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Dress You Up

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“So take me shopping then.”

“Oh honey, I don’t know if we’ll survive that kind of test so early on in our relationship.”

Patrick doesn’t know whether he should call attention to the relationship or the honey. He likes the sound of both. He already can’t stop tasting the shape of boyfriend in his mouth and it’s only been two days. He loves it. He loves it so much he’s volunteering to shop. “What? You don’t think we can make it through the mall together?”

David makes a sour face at the word mall. “Well that is your first mistake.”

“The mall isn’t good enough for Prince David? It’s filled with endless options and variety. I can get a shirt; I can get a neck massager; I can get a soft pretzel. Come on, you love a soft pretzel.”

David softens momentarily, his mouth pulling to the side. “Not only will I not be shamed for the mall pretzels, I will not be taken hostage by them either.”

“Okay ix-nay the soft pretzels and I’ll raise you a value pack of socks. Baseball is siphoning off my supply.”

“While we’re being honest, I also hate your socks,” David sniffs, concealing none of his contempt.

“Geez David, tell me how you really feel.”

“I just did!” He squints in the mid-morning sun that streams in through the Apothecary’s windows, not quite looking Patrick in the eye. David has strong opinions, and Patrick likes that; he can handle strong opinions. Not everyone David dated can say the same.

He wheedles his way under one of David’s gesturing hands, willing it to rest on his shoulder. He wouldn’t say he bats his eyelashes, but there’s definitely a heightened blinking. “So you’ll come with me?”

David shakes his head, giving Patrick ample time to study the angle of David’s cheekbone, his dimple, the easy line of his neck. “I think it’s best if you start on your own first. Get a feel for what you like, what feels good. I’ll put together a lookbook for you, give you a jumping off point.”

“A lookbook? Will I need to write you a report?”

“Yes. I demand to know what your current wardrobe is trying to tell me.”

“That I’m fiscally responsible, more than passably professional, and I go with what I know works. I don’t know, David, wearing the same general thing every day seems preferable to being naked.”

“If that’s the case, I am very much in favor of you being naked. Lookbook rescinded.” David plucks at the seam of Patrick’s button down before smoothing it back down. No one has ever paid this much attention to his shoulders before, and he worries he’s two long caresses away from having them officially declared an erogenous zone. He briefly wonders if there’s a sexual attraction-related equivalent to UNESCO.

Patrick tucks his face into the crook of David’s neck, and David’s arms wrap around his back. They stand there for a few minutes in the middle of the sales floor, in the middle of the morning, breathing each other in. Everything about the moment feels right, just like the past few months. Despite living inside of a jar of his grandmother’s potpourri at Ray’s house, Patrick has never felt more settled or more comfortable in his own skin. He owes much of that to David because David likes him for who he is, and really, Patrick likes who he is now, too.

He wants everyone to know.


The next morning Patrick is in possession of a seven-page email filled with photographs of men’s clothing, details about different cuts and fabrics that he needs a David-to-Patrick dictionary to decipher, and at different price points and various boutique locations within the Greater Elms, none of which are a mall. At the top, in bold and caps, David has typed: ELONGATE THE LEG!!, which Patrick only takes offense to for the first fifteen or twenty minutes of his day thanks to the all-too-pointed set of exclamation marks.

David, who sent the email while lounging in bed right next to Patrick, furiously typing with his thumbs and mumbling designers’ names like he was sending up prayers to the fashion gods, kisses Patrick to distraction as he attempts to read. “Don’t think of it as an instruction manual. Think of it as more of a bible. Anna Wintour would kill to have this level of insight.”

“Anna Wintour? The one from Frozen?” Patrick, The Deliberately Obtuse garners some of his favorite David reactions and this time is no different when David huffs then bites playfully at his lip before sending him out Ray’s front door on his mission.

