Ryan was in a bad mood when I turned up the next morning. As I walked through the door he was finishing a conversation on his cell, which culminated with a sharp “goodbye” and him chucking his phone across the counter.
“Wake up on the wrong side of the bed?” I asked, dropping my bag behind the counter and leaning against the doorframe.
“Something like that,” he said. “A friend of mine is having a party tonight and I need a date.”
“What, and you can’t find one on such short notice? Pity.”
“Cute,” he said.
“So who was on the phone?”
“Jaime. Can you pull all of the Balogh off the shelves, tag them with a yellow sticker, and put them on the racks?”
I pushed away from the counter and wandered along the aisle until I found the Bs. “Who’s Jaime? Ex-girlfriend?”
He snorted and turned on the computer. “Hardly. She’s a barista at Batdorf.”
“You’re sleeping with her.”
“Not since November.” He stabbed at the keyboard with a vicious finger. “Hence why she won’t go with me tonight.”
“You must have dozens of go-to girls,” I said, pulling books off the shelf and stacking them on the floor.
He levelled an annoyed glare at me. I ignored him. “Apparently,” he said after a moment, “none of them are free tonight.”
“Gosh, it’s rough being you.”
“Say,” he said, doing his best to sound as though the idea had just popped into his head, “you’re not doing anything tonight, are you? You could come with me.”
“Can’t,” I said. “My friend Adam is coming up from Portland. I have to pick him up from the Amtrak station at a quarter past six.”
“He could come too.”
“What, won’t he need a date?” I inquired snidely. I gathered up an armful of books and staggered towards the turning rack by the register. “Or were you just trying to preserve your image?”
Ryan filched the top book off my stack and flipped through it. “There’s someone who’s going to be at the party that I’d really rather thought I wasn’t single.”
I snickered. The idea of Ryan dodging an overly keen woman was ludicrous, if amusing, and the thought of being his knight in shining armour appealed to me, if only because it was such a silly situation. “Okay, fine, I’ll go,” I said. “As long as Adam gets to go too, and as long as you drive. You’re not dragging me along to a shindig where I don’t know anyone and I have to rescue from women unknown if I don’t get to knock back some wine.”
He snorted. “As long as you avoid the tequila shots,” he said. “We can leave from here.”
I looked down at myself. “Is the attire for this party casual?” I inquired, indicating my jeans and t-shirt.
He winced. “Not exactly…”
Which is how we wound up walking into Macy’s at half past five on a Friday evening in search of something for me to wear. It was a kind of weird sensation, actually, since the last time I’d gone shopping with a man was with Ollie in search of a dress to wear to his sister’s wedding. Which I didn’t end up going to.
Ollie had had very specific ideas about what was appropriate for me to wear, which on the one hand made shopping really easy because I had a limited selection of items that were acceptable, and on the other hand made shopping really frustrating because I was never able to branch out into things I thought might look amazing because Ollie always immediately vetoed them. And eventually I started to believe he was right, that I surely wouldn’t look good in anything but what he suggested. Ryan, on the other hand, prowled up and down the racks as soon as he knew my size, pulling dresses off hangers and piling them into my arms without listening to my protests that I never wore anything like most of the dresses he picked.
“How will you know unless you try?” was his response, every time, before he plunked another dress onto the pile.
Dressing rooms being what they are, I had to leave Ryan outside with most of the dresses while I went in with six at a time to try them on. I’d intended to just shimmy into one, decide yea or nay, shimmy out of it, and move on to the next, but Ryan foiled that plan by demanding to see every one, even when I insisted through the door, in the case of one, that there was no way in hell I was wearing it out in public. Ryan, unsurprisingly, was a fan of that one; it was skin-tight, very short, and very low cut, but I informed him that if he wanted me to fend off unwanted advances he’d better let me make sure I didn’t look like a hooker he’d hired for the night or else no one would take me seriously.
We went back and forth over about four dresses for what seemed like ages; Ryan preferred the slinky ones, I preferred the floofy ones, and it seemed like we weren’t ever going to come to a decision until he walked away mid-sentence and reappeared carrying a soft red dress.
“The sales lady just put it back on the rack,” he said by way of explanation. “Go put it on.”
I was tired, and grumpy, and getting annoyed by his high-handed approach to my wardrobe (though he had said he’d pay for the dress, so I didn’t exactly have that much to bitch about), but the fabric was super soft so I gave in.
Turns out the man can pick a dress. Sleek and tight-fitting to a low waist with a deep neck, like the dresses Ryan had preferred, the skirt then fell in into a soft, full, lined skirt that swished when I walked and spun out when I twirled. We’re talking serious sexy swirly dress.
Seeing he’d sold me on the dress, Ryan promptly bought it, got the sales lady to take off the tags, and had me put it back on, only to drag me across the store — barefoot — to the shoe department. He brought over an armful of red shoes, ran off, and returned with a second armful, flagged down a sales clerk, and requested to have all of the shoes brought out in my size before I could object. And in the end, I walked out of Macy’s wearing both dress and shoes; I’d tried to talk Ryan into the slightly lower heels, but he’d insisted on the higher heel as I needed it to complete the bombshell look. At least I knew I could pull off bombshell, I guess? Unfortunately, though I seemed to just about be able to walk in the heels, I was pretty sure I was going to topple out of them as soon as I actually tried to dance. I was guessing it was going to end up being one of those evenings where the shoes sat prettily by the side of the room while I wandered around barefoot.
And then I slid into Ryan’s pickup and realised the time.
“Shit,” I said. “We’re going to be late to pick up Adam. It’s, like, a half hour drive from here.”
“So call him and tell him we’ll be late,” Ryan replied, speeding through a yellow light and merging onto the freeway. He glanced sideways at me and the corner of his mouth turned up. “I hope he brought a nice shirt…”