“Tell us everything!” Laila squealed and the two other girls stepped in closer so they could hear as well. They had just made it off the beach and were now climbing the hill back to the house.
“Well, he…” But Luanne started giggling before she could even start. She could still feel Christian’s lips pressed against hers, his arm around her, his breath on her face.
“Luanne, come on!” Piper laughed with her. “Tell us!”
“I’m trying! You’re making me nervous!”
“Is he a good kisser? He looks like he would be,” Tamlyn hummed, her eyes clearly daydreaming.
“I have nothing to compare him to,” Luanne admitted, knowing the girls wouldn’t judge her.
“What?” All three of her friends cried at once causing a dozen or so fellow pedestrians to turn and stare. Okay, maybe she was wrong about the judgment part.
“Why does this surprise you?” She turned her full attention to Laila.
The blonde frowned and thought about the question. “I guess it doesn’t. But, I don’t know. You’ve seriously never kissed a guy before?”
Luanne shook her head slowly. “No. Does that make me some kind of freakish loser?”
“Not at all!” Laila insisted.
“My first kiss was with this guy named Jerome. He tasted like cheese and had acne,” Piper said, trying to take the pressure from her friend. “If I had known my first kiss could have been with someone as hot as Christian, I would have waited too.”
“Fuck yeah! I mean, you weren’t missing anything by not kissing the losers.”
“He is really cute, isn’t he? And he likes me. I think he really likes me.” Luanne blushed again, feeling a giddiness she never knew existed.
“Of course he does!” Laila encouraged. “Why wouldn’t he?”
“I can think of a million reasons.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Tamlyn scolded her. “I know I just met you like 48 hours ago, but you’ve got a lot going for you. You’re smart, you’re quirky, you’re cute, and you have a ridiculously adorable southern accent. What guy wouldn’t fall for all that?”
“But no guy has ever liked me before,” Luanne insisted.
“Maybe they have and you just didn’t notice,” Piper suggested. “You do tend to have tunnel vision when you start to focus on things.”
Luanne smiled at her observation. The cobblestone of the street below her feet seemed miles away. It was as if she were floating above the buildings, her spirits were so high.
“Would you look at that dress?” Tamlyn’s voice echoed off the ancient walls of the city street.
The four girls stopped outside of the shop window and stared up at the display.
“Nobody could look good in that color,” Piper announced, scoffing at the bright pink fabric.
“Um, I could,” Tamlyn said, convinced her friend wasn’t seeing the same dress.
“Don’t you think it’s a little indecent?” Laila asked, observing the low neck and the high hem. Even on the mannequin it looked a little slutty.
“Of course it’s indecent. That’s the point,” Tamlyn answered. “Come on. Let’s go inside.”
“I really need to get back and shower…” Luanne started to insist but Tamlyn cut her off.
“I guarantee that I can find you the perfect outfit for this evening inside that store. Now let’s go!” She grabbed Luanne’s hand and pulled her in the door.
Laila rolled her eyes and started to follow them in, pausing once she realized Piper wasn’t with her. “You coming?” She asked her friend over her shoulder.
“I’m just going to run to that drug store up the street. I’ll be right back.”
“Still not feeling well?” Laila frowned, concerned that Piper’s stomach flu hadn’t gone away.
Piper shook her head and shrugged.
“Do you want me to come with you?”
“No,” Piper decided. “I think Pepto-Bismol looks the same in every country.”
Laila smiled. “Probably.”
“I’ll see you in a few minutes,” Piper said, waving Laila inside the store and then turning up the street. Laila watched her leave and then walked slowly through the door, already hearing Tamlyn’s voice as it carried over the music playing overhead.
“Just try it on! Don’t argue!” Tamlyn was pushing a floral print sundress into Luanne’s arms.
“It’s not my style,” Luanne decreed and threw it back at Tamlyn.
“Honey, your style is boring. No offense, that’s just how I feel. Now please, go try it on.”
Laila left them to fight it out and wandered through the racks of clothes, touching some of the fabric that caught her eye. She had almost reached the back of the store when her gaze fell on an ivory dress, gold stitching embellishing the sleeves and hem. It was simple, nothing extravagant, a ruched skirt with lace accenting the neckline.
“Would you like to try it on?” A pleasant voice sounded behind her.
“No, I was just looking,” Laila responded in French, unable to take her eyes off the dress.
“Oh, but why not?” The sales lady pushed and Laila finally looked up at her. She was an older woman, her grey hair falling in thick waves around her face. Her skin was tanned and wrinkled but she had a soft look to her. Laila smiled and shook her head.
“I have no place to wear a dress like this.”
“With a dress like this, you’ll find an occasion,” the lady insisted and Laila grinned.
“All right. Why not?”