Forty-five minutes later, pulling into the parking lot of the Elmdale Mall, Patrick realizes that he hasn’t been to one of these in years. David had typed into the body of his email: North American malls are a vacuous wasteland of taste, but Patrick needs something about this errand to feel familiar. And it does. His mom used to drag him to the Blind River Galleria twice a year for winter and summer clothes, at least until he was old enough to refuse, telling her to just buy him new versions of the pants and shirts he’d always worn.

Entering the expansive atrium, he’s hit with the perfumed scents of the lotion and candle stores, the filtered instrumental sound of Britney Spears’ Toxic in Muzak form, and the same feeling of being fourteen and wishing he was anywhere else but there. He didn’t know what a pattern that would become. Maybe if he’d known, he would have given in and gone shopping with his mom for a little longer. That uniform served a purpose, but he can’t help but wonder if it kept him from thinking too much about who he was or what he wanted.

Since it is a weekday, the mall is mostly empty. There are also quite a few vacant storefronts, something else David had warned against, and Patrick does a quick circuit before admitting—but only to himself—David was right: it is a wasteland.

Granted, Patrick is still able to grab a couple of soft pretzels from the wasteland and a pack of his favorite (and apparently David’s least favorite) socks before returning to his car and driving to the shopping district David described just south of downtown Elm Glen.

A grove of shops line the street where he parks, windows gleaming with displays of succulents or colorful toys or boutique clothing. At the front of one store is hung a macrame planter like the one his mom has in her three-seasons room. It seems more sophisticated than kitschy here, and David must be rubbing off on him because he’s never identified anything as kitschy before in his life.

David’s initial suggestion is staffed by one lonely clerk who seems annoyed that Patrick has pulled her away from the salad she’s stashed behind the counter, and the second is closed for lunch. Finally, in the third, Patrick finds an employee who appears to be working on commission if his zealous greeting is any indication, the ethics of which Patrick has mixed feelings about. But Patrick also finds a selection of several of the wardrobe items David has listed as Must Haves! so he sticks around.

The clerk, who introduces himself as Hasan, is cute; he’s dressed in a sweater Patrick recognizes from the lookbook and pants with the hem hitting just above his ankle. David wears his pants like this sometimes and even the slightest hint of skin excites Patrick, glimpsing the delicate bone combined with the peek of masculine leg hair. He likes the dichotomy of soft and hard on other people; maybe he can achieve that for himself.

Not with pants that hit at the ankle though. David made it very clear that wouldn’t work on him. With diagrams.

“Is there anything I can help you find?” The clerk asks, and Patrick is suddenly overwhelmed with possible responses.

In his back pocket, printed and annotated, Patrick is carrying a treatise on shoulder seams and button choices and fit (Size Down!!) that concludes: Pick what feels like you and that’s honestly the most paralyzing directive of all.

Patrick tries to lean casually on a table of folded shirts. Ah. “Shirts, I guess? Jeans?”

“Any special occasion?”

My boyfriend thinks I dress like Oprah is probably not technically an occasion, plus David was very careful to reiterate to Patrick that he’s fond of the way he looks, no matter what he might, or might not, be wearing.

Heat prickles up his neck as he’s reminded of David’s fingers tracing along the knobs of his spine, his lips brushing a trail behind them; sparks zing remembering David’s cock pressing against his hip through his briefs, breath warm on his skin.

You know you don’t have to change anything, if you don’t want to.

“I think I just want to change things up a bit.” Patrick decides, finally.

Hasan’s appraising eyes follow Patrick’s hand as he gestures at himself, at thirty years of routine and heteronormativity and expectation. “Well,” he smiles kindly, “it’s working for you so far.”

“Hmm, mostly.” Patrick thinks he probably shouldn’t crack wide open in front of the first salesperson to acknowledge him, even if he seems genuinely interested in helping.

More eye contact, then Hasan gestures gamely to the rack of clothing along the back wall. “If there was one new thing you’d like to try, what would it be?”

