Chapter 6: Ladies' Fashions

Tarsan favors the golden locks as a sign of purity. The longer, brighter, and more brilliant, the more desirable. However, poorly manipulated strands can easily bring revile and scandal to even the most exalted of debutantes. — Tears of the Rejected Beauty (Act 1, Scene 5)

Their carriage came to a rattling stop in front of a relatively nondescript storefront with a crowded display area filled with feathered hats, a milliner’s. Galadin leaned against the side and peered at the darkened store wondering why they had stopped.

Outside, rain splattered loudly across the carriage, drumming across the wooden roof until it rolled down the glass in crystalline rivulets and splashed to the cobblestones. Below, garbage floated past in a stately procession.

He nervously glanced around the other windows. The rest of the surrounding buildings were clothiers, milliners, and shoemakers. It didn’t look or smell like the docks. He leaned back with a soft sigh of relief.

Society had a way of pushing away the undesirables. Benard was one example, gay man were frequently pushed into the navy to keep the family’s reputation secure. Many of them never returned, either by choice or dying.

When his mother demanded a late night carriage, he was afraid that was his own fate.

“Are you sure about this?”

Galadin jumped at his mother’s sudden question. He looked to see her sitting primly on her bench. Her straight back revealed her discomfort. She didn’t want to be there.

He knew she wanted him to agree to go back, to pretend to be a man for her sake. It didn’t feel like an option anymore, he finally had a chance and his heart ached for the chance.

She glanced at him, her eyes red-rimmed. “Why are you doing this to me?” Her low voice cracked.

Galadin cringed. “I’m not doing this to hurt you.”

“But every time you follow your father’s foolish plan, it feels like you are stabbing me with a knife.” She rested her fingers on her left breast to illustrate.

He stared to his lap and blushed. The last few days had been a whirlwind of activity, terrifying in how fast everything was moving, scary in how much was left unknown, but also exhilarating. It was the promise that kept him going, the hint of seeing a life that he didn’t think was possible.

Maran gave an exasperated sigh. “If you do this, you can’t ever go back. We can’t pretend that I suddenly have a daughter, then have her disappear again when it turns sour. Once this happens, then you have to disappear.”

He tensed. She was talking about being forced into the navy or sent out to the country estates. In either case, he wouldn’t be able to return home.

Galadin thought about Benard and a hint of a smile crossed his lips. There were ways back, though he would never be as handsome as Benard.

Wiping the smile from his face, he nodded. “I know.”

“I-I could lose you, Gal. Forever. Do you understand?”

He nodded again, blushing as he stared at his lap. Then, screwing his courage, he looked up and said, “Please? I want this. I need it more than anything I have needed before.”

Tears burned in his eyes. He sniffed and wiped them with the back of his hand.

His mother spoke in her low voice, “This is the final chance to—”

Someone knocked on the door.

Both of them jumped.

Outside, a man with a bowler stood outside. He peered inside. “Maran and Galadin von Kasins?” He had a low, rumbling voice. Despite wearing a black suit that fit his broad shoulders perfectly, he had the appearance of a sailor with a deep tan and weathered lines on his face. His appearance reminded Galadin of Benard, though the new man was much older than Benard not any less attractive.

Maran sighed and shot a glare at Galadin before she unlatched the door. “Last chance. You don’t have to do this.”

The other man opened the door with a bow. “Good evening, I am Kendrick bo Martin hio Kasin. I was sent out to escort you to the Tadame Lily bo Martin.”

Galadin was surprised, it was rare for someone to leave the Kasin family to join another family and yet still remain within the city. The “bo” indicated that there was something about Kendrick and Lily that made them desirable to both families.

The rattle of rain suddenly stopped. Galadin looked around the carriage in surprise. It continued to pour down everywhere including the top of the carriage, only the area around Kendrick was still.

Galadin’s mother sighed dramatically. “Come on.”

She allowed Kendrick to help her out.

When it was his turn, Galadin hesitated. It was tradition to have a man help a woman out of carriages. He held out his hand and then pulled it back, unsure of how to ask.

Kendrick smiled and kept his hand held out.

Galadin held his breath. When Kendrick winked, he hesitatingly placed his fingertips along the broad palm and let himself be drawn out. The little action brought a thrill coursing through his veins. It felt good, it felt right.

Kendrick led both of Galadin and his mother down the block to the only store that still had lights on. The front was filled with elegant dresses with matching hats and shoes. They were arrayed in a rainbow of colors. The graduation from yellow to purple was almost perfect.

