“Come on, Addy. Stop sulking,” my best friend, Emilee said as I was reluctantly pulled into the umpteenth designer store of the afternoon. I didn’t even recognize the name on the modern and classy storefront sign, determining it was too expensive for me. Coach, Michael Kors, or Dolce & Gabbana—it didn’t matter, I couldn’t afford them and I wasn’t about to let her use that as an excuse to take any more pity on me.
My capacity for pity had been maxed out weeks ago. I couldn’t bear anymore.
I watched as she grabbed a vibrant blue strapless dress off its rack, quickly twirling in the center of the aisle as she held it close to her body. She would look good in it; she looked flawless in anything and yet she was the most indecisive person I had ever met, hence why we had already been at this for nearly six hours today.
“I’m not sulking.” I said to her as I picked up a pair of black and nude colored pumps. I had thought they were cute until I flipped the shoes over revealing a price tag valued at more than my rent. The sales associate glared at me gallingly from a distance when I hastily set the heels down. They weren’t that cute, I told myself.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught Emilee making her way to the changing rooms with an armful of dresses she had already deemed worthy of the graduation ceremony. “Can’t I just wear my black lacy dress?” I asked, but somehow it came out more like a plea. “It’s professional, appropriate, and no one will see it beneath those awful graduation gowns anyway.” I said as I took a seat in the contemporary sitting area adjacent to the dressing rooms.
I heard a faint zip of a dress and then a quick pull of the curtain, revealing the first of many outfits to come. She was gorgeous, clad in a maroon colored dress that tightly hugged her waist and followed her curves down, stopping several inches above the knees. Her European background gave her a pleasantly smooth, olive-brown skin tone and lush, ombre brown-blonde curls.
She posed for me, slowly turning about the room to show the dip in the neckline that left most of her back bare. I would have felt vulnerable, exposed, but it was clear Emilee was confident in very little clothing. It truly was a beautiful dress and even more stunning with Emilee donning it.
Emilee and I had met just after our first year of college when I nearly ran her over with my bike. In complete fairness, I only jumped the sidewalk to avoid the angst-filled and hormone imbalanced teenager who had tried running me off the road. I remember the ugly blue pastel colored minivan with graffiti plastered on its sides like it intended to chauffeur around a heavy metal band. Not to mention how shocked I was when Emilee blatantly started swearing up and down the street as if the driver could hear her over the blaring scream-o music. Emilee was a lot to take in at that moment, high heels, glam, and the mouth of a sailor.
There were times she still was a bit much, but somehow nearly being the cause of her demise made me likable in her eyes. To this day I have tried to understand what it was about that incident that made her instantly grow a fondness towards me but my only thought was she thrived to live in the moment and whether it was purely accidental or not, she certainly got an adrenaline rush that day. We had been friends ever since.
We were complete opposites and for whatever unknown reason, that seemed to work for us. There were moments where Emilee had to pry me out of my shell, persuading me to venture out into the unexplored, and then there were times where I have had to talk her out of jumping off the old railroad bridge overlooking ol’ man Thatcher’s lake.
“The one you wore to the funeral?” she asked, with more disapproval in her voice than I think she intended.
The memories were unforgettable, even months after the incident, I couldn’t fight back that floodgates of images as they coursed through my mind. As if it was that easy, I shook my head, hoping to dismiss the memories as fast as they appeared.
“Yeah, that one.” I said.
She sighed, and grabbed me by the shoulders. “It’s not every day you graduate from college with your Master’s and besides, that dress is filled with sad memories. You need something new.” She said with finite determination in her voice.
She quickly disappeared out into the store, still wearing the unbought dress, returning with a handful of brightly colored options. “You need something with color, something to brighten your sad eyes.”
She gave me one of her heart-filled smiles but it soon began to fade when she realized it wasn’t like flipping a switch for me, that I couldn’t instantly find joy in shopping like she had. I knew it was going to take time to adjust, time to mourn but how much time?
When would this dark cloud hovering above begin to recede?
She crouched down onto her knees in front of me.
“I know this is hard,” she said sincerely, “and I don’t know what it’s like to lose anyone. I’m trying to be there for you, trying to help you through this hard time but I need you to try too.” She pulled me into an awkward half hug. “And if you don’t, well, I will continue to drag you in and out of every one of these stores until we reach the end of the street and then I will pull you down the next.”
I couldn’t help but laugh a little at how straight-faced she had managed to remain while giving me the threat. Part of me had hoped she was kidding but I was only fooling myself. Emilee wouldn’t hesitate to follow through. She beamed another one of her powerful smiles at me, this one just tugging at my heart.
“Now,” She said gleefully, as she shoved the handful of dresses into my lap. “Go try these on.” I made my way into the changing room as I heard her yell out to me, “And I want to see them!”
