What I knew about dresses was nothing, which is why I wandered around La Boutique without the first clue. Justin tried to be patient with me.
We had already visited the tuxedo place. The two men in charge of the shop knew exactly what to do when Justin told them he would be attending Benoit’s party on Friday. Since it was Wednesday, only two days before the event, they chastised Justin for waiting so late in the week. Didn’t he know they would have to alter the tuxedo? Did he expect miracles? When he told them that Selene of House Wells was his mate, they assured him that they would get the job done in time. He needed to come back for a fitting on Thursday, and they would fix anything he didn’t like on the spot. Justin and I struggled to hide our surprise at how quickly they had changed their tune. The fact that we needed to come back the next day added to my irritation. I felt exposed. I didn’t think I’d ever get used to roaming free in the daytime, mingling with other humans as if we belonged.
We’d been to three dress shops before La Boutique. In my opinion, all the dresses were either too low cut or too binding. I wanted to be able to move if I needed to and not have to worry about anything falling out when I did. Justin approved of almost everything I tried on, but I hated them all.
“You’re going to have to wear something,” he said. “I liked the red one.”
“I don’t want to advertise that I’m full of red stuff,” I complained.
“Maybe I should’ve told the shopkeeper she could help us after all. I’m going to get her.”
“Justin, wait—” but he was already off and looking for her.
I frowned at the rack in front of me. Who chooses to wear such ridiculous things, I wondered. The dresses fell into two categories—not enough dress or hideous in color—and several fit into both. I looked up to see the human in charge of the store following Justin. When he gestured to me, her eyes went wide, and she scurried over to help.
“Hello, Lily,” the woman said kindly. “I’d love to help you pick out a dress. You are a six or eight?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been trying on whatever looked decent and comfortable.”
By her expression, she thought I was either simple or clueless. Since she had some tact, she went with clueless. “That’s no way to choose a dress. Well, I’ll just have to measure you.” She whipped out a tape measure. Within a minute, she had all she needed to know, and I felt a little violated. “Right. Muscular build. Hmm, a tall eight. Now, your man here tells me this dress is for Mister Benoit’s Fall Gala, so you will need something long and formal, not too flashy, but alluring. Oh, and honey, a little makeup wouldn’t hurt. The salon has some, and they can probably work you in to do your hair.”
I had no intention of going to a salon, whether they had makeup or not. Since Justin and I planned to go by the grocery store, I decided to get whatever makeup, if any, was in stock. The manager turned her back to me to look over the dresses I had already tried, and I made a face at Justin. He stifled a laugh. As I went into the dressing room, Miss Helper went off in search of things for me to try.
Two hours later, we left with a heavy garment bag. I hated the dress, but when Justin swallowed very hard and nodded, I thought it would do. To go with it, I had shoes, a wrap, and a small handbag. I was firmly against earrings, even if they were clip-ons, or any other jewelry.
At the grocery store, Mark was on duty and chatting with Travis. When they noticed me, both stopped talking and smiled.
“Hey, Lily,” Travis called. He shook hands with Mark and then walked over to me. “I was afraid I had missed you. Who is this?” He eyed Justin.
I took a moment to worry that maybe I had flirted with Travis too much. I cleared my throat and said, “Travis, this is Justin, my bodyguard.”
Justin held out a hand, and after a moment, Travis took it. As they shook hands, Travis sized up Justin. When he saw the pin on Justin’s collar, his eyes cut to me. He noticed my broach, too, and abruptly ended the handshake.
“You are part of Leslie Wells’ household?” he asked. Leslie hadn’t exaggerated about the pins letting people know that we belonged to him.
“Mate,” I corrected. “And he’s,” I jerked a thumb at Justin, “Selene’s mate. Do you know of her?”
“Vamp who looks like Snow White, yeah sure. Mate,” he echoed me and frowned. “Wow.”
“Well, we are running a little late today, and I still need to pick out some makeup to go with my dress for the gala Friday. See you, Travis.”
“See you.” He smiled at me and nodded to Justin as we passed him.
We did a little shopping and then spent some time searching for the makeup aisle. “You’d think it would say ‘Makeup’ real big, not ‘Mineral Wear,’” I complained. “Sounds like dirt.”
There were about a hundred compacts and tubes in various shades and with different purposes. Justin took down a compact and flipped it over to read the back of the package. “From what I can tell, it mostly is.”
“What should I get?”
Justin rubbed his chin. “My mom used to wear makeup, but you know, I didn’t pay too much attention to it. I don’t think it was minerals back then.” When I gave him a helpless look, he glared at me. “Here.” He went down the aisle and gathered a handful of cases, tubes, and brushes. When he came back to me, he said, “Your mom will help you sort it out.” He paused, and we watched a glassy-eyed woman with several bites on her neck walk past us without looking or speaking. “I’m ready to leave, Lily.”
I nodded. Justin wrapped an arm around me and led me to the exit. As I thought about the people that I had encountered in the grocery store, I realized that I was lucky. When we were back in our car, I grabbed Justin’s hand, squeezed it gently, and kissed the back of it.
