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Della and Tabby took Mira into Dayton for a shopping trip after lunch. Mother and daughter had cornered Mira and forced her to reveal the contents of her wardrobe. When she admitted to owning two pairs of overalls, a pair of sturdy cargo pants, a sweater, a long-sleeved shirt, and two T-shirts, they planned the afternoon of shopping. Mira wasn’t sure she needed more clothing. After all, she’d survived this long with what she had. But the Montaigne women wouldn’t take no for an answer.
During the short drive into the city, Della told Mira the events of the coming week—the week of Thanksgiving.
“On Monday evening, we’re hosting a dinner party for some of Bill’s business associates and a few close friends of the family.”
Mira had never seen a dinner party, never mind participated in one. “I’ll stay out of the way and out of sight.”
“Oh, no, you won’t. You’ll be in attendance just like the rest of the family.”
“But I’m not family.”
“You’re close enough. While you’re living with us, you’ll be treated as one of the family.”
She didn’t know how to respond. A lot of the people she’d met since moving to the United States hadn’t even treated her as a friend, let alone family. And attending a dinner party? There had to be a way out of what was sure to be an awkward evening. “I don’t have a dress.”
Della laughed, extinguishing Mira’s tiny spark of hope for escape. “We’ll pick up something suitable. On Tuesday evening, Bill and I are supposed to attend a dinner, so you kids will have the house to yourselves.”
Tabby shot an endearing smile toward her mother and returned her gaze to the road. “Can I invite some people over while you’re gone? That way we’ll have something to do and Mira can meet some people our age.”
“That’s a lovely idea, Tabby!” Della turned to Mira and lifted one expertly plucked eyebrow in inquiry. “What do you think, dear?”
Did it matter? “I guess it’d be okay.”
“Great! I’ll tell my friends when I see them tonight.” Tabby looked at Mira in the rearview mirror. “Do you want to come with me? We’re going dancing.”
Mira had been to a few square dances since immigrating and knew several folk dances from Israel and Palestine, but she figured the dancing Tabby referred to was something entirely different. Like the kind of stuff she’d seen in movies and on TV…the kind of stuff she didn’t know how to do. “I don’t know.”
“You think about it, dear, and let Tabby know later,” Della said and continued with the week’s schedule. “Throughout the day on Wednesday relatives will be arriving. On Thursday we’ll have a big Thanksgiving dinner. Friday and Saturday will be fairly relaxed, and the visiting family will leave on Sunday.”
Mira’s mind whirled. Was every week that busy, or was it just because of the holiday? She couldn’t imagine a life where she had some event most days. Her life had been much more laid back until now, and she didn’t want to give that up.
They arrived at an upscale department store, and Della led the way inside. A saleswoman in a neatly tailored suit greeted them with a welcoming smile.
“Mrs. Montaigne, how lovely to see you again,” she said in a well-modulated voice. “May I help you find something this afternoon?”
“Yes, Ashley.” Della guided Mira forward. “This is Mira Hassan. She’s in need of a new wardrobe.”
“Very good.” Ashley turned to Mira. “What are you looking for, Miss Hassan?”
Since when did store clerks call customers by name? Feeling completely out of her element, she glanced at Della. “Um…”
Della patted her arm and turned to the saleswoman. “Let’s start with a dress or two.”
“We have some lovely dresses,” Ashley said as she led them to the correct department. “We also have some nice two-piece outfits, if you would prefer.”
“Okay.” Mira took in the wide selection of stylish clothing. What would the Montaigne women do if they knew she’d never worn anything so nice?
“Give me your coat, dear,” Della said, holding out her hand.
She did so, and Ashley studied her before turning to a nearby rack to pull out a knee-length blue dress.
“This would look stunning with your coloring.” Ashley held the dress in front of Mira and looked at Della for approval.
“That color is very becoming on you.”
It was a beautiful dress, but the length was wrong. “It’s too short.”
The others stared at her as if she’d lost her mind.
“This is a popular length,” Ashley assured her.
“It’s beautiful, but I only wear long skirts.” And not for the first time, she wished she could wear something shorter.
“Well, all right…” Ashley replaced the dress and moved to a different rack. She held up a long-sleeved dress in a fall pattern with an ankle length skirt. “Would something like this suit you better?”
