“Anyway I can get a hold of her?” Great. Now he’s sounding like a creepy stalker. He really needed to get his ass out of here before they arrested him for being such an idiot.
“Look man, if she didn't give you her number, then she was being nice. She’s not that into you. Besides, she doesn't really work here anymore. Moved on to bigger and better things.”
Reece nodded and glanced back at his bike. He really, desperately did not want to have have to pawn the guitar. He turned back to Noel. “You guys wouldn’t by any chance be hiring, would you?”
Noel eyed the motorcycle and the guitar case, but his eyes zeroed in on the tats in both forearms. He didn’t say a word. Just stared long enough to make Reece want to cover them up.
He looked up and looked Reece in the eyes. “We don’t do entertainment here. Either the legit kind or the horizontal one.”
Reece bristled, but stifled rude response that was the tip of his tongue. He also swallowed his pride. He needed the money. “I’ll wash those dishes, if it pays.”
“Is that why you’re looking for Mari? Hoping your bad boy charm would get something out of her?”
“To be honest, I don’t know what I was thinking, other than I had no other ideas.”
Noel paused and studied him. “Isn’t washing dishes a little beneath you?”
“Asshole bassist took the van and jumped ship to another band. Drummer knocked up his girlfriend and is going to work construction with his uncle hoping to make ends meet. The other guitarist is a weed head who’s probably waiting for all of us to show up in his parent’s basement.” Reece shrugged. “I got about twenty bucks in my wallet. I need a paying gig and if that’s washing dishes right now, I’ll do it.
“Mari was really sweet and nice during the traffic jam. I was looking for a lifeline and hoped she was it.”
Noel pursed his lips and eyed him head to toe. “That traffic jam was a certifiable pound.” He shook his head. “I don’t suppose you have any experience in food services or catering?”
Reece squashed the sprig of hope that bloomed in his stomach. “Does Taco Bell when I was sixteen, count?”
Noel looked at his watch, opened his mouth, then closed it as he watched a blue Jeep pull into the parking lot. He turned to Reece. “Any bartending skills?”
“I can mix simple drinks and I’m a champ at opening bottles.”
Noel nodded. “Yo, Riley.” He called out to a man coming out of the Jeep and waved him over. “Getting ready for the Patterson gig?”
Riley spared a glance at Reece, then turned to Noel. “Yeah, why?”
“This is…” Noel looked at Reece. “What is your name?”
Reece stuck out his hand. “Reece Chambers.”
Riley looked at the outstretched hand, then Noel, before taking it. “Riley Stratten.”
“I’m Noel Cruz. Now that we have that out of the way,” he turned to Riley, “take pretty, bad biker boy here,” he jerked his thumb at Reece, “with you tonight. Show him the ropes, see if he pans out.” He turned to Reece.
“I'm not making you any promises, but if you’re competent and don’t piss off ex-Army, total bad ass over there,” he pointed at Riley and not so subtly making it clear that the other man was no pushover, “we’ll work something out. Worse case scenario is you make some fast cash from tips.”
“Thanks, man.” Reece stuck out his hand to Noel, who took it without hesitation.
“I thought Romeo was going with me tonight,” Riley said.
Noel shrugged. “Tell him he can have the Palisades gig. He wanted that anyway. Oh,” he smacked Reece’s shoulder, “Mari is Riley’s sister. Don’t be a dumb ass and say something stupid.”
Riley gave Reece a long, cold look. “You know Mari?”
Reece paused, trying to think of the right thing to say. “Yeah, we met on that traffic jam. She’s sweet.” Riley just looked at him. “Nice girl. Good girl. Angelic.”
Noel shook his head and laughed, then turned to Riley. “Well, that angelic sister of yours needs me in Torrance to help her pick out a dress. Make this one work and I’ll free you up for Mari’s party.” He turned his hand up and wiggled his fingers until Riley dropped the keys in it. “Good luck, man,” he told Reece.
“So,” Reece looked on as the Jeep pulled out, then turned to Riley, “you guys roommates or something.”
Riley looked at him. “Long story.” Which really meant, none of your business, asshole. “Angelic?”
~
Jerrod pulled into a parking lot of large, red bricked warehouse. The smartest thing developers had done was reclaiming vast amounts of abandoned warehouses and turning them into trendy shops, restaurants and even museums. It really paid off for early adapters who were able to lease large areas for pennies a square foot. Now that the area was becoming increasingly popular, those deals were long gone.
