I love all delicate things – Sappho

The old-fashioned brass shop bell swung and rang over the opening door. I looked up from my phone as the cool air entered. Small costumed figures could be seen running around outside, shrieking happily in the gathering dusk.

Two figures entered the shop, an excited little girl clinging to the arm of a tall woman.

“Please, Mommy! Please!  It’s so pretty!”

I sensed that the frustration and anger on the woman’s face were not the girl’s fault.

“The costume in the window. How much is it?”

I knew the one she meant; it had been on display for a month. It was very simple in one sense, but utterly adorable in another. A poofy iridescent skirt was matched with a headband carrying a unicorn horn and a pair of ears. All she would need were a white t-shirt and white leggings like those on the dummy to turn her into a pretty good unicorn — and what little girl doesn’t love unicorns?


The woman shrugged, gave in.

“OK, Gracie. We’ll get it.”

The little girl turned into about four feet of bouncing excitement. Her blonde hair whirled and danced as she jumped up and down.

“Just give me a minute, hon.”

The child nodded, skipped off to look at a display of particularly ghoulish rubber masks at the other end of the store.

As if answering my unasked question, the woman spoke, her face white with anger.

“It’s my turn to have Grace for the weekend. Her father was late dropping her off and — knowing it was Hallowe’en — hadn’t even thought of getting her a costume. I could just kill  the son of a…”

I smiled in sympathy. “Get three other women on the jury and they’d never convict.”

She smiled wryly. “Yeah. So, how much?”

“Well, I’ve got good news and bad news for you.”

She flinched a little. Her eyebrows went up.

“The bad news is that it’s completely out of stock.” Her face fell.

‘The good news,” and here I grinned, “is that the store’s closing in two minutes and I can give you a 10% discount if you’re willing to take the one in the window. It looks like it would fit her.” Indeed, the small mannequin was much the same size as the little girl.

I saw her relax slightly.

“Aaaand,”  I said, my grin growing, “I can throw in a 10% Single Mom discount on top of that.”

Her look of anger had been replaced with a slight smile.


“Really. And I can offer you a special, one-time-only 10% ‘most kick-ass purse I’ve seen in the store all night’ discount.”

It was, too. If it wasn’t a knock-off, the woman was carrying about $2,000 worth of Gucci dreamware. A honey brown clutch, the leather looked soft enough to spread on a muffin.

I was stretching it a little, but the store was  about to shut for the night and Mr. Hanan had left to take his own kids out trick-or-treating.

“Don’t stay late,” he’d told me. “And make sure you put the take in the safe for pickup next week.”

I’d nodded. I’d been working at Your Neighbourhood Costumes for three years. Mr. Hanan and I understood each other pretty well. I liked working for him; he was a good guy. Some people would have boosted prices on Hallowe’en to tighten the screws on people like this woman; Hanan wouldn’t dream of it.

“It’d be nice to clear away some Hallowe’en inventory, too,” he’d added, “so feel free to give a bit of a discount if you need to.” He was a really  nice person.

The look of gratitude on the woman’s face was pretty amazing.

“So,” I finished, “that’ll be, um, $47.50.”

I could see her shoulders drop as relief set in. She pulled a platinum card out of the purse and handed it to me. Her smile of gratitude was pretty special.

“Hey, thanks! I didn’t want to hit a big box store and had no idea where to go until Gracie saw this in the window as we drove by.”

“Tell you what,” I offered. “The t-shirt and leggings on the dummy in the window? Nobody’s ever worn them. If you promise to wash them and bring them back in the next couple of days, you won’t even have to go home to get her dressed.”

Her expression shifted to one of astonishment. “You’d do that?”

“Hey,” I smiled, “we’re your Neighborhood  Costume Store — and neighbors help each other out, right?”

I pointed at the dressing room door. “I’ll get the whites.”

I had a chance for a better look at the woman while the girl was changing. I guessed she was in her late 20s, maybe early 30s. She was taller than me by about five inches, with broad shoulders, a really nice figure and long, straight, glossy black hair. Dark eyes framed a happy nose above full and promising lips.

Put it all together and she was just drop-dead gorgeous. I could see where the child had got her good looks.

The little unicorn was about six inches off the floor when she and her mother left. She turned and waved happily and I waved back before locking the door behind them and hitting the switch to kill the Open sign. This was a day I could feel good about.


