'Come on, you have to come.' Adrienne almost begged me. Two weeks had passed in which I'd successfully kept off the jaunts to the shops, until today. Tonight was the night of the masquerade and, though I made futile attempts to stay behind once more, I knew I wouldn't find a way out this time. One way or another, today I would have to go and look for a dress, whether I liked it or not. And believe me, I didn't.
'I'm not feeling so well, Adrienne. I'd better just stay in, as I'll probably not even go to the party tonight.' I tried in one last, vain effort.
'But you have to go!' She cried out in a childishly. 'My brother will be there and I promised I would introduce you to him.'
'Hold on, no one ever told me something about meeting anyone.'
'Please? Oh please, Angèlique, please!'
'Fine, fine,I'll go.' I thought for a moment, then sighed. I'd better just tell them right away. 'Although.. I have to tell you something.'
The three of them looked at me, even Meg – who was almost all the time lost in thought – was gazing at me with that look of expectation.
I awkwardly shifted my own gaze towards the floor. 'I don't have money for a new dress.' It came out as a whisper, almost inaudible and for a moment I thought they hadn't heard me, as no one reacted.
Adrienne was the first one to move. 'That's it?'
'Dear,is that why you never joined us when we went to town?'
I nodded and looked up through my eye lashes to the girl's face, but Anne's face held nothing of the contempt or disgust I had expected. 'You're not even angry with me?' I asked in disbelief.
'Of course not, we…-'
'I will be though, if we'll not leave this minute. So much to do and so little time.' Adrienne said, adding the last in a wise, matter-of-fact tone of voice. It was so alien to hear those sensible words out her mouth that we all burst out in laughter and the tension disappeared.
When we ascended the front stairs, I felt at least ten pounds lighter. A heavy burden had been lifted off my shoulders and I was glad that my friends accepted me for the peasant's daughter I was.
We entered numerous chic, fancy and, above all, expensive shops with dresses, shoes, ribbons and jewellery in the following hours. Although every shop held at least ten magnificent dresses, Adrienne seemed determined to keep moving and piloted us from one shop to the next with a great fortitude. She didn't stop for anything, until finally, after what seemed eternities of waling but were actually only two hours, she came to a halt for a small, modest-looking shop at the edge of Paris' centre. If she hadn't stopped right in front of it, I would for sure have overlooked it, as it was nearly the exact opposite of the shops we had entered so far.
With a smile that stretched from one ear to another she looked at me. 'This is it!' She gestured us to follow her, as she strode with large, excited steps towards the door. Though feeling a bit reluctant, I went along. I didn't trust the smile of that little girl for a bit, who knew what she'd arranged for me this time. A secret meeting with some rich gentleman she had paired me off with perhaps? I could only hope it wouldn't be anything of the sort..
Inside the shop, however, I soon came to realize that my worries had been needless. It was fairly dark and the only light came from a chandelier in the back of the room. The furniture was antiquated and seemed to have been there for ages. No gentleman would want to meet in a place half as stale and dusty. For a second I thought that Adrienne had perhaps accidentally walked into the wrong shop, but that was when she called to me.
'Angèlique, stop daydreaming for a minute and come over here, will you?'
I nodded in reply and made my way through the 'shop'. To be honest, I felt quite uncomfortable, as there were three employees standing behind the pay desk, all of them watching our each and every move. Having customers must have been new for them.
When I stopped next to the redhead, she tapped me on the arm and nodded towards something.
Turning to the right, my mouth almost dropped in amazement and surprise. There, partly hidden in the dark shadows, stood a mannequin with what must have been the most beautiful dress I'd ever seen. How this gorgeous dress had ended up in such a decayed shop, I did not know, as it was obviously a gown made for royals an nobles, not for the ordinary people. It was made of what looked to be white satin and with golden thread, adornments were embroidered on the skirt and bodice. When I took a step closer I saw they represented small rose petals and leafs, and that the dress, indeed, was made of a refined satin fabric. 'It's wonderful!'
'Oh I knew you'd like it!' Adrienne squeaked in delight.
'Of course, it's beautiful. Now, try it on!'