Helena stepped out of the car and looked around. “At least it’s not in a mall, but if they serve tea and cake, I’m going to have to hit someone and it will be you.”
“Why me?” Mari complained as she got out. She looked at the building, then the card in her hand. It was the right place, but it definitely was not just a little alteration shop in Torrance. It was a full out boutique if the classy dresses on the display window were any indication. She started to wonder what sort of rabbit hole she had just dragged all of them into.
“Because you got us in this mess.” Helena bumped her shoulder and quirked her eyebrow, but Mari’s response was an anemic smile.
Jerrod waited for Kirk to get out as well, before closing the door. “It’s a good area. Not typical but definitely on the rise. And it will guarantee that neither of you will be wearing an outfit that has been worn by someone else.”
“The horror.” Helena rolled her eyes.
“At least they have men’s wear, too,” Mari pointed out and smiled at Kirk. “You’re in luck. It will be a one stop shop for us today.”
“Did they give you an expense account, too?” Helena looked at Kirk who nodded and shifted his weight, looking at the storefront as if it held a pack a rabid zombies instead of just clothes. “It won’t be so bad.” She patted his arm. “Jerrod can help.”
“Absolutely,” Jerrod said. “Especially on someone else’s dime.”
Mari wrapped her arm around Helena. “So, expense account, eh? This shopping trip is totally on you. I used my last paycheck on the brakes for the Jeep.”
“Speaking of which.” Helena pointed to the blue Jeep pulling into the lot.
Noel climbed out and walked to them. “Okay, chop chop. I don’t have all day.” He looked straight at Mari. “Stop collecting strays, even cute ones.”
“What?”
“Reece Chambers?”
Mari sent him a blank stare, then shrugged. “Mata Harri? What? Not the name association game?
Noel’s eyes narrowed, then he put his arm around around and walked her towards the door. “Let’s go in and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Mari smiled, figuring whatever Noel had to tell her wasn't an catastrophic since he was willing to drag it out. “Hey Noel,” she looked up and smiled, “they have expense accounts.”
His eyebrow quirked up and nodded. “Then this might actually be fun.”
When Jerrod opened the door, a long neap announced their entry into the spacious warehouse. It was actually better than Mari had expected. A colorful variety of styles were out on display and the area was broken into sections highlighted by several love seats and chairs. It looked casual, comfortable and less intimidating than before. And pretty empty which was surprising this time of day.
A pretty girl, of undetermined age - really, she was dressed like a college student who just stepped out of yoga class, but carried herself with a confidence that spoke of years of experience - came around the corner and looked at them.
“Can I help you?”
Mari stepped forward. “Hi, I’m looking for Elly?”
The girl crossed her arms and stared. “Do you have an appointment?”
“Do I need one?”
The girl sighed. “Wednesdays are deliveries and inventory day, so appointments only.”
“You didn’t call first?” Noel smacked Mari’s shoulder. “Really? Were you raised in a barn?”
The girl walked behind the front desk and pulled out a calendar. “If this is a wedding party, we can schedule you in for sometime next week.”
“We need something by Friday.”
The girl closed the calendar and looked at her. “Just because the sign says Bibbidi out front doesn’t mean we do actual magic.” She eyed their outfits. “Or miracles.”
Helena pulled out her expense account credit card and put it on the desk. “We have the money and the will to spend it.”
“And a Hollywood studio to pay for it,” Jerrod pointed out.
The girl glanced at the card, then studied Jerrod’s uniform. “Legally?” He nodded. “Which studio?”
“Imperium.”
“How much?”
He shrugged. “Two expense accounts, several grand. Each.”
“And the guys will need something, too.” Kirk looked at Helena. “What? Noel’s here to help out. I’m getting something for Mari. You get something for him.”
“Oh, we are so keeping you.” Noel leaned over and kissed her cheek.
She smiled and turned to Jerrod. “You want anything?”
He shook his head. “No, but thank you.”
“We won’t narc, you know,” Mari pointed out.
“I'm good,” he replied. “Just keep me in mind next time your mom is cooking dinner.”
“As if you can get out of that one.”
They all turned back to the girl who was still looking at them suspiciously, but there were also dollar signs dancing behind her eyes.
“Several grand?”
“Easy,” Jerrod answered.
She nodded, did a half turn towards the back of the warehouse. “Hey, Ma! Customers.” Though the way she said customers sounded a lot more like suckers, and considering that it was done with the same force attitude of a seasoned drill instructor and Mari was starting to question if this was really their best option for shopping.
