“What do you think of this?” Katie held up another shirt for me to inspect. I’d let her drag me from one department store to the next, feigning attention on the various articles of clothing. Katie had kindly navigated us only to the larger anchor stores, which meant more space and less contact with people. The one exception I had willingly made was to stop in a candle store for Benny. It was over-priced, but worth bringing a treat back to him.
“That would look good on you.”
“Not for me, for you.” She shook her head at me.
I eyed the shirt more closely. It was a poppy orange color and had a square neckline and lacey panels in the arms. The soft fabric and flowy cut were its only saving grace. I wrinkled my nose. “I don’t know.”
“You can’t keep wearing t-shirts everywhere,” she said, holding it up to me.
She rolled her eyes and smiled at me. “I mean, you can, but what’s the fun in that?”
“Comfort. Being comfortable is fun,” I offered, cheerfully.
Katie laughed, pulling her phone from her back pocket to check it again. Not seeing what she wanted on the screen, she let out a sigh.
“Still no Ryder?” I asked.
She shook her head.
I took the shirt from her. I did like the fabric. If I could get used to the flourishes, it actually felt nice. As much as I didn’t like to admit it, I did enjoy being a little more dressed up last night. “I guess it’s not so bad.”
Katie perked up happily. “Why don’t you try it on?”
“Alright, lead the way to the dressing rooms.”
Smiling, Katie navigated us through racks to a back corner. She took her armful of items into a stall. Taking the one next to her I hung the shirt on the door. As I began to wiggle out of my tank, my phone vibrated, letting me know I had a text. “Damn it,” I swore quietly as I tried to reach for it, my arms tangled in my shirt.
If you’re still interested, you’re invited tomorrow night. Same place. Starts at dusk.
Hunter’s tone was short, but I didn’t blame him. His texts last night were a gentle pleading to give him another chance, and I still hadn’t responded. I was lucky he was bothering to invite me to a party.
Still struggling out of my shirt, I called Vincent.
He greeted me with, “About time.”
“You still want to crash one of those parties?” I asked.
“Absolutely.” I could hear Vincent lean into the phone; his voice attentive.
“It’s tomorrow night. Meet at my place at nine?”
“Can’t wait.” Strangely, he sounded like he meant it. There were some things about Vincent I would never understand.
I let out an “Mmm” sound as I pulled my shirt over my head.
“What was that sound?” Vincent asked.
“I was taking off my shirt.”
“Kinky,” he said, his voice playful. “Are you just now getting out of bed? I was hoping for good news when you didn’t respond last night, but I wasn’t expecting the date went that well.”
“No. I’m in a dressing room,” I answered, my voice flat with annoyance. Pulling the new shirt over my head, I looked in the mirror to admire the way the fabric fell. It was loose but very flattering.
“You’re shopping? For clothing?” he asked in disbelief.
“Yes. It isn’t that surprising.”
“I beg to differ,” laughed Vincent. “Must have been one hell of a night, if you’re already prepping for the next one.”
I groaned. “That is not why I’m shopping. Katie wanted to come, I just brought her.” Mostly. I didn’t plan to go on another date with Hunter, but it would be lying to say I wasn’t considering his opinion of my appearance. “The date wasn’t even worth discussing.”
“I’ll be the judge of that. See you tomorrow!” He chuckled as he hung up on me.
I shook my head and threw my phone back in the bag. I did one more turn to inspect the shirt and decided I would get it.
Katie knocked on my door. “Can I get your opinion?” she called through it.
I came out to find her in skirt, a short-sleeved, full-zip hoodie that hung off one shoulder, and a strapless top underneath. “Looks great. I like it with your sneakers,” I offered.
“I love that shirt on you!” she gushed. “The color really brings out your eyes.”
I smiled. “I guess you’re right, it’s time I expand my wardrobe.”
She grinned back, then asked, “Who were you talking to a minute ago?”
“Vincent. He wants to go to Hunter’s party. He’s decided he wants to play detective,” I added, dryly.
“Do I get to go?” She grabbed the front of the hoodie with excitement.
“No. I’m bringing Vincent. You’re still staying home safe.”
Katie made a pouting face, then eyed me cautiously. “So, you are going to see Hunter again then?”
I cringed a little. I hadn’t really thought of the implications of going. “I guess I don’t have a choice. I already told Vincent I’d take him.”
Katie gave me a rueful smile. “Sorry.”
I shook my head. “I got myself into this mess. Let’s get dressed. I need a snack.”
“You’re a bottomless pit.” Katie laughed.
I shrugged and shut the door in her face, calling through it, “Don’t food shame me.” Which only made her laugh louder.
At the checkout counter Katie rang up first. As I waited for the slow, but polite, salesperson to meticulously wrap my one item, Katie called out, “Finally!”
I looked over to see here tapping away at her phone. “Ryder?” I asked.
She nodded without looking up.
“Tell him we’re going to get food,” I called over my shoulder.
I smiled and thanked the salesperson, taking my bag. Katie followed me toward the entrance to the mall. “What’s the plan?”
“He’ll meet us on the second floor, near the escalators,” Katie said.
“Great, I want pizza!” I announced. Katie had promised me one of the best pizza places in town was hidden in the east corner of the mall. She was learning how to motivate me.
“Me too,” she said, still tapping at her device. Though, I wasn’t sure she had really registered what I said. I watched her, a smile on my face. I could feel she was giddy, nearly bursting with excitement now that we were on our way to see Ryder. Her energy was so full of happiness, it was even making me feel eager for the encounter. Or maybe that was just the promise of eating.
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