She blushed a deep red. "Frank!" But a few seconds later, she held the sweater's fabric within her fingers, smoothing the delicate knit over the hanger. It felt flimsy, compared to the thick wool she usually wore. "I'd be showing too much in this."
"What? You wear clothes thick enough to repel bullets." Frank rolled his eyes and reached thru the store racks for another sweater, a green cashmere v-neck. "Try this on, it looks like the V goes deep, which means some cleavage will show!"
"You are entirely too giddy about this," Celeste dismissed, holding the feathery light emerald sweater to her chest, looking at herself in a mirror at the side of the aisle. "Do you really think I could pull this off?"
"You were born to flaunt, Missy, but you keep hiding your light under a bushel."
She held the sweater tight against her heart. "Funny, my mother told me to do just that. She said you hide your light under a bushel and you come out to shine when you get married."
"That's crazy," Frank said. "You miss out on all the joy in life that comes from being your best self. Besides, we need you to tap into that billowing pissed-off inner voice of yours, before you paint at the train station."
She smiled wanly. "That's why I love you, Frank." She'd spent a weekend carving out new stencils, able to expand her graffiti to larger places with Frank's eyes on lookout. No one was ever patrolling, though. That was the heartbreaker. It felt like there was no percussive after-effect, even though she saw photos in online blogs and heard talk on the radio about her, the unknown tagger leaving wishful messages around the city. The heartbeat of the city was registering a reaction but it was so feeble, so powerless against the utter poverty that had hit Detroit like a tsunami.
"Don't go trying to seduce me with that honeyed voice of yours, nothing could bring me to your team." He smoothed the sweater against her breasts, touching the threads, pushing his hands against her body to size it to her frame. "Well, maybe this cashmere could," he laughed, "but I'd want to wear it myself. That green is alive."
She pulled the sweater over her head, over her white cotton blouse.
"You're bastardizing the sweater by putting it over that grade school peter pan collar," he pouted. "Get naked and put that sweater on properly."
Celeste wandered over to a dressing room, a large space about half the size of her bedroom. There was a shuttered door that closed behind her, giving her privacy.
She ignored Frank's low register plaintive begging outside the door, he wanted to come in, but she laughed and said no, she'd be right out.
She pulled her blouse off over her head, seeing and not ignoring the threadbare spots under the arms and at the elbows. She usually covered them up with her heavy sweaters, or retired the blouse every Spring and Summer so its age wouldn't be visible to a world that always wanted new, new, new. She pulled the deep green sweater over her head and stepped back.
Frank opened the door a few inches, sticking his head around it, and whistled at her.
She instinctively crossed her arms over her bra, forgetting that she was relatively covered up, wearing her skirt and the sweater. But the v-neck was deep, it went all the way down to her white cotton bra.
"Good god, woman, what is that thing holding your breasties?"
She hunched her shoulders forward, embarrassed. "It's my bra, bozo, you've probably never seen one."
"Oh, I've seen bras, honey, tons of them. That is not a bra, though. That's a battleship. That thing has more steel in it than the Ford assembly line." He pushed his way into the room and grabbed at the sweater, pulling the V down farther. "That's for old ladies with pendulous breasts. You should be wearing a black lace bra."
"I could never wear this sweater to work, it's too low cut."
"You'd wear this to work?" He dabbed imaginary tears from his eyes, his voice hopeful. "My little girl/old grandma lady is growing up. Well, you can wear a plain camisole underneath, it would cover up the lace. When we go out after work, you can hit the bathroom and do a strip tease, pull the cami off and hide it in that piece of luggage you call a purse."
"Christ, Frank, I don't want to do that much work, wearing layers, taking them on and off every few hours."
"Then you don't know the fun of seduction, Missy. It's all about the smoke and mirrors. Except you've got the goods, you really do." He patted the cashmere, molding it to her figure.
She knew she needed a change on a deep level and if putting on jewel tones in a ceremonious way each morning would jumpstart her heart, alright, she'd do it.