The girl took a deep breath and was about to yell again, making Mari and the rest cringe in anticipation when a woman came out of the backroom adjusting her clothes and patting down her hair.
“Jesus, Kendra. Do you have to scream like a banshee? We have an intercom system for a reason.” She looked up and smiled at Mari. “Hey, I remember you.”
Mari opened her mouth, but Kendra beat her to it.
“Really, Ma? You were supposed to be doing inventory and opening up boxes. Not doing,” her mouth twisted in distaste and she waved her hand around, “whatever you were doing.”
“That whatever I was doing is how you came into being.” She turned to Mari. “Elly Owens. That’s my daughter, Kendra.”
“Hi.” Mari held out her hand. “Mari. This is Helena, Noel, Kirk and Jerrod. I remembered your card and, well, we are in sort of a bind.”
“What type?”
Before Mari could answer, the back door opened again, only this time it was a man coming through it and adjusting his belt as he walked towards them. “Where’s the fire?” He looked up, glanced at the motley crew and smiled. Immediately going from merely attractive to ‘oh holy cow’ gorgeous. It wasn’t just the looks either, which could easily have put him in the cover of just about any fashion magazine, but the way he carried himself, with confidence and ease. All Mari and Helena - Noel, too - could do was stare at masculine perfection.
Elly snapped her fingers getting their attention. “All Mine.” She smiled. “Now, what type of bind are you in?”
“You are one lucky lady if you get to regularly tap tall, dark and scrumptious.” Noel eyed the man from head to toe again. Helena and Mari nodded.
“Actually, I think he’s the lucky one if he gets to spend quality time with such a beautiful and amazing woman.” Jerrod gave Elly a very formal bow and extended his hand.
“You're the charmer, aren’t you?” Elly placed her hand in his and did a curtsy. The man cleared his throat twice when Jerrod kissed her hand and held on a tad too long. “Oh no you don’t, Will Owens. If the girls can drool over you, I can definitely be charmed by a handsome rogue.”
“Oh, you all are just gross.” Kendra rolled her eyes and dropped down on the chair behind the desk.
Noel looked at her. “What are you? Twelve?”
“Twenty-one and don’t need to be reminded that my parents have sex way too often for their advanced age. Are you all here to get clothes or what? Because I’m so out of here if this turns into some orgy love fest.”
“Clothes, right.” Mari turned to Elly. “We have a partyesque type of function on Friday and we’re all fashion challenge.”
“Not all of us,” Noel added. “Just the three of them.” He pointed to Helena, Mari and Kirk.
“What type of party?”
Mari looked at Helena who shrugged. “Not Oscar formal or MTV awards crazy, so maybe People’s Choice?”
“It’s a contest showcase with a press junket for The Odyssey,” Mari said. “So not too casual, but definitely not formal.”
“More like a chic Golden Globes,” Jerrod said, then shrugged when they all looked at him. “Not my first rodeo.”
Elly looked doubtful and turned to Will, who nodded. “We can do that.”
“By Friday?” She looked at him doubting his sanity.
Will walked up to Kirk, took in the scary outfit and all the height, then took a step back. He rubbed his chin and nodded. “He’s the toughest because it will take some some tailoring to make him not look like a serial killer, but that one,” he pointed to Noel, “will be easy.”
Noel smiled. “Yes, but only for a tall drink of water like you.”
“Now look who’s charming.” Will smiled, then looked at Helena and Mari. “The girl’s shouldn’t be too difficult. You can handle tall and curvy with your eyes closed.” He turned to Jerrod. “What about you?”
“I don’t have a horse in this race, so I’ll tell it like it is. Good, bad and oh, hell no.”
Will nodded. “Let’s go and get you guys squared away.” He pointed to the west end of the warehouse and started walking.
“So let me get this straight,” Noel started following, “you’re gorgeous and you can tailor? I think I’m in love.”
Jerrod followed suit, but Kirk held back. In fact, he hadn’t much moved or talked since entering and now looked completely out of his depth. Mari moved towards him, but Elly beat her too it.
“Don’t slouch, darlin’.” She patted his arm. “You don’t really look like a serial killer. It’s the silence that is intimidating.” She looked him up and down. “And all that height, but that’s a good thing.” She turned him towards the men’s section and gave him a gentle push into the direction the other men had gone. “He will take good care of you. You'll be fine.”
