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Shopping for Love(2)
Author: Renee Carlino


“That’d be wonderful. What’s she like?”

We talk through the dressing room door as I pick up the clothes she carelessly tosses over it. She always acts like she owns Bloomingdale’s. Hell, she probably has enough money to buy it.

“Caroline is my brother’s daughter and she’s only twenty-five. She’s very young and pretty, but dresses dowdy, you know? Like a schoolmarm. Turtlenecks and dress pants in the middle of the humid Georgia summer.”

Hmm. It sounds like her niece is too insecure to be adventurous with her clothes. That’s a problem for a lot of my clients. A big part of my job is to make clients feel good about how they look—and clothes are usually the first way to do that.

I dealt with my own confidence and body issues as a teenager. My father took off when I was a baby, so my mother had to raise my brother and me on her own. She often left us with my grandmother, who was hard on me about my looks and weight as a child. Grandma called me “butterball,” and said if I didn’t thin out, I’d never be able to find and keep a man. That was always her concern, especially after seeing my mother struggle to make ends meet. My mother’s concern, on the other hand, was always about us going to college. My older brother got a degree, but he’s paying high dollar to live the life in New York City as an assistant to a book editor. He’s barely getting by. I’m proud that I can send my mom a little extra every month. She’s been working her butt off for thirty years as a grocery store cashier with no retirement in sight.

It’s not surprising, given Grandma’s awesome criticism of my body, that I became anorexic in high school and throughout part of college. I try to put those days behind me. Since the Hayden liberation three years ago, I’ve learned to love my body, modest curves and all.

“Sure, Diana,” I say, snapping to the present. “I’ll give your niece a call. Do you want to give her my information first?”

She peeks over the dressing room door and grins. “I’ll let her know you’ll be calling tonight.”

“Perfect.”

I stand in line for thirty minutes to check out for Diana while she gets a touch-up at the makeup counter. It’s been a long day, which is putting it mildly, and I’m ready to get home.

“Drinks?” Diana asks as we walk out of Bloomingdale’s.

A lot of the time my job requires me to be a friend or therapist, but I decide to shirk my responsibilities just this once. I have a good excuse, after all. “I’m actually dying to get home to call your niece, and get started on that new wardrobe for her.”

“Great!” Diana says as she texts me Caroline’s number. Her private Town Car pulls up. “Do you need a ride, sweetie?”

“I—”

“Shoot, I forgot I’m getting happy hour with the girls,” she says as she types something into her phone. She slips elegantly into the Town Car and takes off without saying good-bye. Sigh.

I call an Uber to take me home from the mall. My Uber driver is a young, cute guy who’s wearing a GSU sweatshirt. I try to chat with him, but he turns the music up and ignores me. Maybe I can be a spinster stylist. Married to the job. That’s a thing, right?

I arrive at my trendy miniature loft studio just as it’s getting dark. It’s in a hip part of Decatur, with great walkability to cool restaurants and stores. It would be amazing if I had a social life, but I usually get so swept up in my work that I haven’t gotten to know anyone in my neighborhood.

My loft has big windows that look out onto the street. When I moved in, I filled the living space with as many houseplants as I could to create the illusion that I had actual living, breathing friends who rely on me outside of work. Not that I’m complaining. I love my job, but lately, I’ve been yearning for something more.

I have one of those lofted beds with a workspace below it that I decorated with sparkling string lights. I set up my computer and a small drafting board on the desk. That’s where I do sketches of potential outfits and keep my photos. I take photos of everything. Maybe if the stylist thing doesn’t work out, I could go into photography.

I drop my purse off by the door, change into my pajamas, and sit down at my desk to text Caroline. I introduce myself, explain what I do, and let her know she can call me anytime. Then I crawl into bed and let myself doze off as I look at a fashion magazine under the light of the streetlamp shining through my second-story window.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

When I said Caroline could call me anytime, I didn’t mean midnight. I meant anytime during normal business hours. But somehow I find myself being jerked awake at twelve a.m. by the sound of an incoming call on my phone.

“Hello?” I whisper, recognizing the number.

“Hi, sorry. It’s Caroline. I didn’t expect you to answer.”

“Then why’d you call?”

“Oh, again, I’m sorry.” She sounds timid.

“No, no, I’m kidding. I told you to call me anytime.” Anyway, it’s a Friday night, I’m in my twenties, and I’m sleeping it away. I might as well be working instead, I guess. I sit up, flip on my twinkle lights, and scoot down my loft bed to sit at the desk.

“I was going to leave you a message,” she says. “I was working late. I really am sorry.”

“Don’t sweat it. But it is late. You’re just finishing up now? What do you do?”

“I work in finances for my father’s company, Crompton Enterprises.”

“Right. Diana mentioned that. What does the company specialize in again?”

“Energy,” she says quickly. I can tell by her tone she doesn’t want to talk about it.

“Hmm. Are you interested in having a stylist? Maybe updating your wardrobe or getting some pointers?”

There’s a long pause. “I don’t have much time to shop, but yeah, I could use some help in that department.”

“Great! Do you want to text me your address, and I’ll pick you up around eleven tomorrow? Would you be available then?”

“Sure. Um, I don’t really know exactly what kind of arrangement this is. How do you take payment?”

“Diana didn’t tell you? She offered to pay me on your behalf.”

“Of course she did.”

“Is that a problem?” I ask.

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