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Twenty-Nine Dresses

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Jenny's eyes widened as she followed Kitty into the wedding dress boutique.

"Wow, this is a lot of—” started Kitty.

“Yeah,” Jenny agreed when her girlfriend — her fiancee — didn’t continue. “It’s a lot of...a lot.”

The front room of the wedding dress boutique was white on white on lacey white, festooned with satin bows at the corners. White pouf stools were positioned around the room.

“It’s very...white,” she noted.

“I’m glad we didn’t pick up coffee along the way,” Kitty said under her breath.

“You’re telling me.”

Jenny must have passed the boutique hundreds of times since she moved back to her hometown, but didn't remember seeing it until now. It was located on a hip side-street in downtown Cleveland, and she’d walked down this street on her way to the bank or when she met up with Kitty for lunch when their work schedules aligned. Kitty’s best friend’s sister had sworn by it, saying that the dress designer who owned the store worked actual magic.

Now that they’d actually arrived at the boutique, however, Jenny was having second thoughts.

Her mother looked like she was about to die of embarrassment as a clerk walked out from the back and said, “Welcome, welcome. Are you the brides to be?”

Kitty shook her hand. “That’s us.”

“First time?”

Jenny laughed, then clamped a hand over her mouth. Her mother fanned herself furiously with a brochure.

“Yep, first and only!” Kitty said.

“Apologies,” the clerk said. “Wedding humor. Will you step into the dressing room this way? Claudia will be right in to take your measurements.”

Jenny waited a moment before following. She said quietly, “Mom, you don’t have to be here for this.”

Her mother continued fanning herself. “You know I’ve been dreaming of this day for years,“ she said simply, and turned away to look at a binder of glossy dress photos. Jenny thought her mother’s expression grew pinched before she folded her arms across her chest and stared into the middle distance.

Jenny held back a long suffering sigh, but then had a good excuse to look away when Kitty said her name.

“Do you think we should wear gloves?” Kitty whispered, eyeing a display of full-arm lace gloves with some doubt.

Jenny tried on a small hat with a large spray of white tulle in the shape of a flower. “Whatever makes you happy,” she said from below the rim.

Kitty stuck out her tongue, then turned bright red when a woman walked in with a notepad.

“Welcome, welcome,” presumably-Claudia said in a crisp, no-nonsense voice. She had her grey hair pulled back into a tight bun over the collar of her black robes. It looked somber and out of place in the frill of the wedding boutique, and Jenny suspected it must be high fashion. “You must be the lucky ladies.”

“That’s right,” said Jenny’s mom. “Ladies. Bet you don’t get too many groups like us come in — two women trying white dresses on for the same wedding!” She laughed nervously.

Claudia narrowed her eyes where Jenny’s mom couldn’t see. She cleared her throat. “You know, for the very first fitting we like it to be just the bride. Or brides.”

“That’s unusual—”

“You can come back at the end of the fitting, but sometimes brides find it more...magical, when it’s just her and the dress. There’s a pleasant coffee shop down the street with nonfat lattes to die for.”

Jenny thought she detected a sneer underneath the suggestion, but her mother only blinked and smiled, for the first time that day. For the first time since Jenny had told her, in fact. "That does sound nice.”

Claudia nodded. “Yes, I thought you’d like that. The fitting won’t take more than forty-five minutes. Feel free to come back after we’re done.”

“Yes, I just might do that,” her mother said and, at a smile from Jenny, wandered out.

Claudia waited until she was out of the room, but just barely, to ask, “She not a fan?” She sounded like she knew the answer already.

Jenny made a face. “Sorry about that.”

“Hmph,” Claudia said. “I have no time for families of brides. No offence.” She drew a tape measure from her belt and gestured. “Kitty, stand up on the podium, please.”

Kitty did as she was told, raising her arms when prompted.

“No offence taken,” Jenny said, raising her eyebrows at Kitty when the dressmaker measured her bust and waist then leg-length.

Claudia picked up like she hadn’t paused. “People with prejudice are always make it about them, about their journey to ‘tolerate’ differences. As if it should be about them at all! Well it’s not. This is your big day, and I have no time for homophobes. If you ask me, they can go to hell. Now, tell me about the kind of cake you're going to have.”

“Strawberry cheesecake,” Kitty got out around a laugh.

“Excellent,” Claudia said, snapping her tape measure closed. “Now, I’ll take you to my associate, who will show you dresses that might be to your liking. Let her know if you have any preferences.”

Good luck, Kitty mouthed as she left the room.

Jenny stepped onto the podium.

“Nervous?” Claudia asked her.

Jenny thought of Kitty’s kind smile, the way she’d liked nothing more than to sit in the library while Kitty did research for her classes and to spend Sunday mornings in bed. When they’d met, they’d both been dirt broke, and held five part-time jobs between them. One of those had been a dog walking position Kitty had landed, walking novelty dogs for rich old ladies in Tremont, one of the nicer sides of town.

“Not at all,” she said.

“It’s fine if you are. Your wedding day can feel like a lot of pressure.”

Jenny shrugged, a little difficult because Claudia was measuring her arms, and said, “I’ve been in a lot of weddings.”