Kirk started walking, but sent Mari a panicky lost look over his shoulder. Mari nodded, held up her thumbs up and smiled, but she couldn’t help feeling she was sending an innocent lamb to the slaughter. Granted, this lamb was about six-six, looked like he could bench press a refrigerator - she’d grabbed hold of his arm and that boy had some guns hidden under loose fitting clothes - and could be mistaken for a serial killer, but still. He’d looked so lost, she just wanted to give him a hug.
“Don’t worry,” Kenda said, “Dad will be gentle. He’s a master at popping cherries.”
Elly glared at her daughter. “That’s nowhere close to being funny, Kendra.”
Kendra rolled her eyes and stuck out her hand at Helena and snapped her fingers. “The plastic. I want to call it in and make sure it wasn’t stolen.”
“Kendra!”
She turned and looked at her mother. “What? It’s not like you weren’t thinking it.” Helena placed the card in her hand and she nodded as she headed back for the desk.
“I saw Mari with Sterling Mitchell, the creator of The Odyssey.” Elly said. “I told you I saw him during that traffic jam.”
Kendra waved off her mother. “You and your shows. I can’t keep up, but I’m still calling it in.” She turned to Helena. “What’s your full name?”
“Helena Caine and I was given the card by Candace Morrow, HR associate.”
Elly shook her head. “Sorry about that, but studio fraud is pretty common actually.”
“We can wait until she runs it,” Helena said.
“Don’t worry about it, I do remember Sterling Mitchell talking to Mari. I’m a big fan of the show going way back to its original incarnation.”She waved them to follow her into a different section of the warehouse. Now that they had become accustomed to the surroundings it was easy to see how there were several sections broken off as if they were mini boutiques within the large open area.
“You recognized him right away, didn’t you?” Mari glanced at the overwhelming myriad of colors, styles and fabrics they walked by. This was so far out of her depth and that niggling of doubt started to blossom like an errant weed and not the fun kind that gave you the munchies.
Elly snorted. “Of course, didn’t you?” She pointed to the two fluffy chairs and Helena didn’t hesitate to plop down. “Okay, so what’s your style? What’s the look you’re more comfortable with? Retro? Vintage? A-line? Chiffon or Silk?”
Mari blinked and panicked. “Pretty?” She cringed and shrugged.
Elly opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She turned to Helena and waited.
“I’ll go with anything that doesn’t make me look like a clown or a small town hick visiting the big city for the first time.”
Kendra walked up and snorted. “I said we don’t do miracles.”
“Instead of being mad you didn't get to call the cops,” Helena said, “you should be happy about the cash we’re going to drop.”
Mari bit her lip. The doubt was now a full blown forest. At first, it seemed like an innocent idea, getting a banging new dress on the company account, especially when they’ve given Helena a fairly free reign on expenses, but she’d glanced at some of the tags on the dresses and now it didn’t seem so innocent after all.
“You know,” she looked at Helena, “why don’t we just get you an awesome dress and call it good? I don’t need anything. I have a black dress. And besides, I’m not the one who won the contest.”
Helena turned her green eyes into piercing, laser like beams of fury. “Oh no you don’t, missy. You got me into this crazy train and you don’t to get off just because the conductor job is a little dicey. In for a penny, in for the whole shebang.”
“I don’t think that’s how that saying goes,” Elly said. Kendra looked at her and shook her head as if to say…white girls are weird.
Helena ignored both and scooted over, patting the space next to her until Mari came over. Helena wrapped her arm around Mari and gave her a squeeze. “I love you, but you need to quit with the panicky, wishy washy shit. We survived fandom. Hollywood has nothing on those bitches.” Mari laughed and nodded.
Helena turned back to Elly. “Can you do two dresses for under three gs?”
Kendra snorted. “Why? You’re limit is at least three times that.” Elly smacked her and glared.
“Of course,” Elly said, “but that will take you out of any designer range. Just saying.”
Helena shrugged. “Do we look like designer girls?”
“We’re happy with pretty,” Mari said.
Kendra looked at Elly. “Pretty? That’s so helpful.” She turned to Elly. “So, thoughts?”
“Well,” Elly rubbed her chin, “lets go with classy and simple. Nothing black, lets start with pastels first.”
Kendra nodded. “We have that soft pink lace dress which should fit her.” She pointed to Mari. “And that flowing sea foam might work for Calamity Jane if we can camouflage her linebacker shoulders.”
“Hey!” Helena pouted. “These are swimmer shoulders, I’ll have you know. There’s a huge difference.”
Kendra ignored her and got up in search of the dresses. Elly clapped her hands together and got up. “That’s where we’ll start. Just strip to underwear. You can put your clothes on the chair. Y’all want any water or something?”
