Elana lifted her arms and let the smooth fabric slide down over her head and settle around her. Reaching back she pulled the zipper up and shook the midnight blue dress into place. Looking into the mirror she smiled. The dress was perfect. A spray of rhinestones trailed from her left shoulder across to the bottom right hem, which ended just below her knees.
Then she sighed. As soon as she had walked into the store this dress had called out to her. She had looked at the price tag and winced, but decided to try it on anyway. Now she wished she hadn’t, because it was going to be so much harder to put it back.
Craning her neck, Elana twisted and turned, trying to see her back in the narrow mirror, but it just wasn’t working. She stepped out of the changing stall and down the short hallway to the tri-fold mirror near the entrance of the dressing room.
The dress looked even better. The deep blue color set off her dark bronze curls and matched her eyes perfectly. Aside from the color, it fit as though it had been made specifically for her, something she rarely found. Elana would never understand why dressmakers seemed to think that everyone that wore a size 14 was either a fuddy duddy grandmother or rich. To find a dress that wasn’t several hundred dollars, that fit her and actually made her look thinner? Well that was just beyond rare. She gritted her teeth. It might not be hundreds of dollars, but it was still more than she had budgeted for dress shopping.
Tipping her head, Elana smiled again and couldn’t resist raising her hands over her head and performing a pirouette. The skirt fluttered around her and she laughed softly.
A low whistle behind her made her freeze. In the mirror she saw a tall man with startled brown eyes, curly brown hair and a sheepish expression standing behind her in the entryway to the dressing room. She turned around, unsure how to respond.
His cheeks burned red and he took a step back.
“Dad, this dress fits fine,” a girl’s voice called from one of the other stalls.
“Cara, we talked about this. I need to see and approve it,” the man called back.
Silence met his statement.
“Well, I guess that explains it,” Elana said
“I am so sorry,” he said with another sheepish grin. He had the most adorable dimples, she noted, her irritation melting away. “I don’t usually hang around women’s dressing rooms. Honest.”
“I would certainly hope not,” Elana laughed.
Then the door to the stall opened and a young teenage girl stepped out, a sulky expression on her round face and her arms folded defiantly over the plunging neckline of the dress she wore. She tilted her head and stared at her father, obviously expecting his veto.
He didn’t disappoint. “Absolutely not. That dress is way too short, on both ends.”
“Dad, this is the dress that Brooke got, but in green. We want to match.”
Elana stepped back, feeling like an intruder.
“I am not Brooke’s father,” he said. “Now go change and we’ll try to find something more appropriate.”
“Da-ad.” Cara dragged the word out into two syllables. “Don’t do this to me. You have to understand I’m growing up. You can’t treat me like a little kid forever.”
“I don’t... wait.” He turned to Elana. “I hate to put you on the spot like this, but would you mind giving your opinion? I totally understand if you don’t feel comfortable, but if you could...” he trailed off again.
Elana smiled. “Sure.” Taking her time, she looked at the teenager. The girl’s green eyes pleaded at her.
“Well, that color looks perfect on you,” Elana began and Cara brightened. “I do think that the style isn’t right for you, though. It really doesn’t fit you well. If you’re going to get a dress, you need to find one that fits you right and that you can be comfortable in. With this one you’re going to be spending all of your time worrying that it’s hiking up in the back or sliding down in the front. You won’t be able to enjoy yourself.”
The girl nodded reluctantly. “All right, I’ll go change.” Cara went back into the changing stall and her father sighed.
“I never had a problem with this when she was five,” he said. “Thanks so much, ummm, I guess I don’t even know your name. I’m Anthony.”
“No problem. I’m Elana. I remember some pretty intense arguments with my mom when I was that age over clothes.” Elana felt the familiar twinge of pain in her chest – the one she felt every time she thought about her mother – but it passed quickly. “It’s a tough age and I’m assuming her mother is out of the picture.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Because the alternative is that you are a creepy stalker man that takes his daughter shopping so he can peek into dressing rooms.”
Anthony tipped back his head and laughed, the dimples appearing in his cheeks again. “Let’s go with the first option.”
“I’d prefer it,” Elana laughed along.
“Well, I’m just going to head back out into safe territory before security shows up and I embarrass myself even further.”
“Good luck with the dress shopping,” Elana called as Anthony disappeared around the corner. She turned back to the mirror for one last glance before taking the dress off for good.
“Want my advice?” Anthony said, his head popping back into view. “Buy the dress.” And he disappeared again.
A slow smile spread across Elana’s face and she bit her lip in contemplation. So she cut back on a few things over the next couple of months. Suddenly she really needed to have that dress.
Leaning her elbow on the table and resting her chin in her hand, Elana bit back a yawn. This was the part of weddings that she dreaded the most. The ceremony was always beautiful, waiting for the bride and groom to arrive at the reception hall was a bit boring, but a good chance to say hello to anyone she knew. Then there was the arrival of the wedding party and the food. It was after that, after the first dance and the toasts, but before the cake cutting, that she dreaded.
Everything went into limbo. Some people danced, others floated around the room and chatted. This particular wedding was worse than most. A large amount of people had been invited and she only knew a handful well. There was a larger group that she was acquainted with, but she just wasn’t the kind of person to walk up to someone she barely knew and start up a conversation.