“You have a visitor,” Mr. Hanan told me. I looked up from what I was doing to see his head sticking around the corner into the back room. He was smiling.

Mom from three days ago was standing on the other side of the counter, a bright smile on her face. Her makeup was perfect and her dark hair shone in the morning light. Her light wool suit was probably worth my monthly take-home and I was pretty sure today’s purse today was a Dior.

Someday, Sydney. Someday…

“Hey! How’d the trick-or-treating go?” I asked.

She held out a paper bag which turned out to hold the clothing I’d loaned her.

“It went really well, thanks to you. I wanted to return these and say thank you again in person.”

Looking at Mr. Hanan, she continued. “This young lady kept Hallowe’en from turning into a complete disaster for my daughter. If you’re the owner, you need to be paying her more!”

Mr. Hanan looked at me, a little surprised. I’d told him that I’d sold the costume, but he’d told me to use my judgement, so I hadn’t bothered him with details. He hadn’t noticed the missing clothing, but it had worked out. He turned back to the woman.

“Thank you,” he smiled. “It’s always nice to get good feedback.”

“There’ll be more on Facebook when I get a minute.” She looked back to me.

“What’s your name? Are you married? Do you have kids?”

Her manner was friendly, but direct, almost compelling.

“Um, Sydney and no and no. Why?”

“I’m holding a Parents’ Hallowe’en Hangover party this Saturday, Sydney. Would you like to come?”

“A ‘parents’…?”

“Everybody likes a Hallowe’en party, but parents are pretty much chained to their kids on the night, so we — I mean my friends and I — take turns each year running a delayed Hallowe’en party for parents a week later.

“Mostly it’s parents, but you wouldn’t be the only single. Please say you’ll come.”

It was a sweet, gracious smile, but it set up a low tingling deep inside me.

I thought a moment, mentally checking my schedule. “Thank you. I’d be delighted. Is it a costume party?”

“How else? But,” she said, looking around, “I doubt you’ll have much of a problem with that.”

“No. Um, what can I bring?”

“Just yourself.” She produced a thin gold fountain pen and a business card from her purse, wrote an address on the back. “Seven o’clock. No husband, you said? Well, your boyfriend’s invited.”

“Not one of them, either,” I said.

She shrugged lightly. “Well, just so long as you come.”

She reached over the counter, pulled me in for a quick, strong hug.

“Must run,” she smiled. “Thanks again.”

Looking at Mr. Hanan, she pointed at me. “This one is special. Don’t lose her.”

Mr. Hanan watched her as she left. I could see his eyes follow her bottom as it swayed from side to side. His interest didn’t offend me; I was watching, too.

It was a pretty impressive bottom.

The door had closed behind her before he actually looked at the card. He seemed a little stunned. He blinked, gazed owlishly at me.

“Sydney,” he said softly, “do you know who that was?”

“Um, no? A nice customer?”

He handed me the card and I could suddenly understand the look on his face. Shannon McFee was apparently Executive Vice-President for one of the larger brokerage firms in the country. Even I recognized the company name.

“I know her now that I’ve seen the name,” he said softly, almost in awe. “She’s on more corporation boards of directors than you can shake a rolled-up Financial Times at,” he told me. “I saw her quoted on Bloomberg a few weeks ago.”

“She seems so young for that,” I said.

“She’s earned it all, or so my broker says. She’s brilliant, like a walking computer when it comes to trading and market shifts. You couldn’t have picked a better person to impress.”

He was silent for a moment, then murmured, “Good job, Sid.”

I grinned. “So, do I get that pay raise?”

“We’ll talk.”


Yeah, so, with a whole store to choose from, do you think I could find something to suit me? There was a pretty good clown suit, funny and spunky, but it really needed face paint and I didn’t think that would do my skin much good. There was a super-fancy ball gown with a tiara and everything, but the skirt was extra-full and I wasn’t sure I could get into a car wearing it. It was tempting, but I put it back on the rack with a sigh.

Eventually, I went for the obvious – pirate. Who doesn’t like a lady pirate, right? Essentially, it was just a mid-thigh scarlet coat with big brass buttons and broad black cuffs and collar. A wide black leather belt pulled it in at the waist and a three-cornered hat with plume completed the outfit. There was even a fake flintlock pistol to tuck into the belt. I thought the knee-length high-heeled boots waiting in my closet would make it perfect.