Mira brushed her fingers across the soft fabric. “It’s very nice.”
Ashley smiled, her relief at finding something acceptable obvious. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to the dressing rooms so you can try it on.”
Tabby leaned close to Mira as they walked. “Why do you only wear long skirts?”
“Because of the scars. I survived the explosion that killed my parents, but my legs got hurt pretty bad.”
“That’s terrible!” A sheen of moisture in her eyes caught the light. “I’ll help you find some awesome long skirts.”
Mira followed Ashley into one of the small rooms and smiled as the saleswoman hung the dress on a hook and left. After she changed, she studied herself in the full-length mirror. The soft knit material flowed around her legs as she moved, and the dress flattered her slim figure. The fall colors in the fabric made her coppery hair glow. She’d never felt more beautiful.
She stepped out to see what the others thought.
“Mira, you look gorgeous!” Tabby clasped her hands in front of her chest. “That dress is amazing on you.”
Della nodded, a pleased expression lifting the corners of her mouth. “You do look lovely. What do you think, dear?”
“I like it,” Mira said, running her fingers along the skirt.
Ashley brought over a belt made of gold rings. “This would complete the look.”
Mira held her arms away from her body while Ashley fastened the belt around her waist. Then she turned toward a nearby mirror and smiled when she saw the effect of the belt hanging loosely about her hips.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look so stunning in something so simple,” Ashley said.
“We’ll take both the dress and the belt,” Della said. “Mira, why don’t you go change? Then we’ll find the other things you need.”
Soon, they were searching through skirts and dresses again. Della insisted on buying another dress and two skirts with coordinating tops. Tabby helped Mira find some casual clothing. Two pairs of jeans, a pair of khaki pants, and a half dozen shirts later, the women moved on to the shoe department. Ashley helped Mira select a pair of fashionable boots that went with the skirts and dresses, and a pair of running shoes to go with the casual clothing. After a quick stop to find undergarments and sleepwear, Ashley left the women in the capable hands of Tanya at the cosmetics counter and carried the clothing off to be held until they were ready to leave.
After exclaiming over Mira’s “amazing coloring,” “gorgeous eyes,” and “terrific cheekbones,” Tanya put together a makeup kit to highlight her natural beauty without overwhelming it. Once Mira had picked out a collection of bath and skin care products with much assistance from the saleswoman, Della led the way to the jewelry counter.
All the fuss being made was overwhelming. Never had Mira been treated with such importance or had her every move in a store guided by doting employees. She said as much to Tabby.
“Mom just wants you to feel special,” Tabby whispered. “She thinks every woman should have nice things. The reason the employees here are being so attentive is because Mom’s a good customer. They want to make a good impression so she’ll keep coming back.”
“But your mom is spending so much on me.” She tried not to remember the price she had seen on one of the skirts. She’d been so shocked that she’d refrained from looking at anymore tags. The entire wardrobe she’d brought with her had cost less than half of that one piece of clothing.
“It’s Mom’s way of showing she cares. Besides, you’ve seen where we live. Trust me, she can afford it.”
“If you’re sure,” Mira said as Della finished speaking with the man behind the jewelry counter.
“Mira, come over here and tell Philip what you like in the way of jewelry.”
Philip looked expectant as she tried to figure out what to say. She decided to say what she was thinking and hope for the best. “I don’t like to wear a lot of jewelry.”
“Well, you must like something.” He offered a charming smile.
“I guess a simple bracelet.” She avoided glancing at Della for fear she would hurt the kind woman’s feelings by being truthful.
Philip opened a drawer behind him. “Mrs. Montaigne described some of your new clothing, and I think I have just the thing.”
She peeked at Della, relieved to find her smiling as she waited to see what Philip had in mind. Mira returned her attention to the counter as Philip placed a velvet-lined tray on it. Several plain gold bangles rested on the black cloth. He lifted four and held them so they resembled a single piece.
“What do you think?”
“They’re pretty.” Memories of her mother wearing a similar style caused a smile as she gazed at the glittering bracelets.
“Those would look so cool with that first dress you tried on,” Tabby said. “You know, the one with the gold belt.”
Mira glanced at Della and found her nodding.