Lily bo Martin hio Kasin

An Emporium of Fabrics and Colors

Comprehensive Coordinator of Ladies’ Fashions

There wasn’t a single suit on display. Galadin stared in shock, his mouth opening slowly as he stared at beautiful dresses. He could feel a sob of joy rising up in his throat.

“Get inside before anyone sees you,” muttered his mother.

Galadin ducked his head and went inside.

Two women greeted him. One was slender with blonde hair so brilliant it looked white and an elegant dress that made Galadin instantly jealous. He could have sworn he was looking at one of the many pictures that hung on the ball walls. She was almost exactly what Galadin fantasized about becoming.

The second woman was fat and just as beautiful. Her dress threatened to burst along her bust and hips. The deep valley of her cleavage no doubt drawing the attention of any man nearby. Her wide hips swayed with her steps as she came up to Galadin and his mother. “Welcome to Lily’s. I’m Mindil da Kasin ho Pavin.”

Maran pulled a face and jerked her attention to the side. “Lily?”

Lily, the slender blonde, inclined her head and smiled. “A pleasure to meet you, Maran da Kasin de Kamer.”

“Thank you for staying open past your normal hours. If it wasn’t a delicate matter, I wouldn’t have asked. I do ask that you exercise discretion in dealing with my son.”

Lily glanced at Galadin. “You mean your daughter?”

Galadin flinched.

Maran’s lips tensed. “He… Galadin wants to attend the ball as a debutante instead of a proper besire. I have decided that he gets a week, the third week of the Season, to see if it works out.”

Galadin flushed. He glanced at the door to the store and wondered how far he would make it before someone caught him. A tremor coursed along his hands as he pressed his palms to his side.

Lily smiled broadly. “Of course.”

Galadin breathed a quiet sigh of relief.

His mother took a deep breath of her own. “I am willing to go along with this deception but I’m not entirely happy with his desires. I am willing to pay a premium for your discretion. I heard that you…” She paused as her lips tightened again. “… understood the need for silence.”

“Of course, Dame Maran. I am nothing but discrete.”

Mindil smiled, her lips curling broadly as she glanced at Kendrick.

“Whatever you can do to make him less of an embarrassment would be appreciated.”

Galadin blushed hotly.

The smile on Lily’s lips didn’t move. She gestured to the back room. “Why don’t we get you measured. Mindil? Please get the dame a bottle of the Kaber '32? I heard that she enjoys that vintage.”

Maran looked surprised. A bit of the frown on her lips faded as she let Mindil lead her to the comfortable-looking chairs in the front. She shot one last look at Galadin before sinking down.

Lily gestured for Galadin toward a door in the back of the store. “And what would you like to be called?”

“G-Galadin” he answered automatically and then realized she had asked a different question than he expected. “I… the invitation was for Glorias. My father… helped me pick the name.”

She didn’t seem to hesitate, not even a twitch in her smile. Her arm slipped around his waist and gently guided him through the door. “Oh, that’s a lovely name. Are you planning on going as a girl or a boy dressed as a girl? There are subtle differences in how I cut your dress.”

The door closed behind them with a click, separating him from his mother. They were in a room filled with fabrics, dress forms, and large tables. A bottle of wine misted on a table along with four glasses. There was also a small tray of crackers, cheese, and fruits.

He stopped in shock, stunned by a second question in a row that came easily off her lips. She didn’t seem bothered by Galadin’s desires at all. The answer was easier though, he had been thinking about it for most of his life. “I want to be a girl. I’ve always wanted to be one.”

It was a rush to finally say it, to hear it echo against the walls.

“That won’t be a problem, Beautiful. Since this is new, do you want me to walk you through everything on my side? Your mother may have just said a week, but the payment she had delivered was for the rest of the Social Season.”

Galadin looked in surprise.

“Are there others involved?”

“M-My father and his mother. And Tadame Potsur down on Ash Street, she’s teaching me how to dance as a girl. I don’t think anyone else knows. We haven’t really figured out everything.”

Lily guided Galadin to a corner. There was a simple cream dress hanging from a bar. “Well, I’ve been hired to handle all of your fashion. With everything going on, we are going to focus on you entering the events during the third week. This year, the color that week is Dawn on the Summer Sea, which is a lovely green color. As a debutante, your dress will be mostly cream but the green will be used for accents, shoes, hat, and trim.”

As she spoke, she ran her hand along a red ribbon. A green spread out from her fingertip, running like paint. In seconds, the entire ribbon had changed color to match.

Galadin looked in surprise.

“We all have talents. I’m good at color. Mindil will ensure that you and I can talk in privacy. In fact, anything you say will remain in here unless you decide to share it. Do you have a talent?”