Mr. Hanan gave a whistle when I emerged from the change room.

“Knock ’em dead, Sid! That’s just outstanding.”

I ran into an issue the night of the party, though. The costume fit me well and the boots were just right, but it became apparent that the best way to wear it was to go long on the décolletage.

Look, I’ve got a good figure, in all fairness a very good figure. The costume looked super hot — the designer understood cleavage. I wouldn’t have thought twice about wearing it to a party given my one of my friends, but I didn’t know who would be at Shannon’s. I didn’t really know Shannon either, come to think of it. She and her friends might all be quite conservative, maybe easily offended.

I shrugged, found a lacy black bra and put that on under the costume, but it just looked silly. A pirate with a brassiere – really?  I thought for a moment, took off the bra again and found a pair of long fake pearl necklaces. Looped around my neck about three times each, they filled the gap, so to speak, and still looked, um, ‘piratie’? It worked, anyway — sexy without going overboard — and I was relieved that my nipples didn’t show through the thick red fabric. I went bold on the makeup.

I tucked the pistol into my belt, tilted the fancy hat to one side and struck a pose in the mirror. It looked pretty good – darned good. I had a nice feeling about the party.


I could hear music from the moment the elevator doors opened. I followed it down the hall and, sure enough, it was coming from Shannon’s condo. She opened the door, a smile on her face, then both of us started laughing.

The tall figure in front of me wore a sword instead of a pistol, but pirate she was. Her dark hair was worn long and curly, her three-corner hat was black, and her boots were high enough to actually hide her knees. A lace-up bodice of heavy embroidered black velvet set off a very fancy white thigh-length dress. She must have had a serious push-up bra underneath, for the word ‘cleavage’ was suddenly utterly inadequate.

She was totally drool-worthy and I no longer had any worries about my own costume offending.

“Sydney!” she cried over the sound of the music, reaching out with her arms and drawing me into a hug.

She kissed me on the cheek, pulled me inside and called out, “Everybody, this is Sydney. She’s a new friend and loves to dance.”

I don’t think I’d told her that, but she wasn’t wrong.

Eyes around the room examined my costume — and me inside it — but no girl in her right mind wears a costume like that if she isn’t ready to be the center of attention. I saw smiles, a few waves and then Shannon started leading me around, introducing me to people. As I had figured, they were mainly her age, a bit older than me.

The costumes were excellent, too — no big box monstrosities here, no frat-house sheet togas. Some of them were actually modest, but some…

Batman was dressed as might be expected and I didn’t think he needed the padded tunic, but it was pretty clear that there was nothing but pussycat under Catwoman’s black latex outfit. It didn’t show anything you couldn’t see on a public beach, but damn!  The catsuit looked like it had been sprayed onto her.

Another couple were dressed like ancient Egyptians. He had the striped headcloth, tunic and kilt of a pharoh: she had a long black wig, with a tiny black-and-gold striped bikini and a long, translucent skirt to cover the outstanding legs the bikini merely emphasized.

There was a man dressed in black leather, buff as all heck. His partner was dressed mainly in chains — lots and lots and lots of very fine gold-coloured chains forming cascades of links over the important bits. I thought  she had some sort of pasties and a gold G-string on underneath, but I couldn’t be sure. I noticed other people checking her out, too, so it wasn’t just me.

None of them would have brought out a cop’s ticket pad on the street, but they were all super-cute and suggestive as could be while still covering the essentials.

Shannon led me through the kitchen. “What would you like?” she asked, waving her hand at a row of bottles. “There’s wine and coolers and beer in the fridge, too.”

I thought for a moment. “Thanks, but have you a Coke or something?”

“Sure.” She held open the refrigerator door and waved at an array of cans and bottles.

I flipped through the selection. “Where’s Grace?”

“Gracie’s with her dad this week.”


I decided not to go any further down that track. I picked out a can of San Pellegrino soda, popped it and, finding a glass, poured.

“This is nice,” I said, looking around. “Thank you for the invitation.”

“I’m glad you came, Sydney. Make yourself at home; I have to play hostess for a while.”

