Tara looked skeptical. "Chocolate brown?" she said. (Tara did not think that was suitable for a wedding.) "You should look today," she continued more cheerfully. "Of course, you’re welcome to look at my shop, but if you see something today at the consignment shop, that would be perfect. You’re only going to wear it once, right?"
Tara carried pretty clothes, but they were expensive, and her selection was limited by the size of the shop. Her suggestion was really practical.
We stopped at Moms ‘N More first. The maternity and new-mom shop held little interest for me. I’d been dating vampires for so long that pregnancy was not something I thought about, at least not very often. While Tara talked lactation with the saleswomen, I looked at the diaper bags and the adorable baby items. New mothers were certainly beasts of burden. Hard to believe that once upon a time, babies had been raised without diaper bags, breast pumps, special trash cans for disposable diapers, plastic keys, walkers, premade baby food, plastic pads for changing, special detergent to wash baby clothes . . . and on and on and on. I touched a tiny green-and-white-striped sleeper with a lamb on the chest. Something deep inside me shivered with longing.
I was glad when Tara completed her purchase and we left the store.
The consignment shop was only a mile away. Since "fancy used clothes" didn’t sound very enticing, the owners had gone for Second Time’s the Charm. Tara seemed slightly embarrassed at visiting a used-clothing store, no matter how upscale it looked.
"I have to look nice since I’ve got a clothing store," she told me. "But I don’t want to spend a lot on bigger pants, since I hope I won’t be wearing a size up for long." Tara was actually two sizes up, her head told me.
This is one of the things I hate about being telepathic.
"Only makes sense," I said soothingly. "And maybe I’ll see something for the wedding." It seemed highly unlikely that the original owner of the dress would turn up at Jason’s wedding, and that was my only qualm about purchasing a garment someone else had worn a time or two.
Tara knew the owner, a bony redhead, whose name appeared to be Allison. After a hug of greeting, Tara hauled out pictures of the twins . . . maybe a hundred pictures. I was completely unsurprised.
I’d seen the real thing, so I wandered away to check out the "better" dresses. I found my size and began to slide the hangers along the rack one by one, taking my time about it. I was more relaxed than I had been in a week.
I was glad Tara had winkled me out of the house. There was something wonderfully normal and reassuring about our shopping expedition. The air-conditioned shop was peaceful, since the music was turned down very, very low. The prices were higher than I’d expected, but when I read the labels, I understood why. Everything here was good quality.
I scooted aside a hanger holding a terrible purple-and-green garment, and I came to a complete stop, enraptured. The next dress was a rich yellow. It was sleeveless, lined, and scoop-necked, with a large, flat bow curving around the middle of the back. It was beautiful.
"I love this dress," I said out loud, feeling profoundly happy. This was shallow, all right? I knew that. But I’ll take joy where I find it.
"I’m going to try this on," I called, holding it up. The owner, deep in Tara’s delivery story, didn’t even turn around. She raised her hand and waved it in acknowledgment. "Rosanne will be right with you," she called.
The dress and I went past the curtain into the changing area. There were four cubicles, and since no one else had entered the store, I wasn’t surprised to find them all empty. I wriggled out of my shorts and my T-shirt in record time. Holding my breath with suspense, I slid the dress off its hanger and over my head. It settled on my hips like it was happy to be there. I reached behind me to zip it up. I got the zipper halfway to its destination, but my arms can only bend so far. I stepped out to see if I could detach Tara from her fascinating conversation. A young woman, presumably Rosanne, was standing right outside, waiting for me to emerge. When I saw her, I felt a faint buzz of familiarity. Rosanne was in her late teens, a sturdy kid with her brown hair braided and rolled in a bun. She was wearing a neat pants outfit in French blue and cream. Surely I’d seen her before?
"I’m so sorry I wasn’t on the floor to help you!" she said. "What can I do for you? You need help with that zipper?" She’d started speaking almost as soon as I’d emerged from the curtain, and it wasn’t until she finished that she took a good look at my face.
"Oh, shit!" Rosanne said, so sharply that the shop owner turned around to look.
I gave the elegant Allison an "everything’s all right here" smile, hoping I wasn’t lying.
"What’s the matter with you?" I whispered to Rosanne. I looked down at myself, searching for something that would explain her alarm. Had I started my period? What? When I didn’t see anything alarming, I looked up at her anxiously, waiting for her to tell me why she was so agitated.
"It’s you," she breathed. "You’re the one."
"I’m the one what?"
"The one who has such big magic. The one who raised that twoey from the dead."
"Oh." Revelation. "You’re in the Long Tooth pack, I guess? I thought I’d seen you somewhere before."
"I was there," she said, with an unblinking, unnerving intensity. "At Alcide’s farm."
"That was kind of awful, huh?" I said. And it was the last thing I wanted to talk about. Back to the matter at hand. I smiled at Rosanne the werewolf. "Hey, can you zip me up?" I turned my back to her, not without trepidation. In the full-length mirror, I saw her looking at me. It didn’t take a telepath to interpret that expression. She was afraid to touch me.
The remnants of my good mood crashed and burned.
When I’d been a child, some people had regarded me with a blend of unease and disgust. Telepathic children can say the worst things at the worst times, and no one likes them for it or forgets that they blurted out something private and secret. Telepathy in a child is nothing short of terrible. Even I, the actual telepath, had felt that way. Some people had been absolutely frightened by my ability, which I hadn’t had the skill to conceal. After I’d gained some control over what I said when I "overheard" something startling or awful from the thoughts of a neighbor, I’d seldom seen that expression. I’d forgotten how painful it could be.
"You’re scared of me," I said, stating the obvious because I simply couldn’t think of what else to do. "But you have nothing to fear from me. You’re the one with claws and fangs."