I looked at the reflection cast in front of me—a girl who did not appear to be anything but miserable, with soft blue eyes and chocolate brown hair that danced on the edge of black. My face was peppered with freckles that gave me the only contrast against my pale complexion, my cheeks were slightly flushed with a light rosy color.
Maybe I was sulking. I knew I couldn’t keep going on like this; I was determined to climb my way out of this rut, even if it meant I had to convince myself to smile until I truly began to believe it.
I grabbed the garments, hesitantly hanging them on the hooks, wondering what my friend had just given me. Finally giving in, I slipped into the first dress and zipped it up. It was a deep rose color with a cut that hugged my waist and flared at my hips in an A-line style, the soft, silky fabric stopping several inches above my knees. The dress was a bit short for my taste but it was cute. Each one of the dresses she had picked out for me was unique, unlike any other I had seen before. This one had a red lace collar of roses that wrapped its way around the back and onto the right shoulder blade, giving it an asymmetrical appearance. Pulling the hair tie loose, my hair fell in soft waves around my shoulders. The humidity outside was so thick and heavy that the baby wisps of hair framing my face had curled, leaving me looking like a hot mess.
I stood there staring at myself. The color of the dress matched the pigment in my cheeks. Even my eyes seemed to be a richer shade of blue than moments ago. I tried it—smiling, that is. The expression seemed foreign to me; it’s been too long. Emilee was right. I needed to feel again; I needed to feel something.
When I exited the dressing room, Emilee gasped in surprise. I was so startled by her reaction, I was unsure how to process it--was it a squeal of excitement or a shriek of horridness?
“Oh, it’s perfect!” she exclaimed. I barely had a moment to prepare myself before she swooped me up in a full embrace. “You’ll look amazing tomorrow.” she said.
I had missed this—hanging out with her, being around people. And I was glad to see some of her gleefulness was beginning to rub off on me. She was right, all I had to do was try.
Very rarely did our explorations into a clothing store end as quickly as this one but I was relieved. I had found a dress that Emilee and I both agreed on. As I was changing, I flipped the price tag over, and gasped. I knew the price was absurd but it was either clean out my savings or let her buy it—she wouldn’t hesitate for a moment.
Emilee came from a very wealthy family back in Europe and her monthly allowance made my annual salary look pathetic. No doubt, this was her parent’s way of coping with the guilt of never having visited their only daughter throughout her five years of university and in her own way, Emilee reciprocated that wealth onto me whenever she could. I knew she never meant to but I couldn’t help but feel like the poor, charity case compared to her.
So, I did the only thing I could do in that moment to protect what little pride I had left and used the last of my savings to buy the dress.
“If you keep staring at me like that, you’ll end up with permanent wrinkles.” I said.
Now she was sulking, as she stared from the register next to mine.
After buying our dresses, we walked across the busy street to a quaint little local coffee shop. We had barely made it in the door before she said, “Seriously, you should have let me get the dress.”
“Stop worrying about it Emilee, It’s no big deal.”
“It is when you use the last of your savings for it. That was supposed to be for our trip next summer, or did you forget?
“I haven’t forgotten. Besides, I have a few interviews with firms next week and then I can easily replenish the vacation fund. Most of the firms are offering sign on bonuses too; there’s no need to worry.”
She smiled, shaking her head. “I’m sure any firm would be lucky to have you. I’ve never met a more logical, practical or better engineer.”
Laughing, I couldn’t help myself. “That’s because I’m the only engineer you’ve ever met.” I joked.
The line in front of us cleared up and we ordered our drinks, a black tea for myself, and a white chocolate mocha for Emilee and sat at a small table pushed against the large storefront window. I felt like worlds apart as I watched the chaotic hustle and bustle outside. Even through the glass, I could hear the backfire of a taxi, could almost smell the hotdogs of the vender only half a block down, or the smell of sloshed beer, even at this hour. This city never died.
I liked knowing the chaos existed but only if I could watch from a distance and not be swallowed up by it. Maybe it was the relief I felt knowing I wasn’t tangled up in the mess, but even as I said the words to myself, that didn’t seem right.
Suddenly pulled from my thoughts, Emilee cleared her throat awkwardly, failing to remain inconspicuous. I turned to look at her, realizing her attention was elsewhere.
“Hey—.” I started but stopped when I realized Emilee was completely and utterly distracted, not at all aware that she was staring at a complete stranger. I followed her line of sight to two of the only other figures in the coffee shop.
I recognized the first man as Emilee’s longtime friend, and occasional bedfellow, Derek, whom she would deny if confronted about. I never understood why she was ashamed of sleeping with him, he was good looking, funny, dorky at times but all around, a decent guy. Part of me thinks she enjoyed having him hanging on her sleeve, like a lost puppy chasing at the heels.
