“May I help you?” the lady behind the counter asked.
“Ah, no. No, I’m fine. Thank you—”
The bell on the door chimed, and Danny came in. “The boutonnieres are already ordered.”
“What?” Anne backed into a vampire mobile, all sorts of Dracula getting tangled in her hair. “Excuse me—oh, all right. Okay, let’s not . . .”
She pulled the caped bloodsucker off her and yanked her fleece back into place. “Right. Already ordered. Of course. Let’s go next door. Thank you for your time.”
Head up, shoulders set, she made it back out to the sidewalk without putting her foot in a tub of roses. And then with determination more appropriate to a military crusade, she went over to Mike’s Tuxedo Rental and nailed the entry, walking into the right place.
Yup, nothing but racks of suit jackets and slacks in black, white, and red, and displays of pre-knotted satin bow ties with matching cummerbunds. The fake wood paneling of the place reminded her of Raymour & Flanigan furniture ads from her childhood, and the posters of male models from the eighties pulling Zoolanders and sporting perms made her worry that the establishment only rented stuff from the Flock of Seagulls era.
The man behind the cash register—like the place would have a computer anyway?—was sixty and pruned like a topiary, his pin-striped suit and jaunty orange-and-black tie a seasonal advertisement for his wares.
“And here’s the lovely bride,” the guy said as he came around. “I’m Mike Junior, and I’m here to help you—oh, you brought your groom.”
Anne shook her head. “No, we’re not, I’m not, this is not—”
“When’s the special day?” Mike asked.
“It’s not, I’m not—”
“This Saturday,” Danny said as he put his arm around her shoulders. “I’m such a lucky man.”
“That doesn’t give us a lot of time.” Mike tugged at his cuffs, pulling them down like he was ready to get to work. “But we can take care of you. It’s the Mike guarantee—”
“We are not getting married,” Anne said as she pushed Danny away.
“So you’re eloping.” Mike clapped his hands. “Exciting. Now, let’s see, you’re a thirty-six long—”
“That’s right.” Danny smiled. “God, you’re good.”
Mike frowned. “Haven’t I seen you before?”
“We are not getting married!” Anne cut in.
As Mike fell into a shocked silence, she wanted to elbow Danny in the gut.
Instead, she announced, “I need a tuxedo for the Miller wedding to match all the ones that have been ordered for the groomsmen.”
Mike looked at Danny. Looked at her. “You know, women aren’t groomsmen usually.”
“Yes,” she said as she glared at Danny. “I know.”
* * *
All things considered, Danny took it as a good sign that Anne had missed the mark and gone into that flower shop first. Her detour suggested the conversation in the car might have gotten to her a little, and maybe . . .
Hell, he didn’t know.
“You want to rent a tuxedo,” Mike repeated.
Anne went over to a rack of suit jackets that had satin collars. “Yes. I mean, you must fit small men? Or boys, what about a boy’s tux?”
When Mike glanced in his direction, Danny manned up. “What if you measured her, and we find something that works?”
“Ah . . . I usually only work with men.”
“Gimme the tape. I’ll do it.” As Anne wheeled around, Danny put a hand out to the guy. “She and I work together. We’re friends.”
The truth was, if he had to watch Mike, Jr.—or any other man—measure up the inside of Anne’s legs? A hundred thousand Fiber One bars weren’t going to do shit to keep him from ripping some limbs off and burying the rest of the body where the groper’s family would never find it.
Man, he was such a charmer, wasn’t he.
“Yes,” Mike said. “Okay, that would be better.”
As a cloth tape measure was pressed into Danny’s palm, they were directed to go behind a black curtain where the dressing rooms were.
“Come on, Ashburn,” Danny said. “Let’s do this quick and move along. Painless, totally painless.”
For her, at least. Him? He wasn’t so sure because she had that hostile look in her eye again—the one that made him pray to God he didn’t pop an erection.
“I can do it myself,” she muttered.
Mike pushed a pad and a pencil at them. “Each of the measurements on that list. Just write ’em down.”
Danny pulled the curtain aside. “I’ll only help if you need it.”
Anne snatched the tape measure and walked into the rear area. As she stopped dead, he bumped into her—and then he totally got why she’d pulled up short. He’d been kinda shocked too when he’d first seen it.
“Did they think paint wouldn’t stick to the ceiling?” she whispered as he let the curtain fall back into place behind them.
Shag carpeting, the kind that Scooby-Doo would have appreciated, started at the floor and climbed the walls and ceiling on an up-and-over that was utterly inexplicable. And that was before you got to its harvest-gold-and-orange nap.
“Now you know what it’s like to be in a bag of Cheetos, right?” Danny murmured.
“I wonder if it has adhesive qualities?”
“You want to throw me against a wall and see if I stick?”
Plastic runners, like highway lanes, had been laid out for people to walk on, obviously to protect the stuff from being worn down by foot traffic in and and out of the three cubicles.
“At least it’s seasonal?” Danny said as he reached out and petted a wall.
“Does this mean he switches it out to red and green for Christmas, then gold and black for New Year’s? Pastels for Easter?”
“And beaver brown for Groundhog Day.” As she shot him a look, he shrugged. “What?”
Going over to a cubicle, he opened the flap door. “I wonder if it started as an area rug and then metastasized.”
“How we doing in there?” Mike called out from the far side.
Anne winced. “Your decor is . . .”
“I know, isn’t it historic,” Mike chimed in. “This shop was my father’s. He was way ahead of his time.”
“Well, time has caught up and kept right on going,” Anne said under her breath. Then, more loudly, she offered, “It’s unusual for sure.”
Danny nodded at the fitting platform. “Stand on that thing and let’s get to taping.”
“I’d rather do it here. I’m afraid of getting any closer to that ceiling.”
“I’ll play secretary.” He checked the pad. “We need your arm length first.”
Anne held one end of the tape to her shoulder and let the thing fall to her wrist. “I’m twenty-six?”
He scribbled on the line. “Let me do shoulders across the back.”
“Yeah, that is going to be tough without bending everything out of shape.”
She gave him the tape measure, and he put the pad and pencil down. Stepping close to her, he became completely and utterly aware of her: how tall she was, how her waist dipped in before her hips flared out, how her long, long legs were so damn shapely in those running tights.
Swallowing hard, he stretched the tape over the top of her shoulders—and as it slipped out of his hold, he nearly shoved his hand down her fleece to catch it.
“Sorry, I’m sorry—”
“Here you go.” She caught it and handed the roll back to him. “Slippery little devils.”
Danny slowed. Then froze. Across the way, there was a floor-length mirror, and he couldn’t help but stare at their reflection, him standing behind her, her focusing down on the wall-to-everything carpet.
I want to fuck you, he thought—with such stinging desperation, that he prayed he hadn’t said the words out loud.
“You got it?” Anne prompted.