Of course this was also the time that people approached her and gave her the pity chat, as she had started to call them.
They always began, “and how are you doing, Elana?” with sympathetic eyes and occasionally even the pat on the hand or the arm. The matronly ladies would give her a quick, awkward hug.
“I’m fine,” she would say and smile. “How are you?” And then they would launch into a story about their adorable grandson who had just lost his first tooth, their handsome son who had just gotten a promotion, their troublesome daughter that just couldn’t seem to get it together at school. She would nod and make the right comments and then, within five minutes they would remember that they wanted to ask so-and-so a question and would leave her alone.
If it made them feel better, fine, but it certainly didn’t help her mood. One of these days, when some old lady asked how she was doing, Elana was just going to snap.
“Oh, I’m doing just fine. Last week I was actually able to get out of bed a couple of times. My psychiatrist is thinking it might be okay to take me off the anti-depressants because I haven’t tried to kill myself in a couple of weeks. My dog died and I think it might be my fault and the bank is about to foreclose on the house my parents built. Other than that I’m just peachy.”
None of it was true, of course, but she would just love to see the expression on someone’s face if she did say it. Elana smiled to herself. Not that she would ever be able to work up the courage to actually do it.
“I see you took my advice,” a voice near her ear startled Elana and she looked up into a pair of warm brown eyes. “You make that dress look fantastic,” Anthony smiled.
Something in his gaze unsettled her. What is wrong with me? Oh, yes, this is the first real complement I’ve gotten since... Elana tipped her head. It had been so long she couldn’t even remember it. She suddenly realized that the feeling wasn’t discomfort, but pleasure. “Thanks,” she said.
“Please do.” Elana gestured at the empty chairs around the table. “Take your pick. So what brings you here?” she asked.
“Ben and I met in college,” Anthony said. “And you?”
“I’ve known Emily most of my life.”
“Amazing how little things bring us together with people,” Anthony said. “I mean, one day you meet someone in a women’s dressing room and the next you run into them at a wedding. What are the chances?”
“You mean, one day you’re whistling at someone in a women’s dressing room,” Elana corrected.
“I’m not going to live that one down any time soon, am I?” Anthony shook his head and smiled.
Elana couldn’t help but smile back. His face was boyishly handsome and those dimples... well, she had found herself thinking of them far too often. “So did you find a dress for your daughter – Cara, was it?”
“Yes, and yes.” Anthony pointed across the room where Elana noticed Cara for the first time.
The teenager was looking sweet in a rose pink dress with a fluttering ruffle that swept from one shoulder across the dress and down to the hemline. It was perfect. Next to Cara stood another girl wearing a green version of the dress Cara had been trying on. She looked extremely uncomfortable and had her arms wrapped around her chest as though trying to hide the vast amounts of exposed skin.
“She looks beautiful,” Elana said. “Good choice.”
“Actually, I have you to thank,” Anthony said. “Once you told her that color looked good, she wouldn’t even look at anything else and she picked that one because the ruffly part kind of imitated the way those sparkles are on your dress.” He wiggled his fingers toward Elana and she had to smile at his charming lack of understanding for feminine things.
“All right, enough about Cara,” he said, standing up.
“Are you going?” Elana asked, realizing that she didn’t want him to leave.
“Nope,” he said. “It’s just that your dress is far too gorgeous to leave sitting over in the corner here. Let’s take it out for a spin. I don’t really dance, but I’ll try to avoid your toes.”
“Well, I don’t really...” Elana started.
“Is it against your religion?”
“Are you paralyzed?”
“Have you taken some sort of vow against dancing?”
“Not really,” she laughed.
“Then there’s no reason for you not to. Come on,” and Anthony held out a hand giving her another smile.
“All right,” Elana gave in. “I suppose one dance couldn’t hurt anything.” She hadn’t danced since... No. She cut herself off. She would not think about that now. She was going to just enjoy this moment, allow herself to actually enjoy the company of a young, attractive man that wanted to dance with her and complement her. Good things had happened so rarely recently that she was not going to allow herself to sabotage this moment.
She held out her hand and Anthony helped her to her feet and led her to the dance floor. The music was some sort of big band thing and was great for getting you moving to the beat. Anthony was just a few inches taller than her, even in her low heels, and Elana enjoyed being able to actually look up at a man. She was five foot nine and, therefore, as tall or taller than most of the men she knew. Anthony was just over six foot. The perfect height, she thought to herself and then tried not to blush.
After only a few moments it became obvious that Anthony was a good dancer. He led her around the dance floor quite competently and, even though Elana had never been much of a dancer, his confidence had her moving with barely a thought.
“You can dance,” she accused.
“Caught me,” he grinned. “But I didn’t know if you were a terrible dancer or not, so I didn’t want to make you feel bad, just in case you were.”
“So what would you have done if I had no rhythm and wobbled all over the place?” Elana asked.
“I would have promptly stepped on your feet, tripped a few times and possibly spun you into some unsuspecting couple so that your clumsiness would be overlooked in the shadow of mine.”
“The perfect gentleman.”
“Oh, no. It just gives me a reason to act like a twelve year old,” Anthony grinned impishly down at her. “Perfect opportunity to completely embarrass my daughter.”