Hundreds of possible answers to that question and all of them bang loudly against the bars of Patrick’s brain. With David, he wants to try everything. He wants to try looking the way he feels. He wants to try something loftier than fiscally responsible as his style goal. He wants to try having other people know that he’s gay, know that he loves it, know that he’s giddy with it. To look at him and think he definitely has a boyfriend. But that probably isn’t what Hasan is asking.

“I think I’d like to try something with more…” Patrick grasps for a word he’s heard David use. “Detail.”

“Ah, detail we can do. Follow me.”

When Hasan starts pulling things from the racks, a dizzying array of color and pattern, Patrick’s palms begin to sweat.

Hasan talks to him while he pulls, patiently narrating each item to explain why it might work or why it might not before asking Patrick his opinion. “Oh see, this was perfect until it was Tom Ford in the front, Ed Hardy in the back.” Hasan frowns at the offending embroidered tiger’s head.

“No, I can’t have that.” Patrick frowns too, then absently touches the sheaf of paper he folded into his back pocket, wondering if David called ahead, because so much of what Hasan says matches what’s inside. It isn’t beyond David to do something like that but maybe this knowledge is universal to everyone but Patrick, which, let’s be truthful, wouldn’t be the first time.

“Don’t forget, we can tailor anything to fit,” is the last thing Hasan tells him before the dressing room door swings closed.

Armed with his selections and left to his own devices, Patrick isn’t quite sure what to do. He reaches for his phone first to snap a picture of the cataclysmic pile of fashion in his dressing room, readies it to send to David, and types I need you here before deleting and retyping: I think this is pages four through seven.

Always dashing is David’s reply. Dashing has never been a word he’d use to describe himself. He stares at his reflection for a minute, trying to look at himself through David’s eyes. The way David sees him isn’t necessarily the way anyone else might. Maybe this isn’t about David; this is about how Patrick sees himself.

This shirt he’s wearing is…fine. Patrick has had it forever, probably since he realized that his adolescent growth spurt consisted mostly of developing ever broadening shoulders in lieu of new inches of height. (Elongate the leg!!) It’s blue, since he spent twelve years in Catholic school with a dress code dictating that choice. Plus he looks good in blue; why change? The fabric is soft, but the shirt isn’t nearly fitted enough if he’s going to take David’s advice; it’s fine, but it’s not quite right. Nothing about it stands out.

His clothes have always been a disguise of sorts, a way of hiding in plain sight, a way of telling people it’s okay not to notice him. More and more, these last few months, he’s been conscious of it, of putting on the disguise and taking it off. Staring at the rack of new choices, he feels it more than ever.

Hasan must have chosen something in every color (Not yellow. Too sallow.) and a few pairs of jeans in a size smaller than he’s used to buying. He’s drowning in choices and wishing he had a system to fall back on.

Reaching blindly, he picks up the first shirt he can shake loose from the hanger. It’s okay that he doesn’t have a plan for this.

He slides the new shirt over his shoulders. It’s gray, short-sleeved, and patterned with tiny polka-dots that on closer inspection are actually shaped like clover leafs. Rolled up, cuffs of the sleeves are darker than the shirt; just that tiny bit of contrast that draws his eye. Detail.

Hasan knocks softly. “Doing okay? Anything I can get for you?”

Patrick opens the door, the new gray shirt buttoned most of the way up. Most.

Hasan hums approvingly until he catches the look on Patrick’s face.

“You don’t like it?,” he asks, concerned.

“No, I do, I think. It’s…” Repression!, his brain sings, Fiddler-on-the-Roof-style. It’s repression, muddling his reactions. He's never seen himself like this before. “It’s flattering.”

“It is very flattering,” Hasan agrees with a nod before asking if he can make some quick adjustments.

The fabric of the sleeves, which Hasan rolls up, then down, and up again, cuts into his bicep, drawing attention to the soft curve of muscle there. Muscle he tends to cover with long sleeves and sweaters. Muscle David spends hours casually touching. Muscle he thinks he wants David to spend years casually touching.