“Always the bridesmaid, never the bride?”

“Pretty much. I have like twenty-seven dresses in my closet, but who's counting?”

“Well, now you’ll have two more.” Claudia stepped back, scribbling on a notepad. “Ok, you’re all set. I’ll be back in just a moment with some dress options.”

After many, many weddings, trying on dresses was old hat to Jenny. She knew how it went. You spent the better part of an hour judging each dress harshly and there was always — always — a follow-up fitting after $80 worth of adjustments had been made.

Which is why Jenny could hardly believe it when Claudia only brought back three dresses into the room. They were each wrapped in tissue and plastic like they were precious. Jenny realized belatedly that they hadn't discussed price range.

Claudia gingerly took the first off its hanger and unwrapped it from its layers of paper.

"Oh," Jenny gasped, her hand flying to her mouth.

The dress was more of a gown, shimmering and downy as Claudia held it out for her. Jenny stripped down to her underwear and camisole and raised her arms to pull over her head.

The dress was nothing short of perfect. It fit like a glove, with a sweetheart neckline and pearls sewn into the bodice. The skirt hung light and elegant.

"I don't even think this needs to be taken in at all," she wondered, unable to disguise the awe she felt. "It's like it was made for me. It’s nothing short of—"

Magic.

There was a twinkle in Claudia's eye when she finished for her, "—nothing short of a good tape measure and lots of practice.” She gestured for Jenny to take it off again. “All right, try the next one."

It was the same for the next dress, and the third.

“You’re amazing,” Jenny told her, twirling around in the princessy skirt. For a brief moment Jenny imagined she saw something disappearing into the sleeve of Claudia’s robes, but she wasn’t sure.

“We try to find the perfect dress for each girl,” Claudia told her simply.
Jenny looked at her reflection once more. “I wish I could buy all of them. I have no idea how I’ll pick just one.”

“Well, you’ll have to choose the dress that expresses you the most, that’s what I always tell clients.” Claudia said it in a businesslike tone, but she looked nothing short of smug at the compliment.

A moment later, Kitty called out then from the other side of the curtains, and Jenny squawked and began stripping off the dress.

“You can’t come in yet!” she yelled out. “One second!”

Kitty popped her head through the curtains, then opened them completely when she saw that Jenny had slipped her sundress back over her head. “Did you find something?” she asked.

From Kitty’s huge grin, Jenny could tell instantly that she was not the only one who’d had a spiritual experience.

“More than something,” Kitty said. “It’s the dress. The perfect one. On the rack it looked like it was at least two sizes too big, but once I got it over my head, it fit like it had been made for me.”

“Me, too,” Jenny said, glancing again Claudia’s way.

Claudia shooed them out of the dressing room. “You two can make orders at the desk and they should be in next week.”

“Next week!” Jenny exclaimed, picking up the pen and taking out her mother’s credit card.

“Well, it didn’t look like many adjustments needed to be made, you said so yourself,” Claudia said, giving Jenny a wink.

The day was warm and bright as Jenny and Kitty stepped out onto the sidewalk. Jenny slung her jacket over an arm and turned to head down to the coffee shop she could see on the corner, feeling like she was in a daze.

“Wait,” Kitty said, putting her hand in Jenny’s and stopping her in the middle of the sidewalk.

A man with a dog made a surprised noise and then stumbled around them. But Kitty didn’t seem to notice, her expression troubled.

“Kitty?” Jenny said.

“I was thinking about what Claudia said,” Kitty started. “About how it really is all about us, how we don’t need to help other people through their issues they might have.”

“Yeah?” Jenny smiled.

Kitty nodded. “Yeah. I didn’t realize I felt like I owed people something. But now I see that I have been letting people’s personal issues get in the way of my life.” She stood up a little straighter. “And I think we should go all out. We should go all out and throw the best wedding in the history of weddings, and screw anyone who doesn’t like it. Screw ‘em all.”

Jenny squeezed her hand, feeling a happy blush warm her cheeks. “Screw ‘em?” she repeated.

“Yeah.”

“Sounds good to me.”

It was easier said than done. But Jenny was willing to give it a try.

When she tried to walk on, Kitty stopped her again, pulling back on their joined hands until Jenny was facing her. Kitty’s blue eyes were soft and full of emotion when she said, “And also...I love you, Jenny Farrell.”

Jenny started to smile. “Oh yeah?”

“Yes,” Kitty said. “That’s it. That’s what I wanted to say. Yes.”

Jenny thought about what Claudia had said, too, how she’d asked if she was nervous. She did, but not about the wedding. It was a happy kind of nervous, like the wedding was just a formality and they’d been married since Kitty had told her ‘yes.’

“Hey, guess what,” she said. “I love you, too.”

“Cool,” Kitty said. “Now let’s go find your mom. I haven’t had enough people glare at me today.”

When they turned to leave, Jenny threw one look back over her shoulder. There, in the place where the store had stood seconds before, was only a dumpster and a run-down fabric store.

Jenny blinked but nothing changed. There was no glimmering window display, no gilded door with ‘Claudia Malkin’s Wedding Robes for All Occasions’ scrawled in curl-i-cue lettering.

It was like the boutique had never existed at all.