Chapter 41: The Dress

The battlefields of silk and satin are waged on the floors of the seamstress. The blood pours out as ribbon and the cries of the victorias are but gasp, praise, and coos.

—Neio Machífu-Kasor, The Thread of Our Lives

Lily reached out for the dress for the fifth time in a few minutes.

“It’s perfect, sweetie,” Mindil said from the other side of the room. She didn’t even look up from a flower arrangement she was toying with. The flowers glowed faintly in the light of the workshop and the perfumed scent drifted through the room.

Lily pulled back her hand. “I know, but that stitch is bothering me.”

“No one will see it.”

“They always see it. Everyone sees it, every tiny little detail. And then they talk about it.”

“And yet you were the darling of your presentation despite that.”

Lily grinned. “Until Hasan started that fire. Then no one cared that my right cuff had a slight tear in it.”

Mindil looked up for a moment, then shrugged. “If I was a guy, I’d probably consider starting a fire too. You are beautiful.” She winked. “I’m not a guy though, I figured I’d wait a few years and see if I had a chance.”

She grinned and returned to her flowers. “Oh wait, I did.”

A flicker of lust raced along Lily’s senses. She smoothed over her dress and forced a deep breath from her lungs. Her hands hovered over the ground as she tried to pry her thoughts away from the dress that she couldn’t afford to ruin with a last minute alteration.

The bell rang out from the front door.

Lily’s heart almost skipped a beat. She spun around and stared at the door, wondering if she could step into it to risk a look. She didn’t know if Windel would be storm in with her daughter or if it was someone else.

Mindil let out a soft laugh as she strolled away from the flowers. She peered through the door and the smiled. “Has, you brought lunch?”

“Yes, but you only have a few minutes. I just saw a trio of carriages at the end of the street.”

“Is it the horse-fuckers’s?”

“Mindil,” Hasan chided. “Be nice. And yes, Djulian is in the front so please be on your best behavior. I don’t want to get you out of jail again.”

Mindil stared at him and sucked on her finger slowly.

Hasan gulped. He walked over to Lily. Taking her hand, he drew her into a kiss that quickened her heart. “You’ll be wonderful. I’ll gag Mindil.”

“I’d like to see you try,” snapped Mindil playfully.

Lily giggled.

Hasan’s scent swirled around her, the faint musky and flowery scent bringing a smile. “Don’t worry, she can’t talk with her mouth full.”

Another smile.

Mindil beckoned for him. “Come here.”

Hasan gave Lily another kiss and headed for his wife.

The front door rang again. This time, Lily could hear many women entering the store, their shoes clicking on the floor and the rustle of fabric.

Taking a deep breath, she glanced at the couple.

Mindil mouthed, “You’ll be great.”

With a smile, Lily stepped into the front room.

Djulian and Nirih were the first ones she noticed standing in her store.

Djulian wore a beautiful green dress with golden trim. It fit her curves almost perfectly, Lily would have said it would have been one of her mentor’s work if it wasn’t for the style of embroidery along the hems; Penir was talented at sewing fabric but avoided the northern region style of large flowing lace. In her hand, Djulian had a matching parasol that was tied shut.

Nirih, on the other hand, almost looked like a pale shadow next to her mother. Like all High Society women, she wore a dress but it was a plain one made of cream fabric and known as a “fitting dress” because it was held together by ties on both side.

Penir came around the two women with her hand out. She and Lily hugged before she whispered. “Are you ready?”

Birds dancing in her stomach, Lily nodded. They held the embrace for a moment before Penir stepped back.

The only other visitor was Lily’s mother. Sarlin made no effort to embrace her daughter. Instead, she headed straight for one of the couches and sat properly in it. There was a coldness in her behavior.

Lily’s heart almost broke as she watched her mother looking pointedly out of the window. The gulf between them had widened in the last few weeks and she wondered if there would ever be a connection again.

Instead of taking charge, Penir gave her a comforting smile and sat back down opposite to Sarlin. Djulian looked confused, her gaze going between Penir and Lily.

Lily knew that her mentor wasn’t going to offer to help. She breathed a sigh of relief and then held out her hand to Nirih. “Come on, let’s get you fitted.”

Nirih glanced at her mother who looked at Penir.

Djulian gestured to the door. “Aren’t you going back there?”

Penir leveled a look at Djulian. “Why? Lily is more than talented. She can handle a fitting while we wait.”