Helena and Mari looked at each other. “What about the guys?” Helena asked.
“Don’t worry about them.” Elly waved her hand back in the direction of the main showroom. “It will take directions to get back here.” When they still hesitated she sighed. “Don’t be freaking out every time a man sees you in your drawers. Ain’t nobody got time for that. And if they’ve seen something that they’ve never seen before, that’s not your problem. It’s theirs.”
Helena and Mari nodded, stood and started undressing while Elly turned to help Kendra set up the dresses they were going to try and by the load in her arms, they would be trying more than just one or two. Mari wasn’t really shy about getting undressed, especially amongst other women. It almost felt like what she imagined getting a dress for prom or some other romantic comedy scenario. But in that little fantasy, she always knew what was fashionable and everything fit her like a glove because she was a size zero. She wiggled out of her jeans and cringed. Maybe no one would notice she hadn’t shaved. Too late now.
“I should avoid delicate fabrics,” she told Helena. Then, she ran her hands over her calves. “Sandpaper.”
Helena nodded, cringing when she looked down at her own legs. “Tell me about it.”
Elly turned back to them and frowned. “Darling,” she stared at Mari, “please tell me you have real underwear.”
“Define real.”
“Something that is not a sports bra and boy shorts,” Kendra answered. She walked to Mari and tilted her head, before turning back to her mother. “She’s got no boobs, but she does have an ass, so it’s not completely hopeless.” She turned back to Mari. “And try saying no to cookies once in a while.”
Elly gasped and Helena’s mouth hung open. Mari just stared at Kendra. It was true. Comebacks were not her forte unless she prepared and practiced, but she thought about how working with Jeremy and his manic genius had changed how her own mind worked. Maybe she couldn’t yet make snappy comebacks with her coworkers, but this…This she could do.
“I will when you do.”
Elly snorted and tried to cover it up before walking back to her daughter and smacking her on the back of head. “Do that again and I’ll take your sketch pads and design privileges away for a month.”
Kendra shrugged as if she didn’t care, but there was a flash of what could be guilt flash across her eyes. “If she can’t take criticism from me, they’ll eat her alive.”
“Right,” Helena said, hand hooked at her hip, “you’re just helping toughen her up.” She looked ready to smack Kendra herself, but instead turned to Mari, cupping her face. “You go, girl.”
“All right,” Elly said, grabbing the lacy dress from Kendra and handing it Mari. “Let’s see how this fits. And don’t worry about a perfect fit right now.” She turned to Kendra and glared. “I can totally do magic.”
Kendra shook her head and handed Helena a lacy sea foam dress. “Here. Try this one. It will look good with your eyes.”
Helena looked at her askew, but took the dress anyway. It wasn’t a color she’d normally go with and all the applique top and flowy skirt wasn’t something she’d pick for herself. It could just be Kendra being bitchy and setting her up to look like an ass, in which case Helena would just have to go Southern crazy on her ass, but only after Elly set them up with something pretty. She slipped into the long sleeve dress and had to admit. It was damn pretty.
“I’ll zip you up,” Kendra said. “That’s even better than I thought.”
Helena turned and faced the mirror. It really was awesome, even if the sleeves were a little long and the fit around the shoulders a tad tight. The dress made her feel like a real live girl for a change.
“Oh, that’s pretty,” Mari said, stopping next to her. She spun around to show off her dress. It was a light pink dress with a white lace over it. It was pretty and feminine and even had a delicate pink bow around the waist. “What do you think?”
Helena studied the dress. It was cute. Actually, it was downright adorable and Mari wore it well but there was something about it that she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. “It’s cute. Very feminine.”
Mari stopped cold. “But?”
Helena twisted her lip, then shook her head. If she couldn’t pin what was wrong with it, there was no point trying to explain it. “No buts. It’s adorable.”
Mari’s stiffened. “Huh.” She turned and faced the mirror. It was obvious she liked the dress and she did wear it well. She faced Elly. “Could we show them to the guys? We planned on using them to gauge any dresses since we don’t have any fashion sense.”
“You don’t say.” And catty Kendra strikes again.
“Of course we can show them,” Elly said. “And don’t mind her, she doesn’t know how to talk to people because she has no friends.”
Helena tilted her head. “You don’t say.”
Mari snorted. “Look on the bright side.” She smiled brightly and spun around, showcasing the fullness of her skirt. “Maybe the first choice will be a hit and we’ll be out of your hair.”