The second man, a stranger to me, wore a black leather jacket and dark, slightly tattered navy blue jeans. He was good-looking, but there was a jolt in his step that made him come off arrogant. The stranger kept stealing a glance our way; I was sure his attention was being directed towards Emilee, as they often were when we went out. Just as the men approached us, I got up, in search for the restroom, but Emilee grabbed me, halting me in my tracks.
“Don’t you just walk away.” she said in a hushed manner. “That guy is clearly checking you out.”
I rolled my eyes, “Don’t be ridiculous, it’s not me he’s looking at.” I said, hopeful that he hadn’t heard me.
As he got closer, I noticed his leather jacket was unzipped and showed a chiseled chest underneath the tight grey cotton shirt. His hair was as black as his jacket and his eyes as equally dark, everything about him gave off this bad boy vibe—arrogant, confident, and sexy. He appeared laid back, and knew precisely what he wanted. I had realized it too; I had quickly learned that going anywhere with Emilee was basically like carrying around a magnet for men. I don’t believe we’ve been able to venture anywhere without some guy asking to take her out sometime. So in the instance when the two men finally made their way up to us, I knew it was my cue to leave.
I once again tried to leave, desperately wanting to get out of the spotlight without drawing unwanted attention my way, when the man asked, “Running away already?” His voice was rich and thick with an accent I couldn’t place. Both of his ears were pierced with small metal hoops and his eyes were a dark brownish-black. Despite the bad boy vibe and being friends with Derek—which I still didn’t understand, there was something off about the man. I couldn’t help but notice how the air seemed to shift around him, and the hairs on my arms standing on end. I wasn’t sure what made me suddenly so cautious around him, but I didn’t like it.
I shrugged my shoulders in response, not knowing what else I was supposed to say to him. . “Um...” I stumbled to find the right words. “Yeah, you know, restroom.” I said, pointing to the back of the coffee shop. Stealing a glance towards the sign directing me to the restrooms in the back of the cafe, I nearly made my move when I caught a glimpse of Emilee’s taut, tight-lipped face, squished in anger.
I knew that face all too well.
That was ’the don’t you fucken dare’ look.
Haphazardly, I threw my hands up in surrender, and planted my ass back in the seat.
One might have said I had imagined the glowering expression, because not a millisecond later, she turned to the guys, with a false wide-eyed look, all remnants of the anger completely vanished.
“Derek, you remember my friend Addy, right?” Emilee asked.
Derek was a shorter man, no more than 5’8” but he was full of life in ways many people only wished they were. He was quirky, with a never-ending positive outlook on life and when asked a question about even the most mundane topic, he would give you some deep philosophical answer leaving you questioning the meaning of life in its entirety. With thick black framed glasses and wild, untamable golden locks and a satchel full of leather bound books, he looked like he might have been plucked right from a library.
He tried running his fingers through his hair in an attempt to tame it, but it would not yield. Gracelessly, he forfeited and let his hands fall to his sides, a twinge of nervousness peeking through the unconvincing rhapsodic façade. “Of course!” he grinned ear to ear, embracing me in a familiar hug. Just before I pulled away, he whispered in my ear, “Don’t hate me, this wasn’t my doing.”
For a moment, I was wondering what he was referring to but then it struck me, Derek with a mystery friend suddenly—and conveniently, I might add—running into us on the opposite side of town to which he could normally be found.
She was at it again.
“And um, who’s your dreamy, single, friend here?” Emilee asked with an emphasis on single.
This had gone too far already. I held up my finger before the name left the stranger’s mouth, squashing any and all attempts Emilee had conjured. “This” I gestured to the four of us, “has been lovely. Awesome get together, really. Just great catching up,” I said, the sarcasm oozing from my words, “But I have to pee.”
Turning to the prospective date, I gave him a polite smile and said, “I’m really not the best tour guide, especially since I’m directionally challenged. If you’re just looking for coffee, I hate it, I’m more of a tea kind of gal. Not looking for dinner or dessert, or long walks on the beach either. In fact, I’m not even available, and if I were—you wouldn’t want to date me; I snore, hog the covers, and have a bad case of toe fungus. A very contagious kind.” I had nearly finished speaking when Emilee interrupted.
“Why don’t you write down your number and I will make sure she calls.” she said, hesitantly smiling.
Derek’s friend stood there, absent at Emilee’s words as he mulled over my best attributes and qualities I had just given him. He didn’t need to say the words themselves, I knew from the haunted look etched into his face, even that bad boy didn’t want a piece of this.
I just started shaking my head. I threw my napkin down and strolled angrily to the restroom.
And another one bites the dust.