There was a subtle emphasis on the “we” of the sentence that even Djulian couldn’t deny. She sighed and nodded to her daughter before pulling up a chair to sit with the other women. She toyed with her parasol for a moment. “Do you think—”

“Hello, vis Kasins,” Mindil said cheerfully as she came in holding a tray of wine glasses and a freshly misting bottle of Renaul ‘73.

Djulian closed her mouth with a snap.

Behind Mindil, Hasan slipped from the workshop. He gave a bow to each of the five women in the room before carrying his bag out the store.

Sarlin’s gaze followed him as he walked in front of the glass front.

Lily waited for a comment but her mother said nothing.

After a heartbeat, Lily took Nirih by the hand and drew her into the workshop. As soon as she could, she closed the door.

Nirih looked around, her hands grasping her dress. Sweat glistened on her brow and her wheat-colored hair was plastered to her face.

“Nervous?”

“Yes,” Nirih whispered. She started to say something but then her gaze focused on her dress. A gasp slipped from her lips. When she looked back at Lily, her eyes were shimmering. “I-Is that… mine?”

Lily smiled, a rush of excitement flooding her veins. “Yes, do you like it?”

“It’s beautiful.” Nirih let out a soft sob. “I-I’m sorry, I didn’t think it would be… I mean, I saw the different colors… and…” She pressed her hand against her lips as she gasped. “It’s so beautiful.”

Beaming herself, Lily gestured. “Come on, let’s impress our mothers.”

It took almost an hour to fit Nirih into the dress. There were a few minor alterations around her breasts and waist, but nothing that a few seconds of sewing couldn’t fit.

As she worked, she and Nirih started talking about the other parties she had already been do and her prospects. It felt hollow to Lily, after being turned away for so many years, but she couldn’t help but long for Nirih to have a different life than her own. She also couldn’t help but smile at the little gossip and tales the young woman had to share.

Finally, Lily finished and stepped back. The sheer fabric and the collar looked better than she expected. The dotted pattern obscured Nirih’s cleavage while giving emphasis to the swell of her breasts. When she moved, there was only little hints of something more.

“What do you think?”

Nirih looked at herself in the mirrors set up in the corner of the workshop. “I love it.”

Lily started to offer to take her up front but then stopped. “Do you want me to color your shoes and hair to match?”

“You can do that?”

An image of Mindil’s lips against Lily’s thumb brought a rush of excitement. She forced it out of her thoughts before it distracted her. With a smile, she knelt in front of the young woman. “Yes. Here.”

It took only a few minutes to color Nirih’s shoes, hair, and eyelashes. Lily used the same colors as the dress except for the faintest hint of a pale blue that would complement the Delicate Whispers of Gold and creams that colored the dress. She finished with a sweep of her thumb against Nirih’s lips to paint them.

When Nirih saw herself in the glass, she started to cry. She looked every inch a debutante as society wanted to see her: perfect skin, excellent posture, and dressed in gold.

“Ready to show your mother?”

With a brilliant smile, Nirih nodded.

Lily held her breath as she opened the door and gestured Nirih to come in.

Penir and Djulian stood up as before the young woman arrived. Lily’s mother, on the other hand, remained sitting primly with a look of impatience.

Nirih came in.

The gasps stopped her.

“Oh, my baby….” Djulian stepped forward, her hands out. There were tears in her eyes. “I never thought—” The words stopped as she looked at Lily. A muscle in her chin flexed for a heartbeat. “It is beautiful,” she finally said before rushing for her daughter.

Penir walked over slowly, her gaze hard as she inspected the dress from a distance.

Lily’s nervousness increased, though it fought with the intense high of seeing Djulian and Nirih cooing over a dress she had made.

Penir stopped next to Lily and turned so they both could watch the mother and daughter admiring the dress. “There is no greater compliment than being ignored in joy.”

Lily had to fight a sudden tear. Looking away, she struggled to regain her composure.

As she did, she saw her mother take a casual glance toward Nirih’s dress. She looked away, much to Lily’s heartbreak.

Then Sarlin’s eyes widened and she looked back sharply. There was a look of surprise on her face that filled with Lily with an intense joy as seeing Djulian’s response and getting a compliment from Penir.

Sarlin stood up, her mouth agape, and walked past toward the girls.

“Okay,” Penir said in a whisper. “That response would be right up with the Divine Couple walking in. You did a beautiful job and she’s going to attract more than her share of attention.”

The old woman gestured with her chin toward the front of the store.

There were pedestrians standing in the glass. They were peering with various looks of surprise and joy on their face. A pair of young girls and there mother looked the most interested. When the mother looked up to the store sigh, Lily almost lost it again.

Feeling dizzy, Lily could only watch as she struggled with her emotions.