Dinner shouldn’t take longer than a couple of hours, then I could slip away early. As long as Derek, my regional manager at Safe as Houses, saw me at the beginning of the evening, he wouldn’t notice if I wasn’t there at the end. No one would notice. No one ever did.
Naked, I walked across the bedroom and into the living room to retrieve my smart black pants and my plain white blouse from my holdall. Opening the bag, I dipped my hand in. Felt soft material and tugged. But instead of black or white emerging from the zipper it was a bright red piece of clothing.
I didn’t own anything that color. I tugged a little more, then held the offending garment out at arm’s length. It was a dress, a short flame-red dress with thin shoulder straps and a label on the back that read Jigsaw. It wasn’t mine. How had it got into my bag?
I stared at it as though it might tell me the answer. It didn’t, so I tossed it onto the sofa. I didn’t have time for mysteries. Instead, I delved back in to find my pants and blouse. My hand hit a hard shoe. I’d packed patent black Courts with half-inch heels. But the shoe that appeared wasn’t a Court, nor did it have a half-inch heel, nor was it black. The shoe in my hand was the same startling red as the dress and the thin, shiny silver heel was at least two inches. I turned it over. Where had it come from? It looked like the shoe from my favorite story of the year before, Stolen and Seduced.
Retrieving its twin from the bag, I set the unfamiliar shoes down on the floor. I’d never worn anything like that and couldn’t imagine I ever would. My shoes must be buried at the bottom somewhere. Clicking my tongue in irritation, I slid my hands around, over the base and into the sides, but there were no more shoes in the bag. Instead, I pulled out a thin cardboard envelope, the clear window displaying a crisscross of black netting. “Fishnet hold-up stockings—pull resistant and guaranteed not to slide” the label boasted.
A flush of heat washed over me.
This wasn’t my bag.
I glanced at the holdall as though it was an alien entity. But it had the same frayed handle as mine and the same ink stain near the base.
It was mine.
I turned the stocking pack over. On the base of the pack was a handwritten note in a neat, boxy scrawl I recognized.
My dearest Ashley,
Please forgive me but I’ve done this for your own good. It’s time to come out of your hole and let the world see you for the beautiful and amazing woman you are. Please, I beg you, wear this dress, the shoes and the stockings to dinner tonight—they are all your size. You will look stunning. You will wow the entire company, the best of whom are gathered at The Fenchurch. No one will ever overlook you again.
Please, for me, even if for one night only—shine, my dear friend, shine.
Love, because that is the ultimate goal, Dawn x x
PS—There is makeup in the side pocket, the perfect shade of lippy for you, trust me. Some volume spray for your hair and don’t worry, your dull pants and plain Jane shirt will be quite safe with me for the night!!
A burning flame of anger rose in my chest and tears bit my eyes. How could she? And she called herself a friend. No bloody wonder she’d looked so shifty when she was saying goodbye to me at the office. “Don’t forget your bag,” she’d said sweetly. My mind dragged back over the day. There were several times she could have made the switch in my holdall. I’d gone for a late lunch and she’d been alone in our office for an hour, and also first thing that morning, I’d gone to a meeting in Derek’s top-floor office.