“No, don’t think so.” Noel walked up to their area and shook his head. “Let’s see what else you’ve got.”
“What?” Mari’s shoulders drooped. “I feel pretty.”
“What’s wrong with these?” Helena did her own spin and waited.
“They look good.” Elly crossed her arms and glared.
Kendra unconsciously mimicked the same stance. “Damn straight they do.”
Noel opened his mouth, then shut it with a snap. He held up one finger and spun around, going back where he came from. The women looked at each other, shrugged and waited.
“Did we scare him off?” Elly asked.
“Not sure,” Mari replied. “He’s not the type to run away so easily.” She looked up to see Noel dragging a reluctant Jerrod into their section.
“You tell them,” Noel ordered. “What do you see.”
Jerrod took several long seconds studying first Helena, then Mari. The man should play professional poker because Mari couldn’t read his reactions. At all.
“Pretty,” he finally said. “They are both pretty.”
“Heh.” Kendra’s arm unfolded and her hand landed on her hip. “Shows what you know. You’re voted off the island.”
Noel sighed, shook his head and sat down on a nearby chair, but he was looking at Elly, who was staring at Jerrod, her brow deeply furrowed.
“But?” Elly asked. When Jerrod looked at her, her lips thinned. “There’s a definite but in your sentence.”
“They are pretty,” Jerrod agreed.
“And I never said they weren’t,” Noel added. “But this is not the right look for this event at this time.”
Elly studied Mari, then Helena and whatever doubt that might have been niggling in her mind blossomed. She turned back to the men. “Explain.”
“Mom!”
Elly turned to Kendra. “Don’t be a sensitive Nelly. It’s not personal.” She walked over to Noel and faced Helena and Mari. “Go on,” she told Noel.
“Let’s start with Gidget, over there.” He pointed to Mari.
“I like the Gidget look,” Mari said. “It’s pretty and feminine and sweet.”
Noel nodded. “That’s part of the problem. In about three or four years, you’ll be able to pull off this fifties Gidget look, but right now, all that white lace over pink and full skirt makes you look like a virginal younger sister playing dress up. The dress is pretty and makes you look cute, but too cute. You don’t want to look like you got your job just because you’re someone’s daughter and that dress makes you look like a kid.” He turned to Jerrod who nodded.
Mari opened her mouth to defend the dress because, dammit she really liked it. She looked at Elly, but the look in the woman’s face said it all. She agreed with Noel. Helena and Kendra were silent too, but it seemed unanimous. The dress wasn’t right. But it was so pretty and she hated giving it up. Mari turned and faced the mirror. She didn’t think it made her look that young, then the image of what Patrick Westfield’s reaction would be if he saw her in this pretty dress entered her mind and it wasn’t pretty. Compared to the women he’d been photographed with, the ex-wives or ex-girlfriends, well, she did look like a virginal sacrifice from the fifties and that was not very sexy. Not that she had a chance with the man, but there was no reason to telegraph that she in the ‘no chance in hell’ category.
“Fine,” she said. She ran her hand over the pretty lace and gave up the ghost. “Okay. I’ll try something else, but what’s wrong with Helena? She looks damn pretty.”
“She does,” Noel agreed. “That color is good, for your complexion, hair and eyes.” Kendra preened since she’d been right and Helena allowed herself to smile. “But that’s just not the right look for you.” The smile dropped. “It’s too frilly and flowy.” He scratched his face as if trying to find the right words. “It’s too much fabric and hides your shape.
“I'm a gay man and even I noticed that your hips are meant for grabbing.” He hit Jerrod on the shoulder. “Right?”
Jerrod glared at Noel, but he felt the questioning look coming from Helena. He hesitated to meet her gaze, but he nodded slowly. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “But yeah. Hips made for sinning.”
“Show it off,” Noel continued. “Make men think of doing dirty hot things to you.”
Kendra snorted. “What the hell do you know about doing hot and dirty things to women?”
“Just because I’m gay, doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the female form. I may prefer cock, but I’m not afraid of the pussy.” He froze and turned to Elly. “I apologize. That was completely inappropriate.”
Elly just looked at him, then smiled. “There are straight men afraid of the pussy, so you’re ahead of the game.” She turned back to Helena. “All right. I’m seeing it now. So more form fitting for Helena and less girly for Mari. We can do that.”
“Yeah, form fitting, not Kardashian tight. More like Mad Men va-va-voom.”
Kendra looked from Noel to Helena, cocked her head to the side and nodded. “Mad Men. Yeah, I got something.”

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