“Those will be perfect, Philip.” Her eyes scanned the glass counter. “May we see those pins and brooches?”
“Certainly.” He set the bracelets down and pulled out the tray she indicated. “There are several lovely pieces here.”
“Mira, do you see anything you like?”
She stepped closer and looked at the gold butterflies, flowers, and leaves. One pin designed to look like an oak leaf caught her eye. She pointed it out to Della.
“That one is lovely,” the older woman said with a smile.
Philip raised an eyebrow. “Shall I wrap it up for you?”
“Yes, please. Just place it and the bangles on my account.”
“Yes, Mrs. Montaigne.” He moved to take care of the sale.
They went in search of Ashley, who wasn’t hard to find. After Della settled the bill, they carried the purchases out to the car. Mira breathed a sigh of relief as she settled into the backseat. She’d had no idea that a couple of hours of shopping could be so exhausting. Tabby backed out of the parking space and glanced at her mother as she waited for a break in traffic.
“Where to next?”
Della turned in her seat and met Mira’s gaze. “Bill tells me you’re interested in horses and work well with them.”
“Yes, that’s true.” What did that have to do with Tabby’s question?
“Do you have riding boots?”
“No, I don’t.” She was a little afraid of what Della planned do with that information, but she couldn’t lie to the woman. Not after all Della had done for her.
Della faced the front again as Tabby took advantage of a window in the traffic. “We’re going to Stuart’s.”
With any luck, Stuart’s wasn’t another fancy department store. Mira wasn’t sure she could handle visiting another store that was so far out of her comfort zone. She breathed a little easier when they turned into a shopping center filled with boutiques and other small shops. It resembled the kind of places Marnie and Harley had shopped when they went outside of Selma.
Tabby parked in front of the store in the center of the long, low building. She met Mira’s gaze with a grin as they climbed out of the car.
“You’re going to love this place.”
Mira looked at the store and smiled at the sight of saddles and bridles displayed in the large plate glass windows. She never minded visiting a tack store.
A cheerful man in his fifties greeted them when they stepped inside the leather-scented shop. “Welcome to Stuart’s. Can I help you ladies find something?”
“Yes,” Della said, “we’re interested in riding boots.”
“For all three of you, or just one or two?” he asked as he led them toward the back of the store.
“I’m the one who needs boots.” Surrounded by horse paraphernalia, Mira’s nerves from the department store vanished.
“Well, then, take a look at what we have and pick your boots.” He waved a hand at the display of boots. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
With Tabby by her side, Mira studied the selection of riding boots. She came to a stop in front of a pair that laced up rather than having to be pulled on.
“These look good.”
“They are,” Tabby said. “I used to have a pair almost identical to those. They were so comfortable.”
The cheerful man rejoined them. “Did you find a pair?”
Mira showed him the boots she and Tabby had just discussed.
“These will last you a long time.” He tapped the toe of one. “They have high-quality construction. What’s your shoe size?”
“Nine and a half.”
He pulled a box off the shelf. “Go have a seat, and we’ll see how these fit.”
As soon as Mira donned the boots, she walked a short way to make sure they were comfortable when she moved. She sat down to put on her own boots back on and smiled at the cheerful man. “They’re perfect.”
“Okay, I’ll go ring them up.”
As he walked to the front counter, she caught sight of Della studying a pair of form-fitting pants. She leaned over and whispered to Tabby. “What’s your mom doing?”
“It looks like she’s picking out a pair of breeches for you.”
Mira groaned. “Please, no more clothes.”
“I’ll go talk to her.” Tabby gave her a sympathetic look.
“Thank you.” She prayed Della would listen to her daughter.
She tied her boots and meandered toward the front of the store, admiring the tack. Della and Tabby met her close to the counter.
“You need a helmet if you want to ride,” Della said.
Why would she need a helmet? “I’ve never worn a helmet before to ride. Harley taught me to ride carefully and how to fall so I don’t hit my head.”
“Well, I require everyone who lives in my house to wear a helmet.”
“All right.” Mira shrugged. It wasn’t worth arguing.
Ten minutes later, they were in the car with the newest purchases and on their way back to the Montaigne estate.
Out of Her Element, Copyright © 2018 by Elizabeth West
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