He looked at me, surprised but smiled. “What’s that about?”
“I just…you’re a great friend, and I’m glad you’re in my life and on my side. I’m glad we’ve never been caught.”
I closed my eyes and just breathed for a moment, enjoying the knowledge of my freedom. Justin started the car and pulled out onto the road. Behind my closed lids, I saw flickers of light as the sun flashed in between the buildings or trees we passed on our way home. I wanted to feel the sun on my face. Though toughened by hard living, I dislike the cold of winter, even in Florida.
After several minutes, I opened my eyes to find Justin trying to look at me and the road at the same time. “Hey, watch the road.” I waved my hand toward the windshield.
“You’re worrying me.”
“Sorry. I just got to thinking about all those people.” I sighed. “I’m glad you were with me today. It was good to have you along to help me and to have another set of eyes and ears.”
He frowned but kept his eyes on the road. “I don’t know how you get anything out of those people, and Travis just feels wrong to me.”
“I’m pretty sure he’s a soldier.” I thought back over our conversation and his reactions. “Say, do you know who Snow White is?”
“Yeah. I saw the movie when I was a kid.” His brow furrowed a bit but then eased when his smile came. “Selene does sort of look like Snow White, minus the innocence.”
“Do you remember the story?”
He told me that the evil witch envied Snow White and plotted her death. He said that Snow White came to live and care for seven dwarves. I learned how the witch disguised herself as an old woman and tricked Snow White into eating a poisoned apple. In the Disney princess version, Snow White fell into a deep sleep. What I’d seen of Disney looked like a giant, chipped golf ball, but I kept that to myself and let Justin continue.
“In the original story, Snow White actually died. The curse lifted when a young prince, who loved her, kissed her.”
“But she was dead.” I wrinkled my lips. “And he kissed her anyway?”
“Yep. That’s true love, I guess. In the world of fairy tales, it can overcome even death.”
“And she came back to life?” I shrugged. “Maybe vampires made up this story.”
Justin looked at me, and then he laughed until I thought he would need to pull over to keep from wrecking. Tears streamed out of his eyes, and I thought about what Selene had said about them. Vampire eyes tend to be larger and the color strange and bold. Justin’s grayish eyes were on the rare side for humans, and Selene’s blue eyes struck me as too ordinary for a vampire.
“What happened to the witch and the dwarves?” I wondered.
“I don’t remember much about them. I was more interested in the prince and the princess. I think the witch was killed. The dwarves had this song they loved to sing.”
He sang what he remembered of Hi, Ho for me. It was catchy, and I sang along with him as we entered the house, my hand in his, smiles on our faces, and a garment bag draped over my free arm. My parents hurried into the dining room as Justin and I broke into a fit of giggles.
“Good day?” my father asked. My mother beamed at me.
“Justin was just telling me the story of Snow White.”
“Fairy tales?” my mother asked. “We have several of those types of books for little Katie.”
“Maybe I’ll give them a look.” I shrugged and skipped down the hall to my room. After I stowed the dress and shoes in the closet, I went to the children’s room to find the books. I found Katie playing with the doll that I had brought her from the grocery store.
“Hey, Katie. I want to read your fairy tale books. Is that okay?”
When she gathered them up and brought them to me, she asked, “Will you read them to me?” It was such a motherly thing to do, but I was curious, so I agreed. I sat cross-legged on the floor, and she scrambled into my lap, arms full of books. “Which one do you want first, Cami?”
I riffled through them. Since I just heard Snow White, I opted for Cinderella. The girl on the cover looked soft, but I soon learned she was a slave to her stepmother and stepsisters. I appreciated how the animals enjoyed helping Cinderella, but I thought the idea of a fairy godmother was absurd. Still, I tried my best to get into the spirit of the story for Katie’s sake. She knew the story was impossible as surely as I did, but it was nice to live in someone else’s world for a while.
Katie cried when Cinderella’s lovely evening was over, when the prince couldn’t find her, and especially when he finally did. It was a lovely thought that someone of royalty fell for a sweet, true-hearted woman. I wondered how Cinderella coped with society life.
“Read Sleeping Beauty next, will you Cami?” Katie asked.
She passed me the book, and I stared at the lovely young woman on the cover of the book. She looked like my sister, Aster. Her light blonde hair curled in fat, loose ringlets down her shoulders, framing her round face. Her cheeks were rosy, and her lips were plump and pink. She slept soundly on a puffy bed.
“Maybe after dinner. It should be about time to eat.”
I suddenly lost my appetite. There I was, sitting in the floor, reading to a child. It was what my sister always wanted—children, to have them and to teach them. She loved children, and it killed her.
“Don’t be sad, Cami. Fairy tales have happy endings.”
Katie hugged me and crawled out of my lap. I sat on the floor of her room for a while, staring at Beauty. I turned the book over in my hands, and on the back, a wide-awake Beauty greeted me with bright blue eyes. She stood on the balcony of a castle, with the blue sky behind her and a little blue bird perched on the rail. Blue, blue, blue. What was the deal with princesses and birds? I tossed the book back on the pile and went to the living room to watch the sun set.