Lucy leaned over the sink to bring her face closer to the mirror, the better to apply her shimmering pink lipstick. Tiny wrinkles had started to come at the outside corners of her eyes, only just, but added more interest than age to her face. Earlier she’d swept her ebony hair into a French twist, expertly smoothing down a few escaped strands with a bit of hair spray dispensed into the palm of her hand, a relic of her ballerina days. A pair of wisps still hung loose at the nape of her neck and so escaped her notice; they could not have been more perfectly placed, as if by intention. A small bead of sweat clung to her brow, encouraged by the humidity hanging in this poorly ventilated bathroom, but would vanish soon after she stepped across the threshold into the cooler air of Bran’s bedroom.
Bran’s bedroom: It would forever remain so. Lucy still preferred sleeping in the river room, where her grandmother might have been sitting right now, with one skinny leg crossed over the other, wisps of smoke curling upward from the cigarette held between two bony fingers, waiting impatiently for Lucy to come-on-and-hurry-up-we’re-going-to-be-late; her other arm would have been crossed defiantly across her slightly rounded belly. This image in her mind’s eye made Lucy smile.
What would Bran have thought of all this, she wondered. Her cocktail dress hung on a wire hanger on the back of the closet door; she slipped it off and gingerly stepped in, taking care not to wrinkle it. The dress had been a secondhand store find but was still like new, with its designer label intact. It was sewn in black silk, smooth as a baby’s bottom, save the characteristic little bumps here and there that betrayed the silk as Thai. The design was sleeveless, with a fitted, beribboned waistline, high boat neckline, and a zippered back, which Lucy now deftly closed, with her left arm bent at a right angle behind her and her right hand poised above it to finish the job. The hemline fell just to the top of her knees, in a most flattering way.
Now stepping in front of the dressing mirror on the bathroom door, she smoothed down the front of the bodice and skirt and turned from side to side, checking her slender lines in profile; yes, she concluded, this feels right. Opening the top dresser drawer in the bedroom, she gently lifted out a short strand of costume pearls, one of several pieces she’d salvaged from the shoebox of tangled jewelry in the top of Bran’s closet, and secured them around her neck. Then she fished out the matching earrings, pearls encircled by a few small rhinestones, not too overblown. The earrings were clip-ons, and Lucy winced a little when she snapped them shut over her pierced earlobes. Bran had been horrified to learn Lucy was having her ears pierced when she was ten, but in the end had come around to this notion and sent her a pair of tiny stud earrings in 14kt gold; Lucy had them still, and wore them once in a while.
Charley had followed Lucy from room to room through all this fussing and grooming, surveying her every movement, and now sat on her rump while her tail gently swept the floor, her head tilted quizzically.
Bending down, Lucy gently cupped Charley’s muzzle in a single hand and said, “No, you can’t come this time, sweet girl, but there will be special treats later on when I come home.”
Charley took this as her cue to hop up onto the foot of the bed out in the river room, where she could survey the yard and the meadow below it as the softening daylight faded to twilight. Summer was drawing to a close, and color had been coming in the dogwood foliage already. But there would be enough light yet to monitor squirrel and rabbit activity, and maybe even an errant deer nibbling at the overgrown hedge marking the property line: Charley took on her work as a sentinel with a tireless lust.
Lucy held one black patent leather sling-back in each hand, and slipped them onto her feet in turn. The heels were just high enough to gently engage her calves, which had the pleasing effect of defining every sinewy line in her legs; she looked exquisite. Soon she would step out of her VW and onto the sidewalk in front of the store, where guests in black tie attire would already have begun to arrive for the grand opening gala. She would pause for a moment in front of the plate glass windows to observe the catering staff inside preparing trays of fancy nibbles and tall champagne flutes to pass around the voluminous street-level shop, an outsider looking in on this marvelous thing of her own invention. Then she would step inside, drawing the attention of onlookers and changing the energy of the space in so doing, and for a brief moment time would simply stand still.