For part one please click here…
That evening, I ventured out into the town to celebrate my adulthood. I wore the dress in public for the first time. And, for the first time in my life, I felt visible. I knew people were watching me, noticing me. I felt confident. The air sizzled around me. I could feel the power in the dress.
I found my way to a bar that had a buzz about it. As I entered it felt like the world stopped as everyone turned to stare at me, before going back to their conversations. All except one guy at the bar, who was reading intently. I recognised him from my school days. I remembered he had been kind. The seat next to him was free, so I drifted over.
As I sat down, the bartender looked at me expectantly, “What will you have?”
I opened my mouth to answer, and I realised I didn’t know what any of the drinks were called. It suddenly struck me what I risk I was taking, being out of the house. There was a reason I hadn’t been seen in public for years. Although my father was a powerful public figure, he was also a very private man. Maybe people weren’t staring at me because of the dress, but because they knew who I was. If word got back to my father that I had been out unchaperoned, I dreaded to think how he would react.
This was a mistake. I shook my head and stood up to leave, but as I did I felt a hand over mine on the bar, “Please, stay for a drink with me”.
I looked down at my hand, then up at the man holding it. Jack. I remembered his name. His eyes were brilliant blue, almost the same shade as my dress.
“If you are concerned about your reputation, I assure you I am widely considered to be respectable,” he said with a smile, but also with a kindness and concern in his eyes.
Slowly I nodded and sat back down. I lowered my gaze. “I don’t know what I’m meant to drink,” I admitted.
He ordered us a soda each. I sipped mine, it tasted of fruit and bubbles and cold. “Thank you,” I said. I felt my confidence returning as I caught a glimpse of the dress in the mirror behind the bar.
“What are you reading?” I asked. He showed me. It was a medical journal. “You became a doctor. You always wanted to be,” I said. We talked for a while about his work, until I realised the bar was slowly emptying. “I should probably go,” I said. He offered to walk me home.
As we left the bar he stopped. “Wait,” he said. I turned to look at him.
“First, I swear on my honour that my intentions are pure and that no harm will come to you. I have something in my apartment I need to show you. It’s not far.”
I considered for a moment, but I knew that I trusted him, how much I had always trusted him.
As we walked I realised the temperature had dropped. He must have noticed I was cold as he took off his jacket and placed it over my shoulders. We walked on in silence. I tried not to think beyond the moment, to how my father would react to my behaviour. I just wanted to enjoy the moment of being with someone who wasn’t afraid.
We turned a corner and he pulled out a set of keys. I followed him up the stairs to his apartment and he pulled open the door to let me enter ahead of him. As I went in, my breath caught. There, on the mantelpiece, was a photo of my family. My father, in a bright white suit. Myself, a small child, a red ribbon in my dark hair. And there, clutching my hand tightly, was my mother.
“I’ve never seen a picture of my mother before,” I whispered. I crept forward, as if approaching a holy relic. And then I saw what she was wearing. An electric blue dress. My electric blue dress.
“You look just like her,” Jack said, behind me. “I thought it the moment I saw you.”
“Where did you get this? You shouldn’t have this,” I asked.
He told me how his father had been a dedicated supporter of my father’s rise to power, until my mother’s disappearance.
“They were all in awe of her,” he explained. “My father tried to find out what had happened to her, caused quite a stir. Then, one day, he didn’t come home. I was young, but I realised what had happened. On that day, I made two promises, that I would discover the truth and that, somehow, I would protect you.”
I didn’t know what to say. I sat down heavily on the sofa, cradling the photo.
“It was easy enough to keep an eye on you in school,” he continued, “But then you turned sixteen and stopped coming, and I feared the worst.”
“He wanted to keep me hidden. I think he hoped I’d be forgotten, like my mother was.”
Jack shook his head. “No. She was never forgotten. And neither were you. We heard whispers, knew you were alive, if out of sight. And with your coming of age, I hoped and prayed our paths would cross. And here you are.”
And that was when the full weight of my actions hit me. I had left the house, unchaperoned, and was now alone with a bachelor in his house. My father would be livid. But, strangely, in that moment, I didn’t care.
Jack must have seen my confusion playing out on my face, as he offered to walk me home. But I didn’t know if I could face that big empty house so full of secrets. And I wasn’t ready to give up on my first, perhaps only, night of freedom.
“This is the safest I’ve felt in years,” I whispered.
“You can stay, if you like. I’ll take the sofa,” he added, quickly.
Please stay tuned for the final instalment!