We admit it: We’ve now read this book twice. It’s just fun and nicely structured. A bit of magical thinking? Fairy-tale ending? Kinda. And who cares? The charm of Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen, published this month by Doubleday, carries you all the way through. You can purchase it at local booksellers or here or here.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
By Tomás, Third Floor Ladies’ Dresses
IT HAD BEEN a couple of days, and I was starting to get nervous about what I’d done with the dress. I don’t know why I always have to be such a metiche—translation, buttinski. They even created a category just for me in my high school yearbook: Most Likely to Butt In. As I carried that last size small Max Hammer [dress] over to gift wrap like a lamb to slaughter, I realized that it was doubtful we would receive another shipment. I loved this dress. It was one of those head-turners that make every girl feel like the belle of the ball. I couldn’t bear for that ungrateful child to get such a treasure—the dress or Arthur Winters. So I butted in! I sent the last size small little black dress with the invitation for dinner to Arthur’s age-appropriate secretary and the matronly cashmere throw to the gold digger! I thought about all the possible repercussions. The worst-case scenario was that I would get fired for messing up an order. I doubted that, though. Charlene from lingerie was still boasting about the time she purposely sent a lace teddy to a lecherous customer’s wife instead of his girlfriend. That card read “Just 24 hours till she leaves to visit her mother!” This was tame compared to that.
The second-worst-case scenario was that Arthur’s adoring secretary would get her hopes up at being invited for dinner and arrive to see Artie’s face fall in disappointment. This scenario made me ill. The thought of sweet, caring Felicia all excited to finally be noticed and Artie still being too lost in grief to recognize true love was right out of one of my abuela’s telenovelas. Dios mio! What had I done? “Excuse me, I would like to exchange this dress for a bigger size.” And there she was, right in front of me, dress in hand. By the grace of god I didn’t throw my arms around her and yell out “Felicia!” I had bet on the likelihood that middle-aged Felicia wouldn’t be the same size as the Skinny Minnie harlot, and I’d been right! Thank god she’d thought to try the thing on in advance. But of course she had; she’d been waiting for this date for seventeen years.
“Can you help me?” she added, with not a hint of annoyance at my being lost in my own romantic daydreams.
I snapped to attention. “I am so sorry, lost in thought, yes, I can absolutely help you with that.”
I set her up in a dressing room, and when I knocked to see if she needed anything, she asked my opinion on the fit.
“It’s perfect!” I said, meaning it.
“It is!” she responded joyfully. She spun around like a schoolgirl. “This may be the most beautiful dress I’ve ever worn.”
Then out came the buttinski. “What shoes are you going to wear with it?” She pointed to the at-least-two-seasons-ago black pumps on her feet. No good. “We’re having a secret sale today,” I lied; I’d give her my employee discount. “If you want, we can lock this door with your stuff inside and go to the shoe department together!”
“Okay, thanks!” She beamed. “This is a special night.”
“Really?” I replied, as if I didn’t know. “You can tell me all about it on the way there.”
We headed to the second-floor shoe department and picked out a pair of sexy black suede sandals with a heel. It took me forever to steer her away from the practical pumps that she was used to.
“You have the best taste, Tomás. Thank you so much.”
“That’s what happens when you spend half your life in a closet.”
She laughed. Sitting on the soft couches in the shoe department, she opened up to me about Arthur and her unrequited love for him. She told me how it broke her heart to see him in such pain after his wife died and how her friends at work said that she should make her move. Unknown to her, they had all been aware for years that she was in love with him. Everyone could tell. Everyone except Arthur. She waited what she thought was the appropriate amount of time, six months, but still she couldn’t get up the nerve. Then one day Arthur’s oldest daughter, Jessica, called and asked if she would join them for a Labor Day weekend barbecue. The invitation had felt like the daughter’s blessing. Felicia was thrilled and baked a perfect seven-layer cake. It took three tries, but she did it; she took the other, almost-perfect fourteen layers to the soup kitchen where she volunteers. This woman is a total gem.
We bought the shoes, and I convinced her to let me take her to the first floor for a makeover. By now I could have convinced her to get an I ♥ Artie tramp stamp. At the makeup counter, in between pursing her lips and widening her eyes, she finished the story of the Labor Day debacle. She walked in, cake in hand, and was greeted very warmly by Arthur’s daughter. She thanked her for the cake and took her aside.
“Felicia, I know my dad is devastated by my mother’s death and it will take him a while to come out of that. In the last weeks of her life my mother confided in me that her greatest fear wasn’t dying. It was that my father would be alone. She asked that I guide him toward a wonderful woman. She specifically said, ‘Someone like Felicia.’ ” Felicia had been so taken aback that tears had formed in her eyes. As she blinked them away, Arthur walked in with a scantily clad and overly perfumed young lady, who he introduced as Sherri. (Only a gem would describe that harlot as a young lady.) “My heart broke,” she said. “My hands began to shake and I had to give the cake to Jessica, as it was now shaking too.” Jessica was utterly gracious—she had learned from the best. She welcomed Sherri and introduced her to Felicia. When Arthur and Sherri were out of earshot she whispered, “I’m so sorry, Felicia, I had no idea.” Felicia smiled and assured her that she was okay. But of course she wasn’t.
So tonight, Arthur inviting her for dinner at the Four Seasons—well, this was the most promising thing to happen to her in like . . . ever. The makeup artist turned Felicia toward him to concentrate. As I watched her take herself in in the mirror, my mind was beginning to fill with dread, thinking of the possibility of her evening ending poorly. I vowed never to butt into other people’s business again. My thoughts wandered to what God and Ruthie would have in store for me as a punishment when “Voilà!” The makeup artist spun Felicia around. She looked beautiful. All my worries melted away. If Arthur Winters could not see the jewel in front of him, so be it. It was time for Felicia to move in or move on. I told her exactly that, and she left Bloomingdale’s with renewed confidence.
There’s a good chance I’ll never know what happens tonight. That’s one of the more unfulfilling parts in the life of a salesperson. Everyone comes in searching for the perfect dress for her big day, whether it’s her high school prom or her fiftieth high school reunion. The dress needs to match more than just the shoes. It needs to match her hopes and expectations. It needs to remove all worry and doubt about looking good from the equation so that everything else can fall into place. While I’m 100 percent in on the groundwork, I rarely get to hear the outcome. This time I was overly invested and would be thinking about Felicia long after she left the store.
As promised, I hid the size small Max Hammer she had returned in the back room for Natalie to wear to her photo shoot with the movie star. I also promised her that I would not hit on him if he ever comes into the store again. In return she promised that when he officially comes out she’ll fix us up!
—Jane L. Rosen
This excerpt is from the novel Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen, published this week by Doubleday. Copyright © 2016 by Jane L. Rosen. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.