She looked at me rather amused. 'It's for you, silly!'
'For me? But Adrienne, haven't you been listening to what I told you before? I can't afford this!'
'Just try it on. For me.' She looked at me with puppy eyes and I sighed.
'Very well.. but only to please you.' I gave her a last discontent look and waited for one of the employees to come with me to the fitting room. There I swiftly took off my own dress – an awfully simple, green one – and let the older woman help me into the gown. As she tied the corset, I held my breath. I was lucky to be naturally thin, as it made me able to escape the torture of corsets most of the time.
'It's done.' The woman simply proclaimed and opened the curtain that served as door.
I nodded and fidgeted with the skirt, before I walked out.
A moment of complete silence followed, and I was about to get back to the fitting room when suddenly Adrienne broke out in a set of cheerful giggles. 'I was right, you look absolutely superb!'
'Indeed, you could easily pass for a queen or empress,' Anne agreed.
I blushed and turned towards the mirror. For a few seconds, I merely gaped at my reflection. Was that really me? I had to admit, the girls were right. In all honestly, I'd never looked this pretty in my entire life. If I wouldn't have known I was gazing at a mirror, I could have easily believed this girl – this woman – was of royal blood. The fabric of the dress enwrapped my body perfectly and it seemed like it was designed solely for me. The skirt made the satin look more like a flowing river and I could not help but fall in love with it.
'I think we have made our choice,' I heard Adrienne say to the older woman.
That was when I snapped back to reality and closed my eyes at the soreness of it. There was no way I could ever afford a dress like this. I sighed, as I knew this would be the first and last time I would ever wear it. 'Adrienne… would you please come over here for a second?'
'What is it, is something wrong with the dress?'
I fidgeted again with the skirt. 'No.. well, yes.. I.. could you please just come here?'
She gave me another questioning look, but then walked up to me. 'What's wrong?'
Leaning into her, I hoped to keep the shop assistants from overhearing my words. 'I can't buy this, Adrienne, I don't have enough money to buy something like this.'
'Is that all?'
I frowned not-understandingly, then nodded.
'Back to the fitting room, then! We still got to look for some masks as well.'
Wasn't this girl listening at all? I wondered, as I reluctantly went to change out of the beautiful dress again. Without help from the older woman – I had no clue as to where she'd gone all of the sudden – I stripped off the fine layers of satin and changed back into my own dull, green dress. I draped the satin dress carefully over my arm and, after a last, rueful sigh, walked out towards the others. With a sad face I handed the dress to one of the other employees, as the older woman was still nowhere to be seen. I gazed at the floor, while trying to hide the disappointment I felt inside, and waited for Adrienne to lead us to the next shop.
'Would you like a box for it?'
At this remark my head snapped up towards the young boy I'd given my dress to. He was now behind the pay desk and was gazing at Adrienne with a look of expectation.
I rushed towards her and looked at her in disbelief. What in the devil's name was she doing? 'Adrienne,' I said in a low voice 'I told you, I cannot afford this.'
'I know,' she replied, then a broad smile formed on her lips. 'But I can.'
My eyes widened. 'Adrienne, no! I won't let you pay my dress. It would be unacceptable.'
'Don't fuss about it, alright? If it makes you feel any better, I have my own benefits in having you look the very best you can.'
I cocked an eyebrow at her words, but before I could ask her anything, the boy called her and she strode towards him with large, elegant steps. I was now sure; she was completely crack-brained. Though I did not know the exact price, I was quite sure the gown must have cost a fortune.
'Alright, let's go!' She exclaimed, as she walked pass me, a bag with the box in it in her left hand. Both her voice and her face were filled with the joy only she could experience from buying a dress for someone else. If it weren't for the fact that it made me uncomfortable to live off of someone else's expenses, I would have found it delightful to watch her.
'Try not to think about it, dear.' Anne said and laid her hand comfortingly on my shoulder.'If Adrienne gets something in her mind, there's nothing you can do to change her thoughts. She's as stubborn as a donkey.'
'And I'm proud to be so,' Adrienne called back and giggled. She truly was one of the craziest, most free-spirited, sweetest girls I'd ever met.