“Good!” The woman cheered and plucked the dress from the rack. She ushered Laila into a changing room and hung the garment inside, pulling the drapes closed behind her. Laila stared at the dress for a long moment before removing her sarong and bathing suit top. She lifted the fabric above her head and brought it down slowly, the cool silk feeling nice against her sun-kissed skin. Then, and without warning, the curtain was thrown open and Laila was presented with a full length mirror, the woman smiling proudly down at her from the other side.
“I knew it would be perfect on you!” She exclaimed in a hushed voice.
Laila could only stare at her reflection. The dress fell to just above her knee, the bodice fit her like a glove and the sleeves had a perfect cuff for her slender shoulders.
“I made that dress years ago and it’s been sitting in the back of the store, just waiting for someone. You, as it would seem.”
“You made this?” Laila asked, turning around and looking over her shoulder.
“Hmm,” the woman confirmed with a slight sound of contentment. “It’s one of a kind but seems to be too modest for the girls of this town.”
Laila smiled, remembering the dress that had caught Tamlyn’s attention. “It’s beautiful,” Laila smiled at the woman. “But I really can’t think of anywhere…” She stopped mid-sentence as she glanced over the woman’s shoulder to a vase of flowers sitting on the window sill. Flowers and a white gown. She knew right then the perfect occasion to which she could wear it. She had always imagined her wedding dress to be long and princess cut, pearls embroidered through the train. But looking at herself now, she couldn’t imagine walking down the aisle in anything but this.
“I’ll take it,” she quickly, making the decision before she had really thought about it.
“Good choice. I’m Colette, by the way.”
“Hi Colette. I’m Laila.”
“Well, Laila. I’m sure you’ll find the perfect occasion for this dress,” Colette said with a knowing smile.
Laila looked up at her and nodded. This was a white dress, not a wedding dress. Just because the only place she could imagine wearing it was during a wedding, didn’t mean that she was going to marry Sterling anytime soon. It could sit in her closet for a few years first. She looked at herself once more before Colette took the mirror away and closed the curtain so Laila could change. But seeing herself in the dress made a few years seem like a lifetime. A few months. It was really a matter of months, not years, before they would be married.
A wide smile spread over Laila’s face as she tied her sarong and exited the changing room. Colette was already behind the counter, the dress in a garment bag. Laila glanced at her friends who were still on the other side of the store. Tamlyn was parading around in a skimpy skirt and Luanne was trying not to frown. Laila handed Colette her credit card and, as if sensing her urgency, Colette ran it without hesitation, sliding the receipt for Laila to sign.
“Will it wrinkle if I put it in my bag?” Laila asked, putting her canvas beach bag on the counter.
“Yes. But nothing a little steam wouldn’t take out,” Colette winked at her.
“Thank you,” Laila gave her a grateful smile and gently placed the dress at the bottom of her bag, rearranging her towel to hide her purchase.
“Thank you, Laila. Enjoy the dress,” Colette whispered.
Laila grinned at her one last time before throwing her bag over her shoulder and walking toward the door. “I’ll wait outside,” she hollered to Luanne and Tamlyn and quickly left the store.
Piper roamed the rows and rows of familiar products with foreign words written all over them. She couldn’t understand the signs above her head which would undoubtedly lead her to the right aisle, so she wandered with wide eyes, not wanting to miss the Pepto-Bismol. Turning the corner, her eyes skimmed past the feminine hygiene products, but she could look no further. Staring at a box of tampons, she froze. Her breathing stopped and pulse slowed to an uneasy pace. When was the last time she had to use one of those? Counting backwards in her head, she suddenly felt dizzy as she realized she hadn’t gotten her period since before she left for France. It would have been nearly six weeks ago.
The screech of a PA system caused her to jump and look nervously around her. She took a large breath, the oxygen filling her lungs but doing nothing to calm her. She could hear her heart thumping in her chest, feel her hands shaking. She knew she was white as a ghost. With her mouth dry and her mind blank, she looked down the aisle past the tampons and maxi-pads until she saw the little boxes that she had passed over so many times before. Her legs carried her to them, almost involuntarily, and she studied her choices.
The box at eye level had a picture of a happy baby with an equally happy mother taunting her as they smiled. The next one had a pregnancy test with a little pink plus sign on it. Definitely not choosing that one. Piper reached for the one next to it, a blue box with nothing but some French words and picture of the pee stick. She turned it over and searched for any familiar words. Nothing. What if she took it and couldn’t understand the results? But why was she even stressing about this? She couldn’t be pregnant. There was no way. Alistair always wore a condom.
“This is so stupid,” Piper said to herself, forcing a laugh. She put the blue box back on the shelf and grabbed the one with the pink plus on it. “So fucking stupid.” She would take the test and ease her nerves. That was it. That was all she had to do. There really was nothing to worry about.
Piper hurried to the cashier and handed him a credit card without looking him in the eye. A receipt was passed to her and she scribbled her name, her hands still shaking though she didn’t know why. She wasn’t pregnant, after all. She picked up the test and shoved it in her purse, practically running out the door and back to the dress shop.
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