He stuck his head out the dressing room door and she heard him call forth a sales woman. It felt foreign, but she let him tug at her bra strap, showing the woman the horror that he wanted replaced. He helped her quickly pull the emerald sweater off and reached behind her to read the size tag on her bra. With hands waving, he sent the sales clerk off in search of a black lace bra to highlight her cleavage, with matching bikini panties.
She laughed that he rattled off her sizes so easily, and she barked, "and make sure you bring a plain black camisole in my size, with NO lace, please."
She blushed when Frank wouldn't leave the room when the lingerie came. It looked lurid on the smaller hangers, two black lace bras and two black lace panties with less than an inch of fabric at the hips. She forced him to turn his back to her, waved off his 'like you have anything I'd want to see', and whipped her ugly underwear off and gingerly pulled the new dainties on, then tapped him on the shoulder.
"Good god, girl." He whistled again. "Straight up and down hot, you are. Look at that. Why have you never bought this kind of thing before? You can really rock it."
She stood solid, not knowing how to move in the foreign bits of fabric. She turned sideways, as though she were chasing a tennis ball, but the awkward movements forced laughter out of both her mouth and Frank's.
"Okay, I can see this is a huge step for you." He stood behind her, looking over her shoulder into the mirror. She could feel his chin as he lay his head cocked sideways on her neck. "What does it feel like to be so pretty?"
She shook her head, not knowing how to inhabit this person she saw looking back at herself in the mirror. The girl's figure was healthy, attractive, curvy. She patted her firm belly, her shapely hips. "I like to hide in my clothes."
"From what?" Frank looked at her through the impersonal witness of the mirror. "What are you afraid of, Missy?" His voice was low and kind.
"I work, I have my apartment, but I've always lived in the shadows here, ever since I was a kid," she said thoughtfully.
"Well, this is a good start for you, I'd say. Detroit has gotten too gray, it's time for us to move somewhere near the ocean where it's bright all day long."
She languidly pulled the emerald sweater back on over her head, her lips parting in a gracious smile. The lace was barely visible.
She fingered the plain black camisole that the saleswoman had brought. Yes, she'd definitely want this on to cover her décolletage during work hours.
She reached for the price tag in the sleeve of the sweater and read the price, gasping audibly. "No way!"
"Um, yes, way, it's cashmere. I know you can afford it, you've just never treated yourself this well."
"It's the price of a village of goats! I cannot spend this much on one sweater. It's more than I spent on clothes all last year." It had been easy being frugal when her apartment building had lost a few tenants, people moving from furnished studio apartments out onto the streets of the city if they didn't have family to help them. Spending money on herself had felt selfish.
"And that went pretty well for you, didn't it?" he teased facetiously. "The ten dollar sale at the Dearborn Wal-Mart? Honey, you can't catch a man with cheap clothes. Men are tactile, they like to touch soft things."
She wanted the sweater, it felt so light on her skin. She looked again at the price tag and grimaced. "Okay, just this one thing, though. And the underwear. And the camisole." She couldn't bring herself to take off the new sexy bra and underpants.
"It's not a thing, it's a work of art." He winked at her.
She put on the black camisole and tenderly pulled the green cashmere sweater back on. She smiled, clutched her old sweater to her heart, then put it in her purse.
They grabbed a few other pieces off two sale racks on the back wall, dresses, above-the-knee skirts, two boxes of mid-heeled shoes and a pair of boots. They all added up to much less than the cost of the green sweater. She paid for her fragile pile, letting the saleswoman reach under her clothes for the tags for the lingerie she had on, then she let her snip the tags off the sweater so that she could scan them.
She knew that Frank could sense her schizophrenic response, it was fine to put them on here in the store. But could she wear them out on the bland streets where half the stores had 'For Lease' signs in the window? There was a huge difference between walking in the illusion of Detroit in car commercials where chrome shone and doormen stood in gilded uniforms, and the reality of Detroit, as she knew it. The grit that hung in the air from a demolished overpass nearby might coat the soft threads of this sweater.
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