It was a good evening. The people were friendly and I found myself mixing well. The conversation was interesting, the men were gentlemen and their ladies were eye-catching. There were some very special derrières on display and, well, why not enjoy myself?

There were also a couple of unattached guys who seemed to be paying me a fair bit of attention. Single dads, maybe? In some circumstances, that might have been fun, but not here, not Sydney, not tonight.

I drifted into helping Shannon with drinks and food and collecting used plates and such. No, not in self-defence, thank you so much. I could handle the boys, but tonight I just wanted to party softly.

The event ended sooner than I’d expected, ’cause babysitters. Of course – ‘Parents’ Hallowe’en’.

I didn’t have a sitter worry to about, so I stuck around to help with cleanup.

“You don’t have to do this, Sydney,” she said as we passed one another at the kitchen door.

“My pleasure. I had a really good time.”

As I was coming back a minute later with a tray of empty glasses, I leaned in to gave her a kiss in passing, a friendly peck. I’d aimed for a cheek, but a glass started sliding and trying to correct for it put my lips in perfect alignment with hers. My eyes closed at their soft touch. It was so nice, so very gentle, so very certain, so unlike the bristly, inept kisses of those boys who had managed to get that far in my life.

It didn’t last long. She broke first, looking at me. I pulled back, blushing furiously. At least I hadn’t dropped the tray…

The smile changed to a wicked grin.

“I like the way you say ‘thank you’, Sydney.”

Her eyes locked onto mine, confident as a cat. My blush deepened.

Sure, I’d kissed other women. Just about every girl has tried it, maybe at a party or something, just to see how it feels. Then it had been fun, had set my mind wandering. Now, more than just my mind was racing.

And this wasn’t a teen party in a friend’s parent’s basement, with a dozen other people my age laughing and applauding, knowing that the kiss wouldn’t go anywhere. Shannon was a mature woman, strong and powerful in her own right.

And, for some reason, that we were alone seemed to be very, very important. Not that I needed anybody else, mind you; I seemed to be doing a pretty good job of embarrassing myself.

I looked away, shivered a little. Aside from being afraid Shannon would laugh at how hard my heart was beating, I was totally confused. I had liked it, that much I knew. But I’d never thought…

I heard Shannon put the tray down, felt her take my hands.

“Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” she said.

I looked back at her, saw her grin had changed to a really soft smile. My heart jumped a little. I had absolutely no idea how to respond.

She must have sensed it, for she stretched out her arms in invitation for a hug. When I stepped into them, those two strong arms came around me in a warm, gentle, comforting embrace. Relaxing, I put my head on her shoulder and let her hands flow up and down my back. It felt good, peaceful, soothing. I let myself settle into it, felt my body mould itself against hers a little. I don’t know how long it lasted; I wasn’t counting and it didn’t matter. Right then, it just felt right.

Her arms tightened, squeezed lightly.

“How’re you doing?” she whispered.

“Good.” I thought for a moment. “But I should go.”

“OK. I’m glad you came.”

I waited for a slow ten-count, lifted my head to look at her.



“It’ll be easier for me to go if you let go of my ass.”

She giggled, gave my bum a squeeze and stepped back.


I thought about it for a split-second. “Don’t be.”

I thought another second, added. “I enjoyed it. But I still have to go. I have an early class tomorrow morning.”

She looked surprised. “I didn’t know you were in school!”

“Part time. Gotta run. Thank you again.” I was becoming flustered, oh yes, and the words were beginning to fly out of my mouth. I suddenly knew that if she asked, I would stay. And I knew that I wasn’t ready for whatever staying would entail.

“See you soon, I hope.”

“I’ll look forward to it, Shannon. Thanks again for the invitation.”

This time, she let me kiss her cheek.


“Phone call for you, Sid.” Mr. Hanan’s voice woke me from a bit of mindless back-room serfery. He had a funny smile on his face. “I think it’s you-know-who.”

I picked up the phone, tried to sound professional. “Sydney speaking.”

“Sydney, it’s Shannon. I’m sorry to call you at work, but I didn’t have your number.”

“No problemo. How’s Grace? How’s Grace’s mom? How may I help you?”

“She’s good, her mom is good and would you like to hang out at my place tomorrow night? I’ve got some seriously classic movies we could watch.”