Every adult had a magical talent of some sort. His father had one of the rarest, the ability to channel magic into spells that could do almost anything. For the bulk of the population including his mother, magic was more focused into a single ability such as his mother’s ability to clean anything with a touch.

“I don’t.”

“It will come, it always does. Mine came out when a duel two men were having over me set fire to my mother’s house.”

Galadin’s jaw opened in shock.

Lily winked. “Don’t worry, both Kendrick and Hasan have apologized many times.”

“K-Kendrick? The man outside?”

She smiled happily. “My husband. Hasan is Mindil’s. It was a journey though, but in the end, no matter how painful it was, it brought me great joy.”

Lily hugged him lightly. “I have no doubt that yours will be the same.”

Nervous and blushing, Galadin reached out for the dress. “Do I need to wear this?” It was light and airy. He loved how it felt along his fingertips.

“It’s a fitting gown. Light material but transparent. That’s why you are back here alone. It will help me make measurements but give you some…” Her voice trailed off when she looked at Galadin stroking it. “Do you want to put it on?”

“I-I can?” He gripped the fabric and tugged on it.

“It will make it easier to measure you. Don’t worry, just go behind that screen and change.”

Galadin’s heart pounded in his chest as he stepped behind the screen. He shook while he stripped down, pulling off his masculine clothes and carefully folding them on a small table. Clad only in his small clothes, he rubbed the delicate fabric of the dress for a long moment before pulling it own.

At the sensation of the delicate touch on his skin, he let out a moan of desire. His fantasies were coming true and it felt right to feel it settle over his shoulders and tickle his thighs. It was shorter than he expected but felt good.

Nervous, he paused to catch his breath. His cheeks were burning and tears blurred his vision. He tugged on it, pulling it one way and then the other.

“Come on,” Lily said in an encouraging voice.

Embarrassed, Galadin inched out from behind the screen.

Lily handed him a glass of a pale wine. “You look beautiful.”

Galadin glanced at his hairless chest, the flatness of his skin caused the front of the fitting gown to sag. There was also nothing in the hips, no flare or narrowness. “It doesn’t fit very well.”

“Thankfully,” Lily said with a grin, “I’m very good at fixing that. Come on, over to the mirror.”

This time, as Galadin stood up on the platform in front of the mirror, it wasn’t a feeling of dread that filled his body. It was excitement and hope. He smiled and wiped the tears from his eyes.

“There’s a pretty lady,” Lily said. She had measuring tape coiled over her shoulder and one around her neck. It was similar to the tailor, almost surreal, but a world of difference to Galadin.

Lily started with Galadin’s left arm, measuring everything from the length of his fingers to the distance between his wrist and elbow. As she did, she asked light questions about the designs that Galadin liked, the patterns and styles that caught his attention.

He could answer clumsily at first. He didn’t have the names but she seemed to understand what he wanted. But after a while it was easier just to picture what he wanted and describe that.

When she started to measure his neck, she stopped to brush along his short, brown hair. “Do you want to change this?”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Short isn’t really common in High Society.”

He sighed. “I know, and neither is brown.”

Lily smiled brilliantly. She ran her hand through the short strands and color began to flow them through. In a matter of seconds, he had a head full of honey brown.

Galadin’s knees felt weak. He thought about the stories in his journal, his illustrations of his ideal body if he had been born a girl instead of a boy. “Any color?”

“Of course, I am the comprehensive coordinator.”

“Could you do brighter? Like Suar de Pun?”

Lily’s eyebrow raised. “Suar’s? About fifteen years ago?”

He thought about one of the paintings he had walked into as a younger child. It was a beautiful image that stole his heart away and started the longing.

"A Dance Among the Swans and Roses. I always loved that painting, I have a copy of it in my journal."

“A very beautiful choice.” As Lily spoke, Galadin’s hair turned to a bright blond with a few platinum streaks. “I recall that she had a gorgeous dress in that painting. Would you like me to make something like that?”

Galadin couldn’t talk. He lifted his hand to his hair and stroked it along his fingers. He felt hot and tingly across his entire body as he imagined himself dancing in the famous painting. His eyes blurred for a moment and he almost swayed.

“We’ll have to get your hair lengthen to pull that out. I have a discrete friend over on Bone Flower’s Road that will do that.”

He didn’t say anything as he pictured the painting and himself. Everything was happening faster than he expected as he rushed toward his fantasy instead of away from it.

Another tremor coursed through his body for a moment, a shiver of anticipation and flush of excitement.

Lily lifted up her measuring tape again “I promise you, by the time you show up at that ball, you are going to steal the show.”