“Let’s not hide your light under a bushel,” Hasan remarks, stepping back to admire the same thing Patrick is.

Himself.

“Wow.”

He looks at his reflection in the mirror, the way the shirt hugs, well, everything, and now that he’s had a moment to adjust, it makes him feel...good. No, proud. It’s exhilarating and a little scary, knowing the attention a shirt like this can invite. And not just attention, but assumptions and accuracies, too. The buttons strain at his chest, pulling at the fabric and almost exposing skin. Hard and soft. He thinks he likes that. He thinks David would like it. There’s nowhere to hide here; it’s all just him. His chest, his arms, his skin.

“And we’re sure this isn’t a shirt I need to work up to? Should I get one with training wheels first?”

Hasan deals with apprehension professionally and he takes Patrick’s in stride.

“I like this on you, but what matters is you like this on you,” Hasan decrees, brushing at the fabric on his shoulders. He’s being paid to say that, but Patrick is inclined to believe him. “Once we get those sleeves hemmed, it’s the perfect shirt for parties.”

“Do you think I should keep trying?” Patrick nods toward the other shirts hung along the back of the door. His path feels clearer now.

“Definitely. But often the first choice ends up being the best one.”

Patrick can’t quite verify that as fact, so he strips off the shirt and considers his options. He tries on another, and another, and another, to varying degrees of success.

One of the shirts he tries isn’t even that much different from anything he already owns; it certainly isn’t as eye-catching as the gray one he’s started to refer to in his head as his new party guy shirt. This one is long-sleeved, in a soft pink, but more fitted than he’s used to wearing. He likes it. This shirt feels like him, but more intentional somehow. A choice he made, not one made for him. He’s noticed how David always seems to be watching his throat when they’re together, so he unbuttons two buttons instead of just one, respectable, business-casual top-button before he steps out to get a second opinion.

Hasan gives him yet another approving look, straightening the cuff over Patrick’s wrist. “You know, some people come in and they let the clothes wear them. I like that you’re making sure it’s the other way around.” He pats reassuringly at Patrick’s chest. “You know how to work that neck.”

Patrick blushes, but he’s pleased. Before David, he never thought about how his body looked to anyone else. Rachel told him he was strong and handsome and good and he never felt like any of those things; it got to a point where it was easier to just stop thinking. To just do. He believes David when he tells him those same things, because when David looks at him, he sees Patrick—all of him. And Patrick wants to keep showing him.

He tries more options; the Yes pile continues to grow.

In the end, he narrows it down to four: the gray shirt, a fitted navy with checkered trim at the neck and collar; a short-sleeve tee with a print that is Ed Hardy on neither side; the pink one because it makes his throat look three miles long. Plus some new jeans, a few butter-soft, torso-hugging t-shirts, a henley, and a bomber jacket David’s lookbook had firmly suggested with a series of about fifty arrows and a red circle around it.

It’s a big haul. Far more than he ever thought he’d leave here with, but that is starting to feel like par for the course these days. He feels…lighter. And like with so many other things, he hadn’t considered how clothing might make him feel good or better or different. He's never thought about how he could be seen, how he could begin to take up space, how to blend in now would feel like hiding a piece of himself. He’d like to be done hiding.

“I want people to know,” he says to the empty dressing room, just before he goes to join Hasan at the register.

The cash-and-wrap is set up very similarly to the Apothecary—Patrick almost instinctively crosses to the wrong side of the counter and he misses the lip balms with an almost visceral intensity—with Hasan keeping up his steady stream of compliments and encouragement over each item. Patrick thinks about wearing the gray shirt home, trying it out, watching people notice, but he wants David to see him in it first.

Instead, he drops back from the counter, craning his neck to observe the far wall of the store. “Oh wait,” Patrick says, and Hasan stops, hand halfway into a bag. “I want to try some shoes, too.”